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
manger.

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.

 

FLASHES OF RED & BOBBING WHITE RUMPS!

If I could give another name to “Indian Summer” it would be “The
Time of the Flicker”. The late autumn months are full of much woodpecker
activity in our yard. Especially plentiful is our county’s largest one – the
RED- SHAFTED FLICKER (12 ½ inches long). It’s such an appealing bird with its
poke-a-doted belly, black chest crescent, and red moustache. When in flight, it
flashes the orange/red under parts of its wings and tail (thence its name) and a
conspicuous white rump patch.

As I step outside each morning in autumn, I’m greeted by these birds in
undulating flight – wings flashing color and that white rump patch bobbing up
and down as they scurry to a distant perch. The yard “teems” with an abundance
of these birds.

Flickers like open woodlands and suburban areas. Snags (standing dead trees)
or soft wood trees such as Aspen are preferred when drilling nest cavities.
Their long beaks and tongues facilitate the procurement of ants and other types
of insects – whether on or in the bark of a tree, or on the ground. They also
like fruit and we often see them feeding on our elderberry bushes. Their call is
a loud wik – wik – wik – wik and wick-er, wick-er, wick-er, and a single, loud
klee-yer.

The eastern variety (Yellow-Shafted) has yellow under-parts, a black
moustache, and a red crescent on the back of its head.

 

The Great Horned Owl – Fighter or Lover?

It’s mesmerizing to fall asleep, or awaken, to a soft hooting in
the early evening, or in the wee morning hours. Such is a common occurrence at
our house. These love calls begin in late fall and result in the laying of four
eggs in late winter. Incubation is started at once and results in separate
hatching times for each egg. This situation is known as a “stairstep” family and
whether all, or part, of the young are raised depends on the food supply. The
biggest baby is always fed first and it will survive even if the others don’t.
When the young fledge, they are ½ again larger than the adults. This allows for
an adjustment period when they are learning to fend for themselves.

The GREAT HORNED OWL is not only “tender” with its own but is very formidable
with others. They can take prey as large as a skunk and I have seen young cats
(in our yard) that have been torn in half. A smack on your head with their
talons could be very injurious.

They are identified by size (22”), a white throat, and ear-like feather
projections. They are quite adaptable and wide spread across North America and
are important rodent controllers. Mice and voles make up the lion’s share of
their diet. Other bird species will often “mob” them during daylight hours. Our
yard and lower tree plots are to their liking and we get to witness the raising
and fledging of young each year.

 

A bird in the hand equals two in the bush

By Dave Hanks 

Tiny little claws grasp and tickle my fingers. It’s a BLACK- CAPPED CHICKADEE – a small bird that is named for its call and black cap. If you are in the woods you hear the call “chick-a-dee-dee-dee”, it is unmistakably this bird.

We have two Chickadee species in Cassia County: the Black-Capped and the Mountain. The Mountain Chickadee is told from the Black-Capped by a white eyebrow stripe and is the more common in our county. Both prefer higher elevation woodlands of both deciduous and coniferous trees. They usually forage in the lower branches where they are often seen feeding by hanging upside down. When not nesting, they gather in huge flocks. They are insectivorous but will come to feeders containing seed.

As you can see, they can also be lured onto ones hand, perch on your camera, or even alight on your head. Following a Chickadee call can lead you to other species, which they tend to feed in a group with; such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, warblers, and kinglets. They may even lead you to owls that are sitting on their daytime roosts. These frisky fellows are a favorite winter visitor to bird feeding stations.

 

 

Our Neighborhood Kingfisher

I hear his “rattling” as he flies over our trees on his way to breakfast. Our neighbor has a large pond that is stocked with goldfish. The bird perches on a zip-line cable that is stretched over the pond. He watches below, plunges down and spears a fish, and then flies to a small bridge that leads to an island within the pond. He then smacks the head of the fish against the metal railing to kill it before ingesting it. Having observed this behavior, I set up my portable blind beside the bridge. I get in it each morning, before sunup, for most of a week. The “rattling” alerts me to his presence and I get ready for him to land on the bridge. This gives me the opportunity to get some good Kingfisher photos.

The BELTED KINGFISHER is a species in which the female is the more colorful. She has a rusty red belly stripe. They are 13” long and have a noticeable crest that looks to need “combing”.

They nest in burrows, dug in banks, close to fish inhabited waters. A short tail creates less drag as they exit the water after a dive. I became a Kingfisher lover from the time I first noticed one winging and “rattling” its way above Rock Creek, in southern Twin Falls County.

 

Arizona: A winter month bird bonanza!

By Dave Hanks

First, this southerly location receives visitors from Mexico – a country with birds not found in the more northern states of America. Also, its desert landscape causes many species to be in abundance in the less arid and lusher areas. Some special areas Carolyn and I would visit during winter months to do photography start at the top of the state and extend into its southeastern corner.

Just below Flagstaff at Cottonwood is Dead Horse Ranch. It has many water birds, many scrubland species, and River Otter. This spot has always been productive enough for a several day stay.

South of Phoenix is Picheco State Park with its desert adapted species. Further south at Tucson is a very rich area. The Sonora Desert parks, both west and east portions add more variety, and all three parks increase the winter picture bounty.

Perhaps, Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, has yielded the most variety: Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wrens, Roadrunners, Goldfinch, Thrashers, and several Woodpeckers to name a few.

