Friday, July 30, 2010

Weird Looking Bird

We were nearing the end of our Montana vacation.  Last year we had bid on a six-day Montana vacation at the World Bird Sanctuary’s bi-annual fundraiser, Fete du Feather.  After six days of exploring the area surrounding Bozeman, several trips to Yellowstone, and an amazing array of wildlife sightings, ranging from moose in Yellowstone to a bear right in the neighborhood, it was almost time to return home. 
Typical Montana scenery
On this last day “the boys” (my husband and my daughter’s fiancĂ©) had already left for their guided fly fishing trip on the Madison River, and we “girls” (myself, my two daughters, and our granddaughter) were still lounging around in our “jammies” until it was time to go horseback riding.  My daughter and granddaughter had just left to run down to the nearby ATM, while my other daughter and I enjoyed our morning coffee.

Suddenly, my nine year old granddaughter burst into the house yelling, “Na-Na!  Na-Na! Hurry, hurry!  You have to come!  There’s this really WEIRD looking bird!   He’s just down the street!” 

Well—needless to say—the phrase “weird looking” and “bird” all in the same sentence was all it took to have us racing out of the house--jammies and all—cameras and binoculars clutched in our hands.  As we jumped in the car my oldest daughter was hysterically sputtering something about a bird that looked like a lawn ornament in someone’s yard. 
 There he was peering at us over the grasstops
Sure enough, about two city blocks away from the house where we were staying, in someone’s backyard, we spotted him—or maybe I should say HE spotted us.  It was a male Dusky Grouse, intent on claiming territory.  As we watched he proceeded to strut and boom and display—totally unconcerned about the strange creatures with the cameras crazily snapping away.
  Formerly classified as a Blue Grouse, they have recently been reclassified as two separate species, the Dusky Grouse and the similar Sooty Grouse
As far as we could tell, there was no female—or other male grouse—in the vicinity.  However, at the edge of the yard where all the strutting and displaying was taking place there was one of those colorful yard flags that are so popular now.  This one was round and if one looked closely it somewhat resembled the shape of another displaying grouse.  At any rate, we watched this lovesick fellow for about 20 minutes--or about 150 photos—whichever way you choose to measure time.
  The Sooty Grouse has yellow cheek patches as opposed to the purple patches on this Dusky Grouse
This was a fantastic ending to a great vacation.  I can’t wait to see what awesome bargains are up for auction at WBS’s Spring 2011 Fete du Feather!

 Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary volunteer

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

IT’S ALMOST TIME!


It’s that time of year again when our in-house band, The Raptor Project, is gearing up for our August concert series—Birds in Concert! 

Join us on any Thursday evening in August for some fun and FREE entertainment by The Raptor Project, as well as several other guest artists.

Featured artists are:

August 5 – Our own Raptor Project, performing original songs from their two CD’s

August 12 – The ever popular Javier Mendoza brings his own brand of Pop music with a Latin edge

August 19 – The Little Rhythms will liven things up with they’re Acoustic Rock styling

August 26 – The Rebounds will get things moving with their Rock music style

MARK YOUR CALENDARS!!

All performances begin at 7:00 pm
Bring your coolers, picnic dinners and lawn chairs if you like.
Food and beverages (hot dogs, snack items, soft drinks) available for purchase

ADMISSION AND PARKING ARE FREE

For the safety of our other guests and our birds – no pets please.

Birds in Concert is sponsored by AmerenUE

















Monday, July 26, 2010

The Rookie Files: Hoss

Yes dear readers I am once again blogging about a Eurasian Eagle owl.  

Hoss and Doctor Who have some similarities: they are both owls, were both free lofted until a year old, and both needed for emergency show help.  That is where the similarities end.
 This is Hoss's "curious" look
Hoss, for starters, is male, so he tops out at about 3 and half pounds.  He is also being trained in a different method than Doctor Who. Dr. Who was manned (taught to sit on the glove) using the older system.  Basically every time she jumped off the glove, we put her right back on until she learned we were a stable perch (and one that gave out food). 

