You’ve overstayed your welcome, February

Despite purchasing the extended plan like an idiot, February has now come to the end of its warranty period, and so as it starts to suddenly make a terrible noise and leave an ominously-stained puddle beneath, we turn to see what abstract image will play it off stage. Why, it’s… this:

feather and reflection in still water
I did no alterations to this one other than cropping it tighter – otherwise it’s exactly as captured. Probably not exactly as seen, however, since I don’t think I dialed in any exposure compensation for the bright water, so it’s probably a little darker than it appeared in person. It’s really just a grab shot as I saw it nearby, which makes it even better. Nothing but a body feather with downy base, floating on its own reflection in the water – though why I called it a leaf in the filename after I cropped it is beyond me. Probably just force of habit (go ahead – count up all the month-end abstracts that contains leaves; it’ll take a while.)

But because of the extra time to work on it (not really,) we have another! And this one I did consider in the running for this slot as I took it. Occasionally, things go according to plan.

spider in web backlit by post-sunset twilight
I called this one a raccoon in the filename, so obviously I wasn’t quite myself when editing. It took a few tries to pin down focus just right, since this was not with the macro lens, but I got a sharp frame for my efforts. The sunset colors didn’t really pan out this session (surprise surprise,) yet I was able to make something from them anyway. No one is quite sure what, but it’s something.

Just once, part 9

six-spotted green tiger beetle Cicindela sexguttata portrait
This is one that I find a little surprising, in that it’s only appeared once here, and probably not a whole lot more often in my stock either. This is a six-spotted tiger beetle (Cicindela sexguttata,) and they’re not only fairly common, they’re obviously quite easy to spot – chances are, if you live in most of the eastern US and spot something bright iridescent green, it’s one of these guys. Granted, they’re hyperactive and spooky, rarely letting a close approach happen, and I do recall that I had to crawl up to this one carefully to get this portrait with the macro lens, and even then considered myself lucky to have pulled it off. But this was also just shy of nine years ago, and I would have thought I’d have the opportunity to snag more in that intervening time, but here we are.

I would also think that the bright coloration is a ‘keepaway’ signal, something memorable that goes along with a nasty defensive mechanism so birds and other predators create quick associative memories after an encounter: “Okay, that wasn’t fun! Note to self: avoid the shiny green ones,” Except that I find no mention of defensive traits, so either those jaws are even more capable than they appear, or there’s another purpose to being so easy to spot. I will also note that their style of movement is not unlike some species of wasps: agile and quick to fly, but also kind-of stop-and-go movements on the ground, and a lot of predators recognize prey and not-prey more by their behavior than appearance.

While some indication of size might be determined by the short depth-of-field here (meaning high magnification,) I can simply tell you that the species runs 10-15mm in body length, which seems about right to my memory – I didn’t get any measurements at the time, and I’m quite sure that it wouldn’t have stood happily for me sliding a paper ruler into the frame.

Enough with the eagles

2nd year juvenile bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus cruising overhead
Mr Bugg and I had another outing to Jordan Lake yesterday, because we’re both intrigued about what might be happening with the eagle pair. The above image is not one of the pair, but a 2nd-year juvenile that nonetheless came much closer than any of the others, and thus provided a better image to open with. What follows will be from much greater distances.

Immediately upon arriving, we could see one of the adult bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) hanging out on the dead tree near the osprey nest, and so we kept our eyes on it, as well as the immediate area, and sure enough, the second of the pair soon made an appearance. Neither of them was inclined to get within several hundred meters though, so every image that we could obtain had them very small within the frame.

Eventually, one of them skimmed out over the lake and dropped low over the water, and we soon witnessed some hunting behavior. Unfortunately, the weather conditions appear to have caused a body of warmer air to be hovering directly over the lake surface, and this was enough to badly distort all images that were obtained so close – these will not be impressive, but we’re concentrating on the behavior right now anyway.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus diving on jumping fish
The bright spot over the the right is a fish jumping; the eagle was already making its approach when this happened, but it appeared to be homing in to that exact spot.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus contacting fish that just jumped
The eagle is about to make contact with the water in a typical “running grab,” while you can see the residual splash from the fish.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus in water after snagging fish
But the running grab obviously didn’t work and the eagle splashed down, much like osprey do; this was the first I’d seen this happen, but the remaining images might hint at why.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus clearly struggling with large fish that it caught
By naked eye, the eagle was only discernible as a white spot that was easy to lose, occasionally flashing as it thrashed about, struggling with the fish that remained out of sight below the surface.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus clearly struggling with large fish that it cannot raise from the water
Even, at times, mooning us as it raised its tail high during the struggle. At no point did it even begin to flap its wings in an attempt to take off.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus still unable to raise fish from water
I checked the timestamps: it was over four-and-a-half minutes that the eagle sat in the water struggling with its capture. I lamented not having the tripod with me to lock the camera onto and shoot this as video, but the distortion wasn’t apparent in the viewfinder – the video would have been nigh-worthless anyway. But some time soon after this frame, the eagle rose from the water; I wasn’t looking right at it at the time (that’s a long time to keep a heavy lens trained on a stationary object,) but I suspect it was because a couple of hydrofoil surfers were drawing too close, perhaps not even aware that there was an eagle there. So I only realized it as I saw the eagle circling back in the same area. Which is where it gets even more interesting.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus making another run on fish in water
I compared the background trees (largely cropped out of these frames so you’re not just looking at specks,) and I’m pretty certain the eagle, now airborne, is closing in on the same area where it had struggled with the fish – you can just make out the orange spots of the extended talons if you look closely. What I think is happening here is that the eagle decided that raising the fish wasn’t working, and it took off and circled around to make a running grab at it instead, perhaps hoping that the speed and established lift would be enough.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus grasping and trying to raise fish from water while flying
It’s got ahold of something now, but the distortion and distance were too much to resolve details.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus almost pitching into water while trying to raise fish
Maybe it’s just from freezing a moment in time, but it certainly looks like the eagle is pitching over from the weight and drag of the fish. This is supported by the next frame…

