Shallow Thoughts : tags : urban wildlife

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

Sun, 19 Jan 2014

Our black squirrel: Little Blackie

[LB, our black squirrel] We've been having occasional visits from black squirrels for maybe five years now, but mostly they're shy and don't stay long.

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.

[black squirrel LB hanging by his feet] 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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[ 11:29 Jan 19, 2014    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Wed, 14 Jul 2010

Hollow oranges

[hollow orange] Hollow oranges keep turning up on our lawn under the orange tree. Sometime we even find them still attached to the tree.

We're not sure what's eating them, but I have a theory.

A few weeks ago, I kept finding that as I walked across the backyard, something would fall out of one of the trees, either the orange tree or one of the guava trees. It was always barely viewed out of the corner of my eyes, but seemed about the size of a guava and fell and landed with about the same sound falling guavas make.

Only problem was: guava season is still three months away, and they haven't even started to grow on the tree yet.

I had speculations about what was going on, but I wasn't sure. Finally, a few days ago, I came out the office door and something fell out of the guava tree right in front of me.

It was guava sized, grey -- and furry, with a long naked tail. I got a good look at the mouse as it scooted across the grass to hide under the deck.

They're welcome to an orange now and then. We have lots of oranges. And they're polite about it -- they clean out one orange at a time rather than spoiling lots of them with small nibbles.

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[ 10:06 Jul 14, 2010    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Wed, 24 Sep 2008

Akk and the Night Visitor

Last night we spotted a masked bandit at the office door.

[Raccoon at the door] The raccoon was in a nutty mood -- or at least in a mood to eat a lot of hazelnuts and cashews.

Happily, I had the DSLR on my desk and was able to sneak some shots. Last time we were visited by raccoons I established that unlike most wildlife, raccoons definitely do notice a camera's flash, and don't like it a bit. (Most birds, reptiles, amphibians and even rodents are remarkably un-bothered by flash and don't seem to notice it at all.) So the Rebel's ISO1600 and ability to focus in dim light came in very handy. (Have I mentioned how much fun it is having an SLR again?)

The 'coon licked the nut shelf clean, then headed north to the neighbor's house. This bandit worked alone -- no partner this time.

A few more raccoon photos here.

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[ 23:44 Sep 24, 2008    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Mon, 12 May 2008

Oak wants to be a quail, or maybe a wren

[young mockingbird who thinks he's a quail or a wren] The young mockingbird fledgelings have decided they like us. Oak in particular took a liking to our backyard, and particularly the lawn. It seems he wants to be a quail when he grows up: he loves to run (not hop) around the yard, and flies only when threatened (though once he gets going, he flies quite competently). When he's not being a quail he practices being a wren, cocking his tail up the way wrens do. I managed to get couple of pictures of Oak.

Cedar likes the backyard too, but stays above ground in the chinquapin or the orange tree. In the evenings, they sing a duet, somewhat lower EEPs from Cedar and higher ones from Oak (Oak can sing two notes, but when Cedar's singing Oak takes the soprano line). Holly remains in the front yard, a distant third EEP. [goldfinch and two house sparrows at the thistle sock]

Meanwhile, I've finally managed to attract some goldfinches to the thistle sock hanging outside the office window. Photos (not good ones) here.

Update: Oak continued to play quail in the backyard for the next week, gradually spending more time flying and less time EEPing for his parents. The turning point was when Oak and Cedar discovered the sweet petals of the guava tree's flowers. It takes some flying skill to get into a guava tree: you have to hover a bit while you pick your entry spot, then power your way in. The chicks begged their parents to get them guava petals, but when the petals didn't materialize fast enough they got motivated to improve their flying skills to get their own petals. By May 22 they were pretty much fending for themselves, emitting an occasional half-hearted EEP but mostly foraging for themselves. I see them both most evenings, but I never see three chicks at one time; I may have been wrong about there being a third chick, though it certainly seemed that way on that first day.

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[ 21:46 May 12, 2008    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 08 May 2008

Feeding Fledgelings

After I wrote about the mockingbird fledgelings the other day, someone asked me how long the parents keep feeding them. I checked past blog entries -- that year they fledged on June 25, were still being fed on July 10 and were still EEPing but no longer being fed on July 20. A little over two weeks.

Two of this year's chicks, who fledged four days ago, can fly pretty well now for short bursts, but they tire very quickly and can't stay up for a long flight.

Just now, at sunset, Oak (I'm naming them for to the trees they ended up in when they fledged) flew from the oak over to the back porch roof and spent ten or fifteen minutes begging from there, in nice view of my office window. He was EEPing louder than the other chicks, and both parents were feeding him as fast as they could find bugs. Oak is as big as a towhee, and fat and fluffy, with a spotted breast and a short stubby tail less than two inches long. He still has some of that scrowly wide yellow bill that says "Feed me, mama!"

At one point a parent showed up with a pyracantha berry, but Oak was already being fed. The parent tried a little squawk, maybe to see if Cedar wanted anything, but almost dropped the berry in the process. So with an air of "oh, what the heck!" it swallowed the berry.

Then Cedar started crying from the chinquapin (or whatever the weird tree in the backyard is) and drew the parents' attention away from Oak. After another few minutes of fruitless eeping Oak decided to get some of that action and joined Cedar. Then they both flew down to the lawn, where for the first time I could see both at the same time. Cedar is a lot slimmer than Oak, but with a longer tail, maybe half the length of an adult's.

Oak was in the wildflower bed, actively hunting for food and occasionally finding something to swallow, though I don't have a lot of confidence that they were insects rather than dirt clods. Cedar wasn't hunting for food very actively, but took a few desultory pecks at the pavement and once picked up and swallowed something (a piece of a leaf, I think). Every now and then one parent would glide in from the front yard, and whichever chick noticed it first and eeped would get fed.

I haven't seen Holly today. I thought I heard some eeping from the direction of the holly in the front yard, but never definitely located the third chick.

The evening wore on, though, and the chicks have found trees to roost in for the night and have finally stopped eeping. Mom is taking a well-deserved break while Dad sings the family a lullaby.

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[ 22:00 May 08, 2008    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 04 May 2008

Chicks everywhere

It's definitely spring now! The air is filled with the cheeping of baby birds demanding feeding.

I thought we didn't have a nesting mockingbird pair this year, because there's been almost no singing. I've heard chicks cheeping from the yard across the street, but nothing in our yard.

Until today, that is. This morning, there's a mocker chick in the holly tree in the front yard and another one in the red oak in the back yard, both making noisy demands to be fed. The parents are having a hard time, between hunting and flying back and forth between the two chicks.

The chicks are staying too high up for any good photos, but they're easy to see in binoculars. They're a bit bigger than house sparrows, but still very baby-like, with short tails, fluffy spotted downy chests and big wide yellow bills. They can flutter from branch to branch pretty well, but aren't comfortable going farther than that, especially on this windy morning. I wonder if the wind explains how the two fledgelings ended up in trees so far apart?

(Update a couple of days later: turns out there are actually three chicks. One of them is confident enough to fly in the open and perch on power lines; the other two haven't moved from their respective trees.)

I'm hearing lots of California towhee pings, too (they make a noise like a submarine sonar ping) and there's a towhee pair foraging more actively than usual in the garden, so I'm pretty sure there are some towhee chicks somewhere nearby, getting ready to fledge.

