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Vehicles, power lines and badly-located wind turbines are all stunningly efficient at maiming or killing birds, and birds of prey are certainly no exception.
Some of the less-badly-injured individuals are capable of surviving if they receive care from rehabilitation experts, and a lucky few are subsequently able to be released back into the wild. However, this leaves a question about what should happen to the ones that are too badly hurt ever to be released. They are, after all, wild creatures and may take very badly to the stress of being kept captive, surrounded by what they should logically perceive to be dangerous predators — we humans!
Should they be kept as pets? That’s highly questionable. But if looked after by experts who have the birds’ best interests at heart and they are used to genuinely improve understanding of wild creatures and their needs, then the desirability of this situation undeniably shifts.
We had the good fortune to watch a demonstration by Anne Schnell, of Braddock Bay Raptor Research [BBRR], who had a very clear understanding and affinity for her charges; on this occasion an Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio) and a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).
But, albeit light-heartedly, the final photograph above is dedicated to the true target audience for such events — the younger generation (no matter how young!) who will need to take up the running and improve on the vital conservation work that has been done so far. And if we fail to preserve the environment then everything else is a total waste of time and effort…. My apologies for the seriousness of this closing aspect, but that’s exactly what it is: serious!
(Part 1 of this article — Songbird Banding — may be viewed here)
Our Wildlife Watchers and Nature Photographers group trip to the Braddock Bay Raptor Research center [BBRR] was primarily about the annual springtime phenomenon of mass migration involving birds of prey. By happy coincidence, many of our friends from the Buffalo Ornithological Society were there at the same time.
Like many hawk-watch locations, success at Braddock Bay is very dependent on the weather, with the optimum opportunities coming on days when the wind is from the south west. On the day of our visit, it seemed as though the wind, at various times, came from every direction except the south west! Such is life.
Even so, for those with the patience to wait on the viewing platform, there was still plenty to see. Sightings while we were there included:
Broad-winged Hawk (in ‘kettles’ of 30-200)
The lakeside location plus the nearby bushes and woodland also provided plenty of interest with relevant species.
The Braddock Bay Raptor Research center [BBRR] is located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario near the north west corner of Rochester, NY, a city famous as the global headquarters of Kodak, and BBRR was the primary reason for today’s visit.
More will be written in Part 2 of this four-part article (see foot of page for links) regarding the excellent opportunities to watch migrating raptors at BBRR, and the reason they come here in high numbers but our group visit, on 27 April 2014, started with an owl prowl which disappointingly drew a blank, then we continued with a visit to the nearby Braddock Bay Bird Observatory [BBBO] banding station.
In my own opinion, one of the best things to come out of the banding visit was the chance to see North America’s two kinglet species, side-by-side.
The Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) has, as its name makes clear, a golden or yellowy-coloured crown, front-to-back on its head, but when seen in the wild, it differs most visibly from the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) in having full-head-length black and white stripes above its eyes, whereas the the Ruby-crowned has only a white ring around its eyes. The ruby-crowned also has the ability to hide its bright red pate under the surrounding drab olive feathers, to help with camouflage when predators are about (see photo, left).
The most remarkable fact of all is that Golden-crowned Kinglets — tiny, 4-inch long insect-eaters — overwinter not only throughout the USA but also in southern Canada and even in Alaska. The obvious question is how do they find their tiny insect prey species in frozen north woods in winter. When I have the time, this will be the subject of a separate post in this blog.
Back to the subject of the BBBO station, it is always a pleasure to watch the deftness and gentleness of experienced bird ringers/banders — the way they can hold tiny and relatively fragile creatures securely without causing any harm — and the three ladies today were no exception. I even asked them whether women are better at handling tiny birds than are men but was told it is not a gender issue, it’s just down to the care and to some extent the hand-size of the person in question.
Each bird brought in is checked to see whether it is already wearing a band (referred to as a ‘ring’ in British birding circles), in which case the number is noted so that the bird’s movements since it was first ringed may be recorded. If that’s not the case then obviously a ring is fitted and the number on such is noted and entered into the system. Over the last 25-30 years, how much must computerisation and the Internet have done for bird banding research, around the world?!
