Posts Tagged ‘birding’

Attractive Nuisance

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Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron in the Trash © Jungle Pete

Attractive Nuisance

I watched a Great Blue Heron systematically survey the remains at each picnic table and garbage can in a county park in central Florida. It pulled out Styrofoam plates and disposable utensils. It poked and prodded at beverage containers. The treasure here was ironically a chicken wing that it tossed back and choked down. The bird shook its head from side to side. Clearly the bone wasn’t going down easily. When the bird stood erect again, it looked back into the garbage can for another “easy” meal. I shooed the bird away and dejectedly notice monofilament line wrapped around its foot.

There are a variety of things wrong with this situation.

  • We are a disposable society. I would estimate that nearly everything in that garbage can was used once and thrown away. Much of it – plastic cups and aluminum cans could have been recycled.
  • None of the garbage containers in the park had lids which meant that raccoons, opossums, birds and a variety of other wildlife had free access to human waste.
  • Wind could blow the garbage out. Wildlife could pull it out and from there the garbage blows elsewhere and becomes a problem for more wildlife.
  • It’s unsightly.
  • The heron was entangled by fishing line that was discarded, possible with a fish on the end of the line. If the line tightens further it could cut off circulation resulting in the loss of the limb or an infection resulting in death.
  • Herons eat, fish, frogs, baby gators…They aren’t built to swallow chicken bones. They can choke or be impaled internally.

A woman approached the garbage can and yelled at the bird, waving her arms at it as if the bird was the nuisance. She piled her garbage on the over flowing mound and walked away. Most of it stayed in the container. Until someone recognizes the problem a simple garbage can is causing, it will remain an attractive nuisance to wildlife.

Want to take a tour of the Everglades with Jungle Pete?  Visit his website for more information: www.ecosafari.com

Discovering the Lek of the Prairie Chicken

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Friday, June 28th, 2013

 

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Lesser Prairie-Chicken, adult female © Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO

Birding is not just about finding birds and ticking them off your life lists. It’s about the replenishing experience of being outdoors, the other kinds of fauna and flora you see, and even the wacky and wonderful people you meet.

To get that full-value birding experience, you have to go to Colorado to see the Prairie Chickens. These birds are among the great, eccentric performers in the world; the scenery there is magnificent; the wild animals (pronghorns, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, etc.) are not terribly difficult to find; and you’ll meet some memorable folks while you’re at it.

Fred Dorenkamp is one of those memorable characters. He’s been monitoring Lesser Prairie Chickens in the vicinity of his Lamarr, Colorado ranch for many years. They’re endangered grassland birds, and if they survive, it’ll be because of Fred and people like him.

Lesser Prairie Chickens have been dancing on ancestral leks for eons.

These leks are the bird-equivalent of 70s singles bars. They’re places where horny, amped-up young males assemble to impress the few hot young females who show up. They usually outnumber the females about 5 or 6 to 1. Sometimes more.

To see these prairie chickens you have to arrive at their leks well before dawn in March and April. That means getting up at 4:00 am and meeting Fred for a ride through pitch darkness to a grassy field in the middle of nowhere. You ride in a bouncy school bus that’s only somewhat younger than Fred (he’s in his 80s). It’s uncomfortable and full of people, parkas, backpacks and spotting scopes.

In a growly, nasal voice worthy of a cartoon character Fred presents his rules: keep quiet and keep still. Any noise or movements will spook the birds.

After an hour of anxious waiting, the lek is bright enough that a few dark shadows appear. The performances are already underway.

The males strut around, they stomp, they scurry, they bow and shuffle, they jump up and down, and they fight. They puff out their gaudily-colored throat patches, they erect their head feathers so they look like horns, and they rattle their wings. If you can get close enough, you can hear them cackle and coo.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Lesser Prairie-Chicken adult male, displaying © Greg Lasley/VIREO

The females hardly seem impressed. But they eventually find suitable mates.

After an hour or so, the birds all fly off, and we head back to Fred’s ranch. His cattle dog Bella greets us, and we are ushered into a low shed where his wife Norma has prepared a full ranch breakfast.

The room features a stuffed prairie chicken and a large color photograph for those days when the real live birds don’t show up. You can’t add a taxidermist’s work to your life list. Nor is the experience quite the same.

Later that day Fred was to hitch his horses up to a buckboard and transport a coffin to the local cemetery. He’ll probably go out the same way. But I hope he has many good years before then — to help protect the prairie chickens and shepherd birders to their leks.

Throwback Thursday: Buffet Mixer

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Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Throwback Thursday by Jungle Pete: Buffet Mixer

Originally Posted June 2011

Buffet Mixer © Jungle Pete

There are a variety of benefits to doing things in groups. Consider the last cookout you attended. Someone else bought the food. Someone else cooked and cleaned up. There was less risk of being eaten by a predator. Communal roosting makes sense too. Eating and roosting together makes sense for Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and White Ibis.

