Monday, June 29, 2009

Purple Martins

I am really excited about the opportunity to be involved in another new experience! Purple Martins are birds that are colony nesters - meaning, they prefer to live almost like humans in apartments. I was able to visit a colony maintained by some very nice folks outside the metro area. What a wonderful experience to grow up with these birds, as the gentleman who worked with us did. His father had been maintaining Purple Martin houses since he was very young. They, in turn, had introduced their grandkids to the birds, so the ideas of being a part of nature and conservation are being handed down.
As you can see from the first few pictures, the adults were hard at work bringing food in to their chicks. The photo of many Martins is actually a small part of the colony that was maintained.
We were there to band the chicks, before they left the nest. It was a delicate business - they really can't be banded before they are at least 14 days old, and probably only up to about 20 days old. Any younger, and the fat that is stored along their legs as they develop will make their legs the incorrect size for the bands. As you can see from the pin feathers coming in, only someone like Mark with 20+ years of banding experience can do this safely. Note the two different bands on the legs as he takes a wing measurement - the color band is for a colony study, to see if we can find out where they go when they are adults and leave the colony.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flying Part 2

So - the next day Reier and I went out to check on the progress of the Peregrine. He had made it back to the parking ramp of the building he was fledged off of. It was rainy and not optimal flying weather. Here is a view of the city from where he was. He also demonstrates why Peregrines are kings of the sky, not on concrete - they are not as graceful running as they are flying. The parents knew where he, and the rest of his siblings, were. The next several days they will encourage the youngsters to try to catch prey that they will drop in the air. They will fly by and try to coax them to try their own wings. It won't take long!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Learning to Fly Part 1

June means Peregrines! Rememer the post/photos about three weeks ago of little puffy balls with long talons? Well, those birds are now about six weeks old, and attempting that miracle of flight. This bird is a male, as big as he is going to get, but showing that distinctive brown plumage of the juvenile Peregrine. He was on the corner of a building about a block from where her nest box was in the Minneapolis metro area. Two of his siblings were still at the nestbox on this day. I will post some more photos tomorrow of her. He had made it back to the building he was fledged off of, but not exactly sure how to get as high up as his parents.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bobolink wonder

I get asked often why I find bird banding so fascinating. There is some personal pleasure in the things I get to see and learn by having the birds in the hand, so close up. The real reason, though, is being a part of something that truly contributes to the body of knowledge of what we know about birds. It is really important to not just guess when we try to decide what habitats they need, where they go when they migrate, etc. Banding an individual and then being fortunate enough to actually recover THAT SAME BIRD tells us so much. A perfect example happened this weekend. Last year on June 1, a male Bobolink was banded in a field area in Minnesota. On June 20 of this year, that same bird was recovered. On the exact same hill in that field. In between the time we saw him last year, he had made a 12,500 mile trip south of the equator to his wintering grounds in South America. This species is one of concern. The Birds of North America lists concerns such as, "being shot as agricultural pests in the southern United States, trapped and sold as pets in Argentina, and collected as food in Jamaica. The species is not as abundant as it was several decades ago, primarily because of changing land-use practices, especially the decline of meadows and hay fields."

A note on their biology - Bobolinks are polygynous and was one of the first species in which multiple paternity (females laying a clutch of eggs sired by more than one male) was documented.

The photos I have here are of two males sitting on the same branch, essentially, in this field. There were three in the area - the one that was retrapped was not one of these two males. A female did fly in, with what appears to be an insect or something, perhaps to feed young. In Minnesota, Bobolinks arrive in May, and have left by July, so their breeding season is very short. The last photo is of the famous male. If you check out the BONA online, the male that is featured from me is that male that was banded last year.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Birds of North America online

Bit of a banner day for me as a photographer and contributor to things bird-y. The Birds of North America (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) accepted quite a few submissions from me to include on their site! I chose photos that might not necessarily be portrait shots, but ones instead that showed either a behavior or juvenile or something that was not already shown on the site. I actually ended up being mentioned on the Homepage - that's kinda cool! Friend Sharon took a couple of screen shots of the site. The first one is the Homepage - you see my name if you click on the image to enlarge it.

