Friday, July 31, 2009

Operation Migration Launches CraneCam!

Ever wanted to see endangered Whooping cranes but couldn't get to their location? Or wished you could watch the just-fledged juvenile Whooping cranes learning to follow their ultralight parents as they ready for their first migration? Now you can! Operation Migration has launched the first ever CraneCam, providing an opportunity for viewers all over the world to see the juvenile Whooping Crane class of 2009 train for migration at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

This morning I watched two beautiful cinnamon and white juveniles resting in the pen, catching insects in the air and preening. I also saw two adult Whooping cranes standing outside the pen, curious about the juveniles. All of this without traveling at all!

In the early morning, between 6-7:00 CDT you will also have an opportunity to watch training. You may even catch a juvenile's fledging flight! (I'm starting to wonder how I will ever get anything else done!)

Today is the launch date of the live streaming video and audio CraneCam provided by the Duke Energy Foundation and Operation Migration.

Operation Migration (OM) is also poised to realize an avian and aviation milestone. While leading its ninth generation of Whooping cranes, the Class of 2009, on their fall migration, OM will log its 10,000th air-mile while teaching another class of juvenile Whooping cranes the migration route south.

The innovative organization is asking everyone worldwide to "Give a WHOOP!" and help them collect an Honor Roll of 10,000 WHOOPS! - one for each migration mile that has been flown with the endangered Whooping cranes following ultralights.

You can put these buttons on your blog, too. By doing so, you will be helping us spread the word as we promote worldwide conservation, open a window into the world of the endangered Whooping crane and celebrate these two milestones! Just send me an email with subject line: "cranecam" at viclcsw (at) aol (dot) com and I'll send you images and links for your website or blog.

Let's all GIVE A WHOOP!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Juve Mockingbird Receives His Band

Everyone who commits to volunteering with a bird banding station loves birds. As a new observer, I count those who untangle birds at the mist net high on my list of volunteers who possess perseverence and patience.
Several times as I watched this process, I thought, by now I would have felt something ken to panic and asked someone to rescue both me and the bird. Steady nerves and focus are among the attributes of these workers. It also helps to know a few handy tips like making sure you are on the bird's entry side of the net. Not so easy as it sounds, but a belly free of netting is one of the clues that helps orient workers.
Once the bird is free from the netting, in this case two juvenile Northern mockingbirds, it is placed in a cloth bag that is marked with a clothes pin containing the number of the net in which it was captured. Each net, twelve in all, is documented with location and habitat type.
Below, the examiner is measuring the juvenile mockingbird's leg for band size.
A special plier is used to close the band around the juvenile's leg leaving room for movement.
To help with aging the examiner checks the wing feathers for molting, wear and color.
Even the skull is checked for aging. Ossification or the development of bone tissue helps the examiner determine age by both color and feel. Immature bird skulls have a soft spot similar to that of human infants which closes and hardens with maturity. The skin appears more pinkish in younger birds, whiter as they mature.
Banding station examiners are bird sleuths in every respect of the word, looking for clues, examining details, checking references and using their best judgement to determine the age, sex and health of each bird. So why all this effort?
The data collected at this banding station goes to two places, the USGS Patuxent Banding Lab in Maryland, the repository for banding data in the USA, and The Institute for Bird Populations' MAPS Program (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) in Point Reyes Station, CA. The data is then used to understand how bird populations are changing over time.
Our environment is changing. Habitat is being lost and degraded. The Institute for Bird Populations says it best: "Information is the key to solving many of our environmental problems. Information empowers scientists to determine the causes and effects of environmental changes. It empowers governments and businesses to understand how economic and ecological factors together cause environmental problems. Finally, information helps people act responsibily to promote a healthy environment."
I, for one, am grateful for these bird lovers we call "banders" and their contribution to the future of our planet.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #48 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Multifaceted Nature of Bird Banding

Beauty, resilience, order, dedication, focus, that was a few of the things I witnessed during my first experience with bird banding using mist nets at the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge in Knoxville, Tennessee.
This work is not easy. And many things about it impressed me. The birds of course were beautiful, not happy mind you, but handled with care and efficiency. To see them in hand, the details of their faces, even the yellow gape at the corner of a juvenile's mouth or the color of an Indigo bunting's feet pads, this is detailed beauty otherwise seen only in photography.
Indigo Bunting But this intimate view of the birds is only a fringe benefit of what is otherwise meticulous work conducted by dedicated members of the Tennessee Ornithological Society who have gone through special training and obtained certifications and special Federal permits to do this work. In the end the data collected contributes to a body of information that helps us both monitor our wild bird populations and develop strategies for conservation action. Juvenile female Yellow-breasted Chat. Notice the yellow gape in the corner of her bill.

Layed out on the table where birds were being examined and banded were scientific handbooks and charts specifying the detailed clues for aging and sexing each bird species, as well as, the appropriate band size for their legs, often different for male and female. Once captured, the birds are held in cloth bags that help to calm them while they wait their turn. Two people examine birds while two more team members record data. And along with these four people the rest of the team, like clock-work, checks the twelve nets at designated times to collect new captures.
Next post: How the birds are aged and sexed and where the data goes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly--Revisiting a Sweet Sparrow Moment

Some of my favorite moments with birds have happened just by chance.
In this case, I was photographing something else. long forgotten, when this sweet White-throated sparrow hopped out in front of me and began to forage. I sometimes hold my breath when this happens, thinking maybe he hasn't seen me yet. But then I'm clicking away and have to laugh at myself. Of course he sees AND hears me! Sweet, that's what it is. A sweet bird in a sweet moment.

These images were taken in mid April in Tennessee before this sparrow returned to his northern breeding grounds. I get to look forward to his visit again next winter.
Look at all that beautiful dappling on his chest, the yellow eye-brows, the head stripe and that rich collection of browns in his wings and back. I enjoy the brilliantly colored birds, as much as anyone. But the subtle beauty of birds wearing neutrals can often be breath-taking.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #47 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds. To see more great bird images click the link.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Banding Reveals Hummingbird Migration Surprises

"This male was wiggling and chirping. Helps to think he's cussing the bander instead of crying out from fright." Sketchbook note, 7-11-09, Vickie Henderson.It is easy to make this leap. Even Bob Sargent, a man who has dedicated his life to studying the tiniest of birds, refers to them as mean. In fact, he says, don't bother to space your feeders far apart to keep them from fighting. You can't stop them. Despite this characteristic, hummingbirds are among the most popular and beloved of birds.
Banding gives researchers many clues into the lives of these little birds. When the bird is captured the bander measures the wing, tail and beak and checks for beak grooving, molt, gorget feathers and fat. All these measures help determine the age and sex of the bird. Females, no matter what age, have a longer wing and beak. Young birds have some buffy edging to the feathering on the head and back and have grooving along the top of the beak that disappears as the bird ages. Young males usually have a couple of gorget feathers and some heavy throat streaking but not always. The most reliable characteristic is their shorter wing and beak. All this data gives researchers valuable information about the individual, as well as, the health and behavior of the species population, including where they nest and winter. The bulk of Ruby-throated hummingbirds have usually vacated the United States by November 1, but a few are seen as late as November 15 and some winter along the Gulf coast. But keep your nectar feeders up in the winter. While you are unlikely to get a Ruby-throated since they are not cold hardy, other species are. Anna's hummingbirds, typically found in Arizona and Texas have been recorded in Alabama and Tennessee during the winter; Broad-billed hummers native to Arizona has been banded in Alabama; the even more rare Buff-billed hummer has been found in Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina; and the Magnificent hummer has been recorded in Georgia and Alabama. In all, fourteen species have been documented in the eastern United states: Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, Rufous, Allen's, Broad-tailed, Anna's, Costa's, Calliope, Buff-bellied, White-eared, Green Violet-ear, Magnificent, Broad-billed and Green-breasted Mango.
If you see a hummer at your feeder after November 15th, it will likely be one of these unexpected species. In all states, you may call or email Bob and Martha Sargent:
Rubythroat(at)aol(dot)com or 205-681-2888. They will either come to your location to band and document the bird or send someone from your area. Find more information on hummingbirds and banding activities at Hummer Bird Study Group.
A special thanks to Mark Armstrong, Master Bird Bander and president of the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society for the aging information provided in this post.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hummingbird Mysteries Uncovered through Banding

Did you know that fourteen different species of hummingbirds have been documented in the eastern United States? Or that some of our Ruby-throated hummingbirds may be traveling west to winter instead of south to Central America and Mexico? That was only two of the interesting bits of information given by Bob and Martha Sargent last night at a packed Ijam's Nature Center in Knoxville, TN. In fact, so many people showed up for the banding demonstration conducted by Knoxville's Mark Armstrong that the crowds were divided into several observation groups and the Sargents gave two presentations to standing room only audiences.
Above you see Mark, President of the Knoxville chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society, at his banding station. Hummingbirds are trapped in wire cages that enclose the feeder. The cages are equipped with a door that can be lowered with a fishing wire manipulated by another banding team member who watches a distance away. When a hummer is caught in the trap, he (in this case) is carefully removed by a handler and gently placed in a net bag to help protect him from injury.
A tiny little metal band is clamped onto one leg with a unique number that identifies this particular bird. This number is then recorded at the Bird Banding Labratory, US Geological Survey, Patuxent Research Center, MD. While the hummer is captured, his tail, wing and beak are measured, his weight taken and observations about age and condition are recorded before release.
When the bird is caught again or the band found in other circumstances, biologists can check the number and recorded data and learn valuable information about longevity, species migration patterns, the individual bird and the general health of the species. Watching Mark patiently handle the hummingbird, who is not still mind you and chirping loudly, while simultaneously talking with attentive on-lookers was a marvel unto itself. Knowing that he is an expertly trained Master Bander helped as I felt my heart-tug while hearing the distress calls of a captured hummingbird. It was after seeing this, my first banding demonstration, that I then heard Martha and Bob Sargent's presentation on hummingbirds and discovered some of the amazing reasons why banding is so important. Bob and Martha founded The Hummer/Bird Study Group in 1993, a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and preservation of hummingbirds and other neo-tropical migrants.

More information about why banding is so important in my next post.

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #46 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Barn Swallow Juveniles in Action

When its summer time and you're freezing inside a building, the best thing I know to do is step outside for a while.

And so I did. And while doing so I discovered these adorable swallow juveniles resting on a ledge. In the air overhead were dozens more juveniles and adults flying and calling. What a delight to listen and watch their acrobatic aerial displays over the man-made pond and fountain. Not only were the swallows catching insects attracted to the water, but they also flew along the surface to drink. Amazing to watch. And the thought of these juveniles learning and practicing feeding and drinking in flight was pure delight. I watched them take flight more than once, returning a few minutes later to rest and preen. (Or maybe it was their young cousins' turn to rest.)
Swallows were among the earliest birds to capture my interest as a child. Having grown up around barns and having a barn of my own in later years, I've always considered them endearing companions and neighbors.

A nesting pair of barn swallows frequently perched on my barn gate in the early mornings and chattered while I fed horses. Even while feeding their young, they went about their business accepting my presence as readily as I accepted theirs.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #45 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

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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