Sunday, March 15, 2009

Where Did That Nest Come From?

Friday I drove out of Milton on County M to do some errands as happens several times a week. I was scanning as usual for birds when what do I see but a blob in an Oak in the middle of a field. I slow down still scrutinizing. Wow, that looks the right shape for a Red-tail tree nest, rather like a martini glass, but there are any number of old unused nests near the road so I don't start giggling with glee. But I'd never seen this one before. How did I miss it?

To understand why I might have, but I've searched these trees many times as I drive by, so I don't think so--check it out. The tree in question is the one in the center of the photograph way out in the field. See the center split in the branches, the nest shape is high on the right of the split.

Double click on the photo and it should enlarge for a better view.

I had no magnification with me but what little was on one of my cameras so I clicked a few shots and went on my way, though for a moment I thought I saw movement. Wishful thinking, I say to myself, as I've been looking for a country nest that could be viewed from a public spot for years. All the active nests I've seen are on private property with no access on a daily basis.

Friday evening I downloaded the photographs, cropped them tight and looked. Hmmm. See the center branch coming out of the nest? Just to the right of that branch, there is a bit of a speckled lump. I was excited at first, "It's the back of a sitting Red-tail!" But then I realized it could be glints of light coming through an old nest or a dozen other things. Sigh. But worth another look on Saturday.

Saturday I arrived, at a time with far too much back light but at least I could stand on the edge of the road and get a look, without having to ask permission.
I set up the scope...

And this is what I see. A SITTING BIRD!!!! Hooray and hallelujah finally a possible chance to compare what I know about urban Red-tails with country hawks who may have a whole new set of environmental adaptions going on. And perhaps I hadn't just missed that nest previously, perhaps they just built it.

By this point, the Red-tail in the nest has changed from the one eyed look to the binoc version. As the formel spends ever so much time on the nest than the tiercel, I'll just think this is she until I find out differently.

5:18pm Oh no, she's getting up. Country birds are terribly wary of people and most likely right to be. Have I frightened her off the nest. That would be very bad. Remember I'm extremely far away but they really really don't like to be looked at.

She's going toward the far edge. Shoot, I hope I haven't totally petrified her. I start heading for the car with my stuff. But keep shooting with a hand held camera as opposed to digiscoping.

Is she attempting to get the tiercel's attention?

5:19PM And off the nest she goes, heading for the parallel tree line to the right and then just as the city hawks often do when being stealthy on the street, she turns the corner and sticks to the tree line on the far side of the field as well.

She lands on one of the power poles along the railroad tracks from which I often see Red-tails hunt.

Not until much later in the day, when I load the photos and zoom in tight and crop the life out of this one, do I realize that I've photographed a pair of hawks copulating. Perhaps I didn't scare them all that much after all. ???

And now there is a bird back on the nest. Which one? And who?

5:20PM And hawk is staring at me. If the hawks take me for a serious threat, I decide this is the tiercel as the urban males will often stand on the nest when there is a threat while the formel makes ready to attack an unwanted visitor. (Not me though, I may well bear watching but I'm certainly outside the attack perimeter. In the city, the attack perimeter is only a few feet from the next and I feel like I'm half a mile a way. Okay, maybe that 's exaggeration, at least a quarter mile away anyway.

More standing and staring.

5:22PM The hawk on the pole does a little preening. Perhaps Mom? Nest sitting is murder on your feathers.

Though I've gotten into the car, the bird isn't sitting on the eggs so I decide I better get out of the area. Perhaps I can see the nest through the hedgerow at the end of the field. I'd be further away and better masked as well.
Unfortunately the road at the end of the field has no verge onto which to pull off. Both sides of the road once you're off, immediately go into a very deep ditch. No place to pull off. The view is pretty sketchy too as the hedgerow is thick. Back to County M but this time I'm on the other side of the road, though it is the nest side, there is a vernal pond in a depression that is very brushy. Plus some brush on the grassy area, this might be alright.

Excellent! One of the hawks has gotten into the bowl of the nest.

This is where I'm standing to look at the nest. It is far more masked than the earlier area which didn't have the brush. It is farther away as well.

Being hawk-eyed the bird does of course know I'm there and is keeping an eye on me. But better to do that while sitting the eggs than not.

5:46PM Hawk starts taking twigs from the sides of the nest and placing them at the end of the nest.

About now, remember I was standing next to a wet area, a male Red-winged Blackbird starts scolding me from the brush. Another arrives to do the same. Good grief, I am really unpopular.

Back to the nest--I don't believe it, she is still tugging our twigs from other areas. Is she really building an obscuring wall between herself and me?

5:55PM I do think that she is! More working of twigs into my end of the nest.

5:56PM And more twigs! She really is building it up!
Also the Red-winged Blackbirds have gathered and are seriously mobbing me. Not only are they screaming their brains out, they've begun to swoop at my head. Okay, OKAY! I'm going!

Back to near the original spot for one more photograph to see what she has done since I've moved out of Red-wing country.
Look at that! No longer working on the rear of the nest she has hunkered down in an odd way so she can stick her head out and past a supporting branch to look at me over here.

6:12 PM Tip of the tail still showing out of the nest, I take off to finish my business. Later I'm told by one of the Rock River Thresheree locals, that I shouldn't turn off the engine of the car when I get out to look at the hawks. They will be far less frightened with the car running.
When you think about it it makes sense. Running tractors never bother them because a tractor is doing work. The person running the tractor has other fish to fry and is part of the landscape. A running car is also supposedly going about other business. Before hunters walk into the fields to shoot at things though, they turn off their cars.
Who knew my gasoline bill and carbon footprint was going to increase because of hawkwatching?
Donegal Browne

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