Who? Who?

p1010385_hdrA Great Horned Owl, that’s who. At least some hikers spotted one on the Montini Preserve this week. He or she was perched in a large Bay Laurel tree just below the trail near the Red Quarry entrance (see picture).

Owls are common in the forests and meadows of the Overlook and Montini properties, although sightings are not frequent.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has this to say, in part, about the Great Horned Owl:

“Great Horned Owls have the most diverse diet of all North American raptors. Their prey range in size from tiny rodents and scorpions to hares, skunks, geese, and raptors. They eat mostly mammals and birds—especially rabbits, hares, mice, and American Coots, but also many other species including voles, moles, shrews, rats, gophers, chipmunks, squirrels, woodchucks, marmots, prairie dogs, bats, skunks, house cats, porcupines, ducks, loons, mergansers, grebes, rails, owls, hawks, crows, ravens, doves, and starlings. They supplement their diet with reptiles, insects, fish, invertebrates, and sometimes carrion. Although they are usually nocturnal hunters, Great Horned Owls sometimes hunt in broad daylight. After spotting their prey from a perch, they pursue it on the wing over woodland edges, meadows, wetlands, open water, or other habitats. They may walk along the ground to stalk small prey around bushes or other obstacles.”

Feel free to find out more about this beautiful bird.

Getting Close to Wildlife Without Getting Close

HummingbirdintreeI’ve been an avid nature photographer for close to 45 years, and I’ve always been a fan of the zoom lens. Zoom lenses allow you to not only bring distant objects near, they can also provide a way to frame the shot the way you prefer instead of cropping it later with software.

Recently on the trail I was reminded about how important zoom capability can be when I spotted a hummingbird landing on a branch at the top of a tree. Despite the fact that the hummingbird was small (naturally) and the tree was some distance away (see photo), I was able to use the 30x zoom on my little point-and-shoot camera (at the moment the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40), to zoom in on the little thing and get some shots that made it look like I could reach out and touch it (see second photo). Neither photograph has been cropped.

HummingbirdIf you are interested in achieving this kind of capability, these kinds of cameras are referred to as “super zooms”. Super zoom cameras come in all kinds of configurations, from general consumer kinds of cameras to “prosumer” to expensive professional rigs. As a hiker, you will most likely want a compact “point-and-shoot” camera that you can slip into a back pocket. If you are in the market for such a camera, here is a good web site outlining some of your best options.

Happy photographing!

Wild Turkeys Couldn’t Drag Me Away

An adult wild turkey in the Red Quarry.

An adult wild turkey in the Red Quarry.

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away” – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards

I think I’m beginning a rather disturbing habit of quoting song lyrics and lines from movies in these posts. Slap me if I get out of hand.

Wild turkeys are common sights on the Montini Preserve and the Sonoma Overlook Trail. Just the other day I spotted a flock of parents and young ones in the Red Quarry on the Montini Open Space Preserve. But I’ve also seen wild turkeys many times before, including during a rainstorm.

Although definitely not widespread in California (according the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, they occupy about 18 percent of the state), wild turkeys are fairly common in Sonoma County. I live in the hills of Boyes Hot Springs and we have seen them in the neighborhood not all that far from the Montini Preserve.

The turkeys we have in California can be considered non-native, although turkeys existed in California some thousands of years ago. So technically, as at least one person has argued, they can be considered to be “reintroduced” to the state. They can become a nuisance to humans at times if their populations increase enough, but so far I would have to say that they don’t seem to have reached such levels locally. At least from my experience the times that I have spotted them have been few enough to be surprising and delightful.

But even if such sightings were not happy occasions, wild turkeys would never be able to drag me away from the Montini Open Space and Sonoma Overlook Trail. Just sayin’.

The Role of Raptors and Other Predators

A Red-Tailed Hawk.

A Red-Tailed Hawk.

raptor – “a bird (such as an eagle or hawk) that kills and eats other animals for food” – Merriam Webster

Raptors are of course a natural part of the Sonoma Overlook Trail and Montini Preserve. The Red-Tailed Hawk, perhaps our most common raptor (at least the most commonly sighted) can often be seen wheeling above the meadows or perched high in an Oak tree. It is a primary carnivore, meaning that it eats herbivores. Other raptors such as the Great Horned Owl, are secondary carnivores, which means it also eats some species of carnivores (such as the Red-Tailed Hawk).

All carnivores, through keeping the populations of herbivores in check, help to create a balanced ecosystem. This role was brought home most famously by what has been called “the lesson of the Kaibab.” This refers to the Kaibab Plateau at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, where President Theodore Roosevelt created the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve.

To protect the game species (largely deer), predators such as mountain lions and coyotes were killed in large numbers. The deer population therefore took off and became so large that they damaged the ability of the land to sustain them, and their population crashed to below where it had been in the first place.  Thus was painfully learned the lesson of the role of predators in keeping an ecosystem in balance.

So the next time you see a hawk with a snake in its claws or a coyote carrying a gopher, know that this is all part of keeping things in balance.