birds


An Artistic Eye…….

We have been lucky enough to have a pair of American Kestrels hanging around our property.  Also called sparrow hawks, these beautiful little birds of prey are favored by falconers.

Their favorite perch is the electrical wires that run the length of our property, and the ornamental pear trees that form an alle’e along our 900 foot driveway.

They will fly away as soon as the car approaches, almost racing it down the driveway  to the house.

In mid January, I was very surprised to see one of the pair sitting on our deck bird feeder. They have never come this close! In fact, the whole time the kestrel was puffed up in the falling snow, a tiny junco was underneath, on the floor, literally not moving– and doing his best to remain invisible! The kestrel diet consists of mice, voles, other small rodents, larger insects, and the occasional small bird.  I could almost see the junco heave a giant sigh of relief when the kestrel left!!! The junco can be seen  in the photo below, in the lower pot hanging on the railing.

The kestrel sat, surveyed the scene, and called to its mate.   I was very glad to have been able to see it up close and relatively still.

About a month later, as we were leaving the house, my daughter went out first, then came back in telling me there was something outside that, in one way,  I was not going to be happy about, but in another way, I would!

I followed her outside, and there outside the garage door, between 2 vehicles, was one of the kestrels, dead.

She was right, I was very sad about this, but happy that I would be able to inspect one at close range.

Being a bird of prey, it is against the law to keep him, but since he was right in front of the garage door, he had to be removed. I did take this opportunity to photograph, measure, and weigh him (for a future watercolor) .

I should have been a naturalist, I am fascinated by all things in nature, dead or alive. Death allows closer inspection.

This (and future posts) will include these discoveries- so if you don’t like dead things – heed my warnings, and go no further!!!

This poor kestrel, appears to be a male – males have a  spotted breast, females, streaked- another thing you can’t really see as they go zooming by!!  His dead weight was 3.8 oz, and breast bone was not pronounced, so he did not seem to have been starving. His weight fell on the lighter side of their usual weight range of 80g-156g, but still within the parameters.

After watching a documentary on falconers, it was interesting to learn that the handlers weigh their birds before each hunt, because if their weight is a tad too high, it will affect their hunting abilities.  So, as in the wild, the falcons have to be careful not to overeat.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered the beak was split in half. At first glance, I thought maybe he had crashed into the truck or garage while diving for food, but the break appears to have been there quite a while. Despite this deformity, he seemed to have managed quite well, up until that day!

The claws were quite impressive – for clutching dinner on the fly!

He almost appeared to have a lower lid that would come up to cover the eye.

Not a large bird, the kestrel measured 10″ from head to tail, wingspread from shoulder to shoulder was 6″ , wing tip to tip about 14″. Shoulder to wing tip was about 7  1/2″.  He had about 8 or 9 tail feathers, his lower leg from elbow to toe was about 2″.

Except for the split on the top, his beak seemed fully functioning and in good shape.

It looks like a total of 7 primary flight feathers on each wing.

A beautiful little bird,  I would have loved to preserve him – but it is against the law to have one, dead or alive, without proper license.

Since his death, I have not seen his mate. Hopefully, if she survives, and finds another life partner, she will return with him to our property.

 

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All is well, and never dull, here at Mountain Meadows this bright, sunny March morning……………………..

nighttime prayer

Whoa! What is that????

working on the "sanctuary"

Weeds grow well in the drought.....

drought plus aged tree equals only ONE!

vacancy

crow skull discovered

box turtle remains

more

the top layer just peels off, leaving the white carapace and plastron

And, if we hadn’t already figured it out…………Smokey is down the road to warn us:

Only YOU can prevent forest fires......!

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All is well, dry, windy and crispy, at Mountain Meadows this Labor Day weekend.

Yesterday was a day filled with sound. You might say, every day is filled with sounds, and you would be right.

But, we don’t often take the time to REALLY listen…….The sounds of the day are just background noise, an accompaniment, largely ignored, as we scurry about, deep in our thoughts and errands of the day.

Yesterday became a mental health day for me – directing my attentions to the outdoors, my horses, and things other than the roiling thoughts that make being in my head, some days, a tumultuous ride!

I was mucking out the stalls, basically stripping them down- a kind of repetitious shoveling of what amounts to be a giant litterbox!

The steady and musical drip, drip, drip of the remaining snow on the barn roof changed its tune only when a curious horse came to check on me, and his back caught the drips, silencing their song.

The cacophonous chorus of a crow colony alerted of an intruder in the area. A few minutes later, an ear splitting baying broke the silence, as a neighbor’s beagles broke thru the woods running a rabbit.  Noses to the ground, their voices made everyone within earshot aware that they were on the trail!

I took a break from the barn duties, and took a walk with the beagles- a portly 10 year old little lady with graying muzzle and youthful stamina, a younger male, and a 6 month old pup with endless energy, who kept the others on their toes, using his new found skills as a tracker.

When barn duties were over, the 1st warm, sunny day of the new year, demanded that I pull down a saddle and go for a ride.  The outside of a horse is definitely good for the inside of me!!!

The ‘big guy’ was definitely happy to be out on the walk with me, and as we walked down the trail in silence, the keeeee-aarr screeches of a pair of red tailed hawks bounced off the mountains. They called back and forth a few times, the crows again warning each other to watch out for these two!!

The breeze does whisper thru the trees- its message is one of peace and tranquility, if you really listen. As we got farther down the trail, the unsettlingly loud crack of a shotgun pierced the air. Hunting season is over, but it is no less unnerving, when gunshots come from out of nowhere.

The rattling chatter of the kingfishers, disturbed by our passage, mingled with the sound of the rushing river. Melting snows have filled the river and widened its banks. It can be heard, whooshing along, from as far away as my front porch.

The day ends with the chatter and chip, chip, chip of all the birds settling in for the night within the sheltering boughs of the scrub pines and cedars.  The eerie  hoo hoo hoodeee hoo hoo of the great horned owl, the distant quack of the mallards, and the overhead honking of the last stragglers of geese, brings the day to a close.

All is well, peaceful, and  filled with the din of life, at Mountain Meadows tonite…….

(with a tip of the ol’ chapeau to Simon and Garfunkel for my title…..)

Well, I guess I kind of gave it away with the title of this post!!! LOL

I went into the barn at about 5:30 pm tonite, to feed and close up the barn for the night. It gets dark early now, so if I don’t feed before 5pm, we are working in the dark!

I was almost done, having mucked the stalls, fed, put out the hay, and climbed up in the loft to toss down more bales.

When I went over to ‘the big guy’s” stall to lock the door, I happened to glance up, and saw something on the ledge next to the stall door.  At first I wasn’t sure what it was, since I didn’t have my glasses on. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be a chinchilla – which was highly unlikely!!! LOL

Then, I realized it was a tiny owl!!! Not moving, just calmly staring at me! I pointed him out to my husband and ran back to the house for my camera.

Fortunately, the little guy was still there when I came back. He was undisturbed by the past half hour’s  goings on, and by the interior light being turned on. He sat very still for his photo, barely blinking. He was about 8-9 inches tall, looking as soft as a chinchilla, mottled grey, with ear tufts. I am not too familiar with the different owls – and at first thought of a saw whet owl.

I said goodnight to the horses and the little owl, and closed the barn doors. The doors had been open all day – and I assume that’s how he got in. The stall doors stay open all night, so I am hoping he can find his way out thru them. Unless, of course, he is staying to feast on barn mice all night- which would be fine with me!!!

When back in the house, I got out the old Peterson Field guide to research the little guy.

Turns out he is a common screech owl – they have 2 color phases – grey and brown. My brief research did not indicate they would frequent the inside of barns, but there he was. The saw whet owl, does not have ear tufts, and is even tinier! This little screech owl was about 8 or 9 inches tall.

I know we do have a great horned owl or two, in the trees near the river – they are the ones I hear at night. Apparently these larger ones will prey on the smaller ones like this little guy.

