Posts Tagged ‘hawks’

Last night I took Ruby for her walk after dinner, as the sun was going down.   As my feet wandered the paths we usually follow, my mind wandered its own paths.

What was uppermost in my mind at the beginning of our perambulation was the delightful repast I had just enjoyed.   Our patch of leeks is just now coming into its own, so Jim pulled a few and made a rather wonderful dish that involves braising the leeks in wine with herbs, adding chopped up prosciutto to that, and tossing it with pasta.   Since we have entered so deeply into the slow food movement, we not only grow a lot of what we eat (which is the epitome of slowness, really), but we no longer buy noodles and pasta.   Jim made some lovely fresh noodles for the pasta part of the dish.   It was positively delicious, and probably quite good for us too.

So my mind wandered over to the leek patch as I walked along.  I mused on the irony of leeks, so easy to grow really.   Leeks are a crop that is reputed to be a cool weather staple, capable of waiting for your attentions out in the garden during the cold of winter.   And yet, apparently, they are totally heat and drought hardy as well, for while our leeks do have a lot of burned leaf tips on the outside of the plants, the inner parts are as green and tender and succulent as anyone could desire from a leek.

Ah, I notice a spot of unnatural blue on the path ahead of me.   It turns out to be the label from a plastic water bottle and I note to myself in passing that no doubt I shall find the water bottle discarded up ahead sometime during my walk.   I pick it up, and a cigarette butt that rests nearby, and continue on my way.   I wonder about the people who so casually defile the home of the wild creatures I hear about me.  An armadillo rustles busily off to my right, just over the edge of the slope into the sinkhole.   When the leaves fall and there has been a frost, I will have to go down in there and pick up the trash that has blown into the depression during the summer.

A red tail hawk rasps out its high wailing call above me, and this brings to mind the visitor we had during our breakfast.   We were sitting at the table enjoying the applesauce pancakes I had made, when all the little birds in the yard disappeared into thin air as a large bird landed on the fence.   It was an immature red tailed hawk, still in its youthful plumage with barred tail and speckled breast.   It looked about, seeming almost confused.   But it wasn’t.  It was looking at the bird bath, and after a suitable period for checking the area for threats and planning its landing pattern, it swooped down to the basin full of water.

You know, my birdbath is not really a small bath, there is plenty of room for two or three grackles to bathe in a gang, several dozen bees can drink from the rim at once, half a dozen finches have plenty of room to share the rim.   Suddenly, the bird bath looked very small indeed.   The hawk contemplated the water surface for a while, then hopped down into the water.    The area was too constrained for the bath it clearly desired, and after it had been soaking its feet for a few moments, a cheeky cardinal landed in the elm tree above it and started scolding it from the safety of the stockade of branches.   The hawk gave up on the idea of ablutions and  flew off, back over the fence and into the field behind us.

As I continued walking, I wondered how big a basin a hawk like that would like for a good bath.   I thought perhaps a kiddie wading pool might be just the right size.  Would it want it raised above the ground the way the little birds like their baths?   Or would a pool built into the ground be okay?    I want a fountain associated with the pergola; a proper hawk sized bird bath could be incorporated into that plan.

I rounded the corner of the path towards the back of the conservation area, and sure enough, the empty water bottle that belongs to the label I found earlier was lying there.   I pick it up, and remove the lid.    The light plastic rolls neatly into a tiny bundle, I replace the lid and put it in my pocket along with the label, wondering why some people find a full water bottle so easy to carry but not one that is empty.

My mind churned on as I watched the sun sink slowly down to the horizon.  There were no clouds to interfere with the colors it was producing.   First the sky was a pure lemon color, then it faded to apricot.   Later on a peachy hue emerged, quickly brightening to tangerine and finally as the sun went down it turned the brilliant red of a blood orange.    Odd, I thought to myself, how all my colors seemed to be associated with fruit today.

I was watching the nearly full moon at the same time I was watching the sun set.    It is the second full moon of the month, so it will be a “blue moon”.   Far from looking blue, it almost seemed to be reflecting back the sunset colors, looking almost apricot to me.   I thought about the article I read about visual perception, rods and cones, and how at the peripheral vision you can really only perceive black and white but your brain fills in the colors it “knows” are supposed to be there.    I framed the moon away from all the other information with my hands, and suddenly I could see it again as it truly was, white/silver and serene in the sky, slowly brightening as the day light faded.

A movement high in the sky near the moon caught my eye.   A red tail hawk hovered in the thermal, fluttering its wings gently to hold position as it surveyed the field below, hoping for an unwary rabbit or a meadow vole to round out the day’s hunt.   I stopped and watched.   A bat flew past, early riser.   I hoped perhaps the great horned owl would join it, but she didn’t.  The night jars soared and dipped over the crown of the forest edge across the field from me, searching for their evening repast.  A flock of red winged blackbirds rose from the forest edge, their creaking voices silenced, exchanged for the thrum of their wings beating in unison as they headed purposefully for their night roost.

A helicopter suddenly roared to life over at the Armory.   Must be a training week for the National Guard, I thought to myself, as the black beast rose into the air.  The chopper sound threw me back into revery about all the times I have heard that sound.   What it must be like to live someplace like Iraq or Afghanistan and know that that sound presages gunfire or is a response to the bomb that exploded nearby.    “Apolcalypse Now”    The sounds of Viet Nam; for truly this helicopter that was disturbing the sylvan peace of my dog walk was an old surplus bird from that era.

That time in my life paraded through my mind.   Rick Jenkins, our star running back on our 8-man football team, come home to be buried in a black body bag, blown into little pieces by the land mine he stepped on.    John, the ex-Green Beret, who I met at a party I went to in Denver, who had the boa constrictor Horace and the bull snake Herman that I bought from him for $40 dollars (that included their cages), and brought home proudly to my mother.   He warned people when he met them that they should not come up behind him quietly and touch him; he was likely to take them to the floor.  At that party, I witnessed the effects of battle fatigue or PTSD when someone in the kitchen dropped a large pot, the clatter and bang was impressive.   I had been standing talking to John, I looked away towards the sound and when I turned back John was gone.   Confused, I looked around.    Someone called out,  “Oh, they just dropped some pots in the kitchen.  It’s okay, John.”  His head came up from behind the sofa where he had taken cover; sheepishly he emerged.   We all laughed at him, he laughed back.

I wonder where he is today?   Is he fine or is he dead of cancer caused by the Agent Orange he was liberally doused with during his tour?   Or is he one of the damaged homeless alcoholics littering the streets of our big cities, begging for sustenance?

And what about Tommie Smith, the Navajo indian who I wrote to faithfully during his tour?   How is he?   I wonder about him on a regular basis.   When he came home, we went out to a football game at the University of Colorado where he was exercising his veteran’s right to an education.   He rode his beautiful Harley up to our house to visit a couple of times.   Late at night, after I cleaned the floors and shake machines at the Red Barn where I worked, he would come by and we would sit on the curb outside the place after all the lights were out and talk and talk.   He finally came to me and told me he wasn’t going to come talk with me any more.  It wasn’t fair, I was too young and he knew too much, and besides he was afraid his family could never accept me the way my family accepted him.   I knew nothing about life on the reservation, which was where he was going when he finished school.   He would take his engineering degree and use it there.

I wonder where he is now?  Is he the engineer for one of their mining operations?   Or is he another of the dead too soon; or worse, a member of the walking dead substance addicted?   Or maybe a famous artist?    He had talent that way.   I sent him cookies, he sent me his soul committed to paper with ink.

And so my three and half miles pass, as Ruby becomes tired and hot and well walked.   We return to our home, I put the plastic bottle in my recycle bin, and do the dinner dishes that are waiting for me patiently.  Afterwards I look through my book of thoughts for the image Tommie sent me from Viet Nam, so I can share it with you, my dear friends.

