Sunday, January 31, 2010
There were absolutely no birds. Feeders were full; drippers were dripping. But all was silent except for the wind.
I went back in the house, down the stairs, and opened the garage door. I knew what I'd find out in the yard. Sure enough--a Cooper's Hawk flew from the Oak tree!
(This photo is not of the hawk I saw yesterday. It's of a Cooper's we had on the boat lift a few weeks ago.)
At this time of year a quiet yard, if the feeders are full, often signals the presence of a Cooper's or Sharp-shinned Hawk, two birds that hang out around feeders and cause other birds to scatter. I've seen them pluck a Red-winged Blackbird out of the air near a feeder. (I said "them" in the previous sentence because I'm not sure which of the two species I was watching that day. They are hard to distinguish since a large Sharpie [female hawks are the larger ones] can sometimes be almost as big as a small male Cooper's.) I'm pretty sure the one I saw yesterday was a Cooper's Hawk. As it flew out of the tree and into a yard down the road, it looked very large to me.
Now, back to the main story. Remember what I told you I said as I got out of bed yesterday morning? I just had a feeling about that Black-headed Grosbeak. It is rare in this area but shows up every year somewhere in the Rio Grande Valley. At this time last year we had a gorgeous adult male in the yard. It was black and orange with a surprising narrow band of creamy lemony coloring on its breast that sort of blended the orange into the white lower part of its belly. I really wanted to see another in the yard now that I have a camera with a zoom.
And, no sooner said than done .... when the birds came out of hiding, there on the driveway eating seed among the blackbirds and doves and sparrows was a Black-headed Grosbeak! It had the more subdued coloring of a first winter male, rather than the vivid colors of last year's adult bird, but still it was a welcome sight. When I called Brad out to the deck to point out our visitor, he asked me what else I'd like to see in the yard. I thought for a moment and said, "A catbird--we haven't seen one yet this winter."
Are you ahead of me? You're right--a Gray Catbird with its perky little blackish cap was perched on the edge of one of the bathing saucers. Just ask for what you want. If you build it (or fill up your feeders and baths), they will come!
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Most plants in the yard don't show signs of damage by the cold weather. The mix of native and non-native lantana under the whitebrush, for example, looks better than ever. That's where I took this picture of a Red Admiral butterfly that flitted from flower to flower yesterday morning. Its wings are tattered and torn, but it was still beautiful in the sun. The Pipevine Swallowtail was nectaring on a fiddlewood.
Other insects I've been watching in the yard the last few days are the Red Harvester Ants that are busy carrying bird seed into their ant hole in the sandy soil at the end of the drive. In the photo below you can see the white round millet seeds and a black sunflower seed which I had scattered no where near the ant hill and which the ants had carried home. I like to watch the nest to see what the ants are up to. I've taken other photos when their hole is surrounded with little red pigeon berries and one series of photos that show a green caterpillar being carried to the hole by several ants at once and then disappearing inside. Bird activity today:
*Early this morning I heard an Osprey calling over the front yard and went out on the deck to watch. It was carrying not the usual fish in its talons but a stick about a foot or two long. It must be building a nest somewhere--wish I could find out where.
*The pair of Pyrrhuloxias were all over the yard today, bathing, eating seed from the ground, singing.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
This morning I awoke early when it was still dark and watched the sky and river from the wren's loveseat by the window, a gradual lightening as the river and the sky turned from a dark slate to a fog-colored gray--not foggy like yesterday but overcast. The wind had blown all night, covering up the sounds of night birds (Great Horned Owls and Screech-owls and Pauraques). I was watching the river bank in hopes of seeing the Bobcat I'd seen there yesterday. Frightened by a kayaker, it had bounded up the bank, paused for a while, and then disappeared into the brush. I don't think the man in the banana-colored kayak saw the bobcat at all, hiding as it must have been in the grasses at the edge of the water (the tide was very low) or maybe getting a drink. I would not have seen it if I hadn't been watching the kayaker. I wish I had had my camera.
A few years ago an ocelot appeared one summer evening in the grass beyond the bank, flipping its tail as it lay among the tall grasses. I watched that tail (all I could see of the cat at first) for about ten minutes, flipping slowly up and down just like the tail of a slightly annoyed house cat. Because it didn't look quite like the tail of a bobcat, I was curious and continued watching through my scope until the rare cat stood up, looked around, and slowly walked into thicker brush. I was amazed and honored to have such a visitor just across the river from my yard.
For many miles to the north of the spot where the Ocelot was, the land is part of a large ranch. The brush just beyond the river is no longer as thick as it was then. The Corps of Engineers who take care of the Arroyo dredged it shortly after our ocelot encounter and bulldozed that part of the bank to reestablish a berm.
We have seen all sorts of interesting animals in brush there: deer (with Groove-billed Anis riding on their antlers and backs, eating ticks--it's neat what you can see with a good scope); coyotes; javelinas; nilgai (a kind of imported exotic antelope that inhabits parts of the ranchland); and strangely, ostriches. There's a fence there that all sorts of birds like to perch on--that's where the Ringed Kingfisher I took a photo of a couple of days ago was. Other birds we have seen on the fence: Osprey (see photo), Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, White-tailed Kite, White-tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Crested Caracara, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Harris's Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. And many others--thinking of them is so much fun I may start a list of "Birds Seen on the Fence Across the Arroyo"!
Monday, January 18, 2010
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I got off to such a good start for the year--created a blog to record the happenings in the yard, listed yard birds on e-bird--and then all my good intentions (of keeping up with a journal/blog) went by the wayside. But a very nice wayside it was--a new granddaughter! We drove the six hours to our daughter's house and then watched grandchildren instead of birds. Here's our little sweetheart.