Thursday, February 28, 2013

Herbert's Pond: Part I

Feb 15: ....We pulled into Herbert’s Pond on our way home from Grants Pass..... wood ducks!  Usually wood ducks are all too private.  They ease off as soon as we get anywhere close; but these are sharing a small pond with a gaggle of ‘funny ducks,’ i.e. various shades of domestic.  The wood ducks seem reasonably tolerant.
It is almost sunset so we don’t have much time. I immediately start to sketch.

Feb 17:  We arrived back at Herbert’s Pond late morning.  Before parking I got in the back seat of the car, behind Dale, so we could both sit on the pond side of the car.  While he photographed I sketched.  
Two double-crested cormorants sun themselves on a partially submerged log.  Already their faces have turned bright yellow, but no ‘crests’ yet.  That will come closer to nesting time. 

For a moment I thought my stomach was growling.  No, just the mumblings of the cormorants.  Then “HAANNK!”  Loud.  So loud I startled.  I thought someone had come up behind me.  Then I realized it is just more cormorant talk.  Apparently he said, “Let’s go fishing.”  Both slipped into the water and have been making frequent dives.  One comes up with a fish and tosses it quickly.  Down the gullet it goes.  

The cormorant dives a few more times but soon heads back to his log.  A coot has been enjoying the log, but there is no doubt in the coot’s mind as to whether the log is his or the cormorant’s.  Off he goes.  

Just before the cormorant climbs onto the log he ruffles and shakes .. a quick splash bath before climbing up.  Water droplets pearl on his dark feathers.  After a few quick preens he spreads his wings to dry;  first he angles his breast towards the sun, then his back.  
Feb 19:  Back to the pond.  When we first arrived one wood duck drake displayed once.  I want to see more!  He fluffed and threw back his fabulous head and kicked  up his tail; but it all happened so fast!  I can’t remember the exact sequence.  Head first?  Tail?  both at once?  I watched and watched.  I see little head bobs, but no real display.  

After three sessions of pond sitting I go home realizing how little I know about wood duck behavior.  It is obvious they are pairing up before they reach their nesting territory and I think I am seeing some courting behavior.   The interesting behavior happens so fast I’m not quite sure what I’m seeing.  I’ve got a plan of action -- read about them on Cornell’s ‘Birds of North America Online’  and I’m going to try to video some of their antics so I can slow down the action.  

More to come........

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Winter Hummers

I still can’t get used to humming birds in winter.  Of course our winter isn’t all that harsh, but I still think any sane humming bird should go to warmer climes.  Our winters are green and soggy.  Snow fall on half a dozen days is a lot;  freezing nights are few.

When we first moved here, over thirty years ago, a humming bird in winter was an unusual occurrence. I subscribed to the philosophy I should take down my humming bird feeder in late summer and nudge the little sweeties on their way.  What I didn’t realize is that our common summer humming bird, the rufous hummer, is a smart little creature.  They go south.  Seeing one here in the winter would be very unusual.  The hummers we do get in the winter are Anna’s hummingbirds.  They aren’t in my yard in the summertime, only in winter!  
I still don’t feed in the fall, but, as soon as the weather turned and I caught sight of of an Anna’s, my heart melted and I rushed to put out a feeder.  Later on we had a cold snap.   For over a week either Dale or I got up early to put the feeder out at first light.  We took it in every night so it wouldn’t freeze.  When it was just getting light enough to sort juncoes from white-crowned sparrows, there he would be, waiting for us.  He’d even sneak a few sips while I reached to hang the feeder!  Have you ever been tickled by a hummingbird?  

Most of the winter our regular visitor has been an immature male Anna’s, but when the weather was its nastiest we suddenly had four hummers! Big, wet snow flakes drifted down and there sat four Anna’s hummingbirds, all fluffed up.   It was as if it was too cold to argue.  They perched and bickered and mostly inhaled our sugar water.  As soon as the weather improved we were back down to one pugnacious immature male and a second who’d sneak in when the coast was clear.     

I happened to be in the yard one day when a glorious mature male perched first at one end of the yard and then the other, scolding the whole while ... but he wouldn’t come close to the feeder.  

About ten days ago the tides turned.  Now ‘Fancy Dan,’ the beautiful male Anna’s is the regular visitor and the immature male sneaks in when the coast is clear.  Fancy Dan is such a handsome fellow!  Depending on the angle of light, his iridescent feathers can be almost black .... or magnificent.  

And he knows he is magnificent.  I caught him perched, puffed, and singing his pea-pick’n heart out.  The song is so soft I can barely hear it from less than fifteen feet away.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cut the Willow Switch!

A great blue heron stalks ever so quietly in a small pond. While we wait for a good photograph, I’ve been busy sketching --  cormorants, Canada geese, shovelers, and now a great blue heron.  

While I sketch the heron a flock of twenty Canada geese fly into the pond and set up an earful of chatter.  The heron stays focused, slowly moving one foot forward and then the other.  

Squabbling and chasing, the geese have been here for five minutes and the air is still filled with goose chatter, not the low murmur of contented geese. The raucous commotion accompanies them as they settle who gets the choice spots.  It takes another five minutes before the geese calm down.  Most are now onshore preening; three bath; others swim slowly.  While we sit, waiting for the heron to catch something, two green-winged teal come swimming along the shoreline.  The heron moves ever so closely towards us.

Drat and rats!  Dale says, “Go cut yourself a willow switch!”  

When we left the house this morning we were on our way to a meeting.  The weatherman predicted ‘cloudy,’-- not ‘partly cloudy,’ not ‘mostly cloudy’ .... just ‘cloudy.’ Silly me said, “Lets not bother taking the big lens with us.”  By the time the meeting ended the clouds were burning off.  Now that we are parked at the little pond, an otter has come out on the far side of its tiny island  --  a little far away for the lens we have with us.  Shame on me for suggesting we leave the big lens at home.

All is not lost.  The otter decides to go hunting.  The otter is underwater a lot.  Sometimes we see a tight spattering of popping bubbles and we know he’ll come up near where we last saw him.  When he decides to move quickly from one place to another, we see a wake and a straight string of bubbles.  At least he gives us a clue as to where he’ll pop up next.  A road edges much of the pond so we inch along when he is underwater.

The heron is having none of this! When the otter nears, the heron quickly climbs on shore and keeps an eye on the otter’s meanderings.  Ducks move out of the way too.  

The otter has a fish!  A good sized bass, maybe ten inches long.  He is close to us, but this isn’t a good place to eat it.  He dives and comes up looking at us ...  dives again and heads towards the little island.  He quickly climbs onto solid ground and starts eating his catch.  We’re wishing for that big lens again, but I really can’t complain.  He did catch his fish right near us.

I’m surprised how quickly he eats the whole thing, just a few minutes.  Once done, he slips back into the water for a short swim around, underwater a lot again.  Soon he is back up on the island rubbing, rubbing, rubbing.  He rubs every bit of his body ... back, belly, sides.  Over and over.  

A little scratching and some licking is in order after the long rubbing.  He even grooms the tip of his tail.  His coat is beginning to look glossy and dry, not drenched.  

The otter gets lazier and lazier as we watch.  At first he tackled grooming with vigor, but now it is more snooze than motion.  He just has to find the right position for a good nap.  Time for us to head home for our lunch.