I'll let the photos to the talking: welcome to my world! 🙂 !!!!
Trans: Latin prefix implying "across" or "Beyond", often used in gender nonconforming situations – Scend: Archaic word describing a strong "surge" or "wave", originating with 15th century english sailors – Survival: 15th century english compound word describing an existence only worth transcending.
I'll let the photos to the talking: welcome to my world! 🙂 !!!!
The field season has officially started in Northern NH!
Male Common Yellowthroat warbler (COYE): This fellow is defending a small territory in a patch of open thicket. These warblers rely on early succession forest- patches of substrate that haven't really grown in yet- to build cryptic, ground-level nests. They develop complex systems to divert/confuse predators away from their nests.
Female Black-throated Blue Warbler (BTBW): I was lucky to see this female. She is paired with a male who defends a large mature forest territory. They have quite a few BTBW neighbors, which makes for a lot of skirmishes among the males over land. The females are often silent and move very fast...
Male Mourning Warbler (MOWA): This is a rare bird here. Even more amazing, it is defending a territory in our research site- and trying to chase out a male COYE while doing so. The two species "share" resources, which means thy can't stand each other. 🙂 Each time the male COYE sings near the MOWA, it gets berated and chased away- and vice versa. It appears the COYE isn't budging either, probably because it hasn't had this domestic, neighborly problem before.
Guess where I went this morning?
Breaking in the new spot. Additionally, I saw Magnolia, Yellow, and Common Yellowthroat warblers, and heard Black Throated Blue and Green warblers. Veery, Hermit, and Ovenbird thrushes were around, in addition to catbirds.
I scoped out the local "rugby" field this morning. A retired birder-couple told me "188 Species" of birds have been spotted in the last decade (by them) in this mixed-habitat space. Here's a start...
I have an extremely brief update on my Wolf Pine tree; I did my loop and heard nothing. All I found was an enormous explosion of Beech leaves. Yes, a peeper here and a Phobe's lone chip call there- but really, as the school year draws to a close, my 29th update on this area seemed to be telling me to just relax and enjoy the scene. So I did.
Walking through the 'burbs in the dark can be exciting. About an 45 minutes before sunrise, I walked to the base area of Fox park and found these 15 birds. While I didn't see them, I could certainly hear them!
Well. There comes a time when one remembering the right things at the right time equates to a high-stakes venture in academia.
Below is a gallery of photos taken today, comprised almost entirely out of bark, leaves, and twigs. This is my study guide for the upcoming natural history final exam. It is not near complete; but for a walk through the woods and a significant number of hours behind a camera, computer, and coffee cup, I think it will do for now. Frogs, tracks, and birds are not covered here.
Today, I went lurking about Langdon Woods in search of as many trees as possible. I took over 300 photos of bark, leaves, and twigs, aiming to highlight the growth patterns and key ID features of the trees on the PSU natural history final exam. This went well, and I will be posting these Tree-I-Dee's as soon as I get through the pictures.
The following photos are the result of chance and some enthusiastic "pishing" I did to draw in the birds, so I would not need to get to off course.
2. Black-and-White Warbler. These Warblers have a weezy, squeaky sound almost identical to a rusty wheel. They act like Nuthatches but "dance" up and down the tree more enthusiastically, which is often a good way to tell which is which.
3. Hermit Thrush. These amber-toned thrushes have a beautiful song, but the only thrush singing today was the large Ovenbird population. More characteristic to the forests on the sides of white mountains, they will all sing together about an half an hour before sunrise. The proper thrushes (not including robin) of NH seem to follow an altitude metric: Ovenbird lives at the bottom, Hermit lives in the low hills, Swainson's sings in the mossy forest below the krumholz, and Bicknell's rules them all, only breeding above four thousand feet. !!!
Without further ado:
This morning, I went birding across the campus starting at sunrise. Below is the species list, and two ID shots- Ruby-crowned kinglet and Yellow warbler.
2 Canada Goose
2 Mourning Dove
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Downy Woodpecker
2 Eastern Phoebe
2 Blue Jay
2 American Crow
1 Common Raven
3 Black-capped Chickadee
2 Tufted Titmouse
1 House Wren
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
2 American Robin
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Black-and-white Warbler
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
1 Chipping Sparrow
2 White-throated Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Common Grackle
1 House Finch
1 American Goldfinch
2 House Sparrow
*1 Black-throated Green Warbler, *Yellow-rumped Warbler found later.
Number of Taxa: 26 + 2
Above is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Note the crown is not ruby colored.
Above is a deeply-hued Yellow Warbler. A pure sounding, "Sweet-sweet-sweet, so-so Sweet!"- heard all over the forest an parking lots alike.
This morning at 7am, very few birds were singing. Behind the Rugby field in a solid rain, a small group of people stood with their noses to the sky. This is PSU's very own Len R. -led class on vertebrate zoology. Now, please note I do not take this class, but I know a thing or two about Len. Len is a bird master; this means vertebrate zoology in the springtime may just equate to an excellent excuse to find and learn about birds and warblers on the premise of a college class. Thank goodness warblers have backbones.
The following list was compiled mostly by Len and another student (who also is not taking the course...).
The louisiana waterthrush, black and white warbler, and a glowing male redstart (all of which are warblers, despite the different naming conventions) really hit this walk out of the park for me.
Today- after an extremely productive 7am trip with the vertebrate zoology class mind you- I nipped over to Langdon Woods in the rain to learn about the the little plants growing around the forest floor at a rapid, hydrated rate. The ones I can remember off the top of my head include:
Bunchberry: a ground covering plant with red berries clustered in a bunch. Edible!
Partridge berry: a tiny plant with a leaf or two red berry on top. not dangerous to eat!
Goldenthread: A little plant with three fan-shaped leaves. the deep orange root has numbing and diuretic properties. Useful! Probably not good nutrition though!
Purple trillium: a flower with an exotic crimson color. It is also called "stinking benjamin" because it has an undesirable odor when in bloom. Nice to look at!
Starflower: A distinctive, flat white flower with 7 blades. the leaves all grow from the same spot in a circle- a phenomenon known also in pine trees as a "whorl". Pretty!
Indian cucumber: a plant that also grows leaves in a whorl shape, with a varying number of leaves. A prime root tastes and feels like a sweet carrot. Some think they can tell how developed the cucumber is by how many leaves are on the plant, though I do not know this to be true. Very tasty!
Wintergreen: a small thick-leafed plant. The leaves are round and a bit waxy looking, but the point is it is a great consumable. Makes great tea!
Sensitive fern: This is a fairly nondescript fern with one key feature: it leaves its fertile fronds attached to the plant for a while, making them easy to spot. Just look for brown "beaded" fronds sticking straight up - this is a clear indication of sensitive fern. Fun to ID!
Ostrich fern: A big fern with large fiddleheads. Great sauteed!
There are more plants we covered, but these are the ones I can remember the best.
...This is a brilliant depiction. Best of luck rearing the kiddos. I will add:
hop-hornbeam was in there, with yellowish/crackly bark. Lots of silver maples in the puddly areas, and a sugar maple. Lots of black cherry trees. A few aspens with "sunscreen" bark.
2 river otters, a small crayfish, 2 pre-flight dragonflies.
The 10 most notable birds:
At around 9:35 yesterday morning, the natural history class gathered in Fox Park under an amazing clear sky and a light wind. Instead of going into the level of detail as I did over the winter (there were quite frankly less details to be had over the winter) I will try to summarize the two most significant findings .
I was in and out of Fox park today as well as yesterday, so I will not put a time. The sun was hot (77F), the skies were clear, and the birds were singing. Loudly. I did a sit spot yesterday, which kind of rolled into today- there was not a peep yesterday. I do not have the foggiest idea why; regardless, it was soggy and drizzly, and I did not make any great achievements worth writing home about. I did, however, find this extremely large and incredibly dead American Toad. Observe it in all its massiveness. This fellow was around 6 (6!) inches long. Key things to note about a toad:
Catching up to today:
I will cut right to the chase: This is a Blue-headed Vireo, and the worst picture I could possibly take. Indeed, I took it by accident while looking through my lens to verify this bird was "too far away to identify". Only on my way back did I realize what I had captured. I thought at first it was a nashville warbler- so, in my confusion, I stood for over an hour baking in the sun in the field where I took this picture. I did not see it again. BUT: I heard it. A slow and clear, "see-boo?? I-See-you!! Want-tea-too??" (or something to that effect), emanating from the middle of the trees. This, coupled with the eye ring, fuzzy blue-grey head, wing bars, and buff yellow throat and body, I can say with much certainty this really is a blue-headed vireo. Huzzah!
