Song Dogs; Point Reyes National Seashore

A pair of coyotes sing a song understood only by coyotes.

Song Dog Serenade

Hearing a howl or two from coyotes is usually all you get.  But in this case I was treated to several minutes of singing.  Hearing coyotes howl is one of the best sounds in nature.   Other favorites of mine include the calls of wolves; the bugling of bull elk during the rut; the call of a loon on a lake; and the honking of Canada geese as they fly in formation  overhead.

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Cooper’s Hawk; Petaluma, California

A Cooper's hawk stands by its kill.

Avian Predator

I looked out our dining room window the other morning and saw this cooper’s hawk eating a mourning dove.  I grabbed my big lens and tripod and stationed myself about 10 feet back from a sliding door.  The hawk was about 30 feet from the door on a fence.  First, I shot a few images through the side of the door that has no screen.  Once I had a few of those shots, I kept my body hidden as I made my way to the sliding door and, exposing my arm only, I slowly slid open the glass door and then the screen door.  It was dark and raining on and off.  The light was very poor.  I started shooting at 1/200 second at ISO 10,000.  By the time I took this shot the light was good enough to get the ISO down to 1,000.

It’s hard to tell a cooper’s hawk from a sharp-shinned hawk because their markings are basically identical.  They both prey mainly on smaller birds.  They often occur in residential areas and have the same habit of keeping an eye on bird feeders.  We don’t have feeders, but some of our neighbors may.  In any event, we have birds in our yard regularly.

How have I concluded it’s a cooper’s hawk and not a sharp-shin?  I’m not a bird ID expert.  According to my Sibley bird guide, the cooper is 16.5 inches in length and the sharpie is 11 inches in length.  A mourning dove is also 11 inches in length.  This bird was much longer and larger than a mourning dove so I concluded it was a cooper’s hawk.

Some crows found the cooper and started pestering it, hoping to steal a meal.  The cooper finally tired of the harassment and took off with its meal.  Fortunately, it spent an hour on our fence before the crows drove it off.

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Elk Calves; Point Reyes National Seashore

Elk calves spotted near Drakes Beach.

I’m biased in favor of predators. That’s why when I’m at Point Reyes I’m always looking for bobcats and coyotes.  If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll spot a badger.  If I’m super lucky, maybe some day I”ll spot a mountain lion.  (I keep looking, but they’re not likely to be in the open areas I frequent.)

Anyway, on the last few drives to Point Reyes I’ve thought to myself that it’s that time of year that I ought to look for elk calves and deer fawns.  By the time I get there though, I have forgotten about them because of my obsession with predators.   Yesterday, I decided I’d better remember to look for them before it’s too late to see them when they are still small.  Luckily, there were some along Drakes Beach Road.  I also saw two cow elk away from the herd which made me think they may have very young calves hidden nearby.  I didn’t see any fawns.  Maybe next time.

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Handicapped Badger, Point Reyes National Seashore

I was out at Point Reyes yesterday and it was kind of slow.  I saw a couple of coyotes, but wasn’t able to get a good photo of either of them.  I didn’t see any bobcats.  I did see a mature bald eagle, but it was flying  too far away for a good photo.  Things picked up in the mid-afternoon, however, when I spotted this badger.  It was actively hunting gophers.  The light was OK, but not great, because of strong side-lighting.  I opened up the shadow on its left side (right side for viewer) to bring out detail in its fur.

American Badger Digging Up Gophers in Point Reyes National Seashore

What you see is the full image.  However, as I was working on the photo in Photoshop I cropped it a bit to remove some of the little hillock in front of the badger.  Then I needed to remove some of the photo on the other three sides for a better composition.  As I was doing that I thought the animal’s right eye (left eye from viewer’s standpoint) looked odd.  So, I magnified the photo.  It then became clear that the badger had a serious eye problem.  I assume it’s completely blind in its right eye.

To make the eye visible at the relatively small image size required by my blog, I had to do a severe crop.

Badger at Point Reyes National Seashore

One-eyed Badger

I’m always touched by animals that have injuries or handicaps.  I hope this badger manages to live a normal life span.  I don’t know how its eye came to be the way it is.  It reminds me that I saw another badger at Point Reyes six years ago that looked completely blind in the same eye.  It was a female with two cubs.  Her eye was completely white, but not recessed looking like this eye.  I suppose it could be the same badger, but it could also be another.  I’ve started to wonder if eye problems are not that rare for badgers for some reason.

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Bobcats; Comparing Point Reyes National Seashore and Yellowstone National Park

Bobcat, Point Reyes National Seashore

A bobcat moves through grass hunting for gophers at Point Reyes National Seashore.

I go to Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) often.  It’s rare that I go and not see at least one bobcat.  I also spend a month or so almost every year in Yellowstone National Park (YNP).   Yet, I’ve never seen a bobcat there in spite of the fact that they do exist.  I’ve often wondered why.

According to my most recent copy (2013) of the annual “Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook,”  bobcat numbers in Yellowstone are “unknown, but generally widespread.”  It says their habitat is in rocky areas and conifer forests.  It goes on to say that they are rarely seen, with most reported sightings being in rocky areas and near rivers.  I’ve seen a few online photos of them along the Madison River in winter.  Given the lack of stated population numbers, I assume they haven’t been studied much in Yellowstone, if at all.  I’m not aware of any bobcat study in PRNS either.  I assume PRNS doesn’t know how many bobcats there are in PRNS, let alone what their habitat preferences are.

In any event, why do I see bobcats regularly in PRNS and never in YNP?  I can only speculate.  My best guess is that it has to do with where the bobcat finds itself in the predator pecking order in each place.  In YNP the bobcat has to worry about grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes and mountain lions.  In PRNS it’s just coyotes and a very, very few mountain lions.  This may cause them to stick to the forests and other good cover in YNP without the same pressure to do so in PRNS.  If so, this reminds me of what I found last spring photographing pumas (aka mountain lions) in Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park (TDPNP) and adjacent private land. There are no bears or wolves in TDPNP.  There is a coyote-like predator there called the culpeo, but coyote-sized animals are no threat to a mountain lion.  While mountain lions in YNP stay in good cover, in TDPNP they feel no need to hide.  I saw 18 pumas in a week in TDPNP and all of them were in open areas – like the bobcats in PRNS.

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Bobcat Marks His Territory; Point Reyes National Seashore

A male bobcat marks his territory by urinating on a shrub in Point Reyes National Seashore.

A male bobcat marks his territory by urinating on a shrub in Point Reyes National Seashore.

It’s a little hard to see in this photo because of its size, but this male bobcat was marking his territory.  As he looked right at me I thought he was also making a statement as to what he thinks of humans in his territory.

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American Kestrel, Point Reyes National Seashore

Kestrel, Point Reyes National Seashore

A female kestrel perches on a fence post in Point Reyes National Seashore.

With a break in the wet weather, I headed out to Point Reyes yesterday afternoon.  It turned out to be a good day.   I saw and photographed several bobcats and coyotes.

I also photographed one of my favorite hawks, the American kestrel.  It’s the smallest member of the falcon family and the most colorful bird of prey that I know of.

Point Reyes has a good population of kestrels.  If you visit the seashore, look for them on fences and bushes.

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