Red-tailed Marauder

28 01 2008

This winter has seen the persistent presence of a single banded Red-tailed Hawk in Sapsucker Woods. Whether she’s harassing the red-shouldered hawk or being harassed by a murder of crows, her burnt-red tail never fails to bring color to a drab Ithaca day.Nor terror to an suspecting prey item. Recently we were watching while she stooped on an unsuspecting short-tailed shrew; the result? Three quick bites, and a little blood on the talons. Sort of a tapas dish for the Buteo crew. Other days the results are more gruesome:


Talon marks in the snow and a half-meter of rabbit intestine spooled out amid the footprints of mice and squirrels. Just another reminder that life’s violent ends can, in the case of a bunny, sometimes be tasty; also, that a clean blanket of snow is perfect for getting a surreptitious look at the eating habits of animals…

Despite my earlier posts lambasting Rhamnus in all its glory, the birds seem to find it an acceptable substitute for a native berry bush. The cold and snow makes their preference visible in the form of a shotgun blast of purple pellets, the cast-off bits from consuming the small purple berries that festoon the branches of buckthorn all along the trails on the north side of Sapsucker Woods.


Even more fun is stumbling upon the chipped up remains from the ardent attention of a woodpecker. It’s almost as though I have encountered the workshop of a small elf, chiseling away at the trees for some arcane purpose.



Restarting Redstarts

2 06 2007


Many of the interesting things happening in Sapsucker Woods can be seen during a single visit to the sanctuary; yet there are also a suite of compelling stories happening on a much longer timescale.

If we go back 60 years, there was a student named Oliver Owen that studied the birds of eastern Sapsucker Woods under the tutelage of Lab of O founder Dr. Arthur A. Allen (I actually used to rent a house from his son and daughter-in-law!). If we consult Owen’s breeding bird surveys, we’d find that American Redstarts were present, but not in high numbers (he found 1-2 breeding pairs in the 2 years of his thesis research). Dr. Allen also initiated a set of 15 breeding bird surveys off and on for the next 30 years, using sampling points along the trail system, and noted only two years where there was a single instance of breeding American Redstarts. By the time Tom Litwin did his thesis in 1979-80, he recorded no instances of breeding Redstarts during his surveys.

Fast forward to the present.

The northern edge of the pond, nearest the building, is alive and resonating with the songs of male Redstarts on territories. Within the last week we have found more than three nests (though one has already failed), and at least two have birds incubating on them.

So what gives? We’re in the process of figuring it out, so you’ll have to wait for the answer in a future post. But until then, I’ll leave you with a video I shot this morning showing what an incubating female does when she gets hungry.

CAUTION: this video contains extreme violence and death for one unfortunate caterpillar.

a cold birdy morning

21 01 2007

Cold weather brings the birds out of the woodwork, and my feeders are advantageously situated right next to the woodwork in question. I took some video clips with my digital camera (hence the poor quality) and pasted them together into this two-minute montage for those of you who may not have a feeder nearby to watch…(thanks to Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto for the warming soundtrack).

Eat your heart out, Natty Geo & BBC!