Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tulsa Raptors and Osama bin Squirrel Returns

Photo Cheryl Cavert
Hi Donna,

When I am out and about in Tulsa, I am always looking for any of the KJRH RT hawks, but a this time of year the spottings of any RTs in the urban setting have been few. I did see Jay a couple of weeks ago on the KJRH tower. Driving west out of Tulsa about 70 miles a couple of weeks ago, I could see numerous rural hawks circling-it was hard to watch the road instead of the all the hawks!!

Yesterday I could see a local Bald Eagle perched along the Arkansas River. It was the first time I had seen one there in 3 weeks. I parked and took a walk, trying to get as close as possible again along the high fence bordering the city sewage pumping station facility.

Photo Cheryl Cavert
The eagle perches are on the far side of the facility, along the river bank. I took a few pictures and then rounded one of the structures, but still was not close enough for a decent picture.

Photo Cheryl Cavert
I happened to glance at the nearer perch and Aha!-another Eagle! I quickly aimed my camera, brought the eagle into focus-just as the eagle took aim!!

Photo Cheryl Cavert
She glared a little at me for my nosy/noisy interruption. Then both eagles flew off into the river bottom and out of view.

Photo Cheryl Cavert
A few days ago I was in a parking garage and took this picture of the KJRH nesting tower 2 miles to the southwest. It was a beautiful sunny early fall morning and the fog/haze had not yet burned off in the river basin. On the far left the "Mazzio's Tower", a cellular transmission tower, is also visible above the treeline. In the far distant horizon is "Turkey Mountain", with the Arkansas River flowing between its base and the furthest visible treeline. The Riverparks System runs all along the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Even with the aggressive electric company trimming and all the damage/trimming from the ice storm and wind storms, the urban RT hawks of Tulsa still have plenty of perches, with the KJRH tower having the best view!!!

No wonder Kay and Jay picked the KJRH tower to nest on and on which to perch during the off season. Just look at the amazingly wide view to monitor the movement of prey. It is far better than anything else I can see in that area but then again I don't know if their criteria has changed since last season. Let's hope not. I'd hate not having that sitting-in-their-lap view that the HawkCam makes possible!

As the Tulsa hatch was much earlier than those in NYC, I would think, that within a month or two we'd start seeing a little more of Kay plus some twig-to-nest action.

Will Thunder come back with her mother and be a juvenile about town?

I can hardly wait!

Photograph Carol Vinzant
Remember Osama bin Squirrel, the berserk baby squirrel being cared for by New York's Carol Vinzant? Carol gave me a little background on him, she said," My super found him with a bloody nose and a bad attitude 2 or 3 weeks ago in the courtyard of our building. So I just let him out right at my window to that courtyard.


A day after his release, Osama Bin Squirrel came back to my window sill.
He poked around in the nuts, then left when I opened the window. I figured that meant he was full and doing fine.

I left the room to make a call and when I came back he was not only inside, but sitting on the cage, looking down at the other squirrels.

I got squirrel dinner ready and offered him a syringe full of formula. He frantically drank it, so he was really hungry.
Figuring he would be terrified to be caught, I propped open the top cage door and left the room.

You guessed it, the other three squirrels came out. I fed them more.
I rounded them up pretty quickly.

Photograph Carol Vinzant
Osama hid in and behind the bookcase.

I left the room, turned off the light.

He came back on the cage and I caught him and put him in the cage.
All slept cuddled together. I guess he needs another week or two.

Of all the squirrels I’ve released, he is the one I would have figured least likely to return.

How does that expression go?
If you are kind of tired of being growled at and bitten by someone, set them free
If they don’t come back, they were never really yours
If they do, it means they were really hungry.

Carol Vinzant

Considering the way Osama ordinarily eats from the formula syringe one minute and then attacks it the next, I wonder if it wasn't O.b. Squirrel's mom who gave him the bloody nose after he treated her teat with the ferocity with which he uses the syringe.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Where did they all come from?

