Friday, September 05, 2008


Photograph D. Browne
Pale Male on the Linda building with a squirrel.

It's been a rough breeding season for the birds in Manhattan and southern Wisconsin. More on that in a later post but in the meantime I'd like to know how things went in other areas so write in (click on Contact Me on the main page) so we can all hear about your birds.

To start things off, I asked R. of Illinois how things went in her neck of the woods. Her contribution to the story follows--

This year my yard wrens had two broods - one in the first brood and two in the second brood and the youngster from the first brood was assisting in the care and feeding of the second brood (bringing insects and cleaning out the poop sacs).

My sparrows usually have three broods, but only had two this year, but they were both in the spring / early part of the summer before it got dry. Also we had a severe windstorm in late June (an 82 mph gust), that sheared off 100 year old trees at the ground level, and that may have destroyed a lot of late clutches.

I have seen only one adult robin in this past spring, and no juveniles this year at all. Not a single blue jay or cardinal so far, but generally I see the cardinals more in winter. West Nile has devastated both their populations here.

My mourning doves had two healthy rambunctious babies, and that is about normal.

I have seen the East Peoria redtail pair soaring (when I drive through that area) but since I live 7 miles from their territory, I don't really know what/how they are doing. A friend/coworker, Lana, lives very near their nest/territory and has seen one juvenile in her area this year, successfully hunting baby rabbits in her large back yard.

I don't think I live near a redtail nest, but there are redtails somewhere in the area because I have occasionally seen a singleton soaring as I am driving somewhere. I am sure there are Coopers here, but I haven't seen them, or didn't recognize them. Despite my multiple feeders and yard birds, it was only last year when I saw a juvenile redtail perched on my arbor, and nary a yard bird in sight (in the bushes, no doubt). I hang all my feeders from either my awnings or the tree, so the birds are protected overhead from dive bombing in some small portion. I have found no signs of cat predation either, this year, and usually I find at least 2-3 piles of empty feathers every season. Not one so far this year.

What I am noticing that seems odd, is that a high proportion of the sparrow juveniles this year seem to be females, with only a few having that black bib coming in. Have no clue what that means, if anything. The juvenile sparrows of both genders this year have been very aquatic, spending much time in bobbing and splashing and playing leap frog in the bird baths, but perhaps our cooler than normal summer has increased their activity, or, perhaps, our cooler than normal summer has me with my window shades not drawn against the heat and I am just seeing more than I usually do in mid to late summer.

About five years ago a local farmer poisoned a large corn dump to kill crows, and birds of all feathers were dropping from the skies, literally, for weeks and weeks in the Morton area. My yard bird sparrow population dropped from dozens to three and I often would find a dying or dead bird in the tray feeders. Made me so sad and sick. The farmer was fined $50 and his knuckles barely rapped.

That is very strange about juvenile robin's making the migration...and it seems logical that the severe storms wiped out a lot of nests in spring and they double clutched, only I didn't know that robin's did that, or never noticed it before, but I can't say I have ever seen a juvenile robin in the late summer or fall.

I have seen no cowbirds this year, so far, but I think I usually see them mostly in fall and winter.

No big crows (ravens? HUGE big black birds, bigger than a good sized cat) on the scene this year so far either, and usually at least once every late summer, they come and scare the bejesus out of my yard/feeder birds for a few days.

It has been a very dry late summer here, in fact, our August was the driest on record, and perhaps that does explain the lack of robin sightings. Gustav left us with heavy rains for 36 hours the past two days, and the ground is actually soft and spongy again, but likely the robins have already gathered to head south, or maybe were south all along, or wherever was getting rain.

Here the crops are doing well. Corn and soybeans. The plentiful rains in spring gave them their good start and generally drought in late summer does not affect them much. The pumpkins are not so large this year but that would be because of the dry August, I think. (Libby's has a pumpkin processing plant in Morton and Morton calls itself the Pumpkin Capital of the World.)

Things are changing, in terms of what I am seeing in the yard and garden birds, but I don't know what it means or how significant it is, but I do think it means something. I have had more bumble bees the past two years, but that may be a result of garden plantings. Squirrel and raccoon populations seem stable. No skunks in decades. One firefly spotted about 12 years ago.


Many thanks! Very interesting as the situation is different in southern Wisconsin which is not all that far from R. in Illinois.

I'll be out of computer contact for Saturday, but things will be cooking again on Sunday. Don't forget to send in your local bird report for this season so they can start going up on the Sunday blog!

