Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas eve eagles.

How about this Bald Eagle:
We have had a lot of eagle activity at the Lonesome Duck lately. It has been mostly Bald Eagles along the Williamson River in front of our cabin. However, at least one Golden Eagle has been hanging out on Modoc Rim above the ranch in the vicinity of where they fledged young last summer. The above photo was taken Christmas Eve in front of our cabin to an adult Bald Eagle sitting in a Ponderosa Pine across the river.
The photo below was taken from our deck and the above eagle is in the picture but not visible at the normal magnification of the photo. The above photo was taken at the 35mm equivalent of a 2000mm focal length. I think that is somewhere above 30X and it was not blown up or cropped. Pretty amazing what some cameras can do currently.
To get the first photo I casually walked to the Juniper tree to the right of the river side bench as though I wasn't interested (this sometimes works with different animals as long as you don't walk directly at them). I braced against the tree and zoomed in to the max to get several photos.
Since the eagle has a dark body with fully white head and tail we know that it is an adult, Bald Eagle. Furthermore, Bald Eagles do not get the clear white head and tail until they are 5 years of age. So, it is at least 5 years old (they live to 25 years easily). Also, I can't say he, or she. In most raptors, the hawks and eagles, the female larger than the male. For everyday purposes you need to see a pair perched side by side to tell mama from papa.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Back for winter and an Otter dinner on the ice!

Finally back for the cold season. It is not quite winter but this week was the coldest so far of eight seasons on the Williamson River. We awoke to minus 14F here at the Duck last Sunday morning and it dropped to -34 at a friends ranch back in the Fremont Mountains about 35 miles NE of here. Some all-time record lows were set in the desserts of the Oregon Outback east of here. Take a look at this:
I looked out our cabin window this week after several nights of below zero and ice had formed a shelf on the river. I noticed a large dark animal on the ice shelf and grabbed the binoculars to verify. Yes, it was a River Otter, a large aquatic member of the weasel family. And, he was having fish dinner (you didn't think I someone was having otter for dinner?!). After a few minutes another otter showed up. They usually travel in pairs or family groups and we see them on the river here on average a couple times per month. Here's the way it looked from the deck of our cabin when I first saw the single otter:

The river has lots of springs feeding in so, though it is cool relative to the air in the summer, it resists dropping below freezing in the winter. The river was completely frozen over at some of the large slow pools but there is enough current stirring the spring water to keep much of the river in front of our place open (although slush and chunks of ice often are floating by on sub-zero mornings and a mist often is rising like steam).

By the way, I took more pictures and zoomed in on them. It looks like the fish dinner is of a Large Mouth Bass. They are rare here in the summer, mostly upstream in the Sprague River which is warmer in the summer, but freezes over more in winter. Possibly some of the bass have migrated downstream to the Williamson in winter where the water is relatively warmer now, versus summer when it is colder than they prefer but which the trout love. Another factor may be that we know there is a microscopic parasite in portions of the Williamson that the native trout are immune to but keeps out most of the bass and other non-natives in summer. The parasite may not be active in winter.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Warmer Clime

In the last blog I told you that we went to Florida during the first half of October. Besides family, we were able to do some traveling around to some of my favorite sites and explore some new ones. I will share a little of the experiences here.

First of all, how do you like the above picture? It is a close-up of a Sandhill Crane. I am not sure whether it is a male or female, they are not sexually dimorphic like most birds. However, I was able to get rather close, although not a close as my telephoto lens makes it look:
 As you can see through the window, they stand several feet tall, and you would not want to get very close to that bill. They eat mostly small vertebrates like rodents, snakes, lizards, and amphibians, as well as invertebrates like crayfish, earthworms, grubs, and larger insects. Officially, the Greater Sandhill Crane has a length of 44” and a wingspan of 77”. They can be seen over the western ¾ of the continent, at least flying over during migration, and less often in the east. However, the central part of the Floridian peninsula has a non-migratory population. It is very used to people. Besides seeing them from the patio windows of a long-time friend, I saw them on the golf course that winds its way through the housing complex where a cousin lives. With such cooperative birds I just had to sneak, well stroll, around the corner and get some pictures.

Greater Sandhill Cranes are common where we live east of the Cascades in Oregon, even nesting in the common wetlands and meadows. However, they are not quite so tame as in Florida. When the large flocks break up in the spring the pairs will stake out large territories. Their rattling calls are very loud and can be heard well over a mile. They will raise their chicks (which are called “colts”) in the grassy areas where there is abundant food.

