Bird Stories

Story #1

I was taking pictures of the Pied Harrier when I saw a smaller bird zip by. I snapped a few shots of the smaller bird. When I looked at the photos, I couldn’t tell what it was. I sent the pics to top birder Rob Hutchinson for ID. He said it was definitely a falcon but not a Peregrine or Kestrel. He said it was possibly an Amur Falcon or Northern Hobby, except that my photos were too far and blurry to confirm an ID!

I almost, maybe had a lifer at the refuge!

Story #2

The next week while we were scanning the skies hoping to see the possible Amur Falcon or Northern Hobby, we saw a Brahminy Kite. Being the trigger-happy photographers we are, we snapped away at the Brahminy Kite.

At first it looked like it was flying with its legs dangling.

my, what long legs you have

Then we saw that it was carrying something. Hard to tell what it was carrying, maybe it was a chicken.

The following week, Tonji saw one of our neighbors. One of his chickens was missing! Our neighbor thought someone either stole it or set a trap for it. Tonji said that sure, maybe one of those trappers got it. That’s all he said.

Story #3

Tonji was walking back to the cottage when he saw a mouse impaled on a tree branch. When he reached the cottage he told me about it and we went back out so he could show it to me. When we got to the tree it was gone. He said that it was probably a Long Tailed Shrike that impaled the mouse. It was watching him when he went to inspect it and maybe it moved it or ate it after he left.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to see the mouse, impaled through the eye and all. I didn’t think a Long Tailed Shrike could catch a mouse! Lizards and frogs, yes. But I was surprised that it could get a mammal! Our bird reference book the Kennedy guide says that Long Tailed Shrikes eat insects and small vertebrates. We also have Brown Shrikes and the book says that they eat large insects, small birds, and possibly mammals.

The following day I was clearing overhanging dead branches near the horse poop compost area and saw a mouse impaled on a tree branch! This one was long dead and eaten.

I believe that this is graphic confirmation that Shrikes can catch mice!

Story #4

This week Tonji found half a crow in the grass. He was on the Day 2 of building Pond #7 when when he found a dead crow that looked like it was cut in half. He showed it to me, but I didn’t take pictures. The strange image stuck in our minds though. What could have done that to a crow. A crow! They are big, tough, and travel in groups called a murder of crows!

A few mornings later while Tonji was preparing our morning coffee, a Grass Owl flew in front the cottage. What a treat for us to see an owl in the morning.

Then a Pied Harrier flew into view. They were both probably hunting for mice!

Then Crows flew in and started chasing the Pied Harrier. They were very insistent.

Pied Harrier being mobbed by a Crow

They were doing the same thing the previous week, mobbing the Grass Owl and Pied Harrier. The crows were so aggressive towards the Pied Harrier I thought they might have permanently driven the Pied Harrier away.

Pied Harrier and Grass Owl flying together. This was from the previous week.

Sudden realization! The Pied Harrier probably ate the half Crow! That’s why the Crows are attacking the Pied Harrier. If a Brahminy Kite can catch a chicken and a Shrike can catch a mouse, surely a Pied Harrier can catch a Crow!

And that’s the story of how Half Crow Pond got its name.

The Magic Fence

This bamboo fence is very popular among the birds. We can see it from the veranda of the cottage and we always check to see what’s perched on it.

One day it was Tali, the Pied Harrier. We watched him and admired his full adult male plumage. Earlier in the year he was brown, then in March we saw his black adult feathers coming in. In April, we thought he had migrated and that we wouldn’t see him in full adult plumage. Here he is in July in full male adult plumage!

_E7A8058

After giving us good views Tali flew off. We thought that was the end of the show. Thirty minutes later a Grass Owl flew in and landed on the same spot! Maybe the Grass Owl wanted to see what Tali was looking at. There’s a path of short grass in front of the fence. It’s a good place to nab a meal.

_E7A8065.jpg

The following week the fence was host to these Spotted Doves that decided that bamboo fence was a good spot for sex!

_E7A9339

 

Owl Pellet Project

Owl pellets are pretty fascinating. They are not poop.

Owl pellets are the hard, undigested bits from an owl’s meal that are regurgitated in the form of a pellet. Things like bones and fur that cannot be digested are formed into a pellet in the gizzard. The owl has to cough out this pellet before it can eat again.

They are also not that easy to find at the farm. We have managed to stumble across a total of TWO owl pellets at the sanctuary. Franco found the first one in July 2015 on the ledge of the round pen. We were excited to see an owl pellet!  We didn’t really know what to do with it, so we picked it up, broke it apart, and scattered the bits on the ground.

In the US and other countries, they let school children dissect owl pellets as a science activity. I never did anything like that as a child! Too bad I threw away the pellet, at the very least, I could have saved it. I didn’t know that later that year, one my biologist friends would ask me for owl pellets for her college students who were writing a paper on owls!

DSCF1265
owl pellet from July 2015

I also didn’t know that it would be three years until I stumbled across an owl pellet again!

IMG_4812
owl pellet collected on 11 April 2018

The second owl pellet was found by Momo and Barkley in the middle of the path, near the bamboo fence where we sometimes see Grass Owls perched.  There were feathers scattered on the ground.

IMG_4804.jpg
owl feathers

This time, I bagged the pellet and took it home for further study.   I wasn’t going to miss my opportunity to do my very own owl pellet project!

Step 1 – Observe and take notes

This pellet was large, oblong-shaped, and covered in fur. There were also long hairs that looked like whiskers. It clearly contained the remains of a rat or mouse.

IMG_4858.jpg

Step 2 – Prepare

Owl pellets can contain bacteria and parasites.  They can be sterilized by soaking in disinfectant or baking in an oven. I decided to bake the pellet. I wrapped it in two layers of foil and baked at 325F for 30 minutes.

I wanted to make sure the bones inside the pellet didn’t break. I soaked it in water to soften so I could easily remove the bones.

Step 3 Separating the bits

The sterilized, wet pellet smelled very strongly of urine. The fur was especially smelly. I wanted to save bit of the fur, but the smell was too strong and overpowering. It might have been better to soak the pellet in disinfectant after baking it

IMG_4867
It felt like the stench was stuck in my nose for days!

IMG_4872
Why is the tooth red?

IMG_4883.jpg

Step 4 Reassemble

Next I grouped the bones by shape and glued them on a sheet of paper that I placed inside a box. I put the tiny bits and bone fragments in a small plastic bag.

IMG_5834.jpg

 

And here’s the finished owl pellet project!

IMG_5831.jpg