The method we are using with Hoss is positive reinforcement. It is his choice whether or not to come to my glove. Of course every time he does, there is a tasty reward in it for him (rat meat: yum!).  It has been a long and slow process, but with repetition, constant training, and a lot of rat meat, Hoss will now step to and from my glove, to and from the scale (and allow me to take his weight, which is very important), on and off of his outdoor perch, and he has become one of our best sidewalk birds.

Many people love to stare at his beautiful plumage(similar in color and pattern to a Great Horned owl) and of course his piercing orange eyes. Since he is so young and new to people, it is fascinating to watch his facial feathers and feather tufts shift as he encounters new and different people. 
The look he gets when he is not sure about an approaching person or object 
Most guests ask if those tufts are his ears. They are actually just feathers that change position depending on his mood and interest level. If he sees something he does not like, one of the many peacocks that patrol the grounds for instance, then he will puff up all of his feathers, raise his wings, hiss and click his beak. This is how he would frighten off predators in the wild, since he would rather scare them off than get in a fight and risk injury.

Hoss is a very curious bird, and one that picks up on patterns quickly. He has started to realize that every time a large group of people come up to us, he gets a treat. Now whenever there is a large crowd, he will begin searching my glove for the treat he knows is coming. To keep him on his talons, so to speak, I randomize when he gets his treats. It could be while the people are there or after they leave.  He never knows.

The next step with Hoss is having him step to the other trainer’s glove.  Once he does this, we will hopefully be able to use him in shows. So next time you’re at the Milwaukee County Zoo, look for us by the gate to the Bird of Prey Theater. We might be having a training session, although who is training who is still up for debate.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Exercising The Birds

At the World Bird Sanctuary’s Nature Center, during the day we keep many different types of birds of prey tethered to perches outside behind the back porch in a “weathering area.”  Visitors can view them up close with no enclosure wires that may obstruct photo-taking.  One of the questions most frequently asked out here is, “Do these birds ever get any exercise?”
 View of the Weathering Area located behind the Nature Center
Studies have shown that, in the wild, birds of prey only fly when they really have to.  They sit on tree branches or other perch-like objects for 80 to 90% of their day.  If our tethered birds need to stretch their wings they have plenty of room to do so.  Just vigorously flapping their wings without lifting off gives them adequate exercise. However, each bird that has been trained to fly during our shows will get exercised at least every other day.  This keeps them in very good shape during their flying season, which typically lasts 6 months. 
Fred, our Hooded Vulture, during a practice session
Weather permitting, these birds are flown outside in our amphitheater in front of the Nature Center.  They fly back and forth between the gloves of two trainers anytime between 2pm through 4:30pm.  If you are a visitor around this time, you can feel free to sit and watch as the birds may fly right over your heads!  Also every weekend until Labor Day, join us for our Amazing Animal Encounter shows where we may fly some of our birds of prey, as well as present parrots, snakes, and mammals up close and personal!  You can see these programs at 11.30am and 2pm on Saturdays, and at 1.30pm on Sundays.
 Fred demonstrates his flying skills as he prepares to land on the glove
When we first begin to train a bird of prey to fly glove to glove, we start out very close and have him/her just hop to another persons glove while still attached to a leash.  We call these leash-hops.  We always use positive reinforcement when training our animals, so we first show the bird that the other person has a food reward in their glove.  As soon as the bird hops to the other glove, he/she will get that food.  Pretty soon the bird catches on to the fact that when that glove is raised up, that’s his/her cue to fly over to it and get some food.  Soon the bird no longer needs to see the food and will completely trust that when the glove is raised there will be a nice tasty piece of raw rat meat in the glove for him/her.
 Jack, our young Harris' Hawk, flying on creance line
I was able to take part in our new Harris’ Hawk, Jack’s, flight training.  I snapped some photos of him at the last stage of his training: the creance line.  This is the name of the lightweight line we tied to his jesses for the first time he flew outside.  We continued to use the creance line for several weeks so that if he flew to any point other than his trainer, we would be able to gently recover him.  Finally he was creance tested, meaning that he was placed in several different unfamiliar locations outside to see if he would either try to fly off from there or if he would look for the nearest glove and fly to that when cued.  Jack aced that test.  He is no longer on the creance line and he can be seen free flying at indoor and outdoor programs.


Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Duckon

When most people hear the words ‘science fiction/fantasy convention’ they immediately picture the stereotypical movie scene of a bunch of dorky looking people running around in Star Trek uniforms, pretending to be their favorite character. 
  Liberty and World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist, Dana Lambert, meet the Mad Scientist
Well, coming from someone who attends these things, that is just in the movies.  I am an avid sci-fi/fantasy convention-goer and let me tell you, we are a cool bunch of people.  And just because people love Star Trek, Star Wars, or any number of other great movies, doesn’t mean that they don’t love raptors too!  (Just a little note, in Star Trek, the Klingon spaceship is called a “Bird of Prey”.  How cool is that?)
           
Every year for the past 5 years, I have brought our birds of prey to a convention up in the Chicago area called Duckon.  The people at the convention weren’t quite sure of us at first, but now we are one of the most popular programs each year!  We are greeted enthusiastically when we enter the hotel doors and are cheered when our programs start.  Everyone loves when the birds fly overhead and are enthralled by the different species we bring. 
           Liberty and World Bird Sanctuary Director of Field Studies, Cathy Spahn, meet a Klingon
One extra-fun thing that we do is offer people the chance to get their photos taken with our birds.  They can even hold our non-native species on their own fist!  (Non-native birds of prey are not protected under the same laws as our native species, which allows us to let people have a very unique and memorable experience.)

We hope to be able to continue sharing our magnificent birds with an audience that loves them so much – those crazy science-fiction/fantasy fans of which I am a proud member.

Submitted by Laura MacLeod, World Bird Sanctuary Education Coordinator

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Time To Laugh

Every month when I think about writing for the blog many different topics cross my mind.  Indeed, I have changed my mind about a topic at least a dozen times, and as with this blog, had at least one total rewrite.
 My Severe Macaw, Scully, having a good laugh at my expense
My original topic was going to be quite different, but I chose instead to go for something just for fun – something uplifting.

Here at WBS, every single one of us works very hard, staff and volunteers alike.  Somehow, I think that working in this field lends itself to comedic happenings, or maybe it’s just the people in general.  Either way, there is never a lack of funny stories to share, even if you have to tell an embarrassing story on yourself.  I usually fall into this category, so I have to be able to laugh at myself.

One of my more recent embarrassing moments took place in front of a small audience – naturally.  I was casually making my lunch in the kitchen and talking about an upcoming program.  On the counter sat a bowl full of my beloved barbeque sauce, which was to adorn my lunch.  I guess I got a little animated when I was talking, and the next thing I know, my hand hit the bowl.  The bowl went airborne, and the sauce went flying with the force of a Mount St. Helen’s eruption, clear across the kitchen.  In it’s path of destruction was myself, and poor innocent bystander, volunteer Matthew Levin.  I was literally covered in sauce from shorts to shoes.  Poor Matt, who was caught in the crossfire, managed to escape with only minor damage to his khaki’s.  The kitchen, and I, smelled like sauce for hours, even after the clean up.  Mind you, this happened in front of a kitchen full of people, so I had absolutely no dignity left.  I refer to this incident as a “fly-by saucing”.

Just in case I had an ounce of pride left after that, the other day I embarrassed myself in front of an audience once again.  I was on my way into the office, juggling a backpack and book bag, as usual, but this time with the added challenge of an eagle (walking) stick and a giant 44 oz. sweet tea.  Well, the last two elements proved to be too much as I tried to open the door to the Nature Center. 

Right there in the doorway, I caught the eagle stick on the doorjamb with enough force to break through the jug of sweet tea, and instantaneously doused myself from the waist down.  It made a fabulous “splooshing” sound--just to make sure no one missed the spectacle.  What an entrance!   Lucky for me, Dana Lambert, Naturalist, came to my rescue with a change of clothes.  I guess she owed me one from the “shmoo” incident, which I wrote about in a previous blog.

I hope you’ve had a good laugh at my expense, and a break from the headlines.  Anything for the cause. Lol!

