Wednesday, August 27, 2014

VINS Incredible Insect Festival

Naturalist Photographer Sam Jaffe
Alyssa MacLeod
VINS Intern

What a perfect saturday in August - learning all about the wonderful world of insects at VINS. The Incredible Insect Festival on August 2 was a smash hit bringing out a total of 349 visitors. All day visitors were able to browse the large caterpillar collection of Sam Jaffe, an Master's student of environmental education at the Antioch University of New England. Among the over 50 different species he brought, my favorites were the Cecropia moth caterpillars. They were so big and colorful, I overheard one kid exclaim "It looks like candy!"

Being such a success as a first time event, I sure hope to be here for an even bigger turn out next year! There were many things I just didn't have enough time to try. For example, Anne Dannenberg taught some people how to make bee hives out of bamboo.  These small, easy to make hives are great to put around gardens to help attract pollinators, and also make great decoration! This activity was earlier complemented by a pollinator workshop also given by Anne. For those not interested in the workshop, story time was another alternative.

Story time was a blast with some stories read from books, some told from memory, and some acted out with puppets. Later in the afternoon I was also able to lead a bug hunting expedition. After quickly going over the basics of what a bug is, what they are good for, and how to collect them, those kids were itching to get their hands on a net. They each picked a net and a collecting jar and we were off to the field. We didn't make it far in before they started sweeping everything in sight. It was maybe 38 seconds into this adventure before I was called on to pull out my trusty field guide. Every insect was a fascinating find whether it was an invasive ladybug, a Halloween Pennant dragonfly, or an ambush bug. I thoroughly enjoyed how much they felt ownership over what they had caught and wanted to know more about it.
At the very end of the day as I was helping to clean up, I passed my dad who had come out for the day with my mom. He was practicing fly casting with a few other folks, led by Brian Burkholder. They were all so involved in this task, they nearly caught me with a cast a few times. It was clear to me that everyone found something to capture their fancy at this event from the 4 year olds enthralled by story time, to the older kids eyeing the candy-like caterpillars, and even the old-timers meditatively fly casting over and over again.

After spending my days this summer mostly helping kids to appreciate raptors better, I felt refreshed and invigorated spending a day helping others learn more about insects - my true passion. Being a naturalist, I love learning about all things - birds, bugs, plants, mammals, geology, etc - but without a doubt bugs are my favorite. As a group of organisms that often receives a "ewwww!" it was nice to see so many "ohhhs" and "ahhhs" at the VINS Incredible Insect Festival. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Falcon Finds Freedom

The peregrine falcon with his wing splinted.
by Calah Beckwith
Lead Wildlife Keeper

A juvenile peregrine falcon has made his way back home after a stint at the VINS Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. The young falcon came to VINS at the beginning of June after an unsuccessful first flight from his nest, in which he collided with a fence and suffered a fractured wing. 

As broken bones go, the little peregrine's fracture was concerning. The humerus (the bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow) had broken into several different pieces, and the fracture site was severely swollen and bruised. We immediately splinted and immobilized his wing, and he spent two weeks in his little bird "cast." When the splint was removed, we found that the fracture had healed perfectly - he had a large calcified"knot" at the fracture site, a sign that it was firm and strong. Shortly after the splint was removed, he was placed in an outdoor enclosure, where he could breath fresh air, stretch his wings, and strengthen his flight muscles.

The young falcon spends time in an outdoor enclosure
after his wing has healed.
By the end of July, the peregrine was ready to return to the wild. His family had been spotted daily at his original nesting site at the Entergy Vermont Yankee plant, so the VINS staff made the journey to Vernon, VT to reunite him with his parents and siblings. He made an amazing maiden flight and headed straight for the nesting site, where it is hoped he will follow the example of his family members and hone his hunting and flying skills.

Fully healed and recovered from his injuries, the peregrine falcon returns to his nest site.
Spot the bird in flight in the lower left corner of the photo; his nest site is at the tower in the upper right of the photo.