Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where has Chivalry gone?

What a beautiful day for a quick bird walk through our favorite local birding haunt, the Hull's Gulch Nature Reserve. With spring weather abound, there was a great deal of bird action to observe - two owl species, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrel's and tons of Waxwings including both Cedar and Bohemian. Here are some highlights.

Dictionary.com defines chivalry as "the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms." We had the opportunity to observe the chivalry of the local male Cooper's Hawk, but also to observe its limits. Upon approaching the nesting area, I quickly spied the male Cooper's Hawk bullet like dive across the road and into the Sagebrush. He arose from the disturbance to proclaim his adept skill and "dexterity of arms", for he had successfully killed a large vole (Montane vole?). Apparently "modesty" is not one of the requirements. From there he did what any chivalrous male should do during the breeding season by quickly and "generously" delivering it to his mate! She was apparently pleased and immediately began to consume the catch.

Female Cooper's Hawk with vole.

This is when the "courtesy" of relationship started to fade. She had only eaten two bites when he mounted her and mated with her. Apparently dinner first only applies to the delivery and not the consumption! He went to perch nearby and watch as she ate. When about half of the meal was consumed, he once again mounted her for mating. "Courtesy" was further compromised along with "generosity" when he immediately after mating the second time, grabbed the remaining food and flew to his own perch. His apparent naive view of the world somehow included the misconception that some of the food should be his. This was not to be. The female immediately flew over and took the prize back. The male flew off empty handed.

Male American Kestrel.

At the upper pond we had the opportunity to watch the two Belted Kingfishers building their nest. They were chattering about their business flying in and out of the nest hole. A remarkably large number of American Kestrels were flying about. At least 6 individuals were seen within a half mile. We have observed them flying in and out of different nest holes in the sand cliffs in the general area where the Great Horned Owls nest. Speaking of the Great Horned Owls, we were able to watch the female feeding at least one owlet. They are deep in a dark hole so we could not tell how many chicks were present, but we look forward to when they move out onto the ledge.

Male American Kestrel.

Male American Kestrel.

Hull's Gulch Reserve is a great place for owls. The Great Horned Owls have nested there for years. Earlier this year we saw a Northern Saw-whet Owl in the area and later heard them near the sand cliffs as well. The photo below was taken in February.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (picture taken in February).

For the past month, every time we have been in the area we have been able to find either one or two Western Screech-owls. Lately only one. Maybe they too have a nest nearby.

Western Screech-owl.

One of my favorite non-raptor birds are waxwings. Hull's Gulch Reserve is often home to flocks of waxwings, mostly Cedar Waxwings.

Over 100 Cedar Waxwings with at least 7 Bohemian Waxwings.

I have searched the flocks for weeks hoping to find a Bohemian Waxwing mixed in. Waxwings often hang out in mixed flocks. The Bohemians tend to migrate north and thus are less likely to be seen once spring starts. I had not yet seen them this year and was thinking they were probably all gone. But close analysis of this flock showed at least seven Bohemians mixed in. If you look closely in the upper right and middle left you can see two Bohemians amongst the Cedar waxwings. The Bohemians are larger, have a richer rufous color around the face and vent, and lack yellow.

Waxwings, mostly Cedar but some Bohemian.

Waxwings are fun to photograph as their flocking behavior often has them returning to the same place. If you watch their behavior closely, you can determine where they are likely to go to get water, then set up and wait.

Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwing.

Cedar Waxwings.

The Northern Flickers were also getting in the mood of spring. We could here them drumming some distance away. After each drumming by this pair, another would raise a protest from 100 meters away. I love spring!

Northern Flickers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Accipiter cooperii

What a beautiful near-Spring day in Boise. Karyn and I headed out to our local birding trail to see what we could see. Hull's Gulch Preserve is our favorite hotspot for its local wildlife diversity, but also because it is a nice 3-4 mile hike from our house. Saturday would be a spectacular day out there. While we would see many species, the highlight were clearly the bird courting each other in this early mating season. A pair of Belted Kingfishers appeared to be searching for nest sites and were staying in close proximity to each other, chattering non-stop. American Kestrels were performing display flights at numerous locations. We found a pair of Western Screech-Owls snuggled side by side. It was one big dating frenzy. Of course, the season as long since passed for the Great Horned Owls as the female incubates her eggs under the watchful eye of the male. But the highlight of the day would come from the medium sized Accipiter hawks - the Cooper's Hawks.

Cooper's hawks are the smaller cousin of my study species the Northern Goshawk. They are a forest raptor capable of maneuvering quickly through reasonably dense forest structure. A few years back, we discovered a new nest within the Hull's Gulch Preserve, and they have nested there ever since.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

Our first discovery consisted of two juvenile Cooper's Hawks near the lower pond. The juveniles have very different markings than the adults as you can easily see in these photos.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

For a few weeks now we have usually been able to find the adults near their old nest location. Today would be no exception. We found both the male and female hanging out together.

Male Cooper's Hawk

Male Cooper's Hawk

Female Cooper's Hawk

I started to walk away to look for other birds as I heard the two calling to each other. I turned and raised the camera to see them mating.

Mating Cooper's Hawks

After the two regained their composure, the male went to work to continue building the nest. This is a new nest this year, not far from the old nest. It appears to be a much better location, although probably closer to human disturbance.

Male in new nest.

We watched as he repetitively flew out to gather nesting material and return it to the nest. He was collecting a mixture of nesting material from different locations, sometimes flying to the ground and sometimes to nearby trees. Some twigs were fresh branches that he broke off, others were dead branches on the ground.

Male Cooper's Hawk returning to the nest.

Male Cooper's Hawk leaving nest.

Cooper's Hawk returning to nest.

Male Cooper's Hawk in nest.

Cooper's Hawk in nest.