Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A future blogger among us?

I think Isabelle will have a blog someday.
As in, she asked me the other day, "Mommy? When will I be old enough to start a blog?"
I fielded that question by telling her she has to learn how to type first.

Lately, I have to go searching for my camera because Isabelle has taken off with it into the backyard or somewhere in the house to photograph the animals.

The following photos were taken by Isabelle, my 7 year old:

A male American Goldfinch noodling under a sunflower:
Goldfinch by Isabelle

Mommy, Pandora and Nellie:
Nellie and me

*I was especially proud of her for this one*
White-breasted Nuthatch IN FLIGHT:
Nuthatch in flight by Isabelle

And Powder, doing her "FizzGig" impression:
Powder YAWN

This is Fizzgig, if you are rusty on your "Dark Crystal" characters:

And a few photos from me:
Angel the Screech Owl at today's program at Imago, for a young photographer's club:
Angel at Imago
Perfect light, perfect bird. If we ignore that tiny tuft of Astro-Turf, we can pretend she is once again a wild owl.

This was weird.
Strolling the yard, I saw what I thought was some cool fungus in a pine tree:
Deer Vertebrae in the tree

Nope. That's not fungus. That's a deer vertebra. In a tree.

I had to laugh when I realized how it got there.
The remains of the skeleton we found here are still buried under the weeds, and I assume that when the body was still fresh, some critter pulled a vertebra into the tree for a meal.
Looking at the picture, I think that the branch is growing through the vertebra! Makes sense, since it has been hanging there for about 3 years.

Anyone else think that is neat?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mama NEVER said there would be days like this!

When I have a day like I did today, I thank my lucky stars that I found Nature.
Some people find Jesus...but they will have to excuse me if I think wild things and the outdoors are a bit more riveting.

The day began with the discovery that "Monty" our windowsill Monarch chrysalis, had turned to black. (It actually turns transparent, but the blackness of the new butterfly makes the chrysalis look black...just means it's ready)

On July 7th, "Monty" was a tiny (10 mm) caterpillar:
Monarch cat 070909

By July 17th, it was as large as my pinkie finger:

Black chrysalis
*See the small splits near the top? Ready to pop!*

Non-nature peeps: Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on toxic plants like Milkweed. The caterpillars, after hatching, eat the Milkweed leaves, ingesting and storing the toxins in their bodies. This makes them taste VERY bad to birds and other critters who would try to eat them. After two weeks of eating, the caterpillars hang from a nearby stick and go into the "J" position (they really look like a "J"!) and their skin splits open to reveal a perfect jade-gold chrysalis. After about 10-12 days, they emerge as a beautiful Monarch butterfly.

The really WILD part: when the caterpillar is encased in the chrysalis, it becomes a blob of nondescript GOO. No discernible parts at all...the goo then reassembles into a butterfly.

Little bit of chrysalis left
All the way out of the chrysalis...that bit of gray film is a bit of the chrysalis stuck to one of the antennae. I was worried about this when it became a chrysalis...a small tear developed in the chrysalis when it formed.
They are wet and soft at first, and the caterpillar had chosen a bad place to "J", up against one of the milkweed leaves, and the skin retracted and pulled on the fresh chrysalis. The weight of the chrysalis pulled it open a bit, so I very very very gently cut the skin away from the chrysalis and used a Q-tip to push the torn bit back to the chrysalis.
They really have to hang perfectly free from anything to develop properly...and a tear in the chrysalis could possibly not bode well.

And so I fretted for 10 days.

Empty Chrysalis
*Empty chrysalis*

All the way out
*After very very very gently removing bit of left-over chrysalis*

Girls watching monarch
The girls (and I) were just floored by all this. It even brought Geoff down from his office, to take pictures of this little miracle.

I took the new butterfly outside for warmth and sunshine.
Stretching wings outside
When they emerge, the wings are wet and crumpled. They pump fluid from their bodies into the wings until the wings become stiff. And then it's time to fly.

After the wings dried, I checked to see if "Monty" was a male or female. The way to tell:
Male Monarchs have a black patch of "sex scales" on their hindwings. "Monty" didn't have any sex scales. "Monty" was a girl.
Lorelei got the honor of naming this girl butterfly. So "Monty" became "Veronica".
(Geoff has been reading old Archie comics to Lorelei at bedtime.)