And another day has passed into the past, possibly to be mused on in the future.

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It has been a while since I made a bird report about activity at the Havens.   I feel a trifle derelict in my duty, since the stated purpose of my land is to provide me (and my family and friends) with organic food while also providing a  suburban wildlife habitat.  We’ve been pretty successful as habitat landlords, with a few notable exceptions.

One was the great skunk escapade.   I can report that we have reliably excluded them from our crawl space.   Finally.   They still live around here, and I find their modest grub foraging holes around the yard regularly.

Last summer we had a ground hog move into the pile of dirt the covers our root/storm/wine cellar.   I don’t think I wrote about that little episode.   I was happy to have him live there, there was lots of clover and stuff for him to eat, but he decided that the vegetable garden was far superior in the gourmet offerings, and spent no considerable effort digging under the fence to get to it.   We countered his efforts with a trap, which he rather insolently reacted to by digging in at another place.   So we got a second trap and he dug a third tunnel.   It didn’t take us long to figure out that this whole exercise was one in futility, and so our next gambit was to buy chicken wire (much cheaper than live traps) and install it along the back fence where he was digging through.   Attached to the board of the fence, it extended out along the ground about two feet.   So, he figured out he could weasel his way under it anyway.

We were on the point of the next escalation, which involved electric fence installation, when I went out to the garden one fine morning and found Sir Ground Hog busily eating my beans.   Of course, Ruby was with me, and when the ground hog saw her he went bustling off to his tunnel, and exited the garden precipitously.   Ruby was in hot pursuit, of course, but she couldn’t go through the tunnel so she dashed out the gate and around the fence.   Meanwhile, the panicked and bean fattened rodent had gotten himself entangled in the chicken wire in his haste to leave the premises.   He managed to get free before Ruby got there — not that she would had done anything other than bounce and bark at him, but he didn’t know that.  Anyway, that very morning he packed his bags and left for a less exciting neighborhood, much to my and the beans’ relief.

I believe that the skunk has appropriated that abandoned burrow.    This suits me just fine.

Of course we have tons of rabbits, which has resulted in great horned owls and barred owls hunting in the yard.   This is partly why my cats live inside.  The other part is that I did not go to a lot of trouble to create a wildlife habitat just so I could introduce an exotic predator.   Domestic cats are one of the major predators of song birds, and my cats do not need that food source in their diet, they are plenty well fed as is.

Yesterday morning as we arose at the crack of dawn, we heard a most lovely bird song right under our bedroom window, one that we did not recognize.   Very melodic and sweet, it rang out a couple of times, and was answered from the redbud tree.

“Who is that?” we asked each other in unison.   We moved to the window and gently raised the shades so we could get a better view.   Imagine our astonishment to observe the the birds that were singing this beautiful dawn song were a pair of catbirds.    I have only heard their “Cat! cat! cat!” call, and the plaintive meowing call that always makes me want to look for the lost kitten until I realize I have been fooled by bird song.  What a nice surprise to learn they have a beautiful courting song.   I must investigate those shrubs to see if they have taken up residence there.

We have brown thrashers raising a couple of youngsters in the yard, as well as cardinals.   The grackles are being followed by importunate chicks, who would much rather have their parents stuff bugs in their maws than find food for themselves.   Yesterday I observed a mama grackle demonstrating how one gets a drink at the bird bath, after which she showed her youngster the benefits of bathing as well.    Neither process impressed the young grackle in the slightest, and in disgust the mother hopped down onto the ground and began foraging again, assiduosly ignoring the brat following her around making demands for more dinner.  “I’ve done my best,” she seemed to be communicating.   “Find it yourself, I’m busy.”

I have been amused by the robins.   First they made a nest in the crotch of the wisteria, successfully raising three babies.    This was the most disturbed robin’s nest I’ve seen in a while, since the owner thought that our regular use of the path just 4 feet from the nest was excessive and just plain wrong.   So their next nest was in the elm tree by the garden shed.   Fine.

