Saturday, December 26, 2009

Running the gauntlet

The past few years, I have wised up and only asked for one or two things for Christmas. Sure I could tell people that I want socks, and clothes, a gadget that helps me find my keys, and an automatic bra warmer*. But I have learned that to make it easier for people who care about me, I just say I want ONE THING.
Last year, I wanted a Garmin. And Geoff delivered. Easy.

This year, it was simple. I wanted a triple-layer, 17-inch eagle glove from Mike's Falconry. A glove that has three layers of cowhide from the elbow all the way down to the tips of the fingers.

If you are new to this blog, I handle some rather persnickety birds of prey and my arm resembles the arm of a person who indulges in heroin. I was tired of putting my limbs in mortal peril every time I took out one of our red-tailed hawks (big females with attitudes that defy any words to describe them).
So that's all I talked about....the glove. The eagle gauntlet. My arm and how much I like it to remain sealed in its protective covering.

My Mom delivered this year. It makes the decision easy for your mother when all you want is something that will protect the skin that she used to rub baby lotion into.

I lovingly rubbed melted Jess Grease into the new, beautiful masterpiece of leather-making.
The first bird I tried it on was my Lucy:
Lucy new glove 3
(Photo taken by balancing my camera on Lucy's rock perch, among the feathers, guts and feet of the previous day's meal of quail)
I tried it on Scarlet, one of our Red-tailed Hawks. She jumped around too much for a photo (I got lots of hawk-shaped blurs).

Priscilla the Barred Owl was next...
Priscilla new glove

And let me just say that this glove, in all of its triple-layer glory, is overkill for our smaller birds.
A simple, single layer is all that is needed. Their feet, while armed with pointy ends, are not really strong enough to puncture more than one layer of leather.
But I will be using the new glove anyhoo.

I couldn't even feel Storm's feet through all of that leather. For all of his bravado, his feet are small and dainty.

I enjoyed watching those dainty feet scrape and gouge the new leather:
Storm feet new glove
The more I use the glove, the softer and more pliable it will become.

It was time to try it on Isis, our leucistic Red-tailed Hawk.
Isis is a very large RTHA. A rather strong RTHA. A rather jumpy RTHA. A RTHA who squeaks like a dog toy.
I went in to get her today, and after a minute of fake-out jumping and squeaking, I got hold of one of her jesses and lifted her. She was NOT coming quietly, and struck out with her free foot.
And she found the only vulnerable area on the entire glove...the tips of the fingers. All of that leather needs to be sewn together somewhere, and just one of her eight talons sliced through the seam on the end of my third finger.
I got her off my hand and went to the barn. I took off my glove and there was a nice ribbon of blood unfurling from the end of my finger.
Deep and messy. Not serious, but..... I got to thinking that I hadn't had a tetanus booster in a while. Like 20 years or so.
When I first started at RAPTOR, someone suggested that I get a booster, because I WOULD get hurt at some point. That was nearly four years ago. Did I listen? Nooooooo.
So I spent the afternoon today waiting in an Urgent Care office to get a booster shot.

Sylvester and me new glove
"I disapprove of you bleeding."

Come to think of it, that's not a bad gift idea.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: Oscar and Olive Osprey: A Family Takes Flight
If you have a young birder (or any young person, because frankly, all children should learn more about nature) on your Christmas list, you can't go wrong with Janie Suss' biography of a family of osprey.

Long known as the "Bird Lady" in her neighborhood, Janie sees the need for more nesting sites for the multitude of osprey who live near the Chesapeake Bay. She convinces her husband to help build a nesting platform at the end of their pier, and so begins a year-long journey she takes with the two adult osprey who choose her creation to begin a family.

The book chronicles the trials and joys of Oscar and Olive, and later, their offspring, as two osprey become a family. Janie lovingly writes of the parallels of a bird family and her own: The love of parents for their children, and the sometimes challenging job of being a sibling.

Written mostly from the *ospreys' point of view, it is an easy read for children and a book that begs to be shared by parents and kids alike.
*(Anthropomorphism isn't something that I endorse, usually. But this story can help bring a child closer to the knowledge that birds do care about their children, just as human parents care about theirs.)