After watching the fledgelings in the yard for a while, I decided to take a peek at some Peregrine falcon webcams. The IndyStar falcon-cam is easy -- two views to choose from, and it pops up a window with an image that refreshes every 30 seconds. Works everywhere. The San Jose falcon-cam is a lot trickier, since their page is loaded with elaborate "pop up the Microsoft Windows Media Player plug-in, and if you don't have that, you're out of luck" code. But Sarah and I and some folks in #linuxchix worked it out a few months ago before there was much to see: it's actually a Realplayer stream, which realplay itself can't play but vlc sometimes can: vlc rtsp://

It doesn't work every time -- I have to try it five or six times before I get anything. I'm told that this is a common problem -- RTSP streams are notorious for having problems with NAT, so if you're anywhere behind a firewall, keep cheeping with vlc and eventually the server will feed you some falcon images.

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[ 13:24 May 04, 2008    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 11 Apr 2008

A booth with a view

A local chain Mexican restaurant, Acapulco, has window booths that overlook a tiny fake pond belonging to an apartment complex. The pond is popular with mallards and Canada geese, birds that don't mind making their home in the back yard of an apartment complex. If you get there early enough to get a window booth, you can get a nice view of the birds over your meal.

I love watching the mallards splash down. Ducks are heavy birds, with fairly small wings. They have one flying speed: fast. So landing can be a bit tricky. Generally they come in with a long, shallow glide, big webbed feet outstretched. The goal is to get the feet down smoothly and use them as waterskis until you've bled off enough speed to drop down into a nice, sedate swimming position.

This is just as hard as it sounds, and the young ducks aren't too good at it, so over the course of a meal you get to watch lots of crash-landings where the waterski technique doesn't quite work and the duck goes splashing face-first into the water.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an interesting view of another aspect of duck life: sleeping. A mallard pair floated together, side by side. The female had her nead neatly tucked backward into the top of one of her wings, but the male had his head in almost a normal swimming position. The clue that he, too, was asleep was that the head never moved. But as he drifted closer, I could see something else interesting. His eye (the one on our side -- I couldn't see the other eye) alternated every two seconds between fully open, and closed with a nictitating membrate. So the eye would be open and dark for two seconds, then cloudy blue for two seconds, then open for two seconds ... quite odd!

Last night, we had an even better view than that. On the tiny rock in the middle of the pond sat a Canada goose, and next to her (I say "her" as if I could tell the difference) were goslings! Tiny, yellow, fluffy ones, lots of them, too many to count. And they must have been just hatched, because there was at least one egg still visible in the nest. The goslings were active, swarming around the mother and climbing around the rock.

But one of them was bolder than the others -- it wasn't on the rock, but in the water next to (I can only presume) the other parent. The adult goose glided sedately across the pond, the tiny gosling keeping up without seeming to try very hard.

Eventually they got to the edge of the lake, where the parent got out of the water and walked up the rocky beach to the manicured grass, where he sat down to rest. The gosling followed, clambering energetically up the rocks of the beach. But when the older goose settled down in the grass, the gosling wasn't content. It climbed up and down, from the water's edge to the grass and back to the water's edge, for the next fifteen minutes while the parent rested. Finally the adult got up and went back to the water, closely followed by the chick, and they went back to tandem swimming.

Meanwhile, the goose on the rock had settled back down on the remaining egg, and the rest of the goslings quieted down and cuddled up next to her. A lovely and tranquil scene.

South bay bird fans, check out Acapulco. Maybe the last egg has hatched by now! I never expected to wish I'd brought binoculars to a Mexican restaurant ...

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[ 10:46 Apr 11, 2008    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 03 Apr 2008


We had some new visitors to our office door this evening: a pair of raccoons! We've had opossums here a few times, but this is the first time we've seen raccoons here.

They're curious and smart: the less fearful one stands up on hind legs and takes long looks at each of us, then decides we don't seem too threatening. Then it uses one "hand" to scoop food from the shelf into the other hand, and retreats back to where the water dish is.

Its companion is a little more nervous: it comes to the door and looks in, then backs off to where it's just at the edge of the door peeking in.

They've already figured out that when the door opens, that's when more food appears, so don't retreat too far. It takes squirrels ages to get over running away when we open the door to add more food. (It may be an ominous sign that we also saw the bolder raccoon stand up tall on its hind legs and reach toward the door latch.)

They've also figured out something else: they like chocolate chip cookies a lot more than nuts.

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[ 23:55 Apr 03, 2008    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Mon, 12 Nov 2007

Little Orphan Annie

Something rustled madly in the star jasmine when I walked past. Probably just a sparrow, I thought. Ever since the sparrows discovered the squirrel nuts, there's been a gang camped out in the guava tree just outside the office door at all times.

I put it out of my mind until an hour later, when Dave reported, "There's an orphan squirrel in the star jasmine. It looks too small to be out on its own. Where is its mother?"

We put a few pieces of walnut out by the bush and watched. After a little while the youngster came out to investigate, moving very slowly and awkwardly, and sat next to the walnut pieces. It didn't sit normally: its weight was back on its tail, with hind legs stuck out in front and crossed, like a tiny squirrel Buddha.

The tiny youngster took a piece of walnut in its front paws and stared at it blankly as if wondering what to do with it. But ten minutes later we saw that it was nibbling, slowly and tentatively. It took a long time, but the orphan eventually made it through three pieces of walnut.

We provided more walnut (the fearful youngster scurried back under the jasmine) and a little dish of water and waited, but the orphan didn't reappear. An hour later, we saw a small young squirrel climbing a tree in the front yard. Could it be the same one? The baby we'd seen didn't look capable of climbing anything. Could it have been merely weak from hunger and fear, and a few nuts revived it?

The next morning, a new squirrel appeared at our feeding area in the backyard. A young female, small but confident. She was able to move both up and down fenceposts and leap from the fence to the oak tree, usually difficult maneuvers for a squirrel trainee. Surely this couldn't be the same tiny, shivering orphan we'd seen the day before?

But after finding a nut I'd left on the fence, this youngster sat in the same odd Buddha fashion to eat it.

Little orphan Annie turned out to be smart as well as agile. She caught on to the nut shelf early -- she was hanging out in the guava (whose springy branches make a great playground for a light little squirreling) when a mouse made a rare appearance, darting out from under the deck to the nut shelf to grab a nut and run back to its hole. I could see Annie's head move as she watched the mouse; I could almost imagine her eyes widening. No need to tell her twice! She was down the guava and over to the nut shelf like a flash to pick up a piece for herself.

Annie hung around for about a week after that (getting chased by Ringtail a few times) but then she stopped visiting. Life is tough for young squirrels. I hope Annie's all right, and just moved on to find a nuttier place to live.

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[ 12:39 Nov 12, 2007    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 21 Jun 2007

Notch has had her kids

Whew -- I think our resident squirrel Notch has finally had her long-overdue litter. It wasn't immediately obvious, but she's been deflating over a period of about a week. Since then she's gone off her mad burying frenzy and gone back to eating the nuts we give her.

