27 March 2010

Safe Passage Days!

It's spring migration! Hopefully you've planned your bird-friendly tactics for the season: bird and bug friendly plants, diurnal window distractions and a reduction in nocturnal light pollution. Eh? Light pollution is a pet peeve of mine - growing up in Houston, I knew that the moon had many 2D shapes, but the first time I ever saw that it was 3D was in Abilene (perhaps it never dawned on me to look closer in IL).

Beyond light pollution, though, is the fatal distraction that it causes for nocturnal migrants. Arguably, residential lights shouldn't be a problem (humor your neighbors though, and quit using floodlights!) but commercial buildings are a huge problem. Huge; they're tall objects that block birds during migration. Lights add to the death toll by confusing birds who will circle or flutter against the building until they're exhausted.

Annarbor.com posted this absolutely wonderful piece: Safe Passages Great Lakes Days: Help birds migrate safely March 15 to May 31 - it is a simple and direct message. And if the suggestions are followed, each building could save hundreds of lives.

I wish I could find it - somewhere there's a study about one building cutting bird mortality by around 70% just by turning the lights off at night during migration. A lot of birds still died, but the improvement was great for such an easy step.

Hopefully I'll get the last pile of photos uploaded soon, I've been under the weather all week. Matt has been cheering on his Baylor Bears (the men and women are BOTH rockin' the courts this season) in between bringing me soup and tea. Did I mention that I married into a green and gold family? I married into a very beary family ;-)


21 March 2010

sharing the nemesis

Black Rail has been a nemesis for me since about 1999 when I didn't know what I was doing and saw one very tiny black bird scuttle from one marsh patch to another near Galveston's East Beach. Hindsight is haunting.

Matt and I have put up a poll in our sidebar for those of you wishing to guess at our next shared life bird - this exposes some of the odd gaps in our lists and makes us laugh at our own peculiar fortunes. We narrowed the species selected to migrants. We both need Gray Jay, for example, but won't likely get it until we go to their habitat. Likewise, Kirtland's Warbler would be a shared life bird but the odds of seeing it in migration are laughable. (Our current shared life bird list is here.)

As boring as a few nemesis critters are, we console ourselves with the first observation of a singing male Western Spindalis for North America. And veg carry. And a female nearby. With a nest. And another female in the vicinity. With birding karma like that, it's no wonder we dipped on so much other stuff last year!

But when you consider that I grew up in Houston and Yellow Warbler (supposedly the most abundant warbler in the US) was one of my last warblers... well, things are strange. Yellow Rail before Sora! Attwater's Prairie Chicken before Scaled Quail, Montezuma Quail before California Quail.

And Matt will gently mention Bluethroat in the lower 48 before Sprague's Pipit. Also Red-throated Pipit before Sprague's. Hmmm.

Of note, our last visit to Salineno coincided with the visit of a middle-aged Winter Texan who had just seen her life American Kestrel. That made me wonder...

Regardless, fling some guesses at us. Heck, fling your own nemesis or next-life-bird guesses at us. Don't be embarrassed, we feel a bit exposed as well.

Happy migration!

20 March 2010

Solitary, but not alone.

As hoped for in the post below..., I was able to get a few shots of the Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) we crossed paths with at San Bernard NWR back on 11 March.

The gentle beginnings of migration have already allowed us a few wonderful glimpses at fellow earthlings, many of whom have a long distance to travel.

This is a species I most commonly associate to winter months at Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary outside of Brownsville, TX.

Sadly, that sanctuary is now located on the other side of the Border Wall. North of the border, mind you, yet south of the Border Wall. Pretty much the DMZ, and closed to the public.

So, this species does winter in the southern tip of Texas. (The following map may be a bit generous with the winter range in North America)

courtesy of Boreal Songbird Initiative

Otherwise it spends those months in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

The individual Heidi and I came across was likely a migrating bird. As the above map indicates, this is a "tundra-nester" that breeds, spending the spring and summer, across Canada.

Generally seen singly (the only way I've seen them), or in small flocks; it joins that mass exodus of many avian species heading north for the spring.

As always during migration, I wonder where this being is specifically coming from and going.

17 March 2010

back to the coast

Matt and I were aiming for San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge on our way to Houston to visit my folks and family. En route, we detoured by the end of the road and got a few photos for my dad - barges are in his blood.

As for San Bernard, we were serenaded by Boat-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus major), the marsh-loving cousin of the urban Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus). Great-tails are also featured in our "how to get rid of grackles" post. Boat-tails perhaps deserve their own post for birders, as they're a notoriously difficult species unless you're at San Bernard or Anahuac NWR - they are the nearly-exclusive grackle species at each location.

Hopefully these videos will work, otherwise I'll be tinkering with the post a bit - the first clip is of the BTGR call note (15 sec)

The second one (10 sec) is the full raspy call that is so not-Great-tailed in posture and pitch.

That little fellow above is a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria). My photos suffered from heat haze, digi-bin photos and grubby windshield. Hopefully Matt will post his pictures!

Solitary, Solitary without bins (and a corner of Matt), American Alligator

While in town, we took a quick detour through Bay Area Park, where we re-vowed last May. The boardwalk that I love so dearly is still in a state of sad neglect, over a year and a half after Hurricane Ike. We were happy to see that a two-part dog park was added, perhaps next trip the pup can come along. Indeed, the olde golf course would be great fun for a pup as well!

A mystery Hymenoptera from Seabrook.

You may wonder why Pro-Fast Fastener & Supply Co is being featured. Look at the building. See any huge reflective windows? Me neither! Texas has plenty of awnings, but this sort of shade structure is brilliant for deflecting the sun and would be a great option for preventing bird strikes. Hacienda San Angel Mexican Grill (their site seems to be down) is featured through a drizzled-upon windshield because the fresh veggie enchiladas were absolutely mindboggling. It's at the top of our list to try again if we're ever in that area!

four generations

What do you get when you assemble a 13 month old tot, his parents, his aunt and uncle, his mother's parents and his great-grandmother?

Back row: Matt, Heidi, Irene (Mom), Oma, Kindli and Gavin
Front row: Pete (Dad) and Oliver

O was suitably unimpressed with the clover on the golf course (in the background you can make out the leafless branches of the avocado tree). The floppy hat was a wonderful contrast to his "I AM THE FUTURE" robot shirt.

I'll spare you the full size of these (more clover inspection), let's just say that O took a photo of Aunt H and hilarity ensued.

Monday's departure shows a blushing O because grandma gave him a big kiss... the look on his face is ridiculously cute but a little hard to see. Next post, I promise, will be back to birds and bugs and all things wonderfully wildlifey!

WindowAlert giveaway

There's a pdf brewing from the American Bird Conservancy about birds hitting windows (they already have a great page about building strikes); as soon as it's available, it'll be found in our links section.

EDIT: here's the ABC window pdf!

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Taylor Co.
(actually roadkill, but I've picked them up at windows in TX and IL)

Otherwise, here's an update on the WindowAlert giveaway:

With our spring WindowAlert giveaway, in just a few days we got over 10,000 requests for free decals from all 50 states, India, Italy, England, Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Lithuania, Guam, Puerto Rico, Tasmania (perhaps Marcia's sister!) and most of the Canadian provinces. Many of the requesters included comments to the effect that they were glad to find this offer and the information on our web site because they didn't know what to do to stop birds from hitting their windows.

BTW, our totally free spring WindowAlert giveaway has ended -- these 10,000 requests wiped out our supply of WindowAlerts. However, we have secured additional funding and ordered more WindowAlerts, which are on their way here. Our current giveaway offer is that we will send people a free 4-pack of WindowAlerts if they send us $2.00 for S&H. We also have a deal arranged with WindowAlert.com that if one orders one or more packs of WindowAlerts on WindowAlert.com, they will include a free packet of WindowAlerts, if you mention the code "WIHUMANE."


Scott Diehl, Manager
WIngs Program
Wisconsin Humane Society,
Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
4500 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53208
web: www.wihumane.org/wildlife
e-mail: sdiehl@wihumane.org
phone: 414-431-6117

02 March 2010

February in hindsight

After the RGV, but before the second batch of unseasonably cold weather kicked in, Matt and I explored Homestead Heritage. There were waves of hundreds of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings passing through. A smattering of Slate-colored (Dark-eyed) Juncos were down in the leaf litter with them and Matt spooked up one Hermit Thrush:

For a digi-bin photo at ~30' that's not a bad shot at all for the 5th attempt ;-)

Now, the five of you who were reading this blog back during our New Mexico adventure may recall that Matt has a fondness for green chili cheeseburgers... and Homestead Heritage has those.

...racoon tracks for kicks: that's how tempting grass fed happy-cows are. With locally produced everything. I had their tamale plate this time; last time it was jalapeno sweet potato soup. SO good.

Anyway, the first snowfall of February was a great fun for the puppy:

The second snowfall of February was just plain cold:

Matt was smart and stayed inside, but puppy caught snowballs and modeled for some snowmendogs. Even though I spent 2.5 winters in IL, I hadn't played in snow since maybe 1990 when the family ended up making snow angels in Switzerland... I vaguely recall sledding, but that could also just be due to photo albums. Regardless, I bundled up and busted out some nocturnal art:

The snow melted really quickly the next morning, so I barely had time to assemble the 3rd and final snowdog and prop up an Easter Island head. It's too bad, because I was also contemplating Snow Henge, but alas, too late.

01 March 2010

WindowAlert follow-up

If you saw the "handprint rule" at birdsandbuildings.org, or were wondering about the Free WindowAlert post here's a follow-up photo... it does not follow the handprint rule (there are only 4 on this window, which is far less than 1 per square foot).

Shown is the cardinal's window with WindowAlert clings - not enough clings to prevent reflection attacks, nor collisions. Indeed, reflection attacks for this spot are probably best fended off with a sheer fabric on the outside of the window until the cardinal is satisfied that his territory is secure.

The feeder is a great way to slow the speed of collision, but I think an additional 5 evenly spaced clings would ease my mind a bit more.

Note: Hummingbirds will fly through impossibly small areas, so if you have any hummingbird strikes, clings are unlikely to do anything for the problem - CollidEscape is the best bet.

For the not-so-faint-of-heart, below is a flashback to my life in Illinois - nothing is particularly graphic, though there are a lot of dead birds. There are also highly reflective windows, some with WindowAlert clings (none of the windows are adequately covered), some with falcon silhouettes... apologies for the mid-90s digital camera technology used to take the photos! Look out for the comparison between shade screens and mirrored window film:

Contents of the slideshow: sparrows, warblers, hummingbirds, doves, thrushes, buildings, etc.
***Permits were through IDNR/USFWS 2004-2005***