Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Sep 01 2017

Thank A Vulture

Published by under Birds of Prey

Turkey vulture (photo by Chuck Tague)

Turkey vulture (photo by Chuck Tague)

Have you ever smelled a dead animal rotting in the summer heat?  Even if you don't know where the smell is located you give it a wide berth.

Humans eat dead things but we can't eat spoiled dead things.  In the 200,000 years of our species existence those who were not repulsed by or could not smell rotting food did not live long.  Refusing to touch spoiled meat is a life-saving trait.

Sadly vultures get a bad name for removing the very things we can't afford to touch.  "Eeeww," we think, "that bird is eating something vile."  But it's actually a good thing that they do this.

Vultures are nature's clean up crew. They can safely eat rabid and anthrax-infected carcasses because their stomach acids kill the deadly toxins, removing them from the environment.

What would happen if there weren't any vultures?  India knows what it's like.

99.9% of the vultures in India, Pakistan and Nepal died off in the last 25 years due to diclofenac, a painkiller given to cattle that’s deadly to vultures.  Since then rotting carcasses have infected drinking water and the rat and wild dog populations have soared.  However, unlike vultures the mammal scavengers contract rabies, anthrax and plague from the carcasses they eat and then spread the diseases to humans.  30,000 people now die of rabies in India each year.

Thankfully our vultures are alive and well in North America and tomorrow's a good day to learn about them.  Saturday Sept 2, 2017 is International Vulture Awareness Day.

Logo of International Vulture Awareness Day 2017

Click this link for a list of activities planned around the world including a celebration hosted by the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia at Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia.  Stop by the parking lot/pavilions near the Gift shop to join the fun.

Thank a vulture this weekend!

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

 

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Jul 17 2017

On Silent Wings

Published by under Birds of Prey,Travel

Barn owl at South Acre, Norfolk, UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Barn owl at South Acre, Norfolk, UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Last week I mentioned that seeing a barn owl in flight was the visual highlight of my trip to England.  Today I'll give you a taste of what it was like to watch this beautiful bird.

Barn owls (Tyto alba) live around the world (see map) but declined 50-70% in parts of their range after World War II due to intensive farming practices, the conversion of farmland to housing, and the introduction of pesticides.  In the U.K. the population fell 70% by the 1980s.  In North America they're now endangered in Vermont, Connecticut and the Midwest, including Ohio.

Because barn owls are so secretive and rare in the U.S. I had seen only one in the wild -- and it was roosting.  I had never seen a barn owl fly.  What a thrill it was to see one hunting the tall grass near the River Wensum in England.

The short video below is similar to my experience, though not the same owl.

 

I know I wouldn't have seen a barn owl in Britain if it weren't for the decades-long efforts of local wildlife agencies and trusts working to restore this bird to the English countryside.  One such group is The Barn Owl Trust located in Devon near Dartmoor.  Since 1988 they've worked to conserve barn owls and educate the public about these beautiful birds.  Learn more in their video below.

 

Thanks to conservation efforts around the world, we're still thrilled to see barn owls float by on silent wings.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Flight sequence video from the BBO Wildlife Trust on YouTube. Video on the history of The Barn Owl Trust UK from YouTube)

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Jul 15 2017

Catching Up With The Harmar Eagles

Published by under Birds of Prey

Juvenile bald eagle flies near the Harmar nest, July 2017 (photo by Annette Devinney)

Juvenile bald eagle flies near the Harmar nest in Allegheny County, PA, 9 July 2017 (photo by Annette Devinney)

While I was on vacation I lost track of local news.  Today I'm catching up with the Harmar bald eagles.

It's been more than a week since the two young eagles from the Harmar nest made their first flight.  Annette Devinney and her husband Gerry captured photos and video last Sunday July 9.  The juvies are looking good!

HARMAR BABY from Gerry Devinney on Vimeo.

 

 

I hope to have a look at them this weekend from the Harmar end of the Hulton Bridge if they're still near the nest.

Meanwhile, read their happy news and see more of Annette's photos in Mary Ann Thomas's TribLive article from Monday July 10 (click here).

 

(photos by Annette Devinney, video from Gerry Devinney on Vimeo)

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Jun 30 2017

Do You Have A Hobby?

Published by under Birds of Prey,Travel

European hobby (drawing by Jos Zwarts via Wikimedia Commons)

European hobby (drawing by Jos Zwarts via Wikimedia Commons)

Do you have a hobby?

Jos Zwarts of the Netherlands has a hobby of drawing birds.  He drew this bird.  It's a hobby (Falco subbuteo).

Native to Europe and Asia, the Eurasian hobby is a bit larger than a merlin.  North America has kestrels, merlins, peregrines and gyrfalcons but nothing like a hobby.

Click on the screenshot below to see a video of two Eurasian hobbies at Arkive.org.

