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!