And if you could see me trying to write this, you might be amused at the sight of the parrot vying for my attention.  I have to peer around him, bobbing and weaving, resembling the likes of a meerkat.  He keeps getting right in the middle of the desk, traipsing across my paper.  I love a challenge!  And believe me, having a parrot is a big one – but that’s a whole different story.

Submitted by Billie Baumann, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Rookie Files: Tsavo

Greetings from Milwaukee all you loyal readers! A new season of educational bird shows produced by WBS Trainers has opened at the Milwaukee County Zoo, which means a lot of new things. Including new people, new behaviors, a new location, a new script to learn and of course a new batch of rookies including Tsavo.
Tsavo perched in a tree
Tsavo is a nine year old, male Bateleur Eagle. He made his show debut for the World Bird Sanctuary as a bird that just sat on the glove in the Grant’s Farm show last year. This year we are a little more ambitious and he’s flying from glove to glove. Before we could fly him though, he had to pass a series of tests. First we attached him to a creance line ( a long spool of heavy string tied to his jesses).  This allowed him the freedom of flight, but should he make an unexpected detour we would be able to stop him. Next in the series was placing him in various trees ( which we found out he’s scared of) and on rooftops ( also not a fan) and calling him back into the theater. Finally we had him do some very long flights in an area where he couldn’t see the theater and had to come straight to our glove. I’m happy to say that he passed all of his tests with flying colors!
Telemetry equipment needed to monitor some of our free flying birds
 Now, I’m sure you’re wondering “what’s with all the tests and trials?”. The simple answer is that Tsavo is a bateleur eagle, which in the wild will travel anywhere from 300-500 miles in a day in search of food. Since Tsavo is meant to travel such long distances we want to make sure he has a good recall to his home base, the theater. As an added precaution we also attach a transmitter to his leg before the show starts. That way if he gets frightened by something, or blown off course by a freak gust of wind, we can easily find him.
Close-up of Tsavo showing his unique facial area
He’s also a very unique looking bird, with a bright red face and feet. Bateleur eagles can actually change the color of these two areas depending on their mood. The blood vessels are very close to the surface and they can control blood flow to these vessels. A bateleur’s face can be anywhere from an orange-yellow when they are calm and relaxed to a brilliant red when excited ( like say during breeding season). These red feet are also unique because they have shorter toes and thicker scales on the tops of their feet than other birds of prey. These adaptations help to protect them from the bites of venomous snakes, their favorite tasty treat in the wild.
In the wild those red scaly feet would protect him from the bites of his favorite prey
Tsavo does some beautiful flights in the show, flying to the speaker and then right over audience members. His species is capable of some truly gorgeous spins, tumbles, and barrel rolls during courtship, due in part to their short tail (only about 3 inches long) and their very long wings. In fact Bateleur actually means acrobat or tumbler in French. Tsavo may not perform any courtship flights in the show, but we still encourage you to come out to Milwaukee to see him. His excited bawking noises before he takes off are worth the trip. Besides, where else other than Africa is a Bateleur Eagle going to fly over your head?

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hummingbird Season

Summertime is often a favorite time of year for bird enthusiasts, and one of the biggest reasons is due to our smallest birds--hummingbirds.  
Female Ruby Throated Hummingbirds waiting in line for their turn at the feeder.  Hummingbirds are very territorial so it's unusual to see them sharing a feeder.
Here in the U.S. we have 14 species of hummingbirds that breed regularly, but there have been up to 22 species sighted, with 8 species listed as visitors and not breeding.  Hummingbirds can only be found in North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean.  There are 320 species of Hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are truly amazing!  A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest brain to body weight proportion in the bird kingdom.  Hummingbirds are very smart and they can remember every flower they have visited, and how long it will take a flower to refill.  A hummingbird’s heart beats up to 1,260 times a minute when in flight, and about 250 times per minute at rest.  These little dynamos will take about 250 breaths per minute while at rest.  


Hummingbirds actually spend most of their lives perched, but when in flight have the amazing capability to fly at an average of 25 to 30 miles per hour.  The tip of a hummingbird’s wing moves in a figure-8 fashion, which allows them to hover, fly forward, backwards, sideways, and even upside down. 
A male Ruby Throated Hummingbird perched on his favorite branch
In the eastern part of the US we mainly see one species, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is a summer resident from April to October.    The Ruby-throat gets its name from the ruby colored feathers on the male’s throat. 

