Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Year-end Red-tail

 Imitating a griffon 
Just before lunchtime, a visitor stopped by with a Red-tailed Hawk in a birdcage.  He'd passed the bird sitting on the side of the road, drove home to get a cage, drove back, caught the bird (!) getting only a few scratches on his hands in the process, and placed the bird into the cage.  He's a braver man than I!  The visitor reported that the bird flew about 25 feet when he initially approached it, but it didn't fly a second time, allowing him to effect the capture.

Though we don't rehabilitate injured animals, we still get a fair number of people dropping by asking us to take care of the injured or orphaned wildlife they've brought us.  If we can't get the visitor to take the injured animal to one of two rehab centers (each about a half-hour's drive away) him/herself, one of the staff members or I will grudgingly take the animal.
We got lucky today.  We called Victor Calozza of SkyKing Raptors who has done educational raptor shows for us in the past.  He said that he wasn't busy and would take the bird to one of the rehab facilities, sparing our staff (or me) an hour's drive.  Victor declared the bird to be an adult female Red-tail, and his cursory examination in our kitchen suggested to him that the bird might have a broken wing.

A little mid-day excitement! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chilly Sunday Walk

Kali and I took a 5-mile walk on Sunday afternoon in the city park downstream of the preserve.  The park embraces the same creek that flows through the preserve, but the stream is larger in the city, having been augmented by the flow of several sizable tributaries en route.  The day was cold (in the mid-30s F), but the sky was perfectly clear and the park was uncharacteristically deserted.  We had a fine walk.

 Cooper's Hawk perched on a beech limb over the creek
We bought a digital SLR two few weeks ago--a Canon T3i body fitted with a versatile Tamron 18-270 lens.  Kali simply could not see what she was photographing on the screen of our Nikon S10 point-and-shoot, so she desperately wanted a camera with a viewfinder and an all-purpose lens.  I want to take close-up images that can rival those of some of my fellow Bloggers, so I wanted a camera on which I could fit a closeup lens.  I'll have to wait to get the closeup lens for a while, though. The two images included in this post were taken with the new camera setup.  I was at least 200 feet from the hawk, so I'm not surprised that the image isn't great, but it was an experiment.
My holidays this year promise to be not very merry.  Most immediately, one of my cats is on death's door.  She had a good life with us, but arrived as a stray and remained nearly feral despite sharing the house with us for over 10 years.  It has only been in the last two years that I've been able to touch her (and Kali has never been able touch her).  Because she is so skittish, we've never been able to take her to the vet; if we were to try to corner her or put her in a cat carrier, she would go berserk--we've tried.  So, once it became clear last week that she was in very serious decline, we figured we were just going to have to wait it out.  She's clearly miserable.

Then, last week, I learned that my 86-year-old father, who lives in San Diego, is receiving hospice care.  He'd had heart surgery in August 2010, never recovered adequately, and has been in and out of the hospital ever since.  I'm going to California right after the New Year to bid him adieu.  Needless to say, I'm a little subdued.

Two Decades Plus of Counting Christmas Birds

I participated in my twenty-second Audubon Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, and it was  mediocre by all accounts.  Our group of 10 birders, most of whom wandered the fields and forests for four hours from 8 a.m. until noon, recorded only 38 species.  (One intrepid birder went out for three hours beginning at 3 a.m. to log owls, and came up with six Eastern Screech Owls but no Great Horned Owls, which were spotted here in two locations earlier in the week.)  On "good" count days in the past, we've recorded 50 or more overwintering species.
I've participated in this annual event every year since 1998, with the exception of 2009 when the region was in the early throes of one of the largest blizzards on record.  Most of the regular participants couldn't have counted even if they had been so inclined because they couldn't get out of their driveways let alone negotiate the impassible roads.  Nevertheless, the count must go on; our group adds our results to those of a second group that counts in the southern part of our watershed, and we report the combined results to Audubon as the count for the entire valley.  The other group somehow went out during the 2009 blizzard and reported--not unexpectedly--very poor results.  The other group is Audubon's "official" contact for the valley and so "calls the shots"; and they are very inflexible with their scheduling.  The count can be conducted any time over a two week period centered on Christmas, so I don't understand why they didn't reschedule the count in 2009.
Our "best" birds yesterday?  Six American Coots, 15 Eastern Bluebirds, and 26 Chipping Sparrows.  Such a large aggregation of Chipping Sparrows is very unusual this far north in the winter.
Why the Northern Mockingbirds hang around
The first half of the count, from 8 until 10 a.m., was so beautiful I was glad that I got out of bed early on a weekend to go outdoors.  The very low, very late autumn sun burnished the native grasslands a rich, deep golden hue.  And the sun provided enough warmth to allow us to occasionally remove our gloves to record the birds (or take photographs) with bare hands.  (During most counts, the weather is so cold that it would be foolhardy to remove gloves.  I vividly recall the 1990 count during which we had to retreat to the warmth of one of the count participant's kitchen for hot chocolate or risk serious frostbite.)  By 10 a.m., though, thick clouds rolled in from the northwest, the sun disappeared, and the day got cold.  We even had brief snow flurries in mid-afternoon.