Saturday, November 24, 2007


This squirrel's winter fat storage has rolled forward almost engulfing her ears as she snacks on a cucumber. I'm glad she's going for some vegetables as opposed to the straight sunflower seed diet.

In the meantime, One Eye is sticking with the straight sunflower seed diet. This is really the first good look I've had of his injury though it's a year old. Usually I've no more than a brief glance, as he keeps his good eye in my direction just in case I'm up to something. I'd not seen the healed rake above the eye before. Could this have been caused by an ineffective grab by a Red-tail?

Whatever the case, One Eye does just fine. He's remarkably chubby and if bothered makes a fine display by biting the picnic table. It works everytime.

I go to another room and when I return I'm startled, by a Crow who has walked up to the feeding area, highly unusual for them to be that near the house on the ground and I startle her as much as she has startled me. She takes off in a rush of feathers, cawing, without getting any food. The sound fades into the distance. I decide to throw some peanuts to the squirrels. They're just wasting away, after all.

A few minutes later I see that the Crow has returned. She's in the Maple closest to the house and when I sneak the camera under the curtain she peers at me above her obscuring branch.

She turns her back and looks as if she's going to take off again but decides better of it. She must be very hungry to stay. Usually after one look the Crow or Crows will disappear for hours and then make a check later to see if the coast is clear. Not this one, she's sticking.

She turns back to the yard. What is she looking at? I switch to the patio door and peek out. She's watching the squirrels taking off across the yard with peanuts.

I go back to the other window, she's crouched looking like she may try a quite fly-by of the feeding area.

Either she sees me or something else and does an about face.

She's leaning in. Will she go this time?

Nope. I accidentally tink the camera against the window and she looks.

One second she's just perched watching and the next she's taken a dive into the yard.

Oh! She's made a dive at the squirrel who has leapt into the air, twisted and landed running towards another of the Maples. Crow is looking at the ground. I'm assuming she is looking for the food Squirrel was carrying .

I push the shutter again. Blast! The flash went off inadvertently. She looks over and then takes to the air towards the park. Again without garnering any food. In moments the squirrel will be back chowing down and filling up some more fat cells. But the Crow so far has gotten nothing. I wonder about her as she is alone. Usually Crows here forage with at least one other Crow. Raiding parties go in threes. And currently they've been migrating through in very large groups. The night before I saw at least 75 Crows going into roost in trees near the old college buildings. Has something happened to the rest of her extended family?
When I catch sight of her again. She has found a wrapper of some kind and is checking it for possible calories. It looks like she may be using an appendage to help her beak manipulate the wrapper. I didn't know Crows did that parrot-kind of move. Actually I can't figure out from the photo what is happening there because it looks as if she has two legs pointing to the ground and something else propping up the wrapper.
It rather reminds me of the illustrations of the Owl in Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin. When the Owl sits down to eat, suddenly another appendage appears from under his wing with which he brings his food to his beak.
The wrapper doesn't look to have been fruitful in the food area.

She drops it and begins to walk a foraging pattern. She walks back and forth over an area, scanning.

And then walks up and down the same area. She doesn't mean to miss the least scrap.

Crow makes for a spot. It comes to nothing.

She looks up into a tree and scans the branches.

She turns, pauses, and then begins walking rapidly.

Did she get a bite?

The wind blows and she continues to scan the park for food. I decide to close the curtains. Perhaps then she will return and have a chance at a good meal. Perhaps even, she will make the Crow food call and other Crows, perhaps even others she doesn't know will heed it and she will make some new friends.
Donegal Browne

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hawking with Marian Anderson-Four Red-tails and a Kestrel


Wind Chill in the Teens

Wind-gusts to 30MPH

All Times Central

Marian Anderson, who daily drives the country roads in the area, had been telling me about her Red-tail Hawk sightings. So today, she put her money where her mouth was and drove me to look for the raptors that frequented her roads.

1:45PM Traveling E. from County KK on Townline Rd., Rock County. THERE! A shining white Red-tail belly reflects the sun from a tree in a fence row. (See photo above. She was sitting in the right fence row, the tall tree grouping before the trees diminish into the distance.) And she is HUGE!!! Bigger than Charlotte of the Southern Central Park Red-tails, Pale Male Jr.'s mate.

Marian stopped the car and even before I could put my hand on the door, the female Red-tail is up and flapping away in the opposite direction.

1:45:07PM The hawk flies towards the back fence row, about a mile away, and circles four or so times above the densest grouping of trees. (See top photo again. Look at the heaviest tree group in the back fence row.) By now, I'm pulling equipment out of the car and Marian is keeping an eye on her. Female Red-tail then disappears beyond the trees and over the slight hill they grow on.


1:48:05PM I set up and start scanning the trees just in case she's come back at tree level from the other side and perched. Bingo. There's a Red-tail obscured by twigs. How did she do that?

1:48:23PM It's impossible to get a sharp view, not only is the hawk at least a mile away but the wind is blowing so hard across the fields that it's causing the camera to wobble on the tripod. What is the hawk looking at? I don't see anything but that's probably not unusual when one compares each of our species visual acuity.

1:49:46PM A second hawk perches above the first and looks down at him. He ducks slightly as is typical of hawk decorum when another enters into their proximity. Ah, ha! It wasn't the same hawk. The hawk I found in the trees is undoubtedly the mate of the first hawk we saw. They seem to be sitting near each other quite happily, making eye contact, and there is an obvious disparity in size. A bonded pair. Perhaps that's why the female was circling above those particular trees. She was signaling to her mate, who was already sitting in them.

1:50:09PM Both hawks look right with focus.

1:50:46PM The male continues to look fixedly right while the female looks down at him.

1:57:13PM The male is off the branch and to the right, NE. The female remains on her perch, including us in her scans of the area.

1:58:06PM She focuses left. Has her mate circled round? We've lost track of him.

2:04:56PM She sits staring at us. I decide that perhaps we might be interrupting her hunting and we should go. Besides it's extremely cold with the wind whipping past us. We scuttle back into the car and get back on the road.

We haven't gone far when we see another light spot far off in the trees of another fence row. What is that? A hawk, a plastic bag? We'll never know unless we check. I pull the equipment out of the car again and Marian burrows around in the car looking for more clothes to put on.
No, it isn't a hawk belly, and it isn't a white plastic bag. In fact it isn't even white, the color it looked at our distance. It is a deflated multi-colored mylar balloon. Back in the car we go.
2:52:32PM A Red-tail glides just above the cut stalks of a corn field, curves up in the direction in which we've just come, crosses the road and lands on a power pole. Then suddenly a second Red-tail flies in and lands on the power pole nearest us on the other side of the road. We stare at her and loose track of the second hawk. Her plan? As soon as we stop the car and start to get out she's up and flies back in the direction of the first hawk. She isn't easy to track as she's backed by evergreens. Marian catches her as she perches on the 6th power pole down from her previous position.
2:52:50PM She turns her head, gives us a look and then turns her back.
2:58:48PM The female hawk looks over her shoulder again and stares at us, and stares and stares. She's making me feel guilty. Hands and ears chilled we get back in the car and drive on.

We pass a llama farm. There are both adults, fluffy white, and chocolate brown and their young frolicking around in the pasture playing a game of what looks like llama chase. We wonder if they're bred for their wool or if the owners breed them as guardians of sheep herds. Pro-predator groups have spread the word that llamas are dandy guardians of sheep in a fenced pasture when it comes to coyotes. The llamas keep an eye peeled for the coyotes and then take them on at a gallop and chase them clean out of the pasture before they can get the sheep and the llamas keep them out.

In the next fenced area there is what looks like a Great Pyrenees female and galumphing pups.
We're on County road P, in Walworth county.
I glance up again at the wires. "Marian! Look, a Kestrel."

Marian squeals, she's never seen a Kestrel before, or at least known it was a Kestrel she was seeing, and had very much liked the blog a while back that featured the Kestrel and the vole. She's very excited.

