Monday, December 8, 2014

A leg to stand on



As a kid I read a story about a king. This king loved to eat.  He had the finest chef in the land prepare his many daily meals. His appetite ruled his wealth and the king sent purveyors to the far corners of the world for the best of things to eat.  Every manner of creature was fair game for the kings table.  The chef dutifully prepared every dish for the king. One of these meals was so good that the chief could not resist tasting a sumptuous exotic bird he had prepared.  A Flamingo. 

The chef could not resist the aroma. One small taste lead to another and another and before he knew it he had eaten a whole leg.  With juice running down his face the chef heard the king demanding his meal.  The chief panicked. He knew the king wasn't the kinda guy that wrote unfavorable reference letters. There were not other dishes ready to go so the chef covered up the missing leg the best he could and served the bird hoping the king would not notice.  

With great fanfare the Roasted Flamingo was paraded in to the king. When the cover was removed the  king and court gasped. The king became enraged when he saw the one legged bird on the plate and demanded punishment for whom ever took the leg. 

The chef wanted to keep his head as well as his job and quickly pointed out that Flamingos were a one legged bird.  He directed the king’s attention to the sleeping flamingos in the nearby fountain. They were all standing on one leg. Bla, bla, bla.  The king relaxed and ate his meal and the chief kept his head.

It was a lame story so I started to ask people in my life why birds stood on one foot.  I found that there were three schools of thought on the topic.

One foot was either cold or tired.
Because they can.
And last but not least, Why do you care?

 So why do birds stand on one leg? For that matter why do they chose to stand on ice or in water?  From recent personal experience as a new yoga student it’s not easy.  Yet birds do it in their sleep, with their head under their wing with one eye open!  Or did you think there were really one legged birds in the world?


Making it look easy.


Great Blue Heron



Red Knots


Chinese Goose. 
This bird flocked through with a band of Crackling Geese a few years ago.  


               Extremely wary and completely wild this once barnyard bird seems defies gravity.



Canada Goose. Big birds do it just as easily as the smaller ones.




Red Tail-Hawk.  
Talons aren't a problem either.


Great Blue Heron.  
This bird takes it's nap the on the very edge while on one leg!

NAMASTE!


Gull playing wind vane.


Double Crested Cormorant.  
With thick stubby legs set so far back on the cormorants body they can barely walk yet work just as well and any other.


Female Mallard. 
Peeking with one eye while napping.

So if you have two feet you can lift one any time you want.  What if you only have one foot?


American Robin

During a migration wave of American Robins headed south a few years ago I noticed this female.
She lingered at the fountain trying to perch and not fall in.  The other robins pushed her around without mercy.  They didn't seem to do it intentionally, she just couldn't be as aggressive.

Predator, injury, deformity or disease, your guess is as good as any.

Good new, bad news


Canada Goose with healed shotgun wound.

Geese and ducks on the other hand have something nature had not planned on. Steel shot pellets. With lead shot being banned many years ago the number of injured waterfowl surviving being shot has increased. The steel replacing lead in shotgun shells is not as dense but is non toxic.  Birds wounded have a better chance of surviving if the don't have to deal with lead poisoning while recovering. I'm sure this would start an argument in a few circles but each January I find a number of waterfowl that show foot, leg and wing injuries.  I have seen several Canada Geese with foot and wing damage survive for months while recovering near the local dam.  Eventually the Bald Eagles ate every one.  This Canada Goose has survived a serious hit to the undercarriage.  S/he was with a small flock of twelve other "whole" geese and had no trouble keeping up the pace as they grazed across the lawn under the flag pole on Fort Lewis.   


This Drake Mallard has a very hard time walking and swimming.  His injury appeared to be fresh so his fate is unknown.

Moral of our silly story,
Chef, good job on the quick thinking.  King, pay attention. 

New question.
Did Tyrannosaurus Rex and their kin sleep standing on one foot?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Hate, Hate Relationship

My last blog was about an Eagle unsuccessfully ambushing an Osprey for a fish.

http://birdmandea.blogspot.com/2013/10/my-enemies-enemy.html

This blog is a closer look at those two birds and their families.






Remember these two? They are the resident breeding pair I have been writing about for a few years now.







In the past seven years they have raised fourteen offspring. Each year has been getting harder. Seven years ago a pair of osprey built the first nest on a train bridge I have watching since 1975. The distance between them surprising close. 570 yards. (Measured with an app on a tablet device). I could only make out two offspring, do not know if they fledged.

Six years ago I witnessed the eagle pair and the osprey pair engaged in battle just feet above the water. For the next three weeks the male osprey flew up and down the length of his territory carrying branches and fresh fish while screaming endlessly. Looking for his mate? I never saw her again. Late in the summer the male found a new mate, they sat on the bridge, collected sticks but didn't have any young.

Five years ago a pair nested on the bridge while 2.5 miles inland a pair of osprey nested on a cell tower behind a local KFC.

Four years ago both of the above as well as a third pair with a new nest on pilings of an old pier one mile up the coast.

And for each of the past three years a fourth pair of osprey built a nest on the train bridge just yards from the first nest. In the past three years alone in this 2.5 mile arc six bald eagle chicks and anywhere from four to sixteen osprey chicks. The mortality rate of both bird species are high the the first few years but playing the odds the osprey are winning. If winning is an appropriate term.

In July of this year I was watching the eaglet pair exercise their wings and take short flights from tree to tree. The male sat high on his overlook as the female flew North up the canyon. The male let out an occasional scream as the two young eagles both made their way back to the nest.







Time passes differently when watching animals. I scanned and fiddled with camera settings and scanned some more. I looked up and the male eagle was gone. I heard screaming but it wasn't and eagle....rabbit?If you have ever heard a rabbit scream you know what I am saying. A rabbit screaming up in the air? Yep. The fastest rabbit in Western Washington.

The female circled in front of the nest five times calling to the eaglets to follow. The rabbit was running at full speed and screaming its lungs out. The female took the rabbit and flew back up the canon calling back to the young. Neither made a move.

I lifted my glasses and stuck my face to the back of the camera to look at the pictures of the eagle and rabbit.

Seconds in to my drooling over my pictures I heard a panicked screaming of the male eagle. As I looked up a female osprey was hot on his tail both coming from the direction of the two nests on the train bridge. The eagle was flying flat out when the osprey hit it the first time. The eagle tumbled head first. This was where I thought to my self, self USE THE BIG ASS CAMERA YOU HAVE BEEN CARRYING EVERYWHERE !






The camera is shooting eight frames per second. The male eagle's wing span is about six feet or a little more.






This is the first pass photographed. I missed the first two.

Here is the start of the next sortie.






The eagle was screaming and panicked. Twisting and turning violently. If I were watching two people arguing in the say way I would say the eagle was pleading for mercy and trying everything possible of get the hell out of this situation but doing what it needed to do to fend off the talons.







I thought the eagle was going to catch a break here he might have too when she pulled up so high. That ended pretty quick when the osprey turned.

























Four frames. One eagle wing beat. One half second.






I would conservatively say the osprey was traveling 50MPH+. Possible faster if we could calculate the curved angle as it looks as if the osprey is traveling from us toward the eagle. 60+? 70+?

These attacks were relentless. The eagle made a run for his high perch. The osprey dropped out of site on the far side of the ridge.

But it wasn't over.






Full speed full attack! Look at those talons!





This pass unseated the eagle and he fell from the tree. The instant he got back up...





She was there.











This time both fell back over the ridge line and were gone. If the fight continued I don't know. Both did survive and have been seen many time since in good shape.

What ever the eagle did over the ridge it was something the osprey was sure to point out was not going to be happening again anytime

Watching wildlife is great but most of the time it's pretty static. Here in a hand full of pictures covering several heartbeats life and death struggles play out so fast if you blinked you may have missed it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Fog Rise Owl

This morning we had a typical Southern Puget Sound "fog rise". Cold clear nights under a high pressure front leading to thick fog in the mornings. It was 8 AM, light enough to see but too gray to see colors as I stepped outside to let my ducks out of their hut. Two Steller's Jays were screaming from the Filbert tree over the hut. This happens nearly every morning. I had figured it was a local Barred Owl or Cooper's Hawk roosting in Cedars behind the a Filbert tree.

As I peered over the gate into the duck's yard my eyes locked on a visitor's eyes.



The Jays were harassing him/her from the cover of the Filbert but it was too dark to see them. I quietly pulled back from the gate and rushed into the house to grab the camera.



S/he was still there when I got back!


The camera was on a preset I had programmed just for this situation. Through my big lens these pictures were taken at 1/15 of a second with the ISO pushed up to 3200. If you don't know what that means that's OK. It was dark. Many of the pictures I took were blurred and deleted.


So after bracing the camera on the fence for the good stills I got I took a chance with a flash.



Cool. Still there. One more.



Three more jays arrived and the owl was surrounded. At the trunk of the tree to the left of the owl's head is a jay in the shadows.



Blur away.

S/he moved deep into the cover of the cedars. They jays kept up their harassment well past 10am before moving on.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Enemies' Enemy

There are a trio of Osprey nests north of my house and a favorite fishing location for some of the adults  to the south. During this summer Osprey made dozens of sorties to and from. Return trips included a variety of fish. Young salmon, small Starry Flounder and ugly green bumpy fish were the most common. Others were too difficult to identify.   The Osprey were often followed by Bald Eagles some distance behind both coming and going. Where ever you find Osprey you will find Bald Eagles looking to steal from them.

My resident family of crows took offense to the first few intrusions when the Osprey first returned from the south but quickly recognized them as no threat.  Bald Eagles, Ravens and Red Tailed Hawks were rarely given a free pass. My clan of crows is just one of dozens along this flight path.

On a beautiful Sunday morning and an Osprey flew South overhead. I walked into the house grabbed a coffee refill, the camera and a chair on my way back out.   I adjusted the camera for the conditions settled in and few sips later a large southbound eagle appeared. Instantly two of the three crows were on her. She turned to the east and took cover in the tall Douglas Firs that crest the ridge line.






Just moments later a north bound Osprey appeared. She was higher then normal and climbing fast. As I found her in the viewfinder I saw why. The eagle that had just passed was ambushing her.




The Osprey had a pretty good altitude advantage going into this ambush but the prize in her talons was now a serious problem.





It only took a few powerful wing beats and the eagle closed the gap. The Osprey increased her angle and began spiraling clockwise upward. This cut her airspeed and the eagle closed to within inches of the flounder.




A change of tactics was needed and needed fast. The Osprey turned sharply and began to spiral downward counter clockwise toward the east.








At first this maneuver gave the osprey a burst of speed that left the eagle far behind. Once the eagle nosed down she closed that gap in seconds.
















The Osprey has had to deal with this before and while fancy flying might eventually get her safely home with her fish. She had a better idea.




She simply flew head on into the trio of pissed off crows rising up to drive the eagle away.





























After a couple orbits to "rest" the Osprey pulled up sharply into another clockwise spiral. In these few moments in crows cut the corners and closed in on the Eagle.












Too much work for the Eagle. The Osprey kept her fish. The Crows defended their home front. The Eagle reset the trap. This drama played out several times this summer. Following the same basic flight path the attacks varied with the Eagles sometimes chasing Osprey that did not carry fish. But they only attacked them as they headed North, toward the nests of both.

You never know who your friends are.