Screesnhot of Eurasian hobby video at Arkive.org

Screenshot of Eurasian hobby video at Arkive.org

 

(drawing by Jos Zwarts via Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Video screenshot from Arkive.org)

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Jun 23 2017

Osprey Family of Four

Published by under Birds of Prey

Ospreys at their nest near Duquesne (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Ospreys at their nest near Duquesne, 19 June 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

The young Hays bald eagle (H7) has flown but another fish-eating bird still has chicks in a nest near the Monongahela River.

Early this week Dana Nesiti (Eagles of Hays PA) visited the Three Rivers Heritage bike trail in Duquesne to check on a long-time osprey nest.  The ospreys return from migration every March to set up housekeeping on an old power pole in a railyard.  During the nesting season the adults are easy to see but the chicks aren't visible until they're almost ready to fledge.

On 19 Jun 2017 Dana wrote, I "stopped at the Osprey nest this evening and when the male flew past two little ones poked [their heads up] and when he brought a fish back only saw two again. I think we can confirm two this year."

Osprey nest with two young near Duquesne (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Osprey nest with two young near Duquesne, 19 Jun 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

 

It's always cool to see a fish delivery. "Incoming!"

Incoming! An adult osprey brings fish to the nest near Duquesne, 19 June 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Incoming! An adult osprey brings fish to the nest near Duquesne, 19 June 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

 

Thanks to our cleaner rivers, there are plenty of fish for this family of four.

 

See photos of the Hays Bald Eagles and other local birds of prey on Dana Nesiti's Facebook page: Eagles of Hays PA.

(photos by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA)

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Jun 18 2017

Young Eagle Is Flying at Hays

Published by under Birds of Prey

H7 takes flight at Hays, PA (photo by Annette Devinney)

H7 takes flight at Hays, PA (photo by Annette Devinney)

Last week was First Fledge Week for the young bald eagle at Hays.  Annette Devinney captured the action in pictures.

When was H7's first flight? No one knows for sure. Wendy (Eaglestreamer) told me the bird was still branching in the nest tree on Monday evening but wasn't there at all on Tuesday morning June 13.  He/she(*) was found later on another tree so she(*) must have fledged ... but no one saw it.

Landing is harder than it looks; H7 on the vines (photo by Annette Devinney)

Landing sites are hard to choose; H7 on the vines (photo by Annette Devinney)

 

Since then there have been daily opportunities to watch what looks like H7's first flight.  Eagles are much larger and heavier than peregrines so it takes them longer to become agile at flapping and landing -- especially landing.

H7 is still learning that small branches can't support her weight.  Sometimes she lands on a snag or a stable mound of leaves (above) but other landings are embarrassing as she slowly drops from tiny branch to tiny branch and disappears from sight.  Click on the screenshot below to see a video of one such landing.  Annette's husband Gerry, who took the video, says H7 wasn't hurt at all.

H7 flies well but lands poorly (screenshot of Gerry Devinney video)

H7 flies well but lands poorly (screenshot of Gerry Devinney video)

 

As we've learned with peregrines, the adults show us where their fledgling is.  The eagle parents carry fish back and forth near the young bird and ostentatiously eat within H7's line of sight as if to say, "Come on up here and you'll get some."

Mother bald eagle carries a fish, apparently to entice H7 (photo by Annette Devinney)

Mother bald eagle carries a fish, apparently to entice H7 (photo by Annette Devinney)

 

And when H7 drops out of sight during an awkward landing the adults look below.  Annette's caption is priceless!  "I told you not to land on the flimsy ones."

"I told you not to land on the flimsy ones" 6-15-2017 (photo by Annette Devinney)

"I told you not to land on the flimsy ones" 6-15-2017 (photo and caption by Annette Devinney)

 

Come on down to the Hays Bald Eagle Viewing Area on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail to watch the action.  Perhaps you'll see Annette, Gerry and Wendy there.

Click here for directions.

 

(photos by Annette Devinney, linked video by Gerry Devinney)

(*) p.s.  We don't know yet if H7 is male or female but it's awkward to read "he/she" and "him/her" throughout the text so I've simplified by using the female pronoun.  Bald eagles are like great battleships compared to peregrines as fighter jets.  Since ships use the female pronoun I am using "she" for H7.

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Jun 10 2017

Hays Bald Eagles: H7 Will Fly Soon!

Now that Peregrine Season is over I finally have time to visit other nests.  Yesterday I stopped by the Hays Eagle Viewing Area on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and was happy to find Eaglestreamer (Wendy) on site.  She filled me in on all the latest news.

The bald eagle chick, H7, walked off the nest on June 2 and has been branching ever since.  In this June 4 video you can see both adults standing by while H7 does some wing exercises.  Like all bald eagle chicks H7 is dark brown and hard to see with wings closed.

Meanwhile the adults are very attentive but have changed their behavior in small ways that are similar to peregrine fledge-time.  For instance, they sometimes take more time to deliver food by flying past the juvenile with prey in their talons.

Very soon -- any day now -- H7 will fly for the first time.  Eagle fans are on the trail every day, awaiting that exciting moment.  Stop by and join them. Click here for directions.

