adventures in nature

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2016 June 07 – peregrine falcons in Oakland

It has  been a rough start for a nesting pair of falcons in Oakland. Or rather, one of the brood. This particular nest has two young, and they fledged on Thursday and Friday. Unfortunately, one of them ended up down on a roadway in traffic on Friday evening, right as I arrived to watch them. Of course I took off running, hopped a fence and ran to the road to attempt a rescue.

When I got to it, the fledge was hunkered down in the middle of one of four lanes of traffic. I managed to stop traffic, but not before a woman ran directly over the bird (without any wheels crushing it). In fairness, it is Oakland, and I probably looked like a crazy person because I had already taken off my t-shirt to grab the bird as I tried to stop traffic. Still pretty lame though.

I scooped the little guy (it was originally ID’d as a female, but it seems really small to be female, so I’m calling it a he for now). He had sustained damage on his lowere mandible, but otherwise seemed to be intact. I’m not sure if the damage occured due to a vehicle strike, or if he hit his beak on his way down to the roadway. The damage was severe enough that it warranted an exam by a professional. These new fledges are not great fliers, but they are even worse at landings. After the initial shock wore off, he was very fiesty and not happy about being put into a box – which is a good sign. A friend who is part of the falcon fledge watch took him to a wildlife rehab facility for assessment. His status is still questionable, but we are hoping that he can be released again into the wild. It could go any way at this point, but I am hopeful.

What is interesting are the circumstances of his crash landing. He had taken off on a practice flight, and it appeared that the adults actually were chasing him as if he were an intruder. It happened very fast, but initially we thought we were seeing the adults chase off an intruder, then we quickly realized it was the youngster. Each time he tried to land on a high perch, an adult swooped on him and he took back to the air until he finally tired out and went down on the road.

Maybe his parents were disciplining him like the Japanese parents who left their son in the woods recently. A bit overkill, ya think – tone it down a bit maybe? It was certainly an unusual event, and our assessment is purely conjecture. There is speculation that this pair of falcons is very young, so perhaps they just haven’t figured out the whole parenting thing just yet.

Another friend of mine saw and got a picture at another falcon nest recently of one of the adults actually helping a new fledge land!! The adult flew beside and slightly behind the younster, and actually assisted it up to a perch! Perhaps the parents at this nest were trying to help, but their efforts actually made the situation worse. Hard to say at this point.

Here are a few pics of the remaining family from the past few days.

peregrine falcon fledgling / Alameda County CA

peregrine falcon fledgling / Alameda County CA

peregrine falcon (female)

peregrine falcon tiercel (male) / Alameda County CA

In addition to being a smaller bird, the tiercel (term for a male falcon) happens to have much lighter plumage on his chest and belly, which helps when trying to tell them apart if they aren’t next to each other to know by size (female is bigger). The female has some strong barring on her entire underside and a bit of a buffy tone, whereas the male has a lot of white and the barring only extends partially down under his wings, not across the whole belly and chest.

peregrine falcon tiercel (male) / Alameda County CA

The injured bird is incredibly beautiful, as I was walking back with him in my hands, he was looking up at me with giant, shining, dark, dark brown eyes. Pure Wild looking up at me. I’ll never forget those eyes. Hopefully he gets to take to the sky again soon!

A74A2670 v1peregrine falcon landing / Alameda County CA

 

owl

when you see this wild eye, it can’t be anything else but what it is … and it is beautiful

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great-horned owl (adult female) / contra costa county CA

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last nap before the night

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This pair has been around for a number of years – why no young? Theories to come …

 

red fox kits are back!

The red foxes have returned to the den I found last year, and they have three kits this year!

I have spent some time out photographing them at night, but because of the poor light the photos are rough. But still adorable!! It’s been so fun to watch these kits over the last week. I’m guessing they are about six weeks, maybe seven.

