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Doggerel for Vultures

It’s International Vulture Awareness Day, so here’s some vulture verse. Or perhaps Vulture Culture?

Vulturememe

Poetic license categories: 1) the photo is of a Himalayan Griffon Vulture, not a condor (photo Uttarakhand, India, A.Shock 2014); 2) Egyptian Vultures do prefer to eat eggs, but it’s their entire color-scheme that’s yellow and white, with elegant white quills and bare yellow facial skin, which makes “legs” here a synecdoche, where a word for a part of something stands for the whole thing;  3) Kites are not vultures, they are kites, a different sort of raptor altogether, but the word “kite” has been used to refer to scavenging birds of prey for a long time, especially across the Pond;  4) likewise Buzzards are not vultures, but actually buteo-type hawks like the Red-tailed Hawk. The word “buzzard” is American vernacular for Turkey Vulture, widely used and understood in the U.S.  As far as I’m concerned, the only downside of the usage is that it leaves a lot of Americans surprised when they find out we’ve got actual vultures overhead. That brings us full circle to the importance of International Vulture Awareness Day!

“Keep Calm and CarriOn!”

Posted by Allison on Sep 6th 2014 | Filed in birds,etymology/words,natural history,poetry | Comments (0)

More photographic evidence of a small gremlin

cranky owlet[Updated 6 July 2014: I understand the urge to point out that spiders don’t chase people in swimming pools — the scenario seems unlikely, I agree. But with a gremlin looking on, who knows what curious occult forces were at work? Better?]

The grainy photo below clearly shows a small gremlin in our pine tree (possibly the same one as here). It was making a soft tooting call that sounded exactly like the so-called “bouncing ball” call of the Western Screech-Owl.

WESO pine small

If I hadn’t captured the gremlin on camera, its clever vocal efforts to blend with the local avifauna would have been successful: in the dark, we would have assumed it was one of our local Screech-Owls, which are common in the yard, and which we’ve seen many times.

<< (Photo of Western Screech-Owl exhibiting HCQ — High Cranky Quotient — taken in ambient light with pinecone for scale, A.Shock 4 July 2014. You may click to enlarge, but it doesn’t get any better bigger.)

In this picture, the malevolent entity gazes down disapprovingly, caught in the act of watching the Six-Spotted Fishing Spider chasing me — deliberately, I’m positive, and E will back me up on that — around the shallow end of the pool by skittering energetically and leggily across the surface towards me, repeatedly. The gremlin’s impersonation of a Screech-Owl is nearly perfect down to the tiny fierce talons grasping the branch, although IMO it needs to work on the “ear” tufts, which are frankly weak.

Bonus quote:

“He only has one eye!” — Peter Lorre, Beat the Devil (John Huston, 1953), on seeing a portrait in profile

Posted by Allison on Jul 5th 2014 | Filed in birds,cranky owlet,natural history,owls,yard list | Comments (0)

Photographic proof of a small gremlin….

…or perhaps merely a screech owl sitting on a sign in a neighbor’s yard.

You can’t see the little bird vibrating, but it was producing its distinctive whirring trill — that was how we found it.

WESOsign

Western Screech Owl in front of an Ocotillo, Scottsdale, AZ. (Photo A.Shock, April 2014)

It was newly dark, and well beyond the camera’s ability to shoot anything like a real photo, especially without a tripod. But dinking around with the pathetic pixels in photo-editing software produced surprising detail and a painterly, almost pastel-like quality in this image of a small owl and its background, an enormous blooming ocotillo lit from below by landscaping lights.

 

Posted by Allison on Apr 20th 2014 | Filed in birds,cranky owlet,owls,yard list | Comments (2)

And, speaking of larger owls…

…and I was, as usual…

brownfishowlHere are portraits of two different Brown Fish Owls (Ketupa zeylonensis) spotted on my recent trip to northern India.

<<  Brown Fish Owl, Ranthambhore Natl Park, Rajasthan, India (Click to enlarge, all photos A. Shock)

You might not be surprised that FISH Owls never stray far from permanent water features, where they feed mainly on aquatic prey. This owl (or one just like it) was later seen snacking on a water snake at dawn. Not sure what a water snake was doing within talons-reach of an owl on a cold January dawn, but now it’s owl cells.

Here’s the snake-snack, a Checkered Keelback Water Snake (Xenochrophis piscator) basking stream-side, maybe even the same individual, I’d photographed earlier:Checkered Keelback

Further north, in the Himalayan foothills, another Brown Fish Owl gazed down on us as we walked under its day perch in the Kumeria Forest Preserve near Nainital, Uttarakhand, India:

brFishOwl

Brown Fish Owl knows you are up to no good (photo A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Feb 28th 2014 | Filed in birds,close in,field trips,India,natural history,owls | Comments (2)

No such thing as too many owlets

On this theory, here are more owlets, Spotted again.

Spotted Owlets, photo A.Shock

Spotted Owlets (Athene brama), photo A.Shock

This snuggly pair was day-roosting near Shiva’s old, golden temple in Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, India. When you are an owlet in India, a good perch is one the macaques don’t know about yet. Macaques are almost always up to no good, in my opinion.
lakshmivahana

Devi Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune, is often depicted with a white owl, which is her vārana, or symbolic mode of transport >>

I’m going to assume that an owl who can convey a deity is one of the larger species, and not an Owlet, but I’m no expert on where theology and ornithology intersect, or even if Kadam trees are a good place to find large owls, as this sign from the park seems to indicate:

IMG_0399

Posted by Allison on Feb 21st 2014 | Filed in birds,field trips,natural history,owls | Comments (0)

Back from the Indian sky

Posts have been thin on the ground around this site recently. One reason is that I’ve been away for nearly a month, traveling and though not entirely disconnected with the internet, at least without a way to get photos off my camera to share. I was lucky enough to spend about three weeks roaming northern India — a country I’ve long wanted to see — just looking, and looking and looking — from the excellent vantage point of open jeeps, trains, tuk-tuks, cycle rickshaws, and a bouncy bus.

