Showing posts with label raptors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label raptors. Show all posts

April 03, 2018

Someone Was Eaten Here

A few weeks ago, I was walking up on the national forest and found this collection of fluff on the ground.

Up close, it looked like rabbit fluff.

I think that a raptor, such as a red-tailed hawk, smacked down a cottontail rabbit there and tore it open to eat it, but I cannot be sure. The almost circular pattern of the distributed fluff seems to suggest a bird to me rather than a four-footed predator

Dinos 1, Mammals 0 in this case?

January 31, 2017

Valley of Broken Dreams and Broken Owls

Owl tangled in a barbed wire fence.
Not today's owl, but similar.
(Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
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You drive south from Westcliffe and after the shooting range, a subdivision with "Ranch" in its name, and the Silver West Airport with its 7,000 foot runway (handy for private jets), you pass over a hardly perceptible divide into Another Place, the upper Huerfano Valley.

I think of it sometimes as the Valley of Broken Dreams— there were the people who thought that they would make it as ranchers, and mostly did not, and in the 1960s, various artists and countercultural dropouts who thought it was the place to be. It still attracts some hardscrabble retirees. Fine if you want lots of solar power but do not plan to grow gardens.

Drop City, founded by art students from the U. of Kansas, is claimed as the "first rural hippie commune." The Libre community was also well-known. And there were others — read Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counterculture.
All this is running through my mind as I blast south on Colorado 69 towards Gardner, which looks more like northern New Mexico than adjacent bits of Colorado — flat-roofted adobe or pseudo-adobe houses, piñon pine and juniper, no water to speak of.

My purpose is to pick up a great horned owl, found by a resident's daughter the previous day tangled in a barbed wire fence.

PRO TIP: If you find a bird tangled in barbed wire, do not peel the wire away. Take out your fence pliers or bolt cutters and cut the wire on either side, then bring wire and bird together to a raptor center or veterinarian. If you don't have fence pliers, stop at the hardware store and get some!

I found the house—acres of bone-dry pasture and a little house with good passive solar that was in the usual country status — never quite finished. As I walked through the crowded entryway with my gloves and pet carrier, the owner (70-ish, jeans and sweatshirt) asked me if I knew anyone who could help put some all these 4 x 8-foot panels of particle board that she had stacked up.

I wondered if she had come in the days of Drop City or if she had selected this as a retirement homestead more recently. She would have told me —she seemed lonely and talkative — but I just wanted to get some vet care for the owl.

Of course they had peeled off the wire. I asked if the owl had had any food, and she said that she had tried to give it some "baby oatmeal." But then (after a day) she had called the Raptor Center and been told not to do that. I silently agreed. Owls eat mice.

Its head was up, but it did not struggle much as I lifted it from her cardboard carton into my carrier. "They're going to help you feel better," she cooed to the bird.

I am not a vet nor even a trained Raptor Center volunteer. I just try to get the bird loaded with minimal handling and then drive hard for Pueblo, which was about 90 minutes away. Kind of like a 1950s ambulance driver — in the pre-EMT era. But I know that broken wing bones usually mean the final injection. The Center has enough one-winged birds on exhibition already.

Eventually I reached the interstate, accelerated up to 70 mph and hated modern life. Most of the time, we don't even to make space in our world for the other non-human peoples. There were no cattle around that house — why all the barbed wire?

As I think of that, I pass a cluster of bird-bashing wind turbines. And then at Burnt Mill Road a billboard for the Pueblo Zoo with some cute exotic felid kitten on it. I would rather see a healthy owl that belongs here than some exotic cat inside a cage.

At the raptor ICU, I did the paperwork. "Is this the owl from Gardner?" asked the ICU volunteer. "There's another one coming from Fowler."

There are three other great horned owls in the ICU. What is happening to them? This is their breeding season — are they just out and about more and getting into bad situations?

Paperwork done, I say goodby and start home. I have driven 167 miles (64 Spanish leagues or 534 li). The bird probably won't make it, but it was important to answer the call.

UPDATE: The owl did not survive, but I learned a new term, "capture myopathy."


January 30, 2017

Look an Eagle in the Eye, February 3–5

Bald eagles at Pueblo Reservoir (Ron Drummond/CPW)
In our "wildlife taxi" volunteer gig for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, M. and I frequently make runs to the Raptor Center in Pueblo.

Too often, we are facilitating an injured hawk or owl's rendezvous with a hypodermic needle. But sometimes there is good news and we get to release a rehabilitated bird.
At the center of this whirl stands Raptor Center director Diana Miller, and the Colorado Springs Gaztte has an article about her: "Raptor center gives southern Colorado raptors a second chance at survival." 
 The ICU sees roughly 250 birds a year - about half of which are released back into the wild after a few months in captivity, said Diana Miller, director of the center.

"They get hit by cars, they get electrocuted on power lines, they get hung up on barbed wire," Miller said. "There's a million things that can go wrong. It's not an easy life when you're out and about."
Miller and some volunteers will be center-stage again next weekend during Pueblo Eagle Days on the 3rd through 5th.

Stop by the state park headquarters at Pueblo Reservoir and see if you have what it takes to look an eagle in the eye.

