Friday, February 28, 2014

World Bird Sanctuary Board elects new President and Vice President

World Bird Sanctuary announced the election of JOHN KEMPER, former Vice President of the Board of Directors, as President of the Board, and SCOTT LIEBEL, former Treasurer, as Vice President, after a Board meeting held late last year.  Former President, JOHN RISBERG, ended his term as President in October 2013.  “I have served on the board of the World Bird Sanctuary for fifteen years, the last five as president, and I am proud of the progress the organization has made during that time, expanding the depth and breadth of its activities to include a unique and engaging nature center, open to the public year-round, and further increasing the scope of its educational outreach, rehabilitation, propagation and research services.  I am confident that our newly elected officers will continue to provide effective leadership support for the organization, building on its success and securing its place as a significant community resource.”

John Kemper, new Board President
Kemper, Vice President of PGAV Destinations, has served on the Board for World Bird Sanctuary since 2007.  As Vice President of the Board, John has been actively engaged in leading fundraising efforts and strategy development for the last 4 years, and will continue to drive the organization’s success during his tenure as Board President. 

“My goal is to continue raising awareness, providing quality educational experiences, and creating an engaging destination for wildlife supporters of all ages.  I am confident that we will maintain our position as a world leader in raptor rehabilitation, propagation, and research.”

John Kemper, WBS Board President

Scott Liebel, new Board Vice President
Liebel, Supervising Engineer, Engineering & Joint Use Services at Ameren Missouri, has served as a board member and Treasurer during his nine years on the Board of World Bird Sanctuary.  "I am excited about the positive direction that the World Bird Sanctuary is going.  I look forward to working with John and the rest of the Board to continue the WBS mission to preserve the earth′s biological diversity and to secure the future of threatened bird species in their natural environments.”

Scott Liebel, World Bird Sanctuary Board Vice-President

 In addition to these elections, Trent Tinsley, Business Process Manager – National Marketing at Enterprise, was elected as Treasurer, and Leon Ullensvang, retired, was reelected to the position of Secretary.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sacred Heart School Program

Fred Abrolat began volunteering for the World Bird Sanctuary in March of 2010.  On January 31, 2012 Fred shared his love of Eagles with Sacred Heart School in Florissant, Missouri.

Fred, his sister Annamarie and Patriot the Bald Eagle (photo by Mike Zieloski)
Fred chose Sacred Heart because his sister Annamarie Sullivan works there.  Each volunteer is allowed a free World Bird Sanctuary bird program to be presented at the school or group of the volunteers choosing.

Fred's Mom, Mary Abrolat, went to school at Sacred Heart School, Fred's Grandpa and Grandma were married there, and Fred's Aunts and Uncles went to school there.  So you can see that Fred and his family have a long and special history with this school.  Fred wanted to honor his family by bringing a live Bald Eagle to the school.

Fred presenting the program to the kids (photo by Mike Zieloski)
Fred wanted to be the presenter for the program.  So we studied, made notes, and talked over the important points that he was going to cover with the students and teachers.  We all met in the gym.  You can see from the pictures that the children sat on the floor during Fred's presentations. We had 2 sessions for the school children--1st grade thru 8th grade.  Fred did a nice job working with the Bald Eagle and conversing with the

The kids listened with rapt attention (photo by Mike Zieloski) 
As a special added bonus, one of Fred's nephews, Joe Sullivan, was able to attend.  Joe works as a Hockey referee and had the morning free.

Fred, his nephew Joe and Patriot the Bald Eagle
Fred was able to share his passion for Eagles with his family, the family church members, and the students.  It was a great day for Fred and his family.

We are fortunate to have Fred Abrolat helping as a World Bird Sanctuary volunteer.
This winter Fred has been helping us with our Eagle displays in the Alton, Illinois area.
We are grateful for Fred's passion for eagles and his eagerness to share his love and skills with the public and eagle watchers.

A big Thank you to Fred Abrolat.

