Saturday, October 6, 2012

With Map and Compass

Had an exciting phone call from greysquirl late this afternoon. She reported seeing turkey vultures roosting along Highway 240 northeast of town. I grabbed keys and camera and headed for the car with Lloyd following close behind. We must have been a sight. L had put on his heavy bathrobe over his clothes to keep warm and didn't bother to swap it for a jacket. (He's from New Orleans and looks for heavy jackets and scarves if the temp drops below 65 F.)

There was a solid overcast, so although it was only 6:15 pm, dusk was settling. We got to the designated spot in time to see a dozen or so birds soaring and swooping above the tree line but did not see any roosting in a tree. We continued along 240 to its junction with Eastwood to come back west. When we got to the spot where we'd seen the massing of turkey vultures a few days ago, we saw several coming in from the area we'd just left.

One of the neighbors told me that there is a big poplar tree on the south side of Eastwood where he has seen about 75 birds roosting. He says it can be seen from the road when the trees lose some of their leaves.

There were no good photo opportunities, but when we came home, I fired up Google Earth, snipped a couple maps of the area and labeled them. (Click on the maps to enlarge.)

The first map is the general area showing the east side of Marshall. The main traffic way for the turkey vultures seems to be along the railroad and Salt Fork Creek. We see them to the east and west, over town and farmland, but they seem to use the rr/creek corridor as a home base.

The next map is a closeup of the sighting areas. #1 marks where greysquirl stood and the direction she was looking when she saw the birds soaring and roosting in the area of the small oval. #2 marks the spot where the poplar tree roost is located. The large circle around it marks the rough outline of where L and I saw the large gathering a few days ago. It also shows the small railroad yard where backen and I saw the turkey vultures sunning themselves one morning. (Photos here)

It's obvious that a hint of frost isn't enough to drive the birds to warmer climes, as they're still here. We're heading southward ourselves soon and will have to rely on greysquirl and backen to report when (if?) the vultures leave.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Birds of a Feather

This afternoon we drove over to Indian Hill Park to look for turkey vultures and were blessed with a kettle of maybe 60-75 birds soaring over the woods east of Salt Fork Creek. We watched them for 10 to 15 minutes. They seemed to be making a wide-sweeping circle centered on the woods south of the road. No way to get there to look for roost. After about 20 minutes, all of them had disappeared, apparently into the woods.

What a sight! Wonder if they are gathering to migrate south.

Click on pictures for larger version.

Sorry for the jerky parts of the video. Editing is not part of my skill set. Click on the little triangle-marked button at lower left to launch.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Finding Bits (We know where Nemo is!)

One day short of three weeks ago (September 1st), the second turkey vulture chick fledged. Both Big Bit and Li'l Bit were seen in the area a week later. John Carton got pictures. Today my friend Bev and I went hunting. On the Missouri Turkey Vultures website we're known as backen and kben920.

Click on a photo to see a larger version.

We arrived at the barn around 9 am and almost immediately saw a turkey vulture soaring overhead. It circled a bit and then left, headed toward the park, which is a mile or less east of the barn. On the day he fledged, we watched L'il Bit look long and hard out the north window of the loft. It's the top window in this picture. Considering he didn't know how far his wings would take him, he was smart enough not to launch from there. The bushes below the window are thorn-laden berry bushes. It would not have been a happy landing.

While at the barn, I snapped a picture of one of the nearby trees. A lot of the thumping noises we heard were likely the product of the branches hitting the tin roof.

This is the front of the barn. The hayloft door was the main entrance and exit for the turkey vultures. Don't you love the weathered look? The Parents chose a picturesque spot for the nursery!

We saw a couple of cicada shells on the door. We heard lots of singing cicadas while we watched the Bits on line. One of the chatters dubbed them "zizzers" from the sound they make. See the "writing" on the brick above the door? I think that's turkey vulture for "good-bye and have a great life."

Since there was no action near the barn, we followed the rough trail back into the woods behind the barn. The woods is dense with many fallen trees. We saw a lot of birds, including two woodpeckers that were having a gay old time playing tag in the treetops. The crows carried on a little bit and then disappeared.