Last week, while she was still pregnant, she was kind enough to give me a nice nut-burying exhibition right outside the office door, which I got on video. She digs a hole, places the nut in and tries to pack it down, decides it's not deep enough and pulls it out again, digs a little deeper, jackhammers the nut into place with her nose, fills in the hole then does her usual careful job of covering over the hole and arranging leaves on top of it to hide the evidence.

Then she turns and digs up a nut that was buried two inches away and eats it. Video on youtube.

In other squirrel news, on an afternoon hike at Rancho San Antonio yesterday I saw an Eastern Fox squirrel in the trees about halfway up the first leg of the PG&E trail. Foxes are an invasive species (just like Notch and her Eastern Grey friends who inhabit most of the suburbs around here), so that's not good news for the native Western Greys who have traditionally inhabited the park. I suppose it was just a matter of time, since RSA is so close to suburbia, before the non-native eastern squirrels invade and drive out the wimpy native squirrels. It'll be interesting to see whether the western greys can hold their own, or, if not, how long the invasion takes.

In non-squirrel news, we had a few very hot days last week (mid 90s) and fled to the redwood forests to escape the heat one day, and smelled that odd chlorine odor I've noticed before. The smell was fairly faint this time. I asked my Bio teacher about it in class last semester, but he didn't know what it might be, so it remains a mystery for now. I'll be tracking whether it's there on all hot days, or just some, this summer.

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[ 15:49 Jun 21, 2007    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 10 Jun 2007

Young Squirrels are Nuts!

It's springtime in the backyard! I saw a couple of mockingbird fledglings cheeping to be fed in the pyrocantha while we were having dinner last night, though we never saw the mockingbird nest. And we have a couple of California towhee fledgelings who come by to eat sunflower seeds. Mama towhee first brought them by one by one, broke the seeds up (apparently a sunflower seed is a little too big for a towhee to swallow in one piece) and fed them to the cheeping youngsters. But now they're coming by on their own, and still having some trouble breaking up the seeds, but they're making progress. Unfortunately one of the chicks hops only on one foot, apparently having injured the other already.

It's springtime for our local squirrels, too. Ringtail, the fox squirrel, is still around, and we have an occasional visit from a male fox squirrel as well. Notch, our longtime resident grey squirrel diva, is heavily pregnant. She looks like a little furry bowling pin and we keep thinking she's going to have her litter at any moment, but days pass and she continues to grow. We noticed her pregnancy some time in mid-April (it was quite visible by then), and gestation is supposed to be around 44 days, so either she's way overdue, or the books are wrong about Eastern grey squirrel gestation. (Or she's just fat and not pregnant at all, but I don't think so since her nipples are very prominent too.)

She still moves remarkably gracefully and has no trouble with leaping and climbing, unlike Nonotchka, who lumbered and waddled when she got to this stage last summer.

But the real fun is a pair of baby squirrels who showed up a week ago. We're calling the female Nova and her brother Chico (he has slonchy ears that look like Chiquita's). We have no idea who their mother is -- obviously not Notch, and we haven't seen any other female greys in quite a while. The kids wear sleek summer coats, while Notch still hasn't shed her shaggy winter fur despite the warm weather.

This pair is much bolder and more athletic than Chiquita and Ringlet were last year. They leap, they run along the fence, and they scamper headfirst down tree trunks. They don't play together much at all, the way last year's twins did, but sometimes they play by themselves. This morning, we watched in amazement as Nova played by the guava tree just outside the office door, alternating between pretend-burying of walnut shells and wild gyrations, rolls and backflips.

Best of all, I got it on video! I've set up a youtube account and uploaded a long video of her doing backflips and spins, and a shorter video of her digging and rolling.

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[ 20:32 Jun 10, 2007    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 11 May 2007

Great Deals on Brush Mouse

The previous entry covered springtime butterflies, but it's springtime in the back yard, too.

Notch (our longtime resident squirrel) is heavily pregnant. It's not slowing her down much -- she still leaps and climbs gracefully -- but apparently raging hormones in a pregnant squirrel create a desperate need to bury walnuts. She's here all day long, demanding one walnut after another. She isn't very interested in eating, only burying.

We play games. Today I handed her a walnut then raised it while she was still holding it; she hung on for a few seconds, then pulled her hind legs up, did a backflip, landed on her forelegs and scampered off, to reappear a few minutes later wanting another one.

Ringtail the fox squirrel is still with us, as is a young male Eastern grey (perhaps the father of Notch's brood?) and the most recent arrival, a male fox squirrel. But in addition, we have a new visitor we've only seen a few times: a mouse, larger than a house mouse but smaller than a black rat. It's apparently some kind of native mouse. (Good! That's much more interesting, plus it means it's far less likely to want to move inside the house. Wildlife is great fun outdoors, less fun when they want to move in with you.)

So what kind of mouse is it? Hey, no problem -- there are only thirty or forty species of native mouse in my mammals field guide! Okay, so identifying a mouse that you only see for a few seconds at a time isn't terribly easy. But one caught my eye pretty early on: the brush mouse with its long ears and habit of moving by jumping, like our mouse. I don't know for sure that this is a brush mouse, but it seems like a reasonable first guess.

When I google for "brush mouse", the links aren't that useful, but the ads are intriguing. Google presents two sponsored ads. One is a colored ad at the top of the page for a Mouse Brush, from I know someone who keeps mice -- I'll have to ask her if she has a Mouse Brush. I thought they normally kept themselves clean pretty well without needing to be brushed, but you never know, maybe those fancy longhaired mice need some help.

The second ad was over on the right and was even more interesting. It said:

Brush Mouse
Great deals on Brush Mouse
Shop on eBay and Save!

That's a relief -- if anything happens to our brush mouse, now we know where we can get a new one!

It's just amazing the sorts of things you can find on ebay.

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[ 21:53 May 11, 2007    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 01 Oct 2006

Frisky Fall Squirrelets

The cool, overcast fall weather is here (first rain of the season, too), and it's amazing how much difference it makes in the squirrels' behavior and appetites. They're hungry again! Just as Notch dropped from thirteen or fifteen nuts in a day last winter to one or two during summer (of course, she probably has plenty of other food sources aside from us), now that fall is here we had to make an emergency run to the nut store to satisfy the hordes.

The kids, Chiquita and Scrape (as Dave took to calling Ringlet after she got a scrape on her shoulder), are friskier in addition to being hungrier. Today Scrape spent most of the morning running up and down the guava tree, bounding in the air or doing front-flips for no reason, and starting tussles with Chiquita. When not tussling with her sibling, Chiquita spent most of the morning eating -- she's noticably bigger than Scrape and it's not hard to see why.

Ringtail drops by periodically to check on how the kids are doing in day care. Then she'll dig up a nut and move on. She never lingers. We try to feed her, but she has an amazing inability to see food even when she's standing right on top of it. She looks sleek and robust, so I guess she's getting plenty to eat somewhere else, but watching her nose around and still miss a nut right in front of her face, I sometimes wonder how she survives.

Notch usually doesn't drop by until afternoon, and seems to avoid the kids. Squirrels must have inhibitions about fighting youngsters (even those not their own), since she's never been hesitant to chase away any interloping adult squirrel. It'll be interesting to see how long the truce lasts between Notch and Ringtail's kids -- and how long the kids will stick together before going their separate ways.

