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Chicory Blues

Sunday, July 3, 2016

It was a perfect Science Chimp morning. Chet and I took off at 8 AM when the temperature was in the 60's. What a beautiful summer it's been!!

This morning's run started with a little doggie CSI. 

A baby bunny (of which there are approximately 8.2 bazillion this year) met its end in our driveway.

How did we know it was a baby? Hair's too short to be from an adult. 
I'm curious about the tiny divots of hair plucked from the rabbit. Not sure what would do this. A Cooper's hawk? (There's one around our driveway a lot of the time). I don't think a fox, brush wolf or bobcat would bother "plucking" a rabbit. Their droppings are full of hair, so they must ingest it. But a hawk just might. Still thinking about this. Falconers might be able to help here. It seems to me that a Cooper's hawk, which always plucks its avian prey, might be moved to pluck a rabbit, yes? No? I'll ask Matt Mullenix. And I bet Liam McGranaghan will know, too! 

Chicory is out all along our road. Hallelujah!

Spontaneous compositions arise wherever chicory blooms. I like the way its cool pinky periwinkle blue plays with the honest straight-up strong blue of the sky.

Really love the sort of street art quality of this one. Chicory opens in response to light and heat. Shaded flowers keep their color longer. And cool mornings with deep shade are tops for chicory photography. 

Let me once again sing the praises of the iPhone camera. What other camera could pick up color in deep shadow, yet keep the sky blue in the brilliantly-lit window hole? Love it, love it. It sees the way I do.

I was excited to find freshly cast, still moist crow pellets on the path. Pellets come out of the bird's digestive tract, but they come from the top part--the crop, and pop out of the bill. They are not poop. They are odor-free, clean, compacted boluses of indigestible things, in this case blackberry seeds. At any rate, a crow pellet is analogous to a hawk or owl pellet, but made of vegetable material. There were also a few beetle elytrae in there, too.

These crow castings had a fetching raspberry hue from the blackberries, and a light sweet fragrance. I loved thinking that I was the first person who'd touched this avian product. 

If you're curious what's written on my left hand, it's "Bucket Nest Change." (I use the delta sign for "change" in my notes). This is an example of foreshadowing.

How did I know they were crow pellets? Well, I deduced it. There was a family group of crows cawing away at my intrusion. There were very fresh fabulous crow tracks just a few feet away. And I've found identical pellets atop round hayrolls, and I know from the fruit seeds in them that they aren't hawk or owl pellets. Crows love to sit on hayrolls. Not rocket science, but it does take a little thinking.  There is a very entertaining post about how I figured out these boluses came from crow craws at this link.

The basic premise some might not realize is that most birds cast pellets. Not just owls. Most birds wind up with a bunch of indigestible stuff in their crops, and that needs to come up, not go on through the digestive tract. Bluebirds, kingbirds, orioles, gulls, shorebirds...they all cast pellets. These are the ones I've seen do it. Many more, I'm sure, do it too.

More fabulous flowers, on a private home construction site near us. Rudbeckia is such a pretty thing, and it's just coming out. There's some Queen Anne's lace and daisies in there, too.  I like this composition, with the steamroller wheels and the black-eyed Susans prettying up the piles of brick.

On to the foreshadowing. This afternoon, I checked the frail little runt bluebird again. No longer frail, it's living strong! Once again, on the right side of the nest cup. (Baby birds tend to keep their places in the nest).

For comparison, here are its biological siblings, the day before. I'd say this bird has caught up, in a big way! It's barely a day behind developmentally, although when I kidnapped it it was looking like a three-day-old to its siblings' seven days. Glory be!

And it is a female, just like its four biological siblings. It's rare to find a bluebird nest with five of the same sex, but it happens.  This photo, taken June 30, 2016. The bird is 13 days old. A bit behind, but well within the range of normal now. We have its dedicated foster parents to thank for that!

