Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Two Fun Surprises

"What do you mean I am not considered a fun surprise?"

Today I decided to try to head east on the Coal Creek Trail system, from the Coal Creek Golf Course where I found ample parking this winter. I quickly found that the trail did not run parallel to the course, but cut away from it, and through a neighborhood towards Dillon Rd. After one wrong turn, (the trail is only identified by a wider sidewalk through the neighborhood), I managed to wind my way through the neighborhood to the "trailhead" where it emerges on the east side.
The potential of this area made the detouring walk well worth it, as it has a great stretch of riparian habitat along the creek, and an open hillside which meets the flat fields that are found north of Dillon Rd. It is an area where I often see Red-tails roosting in trees surrounding a small private pond, and in fact I had spotted a single RT Hawk perched in the trees near that pond from the farthest extent of my detour.
With about five minutes before I needed to turn back I walked along the edge of the golf course to the creek where I saw the Robin above with almost 20 of her friends, and a pair of Black-billed Magpies. (Fine and dandy, but less than I was hoping for on what was going to exceed a two mile lunchtime walk).
Then I saw:

A pair of Red-tails circling towards me, one of whom was continuously trailing both legs below. I had not seen that behavior and will be doing some reading tonight to see if this is seasonal behavior. Do Red-tails clutch one another's talons when selecting mates? Is extended leg flight a precursor to such behavior? I will post an update if I find out.
UPDATE: I took a look at the National Audubon Society's The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior by David Allen Sibley, I found the following passage:
"Some flight displays are performed by a pair, as when Red-tailed Hawks circle together and chase off an intruder. After such a display, the male floats down to the female from above and behind, dangling his feet and white thighs. As he approaches, the female dangles her feet in the same way, and the pair parachutes a few inches apart in a stately descent to a perch near their nest." p 219.
I saw the pair rising while circling in a thermal, and the arrival of the eagle prevented any stately descent to a nets site, or the copulation which is said to follow. Perhaps it was just a bit of early courting. I should note that periodically both would dangle feet, but the one (male) was persistent, and the other (female) only dropped her feet occasionally.
Unfortunately the pair managed to evade being in a single frame while in focus, so you will just have to take it from me that it was worth watching. It was becoming clear that I was going to have to rush back on my return trip and that I really needed to leave, when out of nowhere:

A darker third party arrived. Compare that wing silhouette to the Red-tails in previous posts, the wings appear uniformly broad, and show long primary feathers at the tips. As I had been watching the Red-tails had been moving towards the sun from my position. So from my position below at the time it arrived the third bird appeared uniformly dark. It could have been either a Vulture or an Eagle based on wing structure.
Here is a closer crop of the bird as it announced itself to the Red-tails:

Note the size and shape of the head and beak. A Turkey Vulture has a small, featherless, head and a small beak designed to help it pull morsels of meat from carrion. This bird has a large head, and a large thick beak. It is an Eagle, likely a Golden rather than an immature Bald Eagle based on local observation patterns, and some worse focused pictures that grabbed a hint of color from the head.
The second surprise of the day was one that I would never have appreciated until I spent some time reading the Birdchick's Blog. She started keeping bees, and through her posts regarding her experiences I learned a great deal more than I could have imagined possible. (From my perspective honey is great, it comes in a bear shaped dispenser at the grocery store).

Anyway, as I walked back towards my car I spotted yet another sign of spring:

A beehive in a hollow tree. I don't think I would have been as quick to note the bees arriving at their hive if I had not read about their habits, and I never would have noticed anything special about the slightly larger yellow patches on her legs. Just knowing that the picture is of a female bee shows that I learned a lot.
Those yellow patches are pollen baskets, and are what the bees store the pollen that they gather from flowers in on their return flight to the hive.
That is one of the great things I love about nature, reading about a behavior or species, and then getting to see it in real life. In this case I had the immediate ah-ha moment of spotting a wild hive, and then a second, when I discovered the full pollen baskets when I was reviewing my pictures. Double bonus for me!

No comments:

Post a Comment