Journal archives for March 2019

March 25, 2019

Field Observation 3: Social Behavior & Phenology

I went to Oakledge Park in Burlington, VT on Thurs., March 21, 2019. I arrived at about 4:45 PM and the sun was out and the temperature was ~40 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the first full day of Spring. During the entirety of the expedition it was ever so slightly drizzling rain. This effected some of the species behaviors as many were residing in thick brush of low bushes, or conifers perhaps to stay dry to maintain body heat.

The first sighting was a Turkey Vulture. Though it was seen from quite a distance and was dark against the blue sky, the characteristic "V" shape of its wings in its "wobbly" flight pattern, as well as its body size, made us believe that is was indeed a Turkey Vulture. It was flying solo and disappeared elsewhere soon after we arrived. Turkey Vultures has distinctive red heads leading me to believe this color must have been a result of an evolutionary advantage. Perhaps the red-heads may have allowed for Turkey Vultures to be more easily spotted by a potential mate, and the brighter the head, the more easily they would be picked out. Their black/brown body may also have helped them blend in better with their surroundings or absorb more heat.

The second sighting was, to no surprise, an American Crow. The crow was sunbathing, sitting on the edge of a branch. I have always wondered if their black coloring, helps increase their ability to bask in the sun to stay warm. This may have been an evolutionary trend as many birds have black coloring like the European Starling. He was cawing, I believe to let other birds know that it was his spot to sunbathe.

There were also two Ring-billed Gulls flying over the shoreline of the lake together. The gulls flying in a pair matches up with their circannual breeding season as in Vermont they tend to breed in mid-April. Meaning, they must begin to find breeding ground and mates around now. wonder if the reason they are white is due to the fact that gulls usually are associated with shorelines and open water. Sand on the shore gets quite hot, and being in the open with not many trees along the shore means for prolonged sun exposure. So, they do not need the black-coloring like crows or starlings.

Next, I saw an American Robin perched up in a Sugar Maple. It was making calls. Another American Robin flew in and perched alongside the one that was calling. Then, after a minute or two, the male, I presume, began flapping its wings and tail feathers at the other Robin. They both took flight staying low to the ground and flapped their wings and tail feathers at each other. I believe they were mating, or beginning to. This matches up with the American Robin's circannual breeding behavior as they usually mate in early Spring. So, the male's calls must have been him calling for a mate.

I was able to try my hand at "phishing" for birds on this outing. I stood by a row of thick bushes on the edge of a property on the side of the road to the entrance of the park. I had spotted a lot of songbirds hanging out there staying out of the rain so I thought it would be a great place to start. There was a Northern Cardinal sitting in a bush already so I kept my distance but started making the pshh pshh noises and inching slowly closer maintaining the pace and pitch of the noises. I was able to get arms-length away from the bird this way without him flying away or showing any signs of concern. I remained there and continued to make calls. Minutes later there were Chickadees, an American Robin, as well as a House Sparrow all in the bushes right in front of me. I was amazed that this had actually gotten results. I looked up phishing to see why it was this was able to attract so many birds. I learned that making these phishing noises is close to the noise that birds make when they are alarmed. So, if you are to emulate these alert noises, birds will come to see what's up.

Lastly, I saw a group of seven European Starlings perched in a tree. It makes sense that they were still in a little flock since they usually stay in them during the fall and winter until breeding season begins and it was only the first full day of Spring and it is still pretty cold outside. In fact, they seemed to be sun bathing, getting as much warmth as possible before the sun began to set.

Posted on March 25, 2019 23:41 by taylorehwa taylorehwa | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 09, 2019

Field Observation 2: Physiology

I went to Oakledge Park in Burlington, VT on Tues., March 2, 2019. I arrived at about 6:40 AM and the sun was out and the temperature was ~17 degrees Fahrenheit. I went at this hour in hopes birds would be more active as they are fueling up for the day and the sun is coming out and warming up insects in trees perhaps.

The first sighting, to no surprise, was an American Crow. He was perched high in a tree looking as if he was bathing in the rising sun, his black feathers glistening. This black coloring all over the birds body may help to keep the bird warm in colder climates since black absorbs light/heat. There were a couple of other crows that I sighted in the area as well. They seemed to all be calling to each other.

The second sighting was a Northern Cardinal, also perched high in a tree taking in the sun.

Then, I heard knocking on a tree and was able to find that the source of the knocking was a Pileated Woodpecker, easy to sight from afar by his red head. He was flying around between a group of trees, all of which had holes already dug out by him or another woodpecker. He seemed to be looking for insects within the bark as he would peck the tree, then pause and carefully stick his tongue into the dug out bark. There were snags near the patch he was feeding in which were covered by large cavities, perhaps a result of excessive woodpecker activity. Some of these standing dead trees had more oblong rectangular holes rather than circular ones which may be indicators of the woodpecker's winter roost since their nesting holes are usually more oblong.

Next I saw a group of Black-capped Chickadees who were flying around with great speed dodging trees and acting as if they were playing a game of tag. Maybe this chasing game was a way to warm up for them in the early morning after surviving through the cold dark Vermont night. These Chickadees seemed to have some winter weight on them, helping them keep warm. Since Chickadees primarily consume insects, i'm sure that in the winter since insects are not nearly as prevalent they have to rely on seeds and dried fruits that they can scavenge.

Finally, I heard some more knocking among a group of trees. To my surprise, it was not the Pileated Woodpecker, but rather it was a Downy Woodpecker. He also seemed to be feeding. However, he remained within a patch of dense conifers between branches. Since it was a chilly winter morning with some extra wind chill, I assumed that he was attempting to shield himself from the cold wind.

On this property there were patches of conifers that seemed to be more dense, therefore more insulated from rain, snow, and wind. These conifers are most likely the sites where many of these species choose to roost at night. Social species such as the Chickadees and Nuthatches most likely roost in groups to share body heat.

There were many snags throughout Oakledge. There were around seven towards the waterfront, and 5 along the path leading to the bike trail. The ones near the waterfront had a lot more holes from woodpeckers than the ones along the path. I knocked on every snag I passed by however the only extra activity I was able to see from this tapping was one Squirrel that jumped away to another nearby tree. I assume that since it was morning a lot of birds were done roosting and enjoying the risen sun. Maybe later in the day more birds would have risen from these snags upon disturbance. I believe the snags towards the waterfront were occupied by a couple woodpeckers and some chickadees. The snags along the path may have been occupied by some squirrels and songbirds like cardinals and nuthatches.

Overall, these birds are doing their best to stay insulated, and seek out dried seeds or fruits (unless they are a woodpecker) as the ground is frozen and insects are scarce compared to in the spring or summertime. They utilize snags because they are usually hollow in parts and easy for birds to insulate themselves in. Snags are important parts of ecosystems as they provide habitat and shelter for many animals, especially wintering birds.

Posted on March 09, 2019 03:39 by taylorehwa taylorehwa | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment