Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Near Miss, A Life Lost, A Life Saved

There was a great deal of excitement at the house this morning! The yard was filled with birds and squirrels and suddenly, a very large, gray bird--not the same one that's been visiting my patio the past few weeks--smacked into my bedroom window. I think it was a hawk because it was gray with white markings and its tail fanned out. I was horrified by the thought that this large, beautiful creature might be injured. I ran out my bedroom door and a squirrel came around the corner and started up my pant leg, then ran back down! As I said, it was a very busy day!

The gray bird flew into the forest. I checked all over for feathers or blood on the window and ground, but there was none. Then suddenly, a Mockingbird flew up from the ivy beneath my bedroom window and into the tree just a few feet from my head. I could see that it was trembling. I checked it carefully, walking around it, to see if it was injured. It didn't appear to be injured, just very frightened.

I stood beside it for a long time. I think, for some reason, this brought the bird comfort. It must have sensed that the hawk wouldn't come back while I stood outside. The Mockingbird stayed by my bedroom window at least an hour. I was greatly relieved when it finally calmed itself enough to fly away. The Mockingbirds don't usually hang out at the food dish. They prefer to sit in the trees. The hawk must have been chasing it for some distance. I was surprised that it knew to seek safety at the house.

I strung shiny ribbons and colored feathers across the picture windows today to prevent bird strikes--sometimes, particularly during mating season, the birds see their own reflection and attack the windows. Sometimes the windows reflect the trees and the birds fly into the glass and injure themselves.

I was looking out the window of the guest room when I noticed one of my precious grapevine sparrows on the windowsill, dead from a strike. I was heartbroken. I gathered her up with tissues, a small prayer card and some seed, and buried her beneath the wysteria as I said a prayer and thanked God for the short time she was here to brighten our lives. In the four years we have been here, I have buried five little birds and a turtle beneath the wysteria. I have been told by my neighbors that this isn't bad considering we live in a round house with gigantic windows in every room, but it's six too many creatures for me.

Oddly enough, I had just taken the fake owl down. I was going to pack it away because we are moving. I put it back up beneath the plastic cup that the squirrels and doves like so much. A few minutes later there was a squirrel eating out of the cup directly above the owl's head. Obviously they find it very intimidating.

But the story doesn't end here. As I was burying her, I kept having this odd "feeling" that an animal was in trouble. I've had this feeling many times before. Sometimes, I never find an answer. Most of the time, though, the answer is in the pond in front of the guest bedroom.

I returned to the guest bedroom pond. Sure enough, there was a baby lizard belly up in the pond, and apparently in so long it had turned a turquoise blue. I've saved so many lizards before, though, and it's always worth the time to try and save one of God's blessed little creatures. I gathered it up from the rocks at the bottom of the pond. It was very still. I held it in my hands and waited half an hour, praying, holding the little creature in the sunlight. Suddenly, I felt it start to breathe. I could see its tiny stomach moving on the sides.

The baby lizard sat on my hand another hour, at least, as I sat in the sunshine, enjoying my birds. When I tried to put it down, it clung desperately to my finger, so I continued to sit in the sunshine, listening to the birds, waiting until the little lizard was ready. I finally convinced it to crawl onto a rock.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Love Vultures

Every night, as I stand on the roof photographing the sunset, two black vultures fly over my head and over the forest. They land on a tower and watch the sunset, then come back into the forest as I'm climbing down the ladder.

Tonight, I photographed them on their post. Then, after the sun was down, I took another picture. One of the vultures flew up and in a circle, then back to the other, trying to land on the wire. The next picture I took, the vulture is squatting on the wire next to his mate. A short time later, I watched as they flew back into the forest behind my house.

I sincerely believe they are watching the sunset.

I photographed three lizards today. The large bedroom patio lizard was by the back door. I stepped onto the patio to take some pictures of a flock of white winged doves in the front trees and spooked the lizard who went scampering up the wall through the ivy and spooked me!

I took a walk this afternoon without the dogs. As I walked through the grass, dozens of little sparrows flew up and around me, then landed in the grass a few feet away. They followed me most of my walk. I think they might be grasshopper sparrows. I can't even explain how wonderful it feels to have a flock of tiny birds flutter around you as you walk through the grass.

We have found a buyer for this home. I am sad, and yet, I am eager to meet a whole new set of blessed little creatures in New Mexico. And, God has truly answered my prayers with this couple. They love the little creatures, too!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Vulture Eating Frenzy

My husband and I were driving through Marble Falls this afternoon when we saw six vultures on a roof of a business in Marble Falls. I got out of the car with my camera and noticed a nearby tree with ten more and a house across the creek with another four on the roof. I walked onto the porch of the business and saw fifteen more near the road, all around one skunk. There was even more birds circling around in the sky and a few perched on posts. I've never seen anything like it.

I stood on the grass taking pictures and decided to move closer. I walked up the porch and the birds on the roof turned to look at me, but didn't seem nervous. In fact, they seemed interested in what I was doing! Then Suddenly, one of the flying birds landed on the grass and the other birds became agitated. Another bird flew off the roof onto the grass, and within seconds it was a feeding frenzy with birds everywhere!

I've been a vegetarian most of my life, but it never has bothered me to watch vultures eat. To me, they are nature's housekeepers. This was strange, though. I've never seen vultures actually scrapping over food. No one ever fought, but there was so many of them, and so little food.

After discussing the event, we think what happened is one or two families spotted the food and landed, but didn't eat right away, then, perhaps, another family flying overhead also saw the skunk and started to land. It appeared as if there was at least three families, or venues--the ones on the roof of the business office, the ones across the creek in the tree and on the house roof, and the third group on the ground. I think the ones flying overhead were simply checking out the situation.

The birds across the creek in the tree and on the roof never actually involved themselves in the feeding. They watched, but made no move to join in. The only ones who were involved were the ones on the roof, on the ground, and the single bird who dropped down from the sky, but he could have been part of any one of the other families.

I guess what fascinated me the most was that, with all of those creatures, and that little piece of food, there really wasn't any fighting. There was scrambling for meat and birds flapping up and over trying to get out of the way, but no fighting. Even the little sparrows in my grapevines fight. The male cardinals around our house get into fights all the time during springtime mating season. The vultures, however, were not fighting. They were simply trying to eat.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Bedroom Patio Lizard!

I forgot to mention in the last post--this afternoon, the bedroom patio lizard ran across the patio! He didn't stay long because there was a pair of house finches eating out of the seed dish, but I would swear it is the same lizard that spent the entire summer last year sitting on the carpet. I would, too, if I were him because his color matches the carpet exactly!

The Great Backyard Bird Count and Romantic Vultures

I just submitted my final count to the Audubon Society's Great Backyard Bird Count. I participated all four days and was surprised by the results! For instance, I didn't realize we have a small flock of Juncos mixing in with the sparrows. I also didn't realize we have a lovely mated pair of house finches, American Goldfinches, and tiny brown birds the size of my finger that I cannot for the life of me identify. They are as small as hummingbirds. Today, as I stood in the yard watching the cardinals, an American Crow flew overhead calling loudly, circled around and came back to check me out. That was fun!

Another interesting experience: Every night, as I stand on the roof photographing the sunset, a pair of black vultures flies out of the forest and so close to my head I can feel the beat of their wings. I think it surprises them to find me on the roof! They fly off to one of three huge electrical towers, face the sunset, and snuggle! Seriously, they generally stand very close to each other and nuzzle each other on the neck.

I've photographed them often and watched them very closely. I do not believe they are looking for food. I think they're watching the sunset! As soon as the sun goes down, they fly back into the forest behind our house. Black vultures generally lay two eggs on the ground or in dead trees. I suspect they will do so soon in the forest behind our home and are simply taking advantage of some free time to snuggle!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tiny Birds

I was cleaning house and stepped into my bedroom in time to see a tiny gray-striped bird near the bird seed. It glanced up at me then flew away, but stayed long enough for me to know that I have never seen this type of bird before.

