Friday, December 30, 2011

Back to the Daily Grind

The VINS Wildlife Services department has gotten off to a slow start this winter season, with a surprisingly small number of patients in for care as compared to previous years.

Watch a video of our red-tailed hawk patient.

However, with colder temps and snowfall, we're now seeing patients suffering various ailments come in daily for treatment, which, of course, is not good for the birds, but we're happy to be here to help these wild animals get better. In addition to the red-tailed hawk you see here, we've received several barred owls, a mallard duck, a crow, a Canada goose, and a turkey vulture. The staff here is back to being quite busy with patient care.

This red-tail came in a few days ago after someone found him on the side of the road. The bird has no fractures, but is very thin and has a minor infection on his right foot. We ran a fecal, and sure enough, this bird was loaded with parasites, including roundworm -- gross! -- which are the likely culprits to his emaciation. We administered antiparasitics and the parasites are on their way out. The bird, as you will see in this video, is also receiving antibiotics to systemically treat his infected foot. Above left, Meghan Oliver (left) and Hannah Goldman prepare to give the bird a shot of antibiotics in his leg.

The bird's weight is stabilizing, and he's now eating solid food (mice). We're hoping to plump him up in the next few weeks, mend his foot, and get him back into the wild so he can return home.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Love is in the Air

Why wait until spring to fall in love when you can now? Great-horned owls wouldn't have it any other way. While the "love" may be questionable, there's no question breeding season for these large raptors is about to get underway.

Great-horned owls begin to search for mates in winter, ne
sting as early as January and February and laying eggs in March and April. Here at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, we have irrefutable proof that it's time to start pairing up in the owl world.

For the past five or so winters, a wild female great-horned owl has wooed our educational male great-horned owl, who lives in an outdoor enclosure behind our Wildlife Services building. Every evening at dusk, the female flies to a tree behind our rehabilitation facility, where she perches ... and waits. There, she hoots to our resident male, our male calls back, and soon the two are hooting up a storm.

Take a close look at the photo above and you'll see the outline of the wild female owl, perched in the tree, getting as close as she can to our male in the enclosure below her. In the photo below, our male owl sits on one of his perches in his enclosure.

While these two lovebirds won't have the chance to meet beak-to-beak, they are warming up our winter evenings here at VINS with their endearing, lovelorn hoots.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Speak Your Mind on Invasives!

By Mandy Vellia, OCISMA Coordinator

In 2002, the Noxious Weed Quarantine was passed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to regulate the sale and movement of invasive plants. These non-native plants have proven to be harmful to Vermont’s working lands, natural areas, and waterways. While not all exotic plants are bad, species classified as “invasive” do present a threat to native ecosystems. They have a longer growing season and can out-compete our native plants for sunlight and nutrients, decreasing the overall biodiversity of an area. They can be difficult to manage and cost land owners thousands of dollars each year. The Noxious Weed Quarantine helps to mitigate the spread of invasives by limiting their sale and distribution. (In the photo, bittersweet berries.)

A Watch List of potentially harmful species has been created by the Vermont Invasive Exotic Plant Committee for the state of Vermont. Although there has been no regulatory enforcement to limit the spread of the plants on the watchlist, a Voluntary Code of Conduct has been available for horticultural professionals. By signing this voluntary document, they have agreed to stop selling and using certain species that were not yet included under the Quarantine rule.

On Friday, a public hearing will be held on the proposed amendment to the Quarantine Rule to include Amur Maple (Acer ginnala), Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus), and Brittle Waternymph (Najas minor). If adopted, the sale of these plants will be prohibited once retail inventories are diminished.

The hearing is scheduled for noon on Friday, December 23 at the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, 116 State Street, Montpelier, in the second floor conference room.

For more information, please visit Vermont Invasives or email ocisma@vinsweb.org. OCISMA is a volunteer organization dedicated to educating.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

First Barred of the Winter

The VINS Wildlife Services department received its first barred owl patient of the winter. The owl, found laying in a person's yard in Norwich, VT, was brought in Wednesday for treatment.

See a video of the owl. In the photo, VINS intern Hannah Goldman holds the owl as we prepare to give him treatment.

Normally by December, VINS is flooded with injured, often starving barred owls. Heavy snow accumulations -- common in Vermont -- make hunting tough for owls, who must punch through the snow to get to rodents below its surface. But this year, the state has seen so little snow that barreds (and other local owls) are having an easy winter. Other birds that also stick around for New England winters -- like goldfinches, chickadees, and blue jays -- are also having an easy go of it, with plenty of seeds and even fruits still easily accessible on various plants and trees.