Observers at the Hays Bald Eagle Viewing Area, 9 June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Observers at the Hays Bald Eagle Viewing Area, 9 June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

If you can't make it to the trail, here are some ways to enjoy eagle watching from afar.

Exciting days ahead!

 

(video by Eaglestreamer on YouTube, photo by Kate St. John)

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Apr 15 2017

The “Raptor Row” Ride, April 29

Hays bald eagle carrying nesting material, March 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Hays bald eagle carrying nesting material, March 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Watch raptors on your bike!

On 29 April 2017, the Steel Valley Trail Council (SVTC) and Three Rivers Birding Club (3RBC) will hold a bicycle ride along "Raptor Row" of the Great Allegheny Passage Trail.  It's a celebration of the raptors who nested along the Monongahela River last spring.

Travel up and down river from Hays to Duquesne or McKeesport to see bald eagles, a great-horned owl (ARL will have a live owl on site), red-tailed hawks, ospreys and kestrels.

When:  Saturday, April 29
Where: Waterfront Town Center, 270 Bridge Street behind Starbucks.
What:  A bicycle ride on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail from Hays to Duquesne (13.5-mile round trip) or to McKeesport (this 18-mile round trip includes kestrels).  Three Rivers Birding Club members will be stationed at the raptor nest sites, many with scopes for close viewing of nests and any raptors that may be present.
How:  Costs are at the link below. VIP option has a bird guide ride with you!  If you don't have a bike you can rent one on site from Waterfront Bike Rentals.

Click here for details and more about the raptors:

https://steelvalleytrail.org/events/raptor-row-ride/

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Mar 26 2017

Hays Bald Eagle Hatch Watch

Bald eagle near the nest, 25 Mar 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Bald eagle near the Hays nest, 25 Mar 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Six weeks ago on February 13, the Hays bald eagle nest tree blew over in a storm while the female was incubating her first egg.  Within a week the pair built a new nest nearby and, though they can't be seen on the webcam, observers on the ground can tell the eagles began incubation on a new egg on February 19.

Bald eagle eggs typically hatch in 35 days.  Today, March 26, is the 35th day.

Eagle fans don't wait until hatch day to begin their vigil.  Yesterday Dana Nesiti (Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook) arrived before dawn and captured the photo above. I stopped by at 3pm and found Eaglestreamer and LFL on duty.

Eaglestreamer and LFL at the Hays bald eagle viewing site, 25 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Eaglestreamer and LFL at the Hays bald eagle viewing site, 25 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Eaglestreamer has tracked the Hays eagles for years and told me that their first hatch date is often Day 37 so there's still time to be there for the big event.  (See Eaglestreamer's hatch website here.)

Even if you miss the hatch, the eagles will be exciting in the days ahead as they bring food to the nest.

Click here for directions to the Hays viewing area.  On Facebook, see Hays bald eagle photos by Annette Devinney, Dana Nesiti, Dan Dasynich ... and many of their friends.

 

UPDATE MARCH 28: HATCHED!  Without a webcam on-the-ground observers look for parents-feeding-young behavior.  This behavior was confimed on 28 March 2017.  Eaglestreamer writes:  "2 fish delivered back to back as was finally able to get a peek at small bits of food being torn and offered with lowered beak."

(bald eagle photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook. Eaglestreamer and LFL photo by Kate St. John)

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Mar 08 2017

Graceful

Swallow-tailed kite in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Swallow-tailed kite in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

We use words like powerful, strong or fierce to describe raptors but this one is different.  The swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus) is truly graceful.

Named for their beautiful black tails, their flight is so buoyant that they barely flap as they swoop and turn to grab food from the air or the treetops.  They seem to be moving in slow motion and it's true.  They can fly slowly because their wings and tails are so long.

Swallow-tailed kites live year round in South America but only visit the southern U.S. and Central America to breed. They eat mostly insects which they capture with their feet but supplement their diet with frogs, lizards and nestling birds during the nesting season.

I've seen solo kites returning to Florida in late February but my best experience was last month on the Road Scholar birding trip to Costa Rica.  We saw flocks of swallow-tailed kites and they were spectacular!

At a pond near the road to Agua Buena, three kites skimmed the water, drinking and bathing, as graceful as swallows.  They flew so low that we could see the bluish sheen on their backs.  Jon Goodwill photographed them in the flight.

Swallow-tailed kite, bathing (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Swallow-tailed kite, bathing or drinking in flight (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Swallow-tailed kite bathing (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Swallow-tailed kite bathing (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Swallow-tailed kite lifting off from its bath (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Swallow-tailed kite lifting off from its bath (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Later we took a detour ... and we were lucky.  Our guide Roger Melendez saw a pair of kites building a nest.  Bert Dudley zoomed his camera for this video of the female arranging the sticks. (You can hear us talking in the background.)

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I would love to show you the beautiful flight of these graceful birds. This video of three man-made kites flown by Ray Bethell is the closest approximation.

Swallow-tailed kites are so graceful.

 

(top photo from Wikimedia Commons, bathing and drinking photos by Jon Goodwill, video by Bert Dudley. Click on the images to see the originals)

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