Birders, help yourself help wildlife

This morning, Arthur and I saw what we first thought was an unfortunate roadkill opossum on the road as we drove through our neighborhood. To our shock, we saw the injured animal was still alive, and struggling to cross the road. What to do?

What would you do if you saw a Mute Swan bleeding by the side of busy highway? Who would you call if you saw a Brown Thrasher lying in the middle of a busy city intersection, dazed from a window strike? If a Great Blue Heron was struck by a car in your neighborhood, would you know what to do?

I was involved in these scenarios and more as a volunteer with FCWR. Being familiar with wildlife rehabilitation in the Chicago area, I knew who to call in case of animal emergencies. But I came across plenty of concerned citizens who were frustrated by the time they got in touch with someone who could help them and their distressed animal. Unfortunately, police departments, emergency services and local governments don’t always know the closest rehabilitation centers. If you start calling random government agencies, you might have to play phone tag, while your injured animal is waiting for urgent care.

If you believe that birders are more observant than the average person, you might also believe that birders are more likely to come across situations like the ones listed above. Judging from emails sent to a few state listservs I’ve followed in the past, birders might be in a better position to find and help injured wildlife, but they don’t always know what to do or who to call. So prepare yourself, and write down some numbers or add them to your phone. Think of all your non-birder friends out there too… who are they going to call when they find an injured bird? It might just be you – so you better be ready. The time you save by being prepared may mean life instead of death for an injured animal.

Now that we’ve moved to a new area, one of the first things I did was look up local wildlife rehabbers and note which species or families they help. I’ve added their contact information to my phone and to Arthur’s phone. I’ve made note of the addresses, too, since cellphone reception isn’t the same everywhere. In our case we’ve noted several that are close to the places we’ll frequently visit. We’ve entered them with the “last name” Wildlife, so we don’t have to remember individual center names and they are all easy to find together in our contacts.

Besides noting contact info for local rehabbers, I spent a few moments looking over the websites of my local groups. Rehab centers are almost always underfunded, and understaffed, relying on the hard work of dedicated volunteers. Becoming familiar with how different local groups work may help me and potential wildlife rescues in the future.

And it helped us help the opossum this morning. We turned the car around and Arthur got on the phone with our closest mammal rehabilitation center and prepared the cardboard animal carrier we keep in the car. I put on a pair of gloves and grabbed a blanket to gather up the injured opossum and transfer it to the carrier. (Besides noting the phone numbers, we take the extra step of keeping a few pieces of equipment in the back of our minivan to recover injured birds or animals.)

Here are some wildlife rehabilitation directory sources. They might not have the most updated information on every listing, so it’s a good idea to be sure the organizations you find are still in operation. Often a simple Google search will give you an idea of the rehabber’s status.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory
National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association
Wildlife Rehabber search

More sources of interest:
My Dog Found a Nest of Baby Bunnies decision tree
I Found a Baby Squirrel on the Ground decision tree
How to Rescue a Sick, Injured or Baby Raptor

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Competition for The Big Year

In the United States, unless its a holiday weekend, feature movies are traditionally released on Friday. Movies often have their best weekend during the first week of release, and a lot depends on the competition they face during that first weekend. So as birders anxiously await the release of The Big Year on Friday, October 14th, let’s see what else is coming to theaters on the same weekend.

Trespass is a thriller starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, and directed by Joel Schumacher. Like The Big Year, Trespass so far doesn’t seem to have an official site or any trailers in circulation. Will audiences go for a big-name thriller over big-name birding comedy?

Footloose is a remake of the 1984 hit musical of the same name. Footloose already has an official site and has several trailers in circulation. I suppose this movie has a very different target audience from The Big Year.

The Thing is not a remake but rather a prequel to another 1980’s hit (John Carpenter’s film of the same name). The horror flick already has an official site and trailers to view.

The independent horror Killer Holiday is also slated for October 14th. I would guess this might have limited release, but I’m not sure. This movie has no official site but an official Facebook page instead.

Finally, the Spanish drama The Skin I Live In will open in New York and Los Angeles on October 14. This Sony Classics title was directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Interestingly, artwork for the movie includes Audubon’s iconic American Flamingo painting, which can be seen on the official site.

