A female hummingbird -- probably a black-chinned -- hanging out at our window feeder on a cool cloudy morning.
[ 19:04 Sep 18, 2014 More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]
A female hummingbird -- probably a black-chinned -- hanging out at our window feeder on a cool cloudy morning.
We caught another mouse! I shot a movie of its release.
Like the previous mouse we'd caught, it was nervous about coming out of the trap: it poked its nose out, but didn't want to come the rest of the way.
Dave finally got impatient, picked up the trap and turned it opening down, so the mouse would slide out.
It turned out to be the world's scruffiest mouse, which immediately
darted toward me. I had to step back and stand up to follow it on camera.
(Yes, I know my camera technique needs work. Sorry.)
Then it headed up the hill a ways before finally lapsing into the high-bounding behavior we've seen from other mice and rats we've released. I know it's hard to tell in the last picture -- the photo is so small -- but look at the distance between the mouse and its shadow on the ground.
Very entertaining! I don't understand why anyone uses killing traps --
even if you aren't bothered by killing things unnecessarily, the
entertainment we get from watching the releases is worth any slight
extra hassle of using the live traps.
Here's the movie:
The white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) is a moth the size
of a hummingbird, and it behaves like a hummingbird, too. It flies
during the day, hovering from flower to flower to suck nectar,
being far too heavy to land on flowers like butterflies do.
I've seen them before, on hikes, but only gotten blurry shots with my pocket camera. But with the pale trumpets blooming, the sphinx moths come right at sunset and feed until near dark. That gives a good excuse to play with the DSLR, telephoto lens and flash ... and I still haven't gotten a really sharp photo, but I'm making progress.
Check out that huge eye! I guess you need good vision in order to make your living poking a long wiggly proboscis into long skinny flowers while laboriously hovering in midair.
sphinx moths on pale trumpets.
One great thing about living in the country: the wildlife. I love watching animals and trying to photograph them.
One down side of living in the country: the wildlife.
Mice in the house! Pack rats in the shed and the crawlspace! We found out pretty quickly that we needed to learn about traps.
We looked at traps at the local hardware store. Dave assumed we'd get simple snap-traps, but I wanted to try other options first. I'd prefer to avoid killing if I don't have to, especially killing in what sounds like a painful way.
They only had one live mousetrap. It was a flimsy plastic thing, and we were both skeptical that it would work. We made a deal: we'd try two of them for a week or two, and when (not if) they didn't work, then we'd get some snap-traps.
We baited the traps with peanut butter and left them in the areas where we'd seen mice. On the second morning, one of the traps had been sprung, and sure enough, there was a mouse inside! Or at least a bit of fur, bunched up at the far inside end of the trap.
We drove it out to open country across the highway, away from houses. I opened the trap, and ... nothing. I looked in -- yep, there was still a furball in there. Had we somehow killed it, even in this seemingly humane trap?
I pointed the open end down and shook the trap. Nothing came out. I shook harder, looked again, shook some more. And suddenly the mouse burst out of the plastic box and went HOP-HOP-HOPping across the grass away from us, bounding like a tiny kangaroo over tufts of grass, leaving us both giggling madly. The entertainment alone was worth the price of the traps.
Since then we've seen no evidence of mice inside, and neither of the traps has been sprung again. So our upstairs and downstairs mice must have been the same mouse.
But meanwhile, we still had a pack rat problem (actually, probably,
white-throated woodrats, the creature that's called a pack rat locally).
Finding no traps for sale at the hardware store, we went to Craigslist,
where we found a retired wildlife biologist just down the road
selling three live Havahart rat traps. (They also had some raccoon-sized
traps, but the only raccoon we've seen has stayed out in the yard.)
We bought the traps, adjusted one a bit where its trigger mechanism was bent, baited them with peanut butter and set them in likely locations. About four days later, we had our first captive little brown furball. Much smaller than some of the woodrats we've seen; probably just a youngster.
