Catching Kestrels

With kestrel research this year we’ve made a concerted effort to capture and identify or band all adult kestrels. We also needed to visit newly hatched boxes to determine the day of hatching.  Determining the day of hatching determines the banding and tagging window.  This requires going into the field a couple times a week to visit all the active boxes, which means my free days are typically busier than the days I work.

On this particular day a few weeks ago, we were joined by two by two turtlers (people who work with turtles; verb is to turtle.) for a day of kestreling (to specifically seek out kestrels).

The chosen one (me!( saunters down the road with the modified butterfly net.

The chosen one (me!) saunters down the road with the modified butterfly net.

Catching adults involves the use of a modified butterfly net. A chosen individual (think shortest straw or Hunger Games style selection process) assembles the net and proceeds on the quest to sneak up to the box and slip the net over while the remainder of the team sits in the car and bets on your success. When you are successful, the entry hole is successfully blocked, allowing the team to drive up, scale a ladder, and remove any inhabitants.

Here I am learning how to handle adults.  This is my teacher look.

Here I am learning how to handle adults. This is my teacher look.

On this particular day, I began learning how to remove the kestrels from the butterfly net which is a delicate process because kestrels have claws of death and they are none too pleased with you.

Female after banding.

Female kestrel, after banding.

We determine whether the birds are returns from a previous year, new to the area, or banded by someone else. We measure wing and tail feather length and weigh the birds before release. In the event that it is a new bird, we also band and tag the bird.

With the checks at this age, we simply weight them. Their weight allows us to determine hatch date. At this time kestrels gain weight at a uniform rate so you can backtrack to figure out when hatching occurred. Then you return during the banding window to band and tag the chicks.

Baby kestrels have attitude from the day they hatch.

Baby kestrels have attitude from the day they hatch.

Here are the chicks we’ve pulled from one of the last boxes of the day. You can see how small and scrawny they are.

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Baby Kestrel peers up at the world.

Kestrel temper tantrum from being removed from the nest box.

Baby kestrels sleep in the sun. Warmth is warmth.

They’re pretty docile. They have no idea what is going on. There’s a bit of whimpering and murmuring, but nothing like the older chicks or the adults! Once the measurements are complete, we return them to the boxes. At this particular box there were 4 chicks that were hatched and 1 egg.

I climb back up to the box to return the chicks to the nest.

I climb back up to the box to return the chicks to the nest.

I climbed back up to return the four to the nest and this is what I discovered:

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A kestrel chick that hatched just moments ago.  Still  in the egg!

A kestrel chick that hatched just moments ago. Still in the egg!

In the moments we had them down for weighing, the last egg hatched! This is a kestrel hatched moments ago!

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Death Comes to Wapalanne

**Graphic Image Below**

<<Okay, computer appears to be finally functional again!  Both browsers took a vacation and I couldn’t upload photos off my phone for unknown reasons.  >>

Friday saw my return to Lake Walapanne at the School of Conservation for further adventure in turtle research.   Unlike Monday it did not begin raining upon my arrival, so things were looking up.  That was soon to change….

The plan was to set up traps in preparation for the herpetology program being held there for the next two weeks.  We hiked up the trail toward Spring Cabin, the rustic retreat of the D.E.P.  which was both rustic and remote.    Along the trail we set up minnow traps.  Returning to base camp, we finally located the missing funnel traps and headed back out to set the snake traps.

Rustic getaway of the NJDEP which is really rustic!

Rustic getaway of the NJDEP which is really rustic!

On our way back down the trail, we heard what sounded like a bewildered or very alarmed child in the daylight, but what could pass for a gruesome murder by the dark of night.  Hear for yourself.

Afterwards, we altered the plan and decided to check the basking traps via canoe before walking the perimeter to the check the hoop traps due to the chancy weather.   As we headed to the northern portion of the lake, the clouds began to roll in.

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls over Lake Walapanne.

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls over Lake Walapanne.

While the rain threatened, the thunder held off.  From all the traps, we collected a total of…… 1 turtle!   Which despite the lousy number, is actually very good news because data is data.

We processed BIO, the Painted Turtle.  Seriously, that was her name and when it came time to return her to the lake, it was pouring!   I drenched my loafers. (This was apparently a hard lesson to learn as I’ve soaked two pairs of shoes in 24 hours  Three pairs of shoes in 48 hours.).

Afterwards, we went to dinner.  When we came back, the other instructors for the Herpetology and Forensic Insects workshop were there.  So we went on a walk to insect the carcasses that were placed out to entice insects.

At the stillborn calf, we watched a fly lay eggs.

At the stillborn calf, we watched a fly lay eggs.

Apparently all the years of watching TV crime and forensic television allowed squeamishness to stay far from me!  The instructor placed 3 carcasses out in coyote traps (to prevent bears from feasting).  That night we walked to the three bodies to inspect the earliest arrivals.  The fly pictured above was in the process of laying eggs – you can see some just to the left – they’re the yellowish color in between the teeth.  As we poked and prodded the cow, the fly was indifferent.   Even touching the fly produced no observable change in behavior: she kept moseying down the tongue looking for an appropriate place for an egg dump.  During this process, I was also kicked by a dead sheep as these large animals are awkward to maneuver, especially when thawing!  But none the less it was a cool experience.

*Published in 1885, Wapalanne means “the stream whereon is the bald eagle’s nest” courtesy of Indian Local Names: With Their Interpretation By Stephen Gill Boyd.

The Merry Month of May

Was very busy!  I only submitted 24 lists, most of which were megathon outings from fieldwork for either kestrels or turtles because May has been a very busy month (as has June!)  In addition to the birding,  I worked extra hours every week, defended my thesis, completed my Masters Program, and moved!

May saw 32 life birds, 113 different species, bringing the total to 150 for the year.

Cormorants sunbathing after work.

Cormorants sunbathing after work.

Apparently I’m on a cormorant kick. Hopefully more posts as we settle into the month, including another kestrel research update from the most recent outing.