November 12, 2016

A Lethal Combination

Coyote and badger at Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center
in northern Colorado. Kimberly Fraser, USFWS
A US Fish and Wildlife Service staffer got a series of pictures of a coyote and a badger hunting together, which are published on the USFWS Open Spaces blog.
Each partner in this unlikely duo brings a skill the other one lacks. Together they are both faster and better diggers than the burrowing rodents they hunt.

These partnerships tend to emerge during the warmer months. In the winter, the badger can dig up hibernating prey as it sleeps in its burrow. It has no need for the fleet-footed coyote.
Meanwhile, here in southern Colorado, I was talking this afternoon with a Colorado Parks and Wildlife employee who lives on the prairie west of Pueblo.

She said that she had seen from her house a coyote, a badger, and a harrier (hawk) apparently working together.

Domestic falconers team hawks with dogs, so why not in the wild? Probably that is where the idea came from. 

March 08, 2015

Women Going Feral — And Then Writing

Last fall, during a layover at Sea-Tac airport, I was checking email on my laptop when this young woman walked up and asked if she could share the table (there were too few of them).

She had two books with her — one of them was Cheryl Strayed's Wild, while the other was a novel. "I can't decide which one to read," she said.

"Read Wild," I said. "My wife loved it — I've read parts of it — it's good."

Later, M. and I saw the movie, which was overlooked in the Oscars — too odd for the judges, too many trees? — fairly faithful to the book, but with Extra Hollywood Stereotyping.*

Meanwhile, having read her former blog and her book on the cultural history of falcons, and corresponded a little, I was awaiting Helen Macdonald's memoir H is for Hawk

 I knew she could write. There had been the blog post where she described a goshawk flying through trees: ". . . the gos spooled away through the trees. He looked like a coin falling through water, flashing silver and grey. Some kind of metal. A very fierce one. Potassium, Sodium, Goshawk."

(We hates her, preciousss.)

H is for Hawk picked up a bucket of literary prizes in Britain, and reviewers on this side of the pond have been equally laudatory.  

The New Yorker gave it four pages (!!), reviewer Kathryn Schulz writing, "Books about nature, like the category 'animal,' sometimes suffer from a sin of omission: in both cases, people belong inside them but are often left out. Books about grief run the opposite risk; too much of the person can be left in, too much of the world omitted. Macdonald, who is writing both kinds of book at once, makes neither mistake."

Painted with a very, very broad structuralist brush, both books tell the same story. The writer loses a dear parent (Strayed her mother, Macdonald her father.) Both have been been drifting — both have self-destructive streaks (Strayed's more developed, perhaps) — both struggle with loneliness.

Photograph by Christina McLeish 
Both seek the wild, Strayed in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges, Macdonald, the falconer and academic historian of science, in more domesticated England, in the yellow eyes and murderous flights of Mabel, a newly acquired goshawk.

Strayed, backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, tells one of the female solo hikers whom she meets, "Honestly? I'm lonelier in my real life than I am out here. I miss my friends, of course, but it's not as if I have anybody waiting for me at home. How about you?"

Macdonald, looking at her life alone in the woods with her goshawk, feels numb: "My heart is salt."

Both must enter the woods and then follow the thread of their stories out — but how far, and for how long? 

* Strayed meets a farmer who is "working," which seems to consist of driving a tractor up and down a dirt road in the desert, no cropland in sight and nothing attached to the tractor.

January 16, 2013

August 01, 2012

Wildlife Taxi in a Flash Flood Zone

Fast-moving water fills the dry creek bed.
 Time: 2.5 hours. Distance: 56 miles. Passenger: Ferruginous hawk.

Another "wildlife taxi" run tonight. Some people in a semi-rural area of the next county north (5–10-acre plots, trailer homes, chickens and goats) had a found a ferruginous hawk huddled in their yard. Since there were loose chickens everywhere, that might explain why it was there.

They had caught it, put it in a cage, and called the Raptor Center. An earlier generation would have just reached for the shotgun, so sometimes there is such a thing as progress.

M. and I went through a strong thunderstorm on the way there, and it was still raining lightly as we headed home. Going into Nearby Town, there was a cop right on my rear bumper, and as we passed the city limits, he turned on his overhead lights.

I thought that I was only 1-2 mph over the posted limit, so I started mentally rehearsing as I pulled to the side: "Emergency!" "Sick bird!"  But he swung around and dashed on by.

Then my cell phone, sitting on the Jeep's center console, started beeping and buzzing. I had a warning from the National Weather Service about flash floods. I did not even know that it would receive severe-weather alerts!

Leaving town, I could see the cop's lights a couple of miles ahead. Then they halted. As we approached, I could see his cruiser parked at a junction and him struggling into a reflective vest while he waved me to stop.

A bridge ahead was washed out, he shouted.

I asked him about a rural gravel road further out on the prairie. It was open, he thought, so we turned around, backtracked a few miles, and then took the alternate route. I shot the photo by a bridge on that road, which was in no danger.

We made it to our rendezvous with the center's director, who squeezed the hawk's breast, said it was a juvenal (immature), which we had guessed, and that it seemed underweight. Maybe it had seen those chickens as its last hope for a meal. Instead, it ended up on a three-county road trip in a cardboard box. But, barring some illness that was not obvious, maybe it will bulk up on mice and then be released.

(Coyote Gulch reminds us that today was the anniversary of the Big Thompson Flood of 1976.)