We drove quite a bit farther than we had for the mouse. Woodrats can apparently range over a fairly wide area, and we didn't want to let it go near houses. We hiked a little way out on a trail, put the trap down and opened both doors. The woodrat looked up, walked to one open end of the trap, decided that looked too scary; walked to the other open end, decided that looked too scary too; and retreated back to the middle of the trap.
We had to tilt and shake the trap a bit, but eventually the woodrat gathered up its courage, chose a side, darted out and HOP-HOP-HOPped away into the bunchgrass, just like the mouse had.
No reference I've found says anything about woodrats hopping, but the mouse did that too. I guess hopping is just what you do when you're a rodent suddenly set free.
I was only able to snap one picture before it disappeared.
It's not in focus,
but at least I managed to catch it with both hind legs off the ground.
The wind was strong a couple of days ago, but that didn't deter the local house finch family. With three hungry young mouths to feed, and considering how long it takes to crack sunflower seeds, poor dad -- two days after Father's Day -- was working overtime trying to keep them all fed. They emptied by sunflower seed feeder in no time and I had to refill it that evening.
The chicks had amusing fluffy "eyebrow" feathers sticking up over their heads, and one of them had an interesting habit of cocking its tail up like a wren, something I've never seen house finches do before.
More photos: House finch chicks.
Late last week we started hearing a loud buzz in the evenings. Cicadas? We'd heard a noise like that last year, when we visited Prescott during cicada season while house-hunting, but we didn't know they had them here in New Mexico. The second evening, we saw one in the gravel off the front walk -- but we were meeting someone to carpool to a talk, so I didn't have time to race inside and get a camera.
A few days later they started singing both morning and evening. But yesterday there was an even stranger phenomenon.
"It sounds like Rice Krispies out in the yard. Snap, crackle, pop," said Dave. And he was right -- a constant, low-level crackling sound was coming from just about all the junipers.
Was that cicadas too? It was much quieter than their loud buzzing -- quiet enough to be a bit eerie, really. You had to stop what you were doing and really listen to notice it.
It was pretty clearly an animal of some kind: when we moved close to a tree, the crackling (and snapping and popping) coming from that tree would usually stop. If we moved very quietly, though, we could get close to a tree without the noise entirely stopping. It didn't do us much good, though: there was no motion at all that we could see, no obvious insects or anything else active.
Tonight the crackling was even louder when I went to take the recycling out. I stopped by a juniper where it was particularly noticeable, and must have disturbed one, because it buzzed its wings and moved enough that I actually saw where it was. It was black, maybe an inch long, with narrow orange stripes. I raced inside for my camera, but of course the bug was gone by the time I got back out.
So I went hunting. It almost seemed like the crackling was the cicadas sort of "tuning up", like an orchestra before the performance. They would snap and crackle and pop for a while, and then one of them would go snap snap snap-snap-snap-snapsnapsnapsnap and then break into its loud buzz -- but only for a few seconds, then it would go back to snapping again. Then another would speed up and break into a buzz for a bit, and so it went.
One juniper had a particularly active set of crackles and pops coming
from it. I circled it and stared until finally I found the cicadas.
Two of them, apparently mating, and a third about a foot away ...
perhaps the rejected suitor?
Near that particular juniper was a section of ground completely riddled with holes. I don't remember those holes being there a few weeks ago. The place where the cicadas emerged?
So our Rice Krispies mystery was solved. And by the way, I don't recommend googling for combinations like cicada rice krispies ... unless you want to catch and eat cicadas.
Meanwhile, just a few feet away from the cicada action, a cactus had sprung into bloom. Here, have a gratuitous pretty flower. It has nothing whatever to do with cicadas.
"There's a woodpecker sitting on the patio", Dave said, shortly after we'd both gotten up. He pointed down through the gap where you can see the patio from upstairs. "It's just sitting there. You can go down and look through the door; it doesn't seem to mind."
Sure enough, a female northern flicker was sitting on the concrete patio deck, immobile except for her constantly blinking eyes and occasionally swiveling head. Definitely not a place you'd normally expect to see a woodpecker.
