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Release rewards

I’ve been volunteering at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey since early February. Being able to help birds in need is wonderful. Being given the responsibility to release rehabilitated birds back into the wild is even more special, and exhilarating. In the last couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to release a few successfully rehabilitated birds back into the wild.

On June 28th, a lot of birds were ready for release. During my volunteer shift I assisted while other volunteers and staff caught up birds, including several Eastern Screech Owls. Two EASOs were due to be released in Deltona, and since that’s not too far from my home, I took them. When the time came for release, one bird took off like a shot. I was holding the box, but I blinked and missed it leaving! I felt a woosh but it wasn’t until I looked down in the box and saw just one owl that I knew one had gone. Silent flight, indeed! The second bird needed just a bit of encouragement to regain its freedom. It was a successful first release experience with ACBOP.

On July 12th I came in for my volunteer shift and found out that a couple of birds were ready to be released in my area. Between cleaning and other regular volunteer duties, I helped a bit with shuffling birds from rehab mews to flight chambers and preparing healed birds for release or transfer. This included a young Osprey to be released in DeBary, and a Barred Owl to be released in Deland.

Both releases were fantastic. In each case I contacted the party that originally found the injured raptor and was responsible for getting it to the Center for treatment.

The whole family came out for the after-dusk release of the Barred Owl, who was found in the middle of the road and was presumably struck by a car. The owl’s recovery took several weeks. The release went flawlessly! She flew out of the box and straight up into a tree, resting and taking in her surroundings. Since this release was done after dusk, light was too poor to capture any images.

The Osprey was released earlier in the afternoon at Lake Monroe Park in DeBary, and Arthur took some great photos of the action.

Osprey release
A quick look around just as the box was opened

There are at least two active Osprey nests at Lake Monroe Park. This is the park at the end of the Spring-to-spring Trail, so its a spot I know well. The young Osprey had been found on the ground just under a week prior to her release – she was caught up in Spanish Moss(!). The young bird was strong and healthy – just a little bit klutzy to get so caught up in the moss as to require rescue.

Osprey release
Stretch and go!

After being monitored in a flight chamber, it was time to release her back where she came from. We released her close to her nest, but on the far side of a gravel driveway in order to give her a nice long “runway” for takeoff.

Osprey release

Osprey release

The release was attended by the rescuer, who stood close to me as I opened the box, as well as two interested park employees and one park visitor, seen in the above photo.

Osprey release

Osprey release

As you can tell, she was eager and ready to go! She leaped out of her box and flew right to her nest. In the below photo it looks like she’s making a beeline – the nest is top center. She veered right and flew a wide circle around the nest, eventually approaching from behind. A parent and sibling were in the area and began to vocalize as soon as our girl was airborne.

Osprey release

Osprey release
Home at last!

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, located in Maitland, Florida, treats up to 700 birds of prey each year. You can follow them on Facebook here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer; any errors regarding the Center and their patients or permanent residents are purely my own. Further, any opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ACBOP.

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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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North Pond: Wood Ducks & a lifer

Following our rescue & recovery route one Thursday morning in late March, Arthur and I headed to a Chicago birding hotspot, North Pond in Lincoln Park.

The view from North Pond

We were hoping to see a Cinnamon Teal, a bird that had first been spotted at the pond on March 11th — almost three weeks prior to our visit. There hadn’t been any reports of the bird in recent days, so I fully expected it might already be gone.

Birding North Pond

We didn’t have a huge amount of time, so we walked the path around the pond, concentrating on the ducks and looking for the Cinnamon Teal. Most of the birds we saw were Wood Ducks and Mallards.

Wood Duck

There were Wood Ducks all over the place, making their darling squeaky call and acting much less afraid than most of the Wood Ducks we encounter outside of the city.

Wood Duck

We even got to see some Wood Ducks in their other element, perched above us on tree limbs.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

As we were finishing our walk around the pond, I was making a sad face, for we had not see the Cinnamon Teal. Just as we were about to leave, we looked back for one more check of the water, and finally saw our prize.

Cinnamon Teal

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What a difference

What a difference a year makes! It’s hard for me to believe, but it was just about a year ago that I had “first contact” with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. I visited the Itasca facility during the annual Open House. There I learned about the Raptor Internship, which I would later take. I learned about the Rescue & Recovery teams that save migratory birds in downtown Chicago, which I would join in the spring. I learned about the education birds, the clinic that saves lives, and got just a taste of all of the amazing work done by this hard working organization.

