May 01, 2019

Field Observation7

On April 29th around 12:30 PM, I went to Oakledge Park on the banks of Lake Champlain for our last birding excursion. There, I saw two American Crows, one Ruby-crowned Kinglet, one Tufted Titmouse, one male Northern Cardinal, one Black-capped Chickadee, and one Eastern Phoebe.

Posted on May 01, 2019 23:42 by emquirk emquirk | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 24, 2019

Field Observation 6: Reproductive Ecology and Evolution

On March 11th at approximately 3:30 P.M., I ventured out to Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts. Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States, spanning over 700 acres and situated right on the banks of the Connecticut River. The majority of this land is forested, but it also features several ponds where I have noticed that many waterfowl tend to gather. It was this area where I intended to observe. On this day, the sky was relatively clear and the temperature was around 45 degrees Fahrenheit

During this bird walk, I witnessed a single Domestic Duck, a pair of Ring-billed Gulls, dozens of pairs of Mallards, and dozens of pairs of Canada Geese. Although I could not spot them, I was able to hear the songs and calls of a Tufted Titmouse, an American Robin, and a Blue Jay. I did a little research into the Domestic Duck after my visit. I learned that they're raised for meat and as pets for the most part so I wondered why this Domestic Duck was out in the wild among the other birds. I also found that Mallards and Domestic Ducks have the same scientific name and was additionally perplexed by this. Does this mean that Domestic Ducks can mate with Mallards? What would their offspring look like if they do? Are all Domestic Ducks white? What is this lone Domestic Duck's story; was it born here or was it let loose from a life of domestication? These are some questions that I would love to find the answers to.

As for mating and territorial behavior, it was immediately obvious right off the bat that the vast majority of waterfowl were paired up. They swam and moved as male and female pairs. However, since male and female Ring-billed Gulls look alike, I was unsure if the pair I saw were also male and female. I found several spots in the area that I thought might be great areas for the species I observed/heard. In the middle of one of the ponds was a mound of land that I approximate was 50 feet by 12 feet. I figured that this might be an ideal nesting spot for a couple pairs of Canada Geese due to the fact that they prefer elevated sites near water with unobstructed views in most directions. This mound of land in the center of the pond already had some Canada Geese sitting around. I found that the banks of the pond on the side opposite me may serve as a proper nesting site for any Mallard pair. These banks had various grasses and cattails lining them as well as trees overhanging them. Mallards have shown to enjoy nesting spots on dry land near water. Oftentimes, these nests can also be under plant growth. Lastly, although I could not spot the individual, I was able to hear the distinct song of a Tufted Titmouse. I found that Forest Park in general would be an ideal spot to nest in due to the high quantity and density of deciduous and evergreen trees such as maples and white pines, respectively. Tufted Titmice prefer a mix of these tree types and in great densities to nest in.

For about 7 minutes I sat in front of the pond and closed my eyes to listen to what birds I could hear. During this activity, I heard a total of 5 bird species: Canada Geese, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Blue Jay, and Ring-billed Gull. I heard multiple Canada Geese and I believe only individual calls and songs from the remaining species. Luckily and interesting enough, I was able to identify the songs and calls of all the species I heard!

Posted on April 24, 2019 17:04 by emquirk emquirk | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 15, 2019

Field Observation 5

On March 14th at approximately 3:30 P.M., I arrived at Forest Park in Longmeadow, MA. This is a public and recreational area with many ponds and forests. These three pictures were taken at or around a pond. That day, I spotted two Mourning Doves, one Blue Jay, about a dozen pairs of Canada Geese, and a Mute Swan that was too far away for me to take a decent picture.

Posted on April 15, 2019 18:36 by emquirk emquirk | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 08, 2019

Field Observation 4: Migration

On my previous birding excursion, I went to Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge in my hometown of Longmeadow, Massachusetts. I had spotted an abundance of birds and a variety of species that day and, as a result, I decided to venture out there again for this week's field observation. I drove out to the wildlife refuge on March 14, 2019 at approximately 12:30 PM. It was a beautiful day: the sky was clear, the wind was minimal, and the temperature was about 40 degrees. I went back out to around the same spot I had seen the most diversity of birds. This was located on the banks of Connecticut River and had a forest area beyond it.

