post contributed by Kerry Finley
SPRING SPRUNG : EDT1 – Day 190 at 90 % of the Winter Buffathon
It was apparent yesterday afternoon that departure was near as they gathered in “family groups” over the shallows. Pair bonds, usually not evident, were very close, with the females often soliciting sex. Unlike the last waves of transients, when courtship activities and mock-battles abounded, the resident pairs have settled down to sex and eating. As the mudflat community of tiny Green Tanaids warms up, the Buffleheads are stocking up their energy reserves for the long flight and, particularly for the females, the energy to start the next generation.
Bufflehead society is matriarchal and complex, certainly as complex as humans, and I don’t pretend to fully comprehend it. When I label this first wave as EDT1 – the departure of the breeding pairs, as opposed to the next wave EDT2 of the yearlings – it probably leaves a wrong impression of the family dynamics involved. Unlike most ducks or bird species, Buffleheads show an extended relationship with their young, both sons and daughters. Matriarchs on their home ponds are usually visited throughout the breeding season by females thought to be their daughters. The Matriarch shows the daughter how to fly through trees ( for the first time in their lives) and especially how to find a proper nest cavity, and make the tricky aerial maneuver to enter. The “daughters” regularly check in on the development of the next generation, and lay claim to an extremely limited piece of real estate. The yearling “sons” also check out their natal ponds, and maintain a relationship with their fathers. The Drake, in turn, maintains a close partnership with a “brother” throughout the winter. These “family units” were evident yesterday as they exchanged knowledge of whatever lay ahead.
Although yesterday morning’s systematic count gave a high of 174, a rapid evening count when they were resting, gave 143. This morning’s scan gives 81 of which only 22 (27%) are drakes, down from 50 %. There are still a few pairs remaining, but the bulk are gone.
This is a major milestone in the Buffathon providing the first forecast and test of this critical component (EDT1) of the population, using first the planetary wave – lunar model that predicted an earlier departure than normal, and then a weather model to refine it. It is apparent that their timing is more strongly controlled by the planetary waves than the moon, and that it is as precise and constant as ABD itself. In fact, with an sample size of 6, the standard deviation is only +/- 2.4 days. Therefore, EDT1 is a constant universal signal of the onset of real spring in the northern hemisphere, most closely tied to the retreat of the snowline in the Altai Krai region, and more constant than the various climatic variables of melt. As Owen Lange knew ( Living with Weather ) weather is just a manifestation of the uber-forces of planetary waves and lunar cycles that occurred at very precise moments.
At 190 days past ABD, EDT1 marks real spring with a proven precision of < 0.1 %, by far the most accurate natural phenological calendar on earth. As Owen Lange noted, the meteorological calendar and the seasons are out of synchrony with the Gregorian Calendar, which is why “Easter” is a capricious ceremony. The artificial onset of the New Year, Leap Years, The Work Week and Daylight Savings are all constructs of economy.
The Song of the Sooty Sparrow says so.