Decimation in Dunn’s Woods

Last night’s (May 25, 2011) storm brought down a second round of large trees in Dunn’s Woods, at least 10 percent of the large trees are down, many more are damaged.

Dunn Woods Tree loss from the winds of May, 2011
Dunn Woods Tree loss from the winds of May, 2011

On Monday, straight line winds knocked down a dozen large trees in Dunn’s Woods, all the paths were blocked were blocked by trunks or large limbs from nearby trees. I was happy to see that the Cooper’s Hawk nest had not been blown down, and the maple tree was somewhat protected on the east side of the woods. Two years ago a big storm had caused the parents to abandon the nest after the chicks had died. They moved the nest to the east side of the woods last year.

From Dunn Woods

I have been watching the nest, and saw the mom get up and resettle in, while the dad flew from tree to tree around the nest.

We live just a few blocks from the woods, and last night’s storms were loud, but nothing we had not seen before. So I was surprised to find just as many trees and limbs down in the woods today as from the storm on Monday. To my dismay, the large maple with the hawk’s nest was down. I climbed through the limbs to where I had remembered the nest to be, and found it with 2 baby hawks dead just a few feet from the nest. If they had not died from the impact of a 60 foot fall, they would have died of exposure as they had no feathers at all. One was much larger than the other.

I took these pictures, and then as I was climbing out from the limbs, I heard one of the adults call out (to me?), and then call again, I am sure they knew I was visiting the chicks. The other called from farther in the woods, it was a heart rending call of bereaved parents.

From Dunn Woods

Hawks in Dunn Woods

Cooper's Hawk nest in Dunn's Woods

For several years I have been watching the Cooper’s Hawks in Dunn Woods, right behind Bryan Hall on the IU campus. I first heard them in the spring/summer of 2007, the juveniles were in a couple of different trees calling for their parents to bring food, their calls could be mis-heard as some jays, but when I saw them flying from tree to tree.

I’ve followed them through a series of 3 different nests in the woods, then move every couple of years. One year I did not hear the young ones, nor did I see them, I assumed the eggs or chicks were damaged during an early spring storm that blew through with hail and high winds.

This week I’ve seen them flying back and forth to the nest tree, watched them as they shift around will sitting on the nest. Dad will sometimes fly in close and land in a nearby tree, call a bit, then fly to the nest, then on again for another mission. From the sounds of all the other birds in the woods, and the abundance of squirrels and chipmunks, I am assuming they are not hunting there at this time.

I can’t prove it, but I think they have found that it pays to wait and let their fledglings hunt in the abundant, and relative safe, confines of the woods later in the year. Are birds that smart? Do they want to keep relative peace with their neighbors while the kids are young? I’ve seen a murder of crows chase a hawk out of the woods, but I’ve yet to see or hear them attack the nest.

Cooper's hawks, trout lilies, and spring beauty

I was walking in Dunn Woods at lunch today and heard the unmistakable call of a Cooper’s hawk nearby. I looked at the nest they used last year, and sure enough I saw a tail hanging over the edge, then turn and disappear in the sticks that make up the nest. I walked to the top of the hill where I had seen a patch of trout lily (Erythronium americanum) leaves a couple day earlier. Sure enough, there were dozens of the the little yellow wildflowers, sharing the forest floor with the Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) that is widely dispersed in Dunn Woods.

Cooper’s Hawks lookin’ for a home in Dunn Woods

Today I was in Dunn Woods at lunch and stopped to sit on a stump, it was really warm out. I was there just a few minutes when I saw a shadow and heard a hawk call. I gaze at the area east of the Law School and soon saw her fly to a perch high in a beech tree.

She spent some time preening, and looking about, not hunting, it seemed more like she was checking it out. The male builds a nest, last year’s is still in place, but the one from year before (2007) is gone. I plan on keeping an eye on where they nest, last year they had 4 fledglings that that I spotted flying about.

