Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ritter Farm May 31

Well, the outdoor classroom was in session today. We banded 16 birds of 11 species, and had some really interesting ones. I was really excited about the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks that came in. There was a female, with a very defined brood patch, pictured here. For those who might not know, a bird incubating eggs will either pull some feathers off the tummy, or the hormones will help in the feather loss, to make it possible for her body heat to be in more direct contact with the eggs. The other photo is of the female chomping on Mark's finger. I wanted to show the bright yellow under the wing that is not often seen.
The male is a younger bird, as evidenced from the buffy/tan feathers on his head and breast. What a beak!
This Red-eyed Vireo has a very distinct hook in the bill - can you see it at the tip?

This female Red-winged Blackbird presented a bit of a mystery for us. She clearly had some kind of reed or other plant that had become embedded just under her chin. The bird was otherwise healthy, and the piece did not appear to bother her. Mark and Roger did decide to clip this off right where it touched the skin. The piece was solid and not hollow, so clipping it did not open any kind of way for bacteria to enter the bird's body.

I was thrilled to find a nest of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher! Can you see her next to the nest, on the left in the first photo? She was still in the process of building it, by bringing in spider webs and other material.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sedge Wrens and Others

We had high hopes today to add to the body of knowledge about Sedge Wrens. Fellow bander Roger is studying this species, and we knew of a couple of areas where this species is known to breed. Unfortunately, strong winds did not help us out much for banding. However, we did see a few species of birds that make you appreciate their diversity. A male Bobolink serenaded us from his perch on a juniper. A Scarlet Tanager put in an apperance as the day started.

These Eastern Bluebirds were freshly fledged from their box, just a few yards away. They huddled in two groups of two, waiting for a parent bird to bring food.
Sedge Wrens have one of the most distinct ways of flying. If a hummingbird and a pheasant were to combine (I'm not kidding), this is about what you would end up with. These are the days that answer the question of why we live in Minnesota during those cold winter months. It's for spring days like this.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Florida Part 3: Of Kites and Other Oddities

Here is the final Florida installment. Living in Minnesota, one can't help but compare the differences in the birds that live and breed in Florida. Here are a few of my weird favorites.

I have always thought that Gotham City should reconsider and use the Magnificent Frigatebird as the Signal for the Caped Crusader. I suppose, though, that Frigatebird Man doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as Batman. And I suppose it would not be as feasible for Batman to find Magnificent Frigatebirds in the well to scare him onto the path of becoming the hero he is. Oh, well.

Crested Caracaras are another favorite. It's tough to just eat dead stuff and still look cool, but they pull it off with remarkable aplomb.

Okay, Swallowtail Kites really do travel with a chorus of angels to herald their apperances because I swear I hear them every time I run into these birds. They really are one of the sexiest things with feathers. Reier and I counted 15 - 15! - in all their Swallowtail Kite goodness over a field in Florida.

And then we have the Snail Kites - gotta love these guys, too. We ran into a family of adults and juveniles, the latter probably in the last few days of being able to hang with their parents. The male brought the female a lovely snail, and then commenced to woo her with a courtship flight that was pretty neat. He would fly up, tuck his wings, stall out, drop, and then start the pattern all over again. It was kind of like a drunken woodpecker flight, actually, just with more height.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Florida Part 2: White Egrets and Herons 101

Florida can be a great place to learn your birds. If you haven't been there, I highly recommend at least one trip. Fall and winter are the best months, as many of the birds from other parts of the country spend their time in Florida. However, many of them look similar enough to be difficult to identify. The following are five pictures of egrets or herons. See how many you can identify. Don't cheat and scroll down until you take at least a moment to look at them.

How did you do? Number 1 was probably easy - the Great Egret. They tend to have dark to black legs and feet, and their bill is not as heavy as a Great Blue Heron.

Number 2 is a little more difficult. It is actually a juvenile Little Blue Heron. The adult is at left here.
Number 3 is a Cattle Egret. The tip off on this one is that it is in breeding plumage with that peachy color on the head and chest.
Number 4 is a Snowy Egret. Though it is similar in size to a Cattle Egret, it has a black and yellow bill, and black and yellow legs.
Number 5 is a specialty that I only see in Florida. It is actually a white morph Great Blue Heron, often called "Wurdemann's" Heron. One of the ways I can tell this bird from a Great Egret is the very heavy bill in proportion to the rest of the head.
I also threw in a photo that had two species together - the Great Egret and the Snowy Egret.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Florida part 1: Gannet Rescue

Reier and I got back from a slightly wet and stormy vacation in Florida. We had a great time, and a few stories to share.

Our very first day there, we were at the beach (of course!) and had a great Florida bird sighting. We have had brief, faraway glimpses of Northern Gannets in the past, skimming over the ocean. It was a species I had always hoped to see a little more in detail.

I was reading as Reier yelled at me to look in the water. There was a Northern Gannet! I started to take some photos, excited for the opportunity to see this great bird fairly close. However, the waves were four to six feet high due to the winds and a series of storms in the area.

It became clear very quickly that the bird might be in distress. It flapped and appeared to try to lift itself out of the water, but would barely get above it, and would fall back down. The waves were also crashing over the bird, and it was quite wet.

The right wing also looked as if it was not getting full extension. Reier and I felt we should try to find out if the bird was injured or just exhausted from all of its efforts in the waves.

Reier bravely went in and as carefully as possible got the bird on shore. Once there, I carefully folded the wings in and tucked the bird in a towel. We were aware of a great rehabilitation center not far away - Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, FL. Reier had brought a Royal Tern in a few years ago that he had found injured on the beach. We called them and asked if it would be best to just dry the bird off, and leave it on the beach, or if it were better to bring it in for them to examine. We were told that since the bird was a migrant in the area, they definitely wanted to see it. (From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birds of North America, there are only 6 well-established colonies in North America: 3 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Qu├ębec, and 3 in the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland.)

We brought the bird in. It was a second year bird, as we had guessed from the plumage.

How does the story end? Well, the bird turned out to be fine. It was dehydrated so it was given fluids and fed. It also had internal and external parasites. The only sad part was that our phone number had gotten written down incorrectly, so we were called to be the taxi to take the bird back to where we found it, and they couldn't get a hold of us. But - we thank the nice folks at Busch for letting us know what happened, and appreciate the good work that they do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mad Mockingbirds (no Englishmen) and more

Hope at least a few of you are old enough to get the reference in the title . . .

If you haven't checked out the Science Daily site, you should bookmark it. Lots of great articles on the environment, and on birds in particular. If there has been a paper of note written, they generally have an article about it. In reference to the title of this blog, there is an interesting article on Northern Mockingbirds, and a study in Florida how they seem to recognize different humans.

Reier and I are off to Florida tomorrow! Need some R and R after spring term classes. Reier will also be studying for the state nursing board exams - wish him luck! Found out the NFL owners are also meeting in Fort Lauderdale. Hmm. I wonder if Reier is up for crashing that event? Might be fun to throw spitballs at Jerry Jones and try to hide Al Davis' glasses. And to just find anyone from the Baltimore Ravens and tell them how much I hate them. ;)

Actually a lot of NFL news lately - the NFL Network will probably be carried by Comcast, AND I won't have to listen to Tony Kornheiser any longer. I am fascinated how Gruden will be able to convey his thoughts in words, and not glowering. Great article on the Steelers' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on their website. God bless that guy. Here is a photo of my ridiculously talented strong safety Troy Polamalu:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ritter Farm May 17

I started out the morning with gloves on. Did I mention it was May 17? Even for MN, that is terribly wrong. However, getting some great birds in the nets at Ritter Farm sure helps warm you up. That, and walking a lot to check the nets. It also got up to almost 80, and I did get a sunburn for the day.

Here is a great bird. Fellow bander Roger promised one of these - a Blue-winged Warbler. We got it seven minutes before the time we were scheduled to close up. No living with this guy now.

Also got both sexes of Common Yellowthroat. Banding sure teaches you a lot. The feather definition on this species is hard to see. This species is often so close to the ground, near water, and hard to find in the reeds. As far as that goes - any warbler at all is usually tough to appreciate. More often than not, you get a nice view of their undercarriage and that is about all.

Being interested in birds - and bird banding - has made me really interested in weather patterns. There is a huge link to what is going on with weather fronts, and what kinds of migration movement you can see and expect. NEXRAD radar is one way we can "see" some of the migrations that happen at night. We can tell approximately how many birds are moving, and where. We can see how some will travel over water at night, and then towards daylight, move back over land to rest and forage. It is good information for habitat or other planning around the migration paths. Here is a neat tutorial on NEXRAD.

getting started


I suppose it was inevitable that I would end up being a part of the blogging community at some point. I doubt I will add that much to the overall body of knowledge with my postings, but perhaps this will bridge the distance a bit for my poor friends who do not see me as much due to the multitude of activities I engage in.

Spoiler: The posts will most likely be chock-full of birdy goodness, and very little about much else. Oh, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. There will be lots and lots of info on them. Especially as we get closer to the official 2009 season. Or when training camp gets under way. Well, actually, there might be other things, too. I hope I am multi-dimensional enough to cover a few more topics. But lots of birds. And Steelers.

And so it begins . . . .