Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Turkey Vultures

I have previously written of vultures flying above the Habitat (say at 50-100 feet). As these birds are common and do not typically really come through the Habitat, they receive little blog exposure. Last Sunday, a pair of turkey vultures came through the Habitat at about 10 to 20 feet above the ground.
In fact, they were so close to the ground, I assumed that they had found a dead animal in the brush to feast on. The pair never though landed.From their size, flat wing profile while soaring, and red, featherless head, these are clearly turkey vultures.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gray Squirrel, Gray Squirrel

My two great nieces need some information on squirrels, so here are some photos and related information. The squirrels that populate the Colvin Run Habitat in very large numbers are Eastern Gray Squirrels. These squirrels are active all year and are even seen digging for nuts and seeds through the snow.
In the Habitat, the squirrels eat nuts – acorns and black walnuts. The squirrels can be seen digging in the ground to hide or retrieve these nuts, which are typically buried about ¼ inch below the surface. The squirrels retrieve the nuts by smell, not by memory. In the Habitat, the squirrels always seem to bury their seeds in the front lawn. In addition to the acorns and black walnuts, the squirrels really love to eat the berries on the dogwood trees (see second photo, note red dogwood berries) that are available in September and October. A quick digression, in the third photo, this female squirrel is using her tail to balance herself while sitting up-right eating dogwood berries. How can you tell this is a female? If you look very carefully you can see that this squirrel is still nursing young (the second set of the season as this photo was taken the first week of September).
Of course, the main food source of the squirrels in the Habitat is the sunflower seeds which fall from the bird feeders (last photo). The squirrels would gladly eat the suet at the bird feeders if they were not prevented by the squirrel guards (the black cylinders on the feeder poles). The squirrels are near constant feeders on the ground from sunrise to sunset, even on the hottest of summer days.

More Gray Squirrels

The squirrels enjoy drinking water at the bird bath or at the water fountain.
As we all know, the squirrels are themselves a favorite food source of the red-tailed fox that lives in the Colvin Run Habitat.

Many of the buried nuts that are not retrieved later germinate. The Habitat is full of many oak trees thanks to these little gray arborists.
As seen in the third photo, many Habitat squirrels live and den (that is, have their young) in leaf nests high up in mature trees. Males and females build winter and summer nests.
The eastern gray squirrel mate and then give birth twice a year – in early spring and later summer. You can often see squirrels performing a mating "chase" where the male or males following a female as she moves about during the day.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Sunday Morning with the Fox

Sunday morning was wet, cold, and overcast and found the red-tailed fox stalking squirrels again. He made two observed runs and on both occasions had no success.
As it is very hard to really observe the action through the camera viewfinder, I had assumed that I had the typical photos of the fox running through the Habitat. I was wrong. As you can see, I have two photos shot from behind the fox (in computer games this would be called the first-person shooter view). The squirrel was so close but beyond reach. In the first photo, the squirrel is that gray blur just above (in the photo) the tip of the fox’s tail.
In the second photo, the squirrel has reached the oak tree prior to be snagged.
In the last photo, the fox, aware that there were two squirrels in his sights, immediately looks for the other possible prey.

Is He Limping?

I wrote previously that I was concerned about a possible limp with the fox. If there was a limp, it was less noticeable on Sunday, than the previous day. With still photos it is extremely difficult to determine a limp. Regardless, here are two pairs of photos taken after his first and second run at the squirrels on Sunday morning.
In the first pair, both photos are taken with in a second or two of his hard run at the squirrel, you can see that he has his back, right paw slightly off of the ground. At the time, he was standing still. His coat is fine, just wet.
In the first of the second pair, he had just treed the squirrel and clearly has the back, right paw off of the ground. I am not sure if he was completely at a standstill in this photo.
In the last photo, he was standing perfectly still and surveying the Habitat for another squirrel. In this photo, he appears to give equal weight to all of the paws and shows no sign of favoring the back, right paw.
To give the fox an extra bit of advantage, I raked the leaves off of his normal path to the squirrels (that is, I removed the crunching sound from the dry leaves). And, I moved one of the sunflower feeders about half way closer to where the fox sits in the bush. I also removed the squirrel guard from the feeder – perhaps the fox will have a better advantage if the squirrels are atop the feeder. Within an hour the squirrels were under the newly located feeder. Only question now is, did I interfere with the environment? Will the squirrels now see the fox sitting in the brush and not come? Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Male Cooper's Hawk Visits