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus abandoning fish as too large to carry back home
… because there’s the eagle letting it go, the residual splash still faintly visible. To all appearances, the eagle snagged a fish too big to actually carry – which is pretty big indeed. I thought I was witnessing this last year with an osprey, but that one did indeed manage to get airborne, though its climb out was slow and labored.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus approaching another in tree after abandoning fish
Having had enough with its hunting efforts, the eagle headed back empty-taloned for the dead tree where the other had been perched patiently – not the same dead three near the osprey nest that they’d been favoring, but one not far away. Again, this is at a great distance, so it was only after seeing the images at home that I pieced together what likely happened.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus apparently attempting to alight on branch with another eagle
Because the limb that was in use as a perch wasn’t very big, but the returning eagle seemed to think it could hold the both of them, and there was a momentary struggle/altercation…

pair of adult bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus both abandoning branch after near collision
… which dislodged both of them – probably not the best way to return home to the spouse after failing to procure food.

[I say ‘spouse’ but the relationship isn’t exactly clear, to me anyway. They obviously hang out together, and the repeated behavior and preference for certain perches, and the area overall, seems to indicate that we’re seeing the same pair each day. But why aren’t they nesting?]

I lost track of who was who in that tussle, and so I tracked one now heading over to the favorite dead tree without knowing which one it was.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus drying feathers while perched in dead tree
That one took a perch, much as the stationary one had before, but after a few minutes (by the timestamps, this is seven minutes after dislodging,) this one began to exhibit drying behavior, leading me to believe it as the one that had been fishing instead. I kind of had it in my mind that the female was remaining perched while the male hunted, partially because this is the kind of thing that happens when courting, for many species, but I can’t vouch for whether or not eagles behave this way, and there’s no dependable method for determining sexes.

Later on, they took off and eventually, one lit onto the tree holding the osprey nest again, perching close to but not on or within the nest. and after a while, the other approached again.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus approaching another perched alongside osprey nest, both calling
I like this frame for the expressiveness of it, both appearing rather antagonistic, but they’re simply calling exuberantly to each other, audible even at our great distance. I don’t know who’s making the approach here, but it was with much greater grace than the previous attempt at least, and nobody got their feathers ruffled.

pair of adult bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus enjoying domestic life alongside osprey nest
And they remained there together until shortly before sunset at least, when we knew there would be no more interesting behavior and wanted to try for the sunset on another portion of the lake anyway (a spit of land blocks the westward view from this area, but it’s good for sunrise.) Here, one of them appears larger than the other, often an indication of the female among raptors, but I’m not exactly sure this isn’t due to the one on the left hunching slightly with its tail raised higher.

So far, seeing activity in this area has been dependable, and the pairing seems established as well – here’s hoping that it continues, and even better, that they set up a nest nearby. The osprey are coming due for reappearing in the region – they seem to migrate south for the winter while the eagles stay put, and my first image of an osprey last year was March 7th. Will any osprey attempt to return to that nest, or is it now eagle territory (even when they aren’t yet inclined to use it for anything?) Only time, and more visits, will tell.

At the same time, I have to ensure that I’m not getting in a rut, and make some excursions to other wildlife areas as well, get a little variety in. Maybe we need some more nutria

Pop Park

That’s right, boysengurls, another holiday has emerged from wherever holidays go where they’re not here – Des Moines, perhaps – and so we welcome it with open source and a glad bag, because it’s MacArthur Muzik Day, which means that we must work at least three quotes from the lyrics of Pop Muzik or MacArthur Park into our conversations today. Nor can we simply blurt them out – they must make at least some sense in the context of the conversation. If you get a strange look, you obviously didn’t try hard enough.

Should someone recognize the lyric that you used and remark on it, you are obligated to touch your finger gently to their nose tip, smile coquettishly, and say, “Ta, sir!” (even if it’s a woman.) Do not fail to do this, because if they realize you’ve neglected this response, they are allowed to dictate what you have for lunch for the next week; the grocery store won’t sell that many cans of Spaghetti-Os with Franks for the rest of the year.

Should someone respond with the lyrics that follow in the song you chose, you must both do the ostrich mating dance together for at least thirty seconds – sound effects are optional though. Don’t look at us like that – we didn’t make this stuff up.

And should the conversation go on as normal without any recognition of something amiss, you are encouraged to brag about it here, as long as you don’t get too cocky. Yes, that’s in the rules too.

To offer this gentle reminder (though we can’t imagine why you’d need it,) we provide the lyrics to the two songs for which the holiday is named:

MacArthur Park, by Richard Harris

Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed
In love’s hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again, oh no

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground around your knees
The birds like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing checkers
By the trees

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again, oh no

There will be another song for me
For I will sing it
There will be another dream for me
Someone will bring it
I will drink the wine while it is warm
And never let you catch me
Looking at the sun
And after all the loves of my life
After all the loves of my life
You’ll still be the one

I will take my life into my hands
And I will use it
I will win the worship in their eyes
And I will lose it
I will have the things that I desire
And my passion flow
Like rivers through the sky
And after all the loves of my life
Oh, after all the loves in my life
I’ll be thinking of you
And wondering why

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
(Oh no, oh no)

And:

Pop Muzik, by M

(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
Get up, get down
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)