The end of the book has resources for building your own osprey platform, and some fun facts about osprey. (I will interject this: One small correction...osprey are not the only raptor to possess opposable toes.)

A fun, light story to bring children closer not only to the lives of birds, but a lovely story about family, either feathered or otherwise.
Click here to order.

My rating: One and a half wings up!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some days are better than others.

I nearly dismissed them as Canada Geese.

I was backing the car up the driveway when I saw a wavy line of birds coming over the neighborhood. I glanced up and then went back to concentrating on not driving into the neighbor's yard. But a rattle call floated down to me, and both of my feet slammed down on the brakes. And I shouted out loud, to no one, "Holy sh*t! Sandhill Cranes!!!"

Sandhill Cranes. Over OUR house.

Sandhills 1

Sandhills 2

Around thirty of them slowly peddled overhead, as I held the camera in one hand and clutched my chest with the other. Sandhill Cranes as a yard bird. Never would have thought.
Another flock came by a few minutes later, so I grabbed Geoff off his chair to show him.

While waiting for the schoolbus, yet another flock. More than 100 cranes in about 20 minutes.

Second flock Sandhills
I talked to myself a lot yesterday afternoon.

Another day, another bird:
I read that a Bald Eagle was seen near the "gravel pits", (click here to read about me finding a baldie in the same place a few years ago...and there are a few funny kid stories in that post, too) about 10 minutes from the house, so that was my target bird today.

Delivered. With a bow and sparkles.

Usually when I would look for an eagle on this stretch of road, it would involve driving down the road past the gravel pit, turning around and driving back. Over and over.
But today, as soon as I started down the road, a large dark bird materialized in a tree immediately.

Bald eagle 2 2009
And I started talking to myself immediately.
"Well, hello there, Bald EAGLE!"
I thought that I would also find plenty of birders there, too. But I had the bird to myself.
Which made me cry.
And I walked as I cried, closer and closer, keeping my profile to the bird, pretending that I wasn't looking at him.
I realized how far I had walked, so I stopped and looked up at the eagle. I was about fifty feet away.
And he was staring right into my eyes.

Bald eagle 3 2009
I forgot all about not staring at him, (raptors don't like to be stared at) and just froze in my tracks. I looked into those icy white eyes for what seemed like forever, until HE broke eye contact and went back to watching the American Coots panic down on the lake.
And a few minutes later, he began to preen. Birds don't preen unless they are relaxed.

It is mind-blowing to me when a bird (or any wild animal) is so utterly unconcerned with a human being so close.
So I cried a little more. It's okay if you want to call me a sissy-pants. I had a bald eagle all to myself in beautiful sunshine today. *sticks tongue out*

I came home, and dragged myself to the laundry room to figure out how many piles I would have to move to be able to enter the room.
The laundry room faces what we call "The Waiting Tree", a knarly tree that is a favorite perch for all of the raptors who visit the yard.
And there sat a red-shouldered hawk.
This is a different bird than the one doing the orange lollipop thing a few days ago. That one had a very dark face...this one was gray in the cheeks.
RSHA in waiting tree
And banded. Maybe the one featured up in my header?
(If you click on the photo and view the large size, you can just make out the band on its right leg. And some blood on the talons. Sweeeeet.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We are our own Paparazzi

When I first heard this song*, all of the photos of the Flock, in all its incarnations, came flooding into my mind. When we are all together, we are constantly snapping away at each other with our cameras like crazed tourists.
Yes, we go to birding festivals to see the birds. But it's the faces of our friends that make the trips memorable.
I'm in desperate need of new photos of my peeps. I have been recycling the same ones over and over.
*I adore Lady Gaga. Can't stop listening to this song!

Next festival for me is New River Bird and Nature Festival. Click here to learn more.
(Hey, you Flock members and quasi-Flock members? If you want to go, email me at so we can talk about lodging. We can try to fill the Farmhouse again. Seriously. We can get a good deal.)

