Sunrise Birding Walk – Feb 15

18 02 2009

Another fun day out on the local walk. I arrived at Sherwood Island to hear the group declaring that there was a hawk stuck in the tree in the parking lot and asking whether we should get on the phone to a rehab specialist that I know. I could see the hawk was flapping around, but as I swung my scope into action to see what exactly the hawk was caught on, I realized it wasn’t caught on anything but rather was trying to get at something in a hole in the tree.

The Red-shouldered Hawk was flapping around the hole trying to get into it with his talons and then stopping every now and then to appraise the situation. It was amazing to watch and as the bird peered into the darkness, moving it’s head side to side to better appraise how to deal with the problem, it’s easy to see how they mold the actions of dinosaurs in movies like Jurassic Park when you see that kind of behavior. Eventually the bird lunged in and for a while it had the squirrels tail and was trying to yank him out using it’s beak ,but without much luck. As with most raptors the real strength lies in their talons and it eventually gave up on the meal and departed.

When I told my wife the story when I got home she said that she felt happy for the squirrel but kind of sad for the hawk as it was going hungry. I knew how she felt even though I am not a huge squirrel fan (especially when they wreck my feeders). It was an amazing episode to watch though and one of those incidents that you just feel lucky to stumble on.

It made me think of an incident a few years back at Sherwood when I had hiked in early to to be there at dawn and had seen a skunk scuttling back towards its daytime den. Spotting the mammal crossing open ground, one of the young resident Red-tails had noticed the seemingly easy meal and was swooping in for the kill. As I watched it close in on the skunk the skunk turned and gave it an almighty spray from its scent glands and the hawk visibly stalled in its attack path. The hawk recovered fairly quickly and renewed it’s attack but was met with another accurate burst and again it reeled backwards, after a third squirt the hawk quite obviously realized it had bitten off more than it could chew and decided to go look for a slightly more defenseless meal, at which point the skunk headed on it’s merry way home.  Apparently Great Horned Owls and Red-tails are the skunks most common predators. I would guess that the irritant factor (which can even cause temporary blindness) of the well directed spray was enough to deter this hawk. It’s these kind of fascinating things that you feel blessed to see when you are out in nature.

The rest of the walk was fun but with nothing Earth shattering in the way of birds. We had a couple of chipping Yellow-rumped Warblers that were new arrivals at Sherwood but probably weren’t early migrants but lingering fall birds that had wandered in from somewhere. The blackbirds however were migrating and those first flocks of Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are to me the first real gauge of the beginning of spring. It’s a great moment when you get those first flocks winging their way north and as they move during the day, unlike many of their passerine brethren, they are a real visual sign of an exciting spring to come. Other highlights on the day were an adult Bald Eagle that I think Mike and Katie spotted first at Southport Beach and the regular (but still uncommon in North America) Lesser Black-backed Gull at Burying Hill Beach.

Post walk I stumbled upon a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a somewhat unexpected sound on a still cold February Day (listen here) and an adult Kumlien’s (Iceland) Gull at Compo Beach in Westport (see dreadful pictures below). It was cool to see this adult as I haven’t seen that many previously. Obviously with gulls structure plays a key element in IDing the birds and this one has the typical dove like rounded head, cute expression as well as the small bill and longish primary projection.

Trip List

Horned Grebe, Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Goldfinch, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, DE Junco, Common  Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, House Sparrow



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