More to come soon …

IMG_2189 v1red fox kit / Contra Costa County CA

IMG_2193 v1red fox kit / Contra Costa County CA

IMG_2201 v1red fox kit / Contra Costa County CA

IMG_2213 v1red fox kit and adult (likely the male) / Contra Costa County CA

IMG_2227 v1red fox kit / Contra Costa County CA

 

 

 

the ravens and the bobcat

After a day of what could be the last rain of the season, I decided to motivate myself for a much needed attitude adjustment. I was grumpy, and pretty unmotivated. I knew if I went out for a wander/hike, things might shift. I figured “future Zach” might really appreciate “past Zach” more if “current Zach” got off the couch.

It was just before sunset, and the clouds were starting to break up, yielding some blue sky and a beautiful setting sun sometimes shining from behind the clouds. The puffy clouds that were left after the rain were now highlighted in beautiful pinks, purples, and oranges. The air was calm and there was a divine serene quality to the light and the moment.

I wasn’t far into my wander when I heard a lot of raven sounds. It’s not unusal to see them in this area, but usually they are moving around, soaring, and don’t typically hang around one particular area for too long. And usually they are in pairs here. As I turned a bend, I started to see them. Some were flying, some were perched or hopping around a grove of eucalyptus trees. There were at least four or five ravens, and I stopped to watch and listen. At first I thought perhaps it was a young family of newly fledged ravens, just playing on the hillside and in the grove of trees. They didn’t necesarily seem focused on anything in particular, but I decided to circle around to the other side of the eucs to get a better look.

Sidebar …

I’ve written before that in the northern part of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, I have never seen definitive bobcat sign nor a live bobcat in the three years that I have been going there (ironic, given its name!!). My explanation was that due to the open grassland and minimal cover in this area (most of it is grazed by cattle for fire suppression), coyotes are the dominate predator because they can adapt to the terrain better. Between the lack of cover and proliferation of coyotes, it is not ideal bobcat terrain. Not only that, many people walk their dogs in this area, and again, coyotes are better equipped to deal with that scenario. Bobcats like to be near edges of vegetation, so they can easily “disappear” to escape threats. Further south in Wildcat Canyon, there are more chapparal and riparian zones with lots of cover, and sure enough I’ve found (and seen) bobcats and their sign there.

That all changed a few months ago. I was out after dark in the northern part of Wildcat and somehow in the dim light I spotted a single cat track in a patch of mud on a lightly used cow trail in an area under eucalytus trees and close to more dense cover (other trees, poison oak, blackberry, coyote brush, etc).

bobcat track / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park Richmond, CA

Then, in the middle of April, I was on a run passing through the same general area and I spotted fairly fresh bobcat scat. It was classic bobcat scat – sometimes coyote scat can be a similar size and they can be confused, but not this one. It definitely tasted like bobcat scat (joke).

20160415_114444 v1bobcat scat / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park Richmond, CA

20160415_114544 v1bobcat scat / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park Richmond, CA

The evidence was mounting that a bobcat had moved into the area.

Back to tonight …

As I came around the other side of the euc trees I saw two ravens side-by-side on a branch, not very high up (probably 20 feet). They were very vocal and seemed to be focused on something on the ground. I paused, then slowly approached through the tall grass. As I got about 1/4 of the distance to them, what pops out from behind some tall grass? A bobcat!!

I froze. It froze. It thought I hadn’t seen it, so it slowly backed behind the grass, crouched then slowly turned around and started to go the other way. I quickly backtracked to the trail and returned in the direction I had come in hopes that I would see it try to circle back around me. As I did this, I kept track of what the ravens were doing – they had watched the whole encounter happen and now I realized they had absolutely been following this cat. As I paused in the trail after about 20 yards to listen and gauge my next move, the ravens flew over the area directly in front of me and circled a few times. They were tracking the bobcat and giving away its location! Sure enough, in about 10 seconds it appeared at the edge of the trail only 15 feet from me. We gazed at each other, and it slowly crossed the trail, pausing at the other side to study me. Slowly it moved in a circle around me and then passed, stopping to watch me at a number of times. OF COURSE I didn’t have my good camera rig with me, but, I was able to really enjoy a few moments of being close to this amazing animal – and snap a bad pic with my cell phone.