Our owl is currently unable to use his legs and has loose feces, sure signs of spinal trauma. We believe the owl probably struck a home or bounced off a car, losing use of his legs and landing in a front yard. We're currently providing him with medication and fluids to help him get better. The next few days for this owl will be critical; if he doesn't regain use of his legs within the next 48 hours, it is unlikely he'll ever use them again. Time will tell.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ssspecial Resident at VINS

By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern


A sudden case of identity theft has been thrust upon the staff at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (cue the dramatic music). Fortunately for us, our credit cards remain untouched and are bank accounts are secure. Rather, an unsuspecting snake has become the victim of mistaken identity!


Take a good look at the snake in both of these pictures, above and below. Are both of them garter snakes? Is one of them a garter snake, or neither? The picture below is of
a common garter snake (photo by Tom Spinker), one of the most common snakes that you will find here in Vermont. The picture above is of an eastern ribbonsnake (photo by Susan E. Adams), a snake that is labeled as a species of special concern in the state of Vermont. Special concern is a protective legal designation assigned by Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s Natural Heritage Information Project, meaning that a species, in this case the ribbonsnake’s population is rare and its status should be watched.

Out of the 11 species of snakes that are found in Vermont, garter snakes are considered by some to be one of the most varied species in their coloration. Usually, most garter snakes can be found with two to three lateral stripes running from the head to the tail, with stripe color varying from yellow to brown, green to bluish white. The body’s color is usually darker ranging from brown, green, olive, or black. Dark spots and checkered patterns can be noted on the body as well. (This pattern resembles those of men’s stocking garters, hence the name.) Ribbonsnakes have similar colorations to the garter snake, but two things stand out for this reptile: the size, with ribbonsnakes hitting between 45-66 inches and garter snakes hitting 18-54 inches; and a distinguishing spot of yellow in front of the eyes.

If you’re ever out on a hike in or around a wetland, be on the lookout for this rare species as they prefer wet habitats, compared to the garter snake that can be found anywhere ranging from wetlands to clearings to suburban settings.


Stop by the VINS Nature Center and visit our native wetland exhibit to see this special snake up close!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Look For It Now: Late-autumn meadows

Late November finds Vermont meadows in their brown and brittle glory. Tall, oat-colored grasses bowing their heads, heavy with seed; wildflowers -- long succumbed to frost -- curled up and gray, readily giving up their remaining seeds to the wind. A friend of mine said recently that early autumn in Vermont -- with its showy display of tourist-attracting red and orange leaves -- gets all the attention, while the beauty of late autumn barely earns a second glance. I agree. Give me some brown stalks of bluestem among fuzzy bunches of aster, throw a blue sky behind it, and I'm happy.

There isn't a season I don't like, but there's something about the transition be
tween autumn and winter that has its own special feeling. The colors are simple. The air is dry. We're all anticipating colder weather, snow and the rush of the holiday season. But a walk through a meadow reveals abundant traces of summer's life, which wasn't all that long ago.

So before we do get that first snowfall that'll stick around 'til April, burying all that we now see, enjoy the grasses and colors of this fleeting time of year.

Below are some photos of the meadow here at VINS. From top-down: aster, St.
John's wort, rabbit's foot clover, lupine, Queen Ann's lace, and goldenrod. Click each image for a bigger view.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Duck, Duck…Scoter!

On November 4th, an adult male scoter was transferred to VINS from rehabilitator Catherine Greenleaf in Lyme, NH. We know the scoter is a male because he is entirely black with a multi-colored bill that looks like candy corn. He also makes pipping and whistling contact calls that are particular to male scoters, and that melt the hearts of the VINS staff!

He was originally admitted into rehab because he had flown into a gas station. He had blood in his nostrils and is too weak to hold his head up. We are tube-feeding him three times daily with watered down cat food and offering him live fish and snails, which so far he
hasn’t shown any interest in. We are also giving him Metacam and Baytril to minimize any internal swelling and infection.

Black scoters typically summer in Northern Alaska and Canada,
and winter throughout the entire Western and Eastern coastlines of Canada and the U.S. Rarely are they found inland. In the wild, these birds dive up to 40 feet to eat crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic plants. Like many ducks, scoters keep their wings partially open during dives to help them paddle and steer.

