Category Archives: Eddie Wren – articles by

A link not to everything Eddie has posted but specifically to articles he has written himself.

An Increase in Tick Bites and Lyme Disease in the UK

Walkers in Britain are being urged to take extra precautions against tick bites this summer because an epidemic of blood-sucking ticks is likely, following a mild, wet winter that gave them perfect breeding conditions.

The warning was delivered by Richard Wall, Professor of Zoology at Bristol University, who says there’s no definitive data on how many ticks are in the country. Some areas have none. Others – usually woodland and heath areas – may have more than 100 per square metre. However, the general consensus among rural communities is they are on the increase, largely as a result of the warmer and wetter weather (good breeding conditions) and the growing number of wild deer (ticks like living on their skin).

Dog walkers are also being advised to check their pets thoroughly as well, because ticks spread other diseases too, not just Lyme Disease.

The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease — the most serious bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks — has also increased, according to Dr Tim Brooks, head of the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory. He says laboratory proven cases have risen from about 200 in the late 1990s, to 1,200 last year, although the actual number of cases is probably three times that. Awareness and testing of the disease has also gone up, so the figures have to be seen in that context, he adds.

Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed early. But neurological problems and joint pain can develop months or years later if it’s left untreated. In the worst cases, it can be fatal.

Typical bulls-eye style of rash around a bite from a Lyme-disease carrying tick.  Source: Wikimedia Commons
Typical bull’s-eye style of rash around a bite from a Lyme-disease carrying tick. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The most common symptom is a pink or red circular “bull’s-eye” rash that develops around the area of the bite, but it doesn’t appear in everyone. Flu-like symptoms and fatigue are other noticeable signs of infection.

Eddie adds:

Before feeding on the blood of their victim, the ticks are extremely small and difficult to see.  What is grimly worse is the fact that they actually burrow into their host’s flesh and become very difficult to remove.  The best way to do so is with forceps, pulling gently, directly upwards but it is extremely imortant not to squeeze too hard and burst the tick as that may leave its mouthparts embedded and can add to the subsequent infection.

Ticks are tiny when they first bite but dig themselves into the host's flesh (which is painless) and swell as  and they suck the blood.  You will NOT feel them doing it and MUST check your body. Source: CDC and Wikimedia Commons
Ticks are tiny when they first bite but dig themselves into the host’s flesh (which is painless) and swell as and they suck the blood. You will NOT feel them doing it and MUST check your body. Source: CDC and Wikimedia Commons

The longer the tick is on its victim the larger it gets as it fills with the blood it is feeding on.  The illustration on the left shows the different life-stages.  (The American ‘dime’ coin that is used for scale is smaller than a British ‘penny’ and significantly smaller than a British ‘one pound’ coin.)

However, the good news — as established over many decades of this problem here in the USA — is that if the tick is removed within 36 hours of first attaching itself, the chance of a person getting Lyme Disease is somewhere between very low and zero, so the crucial task is checking oneself very carefully each day after being outdoors in relevant areas.

Get your partner or a family member to check your back, too, because even though some say the ticks only bite up to an adult person’s waist height, this is actually goverened by the height of the vegetation in the area.  Tall grass or brush raises the waiting insects higher and any resultant bites can therefore be higher on one’s body.  The back of one’s neck and shoulders should certainly be included if you’ve been through tall vegetation, and if you are wearing a short-sleeved top, check your armpits as well.

Ticks climb onto tall or overhanging vegetation in wait for a suitable host. They sense a suitable mammal's presence by the increase in carbod dioxide and get agitated, ready to climb onto their unwitting victim.  At this stage, the ticks are minute.  Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ticks climb onto tall or overhanging vegetation in wait for a suitable host. They sense a suitable mammal’s presence by the increase in carbon dioxide and get agitated, ready to climb onto their unwitting victim. At this stage, the ticks are minute. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some people in the USA advocate wearing light-coloured clothing so you can see any ticks that are on the outside of such (where they are harmless) before they potentially find an opening and get inside.  Similarly, if you are in a bad area for ticks it is a good idea to tuck your trouser legs into your socks — another way to stop them getting in, even if it won’t win you any points in a fashion competition.

This is certainly a problem I take very seriously and the fact that I always wear insect-repellent shirts and trousers, from early spring until winter sets in properly, undoubtedly helps.

Are such garments available in Britain?  I don’t recall ever seeing them there.  If you are planning an outdoorsy vacation anywhere warm, I would certainly recommend you search for such clothing online as it also stops mosquitoes and other biting insects from spearing you through your shirt!