Radio, video
Boogie with a suitcase
You’re living in a disco
Forget about the rat race
Let’s do the Milkshake
Selling like a hotcake
Try some, buy some
Fee-fi-fo-fum
Talk about pop muzik
Talk about pop muzik

(Shoobie-doobie-doo-wop)
I want to dedicate it
(Pop, pop, shoo-wop)
Everybody made it
(Shoobie-doobie-doo-wop)
Infiltrate it
(Pop, pop, shoo-wop)
Activate it

New York, London, Paris, Munich
Everybody talk about pop muzik
Talk about pop muzik
Talk about pop muzik
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)

Sing it in the subway
Shuffle with a shoe shine
Mix me a Molotov
I’m on the headline
Want to be a gunslinger?
Don’t be a rock singer
Eenie, meenie, miney, mo
Which a-way you wanna go?
Talk about pop muzik
Talk about pop muzik

(Shoobie-doobie-doo-wop)
Right in betweenie
(Pop, pop, shoo-wop)
Eenie, meenie
(Shoobie-doobie-doo-wop)
Right in betweenie
(Pop, pop, shoo-wop)
You know what I meanie
Hit it!

Now you know when to say
(Talk about) Talk about pop muzik
(Talk about) Talk about pop muzik
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)

All around the world
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
Wherever you are
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
Dance in the street, anything you like
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
Do it in your car in the middle of the night
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
La-la-la-la, la-la, la-la, la
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
La-la-la-la, la-la, la
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
La-la-la-la, la-la, la-la, la
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
La-la-la-la, la-la, la
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)

Dance in the supermart
Dig it in the fast lane
Listen to the countdown
They’re playing our song again
I can’t get “Jumping Jack”
I want to hold “Get Back”
Moonlight, muzak
Knick knack, paddy wack
Talk about pop muzik
Talk about pop muzik

(Shoobie-doobie-doo-wop)
It’s all around you
(Pop, pop, shoo-wop)
They want to surround you
(Shoobie-doobie-doo-wop)
It’s all around you
(Pop, pop, shoo-wop)
Hit it!

New York, London, Paris, Munich
Everybody talk about, mmm, pop muzik
Talk about pop muzik
Talk about pop, pop muzik
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)

Now, listen
Talk about (Pop, pop, pop muzik)
Talk about (Pop, pop, pop muzik)
Talk about the fever
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)
Do you read me? Loud and clear
Hit it down (Pop, pop, pop muzik)
Hit it down, oh no! (Pop, pop, pop muzik)
Oh no! Oh, talk about
(Pop, pop, pop muzik)

See? Shouldn’t be too hard, so jump in! We’re looking forward to hearing your accounts!

And a crayfish, briefly

National Wildlife Day, which was yesterday, was actually a pretty nice day for February, nicer than February actually deserves because it’s in winter and also spelled stupidly. And since I had a photo outing scheduled, I succeeded in getting plenty of photos of wildlife, if by ‘wildlife’ you mean ‘birds,’ with one exception. A moderate variety of birds too, at least for stupidly-spelled months.

We’ll begin with the faint tapping noise that I heard while passing a dead tree a short ways into the water (this, again, being Jordan Lake, but there were good reasons for that.) I was out there with Mr Bugg, and we paused and examined the tree carefully, not seeing anything, but my attention was on a small opening from a rotted branch, and sure enough, someone appeared therein after a minute.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla appearing in nest opening of dead tree
This is a brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) that was working on its nest, examining us curiously because it did not specifically recall us being out there when it entered. It’s funny; I’m almost positive that every time I’ve photographed this species, it’s been in exactly the same way: hearing them excavating within the trunk and waiting for their appearance. Once again, I’ll stress that paying attention to odd sounds can help a lot.

We’re not going in chronological order, and I apologize for pulling a Tarantino here, but it works better this way. So we’ll have a quick peek at a flotilla that was spotted from the higher vantage of the causeway, then photographed from a promontory because the view was better, but quite some distance out onto the lake (at least a half-kilometer) was a dark stain that turned out to be birds. Lots.

huge flotilla of double-crested cormorants Nannopterum auritum on Jordan lake
This doesn’t do it justice, since this is less than a third the breadth of the flock, clearly hundreds of birds. I had to zoom in on the image more than this to identify them, though:

huge flotilla of double-crested cormorants Nannopterum auritum, with some seagulls thrown in, on Jordan Lake
That’s enough to know that they’re double-crested cormorants (Nannopterum auritum,) and there’s something almost unsettling about them all facing the same way. However, this was into the wind and so it probably helped them maintain position and not drift too much. I’m pretty sure Mecca is the other direction, at least.

There are seagulls in that image too, but way too distant to determine what species – I always assume herring gull, since that’s the most prevalent species this far inland, but at another point, a few gulls passed close enough for some detail shots, and this one, at least, was clearly not a herring gull.

possibly little gull Larus minutus cruising past
Near as I can tell, this is a little gull (no, seriously, that’s the common name, otherwise Larus minutus,) but it’s hard to be sure. Partially, because alone in the sky, it was difficult to determine the size, and partially because we’re on the border of mating season when nearly all birds adopt different plumage, so we might be in transition here. But the overall coloration, with the dark bill, red legs (visible more in other frames) and ‘ear’ spot all fit, anyway. And it came close enough for more of a portrait.

possible little gull Larus minutus facing dead-on
I don’t bother with the gulls too often, especially because there’s so few in the area that they don’t get competitive or show much behavior, but I’m okay with this portrait and pose.

