Listening to the Birds

13 08 2009

We just wrapped up another spring of bird banding here at Beaver Meadow.  Although we were delighted with some of the species we captured and released, we were once again disappointed at the decline in the numbers of birds.  Our capture numbers seem to be diminishing each year during our banding sessions.  I recall years of capturing over one hundred birds a day, while this year we are lucky to get thirty.

Although we don’t have any hard data to back up our theories about the decline, the situation is being repeated across the world.  Habitat loss, pollutions, and climate change seem to be the major culprits in population decreases and range shifts.  The National Audubon Society recently released the results of a 40 year study of Christmas Bird Count Data showing a northward shift in ranges of nearly 60% of bird species found in North America by an average of 35 miles.  The data shows the major cause as climate change.  As the temperatures rise, the birds are moving further north.  Go to to learn more about this issue.

Many of us see climate change as well as other environmental issues as something that is not happening close to home, and thus feel that it is someone else that needs to deal with the problem.  Wherever the problems persist, we all need to work together to solve them.  There are many simple changes to our daily routines that can make a difference.  You can do a home energy audit yourself to see how you and your family can cut back on electrical usage.  Tune up your car and drive less.  Plant trees.  And the list goes on.   If we all partake in the solution, we can make a positive impact locally and globally.



26 04 2009

After a long day of canoeing the Oak Orchard Creek in Alabama, NY we got back to Beaver Meadow to find out we missed a phone call on an injured owl.  The message said a grey and white large owl.  My initial thought was a barred owl.  So I called the gentleman about this owl and heard an amazing story about how he found this owl in his brand new burn barrel.  When he tried to let it out it tried to fly but ended up just flapping around a bit and then went back into the burn barrel which was a 50 gallon steel drum.

I listened intently with memories of the hundreds of rescues I had been on where the caller claimed to have some exotic species, only to find out that the animal needing rescue was something more common.  I always hated the dissapointed look on the rescuers face when I told them what they really had.  So as I listened to the gentleman on the other end of the line tell me his story of this owl and how it came to be in his burn barrel, he finally told me his identification.  “It apears to be one of those Canadian Snow Owls”.

OK… Now first of all it is a 75 degree day in late April.  All the Snowy owls have already flown to the northern tundra in search of lemmings.  I thanked the gentleman and told him I would be there in 10 minutes.  I jumped in the car and headed over to rescue the Snowy Owl.  Of course I was certain it was a barred owl.

As we pulled into the driveway the kindly gentleman was there to greet us and led us right over to his burn barrel.  As I peered in I saw…

Snowy Owl

Just goes to show that sometimes you just have to believe that nature can throw you a few surprises now and then.

Nature Giggles

16 01 2009

How do you break up the boredom of a mundane day at the office?  Watch a little red squirrel gather food in the winter.  While stranded in the office today, catching up on paperwork and computer duties, wishing I could be outside on a pair of snowshoes, I glanced out the window to watch the birds gather at the feeders.  I suddenly noticed a small red head poke up out of the foot deep snow next to the abandoned squirrel feeder.  The squirrel feeder hasn’t seen much action as it awaits the spring for repairs.  On this cold winter day however it became an active source of entertainment as that furry little rodent went flying up the pole and sat atop it nibbling on some fallen seed.

squirrel2My new source of entertainment only sat on top of  the feeder for a short while and then headed back down to a hidden network of tunnels below.  Within a minute it would reappear and the cycle continued.  I had to laugh as this busy little soul kept going up and down that pole.  Why it didn’t stay below the safety of the snow to eat it’s feast, I wasn’t certain, but it really didn’t matter to me for I was enjoying the amusement the little red squirrel was offering me.

This little red squirrels routine continued for more than an hour, before I packed up and headed home.  He was still continuing the routine as I left my office.  I was certian it would continue long after I pulled out of the parking lot.   I look forward to watching for my new entertainer on future mundane office days.

A Different Breed

13 11 2008

Naturalists seem to wander a path that is a bit swayed from the norm.  Of course that depends upon what is considered the norm.  Who is it that decides what “normal” truly is.  Maybe the Naturalist is normal and the rest of the world is a bit off beat.  The true nature lover is closely connected to the natural world which is often far from the daily lives of most and thus considered offbeat.

If you ask my wife Bev however, she will insist that I am far from normal.  How she tolerates my obsession with nature is astonishing at times.  I never seem to stop surprising her with the things I bring home from my adventures in the natural world.  When I used to do wildlife rehabilitation, if I came home with a cardboard box, I was given the “Now what critter are you bringing home?” look even if there wasn’t an injured animal inside.  The surprises now come in many sizes and are not always contained inside a box.

As the two of us came home from some errands in my car and she was unloading goodies from the back seat her comment made me remember what I had left on the floor from a few days ago.  “Is that an owl pellet on your floor?”  Maybe she forgot the time I had an owl pellet in my cup holder for more than a week.  She truly sounded surprised.  Or maybe it was just the sound of discouragement in her voice.

One of my abnormal habits is to collect things for identification at a later time.  Unfortunately, I don’t always remember that I collected them until a later discovery.  I remember the time when I was leading a hike in Zoar Valley in south eastern New York.  We came upon an old growth tree and were studying it in amazement when I was asked to identify a pile of scat at the base of the tree.  Since I was not familiar with this particular brand of scat we tried to deduce who left it behind by its location, size, shape and contents.  Now most “normal” people wouldn’t have even thought about studying an animals scat, much less touching it, but a good naturalist has no fear of the common animal scat.  After prodding it with a stick, taking pictures (yes, I have a photo folder of scat on my computer), I came up empty on the identification.

So against my better judgement, I picked up a portion of the scat, rolled it in a leaf and did what any good naturalist would do.  I stuck it in my pocket.  Of course as what usually happens when I do these things, I completely forgot about the package in my pocket until much later.  I don’t recall exactly where we were when I rediscovered the surprise in my pocket, but I do remember it was a public place and Bev was with me.

The look on my Bev’s face was priceless when she asked why I had rolled up leaves in my pocket and I explained what was contained within.  She didn’t seemed to be surprised as much as discusted.  Needless to say those pants were in the laundry when we got home and I try to avoid scat incidences since then.

Since I was a kid, my pockets have been filled with seeds, plants, bones, scat, sticks, stones, and many other natural items for future discovery or collection.  Although I spend a great deal of time exploring nature in its natural form, my curiosity and quest for knowledge will always force me to collect things in the wild for further identification and Bev will continue to shake her head in disbelief.

An Itchy Situation

17 10 2008

Sometimes in life you just have to say… “oops!”.  The other day I was educating some young preschool minds as to how nature prepares for the cold winter months ahead.  We were exploring the changing leaves, hibernation, migration, food gathering and of course cocoons.  I was fortunate enough to have found earlier in the day, about six little fuzzy balls behind a sign at the nature center I work at and brought them to the program.  As I was explaining how some insects hide beneath the bark of trees while others form a cocoon to sleep away the winter, I decided to pass around my recent discoveries for all to experience.  After all, I am a strong believer in hands on education.  Students learn more through experience.

Itchy little balls

Itchy little balls

If I had more time that morning I probably would have done some research on these tiny balls of fuzz and realized they were a tussock moth cocoon which comes from the weather forecaster we know as the woolly bear caterpillar.  But being rushed that morning, I didn’t know about the irritating properties of this creature until it was too late.

I think it was during the leaf rubbings that one little girl kept complaining to her mother about her hands itching.  I noticed the girls fingers were a bit red, but chalked it up to her scratching them.  After about five minutes of complaints, I started to wonder if this young girl was allergic to crayons.  That’s when Mom decided it was the cocoon.  We washed her hands to little avail and spent the rest of our time together trying to take her mind off the itching.  Another problem was that the itchiness had spread to the rest of the group.  At this point I was trying to calm everyone’s worries and ignore the fact that my own hands were a slight bit itchy.  Nothing a good walk outdoors on a cool autumn day wouldn’t cure.  I succeeded at the art of distraction and we enjoyed the rest of the morning.

The tussock moth when in its caterpillar or cocoon stage of its life cycle is covered with irritating hairs as a defense against predators.  If an animal tries to devour one of these soon-to-be moths, they will find themselves with a very irritated mouth and will try to discard the object.  In the least they will avoid trying to eat another.

As a naturalist, I am always trying to quench my thirst for knowledge of nature.  I always like to delve into nature to learn about it first hand.  I look at my little “oops!” as more of a learning experience rather than a mishap.  The children survived.  Hands went back to their proper color, and we all learned why animals leave these little guys alone.

I had a similar experience about a month ago while hiking and exploring Letchworth State Park.  I noticed a lime green caterpillar with a unique hair design clinging to the side of a tree.  Wanting to get photographs of this beautiful creature, I lifted it off the tree and moved it to a sunnier location to get better lighting for my photographs.  Upon later research, I discovered that this awesome creature was an IO moth caterpillar.  The “spines” on the caterpillar are actually filled with a poison that can cause swelling and severe reactions to it.  Luckily I wasn’t sensitive to the poison.

IO moth caterpillar

IO moth caterpillar

Nature never ceases to amaze me.  There are so many ways that animals protect themselves in the dangers of the natural world.  We forget how tough it can be out there as we snuggle in front of a warm fire on a cold winters eve.  The wild animals have evolved many unique ways to survive in the wilds.  The next time you are outdoors exploring nature, be careful, but enjoy the experiences.

Opportunities Up Close

14 10 2008

Nature never ceases to amaze me.  Especially when you look at it close up.  During a recent visit to the closeup world behind my digital camera lens I came across a scene that I had never witnessed before.  A dragonfly had landed right before my lens and was devouring another insect.  I knew that they were carnivorous, but that fact had always been at the back of my mind, overshadowed by the beauty of these water loving creatures.

I had to halt my adventure for a brief time while I watched the scene unfold before me.  This was after all an adventure all its own.  I can’t wait for nature to offer me another opportunity to experience its wonder.