Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Prairie Spring

Second only to birding, reading is my passion. I got my first pair of prescription eyeglasses just three months ago and never realized that for the last two years, my waning interest in reading was only due to eyestrain. Once I got the glasses I could again read for hours (I can sit in one spot reading until the sun goes down and it is too dark to see).

Getting books in the mail from my book club or Amazon.com or eBay is like Christmas morning. Just before vacation, a package arrived at work with three long-awaited books to take with me to Las Vegas.

Prairie Spring, by Pete Dunne (my birding hero -- right up there with Julie Zickefoose), is an amazing journey into the midwest grasslands of North America during the season of rebirth (excitingly for all fans of his, Dunne is writing books about each season - can't wait until the next one). Not just about birds (although there is a passage about sandhill cranes that moved me to tears, pages 46 to 52), Dunne takes the reader on a learning journey, painting pictures with words, but gently teaching when you aren't even looking. The power of the prairies, their fragility and their place in the cycle of nature is all laid before us for our wonder and our education.

For longtime fans of his work (that's me, Pete!), there is no dearth of his wonderful sense of humor. But pathos, drama and all other elements of a season are also present. Dunne writes just like he talks - full of wonder, passion and energy.

An excerpt: "...I couldn't help but think how much a person's life is like a shadow. When we are young, standing tall as we can in the morning light, it stretches out in front of us, pointing the way toward possibilities that seem beyond reach. At noon, with the sun high above and life at its pinnacle, our shadow disappears, we think. Or maybe we're just too busy to notice it. Later, as evening gathers and we have time to reflect and more to reflect upon, we look back over our shoulder, and there it is again! Falling along the path we've taken and, if we are lucky, upong many wonderful experiences extending all the way back to.... Well, I think I'll leave it to you to fill in the blank. You have your shadow. I have mine."

I finished the book on the plane and now want to make plans to visit the vast prairies of the United States - for the bison, the cranes, the sparrows and the pronghorn, the wildflowers, the Native American stone paintings, the prairie chickens and the canyons, the prairie dogs, the vastness....Pete Dunne has put the prairie bug in me. Thanks, Pete.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blogging Without Pictures

I wanted to post before I left at 4:30am (!!!) tomorrow for my vacation in Las Vegas. I diligently took pictures of the duck family in the courtyard at work and even took pictures of three new books I am taking with me on the trip (you can't spend ALL your time gambling when you are in Vegas for five days - one bird-related book, a new Pete Dunne book and a food book by Alice Waters, my culinary hero), but I left the USB cable for the camera at work. So this will be an old-fashioned blog post - no pix.

Duck Update:
One of the six remaining ducklings died last week (the smallest one - we think it was the last of the adopted ones from Ethel's brood). I found it in the food bowl when I checked on the family one morning. It was curled up with its eyes closed, so I thought it was sleeping, but upon closer inspection, it was clearly dead. No obvious signs of trauma, so I don't know what caused its death, poor little thing.

The remaining five ducklings seem happy and are getting a little too comfortable around humans. The fountain they swim in is very shallow (maybe four or five inches), but the ducklings like to practice "zoom swimming" where they rocket underwater like sleek little otters. Quite amusing.

Since the fountain is getting polluted and the ducklings are getting comfortable with human interaction, we decided to set them free next week. The plan is to herd them through the short hallway that connects the courtyard with the rest of the campus. Lucy (Mama Duck) can then lead them to a new home. Staff have promised to take pictures of the release for me so I can post about it when I return from vacation.

Vegas and Birds:
I am looking forward to some down time in Las Vegas with good restaurants, lots of laughter, a few shows, lazing by the pool and of course, some blackjack. In the five years I have been making this annual pilgrimage, I have never gone birding (Vegas in July is damn hot and my mind is on other pursuits). All I tend to see are starlings and house sparrows anyway. So don't expect bird updates from Vegas, but there may be other things to write about. What happens in Vegas...will probably make it to my blog!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Swirling Starlings

Here is a link to an ABC News video of starlings swirling and converging on a tree and causing it to bend over. Scott Fraser, a member of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC), of which I am a proud member, captured this video while driving home one day. Pretty amazing!


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Duck Update

This a post both happy and sad - updating the story of Ethel and Lucy, two female mallards who birthed ducklings in the courtyard at work.
We relocated Ethel with nine of her eleven ducklings to the pond on the same property as the courtyard where she and Lucy lived. She was spotted by our Director of Plant Operations crossing the driveway that very afternoon, followed by her brood, to the creek that runs behind the property. We haven't seen her since, so I happily assume that she made a home in the creek. Canada geese also inhabited the pond where we relocated her, so the duck family may have been unwelcome from the start (kind of a Crips and Bloods situation - fighting over the same turf!).

Ethel and brood swimming in their new home

Lucy, left in the courtyard with her original eight ducklings, quickly adopted the two of Ethel's ducklings that we couldn't find in time to relocate with Ethel. For two days, the brood of ten followed Mom around without incident. The Maintenance Department here (wonderful guys, all of them), built a little pavilion to protect the food bowls from the elements and Lucy and her youngsters were living the high life.

Food bowls under the handmade "Duck Pavilion"

The last few days, however, have only seen six of the ten ducklings with Mom. After searching high and low, we can not find four of the babies. Was it a hawk, illness, starvation or weather that caused the death/ disappearance of these ducks? We will never know.

Lucy and the six surviving ducklings

But life goes on - and the six ducklings left are enjoying swimming, eating, preening, chasing each other and other duck-like pursuits. I sit with them in the morning for 10-15 minutes. They are skittish at first but after I am still for a while, they ignore me and go about their business. It is an honor to share my mornings with them - I enjoy their antics. More updates to follow.

"What 'choo lookin' at????"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cuteness x Eleven

There is a gorgeous courtyard where I work. A fountain, lots of wonderful landscaping and a great habitat for birds, including ducks. Every year, a mallard mom lays her eggs in the courtyard and raises a family. This year, there were two moms - one with 8 babies and one with 11. That's 21 ducks in a very small courtyard. Not healthy for the ducks or the fountain! So we decided to relocate the family of 12 (the duck dads were absentee fathers: wham, bam, thank you ma'am). The Maintenance staff noticed that the ducklings could not climb out of the fountain so they built a small brick staircase for them. It worked. I wish I could have gotten a picture of the ducklings climbing the stairs!

So one afternoon last week two Maintenance staff (Craig and Josh), a Marketing Department staffer (Heather) and I gathered empty trashcans and cameras and trooped into the courtyard. Both moms (Ethel and Lucy) were sitting under a tree on the babies (it was drizzling). We approached cautiously, but the moms hissed and made their displeasure known.

Check out the gorgeous blue on Ethel's wing.

Hard to believe she could fit 11 ducklings under her.

One of the men threw a towel over Ethel and we put her in an empty trashcan. The chicks ran helter-skelter in all directions. The chase was on!

One by one, we gathered chicks - or should I say we TRIED to gather chicks. It was cold and muddy and rainy. Here were four educated, mature adults outsmarted by tiny balls of fluff. They ran under hedges and bushes and darted between our legs as we lunged helplessly after them. We got scratched by thorns and twigs, covered with mud and leaves and rain.
While we were searching, we found one of the nests with the empty egg shells. Pretty cool.

Catching the ducklings may have been
difficult, but holding and cuddling them was
worth the effort.

A little one (damp around the edges) in the holding tank.

Craig proudly holding one of his captures.

One youngster peeping loudly at me as I try to
focus the camera with one hand while not squishing him.

Heather enjoying her new friend before putting him in the trashcan with his brothers and sisters (with Craig and Josh still on duckling patrol in the background).

I tried holding them the way Bill Hilton taught us at

the bird banding demonstration at New River Nature and Birding Festival.

It calmed them right down. (Check out the mud on my hands and arms).

Soooo soft....

After an hour, we had located nine ducklings. We had to give up - the rain was getting harder and we were afraid of stressing out the family any more than we already had. We assumed that Lucy would adopt the two leftover ducklings into her brood (we checked back early the next morning and she had done just that). It was time to move the family to their new home (the pond on the campus about 1/4 mile away).

The new home for the transplanted family.

Loading the ducks onto the van for the short ride to the pond.
We let mom out first and the ducklings swarmed after her. They made an exploratory circuit around the new pond and seemed to settle right in. A happy ending for both families.

Rescuing 11 Baby Mallards

Today I helped relocate a mother mallard and her 11 (!!!!) ducklings. More photos and more of the story in future posts.....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Yet Another List

Wakerobin Trillium

My name is Beth, and I am a lister.
Yes, a serious lister. I love birding and I can't imagine my life without it. But I can't bird without listing. Every single time I go out. The only time I don't keep a list of the birds I see is when I am backyard birding. My North American ABA list is 190 species). My Pennsylvania list is 82 species. My North Carolina list is 78. My New Jersey list is 101. My West Virginia list is 90. My yard list is 52 species. I will have a Florida list when I go to the Space Coast Bird Festival in January 2010. Get the picture?

Keeping up with all the lists is almost a full time job in itself. Lots of spreadsheets and several notebooks with scribbles, smudges and wet pages.

Wild Strawberry

On my trip the New River Festival, I pretty much ignored all the wildflowers that people were seeing and appreciating. I wanted birds, darn it. I came for the birds. Well, the guides and the birders wore me down. I started to notice the wildflowers.
Then I started to keep a list.
I just bought a wildflower field guide.
Damn it.
I'm hooked.
Another list.

Cow Vetch

Winter Cress

Beard Tongue