Sunday, January 15, 2012

Eagles, Quail, Weasel & Mr. Bobcat

(View in our front yard.)
Eagle Adventures 
This pair of American Bald Eagles have been constant visitors to our farm for over a decade.  Each winter as Snow Creek hosts spawning salmon, they take advantage of the abundance of easy food.  We have never seen them take a live fish, but when they see one floating down stream there is no hesitation in taking advantage of “free home delivery”.   The tree in this photo is one of their favorite for watching the creek, and woe to any other eagle who should try to pick a spot to land on one of "their" branches.

In the late spring and early summer when Bob is mowing the oat cover crop in the field, one bird will stop by to see what goodies might be moving in the freshly mowed areas.  Our 15 acre farm is 660 feet from side to side and fenced.  As Bob reaches the mid-way point in the field, the watching eagle takes flight and perches on a post on the opposite side to wait for a snack, letting Bob get within 20 feet or so before choosing another post.  When a shrew or mouse runs out of the oats or grass, he pounces and takes his fresh catch back to the nest for the waiting fledglings.  The other eagle is more timid when it comes to sharing field space with Bob, the male (we assume) will even hop along the ground following the tractor, hunting all the while.  Should Bob stop the tractor and get off, he will fly to a fence post and start to squawk and grumble.  When Bob remounts the tractor and resumes mowing, all is well in the world and the 'Snow Creek Rodent Buffet' is again open for business.We have had as many as 9 eagles on our little section of Snow Creek at one time, but with the exception of this pair, they come and go.  We don’t know where they nest, but a round trip with a fresh mouse takes about 5 minutes. 

Many years ago, while Dianna was showing a visitor the display gardens, they spotted an Eagle flying upstream along Snow Creek carrying what appeared to be about a 3 pound “fresh caught” salmon from Discovery Bay, where Snow Creek empties into salt water.  Both marveled at how the eagle was carrying the salmon: nose first into the wind with the least amount of resistance. 

Out here on the farm, we have the rare opportunity of watching nature on a daily basis and do marvel at just how intelligent so many of “our” critters are.  When you see a wild bird or animal display problem solving it is awe inspiring.  Many are not just animals or birds acting on instinct, they appear to think, reason, and form conclusions.  

Quail Tactics
Take for instance one of the three coveys of quail on the farm.  Dianna had sown her second crop of purple poppy seed for the late harvest one spring and immediately quail appeared to feast.  After running out the office door, screeching and waving her arms to chase off the birds gleefully despoiling the flower bed - and making no impact whatsoever, beyond a flurry of indignant chirping - her next solution was to make a barrier; bulb trays set about 4 feet apart and covered with bird netting. The Quail response?  The adults got together to stand in close proximity on top of the net, holding it at ground level for their babies to flock in and eat their fill.    Quail 1, Dianna 0.  Game, Set, Match.

Weasel vs. Momma Hen
A couple of years ago while tilling an area for fall planting; Bob noticed a movement in the grass at the fence line.  There is only one thing more boring than mowing grass, and that is tilling the soil at a blazing 1 mph (about 4.5 hours to an acre) carefully moving between the lily rows.  There is lots of time for meditation at that speed, but that day a weasel was making his move on the chicken house.  This little guy was like the sneaky weasel from the old cartoons but twice as cute. 

Our fence posts are 8 feet apart.  He would dash to a post and stop, carefully look around one side of the post and then peek around the other side to see if any chickens were watching.  With the coast clear, it was dash to the next post and repeat, searching for watchful eyes.  Finally, he makes his way to the hen house but couldn't find a way in.  All this time, Bob was sitting on the tractor - now in neutral, idling – and watching a real life cartoon. 

You could almost see his little ears perk up when a lone, week old chick appeared around the corner, having strayed from “the flock”.  Rather than make a dash for the chick, only the weasel’s little toes appear to be moving as he slowly crept forward, hunkered down as close to the ground as he can get, eyes locked and focused on the little chick.  Bob thought, “I need to rescue that chick before he’s eaten!”  But before he could act, Momma Hen came around the corner to gather up her stray and the spooked weasel literally folded himself in half to retreat - with an angry chicken clucking and flapping in hot pursuit.  Weasel no longer even considered stopping at each fence post to check his surroundings this was an all-out run for the cover of brush and safety – and yes, he made it. 

Mr. Bobcat & the Salmon
A few days ago, looking out the kitchen window shortly after daybreak, we were very surprised to see an unusual sight – a Bobcat was on our access road that follows the creek bank – just standing there, perfectly still, with a large spawned salmon hanging from his mouth.  Because we allow our stream bank to stay natural for erosion control and bird habitat, it is not an easy climb through the brush from the water’s edge and we doubt he simply used the path next to our private bridge, but there he was in broad daylight.  This was a heavy fish weighing at least 6 or 7 pounds and he appeared to be exhausted; walking 4 or 5 steps and then stopping, walk a few steps further, and rest again -  while looking longingly at our back hillside with it's boxcar sized boulders that was most likely “home”. 

By the time we thought “Grab the camera!”, he had disappeared behind a Rhododendron on his way to open field. It was obvious however that Mr. Bobcat, who probably only weighed 25 to 30 pounds, was having trouble with his catch, which would have run about $75 at supermarket prices.

We frequently see Bobcat tracks in our field and have replaced our one-inch wide white plastic planting stakes (complete with teeth marks) several times in the past because a playful feline would pull them out to bat around the field.  Cats are cats and they all like to play.  Until now though, we have never seen these elusive cats during the day, down from the rocky foothills that surround the farm.
(End of the Tale)

Many people express surprise that we have an outdoor chain link cage (top and bottom too) for our pampered household members to sunbathe.  Between Cougars, Coyotes, Raccoons, Bears, and Bobcats, it’s a tough world outside and our spoiled house cats have no outdoor survival skills.

However, our kitties do know how to lead Bob to the refrigerator and are quite practiced at opening the "cat treat' cupboard all by themselves. 

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