Bald Eagles and Sunsets

January 10th, 2008

Back to normal winter cold, but yesterday was full of surprises.  Mostly involving trying to get things done around the house, and too many errands.  A few groups of Canada Geese have been hanging around the pond early in the morning… I don’t know when they fly in, but it must be before dawn. I enjoy looking at them from afar, but as I wrote last year I’m not a big fan of having them on the pond.   So I’ll walk around the pond with the dog and they fly off usually.  I was surprised to see them eating acorns though.  So much water ran off the slopes that many little acorns were floating among the grass at the water’s edge, and the geese were gobbling them up as they paddled around.

 Canada Geese on pond

I was driving past a neighbor’s property down the hill, and out in the middle of the pasture was a Bald Eagle!  We don’t see them around here very often, but it was dining on some carrion- probably a deer.   The Bald Eagle is a majestic bird, but many people don’t think of it as a scavenger, which it is as much as a carnivore.  Although they normally eat fish, they are opportunists as much as any other species of wildlife and will eat whatever is available.

 Bald Eagle feeding on deer carrion in Missouri

I took some long distance pictures with the telephoto lens, and after picking up the young boy off the bus, I drove down the hill to show him the eagle- and now there was an immature Bald Eagle (no white head/tail) feeding at the same site.  I guess the family was traveling together!  It flew off after I stopped the truck a couple hundred yards away.

Immature Bald Eagle

I’ll never forget some 20+ years ago while I worked as a wildlife research assistant, I watched two immature Bald Eagles flying together for an hour, spinning, flipping, circling each other, briefly locking talons, flying away and coming back to each other time after time…. seemed like they were exhibiting spring mating behavior, or just practicing maybe.   Just beautiful to watch though.

At the end of the day we were treated to a beautiful sunset.  The light turned orange and pink, and rippled across the sky and clouds.  Last month the sunset was much further to the west-northwest, and now is moving slowly back south. I’m all for that as the northern hemisphere begins its slow journey to warm up again!

Sunset at Fox Haven in January


Cooper’s Hawk Visit

December 22nd, 2007

   A respite of warmer weather yesterday and today before the temperature drops again, and maybe snow tonight.  I’m hoping to get out on the tractor and “vacuum” a few more leaves.   I keep a feeder near the house for the birds, and I can tell the weather will be colder or warmer simply by how many birds attend to the feeder each day.  Especially within 12 hours of a winter storm, the little Junco’s flock all around the feeder.  It must be tough to sit huddled through the cold nights in a tree! 

    Speaking of birds, we had a special visitor the other day- what I believe was a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) based on size, but possibly a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  It can be difficult to tell the difference.  It flew into a tall Oak near the house- watching the birds on the feeder of course, and sat for about 10 minutes.  The Cooper’s Hawk is a member of the Accipiter family- a specialized group of birds of prey that hunt other birds.  The Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks live in forested areas primarily, and can be secretive.  I’ve only seen them a half-dozen times before, typically while hiking or hunting deep in the forest.  Here at Fox Haven I typically see them chasing the birds that gather because of the feeder.   I don’t know why, but I’ve always identified with these birds.  I worked as a volunteer at the World Bird Sanctuary when I was younger, and we would have to actually raise small quail in order to feed the Accipiters that were undergoing rehabilitation.  It sounds harsh, but for some birds it was the only method to enable them to eat and survive.  Some of the Accipiters have bordered on threatened status in various parts of the country.  Because the Accipiters catch their prey “on the wing” we would “fly” the quail through a hole in the enclosure, and the Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawks would swoop down and catch them.  It was fascinating, if not somewhat difficult to watch, but very necessary.   Ultimately, we would rehabilitate a sick or injured raptor and then release it back to the wild if possible. 

 Cooper™s Hawk in Oak tree in Missouri

With the warming weather this week, the ice on the pond has been melting.  At night the ice freezes again, and then melts during the day.  I like how the water pools on the surface of the ice to show the reflections of the trees.

Ice melting on the pond

Bluebird Antics

May 22nd, 2007

Is there any bird that seems as joyful and comforting as the Bluebird?  Perhaps there are many, but when the Eastern Bluebird is around, the home just seems more welcoming.  Their lively flight chasing insects and holding to the side of trees is fun to watch, and their warbling chirrup song is calming when working outside.  They’re not always around, but sometimes they seem to spend a few hours in the same location during the day. 

I watched three male bluebirds, perhaps recently fledged young this year, chasing each other back and forth over the garden the other day.  They flew almost non-stop for about thirty minutes back and forth from treetop to treetop, and landing on the fence, birdhouses, wires or anything else they could find.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves and chased each other vigorously, grasping feathers and claws and then perching side-by-side while taking a break. 

Populations have apparently declined in many eastern states, especially with West Nile virus the past few years.  But in many areas people put up nest boxes (as my folks did for many years) that the bluebirds come back to each year.  In winter they seem to disappear into the forest, making brief appearances on warmer days.  Their populations seem to be doing just fine locally, and the property helps since they like open forest and grassy areas to forage for insects.  I caught a few of their antics with the camera…

Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebirds

Hummingbirds Everywhere!

May 13th, 2007

The hummingbirds are buzzing all around these days.  We keep two feeders, one on each side of the house.  It’s amazing how fast the little hummingbirds can drink the sugary liquid in the feeders.  They can be quite aggressive with each other, but in general there are many different hummingbirds that come to the feeders.  Last week I mixed one feeder with too little of the powder mix, and they didn’t like it at all… they left it alone all week until I changed it.  We only see the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds here, at least so far.  But they are neat little birds, and important for their role in flower pollination.  I was working among the trees yesterday and watched a male hummingbird dive back and forth in a U-shaped pattern, buzzing very fast above a female sitting on a branch.  Later I was able to take these pictures of a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird sitting on a garden stake…

The first photo shows a side profile, and then when he turns to face me you can see the bright red throat feathers show their color.  The feathers shimmer and change depending upon which way they face the light.

Male Ruby Throated Hummingbird viewed from the sideMale Ruby Throated Hummingbird shows the red throat feathers as it looks toward the camera.

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Summer Tanagers on a Warm Day

May 10th, 2007

Today was very warm and humid but then turned to clouds and a few thunderstorms.  And then hours of rain, steady rain that refreshed the landscape.   I started on the garden today and transplanted a few shrubs.  One small willow “bush” had roots that were 6-8 feet long!  It found a new home along the driveway where water runoff tends to erode the soil. 

I was excited this morning to see a pair of Summer Tanagers for the first time this year.  I thought I saw a glimpse of one yesterday but wasn’t sure.  They are fairly secretive, or at least difficult to see among the foliage.  I just looked up for some reason and they were there- I took a few quick pictures, looked down at the camera, and when I looked again they were gone.  Every now and then you get really lucky with a camera, and today the morning sun was perfect for these photos.  I didn’t even see the birds fly away!

                  The male Summer Tanager is a rosy red, and the female is yellow and green.

                                                              They are beautiful birds!

Male Summer Tanager perched in Oak tree © Fox Haven Media 2007Female Summer Tanager perched in Oak tree © Fox Haven Media 2007

The Orioles are Back!

May 7th, 2007

And no, not the baseball team!  It feels like summer already- a very warm and sunny day, and the trees are finally looking good with all the beautiful green leaves.  It feels like a different place at this time of year, especially after the stark grays of winter.  So the ritual begins with grass cutting, trimming, weeding, getting small engines back in shape (and my own engine too!).  I spend half the day in and out of the barn with the dogs and cats for company.  The pup made a few more water retrieves today as well.  I’ve also been looking for the arrival of the Orioles, and today saw the first Baltimore Oriole of the season.  They have a nice call, sort of a flute-like two-note whistle.  I didn’t recognize it, and looked up to see the bright orange of the male Oriole in the White Oak tree above me.  He cooperated for a few pictures… what a neat bird!

Male Baltimore Oriole in a White Oak tree.

What Bird is this?

March 28th, 2007

Well for something a little different, here’s a picture of a new bird.  Like many part-time “birders” I keep a “life list” of sorts… mostly I just know when I see something new or different that I haven’t seen before.  I took this picture yesterday, and as a hint- it’s not from Fox Haven.  It’s not even from Missouri… I’m in a new place, and the area looks a lot like the land and forests around Fox Haven.  I’ll post some more pictures in a couple days, but I’m traveling and don’t have internet access all the time.  But I am enjoying the trip immensely…

A new bird!

American Robin

March 16th, 2007

Few birds herald the Spring as does the American Robin.  First arriving in larger flocks in February, they soon split up into singles and pairs, and begin calling brightly in the mornings.  This ubiquitous bird is a fixture on grassy lawns across the country, but also in fields and woodlands.  Many a child has found a young robin, fallen out of the nest.  And many too have watched the Robin with sideways glance pull up a juicy worm from the backyard.  When I hear the saying, “The early bird gets the worm” it is the Robin that comes to mind. 

