Trailblazing Turkeys

At work on Friday I was called into the museum room to witness an unusual sight. Gazing out the windows at the aviaries, we beheld a visitor. Not the usual red-tails that Ruby calls down, but a new species: turkeys. These turkeys decide to do a close inspection of the aviary.

Turkey stands on the aviary. Tenafly Nature Center. March 7, 2014

Wild Turkey stands on the aviary. Tenafly Nature Center. March 7, 2014

It was impossible to decipher what the raptors thought as first one turkey investigated the top of the aviary, and then a second. The turkeys initially kept to the wooden support beams, but soon braved the mesh, walking right over the owls. Initially the owls watched, then Mene coughed up a pellet and appeared to go to sleep.

Barred Owls receive a visitor. Tenafly Nature Center. March 7, 2014

Barred Owls receive a visitor. Tenafly Nature Center. March 7, 2014

After several minutes of running about and unsuccessful pecking at the air beneath the mesh, one turkey jumped off the roof. The other made a run for the edge and stopped short, thinking twice. We missed the second jump as we got distracted by work once again.

Haven’t done much birding or photo-editing lately. Waiting for warmer weather. Soon.

Fighting to Stay in the Game

So my 5oth entry “Back with a Bang” has been delayed.   It was such a fantastic name for a 50th entry, too!  But I haven’t had a chance to do more than write the title and create a draft before this shorter and more urgent update came along.

Life has been and continues to be crazy.   Since my last post a month ago, I have moved (again!),  started a second job, and am in the midst of trying to figure out PhD program stuff.  Like realizing I need to take the GREs again and my weekends are filled from now through forever.  My most recent move puts me halfway in between my two jobs, away from my former birding patches, but near some new ones including the Meadowlands and Garrett Mountain. I do however remain in the county I’ve been working in, so I don’t have to start from scratch with my ebird county lists.   I am playing catch up at my new job as I scramble to put together a course days before I need to teach each unit.  I finally got my ID and parking decals for the faculty lot – so it feels more official that I’m an (adjunct) college professor. Whee!  Do college professors say whee?  This one does.   PhD process is at a standstill as I continue to pack and try to move in and find things again.  Am also working full time for the last three weeks at my first job in order to cover staffing shortages due to vacations and departures.  So the few days I have off I have either been working or moving.  (Though on Saturday the trip to Brigantine, or the Biggest Birding Expedition of the Season finally occurred and will shortly appear as Back with a Bang).

After 3 accidents creating congestion on my 14 mile commute to work, I made it in to learn a resident in a neighboring town had called in a report of an injured Great Horned Owl.  Now, we typically don’t do rescues or rehabilitation, but my boss made an exception as it was a Great Horned Owl, as they have powerful claws and who doesn’t want to play with an owl?

So I jumped back in my car armed with 5 gloves, a dog crate, blanket, rake and a vague sense of what I was about to do. Be a football player. Be. a. football. player.  Right.

I got there, let myself into the backyard to find the owl crouched on the ground, reasonably alert, but stationary. When crows cawed above, the ear tufts would perk; if we waked near, it would register our presence.  The women reported that the owls wings appeared intact, but occasionally the owl would appear to have seizures.

The women were already well prepared.  They had gloves, blanket, and their own dog crate at the ready, I armed the two women who made the call with gloves and a rake to help surround the owl and then slowly approached.  I had both hands gloved.  I opted for the large welder gloves because they went further up my arm than my preferred leather glove that almost fits my hand.   I was thankful I had thrown last years boots that went nearly to my knees as they added an extra layer of protection for my legs.

I approached slowly, waiting to see how the bird would react.  The owl was calm. Then flipped onto its back, thrusting its feet into the air toward me; a defensive posture. It might have been a fearsome display if at that moment the owl hadn’t been wracked by some form of seizure causing the bird to shake and lose muscle control.  I darted in and grabbed the owl by both legs.  One hand for each leg and hoisted it into the air.  I then walked the shaking owl to the cage and as the shudders ceased and wings folded back in, I gently eased the owl into the dog crate.

Great Horned Owl crouches after sustaining an unknown injury.

Great Horned Owl crouches after sustaining an unknown injury.

At this point, my role in the story was over.  I returned to work.  The women went off to Raptor Trust with the owl.  I have to contact Raptor Trust later this week for unrelated reasons, so will hopefully have a (positive) update.

The Birding I Didn’t Do

Resulted in two lifers!

Saturday was the World Series of Birding.  Being a birder in New Jersey, one can’t help but be aware of the World Series of Birding.  My introduction to it came in the form of my undergraduate ornithology class where each lab was structured like the WSB.   I also know multiple people who have participated.

I didn’t do the World Series of Birding.  I wanted to but (1) work and (2) knowledge that I wasn’t fully ready for such an adventure prevented me.  But it’s a life goal. So someday.  That didn’t make seeing people running up and down our trails with binoculars while I was working any easier!  (Granted they could have been just birding, but still!)

As I was wrapping up work and getting ready to meet my family for shenanigans, one of my coworkers yelled Scarlet Tanager and sprinted for the window.  Needless the other two of us in the room belted for the windows as well.  For both of us, it was a lifer.  Between the three of us, we had 1 set of binoculars and 1 cell phone.  However, the Scarlet Tanager was very accommodating, staying long enough for each of us to get a prolonged view with the binoculars and some group work achieved this:

Digi-binning a lifer: Scarlet Tanager

Digi-binning a lifer: Scarlet Tanager

I was holding the binoculars and camera, while a coworker steadied my elbow.  As we were drifting back towards work, another new bird flew in!  a female Black-throated Blue Warbler who boasts neither a black throat nor blue.  But she shares the same abrupt white wing bar as her male conspecifics.   She wasn’t as cooperative so no fancy photo of her!


Entering the Lost Brook Preserve.

Entering the Lost Brook Preserve… Feels more like a lost world.

Now that the thesis is over, I’ve been making up for my lack of birding!  After work on Tuesday, I decided to do some birding on site. (Seems silly to go elsewhere when one works at at nature center known for its warblers!) I did about 90 minutes, seeing new trails and picking up 1 new species for the year, the Gray Catbird.  However, I was most excited about identifying the Brown Thrasher by call.

Thrasher sings at the top of the tree.

Thrasher sings at the top of the tree.  Merry, merry king of the bushes, he!  Digiscoped with the binoculars… Can one still say scoped if one uses binoculars?

We had encountered the Brown Thrasher twice at Garrett Mountain.  On the first visit, we didn’t get a visual, but we were luckier on the second.  The second visit also gave me the clue to look at the very top of the trees to locate him.   On both visits, he sounded like a hyperactive mockingbird which shorter snippets in the repertoire.

I had about 21 birds identified.  One unidentified wren; along with a few songs I didn’t know – so not so bad!

Full Moon Hike

There are days when when I definitely have the best job in the world.  (TM)  Stayed on campus, working on thesis revisions until 2am on Wednesday before driving home.  Revised the entire thesis in about 8 hours.  Which is ridiculous at some level.  Which probably explains why I am now sick.  It started off as a sore throat, became an annoying cough, and today is a very hoarse voice and truth be told, a painful cough.  But I am still going to work because I am the only one in this morning and because there is something very bird related I need to do!

Yesterday, I went on an amazing bird-related adventure for work, which I will relate later.  In the evening, I led a 2-hour full moon hike.  Not much of a hike as the group wanted to stand and watch the things we saw.  I forget that people don’t realize how amazing all the wildlife and ecosystems around us really are – I see it all the time, and teach it all the time, so even when I’m not there I know, but most people don’t.  We saw a Wild Turkey running down a trail, watched the Red Wing Blackbirds setting up their territories, the Canada Geese come home for the night, a Great Blue Heron finding its final meal of the day, bats come out to scatter around the sky searching for insects, we heard bull frogs, spring peepers and one other species of frog wake up, spooked a deer and one other thing we couldn’t identify.  The bats swooped across the night sky and dipped into the pond creating ripples along the flat surface.  We watched the sun set and the moon rise.

Trying to Cope

This post is not a lament of birding I haven’t done.

Disclaimer:  no bird was hurt in the processes described within.

Rather the title refers to the falconer’s definition of coping, to clip or dull the beak or talons of a raptor.  Although to struggle with is an apt description based on some of the stories I’ve heard.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the center I work for has two rehabilitated raptors: a Barred Owl and a Red-tailed Hawk.  Every season we have to cope the birds.  And they have to cope with us All The Time.  They dislike this process of coping immensely and who can blame them?  They are trussed like chickens and chopped at like suey.

