Pondering, Photographing, and Writing about Wild Places

Super Flappin’ Tuesday

I was up early on March 1, 2016, and at the polling place just after the doors opened at 7:00. Super Tuesday was underway and I was proud to kick it off!

Those who know me well are aware that I have been particularly engaged and involved in this primary election – volunteering locally for Bernie Sanders, speaking at rallies and to the media, going door-to-door. So by the time I pulled the lever, I was ready to give the campaigning a bit of a rest for a while.

Later that morning, I stood in the kitchen watching a couple woodpeckers while I cut bacon strips from a pork belly. As the grits simmered, and the bacon and eggs fried, I continued watching whatever birds came to the feeding station. When I sat down at the kitchen table with laptop and breakfast, I logged-in to Facebook, and posted this:

9:42 My early exit polling suggests that among pine siskins and goldfinches, black oil sunflower is the hands-down favorite. The woodpeckers are split evenly between suet and sunflower, with the shorter-billed varieties leaning toward seeds while the longer bills are preferring the suet. Despite early polling that suggested bluebirds would be for the suet, they are currently trending heavily along with the more predictable flycatchers, for live insects. True to form, red-winged blackbirds are staying outside the polling place and shouting at other voters on their way in. The crow party has shown up several times to vote, but gotten jittery and left before casting a ballot. Turnout among the sparrows has been generally low. White-throats and songs are turning out in small numbers, but there is not enough data to suggest a trend. Once again, despite early talk, the warblers do not seem to be voting at all. It is still too early to say definitively, but I expect black oil sunflower to come out on top. When the sisken turn out is high, you can usually count on them carrying the day. Stay tuned.

Eastern Bluebird 1.jpg

A couple minutes later I posted a photo of a downy woodpecker taken that morning, and along with it the words, “Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.” My avian precinct reporting was done and I was ready to get on with the day.

As it turned out, however, the day was not in agreement with how it would be spent. A little red circle had appeared next to my original report with a number 23 in it. Apparently people were both enjoying and commenting on my post.

Just before 10:00, my friend and now corespondent Laurie from Kentucky expressed concerns that the bluejays might intimidate voters at the polling places with their raucous behavior.

Minutes later, Tom from the Atlanta area who would become one of my star reporters, posted this:

10:03 We’ve had a couple counter statistical results here to you south, with siskins firmly on the side of thistle. There seems to an almost 50/50 split among Downy woodpeckers between suet and black sunflower, while Hairies seem to have forgotten what day it is. We’ve had a light scattering of Yellow Rumps and Pine Warblers at the suet. Also, the Siskin crowd has been lightened by the fair weather, but are holding lots of side meetings with the Gold Finches. I expect both groups to show up later in the day and thus causing a huge swing in the statistics at that time. Brown creepers are also supremely disinterested in the whole process, seeming satisfied just to hang around the edges of the polls and eating insects! More later.

Shouting Siskin.jpg

As more comments came in, I followed with these observations:

10:03 There is some data coming in from the chickadee and titmouse precincts suggesting that while they are voting with the sunflower party, they are not following the advice of the siskins and voting early and often, so I do not expect their vote to have a huge impact.

10:46 In a huge surprise, the siskins and goldfinches have completely abandoned the thistle party in NW Georgia. In the Atlanta area, however, reports are coming in that thistlemania is still on. The race between thistle and black oil sunflower is going to be a tight one in Georgia, folks! Stay tuned, it’s gonna be a barn burner! A big thanks goes out to our Atlanta area correspondent Tom for keeping us abreast of the situation down there.

A photo of a woodpecker on a dead stump sent by my friend Chris prompted this post:

10:54 This just in: Tennessee correspondent Chris reports that, as expected, pileated woodpeckers are throwing their support solidly behind beetle larvae. They just might give the adult insect party a run for their money. We’ll have to see if the fly catcher and bluebird turnout remains high and if the tree swallows and martins make it in time to vote. This is an exciting day to be sure!

And so avian election day coverage was born. I decided to encourage more input, suggesting that if folks had data from their bird precincts, I would love for them to be reported to me. Following are some of my posts, as well as comments from others. I’m sure I didn’t get them all, but there is enough to tell a good bit of the story. If there is no other name associated with a post, it is mine.

11:08 In an election day shocker, the grackles have uncommonly thrown the full force of their Top of the Sweet Gum Party against the Poplar Party of the bluejays. I did not expect this one, folks. First off, all indications up until last night were that the blue jays would back the Pear Trees, but no. And who expected the grackles to vote at all in this election! Holy cow, the geese just turned up to vote, too! Predictably, they are in lockstep behind the pond party. I have to say, this is getting more exciting by the hour!

11:26 This just in. In a bizarre twist of interspecies politcs, correspondent Julie has reported that at least one bluebird precinct abandoned the live adult insect party, jumping instead aboard the Bernie Sanders ship. While this is the first time I have heard of birds migrating to into such human political territory, there have been cases of humans voting for bird parties. The most famous of these was back in the mid nineteen-nineties when an entire community of young humans in Humbolt County, CA renounced their species in favor of the sunflower seed party, carrying the county and sweeping seeds, nuts and fruit into office by a landslide.

Bernie Bluebird.jpg

11:55 In an early lunch rush, towhees and song sparrows have lined up behind the tall grass party, and cardinals are en masse voting for sunflower seeds. No surprises there. Meanwhile, the red-winged blackbirds are still refusing to vote, but doing an awful lot of talking.

12:03 Bruce in KY: You can never count on those Pileated Woodpeckers! They just can’t make up their minds – you can tell by how often you see them banging their heads against trees.

12:12 This just in: Correspondent Sherry has reported that in her precinct, both cardinals and cowbirds are flocking to a party that was unknown to me until today. Apparently the Kitchen Window Party is now a front runner in at least one precinct. If that trend continues, we could see the cardinals split between the Kitchen Windows and the Sunflowers, opening a hole for the Atlanta Thistle Party to come from behind and surprise everyone but Tom who has been predicting a thistle win for some time now.

Male on Green.jpg

12:15 I know it sounds crazy, Bruce, but drum-beating is part of the pileated strategy. Nobody ever thought they would make it to Super Tuesday with all that nonsense racket they make. I for one thought they would be seen for the clowns they are, but not only are they still here, they are carrying the Larvae wing of the Insect Party and now it looks like they might triumph over the Adult Insect wing.

12:44 Our first report out of Kentucky from correspondent Janet has the “#%*@ starlings” backing the immigrant-friendly Eaves Party. I suspect the house sparrows will follow their lead. If they turn out in large numbers, they could end up having nearly as much impact as the pine siskins today. We’ll see.

12:49 John in CO: We want peanuts! (Note: I’m not sure if John was speaking on behalf of a particular species when he said this or if, perhaps, his computer was hijacked by flickers.)

12:51 John in CO: Nobody wants millet. (Note: Again, is this John speaking, or have the house finches rebelled, flown off with his i-phone, and begun a protest?)

12:52 In pre-election polls, mourning doves came out in favor of millet, but so far no precincts have reported any doves turning out to vote. I will keep you posted.

12:53 John in CO: I predict that they’ll abandon millet for some nice white safflower. (Note: See above notes…)

1:08 After virtually no turnout this morning, the first representative of the warbler precinct – the pine warbler – has shown up to vote and after careful consideration cast his lot with the Sunflower Party.

Pne Warbler Deck.jpg

1:19 Fawn in the D.C. Area: Black oil sunflower seed is the runaway winner! Suet comes in a close second.

1:31 Tom in GA: Well Jim, we’ve gotten off to a late start here in Central Georgia, but, after noticing increased activity at Niger Thistle poll, this reporter conducted an informal exit poll and came up with a rather disturbing story. Apparently, the Siskin and Goldfinch voters had ALL received information that the voting date had been changed to next week and that a large party with free thistle seed was being held about a mile away in the woods. The apparent source of the bad information, one Debbie cardinalis Schultz has so far failed to return our calls. But, the damage is done now, no investigations are expected, and as a result, Black Oil Sunflower seed has taken the day. This reporter is somewhat discouraged, but will continue to monitor results in other states. #FeeltheThistle!

1:47 Tom in GA: Well Jim, this Election Day has certainly been surprising. Two separate instance of illegal interference with the vote here in Forsyth County has led this observer to think that something less than kosher has been going on! First, in a huge embarrassment to poll watchers, NO SEED was available at the main Black Oil seed poll resulting in extremely low turn out at that location; and, second, and most important, a neighboring cat has been found assaulting voters at the Niger Thistle station! Of course, this has created quite a stir here in Forsyth County and the original poll watchers (as they jokingly refer to themselves) have all been replaced by a more alert crew that seems dedicated to preventing any further incidents of voter interference. There are suspicions circulating that government officials connected to the suet lobby may have been involved and an investigation is now under way. Suet party voters have denied any involvement even though they now have a heavy lead in contest. As word spreads, we expect both Black Oil and Niger voters to return for another try. Stay tuned!

Around 2:30 I had to break from reporting on the bird precincts for a while, but encouraged folks to keep reporting. A handful did.

2:49 Laurie in KY: I think the turn in the weather is going to affect the crowd, except perhaps the ducks, who are not put off by the rain. The ducks are still out voting for the pond.

4:47 Sharon in FL: I have the fish crows here saying nuh uh to everything. Nothing makes them happy.

7:03 Nannette in TN: Low turnout in my precinct; repaired the newest of the voting machines with duct tape. I think the voters are having a hard time feeling comfortable voting since the poll workers (squirrels) are a bit bullish, as they broke the machine to begin with. Using a new ballot as well, it looked fancier, but has not helped lure more voters. I am thinking that the voters have lost trust in the system.

7:15 Fawn in DC: Tufted Titmouses, longtime Independents, have recently joined with the Chickadees. Although small in numbers, these cousins are fiercely passionate about the black oil sunflower seed platform. Their chatter is distinctive and rings out like a clarion call for being true to one’s beliefs.

dining titmouse.jpg

Despite every intention to offer a complete wrap-up and analysis the next morning, I offered only this one last post:

11:11 It was a long, sometimes crazy, unpredictable day in the bird primaries yesterday. Reports from precincts all over the country continued to come in late into the day, right up until dark. Only one precinct reported after dark, that being the barred owl precinct which turned out heavily to vote. They were quite vocal in asking each other who would be cooking for them, but I never heard any of them speak to what was cooking, so where their votes fell is undetermined…

Several commenters said they were looking forward to following the next election on my FB page, others thanked my ad hoc news team for making the day a little more bearable, and there are still other comments occasionally trickling in a week later. I hope readers enjoy looking back at our Super Tuesday avian primary as much as we enjoyed experiencing it together. I regularly question why I still have a Facebook account, but special days like these are likely to keep me on board… at least a little while longer.

Note 1: Special thanks goes out to my friend Avery who is  encouraging my blogging, and was rather insistent that folks would enjoy reading this post, in particular. If you didn’t like it, comment below, and I will give you an address where you can send her hate mail.

Note 2: All photos are by me from my kitchen except for the bluebird on the Bernie sign that was sent to me by Chattanooga correspondent Julie.

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