Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Day-Making Family of Cardinals!

Yesterday, after the morning drizzle stopped, we had a very pleasant soft-light day of clouds in Knoxville (east Tennessee). I sat outside for a while and read, enjoying the moderate air, camera handy, of course.
I also wanted to see how the molting Northern cardinal family looked, Mom with her heavily molting head, and Dad, last seen with a disarray of crest feathers and gray down showing here and there.
Above you see the male on August 11th, with many of his crest feathers already missing. And below you can see how he appeared yesterday, on August 28th. In a little over two weeks he had molted all his crest feathers, many head and facial feathers and had produced feather sheaths to protect newly growing feathers. The tiny feathers poking up on his crown in the image below are the brand new ones growing out beyond the sheath. And what looks like gray whiskers are the sheaths for his new black facial feathers.
It's the 'tween time for cardinals and many other birds, the molting season, a time when juveniles are still following parents around begging, but the hectic pace of nesting and fledging season is over. Young can now fly and are learning to forage for themselves.
Molting female cardinal with juvenile perched below her.

It's also a time when molting birds need a bounty of food to help nourish them through the energy-demanding task of producing new feathers. And for year-around residents in Tennessee, these new feathers include a thicker layer of down, making ready for the winter months.
Molting, or the shedding and replacing of worn feathers with new ones, occurs in all birds but at different times, with different frequency and rates, all of which perfectly matches the bird's habits, seasonal cycles, available food sources and migration patterns. And despite the look of disarray, molting occurs in an orderly and gradual fashion with most birds retaining their ability to fly while molting. Waterfowl are an exception, rendered temporarily flightless with a complete postbreeding molt due to body aerodynamics.
Northern Cardinal juvenile.
Besides having fun watching this cardinal family interact, I noticed the juveniles were molting, too. So I checked my new book, National Geographic Birding Essentials by Jonathan Alderfer and Jon L. Dunn that I purchased through Wild Birds Unlimited and delved into it a little more.
There is a great deal of variation among species as to how long a juvenile keeps its first plumage.
Molting may occur for some juveniles before leaving the nest! In other species, such as the Bald Eagle, a series of partial molts over a five year period changes the plumage appearance several times before the young eagle reaches breeding age and acquires the distinctive white head and tail of the mature adult.
For these two juvenile cardinals trying to share a perch, the wait will not be so long. In only a few months they will have acquired the distinctive orange beak and brighter adult plumage that we all enjoy in our backyard cardinals.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #53 at to celebrate the conservation of our world's birds and Bird Photography Weekly's second anniversary.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bird Banding and Matters of the Heart

I can't conclude my posts about bird banding without showing you one more glimpse of what I found so captivating about this activity. First and foremost, it's about helping our birds, about gathering information that will help us understand changes and give us a sound basis for making conservation decisions. Secondly, it's about people who love birds. About bird lovers who are willing to dedicate their time and energy as volunteers and in this case, spend hours in the field collecting data while at the same time, remaining mindful of the care and protection of the birds that provide that data.
And that brings me to the third aspect, an aspect that is purely a matter of the heart, one that feeds that love and energizes all that hard work. It's those intimate moments of stillness with a bird, absorbing its beauty and attitude.

Meet a juvenile White-eyed vireo, above and below.
"What white eyes?" you might ask. Well, the ones shining through those young brown ones. The same ones that are asking with attitude, "just what the heck is this interruption in my day about?"

And with her mouth open, you can also see this juvenile's yellow gape and a bit of her fiesty vireo attitude. Attitude is as much a part of bird recognition as the color and shape we find in our field guides, though in smaller birds we see it more seldom. For me its the fun part, the purely captivating part that settles into my heart when I meet a bird.

White-eyed vireos were new for me this year. And this juvenile, in particular, was alert, checked everybody out and had a comment or two. When she happily flew away to resume her bird life, she left an impression that I will forever connect to White-eyed vireos.

Now meet an Ovenbird, a bird that radiates a gentle sweetness and one we don't often expect to find in a valley meadow.
Observant and calm while receiving his/her band (the sexes look the same), she's a secretive warbler that builds an oven-shaped nest on the forest floor. A striking bird with olive plumage set off by an eye-ring, white breast streaked with brown and two dark head stripes divided by a splash of orange, one can see how this plumage also serves to protect, blending into the forest environment.
Add to this, pink legs and feet, and you have the details that make up the unique and subtle beauty of Ovenbirds.
As one who loves, sketches and paints birds, this was, of course, my favorite aspect of bird banding, the upclose details, the amazing beauty and array of colors in the plumage, the perfect way shape, color and attitude come together to make each bird uniquely suited for its habitat and lifestyle. When you really stop to consider all this variety and perfection, it is breath taking
I did try my hand at recording data and watched intently while birds were extracted from the net, but there is a considerable learning curve here and I've barely begun the climb. Still, the opportunity for learning even more and having intimate interaction with birds, combined with the vital contribution this activity makes to their continued health and survival, makes for a compelling combination. And as I learned many years ago with Golden eagles and Whooping cranes, for me, birds are a matter of the heart. And when your heart takes the lead, anything can happen
To see my entire series on bird banding, click here. Scroll to the bottom to find the first post.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #50, at, to raise awareness of the conservation of our world's birds.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Posture is Everything!

I just paid a visit to Operation Migration's website to see how training went this morning. What I discovered was a wonderful video clip, something you will want to see, a pair of wild Whooping cranes threat posturing.
When you view the video below, you will see two adult Whooping cranes walking with their heads down showing their bald, bright red skin patch. Cranes can engorge this skin patch with blood, making it larger and redder. When they hold their heads down, the skin patch is prominent and represents a warning to intruders that an attack could follow.
Chris Gullikson, one of Operation Migration's costume-clad pilots and the videographer, is also posturing by holding the red head of his Whooping crane hand puppet high in the same position. Size matters in the Whooping crane world and Chris, whose human shape is covered with a white costume, represents a larger threat in crane posture language.

As you view the video below, don't miss the stomping that occurs early while the bird to the right is still in the shadows. He repeats it later. You can hear it as well. Stomping is an additional threat behavior. Also, remember that Whooping cranes are five feet tall with a wing-span of seven feet!

The reason for the encounter? Chris is at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and is discouraging the pair from interfering with the ultralight migration training by trying to lure the juveniles away. You can see Chris' shadow as you view the video. At the end of the clip, the pair flies over to another wild crane who has trespassed into their territory. After they chase him off, they sound the unison call, trumpeting their successful defense of territory. The unison call also serves to strengthen the pair bond.

Great clip, Chris and Operation Migration! Threat posturing, a rare glimpse into the lifestyle and personality of Whooping cranes.

Check out migration training as it progresses at Operation Migration's field journal or by watching the cranecam as training is underway. And don't forget to Give A Whoop!

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #49 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