Donegal Browne

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Furtive Birds--Wiggles in the Foliage plus Basement Boy Meets Garage Boy

Suddenly after yesterday's humidity, heat, and dry thunder, today is cool and breezy. Now flocks of birds are rushing south--Gulls, mixed flocks of Robins and Grackles, and out-of-town Crows blow through the fields and pastures.

But I'm distracted by the unwind inspired wiggling in these flowers. Whoever is doing it hasn't showed a beak yet.

Aha! First look at the left most fully opened orange marigold. It's a bit lower than it's blossom mates. Then look slightly more left to the pink blossom. Look above it and slightly more left. there is a little bird face.

A male House Sparrow appears. Now that isn't the face from above, so there are at least two birds in there. The with ripple of foliage and the stubby flapping of wings, Dad House Sparrow takes his son and daughter to the bird bath for a drink.

Son is in the middle. Beyond the beginnings of a bib, Son seems to have a slightly oranger mandible than his sister.

Who just arrived in the Sunflower patch? It's a male Goldfinch for certain but which male is't clear as he seems to be doing an impersonation of an accused criminal coming out the back door of the courthouse.

Still no joy.

Where did everyone go?


The Cooper's Hawk sails by and sparrow crouches motionless.

Mom squirrel catches some sun. Note the swollen mammary glands.

I took a quick trip out to Thresherman's Park to see if the Crows, Turkeys, or whoever might have discovered all the inches of grain on the ground from the threshing. There were two Crows eating the sorghum seed in that field, but of course the sentinel here warned them off, the moment a camera appeared. Then all three retired into the woods and out of sight. No peeking, then hiding, then suddenly appearing to scold. No, the Crows still haven't recovered enough from all the hoopla for Crow Games just yet?

Peggy M. of Brooklyn NY sent this email, titled Garage Boy, Meet Basement Boy.

(Some of you may remember that Garage Boy was the fledgling Robin who decided to spend several days in the rafters of my WI garage, while his parents brought carry out to him every few minutes.)

Last night, there was a noisy rainstorm: no thunder, but plenty of wind driven rain. Anyhow, cut to morning, when the family is sitting at the dining room table, and our cleaning lady, Katrina, tells us ' there is birt in basement". I looked at her, and she helpfully flapped her arms like wings saying 'gray birt" which I said, 'oh 'bird'; a pigeon" and she nodded in agreement.

So I go to the basement, armed with a fist full of Special K Vanilla Almonds, because we didn't have any peanuts, and I know the Pigeons love peanuts. I then spotted a young, damp male Mocking Bird on one of the cellar windows.

To make a long story short, I opened one of the windows, scattered the almonds outside, then had to find Mr. Mockingbird, and guide him from the furnace room to the front room of our basement, using a long curtain rod, to gently tap a box, and get him to fly. I never went near him.

They are smart, and Mr. M felt the fresh air, flew to the open window, hopped out, then enjoyed a small snack before flying off.

I'm sure it was from reading your blog that I knew what to do ( even without the benefit of PG Tips).

Mr. M looked rather damp, and we think he fell or was blown down our flue during the storm

Peggy M
Nothing like a little home invasion to add excitement to one's life. Speaking of homes, the Barn Swallow has proven to be extremely adaptable when it comes to homes and nest sites. Originally they put their mud nests on cliffs or the underside of branches.
When humans started supplying those handy barns and sheds full of insects they moved right in. They've also become extremely partial to the support structures under elevated decks and the struts under sideless picnic pavilions. They've now added a new wrinkle by building nests on the roof supports inside of a Midwestern Home Depot store. They don't have to worry about rain. The environment is temperature controlled, now there's a plus, but how in the world do they find enough flying insects to feed their chicks inside a store? They open the doors to go hunting outside by hovering in front of the door sensor. Other direction? More hovering-- different sensor.
You can't tell me birds are dumb.
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Orphaned Moose Part 1

Many thanks to R. of Illinois for sending in the photographs—here’s the gist of the story that came with them.

A moose calf was in distress in a creek, when a man came along and got him out. The man tried to find the calf’s mother and send him on his way but eventually the calf stumbled back into the creek and had to be rescued yet again. Mom never appeared and the calf, as calves will, ended up following the man home for want of anything better.

The man only had a small cabin so he took the moose to a neighbor’s house and the neighbor shot these photographs.

The next day the duo took the calf to a woman who rehabilitates these kinds of orphans and after checking him out, Calf was put into a pen with a new buddy, an orphaned fawn.

Notice that Calf is pretty much dried out and enjoying every drop of formula. While the man's sweatshirt still looks pretty soggy. Considering the size of a grown moose, this little guy is very young.

And too young to know that he shouldn't really be letting people get close enough to pet him. In fact being that he followed the man home, calf isn't completely clear on what to follow. That's a very young animal.

The dog has that long suffering look. Undoubtedly Dog has been told to leave Calf alone. This is a well behaved dog who from his expression would love to either be snuffing the moose or drinking his milk. But being a good dog, he's just doing a little suffering over the matter. If you don't look maybe the interloper will go away.

Having had some sustenance and warmth, Calf perks up and is ready for more.

He now follows the woman into the kitchen and YIKES!

Look at Calf's ears and concerned expression. I suspect he's seeing himself in the reflection of the glass fronted dishwasher.

Blogger as usual is being picky about the number of photos per post, so now it's time to scroll down to the next section, Orphaned Moose Part 2, for the rest of the pictorial.

Orphaned Moose Part 2

Long suffering dog has retired to his bed to think about his troubles, and what does the new beastie do? He comes right over and noses him. It's difficult being a good dog sometimes.

Yummy! There's more. And this time with the added attraction of a delivery method that will satisfy his urge to suck.

And like most all babies, a full stomach brings on a satisfying nap. Just look at that little hoof.
Yeah, I know, it's me and feet again. Though in this case I'm thinking of his mother delivering him.

He's been checked out, had lunch,

and a nap, dealt with two dogs, both long suffering , what now?

The rehabber not having any other orphaned moose, it's a rule of thumb to try to put an animal with it's own species, or as close as you can come. In this case another herbivore with somewhat similar habits, a fawn. Though if you ask me, Fawn doesn't look overly thrilled.

And Calf is looking semi-hysterical himself. Look at those eyes and leg position.

Fawn makes the first contact. Actually this makes sense as I spoke to someone yesterday who knows much about deer and he told me that deer though wary, are also outrageously curious about new odors.
Not being able to stand not getting a good snuff, Fawn overcomes her shyness and goes for it. Calf is holding but he's also in a stance that can get him out of reach with one jump if necessary.

Before long, they'll be playing in between bouts with their respective bottles.
Donegal Browne

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Morning Chipmunk

As I've been taking photos of the Thresheree for the club, I've been staying onsite. This morning when I crawled blearily out of my tent, I saw I had company. There was an Eastern Chipmunk, Tamias striatus, sitting on a piece of old weathered wood about 15 feet away. And unlike Chewy this Chipmunk did not bolt at the sight of me. He looked wary for a moment

Then picked up something and began to eat. Just like Pancake the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, Chipmunks are also omnivores. They eat grain, nuts, worms, fungi, bugs, plus bird's eggs. In a way, they are teeny avian predators who are sometimes eaten by larger birds themselves.

The something may be a kernel of corn as that is one of the grains that's grown on the property and looks about right from the little I can see. The other grains are sorghum and wheat, both of which tend to be smaller and more oblong.

Thresh is keeping an eye on me but he still isn't going anywhere. Eastern Chipmunks do stash food for winter and they are larder hoarders. They store all their food in one place, their burrow and live there until Spring. Whereas, some Western Chipmunks, there are 23 species in the west, can be scatter hoarders--a little here, a little there. (The only other Chipmunk species is in Asia.)

I must have moved a little too fast as he's stopped chewing momentarily.

Back to noshing, things must be okay again. Eastern Chipmunks have two litters a year, whereas, in the West, one litter is the norm.

While Thresh is looking for another tidbit, I'll tell you a tidbit I discovered about Chipmunks. I always wondered why mycorrhizal fungi, the fungi that helps many of our tree's roots to efficiently absorb water, didn't produce air spores to spread itself.

Chipmunks turn out to be the answer.

They are a chief starter of tree seedlings because of their food stashing habits. And part of the food they stash and never eat are the seeds for trees.

Well, it turns out that as the Chipmunks evolved along with the trees, the mycorrhizal fungi spores are dispersed by the Chipmunks along with the tree seeds that they cache. They have what's called a symbiotic mycorrhizial association with underground fungi and the underground fungi have since lost their ability to spread their spores through the air.

Thresh checks around for more breakfast.

Nothing else being apparent on his old log, Thresh gives me a last look before scampering down the side and disappearing into the foliage. Personally he's not in the least interested in the fact that he has a symbiotic association with anything.

Donegal Browne
P.S. My email box has been down for two days. It should be back in running order very soon.