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!