There is also a Lesser Sandhill Crane that is about a third smaller. It nests further north, even onto the islands in the Arctic Ocean. Many places in central Canada have Sandhills that are gradations of size in between the two extremes indicated by the subspecies names.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Returning from on-the-go!

My wife, Suzanne, and I have been on the go doing fall and winter prep, plus a couple weeks in Florida for a wedding and R&R (I'll try to post some photos from the trip later.) Things have finally slowed down a lot but we still have some things to do for winter... like splitting wood today.
So, we're just letting you know we are back (again!). Here are a few observations from Thursday, 11/15/2015: I heard Golden Eagle on the mountain above us this morning; we are now seeing diving ducks on the Williamson River in front of our cabin (as is common on this rarely freezing river all winter long) such as Buffleheads & Common Goldeneyes; I accidentally spooked a very muscular looking 3x3 Mule Deer buck on the property this morning (and a visitor saw another, smaller buck as they came back our plus mile-long lane).
Hoping to be back on the blog soon, Marshal

Friday, October 12, 2012

Happy Family

 On Monday the above “inter-specific” event occurred at the Lonesome Duck Ranch. We had both the common California Quail and rarer Mountain Quail feeding at the bird feeder between our cabin and the Williamson River. There was a Western Grey Squirrel there and they were all getting along quite well (at the time).

The two species of quail are normally centered in two different types of habitat, efficiently dividing up and specializing in certain of the variety of habitats found in our surrounding creation. They overlap in some places on the edges of their habitats (places) and niches (jobs). The Mountain Quail, as its name describes, is a quail of the western mountains, especially those with dense brushy vegetation and good seasonal precipitation, including snow. The California Quail is sometimes called the “valley quail” since it mostly lives in the valleys and lower, drier areas of the western mountains of the U.S.

I had discussed the quail in a blog earlier this year; the California Quail is a regular here every year. The Mountain Quail is much less common, but this year they discovered our lush irrigated yards and the bird feeders. They have been visiting us up to 3 times per day since their discovery of our yard. The California Quail usually visit us around once per day, especially in winter. However, until now, I could not verify that they ever came to the feeders at the same time; it seems they are in competition (biological) enough that they would take turns. You might observe that the Mt. Quail are the 4 to the left, while the California Quail are the 4 to the right; however, I did see them mix it up a little more while I was watching them.

The Western Grey Squirrel seemed to be content, and they ignored each other.

The squirrels are not always so content, especially with each other.  Last Sunday, 10/7/2012, there were 3 species of squirrels in the yard. At least 12 individuals (hard to count!) were Western Grey Squirrels (larger than the Eastern Grey Squirrel, about as big as the Fox Squirrel that is common east of the Rockies), 2 California Ground Squirrels, and 2 Douglas Squirrels (the little pine squirrel of the West). We have lots of the little Yellow Pine Chipmunks too. The Grey Squirrels are often chasing each other, sometimes for fun, for fight, for other. They will occasionally chase the birds too, but in a frisky manner. The birds seem to know this and return almost immediately. The Western Greys don’t get along with the Douglas Squirrels, which, though smaller are much more aggressive and often win by chasing back the Greys.

The 2 Douglas Squirrels are probably a mated pair, and are not much interested in the bird feeders. They have staked out the Ponderosa Pines and Western Junipers around the cabin. They are constantly cutting pine cones and, this time of year, storing the whole cones in a pile somewhere for winter. Their winter cache is probably under our deck. They will sometimes chew their way into buildings.   :> }  They have also been eating a lot of the ripe berries on the Juniper trees this time of year (the berries that are used to flavor gin). Neither they nor the Western Grey Squirrel are hibernators; although they will hole up for a few days at a time during winter storms.

Here’s a photo of the Douglas Squirrel from http://www.enature.com/
The California Ground Squirrel is different, although it looks most like the Western Grey Squirrel. It really does live in the ground and is quite a burrower. Some call it the “grey digger.” They can actually do damage to buildings, etc., by digging under the foundations. It is also a true hibernator, known for staying asleep in its burrow for several months non-stop. They can climb too, quite well, but they rarely climb much, especially higher than 10 or 15 feet.
Here’s a good photo from Krippled Warrior blog...
Finally, we still have Varied Thrushes here in small numbers, about half dozen, in yard next to the Williamson River. A few evenings ago I tried to track down an owl call that I have been hearing. It’s one of the really small owls, i.e., a Northern Saw-whet Owl or a Northern Pygmy-Owl.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A new species for the Lonesome Duck Ranch.

Yesterday, a new observation was made on the Lonesome Duck Ranch.  It was a Merlin; the first one seen here since we came here seven seasons ago. It flew from a low roost and swung across the north pasture as I was showing a group of the owner's friends some of the birds and other sights of the ranch.

The Merlin is the next to smallest falcon in the U.S. It was formerly called the Pigeon Hawk. However, it is a true falcon and is known for flying fast and straight. They are predators of other birds, catching them by diving and/or overtaking their victims by great speed, usually in more open areas. They are not common and often give you only a fleeting glimpse. And thus, I did not get any pictures of it.

Snipe were also seen with owner’s group yesterday. It was a flock of about 10 Common Snipe, formerly called Wilson's Snipe. They were in the same place as reported in my catch-up summary a few days ago- 8/26/2012: “Wilson's Snipe seen in wetland in north pasture on Sunday. Yes there really are snipe, and there is a hunting season (in the daytime, with shotguns!!). I saw a pair of them about a week later…and Muskrats foraging in the tules.”

People have a lot of fun joshing other people about going on “Snipe hunts” for the “legendary” creature that glows in the dark and can be captured late at night with a paper bag. This, however, was the real thing.

And, we did see muskrats again.

Since I did not get any pictures of the Merlin (or the Common Snipe) I am including pictures of a bird seen many times at the Lonesome Duck late this summer and this fall:
9/4/2012 and ff …: “Deadly tag” - at least 2 Sharp-shinned Hawks and Steller’s Jays have been harassing each other in the yard. I found a headless Pine Siskin on the 4th and since then the remains of a Mourning Dove, an unidentified sparrow, and several jays. That’s nature too! The hawks are very impressive too.

First is an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk feeding on an immature Mourning Dove on the river side of our cabin on September 11. It did not seem to “play tag” so much:
Sharp-shinned Hawks are small but deadly bird predators but have a much different mode of operation than the Merlin. They are experts of ambush and the chase. They are equipped with relatively stubby wings and long tails designed for quick bursts of speed and the ability to make sharp turns as they chase their avian prey through the trees and branches.

Here’s an immature Sharp-shin that was “playing chase” back and forth with the Steller’s Jays at our cabin this morning:
There was another observer beside myself:
It is a Western Grey Squirrel.  The squirrels just ignored the Sharp-shinned Hawks most of the time; even when they darted at the squirrels and hovered over them. Their size looks somewhat similar to the hawk's but the squirrels greatly outweigh the diminutive hawks, and, squirrels are quite “tough” (perhaps from all the tree climbing).

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Psychedelic Robin!

So, did anyone figure out what I might be referring to as a psychedelic robin? Well here it is:

It's a Varied Thrush. Around here they are normally high in the moist coniferous forests of the Cascade Mountains about 15 miles west of us. I took the picture on September 23 in the yard of our cabin. That's the only day we saw it. They usually show up when there is some kind of weather change, especially heavy winter snow storms. Then they can seem to show up everywhere in the valleys, indicating how many there may be high in the mountain forests. Normally, they are not easy to find being in areas of few year-round human habitations. When they drop down to lawns and other civilized areas they do resemble, including behavior, the related American Robin. Both are large thrushes, showing the heavy spotting of the breast of most common thrushes only when they are immature. Here's another view:

By the way, the weather has been a little strange. We had some short dips but the warm, summery weather is hanging on with mostly sunny skies and temps in the upper 70's. It may break the 80's several of the upcoming 4 days or so. Migration is in full swing and some of the leaves are starting to show their fall colors. On the average, this week is when the first snowfall of the season occurs at Crater Lake National Park, twenty miles up the road from here. No snow showing in the 10-day forecast.

Remember the Mountain Quail of earlier this week? I dug out one of my photos of the much more common California Quail. It's a winter shot in the snow of both a male and female. Take a look at the plume on the top of the head for an obvious difference from the Mountain Quail. The male California Quail also has a black bib on its throat vs. the chestnut bib of the male and female Mountain Quail.