Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Taskin, half of the staff of Gus the Cat, was visited for a few days in Winnipeg by a lovely bird:

I was surprised on Monday morning to see a Common Nighthawk [Chordeiles minor] sitting on my garden gate. I was even more surprised to find it still there when I returned home later in the evening. I have seen a nighthawk only a couple of times and always at night, in flight, so it was quite a thrill to see this one so close and still. I was a bit worried that there might be something wrong with her (females lack the white throat of the male) but once the sun set, she had flown off. She came back for two more days and I was lucky enough to see her take off both of those evenings. After sitting so still all day, she would spend several minutes rocking back and forth from one foot to another, stretching her wings a bit and generally waking up. I missed her takeoff in the video, but did manage to capture her ‘parting shot’. She flew off a minute or so later.

What beautiful feathers! These birds are, of course, cryptic, camouflaged in both appearance and behavior to look like parts of trees.

This species is listed as “threatened” in Canada. The video is below; note that, at 32 seconds in, the bird carefully poops away from its roost, perhaps intending to come back.

Tim Anderson in Australia sends another bird, perhaps not quite as beautiful but just as interesting: the Australian brushturkey (Alectura lathami), sometimes called the “scrub turkey”. His notes:

This is a scrub turkey (Alectura lathami), a robust bird that is endemic to tropical and subtropical coastal areas of eastern Australia.
It is the bane of gardeners, owing to its habit of deciding to use your veggie patch as a suitable site for its nest. The bird’s nest is a mound about five metres across and a metre tall, comprising every available morsel of ground litter from here to the horizon, and in which it proceeds to tend its eggs by scratching out or adding more material to regulate the nest temperature.
Despite being famously gormless creatures (and also famously inedible), they are protected by law, which means you get five years in the pokey if you strangle the bird that has done your cabbages to death. More to the point, the authorities will do you over if you throw sticks at them, but no law says you can’t throw sticks **near** them.
I was once employed by the Forestry Department to use a shotgun to discourage scrub turkeys from uprooting newly established Araucaria plantations. I employed the principle of “nearness”, with some success (no scrub turkeys were killed or injured in this process, though it was rather dark at the time).

Here’s a picture I (JAC) found on Internet of an Australian brush turkey on her mound:

And for you reptile lovers, Rick Longworth has a snake photo and video, and a titled story (his notes are indented):

Snakes under the steps

In late May I noticed a Common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), about two and a half feet long, sunning herself next to my back steps.  I could see that she was using the concrete “den” as a home which it accessed through a small crack.  Several days later I tossed her an earthworm to see the reaction and it promptly swallowed it.  Thus, I decided to make a short film to characterize the snake’s feeding behavior.

I noticed that when hunting, the snake would weave its head back and forth. Either it was disguising itself as wind-blown vegetation, or, I thought, using parallax for a better 3D view of its environment.

I could see that it sometimes used scent to locate a worm I had misthrown behind a rock(the worms wouldn’t cooperate when used as a projectile). When she spotted the worm, the snake would close in, tongue flicking fast, and strike, grasp, and then, swiveling its jaw from side to side, it worked its meal down the long gullet. The last thing to do was to wipe its mouth against a rock: snakes, I learned, are tidy eaters.

As I filmed the snake from about 10 feet away with a telephoto lens, I saw another one emerge from the crack in the concrete, and soon another joined them. There was a family!  I ran back behind the shed to dig up more earthworms.  As I watched them, yet another one, only about a foot long, came charging out of the steps and sped into the bushes—too shy, it seems, to have his picture taken.

Gear:  Panasonic GH3, 100-300 Lumix G Vario lens.

The video of garter snake hunting behavior (be sure to enlarge by clicking on the “vimeo” icon):

True fact about garter snakes:

— A boy snakes can turn himself into a girl snake and lure other males down the garden path  where she converts back into a boy snake and doubles back to the where his girlfriend is waiting patiently for some attention.

Check out other true facts here.

 

14 Comments

  1. ichneumonid
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Brush turkeys are very common in suburban Brisbane where I live and where they do cause havoc with gardens. A few years ago there was a highly amusing documentary on ABC television here on the interactions between brush turkeys and a Buddhist community living in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. The brush turkeys destruction of vegetable gardens elicited murderous intent from even the most gentle of the buddhists!

    A slight correction to JAC’s photo correction. It is the male that tends the mound, the females lay their eggs and then get the hell out of the way. Several females may lay their eggs in the same male’s mound apparently.

    • Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Interesting about the reversed roles in caring for eggs! I did some further investigation to see if perhaps females are more brightly colored to entice the males (this is the case for the phalarope where males also build big nests and tend eggs and young of several females). But here, males are more brightly colored and they these lovely pendulous wattles that enlarge during breeding season. But males compete vigorously against other males for nesting sites and materials, so one could hypothesize that the male display is more due to selection for dominance against other males.

    • ichneumonid
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      Here is a link to the documentary I referred to:

      http://www.abc.net.au/tv/guide/netw/200706/programs/ZY7951A001D19062007T200000.htm

      I can’t find the full-length video online unfortunately.

  2. Jenny Haniver
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed watching the nighthawk resting or just hanging out, and I’d not known of brush turkeys — l like the coloration of their heads. Can’t resist asking if they’re edible?

    Watching the garter snake chow down on earthworms then wiping its mouth was neat, and I’d not known of their mating behavior. Given the what you describe, as well as the other behaviors described in the Wiki, particularly the “mating balls,” I can only expect a pomo feminist condemnation of male gender trickery and gang rape among garter snakes to be published soon.

  3. Posted August 18, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Taskin spotted a nightjar!

  4. Posted August 18, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I suggest that given the numbers of snakes associated with this one underground location, the location may be a denning site for passing the winter.

  5. Mark R.
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I wish I could harbor a snake family! Especially such an innocuous species like the Gardner snake. Really cool video, I’ve never seen a snake eat a worm.

    The Brush turkey story is amazing; that nest is huge. I can see why gardeners would object…gardening is tough work!

    The Nighthawk’s black oval eyes are really beautiful. And that dainty beak…awwww. Hopefully Gus isn’t a hunter.

  6. Heather Hastie
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Everything I was going to say has already been said. Most enjoyable selection today. Thank you everybody. 🙂

  7. ploubere
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Interesting and well done collection today.

  8. Bob Scott Placier
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Well, Common Nighthawks nest on the ground, and often on flat roofs covered with gravel. So it would be a bit more accurate to say that their cryptic plumage mimics leaf litter or the substrate than parts of trees, although I guess that’s what leaf litter is.

  9. Diane G.
    Posted August 19, 2017 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    Very cool scrub turkey story & pics! As Tim’s remarks allude to, these birds do not incubate their eggs, they bury them and let rotting compost provide the heat. They are one of the Megapodes, a fascinating family:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megapode

    Note that the article states that while they don’t actually have temperature-related sex-determination via the same pathway that some reptiles do, scrub turkey embryos have sex-related differential mortality depending on temperature, which leads to a similar result:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1629050/

  10. Diane G.
    Posted August 19, 2017 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    Taskin, what a thrill to get to observe a nighthawk at such close proximity!

    Rick, what a fascinating video!


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