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Flights of Wonder

“Flights of Wonder” is a live show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that uses free-flighted birds from all over the world. Arthur and I attended a performance on a recent visit to the zoo / theme park.

While waiting in line outside the outdoor theater, a cast member came out to talk with the crowd along with an avian ambassador, a Great Horned Owl. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the handler’s rather thin glove and one of the owl’s talons resting precariously on the cuff of said glove. Eek.

GHOW
Great Horned Owl with small-gloved handler

The show takes place in the Asia-themed part of the park, and the stage was made to look like an Indian ruin.

Stage
Flights of Wonder stage set

The performance began with birds like macaws, hornbills, toucans and others flying across or walking on the stage to a short narration about birds of the world. The birds flew from the sides of the stage and from holes in the stage itself. This first part starred birds alone; it was a few minutes before the human host came out.

Grey Crowned Crane
A free-flighted Grey Crowned Crane wowed the crowd

Throughout the rest of the program, different bird species were introduced, and we got to see more amazing free-flying (or free-running) birds, as well as some (somewhat) natural behaviors. For example, a Seriema came out and smashed a plastic figure on the ground several times. In the wild, these birds will beat prey like lizards on rocks before consuming them.

A couple of audience participation bits were cute but an added cast member for comedic relief really fell flat with me; the beautiful birds were enough “entertainment” for me. The audience seemed to like it, so if they get the show’s message of conservation, it’s all fine with me.

Scarlet Macaws & Spectacled Owl
Free-flighted Scarlet Macaws and handler with Spectacled Owl

The final bird of the show was a Bald Eagle (who stayed on the glove). Handlers also came out with a Bateleur and a Spectacled Owl, who remained on stage for the audience to have a closer look.

Bateleur
Handler with Bateleur (a species of eagle)

“Flights of Wonder” is a sleek show with a great variety of beautiful birds and a clear message of conservation. If you don’t mind some cheesy entertainment with your birds, you’ll probably enjoy this show, as I did.

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The Audubon Center for BOP in Maitland

Back in April, Arthur and I visited the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Florida. The center is part of Audubon of Florida and treats up to 700 injured raptors each year. In addition to rehabilitating birds of prey, the center has non-releasable education birds in their permanent care. The center is open to visitors six days a week.

We took a self-guided tour of the facility, which houses several permanent residents in lovely mews set on nicely groomed grounds.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey grounds
Raptor mews set on lovely grounds

A volunteer was cleaning a mew belonging to several Red-tailed Hawks. Other mews housed multiple birds of the same species, including Osprey, Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl and others.

Mew cleaning
A volunteer cleans a mew

Other resident birds were enjoying their time in the “Bird Garden”, visible from the main building. Here we see Picasso the Red-shouldered Hawk in the lower left side of the picture; the Barn Owl in the center is Daisy I believe; the Bald Eagle on the far right is named Francis if I am reading my key correctly.

Bird Garden
A view of the “Bird Garden”

From a different vantage point we watched this Bald Eagle enjoying an after-tub sunbath.

Post-bath Bald Eagle
A Bald Eagle dries off after a bath

Other, smaller permanent residents were on display inside the enclosed porch of the main building. Here we see (counter-clockwise from bottom right) American Kestrels Olivia and Newton, Merlin Sable, and Eastern Screech Owl Buz peeking out from his box.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
Small birds of prey

A young Red-tailed Hawk was sitting in another part of the grounds. Look at the first red tail feathers coming in, replacing the striped juvenile feathers. The young bird also has a light eye (visible to top right of bird’s body) that will become darker as it ages.

Red-tailed Hawk new feathers
Red tail feathers coming in

Birds in rehab are never on public display, but visitors can get an idea of the behind-the-scenes work from the patient list board.

Clinic patients
Clinic patients

As we toured the grounds, we spoke with one of the volunteers, Sheena. She was kind enough to bring out a couple of birds for us to see up close. First we got to meet Merlin, a male Barred Owl. He was noticeably smaller than my beloved Meepy, but no less beautiful. Merlin is an imprinted bird who is also missing an eye (that’s a very sad story I may share another time).

