Orioles are “Sugar Daddies”

Spring and early summer are exciting times at our house. This excitement is caused by the arrival of BULLOCK’S ORIOLES. They nest in our yard. We are also excited by the Western Tanagers that stop-over, while waiting for more favorable conditions in their mountain-summering areas. We have developed a very “bird friendly” yard, but there is an added attraction that satisfies both of these species “sweet-tooth.” We place quart fruit jars, inverted on baby chick watering dishes, upon platforms. These platforms are mounted on pipes and each has a “slinky” (toy) hanging and encasing the pipe. We have found this to be the most effective method to keep squirrels away from the feed. The jars are full of sugar-water, mixed at a ratio of 6 parts water to 1 of sugar or even sweeter. It is readily accepted. Two quarts of this solution is consumed every day when the baby orioles have fledged.

We have as many as three pair of orioles building their hanging nests in our yard and raising their broods. As the young fledge, the yard comes alive with harsh calls, and orioles are everywhere you look. This orange, black, and white bird is a western version of the Baltimore Oriole and is actually a member of the Blackbird family. It is most definitely a “heart-stopper!”


BULLOCK’S ORIOLE at sugar-water feeder


Badgers are unexcelled excavators

We have a Badger in our yard! I don’t know how it got here. I
don’t know why! But looking down, while crossing our corral fence, there it was,
face to face with me. It had burrowed a nice big hole under the concrete of the
cattle manger. It couldn’t have selected a more protected spot to dig a den.

The claws on a Badger are formidable. There are five on each foot and they
are very impressive. It’s no wonder that they are such master burrowers. They
have a flattened shaped body of 2 to 3 feet long. The short tail doesn’t get in
the way of digging, or get encrusted from the dirt that the Badger is constantly
working in. Badgers are nocturnal and are rarely seen in daylight. They may not
even emerge from the den in bright moonlight. Their burrows are recognizable by
their square-shaped openings.

They will run from an encounter; but, if cornered, can be extremely
aggressive. Their teeth are as formidable as their claws. Skunks, weasels,
otters, wolverines, and badgers are classified as mustelids – species that give
off scent. They are carnivores that prefer soft foods like baby rabbits, mice,
voles, snails, beetles, and even fungi and wind-fallen fruits.

One to five young are born in the burrow. This is usually in March. They
don’t emerge until 6 to 8 weeks old and stay with their parents until October.
Badger tracks differ from dogs in that 5 toe prints show instead of 4. They are
very capable of defending themselves and have little to fear.

I was lucky to get this one’s photo as it was excavating a burrow under our


PYRRHULOXIA (pie-rue-lox-ia) is a bird that looks as if its throat has been cut and the result is spread over its head, face, belly, legs, and tail. It is a species found in the thorny brush and mesquite lands of our south-west. This bird will feed in low shrubbery or along the ground where they can utilize the shadows. If you are well hidden, you can get quite close. It is sometimes confused with the female Cardinal but its short, thick, curved beak is diagnostic. A beak that allows them to utilize hard shelled food items.

PYRRHULOXIAS are eight and three-quarter inches long with a soft gray and red coloration scheme that makes a very pleasing contrast. Their song is a liquid whistle.

Since first seeing this species, it took on a high priority on our photography “must list”. During winter months, when we have been in the southern climes, we have worked to lure it to our hastily put up feeding stations. This specimen was in Catalina State Park – north of Tucson, Arizona.

If you visit Arizona or other surrounding states, look for this species. Seeing one will brighten your day!

The photo is of one feeding on black sunflower seeds scattered on the ground.

Grizzlies have an amazing digestive system

Grizzlies are always hungry. It’s no wonder, because of a five month hibernation fast, they must go into the den at least 150 pounds over the weight from which they emerge. This large, aggressive omnivore (meat and vegetation eater) is in reality a very poor predator. Meat is preferred, but not often an option. As a result, the animal consumes a wide variety of food stuffs.

Their favorite food is ground squirrels, which they vigorously dig for. Other meat sources may include fish, newborn mammals, and carrion from winter kill. However, 70% of their diet is grass. It needs to be moist and at least 4 inches long because they graze with a sideways motion of the head. It’s interesting to watch them grazing on a hillside like cattle. Other foods are insects, buds, berries, nuts, and roots.

That hump between the shoulders is a massive muscle for digging, which they are masters at. They require a massive 24,000 calories a day, and their digestive tract is 80 feet long (10 feet for each foot of body length – humans have 4 feet for every foot of height). This great length of gut enables the digestion of a truly great variety of food stuffs. The bear is most aggressive when guarding a carcass, or when a sow is guarding her cubs. The bear is also very fast. Grizzlies can cover 50 yards in 3 seconds. My wife and I watched one ambling along, when suddenly the bear became alert and was off. It was amazing how fast that beast covered the ground and was gone!

