Saturday, October 25, 2008

What Raptor Stares at Rabbit Holes? Plus Red-tails vs Ospreys

I've driven two blocks from the house and typically I'm scanning for birds without really thinking about it and I look at the field next to the high school. ZAP! My eyes are pulled to a pale tummy with dark wings, shaped like a raptor. But she is really far away so it's hard to see what's going on. Size of a Red-tail. But what would a Red-tail be doing standing in a field. I pull over though in truth it isn't possible to actually pull over much and I'm nervous I'm going to get smacked. I switch from the hawk to the rear view mirror and back again. The hawk isn't mantling. She isn't eating. I wonder if she's sick?

Unfortunately as all I was doing was going to the Dollar General for Kleenex all I have with me is my baby Nikon which is only 4x when it comes to zoom. Do I have binoculars with me? NO. I point the camera in the general direction of the bird, who doesn't even show up on the view screen she's so far away. Four clicks and I pull out and head for the nearest parking lot. Hop out and head towards her on the sidewalk. Wait she isn't just standing she's starring fixedly at a spot on the ground slightly in front of her. I'm still a bijillion yards away, she sees me, and zips into the air in a gorgeous---not sure what to call the move. She's so fast that she's on the ground and then suddenly she isn't and I see her pale anterior against the sky, sideways, then back and without the least look of effort she's gone.

I get a good view of her tail shape and that's no Red-tail. The tail is too long and thin, and the underside too pale. I certainly wish people walked more around here. It would give the hawks a chance to get used to them and I wouldn't have all these problems.

But by now, I know she was staring at something so I'm going to see if I can find it. Thank goodness for a few pieces of obvious litter that help me triangulate the hawks previous position.

I get to the spot and--it's a hole? She's staring at a rabbit hole? Too big for small rodents and not big enough for ground hogs or possum. But raptor stands in the ground and stares at the hole. Shouldn't she have some elevation? And as rabbits don't keep their babies in their burrows, it isn't like a naive youngster is going to poke his head out and get nabbed. Isn't an adult rabbit going to notice?

What bird was that? I do hope I got a good enough photo to figure it out.

I plug the camera in and this is the best I can get after cropping. My first thought? Hmm, looks Acciptor-ish but it was too big for a Sharpie or Coop. Goshawk, maybe? Kind of brownish for that though. Aha! Obvious white eyebrow! An immature Goshawk, perhaps?
The rabbit hole. What self-respecting raptor stands and stares at a rabbit hole? It's not like naive baby bunnies are going to appear and say "eat me".

Well, the literature says that Goshawks do eat rabbits. But it also says they like mature forest and sit up in trees and wait like Red-tails. But it also says they are incredibly persistent and one Goshawk chased and attempted to flush a rabbit from a hedgerow for 45 minutes before getting it into the open and snaring it. Is this Goshawk planning to jump at bunny and startle him so much Bunny will just run out of the hole and Goshawk will be able to grab him?

So many questions and so little information! Is this a young Goshawk who is such a dope that he's attempting the impossible? I don't know, she looked to be in excellent shape. And she was certainly strong and fast when she went into the air.

Has anyone run into this particular situation before?

Osprey feeding. Courtesy of the Ohio DNR

Responding to KC's report on the Tulsa Forum of an osprey arriving in Tulsa in October (many many months early), Sally from Kentucky (who is one of your contributors as well as a Tulsa Forum contributor) reports that there are osprey now nesting and staying year round in Kentucky, but as she notes, the maps do not have osprey anywhere near that far north year-round. KC (who lives and photographs wildlife in and around Tulsa) reports that he has heard of red tails and osprey battling each other....which seems peculiar as osprey eat fish and red tails (as a rule) do not eat fish. Why would they be fighting if they have different prey bases?
R. of Illinois


Speaking of staying year round, as it turns out it's far better for the Ospreys to stay in Kentucky for the winter. Many die from pesticides in their wintering grounds in South America. How their presence here in winter may affect other species time will tell.