This is the fourth new bird I have spotted on our property in the past month. First, it was the Carolina Chickadees with the black patches on their heads. I see many of these now. They like to sit in the trees at the base of our driveway, possibly because these particular live oaks have a thick cover of leaves. The second was the mockingbird. I'm not sure if there are more than two, or if I just keep seeing the same two birds. The third is the flock of bluish-gray birds that are the size of the palm of my hand. They like to flutter up around me when I step into the backyard. And the fourth is the gray-striped bird I just found on the bedroom patio.

I suspect that the bluish-gray birds have been here for awhile and I just noticed the difference in them when I started photographing the animals around the house. Last year, I thought the baby birds that were born in the garage and live in the grapevines were following me around the house. It certainly seemed that way at times. Now, I think there are numerous flocks of birds.

I think the baby birds stay in the grapevines and fly into the forest trees to sleep at night. I think the little gray birds stay in the back yard and also fly into the forest trees at night or when they hear me walking around outside. The large birds, like the cardinals, prefer the bedroom patio and the front of the house. It's possible that the smaller birds avoid the front of the house because this is where the road runner likes to hunt. And now there is the Carolina Chickadees at the base of the driveway.

We still have four or five white-winged doves on the property, but the numbers thinned greatly as the hunting season wore on. We still hear gunshots every night, just before sunset. I don't think the birds were killed, I think they moved on to a safer place.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Large Gray Bird, Squirrels, Little Birds

I was reading in the bedroom when a large, gray bird flew onto the bedroom patio table. I reached for my camera very slowly, but they have such keen eyesight that even the slightest movement will set them in motion. The bird hopped from the bedroom patio to the table outside our picture window--it was that large that it literally hopped to the table. It most definitely was not a sparrow hawk. In fact, I don't think it is even in the hawk family. I suspect it is a falcon. It was gone before I could get a picture, but it has a large, tall, gray body. What I should have looked at was its beak, but all I could think about at the moment was getting the picture, which didn't happen.

I noticed something a few days earlier when I was in our bedroom bathroom. I stepped out of the shower in time to see a flash move through the backyard. I threw on my robe and ran to ask my husband--who was on the opposite side of the garage working on his truck--if he had seen a large animal, such as a deer, run through the forest. He didn't see a thing, but I knew it wasn't a deer. A deer never would have come so close to the house while my husband was outside with the dogs. The little birds, on the other hand, will not hesitate to hop back and forth from the forest trees to the picnic table while the dogs are outside and if a falcon was waiting in the trees, it might have taken advantage of this opportunity to grab a quick snack.

Last year, we had a few large birds visit our backyard. One was a sparrow hawk. It stayed nearly two weeks until I placed a fake owl on the back fence. The other was a much larger, faster, bolder bird, and I suspect it might have been the same bird I saw on my bedroom patio. The bird flew into the grapevines where the flock of baby birds that were born in the garage like to sit during the day. I heard frantic sounds from the grapevine all the way in the kitchen and ran out to investigate. That's when I spotted the bird in the vines. I tried to take its picture, but it flew into a nearby tree--just a few feet away! This bird was not shy of me at all! I was able to take a few shots, but the identifying features were blocked by twigs and leaves and when I managed to climb over the fence and position myself to take a better photograph, the bird flew away. I felt certain from its size and the shape of its beak that it was a falcon.

The squirrels have been rather quiet the past few weeks. I rarely see them,though I know they're out there because they've been eating the sunflower seeds and corn. If there is a large predator bird in the forest near our home, this would also make the squirrels much more cautious. However, it is also baby season and it's possible they are staying closer to their nests to watch over their young.

I was walking the dogs a few minutes ago and as I entered the backyard I heard a loud chirping, like a warning chirp, as if someone was angry that I had disturbed their snack time on the picnic table. I steadied my camera and waited near the sound for the bird to appear, and when it finally did, I was truly shocked! The bird was about the size of my finger, and making a might noise! In nature, size does not necessarily determine the fierceness of a creature!