Once, in a Canadian campground, I was sitting and reading to my wife. Our backs were toward the woods. A man came up the trail, on his way to the restroom. He asked if we had enjoyed our visitor. Evidently, a Grizzly had come out of the woods and sat behind us, unbeknown to us. It then, when seeing the man approaching, had returned into the trees.


Nutcracker & Pine: A healthy relationship

CLARK’S NUTCRACKER has a symbiotic relationship with White Bark Pine, or in our mountains – Limber Pine. These two, high-mountain tree species can be identified by their needle bunches, which come in groups of five. There are many Limber Pine trees at Lake Cleveland. A symbiotic relationship is one in which both species benefit from each other. The nutcracker is adept at opening the cones of these two trees. The nuts from these cones are the main staple of the bird’s diet. The bird not only benefits from the food source, but the trees benefit by having their seeds spread. The tree populations are re-generated from seeds hidden in the ground and forgotten. Wherever you find these trees, you will also usually find this bird.

This is a big (12” to 13”) gray bird. It is trimmed with black wings, a white bottom, and white in the trailing wing edges. It’s voice is a loud, nasal “kra-ah-ah”. As a member of the Jay family, it (like all Jays) is raucous and opportunistic. They will readily come to a campsite that provides food. Seeds, suet, peanuts, bread are attractants that are readily accepted.

Nutcrackers lay three eggs and incubate them for 18 days. The young will fledge in three to four weeks. The bird is blessed with a pouch under the base of the tongue – just behind the lower beak. It can gather up a large quantity of seeds to either feed the babies or to store for a later date.

It is “neat” to arrive in the high mountains and to hear this bird, as it flies its circuit, making the morning air ring with it’s resounding calls.


Sage Grouse and a “March Madness”

I know the location of a SAGE GROUSE lek (strutting area). These skittish birds are difficult to approach, and thus require extra planning and preparation to get near them.

My wife and I, one March evening, drove to the lek in our truck/camper. I set up my portable blind on the strutting area and retired for the night. At 4:30 A.M., I entered the blind to wait until dawn. There must be no disturbance when the birds arrive. It was quite cold and uncomfortable, but my anticipation was great.

Soon after entering the blind, the birds came in. I could hear them “booming” all around me even though it was still too dark to see them. The sun finally came up, and there they were, practically at my feet. I could see many “white ruffs” randomly spaced over a large area. Sometimes, adjacent males would come together to display to each other. This was especially true if a hen happened to arrive in their proximity. I excitedly shot 3 ½ rolls of film. Finally, a curious Pronghorn came running up to inspect the blind, staring right into my camera, and that scared the grouse away. Thus, ending a very productive morning.

This large bird, with two yellow air sacs encased in a white bib, fans his tail and struts – making bubbling, popping sounds. Courtship takes place in March and very early April, but the prime time is late March. The leks seem to be situated where the sage is less dense. Sage is not only protective, but is also an important food source. The hen lays a large clutch of eggs that, when hatched, yield precocial chicks (well developed, feathered, able to run, and to feed themselves).

Current populations are struggling to survive because of decreasing habitat.



American Robin: Myths & Truths

The American Robin is given credit as the harbinger of spring. I find that a hard to support, oft-told saying. True, many Robins do migrate (especially the females), but we have male Robins hanging around our property all winter. Evidently, they are reluctant to leave their territories. If there is an abundant food source and water available they will stay. This winter, we have had a flock of about forty living in a small plot of Russian Olive trees – eating the berries. I suspect the real harbingers of spring are people. People, who roll out of doors when the weather starts to warm up, and personally seeing a Robin for the first time in the year declare, “the Robins are back – spring is here”.

However, the Robin must surely be classified as the “early bird”. Many song birds do not get active until the sun has had a chance to warm the air. But you can always depend on the Robin to be around in most places and at an early hour. They love lawns, especially when moisture causes worms to surface. They now become: “The early bird that gets the worm”. They also love fruit – stripping bushes of any berries that appear. In fact, it can be a race to harvest the fruit crop before the Robins do.

Called a Robin, by the first immigrants, because of the brick-red front which is similar to the English Robin. It is really a large Thrush, a family that includes Bluebirds as well as other birds named Thrushes. This is a family of eloquent songsters. The Robin is our most adaptable bird and can be found in almost any habitat. If you have a bird bath, or other sources of shallow water, you will see them bathing frequently. They love water! The fact that they do well around people, assures their survivability in spite of our ever increasing population. The Robin is the state bird of Connecticut and Wisconsin – a worthy symbol.