One good source is Ex Officio and the relevant page is:  http://www.exofficio.com/search/bug-repellent%20clothing but there are several other sources that I know of so just do searches for ‘bug-repellent clothing’ and ‘insect-repellent clothing’.

 Eddie Wren

 


Sources:

  • http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/environment/article4078667.ece
  • http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-27255853
  • http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/epidemic-ticks-hit-britain-summer-3484449
  • http://www.examiner.com/article/mass-health-officials-warn-residents-about-dangers-of-lyme-disease
  • http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bullseye_Lyme_Disease_Rash.jpg

 

 

Braddock Bay Raptor Research Center, NY — Part 3: Captive (Injured) Raptors

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.

Anne Schnell of Braddock Bay Raptor Research, with a rescued Peregrine Falcon.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Anne Schnell of Braddock Bay Raptor Research, with a rescued Peregrine Falcon.                    Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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!

Peregrine portrait.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Peregrine portrait. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.
Captive (rescued) Eastern Screech Owl.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Captive (rescued) Eastern Screech Owl. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

 

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).

Another 'bird handler', in the audience! (Photo taken with permission of grandparents.) Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Another ‘bird handler’, in the audience! (Photo taken with permission of grandparents.) Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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!

Eddie Wren


Other sections of this topic:

Part 1: Songbird Banding

Part 2: Raptor Watching

Part 3: Captive (i.e. Injured) Raptors — you are on this page

Part 4: Photo Gallery (submitted images)

Braddock Bay Raptor Research Center, NY — Part 1: Songbird Banding [BBBO]

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.

Golden-crowned Kinglet.  Photo copyright, Eddie Wren, 2014. All rights reserved.
Golden-crowned Kinglet. Photo copyright, Eddie Wren, 2014. All rights reserved.

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.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Photo copyright, Eddie Wren, 2014. All rights reserved.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Photo copyright, Eddie Wren, 2014. All rights reserved.

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).

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

Birders travelling between North America and Europe might wish to check Golden-crowned Kinglets (Regulus satrapa) against the Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and  the Firecrest (R. ignicapillus).

The numbered band or ring.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
The numbered band/ring. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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.

Ruby-crowend Kinglet's wing. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Ruby-crown’s wing. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet's tail. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Ruby-crown’s tail. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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?!

Blowing on the breast feathers so the bander can check the bird's fat reserves.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Blowing on the breast feathers so the bander can check the bird’s fat reserves. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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.

Listening to the remarkably fast purr of a kinglet's heartbeat.  Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Listening to the remarkably fast purr of a kinglet’s heartbeat. Photo copyright, 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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!

Eddie Wren


Other sections of this topic:

Part 1: Songbird Banding — you are currently on this page

Part 2: Raptor Watching

Part 3: Captive (i.e. Injured) Raptors

Part 4: Photo Gallery (submitted images)

Dragonflies — Demonic to their Prey but Delightful to the Eye

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.

The stunning looks of a small African dragonfly (Cameroon).  Photo copyright 1981, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
The stunning looks of a small African dragonfly (Cameroon). Photo copyright 1981, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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!

Twelve-spot Skimmer (Western New York State). Photo copyright, 2010, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Twelve-spot Skimmer (Western New York State). Photo copyright, 2010, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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).

Exuvia of a recently-emerged dragonfly. (Capital District, NY State.) Photo copyright 2012, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Exuvia of a recently-emerged dragonfly. (Capital District, NY State.) Photo copyright 2012, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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’.

Common Green Darners mating (male at top of photo). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Common Green Darners mating (male at top of photo). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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.

Female Calico Pennant (Western NY). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Female Callico Pennant (Western NY). Photo copyright 2013, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

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.

Eddie Wren

 

WWNP Group Visit to the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge [NWR], Alabama, NY

As we are still in the height of the spring migration of waterfowl, today was a follow-up from our visit last week to the Montezuma NWR, which is about 100 miles E.S.E. from Iroquois.  These two preserves, however, do tend to have a different complexion to each other.

The southwest corner of Cayuga Pool at Iroquois NWR.  Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
The s.w. corner of Cayuga Pool at Iroquois. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Iroquois NWR on a fairly regular basis for the past 12 years or so, which has let me see the seasonal variations in a little detail, and so we met this morning at the Cayuga Pool Overlook.  The downside of Cayuga is that the birds tend to be quite distant, which drastically reduces the photographic opportunities, but the upside is the wealth of species that can be viewed, using binoculars, spotting scopes or — of course — longer lenses on one’s camera.

