Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Coyote Returns to Columbus Park! February 19, 2010

Filed under: Animals,Mammals,Seasons,Winter — saltthesandbox @ 3:44 pm
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When we first started birding at Columbus Park almost four years ago, Coyotes were year-round residents in the Park. We used to find their tracks crossing the snow-covered golf course, and we sometimes saw the Coyotes if we arrived early in the morning. Some folks even said they had seen a Coyote den in the Park.

Then about 14 months ago, Coyotes disappeared from the Park. The last time I saw one there was December 18, 2008. So, I was very pleased this morning when I saw a Coyote just standing there in the middle of the golf course:

Coyote, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, February 19, 2010.

The Coyote was just standing there in the middle of Columbus Park golf course.

I only had the Sony DSC-H50 camera, with its 15 times zoom, so my photos only hint at how beautiful it was:

Coyote, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, February 19, 2010.

The Coyote kept an eye me and everything else that moved or made noise around the edges of the golf course.

Coyote, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, February 19, 2010.

I tried to sneak closer by walking up behind the golf-course sanctuary prairie, but no such luck. When I peeked around the dried wildflowers, it was gone.

So, what’s a Coyote going to eat in Columbus Park? This past summer and fall we saw lots more Cottontail Rabbits than usual, and there are still lots of Gray and Fox Squirrels in the Park. Also, the snow is melting, and small flocks of Canada Geese have been returning to feed on exposed grass. Later this spring there may be 500 or more geese visiting the Park each day. For a lighter snack, there are often 40 or 50 Mourning Doves roosting on the south sides of wooded areas. Today they were just sitting on the ground, soaking up the sunlight. If all else fails, there’s usually something edible in the trash bins near the food bank, and some folks scatter bread to feed the wildlife.

So, it seems an enterprising Coyote could make a life for itself in this Chicago city park. We’ll see if this one sticks around.

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For lots more information about the Coyotes that live in the Chicago area, check out The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project: Urban Coyote Ecology and Management.

 

More Great Horned Owl Pellets at Columbus Park January 31, 2010

It’s been a busy month at work, but this morning, for the first time in two weeks, I monitored birds at Columbus Park. I saw 13 species of birds, including a Red-tailed Hawk whose tail was a mix of banded juvenile feathers and bright red adult feathers. However, I did not see the on-again-off-again Great Horned Owl who sometimes roosts in an oak tree on the west side of the Park. (Read about it here.)

I always enjoy seeing the owl, but when the owl’s gone I’m not too sad, because then I can search for owl pellets under its roosting tree. The pellets I’ve found so far (shown in this post) contained a mix of medium and small mammal bones, but no teeth. So I figured the owl was feeding on squirrel, rabbit, or maybe possum-sized mammals. Since I can’t often identify bones to species, I was really hoping to find some owl pellets with teeth or jar bones, which I often can identify. Today I lucked out:

Great Horned Owl pellets, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, January 31, 2010

Pellets spit out by the Great Horned Owl who sometimes roosts in Columbus Park. The large, snow-crusted pellet on the right includes a lower jaw. (Taken with my iPhone.)

Here’s a closer look at the jaw:

Owl pellet with rabbit jaw, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, January 31, 2010

I dug the jaw out of the frozen pellet so I could see the teeth. With the front gnawing teeth and grinding cheek teeth exposed, I recognized it as the mandible (lower jaw) of a Cottontail Rabbit. (Taken with my iPhone.)

Go here to see a photo of a complete Cottontail Rabbit skull with mandible.

This fall we had lots more rabbits than normal in Columbus Park, and I’d noticed gnawing damage to shrubs and small trees that was probably the work of rabbits. My neighbors in Oak Park had also noticed more rabbits in their yards this year and complained about damage to their gardens.  So, now there’s evidence that our Great Horned Owl is bringing the rabbit population back to normal.

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Here are links to information and activities about owl pellets:

 

A January Walk through Columbus Park January 17, 2010

As I monitored birds this morning in Columbus Park, I did an experiment. I took photos with my iPhone and uploaded them live to Facebook. It was kind of like a virtual nature walk!

Here the link to the public Facebook album with this morning’s photos:  A January Walk through Columbus Park.

Please let me know what you think!

 

Cooper’s Hawk in the Brush Pile November 18, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Fall,Mammals,Seasons — saltthesandbox @ 12:41 pm
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For the third day in a row we had a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk trying to pluck House Sparrows from our backyard brush pile. For the third day in a row it came up empty clawed.

Here’s is Monday’s drama. The hawk kept trying to find a route to the very center of the brush pile, where a sparrow cowered on the ground:

Cooper's Hawk in the brush pile, Oak Park, Illinois, November 16, 2009.

Cooper's Hawk in the brush pile, Oak Park, Illinois, November 16, 2009.

Cooper's Hawk in the brush pile, Oak Park, Illinois, November 16, 2009.

Cooper's Hawk in the brush pile, Oak Park, Illinois, November 16, 2009.

Cooper's Hawk in the brush pile, Oak Park, Illinois, November 16, 2009.

As the hawk jumped down to the far south corner of the brush pile, the sparrow scrambled out from the north edge and took off, flying over the fence and through the neighbors’ yards. The Cooper’s Hawk followed as fast as it could, but gave up four backyards north. It flew back to our yard and landed on the fence, were it was greeted by a Gray Squirrel:

Cooper's Hawk facing off with Gray Squirrel, Oak Park, Illinois, November 16, 2009.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk faces off with a Gray Squirrel. This time the squirrel blinked first, jumping down to forage while the hawk held its perch.