And the little Kestrel puts on a show. He takes to the air above a field, hovers for several minutes, does a swoop of a few feet and then hovers again for several more minutes.

He goes back to his perch and triangulates.

He's up again and across the road above the field on the other side. He hovers over a group of trees, flies over the field, hovers again, flitting and soaring, changing position.

I hear Marian talking to someone and I turn. It's two men in deer hunting orange, likely father and grown son, who've gotten out of their vehicle and are standing in the middle of the road looking at us. It's the last weekend of rifle deer hunting season hence all the orange clothing.
Deer season being one of the reasons we haven't been tempted in the least to hike out after the hawks. No tromping off the road, when every year people are accidentally shot during deer season. Just yesterday, a grandfather accidentally shot and killed his 18 year-old grandson. The hunters ask, "What are you looking at?" Marian explains that we're watching a little Kestrel hover currently but before that we'd spotted two pairs of Red-tails who obviously hang out with each other. The hunters continue to scrutinize us. They say yes, they see Red-tails all the time. Do I detect some kind of suspicion? This is weird.

Marian explains about the blog and that I'm from NYC and I'm comparing country hawks with city hawks and that it isn't just Pale Male and Lola and urban hawks who keep their close bond and spend time in close proximity outside of breeding season. Wisconsin country hawks do it too. We just saw two pair together. She takes a breath.

Marian turns and asks me if I've got one of my cards. I start digging around vigorously to find one. She keeps talking and somehow things seem okay now. That's a relief. I finally find a card. The men explain that last week someone had cut the head off a 7 day old llama and they are keeping an eye on the area.
Hideous. Not that they're keeping an eye peeled but rather about the baby llama.

Though I feel it won't be happening again soon if these men with deer rifles, and others who no doubt are doing the same, continue their watch.

No Dorothy, we aren't in New York City anymore.

Donegal Browne

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving-Give Thanks for Curiousity

Night lights on the farm. The nocturnal creatures now have their run of the place. Where are they? What are they doing?

Can something so small actually have a personality?

A pair of Sandhill Cranes built a nest in the Suntree area of Florida with a grand view for passers-by and motorists. Soon there was a mini-version of what happens at the Hawk Bench when Pale Male and Lola take to their nest.

"The really curious passed by the site every morning and would stop their cars to get out and see if there were any new cranes yet. Many brought cameras of all shapes and sizes and would stand near the water for long periods of time hoping to catch a photo of the hatching."

Sound familiar?

This pair no doubt opened a whole new world for many just as Pale Male has done for people all over the world.

Photos by dentist, Robert Grover.

The cure for boredom is curiosity.
There is no cure for curiosity.
Dorthy Parker

(Thank goodness. D. B.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It Was About LIght But Now It's Toes

It's snowing. Therefore I opened the door and took a photograph of the snow. It's night, the flash went off and this is what I got. Now the little white specks look like snow. The colors are no doubt created by the refraction of light but just exactly the process creating the fireworks type circles, I wasn't sure. Something to do with snow "sparkle" or light flare, the speed of light, and shutter speed. That was what the blog was going to be about tonight.

Something to do with snow "sparkle" or light flare, the speed of light, the flash on the camera, and "shutter speed". The blog was going to be about the interaction of those factors in the creation of those images. And then as I always want a bird, and I had one today who kept dipping her head behind the suet when I clicked the camera so I was going to quiz you readers about exactly what bird it was by her tail and feet.

But due to the vagaries of Blogger and my equipment I have to put the photographs into the blog starting with the one on the bottom and going up. That is where the problem began. So we're going directly to the bird. If anyone would like to research the process that created the above photos, go for it. I got hung up tonight looking into bird feet.

Now to the bird.

Can you tell what bird this is by her tail? If not the species, how about the family?

