Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nesting season at higher elevations

This is Karyn and I's anniversary week. We are spending it in the mountains where we were married fifteen years ago this month. Mountain biking, hiking, bird watching, and generally relaxing.
Not surprisingly, we have noticed that bird nesting season at this elevation (6500-7500 feet above sea level) is a little bit behind what we see in the city (2900 feet above sea level). The Owls, Hawks, and Robins have mostly fledged in town. Some Goose goslings even look full grown. Up here it looks as if we have stepped back in time a couple of months. At this elevation, most birds are still in their prime nesting activity.
From our campsite next to the Salmon River we can watch two separate nests. High on the hill above the camp, in an old snag, is a Red-tailed Hawk nest. Down river is an active Osprey nest! The Red-tails have two chicks which are nearly full size. This couple is unique. The assumed to be male is a dark morph Red-tail. The assumed to be female is fairly dark, but her chest and abdomen are colored red, almost to match her tail. She is a beautiful bird. I keep hoping for a closer encounter so I can get a photo. The Ospreys are also raising two chicks. We can watch them eating sushi regularly.
On a tandem ride on the Knapp Creek-Valley Creek loop, Karyn found a woodpecker nest. We could hear the chicks inside the tree chirping. I walked up to the tree to listen. The tree was in the sunshine so I reached up to shade the nest hole with my hand. The chicks went crazy soliciting for food! Not wanting to disturb them further, we retreated a distance away to watch. The female returned to the nest. It was an American Three-toed Woodpecker! Very cool! This is a life bird for me! We are located right on the edge of their usual range. The female brought food to the chicks, then extracted a poop sack and flew away with it. Very cool. Early nestlings excrete into a membranous sack so that it can be easily taken away to keep the nest clean. Built in diapers! I am sure we could find many other nests if we spent time looking.
The Great Owls. We pulled a Great Owl double! It started by revisiting the Great Gray Owl family that we located a few weeks ago. Once again, we could only find a single adult, but that was pretty amazing in itself. That evening we were seranaded to sleep by a pair of Great Horned Owls. That's pretty cool.
Day of the mammal. Not to give all of the attention to the birds, we have seen a number of cool mammals as well! Our camp was visited by a small Mink and a cute little Kangaroo Rat, along with the ever present Columbian Ground Squirrels. We are supposed to be outside of the range for the Kangaroo Rat, but he seemed to be making himself at home. Uinta Ground Squirrels and Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels have been present with along with chipmunks on our bike rides. We found a family of Muskrats in a favorite marsh where we look for birds. At least 4 little fuzzy babies swimming about while the adults are busy working! Pikas! Always a favorite. We have seen Elk on a few occasions. We found a herd and also spooked up bull while out on a ride. So much for the rumor that the wolves killed them all. We did find fresh wolf tracks in the mud, but have yet to see a live one on this trip. Deer have been out and about as well. The bucks have antlers, but they are still in velvet. We have searched a few times for a Badger with no luck. It hasn't all gone to the birds!

No comments: