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!