In Wisconsin the Titmouse now stay year round in some areas from where historically they would have migrated. The thought is that global warming is the impetus for the change in behavior.

As to Osprey and Red-tails mixing it up, it's my thought that these battles aren't in the raptors minds about prey. They're about turf, which in turn keeps everyone out who could be a danger to their young or themselves in the natal territory. I can see how an Osprey might take great offense to a Red-tail flyover of their exposed platform nests.

For instance let's say an RT has never seen a Peregrine and has no idea what they eat and therefore lets them stay. And then the Peregrine sneaks in and nabs an eyass. Though as far as I can tell in my bad example, it's the Peregrines who show up and start the fisticuffs. At both the Trump and Cathedral nests, sometimes I'd get the feeling the Peregrine pair would look at each other and say, "Hey it's Tuesday. Isn't this one of our hassle-the-Red-tails-days?"

Of course, as I'm not camped out at the Peregrine nest site to observe, perhaps the Peregrines feel that the Red-tails are infringing on them in some way and they need to show up for payback. I'm sure that given the opportunity a Red-tail may well make a grab at their young as well.

But back to the Osprey, it turns out that, Panadion haliaetus, are the only member of the family Pandionidae. Ready for our word of the day? Because that is the case, Pandionidae is a monotypic family. (Try getting that word into conversation once a day for a week. Could be tough.)

Ospreys are also our only raptor that plunges into the water feet first for fish. Fish seem to be the only food on the Osprey menu and they are quite specialized to get it. They even have adapted feet which give them a better hold on slippery fish.
I'm definitely going to have to try and find a nest to watch come spring! I want to see that feet first plunge.
D. B.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Finally, the Burger King Red-tail-Sort of.

5:45pm Central Time
It rarely fails. I'm in the car just outside the Piggly Wiggly and there she goes. "The Pig" is the only grocery store in town so when I run over to get something that I need to make dinner hard on sunset, this Red-tailed hawk flies over the Burger King next to the store. Then, while I scramble for the camera I loose track of her. I've never gotten a good look at her. I don't even know if her tail is red, though I do have the impression that the hawk is female.

I've been wanting to figure out if this is part of Whistle's territory or whether this side of town belongs to another pair of hawks. So this time when she flies over, I don't scramble for the camera. I watch where she goes. As luck would have it, she chooses the power pole across the lot. Though I've checked the pole before after she'd gone through, and this is a first for me.

Perhaps with all the cars around she won't notice that I've noticed her.

She looks to the right, SSW. As we all know, hawks have terrific peripheral vision. I hope she didn't see the camera through the open window. I suspect no one else has a window open in this rain so she might find it odd. Do I sound paranoid? I am. The hawks keep flying away from me.

Drat, look at that. Her head turned and she is looking at me.
One more shot, and then I move the car. See Red-tail, I'm just another person hanging out at Burger King.
Super, I got a little closer but what I really need is to get in front of her so I can see her band configuration . Any other kind of coloration comparison with the hawks from the other side of town, unless it's drastically different, won't be terrific as she's wet. And it's never all that reliable anyway as the differences in light changes hawks so much.
I hope she's going to turn but she is watching the road and the grassy area, probably for rodents, so it looks like I'm the one who's going to have to move.
I skirt some parking lot construction and stop the farthest over I can get before having to go out on a public road. Now there is a wire in the way. Her tail has been looking very dark but now it seems to be slightly more rufous. It could be my imagination. I don't know if she's a brown-tail or if it's the dim light and the wet.
Here's a look at the area on her side of the street.
And the Burger King side of the street.
The rain is ebbing. Okay, I'm going to have to chance walking across the street and try to get a look at her front. Nobody walks around here so maybe I'll have time for one photo and that probably be it-- even if I'm far down the street. I get out of the car and start walking.
I come round her--click, and...
She's off and ...
and GONE! She flies round the back of one of the few deciduous trees on the hill that still has leaves.
Foiled again!
I can't do it Saturday, but I'll try for Sunday at this time and see what I can get.
Speaking of Saturday, I have some obligations that may keep me from posting. But then again, maybe not. So look in, just in case.
And now for a tiny surprise from earlier today.
Though this Junco isn't cooperative about photography any more than the Burger King Red-tail was, but I'm putting her up anyway. As she's new as of today. The yard's little Junco flock has risen by one. The count is up to four.
Maybe they'll eventually get to the dozen of last winter after all. I suspect that one or more are the same birds as last season because they immediately take to exactly the same Spruce tree when startled. And there are several other Spruces to choose from the same distance away.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Foliage Brightens and Birds Fade

