May 31, 2006
If you’re living in Carson Valley, you’re bound to get up close and personal with the abundant wildlife around you. You can drive along Highway 395 and see great raptors on a regular basis. But what about in your back yard?
There are all kinds of birds nesting in the trees while rabbits and squirrels hide in the bushes. The sagebrush provides shelter for birds and bunnies, and as we walk around our yard, we see little holes in the thick shrubby vegetation. We look more closely and see a cottontail hunkered down and the only thing showing is his little gray bottom with the fluffy white cotton tail. Just then papa quail comes running out of the thick sagebrush. Shortly behind him is mama quail. They look around a minute, decide it’s safe, and then make their distinct cackle call. Out scamper 15 itsy, bitsy baby quail. We’ve been waiting for the babies to hatch, as we look forward to their appearance each spring. We’re living in God’s country, and life is certainly good here.
That’s not saying everything always goes the way we want. Take magpies, for instance. Magpies are big, beautiful, black-and-white birds that we see every day throughout Carson Valley. They are about 19 inches long and have very long tails that are a pretty, iridescent green color. Too bad they’re such a pain. They’re noisy and obnoxious, and their destructive behavior has cost us $40 so far this spring to re-screen windows.
One of these pesky birds plucked a 6-inch high, 22-inch wide section of screen out of two of our bedroom windows. We saw her carry a chunk of the screen to a nearby juniper tree. She must not be too concerned about creature comforts and the softness of her nest since she constructed the whole thing out of scratchy screens. At least it should be pretty sturdy, but not sturdy enough for my irate husband. He’s not too fond of magpies. Norbert climbed up the gnarly old tree and pried loose the large bowl of screen mesh. There were no eggs in it yet.
Last June I chased two big squawking magpies away from four baby quail that were scampering across the lawn. The tiny round balls of gray fluff were being snatched up by the hungry predators. We wish the magpies would make their homes farther out in the Pine Nuts.
Now we do love the hawks, but sometimes we have difficult encounters with them. It seems every time my husband washes our 7-foot-high windows, which are on the second floor of our house and difficult to get to, a bird flies into them. I watched as a large red-tailed hawk flew right into a sparkling clean window. Luckily, the beautiful bird of prey glanced off and kept on flying. Some smaller birds have not been so lucky. Several times we’ve seen them fly into a window and then fall down onto the deck. Knocked out, belly up. We were able to revive a couple of them by gently putting them in a small box with a little water to drink as they awakened. But others never recovered from their trauma. Perhaps we should leave at least one greasy hand print on each of the windows to keep the birds from bumping into them.
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I had a close encounter with another bird of prey one dark cold night. There was a tone-out on my fire pager for a structure fire, and as I drove around the corner, a two-foot high Great-Horned Owl launched off a fence post and hit the windshield of my jeep. Scared us both. He kept flying ” and so did I.
And then there was the flicker. We heard a loud “knock, knock, knock” on our front door, but no one was there. A large grey and black speckled bird with red patches on his face stood on the porch in the cold morning air. Norbert closed the door, and shortly thereafter we heard the knocking noise against the sliding glass door. The flicker was trying to get inside the house. It was larger than a robin and had a woodpecker-type of beak. And he knew how to use it. He kept pecking away, waiting to be invited into our toasty warm home. He hung around outside on the porch for a few days and then disappeared.
Over the years there have been lots of birds and bunnies in our yard and wild horses too. Occasionally in the dark of twilight, we’ve seen deer tip-toe gingerly through our orchard. We know we’re blessed to live in this beautiful area where wildlife can be seen, and appreciated, right in our own backyard.