Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vulture Visitors

Anyone who has followed my blog for long knows that I love vultures. I first saw them at the Falls of the Ohio, and love telling our visitors more about vultures than they ever want to know. At Raptor Rehab, we have two Turkey Vultures among our educational birds, and the wild vultures often come to  visit. The first time I saw this, I panicked, thinking that EO had escaped from his cage! How many vultures do you count in the trees above the Center?

Black Vultures are smaller than Turkey Vultures, with a 5' wingspan instead of 6'. They have black heads, of course, and a white patch at the tip of each wing. Their tails are shorter, and they have to flap more often than the Turkey Vultures, but they are still good fliers.

They don't have a good sense of smell, but find their food with their excellent eyesight. While a Turkey Vulture can find food by smelling it through the trees, the Black Vulture tends to hunt in river valleys, lowlands and open areas where they have a better field of vision. When dead fish wash ashore at the Falls of the Ohio, the Black Vultures descend for the feast. Black Vultures watch Turkey Vultures to follow them to a carcass found by their sensitive sense of smell. Then the Black Vultures chase them away from the meal. Black Vultures have also been known to actually kill newborn calves.

Baby vultures are cute and fluffy, just adorable! Since their parents don't actually build a nest, people find them on the ground and assume that they have been abandoned by their parents, when the parents are just out looking for a nice smelly carcass. Thinking they are saving these cute little birds, the people take them home, and the bird becomes "imprinted" on people. In other words, the chick think it's a person, and looks to people for food, help, etc. In a few months, of course, they are no longer cute little chicks, but full grown Black Vultures.

This fall we received two such imprinted Black Vultures at the Raptor Rehab Center. They are perfectly healthy, but can't be released into the wild because they really don't understand how to be wild birds. Vultures have bad reputations as a general rule, since they scavenge carrion. But Black Vultures have worse reputations than Turkey Vultures as they tend to be more aggressive.  All vultures will bite, and our Turkey Vultures don't like me. Our directors are trying to find another licensed raptor center that would like to have a nice imprinted Black Vulture for their program, but so far we've had no interest. John decided to put jesses on them this week to start the "manning down" process, and I got to help!  As you can see, I was very excited to work with this bird! It didn't bite me even once, although our director reminded me that they get more bitey when they start producing hormones.

So if any of you know of a LICENSED rehabilitator who would be interested in adding a Black Vulture to their cast of birds for educational programs, please get in touch with Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky, Inc.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Wishes

It's nice to take a break from Christmas shopping and cleaning and planning, and go birding instead. December is a good time for birding, since the birds are easily visible in the bare branches, but quickly moving weather systems make photography a challenge. The sun comes and goes on mountains of clouds.

Louisville set a record for rainfall in 2011. Can you tell what this photo is? Small trees reflected in the standing water look like some abstract art to me.

Some times a variety of ducks float on the temporary ponds at Garvin Brown Preserve, but today only Mallards were there, cruising in for a landing.

This little Kestrel can be seen often, but he's wary of people, and flies off whenever I try to sneak up for a closer photo. The gray sky reduces the light available, so I get good silhouettes, but not much for closeups.

As I followed the Kestrel across the field, a Red Shouldered Hawk called from beyond the fence row. He must have felt more self-confident and didn't fly off till I walked completely beyond his perch. I always hope that none of the raptors I see flying wild will end up at the Rehab Center.

Robins are not deterred by bad weather, and large numbers of them ate the crab apples. Apparently the fruit was just ripe enough for them!

Finding enough to survive the cold must be a high priority in the life of a bird, no matter where they live. I read that Chickadees can lower their body temperature from 108 degrees Fahrenheit to a low of 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. It takes a lot less energy to keep a chickadee's body at 50 degrees than at 108 degrees. The birds in my neighborhood make their rounds of the feeders together. Either I have no birds in the yard, or lots of them! I fill the feeders with good sunflower seeds and peanuts, and by the next morning most need filling again. I saw a mystery bird and the field guide identified it as a tan morph White Throated Sparrow. Don't think I've ever seen one of those before.

Earlier this month I bought a wreath with fresh greenery from Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve. Weeks later though, much of it dried and fell out, so I cut some new from our yard - pine, coral bell seeds and oak leaf hydrangea!  All my other decorations are artificial, so I'm very pleased with this wreath.

I hope you have enjoyed this break from frantic holiday preparations. We are so blessed and all our family will be home this year, including our new grandson and a new daughter-in-law to-be, along with Brian's mother and brother. I wish the best to each of you too!