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[ 16:20 Oct 01, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 21 Sep 2006

Squirrel Babies: Chiquita and Ringlet

A few days ago, I saw our neighbor squirrel, "Ringtail", struggling along the fence with a baby in her mouth, and hoped that she was moving closer to us so we'd get to see the babies when they got older.

My wishes were answered: the very next morning a new young squirrel appeared to play on the fence. Dave called "her" (we're not sure about gender yet) Chiquita.

It's easy to tell squirrel youngsters: not only are they much smaller than adults, but they're quite klutzy and cautious about the aerial feats that the adults do without hesitation. Chiquita was fairly klutzy, once falling out of the red oak onto the motorcycle shed (a drop of maybe five feet, which didn't seem to hurt her).

Then the following day, both Ringtail and Chiquita showed up ... with another baby. This one has a ringed tail like "his" odd-looking mom, but otherwise looks like an ordinary young grey squirrel. Ringtail took a few nuts then disappeared, leaving the kids at nursery school (a role which we're only too happy to fill). We think they hang out in the atlas cedar in the front yard when they leave here.

We've been greatly entertained for the last few days, watching how fast the kids learn the business of being a squirrel. On the first day, they had a lot of trouble moving head-first downward on the fence: while Notch will scamper right down then leap to the deck, Chiquita stretches as far down as she can get with her rear claws hooked over the top of the fencepost, then stays there for many minutes, evidently trying to work up the nerve to move downward. When she does move, it's carefully, step by step, and making the leap over to the deck (only about six inches) also takes time and nerve. When squirrels are fearful of something, they lash their tails wildly, like an angry cat.

A red oak tree gives much better purchase for your claws. Neither squirrelet shows any hesitation about leaping the couple of feet from the fence to the tree trunk, though sometimes Chiquita misses and has to run around the tree trunk before she gets a secure hold. And when they're both in high spirits they'll chase each other at high speed through the tree's branches.

Their antics can be pretty funny -- like when Chiquita was nerving herself to drop from the deck to the ground, but her wildly-swinging tail dislogdged a rock on the deck, which fell next to her and sent her into a panic causing her to drop off the deck.

Both of them, but especially Ringlet, love the potted fuscia I have sitting on the kayak stand. They stand on their hind legs, reach down into the pot and dig: they'll bury a nut, then immediately dig it out again. Sometimes they eat the fuscia, too. The fuscia is not looking at all healthy now, and I've written it off as a squirrel toy.

Even from one day to the next, it's easy to see their skills improve. Yesterday afternoon Ringlet even made the jump from the roof to the fence -- only a few feet, but the landing is tricky since the top of the fence is less than an inch wide. They do still stumble and fall pretty often -- Ringlet fell from the tree to the ground yesterday, making an audible thump, then lay there for a few minutes before getting up. But they're looking more graceful every day. Ringtail still brings them by in the morning and drops them off, then heads off to work (or wherever it is she goes once the kids are safely in day care).

Notch hasn't been around much, though I can't imagine she's been scared off by Ringtail and the kids. I did catch sight of her yesterday. I was sitting in the yard watching Chiquita. (The kids are fairly tolerant of our presence as long as we move slowly, but we're still trying to get them accustomed to moving about the yard and finding nuts in the right places.) She'd finally moved from the tree across the fence to the post nearest the office, and I was hoping she'd come down and take a drink of water and notice the nut I'd put there for her. After about five minutes on the fencepost, looking longingly down at the water but evidently not feeling confident enough for a head-down descent, she finally started to make a move -- then froze. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye: Notch was ambling along the deck right past my chair. While Chiquita watched, rapt and motionless, Notch went decisively to the nut hole, pulled out the whole walnut (she dislikes all pre-shelled walnuts -- we've tried bulk ones from the local fruit stand and bagged ones from Trader Joe's, but Notch and I both agree that neither taste as good as the walnuts in the shell) and marched back the way she'd come.

That was enough for Chiquita: as soon as Notch was safely out of sight, Chiquita came straight down the fencepost and onto the deck, sniffed at the shelled nut (not hungry) and had a long drink of water. I still don't know if Notch knew Chiquita was there -- squirrels don't seem to have territorial battles with youngsters, so maybe Notch was just being nice to the kid. (And she obviously wasn't hungry anyway, or she would have eaten the walnut and asked for more.)

Pictures of Ringtail and Chiquita (no Ringlet yet) here.

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[ 19:00 Sep 21, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 16 Sep 2006

Ringtail's baby

One of our occasional visitors is a very odd squirrel. She's very large, with powerful hindquarters (enough so that she walks differently from most squirrels, in a sort of waddle) and a long, long tail that's ringed like a raccoon. We call her "Ringtail".

She doesn't visit often: Notch usually chases her off. And she's not very good at finding the nuts we set out for the squirrels, let alone being bold enough to come to the door.

We hadn't seen her for several weeks when today I heard a nut-crack noise out in the yard, peered out and saw Ringtail on the fence -- with a baby squirrel in her mouth. Go Ringtail!

Carrying baby squirrels usually means it's time to change dens, I believe. Grey squirrels apparently keep several dens, and change from one to another when one den gets too dirty and full of parasites.

With any luck she and her babies are moving to a more nearby den, and we'll be seeing them more often now.

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[ 13:25 Sep 16, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 06 Apr 2006

Squirrel Territory Skirmishes

We were travelling for a week, so we left the squirrels with plenty of nuts to bury. (I'm sure our backyard will be a maze of walnut and hazelnut sprouts once the spring weather arrives.)

On our return, we found Nonotchka nursing an injury, limping on her left rear leg and sporting two wounds on that haunch. We're guessing she had a close encounter with a cat or similar predator.

(Dave saw Notch face off with a cat just a few days ago. Notch was crossing the street back to the place where we think she has her nest, when a cat came out of someone's yard. Notch stopped and sat up in the middle of the street, facing the cat. The cat stopped, too, and they sized each other up. Finally Notch turned and casually sauntered off the way she'd been going, obviously having decided she had enough escape options and wouldn't have trouble outrunning the cat. The cat turned and stalked off the other way: "Oh, I wasn't hungry ayway.")

Since our return Nonotchka has gotten steadily gotten better. She seemed very hot for a few days, constantly running off to flop onto the cold concrete in the shade, and the soles of her paws were hot when she came over to take nuts. We suspect she was fighting an infection. But her temperature is better now, and the fur is growing back over the wounded area. She's walking better every day, and it's hard to see that anything is wrong, until she jumps. She can't jump as high as before, and climbing the fence is harder. With any luck it's just stiffness, and she'll get over that in a few days.

We've made a special effort to make sure she gets plenty of nuts, despite Notch's frequent presence. But today they had an encounter that makes me wonder if we need to worry about that any more. I was feeding Notch some breakfast nuts when Nonotchka appeared on the fence. Normally Nonotchka would stay there, or retreat across the street, when Notch is around; but today she causually walked down the fencepost and sniffed around under the deck where we often leave nuts.

Notch stopped eating and turned to look. They eyed each other for a bit. Eventually Notch rushed Nonotchka, who retreated back under the deck -- but not very far. Notch hopped a few feet over to the grass under the orange tree and began to roll, dig, and pull herself through the grass (to leave her smell there?) After about a minute, Nonotchka appeared from under the deck and began rolling/digging/pulling herself through a patch of grass under the guava tree, not more than four feet away from Notch. Notch tolerated it for maybe half a minute, then it got to be too much and she rushed Nonotchka again with a little bark. Nonotchka retreated again, but still not very far, and they spent the next few minutes eying each other, circling slowly around the yard, in a slow chase that ended with them exiting into the cedar in the front yard, where I lost sight of them.