Blue-winged Teal. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Blue-winged Teal. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

My own species list from today is as follows, but I hope anyone in the group who saw other birds will e-mail me so they can be added here:

Osprey. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Osprey. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

 

Briefly kidnapped for a photo! (Leopard Frog). Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Briefly kidnapped for a photo! (Leopard Frog). Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.
  •  Canada Goose
  • American Wigeon
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Redhead
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Bufflehead
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Horned Grebe
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey
  • Bald Eagles (at nest)
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • American Coot
  • Killdeer
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Mourning Dove
  • American Crow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • American Robin
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • American Goldfinch
Tree Swallows at nest box. Copyright 2014, Kathryn Fenna. All rights reserved.
Tree Swallows at nest box. Copyright 2014, Kathryn Fenna. All rights reserved.

One of the commonest but many would say most delightful birds to be seen arriving at ponds and lakes each April is the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor).  The “bicolor” part of its scientific name refers to the fact that the refractive sheen on this bird’s back changes from typically being more blue in spring to green in fall.

In spring, however, some birds appear to have only the back of their head showing colour, with their back being a drabber brown. These are first-year females that are just coming up to their ‘first birthday’.

Tree Swallows at nestbox. CVopyright 2014, Cherie St. Pierre. All rights reserved.
Tree Swallows at nestbox. Copyright 2014, Cherie St. Pierre. All rights reserved.

As at least two of our group photographed tree swallows during this outing, I’ve included some photographs here.

I’ve also added an older photo of my own, taken in May 2011 at the same location (Cayuga Pool), just to make the point that even pocket-sized, point-and-shoot cameras can occasionally be used to get acceptably pleasing bird photos.

Tree Swallow emerging from hole in post. Copyright 2011, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.
Tree Swallow emerging from hole in post. Copyright 2011, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

The shot in question (below left), of a tree swallow emerging from a nest hole in an old post, was taken with a Pentax Optio 80 camera, and despite the angle may show one of the first-year females I referred to above.

More photographs from this visit to the Iroquois NWR will be posted on the next page of this write-up [link to follow shortly], but for anyone wanting to visit the refuge on their own, you can be sure it is well worthwhile (otherwise it wouldn’t have that “national” importance in its title!).

The three primary habitats to be found at Iroquois are:

  • emergent marsh
  • forested wetlands
  • grasslands

On this occasion, our own WWNP group visit focussed almost entirely on the areas of open water but we will certainly be going back to look at the other environments, including a ‘warbler walk’ in May. To contact the WWNP group and potentially join us for various outings, please e-mail wwnp [AT] eddiewren [DOT] com — replacing the ‘at’ and the ‘dot’ with the relevant symbols and leaving no spaces. (This is done to cut down on spam e-mails.)

You may view more photos from this visit to Iroquios, by Esther Kowal-Bukata, here.

Useful web  pages are here:

Plan your Visit

Wildlife and Habitat

Seasons of Wildlife (i.e. what you might see)

The best map of the Iroquois Refuge (pdf)

Eddie

 

WWNP group visit to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge [NWR], Seneca Falls, NY

Today’s WWNP group visit to the Montezuma NWR in the Finger Lakes region of New York State was a gem, both in terms of the weather and the 41 bird species seen.

About half of the group when we first arrived
About half of the group when we first arrived

When we arrived, about 8:00am, the sun was in a cloudless sky but there was still a fairly significant frost lying and large areas of the ponds were still under ice.  Initially we all went on the ‘Wildlife Drive’ around the Main Pool, which turned up a wealth of waterfowl, a solitary wader (lesser yellowlegs) and countless industrious muskrats.  After that, our five cars went their separate ways to various viewing areas and we re-grouped at noon, for lunch and a laugh, followed by a second trip around the preserve.

Trumpeter Swans. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren, all rightes reserved.
Trumpeter Swans. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren, all rightes reserved.

 

Northern Harrier (female). Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren, all rightes reserved.
Northern Harrier (female). Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren, all rightes reserved.

 

Lesser Yellowlegs. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren, all rightes reserved.
Lesser Yellowlegs. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren, all rightes reserved.