For the owl, it’s a two person process.  Yes,  it requires two people because it involves wrangling.   My boss and I tackled the owl first.    The first task is to lay the owl on it’s back and then wrap a towel around the body.  Like a horse, if the raptor can’t see, then it’s less likely to make a fuss.  Also, so long as you have a firm wrap, the wings can’t get free and beat you.  Or worse yet, allow the bird to fly away.   Once the wings are secure, you need to readjust the grip of the feet.  This is where I came in: my responsibilities were to hold the feet and to keep the towel in place.  It may not sound like much, but if I failed, we would have had an owl on the prowl.

Once the owl was down, we checked the jesses and decided to swap them out for new ones.  A bold move because at this point should the owl break lose, it would truly be free – the owl will not step onto a glove for love nor money, nor mice.  The transfer went successfully, then we trimmed all four talons on each foot; inspected the feet for abrasions and treated them with a bit of vitamin E.   For trimming we basically use the same sort of nail trimmer you would use for a dog or cat.  Following this, Mitzi did get a wing free and made the rest of the process slightly more difficult.  The next step was to cope her beak.  Surely you know all the joy and excitement one experiences from a trip to the dentist.  Mitzi can empathize – especially that moment when the dentist approaches, the machinery is humming and you realize that thing is going into your mouth.  We do the same to Mitzi. For coping the beak, we use a dremel which files down the beak.  We also have a file and can use which ever seems more appropriate at the moment.  Beaks like talons grow continuously.  In the wild, most birds naturally wear this down.  Captive birds need a little assistance.

Before unraveling the owl, we checked her keel.  If you think of the keel of the ship – straight line down the bottom of the ship’s middle – lowest part – dead center, the keel on a bird is very similar.  It’s a large protruding bone from the chest – where our flat sternum is.  The keel is essential for flight as it’s what the flight muscles anchor to, allowing the bird to become airborne.   I got to feel her keel.  I had felt the feel of some small winter bird – titmice or chickadees back in 2010 during a visit to the School of Conservation, but it was definitely a difference experience to feel a keel on a raptor because it’s much harder to miss.

The last step is to weigh bird.  First one frees the bird.  She baits.  She settles. Baits again.  And then perhaps a person can convince her to step blindly backwards onto the perch screwed to the scale.  You then hope she perches long enough for the scale to get a read.  Then you return her to her box.  With relief, she dives in and proceeds to very audibly scold you for the torture season.

I don’t have any pictures of this process since it was a two person job and two people were present.

The Red-tailed Hawk comprised Act II.  As a larger bird, she requires three people.  In this case, one person to hold the towel over her and the other to worry about keeping the talons separated.  I remained on talon duty and we called in the front desk to hold down to fort over the wings.

She was very well behaved as we put her through the same processes of checking and caring for her feet, her beak, and then checking her keel and weight.  Her keel had a very different feel.  It was very…. plump.  Ruby’s not a lightweight.  In fact she clocked in at 4.6 lbs which is heavy for a Red-tail.  She put on 0.5 lbs since the last coping.    Imagine balancing 4.6 lbs on your non-dominant wrist/hand.   Mitzi remained at 1.6 lbs.

Interested in learning more?

The Bird Skeleton.  Avian Anatomy and Morphology.
.  The Modern Apprentice.
Foot Care
. The Modern Apprentice.
Falcon Beak Coping Part 4. Canadian Bird Nerd (note: we don’t sedate our birds)

Cure for the Birding Blues

The weather recovered quickly.  Two days above 50, most of the snow is gone and I may have my first sunburn of the year. So, highlights:

Got home from work yesterday, decided to walk to my favorite birding patch.  It’s a mile down the road all along one of the Hudson River Tributaries so the entire walk has the potential to be a lovely bird experience.  The walk goes nearly halfway across the Hudson River and is a bird mecca, or at least a frequently birded place by local Audubon outings. In the summer, with the shimmering heat, it’s like walking through VanGogh’s mind.

Birds at the Pier yesterday: Canada Goose, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Ring-billed Gull Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Finch, House Sparrow.

A bit disappointing – normally there are more ducks… hello Mallard? There was a stiff wind.

So, I decided to head back there this morning.  The Pier is a lovely combination of woods, river, and wetland.  Watching ebird, I know people bird it in the morning and have fantastic luck (Iceland Gull, Common Goldeneye).  So I was out there, and, boy, was I surprised to find it was flooded.  The flood waters up to the road on the way in should have been an indicator.  Possibly some combination of high tide and wind.

So instead of walking the mile out and back, I contented myself with wandering past the dogpark and into the woods where I met a man walking his Napoleon-complex-dog.

Birds at the Pier this morning: Canada Goose, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Carolina Wren, American Robin, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle and others I couldn’t identify, including these:

Closer, closer, closer, but who are we?

Closer, closer, closer, but who are we?  Click on image for a closer look.

My guess is Red-tailed Hawk based on (1) size, (2) location – have personally seen Red-tails here although others have seen Bald Eagles, Coopers, and Marsh Hawks, (3) have seen Red-tails pairing up recently, and (4) they look just like the Red-tailed Hawks I photographed yesterday.  My biggest reason why I’m not confident on this ID is the pale rusty-orange tinge of the leg feathers.  It’s in multiple photos.  It could be a product of poor lighting – they were out where the water was and I couldn’t get to a better view despite my best efforts.

New visitors to the yard over the last few days have included: Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Wild Turkey, and American Tree Sparrow.


The turkey looks so majestic with those bold colors, and also, so reptilian.

As I was finishing up at work today, one of our members/volunteers stopped in to record a sighting on the grounds: Hermit Thrush.  So of course, once I locked up the building I had to go have a look-see.  While I was out there making my way around the pond, the Belted Kingfisher was going berserk.  Sounded like a bee in his bonnet.

TNC birds: American Black Duck, Mallard, Hooded Merganser, Northern Harrier, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Red-winged Blackbird, and Common Grackle, and…. Hermit Thrush!

Now you see me! Now you don't! The Hermit Thrush bustled about.

Now you see me! Now you don’t! The Hermit Thrush bustled about, too busy for photographs.

The Moment You Knew

Everyone has that moment of clarity when they realize their calling to bird.  When I figure out what mine was, I’ll let you know.  (We all have those moments, we just don’t all remember them!)  What I wanted to recall today was watching someone else’s moment.

At work we will frequently all run to one side, not because the building is listing, but because someone has just spotted a noteworthy bird.    We spent nearly a week determining whether our visiting hawk was a Red-Shoulder or a Cooper’s Hawk.  Every time the bird appeared, there’d be a run to the windows and a phone call to the lower offices to alert them as well.  This is what happens when you work at a nature center.

The only avian activity this week has been the woodpeckers.  Apparently there was a false alarm a few days ago regarding a Pileated Woodpecker sighting.  We do have them, but bird in question happened to be a Red-bellied Woodpecker.    So today, when the real Pileated made an appearance close to the center my co-worker was elated.   He was the one to spot it and had enough time to run inside to grab binoculars for a better look.    Standing in the cold sans coats, we watched a Red-bellied and Pileated systematically climb up the snags searching for grub.  When he walked in well after the rest of us, he was glowing and not from the cold.  In his future he perceived making plans and investments for a continued search for feathered friends.

Another birder is born!  Trips to the Meadowlands are closer than they appear.  Then Cape May, Hawk Mountain, and then the world!

In other news, “thesis” outline submitted to adviser!

Better Late Than Never

So it’s the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend!  Unfortunately, a combination of extra hours at work, exams and a baby shower has kept me away from windows and the outdoors this weekend so my participation has been limited.  But work was invited to help kick off the gbbc in a big way.

On Friday, Fox and Friends did a segment with Wild Birds Unlimited.  The Tenafly Nature Center, where I work, was invited to participate in this component by contributing two of our Animal Ambassadors: Mitzi, the Barred Owl, and Ruby, the Red-tailed Hawk.

Video: Fox and Friends Segment: February, 15, 2013.

More about our birds: Mitzi, gender unknown, was a wild bird who was injured as an adult.  The left wing was injured and s/he can’t sustain flight.  However, s/he gets great exercise whenever we enter the aviary as s/he practices evasion maneuvers.

Ruby, was injured as a juvenile, thus is more tolerant of human presence.  She dislikes being outdone by Mitzi and performs back flips for attention or to avoid annoying tasks.  Ruby is blind in her left eye.

And yes, we at the center immediately noted that Barred Owl was misspelled.  However, most important, I believe, is the exposure the gbbc, birding, and conservation had their 3 minutes of fame on Fox news.