I believe there are real wood warblers here, now. I hear the odd "zeeZEE" and "BeeZoo" and "ze,zee,ZEE", but no clear songs yet. These are warbler sounds, but not songs. Today was a 23 species day, all at Fox Park. Things should get pretty interesting this week.....
Again, Just getting through the small backlog of sit spots. All by ear, many with a visual confirmation at some point.
Again, I am just recounting the notes I took with eBird. Other living things and systems are to come! Hurrah!
Just a quick sit spot walk through. Every bird was found be ear first, or only by ear. They are singing! Wah hoo!
...Getting through a sit spot backlog. Please excuse the short post!
This is in lieu of a wonderful 2 hour walk around PSU property during my natural history class.
Firstly- open the below link to see the 25 species we encountered today:
I want to also point out how spectacular and special the 3+ courting yellow bellied sapsuckers were. These birds are relatively rare to find- here are the first things off the top of my head you all should know:
...So those who saw the sapsuckers today, consider yourself lucky; that was spectacular!
I walked into Fox park at around 6:25am. I did not leave until 7:35am.
Forgive this post for being entirely about birds. There are tracks (the melting prints from happy-go-lucky dogs, mostly), there are trees (haven't changed much since that time I covered the trees on my route), there are plants (budding beechs for the most part) and there are.... Birds! Today is the first day of spring (albeit for the third time), and the forest was singing to celebrate. Without further and in no order besides memory:
Crows: Making merry and causing raucous, the crows were gurgling and grunting around with the blue jays, who actually did not have a real reason to cause tomfoolery, but did so anyway.
Blue jays: Yelping about with cheer and a general noisiness, the blue jays are no longer saving their breath for owls and hawks. I watched them zoom around, babbling at the top of their lungs, with absolutely zero objective concern for getting eaten, or whatever they usually are concerned about.
Raven: At least one. A lower burp of a sound, these may have been causing some mischief with the crows.
Mockingbird: This one mockingbird yodels atop its thicket as I enter Fox Park. I have observed it only speaks when people are around, making it just another attention getter. This one has less of a vocabulary than the one near Allwell at PSU, singing "robin" and "cardinal" instead of "barn owl" and "wood pewee"- the latter two I heave heard in the same breath from the other mocking bird.
Chickadee: DEEEE - doo! These chickadees plan to make babies, with a call like that.
Titmouse: PETER PETER PETER! Peter? Pete? The local titmice say this a lot. This seems to be a dialectical decision- even though all titmice are programmed with between three and four real songs, the boston titmice choose to say whaah, whaah, whaah! more than these ones do.
Robin: So many everywhere, they are in with all stops out. They have a truly fabulous thrush song (indeed, they are a "true thrush"- unlike the euro-asian ones, who just occupy a subfamily of old-world chats... Don't even worry about the australian or japanese ones, it just gets worse). The song is parsed in a almost questioning fashion, with clear whistles and swooping notes. Easy to tune out during a walk in the woods, but amazing to really listen to.
Downy woodpecker: Found a few at the bend in the trail closest to the houses, after exiting the wolf pine clearing. They whinny when the call, as opposed to the single, dull "chek" of the hairy woodpecker, which occupies the same pitch.
Hairy woody pair: Chek, Chek! I found two hairy woodpeckers flying around upon entering the park looking for bugs.
Nuthatch: These were hopping around the area the hairy woodpeckers were. They like to be with the titmice and other woodpeckers. White breasted ones in these parts, but the red breasted could still show up. They both "honk" or 'toot", but the red breasted ones sound really tinny compared to the white breasted.
flotilla of golden crowned kinglets: Yay! the fuzz-covered golf balls are at it again, with their unique, rolly-polly approach to the world. The like to hop up a coniferous tree (the love hemlocks), then valiantly leap into the air, but without the wings in gear. They then stick their wings out to slow their descent, thus causing them to tumble through the air until daintily alighting on the branch below. This way they can look cool and catch a flying bug on occasion. This may or may not actually work out for them- they also glean insects like other passerines- but it certainly keeps they busy and happy. They are marginally larger than an adult ruby throated hummingbird, though significantly more puffy. They are also rather unintelligent, and get so absorbed in tumbling about in the trees approaching them is easy- requiring nothing more than knowing where they are.
I trundled into Fox Park at around 7:15 pm on 4/7/17. The sky was overcast (as it has been for the last few days), kind of rainy/above freezing, and provided just enough evening light to let me do a proper sit spot.
