April 26, 2021

Field Journal 7: Reproductive Ecology and Evolution

Time: 6:00pm - 7:30 pm
Date: 4/18/20
Location: The Salmon Hole, Winooski
Weather: 52 degrees F, partly cloudy, slight breeze
Habitat: Riparian Habitat

Species: Double-crested Cormorant (2), Herring Gull (15), Canada Goose (2), Red-winged Blackbird, American Crow (3), American Robin (1), Common Merganser (2), Song Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Black-capped Chickadee (3), Northern Cardinal.

On April 18th, I decided to go to the Salmon Hole to bird, and I also brought a fishing pole with me so I could take some time to relax and enjoy the sunset. This turned out to be a great birding trip, and I saw and heard lots of different species, both while I was walking and while I was standing still to fish. In terms of mate selection and territory selection, I spotted a pair of Common Merganser, one male, and one female, which were moving upstream past me while I was fishing, and then turned around and returned back to the area where I first saw them. I had also observed a pair of Mergansers in this same spot on the river a few weeks before this, and I wondered if it was the same pair, and if they were protecting this strip of the river as their territory. If so, I would consider this to be a relatively poor territory, as it was right in a section of river where what appeared (and smelled) to be a waste-water drainage pipe was flowing into the river, making the water smelly and murky. If this is truly a poor territory, it may be indicative of poor fitness of these Mergansers. I also noticed a Double-crested Cormorant diving for fish in the main pool at the entrance to the park, again in the same location where I had previously spotted a Cormorant. I wondered if this was the same Cormorant, and if it was protecting this territory. If this Cormorant was indeed protecting this territory, I would consider this main pool to be prime territory, as the pool is a popular fishing spot with seemingly good water quality as compared to other areas of the river. I noticed lots of small fish jumping out of the water in this area, further demonstrating this pool's ability to be considered a prime territory. In order to defend a prime territory as such, this Cormorant must have relatively high fitness compared to the other competing birds in the area. The Herring Gulls I observed in the area, if not flying, were in areas along the rocks next to the river where short vegetation was nearby. This small vegetation seems to be preferential for their nesting habitat, and I assume that the birds would not have to fly much further from this general area to find things such as bones, feathers, grasses, and vegetation to build their nests. I also wondered about the nest selection of the Red-tailed Hawk I spotted flying overhead. I assumed it must be nesting in a different area with taller trees, though it may have been in the Salmon Hole area to find materials to build its nest such as pine needles, bark, and twigs.

MINI ACTIVITY: I am unsure of how to add a picture to this journal entry, but I will describe the sounds I heard while standing still and fishing slightly downstream from the main pool. I was fishing on the South side of the river, facing North. The most prominent song I heard during this time was that of a Red-winged Blackbird, which was just across the river from me. This was a loud and clear song, so the quality of the sound was considered to be high. To my East, I was able to hear a Song Sparrow's song coming from the area of the main pool. This song was much quieter, though it was fairly easy to pick out, so I would consider it to be medium quality. I heard two Canada Geese to my Northwest, and a few minutes later in the same direction, I heard (and saw) three American Crows. I also heard what I believed to be a Cardinal, and this song was coming from the Southeast. I would rate the quality of this sound as poor because the song was at a much slower tempo than I normally hear from Cardinals and it was hard to pick out. I heard very vaguely the (Hey Sweetie) song of a Black-capped Chickadee coming from the East, and when I walked back this way to leave, I spotted three of them. I would rate the quality of this sound as medium because although quiet, it was easy to pick out the species.

Posted on April 26, 2021 20:47 by tjkeegan tjkeegan | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 19, 2021

Field Journal 6: Field Observations

Time: 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Date: 4/19/21
Location: Colchester Bog
Weather: 57 Degrees F, partially cloudy, slight breeze
Habitat: Bog habitat surrounded by mixed hardwood/softwood forest habitat

Colchester Bog was a good spot to bird today, with plenty of birds observed along with some other wildlife including garter snakes and chipmunks. While in the bog, I spotted multiple Northern Cardinals, and I continued to hear more throughout the walk in the surrounding woods. Also abundant were Black-capped Chickadees, some of which coming very close to me (I used the spishing technique, which seemed to work fairly well). The beautiful song of a Song Sparrow was clear to hear, even though there were Cardinals and Chickadees making noise as well. Other species observed while in the bog area include two Canada Geese which I heard from a distance, as well as an American Crow (which I also only heard). In the surrounding woods area (and field just outside of the woods), I observed two American Robin, 4 Tufted Titmice, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 1 House Sparrow, and 3 Downy Woodpeckers.

