Friday, August 22, 2008

Eagle vs Swan

All photographs courtesy of Kelly Munday
R. of Illinois discovered this sequence of photos and passed them along to us. All I can say is, Kelly Munday was in the right place at the right time and made the most of it. The sequence is unlikely to be replicated any time soon.

Here's what Kelly had to say--
“We went to the mouth of the Lakelse River (in British Columbia, D.B.) and spotted a pair of swans. I took some photos of them flying overhead. An eagle came out of nowhere and grabbed one swan and tried to take it down,” she writes.
The swan was able to get loose and went back into the water and eventually swam away. It was an amazing thing to witness and photograph. I was just lucky to have my camera ready!”

Again, according to Ms. Munday the Swan landed in the water and swam off.
I get the feeling that Bald Eagles are regularly willing to take on prey animal that seem too much for them. Let's face it a Swan is no pushover. Plus I saw a photo at The American Museum of Natural History (Great avian photography exhibit, I believe it's called On The Wing--GO, if you have a chance.) of two Balds cooperatively carrying a very large fish on the wing.
Donegal Browne

Part I and II Sandhills and Geese in the Wheat Field

Yesterday, I decided to mosey over to the harvested wheat field in Thresherman's Park to see if there were any turkeys foraging as there had been the day before, I was surprised to see some very odd looking turkeys. I drove by, pretending to mind my own business. Exited the car out of bird sight, well except for the Crows who were scolding vociferously, and walked toward the field.

I hadn't even seen these guys. Though I had heard the Crows, who just wouldn't stop screaming at me.;

Why hadn't I seen the Geese? Why did I think there were some strange turkeys out there? Well, this is the wheat field and the birds were way, way, way, at the other end of the field. All I knew was that that whatever they were, they were big and brownish.

But, nay, nay, twasn't turkeys, instead once I got magnification on them, they were a pair of Sandhill Cranes.
By the way, do you know what a group of Cranes is called? I didn't so I looked it up. There are three choices--a herd of Cranes, a sedge of Cranes, or, and (my favorite), a siege of Cranes. I can't help thinking that if a group walked toward me that I might feel a little on the besieged side.
At any rate, it was interesting that the Canada Geese and the Sandhills weren't really all that far from each other.

Though Mr. Sandhill was certainly giving the Geese a "look".

And the gander was sending it right back at him.

Mr. Sandhill continued, I don't know who blinked first but--

...Mr. Sandhill decided he needed to check out the north treeline.

Satisfied on that account, he and the Mrs. went back to browsing.

WAIT! What's up there? Turkeys trotting around in the treeline?

Of no import evidentally. Then the pair began to do one of my favorite behaviors of Sandhill couples, they began to move in sync.

Oops! What now.

Nothing. Having done sync side to side, they now do it head to tail. See the legs, they move at the same time, same leg.
Then the hen turns and the male catches the rhythm once again. (By the way, does anyone know what a male Crane is called? Is the female a hen? I couldn't seem to dig it up this evening.)

The Goose and the Gander have been browsing together as well, though they don't do sync, they do mate for life just as the Cranes do. Gander is being quite vigilant himself.

Now back to the grain. I often wonder how the males get enough to eat with all the sentinel duty they do. I wonder if they have slower metabolisms or as they don't lay the eggs, they don't need as much food though they are larger.

Oh yes, there are three geese. I suspect the third is the final gosling hanging-out with the parents from this season's clutch.

Gander checks the woods. The girls just keep on pecking.

Gander's next look is back to Mr. Crane--just in case.

Ahh, Mr. Crane seems to be coming his way. No wonder Gander is being so attentive.

Then the goose catches up...

And then the Cranes go back into sync.

Just checking. Is the height posture supposed to be menacing? A warning.

Then back to foraging. But all the time the geese and the cranes are converging towards each other's group. Can't wait to see what will happen when they meet!

Suddenly Mr. Crane goes into another posture and looks north.

And what should be coming from the north? A formation of geese. Note the leader, very far out front. He is honking loudly and often.

It looks as if the leader is taking the group down.

Gander watches them coming out of the north. He begins to respond to the leaders Hoooonnk, Hooonnk and very penetrating voice.

Mr. Gander watches and vocalizes. But he isn't doing the strong, loud, Hooonnk of the flock leader. The honk with the big awww, in the middle. Rather he is saying, in quite the quiet voice, at least it's quiet for a goose, Gander is saying, " Hink, hink, hink.", periodically. He looks to be trying to make a decision on what should happen next. Stay or go?
This is when the Murder of Crows began their secretive activities. See Part III.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, August 21, 2008

PART III-Crow Games and Cicada Exoskeletons

You've no doubt noticed already that though this is titled Part III there isn't a Park I and II. That's because the sequence is so long using dial up that you can only have Part III today.

It's okay as Parts I and II are about watching a pair of Sandhill Cranes and a trio of Canada Geese work a harvested wheat field getting closer, and closer, and closer to each other. Then just as they were about to meet and I could find out just what interaction might take place, the murder of Crows that had been scolding me viciously for sometime, suddenly halted their screaming and their group flying. They then began to congregate beyond the rise you see above.

This getting behind a hump and then popping a head up now and again seems to be a standard Crow move. Of all the day to day species congregating around the wheat field, Crows insist on doing what they are doing when I appear, but then they insist upon doing it, just where I can't see them do whatever it is.

Turkeys tend to hightail it. The Sandhills and the Geese knew I was there but continued their business within sight with the slight addition of more vigilance by one of their members. Not the Crows. Oh no.