If you would like to learn more about the World Bird Sanctuary’s volunteer program click here  to find out more or to fill out a volunteer application form.

Story and photos by Michael Zeloski,  Naturalist, World Bird Sanctuary

Monday, February 24, 2014

Coming Soon - World Eagle Day 2014!

Coming Soon –World Eagle Day 2014!

During the month of March the Bald Eagles wintering in our area start to fly back to the north, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see eagles until next winter.  Join us on Sunday, March 16th, 2014 as World Bird Sanctuary celebrates eagles from around the world!

You’ll meet eagles from North America, Africa, Australia and Europe.  Kids will enjoy fun, free crafts and activities.  Learn all about eagles through naturalist talks and free-flight shows featuring live flying eagles.  Get up close and personal and have your photo taken with a real Bald Eagle!

Bald Eagle in flight at World Bird Sanctuary.
Photo: (c) Sandra Lowe

New in 2014!  
We welcome special guests Bill Volker and Troy from Sia – The Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornotholigical Initiative.  They will be conducting presentations about the unique importance of eagles to Comanche culture.

Mariah, Golden Eagle at World Bird Sanctuary.
Learn about the importance of Golden Eagles in Comanche Culture at World Eagle Day 2014
Photo: Gay Schroer

All this, and more, is made possible by Ameren Missouri, who are sponsoring our “Fun in Flight” 2014 series.

  •      Meet vultures from North America, South America and Africa!
  •      Meet Dorothy, a live Andean Condor!
  •      Free-flight shows featuring live flying vultures!
  •      Free fun kids activity center.
  •      Gifts and souvenirs on sale.

 Date: Sunday, March 16th, 2013
Time: 10am – 4pm
Admission & Parking: FREE!

Sponsored by Ameren Missouri.

Join us as we wave winter goodbye, and welcome the Spring, at World Bird Sanctuary’s World Eagle Day 2014!

Submitted by:
Catherine Redfern, World Bird Sanctuary

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Look! Up in the Trees!

 One of my most fascinating wildlife encounters happened to me this past weekend.

I was picking up refuse on the World Bird Sanctuary exhibit line and I could see in the distance there was a large crowd forming in the middle of our paved trail.  Everyone had their cameras out and I figured they had spotted a Bald Eagle, but I never would have imagined what I encountered next.
McGwire, one of our resident Bald Eagles (photo by Adam Triska)

At the sanctuary we have many permanent Bald Eagle residents who have debilitating wing injuries that render them unable to fly.  Two of the enclosures that house Bald Eagles with wing injuries have open tops, and the wild population of Bald Eagles has become fully aware of this.  I looked up and not even 25 feet from the ground was a juvenile Bald Eagle perched on a branch!  I quickly recognized the individual as one of the local Bald Eagles who hangs out looking for an easy meal.  The bird was completely relaxed with probably 35 to 40 people standing underneath it.  The bird at one point locked eyes with me and you could see in its eyes that it didn't have any qualms with even the loudest child.

As I was taking questions and explaining the situation I noticed that the Bald Eagle was preparing to relieve itself and in the path of the “relief” was a young girl!  I quickly shouted to warn her of the danger soon headed her way.  She looked up and looked back at me before retreating to safety. 

Seconds after she had scampered away a huge line of poo painted the road where she was standing just seconds before!  Predictably the crowd was split with their reaction, a portion laughed while the rest were grossed out.

After lightening the load the bird had had enough glamour time and took to the air.  It launched itself from the tree and then dropped to about 10-15 feet from the ground, spread its wings, coasted for 50 feet or so and shot back up to a high branch in an old oak tree.

It’s memories and moments such as the one described above that remind me how lucky I am to work at the World Bird Sanctuary.

Submitted by Adam Triska, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Thursday, February 20, 2014

St. Louis - Home of the Birds

St. Louis is world renowned for being the home of the birds….the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, that is.

