As I was moving out of my old apartment this weekend a strange
sound eminated from the pool/lawn area below my balcony.
Upon investigating, I saw a pair of adult Dark-eyed Juncos
busily feeding an insistent juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird.
At some point prior to this episode, a female Cowbird had
laid her egg in the hapless Juncos' nest and left her offspring
in the care of the two other birds. Most likely, their own
young were either kicked out of the nest or out-competed
for food and so did not survive to fledge. In any case,
as I was observing this scene I felt a strong sympathy for
the two Juncos who seemed exhausted by their enormous and
insatiable guest. Then, their situation changed in a sudden
flash as an immature Cooper's Hawk landed on the
young Cowbird and snatched it away. It was over in an instant,
but it amazed me for the rest of the day. What makes it
even more incredible was that, after the Hawk caught the
young Cowbird on the ground, it somehow flew throught
the gap between the vertical bars in the fence before flying
over the pool. Getting though this gap, a mere 7-inch wide
space, seems like an impossible feat especially since the
hawk has a 3-foot wingspan! I'm still baffled as to how
she did it.
Kelly and I made a brief trip to Yosemite over the weekend
and camped for three nights in Hodgdon Meadow just inside
the west entrance of the park. It seems to be increasingly
difficult to camp in the park and we considered ourselves
lucky to get this site, although most of our activities
were centered around the Tuolumne meadows area almost 45
minutes away. The landscape is, of course, stunning anywhere
in the park and the weather that was absolutely perfect
as well. It seemed from the beginning like our trip would
be perfect. Some spots like Glacier Point and Sentinal Dome
were new to me and will remain on the permanent "don't miss"
list. During our stay we hoped to find as many montane birds
we could, but missed three such target species: Great Gray
Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, White-tailed Ptarmigan. Still,
we had wonderful encounters with many other Sierra specialties.
Kelly logged 6 lifers during our three birding hikes, which
took us around Saddlebag Lake above the treeline, around
some precarious rock formations at Olmstead Point, and an
astoundingly beautiful hike up to the top of Sentinal Dome.
Birds seemed to be everywhere we looked in Yosemite, but
one of the most rewarding discoveries was not a bird at
all. For the first time for either of us, we saw a Pika,
a small, rabbit-like mammal of rocky treeless habitat above
10,000'. Other mammals encountered were Yellow-bellied Marmots,
Golden-mantled Squirrels, Chickaree (Red Squirrel) and we
think three species of Chipmunks. I can't wait to explore
the Sierras again, and perhaps find those three missed tagets
then. The list of birds we logged on this trip is as follows:
Great Blue Heron
Blue Grouse (male booming was heard, a female and two immatures)
Pileated Woodpecker (heard right above our campsite, never
Western Wood Pewee
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Golden-crowned Kinglet (heard only)
Wrentit (heard only)
Black-throated Gray Warbler (heard only)
MacGillivray's Warbler (heard only)
Dark-eyed Junco (some showing "Slate-colored" X "Oregon"
Gray-crowned Rosy Finch (family feeding child at 10,000'.
See "News 08-04-01" for more details about my first encounter
with this species.)
Red Crossbill (very exciting, a complete family!)