Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mt. Auburn Coyote

Unlike my last visit back in May, there was no assortment of migratory warblers today at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, but the wildlife certainly kept me entertained. The sweltering heat must have brought the animals out of their hiding spots.

Today was the first time I saw or even heard of the famous Mt. Auburn Cemetery coyote family. During my first pass over Indian Ridge I saw a photographer with a large scope on a tripod trying to get a shot of the mom who was staring at us from between two gravestones off in the distance. Can you see her? Try clicking on the picture for the enlarged view.

Throughout the day I also saw a groundhog, some very nervous squirrels (explained by pictures to come) and some cute chipmunks. You can see his chubby cheeks in this picture:

Squirrels are not too exciting but I couldn't help photographing this one who was up in the same tree that the chipmunk was underneath while I was so close:

While photographing this house finch:

I noticed a (what I assume to be) a Red-tailed Hawk (or possibly a Red-shouldered Hawk) in the same tree:

'Sleep with one eye open'- click on the enlarged view to see what I'm talking about. In fact, I found this article on the subject: http://www.cnn.com/TECH/science/9902/03/birds.eye/. I'm sure there's more recent research but it's interesting just the same.

The was a Great Blue Heron hanging out at Auburn Lake. That same photographer told me it was scared away by the coyote, but by the time I saw it the bird was back at the lake, but up in a tree:

I even got this video of the bird cleaning itself:


video

I have more pictures to come, including a mystery bird- perhaps a female tanager or oriole. It was a great day!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Difference Between Grackles and Starlings

I saw a sad sight today during my lunchtime jog—a dead grackle. Or was it a starling? I'll get to that in a minute.

I was making my way down to the trail along the Charles River when I saw what I thought was an injured bird in the middle of the road. It was just sitting there and I figured it was just stunned or maybe had an injured wing. The bird probably didn't have much of a chance, but the least I could move it out of the road. As I got closer to the bird I saw it had its mouth open and then I realized the gruesome truth—it was dead and was frozen in that position. I just got shivers thinking about it. The poor thing.
Anyway, so it got me to thinking 'What is the difference between grackles and starlings?' I use the two interchangeably and haven't really made an effort to sort it out. Until now.
I like to use All About Birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as an online resource. The site is comprehensive and easy to use. (I also really like the 'Cool Facts' feature.) Here's what I found out:
The main difference is that the Starling has a short tail and yellow bill, while the Grackle has a black bill and a long 'keel-shaped' tail.
Starling

Source: Australian Department of Agriculture and Food

http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/

Grackle

Source: Audubon.org

http://www.audubon.org/news/pressroom/cbid/BirdList.html



Some interesting facts about the Starling (from All About Birds):
  • All of the birds you see in the U.S. are descendants of 100 birds originally released in Central Park in the 1890s.
  • Females and males are very difficult to tell apart- one seemingly helpful trick is the eye ring since females have a distinctive yellow eye ring; however, some males 4 years old and older can develop it and older females can lose it.
  • If a female does not get a mate early enough in the season she might lay an egg in another female's better-made nest to help her offspring's chance of success.

Some interesting facts about the Grackle:

  • They will follow plows through fields to pick up bugs and mice.
  • They will wade into water to catch small fish.
  • They will even kill and eat other birds at bird feeders. (Crazy!)
  • Engages in 'anting'- a symbiotic relationship with ants that secrete an acid that helps prevent parasites

So after doing my research I've determined it was a Starling. I've always had the two mixed up! The Starling's mottled plumage seems more 'grackle-y' to me.

Strangely enough when drove down the road later that day the bird was gone.