On another section of the lake, a great blue heron (Ardea herodias herodias) was foraging in a small pool that is primarily replenished when the lake levels rise, though in summer it often goes stagnant.

great blue heron Ardea herodias herodias with captured crayfish
There were many many small branches in the way, and as I could see the heron had captured a small meal, I was firing off frames and not maneuvering for a better vantage; this meant that the sequence of images all suffer from defocused branches reducing sharpness and contrast (boosted slightly here.) But I could at least make out afterward that what it captured was a crayfish, our one bird exception, which was juggled for a minute before finally going down the hatch. I can find no evidence of pincers, however, and I’m not sure if it was found that way or the heron managed to break them off before attempting to swallow it – this is the first I’ve seen one with a crustacean, I think.

Once the bird finished its meal and started further foraging, I shifted around for a clearer view. Better?

great blue heron Ardea herodias herodias resuming its quest for food
Actually, you can still see some haze in the lower right corner from a branch, but the heron itself is unobscured now.

And from here on in, we deal with just one species: bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus.) Which is largely what we were after in the first place, though neither of us will pass up anything else that appears. But we’ve been watching the presence of the eagles at Jordan Lake steadily increasing, quite heartening, and this means more chances for cool behavioral shots – though not too many on this day. But we’re getting to that.

We had driven back and forth between two access areas, and in the parking lot of the second, we watched a juvenile cruise low overhead, providing the closest opportunity of the day – well, for the eagles at least. The nuthatch has everyone else beat by a mile.

second or third year juvenile bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus passing overhead
I initially pegged this as a second year juvenile, but it might be a third instead; the easiest way to tell is the dark stripe back from the eye on an otherwise lighter face, but this one never gave me that vantage, even after finding it a little later on (probably, anyway) cruising around with an adult.

adult and juvenile bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus circling lazily
It was overall a pretty good day for soaring, the sun having warmed things enough for some thermals, but also some stiff winds across the water – in places, I gave up on keeping my hat on and just let it hang off the back of my head from the chin strap.

But it was in the other area that we had the most luck. Upon arriving, we met a birder there with a spotting scope, who admitted to not having much luck despite being told that someone had spotted pelicans there that morning. This is quite surprising, since I’ve never seen pelicans on Jordan Lake or indeed anywhere but coastally, and we certainly saw none yesterday. But after about 30 minutes or so of nothing but vultures, seagulls, and cormorants, a pair of adult eagles showed in the distance, and eventually flew close enough for some nicer frames.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus overhead with matching broken feathers
This one I found a little curious in that it has matching broken primary flight feathers, number five on either side. Now, birds typically molt by losing two flight feathers simultaneously, which keeps them balanced, but those drop out – they don’t break off. A cool coincidence though.

The pair would wheel around and disappear behind trees, and later on we’d see two more – likely that same pair, but there was no way to be sure. This one, however, posed better with the light and angle.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus banking overhead
Soon after this, the pair split off; one went straight off and took a position in a dead tree near the osprey nest, while the other vanished over the trees more behind us. And then it got interesting.

We were maneuvering closer around the lake edge, which shifted the dead tree in relation to the trees behind it, providing better views of the perched eagle against the sky. And then, it started calling, and I didn’t realize it at the time (the viewfinder image being way smaller than this,) but I caught a nice frame of the eagle with its head thrown way back.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus calling visibly while perched in dead tree
The reason became clear soon enough, as the other eagle appeared against the trees (meaning quite low,) closing in with a fish in its talons, obviously headed for the perched one. I snagged a decent frame as it appeared against the sky briefly.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus approaching with fish
Its approach took it wide around the perched one, who left its perch and the two of them converged on the osprey nest nearby, the same one that I saw two eagles checking out a few weeks before – there’s no way to prove that it’s the same two, but I’m comfortable with that supposition anyway.

two adult bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus converging on nest for meal
You can see the nest over in the right corner here, while the one in the dead tree has left its perch (back to us) as the new arrival, more distant, is closing in with the fish. We’ll got for a tighter crop.

two adult bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus cropped closer
The distance compression through the long lens destroys the depth, but the one from the dead tree is notably closer than the background tree holding the nest – we can place the dead tree in many positions in relation to the nest itself just by following the curve of the lakeshore around. Though it’s hard to do as the action is occurring. One of these days, I’ll take a compass and some notes and triangulate the positions of the tree and nest, just as an exercise.

one adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus approaching another on nest while calling
As the new arrival landed o the nest itself with the food, the one from the dead tree closed in, calling exuberantly in that namby-pamby, bad bearings way that eagles communicate. But this raises all sorts of questions, because they’re obviously ‘together,’ though what exactly that means is unclear. Both over four years old, so old enough to mate. Eagles often take over old osprey nests, but the size disparity between the species means that the eagles invariably build much bigger nests atop, and there’s been no sign of this happening, while it’s starting to get late in the season for this to begin. But one was clearly waiting for the other to bring food, and I’m not up on my eagle information enough to know if this is courting behavior. So, what’s going to happen?

Whatever else, this is at least giving a lot of promise to having a decent vantage for plenty more images as the season progresses – not to mention that this nest can be approached from another direction, seen closer from underneath, though we’re purposely avoiding this until we’re pretty sure that someone is on the nest with eggs, to avoid spooking them away from it before this occurs. If it occurs.

Both left the nest after the meal was consumed, but were seen later the same day returning to the nest itself, as well as perching together in that same dead tree. So, you know, not a bad way to spend the holiday, and certainly continuing the promise from a few weeks back. We’ll see how lucky we get.

pair of adult bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus perched in favorite dead tree

Rehab6

This is actually the sixth time I’ve posted this particular writeup – it’s now become a yearly thing right around the time that wildlife starts becoming most active, and fits in nicely with National Wildlife Day, which is today. Plus look at all this content that I only have to cut-n-paste! So without further fanfare, we delve back into injured and orphaned wildlife.