In addition to being the home of the famed St. Louis Cardinals, however, Saint Louis is home to several species of birds of prey, and is also used as a stopping point for other species during the migration.
A Red-tailed Hawk fledgling recuperating in one of our Wildlife Hospital flight cages (photo by Adam Triska)
Birds of prey are all around us in St. Louis--from Great Horned Owls in Forest Park, to Peregrine Falcons on top of the AT&T building, to Bald Eagles riding the thermals over the arch grounds.  Spotting birds of prey is a great indication that the ecosystem in our neck of the woods is healthy and hearty.

This is a new thing for many people in St. Louis for the most part.  Being protected all across our country, birds of prey have flourished and reestablished in urban areas, therefore becoming much more visible to urban dwellers.  Just in my neighborhood, we have Great Horned Owls and Red-tailed Hawks.  At my aunt’s house in Maplewood, Missouri, there are Barred Owls just steps away in Deer Creek behind her house.
Coopers' Hawk fledglings cooling off in a backyard birdbath (photo by Gay Schroer)
All of the different birds of prey found in St. Louis each fill a significant role that urban environments naturally possess.  Being highly intelligent and having the ability to coexist in such close proximity to humans, is quite an impressive feat.  ….so hats off to the birds for adapting and soaring in such conditions.

If you would like to learn more about a bird of prey that you have spotted in your neighborhood, take a trip out to the World Bird Sanctuary where you will be able to view representatives of your new urban neighbors up close and learn all about their habits and needs.

Submited by Adam Triska, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sunbathing -- Avian Style

My first blog entry as a relatively new employee for the World Bird Sanctuary gave me a bit of trouble. 

I was not sure what would be a great topic for my first entry. Obviously, it has to be interesting.  It has to be captivating and it has to make you want to read my entries.  I thought I could talk about my favorite bird; discuss fun facts and the importance of the species.  I could discuss my animal occupations and how I came to the Sanctuary or tell you about my first day on the job.  Maybe, in the future I will use those topics.  But for the first entry, I am currently being inspired by the snow falling down and how I wish I could be in the sun, soaking it in like so many of our birds do when the weather is warm.
Skinner, a Turkey Vulture, sunning (photo by Gay Schroer)
All birds adapt their own posture for sun bathing.  Some stand and open their wings while others may lay flat on the ground.  In both cases, body feathers are often fluffed up and the feathers along the wings are spread out.  Besides just soaking in the sun, these postures serve other important purposes.

For one, the preening oil along the feathers is allowed to spread.  This is the same oil that keeps the feather integrity, has a waterproofing effect, and an antiparasitic effect.
Dewey, a Bateleur Eagle enjoying the sun
Secondly, it also forces parasites out from within the plumage.  At the Sanctuary, we do routine checks on our birds to eliminate the possibility of parasites.  For birds in the wild, this is a helpful technique to help rid them of the nasty vermin.

Besides the healthy benefits that go with sunbathing, it is also hard not to admit that the behavior just looks awesome.  It is not everyday that you get to see these birds sitting still with wings stretched. 
Keeoo, an African Augur Buzzard (photo by Gay Schroer)
The snow may seem endless at times, but when the sun starts to peak through, make a visit out to the World Bird Sanctuary and you may get a glimpse of a sunbathing bird.

Submitted by Dawn Kernrich, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Misunderstood Wolf

One of the most misunderstood animals in my opinion is the wolf. 
We met these amazing creatures at the Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Sanctuary
In North America there were 24 different species of wolves--the Alaskan Tundra Wolf, Alexander Archipelago Wolf, Arctic Wolf, Baffin Island Wolf, Bernard’s Wolf, British Columbia Wolf, Cascade Mountain Wolf, Eastern Timber Wolf, Great Plains Wolf, Greenland Wolf, Hudson Bay Wolf, Interior Alaskan Wolf, Kenai Peninsula Wolf, Labrador Wolf, Mackenzie Tundra Wolf, Mackenzie Valley Wolf, Manitoba Wolf, Mexican Wolf, Mogollon Mountain Wolf, Newfoundland Wolf, N. Rocky Mountain Wolf, S. Rocky Mountain Wolf, Texas Gray Wolf, and the Vancouver Island Wolf.  Sadly, the Texas Gray, S. Rocky Mountain, Newfoundland, Mogollon Mountain, Manitoba, Kenai Peninsula, Greenland, Cascade Mountain, British Columbian and the Bernard’s Wolf are all extinct, due mostly to indiscriminate hunting.