There were some fantastic tracks. I did not take any pictures, but I am fairly sure there are some extremely large dogs wandering these parts. One issue I have been having with some of the medium sized tracks is the position of the toes. I know there simply are not 4 bobcats and 4 catamounts wandering around my sit spot.... But these dog tracks seem to sometimes show very forward toes, which is is indicative of a cat. Alas.
another problem I became acutely aware of is the highway. On my way up the hill to my wolf pine, I began hearing all sorts of crazy sounds.... Animal? Owl? Alien? Upon getting to the pine however, it became evident to purrs and chirps were indeed car sounds from the interstate. 🙁
I did not hear much in the way of singing, but over the last day or two, the song sparrows, cardinals, titmice, and robins have definitely been singing more than before.
To be continued...
It was very dark when I left the parking lot variant of my sit spot, and still it still is. Was it worth it? Maybe.
I entered the parking lot around 4:35am this morning. After spending a while just listening to the sounds of "nature", finishing my coffee and trying to not make sounds into what they weren't, I gave in and decided to play some screech owl trills. Unfortunately, an issue I have not yet addressed was beginning to get in my way for real: the highway.
Even when I play calls from my phone, I could tell the white noise from the interstate not far away was cancelling the sonorous sounds of my owls. That part isn't a big deal, but I know my inferior human hearing will struggle to pick out a chatting owl even within my part of Fox Park. The frequencies are just too similar, often exhibiting a similar timbre. This means a sound carrying more energy (lower frequency rumbles and what not) will not only mask the weaker and more refined owl toots and hoots, but could "phase cancel" them out altogether. Phase cancellation is obviously not a standard concern of birders, but I happened to know from recording sounds in this frequency range (lower end of a medium grand piano and acoustic guitar for example) achieving a mini "Bose noise cancellation" is quite easy. All it takes is two sounds going the opposite direction and/or of similar magnitude or at least frequency (a distant truck with a Jake brake and closer GHO for example and whoops! there goes the owl hoot.
I mention all this because in the ~50 minutes waffled around in the parking lot (10 degrees below freezing mind you), during which I played screech, saw-whet, and GHO, I heard lots of mumbles and whoos and blops... ...yet I can only take one seriously. One toot, that's all.
I had played screech, then saw-whet, and screech once more at this point. The toot sounded much lower than a saw-whet toot, and there was just one. It was not dainty, and had a nice conviction and resonance. I have never been compelled to describe an automobile this way, so I can say with good faith this was an owl.
But was it Barred or GHO? Both make single toots in this way sometimes. Indeed, I've seen it done on trips where the either owl may want to just put a small idea out there, a pleasantry maybe to the owl it listened to from a birders phone, or perhaps just to test the waters on who could call back. For whatever reason, more than half of my hearing/visual owl encounters involved a single toot instead of a full blown dissertation of whoos and haws.
So, I will tentatively stick with the current idea this is a GHO, because my other evidence seems to support this. As I played some GHO after the toot, I quite honestly could not listen between the cars and trucks from, say, half a mile away. Thus, while the tooting owl was not in spitting distance of my mini encampment on a bit of ice in the parking lot, it could easily been in Fox Park or an adjacent landowner's pine tree and I would never have known.
The saga continues...
I slipped and slid my way into Fox park Saturday, 4/1/17 at about 4pm. About 7 inches of snow had appeared on the ground over the last 24 hours, which (for the second time) definitely stifled and spring-like activities for the critters and what not. Yet, the still powder-like snow was melting already. This stuff hadn't really had time to settle and compact, it just came down from the sky just below freezing, then bobbed above freezing at about noon and rained. This made for perfect postholing snow. Indeed, I saw some dogs who took it hard- leaving postholes almost 3 feet deep.
I heard some confused titmice and a lonely Hairy woodpecker over (almost) the whole time out, though a the crow crew started up yakking away just as I left. I had really come for the tracks in the snow, but because of the rain and rapidly melting cover, I could only make out big dogs.
Here we have one of these big dogs. things to note:
These traits are interesting, though they get way cooler and silly when we look at the crazy, unique, and very artistically rendered "black panther" prints I found in the PSU dining hall:
...I do not think these prints are for a black panther. I do not think they are for a dog. These are the one of a kind "melanistic dogamount" prints!
Here we have the local catamount (cougar) vs the dog (similar to the big dog I found).
