Sunday, August 26, 2012

This week in the neighborhood

It’s been a great week for wildlife encounters. I was driving down the highway and watched a group of swallows wheeling and flying quickly, with a Swainson’s hawk in their midst. The group flew near the New Fork River bridge and I actually saw the hawk grab a swallow! The hawk flew with the small bird to the top of a tall pole nearby, where the hawk attempted to feast on his meal, only to be so severely harassed by the rest of the flock he had to leave. The hawk, with the small bird still in its clutches, flew off to the safety of confines of the old cottonwoods along the riverbottom and I lost sight of him.

I couldn’t believe what I had seen – how could this raptor take one of those quick, small darters of the sky? Amazing!

A few days later, a friend came to the house and told me he had just seen a hawk grab one swallow out of a large whirling mass of swallows, at the same place. Perhaps we’ve got a swallow-snatching expert in the neighborhood.

We’ve had a nest of Swainson’s hawks that are hanging out along the same patch of river and meadow, and it has been wonderful to watch this brood as they hunt. The number of Swainson’s hawks present here is dwindling now, as they begin migrations. Here's a few more juveniles from our neighborhood:
The sheep are doing well in their new pasture near the Midland Ranch, with no wolf or bear problems. The herd is close enough to the ranch headquarters that there can be up to eight guardian dogs with my herd at any one time, in addition to the burros, so I have one of the most well-guarded herds in the country. The Midland is my business partner Pete’s ranch, and he has dozens of guardian dogs working to protect the various herds, so old dogs, young dogs, retirees, and nursing females sometimes come out to spend time with my herd since it is nearby. Fine by me – I’ll feed any guardian dog that tends to my flock.

Jim enjoys accompanying me to check the flock. Part of the pasture is a natural slough where he’s been harvesting meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris). Several times in the last few weeks we’ve split a steak for dinner, with a side of sliced mushrooms cooked in butter. Yum. Jim’s also been trying to teach Hud the herding dog to find mushrooms, but Roo the burro is far more interested.
Today as we returned from checking the sheep, we saw a large bull moose grazing along the New Fork River. We stopped in to watch and visit the beast as he grazed the riparian area on the other side of the river. He’s one of the bulls that wintered in the sheep pasture last year, so it feels like he’s somewhat of an old friend. Jim and I spent an hour sitting on the ground across the river from this Shiras moose, and he rewarded us by moving into the river toward us to stand in the cool water on a warm afternoon. 
I had never seen nor heard a moose slowly lapping water before. It was pretty darned entertaining, and I laughed when I saw this image of his curled tongue:
 We left him to his grazing, thanking him for accommodating our quiet visit. Jim snapped a new "glamour" shot for me before we left. Oh yeah, the boys on my block are badasses!


Anonymous said...

Great post Cat! Reminded me of my grad school days in Socorro, NM and we went searching for a secret bat cave hidden somewhere on a private ranch. We found what we thought was the right place, a cinder cone with collapsed lava tubes full of guano, but no bats. Then around dusk while we drank beer and grilled burgers a bunch of Swainson's gathered overhead just in time to start picking off their dinner as a river of Mexican free tailed bats poured out of the ground nearby, fun days...

Steve Bodio said...

I am intrigued, Paul. Is it the one N of the Quebradas or teh oen on the Plain ofSt A? I know theoretically where the second is but could never find the first.

Jennifer rehabber is helping me w/ Chicken but we still should plot some on Fall!

Steve Bodio said...

"Teh oen", & "ofSt" run together-- and I didn't have a drink yet even!

Which is Burqueno for "didn't even have a drink." You know the inflection...

Cat Urbigkit said...

Thanks Paul! I had read about Swainson's taking bats, but that must have been a wonderful experience to witness!

Steve Bodio said...

I think Swainson's are better "flight" predators than anyone gives them credit for-- they load up on such abundant fat little critters as grasshoppers because they are loading for migration, not because they can't handle more formidable prey!