Monday, August 31, 2009

Lonesome Fred and the Party 'Round the Block

If you visit the rookery around lunch time, as you come around the basketball court, you will probably see Lonesome Fred. Fred is the last great egret juvenile of the season to fly. He graduated from “wading” in the grass earlier last week, to gliding 3 feet above ground last Friday, and lifting himself 20 feet up a tree today. He is not yet ready for sustained flight. Despite regular offerings of fish in the troughs, he is thin and ever famished. We watched him gulp 24 fish in one sitting today, wag his tailfeathers pleasurably, and immediately look around for more. My word, egrets eat a lot! Let us keep an eye on Fred and continue the feedings.

To our amazement, Fred is not a bit lonesome at night! Around 8 p.m., small parties of birds began gliding into the rookery from the southwest. As this developed, we strolled around the rookery to get a better sense of things. Adult little-blue herons, ibises, great egrets, and snowy egrets, together with their young, flew overhead and everywhere. They kept coming in until they numbered about 200.

We found Lonesome Fred looking ready to turn in for the night. He even yawned once or twice. He stood on a big hackberry well away from the party.

The seriously “happening place” was the corner nearest to the staff parking lot and entry into the wooded path. The birds were perched, not in their former nests, but well "outside” the rookery, high atop the oaks and cedar elms, over the grassy areas. There was much talk and pleasantry, and lots of hopping beween branches to mix with other parties.

This resurgence of visits from large numbers of egrets began last Friday. This is unprecedented and certainly temporary.

I recommend a dusk promenade by the rookery this week. The festive atmosphere will cheer you. The marvelous sight of the white birds against the darkening orange-lavender sky is terrible for photos and perfect for reflection.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wandering Juveniles

As one disciplines oneself to observe the natural world, one learns that:
  • It is easy to see what comes and goes,
  • Difficult to see what is always around,
  • And harder still to see what is missing but should be there.
For example, since last year, the rookery’s nesting season became strangely abbreviated by nearly two months.  This year, the season is being cut short because of the disappearance of the cattle egrets early in the Summer.
Two years ago, on 28 September, I watched with pleasure as a little gang of juvenile cattle egrets and one of their juvenile white-ibis friends scoured the freshly-mowed grass for crickets and grasshoppers.  Had I not had the sense to snap a few photos, we might have had no record of this.  But here is one of the photos that was meant to be my own celebration of a successful finish to the 2007 season.  I miss those dear little friends very much.
Already this year, on 20 August, the heron-and-egret season is drawing to a close.  Fewer than 10% of the birds are still here.  The adult ones leave the site early every morning with the juveniles who are strong enough to travel to White Rock Lake and other places where they can feed themselves.  Contrary to all that I have read about herons and egrets abandoning their young, I see the consciencious parents return to the rookery at dusk.  Once there, they put their young through some rather exhaustive exercise drills, probably after administering a daily feeding.
During the day, however, those juveniles who are not yet strong fliers, shuffle about the rookery feeding themselves as best as they can. This population numbers about 50 and is made up almost entirely of great egrets (white as juveniles but smaller than their parents), black-crowned night herons (brown-and-beige striped as juveniles), and white ibises (grey-backed as juveniles). The ibises are shier than in previous years and limit most of their wanderings to the early hours of the morning.
The rookery has little to offer these baby birds in the way of food, apart from a handful of crickets and earthworms.  Our Society has greatly reduced the casualties among these young birds this year by providing them with regular feedings of minnows.  It should be possible in future to eliminate those casualties altogether.
What you can do right now:
We need continued help with the feedings and with keeping the water troughs full of clean water.
In addition, please watch the remaining birds.  When you see a bird, walk directly toward the bird and observe his response.  A well bird should fly to a higher spot, because all the juveniles are now able to fly.  Any bird who lets people get close is probably famished.  Even if the bird walks away slowly, this is probably signaling some listlessness and an inability to fly.  If the bird makes no effort at all to move away, the bird urgently needs help, no matter how beautiful he looks.
Other news:

Numerous “No Trespassing Signs” now surround the woods.  Two interpretive rookery signs were installed yesterday by Physical Plant, thanks to Kirby Vahle.  One is near the memorial garden, the other is across from the basketball court.  The photo at left shows a sign being inspected for errors.  The signs, apart from being beautiful, seem to have inspired a great deal of protectiveness.  I was rather pleased to be pulled aside twice yesterday, as I tried to peek into the pond, and required to explain what I was doing.
I will write again soon with political news and our extensive plans for the “off-season”.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Shooting in or Near Rookery

Today we rescued a great egret quite different from our previous rescues:
  1. He was not in the rookery but in the faculty parking garage around 11 a.m. (I had to stomp on brakes to dodge him.).
  2. He was not an innocent docile juvenile, but a full grown adult Great Egret, in excellent health apart from his wound, and he was not one to suffer fools gladly.
There was blood all over his right side and wing. My first thought, since I narrowly avoided hitting him, was that another car had hit him. But closer examination showed that all the blood was streaming from a small round hole through his upper wing. This Egret had recently been SHOT with a BB gun. The pellet hit a vein, which accounted for the blood, but luckily it missed the wing bones. If the shot had been larger, or struck less than an inch higher, the bird would have been crippled. The egret is being treated to prevent infection but should easily recover.

Who would do such an awful thing? The folks at the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center believe the bird could have flown, painfully, even in his bruised condition, from a nearby residential area.

It seems unlikely that anyone is shooting at birds in the rookery. Nevertheless, we should look out for a maniac with a BB gun, probably a kid.

In other news:

We were in Madison (Wisconsin) last week and made a side trip to visit the International Crane Foundation (ICF).
There we learned that some cranes cool off on very hot days by riding the thermals up into the cooler upper air and circling as long as they can. This might explain why the Anhingas were circling high in the sky two weeks ago and dropping into odd places.

The anhingas might be gone for the year. I saw none in the sky today.

The ibises are probably not too far behind. Today I saw a small family overhead that included the first flying ibis juveniles I've seen this year.

The rookery looks no worse for our absence. Thanks to everyone who pitched in, especially Anna, Peter, and Valerie.