Remember, the PSU mascot is a melanistic jaguar named "Pemi". Jaguar prints are anatomically very similar to the puma/cougar version that is theoretically in new england, if only on occasion. Indeed, these "uber crazy level" cats have an (average) range of about 300 square miles. Which is 192,000 acres, if you weren't so hot on math. 🙂
This range makes tracking a single cougar extremely difficult, and as far as I can tell, nobody has been particularly successful- thus, finding photos of actual paw prints is really, really hard, and makes the far larger melanistic jaguar prints impossible to find. Below is a cougar paw from captivity.So, what are the good and bad parts of the PSU sign?
All cats have retractable, grappling-hook shaped claws. These are rarely out and about when walking, as they are really best for catching one's balance and slicing stuff to shreds. They are usually seen as dots with a groove toward the toe on a paw print. Dog claws on the other hand are designed to be a permanent part of the foot, and are shaped like a wider "V" to generally help with transport. These are what we see, making this paw print completely and unforgivably wrong.
That concludes today's sit spot observation.
I entered the Fox Park parking lot at approximately 5:30, about an hour before sunrise. 32 degrees, partly cloudy, and very dark and supremely quiet.
I didn't have to wait 5 minutes after settling into a comfortable standing position to hear the first of 2 fat clues about my owl buddy at Fox park. Three sonorous "whoos" reverberated across the surrounding fields and white pine trees, followed by some muffled humming and burbling over the drone from the highway about half a mile away. What luck! The thing to know about this scenario however is these whoos were higher pitched than "ye average" great horned owl, BUT were far from the "hawws" and other gurgles the barred owls make.
The second clue about this sound (and I heard it one more about 10 minutes later) is how a classmate recently described exactly what I heard today to me. "It was saying Whoo! but it was started going up, then down to some quieter sounds." This was heard not far from Fox Park, near Langdon Woods. That forest has a great field used for light football training by humans, and critter hunting by birds of prey no doubt. This is well within an average great horned owls "zone"- in fact, owls have been seen occupying a 25 mile radius of space as a residence. That means no other GHOs are allowed to live there. Quite territorial, and have interesting family/land relationship patterns because of the vast zones required for a proper turf. This is almost entirely the reason the GHO is both widespread and thus "common" and essentially impossible to find, making it a treat to locate.
So, I know this pattern is very likely a GHO after two pairs of ears have heard it and agree. So...
As usual, after the second "whoo" and maybe 10 minutes of standing in the parking lot a sole cardinal started singing. Then, one by one, the local crows woke up and decided the calling owl was a significant problem (they decide this every day) and started up with the tomfoolery we can expect from them. On that laural, I was sure the owl would be silent to give the crows a sporting chance at hide and seek, so I left, after a bit more than 30 minutes in the parking lot.
The first year PSU natural history class wandered into the middle of Quincy Bog onto the local beaver lodge at about 10am today, 3/30/17.
We had came to this spot originally to float about the area and gather fun and mildly interesting questions and about the "real" natural world (as opposed to the classroom). We found lichen to be a mutualistic symbiosis between algae and fungus; the bog is full of "leather leaf", but is not acidic enough to be completely full of this plant, as real bogs around here are; we also saw a few crows mobbing a raven.
And: A peregrine falcon...
...And (what to my knowledge is) a short eared owl.
There have been between three and five short eared owls in the main portion of New hampshire in the last decade (besides at the seashore near the northeast tip of Massachusetts). According to the eBird, we can see in 2013 and 2014 there were around two or three short eared owls migrating up to their summer home in far north Canada. After reviewing a few migration routes from around the web, I can say there is a good chance a few short eared owls will be coming from the "middle of the east half of the west"- likely farms and fields emanating from Tennessee- at this time of year. Obviously, this owl is vastly more important than anything else I could have done today, so it will occupy the remainder of this spot review.
Firstly; things pushing against the evidence I do have for this owl. The owl like to float around 10 feet over the grasses in fields to snatch mice and voles. This owl was about 700 feet up in the air. Additionally, it is likely there were two of these birds seen up there soon after we arrived. After that initial glimpse however, there was just one.
Reasons this is a short eared owl:
Additionally-the real kicker in my opinion- are the black slashes on the medial and greater coverts on the short eared owl. The two photos I have included here are enough to show these unique field marks. I have never seen a bird with that pattern; just a flat matte white with two black marks parallel to the body, and black wing tips. Many birds of prey have black wingtips or interesting patterns/markers under the wing. In fact, this is an outstanding way to learn big birds who usually fly overhead/don't usually hang around on a perch.
