Photo of green jay at Rio Costero by Al Batt.
Photo of green jay at Rio Costero by Al Batt.

I was at Rio Costero Ranch near Harlingen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. I was looking at a large flock of red-winged blackbirds through my binoculars when I saw a merlin take one of them. It was fun for me to see. Not so much fun for the blackbird.

I saw the familiar ivory-billed water chickens - American coots, also known as mudhens. I saw the strange anhinga. Also called the "snakebird," the anhinga's scientific name is Anhinga anhinga.

I searched skies of turkey vultures for zone-tailed hawks. This hawk looks like a turkey vulture. It's not a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's a hawk in vulture's clothing. Turkey vultures don't kill. They feed on dead things. Animals don't fear turkey vultures for that reason.

The zone-tailed hawk resembles a turkey vulture, so animals ignore it as well, possibly to their demise. The zone-tailed appears to have a head, as opposed to the turkey vultures that look headless in flight.

Over here

I never miss a chance to look out a window. I pay particular attention to the vegetation near the house in the spring and fall. That's when the warblers move through. They are feathered jewels, but be careful watching them. The prothonotary warbler was the bird that established a connection between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss in the 1940s. Chambers testified that Hiss enjoyed bird-watching and bragged about seeing a prothonotary warbler. Hiss testified to the same incident, causing members of the House Un-American Activities Committee to become convinced of the pair's acquaintance.

Playing hide-and-seek with a bird

I saw a common pauraque in The Rio Grande Valley. This beautiful bird rests on leaf litter and becomes virtually invisible to the human eye. Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, told me that he was having no luck finding the bird in an area where it had been seen earlier. Fearing that his 13-year-old son, Liam, might succumb to boredom, Bill offered his offspring a small financial reward if he could locate the bird. The offer had barely crossed Bill's lips when Liam pointed and said, "There it is."

And it was.

A call from a nuthatch on line one

Rich Hoyer of Tucson does a Christmas Bird Count in Arizona. He uses a device that plays birdsongs in an attempt to find more countable birds. He plays the call of red-breasted nuthatches at midnight and the tiny birds respond. The song of a bird defines territory, attracts a mate and communicates things we can only guess at. Their voices strive to find a happy medium of getting in and out of the way of the singing of others.

Raising mice

I serve as a trustee for the American Bald Eagle Foundation (ABEF) in Haines, Alaska. The organization has raptors with appetites. Because of that ABEF raises 300 mice each month.

Dave Olerud, the founder of ABEF, has his office next to the mouse factory. Dave was not as appreciative of the odor of mice as one would expect.

The folks at ABEF discovered that putting a bit of vanilla in the drinking water caused the urine of the mice to be less smelly.

Q and A

Janet Buck of Gaylord asks if it's true that higher muskrat mounds forecast deep snow. My father claimed that was a predictor of winter's severity. There may be something in most old sayings, but in general, such conditions have natural causes and don't indicate what the weather will be.

"Can an owl turn its head all the way around?" An owl's eyes are fixed in its sockets, so it must rotate its neck to look around. An owl's head rotation is part illusion and part structure. The actual rotation is about 270 degrees.

"What animal lives the longest?" It is likely a turtle. The longest authenticated life of any tortoise is that of Marion's Tortoise. It was taken as an adult from its native island in the Seychelles to Mauritius by the French explorer Marion de Fresne in 1766. It lived there for 152 years, dying in 1918. Since it was an adult at the time of its capture, its actual age was estimated at 180 years and perhaps as much as 200 years.

"I drove many miles with a lady beetle clinging to my car's windshield. How could it do that?" The pads on its feet create surface tension. It would be akin to placing wet paper on a table. If the paper were dry, it would be easy to lift, but the wet paper clings to the table.

Nature lessons

A male ruby-throated hummingbird typically weighs between 2.5 and 3.5 grams, while females tip the scales at 3.5 to 4.5 grams. A nickel weighs 5 grams.

The snowy owl, about the size of a great horned owl but heavier, will attack a polar bear that gets too close to its nest.

Sea otters have very thick fur - 850,000 to one million hairs per square inch. They have the thickest fur of any mammal. I wonder who counted those hairs?

There are an estimated 1,100 species of bats worldwide, accounting for about 20 percent of all mammal species.

Great horned owls nest as early as January.

Authorities at an airport near Gloucester, England, in an effort to keep birds away from their runway, are blasting out Tina Turner's hits at a high-volume. Gloucestershire Airport officials say that gulls and crows are the biggest problems.

A rock wren feeds mainly on insects, larvae, spiders and earthworms. It doesn't drink water. Its food provides all it needs. Captive rock wrens wouldn't drink water when it was offered to them.

An interesting study that was published in Nature years ago found that peregrine falcons are less likely to catch pigeons with the so-called "wild" plumage, characterized by a white rump, than pigeons of other plumage types. The white rump appeared to be what saved them.

Keep your lid on

This is from Gary Seath who lives in California, "A while ago I got a birdwatching app for my iPad. While sitting outside at a cafe table, I watched some birds running around the tables. I pulled out my iPad and was able to identify the birds as juncos. The app had the bird sounds so I played some of the junco calls. Within a few seconds the birds were looking for the interloper. They appeared a little agitated. Before the last one of them left he had the last laugh, he bombed the top of my drink lid from the branches above the table."

Thanks for stopping by

"Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else's hands, but not you." - Jim Rohn

"Issue a blanket pardon. Forgive everyone who has ever hurt you in any way. Forgiveness is a perfectly selfish act. It sets you free from the past." - Brian Tracy


©Al Batt 2012