Friday, February 20, 2015

Bird of the Day: What the Ground Squirrel Was Worried About...

We decided to avoid some traffic by parking along Dry Creek in downtown Modesto as the sun was setting. While we were there, we saw a bit of drama, although it was of the nuanced type. There were lots of Ground Squirrels living on the stream bank adjacent to the creek, and they were noticeably nervous, pacing, standing, and not going more than a few feet from their burrows. I looked around to see what was upsetting them, and eventually noticed a branch in the distant oak tree that didn't look exactly like a branch. I whipped out the camera (which I use in place of binoculars) and figured out what they were worried about.

How would YOU feel if you were only eight inches tall and saw this in the trees above you?
The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), as I've noted before, has a very strange distribution. They are widespread around the eastern United States from New England to Texas and into Mexico. Then there is a west coast population, confined to Alta and Baja California, although a few have been noted in Oregon and Arizona.
Dry Creek rises in the Sierra Nevada foothills south of Jamestown, and flows through central Modesto where it joins the Tuolumne River. Although it does not have a wide riparian forest, a string of majestic oak trees can be found along its course in the Great Valley, and I need to spend more time finding what birds live there.

Dry Creek is supposed to be dry as the name suggests, but during the summer season irrigation overflow tends to keep the channel wet. In winter it is prone to flash floods, as very little snow falls along its upper reaches, so water gathers quickly during storms. Last year the channel was dry throughout most of the winter season as we suffered the third year of drought.

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