Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Eagles and Vulture and Cougar, Oh My!

Black Oystercatcher (BLOY) abundance survey and nest monitoring season has arrived, but, so far, other animals have provided far more excitement.

On my first trip up The Thumb at Road's End this season, to count BLOY and look for nesting, a young eagle dove on a foraging rock full of gulls and one pair of Oystercatchers, sending all into the air in a frenzy. The gulls soon settled down on their end of the rock while the eagle settled down on its end. The BLOY disappeared and were seen no more.

After awhile, the eagle moved to a favorite eagle perch on the cliff. But the BLOY stayed in hiding.

I gave up and drove to my North Cascade Head site, hiked the long, arduous hike in, only to have another bird disrupt that BLOY nesting opportunity. Perched atop the highest point and looking all around was a Turkey Vulture. The BLOY, of course were nowhere to be seen. After fifteen minutes or so, the TV left, but it took the BLOY pair another half hour to show up, screaming loudly and indignantly. I am wondering if they had started a nest, laid eggs, and had the eggs eaten by a hungry vulture. I'll never know but the next week no BLOY appeared in the hour I watched and waited.

On that first trek, on my way back to the car, an explosion of sound from one or more very angry and upset eagles erupted right over my head. Although I've never heard of eagles attacking people, the noise above me was, um, startling and my heart skipped a few beats. This is a site where my friend and eagle/peregrine monitor told me the eagles were not nesting this year. Hah! I watched an adult bald eagle chase a subadult out of the area. And then another. All the while punctuating his orders with loud screams. I was hoping he wasn't mad at me. I had no idea he had a nest much less where it was.

I told my friend and he found the nest the next day. I had been right next to it! On my second trip to that site, I found no BLOY but did find the eagles' nest... and an eagle watching me. Word now from my friend is that they have a nestling and that's the reason for their extreme territorial behavior.

The first part of that otherwise difficult North Cascade Head hike is tame from a walking standpoint, but treacherous for me because it goes through a monumental forest of blooming Scotch Broom, which I am horribly allergic to.

Although this invasive and dangerously flammable weed makes me unable to breathe, I have to admit it's pretty.

Yesterday, I made my second trek up The Thumb and, after very long waits, eventually saw the Middle Rock pair do a nest exchange (the nest is on the west side of the rock, invisible from my shore observation point). Likewise, eventually, for the South Rock pair.

 Just to prove I actually saw an Oystercatcher, here is one of the South Rock pair on a foraging rock after its mate relieved it of nest duty.

However the North Rock pair must be nesting, if they are nesting, on a side where they don't come into view when they exchange places.  Eventually, I gave up and headed down the trail. That's when the excitement peaked. I wasn't excited on my way up as I did not think too much about the dead animal in the middle of the trail, covered with leaves and brush. But on the way back I noticed the scratch marks on either side where some obviously large clawed animal had scratched dirt over the carcass.

I looked closer and saw a head of the dead animal and a leg and hoof and part of the body.

Bobcats cover their kills in our woods, but they pull them under a brush pile first. This audacious cat had left its kill right in the middle of the path. This is a well used by hikers path. I guess if you are an apex predator, like a cougar, you only have to leave your scent by your kill and no other predator is going to nibble on your dinner. No doubt this was a cougar kill and I had never thought about the fact that there were cougars in the area. Why I had not thought about that, I don't know, considering how many elk are in the areas on the coast where I monitor Black Oystercatchers. You can bet I'll be thinking about big cats from now on.

Today provided a heart rush of a different kind. I arrived at Cape Lookout, for my second attempt to find BLOY, without my trusty Panasonic camera, which took all the photos on this blog. Here are a few it took on my first hike here this season, with Johnny. We saw no BLOY but did see pretty scenery...

... and a couple lazy seals...

Although I had left my Panasonic at home today, I had brought my new Nikon with the huge lens in hopes of finding the distant BLOY nest reported at Cape Meares. However, when I tried to take a photo with it on the Cape Lookout trail, the battery was dead. I have used it seldom so did not understand why.

Today's trip was fogged and rained out anyway, so I came home and researched. Apparently, I am supposed to take the battery out except when in use because my camera may drain it even when its off. It is now plugged in and charging. Plus I found the second battery I had bought and will charge it and keep it with the camera. Being camera-less on a hike feels a lot like being naked.

And I sure don't want to be "naked" on these hikes... with eagles and vulture and cougar, oh my!

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