Whoooo’s There?

We're talking one huge feather!

I found this feather underneath our old birch tree about a month ago, and wasn’t sure at first what it was. We have all kinds of big raptors that cruise our property, including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and the smaller Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks. We also have a nesting pair of Great Horned Owls that live a few hundred feet from our house that we hear hooting every night. With the barring on the feather, I could rule out the Bald Eagles, but don’t know enough about feathers to have even made a semi-educated guess as to which bird it came from.

One of my friends is a birder, and she in turn knew an expert in raptor identification. He knew what it was immediately, and explained that the key to figuring out what bird this came from was the shape of the feather, in particular the rounded tip and the soft downy center. It’s a Great Horned Owl feather.

I’ve found several more feathers like this since then in the yard, concentrated under two different trees. So now I know where this winged tiger is roosting at night when he (she?) serenades us with soft hooting calls.

The owls are amazing birds, huge, with a wingspan that can reach sixty inches. Their flight is utterly silent, making it more than a trifle scary when they seem to appear out of nowhere, swooshing overhead at night, at times less than twenty feet above our heads.

Sometimes called the “tiger of the night,” a Great Horned Owl is a formidable predator. It enjoys rabbits, but also hunts many other mammals, birds and reptiles–even skunks. We know when ‘our’ owls have enjoyed a feast of skunk by the pungent odor that wafts downwind from them. Getting sprayed by a skunk doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

The owls originally nested in an old silver maple tree, and we had the rare gift of watching them raise three owlets. They lost that nest when the branch holding it tore off during a particularly severe thunderstorm. Amazingly, all three owlets survived, clinging to the tree. Within a day the adults coaxed the three owlets to take their first flights, accompanying them in short hops and guarding them throughout until the owlets reached the safety of some nearby pine trees. The adults rebuilt their nest in the pine trees, so we haven’t been able to watch the nest as the foliage on the pines is too thick. However, I saw them building a new nest this last week, once again in a nearby silver maple tree. I’m hoping come January we’ll be treated to watching fuzzy owlets peer out at the world from their nest!

Hoppy Easter!

All of the bunnies that frequent this blog would like to wish you a very Hoppy Easter.

If their voices sound a tad muffled, it’s because we now have Flying Tigers patrolling the yard. So, the bunnies are sending their best Easter wishes and waving ‘hello’ from hiding spots.

Flying Tigers?

Indeed. Here they are:

 Great Horned Owl and Two Owlets

A pair of great horned owls and two owlets! We’ve been watching them since the owlets popped their fluffy heads over the top of the nest. It’s a first for us. While we’ve heard and (more rarely) seen great horned owls about us for years, neither of us (nor anyone we know) has ever seen a nesting pair. It’s wonderful!

They’re called Flying Tigers because in their realm they are as ferocious a night-hunting predator as the tigers of the jungle are, and are as feared by the local wildlife. A great horned owl hunts everything from mice to raccoons, and is the major predator of skunks. We can attest to that, btw. They aren’t the least bit bothered by the odor when a skunk has sprayed them in its last act of defense (ugh) although we can smell the owls after they’ve nabbed a skunk as they fly by! They are amazing hunters, and impressive just to watch, to boot.

Great Horned Owl guarding nest with owlets

Here’s one of the adults guarding the nest (the fuzzy white at the top of the nest is the heads of the owlets). The adults are enormous birds, over two feet tall with wingspans that are close to five feet. I can attest to how startling it is to have one of these magnificent birds fly over your head at a distance of no more than fifteen feet! Their wings and feathers are such that their flight is virtually noiseless, which adds to the “startle factor” when one of them swoops overhead.

Great Horned Owlet watching silly humans taking photographs

Here’s one of the owlets watching the photographers. They’re a fascinating mix of cute and ferocious, aren’t they?

Great Horned Owlet in nest

And here’s the same shot, but without the close-up, so you can see, Oh Best Beloved, just how big that “baby” and nest are. We estimate that the nest is close to three feet deep and two feet wide. Trust me, there is no safe way to get close enough to it to really find out!

If you’d like to know more about great horned owls, Max Terman’s book, “Messages from an Owl,” is an outstanding source of information on them. Max has spent decades studying great horned owls, and his book details his discoveries as he raises and successfully releases back into the wild one particular owl, Stripey.

For those who are worried about the bunnies, yes, the population has diminished. As I counted fifteen one day alone in our yard last year, and plenty more all about the area, the large local rabbit population is undoubtedly one of the reasons the owls decided on nesting in this area. However, the rabbits have plenty of hidey holes. Both BB and Dude are fine, but are much more cautious wild bunnies than was their wont in the past, as one would expect.

BB the bunny all grown up!

And just to allay any of Kris’s fears of bunny loss, here’s a little softened ‘portrait’ shot I took of BB at dusk recently, when she was carefully hidden underneath a bush right by the house. Can you believe it? She’s all grown up!

My thanks to Dan and Eric, who took all the owl photos and gave me permission to use them. You guys are great!

Who’s On First?