I used to work in this field a fair amount, both in administration of wildlife organizations and as an active raptor [birds of prey] rehabilitator, plus I served as wildlife adviser in several different situations. So I’m familiar with most of the more common reactions people have when they find ‘orphaned,’ injured, and ill wildlife. It’s hard to give enough useful information without trying to cover every situation or alternative, so treat this as an overview. One thing that I especially want to emphasize here is that there is an immediate emotional response in most cases, which tries to override the advice given by those who work in the fields, so be aware of it. There isn’t an ‘instinct’ we might have that applies to wildlife, and the rational mind is the part that needs to take control.

Additionally, the amount of folklore regarding wildlife is not just abundant, in most cases it’s ridiculously wrong. I’m not even going to say, “If in doubt…,” because you should doubt right off the bat, and consider that most of what you’ve heard is highly suspect. This means, contact someone who is supposed to know, and go with their advice.

Number one rule, and I can’t repeat this enough: Don’t try to raise wildlife on your own. Their diets are specialized, their needs varied and specific to the species, and their adult behavior dependent on how they’re raised. This isn’t the place for guesswork or experimentation. Even if they seem to be ‘doing well’ (like the viral video of the guy raising a baby hummingbird,) they may have developmental issues from an improper diet or exercise, or simply have imprinted on the wrong species, and you are in essence just prolonging the death of the animal. In the US, it’s illegal to raise any species without a specific permit, and songbirds are federally protected. It’s possible to obtain these permits, and quite frankly encouraged, because there are few places with enough rehabbers, but if you’re going to do it, do it right. More further down.

So, we’re about to enter baby bird season, and this accounts for a large percentage of wildlife encounters. I’ll dispel the first myth that touching a baby bird will cause the mother to abandon it. Utter hogwash, pure and simple – yet, I don’t always discourage parents from teaching this to their children, because it’s one way to try and get kids to leave them alone, which is a good thing. Better, perhaps, to teach them to leave them alone for the right reasons, which is to avoid interrupting their feeding schedule, or injuring them, or thinking it would be neat to have a pet robin. But returning to the myth, baby birds will occasionally fall from the nest, and it’s perfectly fine to return them to it, and in fact this is recommended.

It doesn’t always work, however. Some species will discard young that are not doing well, and some even kick their own siblings out – this is nature’s method of selecting the most viable offspring, as ruthless as we find it, and we’re not going to change it. Basically, if it’s a baby bird not ready to leave the nest (not fledged; we’ll return to this,) put it back. If it keeps coming out, there may not be much you can do.

Can’t reach the nest? Try to find a way, first. If that’s not possible, occasionally the parents will accept a substitute nest, such as a plastic berry basket with soft tissue as bedding – this should be placed as close as possible to the original nest, firmly anchored so it doesn’t come down. Observe the nest carefully, but from a safe distance, for 30-60 minutes to see if the parents have indeed found the substitute. If not, seek out a rehabilitator or wildlife official.

Abandoned nest? Maybe, maybe not. Once the eggs hatch, the parent birds go into feeding mode, gathering food constantly during daylight hours and stopping at the nest for brief periods to jam it down the gullets of their ravenous progeny. The 30-60 minute rule above is because waiting less may mean you’ve simply missed the brief feeding period between the extended gathering periods. Observation has to be done at a distance that does not alarm the parents – minimum is six meters (yards,) and more is recommended. Also, being low key is paramount, so take a seat (with binoculars, for preference) and remain still and quiet. Yes, it’s boring, but it’s for the health of the offspring, and if you didn’t care about that you wouldn’t be reading ;-)

fledglingsAs the nestlings become fledglings, they abandon the nest on their own in learning how to fly. This does mean that they’ll be found unable to fly, fluttering around at low level and even just sitting there staring at you. This is normal, and they should remain undisturbed. The parents are nearby, providing food and encouraging the flight attempts. Most bird species know enough not to give away their progeny’s locations to predators, or draw attention to themselves by moving a lot, so your ability to approach, or not being attacked by angry parents when you do so, means nothing at all. Again, observation is good here, as is knowing the calls of the species in question – the parents may be coaching their young towards them.

Now, telling the difference in ‘nestlings’ and ‘fledglings.’ A nestling is a baby bird that must remain in the nest for a while; they will have few feathers, or perhaps even odd ‘quills,’ which is what the feathers look like as they are growing out. Unable to support itself? Eyes not open? Nestling. Fledglings are the babies that are ready to learn how to fly. Their feathers will have good coverage with little to no stragglers or ‘stuffing coming out’ (the baby down.) One rule I always used over the phone was to ask if there were tail feathers – if there are, they’re about ready to fly. These are fledglings and should only be observed.

If in doubt, contact a rehabber/official. This is before doing anything else, save for getting it out of immediate danger. No food, no water, nothing at all. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people say, “We’ve tried giving it water and worms” – birds can aspirate the water if it’s not given the way the parents do (you’ve noticed the beak getting jammed halfway down the throat, right?) and only one species in North America eats earthworms. Again, folklore – ignore it and be safe.

Also, bleeding in birds is serious, no matter what. Birds have very thin blood that doesn’t coagulate easily, and they can bleed out quickly. Also note that those ‘quills’ of new feathers mentioned above have a blood supply for a while, and these can be broken and start bleeding as well. Time is important in such situations.

HappyOwletBaby raptors will tear you up – they know how to use the beak and talons very early (often on their siblings) and will not hesitate to protect themselves. And adult raptors will protect their young. This is where it’s best to leave it to the experienced.