Now we have new construction, again in the wisteria.  Apparently, the first nest wasn’t close enough to the path.   Can you spot the nest in this picture?

Here, let me give you a clue.

Yes, that is it, right there on the corner of the arbor, where the mama robin feels compelled to flee every time I go out to the garden, or carry laundry to the line, or come back from one of those excursions.   Then she and her husband sit over on the wood shed and scold me.   Like I wasn’t using that path on a regular basis the whole time they were building that nest.

Apparently the disturbance hasn’t been so great that it precluded some successful mating activity.  Nosy neighbor that I am, I got out my kitchen step stool and climbed up there to investigate the situation.   Needless to say, my activities were NOT approved of by the parents.

Lets see, the wren chicks have fledged both on the back porch and in the garden, and now that they are successfully out on their own, their parents have embarked on a new clutch.   One of the sets of babies met each other and evicted the english house sparrows from the next box out by the vineyard and have been discussing housing arrangements quite vociferously.

We netted the last of the rows of grapes yesterday.   While we were doing it, a robin left the vicinity.   I distinctly heard him damning us as he left.  They know how effective the net is, and don’t like us for excluding us from such a delicious and convenient food supply.

In other bird news, both the rock doves and ring necked doves have increased their populations to the point where they are flocks rather than small groups.   That is just fine with me.   I also have a large group of cardinals using the area.   The gold finches and house finches are all around the place right now, enjoying echinacea and liatris seeds in addition to the niger seed I have in the feeder.

In addition to the chickadees, we have sparrows flitting about the place:  song, field, fox, white throated, white crowned and chipping.   A few years ago I would not have been able to tell the difference, but practice has made me a better bird watcher.

Blue jays are ubiquitous.  Right now they are keeping the yard cleared of June bugs, a hunt that amuses me as I watch them pursue the flying beetles until they catch them.   Then they take them to a branch and pound on them to open their hard carapace.

I found some of their moulted feathers the other day, and was fascinated to realize how different the colors are on their wings as opposed to their bodies.   The first image is a small chest feather.   The second is a wing feather next to the same chest feather.

The red tailed hawk dropped a wing feather the other day.   I found it while I was walking Ruby out at the conservation area.   A couple of days later I saw her hunting, and noticed the gap in her wing where the feather had been lost.  She’ll grow another soon enough.

I was captivated by the grass shadows cast by the rising sun on the white part of the feather.

Another denizen of the Havens habitat is the Cooper’s hawk.   She hunts here on a regular basis, and last year I even got to witness a hunting lesson for her fledgling which resulted in the demise of one of the house finches.   Success for the young hawk; not such a great outcome for the finch.   I’m not too sorry; I have know for years that I have a multi-tiered bird feeder.   I feed the seed eaters which are prey for the small hawks.   It’s all good.

I haven’t seen the hawk lately, but I know she has been around.  I have seen several meal sites in the area, scattered with tossed feathers.  She lost a tail feather just last week.    I imagine she either caught it on a branch has she was jinking and turning in pursuit of breakfast, or it was time for it to be moulted and she yanked it out while perched.  Anyway, it was on the ground under the elm where the niger seed feeder is.  I moved it for a better shot.

Right this minute I hear a hummingbird scolding out by my hostas.   As I jump up to look out the window, I see it is a mama with a baby, showing it the ropes of foraging.

How cool.

I believe I shall go out to the garden and see what’s happening out there.   Maybe the ants will have left.   Ha ha ha ha ha ha.  As if.  Maybe a flock of flickers will have come by and eaten them all.     Hahahahahaha.

I can dream, though, right?

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If you build it. . .

Years ago, they made a movie called “Field of Dreams.” This mythic fantasy starring Kevin Costner was a movie that we enjoyed a lot when we saw it.   There was a line in it that stuck with me:  “If you build it, he will come.”

