SEASON’S SIGNATURES

from KJ Finley

The Bufflehead – Heerman’s Gull phenogram

bufflehead-phenogram-2016_2

Phenology is the root of natural history and our base instincts, if we are so attuned. How to predict when and where a biological event will occur, is essential to survival.

Phenology was the rage in Darwin’s time, but it has been all but expunged from our lexicon, as natural history became fragmented by disciplines. Recently it is enjoying a comeback, under the banner of citizen-science, in the new age of the Anthropocene.

Buffleheads (Bucephala albeloa) have been around for half a million years, since the late Pleistocene, and their predecessor B. fossilis, for two million years or so, since the late Pliocene. Along the way they took up an inextricable relationship with a desert, ground-feeding, ant-eating woodpecker. Like the Gilded Flicker or Gila Woodpeckers nesting in Saguarros and in soft Cottonwood Poplars along desert streams. These evolved into a Northern Flicker, strongly associated with the northern softwoods, especially aspen. These became our western red-shafted and eastern yellow shafted forms, split by Wisconsian ice sheets, and re-joined along the opening corridor following the “Yellowhead route” of the jetstreams.

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