In the universe of Bad Karma, I’m apparently near the front of the “let’s make life a little more nasty than nice” line. I really did hope to start blogging regularly again. Unfortunately, that requires both a working computer and a working ISP. Since last Friday, both of our computers have been wonky, and both of our ISPs have been mostly down.

I’m viewing it as just another example of How The Universe Enjoys Picking On Me.

Harumpf.

In hopes that both problems are now resolved to the point of limping along, I thought I’d give a bunny update.

BB the Bunny

BB is not only fine, she’s grown into a favorite of mine. She’s definitely from Stewart’s lineage: slightly smaller than average, with the patchy coloration from his line and quirky as can be. She also is easy to pick out from the horde (yes, we have a horde of bunnies–which is somewhat more than a litter and somewhat less than a thundering herd) as she has a little white crescent-shaped mark on her forehead. We’ve noticed that many of our bunnies have this as babies, but BB is the only one who hasn’t had hers shed out as she grew.

Michael asked me last week if perhaps Stewart had passed along a gene for “overly friendly wild bunny” to his descendents. I’m thinking maybe so…

Our bunnies are typical wild bunnies around neighbors and strangers that come into our yard, but are perfectly happy to hop all around us, to the point where we really do have to shoo them out of the way when we are doing things.

I told BB last week, when I was poking around under our spruce tree and she appeared, that she was supposed to hop away from the scary humans when they were doing something in the yard, not to hop TO me to investigate what I am doing. She yawned.

YAWNED.

Then she proceeded to groom herself and finally hopped away several moments later to nibble on a patch of late clover.

Newest Young Bunny

We’ve had several other batches of bunnies arrive, and one of the latest also has the “friendly” gene in spades. I’ve named him “Dude,” as he is the most laid-back yard bunny to date. He’s so reluctant to move from “his” spot when I come across him that I’ve actually had to reach down and threaten to nudge his little rump to get him out of the way. As he hops off, he clearly slings over his shoulder, “Hey, Dude, what’s the deal? That was my spot!” Hence, his name.

We have one other, of the five originally in BB’s litter, who has also remained with us. We call her “Snug” as she likes to snuggle herself down into the grass. She has “radar” ears that are constantly moving from one direction to another, and has a particular fondness for Michael. She will sit on the stoop of his shop when he’s inside it, or snuggle down in the pathway from the house to the shop, wait there and then refuse to move when he appears. Me she just tolerates.

Most of the other bunnies from this year’s crop have hopped to other abodes, or been lost to predators when they made mistakes that left them vulnerable. If they hadn’t, we would be awash in bunnies by this point!

In terms of other regulars for this summer, we’ve had a redtail hawk that checks out the yard regularly, to the great consternation of the furry folk and the songbirds. We also have a Coopers hawk that flies through the yard at about shoulder height, scaring the bejabbers out of me every single time, and has even roosted on the back of one of our lawn chairs. The great horned owls are back, too, giving concerts, and with the oncoming winter I see bald eagles often.

And lest I forget to mention them, the Canada geese are starting to fly through in flocks that number in the hundreds, landing on the river to form gatherings of thousands of geese nightly. Two days ago a small flock flew so close to the house that I could hear the beat of their wings, and see individual feathers.

Oh, and one other thing… it’s already been snowing. Hasn’t stuck, yet, but it’s truly snowed–several times now.

That doesn’t bode well for a nice easy winter.

Ouch!

Sorry, Oh Best Beloved, about the dearth in posting lately. I have much to post about, but we’ve been besieged with unexpected events that have kept me away.

Such as? asks you.

Such as Michael getting whacked in the head and suffering a concussion.

Ow…

He’s recovering quickly and nicely, thank you very much, but those kinds of injuries are nasty and scary both.

For all who have asked (especially Kris!): Stewart has made the transition to a winter bunny quite successfully. He has hopped about our yard so much since our last snowfall that the snow looks in places as if it has been trampled down by an entire herd of rabbits.

Oh, yes – the owls are still about, but they’ve moved on from perching above our yard, to the relief of numerous songbirds (and, of course, Stewart!).

More tomorrow!

Hoooo’s There?

Not everybody loves the owls that were here recently. The song birds in particular have disappeared from the feeders, not wishing to make themselves targets for an owl’s meal. We do have a few squirrels still racing about in spite of the owls, including one youngster who was most annoyed at yesterday’s snowfall. Every few steps, as he traversed the trees that line our yard, he would stop and shake flakes from his paws, scolding that nasty white stuff that kept pelting into him all the while.

Stewart, who has grown from a cute baby bunny into a fine young rabbit, has also made himself scarce while the owls are about. Up until the appearance of the owls, I would see Stewart daily, usually exhanging greetings with him as he watched me from a spot amidst the rugosa roses and yarrow.

Stewart Rabbit, Hiding in the Yarrow

I only see him nowadays when he’s peering out from underneath the low-lying branches of a large blue spruce that gives him good cover and protection. I’m quite relieved to see that change in his behavior, as I had worried that he wouldn’t develop proper bunny caution. Stewart, however, being the wild creature that he is, has grown up, and turned into a very careful wild rabbit.

As much as I miss my companionable baby bunny, that’s as it should be.