I find myself saying a modified version of that line a lot here at The Havens.   When I first built the pond, I did it for the wildlife.   I really did not have a clue as to just exactly how true the whole concept of “If you build it” actually is when I created the pond.   (For a good retrospective of how the area has developed over the years, check out this post.)

We have a few leopard frogs that have moved in because of the presence of the pond.   We find them out and about hunting on a regular basis.   They visit the vegetable garden and hunt in the cucumber vines, sometimes they are over by the sauna, and I often run into them in the day lily bed.   They are making a good living on the bugs here, and it is easy to forget that sometimes the predator can become the prey.

We had a reminder of that a couple of days ago.   Jim was out removing the section of fence that fell down behind the day lilies last spring, and I was turning the compost pile.   Suddenly, Jim said, “Ellie, come here!” in a quiet yet urgent voice.

I have learned that he never issues that order without some good cause, so I put my pitchfork down immediately, and hustled over to where he was standing on alert by the pond.

“Shh,”  he said.   We stood together for a minute or so.   “Do you hear that?”  he said suddenly, as a rather odd sort of “erking” noise issued from the pond verge.

“Yes,” I replied.   “I wonder what it is?”   It happened again.   “Sounds sort of froggy to me,” I added.

“I think it’s a frog too, wonder what kind it is?”   The noise happened again, several times, at about 10 to 15 second intervals.  Suddenly, there was some commotion in the vegetation and the vocalization happened again.   Only this time, it was not just one “erk,” it was longer, more urgent, and quite a lot louder.

We decided to get nosy, and started searching for the source.   Down in the midst of the wild iris and jerusalem artichokes, we came across a desperate scene.   One of the garter snakes that lives on the place had caught the smaller of our local leopard frogs.   It had not done a very good job of catching it, but despite that it was attempting to swallow the frog, hind leg first.

It had about two thirds of that leg swallowed and was not about to let go of its prey, even though it was pretty obvious that the frog was a tad bit too large for the snake, which was a rather small snake, to actually swallow.   Even so, the frog was not having much luck extracting the partially swallowed appendage from the snake’s mouth, and its predicament was what had been making it vocalize.

(At this point I should have run into the house to get the camera, as neither animal was going anywhere, but no one thought of that until it was too late.)

“The question is,” said Jim, “Are we rooting for the snake or the frog?”

It didn’t take me a second to make the decision in favor of the frog.   As far as I know, we only have two leopard frogs living here, and there are at least six snakes because we saw them emerging from their hole on the first really warm spring day.   Additionally, the garter snakes have plenty of beetles, crickets, and small rodents to eat, they don’t need to eat the frogs.

And so, the snake was grabbed, much to its dismay and great astonishment.  The shock caused it to open its mouth and the frog took that opportunity to escape.   The frog leaped off towards the pond, apparently none the worse for wear, and in a great high dudgeon the snake whipped off into the jerusalem artichoke patch.

We agreed that that snake was in no danger of starving because we had deprived it of its chosen lunch.  Especially since said lunch was probably not small enough for the reptile to actually swallow.  We went back to our jobs, having been suitably entertained.

That is not the only exciting thing that we have seen this week.   While we were burning our small brush pile on Sunday, the red tail hawks passed over on their way to the field behind the house and returned about five minutes later with their immature hawklet in tow.  We sat quietly as they delivered a lesson on flying rising thermals, utilizing the small artificial thermal our little bonfire had created.   We watched enchanted, as the young hawk circled round and round on the pillar of air rising off the fire, slowly rising up to a great height, where we could just barely see one of its parents waiting for it.   The other parent was hanging about close to the ground, slowly circling our yard as the youngster practiced.

It was way better than TV.

Other raptors come and go.   Sometimes we see them, sometimes we just see evidence of their passing, like this breast feather from a great horned owl, caught in my aesclepius the other morning.

Hope the owl caught one of the numerous rabbits that have infiltrated The Havens this year.  There is a family of meadow voles in residence as well; there is plenty for a hawk or owl to eat around here.

If you build it, they will come.

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