Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Three's Company

Well looky here! Three gangly baby ravens that squawk like wild monkeys have made their way to VINS for care.

A few days ago, loggers in Danville, VT cut down a tree, not knowing a raven's nest full of three babies rested upon the high branches. Fortunately, the loggers were compassionate fellows who felt they had to do right by the baby corvids. They called VINS Wildlife Services department for help.

While renesting baby birds is always the best option
(meaning placing the babies in the nest back into a tree for the parents to take care of), in this case it wasn't possible. Most of the trees had been cleared from this particular patch of forest, and the few trees left were so tall that renesting would've required a professional tree climber or crane of some sort. Plus the loggers had more clearing to do in the area, so the likelihood of the parents returning to the nest after all that disruption and continuing noise were slim.

The ravens are now in our care, where they're fed hourly by trained staff. To keep these smart birds from imprinting (recognizing humans as their food source and associating themselves with humans), we wear a mask over our faces when feeding them, and gloves on our hands. Eventually, we will place them near our exhibit ravens who live here at VINS so that the young ravens can observe adult raven behavior.

We'll keep these loud, funny babies with us until they are flying and ready to venture forth into the wild on their own.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Low Heart & A Common Loon

Recently I hosted a party at my home, and the conversation and laughter that had been going full-bore came to a dead halt when we heard something we hadn't heard in quite a long time. A common loon called from the lake across the street from my home. We silenced ourselves to be sure we heard what we thought we heard, and indeed, the loon sounded his ethereal call again, confirming his return to my town after a long winter.

The loons are back. So are the phoebes and so are the killdeer. So are the red-winged blackbirds, eastern towhees, wood thrushes and tree swallows. The trout lily and trillium are blooming, and I saw my first gray cross spider in my kitchen window last week. In May, I will be sure to see the ruby-throated hummingbird hovering above the sweet bee balm I planted last summer.

There's something about the consistency of nature and her rhythms that make the unpredictability of life easier to take. There are so many things in one's life beyond our control, and each day we wake up not knowing for sure what might happen. A day you thought might end sweet may turn sour. Unexpected news may squeeze your heart in a painful grip. But nature you can count on. You may wake up with a heavy heart, but that robin will still be outside your window, singing with gusto.

Photos from the top down: a common loon and her baby; a ruby-throated hummingbird drinking from a bee balm plant; cedar waxwing eggs.

Nature's consistency may also remind us that although there are bumps in the road, life goes on. Trees are leafing out. Spring beauties are blossoming. Birds are busily building their homes as they've done for hundreds of summers before. Spring is moving onward no matter what. Life in all its forms moves on. And I know a heavy heart will feel sweet again.

Fostering Future Conservation Efforts

By Beth Roy, VINS Camp Program Manager and School Program Coordinator

As a child, I grew up outside exploring every inch of my parents’ property, building forts and tree houses out of whatever I could find, usually with my dog and sometimes a sister in tow. Often I would hear the words, “Go outside and play!” The reality is that these words seem to be spoken less and less today. Research shows that children, as well as adults, are not going outside as much as they did in the past.

Is this a problem? Writer and naturalist Robert Michael Pyle coined the phrase “extinction of experience,” which means the erosion of children’s direct, spontaneous contact with raw nature. Pyle views this “extinction of experience” as having huge implications for our society’s conservation values. As Pyle simply states, “What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never known a wren?”

Mending this erosion can be difficult, but leaders in the environmental and education fields, including VINS, are starting to comprehend the severity of this reality. Who will foster our future naturalists and environmentalists? Where will our next Rachel Carson or John Muir come from? This is where I believe VINS Nature Camps play a major role. A camp experience may be one of the only times a child will encounter that significant outdoor experience that is so crucial in fostering an environmental ethic in our children.

VINS believes if any child wants to attend one of our nature camps, we will make sure that cost is not a factor in attending. We have been able to gain support for our camp scholarship program through the generous donations of many individuals and community sponsors.

To learn all about this summer’s VINS Nature Camps, including online registration, please visit our web site's camp information page, or call 802-359-5000, ext. 221.

In these tough economic times VINS understands the choices parents have to make regarding summer camp options for their children, and we hope that no matter what parents decide to do this summer, they bring their children outside and let them experience summer with their feet in the grass and their heads in the clouds.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stinky... but important!

Turkey vultures are stinky birds. Not only do they eat old, rotting carcasses (by choice!), they throw up as a defense mechanism. And if you've never smelled turkey vulture vomit, let me tell you it will curl your hair and send you running for the hills. They even defecate on their own legs to keep cool: imagine that!

But no matter how foul these large, soaring birds can get, they are important to our world. Turkey vultures are considered nature's garbage disposals... dutifully eating up dead animals we'd rather not have to deal with ourselves. In doing so, they keep our landscapes clean and potentially reduce the spread of disease.