In summary: unless we find another bird with this wing shape and color pattern, this is a short eared owl.
...(And it may have a migration buddy!)
I walked into Fox park Sunday afternoon, 3/26/17, after "spring" break. Please note, however, neither the suburbs of Boston or Fox Park have turned the ignition on the spring thing. So, I will not provide pictures today because the view is, for both flora and fauna alike, the same as the last time I took pictures.
The weather was warmer than freezing, but there is evidence of chilly rain and wind slowly wearing away at the snow. the Beech leaves are also having a hard time staying attached this long into the cold season. they are rustling and falling off both because the the weather but also because we really cannot have too much longer before our warblers come through, song birds start really singing, buds and leaves ome out, etc, etc.
Let us see where the warblers are today, ehh?
Here we have the most up to date info on the Palm warblers. If you are not used to the eBird species range map, you should click the link and get used to it. This is the most efficient way to find where species are, assuming there are people around the areas in question to report sightings. Here, I narrowed the time frame to this year and this month. We can see the Palm warbler crew is still in Florida for the most part. This is where many Palm warblers go when they go south, the farthest ones only ferrying over the Cuba. Up the coast they go, but the leaders of the pack are not really in New England yet.
Palm warblers are an early warbler in my experience around here. They often will be showing up as the buds on the trees begin to get serious about leaves. They simply don't cross the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean, unlike many of their peers.
Another early bird is the pine warbler. They don't really migrate much, but in the spring they wander up from the south, making for regular sightings in MA in NH.
But what about the real warbler crew? Blackburnians! Chestnut sided! Well, as you can see below, they are all still singing songs in portuguese and spanish, as far south as Ecuador (for the blackburnians) right now.
Remarkable! Both of those birds will fly between 2,000 and 3,000+ miles, just to visit us in NH! Special indeed.
Despite the snow, rain, and cold winds at my sit spot, the anticipation for spring is getting into gear.
I decided to snowshoe into Fox Park at about 6:30am Thursday, 3/16/17.
Firstly, the forest sounded like it is in shock; dead quiet. No crows or bluejays, only the odd cardinal or chickadee singing a questioning song to advertize its previous idea about making babies. The snow is at least a foot deep, all powder, deadening sound as well as the attitudes the local animals were gearing up for the so-close-but-so-far spring. I found no tracks- none, zero. The mammals are sure to be down below the snow again, grudgingly re-entering the "subnivean" lifestyle.
My owl friend was not home either; as we know from the GHO talk from a previous post, the vertical depth challenge snow presents doesn't deter the GHO from hunting, but plenty of other factors can cause an owl to take a vacation in a different tree. Obviously, the clues I have been using with this "Strix" or "Bubo" buddy are way more annoying for the owl itself. Imagine being mobbed by "idiot bird brains" day in and day out, especially when they tell their cronies where your house is... Yes, sometimes it is time to take a break.
The snow was definitely the "highlight" of this morning's sit spot, even as a snowshoed out of the park at 7:45.... For how long though? When will the spanish-speaking warbler team from Panama touch down?
Great horned owls. Except for the only exception feasible- Which is of course the Great Grey Owl who has decided to move to southern NH from its previous home in frigid Canada- the GHO is the ultimate, TOTL, high-ender of the hunters in New England at the very least. There is a reason all the other members of the animal kingdom hate these "Bubo" eagle-owls as much as they do. GHO's have every trick in the book, every bell, whistle, and gadget, making the whole evolution game seem wholly unfair to, say, an unassuming chipmunk. I wanted to give a quick rundown of the key toys and tools the GHO has at its immediate disposal, why I care, and why everyone else should care.
1. The "ears"
GHO's ears are essentially their entire head. The poky things are literally there to throw folks off, though the idea was originally to emulate some bark or a pair of pine cones, some think... Though horns, ears, or party hats are probably ok too. As I say above, one could say with a fair amount of accuracy the entire head is a single, huge ear; Those pretty concentric eye rings? Chamfers and fillets on the face? these are funneling, extracting every scuffle and heartbeat falling in the laser-like path of the big, round, swivel-face. Remember: these owls are seeing with their ears. The GHO is always sleepy during the day, even while other owls might be a bit active- ruling out light as a reliable system for vision.