The Goldfinch still stay but their feathers have taken on more subtler colors.

In the meantime the woods burst with varied hues.

The Dark-eyed Juncos, Junco hyemalis, have returned for their winter stay but so far there are only three, instead of the usual dozen or so.

The Staghorn Sumac has gone crimson.

And the other day, I looked over at the neighbor's yard and there was a grand sized group of , as they are called here, "Toadstools".

Many three to four inches in diameter.
An email arrived from Karen Anne Kolling who has been watching a Chipmunk at her feeding area out east--Chewie II As I have been watching one at mine in Wisconsin--Chewie I

Neither of us had seen our respective Chipmunks for some time so we had tentatively surmised they might be burrowed in for the winter.


Chewie II was just out there eating. Might he be making periodic appearances thru the winter?Karen

And my response--

Guess what? Wisconsin Chewie appeared at the feeding area for a little while the day before yesterday as well.

As to periodic visits through the winter, I’ve not seen the Chipmunks in WI once there is snow on the ground.

Chipmunk hibernation is slightly different from the kind we usually think of when we hear the word. Chips get up and eat inside their burrows during the winter and then snuggle in for more rest.

According to the research, hibernation in chipmunks is triggered by a hormone that is secreted by the endocrine system into their blood stream triggering the response. And the rate of secretion is determined by their circannual rthymn, a sort of body clock. So it's possible that the retirement to burrows may be a gradual process with longer and longer disappearances from feeding areas until they disappear underground and don't come out until Spring.

Ever wondered what was inside a squirrel's drey? I have and so had R. of Illinois so she found this website complete with photos to satisfy our curiosity.

Photos of the inside of a drey (and the baby chamber inside it)...

Very cool. No day is wasted or lost if I have learned something new!

R. of Illinois

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

And You Thought Crows Were Smart Before-- Or Mr.and Mrs. Crow Make Dinner Togerther.

All times Central--All Photos D.B.
When I look outside, there are two Crows. One standing on the bath and the other delving into a crack on the top of the stump with his beak. A squirrel keeps coming toward Stump Crow's stump at which point he jumps into the air and flaps, then comes down on the stump again. The squirrel does it again, and Stump Crow leaps up into the air and startles him again. Startled squirrel runs off a few yards, recovers, and heads back toward the stump. I try to take several photos of Stump Crow, but as I'm having to use the timer, I keep missing him. Suddenly after a delve with his beak into the stump he flies over to the bath, stands on the edge, bends toward the water, then flies back to the stump. I've turned the camera onto the bath but miss the two crows as I have to focus the scope. Then Bath Crow moves so I have to focus again. Better sharp than not right? Besides it's dim, and she's moving so they're going to be blurred so I need to do what I can. While I'm focusing, Mrs. Crow aka Bath Crow has taken a wad of leaves out of the water with her beak by sliding them up the side of the bath and pushing them onto the ground. Then she goes back to watching something in the bowl.

4:28:58pm Another leaf seems to have come into beak reach, she retrieves it, slides it up the side, over the top, and it drops to the ground.

4:29:30pm She then walks over to the left side of the bowl and dips her beak into the water. She raises a wad of several leaves, along with a stiff white something. Is it spaghetti! Is it petrified spaghetti! What happened to the leaves? Did she drop them back in the water? Her beak goes down into the bowl and moves towards the right like she is nudging something. When she raises her beak it is empty. What is going on here?