Hopefully this little guy can get back his strength, begin eating on his own, and be released along the Maine coastline to meet up with his flock!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Correction to "Irene's Second Guest at VINS"

In a previous blog, you read that VINS received a dead oceanic bird the day after Tropical Storm Irene swept through Vermont. The Wildlife Services staff at VINS believed it to be a Wilson’s storm-petrel, but upon further examination, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies determined that it was actually a band-rumped storm-petrel, the first of its kind ever recorded in the New England area!

The photo on the left is a Wilson’s storm-petrel and the photo on the right is a band-rumped storm-petrel, for comparison.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Sharpest of Hawks

What’s small, fast, and hovers around bird feeders? Surprisingly, it’s not always a blue jay or a finch! Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest accipiters, a genus of hawks composed of birds of prey that are closely genetically related to one another. Accipiters have short, broad wings and a long narrow tail for fast maneuverability in wooded areas. Other hawks in this genus include Cooper’s hawks and northern goshawks. These are the birds you see darting out of the woods and grabbing an unsuspecting songbird at your feeder!

On October 28, a sharp-shinned hawk arrived at the VINS Wildlife Department. He had flown into a woman’s open door and got disoriented in her living room. She brought him to VINS, where we discovered that he had no physical problems, and was just slightly thin and disoriented. Due to his size (101 grams), we believe he is a male. It is amazing that these birds can capture robins, blue jays, and sparrows when they aren’t much bigger than these birds themselves!


We also discovered that the sharp-shinned hawk in our care is a juvenile. He doesn’t have the slate-gray head and back, the orange barring on his belly, or the blood-orange eyes of an adult sharp-shinned
hawk. Instead, he has yellow eyes and his head and body are covered with brown streak marks.

When the sharp-shinned hawk first came into our care,
we gave him a dose of lactated ringers solution to re-hydrate him. Then we offered him small chunks of mice, but being a high-strung accipiter, he refused to eat. Instead, we force-fed and hand-fed him. He had started to swallow food once it was offered, but he still refused to eat on his own (like all the other accipiters that have come through VINS). In all other respects he is a healthy bird. He often flew out of his enclosure when we try to take him out for hand-feeding, and he flew beautifully around our ICU! He was released on November 2 to to his home in the wild and darted in and out of trees before flitting away!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Uh-oh, MODO!

This little MODO (mourning dove) was brought to the VINS Wildlife Services department earlier this week. He was found roadside in Warren, VT, likely hit by a car.

Mourning doves are spe
cial birds. Their big brown eye pull you right in; their soothing summer coo will lull you. But don't be fooled by these plump year-round residents. They may look and sound sweet, but when it comes to survival, MODOs can be the toughest guys and gals around your feeder.

Once you have your feeder up this winter, watch how the MODOs treat
each other and birds of other species (even big old blue jays) who try to get some fallen seed off the ground. MODOs will whack other birds with their powerful wings, nip at them with their beaks, or waddle aggressively after them to chase them away. Don't get between a MODO and his seed.

Below, Wildlife Services interns Priya Subbarayan (left) and Sarah McAteer tube-feed the mourning dove.


This particular mourning dove has two broken bones in his right wing and is on the thin side. The Wildlife staff here is tube-feeding him a nutritious grain-based liquid diet and has wrapped his wing to allow the bones to set. Once the bones heal and he puts on weight
, we'll return this MODO to his rightful home in the wild ... where he can calmly terrorize your neighborhood seed-eating birds.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Buzzard Blues

One of the blessings of being an educational bird at VINS is free and instant healthcare from the staff. Sure, it must be great to have a cozy, predator-proof enclosure and daily hunt-free meals, but the medical attention from the rehabilitation staff -- who are on-site 7 days a week, 365 days a year -- can't be beat. When staff hear the smallest sneeze, see a runny nare (nostril), or spot a scraped toe, we're on it!


Recently, staff noticed our educational turkey vulture --
a popular and beloved bird in her 30s who appears in many of our programs -- preening excessively at her keel, or breastbone. We took a look and found a wound on her keel about the size of a nickel. We surmise that the bird scraped her chest getting up onto a new perch we recently added to her enclosure, so we've taken the perch out and put the turkey vulture into rehab. (Above left, VINS Intern Sarah Sincerbeaux holds the vulture for wound care; below from top down: Wildlife Services Manager Sara Eisenhauer cleans the wound; our turkey vulture on the glove with Wildlife Keeper Meghan Oliver.)