Below I snipped a good description of the GHO system. The asymmetrical face construction of a GHO also is used for "vertical" hearing- check this out:
"An Owl uses these unique, sensitive ears to locate prey by listening for prey movements through ground cover such as leaves, foliage, or even snow. When a noise is heard, the Owl is able to tell its direction because of the minute time difference in which the sound is perceived in the left and right ear - for example, if the sound was to the left of the Owl, the left ear would hear it before the right ear. The Owl then turns it's head so the sound arrives at both ears simultaneously - then it knows the prey is right in front of it. Owls can detect a left/right time difference of about 0.00003 seconds (30 millionths of a second!)" (taken from: http://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=6)
Obviously, anything can hear something more in the left ear and less in the right ear and know roughly where it is. However, "roughly" isn't in the GHO vocabulary. Other studies have shown how owls crunch sounds at .00003 seconds; accuracy comes at the price of wildly complex brain structures that are solely used to draw auditory conclusions. Think; each ear has a set of pre-decision-making brain structures, analysing in parallel both the intensity of incoming sounds and the passage of time- synced perfectly to the other ear's set and the brain as a whole. Look at it this way; the GHO sensing system, with its multiple super-computing cores is physically 3 times the size of the one found in our usual "smartest local birds"- the crows and ravens. No wonder the owls are always being bothered by crows- they must be so jealous! (and GHOs are a unrivaled predator to crows if the tides turn nasty)
2. The wings
Firstly, our local owls are dialing in around 10lbs of lift capacity. This makes even fat wild bunnies a piece of cake, no pun intended. Supposedly, these wings are rather disproportional to the usual bird weight/wing lift ratio, though I wouldn't know. Just assume the owl can lift around 2.5 times its body weight, at least as far as a nearby pine tree to start snacking.
More importantly however, these evidently powerful wings are dead silent. The legend goes the mouse has no idea about its rapidly nearing demise until it feels the claws come in from above. I personally believe this to be 100% accurate- every possible flight detail has been subject to evolutionary innovation, from the crinkled, broken shape of the beefy coverts and wrist to the micro-turbulent primary and secondary feather structures, all the way to those huge, fuzz-covered legs and feet. These oversized fluffy feet, by the way, have a clamping force beginning to enter young snapping turtle territory... ...You have been warned.
The micro-turbulences generated by the wings has sparked much intrigue over the years. Each feather exhibits a subtle, diffusive, "spiky" shape- the idea being the "ripping" and whooshing of air you hear from most birds when they take off can be removed by softening the hard edges of the feathers and wing such that the overall acceleration and lift isn't hindered. This acoustic principle is really the opposite of how their faces work, diffusing sound instead of funneling it in. An intersting addendum in this GHO technology is how the coverts- the thick, leading edge of the wing- are formed. Many other predatory birds, like the local supercar of aviation, the peregrine falcon, bank on really sharp, hard curves and edges in the coverts to squeeze as much speed and maneuverability into these big important body parts. But not the GHO! Without sacrificing effective speed or agility, the coverts are sort of rounded and "broken up" into smaller edges and curves, directing the air and subsequently sound into a more diffuse pattern. Case to point: the mouse example. The general consensus on these coverts is these nubs are exactly the tool needed for the final swoop in to snatch the ground-dwelling prey. Even at a steep, speedy angle, the GHO can silently hurdle to the ground without spooking anyone. Amazing!
3. Other gizmos and gadgets:
The color and shape is its favorite spot to sleep. The local white pine trees, especially the trunk, are prime real estate for sleepy GHOs after a night munching- so, the owl naturally looks like a white pine tree trunk (complete with two pine cones on the top). Despite these owls being huge, they are rather common (in theory). The chances of finding one with human vision is essentially impossible, so we must rely on other clues on its whereabouts.
The digestion system is the best among owls. When the forest has been robbed of mice and chipmunks, GHOs can- and might even enjoy- eating frogs, big insects, reptiles, domestic pets... The trick is they simply eat the whole animal. There is no kerfuffling with fur here or teeth there; GHOs just go for it, 100% in. This may contribute to the widespread success in the north east, with our crazy weather and prohibitive geological extremes other species struggle with.
I hope this has been both educational and convincing enough to be enthused about owling. Something this special and this relavent in the northeast is too important to ignore.