Pip the handsome Barn Owl, one of FCWR’s education birds

The 2010 Open House takes place this weekend, and I’ll be back, this time as a volunteer. The Open House is a great way to learn about not only FCWR specifically, but also about education birds – there will be live raptors for you to meet! – and about wildlife rehabilitation.

And if you care about the welfare of wildlife, especially Chicago area wildlife, think about what a difference YOU can make! Please consider making a donation to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation this holiday season. Illinois birders, I’m especially talking to you! FCWR does tremendous work to help our injured feathered friends (the bulk of which are injured directly or indirectly through accidental or intentional human contact, interference, or stupidity) and other area animals in need. FCWR has an annual fundraising campaign, going on now, via FirstGiving. Donating is extremely easily done online via the FirstGiving site (the link will take you to my fundraising page). You can donate ANY AMOUNT, and each donation helps FCWR save lives. You can also donate to FCWR directly via Paypal.

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Migration Awareness 9

This morning Arthur and I are walking our Rescue & Recovery route to look for fallen injured or dead birds that have struck buildings in Chicago during the night and early morning. This is our fifth week volunteering for R&R this fall (we were off last week). During these weeks, I’d like to highlight some of the perils birds face on their migration by sharing a website or information about migratory birds.

This week has been rough on birds migrating through Chicago. The teams out earlier this week had large numbers of birds that hit windows in the city. Tuesday was particularly heavy, and a local news station picked up the story.

We prepared extra paper bags last night in anticipation of what may be another heavy wave of migration Wednesday night. We’ll be in the city by 4am Thursday morning.

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Migration Awareness 8

Fall is here and that means many of our feathered friends are headed south. It also means that a new migration Rescue & Recovery season has begun. This morning Arthur and I are walking our route to look for fallen injured or dead birds that have struck buildings in Chicago during the night and early morning. This is our second week volunteering for R&R this fall, following our first season during last spring’s migration. During these weeks, I’d like to highlight some of the perils birds face on their migration by sharing a website or information about migratory birds.

Last week, twin columns of light shone above the former site of the World Trade Center in New York. The Tribute in Light attracted an estimated 10,000 birds who were in the midst of migration. The phenomenon resulted from a sort of perfect storm of conditions. The recent poor weather for migration changed on the night of September 11, 2010, and a large amount of birds who had been waiting out bad weather were suddenly on the move. Some of the birds’ normal methods of navigation were obscured: there was just a sliver of new moon and an overcast sky blocked the stars. The birds became confused by the huge beams of light and ended up flying in circles. You can see them in the video below. Note that the video will start at 0:35, which is shortly before the birds are first seen in the clip.

When the lights were turned off for 20 minutes, the birds moved on. But when the lights were turned back on, more birds became confused and trapped in the light. You can read more about the birds caught by the Tribute in Light here.

This sort of problem is not limited to big light beams as seen with the Tribute in Light. Blog readers know that big buildings with brightly-lit windows cause similar problems.

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Migration Awareness 7

This morning Arthur and I are walking our Rescue & Recovery route to look for fallen injured or dead birds that have struck buildings in Chicago during the night and early morning. This is our tenth week volunteering for R&R this spring. During these weeks, I’d like to highlight some of the perils birds face on their migration by sharing a website or information about migratory birds.

As the height of migration through the Chicago area winds down, this week I’m sharing an article on bird-strike progress being made in Toronto: In birds vs. buildings, feathered friends gain ground. The article appears in the real estate column of the online paper, so there is a lot of focus on construction issues and how they pertain to bird strikes on buildings.

In a novel move this spring, environmental groups Ontario Nature and Ecojustice initiated a private legal action under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act against Menkes Developments Ltd., a Toronto-based commercial building and management firm. The legal tactic has not been used before in Ontario, Ecojustice lawyer Albert Koehl says.

At issue is bird strikes at Consilium Place, a Scarborough office complex that is clad completely in mirrored glass. FLAP estimates more than 7,000 dead birds have been recovered there since 2000.

Read the entire article here.

Speaking of migration, and on less grim note, it was a true pleasure to bird in northwest Ohio earlier this month, where we spent a lot of time at the Magee Marsh boardwalk. A sign at the start of the trail tantalizes with images of warblers. While some species stay and breed at the marsh, many use the area as a stopover on their continuing migration northward.

Warbler Sign @ Magee Marsh

Warbler Sign @ Magee Marsh

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Migration Awareness 6

Last week we were out of town on Thursday, so early this morning Arthur and I walked our Rescue & Recovery route for the ninth time this season. For this migration awareness post I would just like to share a bit about what it’s like to check the streets of downtown Chicago for injured birds now that we’ve had some more experience.

Arthur and I drive downtown, usually leaving home some time around 4am. The dark streets are deserted close to home, but by 5am the expressway into downtown is surprisingly busy. During the morning we park the car in several places and then check the surrounding streets. Arthur and I split up, mostly, to cover as much ground as possible. By the time we arrive at our first parking spot, it’s already twilight. We’re trying to beat the gulls and other predators, and pedestrians.

Walking the dark streets, our eyes play tricks on us. But even in daylight, a crumpled napkin is a streaky sparrow laying on its side. A fallen flower bud is a stunned warbler. We approach every object out of place on the street, courtyard, or sidewalk, to check if it is a bird in trouble.

During one of our first weeks, I picked up a dead American Woodcock. It was laying about ten feet out from the building it struck, and as I approached it, it seemed impossibly huge. Then, my eyes told me an old shoe was laying on the ground.

Not all creatures we come across are birds. Rats scurry along alleyways. Bunnies hop in tiny gardens. Earlier this season, we found three bats, all laying around one building. Those we cannot approach. Several times we have found dragonflies laying on curbs or next to buildings. Are they also window-strike victims? We think so.

We find birds huddled close to buildings, or in the middle of the street. This morning I walked by a dark male American Redstart, laying in the middle of an alley, as I checked the sides of the buildings. I noticed the tiny bird as I retraced my steps back to the car. Once we saw a large bird in the middle of the road. A thrush, we first thought. But the large dark bird was a Brown Thrasher, stunned, uncharacteristically quiet and still in the street.

We need to remain quiet around our patients, but when picking up a salvage bird, I can’t help but apologize to it.

When we finish with our route, we check in with the other Thursday volunteers. All of the rescues and salvages are brought to triage in the city. Patients are later transported out of the city, for further care or immediate release. The salvage birds are brought to the Field Museum. On a good day, we have more rescues than salvages. For us, today was not a good day.

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Migration Awareness 5

This morning Arthur and I are walking our Rescue & Recovery route to look for fallen injured or dead birds that have struck buildings in Chicago during the night and early morning. This is our eighth week volunteering for R&R this spring. During these weeks, I’d like to highlight some of the perils birds face on their migration by sharing a website or information about migratory birds.

I had big plans to write up something on International Migratory Bird Day, which is celebrated each year on the second Saturday in May, but I’m so bummed about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster — which also happens to be the big story in migration right now. So here are a few things about the situation that pertain to migratory birds.

First, if you haven’t read Nathan’s commentary Complete and Utter Disaster from last week, go read it now.

There’s an excellent roundup of pertinent links in this Round Robin post from Cornell: Bad Place, Bad Timing for an Oil Spill

The first oil-coated bird to be treated was a Northern Gannet picked up late last week. The second bird, a Brown Pelican, was picked up on Tuesday. Pelicans dive into the water for their food so are expected to be hit hard by the disaster. These two birds are just the first ones; many more won’t ever even be found by rescuers.

To keep up with bird-related oil spill news, the Audubon Magazine Blog is an excellent resource. Don’t miss these recent posts: Oil Spill Answers from Bird Conservation Expert on the Ground in Louisiana; FAQ: How Oil-Covered Birds Are Cleaned; and from late yesterday, Oil Reaches First Important Bird Area.

We saw these Northern Gannets in a recovery enclosure at Ecomare in 2008.

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Migration Awareness 4

This morning Arthur and I are walking our Rescue & Recovery route to look for fallen injured or dead birds that have struck buildings in Chicago during the night and early morning. This is our seventh week volunteering for R&R this spring. During these weeks, I’d like to highlight migration topics by sharing a website or information about migratory birds.

Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley recently introduced HR 4797, a bill that calls for new government construction to incorporate bird-safe building practices. According to the American Bird Conservancy, the Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act of 2010 “will absolutely save the lives of millions of birds that mistake objects reflected in window glass, such as habitat and sky, as real.”

As of today the bill is in the first legislative steps. As of March 9th it has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. You can easily write to your U.S. Representative in Congress via this action link to let him or her know you support the bill.

Hermit Thrush, 4-2010, PA
Hermit Thrush, 4-2010, PA by Kelly Colgan Azar, on Flickr

In October 2009, Toronto became the first city to mandate bird-friendly building construction. The Toronto Green Standard legislation includes Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines (BFDG), “designed to eliminate migratory bird collisions with buildings both at night and in the daytime.” I would be thrilled if the U.S. government did the same and passed HR 4797.

If you’d like to learn more about bird-safe building practices, the New York Audubon Society has a comprehensive publication entitled Bird-Safe Building Guidelines. Several case studies are included to show practical examples of the guidelines at work in the real world.

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