As we returned to the barn area, we saw another turkey vulture circle overhead and disappear in the direction of the park. Bev spotted a couple of gorgeous beetles on a bush honeysuckle as we headed for the car. (If you know what this beetle is, please tell me via the comment box below.)

We drove east, toward the park, and saw a few vultures soaring. Just past the park entrance the road crosses a railroad bridge. In this picture you can see the rail line. The train sounds we hear on the web cam are from trains running along here. The hill behind the cars is the east side of the park.

From the road we spotted a turkey vulture sitting on the dark brown rail car. The tracks at this point are in a small depression with the road running high above. With little traffic on the line, this is a great place to catch some morning sun! The photo isn't very clear because of the distance, making it difficult to tell if this is an adult or juvenile.

When I got out of the van to get the photo, I must have triggered an alarm, as suddenly a venue of 7 or 8 vultures flew up from below the cars and headed eastward, toward the trees that line Salt Fork Creek. A little later we spotted a juvenile sitting on another rail car. Could this be one of the Bits? I'd like to think so. It appears to be about the age of "our" fledglings.

Attempts to get photos of the entire venue didn't turn out so well. They managed to fly between us and the sun, making it difficult to see. I deleted a dozen or more photos of clear blue sky, alas.

One of the birds flew west of us and I managed to catch him on the return flight. This photo and the one of the juvie made this excursion a definite success in my book!

Please note that I used a generic he in describing the birds as there is no way to identify gender by sight.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Raptor Rehabilitation Project, UMo Columbia

This post leaves the garden for a field trip to Columbia, Missouri, and a picnic at the Raptor Rehabilitation Project at the University of Missouri's School of Veterinary Medicine. What a grand afternoon!

The picnic and open house was for members of the program and friends who "adopt" a resident bird by donating to its upkeep. I adopted Sir Piginous, the turkey vulture, this summer after becoming fascinated with the species while watching a pair of turkey vultures hatch and raise two chicks in a barn in Marshall, Missouri, just six blocks from our house. The site is on Ustream at Missouri Turkey Vultures, sponsored by the Raptor Resource Project of Decorah, Iowa. Although the chicks have fledged, there is hope that the parents will return to the nest next spring.

The Columbia rehabilitation center is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Its goals are threefold: to rehabilitate injured birds of prey and release them into the wild; to educate the public about raptors and their importance to the environment; and to gain further knowledge about treatment of birds of prey and species behavior.

Birds whose injuries are such that they would not survive in the wild are evaluated for participation in the education outreach program.

Since 1972, the Project has maintained an all-volunteer group of veterinary students, other students, and community members. Financial and technical support comes from the College of Veterinary Medicine, the University of Missouri, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and community donations.

The Project is located below the College of Veterinary Medicine complex in a quiet area. Over the years it has grown to include large flight cages and individual mews for resident birds. The large building to the right is the flight cage for large birds, such as eagles and turkey vultures. In this building the birds can exercise to gain wing strength before release.
(Click the photos for a larger image.)

We were privileged to see the release of this little hawk as one of the picnic activities. I'm sorry I don't know which hawk it is. We heard a lot of information, and some it has slipped away! Perhaps someone can tell me so it can be properly identified.

The main purpose of the visit was to see Sir Piginous -- aka Sir P. We were disappointed to see his empty enclosure as we toured the Project. He had broken a bone in one leg some time ago, which was successfully pinned. Recently the pins began to migrate, a natural reaction to the healing, and were removed. He is in the small animal hospital in a holding cage that permits him to move easily but not to hop around or bang the leg while healing continues. It is estimated it will be another few weeks before he is returned to his mews. The good news is, the three of us were permitted to go to the hospital to see him! I didn't take any pictures, as he was not looking his best. This photo was taken from the Project's new brochure. Sir P at his finest.

