Thirty years ago, the Crested Lark (kuifleeuwerik in Dutch) was an abundant species in the Netherlands. Today they are much harder to find in the rapidly developing Western European country.
23003 Kuifleeuwerik / Crested Lark by Vlaskop, Creative Commons on Flickr
Thirty years ago there were from three to five thousand breeding pairs of Crested Lark in the Netherlands. Today there are no breeding pairs left, according to Dutch bird research group SOVON. The preferred breeding grounds of the birds – flat, sandy patches – has been rapidly wiped out by industrial and new residential construction.
Researchers have found that bird species known as “white-eyes” develop faster than other species.
DNA analysis reveals that all 80 species of white eyes emerged in the last 2 million years.
A handful of other birds and mammals have been known to adapt to new environments in such short order, but white eyes are unique because their speciation isn’t a simple reaction to shifts in local habitats, said study author Christopher Filardi.
“White-eyes evolved into dozens of new species extremely fast while simultaneously spreading across much of [the southern] hemisphere,” he said. “At this geographic scale, there is no one thing from the outside that could have made this happen; there is something special about those birds.”
White eyes may evolve faster, in part, because females can start breeding as young as four months old. It takes most tropical songbirds closer to a year to reach sexual maturity, Filardi explained.
And unlike most birds, white eyes are hardwired to be social. They forage, travel, and even preen together, making it easier for them to colonize, according to the study.
Silvereye/Waxeye/Tauhou closeup by digitaltrails, Creative Commons on Flickr
Starved Rock is in Utica, about 75 miles southwest of Chicago. The park is named for a legend that tells of a band of Illiniwek starving to death after fleeing to the top of the flattopped rock cliff and being trapped by rival Potawatomi and Ottawa tribes.
Starved Rock is about 2630 acres in size and is a great place for camping, hiking and boating. During winter the park is home to hundreds of Bald Eagles.
We arrived at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center at about 9am and joined other Bald Eagle watchers on the viewing area. Several Audubon Society members offered use of their scopes to get an up-close look at the Bald Eagles perched on trees on Leopold and Plum Islands.
Besides the many perching eagles, dozens of juvenile and adult birds were flying and hunting over the Illinois River at the Starved Rock Lock & Dam.
Bald Eagles were on the brink of extinction in the lower 48 in the early 1970’s. The banning of DDT and additional federal protection has helped the species recover to a status of Least Concern today.
Our next stop was Starved Rock Lodge, where several vendors and bird organizations had tables explaining their causes. We spoke with the International Crane Foundation representative. They are not too far away in south central Wisconsin so I’m sure we’ll pay them a visit soon.
At noon we attended the Raptor Awareness Program by the World Bird Sanctuary of St. Louis. Two handlers showed us several different birds of prey while telling us about each species.
The first bird was a Harris Hawk. We recently made a Birdorable Harris Hawk so we had read about them. These birds live in the desert. Since perches (often cactus) are sparse in the desert, Harris Hawks will stand on top of one another when there is no other available perch. I would love to see this! The program’s Harris Hawk flew low across the audience several times which was fun to see.
Other birds in the program were Turkey Vulture, Barn Owl, American Kestrel, Great Horned Owl (who gave us some great hoots), Bataleur, and Bald Eagle. The American Kestrel also flew during the demonstration. The Barn Owl should have flown over the audience but got a piece of meat skewered on the beak after the first leg and flew no more.
Check out these powerful Bald Eagle talons.
The last bird of the demonstration was no raptor. One of the sanctuary’s White-necked Ravens came out and accepted donations from the audience.
After the program we looked down at the Illinois River valley from the Lodge. A Red-shouldered Hawk was perched on one of the Lodge’s trees in the viewing area.
Next we went back to the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center to attend the 2pm Live Eagle Program by the Illinois Raptor Education Center. This program was a bit smaller scale and took place in the basement of the Visitor Center. Here we were shown five birds: Turkey Vulture; Red-tailed Hawk; Golden Eagle; Bald Eagle; and Great Horned Owl.