Hummingbirds frequent our gardens and hummingbird feeders.  Feeders are easy to find in the summer and can be purchased at your local garden or bird store.  A good hummingbird feeder will have red at the base, or on the feeding ports, since hummingbirds are really attracted to the color red.  I personally prefer feeders that are at least partly made of glass.  The glass is much easier to clean and lasts longer than plastic feeders.  The easiest and least expensive food for hummingbirds is to make your own nectar.  Use 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (granulated white sugar).  Some say to heat the water and sugar to mix them.  I have found that whisking the water/sugar mixture thoroughly until all the sugar is dissolved is sufficient, and the hummers come flocking to the feeder. 
One of the most common types of Hummingbird feeders
Another great way to attract hummingbirds to your yard is by having a garden full of plants that are hummingbird friendly.  You can get a list of plants for your region online.  I have found my flowers and feeder are most active with hummingbirds first thing in the morning, and anytime after about 4 pm as temperatures cool.

I’ve had a chance to travel throughout much of the U.S. and parts of Central America, and hummingbirds are always so much fun to see.  They range greatly in color, and have some of the most beautiful colors in the bird world.  In parts of the southwest I have sat at feeder locations and had them fly so close to my head that you think they are going to pierce your ear.  I have even had a red or bright orange shirt on and had them buzz me to get a really up close view. 
A female Ruby Throated Hummingbird
One of my favorite hummingbird sightings came last November while I was in Costa Rica.  I was riding on an aerial tram when we looked down to see this tiny white capped and burgundy-colored hummingbird working a bush.  It turned out to be a Snowcapped Hummingbird.  That white cap was like a little beacon moving around in the bush!  It was one of the coolest things that I saw in the rainforest. 
A Snowcapped Hummingbird photographed in Costa Rica
Another one of my favorites is a Hummingbird found in Southeastern Arizona, the Magnificent Hummingbird.  The bright purple and turquoise colors are absolutely amazing!

So, if you haven’t already been bitten by the Hummingbird feeder bug, give it a try.  Pick up a feeder at your local hardware or bird supply store and join the millions who watch these little creatures.  It’s a relatively inexpensive and immensely rewarding hobby.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Field Studies Coordinator

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Backyard Exterminators


Remember that pest control crew I wrote about last October under the title Insecticides? Well, they’re now hard at work and keeping the plant-devouring insects at bay in my backyard. 
 A young Downy Woodpecker searching for insects in my ancient and now decrepit Hawthorn tree
In my previous article I talked about the types of food you could use to lure these hard-working exterminators to your yard.  There are other things you can do to ensure that YOUR yard is the most inviting environment in the neighborhood! 
 A Nuthatch at one of our birdfeeders
Number One on that list is DON’T SPRAY FOR INSECTS!  If you spray, you’ll be killing off the primary food source for these free pest control experts.  I know, I know, it’s really hard to keep your hands off of the sprayer!  RESIST!  Instead of reaching for the sprayer—reach for the birdseed, or the suet. 
A Brown Thrasher drying off after a dip in the birdbath 
Number Two on the list.  Install a birdbath—or two—in your yard.  It doesn’t have to be a fancy one if funds are tight.  It can be as simple as a plant saucer or other shallow container that you might have around the house.  The key here is to hose it out every day so that mosquitoes don’t breed.  If you want to get fancy, Wild Birds Unlimited sells a device called a Water Wiggler that keeps the water moving and discourages mosquitoes from laying their eggs.  (They need still water for egg laying.)
Our now shady backyard with plenty of cover for our exterminators 
Number Three.  Provide habitat.  You don’t have to live in a woods to have habitat.  Many years ago when we first moved to our home it was a barren field.  The six-foot oak trees that we planted forty years ago are now towering giants that invite the birds to perch, shelter, feed and raise their young.  However, you don’t need to wait forty years to have trees that invite the birds into your yard.  Hawthorn trees (the tree that bears the Missouri State Flower) are fast growing, have beautiful flowers when in bloom and produce a crop of berries that the birds love. 
 Doves are one of the most prolific backyard birds
The third year after we planted our Hawthorn tree we watched a dove raise six clutches of babies in this young tree.  Yes, believe it or not, I said six!  I know that’s an unbelievable number (we were amazed), and it’s the only time I’ve seen it.  It was a long, very mild season, and she started the first clutch very early in the year, and was still sitting on eggs in late fall.  The young were barely out of the nest and she was back to egg laying.  My research says that in warmer climates Doves have been known to lay as many as five or six clutches.  Guess she didn’t know that this is Missouri!
 A flock of Cedar Waxwings may pass through in the Fall
Occasionally in the fall you may see a flock of Cedar Waxwings stripping the berries from your plantings as they make their way south.  Of course you could also plant a Dogwood (our Missouri State Tree) for it’s beautiful Spring flowers and the Fall berries that the birds love.
There are any number of other landscape plants that will attract your exterminators – Pyracantha bushes, Lilacs, Ninebark, etc.  
A Carolina Wren singing to attract a mate in the branches of a Hawthorn tree
Don’t forget low growing plants for the understory vegetation where birds such as Wrens, Sparrows and Brown Thrashers love to hunt.  For more information on plants suitable for your landscape click HERE  for the Missouri Botanical Garden’s “Grow Native” website.  If you do not live in Missouri, contact your local botanical garden for information on non-invasive plants or plants native to your area.  For more information on invasive species go to the USDA National Agricultural Library or the U.S. Arboretum websites.

