hawks


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……………………..

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…..)

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……………….

The hummingbirds have left.

They left on a day I was not home.

Maybe they thought it would be easier on me.

It was not……..

I miss them.

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A week after they left, a stray female showed up at the feeder. I hadn’t removed it, just in case. So yesterday, I made new syrup for the feeder, hung it up, and my hand was still on the bottle, when a hummingbird buzzed in for a sip! I don’t know if she is from my original crew, or just someone passing thru on her southern migration.

A friend on mine in the next town, still has hordes of hummingbirds scrapping over her feeders. That is their usual activity, when it is nearing the time to move on. So, I guess last Saturday was the time for my bunch to start the trek south.

I wish I had been home, altho’ I could tell they were getting ready. My regulars would follow me to the garden, and buzz around like giant bees. At times, they would perch, just above my head – one of the few times I ever saw their frantic wings at rest- and just watch me in the garden.

I worry about the last traveler, still hanging around at the feeder, but I hate to take the feeder down-she will need that extra sustenance for that long journey to South America.

I will miss them, and already have my next year’s calendar marked for their return!!

As soon as the hummingbirds left, some new entertainment arrived! Under the hummingbird feeder is a large patch of coneflowers.

An exuberant  “ti DEE di di” drew me to the window- and there was a vibrant male goldfinch balancing on the top flower. He stayed for an hour at a stretch, feasting on the  seeds. The goldfinches are now regular visitors. The window screen blurs his brilliance- but he fills in the blank  left by the hummingbirds’ absence.

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The other day, as I drove down the driveway, a massive bird in an old dead tree caught my eye. I ran in the house to get the binoculars and my camera. The neighbors have mentioned an eagle nest in the area. The property owner where the nest is, is very secretive of its exact whereabouts. Apparently, out here in the boonies, there are those who would shoot any thing that flies.

I think, the large bird in the tree, might have been a juvenile eagle. More likely a bald eagle than a golden, since a bald eagle is what has the nest nearby.  I could not get close enough, in the glare of the sun, to be able to tell for sure. He flew off, and is definitely larger than our resident hawks! I wasn’t able to get a good picture- (I definitely need a better camera!)

Juvenile eagle?

Juvenile eagle?

One of the larger hawks flew brazenly by us last night- low to the ground and within 6 feet of us and our dogs. This one is one of a pair of pole sitters, who hang out in the horse paddocks on a fence post, or on the telephone wires, waiting for dinner to scurry by in the tall grass! Another reason , if we ever get chickens, for a very secure, fenced in coop!

My favorite photo of all time- and one I have been trying for years to get- is the white heron. We have several blue herons who hang out at the river and soar over in the evenings, like prehistoric pterodactyls. I have never been successful in photographing them. As quiet as I can be, there is no sneaking up on them at the river. They are off before I can even focus the camera.

A week or so ago, while leaving a neighbor’s house, there in the trees, at the edge of the road, was a white heron!!! We stopped, backed the truck up, and altho he eyed us leerily, he did not move. I got my picture!!!! Woohoo!!!

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Our winged residents are a never ending source of wonder.

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All is well, peaceful and cloudy, at Mountain Meadows this Sunday  morning.

……..since I wrote a post, that I forgot my password!!!! Good thing I have them all written down!

Our household has been working thru bronchitis, and boy, is that hard to shake. Hopefully, we are all on an upward path now, altho the cough still lingers.

I’ve spent most of the days of the past 2 weeks, sitting on the couch, sewing, reading, and watching mindless tv. There were two days  I actually passed the outdoor chores on to the daughter!

One day, I asked the husband to check on the horses – he was still feeling sick, but had to go back to work. He did check on them when he came in from work. The next morning, I went out to feed them and found the stall door open and the  grain bins opened and emptied!!! I guess the husband was not paying attention the night before. He forgot to lock one stall door – the ‘old man’ is always on the alert for someone to forget to lock his door – and he got lucky that night!!! Fortunately, the grain bins are not huge- so neither horse ate too much! But they did make a mess- the mice had a field day with that!!!

I have been putting the feed for the deer out earlier while I was sick. Two of them have noticed, and start showing up between 5:30 and 6:30pm, before it gets dark. They methodically clean up all the piles of feed I put out, and are quite aggressive in protecting “their” find!!! At night, I can see groups of 6-9 deer all amicably grazing on the cracked corn I put out. These two early birds band together and chased off two younger deer who decided to come early also. The younger ones looked so dejected, but were not going to stand up to the older ones.

