Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Nature Moments

But first, a public service announcement: The last Berry-Go-Round of 2009 is up over at Agricultural Biodiversity. Some great reading for a cold day!

Photo du jour (eastish). The sun has begun its northward trek at last! I missed the peak color for this morning's shot; took me a minute to find the camera.

My recent trip across Colorado (12/27-12/30) brought several noteworthy Nature Moments, undocumented except in memory and this brief list.
  • Spectacular "mare's tails" above the southwest horizon most of the way
  • No eagles, but lots of hawks, including
  • One, in Montrose, I'm convinced was a Swainson's (a surprise! wintering in Colorado?)
  • One Great Blue Heron, ditto—a most pleasant surprise
  • A small flock of turkeys on the roadbank west of Ridgway
  • One starry morning, see below
  • And, of course, the trip home

Starry times: Forgetting to check the skies at a reasonable time during a long evening catching up with my sister, who lives up in the hills (only recently on the grid), I woke at 5 a.m. and glanced out. Not my usual view, and so many stars that the patterns I've been learning were obscured. Though captivated, it took me several minutes to figure out "where" I was. (Who knew Gemini had feet?! And, yes, Virginia, there really is a Milky Way!) When you're used to looking into an urban sky at 10ish p.m., everything seems off in the early a.m. of a more pristine sky!

The sight was so incredible that I made the 100-mile (160 km) round-trip again the next night! Alas, my only reward other than my sister's company was a night of cloudy skies.

This story will continue in a subsequent post, but one more Nature Moment should be listed here.

On Monday, I was called away from the computer by a loud wrangling in the backyard. Usually "bird noises" fade after a few seconds, before I can get there, but this went on. Something must be happening. At the southwest corner of the house, the elm tree was filled with a dozen or so magpies having a most vociferous conversation of a disturbing kind. I walked west and peeked around the corner (toward the chicken coop), seeing nothing but a vague dark flash.

Fearing for the chickens, I went back through the house to the north side, and was treated to the sight of a large raptor swooping east. Nothing in talons, thankfully. He/she landed in another elm tree on the northeast. Three crows harassed the buteo south toward the road; I followed back through the house to the east door, picking up binocs on the way (gates in the yard make it quicker to go through than around the house). The hawk perched on the wires, and the crows settled nearby. The magpies had quieted, but the crows now kept up the chase. When they herded the buteo east to the next power pole, I got the ID: Red-tailed Hawk, probably one of our local year-round residents. He/she soon left for happier hunting elsewhere.

I appreciate that this bird is no longer known to us as the chicken hawk of past years. I'm glad we have descriptive names now, instead of naming them by what they eat (or don't, as some names seem erroneous) and, as in older times, killing them accordingly. No more (or not so much) the chicken hawk, sparrow hawk, or duck hawk, now Red-tail, Kestrel, and Peregrine. We forget sometimes how much has changed along with those labels.

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