Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thistle amuse you #phenology

Our country roadsides are turning shades of pink and purple and lavender and lilac with thistle flowers  and crown vetch. Soon the thistle flowers will become downy seed heads enabling flocks of goldfinch to line nests with down and, some time thereafter, feed seeds to their hatchlings. (I'm not sure if goldfinches know or care about the invasive or noxious status of some thistles.)

Cirsium arvense (Canada Thistle)
Cirsium arvense (Canada Thistle)
Photo by J. Harrington

It always throws off my sense of where we are in the seasons when I encounter the goldfinch cycle. Ducks and geese nested back in April or so. Now, in mid-Summer, ducklings and goslings are changing from downy fuzz to feathers about the same time that goldfinches are nesting. Clearly, in Nature, there's no such thing as "one size fits all."

male American Goldfinch, on railing (Chickadee at feeder)
male American Goldfinch, on railing (Chickadee at feeder)
Photo by J. Harrington

I had lost track of the goldfinch - thistle-seed-and-down relationship, and how that affects the timing of goldfinch nesting, until I came across it the other evening while re-reading Jan Zita Grover's Northern Waters. Her "memoir" about life, fish and fly-fishing is an enjoyable read, especially if you're passionately involved in any of those three themes (and I sincerely hope you are, at least in the first). We have goldfinches at our feeders basically year round and their colors brighten noticeably come Spring. I obviously fell for the sequence of the children's rhyme from my youth, about "First comes Love," then marriage (mating) and then baby carriages (nests and nestlings) and assumed that mating and nesting came soon after Spring's mating colors. My bad.

A River

By John Poch

God knows the law of life is death,
and you can feel it in your warbler neck,
your river-quick high stick wrist
at the end of day. But the trophies:
a goldfinch tearing up a pink thistle,
a magpie dipping her wing tips
in a white cloud, an ouzel barreling
hip-high upstream with a warning.
You wish you had a river. To make
a river, it takes some mountains.
Some rain to watershed. You wish
you had a steady meadow and pink thistles
bobbing at the border for your horizons,
pale robins bouncing their good postures
in the spruce shadows. Instead, the law
of life comes for you like three men
and a car. In your dreams, you win them over
with your dreams: a goldfinch tearing up
a pink thistle. A magpie so slow
she knows how to keep death at bay,
she takes her time with argument
and hides her royal blue in black.
Shy as a blue grouse, nevertheless God
doesn’t forget his green mountains.
You wish you had a river.

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