Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rabbit Friends and Bohemian Fallout

The Rabbit that recently befriended me - and he's not invisible and his name isn't Harvey
Over the years quite a few nature preserve denizens have become acclimated to me  - enough so that they allow a close approach. For whatever reason, few of these have been rabbits. With the notable exception of a Snowshoe Hair that once made a careful inspection of my shoe, the only rabbit that has really befriended me has been an Eastern Cottontail that I call Trés. And yes, he actually likes his name.
Trés' split ear distinguishes him from all others in the hopping crowd
He casually comes right up to me and asks for some sunflower seeds
A few months ago, when Trés first hopped up to me, I thought he was sick, and therefore unlikely to last very long in the predator rich environment of the preserve. I considered bringing him to a wildlife rehabilitator, but after watching his behavior for several days, I determined that his only disorder was excessive friendliness to me (hopefully, this isn't a terminal condition.) In fact, he acted normally in all other respects, and he demonstrated that he was quite capable of running away and concealing himself when he had to.
The Snowshoe Hair that once inspected my boot
The secret to winning Trés' trust was my handy bag of sunflower seed, which I carry primarily for chickadees. Truthfully, I never actively tried to befriend him. No, it just happens that 2 of the fence posts where I regularly leave the seed are in his territory, and so now, just like dozens of his winged compatriots,  he eagerly awaits my arrival, and for me to hand over the treats. 
Just a small portion of the Bohemian Waxwing flock that visited us last week
An amazing flock of Bohemians Waxwings visited the nature preserve several times last week. As the week progressed, their numbers "waxed" until the flock was 350 birds strong. A flock of Bohemians of this size resembles in many ways a flock of European Starlings. The flock’s tight formation assumes a globular shape, which undulates in waves as it moves through the air – and looks almost like a shape-shifting amoeba or a swarm of bees.
These birds show many colorful spots on their wings and tails
From the back, the Bohemian's yellow edged wing feathers create an interesting pattern
Bohemian Waxwings make a distinctive purring trill as they fly – and when the flock is this big, it sounds more like they are sizzling. Many days last week brought strong wind as well as snow and ice. Though 30 mile-per hour winds were enough to ground most of the preserves avian population, it wasn't enough to discourage the Bohemians from taking to the air. In fact they seemed completely unperturbed by whatever the weather dished out. Indeed, even with the high wind they navigated a circuit through the preserve without much difficulty. I guess it's pretty much what you’d expect of birds that only rarely leave the latitudes of the far Northwest, where weather like this is pretty typical.
Underneath their tail is a prominent patch of bright cinnamon  
I resolved to try to get some decent quality video of them. And last week probably represented my best chance, but again I was unsuccessful. The truth is that these birds seemed to be deliberately taunting me! Damn those beauties!! They would be feeding on buckthorn berries in one area – I would set out after them with the better (and much heavier) camera, but when I returned to the spot where they were only minutes before, they would be gone. I’d then see them perched on another distant tree top, but by the time I made it over to them, they’d take flight again and move back another few hundred yards. I wouldn't take this too personally – if it didn't happen so many times!

One day, I deemed it far too windy for me to even try to get close to them with the better camera. Instead, carrying only my tiny camera, I did manage to keep up with the flock as it hopscotched around the preserve. I kept company with them for about an hour while they made the rounds of our (mostly barren) fruit trees. For the most part they were visiting buckthorn trees to partake of that tree’s bitter dark berries. Their mode of operation entailed landing in the crown of a tall tree right above a fruit laden buckthorn – and then, a few birds at a time, they’d descend to the berry tree, until about half the flock was engaged in something like a low intensity feeding frenzy – I mean, they are waxwings and not piranha.
Robins and Cedar Waxwings also partake of the buckthorn berries
There are almost always at least a  few Cedar Waxwings mixed in with the Bohemians
The feeding behavior (as well as the nomadic behavior) of these birds is decidedly finch-like. In fact some birder-folk refer to Bohemian Waxwings as “honorary” finches for this reason. Like crossbills, they sometimes hang upside-down and flutter their wings when they feed on berries, seeds or buds. Their colorful feathers are most on display when feeding in this manner, as the inverted birds flagrantly show off the bright cinnamon colored patches underneath their tails. The bright yellow, red and white markings on their wing feathers are more visible when feeding like this.   

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