Monday, July 24, 2017

Tohono Chul Park and "Forest Bathing"

Guest post by Dan Weisz

NPR ran a story about the practice of “Forest Bathing”, aka, a retreat to nature which can actually boost your immunity and your mood. You can read or listen to the story at this link:  

I’ve been spending some time at Tohono Chul Park doing just that and, besides the flowers and lizards and butterflies, have come across some interesting birds.

Right at the entrance to the park there was a large cholla cactus with a cactus wren nest on it.  As I approached, two cactus wrens emerged from the nest and flew off, and then a young cactus wren emerged and stayed for a while.  You can tell it is a juvenile by its brown eye.  As an adult, the bird will have a red eye.

A young male Costa’s Hummingbird enjoyed the morning sunlight.  His gorget is just beginning to grow in.

This Anna’s Hummingbird has a beak covered with pollen.

I had heard that a Cooper’s Hawk had a successful nest in the park and that there were three juveniles flying around.  While I was sitting on a bench, this one came crashing through the trees chasing a bird.  It continued to hunt without any regard for me.  Obviously, it is used to people being around.

As it hopped from branch to branch, it appeared oblivious to me.  The vertical streaking on its cream-colored breast and that yellowish eye tells us this is a juvenile.  As an adult, the bird will have a red eye and the breast will be covered with warm reddish barring.

Stalking its prey.

I had also heard about some young Western Screech Owls that had fledged in the park.  I was unable to locate them during my first few visits but was determined to find them. Finally, I did find them right where people said they were likely to be.  Of course, they were hiding in plain sight buried in this lemon tree.  Two are visible here.

A close-up of one owl finds it behind many leaves and branches.

Here is a second perched behind a twig.

After peering through the tree, trying to find the best window to see the three hidden owls, a docent walked up and said “Oh, you’ve found the owls.”  I said yes and pointed to where the three were hidden and she said “what about this one” pointing overhead to one owl that was right in the open!  This juvenile still does not have its facial disc and still has the juvenile barred feathers on its chest.  The vertical striping has yet to come in.  What a great sight to finish the morning!

Forest bathing at its finest!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Elvis's Final Act - Western Screech Owl Final Update

Guest post by Dan Weisz

On Monday two of the owlets fledged and hung out in their mesquite tree.  They seemed unable to do much more than hop from one branch to another.  Of course, after I went in around 8:45 they had the rest of the night to practice.

On Tuesday, the mother owl did not appear on the ladder as she had in the past.  After sunset but before dark, she swooped past the house around to the back.  There, she took a long sip of water.  I believe that this owl, like most birds, laps water into her bill and then tilts her head back in order to swallow.  She always closed her feathered eyelids when drinking.

Her head is tilted back in order to swallow the water.  You can see a large drop on her bill.

One last look at this adult Western Screech Owl. Note the dark facial disc, looking like parentheses around her face.  And also note the bold, black vertical streaks and compare that to the owlets' look in the following photos.

Second night out of the nest and this owlet still looked fairly klutzy to begin the evening.  Here, it struggled to perch on a small branch.  Below it is head first, and wings up.

And then it was head’s up and wings down.

And finally he found stability.

One of the owlets (without the black dot on its eye).

The same owlet, and you can see the faintest beginning of the black vertical striping around its neck.

Here is the second owlet, the one with the spot on its left iris.  He found an unusual perch, but they do live in the desert!

Busy cleaning or scratching its talons, eyes closed to prevent any accidents.

One last look at an owlet.  Actually, after a half hour, both little birds were flying around very handily.  They even flew to other trees and then followed their parents into the desert.  That was just two nights after leaving the nest!   The parents will continue feeding them but they now can follow parents around during the hunt.

And the last little owlet remained in the nest.  I never saw the parents feeding it, but she looked strong and active.

And of course, she slept lots of the time too.

On Wednesday the two fledged owlets never reappeared, and the parents also did not perch near the nest box.  I only heard them calling a very few times before 9:00 when I retired.  They had not fed the youngest at that time but I am certain they returned to the nest often during the night.  Tonight (Thursday) the owlet in the nest box appeared healthy and alert and poked its head out after sunset, looking around and apparently waiting for its dinner.  By 8:45, I had not heard the parents, but I know they are out there taking care of the two fledged birds before returning to the nest box regularly.

I will continue my watch, and keep you posted, but this email is likely the last in the Western Screech Owl series, until next Spring!

Friday, May 26, 2017

On Monday Elvis Left the Building

Guest post by Dan Weisz

On Sunday I confirmed that there are three owlets.  The one below has that blemish on the lower, outer portion of his left iris.

And there are two siblings without the blemish in their eye!  So there are at least three owlets!

On Sunday the behavior of the owlets in the nest box and as well as the behavior of the parents outside of the nest box had dramatically changed.  Monday couldn’t come soon enough. 

Before sunset, the female Western Screech Owl was on her ladder perch once again.

As the sun began to set, she went through her now familiar 'waking up' routines.  Below she is finishing a rouse, getting all of her feathers in place and relaxed.  Her head reminds me of the Wookiee Chewbacca from Star Wars.

She followed up with some stretches and warbling:

First her left wing stretched low while standing very tall on those feathered legs.