4:29:41pm She watches right.

4:29:50pm Then she starts walking toward the right edge again.

4:30:04pm She sees me and looks startled. Stump Crow flies off.

4:30:16pm Bath Crow watches him go but doesn't leave herself. Then without really thinking about why I'm doing it, or if it's a good time, or anything else. I just go to the refrigerator, grab a beef bone I've been saving for the wildlife, and grab a baggie with cooked spaghetti which I think is chicken. I go to the patio door, she's still on the bath. I open it a crack and immediately start squeezing and rustling the baggies together. Mrs. Crow who's been looking west, immediately looks at me with interest.

Aha! She does know the sound of baggies, ie. human with food. As I step out I try not to look directly at her. I turn to slide the door shut, and as I'm turning back again, I see her fly into the Maple that's a few feet away. The NEVER happens. Every other time if I look through the door and they catch me at it the Crows fly to the other side of the park. So it isn't easy but I don't look at her because I don't want to screw it up. I go to the stump and empty the baggies on it. That's when I discover I've brought cold spaghetti not chicken scraps, which perhaps was a subconscious act after all in the end. And I march directly back into the house. In the meantime, looking at the reflection on the glass door, I realize that the angle of the light reflects the back yard in the door at this time of day and that's why they hadn't seen me initially.

I don't look, I don't look, I don't look.

4:33:56 Back in the house I grab the camera and am surprised that she is sitting in a spot completely unobscured. Thank goodness for that reflection. I get two photos and she must hear the click because she goes a few limbs higher out of my sightline from inside the house.

She's sticking; she wants the food. Or maybe, just maybe, after how many years of my watching the Crows, and the Crows watching me, that she recognizes me as harmless. And not only am I harmless but I'm the one who puts snacks on the stump. Which I suspect now, she has watched me do before--out of baggies!

Then I remember that the Crows always, always have more patience than I do when it comes to waiting for the other to leave. She's up in the tree just waiting for me to get impatient and go do something else. But how do they know that I've left?

Then I remember the white stiff item that was in the bath. The possible spaghetti. Why am I thinking that it might be possible spaghetti? It was probably just a leaf stem.

Then the light bulb goes off in my head.

Last week I'd had some leftover cooked unembellished getting stale pasta in the fridge. When I was clearing things out, I wondered if since pasta is made from grain, whether the grainivore birds would like it. I went out and put it on the stump. Where it sat.

I kept an eye on it and it looked like it might have been stirred and eaten a bit but eventually after several days it became hard and petrified. Therefore I grabbed the bulk of it and threw it out. Brushed off the stump, where some of the dried pasta bits fell down in the crevices, and forgot about it.

Could they possibly have been pulling the dried pasta out of the stump, putting it into the birdbath and waiting for it to absorb enough water to be enjoyable and tasty?

It's been a half hour. I can't wait any longer. I have to go out and see if there is pasta in the birdbath! I head out the door.

5:03:08pm This is NOT a worm. That is a piece of spaghetti! She was. And there isn't a leaf in the bowl! And there always are lately as it is Autumn and the bowl is under trees.

Mrs. Crow has put pasta in the bowl, removed all the debris, and is waiting for it to soften. Unbelievable!

AND she had a total method for separating the leaves from the pasta. She separated them from each other. Then nudged the leaves to the right. Then she went to the right side of the bowl, waited for the leaves to get there, propelled by her previous nudge, plucked them out and disposed of them. Absolutely amazing!

In a way, Mrs. Crow was "cooking" dinner. She was actually watching the pasta closely while it went through the process of softening. Removing the leaves that might obscure the view? She was actually waiting for it to be "ready". Come to think of it if she left it too long she'd be unable to get it out because it would have turned to goo.

Think of how many steps they went through to get to the goal. They? Because two crows were initially working communally. The male procured it out of the stump and she "cooked" it. All for the goal of properly Crow eatable pasta.

And now she's waiting to come down and get the food from the stump or from the bath? How do I know.


5:43:10pm A flock of geese take to the sky from behind the park pavilion. They must have been foraging on the sports fields. It's been over an hour and Mrs. Crow still hasn't come down yet to the stump.

I need to go to the store. ( Yeah, I know, the Crows win again.)

When I get back it's completely dark but I immediately head for the stump.

The beef bone is gone as is some of the pasta.

I forgot to check the birdbath. Where's the flashlight?

Donegal Browne

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rainy Day Micellany: Red-tails, Crows, Cock Sparrow, a Kettle of Gulls, and Squirrels. Eight of them as a matter of fact.

It's been raining and it is chilly so this Red-tail, who's territory includes Thresherman's Park, has his feather's fluffed and looks like he's got one foot up keeping it warm.

I drive past him and then double back So far so good. I look at him through a handy hole in the bushes.
But not good enough he turns his head, sees me, and heads toward the far tree line between fields.

Not only that, but now he heads across the road, skims the top of the trees, dips, and disappears. Drat!

Fine. I wait for him to reappear. But now on this side of the road, dark clouds have come in with rays of sun breaking through. I turn and look for the Red-tail. Is that him?

He's incredibly far away but yes, he's come out of where ever he'd been hiding and is back on a high perch to hunt again.

He peers over.

He hunches. Then dives out of sight.
I start to hear chirping and twittering. Suddenly a mixed flock of birds, Mourning Doves, Sparrows, Finches, even a Bluebird or two, come fleeing from the hawks direction. I don't know what he was after, typically here a rodent of some kind, but he's certainly scared the begesus out of birds.
Red-tail doesn't reappear and so I head back to town.

I drive into Milton and when I look up, there, doing lazy circles in the sky, is Whistle, the Krider's Red-tail. She's the train racing Red-tail.

There's Crow sitting in a tree outside Dollar General.
After getting home, and looking out into the back yard, I realize that a cock House Sparrow is attempting to hassle a hen into copulating with him. It seems like an odd time of year for nesting. House Sparrows are prolific but still this seems odd. Hen Sparrow is not going for it.
Is this the male sparrow that was commandeering the nesting boxes? Perhaps he did want them for nesting, though so far he doesn't seem to have a partner willing to take him up on the proposition.
The Crows are gathering in the the neighbor's yard vocalizing and I hear squirrels whining. Are they after a hawk? I go out and follow the sound.

I don't find a hawk but a kettle of gulls is forming. They circle higher and higher to catch the wind. Then they must hit the right place because, suddenly in a rush with wings spread, they head to the southwest at speed. On the way back to my yard, searching trees out of habit, I see a dark lump against the sky. Is that the hawk the Crows were after?

Nope, not a hawk. As I get closer I see it's a new squirrel drey. In fact, looking around the yard, a second and a third in the yard I'd not seen before. I suppose it makes sense as winter is coming the squirrels are getting serious about shelter. These trees are loosing their leaves.

But in other spots, there are new explosions of color-pinks, rusts, lavenders, purples and orange tinged yellows.

The maples are going from palest orange to burgundy.

Male Red-belly Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus pauses long enough for me to sneak a photograph. He hears the click and picks up speed to a spot beyond view.

Have I mentioned that the squirrel count is now up to eight? Yes, I realize that there are only five in the picture but getting all eight in frame is very tough. Six is over at the neighbor's raiding her birdfeeder. As for seven and eight...

Blackwell has just jumped on White-belly. She gets herself upright again and takes a few steps.

But Blackwell isn't daunted.

White-belly flips onto her back again. Then they freeze, giving me a look.

Blackwell decides that scampering off isn't necessary and goes for White-belly again.

White-belly being too rambunctious, Blackwell stands on her.

White-belly's genitals do not look as if she is in heat. Is this practice for later? A form of masturbation?

Time will tell.

White-belly trots to the feeding area and some sunflower seeds. Were she in heat her enlarged vulva would be visibly swollen and bright red.
Blackwell heads over for a drink. Replacing lost fluids?
Donegal Browne