Shallow Thoughts : : nature

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 27 May 2021

Backyard Wildlife Drama, with Chipmunk

[Least chipmunk] This year, we've been lucky enough to have a chipmunk hanging around our garden. I feed a lot of birdseed on the ground or a platform feeder: most of the birds here seem to prefer ground-scattered seed to hanging seed feeders. Sometimes the ground feeding backfires: this year I'm buying seed at a furious rate because a flock of about 25 mourning doves have discovered our yard. I thought I liked mourning doves, which in recent years have seemed to be losing out to the larger white-winged and Eurasian collared doves ... but 25 is really too much of a good thing.

Where was I? Oh, yes, chipmunks. Usually they prefer the canyon's edge, about a mile away; we get rock squirrels here, but no tree squirrels and seldom chipmunks. So we were very happy when one took up residence here earlier this spring and became a regular visitor to our seed station, as well as running along the brick wall outside my office.

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[ 18:02 May 27, 2021    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 15 May 2021

Squabbling Tenants

They keep telling us what a serious housing problem Los Alamos county has. Especially low-income housing.

Well, I just saw it for myself, from the landlord's perspective. I was awakened at six this morning by two tenants squabbling over a low-rent apartment.

It started when one of the ash-throated flycatchers, who just arrived this week, landed on the railing outside the bedroom, making its typical chip-chip-churrup call. But then it changed to a different call, one I'd never heard before, a low and insistent repetitive trill.

But the nest box on that deck was already occupied by a pair of mountain chickadees. The chickadees have been there more than a week and are clearly not interested in vacating, even for a flycatcher twice their size. They made their kissy-noise chickadee call right back at the flycatcher, and the flycatcher eventually gave up and flew away.

Fortunately, unlike the county's problem, this one is relatively easily solved. There's another nest box, which I think is still unoccupied this year, just below the garden fence.

I guess, like the county, I should consider adding more subsidized housing. I could have sworn I bought a third nest box when I bought those two, and never got around to putting it up, But I can't find it now. I guess it's time to buy or make another nest box or two.

It's a nice problem to have. When I first bought these birdhouses, I didn't really expect I'd get any takers. But in the six years I've had them, they've hosted at least one nest each year, sometimes two or three. in addition to ash-throated flycatchers and mountain chickadees, they've also Bewick's wrens also use them.

Although they're sold as bluebird boxes, I've never had a bluebird use them; bluebirds fly over and sometimes stop for a drink, but they don't hang around or breed. I know there are skillions of bluebirds over in Pajarito Acres, only a few miles away, but I'm not sure how to entice them to hang out here. They're bug eaters and not interested in seed. A few voices on the 'net suggest that commercial bluebird boxes are designed for eastern bluebirds, and western bluebird boxes should have a slightly larger hole. So far I've been too lazy to do anything about that, but I do have woodworking tools, including a set of hole saws and Forstner bits. Maybe I'll put that on the to-do list for this week. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the chickadees and flycatchers.

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[ 09:13 May 15, 2021    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 16 Mar 2021

A Junco Goes "Umbrella Fishing"

One memorable sequence from Sir David Attenborough's stellar Life of Birds documentary is that of a black egret (or black heron -- I've seen both, but aside from color it looks remarkably like the North American snowy and reddish egrets), "umbrella fishing".

[grey-headed junco, 'umbrella fishing'] I never thought I'd have a chance to see that in person. But it turns out black herons aren't the only birds to do that. This winter, we saw a grey-headed junco doing essentially the same thing in our back yard!

This little junco performed its umbrella trick almost like the black heron from Life of Birds, though it didn't hide its head underneath. Still, it might some day: it was still perfecting its technique as we watched over the course of a couple of weeks.

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[ 14:38 Mar 16, 2021    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 05 Jan 2021

A Golden ... Redtail?

[Red-tailed hawk impersonating a golden eagle] We were flying R/C planes at the soccer field at Overlook on Sunday morning when somebody asked, "What's that bird doing there?" There was a big bird sitting in the middle of the field. It looked like some sort of raptor. I keep a monocular in my flying case (it's not the first interesting bird to show up at the flying field), so I pulled it out. The bird had its back to me, but hmm, big raptor, all dark brown except for golden feathers on the neck and a few light ones on the back ... "Hey, guys, I think that's an immature golden eagle!"

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[ 10:12 Jan 05, 2021    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Wed, 19 Aug 2020

W is for Whiptails

[Maybe a New Mexico Whiptail] Late summer is whiptail season. Whiptails are long, slender, extremely fast lizards with (as you might expect) especially long tails. They emerge from hibernation at least a month later than the fence lizards, but once they're awake, they're everywhere.

In addition to being pretty to look at, fun to watch as they hit the afterburner and streak across the yard, and challenging to photograph since they seldom sit still for long, they're interesting for several reasons.

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[ 19:56 Aug 19, 2020    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 30 Jul 2020

T is for Tame

[Tame grey jay] A couple of weeks ago the hiking group tackled Deception Peak, above the Santa Fe ski area.

It's a gorgeous hike, and one I'd wanted to do for years. Every year the group hikes up to Nambé Lake, at about 10,826' elevation, which I've always considered one of the most beautiful of our regular hikes. And every time I'm there, I look up at the rocky peaks above, and wonder what it's like up there. Now I finally know.

While on our way up the mountain, we were welcomed by a crew of grey jays begging near the trail. Grey jays are sometimes known as "camp robbers" because they're so tame and bold. They've learned that humans are a good source of food, and they're happy to swoop down and take it from you, or, if you're slow about offering the goods, to sit on a branch next to your head scolding you.

I dug some nuts out of my pack ...

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[ 11:19 Jul 30, 2020    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 26 Jun 2020

P is for Ponderosa (and Piñon too)

[ponderosa: only mostly dead] In dry years like this one, hiking the trails you see a lot of dead ponderosas. It's so sad, thinking of the loss of beautiful, tall trees like that.

Several years ago, someone who researches trees told us that even when ponderosas look dead, they may just be conserving resources. They might still bounce back in the next wet season. It's hard to believe, when you see a tree covered entirely with brown, dead needles. I confess, I didn't believe him.

But then we had a wet season, and I started seeing miracles.

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[ 09:44 Jun 26, 2020    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 06 Jun 2020

N is for Nestlings

A pair of mountain chickadees have a nest in the nest box I set up outside the bedroom window.

[Mountain chickadee] I first saw them bringing food to the nest almost a month ago, May 10, though I'm not sure if they were bringing food to a nest-sitting parent, or if they were feeding chicks that had already hatched.

Chickadees at a nest are quick-moving: they flit up to the hole and immediately enter, not lingering on the threshold like ash-throated flycatchers or Bewick's wrens, both of which have used this nestbox in past years. So it's not easy to get photos of chickadees at the nest box. So instead, here's a photo of a mountain chickadee from several years ago.

Since May 10 there's been plenty of activity, chickadees flying in and out, bringing food and carrying away fecal sacs.

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[ 11:07 Jun 06, 2020    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]