Thursday, August 28, 2008

What a Day.

Hooray! A bird. Why do I say hooray a bird? Because Labor Day Weekend is fast upon us and Thresherman's Park is readying itself for the Thresheree. Now this is the area where I come to be made a fool of by Crows. This is the place the hawk, tentatively ID'd by Kevin and Sally as a Red-shoulder comes to hunt but as of today, there isn't a creature in the place.

Hey don't leave! It's all driving me crazy too. It's noisy and dusty and suddenly far too many people have descended on the park.

Okay, we're gathering a group of whatever these are. From the vocalizations and the pointy wings I'm thinking it's Killdeer. I realize I'm quite grumpy. Over stimulation by people and people things does it to me every time. This place in particular as my opinions are very different from the norm and then, well, I've become the Thresheree Photographer. (What was it thinking?)
On the other hand, any wild thing that allows me to watch it always makes me feel better and the place is usually full of wild creatures. And wildlife always does make me feel better. Why is that? No self-consciousness on my part?
I am being a little unfair but aren't we all often unfair when we're grumpy?

After all, the guys out harvesting sorghum are funny, and nice, and the process is quite fascinating. Sorghum syrup, for those who don't know, was one of the things our ancestors used as a sweetener. It's quite tasty and much better for us than sugar. What is happening here is the leaves are being removed from the stems as they interfere with the pressing of the stems which is how the sweet juice is procured. It's fascinating as that isn't even a sharpened stick. It's a piece of slat. If you have the correct move down, you hit the leaf at the joint just right and off it comes. It takes some technique and skill.

This is the sorghum mill, a real one that was moved here instead of being junked, and it's run by steam from a steam engine. You can see part of the engine on the far left. The juice is pressed out and boiled down to syrup using the steam. A similar process is used on the sap that makes maple syrup. It takes quite a bit of technique and expertise to run the mill and make the syrup so I think this is great. Here is a bit of human technical skill which is being handed down which is quite lovely. I admit steam engines are fascinating. They come in all shapes and sizes and as no one really uses them anymore the running of them also has to be handed down through generations. And it's no walk in the park. If you screw up you can find yourself in pieces on the other side of the barn.

And what have we here? These are separators, or threshing machines. They separate the chaff from the grain and they're run by steam engines as well. The idea is that at 11am on Saturday, all these machines will be threshing at the same time and break the Guinness World Record.

Now keep in mind that everyone of the separators is being run by a steam engine. Some here are the only example of their kind left in the world. Which often means the owner is nearly the only one left in the world who intimately knows how to run it. I give slack for things in which there is only one left and also for the few people left who know how to run them.
the much bigger originals that will be running the threshers tomorrow. There are 29 threshers and therefore there needs to be an equal number of steamers. Not really a problem as the Wade Brothers, owned I think forty of them. They were farmers who just couldn't stand seeing nifty stuff thrown away so they collected them up from all over the countryside when other farmers "upgraded". The Wades never threw ANYTHING away theirs and anyone elses.

Which leads to this. But in the scheme of things there really aren't all that many left in the no, that doesn't make me particularly grumpy.
Well this made me grumpy. It's parked where the turkeys often come out to forage. No turkeys today. And I admit it, I'm prejudiced against gas engines.

Here's an example. There are hordes of John Deere tractors in the world. Why or why must they be here? They aren't that old and quite similar to many things still in use.

It leads to this. And actually it leads to much more than this as all of these are owned by just one person. And soon everyone and his brother will be riding around on them all as they are remarkably simple to drive, not a whole lot of technique and expertise here. They'll be kicking up dust, making things crowded and scaring the animals.

Besides when you have those, you have to have these. Sigh. One thing does lead to another. Is human sloth at the bottom of it all?

Speaking of which, this really sets me off. They've gouged out more woods. Playing.

More of the same. You know what, THIS is actually what made me grumpy. It made me grumpy because it made me sad. For some people the woods is only good for playing with rock and dirt machines. There is no sense that it's alive or that living things live there or that they have any right to exist anyway.

