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.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

VINS Raptor Camp Wrap-up!

By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern

What has two legs, is full of energy and really, really loves birds? If you guessed a camper at VINS Raptor Camp then you guessed correctly!

The last two weeks of raptor camp were bursting with excitement as kids grades 4-6 explored the world of raptors right here at VINS in Quechee.
Campers had some special opportunities to go behind the scenes in Wildlife Services (our avian rehabilitation department) watch bird programs, and help staff with daily raptor feedings. Each day presented an up-close-and-personal encounter with a bird, and campers were learning without even knowing it.

As campers explored the different adaptations birds use to survive, they had to recreate those adaptations, dressing up one of their group members and explaining why those adaptations were important to that individual bird.
Now when it came to owl pellets, the fur and bone a raptor coughs up the after eating their prey, we not only dissected some, we ate some! Not to worry: we created owl pellets with the help of some oats, chocolate and sugar.

As our week progressed, the campers saved the day by helping the staff locate one of our lost birds (a stuffed, fake bird, of course) by learning how to use telemetry and how biologists and researchers use this tool to track not only raptors, but other animals as well.
Friday turned out to be the busiest day for raptor camp. Campers learned how to hold our education eastern screech owl; they were again greeted by a guest speaker from the National Park Service, but the last Friday of camp was also significant for many reasons. Campers had been learning about how injured birds came into Wildlife Services, were cared for, and were then released back into their natural habitat. They learned how the action of one person can make the difference for one bird.

On Friday Aug. 19, four of VINS camps, along with members of the public, had the opportunity to see two juvenile broad-winged hawks released back into the wild. What a wonderful way to end an exciting week!
A special thank you to Sam, KB, and VINS staff for all of their hard work and support. See you next year!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Turning the Tide on Invasive Species

If you take a walk through the woods or fields around your home you may encounter plants that don't belong.  In many of our local communities, these invasive species are quietly out-competing native species.  In the picture below, someone is using a weed wrench to remove some of these unwanted visitors.  

The diversity of natural and man-made wildlife corridors throughout the Ottauquechee River watershed has created a perfect environment for the proliferation of invasive plants in the watershed.  Invasive plants are introduced through human and animal movements to habitats outside their native range.  In the invaded habitats, free of natural competitors and predators, invasive plants can proliferate and persist to the detriment of the habitats’ native species.  Invasive plants can cause widespread harm by out-competing native plants, increasing erosion along stream banks and clogging waterways, providing less nutritious food and insufficient cover for wildlife, decreasing the economic and production value of pasturelands, and burdening municipal and state agencies with expensive removal and restoration projects.  The Ottauquechee River watershed has become home to more than 30 noxious, invasive plant species that have had a major negative impact on the watershed’s natural habitats and infrastructure.  

The constant spread of invasive species can seem overwhelming.  But there are things you can do to help turn the tide.  The OCISMA (Ottauquechee Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area) is hosting an educational workday at VINS on Friday September 9th from 9-12pm.  Join us for a fun morning of learning about common invasive plants and effective control techniques.  We will focus on species found around the property including Japanese Barberry, Garlic Mustard, and Common Buckthorn.  Bring some work gloves, water bottle, and enthusiasm for the outdoors!  Learn what you can do to make a difference!

For more information, please contact Mandy, the OCISMA Coordinator at 802-359-5000 ext.240 or email  Hope to see you there!