Appearance-wise, some say vultures have a face only a mother could love. This is so not true. Their bald heads -- believed to be quite handsome by some -- allow them to really get into a piece of carrion with minimal cleanup. And just like the stereotype of their auburn-haired human counterparts, these red-headed beauties have the fiery attitude to match. Turkey vultures are known for their sass and will hiss at you all day long, if they please.

On April 9, the VINS Wildlife Services department received a turkey vulture suffering from a broken wing tip and small wound. We believe a car probably clipped the wing of the bird. On a bird, a broken wing tip can be a challenge to heal, so we will have to wait and see if the fracture site heals. The wound was cleaned upon the bird's arrival, and at last check was healing nicely. The vulture is eating his meals voraciously and successfully stinking up the entire Wildlife Services department. But we don't mind! We just hope we can see this special bird return to the wild.

Friday, April 9, 2010

X-Ray Vision

Our "toxic crow," who was admitted to the VINS Wildlife Services department in March, was recently brought to a local veterinarian for x-rays. While we were able to rid the corvid of toxins and bring down his fever when he first arrived, the bird still seems a bit off to us. He is eating and has a normal weight, but for a wild bird his demeanor is a tad too calm and reaction time too slow for us to feel comfortable labeling him as "healthy."

Watch a video of the crow receiving an x-ray!
In the photo, the crow is taped down for an x-ray.

When a bird still seems sick in some way and there are no more visible symptoms to further examine, it's time to take an internal peek. So, last week we brought our crow to the Kedron Valley Veterinary Clinic in Woodstock, VT. The veterinarians there have offered to assist us with x-rays as needed.

Now, taking an x-ray of a wild animal can be a bit of a challenge, as you can probably imagine. It's, um, a little challenging to reason with a bird -- they don't understand that the x-ray is a good thing, and they're not as easy to comfort with calm words and soft touch as, say, your dog or cat. But, as you will see in the video, this crow remained quite serene through the x-ray, which unfortunately, is not a great sign. Normally, wild birds are harder to handle in such circumstances, with their natural instinct to defend themselves kicking in.

We took a few x-rays of the crow, and the images did not reveal any abnormalities. That helped us rule out several possibilities, such as a small fracture we did not catch, or the presence of shot. So the next thing we will look at is the bird's blood, which may reveal an imbalance of some sort. For now, the crow is living in an indoor enclosure, biding his time and gobbling up his food each day.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Register Now for VINS Nature Camps

“My daughter loved camp”.
“This was the only camp [our daughter] begged to be in again this year.”

“Wonderful activities — great learning experience and presented in a fun and creative way. Bravo!”

These are just a few of the many glowing comments
shared by parents following VINS Nature Camps last summer. Nearly 300 children in grades four through six got to know the natural world in a personal way through our 2009 camp program, and our 2010 camp season promises to be our best yet. VINS is offering camps at three primary locations: VINS Nature Center in Quechee, VT; Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, VT; and Storrs Pond in Hanover, NH. Two additional community camps will be offered at Eastman Community Association in Grantham, NH and at Purple Crayon Productions in Woodstock, VT.

Grounded in experiential, hands-on learning, VINS Nature Camps build upon children’s natural curiosity about their surroundings, using games and activities to foster investigation, navigation and discovery of the natural world. Campers are encouraged to ask questions, hone their observation skills and explore freely. As one parent put it, “[VINS] is helping a whole new generation get outside and appreciate it.”
A sample of our twelve camp options this summer include:
  • Natural History Mysteries
  • Nature Rocks (featuring the Junkman! www.junkmusic.org)
  • Radical Raptors
  • Animal Transformers
To learn all about this summer’s VINS Nature Camps, including online registration, please visit our web site's camp information page. Financial support is available through the generous support of our funders. For information, call 802-359-5000 x221.

Friday, April 2, 2010

She's Number 1!

Oh my, the first baby bird of 2010 has arrived at the VINS Wildlife Services department!

Come to VINS now and see this baby bird in our
This baby mourning dove was found by a couple while they were clearing brush out of their yard. They accidentally destroyed the dove's nest, and unfortunately one baby was killed. But the couple saw one baby on the ground, and kept her nice and toasty until they could bring her here to VINS. (Note: It's always a great idea to check out the brush and trees for nests before clearing them. It's illegal to disrupt a nest, per the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.)

Now she is tucked safely in our incubator -- set at 85 degrees -- where we feed her a special liquid diet for seed- and grain-eaters. When she's a bit bigger, she'll be moved onto a diet of seed and fruit. We will keep her with us until she is flying and strong enough to strike it out on her own in the wilds of Vermont.

Welcome to the world, baby bird!