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!