Friday, June 11, 2010

A Magic Fleece and Some Clean, Fresh Water for the Birds

Bird rescue time is now.  Even with a spring as lovely as this year’s, the time for bird rescue is as inevitable as the above-90-degree days.  In fact, they began about three weeks ago.  We have collected about ten birds so far.  The majority have been great egrets.  There was also one snowy egret, and one night heron.  The night heron had some horribly infected wounds, and one adult great egret had a broken wing, but for the most part, the birds have had no injuries, or their injuries have not been life threatening.

The great egrets are getting pretty mature and will probably be out of the woods soon and able to feed themselves.  On the other hand, the snowy egrets have just hatched, as have some of the cattle egrets.  So most of our work is still ahead of us.  I thank those of you who have phoned me.  Please accept my apologies if I have not returned your calls.  I have been traveling quite a lot and enormously busy.

The magic fleece.  I urge each one of you to walk around the rookery as often as possible and be prepared to rescue any fledgings who need help.  I recommend that you keep a small cardboard box (about 18 inches x 18 inches) in your car and line it with a square of soft polyester fleece. These kinds of fleeces are inexpensive (About $8 to $20, depending on the size).  We bought ours (about 3 ft x 3 ft) from the cat section of PetsMart, but larger squares of the same material are available in the bedding/camping departments of Target and other stores.  This material works much better than a blanket.  The soft polyester seems absolutely magical for calming the animals and helping them to recover from shock.

Nowadays, when we find a bird in need of help, we pick him up with the fleece blanket, wrap him up right away, and then deposit him, all bundled up, into the box.  From experience, we know that this works with pigeons, grackles, great egrets, and snowy egrets.  For example, one grackle that we found last fall tossing around in shock near a highway access road, quickly went to sleep after being wrapped up in the stuff.  A few hours later, when we opened the box to check if he was still alive, he was standing perfectly on his feet and looking at us as if to ask what all the fuss was about.  By the next day, he was flying around, and soon after that he was released.  One great egret that we had found head down, shoulders slumped, and near collapse, also went to sleep.  He looked so far gone that we considered letting him be.  He made no sound at all in the car on the way to Rogers.  Imagine our surprise when he woke right up at Rogers and started to poke around the medicine cabinet.

A dust bowl for a pond?  Earlier this evening, we discovered that the small rookery stream and pond were drier than we had seen them even during years of severe drought.  In fact, there was not a drop of water in them.  The pond had essentially turned into a dust bowl, and there were quite a few dead egrets in it.

Some of you might have noticed that, about a month ago, the corner of West Campus Drive and Butler road was partially cordoned off and covered with large metal plates because of some underground work involving pipes.  We think the water from the rookery might have been detoured and drained away.  We hope we are wrong about this.

A polite inquiry to Kirby Vahle about the pond and a request that it be refilled might help to sort this out.  Hopefully, the pond simply needs to be refilled.  Last year, Vahle kindly had the pond refilled when it was low.

The Gulf disaster.  Many of the birds from the rookery will fly to the Gulf in the fall, hoping to spend their winter there, or to stop there on their migrations to winter homes in Central and South America.  I am terrified for them, as I am sure many of you are.  This is a good time to start thinking about how we might help them survive the trip.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Great-Egret Chicks Here and All Rookery Birds on Site!

For a while last month, the rookery looked sad and ragged.  In addition to the naturally disappeared periphery, several cedar elms had collapsed from the last snow storm, old age, or other causes, exposing much of the place.  It was as though the rooms of a large residence had lost many of their walls, allowing one to see through the ruins from one end to the other.  The lack of foliage should have made for easy photos, but the great egrets were exceptionally nervous.

It took surprisingly little time for new shrubbery to regrow along the periphery and privacy to be restored.  The great egrets settled into their nests almost immediately.  So rapidly in fact, that although they arrived in Dallas a week later than usual this year, their nests are right on schedule.  Last week we found several of them filled with bobbing, spiky-headed chicks.  They looked to be already about two weeks old.  At all hours of day and night, the place now resounds with Quak-quak! Quak-quak! Quak-quak! Quak-quak!

Large parties of ibises circle over the rookery, particularly in the afternoons.  The anhingas are back too, gliding high overhead.  Their silhouetted triangular tails are unmistakable.

One of us has discovered that large parties of great egrets leave the rookery at dawn.    They number over five hundred -- far too many to issue from only this site.  So it appears that individuals from other places are gathering at the rookery before going out together  to feed at some body of water.  Presumably near to the rookery as the egret flies?  It would be interesting to discover where this is.

The cattle egrets, usually the last ones here, arrived this week.  They are in gorgeous form, all golden on the head and chest.  The little-blue herons are on site too.

The interpretive signs still look terrific.  The new "no tresspassing" signs, on the other hand, seem much more fragile than the old ones.  Several are already warped.  It is unclear what caused this.  Surely not the wind?  One near the memorial garden is lying in the grass after being knocked off its post by a fallen hackberry branch.

Whenever anybody complains to me about our overabundance of rain this year, I tell them I am hoping for more cool and wet weather for the birds' sake.  They deserve a break.  So far, so good.