Some twenty minutes earlier, I remembered, I'd heard a couple of thumps on the roof outside the bedroom, and seen the shadow of wings through the drawn shades. I've heard of birds flying into windows and getting stunned, but why would one fly into a roof? A mystery, but I was sure the flicker's presence was related to the thumps I'd heard.
I kept an eye out while I made coffee and puttered around with normal morning chores. She wasn't budging from that spot, though she looked relatively alert, keeping her eyes open even while sitting immobile.
I called around. (We still don't have internet to the house -- Comcast keeps giving us the runaround about when they'll dig their trench, and I'm not entirely convinced they've even applied for the permit they said they'd applied for three weeks ago. Maybe we need to look into Dish.) The Santa Fe raptor center had a recorded message suggesting that injured birds be put in a cool dark box as a first treatment for shock. The Española Wildlife Center said if I thought she was injured and could catch her, they could take her in.
I did suspect she was injured -- by now she'd been there for 45 minutes or more, without moving -- but I decided to give her some time to recover before going for a capture. Maybe she was just in shock and needed time to gather herself before trying to fly. I went on with my morning chores while keeping an eye out for coyotes and ravens.
For two hours she remained there. The sun came out from behind the clouds and I wondered if I should give her some shade, food or water, but decided to wait a while. Then, as I was going back to the bird book to verify what kind of flicker she was and what gender, she suddenly perked up. Swiveling her head around and looking much more alert than before, she raised herself a little and took a few steps, to one side and then the other. More head swiveling. Then suddenly, as I was reaching for my camera again, she spread her wings and flew off. A little heavily and stiffly, but both wings looked okay.
So our morning's flicker adventure has a happy ending.
Black squirrels are interesting. As far as I know, they're a color variation of the usual Eastern grey squirrel we get as our most common yard visitor here in San Jose. (For a while we got a lot of Eastern Fox squirrels, but I guess that population moved away since I haven't seen one in years.) Our native Western greys are larger and more wary, and keep to the hills and forests, never venturing down into the city.
Black squirrels have been common in Palo Alto for many decades, I'm told, but it's only in the last five or ten years that they've started expanding southward. First I would see a few in Sunnyvale and Mountain View, then a couple in Campbell, and then, finally, a few years after that, they made it here to West San Jose. (Campbell is farther south than our house, but the squirrels as they expanded their range probably moved toward the less urban hills and parks.)
This year we had our first friendly, regular black squirrel visitor. I called him Little Blackie after the pony in True Grit. He's by far the most beautiful squirrel we've ever had -- his fur glistens in the sun and looks amazingly soft. Unfortunately he's also difficult to photograph well -- the point-and-shoot tends not to focus on him very well, and he's always underexposed even when I use exposure compensation.
LB was very quick (as squirrels go) to figure out that our fencepost was a good source of walnuts, and even pretty quick to make the association that people near the office door means that another nut may appear soon. (Most squirrels take forever to figure that out, and when you come out to put up another nut, they run away and don't come back for hours.)
After a few months of regular feeding, he was tolerating us only a few feet away as we put nuts on the fencepost, and then it was a few more months before he worked up the courage to take nuts from our hands. He still doesn't linger -- he grabs the nut and runs.
This morning he was quite entertaining, when he decided I was coming out too slowly (I try not to make sudden movements when approaching wild animals) and jumped from the fencepost to run along the gate. I met him halfway, and offered the nut to him as he sat on the gate. He grabbed it, but his nervousness about being in a different place made him too hasty, and he missed his grab and the nut went bouncing down onto the driveway.
He looked at me with a bemused expression, jumped back to the fencepost and ran back along the fence -- but couldn't quite work up the nerve to run down and get the nut off the driveway. So I fetched it for him, and offered it to him up on the fence.
Nothing doing -- that was too weird. So he waited until I went back to the fencepost, whereupon he scampered right over, grabbed the nut and ran off to hang from the tree.
Wacky Blackie! Here are the best photos of him I've been able to get so far: Little Blackie, our black squirrel.
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