Macro monarch 2
*Macro of one of Veronica's wings. Shimmering, overlapping scales. Reminds me of feathers.*

Veronica was placed in the milkweed patch, where she could get some peace and some nectar.

More cool things about monarchs:
Monarchs born in the early summer have a life span of less than two months. They reproduce and die.
Monarchs born NOW are genetically different from the ones born earlier. They enter a state called diaphase, a non-reproductive state, and can live for seven months.
Veronica, along with millions of her kind, will migrate to places like Mariposa Monarcha Biosphere Reserve in the Mexican states of Michoacan and Mexico.
The generation that overwinters won't reproduce until it leaves the overwintering site in February or March. Their children will complete part of the journey, and the third and fourth generations past Veronica's will return to the home locations in the US and Canada.
So no single butterfly makes the entire round trip.
And we aren't sure as to how the species returns to the same overwintering sites every year. Still being researched is the theory that they use circadian rhthym or that the flight patterns are inherited.
Even cooler: People are tagging monarchs (like bird banding, but tinier).
And today, our household was a minuscule part of a vast journey that spans continents.
Veronica will spend her life in Mexico, enjoying the company of millions and millions of butterflies being born now, east of the Rockies. (Western monarchs overwinter on the California coast.)
This is so unbelievable cool.

After all that, Isabelle and I walked down the driveway to get the mail. Walking back, we saw a red-shouldered hawk on the fence near the prairie. And I had my camera.
*Of course I take my camera with me to get the mail. Doesn't everyone???*

Banded RSHA back yard
Notice anything about this bird?
Banded. Hot damn. A banded RSHA. This is the first banded hawk we have seen in the yard.
Their appearances in our yard are cyclic. Many in the winter, many in the summer. Virtually zero in between.
I couldn't even begin to read the number on the band, but I notified Jeff Hays (from this post and this post). From what I remember, none of the resident adults were ever banded, so this is likely one of the chicks born around here in the past few years. Or it could be a bird from somewhere else. Either way, I was happy to see it.
It was very very very interested in the critters that live in the prairie. See why I built it?
Raptor food!!!!
All in all, a great day.
I better go lie down now. All this delicious nature stuff has me lightheaded.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I met a celebrity today!

It's not every day you get to meet someone you have only read about. I met someone today...someone who is unlike anyone else I have ever met.

But you have to wait until the end. Read on.

Today's program was for the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton, Ohio.
A native plant thing? I was so there.
Sylvester blends into the decor
Sylvester disapproved of the decor. But he blended in nicely.
(I put him by the fake tree on purpose)

Also in attendence was Lucy the Peregrine (on the right) and Angle the Screech Owl (on the table in front)
*You will notice that I placed the screech owl in front of our display so she couldn't see the GHOW. We don't want a screech owl stroke.*

Non-birders: Screech owls are FOOD for GHOW in the wild. She did catch a glimpse of him while I was holding her, and her pupils dilated so much I thought she might faint. :)
Lucy's perch is so low, I placed her on two chairs so the public could see her.

And though I carefully placed paper towels under her, she sprayed the chairs anyway.
Wonder if the hotel will ask us back after that?

I talked to many excited, interested people today...even a few who recognized me from the RAPTOR newsletter and my blog. Why do I cringe when someone says they read my blog?
Low self-esteem? Unsure of how people take me?

Anyhoo. On to the Celebrity.

I first read about this gorgeous and unique creature here on Jim's blog.
*Go read his account of this fantastic thing.

He does a way better job of describing it, what with all the "radically awesomes" and "pinkiliciousness's".

The Famous Pink Katydid
Yep. That's a PINK katydid.
Non-nature peeps: Katydids are supposed to be GREEN. This is a one-in-a-million bug.
And even better...I got to keep her on my display table. Made us quite popular.

I couldn't help but think of this scene from the musical "Wicked".
A pretty, popular girl in PINK, talking to a drab, unpopular girl who is GREEN:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Babies without families

I don't get many injured bird pick-up calls for RAPTOR. I'm on the list as a "last resort".
So when dispatch calls, I know they went through numerous calls before dialing my number.

