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Saw-whet owl waits patiently by door for darkness

Last week I wanted to write an update about trumpeter swans when I was stopped by an encounter with another sort of "critter" - streptococcus bacteria, in the form of strep throat.

That's one natural phenomenon I don't like.

But I'm back this week with photos of swans and some more ideas for collective nouns to describe a group of swans.

The Web site said that a group of trumpeter swans can be called a ballet, a bevy or a regatta. John and Marlene Weber told me that in James Lipton's book, "An Exaltation of Larks," a group of swans is called a "wedge."

That's not bad - when swans swim together in a group, they often do form a wedge. But that got me thinking of other wedges, and I came up with this next idea.

How about a pie slice of swans? Or a dessert of swans?

John Weber suggested these terms: a lake of swans, or a clarion of swans (especially in the case of trumpeter swans). Marlene wanted to address the fluid, beautiful movement of swans, so she proposed this term: a grace of swans.

Those nouns all inspired me. Here are some more ideas (or crazy tangents):

If one can say a ballet of swans, maybe we could also have a waltz of swans?

If I think of colors, I come up with this: a cloud of swans.

How about a whisper of swans?


Speaking of groups, I saw a flock of at least 30 snow buntings Monday, March 3 close to the meadow. They exploded upward from the road ditch and glinted and flashed in the sunlight.

According to, a group of snow buntings is called a drift. That's nice, and it seems quite accurate. It doesn't get at the crazy, jazzy way snow buntings lift off the ground and explode into the sky, however. To describe that, you'd have to say something like "a coin toss of snow buntings."

Or how about this: a bingo of buntings?

Yikes, shrikes

One bird for which I could find no collective noun (perhaps because they are so solitary) is the shrike. Marcia Cole has been seeing a shrike at her place in Huntersville since about the first of the year.

"We have bird feeders on three sides of our home and we have a lot of birds that feed here, including a female pheasant," Marcia wrote. "Once or twice a day the shrike flies in, sits in the bushes or pine trees and waits for its next victim."

Marcia knows that shrikes have to hunt to survive and has observed the shrike "chase, pounce on, capture and fly off with a little bird in its beak."


Frank and Mona Mitchell were lucky enough to see one of my favorite (and one of the smallest) owls Sunday, March 2. When they returned from church that day, they found a little northern saw-whet owl sitting on an old grinder by the front door of their house along Highway 71.

They took several photos, and said the owl "didn't move a feather."

The owl stayed on his seat by the door all day and was still there when Frank and Mona went to bed.

Saw-whets are only about eight inches tall and weigh just 2.8 ounces - less than a blue jay weighs.

Contrast that with the great horned owl Stan from Becida sees almost every time he fills his bird feeders. Great horned owls are almost two feet tall and weigh approximately three pounds.

"There are no rabbit tracks or scat around the feeders any more," Stan wrote.

Thanks to all who wrote with news. When sending your reports, be sure to give your name and a little information on where you made your sighting. Send to

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