Monday, October 05, 2009

Sandhill Cranes, Northern Harrier Immature... or Not and What Was THAT Crossing the Road?

Jamie and Roger (Claire too, but she was out of frame.) forage at the far side of the west field by the treeline.

I'd gotten out of the house late as you can see by the light. I was just trying to get the camera into position when Gaylord Hooker, one the Thresheree members, pulled up on his tractor for a discussion of the turkeys he'd seen today. Then off he went towards home. His home being just up the road a very small piece and locking the north gate behind him.

While I was attempting rather fruitlessly to adjust the camera for the low light, suddenly my phone rang. It was Gaylord.

He reported that there was a hawk eating roadkill near his place and I should come take a look. A HAWK! I hadn't seen one in days. The car was already running so as to allay any wariness on the part of the cranes but when I whipped the car around...

...and looked back there they were. The Sandhills had taken to their wings.

I grabbed the camera I'd dumped in the passenger seat and tried taking a photo without turning it on. Duh.

It works better when it's on. But by that time the family was nearly at the trees and I was nearly at the north gate...which was locked. Oh right, Gaylord locked it up for the night. Shoot!

I whip round again and head for the south gate, a much longer way to go and hit Cox then Kidder roads. My, my, look who is coming from the other direction. It's Gaylord again with an update.

When he'd pulled back out of his driveway again the hawk had gone up into the farmer's maple tree across the road.

Ah ha! THE maple tree in question, but to pretend I'm doing something "normal" I pull into Gaylord's driveway and...unfortunately I can't see the Maple tree from his yard. I barge into the bushes hoping I don't look too irregular to the hawk if he's still there. I look. I look. I look. I can't see a hawk up there. Hmmm, I look up and down the road for the kill. I don't see it. Where is it anyway?

I call Gaylord back. He says it's further to the west past the maple and on the far verge that dips in the other direction. I'm looking and suddenly a swiftly running that a FOX, zips across the road and into the shrubbery across from the road kill. No, probably not a fox. I just want to see a fox and it's probably just one of the big farm cats. I'm still talking to Gaylord and WHAT...?

There he is--BYE! Likely from the angle, he'd come out of that Maple I couldn't find him in. Sneaky bugger.

And like any good hawk who is making a break for it, he heads for the treeline. Zip, behind the tree.

And ZIP, he comes out the other side. And he's curving towards my side of the road.
YES! Got 'em. Well for a second anyway as he's off into the trees ago on my side of the road. Interesting he really wasn't doing much if any flapping during that whole flight. Wow. I search the trees but then hear scolding far away in the trees. Trees that are growing on privately owned land so I'm out of luck.
(It took me awhile to decide, but I think that the above raptor is an immature Northern Harrier. A bird that has been listed on the Birds of Special Concern List in Wisconsin. They are ground nesters and with all the pastures being turned into crop land, and the prairies decimated to 2% of their original size, Northern Harriers are having trouble.
I read that they are sometimes polygynous. At times a male will bond with two females in the same breeding season. Could that have anything to do with their decreasing numbers? Are there too few males around compared to females?
But back to our particular bird of the day--Orangy breast and belly, dark underwings, false white rump patch created by fluffed secondaries, an almost dihedral wing position, slimmer than a Red-tail. It's got to be a Harrier.
Interestingly the field that is adjacent to the Maple on the other side is in a program where it has not been used for crops for some years but rather has been left to it's own devices except for a once a year mow.
I wonder if this youngster was hatched over there. Unfortunately next year that field is scheduled for crops as per the rotation schedule of the government program. Perhaps another field in the area will be left to grass in the staggered program and they'll find it. )
But back to our story, I turn toward the roadkill, the least I can do is go and see what it is that the hawk was eating. Then whatever it was that had run across the road before, ran back the other way. Directly toward the item that the hawk had been dining on previously.

And look, it wasn't just wishful thinking. It is a FOX. A red one. A little beauty with dark black socks; likely a vixen by her size. And she's checking out the goodie too.
She noses it. I can't decide if it is a raccoon or a possum. I figure if I wait a bit there will likely be enough fur bits to be able to tell after she is finished.
Silly me.
This is a fox we're talking about here. In a few seconds she has figured out how to get it into a carrying position. It is a tough carry as it's a bit stiff. The legs stick out to one side in a board-like manner. She starts to trot back across the road yet again. Three quarters of the way across she abruptly goes up on her hind legs, adjusts the load, comes back down on all four feet again and trots off...into the bushes.
Now I'll never know what they were eating. But then again, I got to know a little bit more about the live animals. And in the end, who could really ask for more?
Donegal Browne

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