The bird is also checked in relation to gender and physical condition. Measurements are taken and — perhaps the strangest sight for first-time viewers — the breast feathers are gently blown back so that the amount of fat the bird is carrying can be estimated. This is crucial to the bird’s ability to migrate. If it isn’t carrying enough fat (fuel!) it will not survive the long journey.
When it came to releasing these remarkable little creatures, one was gently held to people’s ears so that we could hear the heartbeat — so fast that it could best be described as a purring noise.
Thank you to the BBBO banding team for the demonstration. It is always a privilege to see this ‘up close and personal’ side of birds and the research work. Without the efforts of banders/ringers over the decades, it is frightening to think how little we would still know about birds… period!
Other sections of this topic:
Part 1: Songbird Banding — you are currently on this page
Make no mistake, if you were a flying insect dragonflies would represent a brutal threat to your existence, and in earlier stages of life, dragonfly nymphs — in their months or years underwater — make the ‘Aliens’ of movie-fame look like wimps!
Go back in time and they were even more fearsome. Meganeuropsis permiana, which was related to the present-day dragonflies, had an estimated wingspan of almost 28 inches, and this is the length of a big man’s arm, all the way from armpit to outstretched fingertips. As its species name shows, Meganeuropsis lived in the Permian era, and the fossils showing its size were found at Elmo, Kansas.
Many people may see butterflies as being more attractive than dragonflies — although some of us would disagree with that — but when it comes to evolutionary excellence the dragonfly is surely a candidate to be the king of the insect world. Their eyesight is astonishing and their flying abilities must surely leave helicopter and fighter pilots envious!
Dragonflies (Anisoptera) and their cousins the damselflies (Zygoptera) together form an order of carnivorous insects called the Odonata (a.k.a. odonates, or simply ‘odes’ in everyday conversation).
Philip Corbet & Stephen Brook, in their ‘New Naturalist’ series book, ‘Dragonflies,’ (2008, UK), go one step further in recognising the amazing hunting skills of dragonflies when they suggest that true Anisopterans perhaps should be known as ‘warrior flies’.
To quote the British Dragonfly Society[BDS], “Dragonflies are good indicators of the health of a habitat, so any variation in distribution or population size can indicate changes on a wider environmental scale.” And in this day and age, that aspect alone is a serious reason for us taking interest.
Here on the west side of the Atalantic, there are a couple of key organizations:
The Dragonfly Society of the Americas [DSA] was organized during 1988 by several US Odonatists. Its purposes are to encourage scientific research, habitat preservation and the aesthetic enjoyment of Odonata;
The Xerces Society — nothing to do with Persian kings! — exists for the conservation of all invertebrates, odonates included.
In addition, and with strong support from both of the above, there is the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership [MDP], and as soon as time permits, I will be adding another page on this blog about the MDP ‘citizen science’ training day I attended (and greatly enjoyed) in New York State, in April 2014.
Last but by no means least, there is Odonata Central, an excellent resource for anyone wishing to identify dragonflies or damselflies that they have encountered.
My father-in-law Bob kindly saved an article from yesterday’s Buffalo News for me, under the heading of ‘Peewee predators’. (Science Page [page H6], Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014).
It originated from the New York Times and focuses on recent research which rather surprisingly describes how useful salamanders are at helping to combat greenhouse gasses! Who would have thought it!
By far the best write-up on salamanders that I have ever encountered is spread through what is — perhaps unsurprisingly — one of the very best natural history books I have ever read, namely The Forest Unseen, by David George Haskell, a professor of biology at the University of the South, in Tennessee.
One small excerpt rather dramatically covers the ‘peewee predator’ aspect mentioned above, as follows: “Salamanders are the sharks of the leaf litter, cruising the waters and devouring smaller invertabrate animals. Evolution has discarded Plethodon’s lungs to make its mouth a more effective snare. By eliminating the windpipe and breathing through its skin, the slamander frees its maw to wrestle prey without pause for breath.”
Last but by no means least, I’m going to mention the Woods, Walks and Wildlife blog I came across, from Connecticut, which includes some really pleasing photographs of red-spotted newts and efts (the same species at different stages of life). Check it out!