Friday, June 20, 2014

Cooper's Hawk Family Update

I shared a post on April 24th that announced a new generation of Cooper's Hawks. Click here to see that post.

I have some good news regarding one of the nest sites that I've followed since that time. I got my first look at chicks when I checked on the nest Thursday after work. I was shocked to suddenly see three fluffy white chicks standing nearly six inches beyond the top of the nest. I later realized there were actually four chicks. I had checked several times recently because I knew the timing for the eggs being laid and when they'd hatch. I knew chicks were growing inside the nest when the mother hawk stopped sitting in the nest and starting standing at the edge of the nest. The image below shows two of the four chicks.  You can see that the one on the right probably hatched before the one on the left since it has some juvenile feathers coming in on the chest, shoulders and wings.

The female hawk went from standing at the nest to sitting on the nest on April 23rd. I figured that was probably when she started incubating eggs. I calculated that chicks would start hatching around Memorial Day weekend since the incubation period is 30-36 days for Cooper's Hawk eggs. Chicks are usually in the nest for about 30-35 days after hatching so I estimated that the young birds might start to fledge around the end of June. It seems we are right on schedule.

I didn't visit the nest much during the incubation period, but I did check as I thought hatching may be taking place. I was hoping to see dad bring food to mom and babies, but I never saw that during my brief visits. I guess I didn't show up during feeding times. The next image is typical of what I saw as the chicks were newly hatched inside the nest. Mom would stand at a close guard.

At some point along the way the mother hawk gave up her space in the nest for the growing chicks. I was hopeful I'd see chicks peeking over the edge of the nest during several visits, but the mother continued to be the only visible hawk. I saw dad one day, but he didn't stick around long enough for a photo. Mom, on the other hand provided lots of convenient poses for my lens.

Thursday provided a new and exciting series of events. I stopped by the site after work. I parked my truck and began walking to the stand of trees that housed the nest. I got my first glance of the chicks and could not believe how tall they were standing in the nest. It was as if the nest went from empty to three large chicks overnight. Where were those big chicks hiding all this time?

I looked to my left and mom was in her usual spot, keeping watch over the nest from about 30 yards away. What a beautiful hawk! I couldn't help but wonder,however, "Where on earth was dad? When was he going to appear in his role of provider for these four hungry birds, mom and three hungry chicks?

After admiring mom for a while I turned my attention back to the chicks in the nest. That was until I heard mom start making a few quiet noises. I looked back at her and noticed she was looking to her left. She gave a couple of louder "kak" calls and then flew to where she was looking. That's when I noticed she flew to the male that was waiting in a spruce tree. The two sort of collided with each other a couple feet away from the spruce. Mom flew back toward me and dad moved farther away. I wanted to get an image of dad so I walked his way. I couldn't find him so I turned back toward mom. That's when I realized that dad had actually delivered some prey when the two birds collided near the spruce. Mom was now perched on a branch and plucking downy feathers from what turned out to be a baby bird (Cooper's Hawks primarily eat other birds). She was preparing the prey for delivery to one of her own chicks.

You can see a couple of the plucked downy feathers dropping down to the left of the image below. She would pluck and throw the feathers to one side or other with her beak.

I switched my camera to video mode and captured two short videos while hand-holding the lens fully zoomed to 400mm. It is really hard to hold the lens still and not have the image shake when capturing video. That's what tripods are for, but I didn't have one at the time. The videos actually turned out fairly well.

Here's some short video clips of mom plucking downy feathers from a chick of another bird species before she delivered the flesh to her own chick in the nest.

This short clip is right before mom flies with the prey to the nest.

One chick enjoyed the prey while mom and the other chicks sat contently on my side of the nest. I am fascinated by how mom and dad play their respective roles so well in caring for and raising their young ones. Mom and dad won't eat until after the chicks have eaten and dad will likely deliver a meal to mom before eating his own. Mom is not hunting right now because she is feeding the young and watching over the nest site. Dad will be a busy hawk until the young ones fledge and learn to catch their own prey.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Short Visit to the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

It's been a busy two weeks since I last posted. During that time I spent a long weekend visiting my mom and other family members in the area of Battle Creek, Michigan. I spent a couple of hours one morning exploring the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary near Hickory Corners. The sanctuary is owned by Michigan State University and open year round. I wish I could have spent a little more time at the Sanctuary, but it didn't open until 9 and I had to leave by 10. I wandered the area outside the sanctuary for about an hour before it opened and found a few colorful birds.

