Monday, June 27, 2011

Fledging Wrens

Carolina Wren are wonderful little birds. They sing loudly and aren't afraid of anything. As posted earlier, a pair of Wrens took up residence in the gourd hanging outside our kitchen door this year.
During the last few weeks, they flew back and forth to the gourd, using the patio chairs as convenient perches.
Saturday evening we ate on the patio and noticed small chirps coming from the gourd. The next day, the parents made more noise than usual, with chirrs and scoldings, jumping from the chair to the table to the fence and back again.  Obviously, something was going on. Then I looked at the gourd from the shelter of our kitchen door, and saw two babies trying to decide if they should leave the nest. I hadn't expected to actually see the fledging, and boy was I excited!  I ran from kitchen to porch with camera in hand, trying to get photos that weren't too blurred by the dirty windows! With a tree nest, the chicks can "branch" or walk along the branches while they strengthen their wings by flapping. When they do try to fly, they can go short distances first. Cavity nesters don't have this option. Once they jump out, that's it. Their wings can't take them back up to the cavity, so you can understand the look of indecision on this little one's face.

Before I could press the shutter on my camera, he jumped down to the ground, looking around as if to say, "Well, I did it.  What next?"  His sibling jumped too, but I didn't get any good photos of him.

For a little guy who just took a long fall, he seems in good condition, and soon hopped back up to the step.  Note the short, almost non-existent tail feathers. "Oops! Did I do that?"

Then he flew/hopped to the top of the stepladder...

...back to the lawn chair...

...and finally out to the top of the swing in the yard, the last time I saw him. Dick said he found them near the log pile in the back of the yard.  They quickly knew to go to shelter.

One of the parents came to the gourd with a bug for the babies, and seemed surprised to find no one there!

But they continued to call encouragement to their brave children, while warning us big creatures to stay out of the way.  We carefully used the front door when we needed to go into the yard, so we  wouldn't accidentally step on one of the chicks, or get attacked by the parents.

Who else was watching this important step in a Wren's life?  Our cat Binx, of course.  Normally he's more interested in the chipmunks, but all this activity caught his eye.  He's the main reason we went out the front door, of course, since he's faster than anything if the porch door is open.

The parents continued to entice the chicks into the bushes at the back of the yard, calling and hopping from place to place.  Since the chicks reached their place of concealment and safety though, I haven't heard the parents nearly as much as in the last few weeks.  Maybe silence is safety for them too.


I turned a lot of individual photos into a Flash file. Let's see if I can get it to work!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday at the Falls of the Ohio

On a beautiful, non-humid Saturday, where else would I go but the Falls of the Ohio? The river is finally down enough that we can go on the upper fossil beds. The long awaited renovation of exhibits inside the Interpretive Center is under way.  We find the stuffed birds and animals from the lobby scattered through the rest of the building. Only the mastodon remains in its location, looking lonely without its friend the bison.
The mastodon will have to be moved too eventually, and how they got him lifted onto wheeled dollies is beyond me. He's a reproduction, not an actual bone skeleton, so I suppose his joints are firmly fastened together. But they certainly won't be able to move him through any doorways!

Hmmm, wonder how my new 24x zoom lens will do at the Falls?  It's about half a mile from the Interpretive Center to the wall of the dam, and of course, the birds I want to photograph are as far away as they can get. Here is a fisherman in the middle of the river at full zoom...

Here I've backed off a bit...

...and here you can see how far away things reallllly are!  Yes, I know I should be digiscoping to get the shots I want, but I'll see how this zoom does for the birds any way.

Fish swimming upstream run into the dam, so the vultures take advantage of the feast. Both Black and Turkey Vultures hang around on the rocks until warm air thermals are strong enough to soar into the air.

Great Blue Herons have a rookery just downstream a bit, so they fish here at the Falls all the time. Today they are joined by Black Crowned Night Herons and several Great Egrets. If you watch through the scope, you can actually see the fish struggling through the rapids, just to be caught by one of these patient fisherbirds. I don't think the human fishers have as much luck! (Click the picture for an enlargement. Looks pretty good considering how far away it is!)
But one of the white birds is much larger than the others, and has black tips to its wings.  The Kentucky bird list has reported an American Pelican at the Falls for the last several days, and I got to show him to our visitors. Yes, that's him on the left with the great big beak.  This is the third year now that we've had a solitary Pelican show up here for a while. Don't know if it's the same bird who decided he likes it here, or just a different young bird getting lost each time.