20160507_195751 v1bobcat / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park Richmond, CA

I love when “bird language” gives clues like this about what is happening on a landscape. That is part of the fun of being out there and staying aware – and no matter how many times it happens to me, it always seems like magic. So fun.

Right after that encounter, I saw a California newt on the trail – likely returning from a vernal pond where it bred, to seek refuge in the leaf litter under some trees during the warm and dry months of summer. I’m always thrilled to see these little salamanders.

20160507_200321 v1California newt / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park Richmond, CA

20160507_200342 v1California newt / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park Richmond, CA

Another 50 yards up the trail, as I went off-trail and into some thick cover, I heard and then saw an agitated Cooper’s hawk fly into the eucs where I was headed. Then I heard two great-horned owls respond, irritated about the irritated Cooper’s hawk! The Coop flew off, so I proceeded on. A loud rustling sound quickly caught my attention and I watched as a turkey flew up into some high boughs of a eucalyptus tree to roost for the night. As I walked under to get a better look, I heard the Coop again. I backtracked down the trail to where I had been before, and there in a dead tree was one of the great-horned owls, sitting very calmly with a backdrop of Richmond, Mt Tam, and a twilight sky. And right by it on the other side of the tree was the Cooper’s hawk, protesting loudly. Occasionally it would fly off and then return. This scene continued for about five minutes, and finally both birds departed. I am convinced there is a Cooper’s hawk nest adjacent to the area where the great-horned owl nest is. As I started to walk away, I heard a few juvenile red-tailed hawk calls in the background – hopefully I’ll see them fledged and playing in the area soon.

“Current Zach” is very pleased that “past Zach” got off the couch. Thank you, thank you, to this Land – this Land that has given me so much. The fact that we have such amazing parks so close to an urban area is a testament to the conservation efforts and hard work of so many people here – and I am grateful. Also very exciting that a bobcat has moved into the area, I hope to get to see it more!

Keep Sonoma County beaches free to all

The CA Coastal Commision is proposing new fees for access to many points along the Sonoma County coast. There are other ways to finance these incredibly beautiful areas, areas that should be accessible by all regardless of income level. Help keep beach access free! Passage of this could set a precedent that will have potentially negative effects now and in the future to how the public accesses public land.

Sign the petition

Check out the website

Attend the CA Coastal Commision meeting in Santa Rosa this Wednesday April 13th

Check out the facebook page

Thanks for checking this out, I don’t often write about political matters directly on this blog, but this is an important local matter for which you can have a voice!

Mountain Caribou Initiative!!

mountain caribou kickstarter

A few friends of mine are working on a really important project focused on documention, research, and education pertaining to a fascinating animal – the mountain caribou. This type of caribou is facing grave threats to its very survival due to a variety of factors including resource extraction and human recreation.

To read more about the mountain caribou and the project, you can check out the following links. They include some incredible photographs and information about this beautiful animal and the efforts being undertaken to help save it.

mountain caribou project facebook page

mountain caribou blog and film teaser

They are currently using Kickstarter to fund the next phase of the project, and only have 15 days to go to reach their goal! If you can help out with even a small donation, everything helps.

mountain caribou kickstarter

Thanks for taking time to check out the project!

Cooper’s hawk

one more of the Cooper’s hawk …

IMG_1976 v1Cooper’s hawk (adult)

the showdown

As I was winding down my day while traveling in southern CA recently, I had the pleasure of watching a showdown between a juvenile red-tailed hawk and an adult Cooper’s hawk (likely a female). When I got back to the house where I was staying, I noticed the juvenile red-tailed hawk perched in a relaxed manner on the peak of the house next door, watching the sun go down.

IMG_1963 v1red-tailed hawk (juvenile)

This hawk is most likely about 1 year old, quite an accomplishment to have survived its first year (raptors have mortality rates in the first year as high as 70%!). Juvenile red-tailed hawks lack a red tail, often have lighter colored eyes than adults, and have some spotty patterns on the belly band (versus more streaking in adults). It seemed relaxed as it faced the setting sun, evidenced by its fluffed-out feathers and its left leg lifted up into its belly feathers. You can see on the right leg, there appears to be a band on this bird – possibly it was caught and banded during the migration last year.

I relocated to a second-story balcony which afforded better views of the bird, and as I stood there watching suddenly another raptor appeared on the scene! On a power line at about eye-level to me, an adult female Cooper’s hawk alighted and assumed a similar relaxed pose to the red-tail, with one foot up as it surveyed the area.

IMG_1966 v1adult Cooper’s hawk

Cooper’s hawks are part of the Accipter genus of birds in the Accipitridae family, and can be extremely difficult to discern from their close relative the sharp-shinned hawk – a smaller version of this bird. Most raptor species exhibit reverse sexual dimorphism, meaning the females are larger than the males. What makes the identification of a Coopers versus a sharp-shinned hawk especially difficult in addition to very similar plummage is that a male Coopers can be about the same size as a female sharp-shinned hawk. In the above picture, there are some really helpful features that help key this bird as a Cooper’s hawk.

  1. rounded termination of the tail feathers (versus more straight across in sharp-shinned)

  2. dark “cap” on the head feathers (versus more of a full hood on a sharp-shinned hawk)

  3. eyes are placed more towards the front of the skull (sharp-shinned hawks’ eyes seem almost in the center of their skull when viewed from the side)

  4. thicker tarsus, or leg bone (sharp-shinned get their name from having an incredibly thin tarsus)

I am not 100% certain that this bird is a female, but that is my initial guess based on size relative to the red-tail (which I thought could be a female based on her large size – but again, no great scale for reference).

The Cooper’s hawk didn’t remain relaxed for long – as soon as it spotted the red-tailed hawk perched above it became much more alert, dropping its leg down and staring intently (though, to be honest, all these birds seem to only have a single facial expression – and if there is one word for it, it is “intense”).

IMG_1967 v1Cooper’s hawk adult

She relocated to a place on the power line closer to the red-tail to get a better look …

IMG_1969 v1adult Cooper’s hawk

In the above picture, you can see the white feathers that protrude below the tail on its ventral side. This is a helpful feature to identify accipiters in the field from a distance, but one needs to be aware that Northern harriers have a similar white patch that appear on their dorsal side.

IMG_1970 v1adult Cooper’s hawk

Finally the Cooper’s hawk decided to move in on the red-tail – likely it has a nest in the area and did not like the red-tail hanging around too close. The Coop flew up on top of the chimney, and the showdown began. You can see the size difference fairly well in this photo (with the Coop on the right).

IMG_1981 v1red-tailed hawk (left) and Cooper’s hawk

 IMG_1984 v1red-tailed hawk (juvenile)

At this point, the red-tail took notice of the Coop but still had a leg up (no pun intended) and was facing away from it. In what had to be some sort of bird statement, the red-tail proceeded to slice (poo) in the direction of the Coop!

IMG_1985 v1juvenile red-tailed hawk slicing

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Casually, the red-tail then turned to face the Cooper’s hawk, then took off right in its direction flying just to the north of it. The Coop jumped off right after the red-tail and pursued! At first the red-tail tried to do some circles and gain altitude, but it eventually became a full on chase. There wasn’t much actual contact, but the Cooper’s hawk made its point and the red-tail seemed fine with relocating to a tree not too far away.

IMG_1994 v1juvenile red-tailed hawk (left) and pursuing Cooper’s hawk adult

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Awesome to see these birds and witness this close encounter!

ravens

IMG_1878 v1this pair of ravens was keen on my sunset snacks at the top of Wildcat Peak / Tilden Alameda County CA

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newt tracks

20160319_150046 v1CA newt (Taricha torosa) tracks in soft muddy silt / Tilden Reg Park, Alameda County CA

You can see in this photo a great example of the understep walk that these awesome little creatures move in, with the five-digit rear feet landing just behind the four-digit front feet. So cool to see them walk. Note also the tail drag in the middle.

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