We’re the smartest, except for the others

Long Pine Run in Michaux SF [Click to enlarge]The stream roars softly over a barrier of rocks near where I sit taking inventory as Grady the Golden pads about the area on his own cataloging mission.

Nearby, a long-needle pine catches my eye, not for the needles – they are common enough – but for the pine cones protruding from the trunk, That is not something I’ve previously noticed. Later, down at the Michaux State Forest office, Forestry Technician Mike Rothrock tells me it is common for young Pitch Pine to have cones growing from the trunk, as well as the more common configuration, growing from the ends of branches.

A little way off, closer to the stream, I spy several younger trees, about an inch in diameter. What attracted me was the “girdling” on each of them. Something had removed the bark around the lower circumference of the thorn-guarded stalk.

The trees are Black Locust, and rabbits, probably Eastern Cottontail, have gnawed a girdle from the bottom 10-12 inches of a group of them. Like beaver, rabbits need to keep their teeth sharp, so they hone them by chewing bark from shrubs. The trouble is, girdling — removing the bark all the way around the tree – can kill the tree. The bark protects it the way our skin protects us, and sap to nourish the branches and leaves travels up the inner bark.

Interestingly, I’ve read that Black Locust are poisonous. Apparently, rabbits do not read.

I’ve long believed that just because critters don’t speak our language (whichever language that might be) doesn’t mean they don’t understand it – or have language of their own. Grey squirrels, for instance, have multiple chatters which seem to range from “Don’t sweat the dog coming up the trail; he never looks up” to “Dang, there’s a Red-tail hawk floating up there and he looks hungry!”

The Black-capped Chickadee has an intriguing dialect. In Morse code, we humans might write it as dah-dit-dit-dit. Sometimes, only two dits, other times up to five. And not always the dah comes first. Researchers have not broken the code, but there is clearly a conversation going on, something on a sliding scale between “Intruder Alert!” and “It’s harmless and the food near where it sits is tasty.”

Ruby-throated hummingbirds should be showing up near my home soon; a friend in California posted pictures already of a clutch of hummingbird chicks at her home in central California, but I have not seen any here in south-central Pennsylvania.

They do have a chirp, sometimes barely audible. And they also speak with their wings – that’s the buzzing sound they make at a feeder.

The boys migrate northward first and stake out their feeding turf. The girls show up a little later, prepared to do, well, girl stuff.

The males are bullies. Often they will dive-bomb a feeding female, chasing her away from her sugary treat.

One day as I sat still as I could, the guy chased the girl away several times. Finally, apparently exhausted, the young lady sat down by my arm. Soon, a girlfriend showed up at the fountain, took a few sips, and vibrated her wings in the classic to all species “Come hither, Big Boy.”

And come hither he did, zooming straight at her from a nearby pine tree. Just as he appeared about to collide, she took off, the now-excited boy-bird chasing eagerly after, like a jet fighter pursuing an enemy intruder.

And the one sitting by my wrist immediately, and quietly, glided over to the fountain for a long, soothing quaff.

Don’t tell me that was not a planned maneuver.

Or that some critters are not capable of figuring out a problem and coming up with a solution.

Which, I’ve been told, is what defines us as human.

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