Monday, July 20, 2009

Just an Average Day

For me personally, almost every day in June was a survey day, beginning at dawn. The sunrises were glorious! I was able to watch ‘my’ Cooper's Hawk nests evolve from an incubating female to a little ball of white fluff, to a full-fledged teen-aged bird. Although June is our most intense month it also is the most rewarding. Here are just a few of the wonders that I witnessed.

Photo by Doug Brown

I was actually fortunate enough to see a prey delivery to the cavity in a large snag that held a Rio Rancho American Kestrel family. Most often, all we can verify is that there is a territory because the cavities are so well concealed. When I returned last week, all five of the newly fledged youngsters were learning to fly under the watchful eyes of their parents. At this point, you’d have to be deaf to miss them, for they shrieked with every wingbeat, although it is unclear if they were shrieks of sheer terror or sheer joy. One of the little fellows even had the audacity to stoop on me, and then rise up and hover on the gentle breeze. I called David Powell, our favorite volunteer photographer, who hastened out the following morning, but for naught. By then, the young birds were confident in their day-old skills, and no more hilarity ensued.

Out at one of the Neutron Energy sites, a Loggerhead Shrike announced its presence as I approached, seeming more distressed than normal. So, I watched and waited. Shortly, another shrike flew from one of the dozens of juniper trees there, issuing warning calls as it made a hasty departure. A quick walk over to look revealed seven naked shrike babies all huddled together in their nest. A return trip two weeks later found the shrike family out and about with the young practicing landings and take-offs; however, without all the shrieking.

Loggerhead Shrike. Photo by Dave Herr.

Also at the Neutron Energy site, a female Cooper’s Hawk fiercely defended her nest. It should have contained hatched young, but none could be seen above the nest rim. We walked around and around but no little, white, fuzzy heads were visible. Of course, when the parents begin cacking and calling, the young flatten out in the nest and become virtually invisible. However, beneath the nest were the telltale white specks of white-wash that confirmed hatch. Eventually, we saw the barest movement of one white cottonball head. At least one in that nest. I can’t wait to get back.

Adult Cooper's Hawk. Photo by David Powell.

A Great Horned Owl sailed down a deep drainage in pinyon-juniper country, spied by my colleague, Jenny Lisignoli. Further searching revealed a mother and child combo with fluffy down on the ‘ears’ the only clue as to the age of the young one.

Great Horned Owl Fledgling. Photo by Jenny Lisignoli.

Not all of my observations were of the avian sort, though. As I pulled up to begin my survey at another of the Neutron Energy sites, I spied what looked like a very large cat in the distance, just sitting on the dirt road that divides the site. Just a little too far away to determine its species, I was hoping it wasn’t a mountain lion since I’d be walking a fair distance and would be alone for the duration. The cat didn’t seem to be too worried about me, but sank down onto its haunches to have a good look. Out came the scope and tripod, so I could return the scrutiny. The magnificent bobcat and I held each other’s gaze for what seemed like an eternity, but I figured I’d watch as long as the cat did. Then, a coyote appeared in the distance, creeping up ever-so-slowly on the cat as if it were going to strike. The coyote approached within a few feet before the cat turned on it and the coyote backed off, but not very far. Perhaps there had been a kill and leftovers remained. Eventually, the cat sauntered off, unconcerned about the two of us, the coyote and me. The coyote immediately checked out the area where the cat had been sitting, and I did too, but much later, after surveys were done for the day. No evidence remained.

And then there were the tires! The first one blew out on Santa Ana going around a corner in soft sand. Triple A to the rescue, and I considered myself very lucky. The second tire blew on the way back from the Neutron Energy site, opposite the driveway of the first house in the village of Seboyeta. We pulled into the driveway, the most level spot, to change it, and as luck would have it, my new friend, Rich, with the dream garage from heaven, offered to help. I couldn’t believe my luck this time – and, you know the rest of this story! I did go home with dirty fingers at least from lowering the spare to the floor of the garage.

Just a day in the field - many of them! Sometimes, I have to pinch myself just to make sure that my real life isn’t just a fantasy!