Category Archives: Birds and Mammals

Sunset with migrating starlings and the beginnings of a tornado

Original YT playout date: 16 January 2010
Duration: 5:49

This interesting sky was filmed on my drive home last year one November evening. The song is a composition of mine which doesn’t have words yet, but I am thinking about plum trees with white blossom on, seen across the plain of a river in spring flood. If anyone wants to turn that into a lyric, be my guest. After that we have a fairly random scene where Sophie starts to do one of her extemporaneous “stories” while we are waiting for our takeaway to be ready. I’m not sure that what you see in the sky is really the beginning of a tornado, but at first glance it sort of looked like one. Not sure how else something like that would be there just on its own like that …
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Teaching the Bengal Cat a taste for human blood

Original YT playout date: 27 December 2009
Duration: 2:24

They will play fight with Pushkin even when he’s not in the mood, and that’s when he shows them who’s boss…

Good for him, I say. Not an ounce of sympathy from me if a cat scratches you!
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Cat eating spider

Original YT playout date: 19 September 2009
Duration: 6:20

Have you ever seen a cat eating spider? Now’s your chance.

Don’t miss the cute pics at the end of my wife with her daubs of cream when recovering from chickenpox a couple of months back!

I’m afraid I screwed up on the exposure in the middle bit, but I left it in anyway as it shows part of the ongoing saga of my terrace…
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A drive along the Vistula reservoir

Original YT playout date: 13 May 2009
Duration: 36:27

Between Wloclawek and Plock the Vistula broadens. We ride the road you can see on the map to the south of this lake. I keep up the usual running commentary.
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The truth about the Corvid-19 and what you need to know – part 8. The cheepy treepies

Since it appears that the pandemic is taking a long time to settle it has taken some of the urgency out of getting through the Corvid-19 series. In fact if I do it too fast I might have to make up the time with a Cervid-19 series and I am far from sure I can find things to talk about for 19 of the Cervidae. It is proving a challenge even for the Corvids and there are about 45 of those to select a representative 19 from.

This time we see a more exotic corvid which most Europeans or American readers won’t know at all, while given the fact it is not at all rare in South Asia, my readers from India and the surrounding countries will be very familiar with this bird.

As usual the information is being put together in a table for so as to allow an easier summary at the end of the series. I am still thinking about publishing a fine “Corvid 19” wall chart in time for the end of the pandemic.

CC BY-SA 4.0 with thanks to author Charles J Sharpe of


Common Name Rufous treepie
Other names Indian treepie. A local name in India is taka chor, or “coin thief”.
German Wanderbaumelster
French Témia vagabonde
Russian Индийская древесная сорока
Polish Srokówka jasnoskrzydła
Scientific Name Dendrocitta vagabunda
Number of species in the genus 7
Number of subspecies in this species 7
Literal meaning of Scientific name Wandering tree jay. An earlier species name “rufa” as well as the common name “rufous” refers to the cinnamon red coloration of the mantle.
Described by English ornithologist John Latham in 1790
First attested in literature Not known in earlier Western literature.
Wingspan (cm) 17
Length bill to tail (cm) 37
Distribution Most of southern Asia, from Afghanistan to Southern Thailand, with subspecies of slightly differing appearance appearing in different parts of the range.
Remarks A fairly common, small bird which is conspicuous both because of its handsome red white and black plumage and also its loud musical calls, with a broad vocal range. There are a number of diffferent Dendrocitta species or treepies, effectively a treepie is a tree magpie, as pie is the original name for a magpie (see the note on the common magpie earlier in the series).
Migrations The migrations are not wide-ranging despite the name of wanderer, as the bird likes to cache food stores.
Sexual dimorphism Barely noticeable
Close relatives Six other Dendrocitta members, of which the most similar is the grey treepie D. formosae from Taiwan.
Not close relatives thought to be close The Dendrocitta are one of four genera in the Crypsirininae, which means “hidden nostrils”, and the other genera also contain birds called treepies, including the ratchet-tailed treepie, the racket tailed treepie (two completely different birds from different genera, Temnurus and Crypsirina respectively) as well as the black magpie, which is a treepie despite its name. Magpies proper are not closely related.
Cultural significance All the treepies got their name from the fact that they stay in the trees almost all the time, rarely coming down to the ground to feed, and therefore known to humans more though the calls which they have and also the flashes of rufous plumage that can be seen, on the white and yellow and black of the handsome white bellied and collared treepies. They mainly eat the fruits and leaves of trees, some have a particular affinity for certain trees or are adapted to eat the fruit of trees poisonous to most other birds and mammals, such as Tricosanthes tricuspida. It is loved by palm farmers as a natural predator on the palm weevils Rhynchophorus among other arboreal insects.