I thought we would be in for another bird-mammal confrontation, which our Cooper’s Hawks always seem to lose. Instead the squirrel calmly jumped into our backyard, where it resumed foraging for stray sunflower seeds.

Since then, we’ve seen the juvenile hawk on our brush pile at least once a day. Each time the sparrows wait until the hawk is on the south edge of the pile, and then they flee to safety.

 

Finally, a Cute Mammal! October 26, 2009

As part of the World Wide Web, this blog is legally and morally obligated to display photos of cute mammals at least once a quarter. However, because we show so many photos of birds and insects, we have probably fallen behind on this responsibility. Granted, we posted a photo of our kittens back in March. And many people would consider our Possum from back in February to be cute in a homely sort of way, even if you had to wade through worms and millipedes to see the cuteness. But I guess our squirrel photos tended to look either really tough, like the one from last week, or kind of demonic, because of the flash effects on their eyes.

But now, how can you say this photo of a vole from Columbus Park isn’t cute?

Who can deny that this vole is a cute, fuzzy little mammal?

It’s really round and fuzzy, right? With tiny little ears? And it eats plants? Granted the eyes are small and beady, but check this out:

The tail is really short, which mean this vole is not on of those hated house mice!

The tail (yellow arrow) is really short! That means it's not a house mouse!

If you look really close, you’ll even see some short hairs covering the tail. That’s pretty good for an urban rodent!

So, I think Neighborhood Nature has met its cuteness obligation for the fall quarter. If you disagree, then next time I go to Columbus Park I guess I’ll have to carry a tiny costume in my pocket, so I can dress our vole as a cat.

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If you want to get serious about voles, you can go here or here.

 

Soggy Hawk, Feisty Squirrel October 23, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Fall,Mammals,Seasons — saltthesandbox @ 9:14 pm
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By this morning it had been raining off and on for more than 24 hours, so when a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk showed up in our back yard, I wasn’t surprised that it looked like this:

After all that rain, this young Cooper's Hawk was pretty soggy.

After all that rain, this young Cooper's Hawk was pretty soggy.

Gail had spotted the hawk and called me up from the basement. She had first seen the hawk on the back fence, but a squirrel had chased it off. The hawk had sought some safety in our small ash tree.

Well, guess what happened next?

At first the Gray Squirrel did not seem to pay much attention to the young Cooper's Hawk.

At first the Gray Squirrel did not seem to pay much attention to the young Cooper's Hawk, but the hawk kept an eye on the squirrel.

When the squirrel got a bit closer to the hawk, it seemed to put them both on alert.

When the squirrel got a bit closer to the hawk, it seemed to put them both on alert.

The squirrel and hawk eyed each other warily, but the squirrel did not back down.

The squirrel and hawk eyed each other warily, but the squirrel crept closer rather than backing down.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a shot of what happened next. The squirrel edged a bit closer, and the hawk flew back to the fence.

The Cooper’s Hawk did not just sit there on the fence. Instead, it tried to shake off some of the water that had soaked its feathers:

The young Cooper's Hawk shook its head, trying to shed some water.

The young Cooper's Hawk shook its head, trying to shed some water.

It didn't seem to do much good -- the hawk's feathers still looked pretty soggy.

It didn't seem to work. The hawk's feathers still looked pretty soggy.

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Now, let’s zoom ahead four hours. The rain has stopped, and Aaron just got home from a friend’s house. He spotted the hawk on a utility wire in the alley. It had hung itself out, like laundry on a clothesline, trying to dry its feathers in the breeze:

Later that afternoon the Cooper's Hawk was still drying its feathers, this time but spreading them in the breeze.

Later that afternoon the Cooper's Hawk was still drying its feathers, this time but spreading them in the breeze. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Aaron managed to get closer to the hawk, whose feathers were finally starting to dry:

Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

The young Cooper's Hawk was finally drying out. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

So far the squirrels have won every confrontation we’ve seen in our yard. However, it seems the birds have not been as lucky. We’ve found the remains of several Pigeons near our home. Maybe that’s why the daily Pigeon counts on our yard have dropped from more than 30 during hawk-free September to only nine today.

 

Ethan Has Posted Photos from Camp Chiricahua 2009 July 22, 2009

Filed under: Amphibians,Animals,Birds,Bugs,Mammals,Reptiles,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 12:25 pm
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My 14-year-old son, Ethan, spent early July at Camp Chiricuhua, an Arizona birding camp for teens. It’s run by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours and co-sponsored by the American Birding Association. (Go here for more information.)

He had a really great time! He saw or heard 69 life birds, plus four kinds of Rattlesnakes, a Black Widow Spider, and a really big Tarantula. He took his camera along, and he’s been posting photos online, including dozens of kinds of birds, snakes, spiders, scorpions, insects, flash floods, and  “a caustic pit of death.”

Here are two samples. First, an Acorn Woodpecker (original here):

Acorn Woodpecker, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Acorn Woodpecker, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Next, a mother scorpion with babies on its back (original here):

Mother scorpion with babies on its back, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Mother scorpion with babies on its back, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

There are lots more photos in Ethan’s Flickr photostream. Here’s the link to his Camp Chiricahua, Arizona, set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36997518@N03/sets/72157621780821598/

Ethan’s complete photo stream, including Midwestern and (soon) California photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36997518@N03/

We hope you enjoy them!

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Ethan’s fellow camper, Benjamin, has also posted about Camp Chiricahua, 2009, on his blog: http://warblings.wordpress.com/2009/07/26/camp-chiricahua-2009/