How about her foot? Check out the position of the toes. (Hint, hint.)
How about this one? I thought it would be the give away until I zoomed in. Then I thought, wait, is that a zygodactyl foot? Did something else sneak back behind the suet when I wasn't looking .
No, the tail is the right tail. Is this species an exception? How could I have missed that? Off I went to Google and as sometimes happens, the odyssey began.
I typed in Woodpecker (Did you have that much?) and zygodactyl , hit search and began browsing. My, my, they've just discovered a really scrunched fossil, indistinguishable really, except that it's the first obviously zygodactyl fossil in the Epocene period. Very interesting.
Generally in simple material on Woodpeckers, after their wood banging is discussed, their toes come up. It's said that they're zygodactyl, two toes in front and two toes in back, except currently on the Cornell site. In their notes on woodpeckers, zygodactyl is defined as two toes in front and one in back. WHAT! I began to think I was having a bout of senility.
Back to the Google hits--
COME ON? An abstract from the American Museum of Natural History, 1959, by Walter Joseph Bock, which began, "The scansorial foot of the woodpeckers is not a zygodactyl foot, as commonly believed, but a quite different structure--the ectropodactyl foot...(and why had I been taught all this time that the foot was zygodactyl if this guy zapped the concept in 1959? And just what is a an ECTROPODACTYL foot?)...the toes of the climbing woodpecker are arranged as follows: toes two and three point forward, the fourth toe is thrust out to the lateral side at right angles to the fore toes, and the hallux usually lies beneath the distal end of ...."
Never mind, look at the photograph above. THAT is what he's tallking about. Two toes straight up, one going to the side and the fourth isn't doing anything. Ectropedactyl ! It looks ectropedactyl. Why does everyone still say woodpeckers are zygodactyl then?
Forget Google. I pull out The Audubon Society's The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. Besides by this point I'd run across the fossil abstract on JOSTER that said "The permanantly yoke-toed birds include the heterodactyl (2nd digit reversed)trogons(Trogones) and the zygodactyl (4th digit reversed)woodpeckers..." So I have to refresh my memory as to who the Trogenes are anyway. And what about that 2nd and 4th digit thing?
I start thinking of "yoke-toed". Ah, right. Two front toes front, two back toes back, not even a slight lateral. The position in which Silver, when escaping from his play area on top of his cage to the floor, holds his feet while doing a controlled slide down the legs of his cage. He holds his feet in circles, two front toes curled toward his curled rear toes, then using his beak as a brake he briskly slides down the round legs of the stand and gambols off to get into trouble.
Isn't a yoke toed bird and a second yoke toed bird the same? Evidentally not.
See how this grows. I told you it was an odessy.

It all became clear because as always with everything in biology, as it's an attempt to catagorize life, and life isn't really all that catagorizeable there are exceptions and equivications.

Yes, Woodpeckers are still considered zygodactyl no matter what Mr. Bock says, two toes front and two two back, well except the Three Toed Woodpecker, at least they make it clear by it's name, and the Black-backed where it isn't obvious by it's name, BUT the climbing woodpeckers just hold their feet in a ectropodactyl position a lot of the time when they're climbing. They aren't really ectropodactyl, they just look that way. Sheesh. Kingfishers are ectropodactyl. The have two toes front, in fact partially fused, and the other two toes come out at sharp right angles laterally. Extremely strange looking and they say they aren't really good for much except perching. But on what?

As I hadn't had quite enough yet, curiosity can be exhausting, I crawled on to heterodactyl and Trogones and their second digit. In a nutshell, Trogones are pantropical (no wonder they'd slipped my mind) and instead of the outer toe rotating back like a zygodactyl bird, their inner of the "three front toes" rotates back during chickhood. Got it?

By the way, the woodpecker obscured by the suet is the Downy that showed her face on the blog a few days ago.

And now for the Audubonesque Cottontail---

In Audubon's paintings he would sometimes paint the same individual animal or bird several times in a single painting in order to show the "movement" of certain behavior. Okay, his didn't overlap, but here is the same idea. Bunny chewing birdseed and watching the snow juxtaposed with Bunny alert and erect when she noticed possible danger.

And it had nothing to do with feet...