The rooks, the horse, the cat and the snowman

Original YT playout date: 3 March 2009
Duration: 14:18

The rooks come home to rest, and I take my kids to their horse therapy. Later on we see our balcony snowman and discuss how the comments of a few morons led to my needing to take down a successful film. Between these morons on the one hand and morons like Warners on the other, I am losing material these days almost as fast as I can put it up.
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Sika deer in Ashridge

Original YT playout date: 10 February 2009
Duration: 39:12

“I can’t belive you you film this, let alone make other people watch it afterwards, REDICULOUS!” wrote one commentator. Nevertheless, I am enjoying watching it afterwards, as it has my parents on and little Sophie’s voice, which otherwise would be lost for ever as my parents are gone, zichro baruch, Sophie hi gdolah achshav, and this will never happen again. So even if someone doesn’t like it, I don’t really care too much. I like it. Yeah, it’s a pity that the video cam is blurred, but that’s what I had. Some people see the world like that anyway, because they don’t realise that they need glasses. Just as some commentators comment like that because they don’t realise they need more brains.
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The truth about the Corvid-19 and what you need to know – part 7. Some secrets never to be told

My delay in getting through the series of nineteen Corvidae members, also known as “the Corvid 19” is only dragging out the pandemic as initially it was supposed to be one a week, but there was also supposed to be vaccine by now so I am not the only one with a delay on their hands.

Today, however, we move to one of the best known and most iconic Corvids, the unmistakable Eurasian magpie. And we are going to be finding out some little-known facts about this well-known bird, including the fact that the name is actually highly sexist and chauvinistic, if you get into the etymology of it.

Thanks to Stefania.foto6 for this photo given a CC licence on wikicommons.

As usual the information is being put together in a table for so as to allow an easier summary at the end of the series. I am still thinking about publishing a fine “Corvid 19” wall chart in time for the end of the pandemic.

And if there is a second wave, I may need to do a Cervid-19 also, but I will pay deerly for such a project.

Common Name Magpie
Other names Pie (the original name, see below)
German Elster
French Pie bavarde
Russian Соро́ка
Polish Sroka zwyczajna
Scientific Name Pica pica
Number of species in the genus 7
Number of subspecies in this species 6
Literal meaning of Scientific name “Pica” is the Latin name of the Eurasian magpie, as attested in Latin literature. Greek has Karakaxa, which could have been selected, but wasn’t.
Described by Linnaeus 1758, but as Corvus Pica. The genus Pica was later posited by Mathurin Jacques in 1760. Previously Conrad Gessner had described the magpie in his 1555 work Historia animalium, a classic f renaissance zoology, but not in the binomial system, which it predates.
First attested in literature Well before Gessner there are mentions of magpies in the classical literature. It is part of the folklore of many countries and is the only one of the Corvid 19 to have had an opera written about it, La gazza ladra, the Thieving Magpie, by Rossini.
Wingspan (cm) 62
Length bill to tail (cm) 46 (long tail, half the length of the bird)
Distribution The species covers all of Europe and most of Asia in a band across Russia below the permafrost, except in Kamchatka, shich has its own subspecies. In total there are 6 subspecies, and these differ little between themselves
Remarks The magpie is consider the most intelligent bird given that it alone among the birds passes the “Mirror test” for self-recognition. It is known for its iconic black and white markings which gave rise to the term “pied” for other similar markings, like the pied wagtail of Hamelin. The actual term was just “pies” which the “mag” term from ‘Maggie Thatcher” referred to the resenblance of the vocalisations to those of a nagging woman. It is reather a chauvinistic name and this as well as being both black and white are likley to make this species endangered in a leftist world like this is, where sense is ended before it’s begun.
Migrations Only minor within the range of subspecies.
Sexual dimorphism Barely noticeable
Close relatives There are five other species in the Genus Pica, of which the Hudson magpie is very similar and also regarded as a spirit animal as the Eurasian one in ancient Germanic mythology, by the First Nations people. The yellow billed magpie and the Maghreb magpie are noticeably different, other than that, there is little to notice as difference between the species in the genus.
Not close relatives thought to be close Other birds called green magpies, one of which we looked at earlier, are not distant relatives. The  treepies as well, such as the black magpie we will be looking at next time, are all also corvids. The Australian magpie, on the other hand, is a completely unrelated bird and not a Corvid at all.  Most unrelated but sometimes confused is a small rabbit like mountain mammal called a Pika, whose Scientific name used to be Pika pika, which sounds the same even though spelt differently, this driving a change of that one to something I cannot rememeber beginning with O.
Cultural significance The Thieving Magpie overture by Rossini is a piece of music you would probably recongnise even if you do not know the name of it. It is La Gazza Ladra in Italian.  Magpies are disliked as thieves of shiny objects, and also for their predation on the eggs and young of smaller songbirds, and also are regarded in some cultures as mystical harbingers of various portents, as typifies in the rhyme references in the title. Nevertheless, there are many regional variations of the “one for sorrow, two for joy” rhyme (I even made one myself called “Fagpie” in which the noxious effects of smoking are listed. It was inspired by a meme of one Magpie holding a cigarette in its beak. If these things were actually true, they would probably be universally true and not have one meaning in one place and another meaning in another, but all we can gain is that this iconic corvid bird with its unique intelligence is very good at tapping into the human propensity for superstition.




USSR War Memorial Park

Original YT playout date: 22 January 2009
Duration: 12:06

A look at the park near the Soviet War Memorial by Zwirki i Wigury in Warsaw, with the running commentary you may have come to expect. This is a sort of “blog on the hoof” style with attention to nature and history. Enjoy!
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The truth about the Corvid-19 and what you need to know – part 6 – the corvid that drives you nuts, or crackers at least.

Over the last few weeks I didn’t manage to make a Corvid-19 article in this series, which doesn’t bode well for coming quickly out of the crisis, as it won’t be finished until I get to the end of the series, but on the plus side we do have some positive news about treatments emerging in the USA and the UK.   Today we continue our review with another Corvus genus member, one of the less well known Corvids, the nutcracker. This is in fact three species from both the old and new world, and 9 subspecies, but we will be focusing on the one with the broadest distribution for our gang of 19 Corvids, namely the spotted nutcracker.

Thanks to Murray B Henson for placing this excellent image of a spotted nutcracker in the Morskie Oko National Park in Poland in the public domain.

We are presenting the info for each Corvid in a similar tabular form and there will be a publication available at the end of the series where you will be able to get hold of the combined table.

Common Name Spotted nutcracker
Other names
German Nussbrecher
French Cassenoix
Russian Кедровка
Polish Orzechówka
Scientific Name Nucifraga caryocatactes
Number of species in the genus 3
Number of subspecies in this species 9
Literal meaning of Scientific name  “Nut shatterer” in Latin and Greek respectively
Described by Linnaeus 1758
First attested in literature Not many references to the species are made in culture. The nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky refers to the metal implement used to crack nuts. In 1693 the word appears in English in the translation of a German travel guide, the bird itself not being found in the UK, although a sister species, Clark’s nutcracker, is found in Western North America but William Clark, the explorer for whom it was named (not in Latin though – it is Nucifraga columbiana – described to science in 1811 based on Clark’s specimen by Scottish naturalist Alexander Wilson, dubbed the ‘father of American ornithology”) only discovered it in 1805.
Wingspan (cm) 53
Length bill to tail (cm) 38
Distribution Again this Eurasian species has a very broad range from Sweden and Poland in the West to the Pacific Coasts of Siberia and China as well as upland Japan. The Himalayan species of nutcracker, the large spotted nutcracker (N. multipunctata) is considered a distinct species. Despite its name it is not significantly larger than the spotted nutcracker.
Remarks They have a range of vocalisations and are social. Their diet is largely the seeds of pine cones and cedar nuts, giving rise to the Russian name of “Kedrovka”. They do not actually crack heavily shelled nuts with their beaks in the way the implement called a nutcracker does, with the exception of some local subspecies adapted for the cracking of hazlenuts. They store the seeds which they do not eat.
Migrations Some of the nine subspecies migrated slightly within the range.
Sexual dimorphism Barely noticeable. Pairs remain together for life and both partners feed the young.
Close relatives The nutcrackers are in a subfamily of Corvids on their own, in fact many people may not realise that they are corvids as they are not a typically crow-like bird. Nevertheless, they are more closely related to true Corvids in the standard cladograms than jays or magpies are.
Not close relatives thought to be close The overall shape of the body and beak could lead one to suspect that the bird is related to the very broad Starling family, including mynahs and a host of tropical birds from the old world, however the Sturnidae are not closely related.
Cultural significance One cannot find much about these birds in literature, poetry or song.