Yesterday, I spread more piles around, so that the younger could get some too. I also put the food out later, and was out walking the dogs, so the deer waited til after dark to come  feast. Hopefully, there were no fisticuffs( I guess that would be ‘hoofticuffs’ in this case!) last night!!

We are also going thru an invasion of the birds- not unlike the movie of the same name!!! I felt like Tippi Hendren the other night while at the barn. The whole tree line behind the paddock was amass with grackles. Their chatter could be heard inside the house! This has become a twice daily occurrence- the movement of the birds from one side of the woods to the other! At first, I thought they were starlings, but finally got a good look at them closeup.

A short while later, another mass of grackles flew over and filled the trees lining the other side of the paddock. After about fifteen minutes, they all arose in a cloud and headed across the paddocks to the hay fields. Flocks of them would break off like a black cloud of bees and land in the hay field. There had to be at least 2-3 acres of  birds on the ground! It took about 10 minutes for the trees along the paddocks to empty, and for all the birds to fill the trees along the river’s edge. Shortly after that – there was silence – they all left and crossed the river – and I guess headed into the National Forest.

This has been going on for about a week. Yesterday, I was coming down the driveway and stopped to get the mail. All of a sudden, an endless black ribbon undulated across the sky above me, in a diagonal path across the road. The cacophonous roar was amazing- and the ribbon of birds seemed endless! The few crows in the sky on either side of the grackle path, seemed to be egging them on, and our resident hawk in the tree ducked out of the way.

It is amazing to watch, and I don’t know why they are here- I don’t remember this happening last year. I do remember starlings behaving in this manner all the time when we lived in suburbia. I knew, at dusk, not to be walking across the parking lot of the shopping center, because every night without fail, a cloud of starlings would descend on the trees surrounding the parking lot, to roost for the night. Patrons of the shopping center were up in arms about it – but what did they expect – the shopping center displaced these birds when the trees were eliminated to make room for the parking lot!

Here, tho, the birds, and wildlife rule! Even tho we have built on ‘their’ home, I hope that we can co- exist and learn from them. I enjoy their visits and  encourage it, while I watch from the sidelines.

Naptime for the big boys!

Naptime for the big boys!

A very small section of the flock

A very small section of the flock

Going after the deer's cracked corn

Going after the deer's cracked corn

Lift off!

Lift off!

The trees are full!

The trees are full!

Close up of a grackle I found online

Close up of a grackle I found online

All is well at Mountain Meadows today……………………………









Temps got down to the 20’s last night, with wind chills in the “I don’t wanna think about it” range!!

The winds were really blustery – scary almost- I could hear them freight training it past the windows in the dark of night. The 40 mph winds were dragging the cold in with them from the west.

When I walked out to the barn this morning – both of my antique church pews had been hurled by the wind- one had actually been lifted and rolled at least twice about 5 feet away from its original location!!  Those babies are heavy – solid wood – so you know that wind was moving!!!

The husband was stoking the fires all yesterday, and at midnite, 3am, and 6am, in an effort to stave off unnecessarily high electric bills. There is something comforting about walking back to the house from the barn, and seeing a plume of smoke rising from the chimney. Means hearth, and warmth, and home to me…………………..

These are the days that barn chores don’t appeal to me – and I wish I had some hunky hired help (other than the husband, of course-who is on the mend from recent surgery)!

The daughter was tempted to do the snow dance- the one with pj’s on inside out that is supposed to guarantee snowfall? If she did it, it didn’t work- the only thing resembling snow was the frost on my windshield this morning!

The mud and puddles from the last few days’ rains have frozen into ice chunks and black ice. I hope the horses, tho’  blanketed and fuzzy, had the good sense to come into the barn last night. The submersible water heater kept the water in the trough ice free, but the hose and pump froze again – despite my best efforts to drain all the water out of the hose. So, tomorrow, we’ll be out there with a hair dryer – heating up the pump handle, and hoping the sun will warm up the hose. If not – we’ll be filling the trough in the bucket of the tractor again (see previous post about that adventure!) The old guys need their water to wash down their hay. They are on the 5th square bale of the winter, but still beg for the few remaining bits of green grass that are out in the hay field.

The bird feeders and porch railing are loaded with seed for the wild birds. One of the local hawks has adopted a tree near the house as his roosting spot. I hope it has nothing to do with the proximity of the bird feeder and its tiny patrons!!!

