A slightly stunned cedar waxwing wondering what hit him.
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A slightly stunned cedar waxwing wondering what hit him.
Above: The robin enjoying a rare moment of peace
Below: The mockingbird enjoying the fruit of his victory
These two appear ready to follow their sibling's example by setting out on their own.
Find someone who loves you like this turtle loves floating in a creek.
Dad keeps watch while mom and kid go grocery shopping.
The female hawk is at the upper left, mostly obscured by the tree's foliage.
Here's a closer look at the nestlings.
What the heck is she holding in her mouth? Wait...what? Eww...
Perhaps we're not that far removed from Jurassic Park after all.
Note the distinctive black bands on the front legs, a distinguishing mark of the species.
The bobcat's name derives from its stubby tail; the spots on the fur are another distinction.
Four buzzards in a live oak tree
Red-shouldered hawk sunning itself next to our driveway
This hawk nest is about fifty feet above the ground, in a tree in the same vacant lot where the fawn carcass was found.
- At least two nestlings were thrown out of the nest, but one was left. How did the parent decided which ones needed to go, and which one could stay?
- After evicting the little bird from the nest, did the parent really warn it about the presence of the hawk, as I've theorized in the video? How else can we explain the quiet stillness of the little guy while the hawk was in the tree, given its animation before and after the hawk's appearance?
- And finally, how much therapy will the remaining nestling need after witnessing the plight of its siblings?
- Woodpeckers occupy hollow tree
- They create a happy home
- Said home is invaded by a rat snake
- Outcome is negative for occupants of bird home
- Turns out, there are actually TWO snakes in that tree
The Here & Now
Irish dancers Emily and Gavin
Ireland + Cajun Country = Celjun
Beautiful fall color
It Came From Beyond: fungus growing on tree stump
The Watched watches the Watcher
The David Young Band - Don't be fooled by the suits; they can boogie.
Tuesday (hang in there; we're almost halfway finished)
Eileen Hurd (center) cuts the ribbon to open the Horseshoe Creek Trail
Horseshoe Creek - a view from the new trail
A Christmas display on the Johnson City square
The lighted courthouse
Our electric bill payments at work
The entrance to the Walkway of Lights
Can't see it in the photo, but it was almost a cliche that
the steel guitarist played with a lit cigarette in his hand
Thursday (at last)
Not So Fast...
Darwin called birdsong "the nearest analogy to language." Indeed, song-learning in birds turns out to have striking similarities with how humans learn speech, from the process of listening, imitating and practicing all the way down to the brain structures and genes involved.
Matthew 7:26-27 (NASB)
We interrupt this hiatus for some important scavenger footage
April 2, 2014 9:41 PM | Posted in: Wildlife - Birds
Capistrano has its swallows; Fort Stockton has its avian garbage disposals.
- It appears that both parents contribute to the feeding. I can't tell them apart, but at the 2:50 mark, one shows up to "tag team" the other (although at first glance, it seems not be be a welcome appearance).
- I have always assumed that barn swallows fed their young by regurgitating partially digested insects into the babies' mouths, but right off the bat - at the 30 second mark where I've slowed down the action - you can see a whole insect, legs sticking out of the adult's mouth, and it gets stuffed right down the gullet of the infant. I guess they know what they're doing.
- Another slo-mo feeding takes place near the end, at the 4:10 mark, and this one seems to clearly demonstrates the regurgitating process.
- It's also fascinating to watch how the adults seemingly know who gets fed next. If there was any doubling up, with one youngster getting fed twice in a row, I didn't catch it.
Those two head-on shots are my favorites; they remind me of airplanes flying in formation. In the last picture, notice how their wings seem to be synchronized.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed something different about the bird, specifically his flight. It's very skittish and difficult to get close to, but it appeared that it had something dangling from one leg as it took to the air. I finally decided that its leg was dangling, and I confirmed this a few days ago when I was able to get close enough to take some photos with a zoom lens. Those are shown below; click on each to see a larger version. Please note that these are difficult to look at; the injury is gruesome.
