Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chuck Will's Widow and the Night a Jaguar Ate the Moon

The twenty-four hours of April 14, 2014 rolled raw and ragged across Central Texas; it seemed prehistoric, beautiful and very natural; the events we saw, heard, and felt have been experienced by others for centuries.

The day began with a line of dark, intense thunderstorms rumbling through the area.  There was heavy rain, high winds, lightening, and even hail in a few areas.  This display of force went on for several hours until the sky gradually cleared to full sun on the outstanding array of bluebonnets and other wild flowers that had been with us for a couple of weeks.  

The wind continued to gust heavily all day, as an unusually late cold front moved across the state.  When darkness fell, the wind let up and the temperatures dropped quickly to a low in the mid thirties.   We were forced to bring our outdoor potted plants in again this year.

As I left the studio about 10 p.m. and walked up to the cabin in full moonlight, I was very pleased to hear the repeated call of a Chuck Will's Widow.  Each year they return to this area to nest during the warm months.  It's my favorite bird on our place, despite the fact that I haven't actually seen one.  

They are fairly large but they hide during the day and feed at night––feasting on insects and occasionally on smaller birds or bats.  They do not built nests but lay their eggs on the ground in the leaves and dirt.  When sitting on this "nest" during he day they are almost invisible – still and quiet – blending in to their background. We are on the very western edge of their nesting range. I suppose I could spend some time walking through the wooded parts of our place looking for a Chuck Will's Widow, but I prefer to leave them to what natural setting they have left as we humans keep invading their territory.

I heard this bird's nightly calls for years during the summer months, and when I asked people about the call, a couple of friends told me it was a Whip-poor-will. I didn't think so. The call was similar to a Whip-poor-will, but not quite the same, and I was sure it was a different bird. A little searching online led me to better information. 

The two birds are related, but if you listen carefully, the call is distinctively different, with each bird saying its name. With the Chuck Will's Widow's call, the "Chuck" part is low and difficult to hear at a distance but the "Will's Widow" part is very clear, and the call repeats over and over in the early evening and less often during the night and in the early morning. the bird is silent and hidden during the day.

Here's a link to the call -- scroll down on the link page and click on the call button:

I went to bed very pleased to have Chuck Will's Widow back "home."  We have been doing a little landscaping and building a hiking trail on our place, and I was afraid we might have disturbed her nesting areas.  

April 14 had more in store for us and the natural display was not over.  My wife and I slept lightly until 1:45 a.m. when we got up and went outside to check on the progress of a full lunar eclipse––a rare "blood moon" For the next hour and a half, we kept coming back inside to warm up, waiting ten or fifteen minutes and going back outside to check the progress of the eclipse. The night got darker and darker, and the crescent of lighted moon gradually decreased, revealing a reddish, ghostly moon almost directly overhead and a very bright Mars shining just to it's right.  The planet Mars was at one of it's closest points to the earth and was the brightest "star" in the sky, as the moon appeared as a coppery disc.  

One could not help but wonder what ancient people thought of this phenomenon––what great stories they must have concocted. The ancient Mayans thought the eclipse was the result of a jaguar eating the moon, and they performed ceremonies to drive it away. I hope you didn't miss this event, but if you did, there will be three more full lunar eclipses visible in North America soon––one in October and two more in 2015.  Don't let the opportunity get by you.  It is a beautiful sight, and it reminds you of other sky watchers, past and present.

All in all, it was a lot of "nature" in 24 hours. Hell of a day.  

Don't let the jaguar eat your moon! 

“Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.” 
― Ptolemy

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