Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Look For It Now: Spring Flora

A few days ago, on an evening hike in the woods behind my Vermont home, the first signs of floral life poked through the damp carpet of last falls' leaves. My hike was accompanied by the songs and calls of a wood thrush, a pileated woodpecker, a white-throated sparrow, robins and countless chickadees. I also spotted my first ovenbird of the spring, hopping from branch to branch in a beech tree to get a closer look at me. A decent hike for a damp, gray April evening. I went back the next morning to photograph all the signs of life I could.

Some of the flowers I saw were a bit hard to ID. The dark purple flower (left) left me stumped. After consulting with several friends, we figured out it was blue cohosh, which looks quite different as it matures -- mostly leafy green with blue berries. And the final photo below I immediately ID'd as trillium, but then later questioned if the three leaves could be those of a jack-in-the-pulpit. Again, after some chatting with friends, we decided it was trillium. In a week or so, I'll know for sure.

For other forest-loving people like me, it's hard not to feel ridiculously excited at seeing these flora and fauna return each year. My cynical side normally cringes when I see the popular slogan, "Life is good," on a t-shirt or on the bumper of a passing car, but when it's springtime in Vermont, life is seriously good.

Photos by Meghan Oliver. From top down: trout lily; blue cohosh; fiddlehead fern; coltsfoot; trillium and another photo of trout lily.
Click on images for a larger view.

Friday, April 22, 2011

She's Free as a Bird Now

Last Friday, Vermont got another free bird. See a video of this owl's return to the wild.

It took 46 days for this barred owl to mend in the Vermont Institute of Natural Science's avian rehabilitation center, but it was worth the wait to see her fly away again on April 15th.
After being hit by a vehicle along I-91, the owl, assumed to be female due to her large size, was brought to VINS on March 1st. She was treated for head trauma and eye damage with a combination of homeopathic remedies and traditional veterinary medicines.

Once she started eating well on her own, and the cloudiness in her eyes cleared, she was tested for flight and the ability to catch live prey. Since there was damage to her eyes we needed to be sure she could still see well enough to catch a live mouse before she was released. After passing both her tests it was time to say goodbye and watch this former patient make her way back to the Vermont wilderness.

Check out our video of the barred owl's first free flight in 46 days.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dude, where's my tail?

This black-capped chickadee is one tail short, due to an unfortunate tussle with a pet Siamese cat. Birds' tail feathers are designed to easily pull from their bodies, so when a predator tries to grab at the bird's backside the tail feathers come out while the bird flies away to safety.

The chickadee also suffered a fracture in his right wing, and -- from the sounds of his gurgled breathing -- some internal trauma. We've wrapped the wing so that the fracture can heal, and put this little fellow on antibiotics to treat the cat bite wounds. Cats have a bacteria in their saliva that is toxic to birds, so it is essential we administer antibiotics. In due time, his tail feathers will grow back, and he'll be as good as new.

In the photo left, you can see the wing feathers crossed behind the bird's back, but no tail feathers peak out from below (as they should). There is vet tape around the bird's body, holding his fractured wing in place.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Grouse in 'Ruff' Shape

When this ruffed grouse first came in to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, he was in pretty rough shape. He was found on the side of the road where he was likely struck by a car, and transported to the Wildlife Services department here at VINS for care.

See a video of this grouse's care.

Upon exam, we found a large, open wound under his right wing. Since the torn tissue is right under the bird’s wing, we have to be very careful to avoid scarring so the wing retains its full range of motion and the bird will still be able to fly. To do this, we have to remove the dead and dry tissue around the wound, as you can see in our video, and cover it with a bandage and sterile dressing so the wound stays clean and moist.

While the grouse has been recuperating, he has also lost his appetite, which often happens to high-strung birds undergoing rehabilitation. It is essential we make sure all the birds that come into our care are able to eat well and maintain a healthy weight. To encourage the RUGR (Ruffed Grouse) to eat on his own, we have been offering him a mixture of mixed seed, diced fruit, live meal worms and shredded greens – similar to what a grouse would eat in the wild. Since the grouse was not interested in eating, we created a “birdy milkshake” for him out of a bird specific grain and veggie formula, and have been tube feeding him twice a day. As you can see in our video, to tube feed a bird we actually run a rubber feeding tube right down the throat into the bird’s crop – a food storing organ – so the bird can acquire all the nutrients he needs without all the effort of feeding himself.

Once the bird’s wound has healed and he is at a stable weight, we will release him back into the wild.