Archive for the ‘birds’ Category

Falco Peregrinus

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

I got stranded in Cincinnati, Ohio a few weeks ago while on a trip cross-country.

Turned out to be a rather delightful day roaming the beautiful city. My first time there.

Spotted a Peregrine Falcon, falco peregrinus, hunting over the top of this impressive building.

Likely, it nests on an eave somewhere atop the massive construction.

Down on the lawn ( The building is a Proctor & Gamble office I found out) I stood staring at a pile of pigeon feathers in the grass.

Falcons are bird hunters. They often prey on the local pigeon population if they reside in a metropolitan area such as this one.

I looked for beak marks on the quills of the pigeon feathers where the falcon plucked them out of the dead animal before consuming it, but couldn’t find any.

Amazing creatures.

Tennessee Valley

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Gorgeous cliffs at Tennessee Valley beach in Marin, CA. Otters and Owls. Dangerous tides and vast ocean views. Love it.

Contumaza, Peru

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

I am in Contumaza, a small agricultural town in the northern foothills of Peru in South America. The landscape shares similarities to the southern parts of California, particularly the San Bernardino mountains.   Beautiful flora and fauna, of which i am completely unfamiliar with. A whole family of what appears to be Cactus Wrens, stark dark brown a nd white in color and rather large in size, building a nest in a cedar tree. Skunks, perhaps striped skunk,  the same size as ours in the US.    Amazingly colored hummingbirds, bright green, and huge, the size of a North American Bluebird, (kind of scary).

Some kind of black and white hawk the size of a redtail but shaped a  bit differently. All black wings with white wing patches beneath toward the outside of the wings. White tail with a black bar. Hovering over the mountain landscape.    Rabbits, maybe jackrabbit, rats and mice.

Getting off the plane into this new land  I decided  i wanted to see what the mountain lions where like on this continent. I am not sure if there actually are any where i am here, its very open with lots of farmland, but turns out there is a local zoo, “Hermita”, with all these amazing animals either out in the open or behind structures that are very accessible. I usually feel pretty sad when i go to zoos so i try to avoid them, and this one was no exception, but it was so close and i was exploring. He just paced back and forth impatiently in his twenty by eight foot cage. It was quite fascinating however to be able to watch him move, walk, urinate, doing things i have always seen in track and sign but never actually live. Quite  revealing.  People, mothers with children, just walked by, obviously quite used to “La Puma”.

The Vicuña is a beautiful mountain mammal similar to the Llama, but more slender and agile. It flows over the landscape like a dolphin on the water, graceful and completely at one with the terrain underfoot. I meanwhile stumbled and slipped quite clumsily in comparison as i chased after it. They put me to shame in how fast they could move over the  mountainside. I also couldn’t breath very well as i was somwhere around ten thousand feet above sea level.

I had arrived during their annual Vicuña shearing festival, in which they capture these wild animals and steal the fur right off their backs in the middle of an alpine winter. They then sell it for a rather high price to folks in Europe and North America.  It was a community affair, in which hundreds of people gathered to capture, cook, shear, clean and spectate.

In the cold hours of dawn, while it was still dark,  we gathered under the yellow street lamps to wait for the bus. About sixty- plus men and women piled together in the back of the open, wooden bed of a small semitruck, and proceeded to drive up what i would hardly call a road, for the next two hours. Winding over rocky switchback after rocky switchback, we bumped up and down, side to side, like livestock in the freezing mountain air.

Upon arrival to the camp we were met with hot “Mote” soup, a traditional Peruvian corn soup with various animal parts in it. It was very welcomed after the bitter ride.  The men then proceeded to juice up on coca, a native plant that can give one energy and relieve altitude sickness, and is also what the recreational drug cocaine is made out of.  We split off into smaller bands and made our way across the wide valley where the animals were grazing, eventually forming a line with each person walking over the grass and rock about twenty to fifty feet apart.

The goal was to corral the animals through the valley towards a fence that had been set up specifically for this event. The fence was arranged to funnel  them tighter and tighter into an enclosed pen. I read that this was how ancient cultures in Northern America captured wild ungulates such as deer, in their case to eat them, so it was interesting to actually participate in it being done successfully.