Merlin the Barred Owl
Merlin the Barred Owl

Next we got to meet Picasso, a Red-shouldered Hawk. Having never seen a Red-shouldered so close, I was fascinated. He was smaller than I would have guessed (typical that the size is surprising!) and simply gorgeous. Picasso has a permanent wing injury and is also unfortunately missing an eye (I caught his “good side” in this picture).

Picasso the Red-shouldered Hawk
Picasso the Red-shouldered Hawk

We enjoyed our visit to this lovely facility and thank all of the volunteers and especially Sheena for such a warm welcome. I have a feeling this was not our last visit to the Audubon Center for BOP in Maitland…

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My visitors came from *where* in July 2011?!?!?

Happy August! Now that Arthur and I are more or less settled in here in DeBary, Florida, I hope to pick up the birding – and blogging – pace this month. It looks like local bird clubs will start up again in September and I hope I’ll have even more to share with my readers in the coming months. Migration is already underway. Birds await! Meanwhile, here is a short list of some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during July 2011. This is part of an ongoing monthly series on blog search terms.

identifying baby cardinal vs cowbird… Really? For one thing, baby Northern Cardinals have crests, and cowbirds don’t. By the way, don’t search Flickr for photos of baby cowbirds – it’s kind of depressing (and I love cowbirds).

what bird song sounds like T-shirt?… Do you perhaps mean what bird sings “teacher”?

i need the official warblers shirt… I didn’t realize the Warblers went pro!

describing the inside a parrot’s eye… Sounds like someone skipped lab this week?

what is a black bird that swims with wings open and has yellow beak in Illinois… Double-crested Cormorant, maybe.

teddybear like- birds… Oh, my. I really wonder what this person was seeking.

Magnificent Frigatebird: strengths and weaknesses… Meager content output, mediocre photos taken with low-grade consumer camera, uninteresting posts – oh, those are only weaknesses. 😉

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BPW: Black Skimmer

Black Skimmers

I saw my first Black Skimmers back in April by Merritt Island. Although they had the expanse of the Indian River behind them, these birds were more interested in a puddle at a turnoff on the Max Brewer Bridge. We got to watch them do their thing – fly over the puddle with lower mandible dipped in the water.

Black Skimmers

It was very cool to see but also kind of hard to watch, because the water was so shallow and they would hit their beaks on the rough pavement below. It gave me goose bumps, and not in a good way, but it was fascinating how they would recover so quickly from each mini obstruction. Their heads would bend down ever so slightly with each hit, and then recover to a normal position. This all took place in a microsecond and multiple times during each pass over the puddle.

Black Skimmers

While interesting to watch, unfortunately I didn’t manage to take any pictures or video of this behavior. I found a clip on YouTube which shows the normal feeding behavior of these birds: Black Skimmers feeding. I hope you’ll enjoy this collection of photos that I did manage to capture.

Black Skimmers

And if you want to see something really cute, I have two links for you: Birdorable Skimmer and Baby Black Skimmer @ 10,000 Birds.

Black Skimmer

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Behavior, Bird Photography Weekly, Florida | 3 Comments

Random April Viera Wetlands

This might become a longer series, now that Viera Wetlands is a day trip rather than a week-long road trip. My first such post was back in November, 2009. All of these photos were taken in late April, 2011.

Viera Babies
Baby Anhingas and baby Great Blue Herons share a nest tree

Juvenile White Ibis
Foraging juvenile White Ibis

Viera Rookery
Heron/Egret rookery

Crested Caracara pair
Pair of Crested Caracara

SACR Family
Sandhill Crane family

Loggerhead Shrike
Loggerhead Shrike

Limpkins
Pair of Limpkins

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BPW: Baby Limpkin

While house-hunting in central Florida a few months ago, Arthur and I saved some time for birding at Viera Wetlands. The highlight of our visit on April 27 was seeing this baby Limpkin.

Baby Limpkin

Although Limpkins seem very rail-like, they are more closely related to cranes. If you can’t tell from its looks, you might notice the resemblance in its song, which sounds a lot like a Sandhill Crane.