I don't have a clue as to what caused the injury. It doesn't seem to affect the bird's flight, and it doesn't look uncomfortable standing on one leg, but I can't imagine that it can hunt for food with ease, because it can't walk through the shallow waters looking for fish, frogs, and insects that make up its primary diet. One would also think that the injury makes the heron more susceptible to predators like coyotes.
I've contacted Burr Williams, executive director of the Sibley Nature Center and local wildlife expert, and he in turn has contacted a local veterinarian to see what, if anything, might be done for the bird. Capturing the poor thing will be a challenge, and rehabilitation of such a drastic injury might not be feasible. I'll let you know how this plays out.
It's a tough world out there, sometimes.
During the aftermath, it became obvious that barn swallows are masters of turning lemons into lemonade. They also subscribe to the strategy of victory through overwhelming numbers. And so it is I find that even though I've successfully stopped them from building nests, they've created more holes in the dike than I have fingers.
Our next-door neighbor recently counted more than forty of the little birds perched along the eave of her back porch. That should give you an idea of the magnitude of the issue. A number of that gang has decided that our back and front porches provide excellent overnight accommodations, even if they can't erect apartment complexes for permanent residence. As it turns out, they've decided that the steps that I took to dissuade the nest-building (stuffing rolled-up shop towels behind ceiling-mounted speakers, for example) provide perfectly cozy places to spend the night.
Now, let me be clear: barn swallows are very cute birds, and entertaining to watch. They do a great job of mosquito control, and they don't bother other birds (unlike the house finches who bully the hummingbirds trying to service our feeders). But the concept of - how can I put this delicately? - "not fouling one's own nest" is completely foreign to them. In other words, we can always tell how many overnighted by the mess they left on the concrete below.
I'm now taking suggestions for further countermeasures. Regarding the speakers, it's obvious that I'll need to build a solid enclosure of some type around them. The porch eaves pose a bigger challenge. But if my idea for a tiny little electric fence works out, you'll be the first to know.
The geese are still hanging around. They were inexplicably strolling through the vacant lot across from our house (I saw one of them nip at some of the weed seed heads), and when they saw us walking down the street, headed our way and paralleled our course. Here's a short snippet of video I took with my phone.
They continued to walk in roughly the same direction we were headed, but they crossed the street, back and forth, inspecting who-knows-what. Some of our neighbors had congregated on a front porch and they watching the geese with great interest. One of them had a chihuahua on a long leash, and he was quite attentive, straining at the leash to get a closer look...until, that is, the geese turned toward him, at which point he quickly retreated to his master, content to switch to remote monitoring mode. We had a laugh at his expense, but I observed that it would be like us confronting a T-Rex, given the size difference between the small dog and the large goose. I didn't blame him a bit.
It took us about ten minutes to round the south pond - pausing to speak to a cottontail rabbit who thought he was hiding in plain sight just off the sidewalk - and by the time we got to the opposite side, the geese had made their way along the pond and we watched them waddle down the bank and back into the water. I suppose they were getting in their morning constitutional, as were we.
Heading toward the north pond, we spotted something in the middle of the sidewalk about 20 feet ahead. It was a horny toad. I wondered why we always seemed to see them on the walkway, and we soon got our answer. He was resting in the path where an abundance of ants were busily crossing the concrete, and it was a veritable movable feast from his perspective. We watched as he pounced on several ants who had the bad judgment to wander into his sphere of ingestion. He didn't seem to be willing to chase any of them down, content to let them come to him, but we did see him miss one ant, eat another that was close behind, then whirl around and consume the one that almost got away. Unfortunately, the scene took place too far away to capture on my phone's camera.
Rounding the north pond and heading home, we roused the usual jackrabbit contingent. They like the tall grass brought out by the summer's rainfall, but you can usually spot the black tips of their ears sticking up over the ground cover. Those guys are built for speed, and they're as shy as the geese are bold.
According to my extensive (one or two clicks) research, these are Western Greylag (or Graylag, if you prefer the Americanized spelling convention) geese, with the pleasingly repetitive scientific name anser anser anser (just trying typing that without inputting "answer" instead). They apparently have a wide range worldwide, but I have no idea whether these are domesticated escapees, or slightly confused travelers, seeking temporary haven while trying to recalibrate their GPS.