The phone rang this morning, and when I saw it was dispatch (a local bird store, Wild About Birds), I got excited...the girls and I had no plans today.
"Susan? Want to go get a peregrine downtown?"
"Do I WANT to go get a peregrine? Does a bear .........?"
I took all the info, called the person who had the bird (a printing company downtown) and stuffed the girls in the car.

The company had boxed the bird already ("That is one AGGRESSIVE bird! And I've never seen anything like it!"), so I put my gloves on and slowly lifted the lid of the box.

This was not a peregrine.
This was not even a BIRD OF PREY.

It was this:

The nighthawk that was not a PEREGRINE
A young Common Nighthawk. (Chordeiles minor)
(Gloves get thrown down with a sigh)

Non-birders: Though this bird has the word "hawk" in its name, this is not a hawk. This is a bird in the nightjar family. Nightjars, though, to confuse the issue, are in the same ORDER as owls.
To refresh memories out there: The biological classification of species goes like this:
*A good mnemonic for this is "Keep Ponds Clean Or Frogs Get Sick".
Another one is "King Penguins Congregate On Frozen Ground Sometimes". *
I like the frog one myself.

So a Common Nightjar's taxonomy is like this, starting with Class:
Class: Aves (Birds)
Order: Strigiformes (goatsuckers, owls)
Family: Caprimulgidae (Nighthawks and Nightjars)
Subfamily: Chordeilinae
Genus: Chordeiles

Okay. Who's confused?

Macro nighthawk beak
Though their beaks appear tiny and insignificant, follow the gape of the mouth from the beak tip to the eye....they can open that maw like a frog.
All the better to snap flying insects out of the air.

Since this is decidedly NOT a raptor, and I am not qualified to say if it was truly injured, I called Marilyn. Marilyn is a rehabber at RAPTOR, Inc., but she also does songbirds, water birds, etc.
She sounded so tired when I talked to her on the phone. We rarely even SEE Marilyn during songbird nesting season because she is always up to her Toches in baby birds until Summer is over.
But as luck would have it, she was on her way to Eden Park to try and foster a baby Mallard into an existing flock, so I met her there to hand off the nighthawk.

She said that nighthawks are extremely difficult to rehab because of their high stress levels. But she also said she would try to return it to the building it flew off of (nighthawks will nest on flat-topped gravel roofs.)

And here's her baby Mallard, in all its ducky fuzziliciousness:
(This whole business reminded me of Beth's post about Ethel and Lucy's babies)

Macro duckling

It didn't go well. If you have to introduce a single baby duck into an existing brood, the duck you have HAS to be the same age as the babies you are trying to blend it with. Otherwise, the foster duckling gets pecked to death or shunned.

Unfortunately for Baby Duckling, the other ducklings were just a bit older, and larger.
Love this picture...
looks like the duckling is saying, "Are YOU my mother?" to the house sparrow:
Are you my mother

One of the mother ducks was aggressive to the duckling:
Duckling 1


The duckling kept running back to Marilyn...so Marilyn decided this wasn't going to work, and will keep the duckling until she can either find a compatible flock, or wait until it's grown (10 more weeks!) and release it as an adult.
Poor Marilyn....

Of course, I had to use this opportunity to photograph MY ducklings with the fuzzy little thing:
Girls feed duckling

So. Two baby birds without families. But hopefully I will be able to update everyone about the outcomes of these two stories.

Sigh. Wish it had been a peregrine.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Banding a big one

Since he is no longer a stranger, I wonder what nickname we can come up with for Les?
I'm sure I will think of something.

After dropping the kids off for a sleepover at Mom's, I headed out to Les' M.A.P.S. banding site.

The weather was perfect today...in the seventies with little humidity. Much of the eastern U.S. has been enjoying lower-than-average temperatures, and this gal is NOT complaining about it.

Fluffy WBNU butt
Did you know that young birds (like this HY [Hatch Year]White-breasted nuthatch) have fluffy butts?

I very much wanted to kiss this sweet little nuthatch...
...but given the force behind the bill, I chose to keep my lips to myself.

The "cool" bird of the day, a first for this site:
A HY (and very pissed off) Pileated woodpecker.
Check the crest...I wanted to rub it and make a wish.

These birds are massive, at least for a non-raptor (hee hee)...
juv PIWO band
Though not dependent on its parents anymore, it nonetheless gave out some pitiful and creepy calls to them as they waited in the trees. (The sound was akin to someone squeezing a squirrel)

Juv PIWO prepares to eat Les
All that drama must have made it hungry, so it decided to eat Les.

Nets have to be taken down every day, so an errant deer or turkey doesn't go galluping through them....
Taking nets down

Nets make a good Halloween wig
Did you know that mist nets also make great Halloween wigs?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Not a sad story

To tell this tale, we need to go back to August 9, 2007.
During a crazy busy evening, I took a call for an injured bird way out in New Richmond, about an hour from our house. I did tell dispatch that I would go "anywhere", and "anywhere" usually means about a 100 mile round trip.
This red-tailed hawk had been caught in a net fence, almost like a mist net that banders use.
After a few weeks of rest to rehydrate, heal some bruising, and also to chow down some free meals, RT07-18 was ready to be released.

(To explain that code..."RT" means Red-tailed hawk. "07" is the year it was admitted and "18" means it was the 18th Red-tailed hawk to be admitted that year.)

The hawk was banded, boxed up and driven back to the capture site.

I instructed the homeowner on what we were about to do and how to release the bird.
We like to take pictures of releases, because it is the climax of many hours, days, weeks, of hard work and dedication from our rehabbers. It is a feeling that blends joy, relief and a tinge of sadness and worry.
Will they make it?
Were our efforts in vain or will this bird go on to live, reproduce and do the job it was put on this earth for?


And so RT 07-18 was free to haunt the skies above New Richmond once again.

Most of the time, we never know how a released bird has fared.
A bird is considered a successful rehab if it survives at least three months after release.

Last week Dan, one of our volunteers and president of the board, got a call about a Red-tailed hawk that had been hit by a car....in New Richmond. Guess where this is going?

This bird was banded. The number was looked up, and yep...it was RT 07-18.

After examination, the bird was deemed too severely injured to attempt rehab, and it was humanely euthanized.

Now, you might be wondering why I would entitle this post "Not a sad story"?
But if we look at it from a broad view, this was a success. This particular bird lived for an additional two years after it was released, and who knows? Maybe raised a few baby hawks to send into the world? RAPTOR, Inc. gave this hawk another chance to try and survive on this human-riddled planet. Our cars, our poisons, our fences, all represent obstacles for birds to navigate. Rehabilitation gives these birds a way to fly again, for however long they can.

Being a rehabber is enormously difficult, both physically and emotionally. All the rehabbers at RAPTOR have convinced me that I don't want to do this. It has been described as a "labor of love", yet it is so much more than that.

Support your local wildlife rehabilitation center. (For a list searchable by state, click here.)
Donate funds and supplies.
Pitch in when you can.
It makes a difference.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Feathers...with full disgruntlement

We have been very lucky this summer to be able to enjoy cooler than normal temps.
Yesterday was an exception. Hot and humid.

You know, everyone enjoys a nice misting of cool water on a hot Summer day....
Macro kestrel mist

Steel the Kestrel misted
"Thank you. This is quite refreshing. I could sit here all day and let you do that."

....even if they would rather DIE than let you know they appreciate it:
"No. I am NOT enjoying this. I hate to get wet. This is unpleasant. That stuff is all over me.....
...(stretching foot toward me)....you missed a spot."

Monday, July 13, 2009

It is not for you

You do not know our voice
A lifetime of study cannot hold
Our words in your mind

You do not know of what we speak
Or what we say that is true

We scold your presence
And you do not hear the meaning
Prothonotary warbler Lake Isabella
We call to others like us
For the continuation of ourselves,
Yelling away the dangers,
To pass a message that is not meant for you

You strain to hear us
Shhh...we are wistening for burdies

High and sweet

Male hummer pr ofile

Gruff and low

Junior, Flight training

In your arrogance you memorize
The cadence of our kind
But with ten thousand voices
We speak above you

You can hold us for a moment in your hands
To feel the fierce beating of our hearts

RS chick and me
But even in that time of intimacy
When you seek to know us,
Small chipping and shrieking screams
Tell a tale that cannot be translated
Into human tongue.