Because blowflies infest most nests, I change the foster nest with the "runt" in it. I put the babies in a bucket for a few moments while I clean out the infested nest and fashion a new one out of nice soft  dried hairgrass. And in the old nest, I find more than 30 nasty larvae of Protocalliphora sialia, the bluebird blowfly. They suck the nestlings' blood, and can weaken them. It always makes me happy to think of how much better they'll sleep when not being vampirated.

I tucked the chicks back in their new, clean grass nest and turned for home. It occurred to me that I could probably slip this little female back into her original nest and she'd be fine, albeit the last to fledge. But it ain't broken, so I'm not going to fix it again.  Let's let her be the first to fledge! Girlpower! Runtpower!!

The best part of this shiny blue day? Chet Baker was out in front of me, trotting smartly the whole way. All hail Analapril (the blood pressure med he's on), chicory abloom, bluebirds thriving, and these cool summer mornings!


I love it when something works out so darn well. Congrats on that bluebird foster. I had no idea bluebirds had their bloodsucking nemesis. And so good to see Chet butt way ahead. Better living through chemistry for him!

What a nice walk and wonderful follow-up on that bluebird. I love the idea of Runtpower! Yes!

Julie I concur with your sleuthing. We think of Cooper's as obligate bird eaters but in fact they eat a variety of mammals regularly, including rabbits. The age (small size) of the rabbit and the fact it was plucked point to a Coop, though of course a small buteo (e.g., B.platypterus) might also have done it. Remember that under the US Constitution, all hawks are innocent until proven guilty.

Ahh thank you Matt Mullenix for the confirmation that a hawk will pluck mammalian prey. I'd never really thought about it, being used to seeing larger wads of rabbit hair and skin than this neat pluck job of a young rabbit. It all added up to an avian predator (but not an owl) to me. Both Coops and broad-wings are nesting nearby this year, hooray! so either could be responsible. I am all for a reduction in the bunny population, having had several very nice geraniums reduced to sticks and piles of leaves recently. Thank you again!

Sounds like a perfect day! I'm so glad that Chet Baker is doing so well. And thank you for the update on BluebirdRunt. All of this did my heart good.

I've seen eagles on eagle cams "pluck" rabbits before eating them... and other mammals as well. I imagine most raptors would. If they were really thinking ahead, they would save up all that fur to line their nests.

Posted by Anonymous July 3, 2016 at 5:25 PM

Glory be indeed!!! Go guuuuuuurl!

I have rudebeckia and only some of the flower stalks have aphids, but those stems are loaded with 'em. I cut hose stems and crushed those buggers. Solution moving forward? Would goldfinch eat the ahids or do they just go for the seeds? Help!?

Posted by Elise (giggles) July 3, 2016 at 5:45 PM


Posted by Gail Spratley July 3, 2016 at 5:58 PM

@Elise, Goldfinches are one of the few species that are obligate vegetarians; they'd spit out an aphid if they took one in. A strong spray from a hose will stop aphids in their tracks. Another trick I use is making up a bowl of soapsuds and lathering up the affected flowers.

Goshawk pellets I collected in a nest had bird seed in them, although the nest was four miles from any residence, high in the hills above Patagonia, AZ. Mourning Doves were commuting from nests in the oak woodlands to the birdfeeders in town and wete probably picked off as the doves followed the narrow canyon between two higher peaks. Another line of evidence pointing to a town-feeding dove diet was that one of the gos chicks died of Trichomoniasis, a nasty parasitic throat disease that's spread by doves at urban birdbaths, because they don't raise their heads when drinking and infected seeds can wash out into the birdbath. We're advised to either let our birdbaths dry completely in the sun every other day, or add a couple drops of bleach every day.

Could the baby rabbit plucking have been done by a sharpie?

Thanks, Julie! I'll get the hose out!

All hail, indeed.

I didn't used to like chicory (because it was non-native) until I started reading your posts. Now I appreciate the color they add to the roadsides, especially when they grow out of a crack in the concrete in an ugly intersection. I monitor a bluebird trail with youth and I've learned so much from your blogs - thank you. I use the delta sign too - never wrote it on my hand though!

Ruth B.

Posted by Anonymous July 18, 2016 at 7:39 PM
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