Friday, August 20, 2010

The Hummingbird in the Tomato Patch, Ground Squirrel Bedding, and What Is That Red-tail Doing?

I looked out the back door and there was something whirring around in the garden. It certainly looked like the movement of a hummingbird, but why whirr in the tomato patch? Tomato blossoms aren't red and they certainly aren't trumpet shaped--both details often repeated in criteria for hummingbird attractants. The female Ruby-throat gave me a look...

...and then returned to her business of sticking her beak into anything remotely resembling a nectar receptacle. The answer came about an hour later when an unexpected, at least to humans, freak storm hit the area.

She'd been stocking up on every conceivably calorie she could get before the huge winds and torrential rain struck. After the storm I saw her or one like her, a touch wet but having survived the zephyr nicely.

When I returned home after over two weeks, the grass in the yard was knee deep and seemingly of almost tropical density. Finding my own mower inexplicably inoperable I borrowed one and went to work. I began to notice that the Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrels were coming out of their holes in droves, collecting great mouthfuls of grass clippings and then streaking back into their abodes before I got anywhere near catching them in the act with the camera.

All that bedding collecting reminded me that Fall and hence Winter is not so far away as I might think.

A thought reinforced by the sudden appearance of great flocks of Canada Geese. Already they are flocking, fattening themselves in grain fields in preparation for migration.

And what about all those young Red-tails that fledged this year and sit by the verges scanning for prey? Are their hunting skills honed enough to make them ready for winter? And just exactly what are they doing up there seemingly just sitting all that time?

This youngster turned out to be habituated to humans enough to allow me to watch for awhile in close proximately.

She was hunting from a wire, about two city blocks away from where Whistle, the Red-tail who times her rodent hunting of the FFA fields to the trains that pass through town, is often seen. From Whistle's flight patterns I've always suspected that her nest is in town though I've never found it due to all the inaccessible private property that surrounds the target area. This young bird who is far more comfortable with the presence of people than any Wisconsin RTH I've observed so far reinforces my idea that whichever hawk's it might be, that there is definitely a town nest that is producing young.

Her postures reminded me very much of Tristan hunting rats, near their holes, up at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

The trick is not to jump the gun but to be patient enough to allow the rodent to get far enough away from their hole so they can be grabbed before being able to return to it.

A good hunter knows where that invisible line is...and waits for it to be crossed. It's an equation of their own speed and ability and that of the rodent.

Almost to the line, the bird bunches her muscles.

And when the line is not crossed during the prey's foray, she doesn't waste calories trying anyway. She waits.

Gets ready again.


No good. She scans the area.

Checks the perimeter for possible enemies.

And goes back to waiting.

Then she's up.

Flying toward the top of the power pole.

Brakes with wings and tail while extending her feet in front of her.

Gets her grip...

and flutters everything into place.

To wait some more.

I get a look.

And then she gets back to her hunting. I realize that though she doesn't mind me all that much per se, I might well be disturbing the prey enough that they might not cross that invisible line with its distance from safety until I leave. Therefore I do.
And for those who wondered what I've been up to the last couple of weeks--a little taste of the Pennsic War. The populace and rulers of Ostgardr, the principality that is mundanely NYC, cross the Battle Field for Opening Ceremonies. I'm holding the green parasol over the Vicerine's head to keep her brain from baking, as a sunhat just won't do with a coronet on high state occasions.
Dinegal Browne