Toxic wastelands threaten Bird World

In the course of a few hours today, a friend living in Pennsylvania sent me the news and a video from Twitter showing the nuclear waste being pumped into a holding area in Sarasota, Florida. Moments later, the Cornell Bird Lab e-mailed the latest edition of Birdlife Magazine with its story of the threats to African vultures from farmers using anti-inflammatory pain killers, dielofenae, on their cattle to stop pain and increase milk yields. Another reader sent me an article on the red algae along the coast of Texas and Florida that causes damage to the nervous and digestive systems of marine life and the birds that eat the fish. All of this information arrived on my desk just moments after one of the chatters on the Achieva Osprey streaming cam in St Petersburg brought up the fact that the male Ospreys in the area, there are reported to be thirty Osprey nests, have to compete with lots of motor boats in order to feed their families.

I sat staring at the screen remembering that eons ago, my father fished with a motorboat in Lake Texhoma. It was a time when no one considered their environmental actions. What I remember were not only the 31.7 kg or seventy pound catfish my father regularly caught but also that beautiful iridescence floating on the water around the boat. As a child I did not understand that the fuel and the oil my father mixed with it was poisoning the fish that we would eat – and neither did he. We know better today.

Humans are capable of cleaning up much of the mess that we have made to the planet. When I was a graduate student, my advisor, Dr Klaus Klostermaier, informed me the reason that there were no insects in Germany was because the massive pollution had killed them all. The industrial area around Dusseldorf cleaned up the river system. It took some time but it was accomplished I think, also, of the groundbreaking work that Rachel Carson did on the impact of DDT and her book, Silent Spring. Today, we still feel the impact of DDT, despite it being banned now for nearly fifty years. That poison still remains in the soil and the plants. Bald Eagles in certain parts of the world still have thin egg shells because of it. Regardless of how long it takes and how defeatist some feel about our ability to survive a sixth extinction, I believe, like Greta Thunberg that we have an obligation – each of us as individuals – to try and make a difference. It doesn’t have to be some great international effort. The women saving the General Adjutant in Assam began at home and so can the rest of us.

In Winnipeg, members of the Manitoba Birding FB group are considering how to best address the issue of feeding bread to the ducks and geese at the ponds in our two big parks – St Vital and Assiniboine. Bread is not good for any bird. Yes, it fills them up and they seemingly love it but it is empty calories. It would be like us eating junk food all day long every day, losing our taste for good nutritious food. I know, first hand, that parents do not necessarily know that bread is bad for the birds. This was something that I did with my parents. For many, taking their children for a walk at the park and bringing a loaf of bread is almost free entertainment for an afternoon. We delight at the geese scurrying across the water of the pond to grab the bread. It makes people feel good. However, the bread is not only bad for the bird’s health, it also deteriorates in the water causing algae growth which leads to the death of the pond and the plants that the geese and ducks need. No one wants to take away the fun that people have feeding the ducks and geese. It is hoped that through education people will choose to find food that is healthy for both the birds and their ponds. My plan is to write our City Parks and Recreation Department asking that their staff put up posters on the buildings near the ponds or have permanent signs made at significant sites around the ponds. There should then be a convenient place for individuals to purchase appropriate food at a reasonable price. An option would be to license a vendor to sell food at the ponds. It’s a beginning!

Please feel free to grab this poster and spread it through social media and if you are a teacher perhaps include this in a science lesson. And for those of you who find yourself with a glut of lettuce in your garden, those ducks and geese will sure love it. Chop it up before heading out.

For those of you that do not live in Winnipeg, it is very possible that you have this very same issue. Check it out and see what you can do. It is one way to help the local birds.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate the messages and all of the information that you send to me. Next week I will be addressing the issues of dumping toxic and nuclear substances into the ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans. For now, I just want to smile. Someone on the Achieva Osprey chat said that they had never seen a chick like Tiny Tot/Lionheart/Braveheart/Tumbles/3 survive such testing conditions in any Osprey nest. Diane really filled him up this afternoon and even though the fish brought in around 6pm was not enough to feed it, the little one still had a crop and its little bottom is getting some flesh on it. So I want to close with an image of Tiny Tot’s large crop and another of Tiger and Lily, the two owlets living in a nest stolen from a Bald Eagle near Newton, Kansas. My how they have grown! Some days we just have to not allow the massive environmental issues to cloud the joy and the love we get from the birds. My friend, Phyllis, would say put it in a container and leave it there for a few hours – it isn’t going away!

It is a strange angle. Tiny Tot is preening but that big grey beach ball where you would think his head would be is his crop. He is on the far left. Oh, how I love this little bird – like so many of you. His determination to live, to not give up, to figure an angle around to get fed is impressive. It is day to day. He is getting a cute little tail and well, we hope for several fish in a row, large ones, tomorrow.