Donegal Browne

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Double Teaming Coopers

Two young male House Sparrows, Passer domesticus
Remember when I saw the Cooper's Hawk chasing what I took to be a House Sparrow? Yesterday, I saw a male House Sparrow at the bath without his tail feathers. Coincidence? Maybe.
We'll get back to House Sparrows in a minute.

Today the sky was very dark, the day drizzly, and the temperature in the low 40s. All five squirrels were in the feeding area most of the time but there were virtually no birds for much of the day. Around one in the afternoon, a handful of Juncos appeared in the feeding area. They kept for the most part under the picnic table, between furniture legs, or between the glider and the table. Then all the Juncos were gone except one female who hunched down and went into a freeze.

Alert, but with her eye possibly on something which I can't see.

Within the next five minutes the Junco had turned and was looking toward the back two Spruces in the NW, one of the Junco refuges. Around one thirty she too had disappeared.
Suspecting that there must be a hawk out there somewhere, I went out, walked past the brush pile, a few House Sparrows flush out of the brush and race to one of the Junco's usual refuges, the Spruce in the NE corner of the back yard. I wonder around in the rain looking but I see no raptors.
I go back to paperwork, sitting at the table, but with the patio curtains open--hoping for a look at whatever is keeping the small birds out of sight.
A quarter after two, I catch the tell-tale flicker of movement in the corner of my eye and turn my head just in time to see the bottom half of a Cooper's Hawk lighting on a branch of a Maple. Partially obscured from my angle, she was next to the Spruce on the NE side of the yard which is also a refuge of the Juncos.

I get up from the table and have to go round it in order to get closer to the door in hope of a better sight line and in so doing can no longer see the hawk for a moment. Just as I come back to a place where I suspect I should be able to see the hawk, I don't. But what I do see is a male House Sparrow flying easily out of the Spruce and right up to where the hawk had been just moments before and then out of my view. What is that sparrow doing? The hawk has to be close.

Nothing for an instant and then BAM! A House Sparrow is flying west as fast as his wings can carry him with the Coop in hot pursuit.

In the episode I watched previously, the sparrow made evasive moves, changing directions, flying between branches, but this time the sparrow isn't making turns or changes in altitude. He is flying fast and straight to the West. The Coop is after him but the sparrow seems able to keep his two or three foot lead at least for now and then, I see a second Coop flying some 20 feet behind the first. Did the double teaming make a difference in the little bird's escape tactics?

Once again, though I tried, I did not see how it ended. Though last I saw, it looked to me that the House Sparrow was winning.

At sunset the Dark-eyed Juncos appeared under the feeder seemingly at ease, and fed up before going to roost near true dark. No Mourning Doves appeared for their evening meeting. Not even Doorstep Dove perched in her usual criss cross branched "safe spot" in the Maple nearest the house.

The feeder birds have moved to another feeding area for the moment. And since it is raining they don't even have to make a dangerous visit for water. Soon perhaps the hawks will move hunting grounds as well.

Donegal Browne

Monday, November 19, 2007

Avian Pox, Squirrel Copulation, and Jay Food Stashing

Yesterday a male House Finch appeared at the feeder with what appears to be Avian Pox infecting the rear toe on his right foot.

The segmentation of the toe is visible though grossly swollen and the lesion is becoming rough and warty. This looks like the pox I've seen that infected a pigeon's foot. I caught the bird and the progression of the disease was that of Pigeon Pox. The lesion healed and after recuperation the bird was released healthy.
Therefore I'm making a presumptive diagnosis for this bird of Avian Pox.

Avian Pox is caused by an avipoxvirus. It's a slow developing disease that can be so mild as to be barely noticeable or severe enough to cause death. There are any number of strains of varying virulence and some strains are species specific. Previously when fewer strains had mutated or had been noticed at any rate, Avian Pox was broken down into three basic kinds: Pigeon Pox, Fowl Pox, and Canary Pox. (All birds that were kept by humans and therefore under closer scrutiny.) Eventually those pox were found to affect 60 avian species in 20 families. (Nope, humans don't get it. Okay, I haven't gotten it and no one else has gotten it either. It's an avian disease.) The species included everything from turkeys to occasionally raptors. Then in 1999, a flock of infected Black-capped Chickadees were noted in Europe. Though supposedly Avian Pox had been around forever, some people question this, it is considered an emerging avian illness in North America.
Though, possibly now as there are so many feeders, the birds are now close enough and observed often enough for the disease to be seen and tracked in wild birds.

At any rate sometime after the Chickadees, a new and in my opinion, better way to classify the disease came into play.

Now Avian Pox is only broken down into two types, cutaneous (dry)--like the finch above, and diphtheritic (wet).

Avian Pox lesions, eventually look rather warty, and affect the unfeathered areas of a bird's body.

If the lesion on the bird above, is the only infected area and it does not impede his ability to compete, the lesion will eventually open, drain, and scab over or shrink and dry out. If the bird avoids a bacterial infection in the open area, the spot will scar over and he'll go about his business good as new. Actually better than new as he will be immune to that strain of Avian Pox. Though if the lesion drains the detritus from that and the scabs are highly contagious. There is dispute about for how long, days to months, a surface or scab might remain infectious.
Some say warm humid weather is worse for pox. Other's say winter is worse. Basically there are any number of things that have not been utterly and categorically nailed down.

Mosquito's carry the pox for about 200 days after biting an infected bird and they pass the infection on when they bite later birds. A bird might also pick up pox by having a scratch that comes in contact with an infected surface or the virus on another bird. Or the Diptheritic form of the disease may be contracted by breathing the virus.

The Diptheritic form of Pox can be far more problematical as it can infect the mucus membranes, the mouth, the larynx, beak, and/or trachea. Beak integrity can be compromised particularly in Chipping Sparrows. Air flow can be cut off, eyesight obscured, or the ability to eat compromised either killing the bird outright or weakening it enough where it can't take care of itself.. Birds with this form often die.

And what does the Cornell Lab of Ornithology say?

"If a sick bird comes to your feeder, minimize the risk of infecting other birds by cleaning your feeder area thoroughly. If you see several diseased birds, take down all your feeders for at least a week to give the birds a chance to disperse. Remember that prevention is the key to avoiding the spread of disease. Regularly clean [my emphasis. D.B.] your feeders even when there are no signs of disease."

Follow the link for their recommendations on hygiene.

By the way, I do clean the surface of the patio very frequently. You just won't notice as the minute I finish and refill the feeders, the squirrels climb the screen or leap off the roof to the feeder and dump grand amounts on the patio looking for their favorites. No, I don't particularly attempt to fend off the squirrels. They have to eat too. Besides why make myself crazy?

A Black-capped Chickadee momentarily gets very near the infected Finch.

And now for something a least slightly more cheerful.

Here we have two young squirrels attempting to figure out how to copulate. First one would run up behind the other and try. Then the one previously on the bottom would run over and attempt to try from the top. They never did look to be successful but I'm sure they'll figure it out eventually. Notice Bottom is concentrating. She'll give it a try in a moment .

I do love the feather pattern on the back of a Blue Jay.
But this isn't about feathers, it's about my getting the binoculars on this Blue Jay as he sat on the telephone wire. When I focused in on him, I saw that he had a hefty kernel of field corn in his beak. I watched, he didn't swallow it. He just perched on the wire, scanned the area for a few moments, holding the corn right there near the tip of his beak. That's odd, I thought.

Then Blue Jay bounced down into the branches 10 feet from what I've taken to be an old squirrel's nest. Blue Jay looked at me. I retreated further into the shadows inside the house. He then bounced over to the leaves, his head went down, he then flew out of my sight line and then to the bath for a drink. Somewhere in there, he may have stashed his piece of corn. Drinking through corn wouldn't work all that well. Yes, he could have swallowed it.
Though he did look like he was up to something. Hmm. Besides the Blue Jay I've seen both a squirrel and a Crow take special interest in that spot. Was the Blue Jay periodically raiding another animal's stash, and caching the booty in a new spot?
I'll see if I can find out.
Donegal Browne