Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Barn Owl camera!

Okay - you just have to check this out - real-time peek at a Barn Owl in a nest box!

A barn owl couple in California has given birth to a family and a fan club.
Two years ago, Carlos and Donna Royal made an owl box, put it on top of a 15-foot pole in their northern San Diego County back yard and hooked up a video camera. Barn owls Molly and McGee moved into the box in January and started a family.
Since ustream.tv/theowlbox debuted, it's had more than 3 million hits. More than 17,000 people watched as the first owlet hatched on March 21. A fourth baby owl hatched Sunday, with one egg remaining.
The Royals have named the babies Max, Pattison, Austin and Wesley.

Peregrines and chemicals

Deja vu all over again. Another report on chemicals that we produce being found in the eggs of Peregrine Falcons. This time it is two chemicals that are becoming widely used replacements for potentially toxic flame retardants in household products such as televisions and furniture.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Misc - Gannets and Juncos

Thanks to friend Becky for sending a couple of links to interesting articles. One relates to Gannets, a fave of mine. The other has to do with the topic of sense of smell in birds, which is always one where we are finding new information. In particular, Juncos!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Banding Lowry march 20

The weather held out at banding today! We had 37 birds - 33 newly banded and 4 retraps. A couple of notable retraps were a female Downy Woodpecker who had been banded at Lowry as a HY (Hatch Year) bird in October of 2005. There was also a female Hairy Woodpecker who was originally banded as a SY (Second Year) bird in April 2007.

Oddly, we had more Juncos today than we had all year. And this is about the time we start to see fat stores on the birds, indicating their preparation for return to northern breeding grounds.

This first bird (two photos) had a very dark hood around the head. It also had brown feathers just on the back, in the scapular area. Makes one wonder a bit if there might be Dark-eyed Junco in the bird's family tree a generation or so back.

This last photo shows one of the toes on this Junco had frostbite damage - see the pink skin and light nail?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NE part 2

Had a moment to find a few photos from the trip. Here are a couple that show the cranes all coming in at night to the Platte. Obviously the light was not great - we had some crummy weather, and no good sunsets.

This shows the cranes from a vantage point of a blind that is on a bluff overlooking them. They are in the Platte, and are milling about, deciding when they will leave and start feeding for the day in a nearby field. We were so scared we were making noise right away in the blind. When the birds stayed. . . and stayed . . . and stayed, we actually were hoping that one of the young bald eagles who was frequenting the area would make another pass just to get the cranes to start their day sooner. Some of us really had to hit the bathrooms.

The cranes did a lot of dancing in the fields. They are basically either creating pair bonds, or reigniting the hormones.
Can you tell what is in this picture? Mostly Snow Geese, but some Greater White-fronted, with some Ross' Geese mixed in.

Monday, March 15, 2010

NE part 1

Just got back from my yearly visit to Kearney, NE to say hello to several hundred thousand friends who are just passing through town. The annaul crane migration is truly one of the most spectacular things you can hope to see in your life. More than one person has been brought to tears with the sheer number and sound of the birds all moving overhead - either to or from the Platte River. It is going to take a little bit to get through all the photos I took to clean out the undesirables. In the meantime, since I did not have a blog last year, I am going to post just a couple of high points from the past couple of years.

Two years ago, was with a tour group, and we spotted a Common Crane in with the Sandhills. Turns out the bird had been seen 8 years before we had seen it, but had not been seen for 2. The speculation is that this bird had joined the Sandhills somewhere in Siberian breeding grounds, where the two species overlap. You can clearly pick it out here in this group. Apparently, only a couple of dozen sightings of a Common Crane have been recorded in North America.

And then there was the Whooping Crane juvenile who we spotted last year. It had joined up with Sandhills. you can still see some orange plumage to show that it was not quite yet a year old.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Barn Swallows and Secrets of Youth

With all of the money humans spend on vitamins and other things to keep healthy, and the money spent on research to just take a pill and be healthy without working at it, who knew all we needed to do was take a page from the Barn Swallows' book? Turns out that Barn Swallows, despite all of the energy reserves spent on migration, are able to maintain a high level of antioxidants that aid in reproduction all on their own. Read about it here. When I took the Ornithology class at the U of M a few years ago, we talked about another aspect to breeding fitness that Barn Swallows were able to display. Turns out that if you are a male, and your tail was extra long, the chicks totally dug you. They somehow knew that this was an outward sign that your genes were able to help your chicks be more immune to nest mites. Read the paper where this was first published.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More TE birds

Here are a few more. in order: Saffron Finch, Turquoise Tanager, female Golden-headed Manakin and Blue Dacni. Quite a range of body size, shape, and especially bill size. When birds live in a climate where a particular food source is available year round, they can start to specialize and evolution favors the particular bill, for example, that is most suited for that food.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tropical Encounters at Como Zoo

If these do not look like typical Minnesota birds, you would be correct. I volunteer at Como Zoo in St Paul, and really do not take advantage of the great birds and exhibit of Tropical Encounters. After my lens defogged from the humidity, I took a few shots of some of the great birds. The first three are shots of Paradise Tanagers. They are actually fairly common in the western and northern Amazon Basin in South America.

This next bird is so cool - a Golden-headed Manakin. It is pretty tiny, but packs quite a bit of personality! This one was preening just a few inches from me.