The Vancouver, N. Rocky Mountain, Mackenzie Valley, Labrador, Hudson Bay, Great Plains, and the Eastern Timber Wolf are all subspecies to the Gray Wolf.  The Interior Alaskan is the largest wolf species in North America at 5-7 feet from nose to tip of tail. 
Wolves can be very affectionate with those accepted into their pack
This past summer I went to Divide, Colorado where I came across an amazing sanctuary called Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Sanctuary.  The staff not only taught my husband and I all about wolves, but they showed us the animals’ great “personalities.”

One thing that made a big impression on me is that they mate for life, which a number of other animal species do also.  However, if a wolf loses its mate it mourns for life and very rarely finds another mate.  They will also mourn for other wolves that have died in the pack.  I am a huge family person, so this hit me hard. 
Wolves live in a family called a pack 
One of the wolves at CWWS lost her mate due to an illness.  It is believed she howled every night for six months for her lost mate.  It was noted that all the other wolves in the sanctuary never howled when she was howling.  In this six month period the sanctuary tried to put other wolves in her enclosure that she got along with previously to see if that would help her.   However, she would fight any other wolf that came near her.  This behavior continued until the day the sanctuary received an orphaned wolf pup.  They were looking for a wolf to foster the pup and to their surprise the lonely she wolf took him in instantly.  The people at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Sanctuary never thought their girl would ever accept another wolf, but this orphaned pup seemed to steal her heart.  To this day they are inseparable, and she is very protective of him.  

Wolves are a very important part of our environment and have a lot to teach us if we just observe.

Submitted by Christina McAlpin, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Friday, February 14, 2014

Birdlore: The Piasa Bird

In my previous Birdlore blog I regaled readers with the legend of the Mighty Thunderbird of a Pacific Coast Tribe.  The image of the storm-creating eagle is perhaps the most well-known depiction of this creature; however, the word “thunderbird” may also be used as a general term to describe any great bird of the skies in Native American lore.  One of these great birds also happens to be a local legend:  The Piasa Bird of Alton, IL.

The Piasa (pie-a-saw) was a terrible creature that was said to have terrorized the Illini tribes, who lived along the Mississippi River long before the arrival of the white man.  The name translates as “the bird that devours men” because the Piasa was said to have preferred human flesh. 

A modern reproduction of the "Piasa Bird" on the bluffs of the Mississippi River in Alton, IL.  Wings were not described in Marquette's 1673 account.  The original petroglyph eroded away on the limestone bluffs. (photo from the Wikipedia files)
 The original petroglyph decorating the bluffs of Alton, depicted a mismatched creature that was part bird, reptile, mammal, and fish.  In 1673, Missionary Father Jacques Marquette wrote a detailed account of the Piasa Bird’s appearance in his diary, when he stumbled upon the original petroglyph on his journey down the Mississippi river.  He wrote, “…the Piasa was as large as a calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger’s, a face like a man, the body covered with green, red, and black scales and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head and between the legs”.

The most common legend regarding the origins of the Piasa Bird goes:

Many moons ago, there existed a birdlike creature of such great size, he could easily carry off a full grown deer in his talons.  His taste, however, was for human flesh.  Hundreds of warriors attempted to destroy the Piasa, butt failed.  Whole villages were destroyed and fear spread throughout the Illini tribe.  Ouatoga, a chief whose fame extended even beyond the Great Lakes, separated himself from his tribe, fasted in solitude for the space of a whole moon, and prayed to the Great Spirit to protect his people from the Piasa.