Of course, now I will worry about him all night, and hope he is just hanging out and can find his way in and out of the barn!!!!

Here is a link about the diminutive screech owl, with descriptions and the different calls they make. I know now that I have heard them around – just never was sure whoooo or what was making that sound!!

 

It’s very cold and windy out tonite – so he’s welcome to hang out in the barn, hunt mice, and keep warm- if that’s what he chooses!!!

 

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All is well, with a hint of snow in the air, and a never ending source of new discoveries, at Mountain Meadows tonite…………………

All found within one tree on the property.

 

These will be the death of him

Homesteader #1

Squatter #2 makes it a duplex!

Remnants of a past life

Endless discoveries still, at Mountain Meadows………………………….

The other day I was hanging out with the horses. I take them out to graze every day. Their paddocks are brown, and the hay fields are still green. Mr. Green Jeans has finally agreed with me, that the paddocks need to be extended, til we can get the present ones to stay green into the winter!!

I enjoy hanging out with the horses and watching the world go by. Mr. Green Jeans lasts about a minute, maybe 20, and is already thinking of other things he could be doing!!

So, the plan is to fence in another large paddock, across the front of the barn, where orchard grass and timothy has been planted and grows seemingly forever. Then, the old paddocks will be seeded and reseeded, til they start to grow. It seems a shame to have to horses confined, even tho their paddocks are very large, when there are acres of green grass surrounding them!!! Altho, the acres are what feeds them in the winter months, and makes some money to afford these equines their cushy lifestyles!!!

While communing with the horses, and brushing the mud out of their winter coats, I gaze up at the sky from time to time. This unseasonably warm day, there was a small flock of 11 or 12 vultures, soaring on the thermals above. The whole time I watched them, they never flapped their wings, just gracefully floated in ever widening circles. For such an unattractive bird, they are grace on wings when in the sky.

There was a combination of turkey vultures and black vultures, with a slightly smaller outline in the crowd. Included in the group, was a hawk, about 1/3 smaller than the buzzards, joining in on the fun of soaring in the warm skies. They did not object to him being there, they were just enjoying floating. This went on for about 20 minutes, and as they went farther afield, the hawk looked over his shoulder at the crowd and with a dip of his body, redirected his “float” to the mountain. Still no wing flapping, he continued to soar to the mountains, til he was nothing more than a dot in the  sky.

The vulture flock dispersed, and within a few minutes, I was surprised to see several more flocks of vultures emerging from beyond the trees. There were groups of 20 and 30! I would guess between 75 and 90 vultures were floating in the sky! This aerial circus only lasted about 10 minutes, and they all disappeared over the tree line. Fortunately, no one pooped while I was standing below looking up at the show!!! LOL I did see a couple, a little while later, in the top of a dead tree, wings outstretched, in an eerie pose. They do that to absorb the warmth of the sun.

I can never get pictures of them – they don’t allow you to get too close-they usually fly away, or defecate and fly away-and believe me, you do NOT want to get hit by that!!!

A day or so ago, I happened to catch a couple of vultures standing by the river. They flew to the trees, when they saw me approach. I thought they were just getting a drink. As I walked along, I noticed a skeleton on the other bank of the river. They were feasting on a deer, and were leery of me, but were not going to get too far away from their meal.  The river was too deep, because of recent rain, for me to get on the other side to check out the deer. I’m guessing, a hunter shot and lost sight of his prey. This poor little guy died at the river’s edge. Vultures are nature’s clean up committee, always on the lookout for their next meal.

I went down 2 days later, to check on their progress, but the rain had caused the river to swell, and the carcass had apparently washed downstream.

Ugly as they are, the vulture serves a definite purpose in nature. I enjoy seeing them overhead.  Here are the few pix I could capture of the ones by the river.

Watching over his dinner........

The sadder side of hunting - the one that got away....sort of.

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All is well, and unseasonably warm, at Mountain Meadows this Sunday morning……………….

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