Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clark's Nutcracker

Because I grew up in Wisconsin, and my bird knowledge came mainly from my Grandmother, Mother and one cool bird identification book (which I apologize do not remember its title) which covered mainly birds that resided east of the Mississippi River, I had little knowledge of Western birds. Thus when I saw my first Clark's Nutcracker while hiking in Mt. Ranier National Park in 2006 (Below, 7-22-06), my first reaction was, "What is that?" and my second reaction was, "I've got to get a picture so I can identify it later."  This might be another incident that eventually led me to to be interested in bird photography. I am always very happy when I see a bird I have never seen before, and doubly happy when I can identify it.

The Clark's Nutcracker is part of the Jay / Crow family and has an interesting etymology. It is named after the American explorer William Clark (yes - of Lewis and Clark fame), who encountered one of these birds in 1805 while he was on one of his famous expeditions. Clark's main job was a map maker, but he also took careful notes about the wildlife he encountered. Because he was the first person to introduce this species to the science world, it was named after him. The "nutcracker"part of the name is derived from the fact that these jays feed mainly on pine nuts, and with their long beak are able to dig deep into a pine cone to pull out the edible pine nut. Then they hide little caches of nuts all over the mountainside so they can feed during the long mountain winters. Not only do they count on the Pine trees for their meals, but the Pines count on the Nutcrackers to spread their seed all over to create new seedlings. Quite a symbionic relationship, eh?

Clark's Nutcrackers can be found along mountainsides ranging from New mexico in the south up to British Columbia in the north. I've seen them at Crater Lake Nat. Park (OR), Bryce Canyon Nat. Park (UT), and near Vancouver, Canada. Last summer ('09) Val and I hiked up to the beautiful May Lake in Yosemite Nat. Park (CA), and while we were expoloring around the lake, two Clark's Nutcrackers were chattering away and flying all over the place. They must have been having an argument, becausee they were quite noisy - probably arguing who ate the last pine-nut cache. It seemd that one was trying to get away from the other one, but the pursuer would not let him be. Finally after flying from tree to tree, one landed in the snow out in the open, and soon the other one followed - scolding the first the entire time. In the photo (Below, 6-22-09) the body language says it all, the Nutcracker on the left looks definately defeated with its head and beak pointing down in a slight droop while the one on the right is surely letting him know what he did wrong.

I am not taking any sides here, but can we say "henpecked?" ... or is it "nutcracked?"

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