Baby Limpkin

Limpkins are residents through much of Florida. Elsewhere in the United States, their range pokes a bit into southern Georgia. They are also found in Cuba and other Caribbean islands, and through parts of Central America. Their wide distribution through Florida makes them one of the state’s specialties for visiting birders.

Baby Limpkin

Unlike other (wading) birds with whom they may share feeding grounds, Limpkins survive almost exclusively on a diet of apple snails. We didn’t get to see this baby eat, but it was a lot of fun to watch him preening.

Baby Limpkin

This baby Limpkin was being closely attended by two adults, but I was so smitten by its cuteness that I failed to take any photos of the parents or of the whole family together. Whoops!

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Florida, Viera Wetlands | Leave a comment

Looking Forward

Oh, there are many things I will (and already do!) miss from our former northern Illinois home. But there are also things to look forward to here in central Florida. Especially bird-wise.

Lifers

I started keeping track* of my life’s birds in April, 2005. In late April, Arthur and I visited Florida together for the first time. That’s how 27 of my first 31 life birds were recorded in the great state of Florida, starting with a Black Vulture at Oscar Sherer State Park and ending with a meager six species found along the Black Point Wildlife Drive at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Black Point Wildlife Drive Sign
The entrance to the wildlife drive on a late April afternoon

After a few more visits to the state, none primarily for birding, my state list stands at 116 (as of early July 2011). 66 of my life birds were recorded in Florida. Before we moved last month, I made a very rough list of life birds I hoped to find during our time in Florida. The first one, Gray Kingbird, became lifer 561 on June 23rd at Merritt Island. The other birds on that rough list were: Burrowing Owl; Red-cockaded Woodpecker; American Oystercatcher; Snail Kite; Rails Clapper, King, and Black; and Doves White-winged and Common Ground. Some of these will be hard, I’m sure, but some will be easy. And they’ll all be fun.

Getting to know

There are plenty of birds here about which, while already on my life list, I know far too little. So I have a few bird species in mind that I’m hoping to get to know a little better here in Florida. Families of birds that seem to be more confiding here, like herons and egrets, top that list. I hope I never become bored with Tufted Titmice in my back yard (!!), Turkey and Black Vultures soaring over my neighborhood, and Ospreys everywhere.

Titusville Osprey
An Osprey takes off as we wait for the shuttle to lift off, April 29, 2011

There is also an abundance of Barred Owls, my favorite bird. We heard our first ones the other night at the Highbanks boat ramp, about 4 miles from our house; eBird tells me they are found in our neighborhood. And I’m very excited to live in a state where seeing this blog’s namesake bird is much more likely than back in Illinois.

Yard birds

The first bird I saw from our yard was a flyover Swallow-tailed Kite. Regular back yard visitors right now include birds I struggled to see back in Lake County, Illinois: Northern Mockingbirds, Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmice. The different birds are fun to watch and get to know.

Birding

There’s a lot to look forward to in terms of birding spots. Arthur and I have been exploring new preserves and I’m trying to figure out what our new “local patch” will be. Being within striking distance of popular hotspots like Lake Woodruff NWR, Merritt Island NWR and Viera Wetlands is pretty exciting.

Viera Wetlands Road
Viera Wetlands on a beautiful late April day

Within and immediately surrounding our county there are numerous state parks, a national forest, county parks, plus access to natural springs, freshwater lakes and Florida’s longest river, the St. Johns. True pelagic trip opportunities are also here.

While the birding right now, at the height of summer, is a bit slow, early migrants are starting to make their way to central Florida. Finally, I’m looking forward to having more birds during the winter.

*A few Colorado birds from a September, 2004 trip are the first birds on my list (added from photos, though these were birds I knew from many previous trips to the area).

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Posted in Florida, Illinois, Viera Wetlands | 1 Comment

What I Will Miss

When Arthur and I moved from the Netherlands back to the USA in 2008, I posted a couple of entries on our personal blog about what I would miss and not miss from my European home of nearly ten years. As we prepared for our recent move from northern Illinois to central Florida, I started thinking about the Midwestern things I would miss and what I was looking forward to in Florida. Since this is a birding blog, I’m sharing the bird-type things I will (and indeed already do) miss from northern Illinois.

