Rare Birds

The Cove Journal | by JoDee Samuelson

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Our birdfeeder is alive and well, with an assertion of bluejays, a lament of mourning doves, an aria of chickadees, a jumble of juncos, an inversion of nuthatches, a tap of flickers… I’ve been reading too much Dylan Thomas. (Can you actually read too much?) And to our great joy, a new and rather ostentatious arrival has joined the regulars at our bird soup kitchen: an Eastern Towhee.

I’d never even heard of such a bird until last week and that’s not surprising. In the old PEI Field Check List of Birds (1977) the Eastern Towhee was reportedly seen on the Island only 9 times per century! Fifty years later the checklist bumped Eastern Towhee sightings up to 9 times per decade—thanks to global warming? Perhaps our towhee was blown off-course in a storm, or just moved to the Island for personal reasons. He may, for example, have heard Premier King mentioning that the Island is the envy of Canada and figured, “What the heck.”

For those who care about such details: Island Nature Trust assures us that ours is an Eastern Towhee and not a Rufous-sided Towhee (rufous meaning red.) These two are very similar, their slight differences having arisen during the last Ice Age when glaciers split the continent down the middle, and towhees had to decide whether to live on the eastern or western side of the great divide.

We first noticed our towhee by his striking garb: handsome black back, tail and neck; snowy white breast and under-tail; reddish-amber flanks. Like a bird dressed for the theatre. Like Fred Astaire. At first we thought a robin was rooting around under the currant bushes, but this bird was smaller and doing some fancy footwork, scattering snow and debris behind him in all directions. Out with the bird books: it was a towhee, a largish ground-feeding sparrow with a short seed-cracking beak who eats practically everything smaller than himself: spiders, caterpillars, ants, wasps, bees, grasshoppers, small amphibians, even snakes and lizards; and as I mentioned, towhees are sighted on PEI only a few times per decade.

Our towhee is around every day and we’re almost blasé about his presence. He himself is happy to be ignored as long as he gets his turn at the feeder. So that’s been exciting since not much else is going on in the Cove. Days getting longer, yay! Grain stubble on the fields instead of lumpy potato mounds and plenty of snow on the ground for cross-country skiing, yay! Schools open, school buses making their rounds, yay! Spanish clementines still in stores, yay! … although this winter has brought minus 25C weather to Spain and that can’t be good for future orange crops.

What did I say about Premier King declaring that PEI is the envy of Canada? Maybe he meant, “We are the envy of the world.”

So look out for more rare birds. We have friends in Rustico who have cardinals living on their property. What next? Flamingoes? Perhaps.

Jodee SamuelsonThe Cove Journal
JoDee Samuelson

Born and raised in the Canadian prairies, JoDee now lives in “the Cove” on the Island’s beautiful South Shore. She was a maker of animated films for most of her working life, and presently putters at less demanding artistic ventures like carving owls, painting Island scenes on small woodblocks, and playing ukelele.