Saturday, March 19, 2011

Stereophonic Bird Tennis

Whenever I catch a bus downtown I take the opportunity to read, so as normal yesterday morning had my head buried in a book while waiting for the bus to arrive. (In this instance, it was Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian's highly entertaining collection of diary entries, entitled The Celestial Cafe.)

I was joined at the bus stop by two young girls; I presume they were sisters. The younger one was about eight-years-old, her sister maybe fourteen. The latter was chewing gum for Canada and staring intently at her cell phone from the moment they turned up. I smiled, they smiled, then I returned to Murdoch's amusing musings.

From somewhere in the distance behind us came the hoot of an owl. The little girl immediately became animated, excitedly looking up at her sister with imploring eyes, chirping: "Wow! That's an ow-ul! An ow-ul!" The sister didn't break her cell phone-brainwashed gaze for even a millisecond, retorting: "Yeah? So? What's the big deal?" "But it's an ow-ul!" whimpered the little one, clearly crushed at her big sis' lack of enthusiasm for, and connection to, the real world.

Then from above us to our left came the unmistakeable drumming of a woodpecker. I looked up to see a beautiful Northern Flicker atop a lamp post. Here's one, but in its more familiar setting of a tree: 

A couple of seconds after the drumming ceased, more drumming came from my right! Then the left again, the right, the left, the right, for several cycles until it stopped altogether. "What on earth are they doing?" I wondered, all but dizzy from the sterephonic bird tennis.

The bus stop I wait at is situated pretty much bang in between two lamp posts on the opposite side of the road. Although I couldn't see it, what I was hearing clearly indicated there was another Northern Flicker on the lamp post to my right. In drumming back and forth like this, it seemed obvious they were communicating with each other, but what were they saying? All I knew was that it was delightful, and an encounter with the natural world I had never before experienced. I immediately called Susan (on my incredibly basic, purely functional cell phone) at work to blather about what was going on.

The bus arrived. The young girls boarded. The small one looked crestfallen and tossed aside. The teen was still chomping on her gum and gawping like a moron at her effing cell phone, seemingly oblivious to the fact that her sister was still with her. I wouldn't have been so surprised if she'd turn around and asked her who she was and why was she following her. I also boarded, sighing (for the ten billionth time this year) in resigned despair at the all-immersive portable communication/entertainment technology of the digital age.

This whole scenario had occupied just three minutes or less.

Having spoken to my bird expert friend, Jon Carter, this morning, I know now that the Northern Flickers were defining territorial bounds. He explained it was two males at the probable edges of their respective territories, informing the other that there will be a right ol' tear-up if they should overfly the mark. They apparently choose to drum on metal lamp posts simply because the sound is so much louder, therefore more threatening. And there I was hoping the little buggers were discussing how ironic it is that as cell phones have evolved they've actually made human beings less communicative. 


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