Saturday, May 29, 2010

There are 3 new posts today. This one is about 2 nightjars I saw last night!


Cait, with whom I'm staying, as I do part of every year, lives in the Rocky Mountains. Last year she was walking up her substantial dirt driveway, off of the long dirt road she lives on, deep in the forest of the Rockies at 9,000 ft. and, being extremely observant (she would have made a great biologist, but then the world would have been deprived of some of the best Irish fiddling I've ever heard - and that's almost all I listen to anymore), and she noticed something "different" about a chunk of earth on the forest floor. She edged closer and saw her first nightjar - a common (but rarely seen) nighthawk. She could hardly believe her eyes, because are they WEIRD looking! They're so weird looking because they have nearly perfect camouflage.

They are sort of like the "missing link" that isn't missing, between owls and hawks. Some even seem to have a bit of a partial facial disk (to me, at least). A lot of people have never even HEARD of nightjars! They are the Poor-wills and nighthawks. They apparently either nest on the ground or just hang out there. They squint their eyes so that there is even better camo, because you see this long line due to their markings, rather than the round eye that they have. She thought this bird looked so strange it was as if he was from some other dimension, like "of the faerie" (remember, we ARE Irish after all. lol).

She was also surprised at how close he let her get to him. I think the nightjar knew he was so well camouflaged that he must have figured it was better to sit still than to flush. Then she saw him the next night in the same place, and he was a consistent visitor all summer. (I say him because I refuse to refer to an animal as an "it", and we have no gender neutral word for a being; isn't that strange that we don't?).

When first I got here, we didn't see a single insect. There had been a 2 foot snowfall the week before and the aspens weren't even starting to show leaves yet. Within a week it heated up and we started to see huge moths and Cait said, "AH, our nightjars will be back, now that there are so many moths." (see? She would have been a great biologist. So she's a great naturalist instead. We can't make EVERYTHING into a profession, right?). And sure enough, the very next day, the aspens burst forth in tiny leaves, and last night we saw not one, but TWO nightjars!

And they appeared to be hunting moths, with an irregular sort of flight pattern.

I'm willing to bet that a lot of poeple, seeeing a nightjar flitting around at night, think they are seeing large bats. But there really is such a thing as a nighthawk!

Now THAT I would like to see - a webcam on a nighthawk nest.

I don't know that much about them, other than the fact that Barn Owls are closely related to them, more so than other owls are, but I do know it's a huge privilege to even see one in the wild! It made my week/month for sure!

We've also seen a herd of elk, several small herds of deer, bunnies mating, playing, leaping, cavorting, and the black squirrel w/ the ear tufts (I forget the name) that lives in this vicinity, as well as chipmonks and ground squirrels. stellar jays, magpies, little yellow chickadees, a gray fox, and tracks of a lynx or mountain lion.

We were walking on the road when we heard a long, deep, extended growl from just out of view right beside us on the road. We talked loud and walked calmly back to the house, not to linger. There are a lot of mountain lions around here, as well as some lynx and bobcats. (and black bears). There was a bobcat lounging on Cait's pack porch next to the glass kitchen door one morning. And Wendy, who lives further north, chased a Canadian lynx off of her porch one morning! Wendy lost her entire herd of goats to a rogue mountain lion a few years back, which is what led her to develop the Colorado Mountain Dog, of which I have one...

These dogs have a specific purpose and so she lets her dogs have one litter per year, and they're all spoken for before they're even conceived, because ranchers use them instead of poisons and traps to deter predators from killing their livestock. It works, and has for many centuries, since these dogs' main instinct is to protect the animals they live with.

I have one because I needed a dog who would be gentle and protective of my vulnerable hamsters and not try to hunt them like a terrier or herd them like a herding dog, etc. AND I have hopes of doing another owl immersion study if there is an unreleasable barn owl who needs a home and I can get the proper permits, etc. Anyway, my mountain dog is the only one not living on a ranch or among livestock. They're not high energy dogs in the sense that they're perfectly happy to lie around among their animal friends - and they must have animal friends. My dog loves to play w/ her brother for hours on end, though. She's staying w/ her brother right now, in fact.

