Monday, September 29, 2008

Where Have All the Birdies Gone?

Well, I nearly thought every bird that played in my yard has flown south! Well, except the dratted Eurasian Collared Doves, of course. And I did discover three Starlings scuffling over who should claim the opening under the eve of my home. (yeah, lovely to have birds in the attic!). But for a House Finch or two I’ve not really seen a bird in weeks! Even my woodpeckers have disappeared...and I thought they didn't migrate!

Till this morning… Yeah! I’m so happy I’ve kept the hummingbird feeders out and about a quarter full; I watched one feed today. It’s almost time to bring the feeders in…but it’s lovely to assist the few who are still coming through.

Folks north and south of me have seen White-throated Sparrows, so I’m sure one of the first birds I learned to ID, the White-crowned Sparrow is soon to show up. I just love those little guys!

Looking for a couple pictures to post I hit Wikipedia and discovered there are two ‘versions’ of White-throated Sparrow; the white…and the tan kind. They are similar, but one’s head-stripes are more tan than white. Both are quite similar to the White-crowned Sparrow…but that bird has a grey chin.

According to the Stokes site: in the West, where I live, during the fall migration it’s possible I might see a number of warblers, too; and perhaps an American Red-start…which I did see last year here.

All photos on this post are from the free Wikipedia.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More on Water Wars

On the Bob Edwards Radio Show: Weekend Edition (09-21-08), I heard his piece regarding the documentary Flow: For Love of Water, which includes a sometimes halarious discussion with the filmmaker on the rediculous prices people will pay for bottled water, as well as more information regarding NestlĂ©’s work in the ‘water department’. Sincronycities abound yet again: an update to post ‘Bottle Your Own!’…cool! You can read about Edward’s interview with the filmaker here, and download the podcast here.

The average American uses 150 gallons of water per day. In the developing world, people are lucky to find five gallons and that water is often contaminated. The United Nations estimates that dirty drinking water kills about 500 children each day. Water is now the third largest industry in the world, right behind electricity and oil. But can anyone really own water? That's the question Salina investigates in her piece.

The award-winning documentary investigation into what experts label the most important political and environmental issue of the 21st Century - The World Water Crisis. Salina builds a case against the growing privatization of the world's dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel.

Interviews with scientists and activists intelligently reveal the rapidly building crisis, at both the global and human scale, and the film introduces many of the governmental and corporate culprits behind the water grab, while begging the question "CAN ANYONE REALLY OWN WATER?"

Water is now a 400-billion dollar global industry, third behind electricity and oil. The documentary also covers the issues of bottled water versus tap water and the case of the enormous water bottler Nestle versus the citizens of Michigan. Nestle pumps hundreds of gallons of water a minute out of the ground in west central Michigan, does not pay for it and is making, according to the film, an estimated 1.8 million dollars a day in profits off that free water. To read NestlĂ©’s press release about Flow, click here.

Also from Edward's blog:

Many experts believe that water will become the oil
of the 21st century – a valuable commodity and the object of deadly wars. Clean, fresh water is becoming more and more scarce, while it also becomes more and more polluted. We literally cannot live without it
and people will do any-thing and give everything to obtain it.

  • To learn about positive steps you can take,
    click here.

  • To see if Flow is playing near you, click here.

  • To see the trailer for the film, click here.

  • To read the article that inspired Irena Salina to make this documentary, click here.

What does this mean to birds? Birds all over the world are the “canaries in the mine-shaft”: small, live, detectors of something-gone-wrong. The caged birds were kept in mineshafts to let miners know when the air they were breathing had become poison…for whatever reason. When the birds exhibited distress…it was cause to leave the mineshaft! The quality of our water is so reflected by the birds who use it. The draining of wetlands or the lack of habitat is not the only problem…we are poisoning our water and the birds are suffering; again, they are harbingers of what is poisoning us. We must clean up our water!
More on this soon…

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's a Puzzle!

I found this on the Audubon site:

Click to Mix and Solve

Or this one:

Click to Mix and Solve

Give them a try, they're great fun! You can change the number of pieces, the can add them to your own blog, you can even use your own picture!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bird Vomit

Synchronicities abound; I love it when that happens.

I have been reading a library book “Birds: Their Life, Their Ways, Their World”, Dr. C. Perrins (Switzerland). On page 187 of the book, in a page regarding Petrels, is a drawing of a bird spewing at a fox. At first I thought the lines were the ‘sound waves’ often drawn to show the bird might be squawking, but the description was: “A Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis deters a predator by projecting musky stomach oil.”

The synchronicity came when reading I and the Bird #84 regarding Bird Blogs. While checking out blogs I'd not seen before, I found the Bird Ecology Study Group; specifically the piece mentioned: Black-naped Tern's Defense Vomiting! Too fun!

However, there is something I question; don't parent birds hold food in their crops (or gullets?) and regurgitate that to feed chicks? I was not of the impression they actually vomited stomach contents into their youngsters. While several sites casually us the word 'stomach' this one says 'crop', which makes more sense to me.

From the article from The Wild Classroom on Feeding Adaptations: "Crops are part of the esophagus and are used as storage areas for food. A number of birds have them. Birds consume food, store it in the crop and then regurgitate it to their offspring. Digestive juices in the saliva break down food in the crop." The article then goes on to discuss 'The Stomach". And...I'm betting the Petrels, and apparently Terns, spew actual stomach contents; musky oil doesn't sound like baby food.

