Tag Archives: birds

Morning Sky Show: Hawk vs. Crows

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I’ve read that in other parts of the country, West Nile virus has had a devastating impact on crows, with 90 percent of the population dying in some places. In the small piece of California I see regularly, it’s a different story. The crow population seems not only healthy, but ascendant, with crows for now crowding out songbirds and less aggressive species. It’s not at all uncommon to see crows, usually in pairs or small groups, take on hawks–red-tailed hawks in particular, which are one of the most common raptors in this part of California. On our way out the door this morning to walk The Dog, five crows were harassing a red-tailed hawk high over the street. This scuffle went on for several minutes, with the hawk circling higher and higher into the sky and the crows keeping up their attack. One by one the crows dropped away until just two were chasing the bigger bird. The hawk finally stopped circling and made a beeline to the southwest. (Click images for larger versions.)

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Owl-less Midnight

Just came in from walking The Dog. He’s a little out of sorts because his pack leader (a.k.a. Kate) is away for the night at a salmon/watershed institute for teachers (I’m so envious of her).

Anyway, the walk: Very quiet tonight. Cloudy, so no moon. Still, barely a breath of breeze. And unlike some summers past, not a single hint of owls in the vicinity.

We were spoiled two years ago by a nesting pair of barn owls that set up housekeeping in a big Canary Island palm a couple blocks away. There were four chicks who carried on incessantly as both parents hunted the neighborhood and beyond to feed the hungry brood. I thought at the time, or hoped in any case, that we’d hear and see those birds again.

Over the winter we heard barn owls nearby. But this spring and summer, the neighborhood’s fallen silent at night. I hope those birds are hunting somewhere. Maybe they can come back sometime and run some night-time raids on the crows, who have taken over the daylight hours here.

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Berkeley Barn Owl Update

I’ve started to anticipate the evening not too long in the future when the barn owls that have nested a couple blocks away will have emancipated their young and flown on to find fresh rodent pickings. But for now, they’re still here: a nesting pair, by the best guess of close observers, and four young that appear to have started to go out and join the rat quest that starts just after sundown every evening.

Besides those half-dozen birds, dozens of humans have been showing up, sometimes all at once, to listen to the owls screeching or watch the birds wing out of their palm tree into the neighborhood. Tonight when I was out on the street, a woman pulled up in a diesel Mercedes (from the smell of it, an environmentally correct one, burning biofuel). She got out, walked over, and said, “Do you know what it is?” Before I could say anything, she said, “Two owls and their four puppies.” She then got back in the car and drove away.

I’ve heard there’s a biologist from UC-Berkeley who lives in the neighborhood and has been visiting the site to collect owl pellets. (You know–the regurgitated carcasses of their most recent meals.) Some parents are bringing their young kids. Some adults have brought flashlights or even heavier-duty lighting equipment to illuminate the owls and their tree. The owl’s human foster parents–the family in whose yard the owl palm stands–has taken to posting signs asking people not to disturb the birds during their early evening hunting time. So far, no one has tried to sing to the owls, play the bagpipes for them, lectured them on the virtues of the vegan diet, or used their presence as an excuse for on-street slam poetry.

There’s a story there, for sure. What I can’t satisfactorily put into words yet, though, even as I listen to and watch the birds, is why their appearance is so fascinating to me and the others who come.

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Cars, Birds

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16th Street at Bryant, San Francisco. This sign (or signs) has been here for years, just behind The Double Play bar. I’ll dig up the story behind them — there’s at least one similar art piece on 6th Street, south of Market — at some later date.

[That later date is now: KQED friend and colleague Molly Samuel advises they’re by a San Francisco artist who goes by the handle Rigo 23 (if Wikipedia is to be believed, his full name is Ricardo Gouveia.) Thanks, Molly!]

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Heron

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Yesterday’s top Berkeley bird: This great blue heron, which was hunting in the meadow near the off-leash dog area in Chavez Park near the Marina. The place is crawling with ground squirrels, and you see herons and egrets stalking them — or staking out their burrows, anyway — fairly frequently. Other people in the park have told me they’ve seen a heron catch a squirrel — spear it, then swallow it whole. That’s what this one did as we passed yesterday, though I didn’t actually see the spearing part. It tossed its catch into the air and caught it, then took several minutes to work it down. I don’t think it was keen on flying while it was trying to swallow such a big lump of protein, and I was able to approach to about 30 feet with my non-telephoto-equipped digital camera for this shot.

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Heron

heron052409.jpg

Yesterday’s top Berkeley bird: This great blue heron, which was hunting in the meadow near the off-leash dog area in Chavez Park near the Marina. The place is crawling with ground squirrels, and you see herons and egrets stalking them — or staking out their burrows, anyway — fairly frequently. Other people in the park have told me they’ve seen a heron catch a squirrel — spear it, then swallow it whole. That’s what this one did as we passed yesterday, though I didn’t actually see the spearing part. It tossed its catch into the air and caught it, then took several minutes to work it down. I don’t think it was keen on flying while it was trying to swallow such a big lump of protein, and I was able to approach to about 30 feet with my non-telephoto-equipped digital camera for this shot.

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