Tiny Tot ate and ate. Thank goodness. He will have enough to keep him til tomorrow. 3 April 2021

Tiger and Lily are being left alone more and more by their mother, Bonnie. Butt, no worries, she is just on another branch on the tree. Look at how big they are and how well they blend into the environment.

Thank you to everyone who wrote and sent me links to information today. I really appreciate it. Anyone reading this loves birds and we are all in this together. The streaming cams give us a glimpse into their lives that we would never have otherwise. We share their joys and their sorrows. Take care everyone. Stay safe!

Thanks also to the Achieva Credit Union and to Farmer Derek for their streaming cams. That is where I took my screen shots.

UC Berkley Falcons and quick Friday updates

The University of California Campus at Berkeley is ‘falcon crazy.’ They even named their basketball team the Falcons. Indeed, the feathered pair nesting on top of this beautiful building are ‘stars’. Everyone knows about them and gets excited – how grand is that?!

“The Campanile of UC-berkeley” by ChanduBandi is marked with CC0 1.0

The Campanile was designed in the Gothic Revival style and was completed in 1914. The tower, reminiscent of the Campanile di San Marco in Venice, is ninety-four metres or 308 feet hight and has four bells. It is the most recognized building on the University campus.

This is the view from the roof:

In 2016, a pair of Peregrine Falcons began to roost on the roof of the Campanile. Their scrape box is two floors up from the bells and to everyone’s amazement the bell concerts do not seem to bother the raptors. If it did, we can imagine that they would have left quickly. Most of the time it is a safe place to raise their young but they have had, like other nests, intruders checking out their prime real estate.

In 2017, the same pair returned to raise eyases. They were given the names Annie and Grinnell in honour of the founder and first director of UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Annie Grinnell. Annie is not banded and her history including how old she is remains unknown. However, Grinnell was banded in 2013 as a nestling near Martinez, California. All of their chicks are banded in the nest.

If you have read most of my blogs you will know that I am a great proponent of banding. The amount of information that can be discovered is significant. And for Birders on the Ground it is an opportunity to take part. It takes a village to chase after falcons and check their bands, photograph them, and then find the right person to contact to tell them of the sighting.

If you have never seen a nestling banded, here is your opportunity. This is a short video of Poppy, Sequoia, and Redwood being banded in the scrape box in 2020 along with a Q&A:

Annie and Grinnell made their first nest on a sand bag on the roof of the Campanile in March of 2017. Poor things! But they had nothing else. In the wild, Peregrine falcons make their nests on a the edges of cliffs with a sandy base or in gravel.

In the image below, Grinnell is incubating the eggs in the permanent scrape box. Notice that it is a simple enclosure, with a single opening at the front. Wooden rulers have been fixed to the frame of the door and the corners so researchers can check the height of the young. Simple pea gravel or small river stones line the bottom. This is the ‘nest’. No other materials will be brought in. The falcons will rub their breast into the gravel to make a hollow for the eggs.

When two of the eggs of Annie and Grinnell’s first clutch rolled off the sandbox and broke, the University decided to install a temporary scrape box. Annie and Grinnell accepted the box and fledged their first babies – two eyases- from the Campanile. They were a male named Fiat and a female named Lux. The names were derived from the University motto, Fiat lux, which means bringing knowledge to light. Fiat survived but Lux was killed by window strike.

The following year the University installed a permanent nest box for the pair hoping that they would return and lay their eggs again. In April of 2018, Annie and Grinnell had three eggs hatch. Named after three elements discovered at Berkeley the chicks were a male named Berkelium, another male named Californium, and a female named Lawrencium. All three fledged. Lawrencium is the only one of Annie and Grinnell’s chicks that has been spotted. She is nesting on the island of Alcatraz.

In 2019, the exploits of Annie and Grinnell were streamed to the world. That year two chicks hatched and were successful fledges. One was named Carson after Rachel Carson. Hers is a name that you should know. Carson is the author of the book Silent Spring that led to the banning of DDT. Cade was named after Tom Cade, an Ornithologist recognized for his efforts to both protect and reestablish Peregrine Falcon populations after they were wiped out by DDT. Cade was the founder of the Peregrine Fund. He died in 2019 at the age of 91.

In 2020, Annie and Grinnell fledged three – a female named Poppy, a male named Sequoia, and another male named Redwood.

It’s 2021 and Annie and Grinnell are incubating four eggs! The first was laid on 10 March, followed by the second on 12 March, the third on the 14th and the final egg on St. Patrick’s Day.

In the image below, Grinnell has arrived to partially incubate the first three eggs. The eggs can actually range from a cream colour to red but here you see that Annie has laid three lovely red eggs.