In this article: Muttonbirder selectivity of sooty shearwater chicks harvested in New Zealand ( Hunter, Moller and Kitson) is a discussion regarding how hunters make chicks 'spew' stomach oil by palpating the that later their feathers are not harmed later. This seems to me evidence even chicks spew when threatened. (see Pg. 3)

From this article regarding Fulmars:

"The vomit attack can be lethal for predatory birds, because the oily substance coats their feathers and makes flying difficult. Researchers have found the bodies of 10 different kinds of birds covered in the oily mess. Other fulmars seem to be the only birds able to clean the oil from themselves.

The birds can aim accurately up to two or three meters, Mallory said, speaking from his experience of being a target."

Do you, gentle readers, know about the vomiting defense-behavior in birds and if it is different than baby-food? Please leave a comment if you do...I'm very curious.

All photos on this post are from the free Wikipedia.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Native vs Exotic

I’m a rabid gardener, if on the casual side. I like the look of a slightly wild yard…lots of small trees and large bushes, intermingled with tall, clumping grasses, old roses (for me) and native plants that birds, bees and butterflies also use and enjoy. While I also feed birds during winter and migration times, I feel that it’s important to grow native plants that birds and other wildlife can enjoy anytime. As we continue to move into more and more natural habitat and turn it into suburbia and shopping malls, the places where birds are used to stopping, during these migrations, are disappearing. The reason for native plants: while all plants are native to somewhere, moving a plant to a place where it has not evolved ecologically, moves it to a place where it may not benefit the environment it is meant to enhance; sometimes doing more harm than good.

Some won’t tolerate the temperature or other climatic conditions, some are invasive and others succumb to pests they are not used to (and so encourage the use of poisons and artificial fertilizers). Sometimes a plant adds or removes nutrients to the degree that it essentially poisons the native plants around it; other times the plant just out-produces local plants by leafing out first and shading-out the competition. But perhaps the saddest is that local birds, bees and butterflies have not evolved with the new plant and so do not (or cannot) use it. Where a particular tree might be host to 200-400 or more insects and other animals in its native land, sometimes only 5 (five!) are able to use it here. While one might think finding a plant that local insects won’t chew on is a good thing; but a garden without insects is a garden without higher forms of life. Birds won’t visit where there are no bugs. And believe it or not, most insects are beneficial and are sometimes an important food source for a particular a larger bug, bat or bird.

Sometimes exotic, and probably overly hybridized plants as well (plants grown for double-flowers or intense scent), do not provide the high-quality nectar butterflies and birds require, or develop considerably less nectar or pollen than native plants do…and we loose our natural environment; bug by bug, bird by bird, plant by plant.

So, there are several reasons I plant natives:

  • They are easier to grow where they’re happy and require less water and fertilizers

  • They are easier to grow where they are acclimated to the weather; die-back from heat or cold is seldom an issue

  • Local insects make use of them, but don’t overwhelm the plant, lessening the call to poisons

  • I’m lazy and like plants that thrive without constant fussing

  • Native plants are good for beneficial insects and
  • Native plants attract native and migrating birds and are useful to them at critical times

Now, one might think I’m a bit over the top (and in some ways I’m sure I am)…that invasives and exotics are just not the problem I’m making them out to be. Google it: read about the 45% of all plants growing wild in Massachusetts are introduced aliens from other parts of the world! You know if this is the case in one place, it is likely the case just about everywhere. Read Doug Tallamy’s new book: Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Garden…it’s an eye-opener.

According to a library book I’m reading, Birds: Their Life, Their Ways, Their World (Dr. Perrins, Switzerland), birds began moving north for part of the year at the end of the Ice Age, as the ice at the poles retreated, exposing new, fertile (and birdless) land. Competition for food and breeding places is always competitive…moving north accomplished two things; it eased the pressure on food in one place (as birds left) and it offered rich food sources and available nesting sites for other birds as they moved into the new lands. When winter arrived with sever temperatures cutting back food supplies, the birds would move south and back to their original homelands.

As the ice continued to recede at the poles, birds had to fly further and further to reach their summer breeding grounds…to the degree that now some migrate as many as 9,000 miles each way! While some which fly distances of 2,000 miles or so do fly non-stop, the long-distance flyers make stops along the way to rest and re-fuel. Wars, pollution, clear-cutting, drought, draining of wetlands, the large number of huge, single-crop farms and the advancement of suburbia into wild and rural lands, as well as the proliferation of non-native, exotic plants killing of native food sources for both insects and birds, all adds to the difficulties migrating birds face twice each year.

As our natural habitat becomes more and more unstable, our biodiversity shrinks to the extent that it puts extensive pressure on local wildlife…to the degree some of it may well be headed to extinction. Gardeners can make a difference by favoring native plants and providing a welcome, natural environment to birds and wildlife of
all kinds.

Gardeners can help sustain our valuable ecosystems.

Addendum: here is a good page with information & maps of the North American Migration Flyways.

Google: "Native plants + [your state]" to find thousands of sites with a great deal of information on the area in which you live.

All photos on this post are from the free Wikipedia.