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”.

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