The Bald Eagle was just 4 years old and didn’t have its full white head yet.
We had a great time at the Eagle Watch at Starved Rock and I’m sure we’ll attend more such events in the future.
It took a few days for the resident American Goldfinches to figure out the nyjer sock but today they were out in full force. Well, maybe more like half force. Every time I looked outside today there were two to four birds on the sock. But the Birdcam only got peekaboo shots like these.
There were actually a LOT more photos like the last one, but this isn’t that kind of blog.
Today we went cross country skiing on the groomed trails at Old School, a Lake County Forest Preserve.
It was a grey day with some patches of blue and the last mild weather day before another cold front moves in. I haven’t been skiing for probably 15 years so I was moving like a born-again newbie. I fell twice, both times when I was standing still.
Arthur had skied once before, also many years ago. We were not smooth but we had a great time and a great workout, too.
We didn’t see any wildlife besides one deer we spooked when driving through the parking lot, but we saw lots of animal tracks. Here’s a well-used deer route.
This one’s got me puzzled. It looks too small for squirrel but it ends at the base of the tree. What could it be?
The Dutch group Sportvisserij Nederland plans to use recordings of calling killer whales (orcas) to drive away cormorants from some bodies of water. This unique method of bird deterrence, a French concept, will begin a trial run soon in Limburg.
Klotputten by Jos Dielis, Creative Commons on Flickr
Cormorants have no natural enemies in the Netherlands and in recent years their population has boomed. In the last 25 years the number of birds has increased twenty-fold. Management of the cormorants across Europe has been a hot issue for many years, especially for fish management.
High concentrations of cormorant nests are known to kill trees and ruin habitat for other water birds like herons. During several guided birding excursions in Holland, we saw the destruction caused by cormorant invasions and heard of the issues the wildlife managers faced.
If you’ve ever wondered why the airlines don’t protect their planes from bird strikes by screening over the jet engines, check out this article from the New York Times.
The Times also has an interesting photo being called evidence of the first airplane bird strike. The photo of a French military plane was taken in 1916. Like US Airways 1549, the French plane also landed safely.
The Madison, Wisconsin Audubon Society is looking for an intern to work in the field this summer. The application deadline for this position is Friday, February 27th.
2009 Summer Internship:
Orientation to Restoration Ecology Fieldwork
Madison Audubon Society, Inc., Madison, Wisconsin
Overview: As an intern in this supervised practical experience, you will spend the summer in the field where you will learn by doing a number of tasks in broad-scale landscape restoration and management projects, including work in prairie, savanna, woodland, and wetland habitats. The primary focus of activities is the control of invasive species, but some time will be spent on seed collecting and endangered species monitoring. The internship will give you the opportunity to become familiar with both native and alien plants and to learn about their life cycles and ecological requirements; to observe what natural conditions and processes have been altered in a landscape; and to gain an understanding of restoration and management goals and objectives. Interns work in groups at sites within 30 miles of Madison. Two teams will be hired for the summer of 2009; one to work at Madison Audubon’s Faville Grove Sanctuary east of Madison, and one to work at several sites north and west of Madison. Applicants will be considered for both teams but may express a preference.
Dates: This is a full-time summer commitment from May 26 through August 14, 2009. Stipend: $4,320 for the summer.
Eligibility: For some intern positions, applicants must be continuing students, or accepted for enrollment, as undergraduates or special students at a University of Wisconsin System institution. Academic credit may be available for participation in this program; each intern is responsible for making academic credit arrangements with her/his university. Applicants must be able to perform sustained physical work outdoors.
Other: Interns are responsible for their travel, housing, and other living expenses, and are encouraged to carpool between home and worksites. Sturdy work boots, gloves and clothing, as well as sun, rain and insect protection are required. All tools will be provided.