On the last night of his fast, the Great Spirit appeared to Ouatoga in a dream and directed him to select 20 warriors, arm them each with a bow and poisoned arrow, and conceal them in a designated spot.  Another warrior was to stand in open view, as a victim for the Piasa.  When the chief awoke in the morning, he told the tribe of his dream.  The warriors were quickly selected and placed in ambush.  Ouatoga offered himself as the victim.  Placing himself in open view, he soon saw the Piasa perched on the bluff eyeing his prey.  Ouatoga began to chant the death song of a warrior.  The Piasa took to the air and swooped down upon the chief.  The Piasa had just reached his victim when every bow was sprung and every arrow sent sailing into the body of the beast.  The Piasa uttered a fearful scream that echoed down the river, and died.  Ouatoga was safe, and the tribe saved.

The most recent restoration of the Piasa Bird painting is located on the Mississippi bluffs just north of Alton along the Great River Road.

Even though the World Bird Sanctuary does not have a Piasa Bird, come visit us to see many other fascinating birds that may have been the inspiration for this ancient legend.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary, Trainer

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Really Weird Animals: The Aye Aye

A few times in 2014 I will expand my “Really Weird Birds” blog entries to include all weird and unusual animals!  The World Bird Sanctuary even has some strange non-bird animals in its nature center and visitor center. 

There are so many bizarre and unique creatures in the world that people don’t know about, and they may be a threatened or endangered species!  There may be one day when humans will never see that animal again.  I can only hope to help raise awareness about some of these creatures.  But endangered or not, I will be researching and presenting to you some of the most wacky animals you have never seen!

One of my favorite mammals that I have done research on in the past is called the Aye-aye (pronounced just like you would say, “aye aye Captain!”).   They are native only to the island of Madagascar and are in the same suborder as lemurs.  Much like the pug, the Aye-aye walks the delicate tightrope of being either considerably ugly or kind of cute!

To me, the Aye-aye looks like a cross between a cat, an opossum, and a raccoon with rodent-like teeth and large bat-like ears.  Scientists once thought the Aye-aye was a rodent because its incisors keep growing and must constantly be worn down.  Currently, they are considered to be in the order of primates.  They are nocturnal and spend their nights foraging in the rain forest trees.  They have very slender fingers and sharp claws to help them dangle from branches.

An Aye Aye hand

The Aye-aye’s most unusual adaptation is its middle finger.  It is extra long and has a ball and socket joint much like the human shoulder.  They use it to tap on branches and then listen with their large sensitive ears to the noises or echoes produced to find chambers with grubs inside.  The aye-aye can detect grubs that are two centimeters below the surface of the branch.  It uses its teeth to tear away some of the wood.  Then its long middle fingers come in handy again and are used as picks to stab the grubs.  Aye-ayes also eat fruits, adult insects, and other small invertebrates.

The aye-aye is classified as near threatened on the IUCN list, mainly because of destruction of its habitat.  However, also contributing to its decline is the superstition of the local people.  Some view the aye-aye as a bad omen and it is killed on sight.  Others believe that if the Aye-aye points its middle finger at you then you are doomed to die early.  Some even say if an Aye-aye ventures into a village then a villager will die.  They believe the only way to prevent this is to kill the Aye-aye.

Locals will kill the aye-aye and hang it up so its evil spirit can be carried away by travelers.
Captive breeding of Aye-ayes has aided in the conservation of this species, primarily at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina.  They were responsible for the first Aye-aye born into captivity and studied how he and the other Aye-aye infants born at the center develop through infancy.

Watch this interesting video of an Aye Aye procuring a meal.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Monday, February 10, 2014

Rio The Gentle Giant

Welcome to this very special blog!  There are around 350 species of parrots in the world and I'm going to give you some insight about a very extraordinary parrot species and individual parrot!

