Sunday, August 22, 2010

Butterflies and Birds at Negri-Nepote

It is unusual for me to see and record more butterflies than birds during a walk, but exactly that happened yesterday at Negri-Nepote. I recorded 14 bird species and 15 butterfly species during a short walk around the first meadow. In addition, there were at least 7 species of dragonflies, though there were probably more that I missed. Most of the dragonflies and butterflies, such as the Black Swallowtail above, were active around the preserve's pond, which is now barely a mudhole thanks to the lack of rain. Each time I have visited the preserve this summer, the water level has been smaller; now there is hardly any.

Even though I was more focused on the plentiful insects, I still saw some interesting bird activity. One of the highlights was when this flock of Mourning Doves had a sudden and unexpected visit from an American Kestrel. The kestrel flew straight through where the doves were perched, doves scattered in all directions, and the kestrel perched on a snag nearby (below). The doves probably did not have much to fear from the kestrel, which is about the same size as a Mourning Dove and usually hunts large insects and small rodents, but they acted from instinct anyway.

Speaking of raptor activity, a young Red-tailed Hawk was hunting in the meadow. There is a Red-tailed Hawk nest in the preserve, so if the pair nested successfully this spring, this may be one of their offspring.  This young hawk seemed uncertain in its movements. In one case, it hovered, then dropped a little, hesitated, then dropped a little more, hesitated again, and then finally dropped to the ground and out of sight. When it emerged again, it did so with empty talons. Red-tails often hover hunt but usually strike more decisively than this bird to preserve some element of surprise. Young raptors usually have the instinct to hunt but not the skills to do it successfully, which they learn through trial and error. (It may be mostly error since 70% of raptors die within their first year.) They need to learn both what types of prey are appropriate and the best techniques for catching them. This young hawk is probably still learning.