Five minutes later Nonotchka showed up at the office door to take a nut I'd left there, but she took it up to the fence and wouldn't come back to eat anything more.

I guess squirrel territory isn't immutable. It's nice to see Nonotchka asserting herself a little.

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[ 12:36 Apr 06, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 17 Mar 2006

The Notch Gang

Our little squirrel family has grown to four. Notch has returned, after being gone for over a month, and now displays nipples like Nonotchka's. Turns out they were both females!

Notch is still as graceful, strong, and dominant as ever, and hangs around keeping Nonotchka from feeding. But we've found a solution: give Notch a nut in the shell, and she will take it off to bury it, which gives us a little time to sneak some nuts to Nonotchka before Notch flies back like a furry bolt of lightning.

Sometimes the ruse doesn't work. Once Dave went outside and chased Notch across the yard, over the fence and into the cedar while I communed with Nonotchka. Dave though he had her; but Notch vanished into the cedar branches, ran down the trunk and snuck under the gate while Dave was still watching the upper branches. Nonotchka only got a few nuts that time.

But that's not all. We have two other squirrels now, both apparently youngsters (they're scruffy, skinny, slightly smaller than our established squirrels, and markedly less graceful). One has white tufts between his ears, so I'm calling him Tuft; the other doesn't have a name yet and doesn't come by very often. They're both males, and yes, it is possible to tell when they're sitting up, contrary to some web pages I've seen.

Both of the kids are very nervous about us, and won't feed when we're anywhere in sight. But they're not nervous about Notch; the three of them sometimes eat at the same time, sitting on different parts of the fence, something Notch would never allow Nonotchka to do. Dave is convinced that they're Notch's kids from last year, and that he sees a family resemblance. The two kids sometimes quarrel mildly between themselves, and chatter at each other, but only when Notch isn't around; when she is, they're respectful and submissive.

Since the Notch Gang of three all tolerate each other, this makes it difficult to get any food to Nonotchka. She's taken to coming by later in the afternoons; the kids get up early in the morning, and Notch likes coming by around lunchtime.

Dave taped a little wooden shelf at the bottom of the office door where we can put nuts. Notch and Nonotchka learned it pretty quickly: not because they're any good at finding new nut sources (it takes them forever to notice a nut that's in a place where they don't normally find any; sometimes I wonder how the species survives) but because they're both bold enough to come to the door and look in when they're hungry, and eventually they bump their noses into the nuts on the shelf. Tuft is starting to notice the door-nuts, too, and will take one, then run off when he notices he's being watched.

I was able to get some photos of Nonotchka at the door (plus a few new shots of her outside in interesting poses). I tried to photograph Tuft today but he's too nervous.

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[ 19:27 Mar 17, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 07 Mar 2006

Nonotchka has had her litter

Nonotchka has had her litter. Or at least she lost the tummy and regained her old svelte and graceful form as of yesterday afternoon. Of course, we haven't seen any squirrelets; she'll have them stashed away in a nest somewhere safe.

We're slightly worried about her. She came to eat today as usual (ravenously: she ate ten hazelnuts all at once then took several more away to bury), and although she seemed friendly and energetic, she left blood spots on Dave's jeans. I hope this is just some sort of normal postpartum condition and not an injury. She didn't seem to be in pain. (I get this from Dave; I was away when she made her visit. She's definitely spending less time here now that she has a family to take care of.)

So we'll keep an eye on her, make sure she's well fed and hope that she's okay and that in a few months she might start bringing the kids by. Apparently grey squirrels nurse for an amazing three months before they're ready to go out on their own. There are usually four to a litter.

(Update the following day: She seems fine. She's still energetic and hungry, and there's been no more blood.)

Meanwhile, Notch is gone. We haven't seen him at all since getting back from our trip. We're getting occasional visits from a new squirrel: scruffy, young-looking and not terribly well coordinated. Dave thinks the newcomer is a male. He's confused about nuts, or well fed from someone else's yard: he'll sniff at a hazelnut in the shell then leave it where it lies. Perhaps he just doesn't like hazelnuts and is holding out for a walnut.

It seems odd that this scrawny newcomer could have chased the burly, graceful and confident Notch away from his territory. My guess is that Notch decided there was some other yard he liked better, since even before the trip we'd been seeing him only infrequently.

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[ 23:30 Mar 07, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 02 Mar 2006

Nonotchka is going to be a mom!

We went away for a week, to visit family for my grandmother's 100th birthday (yay, Grandma!) Of course, before we left we made sure our squirrels had lots of nuts buried, so they weren't dependent on the shelled nuts we've been feeding them.

When we got back, Nonotchka wasted little time in visiting us, and she's just as friendly as ever (to someone with a walnut in hand). But there are some other changes. At first, we weren't sure if she seemed fatter; but eventually we saw her from angles that left no doubt. And her belly fur has changed; instead of the brownish grey, now it's white like Notch's, except for six dark spots arranged in pairs down her abdomen.

Looks like we guessed right about Nonotchka's gender (well, we had a 50% chance) and she's going to be a mom!

I hope we get to see the baby squirrels when they're old enough to leave the nest. Maybe she'll even bring them by when they're old enough to be weaned.

We haven't seen Notch at all since we got back. I hope he's all right. He'd been spending a lot of time across the street anyway, so perhaps he's found a territory he likes better than our yard.

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[ 12:29 Mar 02, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 02 Feb 2006

Suburban Squirrels

In early December, a squirrel staked out our yard as part of his territory. We encouraged him with nuts. He has a notch in one ear, so I called him "Notch".

Later that month, another squirrel showed up. Sometimes Notch chased the new squirrel (especially when food was involved), but at other times they seemed to be playing in a friendly way. Apparently December is breeding time for squirrels.

There's no easy way to identify the gender of grey squirrels (at least from a distance), so we arbitrarily decided that the larger, tougher and more territorial Notch was a male, and the newcomer must be female. Dave dubbed her "Nonotchka".

(Of course we're hoping that in a few months it will become obvious which one is actually the female, and soon afterward we will have little squirrels to watch.)

Both Notch and Nonotchka have become rather tame (though not quite to the point of taking food from our hands), and we've been able to get some decent (though not spectacular) photos while feeding them. Unfortunately, the final review process for the GIMP book got in the way of organizing the photos or writing squirrel essays, and I'm only now starting to catch up.

So here they are: our Suburban Squirrels.

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[ 15:57 Feb 02, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Wed, 14 Sep 2005

It's Walnut Season

It's walnut season. The neighborhood is full of crows, making rattling calls, flying from place to place with walnuts in their beaks, and dropping walnuts on roads to try to crack them. It's always entertaining to watch the crows' antics. Walnuts are hard to crack, even when you're a professional.

Meanwhile, the squirrels are going crazy. In addition to running around carrying walnuts the size of their heads, burying, digging up, and re-burying, we've also seen squirrels fighting with each other, threatening each other, whirling around in trees for no apparent reason, and perching on wires barking at invisible enemies below.

