"I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." ~Wendell Berry

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eagle Visitors in January

As Bob expressed his love and gratitude for the sausage and egg breakfast this morning with a warm hug, I spotted over his shoulder an object with a white tail flying over our field.  "Hey, our leucistic Northern Harrier has returned!", I said.  I was wrong.
After running to grab the camera and stumbling out on the porch I realized it was an EAGLE and he had landed in our field.  'NO CARD' was flashing in the viewfinder and I really needed the bigger lens anyway, so I ran back in to change the lens and grab a card.  Isn't that the way it always happens?  Another trip out and I found I could use the binoculars too because the eagle was still down in the field somewhere and I couldn't spot him through my camera lens.  Another sprint inside and back out again.  Finally, he started to rise and, now with the proper viewing / photography gear, I realized I had multiple subjects.
Taking off from the field
I spotted a second white head perched in the trees.  Joy and a yelp of excitement!
As I tried to follow him with the camera, I accidentally captured this image and realized there was a second Eagle!

After a couple of deep breaths, I realized my subjects were staying awhile and with the temperatures hovering near low 30's I was freezing - no coat and only my slippers to keep my toes warm.  My husband quickly fetched my coat and gloves when he saw I would rather freeze than miss a second of this special event.  34 pictures later and I'm giddy with excitement.

Original, un-cropped image of the 2 pictures above this one.
Wait, what is that third large bird flying over and around them and what are those strange sounds they're making?  No way!  A THIRD eagle?  HERE?  Snap, snap, snap - deep breath - quit jabbing the camera button and 'squeeze' the button. 
THREE?  Yay!
Original, un-cropped image of the picture above this one.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The FOB - Part 3

When the weather warms, so do I.  With outside temperatures reaching 60 degrees this past weekend, I came down with "I-must-get-outside" fever and I finally put the finishing touches on my owl cage.  I am feeling so much better about this upcoming purple martin season, but I think I will refrain from my usual taunts that tempt fate such as, "Bring it on, Mr. Menacing-Evil-Martin-Eater".  You know, just in case he does decide to bring it on.  And something really bad happens.  So, I'll just nicely say, "please don't bring it on".
At a minimum, I know I have made it more difficult for him to easily access my systems and prevented him from playing volleyball with my gourds.  Hopefully, that will encourage him to hunt elsewhere.  Time will tell.
Altogether, I estimate we have added less than 30 pounds of hardware; that includes the fencing, the aluminum brackets that extend out over the corners, the cross brackets to support the top, and the entrance hole covers.
My plan right now is to lower the cage and maneuver inside for nest checks.  If that isn't realistic, I may have to cut off a foot of the vertical wire so I can more easily slide in & out of each section.
The cage will ride up and down with the system.  For now, I have left the full 4' of length on each side, but if maneuvering in and out becomes a problem, I may cut off at least 1' from the bottom. From this angle, you can see the brackets that span from corner to corner, providing both support and a place to anchor the top wire to keep it from flopping in the wind.
There are ten 4"x4" entrances cut out on each side and have undersill trim has been placed on the bottom of each entrance to cover up the sharp nibbins left by the wire cutters.
If you're interested in reading more details about the construction of the cage, you can go to these two posts:
The FOB - Part 1: http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-freeze-owl-block-fob.html
The FOB - Part 2: http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-fob-part-2.html
Current migration status shows that the purple martins are on their way with a report showing one in Saint Amant, LA.  Track their migration here on the PMCA site: http://www.purplemartin.org/scoutreport/

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Monitoring Your Purple Martin Colony With Game Cameras - A Browning Trail Camera Review

Last year I learned a hard lesson.  Never say, "never" when it comes to owls, snakes, racoons, and other predators that could prey on your purple martins.  Never.  As I learned, you don't really know what's going on with your purple martin colony unless you are either sitting outside all night or you have positioned multiple game cameras around your site.  If you ignore the possibility, then you could end up with lots of dead martins and even lose your entire colony.
Sitting in my yard all night was just not realistic for me, so I chose the latter option.   I quickly shopped for game cameras after noticing that my Trendsetter was not filling up like it had in years past and finding a GHO feather in my driveway escalated my sense of urgency.  After reading the reviews for multiple brands and shootout results (good site to see all trail camera reviews here), I decided to try out a Browning Trail Camera - Recon Force XR Series (BTC-2XR).  It has some nice features, including long detection range and the ability to record video.
My purple martin gourd rack - 7-2-2014- 8:20 PM.