During my time, I spotted dozens of Canada Geese, dozens of Mallards, a pair of Mute Swans (who I presume were the same pair I had seen on my previous birding excursion), a Song Sparrow, a male Red-bellied Woodpecker, a male Northern Cardinal, a House Sparrow, a few Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Red-tailed Hawk. Of these species, Mute Swans, Song Sparrows, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, and House Sparrows are resident species. Many of these species are able to survive the harsh winters of the Northeast because their food sources are typically seeds or bugs that live beneath the tree bark. In addition, some birds have the ability to undergo facultative hypothermia.

A facultative migrant that might be arriving in Burlington nowadays, is the Red-tailed Hawk. Their year-round range extends all the way down south to just the middle of Vermont; the remaining part of Vermont (including Burlington) is considered a breeding region for the Red-tailed Hawk. These birds might be arriving back from regions that are further south, due to their food source becoming more abundant as we reach springtime. Being a migrant that arrives back in early April can have its advantages and disadvantages. For one, April in the northeast is probably the most unstable month in terms of weather and could pose a risk to migrants due to the fact that freezing temperatures or snow could do some damage to the foods the birds feed upon. On the other hand though, arriving in early April could also give these birds their first choice at a prime nesting site.

For the mini activity, I used Google Maps to calculate that the total miles the migrant birds I saw at Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge may have traveled from their wintering grounds to arrive here. From my calculations, one rough estimate might be 658 miles.

Posted on April 08, 2019 17:12 by emquirk emquirk | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 25, 2019

Field Observation 3: Social Behavior and Phenology

Over spring break, I decided to go birding in my hometown of Longmeadow, Massachusetts. In my town, there's an area called Fannie Stebbins Memorial Wildlife Refuge located over several hundred acres of mostly floodplains, but also forests and old fields. This reserve is a hotspot for a variety of wildlife and it's a place that I have failed to really take advantage of growing up until this very point. I drove over to Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge at approximately 1:00 PM on Saturday, March 9th. The sky was clear, the wind ceased to exist, and the temperature was in the mid-forties.

I came across a spot in the refuge along the Connecticut River teeming with all types birds (it also probably helped that there were a few people feeding them). This spot was located on the Connecticut River with some banks of untamed brush. There was a pair of Mute Swans, a pair of Wood Ducks, dozens of Canada Geese, dozens of pairs of Mallards, about three Northern Cardinals, approximately five Red-winged Blackbirds, a White-breasted Nuthatch, and several kinds of sparrow, including the White-throated Sparrow pictured.

The first thing I noticed was how aggressive and confrontational the Mute Swans were toward some of the visitors observing them. One man pulled out a chair to sit in along the riverbank and the Mute Swan pair was visibly irritated by his actions; one of them even refused to move or seemingly break eye contact from the man for more than twenty minutes. The Swans weren't the only birds that seemed to be irritated that day with others. However, some of the Canada Geese seemed to have issues with their own kind and would honk or seemingly nip at other Canada Geese if they swam or walked too close. I imagine that this behavior is now due to the fact that it has become spring and flocks have started to split to start defending territories.

Two species of bids that I saw on my walk were the Wood Duck and the Northern Cardinal. Both of these species are considered sexually dimorphic. A male Northern Cardinal's plumage is a consistently brilliant red color whereas a female is more beige in coloration with some red tinges along their wings. I would imagine that females select males to mate with most strongly on the basis of how bright their plumage is. On the other hand, male Wood Ducks have a very fancy looking plumage with a reddish brown body with other intricate markings and a green crested head. To contrast this, female Wood Ducks are far duller and are mostly gray with a patch of navy blue along the wing. Like the Northern Cardinal, I feel as though it's fair to assume that females choose to mate with Wood Ducks with the most vibrant and distinct coloration.