Rio, is this bird’s name and he is a Green-winged Macaw (Ara chloroptera).  These are very colorful parrots that can be found throughout Central and South America, more specifically Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guiana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, and Suriname.  The type of terrain inhabited by this species includes mangrove swamps, savannas, and tropical forests. 

Throughout their native land these beautiful and colorful birds feed on nuts, seeds, vegetables, flowers, and fruits.  Some fruits they eat are poisonous but they can eat them without being harmed because they also eat river clay to neutralize the toxins in the fruits. 

Green-winged Macaws are the second largest macaws, eclipsed only by the Hyacinth Macaw.  Green-wings weigh up to three and half pounds and are about three feet in length.  Their great size gives them a wingspan of around four feet long!  Males and females are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that both sexes look identical.  The only way to determine their sex is from DNA sexing.  Rio has not been sexed so we do not know if Rio is a male or female.  I tend to see Rio more as a male because I have heard and witnessed that male parrots tend to bond more strongly to women than men and vice versa with female parrots. 
Parrots in general have a longer lifespan than domestic animals such as dogs and cats.  Green-winged Macaws can live up to 60 years in the wild and possibly longer in captivity.  Rio was hatched in 1996, so he is 17 years old this year.  These macaws are also known as the Red and Green Macaw, Green Wing Macaw, and the Gentle Giant.  These beautiful parrots have green, blue, and red plumage (feather color).  Below you can see a picture of Rio on my leg.
Rio is a very lovable parrot . . . towards certain people…like me.  Some parrots bond to some people better than others.  I have been interested in parrots since I was 12 years old and have had my own parrots including Budgerigars (budgies) and a Green-cheeked Conure.  When I met Rio I was drawn to him right away because of his beautiful colors and his curious personality.  A few things that I just love about parrots are that they are intelligent, can see colors (like we humans, where many other mammals see only black and white) and also in another color that humans cannot see.  Also, they can mimic sounds and words so well that people can understand. 

Rio came to the World Bird Sanctuary in 2002.  He loves to compete with loud noises such as the vacuum cleaner.  Rio is trained to give kisses on command, say, “Hi, Rio!” and, “Hello.”  His best talent, which he shows off for World Bird Sanctuary audiences, is his free flying!  He has flown from trainer to trainer at various Zoos in World Bird Sanctuary Zoo Shows during the summer to help educate people about parrots.  He is a great ambassador for his species and for the World Bird Sanctuary, and I love him very much!

Rio is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To find out more information, click on the preceding link or call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible.  This winter he can usually be seen in the Nature Center at the World Bird Sanctuary, which is open daily from 8am-5pm.

Rio is a very intriguing parrot; you should stop on by and visit him!

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Only A Few More Eagle Days Events Left

If you’ve been waiting for the cold weather to abate before attending an Eagle Days event—wait no longer.  There are only a few opportunities left!

If you live along the Mississippi flyway, as we do here in the St. Louis area, you may know that the colder temperatures herald the arrival some of winter’s most anticipated guests—Bald Eagles!  This is the season for eagle watching!

With the recent frigid temperatures the nearby rivers make for great eagle watching, particularly near Locks and Dams.  Bald Eagles migrate south along the Mississippi River, looking for good fishing in water that hasn’t frozen solid.

If you can bear braving the cold and wind along the river, chances are you will see wild Bald Eagles in action, hunting their prey, perching in a tree, or soaring up above.  Eagle watching is an annual tradition for many of us, even those of us that are lucky enough to see and work with them every day. 

If you want to see a live bald eagle up close and in person, you can visit the World Bird Sanctuary, or catch one of the displays or presentations listed below.  Even though we’re well into Eagle season, it’s not too late to catch one of these special programs.

Audubon Center at Riverlands
West Alton, MO
February  9
10 am – 2 pm
Eagle Display
Meet a live bald eagle and talk to a naturalist to learn about their habits, behaviors, and how they survived almost becoming extinct.