I've been lamenting the fact that most of the birds and animals seemed to have disappeared locally. The wildlife in the back yard had been reduced to Doorstep Dove and sometimes Friend at sunset, pilfering Gray Squirrels, the dawn to dusk cheek stuffing sessions of Chewie the Chipmunk, and a half grown Cottontail who showed up to feed on the patio at 2am.

That is until today. When I pulled back the curtain to look out early this morning with virtually no expectations, suddenly the place was full of creatures. A half dozen Robins were zipping after each other around the Concord Grape vine. See the Robin above?

He had evidently decided that all the grapes were his and whenever another Robin made a mad dive through the vine to grab one, he took off after him.
Parts of the vine were beginning to get that plucked look.

Though there were still plenty to attempt to protect. The Robin and Grape Game came to a complete standstill when, finally, a Blue Jay appeared. The first I've seen in the yard since last winter and true to his kind, his voice proceeded him. He was loud, full of himself, and looking for some action. The Robins decided retreat was the better part of valor.
On the feeding floor, there were Juncos and White-throated Sparrows. Probably not our local winter residents quite yet but someone's a little further south.
White-breasted Nuthatch has been around for two weeks, though I've usually only heard him. Two fleeting glimpses were my quota until today. Today he was extremely busy hatching sunflower seeds into the stump. But he wasn't getting them from the feeder. He was moving previously stashed seeds from their initial hiding places in the bark of the Maple to the bark of the stump. One assumes he felt they weren't save in their previous position. But why? Only he knows and so far he's not sharing the information.

Later when I went outside into the summer mimicking day, I discovered that one entire side of the house, including the blue-billed yard duck was hosting a tremendous swarm of what the neighbors call Flying Ants. ??? And once I started looking around the air was full of them as well.

Anyone recognize them?
My phone rang and I was told that there were Sandhill Cranes out a Thresherman's Park so I hopped in the car to go try my luck.

I saw two Cranes overhead on the way, but when I got to the wheat field, instead of cranes I found a turkey who seemed to be watching the sky.

Then she was watching me. But instead of having the usual frightened Turkey expression somehow her expression looked more sad and long suffering. She did keep an eye on me but didn't rush off into the woods in a tizzy. Instead she compromised and foraged near the verge of the the field and woods.

There were many small birds as well. But most seemed to be flitting this way and that too rapidly to get a camera on them. The air here too, was full of the "flying ants" and they must make a tasty meal because the insect eaters were having a field day.

After a half hour of nabbing the little winged beasties, the Bluebirds went over to the dead tree and digested.

Then a group of robins began to invade the tree. Suddenly they seemed to be attempting to run the Bluebirds off their perches. Which worked. The Bluebirds just moved to another tree and didn't' really seem at all put out.

A Robin surveys the area and small flock gathered in the tree. After a few minutes of Robin calls they all headed into the east section of the woods.

In the meantime, more turkeys had appeared. In fact there were nine of them eventually. Which has to qualify as a rafter of Turkeys, certainly.

The birds are definitely on the move again.
What will tomorrow bring?
Donegal Browne

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sally's Tufted Titmouse Plus a Handful of Hummingbirds

Photo courtesy of Bill Rossiter
Tufted Titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor

I received an email from Sally of Kentucky with a very interesting sighting--

Dear Donna

So, I am sitting here this evening kind of looking at the deck out of the corner of one eye as I work on the computer and I notice something happening right outside the door, under my grill. I suspect it is a titmouse or a chickadee, as they often forage in there, seeming to get little insects hiding in that corner. Low and behold, not one, but two titmice emerge from the little rack under the grill, one with a mouth full of downy dog hair that my border collie mix has been losing the past month! Now, even if they are my year-round residents, WHY are they collecting hair this time of year? It looks like spring nesting behavior in October!


Now why would a titmouse be collecting hair in October?

I started digging. Though I've not found a specific reference to hair collecting in Autumn by Titmouse perhaps there is something about them that might give us a clue to at least a hypothesis as to why this bird was collecting hair so late in the year.

