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!


Jen said...

Wow, who knew Purple Martins were so playful? Thanks for sharing this!

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Those Swallows are such beautiful birds and wow, who knew, and it is an interesting theory~

Winny Lin said...

Thank you for the tour. It was an eye opener!

Erica said...

Wonderful beings! Thanks for the tour!

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