Sunday, 7 November 2010

Short-lived shortie shocker

Brit readers may be interested to know that the clocks went back last night/this morning - a week later than in the UK.

So, I took advantage of the extra hour and headed off to the estuary bright and early. And when I say bright, I don't half mean it. It was glorious; blue skies, and pretty warm for 7.30am in early November!
I was quickly met by a northern shrike, busily pursuing a chickadee. Not sure of the outcome, as they vanished behind the hedge...

From the viewing platform, I could see 3 trumpeter swans out on the water. Good numbers of American wigeon were visible, though distant. Similarly, buffleheads, mallard, pintail, common merganser, and a pair of gadwall were bobbing about.
Another northern shrike was hunting from a snag out on the western marsh.
A juv northern harrier sailed by, passing over the lone shooter out on the marsh. To be honest, I don't think the ducks had much to worry about - I didn't see the guy hit a thing, despite a number of attempts.
Walking back toward the hedge, I noticed a bunch of western meadowlarks as they flew up into a hawthorn. I counted 18 in total (one of which is pictured).
I was quite surprised to see an American kestrel sat on a post out on the marsh. I expect this is the same bird as has been present at Holden Creek for the past few weeks.

I noticed something of a commotion going on some distance away, involving around 40-50 ravens. They were all flying around, quite high and seemingly excited by something.
Getting my bins on them, I noticed a short-eared owl amongst the melee. The ravens were relentlessly mobbing the owl, which was flying around in small circles, in a panicked state.
Convinced that the shortie would soon break away and head for cover, I kept watching, fascinated. Suddenly a sub-adult bald eagle flew through the flock and grabbed the owl in its talons. It flew up, mangling the owl in the progress, and then spiralled downward, eventually releasing its limp victim, which fell toward the ground pursued by a mob of murderous ravens.
Very curious behaviour, and not a little depressing!
I've seen owls mobbed by all manner of things in the past, but this is without doubt the first time I've seen such a brutal, and terminal, finale.
As I left the estuary around 9.20am I met a number of the Sunday Bird Walk participants, who had just arrived, and told them of my grizzly sighting. Hopefully their experience was somewhat less violent!

I headed around to Holden Creek for a quick scan. There were still 24 greater white-fronted geese and 33 cackling geese in the fields. I couldn't see anything unusual among the green-winged teal.
A pileated woodpecker flew over and a red-breasted sapsucker put in an appearance.
I also saw my first ruby-crowned kinglet of the fall.

Later, Jen and I went to Cable Bay. We didn't see too much ornithologically speaking but it was very pleasant.
We got good views of both seals and sealions - which is always a treat. And I took the accompanying pic to demonstrate the season... 

I popped back down to the estuary for dusk.
I didn't see any short-eared owls at all, despite waiting until it was too dark to see.  
A shrike, a juv Coopers hawk and a female northern harrier showed before the light went. A Wilson's single snipe flew over, only detected by its distinctive call.


  1. Nature's talons,red and bloody...Tennyson

  2. Indeed Ralph. No less horrific to see an owl killed by another bird than to see a kinglet snatched by a shrike, I suppose.