ANYWAY, we've seen tons of wildlife just this week. Oh, and we have the joy of watching a Blue Heron rookery across a small lake where we can also see muskrats busily making their beaver-like homes in the newly melted water. So, yes, we saw the nesting Blue Herons, too.

It seems like we're in the middle of Africa or something, except the species of animals are different of course, and the trees and other fauna are different. But it seems just as adventurous in its own way.

One day Cait and I walked around the house from the back and there was a big ol' black bear standing next to the car. He ambled away with his substantial bottom bobbing from side to side. It was comical, since he was going AWAY from us and not attacking us. Lol. Our neighbor came home one night, got out of her car and started walking toward the house, only to realize that she was in between two black bears who were having a fight! Not exactly in between, but uncomfortably in the way, shall we say. These bears were so intent on their disagreement, though, that they ignored her, and eventually one chased the other into the forest and she chose that moment to run to the house and lock herself in.

It's a real adventure just living here! I love it here, needless to say! It feels like home to me.

I have yet to see a mountain lion here, other than just the tracks, but according to Jeff Guidry, who raised a captive, unreleasable mountain lion at Sarvey Wildlife Center, he could walk into her enclosure and NOT be able to see her for the life of him. He describes looking at the ground by his feet, and seeing the pebbles and dirt, and slowly the mountain lion began to appear to him. They are THAT good at hiding in plain site. No wonder the Native Americans thought they could shape shift! They have the most awesome ability to see you while you can't see them!

So if you do see them, it's usually when you're driving and they cross the road in front of you. (or you're backpacking alone in the hip deep snow, far, far back in the Sierras, long before the roads to the trails are even open, because you are young and adventurous and an experienced backpacker, but still, you have that innate stupidity that makes young people do things like this....and a mountain lion decides to track you for 3 days and you don't sleep for that entire time, unless you happen to accidentally doze off. When you get back to "civilization", by which you mean your car and then a remote mountain cabin, THEN you feel the fear. "You" meaning ME when I was in my 20s. sigh.).

We drive slowly on these mountain roads for the sake of the animals. None of this racing up a mountain road like you see in commercials! Hello, there could be someone standing on the other side of the curve! (not in the commercials, though, because those are shot on a closed track - but I think those commercials encourage people to cut loose on mountain roads - the evidence of this can be seen on our mountain road - or more accurately, several hundred feet below our road, where lie the remains of many a fatal accident in the form of the wrecked cars. Cait and Richard just lost a friend who "went over" (not his fault - he had a heart attack while driving). Sorry for rambling!

See, if this were a book, I'd have to go and cut out all the rambling! But this is a blog, so ramble I do!

Anyway, if you're a birder, you know how thrilling it is to see a night hawk hunting!

Also, Barn Owls are closely related to nighthawks. They are kind of somewhere between night hawks and the other, strigidae, owls. Barn Owls are their own special kind of owl all to themselves. That makes them even more precious and interesting to me.



Ter-o-fla said...

Fascinating as ever, Stacey! Thanks. :)

I assume there are barn owls in continental Europe, too.
Are they related to the north american type?

I have seen falcons in the city, often chasing pigeons.
Once an owl - I believe it was one, because I heard NOTHING - flew very closely over my head as I was leaving a park-area in town. I only caught a glimpse of it as it was in front of me, then it vanished into a magnolia tree in the dusk. Magical!
I have no idea what sort of owl it was, though I do assume it was one. Probably a type which is common here in Europe. :)

Stacey O'Brien said...

YES! Barn owls are on every continent except Antarctica. They are different subspecies but are all very closely related. It is SO magical to encounter an owl! And yes, they are completely silent! It's hard to believe until you experience it, like you did. Where are you in Europe?


darien said...

I love reading your blog Stacey...ramble away! Glad to hear you having such a good time.

RainbowGirl said...

Hi Stacey! Greetings from New Zealand! Have you ever seen a Morepork, the native owl of New Zealand? A fascinating type of owl, very distinctive call.
While I'm here I want to say thank you so much for sharing your insights, esp. regarding Molly's box. We all love those owls so much we assume we are instant experts when we really aren't, so it's great to have your experience and knowledge. I read your book last week in one go and laughed and cried SO much. Bless you! It was a life affirming book. :) Any plans for another book of some kind? Would love to read it! For now I'm glad I can enjoy your blog posts.

Anonymous said...

Stacey, I'm so envious! I'm so fascinated by wildlife and that you and your friends get to see so much and in the natural habitat!

As Darien said, ramble away. I'm learning so much from you about birds and animals and I LOVE it!!!


Anonymous said...

I thought others might be interested in the blog that I happened onto several days ago. I grew up in St. Louis and never knew about the wildlife at Forest Park.


Anonymous said...

I thought others might be interested in the blog that I happened onto several days ago. I grew up in St. Louis and never knew about the wildlife at Forest Park.


Lynn said...

I'm always happy when I see a new post from you! Sounds like a wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing.

I consider myself fortunate to have seen a mountain lion while visiting a friend in Ashland, Oregon. We were walking up her very long dirt driveway and had just come around a curve when we spotted what we thought was a huge cat. It took a second to register that it was a mountain lion! We turned around, walked slowly back down the drive, and hid in her barn for about half an hour.

I'm looking forward to hearing you speak when you are in California.


Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for your link. Heading over to check it out now. I moved to St. Louis a few years ago and am excited that there are owls in Forest Park!! YAY

Thanks again,

Lynn said...

Oh my gosh. Just looked at google images of nightjars. Now that is camouflage!! I was looking right at a picture of one and thought it was a tree stump.

Chris said...

I'm just posting this here because it's the top blog. Just read something very distressing at the Molly chat room, someone posted as follows:
"talked to owl box man...suggested a couple of more perches...he said it doesn't to the owls any favors by making it easy on them."
I assume that is Tom Stephan. Isn't there someone who can reason with him? Here is another distressing Youtube. These need to be publicized!
Thank goodness for what you all are trying to accomplish!

Chris said...

I'm just so glad Carlos eventually put up the perches he did. What a difference it has made from what could have happened.

Ter-o-fla said...

Oh, so it is entirely possible that there are barn owls around here! That is neat. :)
I am smack-dab in the middle of Germany. The city is farily small, and there is surrounding countryside, but - as is common in Germany - autobahns criss-cross the landscape very often, making travel for most wildlife dangerous or impossible. (for low-flying birds as well)
I have a friend who has a very old barn; I will ask if she has seen any owls!

girl mark said...

I got to see nighthawks hunting quite a bit in Arizona- we lived right behind the reservation's baseball field, and the ballfield lights attracted bugs, which of course attracted all the bug-eating species at night. It was quite amazing seeing large numbers of these guys swooping around in the artificial daylight eating moths...

Charlotte said...

OMG stacey. You are in the deep bliss of mountain nature out there! If that was rambling, ramble ON. You bring us all in to the experience with your writing! I'm still trying to calm the knot in my belly from reading of your youthful three day encounter with the mountain lion..

Anonymous said...
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Eagle Eye said...

The Nightjar you saw that was sitting in the same spot most likely is a nesting female. They do nest on the ground since they are not capable of building a nest. What they do is dig a shallow hollow in the ground and lay 2 eggs, the mom is so well camouflaged that she looks like the ground and the babies are a rusty yellow color. The other name for them is also "Frog Mouths" because their mouth is so big, they are also called Whip-poor-willow or Chuck-will's-wildow, and they call all night long from sunset to sunrise. It would be interesting to see if it is still there now, if so it is an active nest.

The first time I saw one at my mentors I was scared to feed it because I thought it would hurt if it bit me but they have no real strength in their bills other than to grab the food.

These are the hardest little creatures to raise and rehab since they have to learn to fly through the air with their mouths open catching insects. It was all ways a serious problem for me that incurred much frustration in teaching them how to hunt. Finial frustration led me to just catch moths and put them in the flight cages and once they were catching them I could leave the door open. If they could catch them on their own they would go but if they couldn't they would all ways return to be fed.

Glad to hear your having a wonderful nature adventure. Peace and blessings, Cyndi

Chris said...

Fascinating about the nightjars. I've never ever seen one in the wild.

Can anyone answer an owl question please...I'll only be mocked if I ask it over at Molly's chat. Wesley looks so terribly thin to me, much thinner than the others ever have.
He's always lagged behind more than the week he was later to hatch. But now with his hardly flying, does anyone else think he is just too weak? Nothing can be done about it, but I hope I am not seeing it accurately. Could someone please give me their opinion?
It's wonderful to have a place like this where I can ask.