So not being able to stand it anymore, I've escaped. And thank you, thank you, there are still a few birds in the world.

Look carefully, see the white patch on the wing. Definitely Killdeer. They're one of my favorites. They're ground nesters and the ones in which the dad pretends to have a broken wing and leads predators away from the family.
This time of year they're hanging together in family units which then unite to become flocks. And they're having a grand time, swooping, diving, circling and vocalizing. Killdeer are quite talkative. I think there is a constant state of letting everyone know were everyone else is.
They're beautiful to watch in flight.

But it's too good to be true, here comes another flatbed--and what, for good measure another gasoline truck both rumbling quickly in our direction.

The Killdeer chitter and then they are gone across the treeline for a little peace and quiet. I'm getting grumpy again.

Then an antique car appears out of the treeline. Wait just one minute, that break in the trees wasn't there yesterday. Hmmmm. Why not, I head for the break on the trees too. Aha! The neighbors alfalfa field has been harvested and I'm betting....I walk through the break and up the hill...

...from the plastic barrels this field will be a parking lot tomorrow. But currently it's sanctuary from the machines on the other side of the trees.

Then I hear them. It's the Killdeer and I've disturbed them. Some are in the air chittering and gaining my attention while others will be running low through the cover away from me...the predator.

They're fast, they fly high, then swoop down. Then up again in a crazy erratic eye catching, that's the point after all, winged dance.

Eventually landing further away and with no doubt, some relatives.

I must have looked at them too hard because off they got again, chittering louder and flying faster. Well as P.D.Q Bach is wont to say, "Fast is good. Loud is better. Fast and loud is best."

Drat, I was distracted and I've lost where they went.
Aha! There's one. Is he allowing me to see him so I'll leave the rest alone? One never knows.

He does know I'm watching and he's being alert to me but not taking off. And of course this is a country Killdeer. Though in reality he is plenty far away though perhaps the camera makes him nervous.

Yes, he is absolutely aware of me. I always wonder what the evolutionary advantage of those stripes are?
Still watching.

If I'm going to stare, he's going to stare too.

I don't know if you can tell from the photos but he has scrunched his head down, making his neck shorter.

He then bobs his head several times quickly. I suspect he 's triangulating the distance to whatever it is he's after. I've not been allowed to watch them hunt before. This is great.

He goes for something and then he's back into the pattern of searching. (By the way, these guys tend to go across the field in N/S lines. Is it magnatism or in this case I'm betting it's just the furrows in the field.

He continues the scrunch, bob, walk pattern.

Then once again gives me the stare. Okay, okay, I'll go. Thanks though. You made my day.

The sun is going down after all, and then I hear them. Far to the west, it's cranes. Sandhills are calling and the pair comes out of the sunset. Quite possible the ones I watched last week. They've gone to another spot to forage. Another field newly harvested perhaps and are returning to the cover of the pond across the way for the evening.

They are truly gorgeous in flight. Time stops for a few beats. Well that was the cherry on the top of today. Not such a bad one after all. It is getting dark, so it's down the hill, to the treeline and...
...there are five or six...? Chipmunks? They could well be. Or perhaps Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels? I'll stake it out soon before it gets this dark. Well, now we know at least part of the reason the hawk sits in a tree that overlooks this particular patch, now don't we?
Great day! Observed Killdeer hunting technique. Watched the cranes sail by. Saw the prey the hawk is after. Whatever might tomorrow bring?
Donegal Browne

Pancake Undulates, Two Tom Turkeys, Plus Doorstep and Friend

Pancake is busted under the bird feeder as I come out the back door. As it was too late to flatten out and freeze, he just goes for part 2 and freezes.

For whatever reason it just isn't Pancake's day. He keeps getting busted time after time. Whether it's because I'm going out back more frequently today or he's getting tamer, I'm not sure.

But as he's going to stay frozen as long as I look at him or I get too close and he makes a break for it, it's a good time to check him out. Look how fluffy is chest is. One wouldn't have guessed because the fur on his back is so smooth and sleek. His muzzle is like that of a square jawed dog. Big for his size too. I'd really like to have a look in his mouth and check out his teeth but I have a feeling that Pancake wouldn't mind nabbing me with them. In fact he'd probably heartily enjoy it.

