Monday, September 29, 2008

Migration Progress

While I'm working on illustrations for a book about the whooping crane, the tallest bird in North America, I take nature breaks to check on the migration progress of our smallest bird. I can see the ruby-throated hummingbird migrants from my window as I type and sometimes I step out into the sunshine to sit for a while. The antics of the juveniles give me a chuckle-break, like when they sit on top of the feeder with their backs straight and tall, soldier-like.
Or other times, leaning back taking in everything around them. And when I look at my images, it never ceases to amaze me that their wings beat faster than the shutter speed.
Visitors to the feeder are thinning out each day as the air is getting colder and the leaves turning to fall hues.
But I don't lack company as I observe. My five-lined skink neighbors frequently join me, sometimes more than one of them, in pursuit of another. Tiny ones no bigger around than a pencil and longer, slightly bigger ones.
Humm...where does this one think he's going?
That's my door...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hummers Still Migrating Through

We have a cool 71 degrees, overcast and alternately drizzly east Tennessee Saturday. Ruby-throated hummers are still visiting my feeder frequently, though I haven’t seen a male since our resident male departed on September 15. Our Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Tennessee, by Charles P. Nicholson, is non-specific about when the last ruby-throated hummers depart TN, saying, “The hummingbird…usually arrives by mid-April and departs by early October.” The former agrees with my observations this spring. And though I didn’t record my last sighting in 2007, my last photograph of a hummer was taken on the 29th of September. I’ll be observing more carefully this year. Some twittering in the branches also caught my attention while outside and though there was no flutey song to confirm his identity, this migrating Swainson's thrush settled quietly in the hemlock that stands outside my window. It is so hushed right now while I am writing this. Even the robins, chickadees and blue jays are silently listening to the drizzle. A very wet and fall-ish feeling day.
This post has been linked to Bird Photography Weekly #4 at the Birdfreak blog. It's a new idea to help promote the beauty of birds. Check it out and post your favorite bird photos there!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Whooping Crane’s Imposing Will

“When you sit crouched in a blind and watch an adult Whooper stride close by you, his head high and proud, his bearing arrogant and imposing, you feel the presence of a strength and of a stubborn will to survive that is one of the vital intangibles of this entire situation.” These are the words of biologist, Robert Allen, in his Audubon monograph, The Whooping Crane, September 30, 1950, when this species population numbered less than 20. While working on a children’s book project about whooping cranes, I have turned to this monograph from time to time for information. As I did so recently, I stumbled across this account:

On May 21, 1876, George B. Sennett, the inveterate collector from Erie, Pennsylvania, was hunting at Elbow Lake, Grant County Minnesota. On the previous day his companion had killed two Whooping cranes nearby and Sennett was determined to secure a specimen. He located a pair at their nest, which was built on top of a muskrat house in a burnt slough, with only short grass clumps for cover. As he approached to a point close to the nest the birds left, and Sennett concealed himself as best he could, piling grass over himself as he lay prone behind a clump.

“Fully half an hour went by and I began to cramp and feel uneasy and was on the point of changing my position at the risk of losing my covering by the wind, when one noble fellow flew over the slough and lit on the opposite side from me about two shots off. Cautiously he began to survey the situation and shortly his mate came swooping down to his side. They kept their eyes well on my bunch of grass and remained at a safe distance, yet I could see they knew their eggs were safe. Some fifteen minutes of strutting back and forth when she boldly walked out into the water, some eight or ten inches deep, directly toward me, mounted the rat house and sat down on her two eggs, some twenty-five yards from me in plain sight. I could see her wink her eyes watching me and her mate constantly. Her eyes gleamed like fire. How anxious and how handsome, was ever a sight so grand….The male stood on the ridge watching her closely for a few minutes. When feeling all was safe he calmly commenced to plume himself in grand style and shortly walked off away from me the proudest of birds….I slowly arose, turned and gave her one barrel as she was rising from the nest and the next before she had gone six feet and dropped her in the water….” (Deane, 1923).

Your reaction, I'm sure, was much the same as mine. While the introduction explains that we're reading a hunting account, the conclusion is none-the-less stunning.

Beyond reflexive recoil there is the following harsh reality: with one fallen female, a breeding pair is destroyed and a season of off-spring lost. It will take six years to replace this nesting female if all goes well-- one year to reach the next breeding season, five more for a female chick to reach breeding maturity. Unforeseen circumstances could delay breeding success even further.

By the early 1940's the entire population of whooping cranes was nearly lost, not just from hunting and collecting, but largely due to the draining of wetlands and the encroachment of settlement.

The above account took place 132 years ago. When you consider the causes of this bird's decline and our progress toward correcting them, do you sometimes wonder what will be said of us in as many years?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

White Birds at Necedah NWR

My whooping crane biologist friends often refer to mature whooping cranes in the east as “white” birds, distinguishing them from juveniles. The palette of cinnamon among new white feathers and black wing-tips is truly beautiful on whooping crane fledglings. Add to this combination a young peeping voice and magestic wings that span nearly seven feet and you have glimpsed some of the wonder of this tallest bird in North America. Gradually, by the end of their first year, these young whooping cranes lose their cinnamon feathers and develop the facial mask that is characteristic of adults.They also lose their peeping voice and develop the distinctive whooping calls that earned this species its name, a call that can be heard as far away as two miles.
While visiting Necedah for Cranefest, I had the enjoyable experience of touring the refuge with several other Operation Migration directors. Our knowledgeable guide and storyteller was Brook Pennypacker, Operation Migration crew member, photographed here while wearing the costume that helps keep our captive-reared whooping cranes wild and unaccustomed to the human figure.Among the other white birds we viewed was this family of trumpeter swans.
Not only was it a pleasant surprise to get a glimpse of this family, the photo itself was a surprise.It was taken from a moving vehicle with the camera stretched across another passenger to access the open window. I have to give the credit here to my talented camera, the amazing Canon Rebel Xti!
There are three signets in the photo but you have to look a bit more carefully to find the third. There were many wonderful things to see at the refuge that I missed and will look forward to seeing the next visit, among them the endangered gray wolves and karner blue butterflies.But black-eyed Susans and blue asters were easily accessible, scattered along forest edges and meadows, never failing to catch my attention.
Soothing to the eye and close at hand, their splash of color complimented a rich landscape rapidly changing into fall foliage.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I and the Bird #84

