xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo Silver Feathers Fall 1998 oxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox Silver Feathers is a production of The Senior Group, an informal group of older netizens. Silver feathers describes journeys, pleasures, plans, and musings about birds, nature, and environmental issues. ********************************************** Contents From the Nest on the Chippewa (editorial) News and features THE BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON Peregrine Falcons Released in Natural Habitat Fall Through the Eyes of Great Horned Owls Messages from Readers ***************************************** From the Nest on the Chippewa ***************************************** I have billed this as our "fall" issue, but I am aware of our readers from down under who are happily experiencing spring. Perhaps in a winter issue we will be able to ride the sun from extreme north to extreme south and explore what is happening in the natural world where the days are short and where they are very long. It is always interesting to look at nature with different perspectives and in this issue we see not a differing seasonal perspective but a species perspective as we see through the eyes of two very different but equally very sharp-sighted species, the Peregrine Falcon and the Great Horned Owl as presented by two very perceptive human observers. ***************************************** News and Features ***************************************** THE BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES firstname.lastname@example.org One cant help but admire this 11-12 gram passerine who lives here (northern Wisconsin) year-round pounding out a living during heat and below zero temperatures, during wind, rain and snowstorms, between leafless deciduous trees in winter, their emerging leaves in the spring and, their falling leaves in the autumn. They seem to endure the cyclical insect outbreaks and the ups and downs of conifer cone seed production. Adaptability IS the key to the BCCHs survival under these changing conditions. Being both an insect eater and seed eater, it can live here year-round. I, for one, am glad for it as it is one of the most interesting, curious, and friendly birds one can find in the woods. So friendly, in fact, that other bird species often feel welcome in chickadee flocks as they move about and forage through the woods. This species association seems to give the group an anti-predator advantage by using numerous sets of eyes and experiences that alert them to predators. When a predator is detected, they will alert each other to its presence using their various unique alarm calls. Thus, the whole group of birds benefits, ensuring more of their kind to survive a potential predator attack. There are no couch potatoes among chickadees as they are always moving and working hard all day long at whatever they are doing. They must be good at what they do as some of the most experienced birds live to be 10 to 11 years old. The BCCH has one of the highest work ethics among bird species and, oh, wouldnt it be nice to have a bit of their energy? BCCHs can be both friendly and aggressive (have you ever tried to take them out of a mist net?), easy to see in non-breeding periods and elusive during nesting periods, which gets me back to answering the original question. People who have sunflower feeders usually have lots of BCCHs coming to them most of the year. However, many BCCHs disappear during the nesting season in spring and early summer. Have you ever wondered why? A lot of people have. BCCHs live in an alternating social system: non-breeding flocks in the fall and winter, and monogamous, territorial breeding pairs during the spring and summer. Winter BCCH flocks are organized into distinct, linear pecking orders, or dominance hierarchies. In the winter, BCCHs are hard to miss, as winter BCCH flocks are frequently easily attracted to our bird feeders and by pishing. In spring, the flocks break up into pairs, and their behavior changes dramatically. Breeding BCCHs can be very inconspicuous. Once territorial boundaries have been established, the resident chickadees are usually very quiet as they proceed with nesting and rearing of young. Indeed, this change from noisy flocks to very quiet breeders leads some people to believe that the BCCHs have left in the spring, when active BCCH nests may actually be quite close by. A nesting pair of chickadees may be all that you see at your feeders; the pair that has a territory in the area of the feeders an who will chase out other BCCHs who cross into their territory. After breeding and nesting is completed, the juvenile BCCHs will disperse and join the local adults to form new flocks for the coming winter that will, once again, appear at feeders in great numbers. In fact, some BCCHs families are already coming to feeders as the BCCH nesting season winds down. And to that I can only say, Welcome back BCCH! ____________ DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON Ruth Robins-Jeffery email@example.com Nature never ceases to amaze me! Night before last, since rain wasn't predicted