More ears and eyes means predators are at a disadvantage during a sneak attack. While roosting, huddling can conserve warmth for those with the best spots in the roost. The downside is when you head out for breakfast in the morning everyone follows. The older and experienced birds tolerate social parasitism in exchange for safety in numbers. There is a pecking order and bigger birds can dominate others in the flock.

Finding food is also easier with many eyes looking. Once located, the buffet commences. Here a flock of Great White Egrets, Snowy Egrets and a few White Ibis have found a high concentration of fish and frog eggs to feast on.

Around the outskirts of the buffet are Little Blue Herons who are exhibiting commensalism. As the Egrets and Ibis stir things up, the Little Blue Herons feed on what the rest of the birds are not interested in. Essentially commensalism is when one species feeds among others and benefits without harming or benefiting the main species. In this case the Little Blue Heron is the guy that came to the party with the friend you invited. Little Blues are twice as successful when feeding commensally as opposed to individually.

May marked the end of the dry season in Florida which generally runs from December through May 15th. As the wetlands begin to fill with water and prey species re-colonize the marshes and swamps, many of the wading birds will rely less on communal feeding and venture out to forage solo. After a long day of hunting, it’s back to the communal roost for an evening of preening and sleep. Party on.

Peregrinations

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Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Peregrinations by Gene Walz

We’ve had a drearily long winter in Manitoba. Six months of freezing temperatures. Even for wintry Winnipeg this is L-O-N-G. It’s May, and big piles of snow still lurk in some shady places. AAARRGH!

The cold and the long-lasting ice and snow (not just in our province but in the Dakotas south of us) have delayed bird migration here. Everything is at least two weeks behind schedule.

Disruptions from routines, even the tardy arrival of spring, can have some very beneficial effects.

Until this year we never suspected that more than a handful of Peregrine Falcons migrated through Manitoba. Then, on April 25, 22 peregrines passed the raptor migration watch at Windy Gates, Manitoba on the North Dakota border. The next day, an astonishing 46 peregrines were recorded. Wow!

Less than 50 years ago, there was only one peregrine sighted in all of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Now we have scores zooming through Manitoba in a matter of weeks!

Because we so often hear of declining bird populations, these numbers are both amazing and heartening.

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

Peregrine Falcon, adult © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

A peregrine recovery program started here in the late 1980s. Since then up to four pairs of these gorgeous raptors have nested in two southern cities in Manitoba every year. With cliff sides and now tall buildings as their favorite nest-sites, few of us thought much about the possibility that other peregrines could be passing through.

Thanks to hawk-watches and the internet, we now realize that the Pembina Valley is a major flight path. Peregrines that breed in Nunavut and Nunavik in the territories north of Manitoba commonly fly through here on their way north to arctic-nesting sites at Rankin Inlet (on Hudson Bay), Igloolik (on the Melville Peninsular), Steensby Inlet (on Baffin Island) and elsewhere.

Peregrines are nesting north of the Arctic Circle in places with few cliffs and fewer skyscrapers. Who knew?!

Photo Essay: Brown Pelicans

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Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Photo Essay: Brown Pelicans by Charlie Rattigan

Boca Grande, Florida Gasparilla Island  (26.738520 , -82.264413)

Just after sunrise on April 10, 2013 nearly 100 Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, and Common Terns began a feeding frenzy several meters off shore from the Gulf beach just south of Gasparilla Island State Park.  Of the many pelicans feeding, it was not unusual to see as many as five or six birds rise up and dive in quick succession.  The activity lasted well over an hour and was repeated the next day.  The weather was bright and sunny and the wind out of the east and calm.  It was only these mornings that I saw this behavior and suspect that when the wind shifted to a southwesterly direction the fish moved way from the shore.

Divining Brown Pelican

Divining Brown Pelicans © Charlie Rattigan

five pelicans

Brown Pelicans © Charlie Rattigan

knifing into the water

Brown Pelicans knifing into the water © Charlie Rattigan

Brown Pelican Birds

Brown Pelicans © Charlie Rattigan

pelican in various poses

Brown Pelicans © Charlie Rattigan

Pelican takes off

Brown Pelican takes off © Charlie Rattigan

Pelicans dive 1

Brown Pelicans preparing to dive © Charlie Rattigan

Throw Back Thursday: Happy Birthday John James Audubon!

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Thursday, April 25th, 2013

To celebrate John James Audubon’s 228th Birthday on April 26th download all Audubon Single Subject Apps for only $0.99! Available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android, KindleFire & NOOK.  (Sale runs 4/25/13-4/29/13)

Bluebirds © John James Audubon

Today birders and naturalists around the world are celebrating the 228th (this year) birthday of John James Audubon, the French-American naturalist and artist.

An iconic figure in ornithology, Audubon revolutionized the practice of field identification, created fantastical yet realistic works of art, and worked hard to follow his passion of illustrating birds. Indeed, his name is emblazoned across the top of this page – now the figurehead of an organization synonymous with birds and conservation.

California Quail

California Quail © John James Audubon

Here are some brief – and perhaps less-known – facts about Audubon:
1. Audubon was born in Haiti, raised in France, and moved to Pennsylvania at age 18 to avoid conscription to Napolean’s army.
2. After moving from southeastern Pennsylvania to Kentucky (with his wife Lucy), Audubon was briefly thrown in jail due to bankruptcy from a failed business venture.
3. Besides the familiar collection of his paintings, Birds of North America, Audubon released Ornithological Biographies (life histories of various bird species) and Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (a compilation of illustrations and text, started by Audubon and completed by his sons after his death).

His paintings, though, are what define him for modern birders. The birds’ unique poses – that attempted to bring some life and nobility to the dead specimens he often used as guides – invoke the extraordinary from the common.

Brown Pelican Birds

Brown Pelican © John James Audubon

It is interesting to reflect back on the days before high-quality optics were widely available for the study of birds. It was acceptable- actually the norm back then- to go out and “collect” specimens, a euphemism for killing birds to study. Studying these lifeless forms formed the basis for his artwork, and it is actually quite amazing that he was able to incorporate such life and action into his paintings. I can only imagine what his artwork would have looked like if he had been able study live birds in equal detail. Would his paintings have become as iconic?

So let’s celebrate the artist, his legacy, and the organization that bears his name. Happy 228th birthday to John James Audubon!

Great Blue Herons are Back in Manitoba

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Monday, April 22nd, 2013
Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron, adult © Arthur Morris/VIREO

Great Blue Herons are Back in Manitoba by Gene Walz

Those birds brave or foolish enough to return to Manitoba this week shine in the sky as if they are lit from within. And lit with a 500 watt bulb.

The snow has not melted here yet. Still a 2-foot mattress of white in many places. The sun reflecting off the snow turns raptors and geese into shining bird-ghosts, their white undersides brighter than bright.

Even birds that don’t have white undersides look white. A Great Blue Heron flew over me, and it shone so brightly that for a second I thought it might be a white morph (Great White Heron) or an intermediate (Wurdeman’s). A closer look revealed its silvery blue feathers shining like a brand new quarter.

Great Blue Heron, adult white morph (Great White Heron)

Great Blue Heron, adult white morph (Great White Heron) © Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO

Great Blue Herons look so relaxed, so laid-back when they fly. The wings beat slowly and steadily. The long neck coils back on itself in a kind of lazy slouch. Not determinedly stretched out straight in front like cranes or geese.

I have no idea how this intrepid heron is going to find food. The rivers are still frozen two feet thick. (Ice-out usually occurs on April 1.) Marshes and streams  may not thaw for a month. It’ll be a while before the fish and frogs and slugs and bugs that suit a heron’s palate will make an appearance.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron © Arthur Morris/VIREO

Once the ice melts and the heron’s food supply make an appearance, this bird stalks its prey with the proverbial patience of Job. It stiffens into a feathered statue, its bill and long neck poised like a javelin. Then it springs!

But that’s for later. If a heron were to try that now, it would shatter its bill into splinters and end up with a very sore neck. I hope it’s got a good reserve of fat from its warmer wintering ground. It’s still winter up here.

Throw Back Thursday: Variations in Rough-legged Hawks

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Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk by Lisa Densmore

Location: Lima, Montana

If you’re wondering where Lima (pronounced LI-ma, like the bean), Montana is, you are not geographically challenged. With due respect to the residents of this small ranching community in the southwestern part of the Treasure State, the only reason Lima entered my life was because we passed through it on the way home after a weekend in Idaho. I’m not apt to forget it. It took a long time to travel through Lima, not due to traffic – we might have seen two cars in two hours on the open road on which we traveled – but because we saw so many Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus).

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk by Lisa Densmore

They perched everywhere, on the irrigation pipes, on the tops of electrical poles, on fence posts… In this hawk-rich environment, I gained a new appreciation for this rodent-eating raptor, which is on the large side for a buteos, averaging 19 to 24 inches tall. With so many of the species in one place, I realized how much variation there could be from one to another. The typical Rough-legged Hawk has a dark belly, though it may be blotchy. A black patch normally shades the carpal joint where the wing bends, but not always or it might be very small. The wings have lots of white on the underside, and its white tail has a black band near its end, but the black morph has a mostly dark tail. ID-ing a Rough-legged Hawk can be challenging if you don’t already know the bird. It’s more diverse than Grand Central Station during rush hour. Fortunately, it lives in a less populated environment than mid-town Manhattan, making it easy to spot.