Posted on April 19, 2021 20:36 by tjkeegan tjkeegan | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 05, 2021

Journal Entry 5 (Migration)

Date: 4/4/21
Time: 4 pm - 5:30 pm
Location: The Salmon Hole on the Winooski River
Weather: Sunny, clear skies, 56 degrees, slight breeze
Habitat: Riparian habitat

This birding trip went exceptionally well, and I was able to see a wide variety of species. One of the species I observed which is a year-round resident is the Black-capped Chickadee. These birds forego migration as they are small and unable to fly long distances. They are able to survive in the winter because their feathers provide insulation for their body and because they are able to find shelter in tree cavities and other small holes. Similar to Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice are also a small, year-round species here, and they survive winters by hoarding food while their feathers provide sufficient insulation to stay safe from cold temperatures. I also observed many American Robins, and I noticed that although these are certainly a year-round species which I saw throughout the winter, they seem to be more active now that it has gotten warmer. American Robins are able to survive the winter by being nomadic and moving around in search of food and to avoid areas hit too hard by things such as heavy snowfall. A species which I observed that is a facultative migrant is the Double-crested Cormorant. I had not seen any Cormorants throughout the winter, and I was very excited to see one at the Salmon Hole. I expect that Cormorants have recently migrated back to Burlington from somewhere in the southeast United States, where they would have spent the winter to avoid harsh conditions such as heavy snow and cold temperatures. Since it has recently gotten warmer here in Burlington, the Winooski River is a perfect habitat for these Cormorants, which like rocky and sandy shores. I also observed some Common Mergansers, which I would consider to be obligate migrants, as they are expected to migrate South in late fall and back North in early Spring. This coincides with my observations throughout the semester, as I had not seen any throughout the winter but am now seeing multiple during early spring. This migrant arriving in Burlington in early April can be helpful for controlling fish populations in the water bodies where they are present, as Mergansers are considered to be keystone predators.

Frequent Flyer Activity:
Double-crested Cormorant - Double-crested Cormorants have migrated about 1000 miles from their wintering locations in the south.

Common Merganser - Common Mergansers have migrated about 400 miles from their wintering locations further south.

Since the other species I observed are all year-round in Burlington, the total distance added between the species would be about 1400 miles.

Posted on April 05, 2021 20:33 by tjkeegan tjkeegan | 12 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 22, 2021

Field Journal 4: Social Behavior and Phenology

Date: 3/20/21
Time: 3:30-5:00 pm
Location: Centennial Woods Natural Area
Weather: Sunny, Clear Skies, Slight breeze, 40 degrees F
Habitat: Mixed... Pine stands, open fields with staghorn sumac, hardwood stands