While I was traveling to exhibit art and enjoy the endangered Whooping crane, my blog article on Ruby-throated humming birds was included in the I and the Bird blog carnival.

A blog carnival is a collection of blog posts on a related theme, selected by its host and featured at regular intervals, in this case, semi-weekly. I submitted my September 15th post on Ruby-throated hummingbirds and was delighted to discover today (as I'm behind in my reading!) that my article had been included in the current carnival edition.

Audubon Birdscapes hosts edition #84 with A Beginner's Guide to Bird Blogs and introduces the featured blogs as "a quick look at 20 of the best". Fun, especially since I'm relatively new on the blog scene.

My thanks also to The Zen Birdfeeder, included also in the current IATB edition, for her mention of my blog as one she's added to her favorites list. Check out IATB # 84.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Whooping Crane Migration Training at Necedah-II

We now have 69 rare whooping cranes living in the wild and migrating through eastern North America. The sight of these birds never ceases to thrill me. I have had the good fortune of visiting the wild whooping crane population at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the gulf coast of Texas and this week, the re-introduced wild population at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, and I am grateful every day for the men and women whose dedication and persistence have helped this species recover from the brink of extinction.
A natural survival mechanism combined with man's innovation has made this eastern migratory population possible. Through a natural instinct called imprinting, a newly hatched chick bonds with and follows the first figure that it sees. It is this natural instinct that makes it possible for captive reared hatchlings to accept costumes and ultralights as though they were parents, so that migration training can occur.
I positioned myself at the bottom of the tower the morning of Necedah's Cranefest.It offers a different perspective and some challenges...hungry mosquitos and high foliage.
But both tower level and ground level give you excellent views.
Mature whooping cranes are white with black wing tips, a bare patch of red skin on the top of their head and a black facial mask.
Juvenile whooping cranes still have cinnamon feathers on their head, neck and body and no facial mask.
There will be 15 juvenile whooping cranes and four ultralight parents beginning their migration south on October 17 or as weather permits. This will add another generation of whooping cranes to the world's rarest crane species. You can follow their journey by viewing Operation Migration's field journal. And for kids, check out Journey North's reports on the whooping crane migration.
Click here for more posts on whooping cranes.
Submitted to Bird Photography Weekly #5.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Whooping Crane Migration Training at Necedah-I

Early morning whooping crane migration training at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. Part of our whooping crane class of 2008 being led in practice by Operation Migration pilot, Chris Gullikson, on Friday morning. Below a view of the refuge from the observation tower, an area normally covered in water that has been drained temporarily to promote the release and distribution of wetland nutrients.
Blue asters found all around the refuge. The flowers are about the size of a dime and come in delicate shades of blue.
Mornings start early here and end late. Will post more soon!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds--III

It was a different kind of morning. The air was cooler, breezier, overcast.
I took my cup of coffee and my camera outside, knowing it was the last day I would get to observe hummingbirds before leaving for Wisconsin. I first spotted The King, our resident male ruby-throated hummingbird, high on his perch, fluffed up and pensive. A short time later, after warning off a visitor, he dropped down to the holly as he is prone to do when it’s windy. He sat there quietly plumped up for a long while in the dim morning light.
A Carolina wren, who also likes this perch, displaced him for a short time, but since this busy songster can never be still, he was soon gone and The King returned. When I next observed, an hour or so later, the stillness was palpable. I can’t explain how I knew, but I knew. He was gone. I looked for him at his perches, watched for any movement among the limbs, waited for the faintest sound of chirping from above. Nothing. Then the parade of visitors came, among them the young and inexperienced, the late fledglings.
If I needed any confirmation, I had it. They approached the feeder chirping, awkwardly stabbing for a drink, lingering for many tries, more than I had observed before. No King pounced on them or chased them away.
Were it not for the heartening comedy put on by this new generation, I might have slumped into dispair. They reminded me of an infant first discovering his hands, eager to use them, but not quite skilled enough to know how. Much the same, they approached the feeder from every angle, awkwardly missing, backing up, trying again. Endearing, especially knowing all they must master before they, too, begin their southward journey.
Fall migration. It is that wonderful, stirring time of year. The King has departed. I so wish him a safe and speedy journey. I wish this for them all.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds--II

The King is camera shy sometimes. I sit in the same place every time I visit and try to move predictably.
Sometimes he could care less about my presence. Other times, he chirps and zips to the other side of the feeder, or even switches to a different feeder out of range. Today I got some lucky shots. Don't you just love those irridescent feathers?And the tuffs of white poking out from beneath his belly?
I set out to observe today and confirm he was still around. I'm curious about when he will begin migration. I'm also enjoying seeing him sleek, preened and fattening up for his journey.

I suspect we may depart near the same time. I will miss him when he's gone.
For all my posts on the "King" click here.

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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham