Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fledged Plumage

We refer to fledged whooping crane chicks as "juveniles". It is always heart-warming for me to see these beautifully marked, graceful juveniles flying, but astounding to hear their tiny voices calling, “peep, peep”. Despite their enormous size, they don't acquire their adult voices until nearly one year of age. The 2008 ultralight migration class of whooping crane fledglings is on its way to wintering grounds in Florida. Whooping cranes are naturally soaring birds that ride thermals and can make this voyage in as little as nine days. But while these juveniles are learning the migration route, they will only fly in the early morning hours before the thermals rise and while the air is very calm. This is because their surrogate parents are ultralights with costume-clad pilots.
Instead of soaring, they will flap their wings and glide, using the vortices from the ultralight wing for lift, or the slight lift from the wings of the bird just in front of them to aid their flight.
The ultralight migration is now located in Wisconsin and has been grounded a few days due to unfavorable winds for ultralight flying. But some recent photos have been posted that will give you an awesome look at the beautiful plumage of the juveniles, and give you an idea of what its like when the juveniles are let out of their safe enclosure for exercise. You will also see the baggy white costumes worn by pilots and handlers alike, that disguise the human figure enough that our juvenile "ultracranes" do not become accustomed to or feel safe around humans.
To follow the ultralight migration and its daily ups and downs, visit the Operation Migration field journal. For more of my posts on the ultralight migration, click here.

In my next post I will show you why whooping cranes are not backyard birds.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #9, at Birdfreak.com, a weekly photography bird listing to promote bird conservation

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The First Whooping Crane Arrives

The first migrating whooping crane arrived at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on October 20th, completing its 2400-mile journey from the Northwest Territory of Canada to wintering grounds on the gulf coast of Texas. Tom Stehn, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Coordinator, expects the next influx of migrants to arrive with a cold front that is expected today.
Whooping cranes do not migrate in large flocks of family groups as do sandhill cranes, but rather, they travel in single family units, as solitary individuals or in small bachelor groups.
Subadults that have been driven away by their parents to make room for the next generation of offspring join up in small groups of males and females called bachelor groups. Whooping cranes require 4-5 years to reach breeding maturity. These subadult groupings provide companionship, potential mates and more safety as the young cranes gain survival experience.

Click these links for more about whooping cranes, the whooping crane family, whooping crane chick video and whooping crane ultralight migration.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Each of Us Creates the World

I have visited several blogs recently that have touched me deeply, both with their stories and with the passion of the authors. Visit the recent posts of Orca Watcher on Lolita, A Whale of a Purpose on the Beluga Whales and Creative Freedom Photography on the Giant Panda and you will feel touched, as well, by the dedication and enthusiasm.

Progress is created one person at a time, and the collective voice of individuals creates a momentum of awareness that is more powerful than the wind and the ocean combined.

I am reading Natalie Goldberg’s book, Wild Mind, Living the Writer’s Life. I’m reading it for several reasons, one of which is to stay connected to what I learned and felt at Rose Mountain. But I also read it to go deep. It settles my mind from the day, from whatever is bothersome and troubling on the surface, and from whatever seems insurmountable. Not that reading solves any of these problems. I’m borrowing another deep thinking mind for a while to encourage my own. These are the mentors and the teachers we find in good literature.

In her chapter, “The Dead Year” which is about hard beginnings, Natalie Goldberg writes:
I often say to myself now when writing is hard, “There is no such thing as failure.” The only failure in writing is when you stop doing it. Then you fail yourself. You affirm your resistance. Don’t do that. Let the outside world scream at you. Create an inner world of determination. When someone complained about getting up at five a.m. for sitting meditation, Katagori Roshi said, “Make positive effort for the good.” I repeat that often to myself when pushing the pen across the page feels like I, alone, have the responsibility to make the earth turn around the sun. Well, it’s true. Each of us does create the world. We’d better get to work.

She is writing about her love, writing. I read about writing and I see and hear everything that matters. I hear whales and orcas, and the gentle pandas, and I hear the whooping crane purring to its young. Despite decades of efforts to save the wild migrating population of whooping cranes that winter on the gulf coast of Texas, they are currently being threatened again by the potential development of key marshlands on their wintering grounds and by a new push for cleaner energy that seeks to erect wind turbines in the migration corridor of the most endangered crane in the world without responsibility to confer with wildlife experts on safe co-existence.

There are so many challenges ahead of us. Enough challenges for every single person to make a contribution. Every one of us “better get to work.”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Whooping Crane Family--Part V

Wetland Buffet. Considered omnivores, whooping cranes spend most of their time walking and foraging for food. While many of the foods they eat are found in wetland areas, they also eat seeds, berries, grains and nuts found in fields, prairies, savannas and uplands.
Whooping crane parents bring their chick a variety of foods to teach him what to eat and provide the nourishment he needs for rapid growth.At ICF's Amoco Whooping Crane Exhibit, I watched as the male presented the chick with a food item, such as this whole crayfish, then dropped it to the ground and broke it into smaller pieces before offering it to him to eat.

