Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Great Crested Flycatcher

Some birds are just better looking than others.

Any top-ten ranking may be arbitrary and debatable, but the Great Crested Flycatcher certainly should make the list.

Sculpted through time by a careful ordering of mates, we now get to enjoy what has evolved so perfectly. 

By preference, a Great Crested Flycatcher lives in the treetops. However, if he finds too few critters up there to eat, you might be lucky enough to find him at eyelevel. 

He perched proudly on a bare branch between sallies to snatch flying insects…watching is cheap entertainment. 

Shy by nature and quick to flee if approached, the Great Crested Flycatcher insists on a wide comfort zone, but accepts manmade trappings when it suits his needs. 

Flycatchers spend a large part of their day just watching for opportunities, keeping one eye toward possible threats and the other on insects rising from the grass.

A varied diet of insects, invertebrates, seeds and berries makes food sourcing a simple task for the Great Crested Flycatcher. This accounts for his huge home territory stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

With a lemon yellow belly, an olive back, smartly detailed wings and tail, the Great Crested Flycatcher blends and contrasts nicely with the early spring foliage. 

Constantly twisting, turning and tilting his head to reckon what two wide set eyes are seeing at the same time, he or she (sexes similar) will entertain for hours...never knowing how beautiful they are.  


The Sibley Guide to Birds
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Spend a little time at the edge of a forest and you are likely to hear a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  

The spring migration is in full swing and thousands upon thousands of birds are now passing through Wisconsin.

Follow the sound to the middle level of the trees and you could see a black and white bird if viewed from the back…

…or a rosy-breasted white bird from the front.

A coal-black head with the tiniest of highlights in the eyes complete the color palette of the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak is looking for a mate at this time of year and he is not shy about singing out his presence. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks sound similar to Robins, but are much more musical.  

Look up even when you think the song is just another Robin. You could be hearing a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

The females are passing through, too, but they are a bit more secretive, softer spoken and far less flashy.  

The effort it takes to discover a new bird is miniscule, but the reward can be immense.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The Sibley Guide to Birds 

Bats Under the Congress Avenue Bridge

With no suggestion that bats are birds, I include the Bats Under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas for their unique ability to fly. 

Arguably without the grace or elegance of a true bird, bats possess self-powered flight, which in my estimation is enviable. Flight is something other mammals including humans have yet to achieve.

Nearly every spring and summer evening as the sun passes below the horizon, hundreds of people gather at the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas.

The people come to watch the bats as they wake for an evening of insect hunting. Finding a good spot near the bridge is not difficult…most people get good views of the bat show.

Waiting in the wings are the stars of the show, the bats.  Tightly packed under the reverberating bridge are thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats. During the day the females, mostly pregnant, huddle together along slender openings just large enough to accommodate their three and a half inch body and a ‘pup’.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

The babies are called pups because bats are mammals. The pups (live births) can account for a third of the mother’s size…a comparison would be a woman delivering a 40 pound baby. 

Pink and hairless when born, the pups are nursed until they learn to gather  insects for themselves in about six weeks.   

The triggers that launch them into the air are hunger and darkness. 

Bats are beneficial.  They eat millions of migrating corn earworm moths every night, a particularly troublesome pest for farmers. That’s in addition to the mosquitoes and other more familiar nighttime pests.  Given the population estimates of 1.5 million bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge, their impact on the pest community is considerable. 

If agriculture isn’t your cup of tea, consider the monetary benefit of having hundreds of extra tourists in your downtown each night…Austin has. 

Austin took what some feared and loathed and turned it into a tourist attraction reportedly worth $8M a year.

Improving a bat’s reputation may be an uphill battle given all the negative attention bats garnered over the centuries, but it’s still a challenge worth accepting.  If you can’t accept bats as beautiful creatures up close, step back and enjoy bats at a distance...around dusk.

It’s one of natures seldom seen sights…bats on the wing.


Bat Conservation International

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Great Horned Owl

Owls hold a special fascination for me.
And, they seem to be just as interested in me as I am in them…

or maybe NOT. 
Being nocturnal, it could be that this Great Horned Owl was just too worn-out after a night of hunting to bother with one more problem…me. 

Maybe she  would rather I just go away, but she gave me no stress indications.

It’s their intense stare which makes one think they hold people interesting.
It's flattering being the center of an owl's world for one moment, captured in big yellow eyes, then calmly ignored by dozing in your presence the next.

This mother and owlet alternately stared and dozed.  They rested on what you'd called the front stoop of their home.  

Great Horned Owls dug or seized  this location, judging by the fresh gravel scattered 50 feet below.

               They only have one owlet.  Feathers littering the ground suggest they may have lost one or more.

Great Horned Owls are not defenseless.  With sizeable talons and a willingness to defend the nest at costs, the male stands guard an hour past sunrise. He was sleepy and his eyes would drift shut occasionally. 

If both parents happen to be napping at the same time, a skillful raptor could quickly grab an owlet.

I suspect that is what happened to this family.  

Two years ago I believe this same pair had three chicks.
(See: Feather Tailed Stories: 
Great Horned Owl & Pack Rat,
 link below)

While I trespassed on his territory, the male came out to investigate and draw me away from his bluff home.  

I had no desire to cause him stress so I stopped, as he had already given me a nice fly-by picture.  

He then flew to a distant branch and waited for me…I obliged by following.  He showed me how far away he wished me to stay and I respected it.

When night falls they will hunt again, unless the owlet demands food sooner. Daytime hunts are common, when necessary.

I’m not likely to capture a  Great Horned Owl's nighttime hunt, but I’m sure it’s fascinating.


(Click any picture to enlarge)