This birding trip was the trip so far where I have heard and seen the most interactions between birds. There was barely a moment of silence, with bird calls and songs coming from all around, namely from Black-capped Chickadees. The first bird I spotted was a Black-capped Chickadee, and I observed from a distance for a while as the bird foraged. I continued my walk, and shortly later stumbled upon four more Black-capped Chickadees, all of which were again foraging. Foraging is a large part of both the circadian and circannual rhythm for these birds, and I wondered if these birds were preparing for their breeding season. I made some pish calls, and one of the Chickadees ended up getting very close up to me (all of them were close, but this one was within a couple feet). The birds surprisingly did not seem to mind my presence, and I was able to observe them at a very close distance for a good amount of time. This spishing seemed to work, and I wondered why the sound was so enticing to these birds. One thought I had was that the noise sounds similar to noises that could be made by smaller insects, giving the birds incentive to look for prey. This would make sense because the Chickadees were actively foraging, so hearing this sound may have prompted them to look closer to where I was standing. I heard what I believed to be a song sparrow song while observing these Chickadees, but it was not returned by another bird, and I wondered if the Song Sparrow was perhaps singing in the hopes of finding a mate. Shortly after walking away from the Chickadees, I came across a group of 5 American Robin, all of which were perched on staghorn sumac trees. The plumage of these Robins allowed them to blend in very well with the trees, and when I spotted the first one, I thought that it was just a fruit cluster on first glance. The birds seemed to be resting, and I observed them for a few minutes before another hiker came along the trail and scared them off. I wondered if the Robins had intentionally been resting in this spot because they were concealed from potential predators. This prompted me to think about the plumage of the Black-capped Chickadees, and I wondered how their plumage could benefit them in similar situations. The first Chickadee I saw on my hike blended in really well with its surroundings, as it was in a snowy area filled with lots of twigs, allowing the white parts of the bird to blend in with the snow and the darker parts to blend in with the twigs and sticks. I wondered again if the area the birds were in was intentional, and if the Chickadees intended to blend themselves in with their surroundings while foraging. I also heard two distinct American Crows throughout my walk. The first Crow I heard was making very aggressive "caw" sounds, and I wondered if it was mobbing a predator to try and scare it off. I have seen Barred Owls recently in Centennial, so I thought that a barred owl could be a potential predator to this crow. I again heard a crow later in my walk that was making much less aggressive calls, so I thought perhaps it may have been searching for a mate or attempting to socialize with other crows. I also spotted a brown creeper on my walk, but it did not make any calls. Finally, as I was leaving the woods, 10 Canada Geese flew over my head, concluding my birding trip.

Posted on March 22, 2021 19:42 by tjkeegan tjkeegan | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 08, 2021

Field Journal 3 (Ecological Physiology)

Date - 3/6/21
Start time - 5:00 pm
End time - 6:30 pm
Location - Centennial Woods Natural Area
Weather (temperature, wind speed/direction, precipitation) - 25 degrees F, clear skies, no wind aside from the occasional slight breeze
Habitat(s) - Old growth pine stands

Upon entering Centennial Woods, I didn't even have time to take my earbuds out and start listening for birds before I saw a huge owl fly right over my head. I wasn't sure what type of owl it was, so I followed the direction it flew hoping I could get a better look. After a couple of minutes, I found the owl again, perched up high on a tree branch looking off into the distance. The owl made sure to turn and look at me periodically while I was observing it, however it seemed mostly unbothered by my presence, and was clearly focused on something else. The owl, I assumed, was looking down towards the ground for potential prey. After a few minutes the owl left some scat, and then with little warning, leapt off the branch and began flying deeper into the woods. I was unsure of the identification for this owl, but I believe that it was either a Barred Owl or a Great Gray Owl. After seeing this owl, I had trouble finding birds throughout the rest of my walk. I heard two House Sparrows while walking and saw four Canada Geese fly southward overhead as I was leaving the woods, but other than this, it was a mostly quiet night. It is interesting to think about the ways in which different species survive the winter, and the species I observed all handle winter in much different ways. For the owl I saw, its large size and downy feathers likely provide sufficient insulation for the owl to survive as long as it gets enough food and rest, meaning that it would mainly budget its time between hunting and resting. When I was observing the owl, it seemed to be hunting, which would make sense for this assumption. I wonder if the prey which owls hunt for during the wintertime is different in warmer seasons, and I assume that if it is, owls would be searching for larger prey during the winter because larger prey could sustain the owls for longer time periods without forcing them to expend energy on another hunt. The owls would likely overnight in snags with large cavities for warmth and protection. House Sparrows are another species I observed on my walk, and these species likely handle the winter much differently from large owl species. Without so much insulation, House Sparrows likely must spend much more time huddled in dense vegetation and small cavities within snags in order to keep warm. Food is likely difficult to find during the wintertime for House Sparrows, meaning they must also dedicate lots of time to foraging. With a species like this, it would be likely that wintertime conditions could kill many individuals, meaning that the species may also spend a considerable amount of time breeding to offset this impact. The Canada Geese are completely different from owls and sparrows in the way they handle winter conditions, migrating to the South when conditions get too cold. Throughout my walk, I made sure to keep an eye out for snag abundance in the different areas through which I walked. I noted eleven snags overall throughout my walk, and six of them were in the general area where I spotted the owl. The snags in this area were also larger, and filled with larger cavities, than the snags I saw elsewhere on my walk. It seems that in the wintertime especially, areas with abundant snags (and abundant cavities within these snags) are the areas where the most biodiversity can be observed. This is because snags are an important habitat for many winter species seeking to avoid the brutal winter conditions.

Posted on March 08, 2021 20:58 by tjkeegan tjkeegan | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 22, 2021

Field Journal 2 Entry (Thomas Keegan WFB 130)

Species List
Downy Woodpecker - 2 individuals
Hairy Woodpecker - 1 individual
Black-capped Chickadee - 6 individuals
Brown Creeper - 1 individual
Northern Cardinal (heard call only) - 1 individual

Excursion Details
Date: 2/21/21
Time: 2:30 pm - 4:00 pm
Location: Centennial Woods
Weather: Mostly sunny, 28° F
Habitat: Conifer and Hardwood stands

Journal Entry
During my birding trip, I initially had trouble finding birds. I walked through most of Centennial only having found one Black-capped Chickadee and one Hairy Woodpecker. I wondered what the low amount of birds could have been due to, and I thought of many possibilities. For one, I could have been looking in areas where birds tended to avoid. It was a nice day out and I was walking along trails that were populated by lots of dog walkers and other pedestrians, so I thought maybe some of the birds had entered more secluded areas. I considered that the time of day may have also impacted the number of active birds, and I would be interested to do some research about the times when different species are most active within Centennial. I also wondered if the weather might have had an impact, though this didn't seem likely considering there were no conditions that were out of the ordinary.
I continued through the woods, making an effort to venture into less-travelled areas to see if I could find more birds where there were less people. Upon nearing the end of the woods closest to the parking lot behind the DoubleTree Hotel, I began to hear the sounds of multiple different bird calls, as well as the sounds of other woodpeckers. The calls that stood out the most were those of the Black-capped Chickadee. It took me a couple of minutes to actually see the individuals, but when I finally did, I noticed about 5 Black-capped Chickadees on the outskirts of the woods. These Chickadees were residing in a mixture of pine trees and smaller hardwoods, and it was hard to keep track of how many there were because they were all not only in relatively close proximity, but were also quickly flying around from branch to branch. I noticed that these Chickadees rarely made long flights, and instead would use quick flutters of their wings to propel them onto nearby branches, repeating the process after a few brief moments on each branch. After observing these Chickadees, I re-entered the woods and began walking back the way I came from. I heard a Northern Cardinal that I was sadly unable to spot, but I was able to find two Downy Woodpeckers. The Downy Woodpeckers flew with quick beats of their wings, and similar to the Black-capped Chickadees, seemed to be mostly reliant on short, fast flights between branches. The woodpeckers, however, seemed more comfortable venturing on further flights, as one of the Downy Woodpeckers I was observing flew off into the distance and I lost sight of it before it landed on another tree. This did not occur when I was observing the Chickadees, as they all stayed in relatively the same area throughout the time I observed them.
The similar flight patterns of the Black-capped Chickadee and the Downy Woodpecker are interesting to me, and I wonder if these similarities have to do with the similar niches they occupy in ecosystems. Both species are cavity nesters and both species have diets that revolve heavily around insects, so maybe this type of flight pattern is well suited for these aspects of their lives. I noticed while observing the species that both of them seemed to have similar wing shapes, which surely is related to both their niches and their flight patterns, and it is interesting to see how these things all intersect. I feel that understanding flight patterns of different bird species can be hugely helpful for identification, especially when birds are moving too quickly or are too far away for an identification based solely on appearance.

Posted on February 22, 2021 21:39 by tjkeegan tjkeegan | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment