Archive for March, 2009

Great Horned Owl in an Osprey Nest

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

One of the highlights of a short visit to Kiawah Island last week was finding a female Great Horned Owl sitting in a former Osprey nest in a tall pine, with the smaller male perched among the shadows of the pine branches not far away.

The nest overlooks an open expanse of marsh grass and ponds, and although we didn’t know it at the time, the owls were also seen there almost a month ago, by participants in a bird count organized by the Kiawah Island Nature Program. The nest is large and easy to see, constructed mostly of large sticks, with debris from palm trees, some Spanish moss, and one long tangled strand of bright orange string.

The female’s head, with its two prominent ears, stuck up from the nest, and through a scope, when she swiveled her head around in our direction, we could see her orange face and large, half-lidded yellow eyes. A strong wind ruffled the feathers of her head. The feathers on her upper back gleamed gray and dark brown in the sunlight, and on her breast, the barred brown plumage looked fluffed and spread out.

While we were there, four Ospreys soared and called over and over again around the same area, though they did not approach the nest or its tree. It seems likely that the nest originally belonged to one of these pairs, and we wondered what they would do, now that it’s been taken over by the owls. After getting back home, I looked this up, and learned that Great Horned Owls not only often take over nests of other raptors – they do not build nests of their own – but also that they are considered serious predators of Ospreys, often taking fledglings and even the adults.

When a Great Horned Owl takes over an Osprey nest, this usually disrupts the Osprey’s breeding season. Since this nest has been observed by residents of the island, I’m hoping someone will keep up with what happens and whether or not this pair of Ospreys will find another nesting spot.

At the time, I was simply spellbound, standing and watching the Great Horned Owl in such full view in the middle of a clear, sunny day, with the quiet sweep of brown marsh grass all around, the Ospreys flying and calling overhead, and herons, egrets and pied-billed grebes feeding in the ponds. The Owl looked stolid and strong and moved very little, as if nothing could perturb her, so still at times she looked like a piece of a log, only turning her head now and then – and showing a most remarkable, hypnotic face.

Pine Siskins in the Rain

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Coming home after being away for several days, I didn’t expect to find Pine Siskins still here. We filled the feeder before leaving, but they usually go through it in a day or two, so I thought they’d probably give up and move on, or decide it was a good time to head north. But late yesterday afternoon when we got back, I filled it again – and when I looked out first thing this morning, seven Pine Siskins were crowding on or around the feeder, munching away in a cold, steady rain that dripped from their feathers.

Two Goldfinches waited for a chance to break in, and on the ground below the feeder White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos foraged around some bushes. The zhreeee calls and chirps of at least four or five more Pine Siskins could be heard from the branches nearby, and I was happy to hear them and to have them around for a while longer.

Tufted Titmouse

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Year-round, the most common birds around our yard by far are Tufted Titmice. During the winter months, several visit the feeders and the bird baths frequently and forage in the bare limbs of the oaks and pecans, coming and going just about all day every day, and they are so common I often neglect to pay much attention to them. But they are lively, quick, curious, attractive little birds, and our yard would be a much quieter and less interesting place without them. If I listened more closely, I think I could learn a lot about what’s going on from their day-day-day scolding and chattery gossip with the chickadees, and their peter-peter songs and wreep-wreeep calls.

One of their favorite spots is a Savannah holly tree next to the front porch where they often perch just before dropping down to a bird bath close to its branches for a drink or a dip.

Snow Day

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Yesterday afternoon and evening snow fell for several hours, filling the air with a slow, white drifting-down of snowflakes that piled up several inches on pines, on bare limbs, on every surface. Today – a rare winter wonderland here, with blue sky, bright sun and frosty snow – Pine Siskins kept the feeders busy all day. In the branches nearby, several were always sitting, one by one, waiting a turn.

Photos by Clate Sanders