Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Last Minute Migration Push and Winter Resident Red-tails

On Saturday morning the temperature was close to zero degrees F 
"Cold enough for you?" I think that I may have to brain the next person who says that to me. And I may just club them with the frozen mallet that once was my hand. Yes indeed, it has been cold enough for me, but not cold enough for the thermometer, which I think still had a couple of available numbers below this morning's reading. It finally seems to have been cold enough for some of our semi-winter hearty birds as well. Over the last few days I've noticed plenty of them winging south - or south-ish anyhow. Now before I get pulled over by the accuracy police, what I just said is somewhat misleading since it's not directly the cold temperatures that are prompting the birds to leave, it is rather what the temperatures do to their habitats. The Geese are leaving because the large cornfields where they feed have been covered with snow; at the same time the region’s open water - where the birds gather and feed, is freezing over.  This would likely happen soon anyway, but this year it was an abrupt and early changeover - at least when compared to the recent 10 year average.
Massive flocks of Canada Geese moving south 
Last year the Snow Geese didn't move until mid-December
Yesterday at the nature preserve a Great Blue Heron was seen at the border of our largest field. He didn't seem a bit happy and was definitely out of his element. He was standing on the snowy ground alongside an access road - perhaps hoping to catch a mouse crossing the road. Not typical prey for the heron, but they can resort to it. Since the ponds are frozen there's little chance of him catching any fish around here. When I came by him he flew only 20 yards away and set down again on the ground – this time along the forest border. His flight was somewhat weak and I had the impression that this bird may have a more serious problem, but when I came by a little later on he had gone. Hopefully he will persevere.
A few Great Blue Heron will remain here as long as there is open water
A Belted Kingfisher will also stay if there are ice-free places to fish
In the last week or so, there has been a lot of talk about Snowy Owls showing up in Central New York. Just lately there have been as many as 4 at the airport in Syracuse, which strangely enough is a traditional wintering home for the species. I don't think they are there to catch a flight - well not one in an airplane anyhow. The owls go there for the vast wide open spaces which no doubt seem a bit like home to these Arctic birds.  We have yet to find one around the nature preserve, but we also don't have the ideal habitat to attract them - even if we do have a booming small rodent population that could sustain them.
Red-tailed Hawks are most plentiful this winter
Crows keep close track of all movements made by the Red-tailed Hawks
One thing we do have lately are 4 or 5 Red-tailed Hawks on the property. Usually you can find these guys perched on high snags along field borders, but I have one pair that is consistently staying in the woods. The same pair has been specializing in hunting the inner woodlands for a few years now. The Red-tailed Hawk is not ideally proportioned to hunt in a forest environment, but apparently this pair can pull it off. Raptors like the Sharp-shinned and the Cooper’s Hawks that have smaller wingspreads and longer tails are much better suited to maneuver through a maze of branches while managing the quick bursts of speed necessary to secure prey (most often songbirds). Well however they manage it, the forest Red-tails are here and they seem to be surviving. Perhaps they are supplementing their diet with meat from deer carcasses. This time of year is deer hunting season and with that always comes number of deer that are wounded but then are never recovered by the hunter. After these deer die from their wounds they are found by scavengers of all types - including many part time carrion eaters like the Red-tailed Hawks.
A Red-tailed Hawk keeps its sharp eyes fixed on the ground below for stirring prey
No not a Snowy Owl - this is an albino Red-tailed Hawk that hung around a few years ago
A Red-tailed Hawk lays claim to part of an animal carcass by draping its wings over it
Last week I was alerted to a case where an immature female Ruby-throated Hummingbird was still visiting a nectar feeder in the Syracuse area. I had some fellow birders check it out to confirm the species. Why this little hummer decided not to migrate to the tropics along with all the other members of her kind is a mystery. She seemed to be healthy, but was beginning to have a hard time coping with the cold - not to mention the difficulty the home owner had keeping her nectar feeder from freezing. It was getting to the point where the little hummer was landing on the woman's had and trying to come into her porch. When a significant winter storm was forecast for last weekend, the decision was made to capture the bird and allow it to overwinter in a wildlife rehabilitator’s aviary. So right before the storm and without a hitch, the hummer was captured and transferred to the rehabilitators facility. 

No comments:

Post a Comment