Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rabbit Tracks in the Snow:Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

While attempting to find a way around the house without having to struggle through deep drifts, I saw that the rabbits had been doing the same thing.

The far left trail is in a trough between two small drifts and is nearer the house, making it darker and more sheltered at night. It looks like a definite going-back-and-forth-to-somewhere-specific trail. But what is happening on the right? There seems to be tracks for at least two bunnies. There doesn't look to be any forage there. What were the bunnies doing?

Which brings to mind the question--Just where are their rabbit holes?

Ah, what's this? A trail, very deep and so well trod the tracks aren't clear disappears underneath the neighbor's garden shed.
That's a big hole. If that's a rabbit hole, there's a bunny in there I haven't seen before. It must be huge. Is this the home of Godzilla Bunny? Or maybe Fluffy?
Going round the back the drifts allow three places to get under the shed, though only two spots look like they've been used by the tracks.

The far right set of prints might be Fluffy's but they don't go all the way to the closest hole and it's too small for Fluffy anyway.

The next neighbor down also has a garden shed and the prints clostest to the hole are bunny tracks. The hole is smaller than the first found entrance under the other shed. The rabbit hasn't gone to the park side for some time. But rather goes off to the sides in both directions toward feeders.

3:51PM and the moon is up, floating in a beautiful blue sky.
Though here on earth, the enviroment has taken on a rather crater scarred look. And this evening the weather report predicts 10-15 inches more snow.
The snow is getting very deep and no one has any idea where another foot or so of snow will go. Already when shoveling the end of the driveway, I have to lift the shovel head high to get to the top of the snow pile. Note there are no tracks going towards the park where I am standing. There is no food here. The grass is under several feet of snow, as are the rodents.
It was old home week at the grocery store with everyone stocking up on food before yet another storm. I saw the local raptor rehabilitator standing looking at the yogurt. She asked if I'd noticed there wasn't any road kill in sight lately and suddenly Red-tails, for which there had been a bumper crop, are scarce. I agreed. In the last few weeks I've only seen one Red-tail, though I have seen Rough-legged Hawks and the immature Golden Eagle.
It seems all the road kill is being consumed the minute it is created and that done at least some of the Red-tails have dispersed in search of better hunting grounds.
February and March are the hardest months for young hawks to survive. Wisely many seem to have left town.
Doorstep Dove and Friend sit in the sun and watch the back yards. No doubt hoping that the Cooper's Hawk which I just saw change evergreens several yards down, will go home so they can go to the feeders.
Ah, here is another set of rabbit tracks. There is a harder snow crust under several inches of powder snow. So the rabbits can still hop through without disappearing into the drifts but their back feet drag on the hop, making long tracks

Interesting, several bunny trails meet here--and then a circle. Very nice.
Donegal Browne

Friday, February 15, 2008

Country Raptor: The Uncommon Rough-legged Hawk

All photographs by Marian Anderson

Family Accipitridae- Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Many thanks to Marian Anderson, who has taken me to see any number of the raptor spots she's spied on her trips through rural areas and for catching this Rough-legged Hawk with her camera. Not an easy thing to do around here.

(No, they don't have particularly dry skin, but they do have feathers down to their ankles. Hey, it's nippy in the Arctic.)

Uncommon and far less often seen than their cousins the Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks are diurnal raptors of open country, who often hover on beating wings when hunting.

Like several other raptor species, Roughies exhibit polymorphism in distinct light and dark plumages. Siblings within the same brood can exhibit both color morphs. Above is a dark morph.

Interestingly, the buteo species that exhibit polymorphism are open country birds, and the open country Falcon, the Gyrfalcon also has morphs. Nobody as yet has figured out just why this is a plus in open country. I always thought that Wisconsin was a hot bed of Krider's Red-tails, the very light morph, because there is so much snow here so much of the time. It would seem that having more white would help in hunting. This doesn't seem to be the case with Roughies.

Though of course this isn't their breeding grounds, so perhaps it makes a difference depending on your region of the Arctic.

They are shaped like a buteo-they are one after all, but they have a longer tail and wings than a Red-tail.