I kind of feel like i am dreaming sometimes when i am here as i find myself in such bizarre situations. Everytime a pack of Vicuña would come toward the line we would scream and wave stuff about to frighten them the other way.  Lookout men would stand up on the highest elevations and shout out orders to us, ”  Advance!”, “Stop!”, “Duck!”. Sometimes we would crouch and hide in the grass to let a few run past us.

"Calypto" Eucalyptus leaf

They had what must have been close to a thousand feet of rope with multi-colored plastic flags tied to it (they use alot of  plastic here), which they all held together and marched across the landscape with to further condense the frightened animal population.  At this point i realized why they had all been downing so much coca that morning. They were all running up these steep slopes in the thin high altitude air, holding  this rope, while screaming at the animals, while picking the line up over rocks and other snags. This was some kind of  intense athletic training . I barely kept up.

Vicuña tracks in mud

I have not been impressed with the way folks treat animals here. I have seen way too much animal cruelty in the past two weeks than i care to mention. Voice hoarse, body sweating  and exhausted,  we finally got these animals into the pen, at which point they went into a frenzied panic. The men could have at this point respectfully apprehended and sheared these animals, but they didn’t. I wasn’t feeling the love.  They would put them in a headlock, pick them up by the tail,  strap them against the ground and then shave off what i assume they needed to survive the zero degree temperatures up there. Blood dripping from their mouths and legs after running full speed into these metal fences, the men laughed and cheered as these inspector people seemed to fail to notice that ther were actually living animals underneath the fur they scrutinized for quality. You could almost see the dollar signs floating above their  heads. I have pics of all this but perhaps i won’t post them.

I wondered what would be the appropriate thing to do in a situation such as this? Tear open the fence to let them free and have an entire Peruvian village murder me? I eventually just walked back up to the bus to wait for our departure.

Wish i could have gotten a pic of the sunset glowing red as it set over an endless horizon of silent, completely uninhabited mountains but the  batteries for my camera died.  As i lay in the back of the truck, packed on either side with human bodies like loaves in a bread shop, i stared up at the crystal clear skies with the milky way winding it’s way through and tried to forget the day and just revel in the  pure awe and joy of the moment .

Fire and Ice

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

  Some cool ice formations i came across on the gravel road one chilly morning at Donner State Park in the Sierra Mountains of California.  Frozen in time, gone by the afternoon’s melting sun.  What hidden messages does the crystallized water have for a wandering wayfarer? 

   I was reminded of the poem “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost, which my English teacher had us memorize in high school. I thought it was a cool poem then but i remember she was kind of excited sharing it with us at the time. I never really got why she was so excited, but reading it now i get it. It  talks about Nature and Destruction. Nature and Destruction are Awesome!!

                               “Some say the world will end in Fire

                                                  Some say in Ice

                                   From what I’ve tasted of desire

                                 I hold with those who favor Fire.

                                        But if it had to perish twice

                                     I think I know enough of hate

                                    To say that for destruction Ice

                                                    Is also great

                                              And would suffice. “       

  Now i even get why she accented and spaced the words the way she did. Adults are so…………. entertaining. 

   Robert Frost spent a significant portion of his life in New England, writing, teaching and walking about in the woods among other things. Many of his poems are about Nature and his interactions with Her.  I guess in this poem he was linking two human qualities that would tend toward the dark side of our beings, with elements in Nature, and then personifying them.

 

Wandering bears in the snow, flocks of Hooded and Common Mergansers, (lophodytes cucullatus), chattering kingfishers, minks and beavers. This well- used beaver trail connects a pond with a nearby mountain stream. It rises right over a well used hiker and auto trail. 

 

  

 You can see the hand-like beaver tracks intersect with the tire prints. I figured the beavers used the trail to drag brush from its foraging area, pond, to its burrow/lodge  in the bank of the stream.

  The interesting thing about this park is that it has a railway  going directly through it. So all of a sudden you will be hiking along and a giant freight train blazes by with much ferocity and clamor.

  A downed, weathered Pine, with accompanying beetle trails, a mysterious and silent melody written on the staff of Life, now past and dead.

Northern California Autumn

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

  A gorgeous Autumn here in Northern California.  The Black Oaks are a rich yellow to gold, which mixed with the bright greens of the Pines and Madrones, turn the hills and canyons into an artist’s palette, the brush of the brisk breeze making the colors dance  in a symphony of worship to the bright Sun-God above, sitting regal in his azure palace. 

