Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bulletin #141 - local wildlife

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas

Thank you for all the comments on the last bulletin with the Red-shouldered Hawks. Everyone seems to love raptors and especially when there is a personal interest story in it. I asked if anyone had any experience feeding non-typical birds like hawks, herons etc like I have done on several occasions. No one responded, so I assume that it is rather uncommon.

I have read of 2 cases. One you have probably seen photos of. That is the person in Alaska who collects dead salmon during the spawning season, and freezes them. He puts them out for the Bald Eagles in winter. He has dozens of eagles sitting around his yard. This is fairly straight forward as it is basically carrion.

The other case was in David Quammen's book "Song of the Dodo". There is an endangered falcon on Mauritius (Mauritius Kestrel). A man fron Scotland went to study them. He was able to train them to come when he whistled. He would throw a piece of beef into the air and the birds would catch it in flight, as they would normally take their prey.

Well my 'pet' hawks are still coming to get crawfish. The adult is now coming regularly as well as the juvenile. She is allowing me to approach closer to her. This photo was taken from 25 feet away.

The juvenile allows me to approach to within 15 feet. This photo is uncropped.

What I really wanted as well was a family portrait. Usually the birds sit on different branches or more often in different trees. Occasionally, they have been together, but by the time I got my camera, they had flown off. Last week I hit the jackpot. They usually are waiting foor me to get home form work to feed them supper. I didn't see them when I drove in, but when I went out of the garage, the juvie started screaming. I looked up and found them side by side. I raced in and grabbed my camera and got a couple of photos.

I love this picture. I am calling it 'Learning to Dance'. They both have a foot in the air, and the juvie is looking at the parent as if to see which foot he needs to raise.

Unfortunately, crawfish seasons ends soon, and I won't be able to buy them at the grocery store any longer. If I can't think of some other thing to feed them, they'll be on their own.

Last weekend,as I was in the yard watching my hawks, a pair of Mississippi Kites (Ictinia mississippiensis) drifted overhead. This dark gray raptor has some brown flight feathers.

Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonata) are a very common swallow over much of North America. They normally nest along cliffs as their name suggests. However, they have adapted readily to overpasses and bridges. This photo was taken under a freeway overpass near my home. The mud nest is shaped like a gourd. The parent is at the opening and a baby can be seen inside.

Cliff Swallows come in 2 forms. The northern population has a pure white forehead. The Mexican population has a dark brown forehead. This adult has a beige forehead, so may be an intergrade between the 2 populations.

I visited Anahuac NWR last weekend. This is a large marshy wetland east of Houston, that serves as wintering grounds for huge numbers of waterfowl etc. It is also one of the 2 best places to see alligators in the Houston area. I wanted to see the extent of our extreme drought on this gem of a wetland. It is devastating how dry it is. For those who are familiar with Anahuac, there is an auto loop around a large pond called Shoveler Pond. The pond is completely gone and dried up. The ditches inside around the loop are 90% dried out and in places have no water at all. This is the only alligator I saw. He is in a ditch that normally would have 2 feet of water. Also, I saw that he was at an opening into the mud bank which suggested it was a burrow.

I saw several more of these burrows as I drove around. Here is another. This section of the ditch had some water. But notice the brown reeds. This should normally be lush green with our normal rainfall. Instead, it looks like California. When I got home, I looked up alligators and burrows. Sure enough, they dig these in winter to keep warm and summer to keep cool.

On the last leg of the auto loop, there was some water in the ditch, but with no rain to aerate the stagnant water, the larger fish are dying. What a shame. I'm sure that we will get some tropical storm rain soon, but many species are suffering in the meantime.

There are nesting Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) at Anahuac. Notice that the nest is also built from mud, but is an open cup like normal bird nests made of twigs. I find this very interesting, that the 2 swallow species use the same material to build their nests, but they have a completely different shape. How many babies can you see in the nest?

During spring migration at LaFitte's Cove on Galveston Island, this turtle walked into the drip. It is a Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), the local subsecies of Eastern Box Turtle. I think it was a life reptile for me.

I mentioned David Quammen's book 'Song of the Dodo' above. The subtitle is Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions. It was published in 1996. It is a fascinating account of species diversity around the globe. He visited many islands on a MacArthur Foundation scholarship and this book was the result. I have read it several times. Despite the academic sounding subtitle, it is eminently readable and enjoyable. I would highly recomend it as a natural history read. I found a place where you can download the complete book on pdf  for free.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald

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1 comment:

mkircus said...

When you were at Anahuac, did you also check out the Skillern Unit? That is currently the best place to see birds. I'm a full-time volunteer, spending a year keeping about 400 trees alive by hauling water from ten miles away, and starting more trees and shrubs to replace habitat lost to Ike. I wrote a blog about it. You can read it at:

And Shoveler's Pond is being rehabed to again be a fishing/crabbing place.