Further south, just north of Nogales, is Madera Canyon. This higher elevation provides a woodland habitat of Scrub Oak, Juniper, and Yucca. It sports four special species: Arizona Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, and Scott’s Oriole.

From Patagonia Lake we travel to the Chirricahua Mountains and Portal in the southeastern corner. This is the real bird capital of Arizona. One can hardly get the feeders out before the birds that are waiting in the trees swoop down to feast. Peccary and Coati Mundi are two mammals that are there to experience also.

Crissel’s Thrasher: An exciting discovery and photo session

Crissel’s Thrasher: An exciting discovery and photo session

Lewis: An Unusual Woodpecker

by Dave Hanks

Pink and green is an unusual color combination, but the LEWIS WOODPECKER is an unusual woodpecker. This bird is named for Meriwether Lewis, who shot a few specimens while on the Lewis and Clark expedition, and after returning home, gave them to the Philadelphia museum. There are very few American species that are pink or green. But, this one has a pink belly and a green back. This 11 inch bird, also, has a red face, and a white neck and throat – an interesting use of colors.

This is an unusual woodpecker, not only because of its coloration, but because of a habit of feeding in mid-air by catching flying insects. Berries and nuts are also eaten – the nuts stored in tree holes for winter consumption.

The Lewis Woodpecker is strictly a western species. Oregon and Northern California woodlands have been especially attractive to this species. These areas are abundant in open Ponderosa Pine forests, riparian woodlands (dominated by cottonwoods), and logged woodlands with standing snags – ideal for nesting. These are the habitats that the bird prefers.

There was a cottonwood tree (that has since been cut down) that was a favorite nesting site for Lewis Woodpeckers. It was on the upper entrance to the Harrington Fork picnic area – along Rock creek in Twin Falls County. We used to visit it every spring to see the woodpeckers. It was a sad day when it was no more. Since the loss of many special trees along Rock Creek, we have had to go further afield to find our pink-bellied friend. Once we visited a central Idaho campground, where the species was reported to have been seen. We were disappointed when the campground host told us that we were a couple of weeks late. But not so fast! I found one down by the river!

Loss of habitat has put this species in trouble. It would be a shame, if this neat bird became extinct!

lewisp

Resting in a cottonwood tree by the Salmon River

 

Christmas all year!

by Dave Hanks

I can’t wait for the dawn when the sun lights the sky, To photograph beast or bird as each passes by!

I’m like a Christmas Eve kid thrashing in bed sleeplessly, Anxious to open those presents that are under the tree.

But I don’t seek presents wrapped with tinsel or bow. Nevertheless they are gifts that “set me aglow”.

There are never enough minutes in each safari day, To “shoot” all the species that come our way.

But those that I capture in each camera frame, Excite me like Christmas! It’s all just the same.

I can’t wait for the dawn when the sun lights the sky, To photograph beast or bird as each passes by!

SCOTT’S ORIOLE is a special gift. It is a southwestern species that combines yellow with the oriole black, instead of the usual orange. It’s a medium-sized oriole with a black hood that extends onto its breast and back. Its belly and rump are a bright yellow.

We have seen this species in the scrublands of southeastern Arizona, and in the juniper/scrub oak forests of Arizona’s Madera Canyon. Yucca is a plant with which it is closely associated. Yucca is used as both a nesting site and also its fibers and leaves as nesting material. This insectivore is one of the first birds to start singing each morning before sunrise, as well as throughout theday in summer – a real songster that will even sing in the winter.

Scott's Oriole Resting on a stump my wife provided for that purpose

Resting on a stump my wife provided for that purpose

BIGHORN and a Little Bit of Eden

by Dave Hanks

There is a place just north of Missoula, Montana in the Mission
Valley by the Flathead River – a place I love to visit. In fact, it would rank
in my top ten. It is the National Bison Range. In addition to the Bison, one of
the greatest attractions is the Bighorn Sheep that reside there.

The range covers several levels: from the river bottom, to prairie steppe, to
a steep climb into a mountainous terrain. There is a 19 mile road that you can
drive to view the area. However, once on the road you cannot turn back as it is
narrow and therefore one way. It is on the descent off the mountain (which is
steep enough to give one a thrill) that you will come upon the sheep. Groups of
magnificent rams are often within camera view. Their view and ours extends out
over the surrounding valley and the small town of St. Ignatius to the east.

Ovis canadensis stands 3 to 3 ½ feet high and weighs between 125 to 200
pounds. Its name comes from the male’s massive, spiraling horns. These can be
very impressive on the more mature animals. Bighorns are a grayish-brown with a
white rump. They are excellent climbers and in summer seek the security of
cliffs that are difficult for predators to transverse. They use the habitat in
conjunction with Mountain Goats – each utilizing it in a different season. Sheep
go up in the summer and down in to the valleys in winter, which is opposite to
the goat’s movements.

Bighorn, Bison, Pronghorn, Mule and White-Tailed Deer, Coyote, and sometimes
even bears are some of the mammals. There is a great abundance of birds and
wildflowers to experience. There is also a nice park by the river to rest in
after the drive over the mountain. The bird, deer, and turtle activity in the
park will add interest if one is inclined to picnic.

I marvel at the excitement and anticipation we experience each time we visit
this place. It has never disappointed us!

(At rest in the shade)