Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Wonders of Nature

Indigo Bunting

Blue Camas Camassia Quanmash
The Indigo Bunting is a finch and member of the same family as Cardinals and Grosbeaks. It looks brilliant blue in the sun but is actually black without the diffraction of light through the feathers.
I usually see this little guy (the female is dull brown, shy and hard to identify) during their migration period. The male arrives up north about three weeks prior to the female to stake our his territory. The couple will remain in that territory and raise up to three broods until time to migrate south.

The social and breeding lives of these little birds is more diverse than "Wisteria Lane" on a hot summer night. Not only do they not mate for life, but may have a varied breeding period. The Bunting is known as one of our best songbirds and much research has been accomplished to show how they each get their particular song and how it works with the social network.

Between August and November, they gather in large flocks and migrate almost 2,000 miles to southern Mexico where they become occupants of a sedate and uninspired retiree trailer park (kidding on the trailer park thing.)

The main food of choice in the winter becomes seeds and buds, rather than insects and spiders which are the staple during the breeding season. They do visit my sunflower seed feeder in the summer.

Migration experiments done on Indigo Buntings have revealed that the stars are but one of several cues that birds rely on for orientation. Other sources of information include the position of the setting sun and the pattern of polarized light it creates, the earth's magnetic field, odors, wind, and topographic features such as mountains and bodies of water.
The flower is a Blue Camas (Indian Hyacinth) Camassia Quamash. Used by the northeast Native Americans as a food, the bulbs were boiled for three days to form a sticky sweet starch. A word of caution, there is another similar bulb that is very poisonous.
The plant has grass shaped dark green leaves and an 8-12 inch stem with flowers all along the stem. The flowers can range from white to the beautiful deep purple blue in the picture. They spread by seed.

It can grow wild in moist woodlands and meadows but prefers full sun. The use of the bulbs for a food substance is one of the earliest known examples of the Native Americans cultivating a specific food vs. using what was only available.

Both the Bunting and the Camas are stunning in the bright spring sunlight. The bunting is so busy, it is difficult to get a picture. My opportunity was when he flew into my picture window and was laying stunned on the ground. I put him on the window sill to offer protection from animals until he recovered. Meanwhile - a photo op.

Now, if the sky will just stay a cloudless blue and let the ground dry!

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