The bees are doing their job pollinating all the flowers, and the beds look much better since a bunch of us volunteers pulled most of the weeds.  No one has seen many butterflies this year though, and we wonder what's going on.
The river levels were higher than usual this spring, but some of my favorite trees are still hanging on.  I know that one year I will walk down the bank to find them gone, but not this year apparently.  Some of the dead trees used by Pileated Woodpeckers have disappeared though.
In grade school, I remember studying about the Nile River, and how it deposits silt each year to enrich the soil. Well, the Ohio River deposited much more silt this year than I recall seeing before. The silt looks like mud lava up to 6 or 8 inches deep, encroaching on our gravel paths.

Several visitors made remarks about the driftwood blocking walkways and paths. Here's the problem: wood floats. Plastic floats. Every time we clear some of it away in the spring, the river rises and brings more. We can't burn it, or push it back into the river. All we can do it try to cut through for the sidewalks, and push as much aside as we can. Next year, it will all float down to someone else's shore, and we'll get new driftwood. By the way, you can't collect rocks or fossils at the Falls of the Ohio, but you are welcome to take home as much driftwood as you can carry away!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Meet the Bluebirds

Meet Ann and Ben Bluebird, who live at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve in Goshen, KY, where I volunteer.  This week, I taught a group of campers about bird nests.  We examined empty nests of a Robin, Tree Swallow and Chickadee, looking at the different materials used in each.  But the good part was looking into live nests of Ann and Ben, and some neighboring House Wrens so the kids could actually see the chicks. They were thrilled with this new experience, and so was I.
While waiting for the children to finish their early morning activities, I had the wonderful opportunity to sit in the shade and watch Ann and Ben for a while going about their normal Bluebird activities. The task of the day is feeding the babies. We counted six hatchlings which were probably about two days old, since their eyes were still shut.

New chicks are all yellow beak and big eyes. When they think someone is bringing food, those mouths open right up, even if it's just some curious people. By the way, these boxes were donated by the Louisville Audubon Society for a Bluebird Trail at the Nature Preserve. People sponsored them as a Valentine's gift to their sweethearts, so we painted the names or initials of the sponsor on the box. After all, Bluebirds are very loving and devoted to their mates. Real lovebirds!
Bluebirds are wonderful parents, raising two or even three clutches in the summer if the food supply is good. Ben would fly towards the hole in the nest box...

...then wait his turn if Ann was there first.  They are pretty tolerant of people, and don't attack my campers when we peek inside the box, unlike the Tree Swallows.
OK, my turn now.  Which chick gets the bug next?

He seems to say, "Are you looking at me? Don't you have anything useful to do?" I was impressed by the variety of different worms and bugs they brought to the nest.
It was too dark in Ann and Ben's box to take a picture of their chicks, but this nest only has one freshly hatched and exhausted little chick.  By the end of the day, I expect that most of his siblings hatched out too.

While Ann and Ben were out hunting, their Chipping Sparrow neighbor perched on the wall by the nest box and sang joyously.  I don't know if the Bluebird chicks appreciated his song, but I certainly did! By the way, I just noticed that I have been posting to the blog for FIVE years now.  Wow, it sure went by fast, but it's great fun to go back and remember all the great experiences and birds that I've posted here, along with the wonderful blogger buddies I've met. Happy Anniversary to me!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Back to Bernheim Forest

Wait a minute...didn't I just do a post on Bernheim Forest last week?  Today I met members of the Daviess County Audubon Society who drove up from Owensboro, KY, for the day. Last autumn they visited the Falls of the Ohio, so I was glad to show them around another of my favorite birding spots. Temps were warm, but nowhere near the high 90's we've had all week.  The Barn Swallows are nesting under the porch at the Garden Pavilion, and we got a great look at the mothers and babies in their mud nests.  Then we saw something really odd.  An adult Swallow sat on the hot pavement, panting and looking ill.  Is it sick? we asked.  In a minute it was joined by a second bird, then a third, fourth and fifth sat on the hot, hot sidewalk.  I looked online, and saw one reference to this behavior speculating that they were trying to eliminate insects with the heat.  I dunno...anyone out there have any ideas?
Everyone was interested in Bernheim's LEEDS Platinum certified Visitor's Center with the green roof.  Yes, this photo doesn't look green, because it was taken during another time of year. Sorry 'bout that. But now, the roof has grass and all sorts of green plants. The Bernheim horticulturists continue to develop green roofing, testing it in plots on the property as well as on actual office buildings in downtown Louisville.
They work with different heat and drought tolerant plants, including many varieties of sedum, cactus and grasses, as well as combinations of "soil". A Living Roof is built in layers, including the structural roof of the building, a rubber membrane to keep water from reaching that roof, a root barrier and drainage mat, filter fabric, growing medium and plants.

The benefits of a Living Roof include improved air quality, slowing down the run off into city drainage systems after a rain, improving water quality, and creating inspiring landscapes.  They didn't mention a potential for wildlife habitat.  We found this Killdeer egg on one of the test roof platforms.  It was dead, but it showed that at least one kind of bird viewed this as a potential nesting site.