Field identification marks include a dark patch at the wrist, a white tail with a black band or bands toward the tip. The dark morphs lack white to the rump but have a big patch of white that distinctly shows on the underwing flight feathers as you can see above.

In summer their range extends up into the Arctic and they're circumpolar. In an influx winter like this one, they can be seen all the way down to the Southern U.S. and Central Eurasia. Their habitat includes Tundra escarpments, Arctic coasts and in winter-marshes, open fields, and plains.

As you can see, the Roughie has "fingers", long primaries like Pale Male and Lola. I've always wondered what in particular was the advantage of those fingers and figured it might have something to do with "steering".
The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior says,"These 'fingers' provide an aerodynamic advantage in allowing the birds to fly at lower speeds without stalling."
Ah. I'd hate for them to just plummet, beak first, if they happened to be distracted and forgot to flap.
So what is the story on nests? Rough-legged Hawks can use trees but in far northern breeding grounds they nest on the ground. (Gosh, no trees up there. What else can a smart adaptive hawk do? )
Another buteo factoid from the previously metioned book, both sexes work on the nest but as as it gets closer to egg laying the male does most of the fetching and carrying.
That tidbit was for those who have commented on Lola perhaps not doing her half of the work in nest building. Well it's for the good of the species. The hen laying out a bit and conserving her strength for the long haul to come on the nest is normal. And being normal means it's evolutionarily better and therefore it increases chances of reproductive success.
I know that the nest built on 927 during Pale Male's first successful season from what I've been told, probably had more sticks placed by his mate than by himself. That makes perfect sense too. She was more experienced than he was and she was showing him how many would be needed for a successful nest---and it worked. Red-tails can learn from life experience and I wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't the case with Rough-legged hawks and the rest of the buteos as well.

Dawn. Here comes the sun in prime Rough-legged Hawk country.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, February 14, 2008

American Crow Pair Sentinal Eating and a Mending One-Eye Eats on His Own.

10:16:07PM Two American Crows are eating something under one of the Spruces. The bird on the left, with the slightly straighter-- more pointed beak, has just taken a turn. Note snow on beak

10:15:19PM I'm discovered by both birds, even though I am in the house with no back light. Not hard at all for a Crow. They are always human wary as they are very smart. Add that to their sharpness of eye and the fact that the timer on the camera beeps, and I don't have a chance. Whatever is is they're having for brunch must be terrific because they don't take off.

10:16:53PM The bird on the right with a slightly more curved and perhaps thicker beak poinds like a jackhammer on a piece of frozen ground beef near his toes. Note increased snow on his beak. Then they stare my way. I'm still in the same spot therefore things still seem okay.

10:17:02PM Curved beak goes for it again with gusto. Straight Beak keeps her eye on me.

10:17:14PM Straight Beak keeps watch not only on me but on something to the west.

10:17:24PM Straight Beak's turn to pound the frozen food for chunks, while Curved Beak stares fixedly at the house.

10:17:34PM Ten seconds later they're both going at it. The food has split into two portions, Curved Beak has the larger chuck and carries it a few Crow paces away from Straight Beak.

10:17:54PM Curved Beak chews away. Straight Beak sees that Curved Beak has moved the rest slightly away from her. She stares, waiting for him to finish his bite.

10:18:12PM Straight beak then has more from her piece while Curved Beak keeps watch.

10:18:18PM Something distracts both birds from the food. They look NW.
10:18:28PM Straight beak turns WSW and focuses pointedly. Curved beak continues to focus NW..
10:18:39PM Straight Beak appears to see something coming and takes to the air in its direction. Curved Beak bends down, gets the frozen ground beef in his beak, flips it up, and with amazing coordination, jumps up, gets food in his beak and takes flight all in one move.
Why the tricky move? Is it easier to take off without the extra weight. But the meat only went up a few inches. Interesting. I've never seen them do that before. Did Curved Beak need a better grip on it with his beak and that was the quickest way?
Having taken their meal with them, there is no reason to return. I don't see them for the rest of the day.
11:39:00PM One of the "One-Eye" squirrels appears at the feeder. This guy seems to have had an eye infection that is on the mend as the eye is now fully open instead of being stuck shut. There is still some matter in the eye but he's obviously using it to keep tabs on me
11:39:44PM He too has those handy protruberant eyes for a very wide field of vision.