Stacey O'Brien said...

I've wondered about Wesley, too. Those days when he was lying on the floor of the box in an unnatural way, after he had been left on his own to scrap with his siblings for food. I think that Molly left the box the day after she saw Wesley eat a mouse and that this was an Owly mistake. Wesley was too weak, still, to pull the head off of prey and eat the insides, or to pull pieces of fresh meat off. Fresh meat is incredibly strong, esp. when covered w/ fur. When there's no opening in the prey animal (sorry), he can't get at the easy places to eat.

And then a sibling would end up w/ the food after Wesley struggled with it. This is why I have often said that in successful nests the mother stays longer.

But Wesley rallied and held on. Still, he seems a little developmentally slow. I worry about his ultimate ability to survive out there unless he gets some serious strength.

Has anyone seen him being fed by the parents or older siblings? He's barely learned to fly, and the others are starting to fledge, and I hope the inexperienced parents don't think their job is done. I'm convinced the parents are inexperienced.

I would advise that if Wesley is found sitting on the ground, he be taken to a wildlife rehab center. Sometimes in these cases all the owl needs is a few days of good nutrition and R&R, and then some time in the flight cage mastering the ability to hunt. But when you're weak, it's hard to master anything new and difficult.

So let's keep a close eye on him. If it appears he's going to ground, he'll need intervention. I'm convinced that, at this case, with all his fame and success, Carlos would take care to make sure that Wesley had a good outcome.

It's not time to intervene yet, and Wesley might rally and just be behind. But if he goes to ground, I hope that those around Carlos will convince him to seek help for Wesley. After all, Wesley's plight as the littlest and his rehab would make a very interesting part of the story. They could even film THAT part of it and it would educate people about rehab centers and all that they do. I'm not suggesting that I hope anything bad happens to Wesley, I'm just saying that if they end up taking him to a rehab center to gain his strength, it will also be a chance to inform and educate the huge audience that's learning so much from this whole experience.

He may do fine on his own. But it is NOT worry warting to notice that he's weaker and behind the others by more than a few days, and to think about contingencies. That's how humans solve or prevent problems.

Don't we all wish that BP had thought about contingencies when they built an unreachable system a mile under the ocean?...but that's another story.


Susan said...

Stacey, do you think fear of the flashes could be contributing to Wesley's behavior? I do not mean to belabor the excessive flashes point and am not trying to start something up about it, I'm just sincerely curious.

And Happy Memorial Day from a fellow Celt! :)

Susan from MI

Chris said...

Thank you so much for your answer Stacey, even though it confirms my worst concerns. I wonder if Carlos would even look for Wesley on the ground, they are so convinced everything is rosy. No one would even know to call a rehab person.

I have to just try not to worry, and say it's nature's way, but darn, I wish there were some way for a rehabber to check on him/her, and I know there isn't.

I love this blog.BTW, your Wesley book is also a delight, just read it.

Did you see my earlier post about the owl box man?
Someone posted at the Molly chat room as follows:
"talked to owl box man...suggested a couple of more perches...he said it doesn't to the owls any favors by making it easy on them."
I assume that is Tom Stephan. Drat. So blind. He could so easily add a branching apparatus to the base of his boxes.

I hope the barn owl alliance can do something about these people!

Anonymous said...

I love watching Nighthawks flying. They look so funny on the ground, but in the air they are so graceful. I saw some at twilight the other day as I was driving home.

Last year I went to Colombus Ohio on business and was staying in an area called Easton Village. When I went out to walk in the evening, I heard this weird noise in the sky. I knew I should know what it was, but I just couldn't place it. Then I looked up and noticed that there were nighthawks everywhere. I guess the lights from the restaurants and stores in Easton Village must attract insects, and thus nighthawks. That was the noise - I just hadn't heard it in a couple of years, and when I don't hear bird calls for a while, sometimes they slip out of my memory and I can't recognize them anymore. Anyway, I sat down on a bench and just enjoyed the show.

Some of my fondest memories are of sleeping in a screen porch at my grandparents' house and listening to the crickets, whipoorwills and great horned owls. The beds hung from chains, so they rocked gently as we moved around.