December 29, 2011

Holy Glaucomys! Part II: And Then There Were Four...

Again, this may not be very birdy - but I believe it is applicable in the category of bird feeding. The resident Glaucomys (see previous post Holy Glaucomys!) are becoming more comfortable in my presence. One has been closely approaching me in the garage every night, and I must say he (she?) is adorable. Yes, I am a Biologist, and yes, I squeak and kiss at him and call him 'Peanuts'. I have to admit to putting up a little shelf for him to sit on when he comes to hang out. He raids the bird feeders and suet and enjoys chewing this deer antler hanging in the garage...

 
Now I haven't done any rigorous scientific investigations into the size of the Glaucomys population living with us, but my hunch after cohabiting with for them two years is that n = 2, certainly no more than 3. But life as a Wildlife Biologist, even at home, is always full of learning surprises. 

I cleaned up the bird food bag in the garage that I had found Peanuts raiding - but I left a couple of peanuts on his shelf in condolences that he would now again have to travel the 20 extra feet to the birdfeeder. 


I think Peanuts told his family that the human is cool and to come on out - the next night I witnessed four, yes, four flying squirrels casing the joint. My estimate of 2-3 individuals was clearly too conservative.

The bizarre thing was that all four were friendly and playful. I mean, these wild creatures were all in the garage with me, with the lights on, for over an hour. Basically, they could have beaten me up if they wanted to, but they seemed curious and entertained instead. 

Granted, we have had some pretty warm nights lately. But this is just crazy. Four doesn't seem so bad seeing as I've heard stories of as many as 50+ in one home. I'm not sure how I'd handle that many...


Now they sit on their little shelf like gargoyles while I'm out there, even while I'm talking on the phone, with the light on - and they don't run away. In fact, one might say they're a bit playful. They like to climb up the wall and come over above your head. There have been moments of some sort of a 'pop goes the weasel' game and many long minutes of just hanging out a couple of feet away...


After seeing the four of them together, I began to observe slight differences - I swear Peanuts is unmistakable, and then there was this guy - much darker than the others. BINGO! I believe my Glaucomys conundrum has been solved...maybe there is a Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) living with our Southern Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys volans)! I guess this one'll be called Yankee. I dunno, maybe I'm wrong, but this one definitely looked different from the others...compare the darker tail tip, base of belly hairs, and fur under the eye of 'Yankee'...


Compared to the paler under eye, lighter tail, and creamier belly of this one (aka 'Mops')...




They are usually silent, but one night Peanuts was chatty so I recorded this communication...not that I studied the language of 'Glaucomic' in college, but I believe this squirrel is saying that he wants a bird feeder hung in the garage...

Peanuts speaks

I swear they're not pets! I've read that it is legal in some states to keep flying squirrels as pets, but Maine is not one of them. I believe all is legal with the Glaucomys here though - they are still very much wild even if they like to hang out with their human landlord on occasion.  

I know I've mentioned the long, cold winters here in Maine - but these little pals are making this one much more fun. I'm sure by spring I'll be ready for them to move out again, and look forward to seeing them glide overhead between the willows while I sit barefoot in the hammock. But for now, I have to admit it is a bit creepy to walk into the dark garage and know that I'm not alone...
 

December 26, 2011

Sounds From Different Grounds...

I figured we could all use a break from the relentless holiday music of late...

A few years ago I realized my little Canon Digital Elph does sound recordings. Sure, they're totally amateur but listening to them brings me right back to the moments I recorded them. Being able to mentally relocate for a moment here and there is an essential survival strategy for Maine winters.

A few summers ago I was reviewing pictures from the day on my camera, close to sleep in bed on a screened-in porch, at a magical lakeside Maine camp. I was getting ready to sleep, playing with the camera menus when a bunch of Common Loons decided to hold council less than 50 ft away. At that exact moment, I discovered the sound recording feature on my camera and recorded this golden nugget...

Common Loon Council - Maine

This Chuck-will's-widow (that has to be the coolest bird name ever) was recorded one night in Florida when we pulled over to watch a big ol' orange full moon rise up on the way out from Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest...say that ten times fast! 

Chuck-will's-widow - Florida


This one is a local Great Horned Owl that frequents the 'back 40'...

Great Horned Owl - Maine


And if you can hear past the other bird chatter, there is a Hooded Warbler singing in this one recorded on a mountaintop in western Maine...

Hooded Warbler and friends - Maine 

If you can ignore the bit o' wind in this one you'll hear a Yellow-headed Blackbird in North Dakota. I've always thought zombies would make sounds like Yellow-headed's - if I ever make a zombie movie, I will be sure Yellow-headed Blackbirds are dubbed in for the zombie noises.

Yellow-headed Blackbird - North Dakota


And since it would uncharacteristic to have a photo-less post - I will leave you with one of Scoobs counting Northern Gannets in Rhode Island...Scoobs says she thinks NOGA would be a cool name for a dog...


December 21, 2011

Florida AVICATION Part II: The Glades...

The Florida Everglades are pretty much on every birder’s ‘Must-Bird-There-Before-I-Die List’. The habitat is unique, endemic species abound, and it’s relatively affordable. But most importantly to a Mainer and an Upstate New Yorker  –  the place is warm AND has a crazy variety of bird species to skulk during the winter. That’s why the place deserves it’s very own part in the FL AVICATION Chronicles...

 Little Blue Heron, 3-16-11


We drove to Florida City after flying into Miami, and checked into the local Travelodge. This place was clean, comfy, and friendly - and after redeeming rewards points that I had accumulated, only cost us something like 15 bucks a night for three nights. Damn, it feels good to be a thrifty birder.

We awoke the first morning ready to EXPERIENCE the Florida Everglades.  But we got so hung up looking at roadside birds on the way in that we got a pretty late start. The sky was a steady-streamed freeway of Turkey Vultures mixed with some Black Vultures...


There was a particular Northern Mockingbird worthy of closer study...we couldn’t just write off any ol' NOMO in this area – there was always a chance for a rare FL lifer in these here parts - Bahama Mockingbird, which sadly skunked us this time. We eventually progressed down the yellow brick road through ag fields and dry scrubbies, stopping “quickly” at various canal crossings...BOOYAH – Indigo Bunting, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Blue Heron, and this Loggerhead Shrike...


A pale-headed American Kestrel led us down a side road, and a Northern Harrier quartered by to distract us from an unidentified flitting warbler...

Oh My Bird – we were winter-worn Yankees in Avian Paradise...and we were only standing by a ditch on the road leading to the Park! Could we even fathom, let alone handle, what the Everglades were about to bring?

20 species later, we were nearing the Park entrance – wait, let’s go check those Cattle Egrets over there real quick...



Okay, 21 species later, we arrived!  The moment was here – entering Everglades National Park for the very first time...right after we stopped for the Eastern Phoebe at the gate and this Red-shouldered Hawk just beyond...


"First" stop - Royal Palm and the Anhinga Trail. This place was akin to visiting Disney’s Epcot Center in the 1980’s when I was a child. Except these weren’t animatronics, these were wild critters that apparently had been habituated to the point of indolence...


Sadly, we watched a guy actually touch this Anhinga - I had to bite my tongue, I didn't want to have a throw-down on the boardwalk with some dude while alligators swam around us. I thought snapping a quick photo as I scooted by was much better. Really the saddest part is that the Anhinga didn't seem to mind. I guess I was hoping to witness it snapping the hand off the molester like in these gator signs...


As fascinating as the close-up critters were at Royal Palm, there were really just too many people there for either one of us to deal with. I mean we're talking about two relatively reclusive, unsocialized bird-nerds smack in the middle of copious amounts of loud humans – no wonder these critters weren’t afraid, they’re used to hearing people yelling around them every day.

The worst part, and please excuse the rant, was our apparent inability to consult our Sible’s (Sibley’s guides) without blatant interruption from some pushy know-it-all. For many birder’s, looking birds up for more info – range maps, quirky things to look for – is one of the best parts of birding. Never before had I been amongst people that would actually walk over to a stranger who is privately consulting their obviously well-worn field guide, and identify something FOR that stranger: “It’s a Palm Warbler” or “It’s a Purple Gallinule". Yeah, no-shrike-Sherlock, thanks. I'm looking at it through my binos from four feet away because the colors are blowing my bird brain - not because I'm incapable of identifying one of the most distinct birds in North America. But you have to smile and force your public tolerance to its limits. If I were a bird, I’d go hang out at one of the less visited spots (or one altogether inaccessible to humans) in the Park.

Despite the crowd, which was the biggest we saw during our 2.5 days there, we powered on through the Anhinga Trail where Double-crested Cormorants were available for side-by-side comparison to the trail’s namesake...


Plus we got good looks at some preposterous heads, like these Wood Storks and Black Vultures...


And as if finally heading to the parking lot wasn't enough in itself, we were graced with a close flyby of a Short-tailed Hawk, followed by Swallow-tailed Kites that provided photos of front, back, and feeding on the wing...