My first impression when I opened the box is that the camera is small and compact and the casing has a high-quality, heavy duty plastic feel.  My second impression was, "whoa - this takes a LOT (8) of batteries!".
The Recon Trail Camera User Interface
After loading it with batteries and an SD card, I was able to poke around the very user-friendly buttons and quickly setup the date and time.  I had read about all the features while shopping, but I hadn't realized there were features within features.  Read on to see what features I find most attractive in this game camera.
The camera has 4 capture modes: Trail Cam, TimeLapse, TimeLapse+ and Video Mode.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Wild Kingdom Right Here on Gobbler's Knob

As a child, every Sunday, my brother, sisters and I eagerly gathered around our tv to watch "Wild Kingdom" with Marlin Perkins telling us of some exotic, fierce animal in a far away land and what they did to survive.  Sometimes, it was brutal and it was always exciting.  Well that wild kingdom is no longer in a faraway land for me.  It's in my own backyard.  We have worked for 8.5 years to make our little piece of heaven a safe haven for wildlife by building brush piles and planting native plants that provide food, habitat and cover for them. 
Rabbits are drawn to the sweet crimson clover that blossoms during the spring and they sometimes forget how exposed they are while munching on the beautiful flowers.
Quail, turkey, a wide variety of other birds, reptiles (snakes, turtles, etc.), skunks, rabbits, squirrels, and possums, just to name a few, enjoy life here with us on Gobbler's Knob.  That variety of wildlife also brings in the inevitable predators - owls, hawks, coyotes and foxes - that prey upon them and I love them as much as I love the wildlife. 
A leucistic Northern Harrier snags a mole for his lunch.
The sheer rawness of wild animals hunting, stalking, chasing, creeping about and finally pouncing upon their prey is exhilarating, breathtaking and exciting to me.  But we don't make it easy for the predators.  We have given the prey ample opportunity for escape and avoidance.  They have plenty of brush piles to escape into, lots of natural cover in which they can camouflage themselves and their survival is totally dependent on how or whether they learn to use those tools to their advantage.  It's not just survival of the fittest, it's also survival of the smartest.
A Red-Shouldered Hawk waits patiently as it scans the field for signs of movement indicating a tasty morsel is about to make a fatal error.

Five weeks ago, I decided to deploy my game cameras around the property so I could catch a glimpse into their nightly activities.  The results have been more rewarding than what I could have hoped for.
These stealthy, beautiful creatures of the night help control our voles, moles, snakes, mice, free-roaming cats, ground hogs (which can quickly become a nuisance and very destructive to pond banks in Missouri), and many other animals here.  Yes, they eat the quail, turkey and our other desirables too, but I can accept a native predator doing its thing in order to survive. 
I always get excited when I see the late night and early morning timestamps on the cards, because I know I'm about to see a visitor that I would have never known about, without the use of these cameras. 

I find it very interesting that some of our 4-legged predators like to travel the same paths around our property which we have carved with our 4-wheelers.  In the first video below, a coyote walks across the trail, moving away from one of the brush piles that has a deep hole burrowed out beneath it.  I would love to know what is or what was living under there at one time and if the coyote caught whatever it was.

Interestingly, on the same night within 15 minutes, on the north trail, a fox can be seen sniffing around.  Ironically, I have another video of Nikki and Bob walking this same trail the next day and Nikki's hackles on her back are standing up.  She knew that he / she had been there the night before - she always seems to know.

And what looks to be the same fox comes through again the next night.

Today, it is 18 degrees with snow flurries and it is supposed to get colder this week.  I've cleared the cards and made sure the batteries are good on the game cameras.  I'll check them again in a few days to see what our friends have been up to.  Yeah, we're digging life here on Gobbler's Knob, bringing the Wild Kingdom right up to our back door steps.