    I enjoy Northern California because it shares some similarities to my home in the Northeast; snowy winters, somewhat of an autumn, deciduous trees, yet lots of sun and a Mediterranean climate.

  Some nice rounded stones on the shores of Lake Tahoe. A red glowing sunset over the snowy mountains. Chipmunks scurrying beneath the downed logs. Gulls lazily transversing the air overhead as people walk their dogs and search, beset with anguish, over their lost portable communication devices.

Yuba Pass Meadow

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Columbine

The Crimson Columbine, aquilegia formosa, an incredibly gorgeous Sierra wildflower that accompanied my sit one morning in a meadow at Yuba Pass, a pass over the high sierra a bit north of Tahoe.  It was an absolutely INCREDIBLE morning. The beauty was ridiculous.  I am starting to get why John Muir wrote about the Sierras the way he did.

Lupine

As the sun rose i sat amidst the rich , moist green of the high-mountain meadow, colorful flames of flowers spread throughout, soaking up all the beauty.  The Hermit Thrush was singing its other worldly song, perhaps the most beautiful and mysterious of bird songs i’ve heard.   I was in awe at how ridiculous it all was. It almost seemed kind of fake. Like those flowers at the flower shop that look too colorful to be real.

The Broad-Leaved Lupine, lupinus latifolius, a purple tower of a plant. Quite splendid, mixed in there with some Corn Lilies.

snow plant

Snow plant,  sarcodes sanguinea. This guy was just popping up all over the place quite randomly, not even in the meadow. Kind of like a friend that just shows up on your doorstep uninvited yet quite welcomed.

I find the beauty of Nature sometimes to be kind of ridiculous. Like you see it and you think, ” Wait a minute…….. whats going on here?”

old dried up Yellow Pine

Kestrel

Friday, July 29th, 2011

falco sparverius

Here is a female American Kestrel, falco sparverius, that was killed on the highway by my home.  Such an incredibly beautiful being to look at up close despite its tragic death. As i studied it, a male kestrel alighted on top of the pine across the highway from where i sat, making its shrill “killy-killy” call.

talons

Here’s her underside.  The male is a sight to behold. An incredibly rich blue on the wings and head. Its quite a beautiful bird. In general, males are more colorful than females in bird species.

Feather River

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Mustela vison

The American Mink, a weasel found often  in waterways throughout North America and beyond. I walked along the feather river in Portola California today in search of wildlife. Some co-workers said the river has otter. I wanted to find out. I found some otter-like scat, but i couldn’t ID it for sure. I did come across the other riparian weasel however. His trails and scat were all along the banks in the mud and up on the rocks. The scat was almost entirely filled with crayfish remains.

Yesterday I picked up John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra” for the first time in years. I opened it up and was absolutely blown away. Everyone remembers him as a mountaineer, but honestly, I have never heard anyone else write like that. The mans mastery of words is phenomenal.  He makes Nature sound like Heaven. I’ve never heard anyone write about Nature like that. He was so enthralled by the wilderness and conveys it so well in his writings, I almost couldn’t relate, and i’m a naturalist. That guy was some kind of alien or something. Truly inspiring.

Castor canadensis

The Beaver, also a common resident of rivers, ponds and almost any place with water. If you look in the top right portion of the picture you can see a fairly large three-toed track that looks like a giant bird track, that’s the hind foot of the beaver. The hind left is also in the photo in the bottom left, but it’s jumbled up amongst other animals tracks and is harder to see.

The beaver has five toes on its hind feet, but usualy only the outer three show up. Not sure why honestly. It probably has to do with the fact that they spend a significant amount of time in the water swimming as apposed to travelling about on land.

Spotted sandpipers, ospreys, and a green-tailed towhee shared the banks of the Feather with me. The Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, makes a unique kind of shriek-call as he flies, that makes him sound like the dominant resident of the river.

Summer Solstice

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

The Yuba River

The rushing Yuba River. All the snow has been melting in the high sierra, so i hear, so all the water is rushing down into the foothills. A friend and i went and sat by the river. It was amazing. Woodrat, snake or lizard of some sort, huge bull frog, deer mouse, fawn and deer, killdeer, turkey, and quail tracks along the bank. Hoards of cliff swallows flying in and out of their nests under the bridge. A hot yet beautiful day.     

mystery tracks

  Not sure what these guys are. i was with a bunch of folks, when we were looking at them, who had to be somwhere, so i didn’t get to study them closely. i guessed that they were tracks of the meadow vole.  One of the tracks is about   3/4 of an inch long.  What do you think? please let me know if you have an idea. 