Later I bust him in the Sunflower patch. He does one of his pancake imitations while I look at him but this time he's more annoyed than scared and he glowers at me.

Later still, I look out and he seems to have something heavy in his mouth. I'm not positive but it looks a lot like the little round bone in a ham steak. It was garbage day today so that's just what it might be.

At any rate, he's taking no chances that he'll loose it to me and takes off at top speed. And it turns out that part of how he gets his top speed is to undulate. Who knew?

Yes, Pancake might be interested in bones as Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels are omnivores. I once was sitting in my car and suddenly--BANG--something hit the hood and lay there. I got out and found a pork chop bone sitting on the hood. I looked up and there was a Gray Squirrel looking down at his bone.

Then I was off to check out the the Crows vs the Hawk. I went to Thresherman's park and the wheat field. One Crow called and headed across County Highway M and disappeared into the tree line. Wow, no Crow games today, but in the wheat field there are three turkeys. I drive past pretending to be going somewhere else. Then drive until I am obscured by trees, get out, and attempt to sneak back. Right.

The third turkey is not fooled and obviously being of a nervous nature has hustled into the woods but these two Toms, though not having been fooled either, are still feeding though walking rather fast, while doing said feeding, toward the north and their usual exit into the woods. In the dim light it's difficult to get their heads in focus as they are pecking very rapidly. Now and again they dig with their feet to uncover other grain and then go back to peck, peck, peck, peck.

Unfortunately kids in a golf cart begin coming our way down the gravel road. Almost to the tree line, the turkey looks up, freeze a moment, and in order to get enough time for the longer exposure while he is still, I slowly raise my arm over my head. The pause while he looks, trying to figure that move out, was enough for the photo. But was also enough to convince both turkeys to disappear.

By the next click, no turkeys.

They stepped into their refuge and kept on walking.

And for those who have inquired, especially Emrys in Scotland--Yes, Doorstep and Friend, the Mourning Doves I've been watching for going on three winters, are alive and well. That's Friend above and Doorstep below looking into the camera.

Having posed for the photo, Doorstep now goes right looking for tidbits. She's joined by one of the House Sparrow kids. The backyard sparrow pair, has just fledged a bumper clutch of youngsters, there are five of them and true to their species they are noisy, insistent, competitive, and rambunctious.

Doorstep looks askance. Are they giving her indigestion with their antics? One youngster was alright but now she's got three of them around her. As there is safety in numbers, she turns and starts to go back toward Friend.

No good! They're everywhere.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Orphaned Squirrels, Goldfinch Swimming, and a Red-tail with a Squirrel on his Foot

Photo by Carol Vinzant
Rehabber Carol Vinzant's current charges--

I’ve got 2 baby squirrel sisters. But one is in really bad shape and probably won’t make it. I think they were all attacked by a cat. A woman in Queens found four of them, one dead already. She waited an hour for the mother, then took 3 home. One died on the way here. One girl is completely fine. One has a deep bite wound on her belly and maybe a broken foot.

Jolly is of course very happy to see them. They’re about four weeks old maybe, eyes still closed. Both are very noisy.

(Jolly is Carol's wonderful dog who absolutely loves having squirrel company--or opossum company-- or just about any kind of beastie company when it comes down to it. D. B.)

Carol Vinzant

Long time blog contributor Betty Jo of California sent me the following email concerning a Goldfinch, the one above is in the Wisconsin backyard up to usual Goldfinch activities while the one Betty Jo is watching seems an unusual fellow, with unusual habits. Lets hope she gets that photo!


I am sitting at my computer with one eye on my "vase" style front yard fountain. The birds perch on the 1 and 1/2" rim to drink and bathe as the water cascades over the rim. A goldfinch is swimming! It dives into the water (which is a 3' deep jar--swims to the middle where the water bubbles up, swims back to the edge and pulls itself out with its beak! It has repeated this 8 times! Once it slipped off the edge, down the curved side of the jar and flew back to the top. So wonderful. I will try to get a picture to send to you. None of the other goldfinches do this; the Michael Phelps of goldfinches!