I had assumed that they were barking at cats or other squirrels in neighbors' yards, but this morning I saw a squirrel on the power line above the driveway, barking and threatening and staring intently at ... the empty driveway. If there was anything there, it must have been the size of an ant.

Makes me wonder ... do walnuts ever ferment? Am I seeing a neighborhood full of drunken squirrels?

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[ 12:16 Sep 14, 2005    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 05 Aug 2005

Second Round of Nestlings

Both the mourning doves and the mockingbirds snuck in in a third round of nesting this year. Rather than make lots of little entries, I kept the timeline all in one (long) file. If nothing else, it's easy to skip for anyone who doesn't like "bird columns" (taking a cue from Jon Carroll and his "cat columns").

Jun 24:

There's a little drama going on on the roof of the house across from the office window. a pair of doves showing extreme interest in the rain gutters at the corner of the porch and above it at the corner of the house (flanking the tree where they raised their chicks last month). She (I assume) will fly to the porch gutter, snuggle down in the gutter for five or ten seconds, then appear dissatisfied and fly over to the other gutter, do the same there, fly to the ground, fly up to the roof, coo for a while, then repeat the process. Meanwhile her mate flies from the roof to the ground to the power line, cooing the whole time.

At one point, one of the dovelets flew to the roof just above the gutter and started pecking for gravel, and mom chased him away furiously. No more parenting for you! Get your own place! Get a job, why don't you? And cut your hair!

The scaly dovelet still looks scaly. I wonder why? The other chick looks like a miniature adult.

Unfortunately we had to disturb the little episode because the porch gutter the dove kept landing on had come loose. Dave went out with a hammer and hammered it back into place, but I guess that spooked the doves. Which may be just as well -- an exposed rain gutter really doesn't seem like a good place for a nest, especially since the youngsters seem to avoid sun, fun though it might be to have the nest right out in plain view of the window.

Jun 25:

The doves seem to have been scared off by the hammering of the rain gutter, and are looking elsewhere for a nesting site. There's lots of ooohaaahing going on while they're up on the power lines, and once I saw the male trying to mate (the female flew away). Haven't seen the dovelets since mom chased one off the roof.

Jun 28:

The doves are back, cooing and nestling in the gutter. Looks like she really likes that site.

Jun 29:

She's given up on the roof and gutter and has decided to nest in the old nest site in the guava tree.

July 2:

One dove now stays in the nest at all times -- I suspect there's an egg there -- while her mate furiously brings her sticks one after another. When he's not bringing sticks for the nest, he's up on the wires singing Oooaah, oooh oooh oooh!

July 3

Turns out there's a mockingbird nest in the pyrocanthus just outside the kitchen window. We can see it from the sink. The mocker hardly spends any time there, though. The dove is still sitting patiently in the nest.

July 5

Dave cleaned the outside of the kitchen window so we could get a better view of the nest. Haven't seen the mocker since; we may have scared her off.

July 7

The mocker wasn't scared off after all. I saw her perched on the edge of the nest, poking into the nest. I couldn't tell if she was rearranging eggs or feeding chicks. No chick noises, though. The dove still sitting. Of course, it's impossible to tell when dove chicks hatch since they are silent and motionless until nearly ready to fledge.

July 10

Mocker perched on the edge of the nest again, but this time we saw the chicks. She hunted about four bugs for them in quick succession, then disappeared. Amazing how little time the mocker spends in this nest compared to the dove, who's always there.

July 12

One mockingbird chick tentatively seen on the edge of the nest.

July 13

The mockingbird chicks have fledged. I say "chicks" but I've actually only seen one, hopping around the upper branches of the pyrocantha. It doesn't seem to be able to fly yet, and still looks very fuzzy and short-tailed.

And the dove-mom, never flitting,
Still is sitting, still is sitting ...

July 14

Drama outside the bedroom window this morning. Apparently there was a chick down in the neighbor's back yard, and I was awakened by squawking as both mockingbird parents buzzed something in the yard just on the other side of the fence.

This went on for about an hour, with breaks for a few minutes every so often. Then the harrassment abruptly stopped. I don't know whether whatever it is they were attacking (a cat? I didn't hear any barking, so I think the dogs were away) went away, or got the chick. But it's possible the chick may still be okay. A little while later I heard some tentative singing, and about an hour later there was a little bit of squawking aimed at a different part of the neighbor's back yard. My hope is that the chick is slowly making its way out of the yard.

July 17

I haven't seen any more sign of mockingbird chicks, but I heard outside the living room window something that sounded remarkably like a mocker chick and an adult talking to it. So I think at least one chick survived.

The dove, incredibly, is still sitting on the nest. It's possible that there are chicks in there too, but I haven't been able to spot any.

July 25

Incredibly, I think there are actually dovelets in the nest. I had pretty much decided that it must be time for the dove to give up sitting and go get a life, but I'm seeing vague signs of movement in the nest, and slightly different behavior from the sitting dove. Doves sure are patient.

July 26

Tonight when we got home from dinner, we were greeted at the gate by a baby bird hopping around on the driveway. In the dim light it was hard to tell what it was, but probably a sparrow or house finch -- too small for a mockingbird fledgeling.

And fledgeling it was: after regarding us for a short time it flitted unsteadily into the top of a nearby bush, which seemed to us like a much better place for a birdlet to spend the night than the driveway!

There are indeed dovelets in the nest. Looks like two again, though it's hard to see them clearly. The parents look tired; one of them spent part of the afternoon sitting on the deck, out in the open, and didn't move when we walked by. (It wasn't hurt, though; I kept an eye on it through the office window in case I needed to shoo away cats, and it eventually flew weakly up to join its mate in the guava tree.)

July 31

The dovelets are sitting up in the nest and looking very alert. Probably only a few more days left to fledging. The parents are no longer sitting with them, and are up cooing on the wire.

August 2

No dovelets in the nest! I found them in the corner of the yard, the same corner that the previous pair liked so much. They stayed there all morning.

Like the previous pair, there's one that looks like a miniature mourning dove, and a second with a scaly pattern.

But in early afternoon, they were gone. A whiff of cat poo in the air suggested doom.

August 3

There was one dovelet in the corner of the yard this morning. I haven't seen the other, but at least one (the scaly one) survived.

August 5

Haven't seen any dovelets since the morning of the 3rd.

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[ 23:15 Aug 05, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 18 Jun 2005

Dove Chicks Fledged

The two dove chicks fledged yesterday, early in the morning. By the time we were up, they were out in the yard, walking behind one parent and play-pecking in the weeds. They can fly: Dave saw them fly up to the fence once, then back down.

That didn't last long, though; after about fifteen minutes of activity they found a corner they liked, under the blue borage, planted themselves there in the shade of the fence, and didn't move until afternoon when the sun hit their corner and they went off in search of shade. They definitely prefer shade to direct sunlight (even on a cool and windy day). The parents came to feed them periodically.

They're still eerily silent. They never call for food, or for anything else. Very different from last year's mockingbird chicks. When they fly they make the normal dove squeaky noise that the adults make, but that's the only sound I've heard out of either one.

They look quite different from each other: one is a miniature adult, while the other is a bit smaller, usually more ruffled, and has a "scale" pattern in its feathers. They apparently spent the night somewhere high -- we saw them fly up to the roof a little after sunset, then they walked over to where we couldn't see them any more.