They nest in cavities.
They are inveterate, almost rabid hair collectors.
Titmouse cache food for future winter use.
Cavities have been found with literally pounds of hair inside.
It's thought that Titmouse mate for life.
A bonded pair is usually resident year round in their territory.
Often young from the previous year overwinter in the natal territory with their parents.
Sometimes unrelated juveniles will join with these family groups to overwinter.
The thought is that this may be a way for young Titmouse to meet mates.
Some parids are able to lower their body temperature during roosting to conserve calories.

1. So far I've not found out if Titmouse use a cavity in winter to roost. If they do, might they not put some hair in it as they do for nesting?

2. Titmouse mate for life. Many species who do this, pick mates much earlier in the season than do birds who choose from those who shows up after Spring migration. Could this be a case of a young bird attempting to show what a good provider he'll be to a prospective mate?

3. Bonded pairs, have ongoing courtship bond activities to strengthen the pair bond throughout the year. Could the presentation of wads of dog hair, make Mrs. Titmouse's heart beat even faster for her gift giving mate?

4. Mr. Titmouse is confused and has somehow been cued to perform nesting behavior. Perhaps like Red-tails who have not had a successful nest, instead of clicking into care of young mode, Titmouse may follow a descending arc in reverse order of their Spring nesting activities.

If anyone has closely observed Tufted Titmouse, let us know.

Speaking of Titmouse, here is something I discovered in my Titmouse digging expedition--

Photo courtesy of Bill Rossiter

May 8, 2008
Prefers woman’s hair: Little bird is a picky nest builder

For three years in a row now, presumably the same little tufted titmouse has become fixated on Ms. Rossiter’s long, wavy locks, her “thatch” as she describes it, during nest-building season.


Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Archilochus colubris

From Carol Studebaker of WI--

Abagail Alfano of Pine, Louisiana lives along a Hummingbird migration route. One morning there were 20 or so birds in her yard. She took the cup containing sugar water from the feeder they had visited on previous days, and held it in her hand. She feels that as the hummers had gotten used to her standing by the feeder previously, they came over to her hand. She says in touching they are as light as a feather.

Perhaps the hummingbirds were familiar with Abagail Alfano and therefore felt comfortable coming to her hand as she often stood near the feeder to observe her resident birds closely.

Though hummingbirds in the throes of hyperphagia prior to migration have been known to try to latch onto the red patches on clothing and hats that people were wearing.

The female on the right seems to be giving the male a piece of her mind.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Squirrel Personality, Chewy Keeps Chewing, and Whistle

Photo Carol Vinzant
Female Gray Squirrels, Billie, left, and Mary Todd, right, look out with interest. Billie rather looks like she's smiling.

Wildlife rehabilitator, Carol Vinzant, has a new crop of orphaned squirrels to add to her previous batch and they all come with their own distinct personalities.


I now have 6 squirrels but may send some to other homes before I start a new job next Monday.

Osama Bin Squirrel is nasty and threatening—or at least as much as a six inch squirrel can be.

Mary Todd, one of my original squirrels, is mostly sweet. She likes to eat first and eat a lot.

Pointy has a pointy face and is so sweet she actually hangs out with Osama Bin Squirrel and comforts him.

Peter is a small black squirrel found in (Peter) Stuyvesant Town . Ulysses is a friendly boy about his age.

Billie is a shaggy squirrel who licks her fingers after eating.

Photo Carol Vinzant
Osama bin Squirrel
I try to feed Osama in the cage because he is so difficult. He attacks the syringe, then drinks from it, then attacks it.

Photo Carol Vinzant
This is how they sleep

Photo Carol Vinzant

Photo Carol Vinzant
Ulysses, Peter, and Pointy

Photo Carol Vinzant
The whole gang in holding while I clean out their cage.


Carol has just gotten back from Canada where she saw bears, moose, you name it. Information on a place that has a stand for bear watching on her blog. Link above.