The next photo is from the Raptor Rehabilitation Project's website. The website says:

The Department of Conservation found the mature Turkey Vulture in Marshall, Missouri on May 26, 2000. Sir P was found to be thin but otherwise healthy with the exception of an old and chronic fracture in the right wing. The fracture could not be repaired, and the vulture was not able to fly. "Sir P" remains at the compound and participates regularly in educational presentations. Sir Piginous's current weight is 1.75kg.

 There is an exercise line on the grounds, where tethered raptors can fly (if they are able) or walk for exercise. One of Sir P's handlers said that he likes to go to the far perch, away from people and buildings, and enjoy the sunshine. I estimate the distance between the perches as about 75-100 feet.

After the hawk was released and disappeared into the woods, seven of the resident birds were brought out for show and tell. The barred owl appeared to be very soft and fluffy.

This is one of the two great horned owls. You could tell they were a bit nervous as the white feathers under the chin did a lot of fluttering. The handlers said they do that when they are warm (a sort of panting) or agitated.

The Harlan's Hawk is the only resident who is not native to Missouri. The Harlans are a subspecies of Red Tailed Hawks. They live much farther north, but come South into this area to breed during the winter. This one was hit by a car and has a badly damaged wing. He took advantage of the breezy afternoon by spreading his wings frequently.

Here are two Red Tailed Hawks. The one on the left is a female and much larger than the male. The staff believe the female may be a cross between a Red Tailed and Harlan's hawk because of her unusual coloration.

Here is a better picture of the female Red Tailed Hawk.

This rumpled pile of feathers is another female Red Tailed Hawk. Her handler said that she looks like this most of the time, with feathers going every which way and tufts of down, normally hidden, poking out between her feathers.

All in all, a delightful afternoon. And the abundant food was good, too. Many thanks to the dedicated volunteers of the Raptor Rehabilitation Project! 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Turkey Vultures

For the past couple of months I've been following the hatch and growth of a couple of turkey vulture chicks on a Ustream channel The nest is in a barn only about 6 blocks from our house. Today one of them fledged, but not very successfully. One of the chatters sent this photo to me of Big Bit (as it was affectionately dubbed) on his way out the 2nd story door of the hayloft. His smaller sibling, Little Bit, is watching at right. 

The shed in the next photo is about 30 feet in front of the barn. BB didn't quite make his goal of the shed roof, although he apparently wasn't hurt in the crash and fall. He took off in the direction of the arrows, with the dog in pursuit but eventually took cover in a large brush pile. You can see more photos of his route on my fotki page.

Fotki wouldn't let me upload a video, so I'm putting it here. This was taken standing on the neighbor's property to the west of the barn and swings from the barn to the brush pile. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Seeds and Sprouts

The seeds are for the birds. It was my idea to put up a feeding station. Lloyd took it over as his own and the birds and squirrels are very happy about that. This feeder is for the squirrels, but the birds enjoy it, too.
Lloyd likes to offer choices. Note the layering of a mixure of seeds, fruits and nuts with sunflower seeds. We seem to have an abundance of finch food, so he mixes those little seeds in as well.

We don't normally put out suet in the summertime, but the birds do enjoy it. A flicker and downey woodpeckers come around regularly, but even the house finches peck away at it.

We enjoy watching the hummingbirds but were having a problem with ants. Found the little red ant barrier at the feed store. It is a cup filled with water. The ants can't get past it to get to the feeder.

And a good bit of news! The rolls that were put out three days ago have begun to sprout already. Click on the picture to enlarge so you can see them. I've marked some with red arrows.

I marked a weed with a blue arrow, spotted spurge. This grows flat to the ground and is really rather pretty with its pink stems. The plant has shallow roots and grows like a flat plate, with a diameter up to about 12-16". I've been pulling them up because my mind tells me "weed" -- but I'm wondering how much harm them might do if I let them grow as a green ground cover where the flower gardens are a bit sparse. A weed is a plant that's growing where you don't want it, so if I want it . . . lol

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Too Late to Plant?

