April 29, 2011

Love is in the Air

It's "Spring" (as much as you can call 40 degrees and raining spring) here and you know what that means; it's time to reproduce. Well, for the animals at least. This week we found our first nests on our study sites. Sadly they aren't Henslow's Sparrow's nests, but we're going to keep track of them anyway. I also managed to find the Bald Eagle nest again (with the help of my visiting boyfriend), which has two chicks in it! I'll do my best to keep track of all the nests and nestlings so everyone can see the cute little fluffball chicks (and the naked pink squirmies, but those aren't as cute).
Turkeys! It's hunting season, so these guys are scared witless.

Eastern Kingbird, the other squeaky toy bird.

This is a Pileated Woodpecker hole, couldn't find the occupants though.

Another Eastern Kingbird.

Bald Eagle Nest, there are 2 chicks hiding up in there. Parents no where in sight.

Orchard Oriole that Ezra and I heard singing before we found him.

Brown Thrasher nest hidden in a wild rose bush, first nest of the year!

First Nest that I found, Eastern Meadowlark nest in the middle of a field.

Close up of Meadowlark eggs.

Tiny Snapping turtle, about the size of the palm of my hand.

We dropped her in a nearby creek so she could find food. 

April 21, 2011

Why More Birds Should Goto the Optometrist

I had a very interesting couple of weeks. The main thing I learned is that my little car is not made for backcountry gravel roads. I started fishtailing one morning when I had to drive myself to work and my car decided that sideways was the best way to orient itself on the road. But I was fine, and so was my car. And 200 meters later the country struck again as I had to wait for a pair of cows to remove themselves from my path. I think from now on I'll stick with riding in Levi's truck, or driving on blacktop as long as possible.

I've also learned that Missouri's idea of spring is different than Texas'. It is cold. I'm not sure why it's cold, as it's halfway through April, but for the past several days I've worn 3 coats to work. My apartment is also chilly, as I have no central heating and my window is fitted wonky so the breeze slips in. This sudden attack of cold isn't just bad for me though, it has also made the birds stop singing. Probably because they have more sense than I and hunker down in the mornings to avoid the evilly cold wind. Despite the birds hiding we still managed to catch a few cool things these past 2 weeks, some in very odd ways.

This is a Female Red-Winged Blackbird, She wanted out of my hand.

She was being very rude to me, but I did take her away from all the males.

She heard the Male flying around us and calling.

This is probably one of the better flying away photos I've taken.

Eastern Meadowlark. These are the loudest birds on the prairie right now.

This one slammed into the net while we were chasing a Henslow's. I love the feather-fro.

A Sora Rail, which are wetland birds that don't really belong on the Prairie.

They look very Dinosaur-y to me.

Loggerhead Shrike, I almost fell out of the truck window taking pictures of it.

Oddly there are quite a lot of Deer in the tall grass, more than I've seen in the woods.

Once they caught sight of me they vanished.

Same Loggerhead Shrike. Though this time I almost fell out backwards.

Kildeer sitting on its nest on the edge of a gravel parking lot.

(S)He popped up as soon as I got to close to their nest.

And then tried to lead me away by pretending they had a broken wing.

Kildeer eggs, not the biggest eggs, but much larger than a Henslow's.

They really really wanted me to chase them and leave their nest alone.

Close up of the eggs.
Right as we were about to leave the poor Kildeer alone we were distracted by a flock of 40 or so Pectoral Sandpipers. Normally this isn't a big deal, as we see flocks of random birds everyday, but these birds did something odd. The entire flock flew straight into a power line and we saw a few unlucky birds drop. Apparently the flock as a whole needed to visit the eye doctor. We set off running to see if we could find the fallen birds and succeeded in finding two. The first bird was mostly okay, he was groggy and bleeding from a minor puncture wound, but otherwise alive. The second bird we couldn't tell, as he was on the other side of a barbed wire fence. I decided to risk it and rolled under the fence to go get him. Sadly he'd had his head remodeled by the power line, and hadn't survived the fall. Currently he's in our freezer until we can turn him in to be made into a specimen for Emporia's museum.
This is our survivor, he was pretty out of it, but I would be too if I slammed into a wire.

