Friday, June 25, 2010

Local Oil Spill

A local ring-billed gull can likely empathize with the oil-drenched birds rescued from the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of BP's huge spill. But this gull was rescued from a much smaller slick.

A restaurant's cooking oil was left out behind the establishment and attracted a bird who took a dunk into the oil. While the restaurant had their oil properly covered to deter wild animals, the bird snuck in when the top was temporarily removed. The gull was unable to get out on his own, and had to be scooped out by a restaurant employee. This is one of a handful of birds we receive each year who find themselves unable to get out of vats of cooking oil left behind restaurants.

Oil is quite damaging to a bird's feathers. The structure of a feather makes it waterproof, allowing the bird to fly even when he is drenched in rain or ocean water. Oil saturates feathers and clumps them up, ruining the structure needed for flight. The feathers must be cleaned of oil if the bird is to ever fly again and survive. Discarded oil, whether its cooking or motor oil, must be discarded properly and should always be left covered.

The VINS Wildlife Services' staff is washing this gull with warm water and Dawn dish soap every other day. Dawn is safe on wildlife and effectively removes oil from feathers after several washes. Soon, this gull will be oil-free and back to soaring the friendly skies -- we hope the same for his brethren battling oil down south.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Look For It Now: Maiden Pink

Eye-catching in color, the delicate Maiden Pink (Dianthus deltoides) can be found growing in fields and by roadways. It blooms from May to July, and grows from about 1/2-foot to 16-inches high. Don't be fooled by Deptford Pink, which also blooms in Vermont. Maiden Pink can be distinguished from Deptford by its broader petals with notched tips, and a pinkish-red ring toward the center of the flower. Photos by Meghan Oliver.

Friday, June 18, 2010

For moles, a life of toil in the soil

By Bill Amos for Northern Woodlands' "The Outside Story"
Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol

Two months ago a predictable eruption began on the lawn surrounding our house. Rough clumps of rich, dark subsoil appeared upon the still barren ground.
"Those **@#$&%** moles again," my thoughts went. But moles do no lasting harm to a lawn despite making an unsightly seasonal mess.

Nevertheless these eruptions invite human attention. When our children were small, we did our mole dance, jumping up and down in an attempt to flatten the dark mounds and ridges thrust above the ground. Our ineffectual efforts never had any effect upon moles off somewhere else in their labyrinthine tunnels.

Moles are prolific. A female bears four or five young every spring in a deep nesting chamber. When only a month old the youngsters leave home and forage on their own, so youthful exuberance may contribute to what is abundantly noticeable on lawns in early summer. Read this article in its entirety and learn about Vermont's hairy-nose mole here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Knockin' Away

What would the woods be without woodpeckers? Terribly boring! Woodpeckers -- with their high-pitched cackles and persistent knocking on trees, homes and metal frames -- keep the forests and neighborhoods rockin'.

We recently received a fledgling downy woodpecker -- about 4 weeks old -- into our care. The young DOWO (abbreviation for downy woodpecker) was struck by a car, and presented with head trauma.

some rest and a bit of medication, the DOWO has made a full recovery. But since he's still a youngster, we're hand-feeding him on the hour as his mom would in the wild. We've also given him a small log stuffed with a protein-packed combo of peanut butter and meal worms -- a woodpecker favorite! He'll be released to the wild once he's a bit older and more self-sufficient.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Does It Get Any Cuter?

The answer is no. It does not get any cuter than a ruffed grouse chick.

This time of year -- if you're lucky -- you may see a female ruffed grouse with her chicks in tow. Spotting a ruffed grouse chick or two tip-toeing with mom through the woods of Vermont is a sight for sore eyes. Ruffed grouse chicks are just about the cutest thing around. See for yourself in our photos, featuring two orphaned chicks currently in our care.

One grouse came in after a passer-by saw the baby's mom and siblings succumb to the deadly wheels of a moving truck, while the other was found wandering alone in a person's yard -- no grouse mom in sight. We'll care for these orphans until they are ready to return to wild on their own. Photos by VINS intern Noreen Slavin.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tracking 'First Flowers'

By Rick LaDue
Program Manager, VINS-Manchester

In early April, the Manchester branch of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) began a citizen science exploration of the spring wildflowers at the Equinox Preserve. The Preserve covers hundreds of acres on the slopes of Mount Equinox in

Each Tuesday and Friday, a VINS naturalist -- along with a dedicated group of wildflower enthusiasts -- set out to hike the trails in search of "first flowers." First flower is the very first opening of a flower of a particular species. This phenological study is the start of gathering data regarding not just wildflower species on the Preserve, but what role the warming climate may have on seasonal events such as first flower. Data such as the GPS coordinates and date for the first flowering stage of each species was documented and photographs were taken to assist in the identification of certain species.

Two of the documented flowers are pictured above, with Herb Robert on the top, and Columbine in the second photo. Photos by Cathy Stewart.

Wildflower species we encountered ranged from the common (trout lily and wild strawberry) to the more obscure showy orchids and plantain-level sedge. In all, more than 40 wildflower species were identified and catalogued on these 90-minute hikes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Time to Fly

Remember those three big, awkward raven babies? Well, the ravens brought into our care back in April are now full-grown and ready to go.

These young birds were brought to us after a logger disrupted their nest when he cut down their tree. A kind-hearted man, the logger brought the birds to VINS' Wildlife Services department once it was clear the birds could not be re-nested and needed help to survive. Read more about their story and see photos and videos of the birds as babies here.

The corvid trio is now in our flight cage, where they are flying about, foraging for food and loudly squawking. Soon, we'll release them back into the wild where they will likely continue to live together, possibly parting to find mates.

In the photo above, one of the ravens flies through our outdoor flight cage.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Look For It Now: Forget-me-nots

Like birds, flowers make their way into literature in all its forms. In one of my favorite poems, Longfellow's "Evangeline," the stars in the "meadows of heaven" were said to be "the forget-me-nots of the angels."

"True" forget-me-nots
(Myosotis scorpioides) -- found growing wild in Vermont -- have a small blue flower with a yellow center. The flowers grow in bunches, with the stems standing 6- to 24-inches high. They bloom May through October, and can be found stream-side or in other moist environments. Look for true forget-me-nots now. Photos by Meghan Oliver.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Teen Owls

The teen years can be the toughest. You're kinda feeling like an adult, but you're still very much a kid. Independence seems just within your grasp, and yet -- although you hate to admit it -- you still want Mom and Dad by your side.

Well, that just about describes our fledgling barred owls: they are just learning to fly, but they still need us to provide food and shelter for them. And like teenagers, boy do they eat!

You may remember this owlet trio from an earlier blog post. All three owls came from separate owl nests -- all falling out too early, and all unable to be re-nested. So we're playing Owl Mom & Dad here at VINS, and we'll continue to care for these youngsters until they are able to fly and hunt on their own. Their last few weeks here at VINS will be spent in our flight cage, where they can really perfect their flying techniques, and where we will offer them live mice to practice hunting.

Soon, these birds will fly the coop, and the staff here will suffer a bit of empty nest syndrome. But with new baby birds coming in nearly every day to the VINS Wildlife Services department, we won't feel lonely for long. Lucky us : )