I enjoyed seeing its color variations. The phenomenon is not unique to Rough-legged Hawks. While each avian on my Audubon Birds app has a common look, variations occur. Have you seen birds-of-a-color that really are not?

The Birds of Hawaii

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Thursday, April 11th, 2013
Nene

Nene © Arthur Morris/VIREO

The Birds of Hawaii by Gene Walz

Hawaii is not the place to go if you’re intent on adding to your Life-Bird list. There just aren’t that many unique native birds left on the islands.

Since “civilization” reached Hawaii about 200 years ago, over 30 native bird species have gone extinct.  Recent evidence seems to suggest that more species were killed off by the original islanders; bird plumage played a huge role in their costumes and decoration.

When I was in Maui in January, I did see about three dozen species of birds. But most of them I could have or had seen elsewhere. Cardinals, skylarks, mannikins, white-eyes, the usual Euro-trash, some common shorebirds and waterbirds from the Americas, and others.

There was even a colony of Peach-faced Lovebirds thriving in south Kihei – so new that they aren’t yet in the bird guides for the island.

I take delight in finding and identifying all kinds of birds. But it’s actually disheartening to see non-tropical birds on tropical islands. Especially if they are contributing to the demise of the native birds, the endemics.

One of the last places to see Maui endemics is in Hosmer’s Grove, a canyon near the top of the extinct volcano Haleakala on the east side of the island.

I went there twice and managed to get long, satisfying views of the Apapane, Amakihi, Alauahio, I’iwi — all bright, active, wonderful bird finds. But I missed the Maui Parrotbill and Crested Honeycreeper, two high-priority target-birds that are rapidly disappearing on the island. A huge disappointment.

Nearby I found several NeNe (Hawaiian Goose), and in the shallows at Kealia Ponds I easily spotted Hawaiian Coots, Hawaiian Ducks, and many Hawaiian Stilts.

I went to Maui for the whale-watching, the seafood and fresh fruit, the beaches, and the warmth. It would have been great had I been able to tick all the bird species I targeted. I guess I’ll have to go back. Damn!

Reenergizing the Red-tailed Hawk

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Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Reenergizing the Red-tailed Hawk by Josh Haas

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk © Josh Haas / Glances at Nature

I’m betting the last time you saw a Red-tailed Hawk, you didn’t give the bird a second look. When birding and creating lists for the day, there are species that tend to get boring. As one of the most prevalent hawks in North America, the Red-tailed Hawk fits this category for many birders. But I’ve found the bird is worth a closer look.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk – midwest © Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

This raptor is a dynamic hunter that tends to go after small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and more. It’s opportunistic nature is one reason the bird is so pervasive and, hence, boring to birders. One type of prey missing from the list is small perching birds. And while it’s true they’re not necessarily built for hunting this type of prey, once while hawk watching at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory I saw an individual display the power and versatility needed for the task. Flying at tree-top level with a strong steady wing-flap, the bird suddenly fanned its tail in such a way so as to flip sideways and nab an unsuspecting Northern Flicker off a dead tree. My binoculars came down, a smile came over my face, and for me the Red-tailed Hawk became a little more exciting. More recently, during a Detroit River Hawkwatch count, I saw a beautiful Northern Harrier circling above the count site when a Red-tailed Hawk unexpectedly stooped into view in pursuit of the Harrier. Enthusiasm soared among the onlookers as the Red-tailed Hawk continued after the Harrier. The aerial battle demonstrated to all who had seen it that this large-bodied Buteo could not only keep up with other agile raptors but maneuver like a Merlin as it dipped and raced around the skies. Yet another experience where for me, the Red-tailed Hawk became a little more exciting.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk Range Map © NatureShare

These are just two quick examples of how the Red-tailed Hawk is more than a modest soaring bird living around our highway systems. The large hawk is nothing short of amazing. With its large powerful feet, snappy wing flap, and keen hunting techniques, this adaptable bird can adjust easily to many habitats and situations. My hope is the next time you find yourself viewing a Red-tailed Hawk through your binocs, you’ll linger a bit longer. It might just do something for which the bird becomes a little more exciting.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk © Dave Haas / Glances at Nature

To see more of Josh’s work, get tips on photography, or to sign up for workshops and trips please visit www.glancesatnature.com.

Blog tour logoThe Crossley ID Guide: Raptors by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan will be available April 2013.  The book covers thirty-four of North America’s diurnal raptor species (all species except owls), 101 stunning color plates–including thirty-five double-page layouts, species information and more!  Be sure to enter to win the ultimate Crossley ID Guide Sweepstakes to win some cool prizes including the Audubon Birds app!