The target bird of the day was the Northern Quail, which I found easily last Saturday morning.  However, we started looking later in the afternoon, and had to search around the edges of the Big Prairie for them.  Finally, someone spotted the pair of small birds, and we followed them around like paparazzi after royalty!  Someone mentioned that these must be the most photographed birds at Bernheim - certainly a very true statement - but the Quail showed no stress and just went about their business as usual.

Up around the Education Building, we enjoyed a rest in the shade, and tried to find the Catbird taunting us from the low branches.  This Eastern Pond Hawk dragonfly was much more cooperative, as were several of his cousins of other species.

The final highlight of our day was the Purple Martins. Larry Melcher is a volunteer who is obsessed with these birds (no offense intended, Larry)  He maintains several colonies of gourds and other housing for these gregarious birds which rely on humans for nesting locations. Larry has appeared on both local and national television (the Martha Stewart Show) talking about them. If you look carefully at this bird's mouth, it is holding a piece of green leaf in it.

We expected the Martins to swoop around chasing and catching insects in the air, which they did.  Several of them seemed to be after the same large green insect, or so we thought. One would catch it, then it wiggled away, to be captured by the next bird. Imagine our surprise when this green insect finally fluttered to the ground and we discovered it to be merely a piece of green leaf!  The birds were playing catch with a leaf!! Look at this photo and you can see the pass off. Wren Smith says that if you take a nice fluffy feather and toss it in the air, the Martins love to play with it.  I know Larry flings crickets in the air for them to catch, but I didn't know they liked to play with anything not edible!

I like listening to the Purple Martins gossip as they sit on their perches and porches.  By the end of the afternoon, they all agreed that it was too hot to fly around just so I could have a movie. Just listen and they'll tell you all about it!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

From the Chipper's Point of View

Chip! Hello there and welcome to my world. My relatives and I live in the Garden of Eatin', although the tall two-legged creatures who share our world like to pretend it is their backyard.  Sure it is....  We keep them around as gardeners, but chipmunks are the dominant life species here. Chip!

We chipmunks are energetic beings, always on the hunt for something good to eat, and we eat many different things such as peanuts, insects, different types of grains, the eggs of certain birds, various types of fungi and even worms as well. Sometimes chipmunks also love bird seeds, dried or even fresh bananas, apples, peas, tomatoes, grapes, sweet corn, grass, cucumber, dried apricots, sunflower seeds etc. My gardeners have strict orders to keep sunflower seeds out for us all the time. They put them in bird feeders we can't reach, but it's OK.  The birds are glad to toss some to the ground to share with us. Sometimes we climb up on the sunflower plants and help ourselves to the seeds. Yummy! They are always better when they are fresh! When autumn comes, we stuff them in our cheek pouches to stash away in underground storage bins for the winter.

We share our Garden of Eatin' with the neighbors, and we all get along pretty well.  The squirrel tribe keeps to the trees for the most part, coming down to share the bounty of sunflower seeds. We invite the squirrels to our fence races sometimes, but they don't want to participate.  The wooden fence around our Garden makes a great race track for us speedy chipmunks.

We chipmunks are intelligent creatures, and our spiritual needs are met by Brother Brown, a Chip Monk.  We tithe our seeds to the Church of Chiptymonk, and he prays for us.  Like other idyllic places, we have to watch constantly for the evil Cat demon. The Cat demon hides and spies on us.  Sometimes our teenage chipmunks dare each other to taunt this demon, calling him names.  This enrages the evil Cat, and when it gets loose in our Garden, none of us are safe. I've heard tales about rash chipmunks who have been captured by the Cat demon.  But they kept their wits about them, and when the Cat started to torture them, they were able to escape.  I love listening to tales of great heroes and their mighty deeds during the cold winter nights.
The Raging Torrent is both a blessing and a curse in the Garden of Eatin'.  The steep rock cliffs make it risky to climb down to the life-giving water for a drink on a hot summer day.  We have to be careful or we will be swept away by the rapids.

Our Garden has a variety of habitats.  We can dart into the forests and jungles if we need to hide or just cool off.  There are brush piles and rock condos that some of us like.  I prefer my hole under the flower bed wall.  Did you know that there are more of my relatives living in a human cemetery than there are humans buried there? Yes, it's true!

Another of my favorite spots is the giant flowers. They smell good and are tasty too. The tall grasslands are easy to cross while traveling from one side of our world to the other.  I understand that there are other worlds like mine all over, but I'm sure this Garden of Eatin' is the best. I doubt those chipmunk tribes even speak the same language I do, so I'm happy to stay home. 
Chip! Chip! Chip!  Well, that's my mother calling me home for dinner.  I'll see you later!