The Birds*

To birders, Florida is known for several specialty birds, one endemic species, and fabulous birding opportunities with relaxed and easy-to-view birds. But there are plenty of species that I got to know up north that never or rarely venture so far south. I always enjoyed seeing winter visitors like Red-breasted Nuthatches and Dark-eyed Juncos at our back yard feeders. These two rarely travel as far south as central Florida.

Red-breasted Nuthatch
A Red-breasted Nuthatch visiting our feeding station in Round Lake Beach

The chances of seeing owl species like Saw-whet, Long-eared, Short-eared, and Snowy are virtually nil.

Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl (non-releasable education bird) at the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium

It was also fun to watch certain breeding birds in the summer, like American Robins, Tree Swallows, and American Goldfinches, that will only live in Florida out of breeding season. I suppose that also means I’ll only be seeing drab goldfinches from now on, too. Bummer.

The Birding Community

I enjoyed following the Illinois listserv, IBET, and getting to know local and statewide birders via the list. During our years in Illinois, we joined several different local clubs on various walks and at their monthly program meetings. There are a lot of birding clubs in Chicagoland, with many different affiliations, and we really enjoyed our time with most of them. I especially loved the one local bird club we joined as members, Lake-Cook Audubon. During the last year or so I volunteered as the editor of the newsletter, and I enjoyed that a lot. What I miss about the birding community is really the familiarity, which is something I hope will grow over time as we join local groups here for events, walks and talks, and keep up with the local listservs. But I am sure the especially welcoming atmosphere of Lake-Cook Audubon will be hard to beat.

Bird Banding

I learned so much last year while volunteering at the MAPS banding station at Rollins Savanna. Cindy, the master bander, is a great teacher and station manager, and all of the volunteers get along and have a lot of fun each day in the field. I miss them this summer.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing at Rollins Savanna MAPS banding station, June 2010

I think there might be some bird banding volunteer opportunities here as well, but from what I’ve gathered so far, nothing will be as close as Rollins was to our old house (about 8 minutes driving). There are banding stations at Wekiwa Springs State Park (about 30 minutes away) and at Tomoka State Park (50m), both of which welcome visitors. I’m not sure if they also welcome volunteers. I hope to find out this fall.

My Raptor Friends

Last, but absolutely not least, I already miss all of my feathered and unfeathered friends at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation terribly.


Eastern Screech Owl Kotori, Red-tailed Hawk Old Red, American Kestrel Darwin, Barn Owl Pip

There are raptor rehab centers here as well, but my experiences with FCWR will never be matched by another facility. The two closest centers I have found seem to care for raptors alone. It was fun, in my limited experience, to work with different types of birds and other non-avian species, and to be able to participate in so many different activities. With FCWR I helped with migration rescue and recovery in Chicago, recovered an injured Great Blue Heron and other birds in need of rescue, released Great Horned Owls, ducks, and others, cared for rehabbing Eastern Grey Squirrels, Opossums, Red-tailed Hawks, and handled amazing birds of prey during education programs and public events. I hope to investigate local volunteer opportunities in the fall.

Finally, here’s a brief look back to that original What I Will Miss post. Over three years ago, I wrote:

I know there will be a lot of different and wonderful birds wherever we end up, but I will miss seeing some of my favorite European birds: the European Goldfinches and the acrobatic little Blue Tits that visit our garden; the big White Storks that like to hang out on highway light poles; the pairs of Tufted Ducks floating in roadside ponds; the beautiful, brightly-colored male Pheasants that patrol fields and forest edges along with their elusive dully-colored mates.

Well. I had so much fun getting to know the birds of Illinois that I didn’t really have the chance to miss Dutch birds at all. I wonder if the same will hold true here?

*Disclaimer: At this point I’m really not totally up to speed on local birding. So there’s a chance I’ve mentioned that I will miss a species that might actually occur here. I’m basing most of this on books.

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Posted in Florida, Illinois, Life List, Yard Birds | Leave a comment