Number Four.  It’s still nesting season for some species.  Help them along by providing nesting materials.  A new technique I’ve tried this year has worked beautifully.  I have a dog that sheds unbelievably.  When I brush him I take the hair I’ve just removed from the dog, and stuff it into an old suet feeder that sits in my backyard.  The birds love it!  They are regular customers at my “hair feeder”.  I’ve since discovered that stores that carry birding supplies sell a “nesting ball” which is essentially the same thing—only it’s round.
A baby Downy Woodpecker learning to perch on the Hummingbird feeder for a drink of sugar water
Had I kept up the spraying routine that was standard practice when we bought our home I would not now be watching the young Downy Woodpecker perching on my Hummingbird feeder to get a drink, or the Brown Thrasher baby following mom like a shadow, waiting for a tasty morsel.  I would be out there with sprayer in hand, once a week, fighting the chemical blowback caused by the wind, and in the end would end up with a sterile yard with no wildlife and “moth eaten” plants.
 A view of the backyard showing some of the understory plants the birds love
As I sit on my patio with my cup of coffee in the morning and watch my exterminators hard at work, I thank my lucky stars that I learned long ago to keep my hand off the insect sprayer.  

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Effects on the Environment #3- Plastic Bags

Following is #3 in the series by World Bird Sanctuary volunteer Jennifer Jones

Plastic Bags
The Environmental Stewardship has, in the past, offered a couple of plastic bag recycling opportunities and here are some of the reasons why.

Plastic bags are mistaken for food by marine animals (particularly sea turtles). So why is it harmful to sea turtles?  Plastic bags clog their digestive systems, and the turtles die because their digestive systems cannot function correctly.  Plastic bags look like one of their favorite foods--Jellyfish.  A study showed that out of 400 necropsy reports of sea turtles, one-third of them had plastic in their digestive system.

Plastic bags are made of petroleum, a nonrenewable resource.  They are a serious litter problem due to their light weight, and are difficult to contain.  They are also a major part of the waste in our landfills. Plastic bags are one of the most numerous items of litter along with cigarette butts and Styrofoam.  How often have you seen plastic bags caught in trees and bushes along the roadside as you travel our highways?

Even though plastic bag recycling is on the rise, the EPA has estimated that 90 billion plastic bags used in the U.S. each year are not recycled and find their way into landfills.

The simple solution is clear on this.  Reusable shopping bags!  Keep them in your car and have them at the ready.  If you must accept your merchandise in plastic bags, be sure to take them to a recycling center.  Most supermarkets these days have a plastic bag recycling bin.  What could be easier than dropping off your old plastic bags on your way into the supermarket?

Submitted by Jennifer Jones, World Bird Sanctuary volunteer

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Step by Step

Have you been thinking about ordering a brick from our "Buy a Brick" campaign, but just haven't gotten around to it yet?

If so, we just want to give you a "heads up" that within the next week we will be placing an order for the next phase of our project to pave the steps down to the amphitheater.  Once the order is placed it will be too late to be included in this summer's installation.  The next installation will not be until next fall.

Just remember, bricks are not only for memoriams.  They can be to commemorate a special occasion, honor someone you love, memorialize a beloved pet who has passed on, to remember a special birthday, or to state your commitment to conservation as a scout troop, group, or class.

So, if you would like your brick to be included in this next order, Click Here to order, or call 636-225-4390 to order by phone.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Beach Mice

In my very first blog entry where I introduced myself, I briefly talked about a field research position I held in Florida trapping, radio collaring, and tracking Santa Rosa beach mice during the summer of 2009.  
Beach Mouse being released from trap
There have been several people who have asked me what the results were of that research.  Recently Elliot Wilkinson, the post-doctorate student conducting the research, finished his report, titled “Habitat Restoration for Beach Mice: Landscape-level Population Studies and Dune Restoration.”  In it are the results of the data I helped him to collect. 

The research took place on Eglin Air Force Base on Santa Rosa island off the coast of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, which is on the Gulf Coast.  Sand dune habitat on the island has been heavily damaged by tropical storms and hurricanes.  The value of fragmented habitats depends on whether the mice can use them as nest and foraging sites, but little information about the use of these habitats is available.  Most of Santa Rosa island is made up of dune fragments bordered by open sand, small developing dunes with vegetation, and wetland habitat.  The beach mice must continuously cross open sand gaps between these vegetation patches while foraging for seeds and insects.  Factors, such as predation risk, are likely to affect animal movement.  The safe future of the Santa Rosa beach mouse depends on sand dune restoration efforts.  Planting of woody plant species will stabilize dunes during storms and encourage re-growth of beach mouse habitat following storms.

After we applied radio collars to a total of 65 mice, we tracked their movements using radio telemetry.
Radio collared Beach Mouse
Beach mice are nocturnal.  Therefore, we recorded the location of their nest before sunset every day.  After dark we would triangulate the location of each mouse three times, with at least an hour in between each time.  The points were transferred from the GPS’s onto satellite maps of the landscape.

The results show that during a full moon, fewer open sand gaps are crossed due to a higher risk of predation.  Overall, Santa Rosa beach mice use a range of habitats for foraging but prefer primary dunes (dunes near the gulf that survived storm overwash), secondary dunes (dunes further from gulf), and wetland margin habitat (dunes that have formed along the edge of a wetland) for nesting.  Beach mice may also forage in scrub dunes, which are located on the bay side of the island, but use them less often when compared to primary dunes. 
Primary dune habitat
However, scrub dunes play an important role in providing safe habitat for beach mice when storms and hurricanes destroy their preferred habitat.
Scrub dune habitat
It was estimated that 67% of the study site was suitable foraging habitat, but less than 21% was preferred habitat for nesting.  It is therefore suggested that conservation and recovery efforts for this delicate ecosystem be concentrated on habitats the beach mice prefer to nest in.  Beach mice are a very important part of the dune ecosystem because they are the main species that promote seed dispersal of the vegetation that makes sand dunes possible.  Ensuring the survival of the beach mouse is essential to the survival of this ecosystem.
Me (Sara Oliver) holding a Beach Mouse
What can you do to help beach mice?  If you live on a beach residence and have a pet cat, keep it indoors.  Don’t feed stray cats either if you live near the beach because that will encourage them to become permanent residents in beach mouse habitat.  Also, you can plant native dune plants such as bluestem, sea oats, evening primrose and ground cherry.  They add structure to the landscape while providing food for beach mice and encourage dune regeneration.  When you visit the beach, staying off the dunes will keep them stable.  The beach mice thank you!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist