What better way to begin this first column of the new year thanking my many 2010 correspondents than to summarize a message from University at Buffalo Professor Claude Welch.
Early last year Welch sent me a series of answers to the question: What year is it? I will update his list, I hope correctly: The year we call 2011 will be the Jewish year 5071; the Muslim (Hijra) year 1432; the Japanese Year of the Tiger, Heisei 23 (dated within the reign of the current emperor); and the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, 4708. The Hindu year varies widely by population group, with the most common, Vikrama Samvat, 2068. Several of those calendars have different New Year Days and some differ even in the number of days in the year.
While on the subject of calendars, several readers also wrote to question whether January 1, 2010 began a new decade. Shouldn't, they asked, December 31, 2010 end the decade and January 2011 begin the new one? This question also arose about January 1, 2000 beginning a new century. While I stand with tradition here, this is not an easy question to resolve. Consider in this regard a child's age. We do not say that little Barbie is zero years old; instead, we say that she is so many months old. At the end of her first year we say she is one and she remains one all through her second year. Thus we have this pairing of numbers 0:1, 1:2, 2:3, and so on. Mathematicians call these pairs cardinal and ordinal numbers and insurance actuaries further muddy the waters by changing ages in mid-year. In any case, we just completed the 2011th year of the Common Era.
I especially appreciate the many readers who send photos of birds, often those that appear at their feeders. I have great difficulty identifying birds from descriptions but at least I have a chance with photographs. And today's cameras with powerful magnification bring into focus those birds that used to be tiny spots in photos. My favorite of the recent ones sent me was Mike Morgante's forlorn little barred owl, one of three that visited his back porch.
When I raise questions in this column I often receive informative replies. Here is an example from Dick Hubbard of Rushford Lake: "You wondered what a gooseberry tastes and smells like. As I have roots in the Midwest, I know that the answer is rhubarb. Very tart and used similarly. A gooseberry pie is a fine treat. The berries grow on medium-sized bushes and do not smell."
In winter I receive many inquiries about feeder problems, most of which I cannot resolve. They seem to fall in three categories: What should I do about squirrels? What should I do about hawks? And what should I do about rats? Avid urban bird feeder Jean Crump, for example, finds herself torn between locating her feeder in the open to avoid cat problems or near foliage into which birds can dart when a hawk approaches. I doubt if anyone can resolve that kind of issue.
Also about feeding birds, Herb Mosher wrote: "On my morning walks in Orchard Park I've been taking bits of wieners, etc. to feed the crows. They're a smart bunch. Regardless how bundled up I am on a cold morning they seem to be able to recognize me and fly down to get a morsel. Some land within a few feet. And they go after other crows who encroach on their territory. To me all crows look alike but they certainly can recognize an intruder."
I end this reader appreciation column with a request. I received much correspondence related to my column about Joseph Ellicott. Next summer I am hoping to ride my scooter around the Holland Land Purchase following the route that this extraordinary man followed during late 1797 hiking around the perimeter of this region. Ellicott wrote much about his other activities, but my search has not uncovered anything about this 300-mile expedition, the last part through deep snow. If anyone has more information, please contact me.
I wish all readers a happy 2011, 5071, 1432, Heisei 23, and 4708.-- Gerry Rising