In the morning, they were back in their corner, still content to sit in the same spot all day. I spooked them once doing some garden work in that corner of the yard, and one of them flew across the yard and landed on the fence, and spent the next hour or so there before flying back to the normal corner. Later, the other flew up into the atlas cedar for no apparent reason, then spent a while trying to figure out how to get a solid perch on the swaying, uneven branches.

Meanwhile, the house sparrows were doing bushtit imitations all over the tree, hanging upside down while pecking at the needles. I'm not sure if they were after the cones, or actually eating bugs for a nesting season protein supplement, but it was fun to see a flock of house sparrows acting like bushtits.

A few photos of the dovelets.

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[ 20:36 Jun 18, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 16 Jun 2005

More Baby Birds

The mourning dove chicks by the back door remain amazingly quiet. They're growing fast, nearly half the size of an adult dove now, with fairly adult looking feathers, the characteristic wing spots of their parents, and eyes that are starting to show a blue ring. There are only two of them, not three as I'd originally thought. They move outside of the nest onto adjacent branches, fiddle, flutter a little, and preen a lot. Yet they never make any noise. Quite a change from the noisy, demanding mockingbird chicks last year!

A female Nuttall's woodpecker showed up in the backyard yesterday. I heard her drumming this morning. Maybe she'll stick around. I put out a peanut-and-sunflower cake that woodpeckers are supposed to like, though birds in this yard never seem to like the foods the books and bird feeder companies say they will.

The towhee and house finch families still seem to be raising their young, but I haven't gotten a glimpse of any chicks yet. The mockingbird who shunned us earlier in the season seems to have moved into the atlas cedar for his second nest (or is it a third?) and is singing in the morning and squawking at jays by day.

Meanwhile, I dropped by Shoreline around lunchtime today and got some photos of a pair of avocets with one chick, including the rare 4-legged avocet (where the chick hides underneath mom, so only his legs are visible). I also got a couple of nice shots of a stilt flying at Alviso.

Other neat sights: a nesting colony of great egrets in a tree outside a business park, a bedraggled but still pretty snowy egret at Shoreline Lake, and the terns banking ten feet away from me as they fished in the shallows of the little lake.

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[ 19:50 Jun 16, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 11 Jun 2005

Baby Birds

On a hike a few days ago we saw a baby swallow on the trail. So cute! He didn't appear to be hurt, but wasn't moving, either. It was soo tempting to move him, or take him home and feed him. But adult swallows were flying all around, and he was old enough that he had all his feathers (probably old enough to fledge) so we left him there and hoped someone would take care of him.

Meanwhile, back at home, house finches are raising a family in the Italian cypress outside the office, and a pair of mourning doves has taken over the nest the mockingbirds built last year in the guava tree outside the back door. It doesn't look like they rebuilt or improved the nest at all: the mockingbird-sized nest looks very small under a big mourning dove.

The chicks hatched several days ago, but I didn't realize it for at least a day, because the dove chicks are quiet and motionless, not at all like the active, noisy, demanding mockingbird chicks were. The dovelets act just like eggs, except they're fuzzier and occasionally I can catch a glimpse of wing feathers. I think there are three.

The adult doves are a lot calmer than the mockingbirds were, as well. The mocker parents would get angry any time they noticed a human trying to watch them through the window, and would hop up to the window and glare and squawk until the person went away. It was tough to catch a glimpse of the chicks.

The doves, on the other hand, spend a lot of time out of the nest now that the chicks have hatched (though before they hatched, there was always a dove on the nest: the sitting dove wouldn't leave until its mate arrived to take over) and even when they're there they're pretty calm, keeping an eye on anyone who tries to look through the window but not seeming too upset about it. I can't tell if they're frightened by being watched, but I try not to watch for long when an adult is there. (That's easy since there's nothing much to see anyway.)

I haven't seen any feeding yet, or other interesting behavior. Maybe they'll get more active when they're a little older.

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[ 13:28 Jun 11, 2005    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 24 Dec 2004

Winter Yard Birds

There's still a hummingbird (male, Anna's) hanging around the feeder! Last year, all the hummingbirds lost interest and left my yard in October, so it's nice to see them staying through December this year.

We also have a lovely black phoebe who has adopted the yard, and flycatches from the power lines most of the morning.

The mockingbirds have finally left -- their renewed singing in late October had given me hope they might stay the winter, but it looks like they were just readying their traveling tunes. Long trips are so much nicer when you have good music. 300 miles south, at my mom's house, mockingbirds are still singing sporadically -- I thought I remembered them remaining in LA all year, unlike the bay area, and so indeed they do.

Audubon's (yellow rumped) warblers have been a nice surprise this year. Perhaps they've been here every year; I joined a few local bird-watching mailing lists, which has been great for helping me notice birds I never noticed before. It turns out the birds I used to see in Los Altos which I thought were pine siskins were in fact Audubon's warblers (I found an old photograph); but even so, I'd never seen them in San Jose before.

I used one of the warblers for this year's Christmas card, with the colors desaturated, and a nice colorful autumn leaf stapled to each card. (Watching Rivers and Tides must have gone to my head; I saw the striking leaves beneath a neighbor's tree and knew I had to use them for something.)

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season on this Christmas Eve!

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[ 13:49 Dec 24, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Mon, 11 Oct 2004

Migratory birds singing in autumn

For the past week, the mockingbird and the hummingbirds have suddenly begun singing again -- the mocker only in the morning, the hummer sporadically all day. October seems like a strange time to be singing. I wonder if it's related to the decision whether to migrate? Both Anna's hummers and mockingbirds are inconsistent about whether to winter here or migrate south: some years they stay, some years they go.

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[ 14:23 Oct 11, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Wed, 01 Sep 2004

Squirrel Baby

As I walked out to the backyard gate, a furry grey missile flew off the garage roof, over my head and into the slot along the top of the backyard fence. I just barely got a look as the squirrel flew by -- but it was carrying something big (baseball sized, at least) and brownish in its mouth, and landed with a thump because of the weight of its load.

My curiosity was piqued. What object that large -- it looked like a coconut with the husk on, but the size of a baseball -- could a squirrel be interested in carrying around?

The squirrel climbed down off the fence, still carrying its load, and landed (with another thump) on the driveway and went scurrying off across the street (dodging two cars in the crossing). Dave and I followed it, intrigued.

Half a block away, it stopped under a tree, and we were finally able to get a slightly better look at what it was carrying. Definitely big, definitely spherical, definitely fuzzy -- and it had two tiny paws clutching around the squirrel's neck. It was a baby squirrel, rolled up into a ball, holding on to mom's neck while being held in her mouth.

Where she was going with her squirrelet will remain one of the mysteries of suburban wildlife viewing.

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[ 18:36 Sep 01, 2004    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | ]

Wed, 18 Aug 2004

Hummer nectar changes hummer behavior

I made a new batch of nectar for the hummingbird feeder. Now most of them are hovering at the feeder, rather than perching. They mostly seem to be taking shorter drinks, as well. I wonder why?

This batch might have been a little weaker than the usual. (I made it on a hot day, and added extra ice to cool it down faster so I could put the feeder out again, and figured that weaker solutions are probably better on hot days anyway.) I might have guessed that stronger nectar would lead to shorter stays, but I wonder why weaker nectar would?

