Randy's Ramblings: A bird-watching report from North HudsonNature has been on riotous display in our backyard in recent weeks. The cattail-ringed drainage pond beyond the lawn — together with neighborhood bird feeders — are magnets for an amazing diversity of wildlife.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
Nature has been on riotous display in our backyard in recent weeks.
The cattail-ringed drainage pond beyond the lawn — together with neighborhood bird feeders — are magnets for an amazing diversity of wildlife.
As I write this, our resident red-shouldered hawk has just swooped down from the dead limb of an oak, pouncing on what may well be a red-winged blackbird nest in the reeds.
The blackbirds are angry. Three of them are circling, taking turns dive-bombing the cold-hearted killer, scolding shrilly all the while.
“Nature is cruel,” my father-in-law tells me that his mother used to say.
It is. Two mornings in a row last week, my wife and I have watched the hawk use the top of the bluebird house in our small perennial garden as a feeding platform.
The hawk ripped the prey clutched in its sharp talons to pieces with its strong hooked beak, and gulped down the pieces.
We hoped it was catching mice in the tall grass on the slope to the pond. My sweetheart wouldn’t have minded if it was dining on frog legs.
The pond is home to what sounds like hundreds frogs when they croak their cantata at the close of a day. The cacophony goes on long into the night and keeps my darling awake.
But on Saturday we witnessed the hawk’s descent into the cattails. Now we know that it’s likely eating baby blackbirds.
Unfortunately, that’s probably the reason the mallard ducklings hatched on the pond each spring disappear so quickly, too.
A two-minute episode Saturday while we were planting foxglove and coreopsis provided particularly exceptional bird watching.
We had paused to look at the wild turkey that came to drink from the pond when the hawk made the dive into the cattails, creating a ruckus among the blackbirds.
When the commotion died down, we noticed the local pileated woodpecker hanging awkwardly from the neighbor’s suet feeder.
The pileated is a spectacular crow-sized black and white woodpecker with a flaming red crest, as described by Tory Peterson in his “Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America.”
Woody the Woodpecker was a pileated, for those of you old enough to remember the TV cartoon.
Pileated woodpeckers are fairly uncommon, so we feel blessed to have a pair in the neighborhood. When one attacks a tree the rattle from its beak striking the wood is unmistakable – and loud.
It was comical to watch the big woodpecker (16 to 19 inches from bill tip to the end of the tail, according to the field guide) maneuver on the small feeder to get at the suet.
My wife awoke one morning to find the turkey perched on the deck railing, stretching its long neck to reach the sunflowers, safflower and cracked corn in the hanging platform feeder.
The lone hen is a newcomer to our yard, and we’re glad to have her. She cleans up the seed spilled to the ground by the messy blackbirds.
The regular guests to our feeder this year include American goldfinches and purple finches, nuthatches, cardinals, chickadees, mourning doves, cowbirds and, of course, red-winged blackbirds – a lot of red-winged blackbirds.
The pond is prime habitat for the blackbirds and our deck feeder is just a short flight away for them. It’s fun to watch them fly up from the pond and glide in for a landing on the feeder, which hangs about a dozen feet above the ground.
The brash blackbirds are the rulers of the feeder. Even the mourning doves, nearly twice as big, take flight if a blackbird decides it doesn’t want to share.
The smaller songbirds take off immediately when they see an incoming blackbird, not wanting to encounter its sharp beak.
Newly arrived this weekend are a trio of blue jays, a Baltimore oriole and either an American crow or a common raven.
Our neighbor puts out fresh fruit for the oriole. It was back on his deck looking for another gourmet meal, I suspect.
It’s been a year of big birds on our deck – the pileated woodpecker, the turkey and, most recently, a crow or raven standing on the railing, eyeing the hanging suet feeder. He tried hopping onto it, but the perch swung out from underneath his big body, and off he flew.
I didn’t have time to grab the field guide to figure out whether it was a crow or a raven. The trained eye can tell the difference at a glance, I’m sure. I’m still in training.
My father-in-law tells me crows are shinier than the bigger and scruffy ravens.
There you have it. The bird report from one backyard in North Hudson – in more detail than you might care about.
The older I get, the more I marvel at nature in all its glory – and the more fearful I am for its future.
Man’s propensity for fouling his own nest is distressing. Oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from a well a mile under the water and nearly three miles into the gulf’s floor for 43 days and counting.
It wasn’t long ago that environmentalists were ridiculed in many circles if they raised any question about similar deepwater operations.
We’d be better off if we did more bird-watching and less driving. It’s time to drive a more fuel-efficient car, too, or one powered by an alternative fuel. This oil addiction has gotten too painful.