Posts Tagged ‘tbt’

Throw Back Thursday: Variations in Rough-legged Hawks

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Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk by Lisa Densmore

Location: Lima, Montana

If you’re wondering where Lima (pronounced LI-ma, like the bean), Montana is, you are not geographically challenged. With due respect to the residents of this small ranching community in the southwestern part of the Treasure State, the only reason Lima entered my life was because we passed through it on the way home after a weekend in Idaho. I’m not apt to forget it. It took a long time to travel through Lima, not due to traffic – we might have seen two cars in two hours on the open road on which we traveled – but because we saw so many Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus).

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk by Lisa Densmore

They perched everywhere, on the irrigation pipes, on the tops of electrical poles, on fence posts… In this hawk-rich environment, I gained a new appreciation for this rodent-eating raptor, which is on the large side for a buteos, averaging 19 to 24 inches tall. With so many of the species in one place, I realized how much variation there could be from one to another. The typical Rough-legged Hawk has a dark belly, though it may be blotchy. A black patch normally shades the carpal joint where the wing bends, but not always or it might be very small. The wings have lots of white on the underside, and its white tail has a black band near its end, but the black morph has a mostly dark tail. ID-ing a Rough-legged Hawk can be challenging if you don’t already know the bird. It’s more diverse than Grand Central Station during rush hour. Fortunately, it lives in a less populated environment than mid-town Manhattan, making it easy to spot.

I enjoyed seeing its color variations. The phenomenon is not unique to Rough-legged Hawks. While each avian on my Audubon Birds app has a common look, variations occur. Have you seen birds-of-a-color that really are not?

Throwback: Stuffed

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Monday, December 10th, 2012

Common Gartersnake eating a Green Frog

Having just returned from a Thanksgiving vacation in Massachusetts, I had hoped to write about something uniquely New Englandy. To me the greater Boston area is all about clams, lobsters, shorebirds and cranberry bogs. Granted it’s a narrow, stereotypical view but if I could expand my limited expectations then my trip would be a success.

Unfortunately I only spotted a few dumpster gulls and a couple of Deer Ticks (Ixodes scapularis). I probably should have gotten out more. But you know how Thanksgiving is. It’s all about the thanking and the eating and despite picking up a cold on the plane ride up (thanks open air sneezer in seat 24A!) I still managed to eat more than any normal person should at any given meal. It’s a funny thing, I don’t need to eat so much. I just want to and this makes me wonder how much joy a snake gets when it consumes a feast much larger than it appears it should.

A few years ago I was leading a summer camp in Vermont. A couple of kids heard a strange noise in the woods, called me over and we discovered a Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) eating a Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans). Several kids were horrified but for the most part there was great interest in the likelihood that this slender snake could eat this wide-bodied and seemingly unflappable frog. The snake meticulously maneuvered its ever widening mouth to position the frog into an easy transition down its throat.

Once in the intestine, the gartersnake has the ability to elevate its metabolic rate, increase enzyme activity and blood flow to the digestive system and increase the mass of the intestine, liver and kidney to aid in removing and storing nutrients from its prey. It can just as quickly reverse all of these functions and revert to normal conditions. Ultimately the quick digestive process prevents a snake from slithering about with a large meal in its belly.

No such luck for me on Thanksgiving. My digestive system is used to a pattern of thrice-a-day feedings and I had clearly overwhelmed my system. Happy Belated Thanksgiving.

Throwback Thursday: Turkey Day!

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Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys © Lu Giddings

Throwback Thursday Originally Posted 11/24/10: Turkey Day! by Lu Giddings

Things to be thankful for: snow tires, four-wheel drive, insulated boots, long johns, and a down parka. Snow began to fall last night and has continued intermittently throughout the day. If weathermen are correct storms will assail us until Wednesday evening, leaving behind as much as a foot of snow in the valley, significantly more as one ascends into the hills.

Snow continues to fall. The canyon road begins wet but becomes slushy as it climbs. I finally turn onto the snow-covered lane that leads through a locked gate to the wild turkeys. A friend fed them daily all last winter. He started again a few weeks ago. Weather has forced the birds to move from higher elevations to lower country where the snow is not too deep to keep them from feeding.

I cannot at first see the birds but can hear them calling from the wooded hillside across the stream. I watch from my truck. The turkeys move over the water and out of the woods, congregating at its edge. Some wander purposefully across the pasture toward the feeder. We changed the feeding cycle two days ago, setting it forward by an hour so the birds were not foraging in darkness. They have already learned the new routine.

They wait. I wait. The time for the first of five scheduled broadcasts comes and goes. The feeder should be throwing corn to the birds. Nothing is happening. I wait a bit longer and swear. The feeder is jammed.

The closest birds back off as I grumble my way toward the device but they do not bolt. The fouled mechanism is cleared as quickly as conditions permit. I reassemble the feeder, hit “run,” and hold my breath. The electric motor growls. It works properly. As I return to the truck I hear chaos behind me, a mad scramble as the birds near the trees rush to join those already enjoying the shower of corn. The second of the broadcasts begins a few minutes later. The feeder jams a second time. Again I leave the truck, my presence testing the limits of their wary patience, but they remain. After clearing the jam I hit the “run” button, standing still as stone beside the machine. The turkeys ignore me and feed, cooing as they eat. Attempting to count the birds is as futile as trying to count the kernels thrown by the feeder. I estimate sixty birds, seemingly all hens although first year males have not yet begun to show the breast beard, spurs, and facial coloration typical of adult males.