and we planned on doing a bit of tidying the following day, I left our old station wagon in the driveway and the garage doors in 'up' position. Next morning I noticed that during the night a large Barn Spider had stretched a triangle of web across an upper corner of the garage door. And, for PEI, that spider was a big one. His legs were at least an inch long and he had a fat, bloated body the size of a pie cherry. Shuddering slightly (I am not arachnaphobic, but I give spiders a wide berth just the same) I backed the tractor out of the garage and went about the business of mowing the south lawn and the orchard. A couple of hours later I returned to discover a dozen or so bees (some kind of honey bee, I think) excitedly flying first towards, then back away from, the spider's web, a couple even becoming briefly entangled. And they were some upset! The noise those angry little creatures could make was unbelievable. Peering into the web I recognized the reason for their concern: Mr. Spider had captured one of their family and pulled it up into his corner. The poor thing was still moving, but the situation looked pretty hopeless. Not only did I feel instant pity for that trapped creature, I was also reminded of "THE FLY" and actor David Hedison's tiny, tinny voice squeaking "...help me!...help me!" Having just mowed our mosquito-infested orchard and still protected by my 'bug-off' shirt, I edged towards the web. The bees backed off, almost with respect, it seemed. Using a bamboo-handled hand cultivator, I eased it up into the corner and gently removed the bee from the spider's clutches. The erstwhile captive flew into the protection of his mini-swarm and instantly became unidentifiable. Whether disoriented or merely furious at being deprived of his dinner, Mr. Spider charged out of his mutilated web and down the groove the garage door slides in. Big mistake! The bees zoomed in, buried him under a buzzing, moving blanket, and when they were finished the spider's legs were crumpled and his once bulbous body looked like a withered grey raisin. Apparently my intervention had saved one creature and doomed another! I also found it interesting that, before taking off, the little squadron flew around my head a several times. A 'thank you' salute, perhaps? ...and is it possible those bees now think that 'God' dresses in a mesh suit and has a long thin arm with hooks at the end?" ________________ Peregrine Falcons Released in Natural Habitat Jim Olson While there has been a great deal of success and publicity about the Peregrine Falcon recovery programs within Canadian and American cities, the ideal recovery from an ecological point of view would be to have the Peregrine return to its natural habitat along hills and cliffs of various river courses. Here in the upper midwest, namely Wisconsin and Minnesota the problem has been that the habitat along the Mississippi River bluffs has seen an increase in Great Horned Owls, one of the predators that seems to have benefitted by human alteration of the environment. Unfortunately, the owls have proven to be effective predators of young peregrines. The following report of a release of a number of Peregrines in Minnesota may indicate that this problem may not entirely doom attempts to get the peregrine back into its natural niche. From: Raptor Resource Project firstname.lastname@example.org Last evening several DNR biologist joined me at the release site. Did we get a show! We saw one falcon catch a pigeon like it was standing still and carry it off down river. Another falcon caught a small passerine at the bottom of a 1000 foot stoop. Two other falcons were observed driving an Osprey right into the drink. One female stooped and knocked lots of feathers out of a Turkey Vulture and another tiercel forced a kestrel up out of sight into the heavens. At one time we had eight falcons accounted for. Our observations spot is most scenic. One looks up river at the cliff hack site and can not see any cities, building, etc, except for a silo on the WI side of the river. These falcons have now been one wing for almost one month and completely dominate the river valley. One has to wonder that if these released, unprotected young falcons can survive, surely territorial adults can only improve the odds. We have been told over and over again that "Great Horned Owls are ubiquitous and releasing young falcons anywhere on the river could not be done". We can now begin look at the cliffs of the Mississippi River with some hope that falcons could actually be there! I have a hundred mile round trip drive and a hour and half hike through the woods each day to feed and manage this hack site. Does not leave much time for other Project business right now. The passerines are beginning to migrate and this will surely cause some of our young falcons to drift away. Should be completed with this release in another two weeks at most. The Effigy Mounds cliff release has far exceeded my expectations. _________ Fall Through the Eyes of Great Horned Owls Marge Gibson email@example.com A writer recently asked me "Is it normal for great horned owls to be singing at this time of year? I heard two serenading at 6:30pm tonight. One sang in a low voice, the other answered in a higher pitch. There was still a good amount of daylight left. They carried on for quite a while despite the objections of the local crows and blue jays. I usually don't hear them until December." My local pair of GHO's were vocal early this morning too, as were the Barred Owls. The resident crow family has been having fits with them! The sudden drop in temperature, cloudy mornings and rain makes the birds more active during the daylight hours, and may well bring on some romantic thoughts. Great-horned's are well able to function in the daylight hours especially if it is cloudy or foggy. It is pretty early for the true courtship routine, but about the right time for a pair to rejoice after having fledged their young and finally have them hunting on their own after a very long 8 to 9 months of solid dependency. Life is good. Wisconsin is blessed with a great bunny and grouse population this year. The fields are filled with field mice. The kids are on their own and have plenty to eat if they make even half an attempt. Not to mention the fact that the owls are very quiet with vocalizations during the time when they have dependent young. Jeez! I feel like hooting myself. Finally, and probably one of the most important would be the pair are declaring the boundaries of their territory for other youngsters as they began to disperse from their natal area. The time between the hoots should get closer until they are almost one as they do begin serious courtship. Enjoy! Nothing like a rising moon, a chill in the air, autumn leaves under foot and owls hooting in the distance. ****************************************** Feathers (messages from Readers) ****************************************** From: CB4Cyndie@aol.com (1) Written 8/11/98: Yesterday (8/10) I did something I've never done before: went for a boat-ride in a canoe. (Who says old dogs can't learn new tricks?) My friend Dorothy and I boarded her canoe from her place at Caddo Lake TX and headed out from Pine Pond toward Mossy Break (hey, I wasn't the captain or navigator on this trip, but only the crew, so I don't know exactly where we were) to find wood storks, white ibis, Mississippi kites, anhingas, and anything else that looked promising. Well, we missed on the anhingas but the trip wasn't a total loss I added 6 life birds to my list: Wood stork, including an immature bird (still a bit downy on its head) who flew across our "path" and then posed on a nearby dead tree limb long enough for Dorothy to take some pictures. I hope they turn out, White ibis (adult and immature birds, in flight and grazing), Snowy egret, Little blue heron, (blue adults and white immatures), Yellow-crowned night-heron and Mississippi kite. When I told Dorothy how excited I was at finding a yellow-crowned NH "at last," she commented that she'd rather see a black-crowned NH since they're not as common down here as the yellows. Then as we zipped around a curve we found a black-crowned NH waitin' for us. The snowy egret and immature little blues were feeding and flying near each other which gave me an excellent opportunity to compare them to each other AND to the great egrets which seemed to be everywhere, and learn the differences between them. We were pretty much focused on herons, egrets, and storks, but we also enjoyed seeing and hearing other species, including red-shouldered hawks (one flew slowly across the channel just ahead of us, "KEE-er-KEE-er-KEE-er"-ing for all it was worth, providing a textbook lesson on what a red-shouldered hawk looks and sounds like) red-bellied, downy, and pileated (a female) woodpeckers eastern wood-pewee acadian and great-crested flycatchers American and fish crows blue jays and northern cardinals eastern kingbirds tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees white-breasted nuthatch "dueling" Carolina wrens, apparently singing and chattering in response to each other, blue-gray gnatcatcher eastern bluebird red-eyed vireo a northern parula who hung off the tip of some overhanging Spanish moss so close to us, I thought for a moment he/she would hop right in the boat with us summer tanager (female or immature male) indigo buntings and Dorothy spotted ruby-throated hummers at feeders on the porch of a bed and breakfast near Bradley Bridge. As we turned around and headed back up-channel to Dorothy's, a barred owl was apparently awakened by the noise of our passage and called after us until we were well out of ear-shot. But our adventure wasn't over: as we made the final turn toward her dock, Dorothy spotted a kite soaring high overhead, occasionally tucking its wings and plummeting after something (dragonflies? grasshoppers?). There were several black and turkey vultures sharing the sky with the kite so I was given a chance to compare the kite to other soaring birds, a good lesson for a beginner like me not to discount any soaring bird as "just another vulture or hawk," but to take a closer look. Taking the canoe out on a quiet Monday morning was a lot of fun, and since I didn't fall overboard and drown, I'm already looking forward to the next time. Cyndie Browning CB4Cyndie@aol.com Atlanta, TX (near Texarkana) ___________ From: "Hall, Kent" firstname.lastname@example.org Fellow Bird Chatters: The following story was run in the Stevens Point Journal, Pg. 2, on August 31. It is reprinted with permission of Ms. Debbie Bradley, Editor of the SPJ. If anyone would like to send it on to others, permission is granted. Hamerstrom was conservation pioneer Frances Hamerstrom of rural Plainfield, a noted wildlife researcher and author, died Saturday. She was 91. Her death followed a lengthy illness, but as recently as the winter of 1996-97 she traveled to Peru, in the upper reaches of the Amazon, to study the rain forest. She and her husband Frederick, who died in 1990, were admitted in 1996 to the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame, located in the Schmeeckle Reserve at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Both studied under the famed ecologist Aldo Leopold at the University of WI-Mad. She received an M.S. degree--the only woman to earn one under Leopold. And she was said to be the nation's first female graduate in wildlife management. Although they studied many forms of wildlife, the Hamerstroms were best known for their work with the Gr. Prairie Chicken. Once an abundant game bird in WI, the prairie chicken population was dwindling when they moved to Plainfield in 1949 to head a study for the Conservation Department, now the WDNR. They were credited with playing a major role in keeping the bird from disappearing from the state. They advocated a program to buy and protect grassland habitat, and helped induce the Dane County Conservation League and the Society of Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus to acquire thousands of acres of land for the birds on the Buena Vista Marsh in southern Portage County and the Paul Olson Wildlife Area west of Stevens Point. Fran Hamerstrom, the former Frances Flint, was born in 1907 in Boston, MA. She had a privileged childhood, spent part of her early life in Europe and at one time was a fashion model in the East. She married Frederick Hamerstrom in Orlando, FL, in 1931. She claimed they wed because "the police were after us because we were traveling together and weren't married." A formal ceremony was held several months later "to make my mother happy." She flunked out of Smith College in Northampton, MA, but later graduated from Iowa State before pursuing graduate work at the UWM. They had come to Wisconsin in 1935. At Plainfield, they and their two children lived in a pre-Civil War house with few conveniences, and which they shared with owls and other wildlife. In spring, throngs of people spent the night with them before rising early to watch prairie chickens do a mating dance on their booming grounds. She once estimated that they had played host to 7,000 people who came to see the performance. Personal Story Not in Paper: One day I visited the Hamerstroms and spent late morning and early afternoon with them. I then told Fran that I had to be leaving for home. She said, "but Kent, it is time for our afternoon swim". It seems they had some ponds on the property and she , Fred and the "gaboons" took a daily swim. But, I said, I didn't bring a swimming suit. She laughed and said, "surely you jest, we don't wear swimming suits here". I managed a weak grin and headed out with them. I compromised and wore my underwear but Fran didn't mind --she went in bare naked. She was the first woman I ever saw who was tan all over! She was definitely not a traditional person. The Hamerstronsw retired from the DNR in 1972 but kept on with their wildlife studies. In summer, they worked with apprentices who stayed with them to study. They called them "gaboons," an African word meaning slaves. The apprentices came from this country and abroad, and many of them went on to prominent careers in wildlife management. She continued to take in apprentices even after her husband's death, and she kept on with her wildlife research. Her study of kestrels (sparrow hawks) went on for more than 20 years. She had a great interest in the protection of the tropical rain forests and traveled to Africa and South America to study them. She had respect for the primitive tribes inhabiting the rain forests, saying, "They're not destroying their habitat." Mrs. Hamerstrom was the author of a dozen books, generally on nature subjects. One was "The Wild Foods Cookbook." Another, the autobiographical "My Double Life: Memoirs of a Naturalist," was described by Audubon magazine as "lovely and illuminating." In it, she wrote, "I hope now that those teen-agers who feel alone and desperate as I once did, will take hope from this book. Finally, I turned out all right as a person, as a wildlife biologist, as a wife, and as a writer." The Hamerstroms worked closely with the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point and were adjunct professors there. Their wildlife research didn't keep them from hunting with guns and falcons. Species, not individual animals, are what count, they said. In a 1993 interview, Mrs. Hamerstrom said, "I've had an extremely rich life. I wouldn't trade it for anybody else's."