A couple of weeks ago I saw some of those roll-out flower seed packs on sale for 99 cents at Menards. Who could resist? There is one section of the bed by the shed that  has just two lavender plants in it and has been a constant source of crabgrass all summer. I knew they had to be kept pretty damp to get the seeds to germinate and knew I'd be a way for several days last week, so I waited until today to put them out. Two parts are the Fragrance collection and the rest are English Garden.  Have no idea what's coming, but it has to be better than crabgrass!

The backyard is looking green thanks to a lot of watering.

This new piece of yard art showed up a few days ago, thanks to a good friend. :) Not sure it will stay in this spot, but it adds some welcome sparkle. That little cluster of brown leaves behind it is a lilac that survived weed-whacking and mowing only to succumb to the heat (or maybe overwatering). 

A couple of weeks ago I found some Genista broom moth caterpillars finishing dinner on the baptisia. They had stripped it entirely. I didn't get a picture of the caterpillars but you can see one here. This poor thing had its tap roots cut last year when I moved it and now this. Today I noticed that the bush is coming back. Hardy little soul! (And yes, I see the crabgrass ... *sigh*)

The lantanas are growing well. Some are nearly as bit as the mums now. These mums don't seem to want to flower early, as do the ones in back. The heat is throwing schedules off.

Just beyond the walkway in the photo above is this turtlehead. Despite watering, it gave up. I'm not pulling it yet, as last year it was nearly this dry looking and yet put out a blossom. Call me an optimist! 

The echinachea that loves the heat is getting to the end of its tether. The hollyhocks are a dead loss. This part of the garden needs rethinking next year.

Here's a long look at the front yard. Notice the rough-looking grass near the steps. It's a mix of crabgrass and clover. The restof the yard is Bermuda or wiregrass. It has been slowly taking over. In another year or so, I think the crabgrass/clover mix will be gone.

The south end of the front yard is in much better shape than the north end.

Here you can see the Bermuda/wiregrass creeping into the cosmos. It takes constant pulling to keep in somewhat in check, but it does make a nice carpet of green.

And to finish up on a depressing note, see the crabgrass among the bricks. I managed to pull about half of it out this morning after taking the picture. The temp was rising and so was the humidity, so the rest is left for another day.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A New Visitor to the Feeding Station

We have been enjoying the bird & squirrel feeders and birdbath almost as much as the visitors to them. I was the one who pressed to get something set up, but Lloyd has taken over and makes sure his little fur & feather friends have all they need. This is the main dining room. He has another shepherd's crook with two more feeders. There is a hummingbird feeder attached to the screened porch.

I made a  list of all of the birds we've seen so far. They include the usual run of cardinals, sparrows, nutchatches, downey woodpeckers, house finches, blue jays, golden finches, mourning doves, hummingbirds, and more. This past week we spotted some new visitors: Eurasian Collared Doves. they are a little bigger than the mourning doves. One of them came for several days and then one day showed up with a friend. I was so glad the camera was nearby!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


The heat has been relentless this summer, watering almost a full time occupation. Yet amid the sad and drooping plants there are some lovely surprises. The large dahlias are left from last year. Although they are somewhat delicate and need to be taken up in the winter, I didn't bother. With the relatively mild winter, they survived and are thriving. And remember the new dahlias in the front yard that got pulled out? I noticed that one or two had tiny new leaves, so instead of tossing them, I planted them in the back yard. The small green plants are growing well; seven of the eleven have so far survived.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Heat Takes a Toll

The echinachea seems to love the heat. The hollyhocks not so much.

June 24, 2012, was the date for the local garden tour. The heat kept a lot of people at home, but two friends and I did our best. They finished the tour, all fourteen stops, but I gave up after seven.  The only photo I'm going to share is of Wally George's tomatoes. He takes a bag of MiracleGro potting soil, cuts a square opening in the top, and plants the tomato in it. He punches holes on the bottom for drainage. You can see the bags below and the amazing height of the plants. And yes, they were loaded with tomatoes, not just a lot of foliage! (That's one of my friends in the photo to give it some scale.)