Lastly, I attempted the mini activity that involved "pishing" to attract some smaller birds. I gave it several shots to try and attract the White-throated Sparrow I came across. Unfortunately, I didn't seem to notice any changes in its behavior. I'm not sure if it was because there were several other people around observing birds, if it was because the sparrow was alone, or if I just wasn't loud enough. I imagine that this sound might attract smaller birds into thinking that there's a stranger in their territory and might bring them around to the noise to see what's going on. Or, perhaps if a bird hears this noise and is within another individual's territory, it might signal that the bird should remove itself from that territory.

Posted on March 25, 2019 20:13 by emquirk emquirk | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 09, 2019

Field Observation 2: Physiology

On Thursday, March 7th at approximately 9:00 A.M., I ventured out for a campus bird walk before my later afternoon classes. It was a chilly morning at approximately 19 degrees, but the birds were still out and about and were making their presences known with their calls. In total, I saw about six American Robins and 11 American Crows but heard the calls of Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice in the distance as well. All of the birds I saw were budgeting their time by searching for food on the ground in patches where snow wasn't present, it appeared. On campus, I can imagine many of the smaller birds may attempt to build nests in the crevices of the parking garage, as it most likely limits the harsh winds and precipitation.

I began by leaving my dorm of WDW and immediately noticed an American Robin (pictured in the attached image) sitting in a small adjacent tree littered with berries (similar to the tree the Cedar Waxwing I viewed a couple of weeks ago). The bird was not doing anything too special; it merely sat on a branch, not making any sounds, almost as if it was just observing its surroundings I approached the bird until I came to a surprisingly close two feet or so, and I was incredibly shocked that it didn't even flinch with my presence. I noticed that the bird appeared to be eating very well, but then I remembered our lecture a while back on how birds attempt to adjust to the weather they endure. It's a bit difficult to tell in the picture, but this Robin had its feathers fluffed out extensively to retain body heat. I still found it odd at how close the bird let me stand near it, but after about ten minutes of watching the bird, I moved on.

I walked over back beyond the lacrosse and soccer field to the trees behind it to search for dead snags. I only analyzed a small portion of the woods but saw about two snags. These snags had several small holes and a couple of holes on the larger side. Snags are incredibly important to wildlife, especially birds, as it can provide a place for nesting and can harbor many bugs that birds rely on as a food source. Woodpecker species are well known to take advantage of snags and drum on them for food. Though important for birds, these snags didn't seem to have any active inhabitants.

After my walk, I went to attend my classes and then walked back to return to my dorm. On my way back, I passed by the tree that I had spotted the American Robin in earlier that day. I was absolutely stunned to see the bird in almost the exact same position (only on a branch half a foot higher) four and a half hours later. I was so perplexed and I observed him again; he still did not appear to be doing anything but his feathers were still fluffed to retain all the heat he could. I watched for another ten minutes until I got too cold and retreated inside. I would absolutely love to know why this American Robin let me get so close to him and why he had not changed his position for several hours, even on an extremely cold day.

Posted on March 09, 2019 04:17 by emquirk emquirk | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 21, 2019

Field Observation 1: ID and Flight Physiology

I went out birding around campus on February 12th at 4:00 PM. The temperature was cold but the sun was out with minimal clouds, nonetheless. The two species of birds that I ran into that day were the Cedar Waxwing, as seen in the image I have attached to this journal, and the American Crow.

I embarked on the birding excursion with two other peers in our Ornithology class so that we could provide each other with help if we ran into a species of bird one of us was unfamiliar with. I spotted a group of Cedar Waxwings (I counted about 16) in a tree that I was unable to identify, but concluded that it was probably an ornamental species. The Cedar Waxwings were consuming the berries on the unidentified tree. The American Crows, on the other hand, were not concentrated in any one area, rather, they seemed to be everywhere I looked--for the most part, I spotted them flying in the air or on the ground.

The flight patterns between the two birds, are quite different, as I observed. When I saw the Cedar Waxwings, I noticed that their wing flapping was quick and after a few flaps they would tuck their wings against their bodies, and then start the process over again. The American Crow's flight pattern seemed to be pretty consistent, their wings didn't move in a particularly fast pace, but at a more moderate pace. I am looking forward to going back out this semester to bird, especially as the weather gets warmer and more and more birds are around

Posted on February 21, 2019 04:27 by emquirk emquirk | 1 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment