Friday, December 16, 2011

A Lure or Deterrent?

This past weekend we went with the family for the yearly Christmas event with my wife's side of the family for a great time of food, fellowship and fun for all.

Saturday afternoon, we headed out for a walk along the Bruce Trail to enjoy a crisp and sunny day.  With a crowd of about 15 of us who went for the "long walk" along the Bruce Trail, most of the wildlife was likely flushed on ahead by the rambunctious kids running back and forth. It was never intended to be a silent photography run and it was fun to be out with the kids who seem to have endless energy!  But cameras were along to document the event, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also on the lookout for wildlife along the way.

On the way back, towards the end of the walk, I did linger back and ended up seeing a few of the more winter loving birds: chickadees, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, blue jay, and one nest which I wasn't sure if it was a raptor's or not.  Not much really though.  I strayed off the trail at one point seeing a large flock of noisy starlings gathered to scavenge the spilled grapes from a harvest recently past.  Lately there have been a number of people posting links for videos of some pretty fantastic flocks of starlings.  Their movement creates some pretty fantastic effects as the change directions, seemingly with one mind.  This was a small group though, with not nearly the same effect.  However, soon I sighted a Red-tailed Hawk, also watching the flock.  I don't believe they are quick enough to chase and catch these birds, preferring to hunt small mammals on the ground and surprise them from above.  But as I approached, it was annoyed enough by my presence to move to a tree further away, crying back at me in annoyance.  Soon there were two others circling over head as well.

Seemingly contrary to my previous assumptions though, at one point I thought I was going to see one of the hawks go straight into the flock of starlings for a kill.  The raptor must have been behind the birds though, creating the effect of being right inside the flock.  It gives the appearance of what would seem like "shooting fish in a barrel" for a hawk.  But I was surprised that the starlings didn't flee at the sign of the hawks, nor even how close they seemed to let the hawks fly by.  Although the pictures collapse the sense of depth, they weren't too far away.

Red-tailed Hawk behind a flock of Starlings.

Red-tailed hawk behind Starlings (almost in the middle of the picture).

My little side track off the trail ended up with two mysteries though.  One I solved, the other not...

Mystery #1 - Unsolved
Later when looking at the pictures (none of which turned out great being so far away), I noticed one of them had a rather strange looking neck.  Here are some crops in the filmstrip series below.  I'm afraid the compilation lost some of the quality, but they were crops already.  I'm not sure if anyone has any thoughts on what I'm seeing?  Is it a growth of some sort, or a really buff hawk who has been working out on it's main breast muscles? Not likely!

Red-tailed Hawk with mysterious looking neck - a growth of some sort?
UPDATE: see this post for the mystery solved.

Now, mystery number two...

Mystery #2 - Solved
As the starlings and hawks moved off, my turn for home was interrupted by excited cries of, what I was pretty sure was, a Merlin.  I had heard these cries before up in Bancroft this summer as I enjoyed seeing some older juveniles (previous post).  As the cries came periodically, I tried to head for where it sounded to be coming from.  I was crawling under the vine rows which I had walked up to get closer to the Red-tails, trying to keep in mind where the sun would be when I hopefully would maybe find a Merlin with fresh kill from the starling flock.  Merlins are a falcon that habitually will surprise birds in flight from above and easily catch a starling on the wing.  Slowly making my way over, sure enough, I flushed out a raptor from the ground - but not a Merlin.  It was a nice Cooper's hawk, it's long barred tail and broader wings than a Merlin showing as it chased a starling which I must have given a chance for escape as I startled the pair.  The rest of the flock of starlings was long gone.

Disappointed, not even having had a chance to fire off one frame on the camera, and frustrated that I hadn't taken more care to approach, I turned to go.  But, then I heard the same excited, piercing cry again.  Wow, a busy site for raptors that afternoon?  Red-tails, Cooper's Hawk, Merlin too?  I had another chance to approach more cautiously.  I slowly moved under the remaining vines... the excited, piercing chatter went again. I couldn't see anything - it must be in a ditch just past the lane way?  The same excited calls.  I carefully walked towards where I was sure the bird must be, camera ready, sure I'd startle it as I would come into sight over the ditch edge.  The raptor's cry again!  Wait, not coming from ahead and down, but just ahead and up!  

Where is it?
But no!  No Merlin, no raptor, not even a living thing!  Zoom out and this is what I had been lured by!!  A bird deterrent!!  A digital recording of a Merlin (I think) to scare off birds from eating the grapes, long gone. But the machine was still cruely luring in the unsuspecting birder!  And not keeping away an entire flock of starlings that had just been hanging around for a while.

Feeling disappointed and slightly embarrassed in fact, I headed back to the Christmas festivities chuckling to myself somewhat at how I had been had by a device that is soley meant to try and keep creatures away.  Irony.  Next time I hear the luring cry of a raptor, it better be for real!

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