I thought the sound of the red-wing blackbirds was the sign of spring, but it has snowed since then. But today makes me realize, this is it!

She's looking for a home
She's looking for a home

Winter Hawks in Bean Blossom Valley

I was riding in the Bean Blossom valley on a cold mid-February day, and even though I had my Ipod in one ear, and there were some guys cutting wood in a field nearby, I clearly heard a hawk call. I stopped my bike and looked around and saw first one buteo, then 2 more circling above the nearby ridge. They made some further vocalization that sound like “kree”, not a red-tail hawk call, but a short crisp sound. I have not heard this hawk before, it could be red-shouldered hawk or broad-winged hawk, I just don’t know. Their wing tips curved up at the very end, and I think they had some white coloring underneath.

They could have been migrants, but it seemed they were hunting, not migrating. That same day I heard my first redwing blackbirds along Shilo Road near Bean Blossom Creek. They are a harbinger of spring, much more so that robins, who often winter her. On my way out of town I ran into some bird watchers who had found a flock of bluebirds in the forest ridge overlooking Kerr Creek, so even though it will be still be cold, the migrations have begun. I am anxiously waiting for a fly over of cranes, I hear and then see them nearly every year.

Cooper's Hawk near Bryan Park

Today I saw one of the young Cooper’s hawks in a tree near Dodds and Grant Streets. He/she was fluffed up, and watching the yards around with rodents on the mind: the bird did not react to me at all even though I moved ever closer to get a better view. I’m sure it’s one of the 4-5 fledglings who were born in Dunn Woods last spring, I’m happy to see them, but where will the young ones nest next year? The parents have been there 2 years that I have seen, and there are two nests, one to the south and one to the west. Maybe there will be more than one nesting pair this year

Eastside Cooper's Hawk

Coming back from a ride in the Salt Creek valley, I was thinking how few birds I had seen or heard in the woods, actually not that surprising in the cold damp December weather. I was on the eastside of town, turning the corner on Longview St. and found this Cooper’s Hawk on a stump. I’ve seen one before on the Polly Grimshaw Trail, they patrol the corridor for the rabbits that are everywhere. I assume this one fledged in Dunn Woods earlier this spring.


Cooper’s Hawks hunting in Dunn Woods

Coopers Hawks in Dunn WoodsI was walking in Dunn Woods yesterday at lunch when I noticed a bunch crows and jays just cawing their heads off. Jays and crows are cousins, but don’t normally hang out together, let alone co-operate, so I figured there must be a predator hunting in the woods somewhere. I’ve seen both crows and jays harrass owls while out riding in the woods, but never together. I looked and looked, but saw only the jays and crows as they flew from tree to tree, vocalizing their displeasure with the situation.

After a while they quieted down a bit, and I had to get back to the office. Just as I walked out of the woods and headed towards Sample Gates, I saw a hawk (not an owl) as it passed right over my head, flew over the gates, and down Kirkwood before turning south over Kilroy’s. I had felt that she/he was there, so it was a great pleasure to see him/her flying over town. I do wonder why the jays and crows did not bother them during nesting and fledging in the spring, I suppose having the 2 parents there kept the jays at a distance, I don’t know if Cooper’s hawks will attack crows, but they do eat jays.

Cooper’s Hawks move out of Dunn Woods

The Cooper’s Hawks are long gone from Dunn Woods, I’ve neither seen nor heard them for over a week. The fledglings, at least 3 of them, maybe more, were there, loud and hungry, during the last week of July, but have been gone since the first of August. They would fly back and forth through the trees yelling for food and waiting for the a parents to show up with the latest catch. The juveniles were easy to spot, not only did they call as they flew, but the distinctive white band of feathers at the end of the tail was easy to see as they flew and when sitting on a branch. I think the parents could not keep up at the end, there was quite a ruckus when they showed up with food, and I think they either led the kids out into the wider world, or just stopped showing up with food, but as they all disappeared at once, I get the feeling they could have left together.