11:40:48PM Which doesn't stop him from going for the full view stare when pausing before the next sunflower seed. I have the feeling that some of the neighbor's are chasing the squirrels from the neighborhood feeders. It isn't making them particularly shy, just more wary of humans. Certainly can't hurt.
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Valentine Bleeding Hearts courtesy of Eleanor Tauber





And D.B.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Friends of Blackwater Wildlife RefugeEagle Cam, Doorstep, Juncos and Avian Eye Behavior

Yes folks, Pale Male and Lola are still "doing" the town.

2:47:30PM Male Junco is sitting hunkered down in the snow by the picnic table. He's gone into a defensive "freeze" and appears to be keeping an eye on the local Cooper's Hawk.

2:49:11PM Junco looks like he's going to make a break for it. He stetches up--freezes again.

2:49:21PM Then folds back in an instant with a wary look.

2:49:31PM He turns and notices me. I realize that though his head is turned in my direction, his eye is still looking towards the Cooper's. Look carefully at the iris which is dark and the pupil which is darker.
Birds are very visually oriented in nearly every instance of their lives and I've begun to see that not only do some birds have "false eyes" in their plumage to mislead, they also, as in this case, pretend to be looking one way with their heads, while actually looking somewhere else altogether with their eyes. (Excepting those birds whose eyes are fixed in their heads, such as Eagles, and have to move their heads in order to move their eyes.)

3:42:11PM Doorstep Dove is back on the doorstep in the position in which I first noticed her, well over a year ago. She's no fool. It is warmer up next to the door. Note the slight overgrowth of her beak which will disappear once it gets a workout on something tougher than fluffy snow.
3:47:50PM Friend, Doorstep's mate, sits on the glider in the snow keeping watch. At the least sign of anything he'll be off the glider and up into the Maple Tree. He's far shyer than Doorstep is. Either that or she'll put up with most anything for a little heat.

3:49PM Doorstep stands and considers walking out for a snack.

Speaking of avian eyes, notice how far Doorstep's eye protrudes. That location expands her field of vision exponentially compared with the position of human eyes.

3:52:40PM I didn't see him go but the Cooper's Hawk must be gone as the Junco's have come out of the Spruce Tree and from under the picnic table for a pre-roost knosh.

4:17:03PM The lone remaining female Junco does the double-footed- Junco- kick-back to expose seeds. Why she remained with the males when the other females left, I've no idea.
One day a few months back after the Cooper's became a regular visitor and we'd just had a big snowfall, I noticed there were only male Juncos in the feeding area. Then one female appeared later in the day. The other females have never reappeared. I know they all didn't get eaten overnight therefore I'm surmising they decided to take off for places unknown in mass.
Perhaps something female Juncos sometimes do in winter comparable to the more southerly vacation taken by female Kestrels? Though hen Kestrels are thought to make the trip because they need more calories per day as they are larger and the prey is more plentiful further south. If anything female Juncos are smaller than the males.
So far no luck in finding an explanation but I'll keep looking.

Speaking of Solo the female Junco, there she is staring into the kitchen. Is she interested in the decor or is she just keeping track of me while she warms her feet? I'm betting it's the heat.

4:31:43PM And here I'd thought all the House Finches had taken off a month or so after the female Juncos. No, here's another independent soul out for a good meal.

Courtesy of Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge--Eagle Cam

Dad is piling grass on Mom while she incubates the eggs for some inexplicable reason. At least inexplicable to us and by the looks of it inexplicable to Mom as well. Though last season she piled a pine bough on Dad while he was incubating the eggs. Now she dumps the grass and gives Dad "the look" over her shoulder.

Do check out the Blackwater Eagle Cam and blog. It's a fascinating site full of wonder. Also quite addictive when it comes to comparing nest behavior of Red-tails and Bald Eagles.

Donegal Browne