He's holding out his wing because he feels off balance.

Poor guy probably had a headache.

After trying our best to soak up the blood we let him go in a field to recuperate.

He was still a bit off-balance.

But he got back up and wandered a bit before laying down to rest. Hopefully he's alright.
This weekend I'm hoping to get a chance to go out and see the Bald Eagle nest and Pileated woodpecker nest. But I make no promises as it's supposed to rain starting tonight and lasting until monday.

April 9, 2011

First Week in Missouri

I have officially been in Missouri for one week now, though I've only been working since Monday. Work started out kind of slow because the birds we're studying (Henslow's Sparrows) hadn't migrated here yet. So for the first couple of days we wandered around our study sites and tried to catch and band as many birds as we could so that Keith (the other tech) and I could start learning how to band. Levi (my boss) also drove us around some of the random back roads to see what was around. Unfortunately I forgot my camera on the first day of work, so I missed pictures of the Bald Eagle nest, the Pileated woodpecker and the Northern Shrike. But I know where the first two live, so I will be going back for pictures.

Robins are everywhere up here.

Okay, so it's not a real bird, but we're right by and airforce base so we see these "birds" a lot.

An American Kestrel we caught hanging out on a power line while driving home.

Red-winged blackbirds are also everywhere. This guy is trying to get some tail.
For the first 3 days that we worked we couldn't find one single Henslow's Sparrow. Instead we caught savannah sparrows (6 flew into the net all at once), field sparrows and grasshopper sparrows. To most people these guys all look alike, little brown birds with chirpy calls. But they're pretty different; grasshopper sparrows are the closest looking to Henslow's but their call sounds almost exactly like a grasshopper. Field sparrows sound like somebody dropped a ping-pong ball and it's bouncing across the floor. Savannah sparrows are pretty quiet, but they stay in groups of 3-10 most of the time, while other sparrows fly in ones and twos. Finally, on Thursday Levi heard our first Henslow. Their call is pretty short, but they throw their head back and open their little beak up like they're belting out an opera. We spotted the little guy with our scope and set our mist nets up in a basket shape. Slowly the three of us crept out and around him, while he kept singing. Then we ran (oddly, running across a tall-grass prairie is a lot easier than walking) and chased him into the net with shouts of triumph.
Levi with the first Henslow's Sparrow of the season.

When I held him he decided to show his backside to the camera.

He was more cooperative for Keith's picture.

This is how we sex the birds and determine how much fat stores they have.

They don't really like us much by the time we finish getting our data.

So we let them fly off to continue singing.

Our feistiest Sparrow kept biting everything, including his own wing when we let him go.

This is a swamp sparrow, they're redder than Henslow's and prefer to live by creeks and ponds.

This is what it looks like when a bird gets caught in a mist net.

Very pale Savannah Sparrow staring into Levi's camera.

Brown thrashers are mimics, this guy lived up to his name and thrashed enough in the net to lose a claw.

He had a bit of an attitude, but so would I if I lost a toe to Aliens.

If you lift the birds up while holding their feet they automatically get set to fly away.

While being very pretty, Cardinals beaks are strong enough to draw blood, like this guy did.
This is the main point of mist netting, banding the birds.
Missouri has been pretty exciting so far, I've seen quite a few birds that I've never seen before (and will hopefully soon get pictures of). I plan on using some of my free time to go take more pictures of whatever wildlife I can find and I'll keep taking pictures of all the different birds we net. Soon some the migratory birds will be coming back and we might get an indigo or painted bunting or some other really cool birds. I'm also secretly hoping that we'll catch a short eared owl or another raptor in the net, but I doubt our little nets would survive and I wouldn't want to sew up the hole they'd punch in the net.  It's bad enough having to sew up the holes that the smaller birds make.