Second one is an Orchard Oriole that I took banding last year, and what it looks like when you enlarge the photo. (Right now there is a link to the Flickr site I set up for the BONA contact - it will change to this blog address.) Following two photos were just two I had sent in - a Common Moorhen with chicks, and a Short-tailed Hawk with a pigeon. The latter I was a bit proud of, as you rarely get to see that species perched. The species that I now have photos published on the site are: Acorn Woodpecker, Black-necked Stilt, Bobolink, Common Moorhen, Common Myna, Florida Scrub-Jay, Gray Kingbird, Little Blue Heron, Loggerhead Shrike, Marsh Wren, Orchard Oriole, Pileated Woodpecker, Plumbeous Vireo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Swainson's Thrush and Swamp Sparrow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Slow Birding Days

Breeding season is underway, and though there are some youngsters out, most birds are tucked in and raising their families. Thus, it's been a slow week as far as birding experiences. Here are a few photos of birds that have been to the feeders and continue to hang out in the area.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Crosby BioBlitz, or Ooey Gooey Bluey Goodness

Great weather for banding today! There was a BioBlitz at Crosby Farms Park in St Paul. This is a great way to get a snapshot in time of the inventory of birds, invertebrates, plants, fungi and anything else living in the area. I helped out with the banding. We saw, as expected, the majority of birds were breeders in the area. They had broodpatches, cloacal protuberances (cover the kids's eyes and ears, but basically what makes a man, manly) and one even had the start of an egg forming in her body. We had three Indigo Buntings - all you need is a black velvet background for these guys, huh? You just didn't know how many shades of electric blue there could be. It is often hard to note some things unless the bird is in the hand - look at that bi-colored bill.

And we had three American Redstarts - two adult males, and one male who was hatched last year. He looks quite a bit different - note all the yellow and gray. I do like these birds - they are so tiny, but have a very long tail. Take a look at the rictal bristles, especially on that young male. It is a way for them to help detect their insects (food).

File Under Strange But True

Here is one that is just too strange to make up. This week The Raptor Center had an interesting patient. It was a Great Horned Owl, who would have one heck of a story to tell if she could talk. She was accidentally hit by an SUV, and actually became trapped just behind the bumper, in front of the wheel well. The car was taken to a body shop to remove the wheel panel and get the owl out. Turns out she just has a fractured radius, and had surgery, so keep your fingers crossed. Here is a shout out to why we band birds - from the band on this particular bird, we know she actually has already spent some time in the clinic. In 2007, she came in after being found hanging over a body of water. She had a fish hook stuck in the equivalent of her wrist, which was removed.

KARE11 came out and filmed it. Here is a link to the story and there is a video here, too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Steelers and NFL Update

Okay - I know you've all been waiting for this like I have. Today is the day they unveil the Steelers SuperBowl XLIII ring design! Isn't it fantastic?!?! Recognizes all six SuperBowls. It's stylish as well as tasteful. I'm so proud all over again! I had the amazing experience of being able to see replicas of the other five rings at the Football Hall of Fame last year. It is pretty amazing to see them up close.

The Steelers have also posted their 2009 training camp schedule here. They have always been good about inviting the fans to come out and watch parts of practices. Single game tickets go on sale June 20. Reier and I are going to try to catch the last regular season game on January 3 in Miami, since we will most likely be in Florida then.

Speaking of getting ready for the 2009 season - I am fairly intrigued with the rush of teams to copycat each other. First with the conversion to the 3-4 defense like yours truly has employed successfully for a while now. Good luck on being efficient on the first few years with that. It is a completely different mind set, plays, and player-body types, and it doesn't happen overnight. I am also going to see just how many teams start using the Wildcat offense. For those who are interested, Wikipedia has as good an explanation as any here. Basically, the snap goes directly to the running back or half back and so in essence it makes things a bit more interesting for the defense. The ball can go to the guy in motion, or that guy can go to the weak side and throw a block. The quarterback (at receiver) himself may throw a block or go out for a pass. If you have players who were pretty versatile in college, this is not a bad idea to have in the playbooks.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Peregrine Menu Items

I led some hardy souls today on an outing to see a couple of the Peregrine Falcon nest sites. Cold (49 degrees) and rainy, but the adults were about. One of my favorite things to do is to find out what they might be eating. It actually is good information for management decisions on the birds, as well as knowledge of natural biology.

Reier and I collected some bits that were just around one of the nest boxes in the city. As the bits were from birds protected by migratory bird laws, we did leave them there once we photographed them.

The first photo is of two skulls - a Blue Jay, and a Northern Flicker. See the difference in the bill shape?

The next couple of photos are of some bits lined up together. In the first picture there are some castings (solid waste that the birds regurgitated), some Blue Jay and pigeon feathers, a radius and ulna (basically the same bones in your forearm), and a combination of feet. There are four different feet here - there is one with a band that is actually from a privately-owned pigeon, one foot with lobed toes that is most likely a Pied-billed Grebe, and two others. I am checking with a couple of experts so I do not mis-identify - check the blog for info! The last photo is a couple of wings - two are from pigeons, and the third is another I am getting confirmation on. Lots of variety for the chicks!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Steelers and telephone poles

Stay with me - the posting title will make sense in time. We haven't talked about the Steelers for a bit. There are OTA's right now - Organized Team/Training Activites going on right now. The veterans/starters aren't doing a whole lot other than mentoring, but it's a good time to take a look at your rookies, and to slot in some guys to fill holes from free agency. I am ridiculously excited about Lawrence Timmons being my new starting inside linebacker. I have to admit I am a little nervous about all the focus on my wideouts. Being a Steelers fan, the offense is not my focus. But - I suppose if my offense wants to stay on the field longer, it just keeps my defense a little more rested. I do like the look of Mike Wallace, and Limas Sweed looks like he is catching on.

For birds, I thought about how many I see utilizing telephone poles - raptors as well as woodpeckers, for example. And not just here - Arizona has the Harris' Hawk and the Acorn woodpecker. (Note the latter using the poles as basically a verticle pantry for acorn storage.) Not exactly a natural feature, but they do afford a good look out point.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Peregrines 2009

The banding season for Peregrine Falcons in the Twin Cities is underway! For most of you reading this blog, you know this initiative, and this species, is near and dear to my heart. The cooperation and innovations that came about due to bringing this species from the brink of extinction to being incredibly successful is just awe inspiring. Last week, the Peregrine chicks from the Colonnade building in St Louis Park, MN were banded. There were four, which was typical for that site.

You can see from the picture of the chick on the table that wing feathers are starting to come in - they are the gray shafts on the wing. The chicks were about three weeks old, which was a perfect time to band. Their legs were the size to judge easily if they were male or female. You can see the two different bands that are put on the chicks' legs - the purple band is a US Fish and Wildlife Service (federal) band that has more numbers that would probably be easy to read with a spotting scope. The second band, called a project or color band, has only a few numbers or letters in a sequence. They are either black over green or black over red. There is a great website that the public can check bands or individual birds, sites and other great information, at Midwest Peregrine. By the way, the first nesting attempt for this site was 1991, and as of last year, there were 58 young produced from this site.

These photos are of the female flying. The photo at left is of the window washer box that is used to lower the banders near the nest box, to gather the chicks. The parent is obviously very protective of the nest box and the chicks. The banders do not keep the chicks for long, and the information that we have been able to gather to provide opportunities for this species to recover is well worth the small time of discomfort.
The last photos are from the banding at the Wells Fargo building in Bloomington, MN. There were five chicks at this site. They were a few days younger than the chicks at the Colonnade. The bulges that you see at their chests are their crops - full from a recent meal. The down feathers do not cover the skin, so the full crops are easy to see. The first year for attempted nesting at this location was 1997, and as of last year there were 35 young produced.