Coopers Hawks in Dunn Woods

A couple of weeks ago I saw one of the parents fly in to the squalling crew and land on a high branch with something in its claws. As the fledglings flew closer, the parent released the prey, but none of the kids flew to catch it as it dropped. I assumed this was their way of teaching the kids how to hunt on the fly, which is what they do best.

During that last week they were especially noisy, and I could hear 3, maybe 4 fledglings calling at once, and my guess is that the parent were coming less frequently, till eventually all the kids got the message and headed out on their own, or followed their parents out of the Dunn’s Woods nursery into the wider world spurred by hunger.

Lemon Lane Cranes, Hawks, & Herons

This Sunday morning we headed out to see how it would be to ride to Jojo’s spring job on Shilo Rd. Before I even got the BBC, I ran into Sue at the gates with a bunch of other riders, ready to head out, and to my surprise, Jason and Angela were in the group, that was great.

Jojo and I headed into Cascades Park, across Walnut, up Hillview Rd., then north on Old 37 to Dolan. We decided to go up Robinson Rd. then onto Miller Rd, which ends on Shilo. Robinson was relatively easy to climb, it comes in 3 steep climbs, with nearly level stretches in between, giving time to rest before the next climb. There is a great view through the trees of the wide Bean Blossom valley, but only in winter when the leaves are gone. We were hoping that Miller would be exciting to go down, it is a real monster coming up, but it was covered with sand, really curvey and steep, so we took it easy coming down. The lowlands in the valley were filled with peepers, especially near the streams and swampy areas, and great blue heron flew right over our heads. We climbed up Shilo, it just keeps going up in spurts, kind of like Robinson Rd.

We stopped at the world headquarters of (it really works!), where we ate a little and drank some water; we had pretty much hammered the whole way there, with 3 climbs and no stops. We then rode out to Tunnel Rd, and headed for Lake Lemon, riding along South Shore Rd. with the lake and hills all around.

Clouds over Lake LemonBlue Skies behind the clouds

Riding the Causeway Video

We decided to go straight back on SR 45, just to see what it is like, usually I cut off and ride Mt. Gilead, it adds a mile and a hill, but is much quieter. But soon after reaching the ridgetop, just past Lanam Ridge Rd., we started to hear and see cranes flying in from the south, literally hundreds of them in groups of 20-75, they would arrive in a vee formation, then start circling and making their characteristic calls, then more would arrive and melt in, it was quite something. Then just before we left, we heard hawks calling, and watched them rising on the updrafts coming out of the valley, it seemed to be a mating display, they were definitely not hunting.

We goofed around a little, I did an impression of a raccoon climbing a fallen tree, then we hit the road, passing the B & B water tower. We made good time and were back in about 45 minutes. The highway can be a bit stressful, but most drivers were courteous, maybe because there were so many bikes on the road, training for the Little 5 has begun in earnest.
Resting our steeds before the last leg homeGoofing offB & B Water tower

Here is a video of the cranes as seen from the ridge on SR 45 in Brown County. Flock after flock were arriving in V formation, then breaking in the their peculiar circling motion once they hit the updrafts coming up the ridge south of Lake Lemon. Their calls were overwhelming, and could be heard for miles. They must have been reforming the ranks before heading out, as we had seen none done by the lake. We then heard a distinctive call rising above the crowd noise, and we were able to see 3 or 4 cranes in a little V heading away from the group to the northwest, and they were making a single loud, repeated call rather than the gobbling of the group, you can clearly hear the sound in the video below. As we watched the main body begin to follow the little V, we knew they were calling out “Hey everybody, I remember this, we have to go this way!” I guess they get so dizzy from flying in circles on the updrafts, that most of them get confused, and the few scouts have to lead the way.

[youtube 114lfN2OMXU]

Summary: 35 miles, 10 mph, 4 valley to ridge top climbs, mating hawks, no leaves, gazillions of cranes, and a lone blue heron. Mostly cloudy skies with blue showing through, west winds and 40 degrees and damp.