While it is known that falcons sometimes lay five eggs, it is rare. And this brings me to why I love falcons so much and it isn’t just their very ‘cute’ plumage. It is because of delayed incubation. Annie and Grinnell can hatch four eyases but I am not up worrying all night when one didn’t get fed or the eldest was aggressive – it would be rare for that to happen but I am aware that it does.

Grenville on hard incubation duty, 19 March 2021.

The embryos inside eggs only develop when they are warm. Peregrine falcons, Red Tail Hawks and other raptor species (other than Ospreys and various species of eagles) want their eggs to hatch at roughly the same time. That way there is not a significant difference in development. To achieve this synchronization, the early eggs are only partially incubated until all are laid. Then hard incubation begins. Annie and Grinnell will take turns incubating the eggs. After hard incubation starts the eggs will hatch in roughly 32-33 days after the last egg was laid. The eyases use their ‘egg tooth’ to help them get through the thick shell which can take from 24-48 hours. Pip watch should start about 19 April! I am so excited!

UPDATES: Speaking of pip watch, Jackie and Shadow can hear one of their little ones chirping in the shell. Big Bear Eagle fans are on hatch alert!

Maya and Blue 33 have both arrived at the Mantou Bay Nest at Rutland in the UK on 19 March. Blue 33 (11) came in at 12:29 and Maya was right behind him at 12:56.

Maya and Blue 33 (10) arrive at the nest in Rutland on 19 March 2021.

So far it appears that Blue 25 (10) is still waiting for her mate at Rutland.

The three on the Achieva Osprey Nest in St Petersburg, Florida have now been fed to the relief of everyone. The storm caused Jack to bring in only a small fish last evening. Brutus, the eldest, was very aggressive towards the smaller two and they went to sleep without any fish. (Brutus is the name given to the eldest by the chat group). First fish this morning was also small and caused aggressive behaviour. However, Jack went and brought in a nice sized second fish right away and everyone ate and were congenial.

Both were fed at the Duke Farms Bald Eagle Nest in Hillsborough, New Jersey so all is well on that nest.

Solly, the Port Lincoln Osprey, is 181 days old today. She spent the night at the Streaky Bay Hospital and has been out and about looking for fish. She loves this area. I hope it keeps her safe and is her forever home.

It’s nearly 4pm on a beautiful sunny day on the Canadian prairies. Let’s hope it stays that way so that everyone can get out for a walk and check on the local wildlife in their area.

Thanks to UC Berkeley Falcons, Duke Farms, Achieva Credit Union in St Petersburg, Big Bear for their steaming cams and Rutland Wildlife where I took my scaps and to Port Lincoln Ospreys and the PLO researchers for the satellite tracking for Solly.

Fun with Bonnie and Clyde

Great Horned Owls (GHOW) are found all across North America – literally, they exist everywhere from the hot swampy areas of Florida to the deserts of the Southwest to the prairies and mountains of Canada. There is currently no concern for them in terms of declining populations. Just because there is no decline does not mean that the owls should not be monitored. Monitoring means that researchers can see when a decline does happen and they can ask why.

The setting sun on Bonnie.

In the 1970s many bird populations were wiped out due to the use of DDT. DDT was a pesticide and it was banned in 1972 after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962 exposing the issues. It took a decade for change to happen but it did happen.

So the question then is, why in 2014 were birds dying in Michigan with levels of DDT poison so high in their brains that no one could believe the readings? Songbirds such as Robins, European Starlings, and bluebirds were dropping dead in people’s yards. DDT was not only found in the brains of the dead birds in enormous concentrations but it was also found in the worms that the birds ate. A professor at the University of Michigan looking into the phenomena found that the concentrations ranged from 155 to 1043 parts per million with the average being 552. The threshold for death is 30 parts per million. DDT persists in the soil and in the rivers. It thins the eggs of birds so that they break and cannot be incubated. It makes the birds sick and it is not a quick death but a slow painful one. The authorities in Michigan found that the Velsicol Chemical Corporation was responsible. Under their old name, Michigan Chemical, they manufactured pesticides. It is the area around their old plant where the soil, in 2014, was still saturated with the poison.

Today, the raptors – not the seed eating birds – have issues with various types of designer poisons for mice and rats. They are commonly called Rodenticides. In the United States, the name of one of the biggest companies manufacturing this poison is deConn. And, like when we want a tissue for a runny nose, many will ask for a ‘Kleenex’. Owls eat a lot of mice and rats. In fact, they are the absolute best and cheapest way to rid an area of these rodents. Someone could start a company, ‘Hire an Owl’.

And speaking of owls and mice, I have some great shots of Bonnie and Clyde for you tonight. And I have the answer to two questions sent to me by e-mail. I will incorporate those in the text. Thank you to those who wrote and asked – always happy to answer if I can or to help find the answer.