Arrived at Fox Park at about 1:30 today, 3/12/17, under a deceiving blue sky and some light scattered clouds. A prohibitive 10 degrees and ~0 degrees with wind chill (at most) set the tone of my walk, though it did make walking a bit easier in general- the snow, mud, and debris had been frozen solid, so I could comfortably walk my sit spot loop in sneakers and and number of pairs of socks. I spent the first 20 or so minutes wandering the base of Fox Park, going around from the usual parking lot, to the lower-level parking lot, around the artificial, square-shaped wet area, and up around the immediate road. I didn't find any owl-related clues, but I did find some other points of interest: a few turkey vultures and a few red wing black birds. I think it is apt to be a bit concerned (mostly for the red wing black birds) because they clearly thought it was spring time, but it actually is not. Ground foraging, insect eating birds who rely on marshy habitats do not seem suited for today's balmy 10 degrees.
Moving into my sit spot, I heard a brown creeper singing and a muffled "beep!" from a hairy woodpecker. At least they seem happy.
The local "hooligan crows" and their cronies (blue jays) were zipping around in little gangs occasionally. There was very little localization, so I think they were just rabble rousing and partaking in tomfoolery.
I did not take photos today, despite hauling my equipment around. It seems like much of what I saw two days ago is solidly frozen in place from the time being.
This is where I started- within the vicinity of my theoretical big owl. The big murder of crows was there; that is a good start. Being around dawn-ish time however, the raucous birds dispersed within half an hour, perhaps implying my nocturnal friend either fell asleep in a huff or flew away for a less noisy and more welcoming environment (if there even is an environment that welcomes oversized, silent, essentially unrivalled killing machines...?).
I now can see a distinct, GHO-likely trend. The crows are noisy at the time I know owls like to come back to a nice spot to go to bed, thus a time they are most easily bothered; the crow activity is extremely centralized around this stand of large, sheltering pine trees- the crows all seem to circle the trunks of the pines that are growing most close together. GHO's love pine tree trunks, and rarely will nap far from the center. I have noted the crows are never "bothering" a deciduous tree, where barred owls could be more likely found (than GHO). I heard a few possible "whoos"the first day owling in response to screech owl calls, which is common with the GHOs. I played barred too around then, so I wasn't sure (the sounds I heard were very muted and did not complete any full call, but were unique owl-ish sounds nonetheless).
Here we have two common sights: red, "spear-like" Beech buds and the lingering brittle beech leaves. These are everywhere on my way into my sit spot.
Here we have some white pines. These are the only species of pine I could find around my sit spot...
Hemlocks! Look at the "crunchy" bark. These are everywhere...
Red oaks. Look at the deep cracks exhibiting an almost reddish color.....
...And some red oak leaves. Pointy, "fire-flame tipped" leaves. They are also reddish, which helps a bit.
What could these be? White oaks! These have this random pattern to the nubby bark, and have a "whitish green" lichen or fungus on it more often than not. The tree to the right is the best non-greenish bark I could find.
The obligatory white oak leaf, in with some beech leaves. these do not seem to be nearly as prevalent as the red oak leaves in terms of what is currently still on the ground. This is the only leaf I could find.
To conclude, here we have a striped maple and a red maple. I assure you: both maples are well into adulthood! Despite one being green and thin and the other looking old and broken, this is in fact "how they do". Distinct barks, but also easy with the "opposite" branching pattern (not shown). In addition, the red maples are not only opposite branches but branch in a neon crimson color. This helps I.D. quite a bit.
AT IT AGAIN!
This is the kind of day it is today. Not a cloud in the light blue sky, the sun casting sharp shadows from the bare branches. A bit blustery, and cold- I'd guess 25 degrees, not including wind chill. The snow is very hard, and has a icy surface. I wandered into Fox park at around noon- all I could hear was a few high peeps from chickadees and the occasional crow yelling at something. Notably, the woodpeckers seemed absent on my way into the woods toward my pine tree- could the extra-frozen trees deter all but the most robust woodpeckers? Usually at least a downy will be somewhere, tapping away.
These two trees on the right exhibit this intersting "crinkly", wafer-like, "scaly" bark. Around these parts, I would wager a guess these are black cherry trees. Magnificent!
One interesting feature: they are always alone! I have yet to see two of these "scaly" trees within eyesight of each other. Compare this to the gaggles of hemlocks, clubs of white pines, and stands of beeches... I really haven't the foggiest why such an impressive and dense tree would manage to populate itself so sparsely.