Saturday, December 13, 2008

Monk Parakeets feeding on Cypress seeds


Recently I have been observing a lot of Monk Parakeets feeding on Cypress seeds near where I live in Madrid, Spain. These birds are not native to Spain but I get the sense that there numbers are growing quite rapidly here. A few months ago I wrote a post about the nests that these birds make in trees. One observation is that I never see these birds alone, they are always in groups. The groups that I have been seeing lately near my home number from six to 40 individuals.
My attention was first drawn to what was going on by the loud screeching that these parrots make. This screeching caught my attention the other day as I was out walking and I began to count how many birds there were in the tall, columnar Cypress tree. There were more than ten in the first tree. Then I saw that a few more nearby trees were also occupied. I did not get an exact count but there must have been more than 40 birds hanging out in the vicinity of a row of 10 Italian Cypress trees.

Then I began to watch what these birds were doing. I watched as they would grab a Cypress "cone" with the claws of one foot and then begin to tear into it with their beaks. The image above is of a cone that got dropped before all the seeds could be eaten. Some of the parrots were grabbing cones and then flying to nearby trees to pick them apart. In the process they were dropping quite a few seeds. This was providing quite a banquet for a flock of smaller birds who were hanging out under these trees.
The image above is of a close-up of the seeds that these Monk Parakeets were eating. By the way that they go after them it seems that they are a preferred source of food for these new kids on the block.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Transformation of Cyparissus into a Cypress tree

"In all the throng the cone-shaped cypress stood; a tree now, it was changed from a dear youth loved by the god who strings the lyre and bow [i.e. Apollon]. For there was at one time, a mighty stag held sacred by those nymphs who haunt the fields Carthaean [i.e. on the island of Keos]. His great antlers spread so wide, they gave an ample shade to his own head. Those antlers shone with gold: from his smooth throat a necklace, studded with a wealth of gems, hung down to his strong shoulders--beautiful. A silver boss, fastened with little thongs, played on his forehead, worn there from his birth; and pendants from both ears, of gleaming pearls, adorned his hollow temples. Free of fear, and now no longer shy, frequenting homes of men he knew, he offered his soft neck even to strangers for their petting hands. But more than by all others, he was loved by you, O Cyparissus, fairest youth of all the lads of Cea. It was you who led the pet stag to fresh pasturage, and to the waters of the clearest spring. Sometimes you wove bright garlands for his horns, and sometimes, like a horseman on his back, now here now there, you guided his soft mouth with purple reins.

It was upon a summer day, at high noon when the [summertime constellation] Crab, of spreading claws, loving the sea-shore, almost burnt beneath the sun's hot burning rays; and the pet stag was then reclining on the grassy earth and, wearied of all action, found relief under the cool shade of the forest trees; that as he lay there Cyparissus pierced him with a javelin: and although it was quite accidental, when the shocked youth saw his loved stag dying from the cruel wound he could not bear it, and resolved on death. What did not Phoebus say to comfort him? He cautioned him to hold his grief in check, consistent with the cause. But still the lad lamented, and with groans implored the Gods that he might mourn forever. His life force exhausted by long weeping, now his limbs began to take a green tint, and his hair, which overhung his snow-white brow, turned up into a bristling crest; and he became a stiff tree with a slender top and pointed up to the starry heavens. And the God, groaning with sorrow, said; `You shall be mourned sincerely by me, surely as you mourn for others, and forever you shall stand in grief, where others grieve.'” (Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 106 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) from