There’s no short way to record impressions of any country, but India defies summary even more than most places. So I’m intending to take nibbles of sights and thoughts I carried away with me and present them delicately like morsels of meat offered by a raptor parent to its chick — small pieces easily swallowed, or stored in the crop for later digestion.

And where better for Three Star Owl to start than with OWLS?

spottedowletsIt turns out that India is full of OWLS, and they are often easy to see. The explanation the experts offer is that they are neither hunted for food nor persecuted by the people, so they feel secure in daytime roosts, out in the open. The smaller species (often named “owlets” because of size, not immaturity) string themselves like grapefruit-sized beads on the branches of acacias or rhododendron trees in fields and forests, pressed together in an owly lump in batches of two or several, squinting in the sun and pretending they can’t be seen.

Above are some Spotted Owlets (I believe, although they may be Jungle Owlets — if you know, please chime in!) in eastern Rajasthan, the yellow of mustard fields (grown and pressed for oil production) in the background. (Photo A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Feb 20th 2014 | Filed in birding,birds,field trips,India,natural history,owls | Comments (2)

Calypte “gloriosus”, moustachioed master of the desert

COHUboy

I needed a break from the damp studio and squeezing cold clay in cracked fingers. My need corresponded with weak winter sun breaking through gray clouds, so I wandered outside with my camera. I could hear a high, thin zszsszs like a small air leak, and followed the sound, knowing who was singing it.

adult male Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costæ) seeming to sternly glare from a creosote twiglet in Scottsdale, AZ, Dec 2013 (Photo A.Shock)  >>

After a bit of searching I spotted this little dude alternately feeding and roosting in creosote at the very back of the property. Capturing him on his natural twig perch instead of the feeder felt like a real triumph — his flaring purple mustaches aren’t overshadowed by bright red plastic.

Posted by Allison on Dec 7th 2013 | Filed in birds,close in,hummingbirds,yard list | Comments (0)

Rise up

Dinky dude big sky. The setting sun stained this first-year male Costa’s Hummingbird like a winged berry. Really, I missed the shot — a tiny bird preening on the very tip top of the spindly sumac’s crown — but by missing it, got a better one with his dramatic pre-launch wing-spread: his wings had begun to whir even before he let the branch go. 

COHUlaunch

Posting in WordPress seems to have had a peculiar effect on the image’s resolution — it looks oddly noise-reduced, giving his body a digitally brushed look that the original jpeg doesn’t show. Still, you can see his incipient Yosemite Sam moustaches and his bronze-green vest, and the spread flight feathers so thin they look dark only where they overlap. It gives me great joy to have these little guys in the yard.

Posted by Allison on Dec 2nd 2013 | Filed in birds,hummingbirds,natural history,yard list | Comments (0)

Always look for the Mockingbird

Big excitement around here yesterday! While looking for a Mockingbird that had been singing loudly all morning but was anomalously out of sight, I found a thrilling visitor in our yard: a Long-Eared Owl. It was perched in our back yard acacia tree, just about 9 or 10 feet up. It wasn’t hard to see, once my eyes had accidentally fallen upon it. Despite the thin screening of fine foliage it was relying on for coverage, the blue sky behind gave away its owliness (see photos below).LEOWedit

Long-Eared Owls are not something you see every day. It’s not because they’re rare in the Western U.S., people just don’t spot them very often.

>> Artsy edit of yesterday’s owl, keeping an eye on me keeping an eye on it. Very thankful for a long lens, so I didn’t have to get too close! (photo A.Shock)

This is because for the most part, they’re very hidey creatures, even for owls. Good camo — including spectacular “ear” tufts that are more centrally located and longer relative to its head than those of Screech Owls or Great Horned Owls, plus a bark-like bar-spotted belly pattern — is one reason Long-Eareds are seldom seen. They have great trust in this camo, and yesterday’s bird showed this confidence. It knew I was looking at it, but it held still and didn’t shift, except to open its eyes briefly. The same strategy of motionlessness worked on the local songbirds as well. They knew it was there — I saw lots of them come in to check it out, woodpeckers, hummers, finches, thrashers — but their behavior and vocalizations never became anything as frenzied as a “mob”. The owl sat quietly, and the scene didn’t escalate. I’ve seen Cactus Wrens and Verdins pitch bigger fits over an Elf Owl, a bird which is a fraction of the size of the Long-Eared.

It spent the afternoon dozing and swivelling its head occasionally — I could see it from the safe distance of the back porch, with binoculars — its magnificent cranial tufts wafting slightly in the breeze. At twilight, it spent some time preening, bending its head over its back to align long primaries and tail feathers. At full dark, it gave a raspy bark and flew out into the night.

Like many birders, I’m sometimes asked how to spot an owl.  This is one of the best ways: be sure you always look for the Mockingbird. Not literally always a Mockingbird, of course. But one of the biggest joys of birding (or any sort of getting outside activity) is that you may not find what you’re looking for, but there’s always something to see.

And, also: a dark owl shaped blob in a tree is pretty much a dead giveaway!

LEOWinsituLong-Eared Owls are considered a “medium-sized” owl: bigger than a Screech Owl, but smaller than a Great Horned Owl. If you want to read more about this species, click here.

For the record, here are a couple of less-tweaked images of the owl in situ. Be sure to click to enlarge! (All photos A.Shock)
LEOWshock

 

Posted by Allison on Oct 6th 2013 | Filed in birding,birds,close in,natural history,owls,yard list | Comments (1)

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