Monday, September 30, 2013

Too Many Legs to Be a Bird

I haven't been able to get out into the field in weeks - floods, work deadlines, illnesses, family commitments, and other interferences have kept me from birding the way I want to. The last time I did, however, I wasn't able to find the lifer short-eared owls I was hoping for, but I did find a lifer of another kind - with way too many legs.

We stopped at the side of the road on the west side of Utah Lake while I scanned over the shore with my binoculars, and as I turned back toward the front of the truck and told my husband we could continue on, I found him staring at the road ahead and he commented "that's one hell of a spider." I'm not a fan of arachnids, not by any means, but yes, it was one hell of a spider - a western tarantula.

I've never seen one before, and while it may not have feathers, it was certainly fascinating. I've learned that these arachnids are primarily nocturnal, but come out earlier during the late summer and fall as they're seeking mates - this particular specimen was male, and he was wandering about looking for a female's den and hoping she'd invite him in.

Tarantulas won't attack humans, but I certainly wasn't going to get any closer to test that fact. My husband suggested I should have put a nickel down next to the spider so the scale of its size would be more clear... Yeah, that wasn't going to happen. Thank goodness for zoom lenses.

Next time out, whenever that may be, I hope I see more birds. I don't mind the occasional exposure to other unique Utah wildlife, but let's just leave this one in the arid field where he belongs.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Late Summer Surprises

Most birders associate spring with when birds mate and raise their families, but little known is that one of the most colorful backyard birds - the American goldfinch - is also one of the latest to build a nest, lay eggs, and nurture its young. I was reminded of this with a pleasant surprise just a couple of weeks ago when, while mowing the lawn, my husband spotted a recently fledged goldfinch resting in the front yard mugo pine.

While the bird's coloration, pattern, and bill shape clearly identified it as a young American goldfinch, the sparse feathers - still with bare spots on the face - and the stubby tail testified to its young age. Its behavior was also a clue - while it was able to cling well to the branches and had no trouble perching upright, it was still exercising its wings without strong flights. It displayed the classic young bird behavior of staying very still and calm, just as it would in the nest, rather than trying to flee when it was closely approached, because it instinctively understood that it wasn't yet strong enough to escape.

Not that it was in danger; I made sure of that. Once my husband showed it to me, I insisted that the grass in that area of the yard wasn't nearly long enough to be mowed, at least until the bird had moved on. I watched it carefully for several minutes to be sure it was healthy and not in distress, and I ensured there were no predators or other hazards nearby. Sure enough, all he needed was a bit of rest, and shortly thereafter, the bird disappeared, undoubtedly flying along on its way. (And the mowing did get finished.)

A close encounter of the baby bird kind is an amazing experience that can remind us how much every bird is to be treasured, even when it may be a bird we've seen hundreds of times before. Summer may be coming to an end, but for all the birds hatched just this year, the adventure is just beginning.