Silver Feathers   Fall 1998

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.



    From the Nest on the Chippewa (editorial)

    News and features

        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
perceptive human observers.

    News and Features



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

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!



Ruth Robins-Jeffery  rrobjeff@pei.sympatico.ca

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

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   rrp@salamander.com

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   dgib@newnorth.net

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

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

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

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
Atlanta, TX (near Texarkana)


From: "Hall, Kent"  khall@uwsp.edu

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

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."