Common Yellowthroat at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
Common Yellowthroat at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
Common Yellowthroat at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
Blue Jay at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
Blue Jay at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
The light was harsh so it washed out the color of this Northern Cardinal, but I had to include at least one image of a Cardinal in this post. It's the state bird for my home state of Kentucky and I never see them in Utah.
Northern Cardinal at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
What sounded like a group of unskilled, beginning brass players from outside the Sanctuary turned out to be Trumpeter Swans, Michigan's largest native waterfowl species. They have wingspans up to 80"--about the same wingspan as Bald and Golden Eagles.

Trumpeter Swan at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
Trumpeter Swan at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
I ran across a Red Fox, White-tailed Deer, Wood Ducks, Kingfishers, Flycatchers, Woodpeckers, Catbirds, Indigo Buntings, and a number of other expected bird species. This little Mallard family was quite content as I passed by them while walking a short trail.

Mallard Family at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
I started to take the 3/4-mile Lake Loop trail around Wintergreen Lake and ran out of time so I had to turn around just after getting on my belly to capture an image of some mushrooms on the trail.

Spring Mushrooms at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
I stopped for a few moments outside the entrance to the Sanctuary to observe a few squirrels and chipmunks feeding around some bird feeders. I think mammals are fascinating and need to include more in my future blog posts.

Eastern Chipmunk at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
Black squirrels, which are abundant in the Battle Creek area, are actually a melanistic (black pigmented) subgroup of the Eastern Gray Squirrel. I had to remove a tick from my leg after spending some time in Utah mountains a couple of weeks ago so I couldn't help but notice the squirrel below had a tick latched onto the inside of its ear.

Black (Melanistic) Eastern Gray Squirrel at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
Here's a super-cropped image of the same squirrel showing the tick in its ear. It's pretty common for ticks to latch onto flesh of mammals that live in the woods.

Black (Melanistic) Eastern Gray Squirrel with Tick in Ear at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Near Hickory Corners, MI
While we don't see black squirrels in Utah, we certainly have our share of American Red Squirrels. It was a familiar sight when the Red Squirrel below scampered up a tree and perched just above me. These are the smallest tree squirrels in North America.

Red Squirrel at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
Red Squirrel at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary Hickory Corners, MI
I missed a lot of good birding opportunities during my short visit to Battle Creek, but I enjoyed the short time I had at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Critter-Filled Weekend While Golfing and Camping

I had a fun weekend ahead of me last Friday morning. It would include golfing and lunch for a work activity and camping with my twin sons. We would be enjoying some father-son time in the great outdoors around Timpooneke Campground in Utah County while our wives were enjoying some girl time at our home. I could picture the image below when I thought about a weekend in the outdoors.

Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
However, there were some minor details that required my attention at the crack of dawn Friday morning. All of which had to be done in a period of time that allowed me to get to the golf course twenty minutes from my home before an 8:45 tee time. We were unable to reserve our campsite in advance so I had to drive thirty minutes up American Fork Canyon, stake a claim on one of the first-come-first-served campsites, and pay the fee to the caretaker when he was officially available at 7 AM. I found an open site, set up an empty tent to stake our claim, and then paid the fee.

I noticed a rabbit running across the road ahead of me on my way out of the campground. I saw that its hind legs were huge and white so I realized it was a Snowshoe Hare, a very secretive hare that generally hides in thick mountain brush. I tried to stop and get an image of the hare while his large hind feet were still visible, but it got into the grass before I could do so. These hares transition between an all-white coat during the winter months and a brown-gray coat during the summer months. The white winter coat makes them extremely hard to find when there is snow cover in our mountains.

Snowshoe Hare in Summer Coat at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
I made it home without further distractions and quickly showered. I was making good time until I realized I had a tick free-loading on the back of my lower thigh. I had picked up an unwanted hitch hiker while in the mountains. A quick Google search confirmed it was a Rocky Mountain Wood Tick and not a Deer Tick which is known to carry Lyme Disease. I consulted Dr Google and his friend, WebMD for the proper way to remove a tick and followed those directions successfully, including the part about putting the tick in a Ziploc bag for later reference if needed. Here's a link on how to remove a tick. It's a good refresher as we go outdoors during the spring and/or wet summer months when they are thriving:

Click Here for How to Remove a Tick From Your Skin

I'm a little fascinated by nature and all of its critters and this post is about critters so here you go! This is the very beast itself. It was about a 1/4 of an inch long. The tiny nub up front is the part that was embedded in my skin.

Top Side of a Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
Bottom Side of a Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

The tick episode set me back a little in my time management, but I made it to the course right at 8:45. I teed off for the first time in over a year without a single practice swing and it was a solid drive, straight down the fairway. I can't say the same for many of the other swings during the morning, but golfing with coworkers was fun. We didn't really have serious golfers in our group so we simply had fun and enjoyed the spring weather. The course was situated in the foothills near Corner Canyon in Draper, Utah. We spent a bit of time chasing balls that we hit into the sagebrush and hillsides. While checking for a lost ball in the ruff near the putting green of hole #8 we discovered two Gopher Snakes that were both over four feet long. Another coworker and I retrieved one from the ruff and placed it on the putting green. I got on my belly and captured the image below with my phone camera. Another fun critter for the weekend.

Gopher Snake at South Mountain Golf Course in Draper, UT (over four feet long)
After enjoying lunch with my coworkers it was time to head home and make the drive up American Fork Canyon to our campsite. I stopped along the road to our campsite to capture and image of the ubiquitous Uinta Ground Squirrel, or Pot Gut as the locals call them.

Uinta Ground Squirrel at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
Another common mammal in our mountains is the Red Squirrel. They are small for a tree squirrel with a body that is about 7" from head to rump and a tail that is about 5-6" long. This one appeared to be gathering nest material.

Red Squirrel at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
My sons and I set up camp and made some dinner. This was the view from the shade of our campsite Saturday morning as breakfast was being prepared.

Cooking Breakfast at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
We did some visiting, hiking, mountain biking, and exploring early Friday evening. As the sun was setting and the sky began to darken I led my sons on a search for Norther Saw-whet Owls. I had introduced them to Flammulated Owls before so we focused this time on the Saw-whets. We were successful at calling one in. It landed in tree right above our heads as I was whistling one of their calls. We got a light on it so my sons could see the unique little owl that was about 8" tall. Here is an image from a previous Saw-whet encounter I had in the same general location.

Northern Saw-whet Owl in Utah County, UT
We sat around the campfire for the rest of the night and then went to bed. The robins started singing around 5 AM, the resident Ruffed Grouse started drumming around 6 AM, and within moments it seemed that all the other birds of the forest were singing and calling. Nature called in more ways than one so I exited the tent for another day in the mountains.

After breakfast I stood on the road near the meadow shown in the very first image of this post and practiced some photography as Broad-tailed Hummingbirds came to and battled over the nectar of the flowers from a Twinberry Honeysuckle shrub.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
Broad-tailed Hummingbird at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
An American Dipper popped up from the running stream near the bush and posed briefly for me. These little birds behave like ducks as they dive under water to retrieve larvae. The water just rolls right off their backs when they emerge from beneath the fast moving water.

American Dipper at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
American Dipper at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
I was riding my mountain bike through the campground late in the morning and discovered a pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers chipping bark from the trees of campsites 27 and 28, both of which were now empty as the campers who used them the night before had left. These are rare for the area so it was a very fortunate discovery for me. They were constantly in the shadows of the fir trees so the lighting was poor for my taste, but this turned out to be a solid image for documenting the rare sighting.

American Three-toed Woodpecker at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
American Three-toed Woodpecker at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
All in all it was a great weekend with coworkers, family, and interesting critters. I can't wait for what remains to be discovered during my next weekend.