I expected that they would be gone very quickly, but they were still hanging around yesterday evening. In fact, they had picked up an accomplice in the form of an apparently species-confused young duck. While the geese swam slowly across the pond in single file, the duck paralleled their course a few feet away, serving as a wing man. The other ducks were huddled together across the pond. We surmised that they'd either ostracized the youngster for bad behavior (you know how they can be), or had sent him to spy on the intruders. Or, perhaps, he simply had grand aspirations that he felt couldn't be fulfilled by normal duckhood.
On a related note, that run was chock-full of good bird sighting, as a sandhill crane also graced the northern pond. Unfortunately, he didn't stay around for long, and I wasn't able to get a photo.
At first, I thought it was a pigeon, but after observing him for a while, I'm pretty sure it's a dove. I've seen white wild doves before, but they are not common.
He seemed a bit wilted by the heat, but not overly distressed. I walked within two feet of him several times and he didn't back away. Debbie put out a shallow plastic bowl of water and he climbed onto the side and took a few drinks. Later, he walked over and conquered the ceramic iguana.
After about 20 minutes of investigating the flowerbed and surroundings, he disappeared. I'm sure it's an omen, but darned if I know of what.
We can but hope that the local dove gene pool is thereby strengthened, but I somehow doubt it.
Can you make out that mass of junk in the middle of the palm tree (and we're using the word "tree" quite loosely here; it's more of a palm bush or palm shrub). It's a dove's nest, perched precariously a full three feet above the ground.
We discovered it last weekend, and noticed it only when the nesting dove exploded from the tree as we walked by. Closer inspection revealed this (it's been a while...forever, in fact, since I've been able to photograph down into a nest without a ladder):
The mother is quite skittish, and with good reason. She didn't exactly pick an obscure spot for the young 'uns. But I was able to point a telephoto lens around the corner and catch her hard at work:
As soon as she spotted me, she burst from the nest and took up residence on the neighbor's roof, keeping an eye on me:
Dove as a species don't strike me as very intelligent; they're the avian counterpart to sheep. However, this choice of location for a nest isn't as dumb as it might seem. Sure, it's close to the ground, but it's also protected by a seven foot wall and locked gates. There's danger from weather, but that's a given regardless of location, but, otherwise, unless another marauding bird makes an appearance, this may be a good place to raise a family. We'd like to think of our neighborhood in those terms, anyway.
Technical details: I recorded this on my iPhone, imported the recording into iTunes, then opened it in Adobe Soundbooth CS4 where I trimmed the beginning and ending, increased the loudness, and used the noise filter to remove the, um, noise caused by the breezy ambient conditions. The resulting recording is a pretty good showcase for the bird's vocal versatility.
They're actually quite graceful, floating silently and effortlessly in the stiff breezes that persisted until nightfall. The only unsettling thing about them being directly overhead was...well, I'll leave it to your imagination.
The voices you hear at the end of the video recounting an encounter of a motorcycle with a buzzard are those of my brother and his wife.
Viewed from a certain angle, you can see that there's not much to this bird, despite his impressive size while he's wading.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a photo of a great egret* equivalent to folding a thousand pieces of paper? I obviously can't say for sure, but this fellow was a great photo subject on the first day of the new year, and if he wants to be the bearer of good luck, we'll take all he can carry.
*I think this is a great egret; I'm open to correction from any true birders out there. Whatever he (she?) is, he's a frequent visitor to our ponds during the winter. The ducks seem a bit indignant at his presence. I suspect the fish have somewhat stronger feelings, but I could be anthropomorphizing.
This is one.
Andrew Zuckerman is a professional photographer, and his new book has the simple and completely descriptive title of Bird. It consists of a series of gorgeous photos of birds, both exotic and mundane. What sets his work apart from other "nature photographers" is his elimination of any context for the subject; the photo consists of an image of the bird against a pure white background. This makes for a striking image, and allows the eye to focus completely on the details of each specimen.
The website for Bird goes one step further by providing an audio recording of each bird's call. This added dimension allows the visitor to create his or her own context, albeit an incomplete one, although that depends on the extent of one's imagination.
Bird is available via Amazon.com [link], and if you find it appealing, you may also be interested in Zuckerman's previous publications that use similar techniques, Creature [link] and Wisdom [link].
In the second photo, you can easily see the pockmarks the bird was leaving in the tree bark.
Is it just me, or does this bird with its raised crest have a faint resemblance to a roadrunner? If you didn't know better and just glanced at these two photos, you'd probably think they are pictures of two different species.
My reverie was interrupted by the sound of frantic flapping as the birds exploded away from their metal perch and I looked up, wondering what had caused their alarm. Just then, a young hawk arrived from the east, swooping down and alighting where the doves had previously stood. I mentally kicked myself for once again forgetting to bring the camera, but he was perfectly content to sit and watch the other birds flying quickly past, studiously avoiding him. I crept back inside, grabbed the Canon, returned to my chair and snapped a dozen or so photos before he flew across the vacant lot and perched in a tree by the north pond.
Yesterday morning was a great example. As I was drinking coffee and doing my "Through the Bible in a Year" reading, a movement on the neighbors' roof line caught my eye. I did a double-take; it was a roadrunner, one of the goofier denizens of our ecosystem. Very odd to see it atop a roof, but things got stranger, as a second one appeared. I was also surprised to hear their odd "clattering" sound, a series of rapid clicks they make with their beaks. I've never been close enough to a roadrunner to hear that (you can listen to a recording on this entry in Wikipedia).
The roadrunners had attracted attention from more than this curious human. A veritable swarm of barn swallows was dive-bombing the bigger birds, making them feint and duck. Roadrunners are omnivorous, and not above raiding nests of others birds for both eggs and nestlings. I doubt they would pose a real danger to barn swallows given the usual inaccessibility of their nests, but the swallows weren't taking any chances. (They're a lot more assertive than one might imagine, anyway.)
I watched for a minute or so, and decided to run in and grab the camera and long lens. Of course, by the time I returned, the drama was over. The roadrunners had flown the coop, so to speak (I spotted one of them running around a block north of our house) and the swallows had dispersed, presumably to find other prey for their bullying gang.
I'm sorry I couldn't capture any photos to share with you, but not to worry, because I've come up with an artist's rendering that I think does full justice to the scene that played out this morning. I'm sure you'll agree that it accurately captures the pathos and drama of the complex interchange between the species.
Photo courtesy of Tom Woodruff
I've heard this owl (or one like him), hooting in the early morning hours, and I've seen the dark shadow of one flying across the night sky, but I've yet to see one in broad daylight. What a beautiful bird!
I've written before about the flock of wild turkeys that have taken up residence in my old neighborhood in Fort Stockton. For whatever reasons, the size of the group has dwindled from the upper teens to just three, a gobbler (male) and two hens.
The male has been known to exhibit aggressive behaviors towards people, chasing them back into their houses, something that sounds amusing until it happens to you. The city's Animal Services department seems unwilling or unable to do anything about it; admittedly, it's not a life-threatening situation.
Last Saturday (March 14th), having been forewarned by my mother, I took my video camera into the streets in search of the wily Meleagris gallopavo, and found them only a half block from our front porch. Here are a few minutes of video from that encounter.
The gobbler turned out to be all bluff, and not much of that. I could not induce him to come towards me, much less attack, and shortly after I turned off the camera, he flew up onto a roof to join his hens, away from our prying eyes.
One interesting behavioral note: If you listen closely, you can hear the scrape of his wingtips on the street. I wonder if that's an intentional warning signal. I noticed that he did that same thing each time he puffed up his plumage, but the sound effects were less effective when he was in the grass.
Killdeer are exceedingly common throughout the US, and they're even regularly observed around bodies of water in our arid part of the state. Still, I haven't had the opportunity to observe them up close until a family took up residence around the stream and pond located in our new neighborhood.
I shot the following video this morning. It was unusually cold for this time of year - temps in the upper 30s - and the killdeer chicks were seeking warmth under mama's wings. The only problem is that there were too many of them and too little of her to go around. You'll also see a short clip of the "distraction behavior" killdeer use to draw predators away from their eggs or young.
I apologize for the shaky video, as I am too cheap to buy a camera with image stabilization, too unskilled to hold a zoomed-in shot steady, and too disorganized to remember to grab a tripod.