19 April 2011

About that "tickled" penguin...

A snippet of the above video has been circulating with the "tickled penguin" tag - the first minute is just an introduction of Cookie, a little fellow with bumblefoot on his right foot (which is bandaged). From the one minute mark on, it's... well... Cookie working his penguin charms on the hand of an unidentified object of affection.


Yeah, tickling. That's what the kids call it these days...

18 April 2011

unusual bat experience

This year we've seen quite a few Hoary Bats (Lasiurus cinereus) around Marathon and Post Park this spring; Matt even spotted one roosting in a cottonwood at work! After finding a dead one, we figured our adventures covered full range of Hoary Bat experiences - I've picked them up (dead) at a wind farm, I've seen them (alive) in the wild and I've seen them flying in the wild. Thankfully they're pretty distinctive in flight if it's still bright out!

Anyway, this photo is *not* a normal occurrence from what we can tell - it's all I could bear to snap one shot before gloving up to play in the cacti. Apologies for the odd angle, it was taken so the face would be visible, which was sort of from above, looking down between the prickly pear pads.

April 12, 2011

Matt had pulled up in front of the house after going to the gym, it was dark, a bat swooped down in front of the headlights.... and then didn't swoop back up. Voila. He summoned me outside, so I grabbed camera and gloves (mostly for the cactus!) and snapped the shot above before pressing down on the lower cactus pad. With one REALLY ferocious hiss, the bat took off toward the headlights. Happy ending!

I'm not sure if the bat sustained any injuries from the momentary loss of momentum, being suspended in giant spikes and whatnot, but there was no blood on the spines and my initial impression was that the wing membranes were not punctured. Can't say the same of the fuzzy body, but I hope the dense fur was enough to cushion the poor critter! There was just no way for it, on its own, to get lift without doing damage - and my understanding of their physiology, while limited, leans toward "can't take off from ground level" and thus is unlikely to be able to levitate from a mass of spines. I had grabbed a stick nearby in case its feet needed to be raised so it could take off from a hanging position, but apparently that was unnecessary.

Perhaps this cactus is on its way to being a carnivorous plant - beware the cacti in Brewster County, they're already trying to eat Hoary Bats, who knows, humans could be next!

12 April 2011

Window kill: Lark Bunting

Of the creatures inhabiting our freezer, Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) was one I didn't anticipate would have been a window kill. Most Lark Buntings are seen in distant flocks, uttering a feeble "what? wheep?" sort of call; this female is far closer than any I'd ever have expected to see. Bird-in-hand is an interesting departure from in-field observation.

A dear neighbor found it at a residence on the west side of town... she brought it to me and we discovered a few things. Lark Buntings have two different shades of down feathers. Gray under the back, black under the belly. The outermost four primaries are nearly black, the rest are dark brown.

Note: state and/or federal permits are required to pick up birds.
Our permits are through Texas A&M; the collection date for this bunting was 1 April, 2011 from NW Marathon, Brewster Co. Texas.

11 April 2011

Roadkill: Loggerhead Shrike

Since the freezer is getting crowded, it seems like a good time to share a few more of the inhabitants... it's educational, or something. Perhaps this would be a good time for Matt to post about these lovelies and how they earned their "butcher bird" nickname. A closeup on that beak perhaps gives a slight indication?

Without further fuss, SeeTrail presents Roadkill: Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) - a predatory songbird of open areas and pointy shrubs; all the better to impale prey upon.

Note: state and/or federal permits are required to pick up birds.
Our permits are through Texas A&M; this shrike was collected with their permit ~20 miles north of Study Butte, Texas on 23 March, 2011.

10 April 2011

Tis the season; a bird is trying to get into my house

This photo is neither flattering to subject nor situation; you'll have to assume that the window is as darkly tinted and highly reflective as any window can possibly be. The building is not a house in this case, but the gift shop at the Persimmon Gap entrance to Big Bend National Park. The title stands for weary googlers who are searching for a reason that a bird might be trying to get into their houses and/or attacking their windows (and side mirrors on cars! Easily enough prevented with paper or plastic bag securely placed over side mirrors, but then shiny hubcaps get the attention...)

The charming, witty, amorous suitor in the photo below is a Common Raven, making soft gutteral noises and bill-clacking to the lovely, svelte raven-in-the-mirror. At least we can only assume that charming and witty are attractive to ravens... the sweet nothings sure sounded charming.

Many of the questions I get about birds & windows are based on the assumption that the bird is actively trying to get into their house. Having not seen every situation on the planet, I can't rule that out, but in every situation that I've personally seen, the bird "trying to get in" is either defending territory by trying to attack the intruder it sees (itself), or, as is the case with the raven above... the poor critter just wants to say 'hello' to the attractive creature in the reflection.

The instinct for a bird to approach its reflection is pretty basic, like a baby in front of a mirror. There is no need for fear, panic, alarm, etc. While taping a piece of paper over the window might stop the bird from attacking that particular spot... well, there's still the rest of the window, right? This is good and bad; it means the bird can still attack a lot of window, but it also means that there's a lot of room to play.

Click here for an example of a Northern Cardinal attacking a window - via birds and buildings.org ...apologies for the gratuitous linking, as their photo is from my first round of undergrad adventures, but it demonstrates the "single piece of paper" theory in action (and failure).

One of the most simple examples of effective bird deterrence is this: the humble post-it note. Spacing them in a checkerboard pattern across the inside of a window is about as temporary and easy as it gets. Depending on the bird, it may only try to attack the window for a week or two; some may express territorial behaviors for a month or more.

Both of the post-it note photos are courtesy of Pauline Saribas, who used the design to prevent lethal window strikes (as opposed to territorial strikes) - but the idea is the same; make the window as unattractive of a suitor/challenger/flying space as possible. The large "x" shape is unlikely to deter many strikes, lethal or not, because there's too much room around the shape, but if the entire surface was checkered the number of strikes would certainly go down. Hopefully the best "attacking" spots would be well concealed, thus ending the reign of Pecking Cardinal, Swooping Flycatcher, Flailing Mockingbird, and Heartthrob Raven.

While a bird attacking a window is a nuisance to humans, perhaps, it is a distraction from what the bird should be doing - raising young, defending their territory from real birds, and generally going about their business. It is NEVER acceptable to kill the bird as a "solution" - it dooms their offspring and is illegal.

Go with the easy on, easy off, inexpensive, temporary and otherwise humane option of post-it notes. You can unleash your creativity with bright colors, bold patterns, crafting them into fun shapes and designs, and maybe even get the territorial bird away from your window(s). It could, however, get your neighbors wondering!

Other sites relevant to birds and windows:
FLAP.org has a section on "prevent window kills" with some very nifty links - they address a lot of things that do *and* don't work, as well as *why*

Project BirdSafe - for home & office - you don't have to be in Minnesota to appreciate their guidance!

This is geared mostly toward architects, but under "INFORMATION ABOUT
BIRD-SAFE DESIGNS" the "solution options" have some really cool
examples of modified windows - birdsandbuildings.org

Feel free to leave a comment or drop an e-mail if you'd like help addressing collision issues - territory or otherwise - it's always worth kicking around ideas to find what works in different situations!

05 April 2011

Yard listing!

Our previous Marathon yard list probably got posted somewhere on this blog a while back... but the new house hasn't had any yard listing updates that I can recall. So here's one: Zone-tailed Hawk! Oh heck yes, my friends!

Inca Dove 9/1/10
Eurasian Collared Dove 9/1/10
Barn Swallow 9/1/10
Turkey Vulture 9/3/10
Prairie Falcon 9/3/10
White-winged Dove 9/4/10
Cliff Swallow 9/4/10
American Kestrel 9/7/10
Bronzed Cowbird 9/7/10
House Finch 9/7/10
Common Nighthawk 9/7/10
Lesser Nighthawk 9/7/10
Great-tailed Grackle 9/9/10
Lesser Goldfinch 9/9/10
Western Tanager 9/10/10
Cave Swallow 9/14/10
House Sparrow 9/14/10 est
Wilson's Warbler 9/26/10
Osprey 9/26/10 - 4/2/11
Summer Tanager 9/26/10
Black-chinned Hummingbird 9/26/10
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 9/27/10
Broad-winged Hawk 9/27/10
Blue Grosbeak 9/27/10
Upland Sandpiper 9/27/10
Curve-billed Thrasher 9/27/10
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 9/28/10
Brewer's Blackbird 10/3/10
Cassin's Kingbird 10/4/10
Common Raven 10/5/10
Canyon Towhee 10/7/10
Red-shafted Northern Flicker 10/10/10
Chihuahuan Raven 10/16/10
Anna's Hummingbird 10/28* (ID on 31st)/10
Common Poorwill 11/9/10
Cedar Waxwing 11/19/10
Allen's Hummingbird 11/20/10
Great Horned Owl 11/?/10
Red-naped Sapsucker 12/11/10
Verdin 12/11/10
Groove-billed Ani 12/18/10
Bewick's Wren 12/21/10
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1/5/11
Red-winged Blackbird 3/8/11
Hermit Thrush 3/18/11
Lark Bunting 3/30/11
Belted Kingfisher 3/31/11
Chipping Sparrow 4/1/11
Vesper Sparrow 4/2/11
Zone-tailed Hawk 4/5/11

We've really lucked out with this yard (and counting things seen from the front slab, here at the Double Bacon), but counting things seen from the yard was really taken to a new level with today's find. We were turning from Hwy 90 on to G when a vulture caught my eye and I asked Matt to pull over. The light just wasn't right, the dihedral just wasn't strong enough, the flapping was just too... flappy. Wings, a bit too pointy. Tail a bit too longish. Then it banked. Ohhh yes, the white band on the tail, the yellow feet, then it drifted closer so we could see the fine barring on the primaries and a bit of molt in the right wing. So we jumped back into the truck as it drifted west and raced back up to the house. Yeah, we're nerds. But it DID drift back east! So as it passed 1/2 a block to the north, we could make out all of the details and pick our jaws off the ground. Hopefully it'll stick around for the summer =)