And it may seem funny to have to say this, but baby birds do not look like their parents. Adult kestrels and screech owls, both diminutive raptors, are often considered “babies” when found by those not familiar with what a real juvenile looks like. Basic rule: if it has a smooth appearance and good coverage of feathers, it’s at least fledgling age, probably older.

What about mammals? This is a little different – mammals are generally not found away from their parents unless something has gone wrong. Most especially, if the youngster’s eyes aren’t open, they’re wet from the rain or dew, or if they’re cold or dehydrated, this is the time to contact someone. Test for dehydration by gently pinching up the skin over the shoulders or side in a ‘tent’ and releasing – if the skin takes more than a second to go back into position, this is dehydration.

Always use gloves. Juvenile mammals can certainly bite, and there’s an additional risk to this: rabies is active throughout much of North America. This is an invariably fatal disease once it passes a certain point (much more so than HIV,) so this needs to be taken seriously. It is not just the bite that can transmit it, but contact of an infected animal’s saliva with mucous membranes can introduce it as well, which means that picking up a damp animal and rubbing your eyes puts you at risk. Animals do not have to be showing symptoms to be infectious, and symptoms vary anyway. BE SAFE.

It’s not just rabies. Mammals are far more likely to introduce other zoonotic issues than birds – they’re enough like us that parasites (internal and external) and some viruses can be transmitted to us. Bringing them into the house may mean you just introduced fleas, lice, giardia, and so on into your home. You’ve been warned.

possumpeepingAlso, and it pains me to have to always say this, but cute does not mean safe. Any animal can defend itself. I have never been bitten by a raccoon, despite their aggressiveness, but I have a scar and a touch of nerve damage from a grey squirrel – one, moreover, that was raised in a house. Rabbits and mice can bite the hell out of you. Shrews even have a toxic saliva. Yes, I am trying to scare you – if you’re scared, you’re cautious, which is better than incautious.

In many cases, mammals about half of the adult size can be on their own without issues – they learn how to forage for their own food reasonably quickly. Again, the stillness thing doesn’t mean they’re lost – it may simply mean they’re trying not to attract attention. This is especially so for white-tailed deer fawns – they often curl up in the grass and conserve energy while mom forages, and will not move even when someone approaches – occasionally not even when picked up. Leave them be, and come back in a few hours. If they’re still there, that’s when you should contact someone.

Rabbits are notorious for abandoning the nest if it’s been disturbed, even with a full brood of young within. This is doubly hazardous because their nests are often in clumps of grass and can be inadvertently discovered by cleaning the yard. If it happens, immediately put everything back as it was, without touching the young, and place a few distinctive blades of grass across the nest opening (preferably something you can see from at least a short distance away,) then leave it entirely alone. Come back in a few hours and check to see if the grass has been moved. If it has, things are probably okay. If not, it may be time to check the warmth and hydration of the young. Contact a rehabilitator.

Again, trying to raise them yourself puts them at a high risk. This is especially true for rabbits, which are among the hardest mammals to raise in North America. I can’t count the number of people who have assured me that they did it once before, so “they know how to do it.” While this may be true, it ignores numerous things, such as how viable the released offspring were and whether they lasted longer than a month, whether they had developmental deficiencies because of improper nutrition, and even whether they had habituated to food or behavior that left them ill-prepared for their conditions. There is a shortage of rehabilitators, so believe me, if it was easy most people would be encouraged to tackle this on their own. The fact that not only is it discouraged, it is unlawful in most areas, should be a good indication that there’s something more to consider. And the welfare of the animal should take higher precedence than anyone’s ego.

Injured animals are extra dangerous. Yes, they may seem incapacitated or helpless, but you know what they say about appearances. One of my colleagues rashly checked an injured, near-comatose squirrel bare-handed, and it bit through her finger, joining its teeth together in the fleshy part of her index finger – I actually heard them grinding together. It then passed out without letting go. Animals in pain (even pets) often respond aggressively – they have no concept of your attempts to help them, and restraint can make them even more agitated. Deer can do vast amounts of damage by thrashing with their hooves, and the big waterfowl like herons and cranes can drive that beak into your face (and yes, they aim for effectiveness.) I really want to emphasize this, because the nurturing instincts are badly misplaced here, and extreme caution is necessary instead.

“There’s a nest of animals in my attic/crawlspace/walls and they need to be removed!” No. Most especially not when they’re raising young, which is most often when anyone notices them. Once the young are there, no further damage is going to be done to your house, because the parents are concentrating on raising their brood. Trying to relocate them is hazardous, both to the animals and to people in many cases, and pointless. Let them be, and in a few weeks the young will be old enough and move out on their own – about the only exception to this is bat colonies (more below.) Once there are no young to raise, the adult animals often leave on their own – nests are primarily for young – but they can also be encouraged to leave or stay out at that point. Squirrels are pretty bad about wanting to return to successful nest areas, and will even chew through wire mesh at times, but most others take the hint and find better places to live.

“But what about rabies?” Animals raising young, even in the eaves of your house, are not an especially high risk. Contrary to belief, rabies does not cause animals to leap suddenly out and attack people; those events are remarkably rare. While anyone should be quite cautious of any mammals that openly approach, living near them does not place anyone at special risk – you’re at greater risk of being killed by the tree near the house falling on you, and we won’t even talk about road risks. Like snake bites, most contacts with rabies vector wildlife occurs by people initiating the contact.

beaverspoor“Animals are doing damage to my property and need to be removed!” No. I can’t tell you how much this attitude annoys me, but that’s what a blog is for, right? Wildlife goes where the habitat is ideal, and pays no attention to humankind’s imaginary idea of “property.” First off, anyone should enjoy the opportunity to see behavior, something that is often hard to accomplish even when making the effort. If someone has wildlife around, chances are they aren’t in a high-rise apartment, which means they wanted to live with at least some vestige of nature visible; surprise surprise, it comes with other animals. While we might decry the damages to our gardens or landscaping, that’s part of the territory, just like road noise and power lines. Learn how to cope, and the ways to exclude animals from certain areas so we can have tomatoes. I’m sorry that a $500 tree was stripped, but no one should have planted something that was that appealing to the local species in the first place, and chances are, numerous appropriate trees had been cut down first so that the fancy landscaping could be put in its place (and I used to work for a landscaper, too.)

Trapping and removal is rarely effective. If there’s a habitat, someone else will move in. And wildlife populations have been shown through numerous studies to be fairly self-regulating; the issues come because habitat destruction by humans is not. We can put in housing developments much faster than the natural cycles of population reduction and management, and those displaced animals end up somewhere. They likely feel the same way about us – dread the point where they develop opposable thumbs.

But what about bats? Ah, the poor little guys! Much of our population considers them ugly and creepy, not at all helped by folklore and horror stories, yet bats are actually way cool mammals, and good to keep the insects down. But most species nest in colonies, and this does sometimes mean in attics, which can produce lots of guano (bat poop) and increases the risks of rabies exposure, primarily when one gets lost and ends up within the human spaces of the house. However, the damage that they can do is minuscule, since they do not dig or gnaw, and excluding them only takes 1/4″ hardware cloth (small-holed wire mesh.) Again, this should be done when no young are being raised, and should always be done with gloves and a breath mask (guano turns into dust easily and can be inhaled.) Should you find a bat in your house, contact your local animal control, since states differ on how they handle potential exposures.

I said I’d get to this: So you want to learn how to rehabilitate wildlife? Once again, this is actually encouraged, but like riding a motorcycle, it should be done properly and responsibly. If there isn’t a wildlife center or organization available in your area, contact your regional Wildlife Resource Commission office (for the US at least) to find out who in your area can train you, and most especially what permissions you need. In the US you’ll need at least one permit, possibly several. What you’ll mostly need is training, because any species requires a decent body of knowledge to tackle well – which also means pick a species, at least to start. Your local rehabbers can suggest a few, which might mean picking something you didn’t initially desire, but which is either easier to learn or presents the greatest needs within an area (and again, is this about you, or the animals?) Expect to spend a lot of time at it, since most animals need lots of attention – mammals may need feedings every four hours around the clock, and birds every 15-30 minutes during daylight (yes, I knew a songbird rehabilitator that kept baby birds in the desk drawers of her office.) And it’s almost certainly all coming out of your own pocket.

SquirrelFeeding
I feel obligated to say this, too: wild animals are not pets, and should not be raised as such. There are lots of reasons. The domesticated animals we have as pets, like cats and dogs and horses, have been bred that way for thousands of years and quite likely were chosen because they already had traits that assisted the process. Animals do not domesticate by simply raising them around people, and in many cases have behaviors that cause them to run afoul of our own (I mention once again the squirrel scar I bear – that story was posted a few years ago.) Many animals also do not have diets that are easy for humans to replicate, meaning that they’re unlikely to thrive and may develop serious disabilities. But most distinctly, what we might imagine them to be like is rarely ever the case – they are highly unlikely to bond with humans in the slightest, and aren’t going to make good companions, do tricks, or even exhibit any appealing personality. They belong in the wild, and that should be your only goal.

Now, if the demands of rehabilitation are too much to contemplate, you can always volunteer with a local organization, and do rehabilitation on a rotation as your schedule permits. This helps prevent burnout and lets you have vacations and family emergencies. This also allows you to get involved without necessarily requiring the permits, because you can operate under the aegis of the organization and its own permits (which is how I worked with raptors, since my apartment would not fit the 15-meter flight cages required.) Still, expect to be dedicated to the job, even when it’s unsavory – cleaning cages and wounds, and even euthanizing injured animals, is a requisite part of it all. Not to mention how many species expect live or fresh food. If you’re thinking of cuddling fluffy bunnies, you’re not ready; rehab requires lots of ugly stuff, and very little bonding – they’re not pets, but wildlife, and need to be wild.

Or, simply donate money or materials. That works too, and is just as necessary – the nice thing about the subject is how nearly everyone can find a niche (provided they accept the reasonable expectations.) Despite such things as Wildlife Resource Commissions and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, there really isn’t money being put into wildlife rehab, especially not from a state or federal level. The vast majority of organizations run solely on donations and grants, and often even have to have veterinary services donated. Experienced workers are great, but donors are just as important, if not more so. Even people who can promote greater donations are important. Just about everything is grass-roots level, all of the time – the few exceptions are great, and demonstrations of what can be done, but not what you can expect throughout the field. Your help, whatever it is, will be appreciated.

A final note: find out, now, how to contact your local wildlife people. Before you find yourself with an injured owl on your hands. In some areas, it’s not self-evident or easy to find, and if it’s not a registered organization, you can forget about searching any telephone listings. Local animal control usually knows, and the 24-hour emergency vets. Often, 911 operators do not, and even local law enforcement may be stumped. A few minutes to get prepared can save a lot of hassle later on, and as I said, we’re entering baby season.

Hope this helps!