Mid-afternoon I looked out at the feeding area and guess who? There he was chowing down. I've realized that when Chewy is running his muzzle over the ground that yes, sometimes he's hunting goodies, but at others he's "vacuuming" whole areas of seed into his pouches. When he sits up like this, he appears to be actually be chewing and swallowing. My question does he fill his pouches and then eat? Or does it just depend?

Still eating. I also wonder what the lining of his pouches are. Are they dry? Or might they be lined with a mucus membrane or some other special lining that keeps things moving when packing it in and when expelling his booty to keep the contents from getting stuck?

He notices me in mid-chew, I do find the soft pink of his mouth quite endearing, and he decides it's time to trot off to his burrow and unload.

Twenty minutes later when I look out, he's back again, vacuuming. I don't actually think that he has suction into his pouches but it is very fast. Perhaps it's a quick action of tongue and cheeks that is the actual mechanism.
Once again I catch his eye and he pauses a moment. Then goes right back to his chief endeavor, getting as much food as chipmunkly possible into himself and into his storage burrow before he is forced by seasonal chemicals not to emerge for months.
And last of all, I've been keeping an eye peeled for months attempting to figure out in what area Whistle the Krider's Red-tail might be roosting for the night. This evening at a quarter to 7, near dark, I saw her heading for a copse of trees that adjoins the railroad tracks west of the her rodent hunting area. Tomorrow I'm going to go sit in the Dollar General parking lot at the same time and see if she does it again.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Whistle the Train Chasing Krider's Red-Tail, Late Cardinal, Hyperphagia in Chipmunks, and Friend Appears

As it had been for two days, it was raining. In fact as I found myself in the car braking to a stop at the red flashing lights of the railroad crossing, it was pouring. The train whistle hooted, and suddenly a Red-tailed Hawk zoomed past flapping with speed and purpose. It's WHISTLE, the clever local Krider's Red-tail Hawk!

She flew over the waiting cars, past the big oak, did an immediate 45 degree turn , then headed up High Street, with a slight trajectory toward the NE. And just then, the train started rumbling past the crossing at which I waited.

She's doing it! Whistle is racing the train to the crossing on the far side of town. That's the place where I've observed her clever hunting technique. She arrives at the far crossing, just as the train does, then perches on an adjacent pole, at the ready to swoop on the rodents flushed by the train.

Not only was the land earlier in the season a grain field, but now earth moving equipment has also been at work, no doubt further disrupting the rodent burrows.

Though the train is long and she'll be on her way home with dinner by the time the barrier lifts here, I'm delighted to have seen her fling herself into racing the train in the rain.

Photo Karen Anne Kolling
From contributor Karen Anne Kolling, who lives in the east, a very late Cardinal fledgling appears with her father at the feeder to be fed .

Photo Karen Anne Kolling
The chipmunk(s?) has been around the last two days, unusual since s/he is a rare visitor. Maybe because it is getting colder. The groundhog I hardly see any more. I wonder when groundhogs start hibernating.

First off, let's talk groundhogs. It turns out that woodchucks are only Spring and Summer residents in areas near tasty vegetable gardens and bountiful feeders. Come September, they prefer a burrow in a more woodsy area. Ten days to two weeks before going underground to hibernate, they stop eating and slowly begin to go into full hibernation. By the middle of October, they'll be soundly hibernating in their woods burrow and will sleep through to January or early February. Males emerge in early February and females late February or early March. Mating takes place from late February through March.
From mid-March through April, ravenous groundhogs eat anything vegetative they can get hold of, mate, and hurry to raise the litter by June. Because in early June, the groundhog's metabolism begins to slow and though food intake decreases, their weight increases by 100%.
July is the month of the largest weight gain. Their metabolism slows even further and most of their food energy goes into producing fat deposits for the months of hibernation and for the time when they emerge in late winter when grass and fresh vegetables are not yet available.

In September it all begins again.

Photo Karen Anne Kolling
And why do Chipmunks who may not regularly visit feeding areas earlier in the year, suddenly begin visits with a vengeance in October?

