Friday, January 6, 2012

Cooper's Hawk takes an American Coot

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, panic ensued at the feeding area outside our bird window at Southeastway Park. A tiny titmouse, in its frantic flight to get away, crashed directly into our window and tumbled to the ground below. The reason for all the frenzy soon was evident. A striking male Cooper's hawk landed on a limb above the lifeless bird, hopped down and swiftly flew off with its prey. We stood there, breatheless, watching the entire event unfold.

So you can imagine the surprise when this past week we came across the scene of another male Cooper's Hawk, this time at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, TX. Our guide, Kyle, spotted it under a bush near the board walk. Our birding group quietly walked by, many of us snapping photos, as we watched it feed on an American Coot! I had never seen a Cooper's Hawk take such large prey before! I have seen Bald Eagles take coots, but never a Cooper's Hawk. For those that are not familiar with American Coots, they are a black, duck-like bird that can weigh from 1 to 2 pounds. You can view some photos here. A large male Cooper's hawk can weighs less than a pound. Quite a feat for it to kill a coot and drag it under the bush. Kyle thought a female would be able to fly off with the coot. What an amazing sight!StumbleUpon

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Close Encounter with a Coyote

Recently, I was in the Rio Grande area of Texas. On New Year's Day, we visited Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge near Los Fresnos, Texas, in search of raptors. They have a fabulous driving tour where we viewed many Northern Harriers, White-tailed Hawks, and Crested Caracara. We counted over 25 Osprey, most of them feeding on fish from the nearby waterway.

When we were almost finished with the loop of the tour, near dusk, we noticed a car stopped by the side of the road. We pulled up slowly, thinking they may be watching a raptor or other bird. Suddenly, I spotted a four-legged creature in the road up ahead. A coyote!

My normal encounters with coyote here in Indiana are from afar. They are usually skittish, dashing quickly into the brush by the side of the road. Sometimes, I spot them in the distance in a farm field on my way to work in the morning. And, one early morning, I had the luck of spotting one loping through the park on the edge of the woods. I was pretty excited one was up ahead and was eager to get a good look.

This one seemed unafraid. It trotted by the other car, stopped for a brief second, as if sizing the passengers up, then moved on, closer to our car.

It kept heading toward our car, as if it was a greeter for the park. I carefully rolled my window down, just in case I could take a photo.

By this time the coyote was almost in front of the car. Then, it surprised me and came right up to my side of the car. If I had reached my hand out of the window, I could have scratched it behind the ears! It stopped and looked at me for a minute, as if to say "Hey, there!" then moved to Eric's side of the car.

The coyote silently vanished  into the brush to the side of the road behind the car. Eric backed the car up slowly to take another look. The coyote was lying down, totally unafraid, acting as if it was at peace with us being there. Such an awesome encounter!

Coyotes here in Indiana have an average weight of about 30 lbs, similar to a medium-sized dog. Their food preferences include rabbits and rodents. I usually see them in the rural areas, but there was a good sized population of coyotes at Skiles Test Park on the northeast side of town a few years ago. You could hear them howl whenever a siren sounded! I hope you have the opportunity to see one of these fascinating creatures. Check out this website  for more information on coyotes in Indiana.