Tonite’s trek to the barn, to tuck the old guys in for the night, was overseen by the stars peeking from behind the clouds. I ran out of cracked corn for the deer – had one  corn cob left that I tossed for them. I feel bad – but I will run to the co-op tomorrow to get a new supply!

The horses were in the barn – it was 20 degrees at 7pm – no doubt it will be bone chilling by midnite. I fed them, straightened out their blankets, and put down some more flakes of hay, and bid them good night.

Coming back into the warm house, I am greeted with the aroma of the wood stoves, and the gingerbread cookies I finished earlier. It’s time to get on the sweatpants, get a warm dog and a hot cup of tea, and settle in for the night……………….

All is well at Mountain Meadows tonite…………..

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It’s almost 2009, do you know where your life is???……………….Oprah


 

Rain, rain....

Rain, rain....

 

It’s another not quite November-like morning again. The rain fell most of the night, keeping the temperatures higher than is normal for this time of year! The other night we had an inch and a 1/4 of rain. I put blankets on the horses, because it was rather chilly that night. The blankets have been laid out in the barn for two days drying!!! I HAVE to get a blanket rack installed!!! I have them draped over trash cans and bins, and have to keep shaking them out, to prevent the mice from taking permanent residence!!! It doesn’t take those little buggers long to find a snug place to call their own!! Everything in the barn that we DON’T want mouse holes in is hung on the wall whenever possible!

The little mice have become quite brazen- they scurry just out of reach whenever I enter the barn, but within a few minutes, their tiny little heads with big black eyes are watching my every move – waiting for a crumb to fall. I think they have become accustomed to the tiny slivers of apples or carrots I leave for them in the winter. I confess, I am my own worst enemy!! We would have mice in the barn anyway, but leaving little snacks for them just invites their friends and neighbors!!!

One little field mouse got trapped in a plastic bin the other day. It’s not the first time – their curiousity gets the better of them sometimes!  Apparently, this little guy had been checking out the horse blanket (see, I told you!), and slipped into the bin it was draped over. I never noticed him until it was almost too late!!! I came back from the co-op with two 50 lb bags of horse feed, and was just about to drop one of the bags into the bin. I happened to notice mouse droppings, so grabbed the bin to shake it out. There in the corner was a tiny little field mouse, staring up at me. That was a close call!!! He was pretty calm about the whole situation,not realizing how close he came- until I took the bin outside. Then he was attempting an escape, which had been, and was, futile, due to the slippery plastic of the bin. I gently tipped his prison over, he took one look over his shoulder and was gone!!! Running from one spot to another – always stopping in a place that shielded him from overhead view- til he made it back to the barn!!! Their survival instinct keeps them in ‘duck and cover’ mode whenever they are outside!

They have good reason to be so careful- their place in life is to be little hors d’oeuvres in motion for snakes, and winged predators.

Just this morning, I heard the ‘screee’ of one of our resident hawks. I couldn’t see him, but he was having breakfast somewhere nearby! The daughter has seen him more than I – she says he regularly swoops down past the front window, getting breakfast off the front fields. His diet does not include the birds who visit my feeder. I have seen mourning doves sharing the view from the telephone lines with the hawk- they and the hawk are lined up down the line – and he pays them no mind! The blue jays take time out from their meal to scream obnoxiously and divebomb him- their bravado quite impressive – considering what those hawk’s talons could do to the jays, if he was so inclined!

Thursday evening’s rain left an almost impermeable fog draped over Mountain Meadows and the whole Gap area. This morning’s fog was washed out by last night’s rain, a few remnants still caught on the tips of the mountains. The balmy air will probably last thru today, and that wind eerily whistling by, will drag in the typical November weather.

After running the morning errands, and feeding the horses, today will probably be a good day to help the husband clean the basement. The neighbor is giving us a huge woodstove he no longer needs, and we have to clear the clutter away! When installed, that basement stove, should heat the entire downstairs, with vents sending heat to the main floor. I am looking forward to that!

 

Time to get off the computer, and get on with the day!!!

All is well at Mountain Meadows this wet Saturday morning…………………

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Don’t forget – leave a comment about your favorite Christmas memory, and be entered the random drawing on December 1st, for a wonderful free goodie box!!

 https://ooglebloops.wordpress.com/2008/11/12/christmas-memories-giveaway/

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