The feeder finally completes the last of its cycles. A small but significant pile of corn has accumulated on the ground near my boots, the aftermath of clearing the jammed machine. The turkeys can see it. One brave hen walks cautiously forward and begins to feed. She is joined by another, then a third and a fourth. I wait until they are finished and have moved away before I shift, covered with corn dust and snow. I don’t care for winter. But I know I have something to look forward to, until the snows melt and the birds return to higher country.

Throwback Thursday: Whisky Jacks

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Wednesday, November 7th, 2012
Gray Jay

Gray Jay © Lu Giddings

There is no such thing as Indian Summer at eleven thousand feet. There is life and then, with the storms, there is the long, long sleep from which a few warm days can neither revive nor rescue. The sun is shining brightly but the breeze, when it blows, has teeth. There are a few holes in the snow blanketing the ground, but the next storm will mend these and the earth beneath will slumber, shrouded in ice, until June. During the few warm months montane birds abound, but they now are mostly gone. The year-long residents remain. An American Three-toed Woodpecker drums on a nearby spruce. Mountain Chickadees squabble in the vicinity. A Common Raven flies overhead while Clark’s Nutcrackers call in the distance. I sit atop a picnic table beneath an azure sky, bundled in down, relishing the bits of life that remain, like sitting with a dying friend as he gasps his few last words.

There is a rustle in a nearby fir. I am being watched. Carefully, moving as little as possible, I nonchalantly flick a few cashews to the ground at my feet. It does not take long. A blur darts out of the tree as a gray jay descends upon the nuts. I watch it pack one, then two, and finally three cashews in its mouth. It cannot completely close its bill but it flies determinedly away. It soon returns, with friends, and as I continue to toss nuts and pieces of cracker to the ground I find myself in the midst of a group of nine or so of the brazen beggars. Gray Jays are well known, and deservedly so,  for their unabashed audacity. For over a century the birds have been denominated in both the avian and popular literature as “camp robbers,” “meat birds,” “grease birds,” “meat hawks,” “moose birds,” “lumber jacks,” and “venison hawks.” To an unknown tribe of Native Americans they were “wis-ka-tjon,” which was anglicized to “Whisky John” and later corrupted to “Whisky Jack.”

This reputation is well deserved. I have watched their kleptomania in the past and today is no different. I do not throw my offerings fast enough to the ground to keep the birds happy and they manifest their annoyance. On three occasions as I am looking one way, a gray jay comes from my blindside, flies straight at my head, and brushes me with its feathers as it passes. Their boldness emboldens me. I stop throwing nuts to the ground, pour several in my hand, and rest it on the table top.  The assaulters pause briefly and then one glides to the table’s edge, hops across to my hand, takes two nuts, and flies unhurriedly away. A second bird quickly replaces it at the edge. Hopping across to my hand, it briefly scorns the nuts. Instead, it bites down impertinently on my finger, tugging several times before it relents and settles for cashews. The experience is surprising, not painful. And yet, I am not surprised in the least. The ability to thrive in this beautiful but hostile place is not simply a function of physical adaptation, but a matter of moxy as well.

Throwback Thursday: A Murder on the Beach – The American Crow

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Wednesday, October 31st, 2012
murder of crows

Murder of Crows © Jungle Pete Corradino

Throwback Thursday: A Murder on the Beach – The American Crow by Jungle Pete Corradino

Originally posted February 28, 2011

It was a bright and sunny day. I was on assignment down on Fort Myers Beach when I got word of a murder at a local hotel. The place is a tourist trap. Neon vacancy sign. Tiki bars and hot tubs. Not a bad place but nothing to crow about.

Word was that a murder of crows numbering about one hundred had come to roost and was causing a commotion about a mile away…as the crow flies. Hard to believe. I had my doubts about my source – an old crow with her eye on the comings and goings on the island.

I pulled in the lot and stepped out of my vehicle. My informant was right. Perched in a Royal Palm, two black crows cawed a raucous alarm – heckling and jeckling me as I surveyed the property.

Each palm that lined the lot was ornamented with black birds. As I stood there counting crows, my eye was drawn upwards towards the crow’s nest of the hotel where a handful of birds perched ominously across the HOTEL sign and roof, flanked by immovable stone owls – scarecrows of sorts and unsuccessful ones at that.

I took off my shades and squinted in the bright sunshine, trying to get a better tally of my suspects. The sun-scarred skin around my eyes cracked like a dried up muddy lake decorated with the macabre steps of the crow’s feet at the dance of the dead.

There are a hundred crows here. Definitely a murder. Not sure what it means literally or figuratively. I think they’re getting a bad rap. Either way looks like the lunch special at the Tiki bar today is crow.

Happy Halloween!