Hyperphagia, that's why. They are hungry like nobodies business and they are after food. Lots of it. The more in one area near their burrow the better. They'll often locate a new convenient entrance if they haven't one already.

There has actually been a good bit of research done concerning Chipmunks and their seasonal ravenous hunger by researchers attempting to figure out what causes it. Why this sudden fascination with gluttonous chipmunks? Because some humans also have bouts with irrational all consuming, seasonal hunger, which isn't terrific for them as they tend not to hibernate, though they do tend to get less active and depressed and just keep eating themselves into oblivion. It is a form of affective seasonal disorder in humans. Why does it happen?

In chipmunks HPc protein levels suddenly begin to rise as Autumn progresses. They are madly obsessed by the eating, collection, and storage of food. The protein levels then continue to increase and concentrate in the spine and the Chipmunks soon retire to their burrows for the winter.

Whereas Ground Hogs store their winter provender as fat, Chipmunks gain some weight but also make a jillion trips back and forth to their burrow with their cheek pouches stuffed with seeds. They tend to stash the seeds in a storage area and consume them over the winter though they do go into a true hibernation it is lighter than their buddies the groundhogs. During the winter chipmunks wake up on and off, go to the pantry, fill up, and then go back to sleep again.

Photo by Karen Anne Kolling

Chewy the Chipmunk also showed up today but as I've this photo of Karen's Blue Jay here. Lets talk about that. Karen said she'd only seen a limited number this year and suddenly she saw four.

Do you know why?

It's one of the oddities of Blue Jays. The Jays that are local in the spring and summer or not the Jays that are around in Fall and Winter.

How so?

Because all Blue Jays migrate.

Then how do I have Blue Jays year round?

Because they all go a limited ways south of their summer grounds for the Winter. And the Jays that spent the Spring and Summer north of where you are, are now your Winter Blue Jays.

Strange but true.

What's the evolutionary advantage to that do you think?

The only Jays that have a territory that wasn't used by other Jays just recently are the ones that are on the leading Jay edge in the Spring, the furthest south, and on the opposite migration, the farthest North.

And what do we have here? A hyperphagic Chewy the Chipmunk who is leaving no stone unturned in this mad quest for food.

Actually I'd come out the door without seeing Chewy so typically he took off like a shot toward the can crusher. But not typically, he only scampered off about 10 feet, gave me a looking over, decided it was really me and began to frantically forage back in my direction again.

It's bizarre, he's still coming. And he's getting very close to me. Snuffing the ground, shuffling the leaves, stuffing his cheek pouches.

During all this I'd actually gone into the house, gotten the camera, slid the door back and forth twice, and stunningly he was still coming my way. I stand on the step of the patio ,clicking away. Though as it's very dark and rainy, the photos won't rise to the level of anything but documentation.

Still coming. I know he knows I'm there. He's watching me.

He can't even see what I'm doing. What if I reached down and grabbed him by the tail? Well I'd probably loose the tip of a finger, but he'd still have been grabbed. He's oblivious.
Good grief. Hyperphagia can do strange things to a Chipmunk. That's my foot in the foreground. Chewy couldn't get much closer. I realize that the squirrels have been here and Chewy is having to forage for scraps as the sunflower seeds are actually just hulls at this point.
I turn to go back in the house for more seed.
And suddenly Chewy seems to come back to himself. He makes a mad run for the can crusher tarp, and then bounds into the leaves of the kindling pile beyond.
Very odd, this behavior. Poor dear. I go into the house, put more sunflower seeds out, and leave him alone to continue his quest.

To be honest I didn't remember having seen Friend since I'd gotten back last week and had, I realize now, subconsciously begun to worry that something had happened to him . Therefore I was greatly relieved to look out the door...?
Yes , it is Friend!! Whew. That feels better.
And there's Doorstep too. Busy eating a last minute snack before sleep in the pouring rain.
You know what? I think she's going to have some trouble seeing the sunset on this particular evening.
Donegal Browne