Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Different Angle

Here's the nest box from a different, slightly closer angle.  Still not crystal sharp . . . oh well!  Soon the box will be empty, and new young kestrels will be out and about the farm.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thinking About Fledging

Some of the nestling kestrels have reached a developmental stage where they realize there is a world outside that round light hole in their world.  At least one of them is starting to hop up and look out at this new world.  Soon it will fly out to join its parents, and continue its development into an independent kestrel.  The others will most likely follow in their turn of hatching as the week progresses.

The view is great from my spotting scope.  Again, it does not translate so well onto my digital camera.  Some day perhaps I'll be able to afford truly nice equipment.  For now, at least I'm able to capture and record what is happening.  Later this week I may try to get closer to the box for a better picture.  After all, these images are being taken from across a corn field, where the fledgling don't even notice me.  Not bad, I guess, judging from the distance.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Last Check

Today was the last time Rich and I will check the kestrel nest boxes for this year.  This is primarily because both boxes are within a week to 10 days before they fledge, and I don't want to prematurely spook anyone out of their box before they are ready to go on their own.  Also, the corn in the field has grown so tall (well higher than "knee high by the Fourth of July") that carrying the ladder must surely be difficult for him, and while walking through the field, I almost lost Christina, who joined us for today's inspection.  She's quite a bit shorter than I, and the corn is getting as tall as me, almost, in many places.
The first box of eyases, overlooking the field by the farm, continues to have the more aggresive chicks.  This time just about every one of them flipped over and tried to defend themselves.  Each was individually removed and checked to log the number of each male and female for each box.  I wish I had the ability to band them, but I don't, and I didn't contact anyone that could.  They continue to be about as offensive with their feet at a playful kitten, which still smarts, but this time a couple used their beaks, and those hurt!
The count for the first box was:  Three females; Two males
This fierce little female had quite the bite on her!  She seems to be the oldest of the bunch.
Here is the emerging tail of the female.  Her tail will have multiple bands of black on it, other than just the large terminal band at the end of the tail.  The male's tail will only have the white then the black, and then be the mahogany/red the rest of the way up the feathers.  This eyases' tail also looks chalky from the mutes (falcon poop) in the box.  Once they are not all crowded in the box they will be able to preen themselves clean.
They have reached about full size.  Here is a comparison to a human hand . . . a gloved human hand . . . Christina's hand.  She didn't want to get grabbed.  Several times I used a glove to deflect the feet.  I didn't want to get grabbed either, though it is nothing like the handshake of a red tail!
The box in the back field revealed:  Three males; Two females

There are mates in one box for the birds in the other.  Of course, statistically, many of these future fledglings will not survive their first year.  Also, their insticts will cause them to migrate out of the area, to disburse, so any that do survive will most likely settle in some other location.

Next week I will simply observe from a distance with my spotting scope.  I hope to catch a couple pictures of fledglings leaving their nest box to explore the greater world outside.

We then took Christina up to the Decorah Fish Hatchery, to see the eagle nest in person.  I did locate one of the brancher eagles, and Rich took its picture.
Look!  A "baby" bald eagle!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Desert Dreaming

From April 15 through April 18 in 2010 I took a trip to Big Bend State Park, then Big Bend National Park in Texas. I failed to bring my camera, so did not have a set of sharp pictures to blog from, and because I moved to Minnesota shortly after the visit, I never got the chance, or took the time, to blog about the experience. Rich and I are currently entering (daily) for an opportunity to visit again. I realize the possibility of winning the free vacation is minimal at best, but I really would love the chance to go again . . . and to do so at someone else's expense would be even better. So I ask my audience to visualize my visiting again, and capturing pictures so I can paint my own picture of this desolate but beautiful landscape.

Here is a very nice video that I found, which reflects just some of sites and experiences. The desert can be very beautiful, when it is pristine. It is also not always hot, if you time the visit during the winter or early spring. There is also water in the desert, in secret and isolated places. Life thrives in these places. If you are lucky, you can also sometimes visit when the desert is in bloom. I visited at just such a time, when the landscape was alive with the red color of the blooming ocotillo. It was beautiful . . . and I kick myself for forgetting my camera at home.

I'd love to go again!

Here is another video presented by the State of Texas. I camped a night at the Big Bend Ranch, in the desert, all by myself. I think the nearest human was probably several miles away at the park's office. In this video, one of the featured speakers refers to having "a private piece of the Chihuahuan Desert". That is what I had. It even rained the night I was there. I woke in the morning to the fresh crisp smell of a washed desert. The plants give off a wonderful fragrance when they get rain. It was a remembered memory from my childhood.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Getting Bigger . . . and Getting Fierce

This week's kestrel nest box inspection found both nests still with five eyases, and starting to get their feathers.  The box overlooking the field by the house is developmentally just a few days behind the one in the back field.  The feather development is not enough yet to be able to sex the nestlings, at least not by me.  Perhaps by next week I can say definitively.  I think there will only be about one more nest inspection before the babies are big enough that there could be a risk of them bailing from the box before they should.  So, I'll plan for just one more check next week.  After that, I hope to set up my spotting scope at a safe distance and use my camera for pictures as they come out of the box.  It's not the best equipment, so the pictures won't be as good as some of those taken by the experts out there (Rob Palmer) . . . but they will be my pictures.
This week I did pull one eyas from each box and took a picture.  Though fierce looking, that is actually a fear response.  You can clearly see the tiny notches in the beak that are unique to falcons.  The tomial tooth aids in the killing of prey birds, so often on the menu of falcons . . . even the smallest ones.  Also check out the sharp little barbs at the end of the tongue.  These help to make sure food only goes in one direction . . . down the gullet.
Reaching into the box, and returning the baby that I had pulled, several of these baby kestrels manifested the protection behavior common in raptors.  They flip themselves over to defend with their feet.  I did get grabbed by the one on the left, but it is about as offensive as being grabbed by a kitten.
All the eyases in the back box were also piled together.  It is a somewhat cooler day today.
Look!  The Ultimate Angry Bird!
All the nestlings were chubby and well fed.  The two sets of parent kestrels are finding plenty to keep their babies healthy and growing.
Here you can see the first feathers emerging on the back of the baby I had pulled.  I could be wrong at this early stage, but I think this will be a female.  Kestrels are unique among our North American Raptors in that they have different color patterns for each sex, or plumage polymorphism.  By next week I should be able to say how many females and how many males are in each of the nest boxes.
After returning the baby to the box, they too were being a bit defensive of their space.

On the drive home from the back fields, we saw both of the red tail hawk parents sitting on one of the poles on the farm.  They moved their nest, and we have yet to look and find it.  However, I suspect we know the area where it may be located.  One parent flew constantly over our heads screaming at us where we stopped to look.  Perhaps soon Richard and I will take a more thorough walk and find the new nest tree.  The red tails should soon be branching and fledging as well.  Better hurry!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Five by Five

Or . . . since we are not talking about a radio signal, let's just say Five And Five!!

Nest Box #1 overlooking the field by the house was attended today by the mother kestrel.  The fedelity of these parents to their offspring is laudable.  She huddled with her head in the corner, I guess hoping I wouldn't notice her.  I did reach in and move her just a little, to make sure she was alive, and also to count "bobble heads".  There are five in there.  I thought maybe I would get a bite for my intrusion, but she just froze there hoping I would go away.  I did.
Here is a clearer picture of the nestling pile.
The nestlings in the back pasture, Box #2, were a lot easier to count.  They seem to be just a little older than the ones in Box #1.

The smallest one is there on the far right.  The largest on the left at the top.  They all appear to be getting plenty of food and growing quickly.  Soon we'll have a bunch of new kestrels flitting about the farm.  I hope they will be careful and avoid the Coopers Hawk that passes through the yard from time to time.