Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Reader's chickadee as close to true albino as possible

March 22. 2013 11:03PM

No Rare Bird this week
Reports have it that Rare Bird Alert has flown the coop so there will be no report this week. It is, however, expected to be back in time for next week's editions.

Recently, two most interesting photographs were included with cover notes.

The first, from a Manchester reader, pictured a close-up pair of young ruby-throated hummingbirds, sitting on their nest, looking face forward, staring at the camera. The nest was constructed upon a tree branch. The background showed a garden fence, adorned with bright red leaves. The note read in part: "The photo was taken by Miss Leah Corson, a young lady in study to become a veterinarian. Publishing this photo in your column would be greatly appreciated."

Technically, the second photo, from a Lancaster reader, pictured a partial albino black-capped chickadee. The accompanying note read: "After seeing the photo of the chickadee in a recent column, I thought I would send along a photo of the chickadee I have at my feeder this winter.

"After much research, I have identified it as a partial albino black-capped chickadee. It has white feet and beak, flies like a chickadee and hangs out with the chickadees. I don't know how rare they are, but it is a first for me in 70 years."

According to the "Audubon Encyclopedia of American Birds," written by John K. Terres and published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, in 1980, in the section entitled, "Black-capped Chickadee": "Albinism: Rare, partial albinos, (white tail feathers, Va., Mass.; another, N.Y., crown, chin and throat, white instead of black; melanistic (all black), one, Ithaca, Y.Y., 1933, crown, throat, chin, and cheeks black, appeared black hooded (Anonymous, 1959.)"

As portrayed in the above quote from National Audubon, the photo of our reader's bird appeared to me to be as close as possible to being a true albino black-capped chickadee. However, in studying our reader's photo, I note the following two points that would keep this particular bird in the class of partial albino: (1) its wings tips and the end of its center tail feathers show just a touch of black; (2) the feathers of its crown display a very light gray tinge, I have seen other photos of partial albino chickadees, but none as near perfect to a true albino as our Lancaster reader's bird.

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Winter is still with us! What snow we have here is, at times wind lifted, and smartly driven around the southwest corner of our 200-year-old farm house. The wind's whine issues a warning that the wind-whipped snow, if faced, will sharply sting.

Our northbound pasture land is bordered by a wall of stones whose topmost crowns have donned night-caps of snow. Some snow-bonnets are flat, some are tall with tiny points, most, though, are a mysterious contour.

Those enshrouded stones are above den places for woodchucks and such. They are tucked in tight to drowse in quiet sleep and await the long, bleak darknesss of night. Throughout summer these walls of stone become swift highways for wild things, but in winter are less useful. Topped with high snow-crowns and deeper snow-valleys, frequently soft and deep, there's no certain place offered for their tiny feet. Also when ice storms have paved the stones, there's little chance of grip. With the arrival of spring, the snow-melt will nourish the gray lichens hat cling to the stones.

Here at the farm, early settlers built stone walls that still pretty much set its bounds. Walls divide field from hillside and designate pasture and woodland. Not all stones were used by settlers to build walls. That became clear to me one day while walking through their old hillside pasture that we developed into a pine forest. I found two piles of small stones that certainly were not of wall building quality - a "slag heap," one might say, and wondered what those might be used for. Putting two and two together, it occurred to me that in constructing two causeways, permitting farm equipment to pass from one field to another, each had a solid base of small stones from baseball size to a bit larger. I wondered if those piles of pasture stones were leftovers from those used to make causeway bases.

A slow moving team and wagon crossed the brook long before we used our rubber-tired tractor and attached farm implements. Although still solid, we have always carefully driven our equipment over these fording places as they still command respect.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

Nature Talks

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