After the first couple of Crows went behind the hill with here a head, there a head, the entire murder decided to go back there and torment me with their mysterious goings on.

The heads disappear, a Crow lands right, and hurriedly disappears beyond the slope as well.

The sentinel pops up again with a full head and checks out the squirrel up right, while two other Crows allow only the tops of their skulls to show. By this point I've counted 17 Crows diving for the bunker. They must be lined up like infantry back there. It does occur to me that it's a good thing that they don't have little coffee table sized cannons to shoot at me and other intruders. I bet they'd do it too, if they had them. All the while doing the Crow equivalent of knee slapping laughs. Though it would be hard for Crows to slap their knees as they bend the reverse of ours, even if they had hands to slap with.

A second head appears and there seems to be a bit of a Crow discussion ensuing with the sentinel. Plans for dinner? Invitation for drinks? How to make cannons...

While one head looks right, the other looks left and a third bird just blows by all of us.

Sentinel is still keeping an eye on squirrel, who has decided that he must cross the road, no matter the possibility of becoming embroiled in the "games".

The duo of Crows does an impression of Janus for me.

Ah HA! They were just pulling my attention so yet another Crow can make it safely into the entrenchment.
And then dear readers, the memory on my camera was full. By the time I'm done checking it, well under 30 seconds --there isn't a Crow to be seen.
Later, on my way out I checked their area. What should I find but a five foot diameter mud puddle in the low spot. Sorry, it isn't a mud puddle it's a Crow "pool". Perhaps they meet there of an evening to discuss the events of the day. Or more like to take an evening drink before sleep, which of course doesn't preclude the first suggestion at all.

Tomorrow we'll take on the The Cranes and Geese, but in the meantime it's off to a discovery by CP photographer Eleanor Tauber.
Photograph by Eleanor Tauber
Remember the beautifully spooky photos by Eleanor of the Cicada coming out in the dark? Well it's now daytime and Eleanor has discovered a Cicada exoskeleton still gripped onto a fence.
Photograph by Eleanor Tauber
Plus the exit aperture a metamorphosed cicada used. Rather like an unneeded coat that's left carelessly behind at the coat check, never to be thought of again.
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Turkey Perspective, Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel, Brewer's Blackbird Rides Hawk, Dr. Irene Pepperberg Coming to NYC

A Turkey Perspective-photo by Bob McCargar

I asked photographer Bob McCargar just what kind of neighborhood the Berkley urban turkeys were foraging in, and here's the answer. The vegetation looks quit lush and I'm betting there are many turkey tasty tidbits amongst the vegetation.

I looked out under the feeder today as I was passing by, and thought, "Oh there's Chewy." Then, "No it's NOT. That's no Chipmunk, that's a Thirteen lined Ground Squirrel. A first for the Rainbow Drive feeder. What's he doing here?"

Not that Wisconsin isn't full of Spermophilus tridecemlineatus. There are no worries about their conservation status, but one just doesn't usually see them browsing on the patio. Here is their scientific classification courtesy of Wikipedia.

S. tridecemlineatus

The answer to the question, "How do you tell the difference between a Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel and a Chipmunk?", is often answered around here with--"Chipmunks climb trees and Ground Squirrels don't". Well, yeah, but with that ID you have to wait around for somebody to clumb a tree. Personally, I don't really think they look alike at all. The GS has clear multiple stripes, while the Chipmunk doesn't. Not only do their ears look totally different but most everything else as well looks different.

See? Now of course they're both little rodenty guys, but the Chipmunk runs with his tail up, the Ground Squirrel doesn't. Okay, they both have rather slanted ovid eyes, they're small and reddish brown but that's about it.

Note he's stuffing his pouches. According to the literature, this time of year is when they start fattening themselves up for hibernation in a big way and also stash a little food in their burrows for possible snacking.
By the way, this guy can run at 8MPH, which is a good many rodent steps per minute. There also seems to be quite the difference between a small member of the species and the larger ones.

Biological statistics
6¾–11⅝ inches (170–297 mm)
2⅜–5¼ inches (60–132 mm)
1–1⅝ inches (27–41 mm)
3⅞–9½ oz (110–270 g)
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Some GS's weigh three times more than others do.

I decided that his name was Pancake, for obvious reasons. Look how he flattens himself as he forages. Their home range is 2 to 4 acres. They live and hibernate in extensive burrows and eat weed seeds, grass, insects, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. Plus they might also eat the errant shrew or mouse plus possibly bird flesh when it's handy. ( And here I thought they were straight grainivores.)

I noticed that The Genome Project had finished the genomes of Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrels. First question, "Why them?"

Here's the answer--"Although rodents represent nearly half of all mammal species, their genomic diversity is represented by only two relatively closely related species - mouse and rat. The genome of the thirteen-lined ground squirrel will expand rodent sequence diversity to another family within the suborder sciurognathi. The other distant branch of the rodent tree, the suborder hystricognathi, will be represented by the guinea pig, Cavia porcellus, genome sequencing project. "

They were chosen as a representative. Here's the lineage courtesy of The Genome Project.
Spermophilus tridecemlineatus

And as one might intuit, they're distantly related to the mouse and the rat.

Pancake wasn't particularly cooperative about giving me a view in which you could count the stripes. Here's the best effort.

A head's up from long time Hawkwatcher Katherine Herzog: Dr. Irene Pepperberg, of The Alex Foundation, one of the giants in animal intelligence and communication will be speaking at the 92nd Street Y at 7:30, on November 2nd.

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle
(Brewer's Blackbird harasses hawk much the same way the Red-wings do it here in Wisconsin.)
Thanks to R. of Illinois for the link.
Donegal Browne