Animal Therapy – Horses, Cat, Monkey, Ant…

Original YT playout date: 10 January 2009
Duration: 5:29

This is pretty much what it says on the tin…
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The truth about the Corvid-19 and what you need to know – part 5 – a look at the rook.

Last week I didn’t manage to make a Corvid-19 article in ths series, which doesn’t bode well for coming quickly out of the crisis, but on the plus side we do have some positive news about treatments emerging in the USA and the UK.   Today we continue our review with another Corvus genus member, one of the better known old-world corvids, the rook.

A rook in England, thanks to Adrian Pingstone for placing this fine photo in the public domain.

We are presenting the info for each Corvid in a similar tabular form and there will be a publication available at the end of the series where you will be able to get hold of the combined table.

Common Name Rook
Other names None
German Saatkraehe
French Corbeau freux
Russian Грач
Polish Gawron
Scientific Name Corvus frugilegus
Number of species in the genus 45
Number of subspecies in this species 2
Literal meaning of Scientific name Fruit-gathering crow
Described by Linnaeus 1758
First attested in literature Known and written about from old times, in England referred to in a legal enactment by Henry VIII, who spells them “rokes”.
Wingspan (cm) 96
Length bill to tail (cm) 46
Distribution Distributed in all Europe and much of China, with a narrow belt going throug Russia in the middle. The western variant, C. f. frugilegis stretches over most of the range even as far as parts of China, but shares part of the range with C.f. pastinator.  They tend to live south of the 60 degrees parallel, especially in Winter, where those of more northerly ranges can fly further south for the worst of the winter, returning early in the spring while it is still snowing. The species tend to avoid territories preferred by ravens, so they prefer firelds to forests. They have been introduced to New Zealand where they are regarded as an invasive pest.
Remarks Most vegetarian than other crows. Less likely to exhibit high degrees of intelligence in interacting with humans. Their high nests in large company are known as “rookeries” and they probably have more collective ouns in English referring to groups of rooks than many other species do, and these include: ‘building’, ‘parliament’, ‘clamour’ and ‘storytelling’. They do not have as broad a range of vocalisations as other Corvus genus members, although there is some variety, but their signature rough call is what gives rise to their common name in English. In turn, their name has been applied to the chess piece and to an ungainly human novice or “rooky”.
Migrations Only the more northerly populations are migratory and only for the worst of the winter. The painting by Savrasov “the rooks’ return” shows returned rooks on a snowy backdrop, so they only flee the coldest snaps, not the temperate winter in and of itself. They have successfully urbanised in many large cities such as Moscow or Warsaw.
Sexual dimorphism Barely noticeable, other than a slight crest on some males, which are larger
Close relatives Other Corvus species may be closely related but hybridisation with rooks is rare.
Not close relatives thought to be close They remind one with their bald faces of coots, a water bird not at all closely related.
Cultural significance Although crows themselves have unpalatable flesh, the strictly vegetarian rook is more tasty, apparently – “rook pie” was a meal mentioned in the Pickwick Papers, however this is only palatable up to its maturity, and the season for shooting rooks for food is short. Already mentioned above, one of the finest paintings in my opinion in the world is “the rooks return” by Savrasov. In the main they have been regarded by humans as an agricultural pest, but despite this they remain quite a populous bird.

The Rooks Return, by Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov, showing classic nesting behaviour and a return by rooks to a northerly location even before the thaw of the winter’s snow. Seen in Russia as a welcome harbinger of Spring on the way.



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