We sing to the skies
To the beyond you cannot see
You assume you know of what we sing to
Putting our phrases into words
And into those words you glean your own ideas

For all the knowledge your brain can hold
It cannot process the heights we praise.
We do not sing for you.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My own personal Yoda

Birding can expose you to so many things, can't it? New places, new faces...
This morning found me getting out of bed at Zero-Dark-Thirty to go meet Les (from this post) all the way over on the other side of town for some birding.

With his schedule, it's tough for him to get bird time other than banding, and I have such a poor sense of "bird" hearing, we both jumped at the chance to get out to the woods.

Les has great ears. There's a vast knowledge base in that brain of his, and I used it as much as I could today. And just like our first meeting, there was more to see than just birds...

Tomahawk Knob
I took this photo just for Delia's friend Matty. He laughs like a 12-year old boy when anyone says anything remotely vulgar. (I can hear his voice now, saying "Hehehe...you said "knob")
Delia, please make sure Matty sees this.

Pawpaw fruit
Pawpaws are starting to develop fruit...and that reminds me that I need to move the pawpaw trees I planted last year. Stupidly planted them in full sun. Duh.

jewelweed in the sun
A rare moment of seeing jewelweed in the sun.

Initially thought this was some kind of mint, but we decided it was beardtongue. (Which might also send Matty into fits)

pea plant of some sort we think
We had no idea what this was....maybe Jim McCormac or some other plant geek could tell us? We assumed it was an exotic invasive, since there was so much of it.
Looks like a pea plant with "fern" foliage.

This one brought up a funny story.
This is a buckeye nut, before it ripens into the typical shape we are used to. Reminded me of the "infamous buckeye" picture from Cape May last year.
I told Les the story. He approved.

He also agreed that I shouldn't put this in my cleavage. Too spiny.

And the inside of a buckeye before maturity:
Inside of buckeye
Three little wet "lima bean" things...it smelled good. Smelled green.

And yes, Laura...I have blue nail polish on today. Laura seems to take offense at my choices of nail color.
She thinks it must be some "Midwestern Thing"...and she thinks it's weird.
Which is exactly why I do it.

A very tired Mourning Cloak butterfly:
Mourning cloak
I've never been able to get a picture of one of these, but I see them in the spring and summer flitting about. This one was very tired and sluggish in the shade on the road, so I picked him up and placed him in the sun. That woke him up a bit.

I got ONE bird picture today. And it's not even a good one:
BG gnatcatcher
There's a blue-gray gnatcatcher in there. I promise.

Les got me a lifer today. We both heard and saw a Kentucky Warbler.
Did I get a photo? No, of course not.
That makes 219 on my Life List.
We also got fleeting looks at a few broad-winged hawks.

Les made it his mission to teach me as many bird calls as he could today.

He taught me that the Kentucky Warbler sounds like a "musical horse" galloping,
the Yellow-breasted Chat making a zillion different sounds,
the wood thrushes "night song",
White-eyed vireos say "Pick up the beer, Check!"...though I like this mnemonic better: "Pick up a realllllllll CHICK!"

...he is my own personal Yoda. Except he is way taller than me. And he's not green.

Thankfully he didn't quiz me at the end of our walk...but he did text me on the way home as I was listening to songs on my iPod:
"Are you studying those bird calls?"
I said, "Yes, YODA."
He responded, "Bird calls learn, you must."

What a kook. Must be why I enjoy his company so much. :)
And his company is a jewel. No one is 'born' a birder, and it's interesting to hear how others came to be these twitchy, nutty types who go to great lengths to see and hear birds. His story was way more interesting than my "cherry tree and birdbath" story.
(Geoff got me a bird bath and weeping cherry tree for my first Mother's Day and it's exploded from there.)

Talking with Les, I discovered how similar we are in humor, opinions....nice to find your "People", isn't it?

Here's a quick video of a White-eyed vireo singing, and me begging it to sing some more: