Thursday, October 29, 2009

The six foot, three-foot iguana

Our last day in Miami found us with time to fill. I really wanted to bird before we headed back to Ohio, so we looked at a map of the area. Since we didn't rent a car, we were at the mercy of the public transit system (aka, the city BUS).
We got off at the Oleta River State Park, Florida's largest urban park. And wow. It seemed so remote, we forgot we were in the middle of a major city.

In the heat, I was grumbling inside my head that a car would be nice. But as wonders unfolded right at our feet, I realized that in a car, we would be missing it all.

We were walking along a canal and I was looking at a log.
Oh, wait. That's not a log.
spotting the iguana
The log had a head and a tail.
Florida has more than its share of exotic, non-native animals living in it.
This is one that many people there actively hate.

(Iguana iguana), also known as the Green Iguana.

(They come in colors other than green.)

Sitting iguana
I haven't laid eyes on an iguana of this size since my sister-in-law's pet Sam passed away. He was about six feet long. And I have never seen one in the wild.

The majority of feral iguanas in Florida are releases and escaped pets, but a smaller population came from Central and South America as passengers of hurricanes. In places where iguanas are native, they are called "Chicken of the Tree"....because they taste like chicken. Yum.

While they look like something out of a dinosaur movie, they are gentle giants who would rather run that fight. Arboreal herbivores, they are raising the ire of many a gardener in Florida.

We pointed him out to the girls, and they were over the moon about it. I had told them of the "Frozen Iguana Shower" in January of 2008. During record cold temperatures, iguanas everywhere were falling from the trees, unable to maintain their metabolism. They were littering the sidewalks all over Florida. I think I would have liked to see that.

As we admired him, we failed to notice something. It wasn't until I uploading the pictures that I saw that this big dude was missing something.
The three footed iguana
Three feet instead of four. I don't know what could have bitten off the foot of a huge iguana, but judging by his size and health, I guess he doesn't miss it.

walking away

We ventured too close, and he made his escape through the water to the other side of the canal.
swimming iguana

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Closer to her as she moves farther away

This trip was a trip of firsts for not only Geoff and me, but also the girls. They had never been on a cruise ship (or any boat even remotely approaching the size of this!), and the only time Isabelle has been out of the country was a trip to Canada when she was 9 months old.

Lorelei is happy wherever she is. Whether it's in the bathroom, singing to her feet, or swaying and dancing on the Lido deck of the Carnival Imagination.

Isabelle is a tougher nut to crack. Her budding personality tends to the suspicious side, content to stand back and approach new experiences on her own timetable. I have been walking a fine line of parenting: Letting her do things at her own pace, and recognizing when she needs a push towards something she will love, if she only lets herself go.
I have been watching her mature and grow this year, and it seems faster than it has ever been. She is becoming the person she will be as an adult, and it has left a permanent lump in my throat.

I have a treasure trove of photos of my sweet, leggy girl, so it was tough to decide what to include on this post.
The one day we were on the island, Isabelle and I signed up for a snorkeling excursion. Isabelle wants desperately to be a marine biologist when she grows up, so I jumped on the chance for her to swim among marine wildlife.
This is why I didn't bird at all while we were on land. I took one for the team. :)

You will notice that most of these photos do not show her face. She has an issue with getting her picture taken, so I am forced to be sneaky.

As we waited for the ship in Miami, Isabelle found a spot at the pier to penetrate with her eyes, searching for fish to identify.
Isabelle pier

The more she stood there, the more comfortable she became, and her body language followed suit.
Pier 2

We waited for the snorkeling excursion to start, and Isabelle focused intensely on the turquoise waters of the bay.
Looking at Nassau Isabelle

We arrived on Blackbeard's Cay for the snorkeling trip...and Isabelle nearly fainted from joy when she saw the part of the beach cordoned off for the "Swimming with Stingrays" group. And then got closer to fainting when she saw a school of bright blue needle fish swimming among the stingrays. She dutifully checked them off of her Life Fish List (yes, she actually keeps a List...wonder where she gets that from?).

We snorkeled on the other end of the beach, and though the marine life was very sparse, it was fun anyway. Just being in that perfectly clear water with my amazing daughter was enough for me.

She spent more time staring into the water than actually being in the water. Snorkeling was a challenge for her, so I let her float from place to place, just happy to be there with her.
(And secretly and happily pushing that shutter down, over and over)
Isabelle Blackbeards Cay

Okay. This one makes a sob catch in my throat. I can't even find the words to explain why.
Blackbeards Cay 4
I just can't....I mean, look at her. I made that.

My beautiful, bright, unsure, sweet and funny girl.
Isabelle feet in the sand

Side story:
I mentioned the stingrays in their own part of the beach. Supposedly behind a ring of fish nets?
While we were snorkeling on the part of the beach that was "non-Stingray", someone yelled out:

Obviously, one had escaped the pen.
We watched them with scared awe (though we didn't have to like this, cut off the "stinger" on the ends of their tails, so the paying public doesn't end up dead the Crocodile Hunter). But it was unnerving, nonetheless.
At one point, I was happily snorkeling along, when the thing swam right under me.
I like to think of myself as a cool customer, but....well. I think I jumped about 10 feet out of the water. And then got the heck out of the water.

Here's a short video of "Blacky", as Isabelle called him.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My only lifer of the trip

Let's get this out of the way so we can move on to the zillion other things I want to show you.

After boarding the ship on Friday, we relaxed, swam in the deck pool, wandered and marveled at the sheer size of the ship...and how expensive everything was. I had a few rounds of Rum Punch.

We pulled out of Miami in the early afternoon. As we left Miami behind, two birds swirled above us.
My binoculars were too far away, so I grabbed my camera and started firing away.
The shape of the birds was unlike anything I had seen, but it also reminded me of pictures I had seen in field guides.


I zoomed in as far as the camera would go, and peered at the display.
Magnificent Frigatebird
A completely unique shape...and a slash of fiery red on the throat.

Magnificent Frigatebird. Life Bird number 225. Whoot!
And standing on the deck of a ship, with no other birders to share in my joy. Sigh.
The girls thought it was pretty cool, though.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hola from Miami!

Not too much to say tonight, since the Intertubes are hinky at this hotel.
We are in Miami, Florida, on our way to a cruise to the Bahamas in the morning.

As an Ohio birder who doesn't travel much, a bird unseen in Ohio causes me to salivate.

When we vacationed in Florida last year, my Isabelle found a Loggerhead Shrike, a lifer.
This time, she found one for me AGAIN.


I was able to slowly approach this bird and got to within FEET of it before it got uncomfortable.
(I also have video of it singing..saving that for another post)

Monk parakeets are in every palm tree, and when they land on the ground, they blend perfectly with whatever ground cover they have here.
I love them. Probably because I don't live here and have to listen to them all day long.
Lorelei said today, while watching some, "They are so cute! I want to bite their little heads off!"

Brown pelicans were ubiquitous along the surf:
Brown pelican
How does something that ungainly-looking get its butt off the ground?

Sanderlings abound.
Might be weird, but I always think of Laura when I see a Sanderling.
Which makes no is tiny and cute and one is tall and Jersey-ish.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What I've been up to

Retro-fitting a mew for Priscilla, our Barred Owl.

Cage Q before
Since she is non-flighted, she needed a mew with lower perches. She tends to be a bit jumpy and had bruised her wing, and we have kept her in a different cage until I could go in and finesse her regular mew. I went in with a hammer and a drill and whipped that mew into shape.
For perspective, the back perch is about 6 feet high.

(Lower perches and different a platform perch, 'cause she likes them)
Priscilla Cage Q

It was fun tearing the old perches out. I couldn't get the old rusty screws out of the wall, so I just beat the crap out of them and pulled real hard. Very satisfying.
Sturdy branches for her to hop up and down on, and I even added a little floor perch next to her water our fluffy Princess could sit and preen after baths.


Covering every cage we have on the South side of the yard (where the little birds are) with hardware cloth...and that includes the roof.
Melinda and Andi on the roof

After playing at CSI for awhile, we came to the conclusion that it wasn't a mink that got in to kill our Angel. It was a raccoon. It climbed the outside of the cage and reached in and grabbed her off a perch.
NEVER EVEN GOT INTO THE MEW. (We found feathers outside the cage, and found scat near one of the traps. Dammit.)
Roof covered

Peeking under the RAPTOR barn:
Crawlspace under the barn
The barn that RAPTOR leases from the Hamilton County Parks is over 100 years old. And there are the coolest nooks and crannies to explore....well, there were, until someone mortared it up today.
No one currently goes under the barn for any reason. I wonder how long that bottle has laid there? And what was in it?

Meeting a new bird:

This red morph screech owl has been with us since he/she was a nestling. (Eye injury)
Since the loss of Angel has created a space on our permit, we will be adding this cute, fierce thing to our education roster.
While meeting him/her, someone asked "which screech owl" we were talking about. Cindy said, "Thirteen", as in the thirteenth screech owl that had been admitted this year.
Turns out to be the perfect name. Everyone meet Thirteen. It works for some reason, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why I love them

Three and a half years ago, when I started this job, I didn't feel love for RAPTOR's education birds.
It was more like a healthy dose of respect and a little fear. This is because I didn't know them well.
I do now. I can read their body language, I can tell when they are content and when they are stressed. I can tell when they are about to bate and when they are about to poop.
Tiny muscle shifts, minute clenches of their feet. Their eyes, their breathing.
I recognize it all.

With all of this recognition, it was bound to turn into love. A love for each individual bird and all of his or her quirks. Each has a distinct personality, distinct likes and dislikes.
I can tick them off like a laundry list, though it is more than that, culminating into something more solid and real.

best earl closeup
Earl the Turkey Vulture:
Now 24 years old, she is our oldest resident bird. A human imprint, she is in a category all her own. I don't work with her often, due to her dislike of certain women. But holding her, what needs to be remembered is that she bites. Nibbles. Barfs.
She is also fully flighted, and is strong enough to spin me in a circle. Curious and full of personality, even her idiosyncrasies are endearing.

Scarlet close up
Scarlet the Red-tailed Hawk:
At five years old, Scarlet is still a young bird. As she is about 90% flighted, she is fun to try and catch as she swoops back and forth in her mew. But once she is on the glove, she settles in quickly. It is less of a surrender, and more of a transfer of her will to mine. She is strong and proud and an easy bird for audiences to identify at programs.

Isis BLue Eye
Isis, leucistic Red-tailed Hawk:
She is what I call RAPTOR's "flagship" bird. Leucistic animals are not albino, but able to present some pigment. Isis has small brown spots on the back of her head, and her eyes are fierce pools of ocean blue. Stronger than any of our other birds, she has gone through many a glove with her two-inch talons. More quirky and jumpy than the others, she needs a bit of extra time to settle down at programs. She is fond of "marching", lifting her feet and trying to get more of her jesses free from my hand.

I AM happy
Sylvester, the Great-horned Owl:
One of my favorites, Sylvester exudes nothing but strength, power and absolute confidence. He is sure of his badness and ability to maim whatever he chooses.
A secret, though...he is our most gentle bird. A "pussycat" of nearly endless patience, he has lived at RAPTOR for 12 years and wowed audiences across the Tri-State area. Unbothered by physical contact, he will sit perfectly still while I change his jesses (other birds need to be "toweled" and held down) and I can gently massage his right foot when it gets too clenched.
He is unprecedented in his politeness and manners. We are so lucky to have him.

Look at my pretty
Priscilla, the Barred Owl:
This bird was practically my neighbor, though I didn't know it until she was brought in to RAPTOR nearly two years ago. Found just a few miles away from our house, she was treated for a broken left wing (car impact). She needs some reassurance when taking her in hand, but I love the feel of her feet on my glove as she relaxes and slowly blinks her eyes at me. Soft and fluffy, she pulls "oohs-and-ahhs" from crowds, as they drink in her liquid brown eyes and sweet face.

Storm in the sun
Storm, the Barn Owl:
Sigh and laugh...Storm. A jewel in our crown, Storm can be heard all through the neighborhood RAPTOR inhabits. As the only bird we have who regularly vocalizes at will, he stuns everyone who gets the pleasure of hearing him scream out the call of a barn owl. A jumpy, feisty thing, he keeps me on my toes, as he is also the only bird we have who will lunge AT my face.

Lucy, the Peregrine Falcon:
Any regular reader of this blog recognizes Lucy. My favorite, my one-and-only, my moon-and-stars. A six-year old Peregrine, she hatched in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and made her way to our airport where she ran into something that partially severed her left wing. In many ways, she reminds me of a parrot, from the way she climbs her mew ladder, to the way she will "step up" onto my hand. No chasing Lucy. She is nervous and sweet, proud but shy.

Steel at Farbach werner park
Steel, the male American Kestrel:
Steel is our third-oldest bird. He was admitted way back in 2000 as an adult, so he is at least 10 years old, a very respectable age for a kestrel! Kestrels are normally a spazzy species, and Steel is no exception. I have noticed, however, a slight slowing down of his jumpy nature. Blind in his left eye, he is keen to keep his good eye aimed right at me during glove time. He bites, he bates....but his color and form is a joy for my program participants.

new program kestrel
Magnolia, the female American Kestrel:
Magnolia was originally treated for an injury to her left eye, but her mothering skills became apparent when she began fostering our orphaned kestrel chicks. The next nesting season, she decided she didn't want to be a foster mom anymore, so she is now a regular program bird. She also keeps her good eye on me during programs, and when I hold her in front of me, she swivels her head like a tiny marionette and sometimes yells out a shrill, perfect kestrel call.

And the last, but most certainly not the least....
Angel at Imago
Angel, the brown morph Screech Owl:
Angel was a special bird. From the first day we put jesses on her legs, she was a perfect program bird. Occasionally vocal, and always calm, she exemplified her name by sitting gently on my hand, putting forth nothing but a sweet aura of screech owl presence. I will never forget the thin line of pale feathers on the back of her head, like a halo...that prodded us to call her Angel. Her non-existent weight on my thumb. The silk of her feathers as I would brush her head free of the sawdust picked up from her roosting box. Her low churring voice that rose up to me when she was feeling nervous. Her presence will stay with me forever.

Two years ago, we lost a program bird to a resident mink who broke his way into one of the cages. Though he was dispatched, we are located in prime mink habitat. We kept an eye out for more disturbance around the cages.
The other night, I put Storm back in his cage after a program. I shined the flashlight around to make sure he had been given food while we were gone...and it looked as if something had taken bites from his dinner. I looked around his cage and found chew marks on the outside of his cage.


I transferred him to the basement and alerted the staff. Cages were reinforced.
This morning, I went in to refit Priscilla's cage with lower perches so she would be more comfortable. As I was pulling old perches off, a volunteer came in to tell me bad news. We were "missing" a screech owl.
Angel had been killed. We looked at every angle, every tiny space in the slats of that cage, and can not figure out how something got in.
As a raptor center, the food we put out for our birds is bound to attract predators and scavengers. It can't be avoided. The cages must smell to predators like McDonald's smells to a toddler.
Multiple traps were baited and set out. We'll catch it.
And I can't be mad at the mink. I can't be mad at anyone. Our volunteers work unbelievably hard to keep our birds safe. We are barricading against Nature the absolute best we can.
I can only mourn quietly, and remember our tiny screech owl.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Ohio Young Birder's Club Weekend

2:00 am, Sunday

I'm in my tent, shivering so hard my teeth are clanging together.
Woefully ill-prepared for sleeping outside during temperatures down in the low 40's. It sounds like something is killing a Canada Goose near the banks of the lake.
Knowing that I won't be falling asleep anytime soon, I turn my thoughts to the day before.

A weekend with the Ohio Young Birder's Club, Cincinnati chapter at Hueston Woods.

The kids got up close looks at some birds banded by Dave Russell:
OYBC banding

Magnolia warber OYBC banding

While the young birders learn some interesting information about the birds, I learn something too... to tell a Swainson's thrush from a Gray-cheeked thrush:
Swainsons and gray-cheeked
A mnemonic I came up with: Swainson's have Spectacles and a Squash-wash on their cheek.

3:00 am
Eyes full of tears from the cold, I stumble out of the tent to pee.
Socks get full of mud. I don't have any clean dry ones to replace them with. Sliding back between the once-again ice cold blankets, I try not to think about my toes.

Remembering the warmth I felt all around me while sitting at the camp fire....

I listen to a great horned owl off in the distance...

The young birders got a special tour of the raptor center at the park:
We got to watch feeding time with the golden eagle...
Hueston's golden eagle lunchtime

...and the bald eagle.
Hueston's bald eagle

Their great horned owl was unbelievably vocal, hooting at anyone walking by.
(He also likes to attack people through the wire of his mew.)
Hueston's GHOW

Almost as cool as the eagles, their resident turkey vulture was allowed to wander among us, sort of like a pet dog.

5 am.
Thankful that my night of icy torture is almost over. Coyotes are yipping and howling nearby.
One of the Cub Scouts in the next camp is having night terrors and screaming his head off.

I wondered if any of the kids who attended would become an ornithologist....
Dave and young birders
...or discover a new species of bird.
Young birder scope

Some volunteers from the Cincinnati Museum Center's Museum of Natural History came with some bird bodies to demonstrate how they prepare bird skins for the museum's treasure trove of specimens.
Bird skinning demo OYBC
Information is collected from each bird body as it is being prepared. Weight, length, skull thickness, age, etc.
The only way to sex a bird that is not sexually dimorphic is to check the inside of the bird for the sex organs.
Here, Donald looks for testes:
Donald checks for testes

Later, I lead a group through the wooded campground for an Owl Walk. And easily called in a gray morph screech owl for everyone to see. Very proud of myself for being able to bring in an owl on my first time leading a search for owls.

5:45 am.
I guess it's safe to get up now. I put on my shoes, cringing at the frigid wet shoes pushed against my feet. I get in my car, fantastically grateful for the heat. As I drive to the restrooms, I think that although this night has been Hell for me, I am so glad I came.
I change my clothes and turn on the water to wash my face and brush my teeth.