Sunday, March 27, 2005

Great Gray Tragedy

The great gray owls are still around in southern Ontario, although reports indicate that their numbers are dropping off in some areas. Pretty soon they'll have gone home to the north to breed. But too many won't be making it back. These owls are both large and naive about cars, and are being killed on the roads everywhere.

My friends the Newmans called us the other day to let us know that their son had brought a road-killed great gray over for them to take a look at. Sad, but it is an opportunity to get a good look.

That's my hand in the photo, a medium-small woman's hand, for comparison. That's some foot the owl has!

But overall the owl loses its majesty in death. This particular owl was pretty smashed up on the road.

The Yard Rabbit Exposed

All winter we've had a rabbit making daily visits to the bird feeders, gobbling up sunflower seeds and any little treats we've put out especially for it (apple, carrot, etc.) It keeps almost regular hours; you could be pretty sure of getting a glimpse of it winter dusk and dawn. I worried sometimes when the fox tracks were thick in the yard, or when there were a few tufts of bunny fur on the ground, but the rabbit kept turning up (or else it was replaced once or twice, but that doesn't bear thinking about).

Now that spring is here, the rabbit is keeping the same hours, so we get to see it in the daylight. I finally got a picture.

The blue jays startle the poor rabbit--back in the winter they never crossed paths. But you can see here they have made the accomodation.

A County Supper

A couple of weeks ago, just before I left Prince Edward County and headed back to the hamlet I came across the remains of someone's supper just by the side of the house.

These were remains unlike any I've seen before. The ribs are there, and both thighs, one still attached to the pelvis. It's the ribs that are surprising. No snow cover means no tracks, but I strongly suspect that these are the remains of a great horned owl's supper.

This is the chickadee picture I've been trying to set up for weeks. This day in the County, I "pished" and the bird came and sat for me!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

In Like a Lion

It snowed last night here in the County. Just a few centimetres, but it has coated the trees, recreating that winter wonderland feel. But it really is March, and as we all know, spring begins in March. The mourning doves are cooing, the woodpeckers are drumming, the chickadees and cardinals are singing their spring songs.

I startled something out of the yard everytime I came outside last night. Whatever it was, I caught its eyes in the beam of my headlamp the first time, they looked binocular, and shone bright white. I must find out if things can be indentified by the colour their eyes reflect. It was small, and crashed down a steep slope, and away, so fast, I'm guessing it was a rabbit. But I'm a little concerned about the apparent position of the eyes in the light. I must do some research on the question.

Friday, March 11, 2005

News from Away

I'm away from Thomasburg for a few days--staying in Prince Edward County, from which I've reported tidbits before.

Notable here this week is that the great horned owls are still vocal, day and night, while in Thomasburg they've been quiet for a while now. I'm hearing not just the regular hooting but also what some call the "harnk" call. There are some good sites that have audio files of the call, such as Greg Clark's Great-horned Owl Nest, Nestling Photographs, Sound Recording and FFT Analysis or the great horned page at The Owl Pages.

Here in the County, a place which is almost an island in Lake Ontario, I'm just a comfortable walk away from the lakeshore. This afternoon I walked down the lane to the water, checking out the tracks and scats (tracks: raccoon, skunk, rabbit, squirrel, deer, domestic cat, coyote, and mystery; scat: mystery, some kind of large bird), listening to the owl, chickadees, woodpeckers calling and drumming, along the way, thinking that maybe I'd see something on the huge expanse of ice that is South Bay (tiny relative to the lake of course).

There is a marsh here, just before the beach, and there was a set of tracks into it, too degraded to make out, probably raccoon, but they put me in mind of otter. When I got to the lake there was a dark shape way out and moving away at an angle. Otter? Luckily I had my binoculars. It was a coyote making its way across the bay to a wooded area between the well-spaced house lots.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Winter of Wonder continues....

A week gone by too quickly, and another week of sightings and tracks in this winter beyond anything I've experienced in the hamlet before. I am just including a few images. Snow is great for tracking, but no good for my little point-and-shoot digital camera.

Big news of the week as far as sightings go is the barred owl I saw on Friday. It was around 4:00 p.m. and I was in the cedar bush, the section just at the south end of the walk. I could hear chickadees up in the tree tops, and thought I'd try to call them down for a photo by "pishing", a sound birders use to entice birds into view. It works on many species in the breeding season, but chickadees, brave and curious as they are, will almost always respond, and will sometimes come down and fly around your head with no enticement, just because you're there in the bush where they didn't expect to see you.

So, I pished a couple of times and an enormous bird flew in, right by me, landing on a dead tree, about 6 feet up, and 6 feet from where I was standing. A barred owl. The bird stared at me, I stared at it. It started looking around so I gave the first bit of my rendition of the barred owl call (I get the rhythm, but the tone is more like that of the great horned), it looked at me again. I had my camera turned on and in my hand, but there were a few branches between us, so I moved a little to get a clearer shot. The owl took off, landed briefly nearby, but pretty much out of my sight, and by the time I'd moved again it was gone.

I did manage to get a picture of some deer tracks, heading towards the open water in the swap in the cedar bush. It looked as if there were at least two, maybe three or four, deer travelling together.

Some say drag marks, such as seen here, are indicative of a buck.

The foxes were all around the yard two different nights this past week. On the second night, one of them came right across the patio outside the back door. One of the nights the rabbits all stayed home, but the other they were around too. And once again a skunk came through the yard--through pretty deep snow. It isn't really skunk weather yet, though I have heard reports of the odour of skunk in the evening air already this year.

We also had a great gray owl in the yard. I would never have seen it, sitting on a dead tree at the back property line, were it not for the crow that came screaming in to roust it. It looked as if the crow actually hit it, but my view wasn't good enough to be sure. But that owl sure took off. The crows are becoming increasingly territorial as the days lengthen. We see them harassing ravens almost every day lately. (Ravens nest in the woods around here, notably, over in Vanderwater Conservation Area, but the crows try to keep them out of the fields and the hamlet.)

I got out on the walk midweek and took a couple of pictures in the nighbourhood of the fox den, on the far side of the far field.

Rabbits love black locust!

The countryside around here is plagued by a couple of plant species, at least plagued from the point of view of hikers and scramblers like myself. One is the black locust. As a tree it grows very large and with a very pleasing shape. But it has a prolific suckering habit, and grows into a brambly hedgerow long after the main tree is gone.

It is described as having stout twigs with short, heavy thorns. The photo doesn't really do it justice. Those thorns will go through almost any clothing--and cause inflammation as well as bleeding from the holes they make in the skin of the careless.

It is amazing to me that the rabbits seem to enjoy these thorny twigs so much.

Back door of the fox den.

There are three entrances into the den, here in the midst of shrub black locusts, raspberries and other assorted shrubbery. Last year, and other years, the area has been littered with fur, bones, and feathers (including the remains of a skunk), advertising the presence of the foxes. Right now the area is covered with rabbit tracks and scats. Makes me suspect the foxes aren't in residence. I guess my yard foxes are either new foxes, or else the same old field foxes but have decided to den elsewhere this year. But it's early yet.