So wonderful!

Betty Jo

(This Goldfinch is amazing. So now we know that Goldfinch participate in play also. D.B.)

The following email came into our state cat rescue email list:

"One of our foster moms called: a hawk somehow got his claw caught in a dead squirrel - it took him more than an hour to dislodge the squirrel from his claws, and has been perching on a swing set, favoring the foot, and not flying away. The ACO in that town would dispatch the hawk if called. Tufts isn't too far from us, but none of us have any skills in trapping wild predatory birds."

Several people emailed with suggestions on contacts and the writer has promised to keep us updated. My 2 questions: Wouldn't it be illegal as in a federal offence for the local Animal Control Officer to kill a redtail? (we cat rescue people areas hesitant to call them as you NYC redtail people are to call Animal Care and Control). What kind of injury could the bird have from catching his talon in a squirrel?

Inquiring minds want to know.

I had a redtail in my yard a few weeks ago, I think it might have been a parent trying to coax a fledgling along from the way it was calling. I've learned a lot reading all the CPS hawk blogs!


Hi Judy,

This sounds like John Blakeman’s cup of tea so I’ll send it off to him but in the meantime here’s my take.

One can't just go around zapping federally protected species for no real reason even if you are Animal Control. A permit would have to be granted and as far as I can tell in this case there would be absolutely no reason for one to be given. I suppose there might be some leeway for emergencies but this isn't one. In fact I can't think what might be construed as a Red-tail being so dangerous that it would have to be killed on the spot. I mean, it isn't as if they hold human children hostage.

Trapping a particular Red-tail is extremely difficult while it is still flighted as you may have read about when we were attempting to get our hands on the RT fledgling, Hous, when he was sick.

There are foot traps used to snare raptors for banding but that is also permit only and you have no control over who you might catch.

Squirrels take real skill on a Red-tail's part to capture safely. They're dangerous sharp-toothed little buggers with very tough skin.



About the hawk with the embedded talon.

It would be a decided violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and almost surely also of any state raptor protection statute, for an animal control officer to kill any hawk, with the possible exception of if such a bird had it's talons entangled in a human. In a squirrel? Not a chance that this allowed.

Young red-tails can get their talons so deeply embedded into the skull of a squirrel or other similar-sized mammal that they don't know how to rub off the talon-clasping head or skull. Usually, though, the bird sooner or later rips away the enclosing bone tissue, freeing the talon.

John Blakeman
JSTOR: Food and Habitat of the Spotted Owl Concerning the capture of bats, it is possible that the Spotted Owl is sufficiently agile flier to take bats on the wing, at least the slow-flying
Food Habits — Spotted Owl — Birds of North America Online Figure 2. Spotted Owls hunt primarily at night in dense forest. ... hawks for insects and moths and will hawk and capture bats on the wing (ABF, RJG)....Also, apparently RTHs do it to: (link attached)
We had watched a Red-tail Hawk floating motionless over the hill behind the bat cave. Someone mentioned that the bats would be out soon; the hawk knew it. Once the bats started pouring out, the Red-tail started feeding, taking bats on the wing. The hawk’s mate and a Sharpie later joined the hunt. Both Red-tails took out at least five bats.
The reason I 'd asked was, the other evening, I was driving down a rural road in Wisconsin after dark, after just leaving Thresherman's Park where I watch the Crows and the mystery Raptor. I drive slowly at such times as I really don't want to hit a deer. Collisions being dreadful for everyone involved after all, when suddenly just as I was going under the action I saw what I took to be a mid-sized owl flitting around above the car catching something. I had seen bats earlier so my first thought was the flying mammals.
ALSO FROM R. AND THE BBC, Birds can do it and now it turns out that cows and deer do it too. They can tell North/South.
Why is that an evolutionary advantage for cattle. It's an advantage for migrating birds, so perhaps as cattle's progenitors long ago migrated too...?
Here's the link--