Just once, part 8

eastern kingsnake Lampropeltis getula chilling
So not only has this species only appeared once before here, I’ve only seen them once in my entire life (in the wild anyway,) despite the fact that they’re supposed to be quite common. So I was delighted to spot this eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) just snoozing out in the open in a heavily wooded spot alongside Jordan Lake, but it also was amazingly cooperative in deciding to slink away slowly instead of shooting off in a flash, allowing for a whole sequence of images, and came within centimeters of my foot as it did so. It’s a harmless species and thus didn’t concern me with this, but to the best that I could determine, I was standing between its napping spot and its routine shelter, and so it detoured around me with elaborate calm to avoid attracting attention with sudden movement; had I done anything more than slowly pivot to follow it, I might have seen a more energetic escape. But isn’t that color pattern slick, especially on the head? I couldn’t tell you what purpose this serves, and it seems to me that horizontal banding enhances the motion of the snake and would make it easier to track by a hawk or an owl. I’ve chased plenty of snakes, and their habit of following through a ‘fixed’ curve makes you fixate on the midbody, which seems not to be moving that fast until the tail snaps through that curve and vanishes; this is a common trait and one that I’m sure helps a lot, so banding that defeats this illusion doesn’t seem right to me.

But yeah, I’m always hoping to eradicate this species from the ‘just once’ list, preferably with a lot of photos. This will be the year… right?

These might work

Just so you know, Thursday (February 22nd) is National Wildlife Day, so call in sick that day and go find wildlife, even if it’s captive wildlife in a zoo or nature park or something, but preferably really and for true in the wild, which means outdoors. Now, c’mon – how many of your coworkers failed to show up the day after Super Bowl or some such rot? Okay then – this is a much better reason.

I actually have plans to do some shooting that day, so we’ll see what happens, but at least there’s a little motivation and the weather may be good for it; it’s been remaining a tad too cold, though we have the occasional warm day, as the fella below attests (that was taken a week ago.) And I have a post already lined up, which means there might be more than one for the day. No promises.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis on wall of Walkabout Estates in mid-February
Plus there’s another holiday coming up on Saturday, I believe, though I haven’t figured out what it is yet can’t quite remember what it is. But I do remember that it’s cool.

I’ll drop another reminder in here, though I doubt you’d have missed it since all forms of media seem to be on top of it, but the total solar eclipse is coming up on April 8th, crossing a very large swath of the contiguous US and Mexico; the band of totality is quite impressive, but the band of partial eclipse can be seen by damn near all of North and Central America. Make sure you have your glasses and necessary filters, and your timing is bang-on – totality will only last a couple of minutes. I will be in Ohio within the path of totality and will be getting as many pics as I can, hopefully doing even better than the last opportunity.

The day before (April 7th,) the tiny crescent moon will occlude Venus during the day, for observers in much the same band as the eclipse – Stellarium will help you determine if and when this will occur for your area. While the moon will be extremely difficult to spot during the time (this will occur at roughly 12:30 PM EST,) Venus will be especially bright at a magnitude near -4, so with clear skies and knowing where to look, it will be easier to find than the moon, and hopefully will highlight that crescent as it draws near. I’ll be aiming for that too. I’m well aware that the weather may make either impossible to see, and that’s just how it goes, but I’m doing my best to ensure that if I miss either, it’s not through any fault of my own.

Stellarium plot of the occultation of Venus by Moon, April 7 2024
So there are a couple of things to chase, should you be inclined (and why wouldn’t you be?) As always, if I’m successful with any of them myself, you’ll see the evidence here soon enough.

Good luck!

Living in the past XXIX

Things are still slow on the nature photography end, and even I won’t post about hashing out designs for the 3D printer (there – we found a limit to what I’ll post; happy now?) So I’m bringing up one of the entries I had in reserve, if needed, to bring the count up last year and make a meaningless anniversary, while we wait for more current items of interest.

red-shouldered hawk Buteo lineatus finishing off a captured black rat snake
2016 was the year that a family of red-shouldered hawks were raised in a nest that, though a little distant, was in plain view off of the back of the property. Regrettably, I didn’t have a quality long lens nor the ability to do video at that time, both remedied now, though the hawks have not deigned to return. But as I was out there photographing the young squabbling in the nest, one of the parents (I tend to think it was the dad) returned with a medium-sized eastern rat snake, though he alighted on a branch a short distance from the nest to ensure that the snake was dead before it was introduced to the sprogs. I had to pick up the tripod and move it forward about a meter, turning the camera about 90°, but it gave me a nice view that was much closer than the nest itself.

Man, video capability would have been great to have at that point! I did create an animated gif (pronounced “JAW-fee-joe-fur“) from a long sequence of stills of the nestlings having a tug-of-war with a smaller snake, but this experience, among others, prompted me to obtain a video-capable camera body (because a camcorder wouldn’t have the reach of a 500 or 600mm lens) as well as a halfway-decent shotgun microphone. Those came in handy with the beavers and the woodpeckers so, improvements are being made.

Just once, part 7

summer tanager Piranga rubra peeking from foliage
This post has changed a bit. First, I had a subject that I realized would fit better later on in the year, and so I rescheduled it. Then I chose another subject, but as I was finalizing that draft, I noticed that it was going to post on a holiday, and thought I might be able to find something more appropriate, and pushed that one to next week. So at least we now have something red for Valentine’s Day, which is probably as close as I’m going to get.

This is a summer tanager (Piranga rubra,) and I probably would have missed it entirely had I not twigged onto the calls that I didn’t recognize, right behind the car as Mr Bugg and I arrived at the lake for a photo session. I could have stalled this for the first day of summer, which is also when I photographed it, but I didn’t have anything else that seemed to fit for today. Though if I find something later on, I’ll use that for the first day of summer. No, that’s on a Friday this year – never mind.

Jordan Lake has a tendency to feature more bird species than I see in my immediate area, despite being only about 12 kilometers away, though if we maintained a well-stocked bird feeder here, that might be different. My attempts to establish some plants that attract more birds have never panned out, but I blame that on the seed companies

1 2 3 279