Friday, February 05, 2010

Part One--Doorstep Dove Plus Rabbit, Crow, and Cat Tracks

When you can vividly see the toenail marks on a rabbit's track it looks rather weird. Little front feet in the back and big back feet in the front. If you didn't see them you might well think that bunny was going the other way. Nope bunny is hopping and the nature of bunny hopping, big feet for distance and little feet for balance and direction they end up looking like this.

The tracks on the top don't have quit the classic exclamation point look but rather a slightly different configuration, but still bunny tracks none the less.

I was in the kitchen, looked out, and saw Doorstep Dove, the yard's resident Mourning Dove matriarch, doing something I'd not seen her do before. She was settled down into the snow with a twig over her head. If you'll remember over the last several winters, Doorstep, Friend, and often their extended family would sit on the rim of the heated bird bath often seemingly watching the sunset until the sun went down and then each took to their wings to settle into their roost. They were lovely and I looked forward to seeing them there at the end of the day.
But this winter, they've not done it. In fact beyond their feeding at first light close to the house, I only see, and that very rarely, Doorstep foraging during the day, and none doing their dusk vigil. At first I thought that perhaps Doorstep's family had been decimated but no, I finally spied them feeding together at dawn. And Doorstep is a die hard lover of the warmth of sunset but not even she appeared until the day of this photograph.
All I can figure is that when the power company insisted on removing the trees under the power lines in the rear of the yard that somehow, the yard wasn't nearly as desirable a place to be at any time of the day. Perhaps because there is farther to fly to cover in the event of a predator attack? I don't know but I do miss them. So I was glad to see Doorstep today thought the snow can't have been nearly as toasty as her birdbath perch.
While I was thinking about all this, when suddenly her head went up, her neck lengthened and she looked to the north, then zoomed off with a Mourning Dove's characteristic whistling flight.

Ah, it was a cat. To add insult to injury, he had the temerity to drink out of Doorstep's previous evening perch. And not a cat that I'd seen in the daytime around the neighborhood either. A stray? Could he be coming some distance toward evening to get a warm drink as opposed to getting water by eating snow? Or is he lurking during the day, a culprit contributing to my lack of daytime birds?
I went back to looking at tracks next time I was out. Center see the two nearly continuous lines. Those belong to a crow walking through the snow. Their feet aren't very thick and they don't raise them very high so that's how the track looks.

So I'm looking at where the crow tracks are going and--who's tracks are those crossing and merging with the crows?

Left, we have a crow walking and then taking off. At least I think that's a take off as opposed to a landing. But who's snowed in tracks are on the right?

A closer look and yes, see the toe dents, definitely a take off.

And the others? No claw marks connected to toe prints. Somebody has retractable claws and raccoons don't. A cat, and a cat that could be our friend Birdbath Kitty.
If you look back up at the previous photograph in which the crow prints merge into the other prints, we now know those to be of a cat, look where they lead, under the Spruce tree. Quite a nice lair to leap out at prey. Pyewackit used to use it. I checked the shed next door where Pyewackit used the old ground hog hole for sleeping. No hole in the snow. But even when Pyewackit was at her hunting best, I still tended to have a yard full of birds.
But then again, the flock of thirty or so Juncos that have come for four years to winter here are down to a handful. The rest just never appeared at the appointed time.
The whole thing is a mystery that bears watching.
Donegal Browne


Anonymous said...

Quite the natural history lesson. I am constantly amazed by the action that goes on in such a small space. Multiply that by billions of small spaces, and what do you have?

CE Webster said...

Great article! And, I loved the pictures. Thanks for sharing.