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[ 20:03 Aug 18, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 22 Jul 2004

Beta sighted

Saw a chick in the front yard last night, hopping around on the ground and playing with a branch. This chick still has a striped breast; the chick on the wire the previous day didn't. Looks like both Alpha and Beta have made it so far. Hooray!

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[ 10:55 Jul 22, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 20 Jul 2004

At least one chick still okay

Saw one mocker chick yesterday and a couple of times today. It flies well but still has trouble balancing on a wire when the wind is blowing. It still CHEEEEEEEPs instead of making noises like the adults, though I haven't seen anyone feeding it. It landed on the house roof today and did an odd sideways dance, combined with the trademark mockingbird wing-opening ritual, then hopped into the gutter and rooted around there before flying off.

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[ 23:02 Jul 20, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 10 Jul 2004

Chicks flying

I spotted one of the mockingbird chicks this evening, first sighting in several days (though I've heard cheeping so I was pretty sure at least one was still healthy). I'm not sure which one this was, but it flew like a pro, sat on the house roof cheeping to be fed, then swooped down to the lawn and pecked for bugs (cheeping occasionally; I guess it's still easier to have mom feed you than to hunt your own insects). It has a long tail now, and white wing patches just like the adults, but a spotted breast and that funny wide yellow "baby bird" bill.

I got a few pictures.

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[ 20:00 Jul 10, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 04 Jul 2004

Chicks are growing

In mockchick news, we haven't seen either chick for quite some time, but until yesterday we were still hearing regular cheeping from two directions. Today I'm only hearing cheeping from one tree; it may be that Alpha has graduated to bug hunting, and even Beta doesn't seem to be begging quite so often.

Update: a few minutes after I wrote that, I saw one of the chicks up on a wire, cheeping to the parent sitting next to it. The chick is almost as big as an adult (and fatter), has a tail that's almost as long, and flies quite strongly now (flew off before I could get to my camera, alas). It didn't look like the parent actually fed it anything; I suspect they're mostly hunting their own food now.

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[ 20:00 Jul 04, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 29 Jun 2004

Alpha is flying

Beta still lives in the pyrocanthus, and is getting fairly good at hopping from branch to branch, fluttering at the right time now. We weren't sure it was Beta, since we hadn't seen Alpha in a while and were getting a little worried that something bad might have happened ...

But tonight after sunset, I saw Alpha perched up on the wire! After a feeding by one of the parents, Alpha actually flew down off the wire. Hooray!

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[ 21:30 Jun 29, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Mon, 28 Jun 2004

Beta comes for a visit

This morning, I was organizing the mockchick pictures into a web page when I heard a lot of adult squawking in the backyard. I turned, and saw a chick (probably Beta) sitting on the sill of the office door, looking at me. Eventually the chick jumped off and hopped across the walk and under the deck, not to be seen for a few hours.

But this afternoon, there was chick activity in the front yard, moving between the atlas cedar and the pyrocanthus. The chick is now settled down for the night at the top of the pyrocanthus. The parents are still feeding it. It's hopping from branch to branch pretty well, using its wings a little bit, as an afterthought. I don't think it's getting much help from its wings yet, but it's getting used to the timing of when to flap them.

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[ 18:00 Jun 28, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 27 Jun 2004

Beta out of the tree

Beta chick left the nest today, late in the day, and made it to the juniper in the front yard, where he/she spent most of the day, being fed by mom. But late in the afternoon, somehow Beta appeared in the rosemary, where I was able to get a couple of nice, sharp pictures with no window in the way. Strangely, the parents didn't even dive-bomb me during this.

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[ 18:00 Jun 27, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Beta out of the nest

Beta chick was out of the nest by early morning, but still afraid to leave the tree. All day it hopped from branch to branch, but never flew. The parents are still feeding it.

Alpha chick still seems to be safe, in the trees across the yard. The parents feed it occasionally, but not nearly as often as Beta.

Fired up by the PenLUG talk, I tried getting swsusp working on blackbird. No dice: it's still not at all obvious how to initiate a suspend (except for echo S4 > /proc/acpi/sleep, which obviously isn't very helpful on non-ACPI machines). The kernel Documentation file power/swsusp.txt says to use the acpi method for the "old version" of swsusp, echo disk > /sys/power/state for the "new one". But echo disk > /sys/power/state does nothing. says nothing about this "new version" or anything else modern; it offers a pair of patches against 2.6.2 (or comparably old 2.4 kernels) and says to use the script. But complains at install time because it can't find /proc/swsusp.

Linuxchix get-together tonight in SF -- saw Pearlbear again and met xTina. Didn't see Erin (meara) -- apparently she was there !? but we never recognized each other. Bummer!

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[ 00:00 Jun 27, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 25 Jun 2004

Mocker chicks fledged!

One of the mockingbird chicks fledged today! I didn't think it was ready, but the parent mockers were unusually aggressive this morning, dive-bombing Dave or me whenever we went in or out of the house, which made me wonder if a baby had fallen out. Scanning the tree, I discovered a chick out of the nest and sitting on a branch right next to the porch (I took a few pictures on my way past).

Then a few minutes later, I looked out the office window and there was a strange looking bird sitting on the back porch. The chick had fallen or fluttered there from its perch. It hopped around a bit, and fell into the recycling bin. There ensued a few minutes of concerned conversation between parent (perched on the edge of the bin) and the unseen chick, punctuated by occasional aluminum can rattling sounds. I was just about reaching the point of rescuing the chick and putting it back in the tree when it succeeded in hopping out.

It then hopped decisively down the walkway toward the back of the yard, paused briefly at the dirt patch where the lawnmower is parked, then hopped into the patio. The parents followed its progress from on high, but didn't interfere. They were obviously afraid to follow it into the patio, but paced the wires outside, nervously wing-fluttering and head-cocking.

That was the last I saw of the alpha chick. Later in the afternoon, the parents have been aggressively protecting the orange tree outside the patio, and occasional cheeps sound from roughly that direction, so it looks like the chick probably did manage to fly up into the tree. I hope it's out of reach of cats.

Beta chick is still in the nest, showing not much interest in flapping, exploring, or leaving. It looks quite a bit smaller and fuzzier, and the parents are still feeding it.

Photos here.

In between mockwatching, I went over to Sarah's and we attempted to install various distros on her machine, with no success:

She may end up going back to RH8. Sigh.

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[ 17:00 Jun 25, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 24 Jun 2004

First blog entry. Let's see how this goes.

We've been watching the mockingbird chicks in the nest outside the laundry room for about a week now. The chicks (two, I think, but it's possible there's a third) are growing fast, and at least one is starting to grow some normal feathers on its back. That must itch: yesterday the baby was wiggling around in the nest, stretching, and preening itself madly.

I hear at least two different voices from the nest. One sounds almost hoarse, the other is clear and high pitched.

The parents are getting increasingly agitated. Today I got dive-bombed repeatedly while I was checking plants in the garden, despite being careful to stay away from the guava tree where the nest is. I keep wondering if somehow one of the chicks fell out and is hiding in the rosemary, since the parents get so agitated when I'm near there; but I never see them flying to the rosemary, and the chicks are obviously far too young to fly yet.

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[ 17:00 Jun 24, 2004    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]