THE SAFETY OF HOME – Marilyn Armstrong

While I was starting dinner, I was watching out the window. Suddenly, a hawk with a white front swooped by the deck then winged off into the woods.

I followed him with my eyes. The camera was in the dining room and I didn’t hurry to get it. I knew I’d lose the hawk before I got the camera focused. Mostly, I wanted to get a good look at him before he disappeared.

I was curious why he swept so close to the house.

Hawks are hunters and don’t usually get so close to houses. It turned out, after minimal research, to be a Cooper’s Hawk. It wasn’t hard to find because among the white-breasted hawks, there are only two living here: American Eagles and Cooper’s Hawks. I’ve seen plenty of American Eagles. They are much bigger than this hawk, so Cooper’s Hawk it had to be.

And he was hunting for exactly what was on my deck: birds and squirrels. Those are a Cooper’s Hawks two favorite foods. The deck is his perfect hunting ground, his dinner buffet.

This is one of the things I feared when I set up the feeders. We have so many predators in the area and so little prey. How did we get so out of balance? Doesn’t it usually go the other way? Don’t deer usually overtake the area?

I remember when we had so many chipmunks they used to line up and chatter at us in groups. Now, we never see chipmunks. We use to see rabbits sitting on the lawn in the sun in summertime. I haven’t seen a rabbit in years and until we put up the feeders, I hadn’t seen any squirrels, either.

Mice I know about because they invade our house every autumn. We have an annual battle to keep them outside. It’s not personal. It’s just that they make an awful mess in the house.

We also used to see more deer, but I’m sure the coyotes have taken them down.

I wonder now if the reason the squirrels have taken refuge on the deck is that they think the house is some kind of protection for them from the hawks and the other predators. Is this house protection for the birds and squirrels?

By sending them back into the woods am I sending them to their deaths? That’s a terrible thought.

I feel like I should invite them all in for a warm dinner and a comfortable nap, but I’m pretty sure the dogs wouldn’t get along with them especially well. It could get pretty raucous.

THE BOBCAT’S BACK – Marilyn Armstrong

The bobcat’s back and I hope we don’t have any trouble. We never had dogs running loose before, but we can’t keep the Duke in the fenced yard, so I just hope they don’t intersect anytime soon.

Squirrel survivor

I looked out on the back yard this morning. It was covered in a couple of inches of snow on top of a crunchy batch of solid sleet. I could see Duke’s prints too. There was an interesting crosshatch of bobcat and dog prints and I got to thinking that I really hope the Duke doesn’t try to take on the bobcat. I’m pretty sure the bobcat would win that one.

A local bobcat. Smaller than ones in other parts of the continent, but able to leap 30 feet in a single bound. I’ve seen them do it. It’s amazing.

It’s a small bobcat, about the size of a large house cat, but those little guys are strong. And hungry. We only have one bobcat at a time except when we get a mother with kittens. As soon as one of the kittens lays claim to the area, all the other cats disappear. There’s only one bobcat in an area at a time and unless they are mating, they don’t pal around with each other.

Our perching Mourning Dove … He actually sat there long enough for me to finally get a few clear shots. Then he flew away but he was really patient with me and the camera.

It also explains why the birds have been so nervous. The squirrel that showed up this morning looked healthy, but something — my best guess is an eagle or a hawk — took a piece out of his neck. Somehow, he wrenched free.

Red-Tailed Hawk – They live in Canada and the U.S.., coast to coast.

It’s a battleground out there. We have always had more predators than we have prey. That’s why we don’t have a cat. They get eaten, as often as not by coyotes, but a big red-wing hawk can take a cat or a small dog … or a baby goat or lamb. They always warn us not to leave puppies outside unless they are in a cage with a roof. And even with that, keep it close to home.

We have a lot of these guys, too. You can see them in the driveway around twilight.

Raccoons can easily kill even a pretty big dog. They have super thick skin, long teeth, and claws. Adults can (and do) top fifty pounds. They are a lot stronger then they look and can under the right circumstances.

They come in all sizes and no matter how cute they are, be careful. If they aren’t tame, they can be pretty rough.

And then we have our own polecat, the Fisher, which will pretty much eat anything but prefers fish. We tend to get very romantic about animals in the wild, but they are the hunters and the hunted. The small ones hunt bugs and the eggs of smaller birds. Bigger ones hunt them … and then, there are even bigger hunters.

The Fisher who is not actually a cat. He’s a weasel with a beautiful coat. Nearly extinct from hunting and is now making a serious comeback. He likes our backyard. It’s sunny and he will sit in the middle of the sunny area and he won’t leave until he’s good and ready. They come in very dark brown, black, and deep red. They are not friendly and they are bigger than they look in pictures.

In the end, there is us. We hunt everything because we have guns … and we can. Meanwhile, I hope my little wild dog doesn’t decide to take on a bobcat. That isn’t a match I want to see.

And then, there’s the Duke

BIRDS DU JOUR MINUS THE ONES I MISSED – Marilyn Armstrong

Owen filled the feeder yesterday and there were dozens of birds around the feeder this morning, including some I didn’t recognize.

Downy Woodpecker

I think the unseasonably warm weather is bringing the migrating birds back at least a month early. I hope the weather doesn’t suddenly change! I’ve seen it happen before where a warm spell in February brought back nesters who were frozen when winter blew back in.

Goldfinch?

But this year, we haven’t really had something I’d call winter. We’ve had some extremely cold days and a tiny bit of snow, but between the few cold days have been a lot more warm ones. I’ve got ants in the house. In February! And there have been ticks in the yard all winter. That’s not a real winter, folks. This is  … kind of like late March? Early April?

Junco on the railing

I swear to you I picked up my camera this morning and every interesting bird fled. As I see them, they see me. They don’t mind me standing and watching them, but the moment I aim the camera at them, they fly away … except for the “old-timers” who have finally figured out that I’m not going to do anything to them.

Nuthatch

I did get a few cute pictures, though, so I thought I’d show them to you. I thought I’d also share the interesting news that I can’t use my lens except at its shortest length, which would be about 200 mm (per 35 mm standard). If I extend, the pictures get blurry because the lens is too “close.” Never thought that would happen!

Downy Woodpecker

I can shoot longer when I’m shooting birds on branches in the woods, but not when they are on the deck or the feeders.

Titmouse and Goldfinch

AGAIN IT’S TIME FOR THE BIRDS … Marilyn Armstrong

I know today is The Big Game and we’ll be watching it too. But in case you want to take a break — like during half-time which we avoid like the plague — here are some newly photographed birds.

Now, being serious (sort of) for a minute, you can’t tell which birds are which. When I get to the point where I know the woodpeckers and start giving them names, perhaps you’ll want to order an intervention. I’ll fight you on it, but you can try.

The doves have come and they stay in the feeder until it’s empty. We have really fat doves. Very fat doves.
A slate junco on the deck rail
I think this is a nuthatch and a junco, but I can’t see clearly enough to be sure
A pair of juncos … except they don’t look like the same bird
A pair of (I think) downy woodpeckers
Ladderback Redhead … my current favorite
And the cardinal popped in for a quick snack
Another cute one of the ladderback
Woodpecker and a goldfinch
Ready to fly
Dove sharing space with a junco, but not for long!

THE BEST BIRDS OF JANUARY – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t even remember which pictures I’ve posted and which are still waiting in folders. I know this is the second of February, but I don’t think it’s too late for a ‘best of birds” moments, do you? Of course you don’t.

A fly away woodpecker!
Two nearly matching woodpeckers

More will come. I probably have a few hundred (more?) still waiting to be processed!

MORE ABOUT THE WOODPECKERS – Marilyn Armstrong

The birds haven’t been very active today. It’s cold, so they fly in, grab a bite, and fly back to wherever they make their home. My son came over to refill their feeders because they ate a lot yesterday.

The big birds were out, especially the woodpeckers.

They are hefty eaters. It takes them a while to settle down, but once they get a good grip on the feeder, they just keep eating until they are finished. The rest of the birds mostly wait. Not all, but most.

A pair of woodpeckers

I had a pair — boy and girl — of Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers. I think they were Downy Woodpeckers, but both kinds of woodpecker look very much alike.

More woodpeckers!
Pair of peckers

It’s the beak length that’s the main difference and since they usually have it stuck inside the feeder, it’s not easy to figure out which is which. Whatever they are,  they are probably a mated pair.

The brightest bird of them all!
The Cardinal and the Tufted Titmouse on the flat feeder

I took a lot of pictures of these two because it was the first time I’ve had both on the feeder at the same time. I found it kind of thrilling.

Departing woodpecker (I think) and a nuthatch
And yesterday’s Ladderback with the bright red head

This proves I don’t have a very exciting life. I get really excited by birds and any other kind of wildlife.

A WILD RUSHING OF HUNGRY BIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

So this morning, there were a few birds around, but since I took a lot of pictures yesterday, I decided to have some coffee and a muffin and maybe pictures later.

About an hour later, I went into the kitchen to see what I could grab to eat and there was a mad flapping around the feeder and every bird in the woods was trying to get a few seeds.

Maybe they thawed a bit since yesterday, but the birds were really, really hungry today.

Cardinal and Junco – Frozen seeds?
Flock of hungry Warblers
A landing bird and a lot of Warblers
Flying Warbler and a clinging Nuthatch
Junco landing, Chickadee in eating mode
More hungry Warblers
Junco on the Toad

And Cardinal on a branch, too!

Cardinal on a branch
Nuthatch, Junco, Warblers – Pass that seed!
And a big mourning dove to clean up anything that fell on the deck!
Yellow Warbler waiting his turn for the feeder