Deer, Bats, Turtles, Robins and Hawks

Many changes are rippling through our yard and field ecosystems. Our five, resident deer have all made it through the winter. Up through February 1 part of their foraging and browsing circuit included our front yard sunflower seed, bird feeders. They would empty both feeders every night. For the past two weeks, though, they have only come to the feeders twice.

Birds are increasingly singing in the morning hours. Winter wrens, titmice, and cardinals sing in the thickets just below our deck. Blue jays are whistling their clear single-toned calls from the high branches of our spruces and red maples.

No one has moved into my bat house yet. I will begin to seriously look for little brown bats around mid-March. Some of the bats will be emerging from local, hibernation spots (caves and rock crevices), others will be arriving via migration after hibernating in warmer climes.

My box turtle has started to stare up at the mesh covering of his terrarium. He is starting to think about strawberries and earthworms (who isn’t?). In his world, fruit and worms drop in from the sky. He’s not quite ready to start eating, though. He is still slow and sleepy from the long winter. Soon, he’ll starting banging around on his water bowl, and I will know that his appetite has returned (just in time for the $7 a pound strawberries to come into the grocery store!).

On Tuesday (February 15) I saw a flock of 40 robins flying up and over the cemetery on the hilltop just outside of Apollo. Maria Franco De Gomez had seen two robins on January 26, Deborah had seen one on Route 780 on February 4, and Tracie Brockhoff had seen one up in Dayton on February 6. The flocks have been lurking all around us in south facing valleys and holly thickets just waiting for a good thaw to open up worm-hunting sites!

The dark-eyed juncos are becoming less and less abundant in the seed piles under my bird feeders. They may have started to head north into their spring and summer ranges. We saw a number of these birds in the dense hemlock forests along the northern parts of the Baker Trail last summer.

We have had sharp-shinned hawks around our house (and bird feeders) all winter. The sharp-shinned hawk is usually described as a migrating species that abandons its northern, summer ranges each year for warmer, southern regions. As we write, though, on the Sharp-shinned hawk species page out on the Virtual Nature Trail:
“Censuses of the sharp-shin’s migration numbers indicate that the northern ranges of the hawk are increasingly supporting the bird through the winter (i.e. fewer sharp-shins are being counted in the southerly migration masses). Possibly, this reflects the impact of bird feeders generating a rich and predictable enough source of winter prey items for the sharp-shin that it’s energetically demanding and perilous migration event can be avoided.”

On January 21, I noticed the male and female sharp-shins flying about our yard and field in what I interpreted to be a mating flight. Yesterday, (February 17) I saw the female sharp-shin several times during the day working her territory hard for prey. I wondered if she could be recharging herself after laying eggs? In their northern range, sharp-shins typically mate in late April or May after returning via their spring migration and re-establishing their territories. They are then able to only have a single clutch of eggs before the changing seasons trigger their flight south. Sharp-shins are capable, however, of having two clutches in the southern regions of their range. Possibly, our resident sharp-shins have saved enough energy from by-passing their long migration that they will be able to have a double clutch year even in Western Pennsylvania! I will keep my eyes open for fledges!

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