National Great Rivers Museum
East Alton, IL
February 15 – 17
Shows at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm each day
Masters of the Sky Programs and Eagle Display
Features birds of prey including falcons, hawks, owls and vultures. Not only will you see different species of raptors, but you'll also learn a vulture's secret weapon and how to identify a bird of prey in the wild. Sit back and enjoy an up close view as some of the birds soar right over your head!  At the end of the program, meet a live bald eagle!

Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower
Hartford, IL
February 15
1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Eagle Display
Meet a live bald eagle and talk to a naturalist to learn about their habits, behaviors, and how they survived almost becoming extinct.

Submitted by Catherine Redfern, World Bird Sanctuary Development 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

365 Photo Project - December Photos

December is a month of holidays and vacation for me.  The first part of the month is always very quiet and then there is the second half of the month that is always busy with Christmas and travelling back to New York to see family.  So photos for the month are generally fewer. 

This December, however, has been a little more eventful.  First I went with a group of friends to the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Garden Glow.  Then the second half of the month I was home for Christmas, and, fortunately for me, this year just happened to be an irruption year for Snowy Owls on the east coast.
The Glow Garden with the Climatron in the background

I am going to start with the Garden Glow.  It was a beautiful night when we went to see this beautiful display.  The temperatures were cold, yet not too cold.  This was the first time I used the night setting on my camera.  Normally when you use a night setting it is best to have a tripod or monopod to stabilize the camera, however the gardens had asked for no tripods or monopods, so the test was on.  Could I keep my hands steady enough to take nice photos? 

Surprisingly, I actually ended up with a lot of very nice night photos.  I would have loved to stay longer and walked back through to take more shots, but sometimes when you are with a group that does not always work.  However, of those I did take I came away with numerous very nice shots.  My first and favorite photo is from the glow garden looking back at the Climatron.  The Gardens staff had these nice, pretty glow globes on the ground and then star lights hanging above, and with the Climatron all decorated in beautiful green lights, it just came out beautiful.
The Christmas Tree at the Tower Grove House was just beautiful!

My second favorite photo from this event is this close up of the Christmas tree in front of the Tower Grove house.  I love this photo because the decorations are simple, yet it combines the old and the new way of lighting trees. The candle with the modern lights and the ribbons makes for a beautiful simple tree.

The last photo I have included is from Dec. 26.  My parents and I went for a birding ride from Webster, New York, west along the Ontario Lake shore.  This year the area has been experiencing a Snowy Owl irruption.  This year the Arctic had a very poor year for Arctic Lemmings, the Snowy Owls’ favorite, small rodent food.  So, many of the owls have moved south in search of food.  Snowy Owls like small rodents, but will also eat waterfowl, such as ducks and geese.

On this particular day we located a total of 5 Snowy Owls and I have photos of all five.  I will do a blog later about Snowy Owls so you can see some of these birds.  Three were on piers or docks and the last two were in farm fields. 

At first glance can you find the Snowy Owl?

The photo I have chosen for this blog is the last owl we found that day.  This was a dumb luck find.  We were driving through the country side looking for small birds.  I always look at the fields watching for raptors.  When we drove by this field I saw a white lump and said, “Possible owl!”  We pulled over and at first I could not find the bird, then I saw the lump move its head,  Snowy Owl!   We backed up and then I took several photos. 

This bird’s photo really shows you how difficult they can be to see, even within the brown and green of a farm field.  The bird sat nicely for multiple photos, and then we moved on. 

We always think of the birds when we stop, trying not to stay for too long or getting too close.  When birding or taking photos always respect the birds and give them the space they need to maintain their comfort zone.  Never keep pushing closer because you want the better photo.

If you would like to see a Snowy Owl, but can’t journey to their preferred habitat, come out to the World Bird Sanctuary to see our resident Snowy Owls, Ookpik, Crystal and Tundra.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Good Egg to Good Eggs

At World Bird Sanctuary’s annual staff/volunteer appreciation Christmas party last December, several people were honored with awards for outstanding achievements.  WBS senior staff presenting awards for staff of the year, volunteer of the year, and junior volunteer of the year.
WBS Director Jeff Meshach presenting the Good Egg Award to the Banding Team
Many years ago Walt Crawford, founding director of WBS, thought up a very unique award based on that world famous, mother of all foods, that if we didn’t have it, there wouldn’t be any birds; the egg.  What better egg to pick to put on an award plaque than the largest egg in the world; the Ostrich egg.  In the WBS realm this biggest of eggs symbolizes quite large achievements.  At the party I had the privilege of presenting our Good Egg award to our own bird banding team.

Linda Tossing, volunteer extraordinaire and the head of the banding team, started volunteering with WBS 16 years ago.  In 2001 Linda started helping a past WBS staff member with mist netting and banding songbirds.

Mist nets are extremely fine-fibered nets, which can’t be seen by most birds.  The nets are set up in places where songbirds are likely to be flying about.  The birds fly into the nets and are removed by the net checkers, banded and then released.  Banding songbirds helps ornithologists gain knowledge on their migration patterns and populations.   Songbird populations are in decline all over North America.  From the humble beginnings of one net and 2 people, Linda took it upon herself to acquire more nets, gather old and new volunteers to help her, all on a shoestring budget.  Last year Linda and her team banded 635 songbirds; a WBS record.
Banding Team members extricating birds from the mist nets
 The banding team starts their day well before dawn, because the saying, “The early bird gets the worm,” is very true.  Birds start their foraging movements literally at the crack of dawn, then their movements lessen as the morning progresses.  Having the nets and net checkers ready early gives them much better chances of catching birds. 
Team member Valerie Giele works carefully to retrieve a bird from the nets
To top the early thing off, the team does what’s called a banding blitz, where they band every morning for 3 weeks at the end of April and the beginning of May.  This timeframe is the best time to catch especially migrating Warblers, passing through eastern Missouri on their way to northern forests for nesting.  Everyone of those days the team gathers on WBS property at 4am, since it’s light enough by 5 to start catching birds.  I’m a morning person, but even I would get tired after a few days of that! 
Team member Colleen Crank banding a Nuthatch
As the summer wears on the team bands once every 2 weeks, and takes part in a program called Monitoring Avian Productivity Survey (MAPS).  The measurements and other information gathered from each bird trapped are sent to a national database, and helps researchers keep track of breeding songbirds in the U.S.
Birds' weights are recorded 
 At the other end of the “keeping odd hours” spectrum, in the autumn of 2012 the banding team started mist netting Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus).  Saw-whet Owls are a small species, just 5 inches tall from foot to head (come out and see our resident Saw-whet Owl, Aspen, on display at our nature center). 
Naturalist Cathy Spahn holds one of the Saw-whet Owls banded during this special session
Northern Saw-whet Owls nest in northern forests, but not too much is known about their southern migration routes or where they stay for the winter.  These little owls only move after dark, so the banding team starts their activities at about 6pm and ends their banding at 10pm.  These dedicated volunteers band every night for 3 weeks straight!  The banding team proved beyond a doubt that Saw-whets pass through WBS property on their way to their wintering grounds.  The team banded 7 Saw-whets during late October and November of 2012 and 14 during the same timeframe in 2013.

Colleen Crank explains to guests what the banding team does
 To top this all off, the banding team does public mist netting demonstrations every other week throughout the summer, to teach our guests all about songbirds and what WBS and other organizations are doing to help save them.  If that’s not a busy schedule, I’m a Chestnut-sided Warbler’s uncle! 

World Bird Sanctuary thanks Linda and the rest of the bird banding team for their tireless efforts in helping save our country’s songbirds.  Please check out our website to find out when the mist netting demonstrations will be, as well as many other WBS special events.

Submitted by Jeff Meshach, World Bird Sanctuary Director