First of all, owls are noctural but like all other raptors they actually do a lot of hunting right at dusk and dawn. Owls do not see colour very well because nature provided them with sensitive dark-light rod cells instead of ones for differentiating colour. During the day, Clyde will sleep just like Bonnie, if she can. Clyde will not bring food to Bonnie during the bright light of day. But you might expect him to come, if prey is plentiful, right after dusk. Let us hope that none of the mice or rats that Clyde brings Bonnie have eaten any pesticides.

Dusk was at 6:39 pm in Newton, Kansas where the Bald Eagle Nest that Bonnie and Clyde are using is located. Between 6:55 and 8:04 pm, Bonnie made three trips off the nest. The first was at 6:55. She raises her head. Did she hear Clyde? She leaves the nest and returns at 7:03. That was eight minutes. She might have needed a bathroom break and she might have had something to eat.

At 7:21, we can see Clyde’s eyes. Clyde lands on a branch. Bonnie hears him.

Bonnie gets up. Clyde has brought her a mouse!

They do a quick exchange.

And Bonnie is back on the nest. It took a whole two minutes.

Bonnie takes another very short break from 7:57 to 8:04. Just like the first time she left this evening, the camera is fixed on the next so we cannot see what happens outside the frame. The temperature has really warmed up from the frigid minus degrees. It is 29 degrees F. The hunting might be a lot better because the mice will not be hunkered down with the cold. They will also be out looking for food while Clyde is looking for them!

Those beautiful big owl eyes are the reason that Clyde will be his busiest hunting within two hours of dusk and two hours of dawn. It is quite possible then that all three of Bonnie’s departures after dusk had to do with food deliveries and bathroom breaks together.

It is dawn, 6:27 am at the nest and Clyde has brought in his last mouse for the night. He arrives on his ‘regular’ branch. You should be able to see the mouse hanging out of his beak.

The pair have this all worked out. Bonnie and Clyde do some hoots and she flies up to the upper branch on the left.

Bonnie then flies up to grab the mouse from Clyde and within a blink that mouse becomes owl and she is back on her nest in two minutes. This couple is extremely efficient!

Besides hunting, Clyde’s other duty is to protect the territory of the nest and Bonnie. He will not be far away!

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Just a couple of quick observations for today and then something special at the end.

The little eaglets on the Southwest Florida nest at Fort Myers, E17 and E18 are itchy. E18 was preening 17 and then they both wake up in the night and start preening. You will see that their flight feathers are just starting to come in. (Note: The dark object is a piece of an armoured fish). Here are a few images of these two itchy characters:

E17 is preening E18
Flight and pin feathers make eagles itchy.

Over at the other eagle nest in NE Florida at St Augustine, little NE24 is getting its pin feathers, too. Sometimes these are called ‘blood’ feathers because they are filled with blood while they are growing. Some of you might remember that Hope, the oldest eaglet on Connie and Joe’s nest at Captiva, Florida died because she broke a blood feather and bled out. That was because of the rodenticide in the prey she had been fed. So blood feathers. Our new words for the day!

I am absolutely in love with this little eaglet. Maybe because it is all alone on that big nest without any siblings. But, at the same time, that is such a plus. There is no anxiety watching this nest. Gabby and Samson do a fine job taking care of this little one. And its eyes cleared up all on its own.

The soft glow of dusk is filtering through the trees in the swamp. NE24 has a nice crop before bed. You can see that the feathers are changing colour from white to grey. You can also see the pin feathers just starting to come in. Poor thing. It will not only have to deal with all those mosquitoes but now these things coming in!

Now for something just a little special. Most Bald Eagles do not start breeding until they are much older than five years even though they can at four to five years. In a nest in Minnesota supervised by the Department of Natural Resources, a four year old Bald Eagle male (called a sub adult) is going to get to see his first egg for the very first time. His beak is still a brown or amber colour instead of the bright yellow and he still retains some of the brown feathers mixed with the white on his head. It is thirteen minutes long – and no, he is not dirty. He is just a youngster. His eyes have not gotten light yet either. Enjoy!

Thank you again for joining with me to learn about the birds we all love so much. It is my pleasure to share them with you. Tomorrow we best check in on some Royal Albatross and what their satellite trackers are showing and we will also try and find Solly ——- and, of course, see what Bonnie and Clyde are up to. The weather patterns are shifting again and I am sad to say that the Bald Eagle Nest in New Jersey is once again covered with snow. This mom with three eggs under her never seems to catch a break.

Thank you to the streaming cams of Derek the Farmer, Duke Farms, SWFL Eagle Cam and D Pritchett Real Estate, NEFL Eagle Cam, and to Lady Hawk for making that great video of our young eagle dad.