We made multiple stops at the various roadside ponds to 'get me a Black-necked Stilt lifer' and to see all the crazy waders and waterfowl...


We skulked through Mahogany Hammock hoping for a White-crowned Pigeon - yes, this is an uncommon Florida specialty pigeon...but we had to settle for a personal conversation with a White-eyed Vireo instead. Low and behold on the way out of Mahogany Hammock we both gasped aloud as a White-crowned Pigeon flew in front of the car...I cried out "was that a crow with a cookie in it's mouth!?"...I may never live that one down. Lifer, check.


The Snake Bight Trail offered up another lesson in human behavior. Though we never saw another soul on the Snake Bight, we came upon a plastic water bottle discarded in the middle if the trail. Grumbling to each other about land ethics and leaving no trace, we went to pick the litter up and found a dollar bill tucked under the bottle. Was this "Conscience Littering"?! Was someone unable to carry their refuse out, felt guilty about it, and left money as a reward for someone else to pack it out for them?! Again, I had never experienced such a thing. We brought out the bottle, recycled it, and put the dollar in the Park donation box. C'mon folks, how hard was that? Fortunately the Snake Bight trail was also peppered with Black-and-White, Prairie, and Palm Warblers, not to mention more White-eyed Vireos and this Red-bellied Woodpecker...

  
Deeper into the park, at the very tip of the state lies Flamingo. Here we saw loads of Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls and White Ibis - and it was here that I added Black Skimmers to my life list. You can't see them so well in the picture below, but there really is a whole flock of them in the sky...




The Flamingo area buildings gave the place kind of a creepy, post-apocalyptic feel because of hurricane damage, but that didn't stop us from using their facilities, busting out a leftover pizza from the trunk, and napping under the breezy, moss-laden trees...



Ospreys were everywhere - and deafening. Coming from coastal Maine, I have heard and seen my fair share of fish hawks, but this was ridiculous. I've never seen a concentration like that. It was awesome...




We explored parts of the Coastal Prairie Trail and admittedly turned back to beat the midday heat after we got good looks at a Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow near this area...




We gazed out at the Keys, longing to bird there, dreaming of a nextimus to the Dry Tortugas (see Florida AVICATION Part I post for definition of 'nextimus')...



We put in some long hours in the few days we had allotted to Everglades National Park. Overall I totaled 17 lifers and we saw over 60 species in the Park alone. We had some up close and personal lessons in human behavior and we birded ourselves down to the bone. We were exhausted and hungry but it was amazing, and I need to go back...

December 15, 2011

Burly Bird featured on Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds!

I was fortunate enough to stumble across this awesome blog during my online travels...Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds (BBB).  Read it, follow it, join it, or just skulk it out anonymously if that's how you roll...but the posts make me laugh out loud and I always 'oooh' and 'ahhh' over the fabulous bird pictures.

And now Burly Bird has not only graced the BBB blog itself, but also items that are daily essentials in the life and adventures of Seagull Steve...clearly this COLO Burly Bird makes the necessity of refueling much, much more fun...


And who wouldn't stay more hydrated with this WBNU Burly Bird on their water bottle?




Ingenious placements if I do say so myself.

December 10, 2011

Maine Winter Birding...


Maine winters can be pretty long and cold.  Some days feel completely devoid of avian life.  The yards are quiet, the fields are quiet, and your binos feel neglected.  You learn to appreciate the smallest flock of Dark-eyed Juncos, yearn to see a Snowy Owl, and thank the universe for your feeder birds like this White-breasted Nuthatch...


Other days you are delighted by birds like these White-winged Crossbills that came to our feeders a couple of winters ago...

video 


And this Common Redpoll who brought friends that reminded me of the crackling hum of high tension wires...


You can always hope you are visited by a Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch and a Red-breasted nuthatch simultaneously...



Or if you are feeling more adventurous and the weather allows for a bird outing, you can layer up and head to the beach.  Just hold onto that wind-shaky scope and hope a snot-rocket doesn't self-launch just as you get that flock of Razorbills into focus... 


Through your cold-induced tears you might even witness Horned Grebes in their handsome winter-wear slurping eels right off the beach...


Or spot a Bonaparte's Gull bobbing on the waves...

 
 Or a Rough-legged Hawk foraging over a snow-swept field...


Anyway you look at it, we appreciate every winter bird here in Maine - we'll take what we can get, when we get it.  Even if it is wicked cold. 

Stay warm out there and Happy Birding!