The birds seen were:

  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Snow Goose
  • Canada Goose
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Mallard
  • American Black Duck
  • Northern Pintail
  • Northern Shoveller
  • Gadwall
  • American Wigeon
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Greater Scaup
  • Bufflehead
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Ruddy Duck (David G.)
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Egret (Susan W.)
  • Osprey (at nest sites and flying)
  • Bald Eagle (including a surprising group of 11 immatures)
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • American Coot
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Killdeer
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
Bufflehead (male). Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Bufflehead (male). Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Tree Swallow (migrating flock)
  • American Robin
  • European Starling
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
Muskrat. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren.  All rights reserved.
Muskrat. Copyright 2014, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

If anyone who was with us at Montezuma has any more species’ names that need to be added to this list, please just let me know.

Similarly, would all the photographers who were in the group — i.e. most of you! — kindy forward two or three of your best shots to me so we can make a gallery of the day’s images that aren’t just by Andrea and I…. please!  {:-)

Speaking of Andrea, she has already sent me some great photos which I will be posting as soon as I can on page two of this day’s write-up and these will then be linked here.

  • Gallery of photos by Kathy Fenna, Esther Kowal-Bukata and Andrea Burke: click here

Eddie — 6 April, 2014

A Couple of Gems at Tifft Yesterday

After recently shaking off the tedium of a bad back that I’ve suffered virtually right through the winter, I took advantage of a few free hours yesterday to have a walk around the Tifft urban nature preserve.

Canada Goose in flight
Canada Goose in flight

When I arrived, at 8:00am, the temperature was just 18F (minus 8 Celsius) and there were no other cars in the parking lot.  On the small patches of open water, at Lake Kirsty, adjacent to the preserve offices, were four Herring Gulls, a solitary male Red-breasted Merganser, a pair of Hooded Mergansers and a dozen Canada Geese.

Black-capped Chickadee foraging
Black-capped Chickadee foraging

Anyway, wrapped up like the Michelin man, I set off through the woods on my way to the South Viewing Blind (hide) to look at a frozen lake!

Northern Shrike (first year bird). The hooked upper mandible is an unmissable clue to identity.
Northern Shrike (first year bird). The hooked upper mandible is an unmistakable clue to identity.

On the way there, I came across a few resting White-tailed Deer and stalked them carefully so I could get some shots of them lying down.

Downy Woodpecker (female)
Downy Woodpecker (female)

At the south blind there were only a couple of Canada Geese walking around on the ice and yelling at my intrusion, plus a few Black-capped Chickadees feasting on sunflower seeds that someone had left on the hand-rail (something Tifft staff ask people not to do).

It was while I was watching the chickadees, however, that I saw one of the day’s two gems.  A first-year Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor) settled in a tree above me — its youthfulness given away by some mottled coloration on its breast and belly.  The sharply hooked upper beak — very like some hawks and eagles — gives this genus of fairly small birds away in an instant but, as its name says, this is the northern species.  Its cousin, the Loggerhead Shrike (L. ludovicianus), spends its winters in the southern states.  After identifying the bird, through my binoculars, I only had time for one distant ‘identification’ shot with my camera before it flew off, so while there’s a photograph of it in this post, it certainly isn’t a masterpiece! {:-)

For the British people who read this blog, you may have noticed that the scientific name of the Northern Shrike is the same as that for the Great Grey Shrike that is found in Europe — in other words, it’s the same species.  Europe’s other shrike, the Red-backed (L. collurio) isn’t found in North America.

As my walk continued, I saw several other species of birds — all ones that could be expected here in late March.

Coyote crossing frozen lake
Coyote crossing frozen lake

At the other main blind, however — unsurprisingly called the North Blind — I was delighted to see a Coyote (Canis latrans) appear from behind the actual blind and walk away, over the ice on the lake, to the cat-tail bed on the far shore.  Again, I was rather distant but I was certainly able to get a few pleasing photos.  Coyotes certainly aren’t rare, they’re actually widespread, but getting to see one in broad daylight in such a photogenic setting is much less common.  My own question is whether or not this could have been one of the “Coywolf” hybrids that have been spreading out from northern Ontario for the past few decades.  Does anyone know the answer in relation to Western New York?

It annoys me intensely that I used to under-rate Tifft as a place to go.  I now know it to be a very well-worthwhile preserve to visit and I do so as often as I can.  It is rare that it doesn’t turn up something special.

Get further information about Tifft Nature Preserve here.

Anyone wishing to come along on any of the walks (weekly, except in winter) of the ‘Wildlife Watchers and Nature Photographers’ group, please e-mail:           wwnp [AT] eddiewren [DOT] com   (just replace the [AT] and the [DOT] with what they say, and leave no spaces.  This is done to reduce spam to that e-mail address).

27 March 2014  —  Eddie Wren