Black - Tailed Deer

  The male black tailed deer or a “buck” as they are commonly referred to.  Soon after i took this picture i watched as he proceeded to scratch his underside with his large antlers. they seemed pretty unwieldy so it was a somewhat impressive feat. 

ground squirrel dust bath

   The Beldings Ground squirrel, or at least thats what i think it is. I was calling the ground squirrels around here California ground Squirrels earlier. But now i am thinking they are Beldings( spermopholis beldingi). If i read correctly they are both in this range, but the California has white dots on its back while the beldings is smaller and has a reddish brown back. These guys are reddish and smaller.

   Anyways the ground squirrel “bathes” by rolling around in the dirt, or what others call a “dust bath” . Look closely for the fine striations in the dust which are the marks of the squirrels hair as he rubbed about.  

turdus migratorius

       The tracks of the American Robin. The tracks below are from the Western Gray Squirrel (sciurus grisius).  The feet of gray squirrels are amazing. the ones out here are gigantic, so their feet are also exceptionally large, as well as extremely dexterous. This has come about from the amazing acrobatic lifestyle they lead: jumping about from tree limb to tree limb and literally running up large vertical tree trunks. I was observing one in a low branch before me the other day. His/her hands protruded an almost nimble intelligence, the mark of their high-wire lifestyle no doubt.

Old Nevada City Airport

Friday, June 4th, 2010

lepus californicus

It was a true joy to find out there was a tracking club in my new backyard, other people who are actually interested in staring at the ground for hours on end like myself. good fun.

We met at the old Nevada City Airport just outside of Nevada City. Supposedly it was an airport in the 60’s. Now its a vacant lot that is used by “recreationalists” and a small group of people interested in wildlife tracking.

This is the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit. Check out the hind right foot -the track in the top right portion of the photo. Looked at by itself it could easily be mistaken for a small canid track. Notice how it’s slightly off-kilter  or asymmetrical. That gives it away as a rabbit print.

Rabbit feet are odd. They have five toes on the front foot and only four on the hind. My guess is that this is an adaption for speed and quick manuvering.  You can see the fifth toe on the front foot on the track in the very center of the photo. This animal was moving in a bound so the front feet land before the back feet do. That makes the tracks in the bottom of the photo the front feet.

milipede

The substrate was incredible on Sunday. It had rained Friday so the mud was sticky. Incredibly fine detail, and  gorgeous, like chocolate. Here’s a trail of a milipede.  The individual footfalls are actually visible as tracks. Incredible. Harder to see in the pic but amazing in the field.  In dust or sand milipede trails usually just show up as two rows running along parallel next to each other like railroad tracks.  The trail width in this pic is about half an inch.

psuedacris regilla

The hopping trail of a small frog, i was thinking the pacific tree frog (psuedacris regilla). The trail was a sloppy cord running through the mud. These tracks here were some clear ones.  None of us saw it in the field but when i showed this picture to a friend she pointed out that you can see the imprint of the body surrounding the tracks. The color is a little darker right where she /he hopped. Amazing. I didn’t even notice that.  Of course she doesn’t even do tracking much.

mystery invertabrate

The trail width on this guy is about half or three quarters inch wide. Some suggested  beatle. A bit large for a potato bug I thought.

callipepla californica

The walking trail of a California Quail. I have been in California for years and i still can’t get over how stunningly beautiful these guys are. There coats are just stupendous, dark blues fading into grays, with black diamond patterns surrounded by white.  that’s the males. The females are browner. One of these tracks is about an inch and a half in length.

spermopholis sp.

A spermopholis species, I think the Beldings Ground Squirrel but perhaps the California. I think all the yellow stuff is pollen from the pines. One can differentiate ground squirrel tracks from tree squirrel tracks by the front feet. the fronts on ground squirrels are asymmetrical while the trees are more symmetrical. In this photo the front track is the lower right print on the bottom. Notice how it has somewhat of a curved appearance in the toe structure.

pinus ponderosa

The new needles of the Ponderosa Pine.  The ground and cars were covered in bright yellow powder, pollen from the abundant pines in the area. Life is beautiful.