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Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Fox Without a Tail and Gull Foot-Paddling


This afternoon I went out birding with Jason, but the most unusual thing we saw was mammalian - a fox without a tail! Jason spotted it first, but I missed it, so we turned around to see if it might show itself again. Luckily, it was just as curious about us as we were about it, so I was able to snap the above photo.

All the foxes on the island are actually red foxes, even though their colors range from red and orange to brown to black, like this little guy. I wonder how he lost his tail, since the foxes don't have any natural predators on the island.

The birding wasn't half bad, either. We saw 28 species by my count, and saw some interesting bird behaviors, too. There were gangs of crows all over the island in large flocks. Near False Bay there must have been 10-15 oystercatchers, all yelling back and forth to each other as they scurried over the rocks near the mudflats.

Down at British Camp we noticed that the osprey nest is no more - it used to be perched on the top of a dead tree snag and was easy to see, and has been around for as long as either of us can remember. It's been there long enough its mentioned in several books I have that talk about British Camp! I wonder if the tree rotted enough that one of the winter wind storms finally did it in? It's sad to see it gone, but perhaps they'll build a new nest this year. In its place perched a very strange looking eagle, that with Sibley's bird guide we determined to be a second year bald eagle juvenile. It has so much white on it we doubted our ID as a bald eagle at first, but Sibley's clearly shows that they can have a very white front with a sharp change to a dark brown chest. Most of the juvenile eagles we see around here are a uniform dark brown color, until they get their white head and tail in their fourth year.

The most interesting bird behavior we saw was courtesy of another birder with a spotting scope at False Bay. There were dozens and dozens of mew gulls out on the mud flats, and by looking through his scope you could see that they were paddling their feet in the shallow mudflats to stir up invertebrates to eat. It was the coolest thing! They stood looking intently at their feet as they danced back and forth from foot to foot, then quickly snagged something out of the water when it got stirred up out of the mud. Gull foot-paddling is a documented though rarely seen foraging behavior, and you can read a great little article about it in Northwestern Naturalist. I'm so excited that we saw it!

7 comments:

K S said...

Very unique blog.
Fantastic pictures.

Please visit:
http://funfree-bali.blogspot.com

Keep blogging.
Good luck.

Jason said...

Did any of the images of the Pintails turn out??

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Monika

What a cool fox, Frank the dog saw one last night got him over excited. Ours too are Red Foxes but all are the sameish colour, melanism seems very rare over here. As for your gulls it does seem to be mostly Common (Mew) Gulls that do it but not exclusively and they do it frequently here even on the grassy roadside verges in town - we call them 'Paddling Pete' maybe it should be Puddling Pete. Nice to see you got one of our Wigeon knockin round, we got a hybrid yankee/european on the marshes a few miles to the north of us but far to cold wet and windy to go searching through thousands of 'euros' for him.

Dave

Monika said...

KS, thanks for stopping by, I'll check out your blog for sure.

Jason, the pintail pictures weren't great, so I didn't post them. I'll have to go back and try to get some better ones!

Dave, I wonder if our foxes have more color variation because there's a small, potentially inbred population here on the island? That's interesting that mew gulls are one of the most common gulls to do it - puddling pete is going to be in my vocabulary now!! - when I did some searching I mostly came up with western gulls doing that behavior. I laugh picturing me looking through "yankee" wigeons for the one Eurasian, and you on the otherside of the world looking through a bunch of Eurasians for the one American!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Monica - coincidentally my mate has a picture of a paddling Pete on his blog this week http://birdblog.merseyblogs.co.uk/archives/2009/01/keep_on_keeping.html - how different are our Common Gulls to your Mew Gulls as they are the same species. I think have seen the very big dark Siberian version over here.

Cheers

D
PS I've missed a few porpoises this week by being chainred to the desk...conditions perfect too...dagnabit!!

Monika said...

Dave, that's a great photo! It turns out our mew gull and your common gull are the same species. A glance at wikipedia says there are four different subspecies - and ours has very little black on the wingtips compared to the others.

That's too bad about the porpoises they've probably been around here but the weather's been too windy and choppy for spotting them!

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