Then her right wing.  It’s like she’s doing the Hokey Pokey.

Then both wings up high while she lowers her head and kneels forward!

And then, after settling down, she took off into the desert.  The owlets had not been sticking their heads out of the nest box as they had done regularly in the past week.  Suddenly, I saw some blurry motion in the mesquite tree above the nest box. One owlet on a branch!  I wasn't certain whether it had flown out of the nest box or flew in from somewhere else.  In any case, one owlet was out.  I then saw motion in the back of the mesquite tree and another owlet was perched.  Two owls had fledged!

This is the one with the blemish in his left eye on his lower, outer iris.  Note how his feathering is very different from the parent above.  He has barred feathers, almost like a herringbone design.  The adult owl has vertical black streaking on its body.  The ‘facial disc’ on the adult is very pronounced, and just developing in the young.  The owlet just has a fuzzier look to it.

The owlets hardly moved on the mesquite.  They would turn, and when they moved to another spot, it was by a short hop and some clumsy flapping of their wings mostly for balance.  They spent much time just sleeping or resting, perhaps waiting for food delivery.  Below is the same owlet on the exact same perch (note the mistletoe seeds in front of him).  Here his  feathered “ear” tufts or plumicorns are beginning to be visible.

Here is the second owlet, just resting.

but still alert and looking around for its parent. Again, no plumicorns, no pronounced facial disc, and no vertical striping on its body.

It was exciting to see the two little owls out of the nest but still limited in their abilities to move around.

Stay tuned for the final report!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

More of the Western Screech Owl Family

Guest post by Dan Weisz

Open Wide!  This owlet may be  yawning, or perhaps it is getting ready to ‘cast a pellet’.  In either case, this is a pretty cute look.

What is ‘casting a pellet’?  Many kinds of birds cast pellets. From : "The digestive systems of these birds have to deal with bones, scales, fur, or feathers. So the bird’s gizzard performs a kind of sorting operation. Soft tissues pass through to be digested, while indigestible sharp and hazardous bits are formed into an oval mass, or pellet. They pass back up the digestive system and are regurgitated a few hours later.”  In the shot below, the mama owl had just left her nest for the evening and, after sitting on my porch light for a minute or two, did her business.

Wednesday’s dinner:  a Variable Sand Snake.  Looking at the snake’s underside, you can see where the “kill” bite occurred.

The owl is passing the treat off to its young, and you can see the snake’s pretty colors.

Holding the snake by the head, the little owl begins to descend to the nest box floor to consume its food.

Peek-a-Boo:  Even though they are nocturnal creatures, the owls can see during the daytime and often stick their heads out of the nest box to check out the world.  

I’ve been asked about the number of owlets in the nest.  Since they all look very much alike, it has been difficult for me to tell them apart.  A good friend noticed something very different about at least two of the owls.  In this peek-a-boo pairing, look at the lower, outside corner in the eye of each owlet’s iris.  The owlet below has a dark spot on its iris.  The second one does not.  See the dot?

And in this shot, no dot on the iris.  So there are at least two owlets, maybe more.  I’m waiting impatiently for them to leave the nest so I’ll know for sure.

Each night the mother varies her routine.  Some nights, she leaves the nest an hour or so before sunset and naps on a ladder that faces the nest.  Other nights she remains in the nest until just after sunset before leaving for her night’s hunt.  When she does leave, she varies the direction she takes and varies her initial perch.  On a few nights, I never see her leave the nest.  Apparently, she leaves the nest an hour or two prior to sunset (before I begin my Owl-TV vigil) and heads off into the desert early.

Here she is on the ladder, checking me out.

She seems to be saying “Owl see you later”.

To be continued……..

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Western Screech Owl Part 2: Dinner is served

Guest post by Dan Weisz

Over the past week I’ve been able to observe the parent Western Screech Owls taking care of their growing young.  At this point, I do not know whether there is just one owlet, or two or three.  There is only room for one owlet at a time to stick their head out of the nest hole.  Within the next week, the babies may leave the nest when they “fledge”.  At that time, I’ll know how many young there are and I hope to get some nice family photos from that point on. 

In the meantime, dinner is delivered nightly.  Here are a few of the photos I’ve been able to get.  In this one, a parent has just delivered a centipede, from their beak to their youngster’s beak, and the parent is taking off for the next hunt.  The owlet’s eyes are closed and if you look closely, you can see both ends of the centipede.

On another night, the first meal was what appears to be a Kangaroo Rat.  You can see the brown head and body and the tail which gets hairy near the end.

Here’s a better look at the rat’s distinctive tail.

Sunday night, the parent approached the nest hole and then landed on the roof of the box.  In this blurry shot, you can see dinner being carried by the owl’s foot.  A long leaf of some kind (pine needle perhaps?) got caught in the struggle.   The owlet is peering up at the action.

The owl is standing on the box, holding on to the pack rat. 

And now dinner is served!

The parent remained in the nest for a while, either helping to tear apart the rat or perhaps having a bite or two. When he/she emerged, you can see remnants of the rat on the owls beak and facial feathers.  And then the hunting continued.

I’ll continue my nightly Owl-TV vigils and report out in a few days.