There's more, much more to Christmas
Than candle-light and cheer;
It's the spirit of sweet friendship
That brightens all the year;
It's thoughtfulness and kindness,
It's hope reborn again,
For peace, for understanding
And for goodwill to men!
                                                       - Anonymous

Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Stay Warm

It's December, and the Weather Channel is starting to show some really cold temps. Not in Kentucky, thanks goodness, but we will get our share of the cold stuff before long. So I thought this would be a good time to share some tips on how to stay warm. Our feathered friends would immediately say to "Keep your feathers fluffed up." This collects body heat, and makes you look really tough!

Eating properly is important too.  This brave bird ducked behind the icicles one winter to get plenty of good oil sunflower seeds. The fat in seeds and suet is important to avian metabolism in the winter. Of course, people like it too - disguised as cookies!

If you don't have feathers, a fluffy tail serves the same purpose. Just curl up in your nest and wrap that long tail around yourself to keep warm.

Hydration is important in the cold too, but someone has to keep the heater plugged in for the bird bath. For humans, a hot shower feels great when you come in from the cold.

Pippin and Binx say you should always find someone warm to sleep with, and a 19 pound furry cat makes a terrific chair warmer. Sometimes I see Pippin with his "arm" over his smaller buddy Binx.

But, if all else fails, Binx goes for the mechanical heaters - such as the cable box. There's always enough heat coming from the box to make napping comfortable even if the surface is hard.
Of course, as an experienced birder, I recommend dressing in layers when you have to go out in the cold - long underwear, wool socks (I get mine at Bass Pro), boots to keep your feet dry, sweater, fleece lined jacket, gloves, and hat. Keeping out of the wind is always a good idea too.  A warm fireplace when you get back inside is delightful - just remember to close the flue when the fire goes out! I like to pull a double thick fleece blanket up to my neck when watching TV.

To help warm up the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus this season, they asked Calgarians to tweet their tips on how to keep warm in Calgary's winter wonderland, and put them all to music - Carmina Burana, one of my favorites.  It's a good thing they added subtitles though!

If you have suggestions for keeping warm, please comment to this post with them, and thanks! We can use all the help we can get.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

When I Am Gone

This week a friend described as the Mother Teresa of her church lost her battle with cancer. As with any memorial service, I learned things I'd never known about her, but everyone agreed about this. I've often thought of her as the only person who qualified for sainthood in my life.  Ethel worked as an elementary school secretary, and taught Sunday School to children at church for many years. Dick helped her at church and became very close to her. When our children were young and I became frustrated, Ethel said that when children deserve your love the least is when they need it the most. She always put things back in perspective.
Dick, Mary Beth and the baby went to see her the Friday before she died, and were so glad they did. She got to hold the baby and smiled and laughed with all of them. Her daughter said that visits from friends kept her going.

I learned that Ethel wrote poetry, and the family handed out booklets of her works.  Here is the one they read at the service that had everyone reaching for a tissue.

When I Am Gone

When I am gone and you walk alone,
Know that I am near
To share those special moments
So do not shed a tear.

When you see a rainbow, a gay butterfly,
Or see a hummingbird flitting by,
When you walk through the falling
Of huge flakes of snow
Or hear rumbling thunder, then you will know
That I am close beside you
Smiling in delight.

Then turn and share this moment
With someone you hold dear
So smile with me and share my joy
And wipe away a tear.

Good-bye my friend. Keep an eye on us from heaven please.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

December Sunset

I haven't posted anything for a while, and can't really remember what I've been doing to inhibit posting. This week we went to an evening program at the Falls and I didn't take my camera, which is always a mistake, even if you plan to go immediately into the building.

Saturday was a beautiful afternoon though, so I got a second chance to record the sunset. I love watching the changing colors. The river is very high since it rained several day last week all though the Ohio Valley. The weather service thinks we could set a new record for annual rainfall in 2011. When the sun goes down though, the river turns from muddy brown to silver.

The first part of the renovation at the Interpretive Center is complete, and visible through the window as you drive into the park.

In addition to being beautiful, the glass sculptures all have meaning as well, but I haven't learned all those details yet. Someday....

You can enjoy the sunset directly or indirectly reflected in the large observation windows.

Geese circled overhead, honking as they searched for a quiet spot to spend the night...

...while Lewis and Clark commemorate their beginnings in the Louisville area with a handshake...

...and the city skyline sparkles as night falls. All this and I still made it home by 6:30!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Raptors at the Falls

Knowing the wind would be cold and blustery at the Falls of the Ohio in November, we dressed warmly and joined the Beckham Bird Club on a Saturday morning bird walk. We hit the jackpot today for raptors, sighting a Peregrine Falcon, three American Kestrels, a Cooper's Hawk, and a Red Shouldered Hawk camouflaged at the top of a tree snag.

It was bound to be a great day when this juvenile Bald Eagle soared over the parking lot as we got out of the car! It was considerate enough to circle around a few times till I got my camera out and turned on.

A few minutes later, we spotted a second juvenile Eagle, and for a while, both were visible at the same time as they walked around on the fossil beds. Remember, it takes five years for a Bald Eagle to mature and get its white head and tale, but until then, they have varying amounts of white on their wings and body. This one has quite a lot of white on its belly.

We only saw one or two vultures this morning, which is unusual for the Falls, but it was easy to distinguish the flat wings of the eagle from the dihedral of the vultures.

Before we left at the end of the morning, one eagle swooped over the water with his feet extended and grabbed a fish out of the water. The gulls scattered thinking he was coming after them instead!

We climbed to the top of the levee, as as we caught our breath, a Kestrel swooped around, flashing his wings, then landed on a perch next to a female which is probably his mate. A third Kestrel flew off in another direction. What a wonderful way to start the day!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Glacier Run

Traditionally, our family goes to the Louisville Zoo in spring or summer, but the sun shined so warm and bright today, that we decided to take the grand baby for his first visit (of many) to the Zoo on his 6-week birthday.  My daughter volunteered there while in high school, and worked during the summers while in college, so she's very familiar with the ins and outs. It was like having a private tour!
The Glacier Run exhibit has been under construction for several years (at least it seems that long to me), and it was well worth the wait. Before, there was simply a large pool for the few polar bears, and they seldom seemed to be out when we were there.
I was surprised to find two grizzly bears when we walked into the surrogate Alaskan village of Glacier Run! They chased each other around, jumping into the water, and vigorously shaking the water off again! The Zoo website identifies them as Otis and Rita, one year old cubs. Their mother Inga lives at the Zoo as well, but she chilled out in her room during our visit.
The Louisville Zoo works hard to keep their new residents engaged. We watched the keepers hiding food around the exhibit for 26 year old Arki to find. They have an excellent sense of smell, so she had no problem finding the food. Sometimes they give her a paper bag with just the scent in it. She stands in one spot just moving her nose around, sniffing, then walks off to find...
...a nice fish, or maybe her favorite un-natural snack - a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Her tongue and all skin are black to help retain heat. Her fur is hollow and tends to reflect whatever color is nearby, so they don't always look white.

Qannik was born in January 2011 and rescued on Alaska’s North Slope in April. She took up temporary residence at the Alaska Zoo before moving to her permanent home in Louisville in June. She enjoys a constantly changing set of toys and enrichment items in Bear Alley. It doesn’t take her long to figure them out, push them around and make a wild playground of barrels, tubs, balls, igloo, tubes and hay. The windows to Bear Alley were originally completely covered and are still being slowly unveiled to allow for Qannik’s ongoing acclimation to Bear Alley and the full wall of glass windows. This same strategy was used very effectively with the grizzly bear family, Inga, Otis and Rita.
We can't miss the elephant barn on any Zoo trip, since Mary Beth worked there and knows both Punch and Mikki up close and personally! In fact, Mikki gave Mary Beth her ring when Brian proposed.
Remember that song from Oklahoma! about the corn being as high as an elephant's eye?  That's what I hummed as I looked at Mikki's incredibly long eye lashes. But no amount of skin softener would smooth our her wrinkles though.

As we stood by them chatting with the elephant keepers, Mikki moved her trunk around, trying to sniff out a treat from one of the humans. I was amazed at the size and flexibility of her trunk.
Statues of the various animals are strategically placed for good photo ops, and we took advantage of this baby elephant for Kittrick's first photo at the zoo!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Silent Hike

Somehow, I haven't gotten out for a good walk for a long time. The Naturalists in Training at Bernheim enjoyed a fall retreat this weekend, and I joined them for a while. After Dick's presentation on Aldo Leopold, we all went out for a silent hike. It's easy to be silent when you walk alone, but much more difficult when a group goes out.
The first frost of the season coated every branch and twig along the trail. As the sun rose, the frost became shining pearls of dew strung on a necklace of spider webs. Click any photo for a larger version. One of the NIT's share her favorite poem before we set out. I'd never heard it before and want to share it with all of you.

Lost, by David Wagoner.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Of course, moss isn't always a bright moss green. Sometimes it resembles a lichen more than anything else.
Everyone in the group notices something different, which they are allowed to share with motions only. This salamander looks cold to me. How do they spend the winter? I wonder if this temperature drop caught him by surprise.
Be silent and let the light and colors speak to you as you walk through the forest.