A tadpole?The offering below appears to be a minnow. (You have to look closely.)
The chick above is two days old. While most young birds must mature rapidly in order to fledge in time for migration, the whooping crane chick has a long way to grow, from four inches to the nearly five feet he achieves before fledging.Here you see the same chick at four weeks (above and below). Photos by Richard Van Heuvelen, sculptor and pilot for Operation Migration .
And below, you see the chick at eight weeks. Photo by Sara Zimorski, aviculturists at ICF.
A young whooping crane chick may grow an average of one inch per day and be ready to fledge sometime between 78-90 days of age. Migration begins mid to late October for most whooping cranes. The juveniles below were photographed in late September and each practice flight increases their strength, endurance and skill at coordinating their seven-foot wing span.
Aren't they amazing?!
And just three months ago, they looked like this...
This year's fledgling class of re-introduced whooping cranes are scheduled to begin their ultralight-led migration on Oct 17, weather permitting. To read the daily progress of these young whooping cranes who will fly from Wisconsin to Florida on their first migration, visit Operation Migration's field journal. Youth and teachers will also enjoy Journey North's informative pages and updates on the migration.

Click here to watch the whooping crane chick video. To see all my Whooping Crane Family posts, click here. A special thanks to the International Crane Foundation (ICF) for the opportunity to view this family and to Sarah and Richard for sharing their photos.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Tail Bracing Party

I visited one of my favorite places yesterday, Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I was certainly not alone. It was Columbus Day holiday for many, the last day of a four-day weekend AND fall break for the university and area schools. So...
it was a wee bit crowded! But that tells us all how much we love our wild places and how important it is to save as many of them as we can.
The party began when I pulled off the road and took a quiet walk in the woods. I happened upon an area with several dead upright trunks fairly peppered with every size hole imaginable. It felt as though I had just entered a woodpecker dining hall.Within minutes a yellow-bellied sapsucker joined me. He didn't stay long, but I got to see his tail brace in action. The sapsucker is a resident of the park but is described as "seldom seen" until the northern migrants start coming through after the end of September. Then they are more easily seen in the lower elevations. Wouldn't you just love to know what's happening on the other side of that trunk? The next visitor practically landed on my head--a male red-bellied woodpecker. I was standing inches from the tree he selected which made photography a challenge. But woodpeckers are flighty characters and I enjoyed the few minutes he did stay. You don't get this angle very often and I must say, its the closest I've ever been to a woodpecker. I love his white petticoat-style tail that drapes over the black bracing feathers. You just can't get the full effect of this from field guides.
The white-breasted nuthatch isn't a woodpecker at all, but he fit right into this parade. I heard his 'yank, yank' calls and saw him at a distance before he landed on the other side of this trunk about six feet away. I focused the camera on the trunk, knowing he would pop around to my side at any second. And he did! He gave me these two shots. Don't you just love them? What a treat.

I love this sort of experience. All we have to do is find a quiet place and keep still for a short while and nature will show us her amazing creatures.

The trees are about two weeks away from peak color in the mountains but the forests and meadows are overflowing with a bounty of nuts, cherries, berries and seeds. A rich harvest is spread for busy wildlife, and for us, a beautiful and peaceful place is waiting any time of the year.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I'm celebrating today--another year older. I'm lucky I get to celebrate my birthday in October. I love this time of year. Every day there's a new change to notice, something fascinating to enjoy just by stepping outside your door. And I'm celebrating birds and migration and I'm celebrating the residents that hang out year round and brighten our world.
Like the Carolina chickadee.

Yesterday I heard a flicker, the shouldn't-be elusive ground feeding woodpecker that I hear daily but has eluded my camera and most of the time even a look all summer. He was close, by the sound of his call. So close, that when I opened the door, I had a glimpse of him flying from the edge of my patio to a far away tree.
I laughed and just sat down on the ground, enjoying the wonderful autumn air.

It only took a minute for me to realize I was surrounded by chickadees, busy little chickadees zipping in and out above my head, others flittering about at eye level, hanging like gymnists from the cones of the hemlock.

You see why I'm celebrating?

This post is linked to Bird Photography Weekly #7 at Bird Freak.com celebrating conservation of our world's birds.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It’s Busy Under that Dogwood

When I’m working inside on a project with the window open beside me, I hear all these little birdy noises in the trees. Not songs, mind you, it’s the other little exchanges, the tiny peeps and squeaks and whistles. Sooner or later it’s the best excuse I know for stepping outside to see what’s going on.The wonderful thing about binoculars is that they bring the bird closer. But I think I love my camera lens the best. It’s when I’m looking at the images on the computer screen that I often see something delightful that I could not have seen before, something I would have otherwise missed…
like these tiny little feet!
Never mind that the images are fuzzy. Just look at those precious little feet!
This titmouse is holding its dogwood berry like a squirrel or a mouse might except with straighter toes and unlike the furry critters, he has to perch on these same little feet. Is that not amazing?
Well, maybe you knew that. But I guess I've never thought about how they hold a berry. I just knew they did. And when I saw these photos all I could do was stare at them and say “look at those little feet!”
I expected something more like the position below, when the berry's almost gone.
But then there's a lot less to hold by now. And he's not planning to leave any behind.
Here’s a second titmouse preparing to feast.

Is that one berry or two?!
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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