Now, our bird is receiving daily wound care in which we clean the scrape thoroughly, remove dead tissue, and apply topicals to keep the wound infection-free and encourage tissue growth.

Vultures, sometimes called buzzards, are always interesting patients to treat. They are smelly and aggressive, but we love them anyway. Read about a past vulture patient here. Our educational vulture is very familiar the staff here, and while I can't say she loves wound treatment, she's a trooper, and has yet to spew on staff.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Look For It Now: Wildflowers Seeding Out

This time of year, the late-summer wildflowers you savored in August and September are seeding out. Some become almost unrecognizable this time of year, having turned the autumnal tones of yellow and brown and replacing showy flower heads with seed pods of all shapes and sizes.

You're probably familiar with common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): a monarch butterfly favorite. Each fall, milkweed's seed pods dry and crack open, distributing small brown
seeds on silky filaments, blown around in fall winds. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a species of milkweed, is no different. Take a look at butterfly weed this summer in all its orange glory (below and upper left), and how it looks now with seed pods prepped to pop (upper left corner).

Wild sensitive plant, a member of the pea family, (Chamaecrista nictita
ns) is another wildflower you can now see plainly in seed form. Instead of bulky pods full of silky fibered-seeds, wild sensitive plant has slender, flat pods lined with black seeds. In the summer, these seed pods are green and look a lot like snow pea pods. As you can see from the photos below, this flower's fall appearance is a far cry from its bright yellow, floppy-flowered summer look.

Photos below, from top: butterfly weed in summer; wild sensitive
plant in bloom; and two shots of wild sensitive plant in October.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Goodbye, Hello! Snapping Turtles on the Move

Every year in June, female snapping turtles crawl out of the Ottauquechee River and Dewey Mill’s Pond and find sandy soil on VINS’ property to make their nests. The female digs a burrow and lays 25-80 eggs in each nest, then covers the nest with more sandy soil to allow the eggs to incubate. Incubation time is temperature-dependent, but the eggs normally hatch from September to October. The babies dig their way out of the nest-burrow and make their way back to the Ottauquechee, so look for baby snapping turtles on the move!

When the baby snappers hatch they are about the size of a silver dollar, so the Wildlife Staff at VINS transports many of them directly to the Ottauquechee, to prevent members of the public from stepping on them. Wildlife interns Sarah McAteer and Elise Newman waded down the muddy bank of the Ottauquechee on the VINS nature trail to release them into the wild. After some hesitation, they took to the water like pros and swam away.

However, we saved seven of the newly-hatched snappers to put on exhibit in the Nature Nook. We have set up the tank with many more logs and rocks so they can bask and play. Over the next few years, they will grow from the size of silver dollars to the size of a large pizza!

Irene's Second Guest at VINS

In addition to the northern gannet mentioned in an earlier blog, VINS received a Wilson’s storm petrel the day after Tropical Storm Irene blew through Vermont. The Wilson’s storm petrel was dead on arrival, but is the only one of its species ever recorded in Vermont. Like the gannet, petrels are pelagic and this particular bird was probably blown inland by the storm and died due to a collision of some sort.

Like many pelagic birds, such as albatrosses, storm petrels have tube-shaped noses to excrete excess salt. In the wild, Wilson’s storm petrels tap-dance on the surface of the ocea
n to dabble for algae. They are named “petrels” because of this attribute, after Jesus’ disciple St. Peter who walked on water.

Although Tropical Storm Irene caused untold destruction for much of Vermont, it gave VINS the chance to study two seldom-seen species of birds. Although neither the gannet nor the petrel survived to return to the sea, we got the chance to contribute to Vermont birding records.

Unfortunately, hurricanes are not the only thing to disrupt the lives of pelagic birds. As we saw, northern gannets are susceptible to protozoa in human waste, and many other species are vulnerable to oil spills, fishing with drift nets, motor boats, trash gyres full of non-biodegradable plastics, and bioaccumulation of pesticides. Seeing these two pelagic species reminded us of our need to protect our natural resources, especially the ocean!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Birds of a Feather, Stickin' Together!

Eight cedar waxwing fledglings -- all originally from separate nests -- made their way into the big wide world last Saturday. The birds each came in for treatment after becoming orphaned, injured, or both. The VINS Wildlife Services staff cared for these songbirds, healed their injuries, raised them, and got them ready for life in the wild.

Watch a video of the waxwings' release!

Cedar waxwings, though fairly common in Vermont, are always a treat for members of the public to see up close. These cla
y-colored birds have a bandit-like mask of black feathers across their eyes and an orange or yellow band across the base of their tails. They get their name from the bright orange waxy tips on some of their primary wing feathers.

The fact that we got in eight that we could release together bodes well for these flock birds. You won't find a waxwing on its own in the wild: these birds of a feather stick together.

VINS intern Sarah MacAteer, pictured below, released these youngsters onsite at VINS. Watch the video! You can hear their telltale trill as they fly from the box. Click on photos for a larger image.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Look For It Now: White Baneberry

Ever been rambling through the woods alone and get a spooky feeling you're not alone? That somebody is watching you? Ever turn around and see hundreds of dolls' eyes staring back at you?

Sounds totally creepy, right? W
ell, don't think it can't happen to you! White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is now in its full berry glory, and these little white berries have conspicuous black spots (like pupils) that earned them the nickname "doll's eyes."

A member of the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family, white baneberry is in flower from May to June. It grows about 1-2 feet in height, produces toothed, compound leaves, and is topped with feathery white flower clusters that are taller than they are wide.

It is this time of year, however, when the white berries take center stage. Thick red stalks support each doll eye, making for a striking plant among the browning leaf litter. By the way,
don't indulge on these berries: they are poisonous, in fact, the whole plant is.

Many flowering plants and shrubs are now in berry form, and you'll find all sorts of plants sporting fruit. I included a few more below, all of which will redden in time. From top to bottom, they are Jack-in-the-pulpit, false Solomon's seal, and lily of the valley.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Irene Brings Unexpected Guests to VINS

By Elise Newman
Wildlife Services Intern


Flooding and heavy rains were not the only things blown in by Tropical Storm Irene. The day after Irene swept through Vermont, VINS received two pelagic birds -– birds who spend most of their lives on the open ocean and only come ashore to breed once a year. For those rusty on their geography, there is absolutely no ocean shoreline in Vermont.

Our first Irene victim was a northern gannet (watch a video of the gannet's exam),
who presented severely dehydrated, emaciated, covered in lice, and suffered from central nervous system damage. The second species, a Wilson’s storm petrel, was dead on arrival, but is the only one of its species ever recorded in the state. Both birds were found in Hartland – it was shocking to all of us to see two pelagic birds so far inland.

Wildlife Services Manager Sara Eisenhauer explained that the birds likely became disoriented and were blown off course due to the heavy winds and rains of Irene. They were disoriented all right … a rural town in central Vermont, Hartland looks nothing like the open ocean!

While in the VINS rehab center, the gannet was examined, treated with a homeopathic medication for central nervous system damage, and was tube-fed with a protein mixture. The VINS staff coordinated with the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine -- accustomed to treating gannets -- to offer the gannet the best care possible. Not having a large outdoor tank, we housed the ocean bird in an outdoor stall equipped with a kiddie pool.

Unfortunately, our gannet did not make it: the central nervous system damage remained consistently debilitating throughout treatment. On Sept. 1, the gannet had to be euthanized. According to the Cape Neddick Center for Wildlife, neurological problems are typical among the gannet family, due to protozoa from human waste found in the ocean. In other words, the central nervous system trauma may have been a prior disability, rather than a consequence of being buffeted by the storm.

Check back next week to read about the Wilson’s storm petrel brought to VINS, and learn why this amazing ocean bird has a tube on its beak!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Young Owl a Baby No More

You might remember that earlier this summer we had the opportunity to test out one of our eastern screech owl's mothering skills. We put our female screech (who normally lives in one of our exhibits) in an enclosure with an orphaned baby screech to see if she'd foster the owlet, and foster she did: she became an overprotective helicopter parent, who dutifully watched over and defended the little owl whenever a staff member was nearby. Read more about it here.

See a video of the orphaned owl's release.

Above, VINS Wildlife Services intern Lauren Potter gets ready to release our screech back into the wild.

Well, our foster mom is back on exhibit, and our youngster grew up and is on his own in
the great wide woods of Vermont. It was a win-win-win for all: the baby grew up with a real owl as his role model; the adult screech had the opportunity to be a mom; and we had the joy of seeing a young bird grow up healthy and return to his home in the wild. See a video of this owl's release, and take a peek below of some shots of the owl's first flight into the wild. Click on images for a better view.