American Robin - Missouri - March 2007

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Snow Goose Migration

March 8th, 2007

Yesterday I saw several enormous flocks of migrating Snow Geese.  I couldn’t begin to count their number, there were so many.  I heard them well before seeing them, and when I looked I could barely make them out, they were that high up.  I’d love to have known their real altitude, but it probably exceeded 1500-2000 feet in the sky.  The Cornell bird identification site says that “…the Snow Goose travels… in very large, high-flying, noisy flocks.”  Right on the money yesterday.  They are on their way north to the artic tundra to begin the breeding season.  Here’s a picture of just a small portion of one flock…

Migrating Snow Geese - March 07

Cardinal in the House!

March 5th, 2007

Well… I almost titled this one Cardinal Craziness, to keep the theme going from my other post Nuthatch Nuttiness…  Yep… similar story yesterday.  I was summoned by my wife after she heard a loud “thump!” at one of the porch windows.  Sure enough, a Cardinal was lying outside on the ground looking quite disheveled. 

It was a chilly day yesterday, so I went out and picked him up… the bright red of the male Northern Cardinal is unmistakable.  The little guy’s eyes were half closed and he was “gurgling” while trying to breathe.  I brought him inside, and we noticed he was bleeding from the mouth, er ‘beak’ I mean.  I don’t know how to help a bird with internal injuries, but since I noticed his mouth was full of blood my Red Cross training kicked in regarding airway obstructions… So I held him upside down while some blood ran out his beak.  “Lovely…” I can hear you thinking… yes, but not much else to do. 

So I carried him around, and was sure he would pass on any minute in my hands with such labored breathing.  If the cats had been outside he would have been a goner for sure.  He was still breathing after about 15 minutes, so thinking that he had a chance, I knew the best thing would be to keep him warm and in a quiet place.  Back into the Rosemary plant he went, just like the Nuthatch!   The young boy so wanted him to live. I tried not to disturb it last night, but noticed that he was still alive when I went to bed.  His eyes were mostly closed, but the breathing a little better. The porch is not heated much, but stays warmer than the outdoors… I think it was in the 40’s F overnight, so I knew he would be better in there than outside. 

When I awoke and got the young one off to school, I thought “There’s something I wanted to do this morning…?”  “Oh yes- the bird!  So with the sun fully up, I went into the porch to find a chipper young Cardinal hopping about the plants and furniture giving a loud “schiip! schiip!” at me.  “Wow!” I thought, “you’ve really perked up!” 

 Male Cardinal after a night recuperating inside

Then the fun began as I tried to catch him, and he darted in and out of the plants, flying to the windows.  I got my son’s butterfly net and finally trapped him gently.  He looked good except where he banged the window the day before… ruffled feathers and a half-closed eye on the left side.  I bet his neck was sore!   But I knew he could fly then and had a chance at life- wild animals cannot really survive in captivity. 

Some have wondered how one can be a hunter, and care for wildlife and nature at the same time.  For me it is all part of the grand pace of life, and I see no incongruence with hunting and eating animals, as well as caring for them.  Hunters do not hunt simply to ‘kill’ animals, at least none that I have ever known… hunting is so much more.  Fishing equally so… there is a bond with nature and the outdoors, a temporal connection with the seasons, and a human validation for our being and sharing the harvest.  Perhaps I’ll write more one day. 

Back to the Cardinal… out we went, and as I opened the net and picked him up he flew into a Redbud tree about 50 yards away.  He sat composing himself for a good half-hour, and then when I looked again he was gone.  He has a good start… the young one will be excited when I tell him the Cardinal is flying free once again!

 Farewell my red-crested friend!

Cardinal far off in Redbud Tree

One would think I spend all my time taking pictures, watching birds and other assorted nature stuff.  I sure enjoy it, but these are just the small moments between the larger focus of each day.  But the small moments are so important!  If we don’t take some time for them, don’t we then lose ourselves among the noise of everything else?   But most of my time revolves around the endless stuff we all must do, and helping keep our personal and financial lives together.  I finished a final for one of my classes, thank goodness, and now can concentrate on the other.  I should tell you about last week, with the cats in the attic…. well, we don’t really have an attic, but we do have a backwards weather vane!  Long story…  But the boy is doing great with his swimming lessons, and started a class in Tae Kwon Do… life marches on.

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