While looking for the fox from the upstairs window this morning, I noticed that there were no birds at the feeders – a sure sign that a hawk was in the Habitat. A quick look yielded no hawk. Opening the window, putting my head completely out the window, and turning left (north), I saw this hawk perched about 50 feet off the ground.
Most likely a male Cooper’s Hawk (smaller than our earlier Cooper’s Hawk - the female is noticeable larger than the male), he flew down over the feeders and landed in the Habitat oak tree.
He stayed in the oak for well over an hour – long enough for the smaller songbirds to return to the feeder. Even though his back was to the feeders, I was truly amazed that the other birds game to the feeders and were active through out the Habitat. A few brave birds, such as this titmouse shown in the second photo (click on photo to get an enlarged version)(note titmouse in upper right corner and hawk in lower left corner), even perched and chirped in the oak not far from the hawk. Remember that the Cooper’s Hawk preys on these smaller song birds.
I finally left my position in the upstairs window and approached him, walking slowing on the ground. He was perched about 20 feet off of the ground well inside the maze of oak branches. He allowed me to get directly under him and take photos.
Prior to flying away, he turned and showed off his back and tail feathers (as seen in the last photo).

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Fox - Is He Limping?

One morning last week and one day after observing the fox, I saw fresh fox road kill on the four lane highway that is nearby. Given the clear size and good health of that fox, I became concerned that he might be the Habitat’s signature fox. With every passing day, Dot and I became increasingly concerned about ‘our’ fox. Finally, a week later he showed up, napping in the winter sun, and chasing squirrels.
This morning he was observed twice making runs at the squirrels (both unsuccessful). His coat and general conditions appears to be great. However, we believe that he was limping – noticed only when he would walk back to his place in the brush. We’ll keep you posted on his condition.

The first two photos show the fox visually fixed on one of the squirrels as he made a run. The last photo is the fox patiently coming out of the brush, waiting for the right moment to charge the squirrels. This day, the fox was unsuccessful.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Pair Were Red-Shouldered Hawks

Last Sunday, a pair of hawks visited the Colvin Run Habitat. It is not all that uncommon to have a pair of hawks flying over head (at several hundred feet in altitude), but Sunday was the first time that a pair was observed perched in the Habitat.
So here is my best assessment of what type of hawk these two were (After reading Hawks From Every Angle by Jerry Liguori, I am completely convinced that true identification is nearly impossible for the novice observer and immature hawks. Nevertheless, here goes).
Each of these was slightly larger than a crow. The chest of both of these hawks is vibrant orange. The back is brown, with lighter streaking. Continuing with the next three photos when they took flight (sorry for the out of focus photos, but the hawk features are still seen), the tail has several broad black bands with narrow white bands. Their wings are banded black and white, with the clearly rufous shoulders underneath.
All in all, I believe that they were Red-Shouldered Hawks.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Pair of Hawks in the Snow

Every once in a while, you get a day of surprises. Last Sunday was one such day. It started with the first snow of the winter season (yes, we have had a very warm winter and a mid-January first snow is a surprise). While the snow was light and we only received a dusting, photographing the male cardinal in the snow was a delight.
The surprises continued when I noticed this large hawk in the Habitat oak tree with his back to the other birds. The surprise was the presence of this hawk while the birds were still feeding (not to mention that I had really not noticed him perched there bigger than life).
However, it was only he flew away (third photo) that I noticed that it was a pair of hawks! Talk about a surprise – a pair of hawks! I did not get a photo of the pair flying, but they soon perched in a more distance sycamore tree where I got the last photo.
More on the type of hawk in the next post.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Taking a Winter Bath

Saturday afternoon’s temperature in the Colvin Run Habitat barely reached freezing, but that did not stop the starlings from taking a bath. From the color of the water after they were done, it was a much needed bath. Click on the photo to get an enlarged photo and see the drops of water.

Why wasn’t the bath water frozen? I may have mentioned previously that earlier in the fall I received a bird bath warmer which keeps the water at just above freezing. Only the starlings take a bath. The other birds and the squirrels just drink the water.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Empire Seed Building

One of the other feeders that I received as a Christmas present is this rather tall feeder in which I have put sunflower seeds. Because of its height, I have nicknamed it the Empire Seed Building (my oldest son used to live a block from this feeders namesake before he moved to the Greenwich Village and then Brooklyn Park Slope).

This new feeder is large enough to feed the resident birds for a full week. And, it is large enough that I can hang the smaller suet feeders from it.

Many thanks to family and friends for this feeder – the birds say thanks as well.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Blue Jay at the WIndow

I have previously written about the window feeder which gives a very close look at the birds. Initially, this window feeder was the sole domain of the smaller birds (chickadees and titmice). When the cardinals started using this feeder, we were well on the way to the larger birds.
Today, the Blue Jay arrived. The feeder is barely large enough to accommodate him.
Thought you might enjoy these blue jay photos. I especially like the first one where he is looking right at the camera.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Fifth Type of Woodpecker? Meet the Hairy One

Various woodpeckers visit the the Colvin Run Habitat. Four documented types (from smallest to largest): Downy, Red-bellied, Flicker, Pileated. I have often suspected that we have had Hairy Woodpeckers at the feeders, but have never been quite sure. The main reason for the uncertainty is that the Downy and the Hairy differ in only two aspects – the Hairy is larger than the Downy and the Hairy as a proportionately larger bill. Other than that, the Downy and the Hairy look exactly alike.
Yesterday morning, I believe that a Hairy Woodpecker was observed at the new (last of the new) suet feeder (this one is extra long (sort of a double wide) to attract, I hope, the Pileated Woodpeckers). The observed woodpecker was noticeably larger in her body than the normal Downy visitors.
The first photo is of what I believe is the Hairy. In the second photo, the larger Hairy is at the front feeder; the Downy is at the read feeder. I’ll work to get additional photos that show more clearly the size difference.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Suet Nut Feeder

I received a few new feeders as Christmas presents. One of the most novel is this suet nut feeder. (remember to click on any photo to enlarge it)
The White-breasted Nuthatch took an immediate liking to this unique feeder, as seen in the first photo.
In fact, the nuthatch makes the Downy Woodpecker wait quite a while for his turn at this feeder which contains suet-covered peanuts (second and third photos).

Even when the woodpecker gets his turn, the nuthatch keeps a close eye on him.
Many thanks to a colleague for this gift – the birds say thanks as well.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Overrun by Starlings

In the last month, the Colvin Run Habitat has become overrun by a flock (that is, a very large flock) of European Starlings. They are aggressive birds that run the native, resident Habitat birds away from the suet and seed feeders and the bird bath. These starlings are consuming so much seed and suet that it is stretching my bird food budget.

These three photos include a red-bellied woodpecker with an arriving starling. This woodpecker is slightly larger than the starling and usually moves other birds from the feeder if for no other reason than his size. In the first photo, you can see the woodpecker squawking even before the starling has landed. In the second, the woodpecker remains upset by the arrival of the starling. In the final photo, the woodpecker has yielded the suet feeder to the starling.

The funny thing is that these starlings are imported European birds released in New York City – if only they had stayed in Central Park: Conditioned by centuries of living in settled areas in Europe, this species easily adapted to American cities after 100 birds were liberated in Central Park, New York City, in 1890. Since then it has spread over most of the continent…Hordes of these birds create much noise, damage vegetable or fruit crops, and do considerable damage around feedlots, consuming and fouling the feed of domestic cattle, and have proved difficult to drive away. Starlings compete with native hole-nesters for woodpecker holes and natural cavities. (from eNature)

The eNature site also offers a story titled Bully Starlings Usually Win.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Hunter Hawk

This is how the Cooper’s hawk takes his prey. He will fly over at tree-top level or lower. If there are birds at the feeder, he will fly at them and attempt to take one of them in flight. The more birds, the great the probability that the hawk catches one.
As shown in this first photo, the hawk will also perch in a tree overlooking the Habitat. If and when the birds appear at the feeder or roosting in the brush or trees (see the second photo – there are many cardinals and woodpeckers in this photo – hard for you and me to see them all (we have 20-20 vision), but remember the hawk has 2-20 vision which is 10 times more powerful than us), he swoops down looking for prey. Of course, when the birds see the hawk coming they dive deeper into the brush for cover.
However, many times as in the third photo, the hawk will perch in a tree branch that less than 15 feet off the ground. Then, he will simply follow the birds into the brush. In this third photo, the hawk is literally scouting the bushes before, it dives in. We have actually observed the Cooper’s hawk diving into the full azalea bushes or in the combination of trees and vines that are shown in the second photo. The birds will exit from the opposite side of the brush if they are fast enough.