And if I can swing it (i.e. Geoff doesn't have kittens about it), I want to see the great open spaces of North Dakota at the Potholes and Prairies Festival in June.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Hawk in the prairie

Stuck in the house today, I spent a large amount of time watching the birds at the feeders.
Aside from the juncos, white-throated sparrows, cardinals, chickadees and titmice, it's always a treat to see a bird of prey swoop in and scare the pants off everyone else.

This red-shouldered hawk flew in, neatly bounced off the fence and headed for the back yard.
(And in the process, caused all the songbirds to scatter to the four winds)
RSHA aren't above snatching a small bird, but it's rodents they are after. The songbirds don't take any chances, though.

RSHA on back fence

I always look for bands, since the RSHA families down the street are outfitted with jewelry every year, but this one was too fluffed out for me to see its legs.
{Click here to hear how Red-shouldered hawks are called in for visual verification.}

It sat near our property value-decreasing prairie and looked for all the world like an orange lollipop.

Red-shouldered hawks make me catch my breath every time they decide to enter our yard. That orange chest, those red shoulders, the bold black and white banded tail. Delicious.
Aside from the wee American Kestrel, they are the most colorful of Ohio's raptors.
If they ever decided to nest here in our yard, I would be in raptor heaven. We definitely have the food supply.
Go out in your yard and find a place to start a prairie. Doesn't have to be big. You just have to NOT MOW IT, and fill it with native grasses and wildflowers. It will give you immense pleasure and the wildlife will throng to it.

Later on, I laughed out loud when a Cooper's hawk barreled into a tree near the feeders and caused all of the songbirds to violently poop in unison.
I do love my yard.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Why birds?

I don't know if anyone has ever asked me outright, "Why birds? Why are they so fascinating to you? Why not squirrels, or whales, or horses?"
But I see the question in the faces of those non-birders. They don't get it. Why would a sane person stare at birds for hours? Or stare down long highways for hours, to maybe get a chance to see a bird they have never seen before? Or WORK with BIRDS?

Now, squirrels and whales and horses are fascinating in their own way. But I'm not a squirreler. Or a whaler. Or an equestrian.
I'm a birder.

So, why birds?
Well, have you got a few hours to hear all the reasons? No? Okay. I will keep it short.

1. Ease of access.
Our not-quite one acre piece of land has seen at least 61 different species of bird. And those are just the ones I have seen or heard myself. There are most certainly more out there, just invisible to my eyes or silent to my ears.

And sometimes, they alight on my fingertips.

Birds are the easiest form of wildlife to attract to your yard. Seed, suet, insects, water, a place to rest and a place to nest. That's all they need. And in return, they stick around and make life brighter. It's simple. It's fun. It's rewarding.

2. Variety
There are nearly 10,000 different types of birds on our planet. So what if there are zillions of types of insects and so on. Birds are easier to see. :)

All shapes and sizes and colors:
Osprey eye contact
Huge, fierce osprey

Victor E.
Tiny, fierce ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Prothonotary warbler Lake Isabella
Traffic light prothonotary warblers.

flicker on the sidewalk
Fat, brown flickers.

GBH Oxbow
Sleek, powerful great blue herons.

And it's not too difficult to find fuzz.
Crazy PIWO hairdo
Rebel teenager pileated woodpecker.

Macro duckling
Silky fuzzy baby mallard.

3. Coolness
Flight. Unbelievably long migrations. Songs that stir our blood.

Junior, Flight training
Our sweet, misdirected Junior, during his flight demonstration training in Illinois.
Look at those wings. Very cool.

A young Cooper's Hawk on our front fence, chowing down on fresh house sparrow.
Look at those talons. Tres' cool.

Close up barred owl
A sleepy Barred Owl in our side yard, who didn't care that I was 10 feet from him.
Look at those eyes. Uber-cool.

And a face that sums up all that I love and hold dear to my heart regarding birds.
I get to hold this on my hand. To stare into fathomless eyes and see myself in them.
I feel the grip of hundreds of pounds-per-square inch.
Sometimes they scream at me in their language.
Two-inch talons sometimes draw my blood.
When they breath out, I breath in.
Sylvester disapproves of snow
"You know that I tolerate you because I choose to, right?"