Archive

Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Rainbow Lorikeets, birds of Cairns (Australia), and Twitter

March 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Today’s post features photos of the birds I saw while I was in Cairns, Australia. I primarily birded around the botanical gardens and the waterfront area (Cairns Esplanade).

Also, if you have a twitter account, you can follow me at: https://twitter.com/Ft_Mc_Biologist

I primarily plan to post wildlife pictures I have taken, many of which will feature parrots.

Rainbow Lorikeets were very common in the Cairns area. They were usually present in groups and they are very colorful, active and noisy. There’s a group of trees downtown they like to roost in,  and as the sun sets, hundreds of them gather in these trees and make an incredible amount of noise.

I saw the above birds downtown. They stayed upside down like that for a while and beak sparred with each other.

Lorikeets consume a lot of nectar and the bird above is licking nectar off of some flowers. Lorikeets have long, brushy tongues that allow them to maximize the amount of nectar they can get, and that allow them to reach deep into long flowers.

A lot of nectar-feeding birds simply lap up nectar and pollen without destroying flowers. Lorikeets, on the other hand, can be destructive at times. I took the above photo at the Cairns Botanic Garden. This mess was created by a flock of Rainbow Lorikeets feeding on flowers in a tall tree. The bird on the ground picking through the mess is an Australian Brush Turkey.

Here’s one of the lorikeets that was contributing to the mess. These birds were quite high up so the pictures I took of them aren’t great. Rainbow Lorikeets were (I think) the only bird I saw every day on my trip to Australia.

There’s a large group of Spectacled Flying Foxes (fruit bats) that roosts downtown in Cairns as well. They take off at night to feed on fruit, and gather in the roost tree to sleep during the day.

The below slide show contains more pictures of land-based wildlife I took while I was in Cairns:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Below are photos of shorebirds and other water birds. The pictures are primarily from the Cairns Esplanade, but there are a few lakes at the botanic gardens that have a lot of birds around them. If you are in the Cairns area and like birds, you can’t go wrong by spending some time at the Esplanade. There are numerous shorebirds along the beach (especially in the early morning), and birds are abundant in the woodsy parks in the area as well. I managed to spend most of the day there, wandering around watching the birds.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

Photos from Kakadu National Park

December 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Here are a few slideshows of photos I took while I was in Kakadu National Park in northern Australia in September 2017.

This first slideshow contains photos I took at the Yellow Water Billabong on a boat ride with Yellow Water Cruises. I took two cruises (one in the late afternoon and one in the early morning), and they were definitely worth it. There is an abundance of bird life around the billabong, and Saltwater Crocodiles were quite common. I also saw a couple of snakes and several Agile Wallabies. A boat cruise is a good way to see waterbirds and reptiles in the park, as it is generally unsafe to hike near water in northern Australia due to the presence of Saltwater Crocodiles. These crocodiles can be aggressive and will attack (and sometimes kill and consume) people. I did go hiking in Kakadu, but avoided going near the water.

Crocodile Munch

Beware of crocodiles!

Click through the slideshow to see the wildlife of the Yellow Water Billabong!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Asian Water Buffalo in the park are not native and were introduced to the park in the 1880s so they could be hunted. The feral pigs are not native either, and they can unfortunately be quite destructive. Park authorities periodically conduct culls of them, but as they (pigs) are quite fecund, there are still a lot of them around.

The Comb-crested Jacanas display some rather unusual behaviours. Most bird species are monogamous or polygynous (where one male mates with several females). However, jacanas are polyandrous, as females will mate with multiple males, and males incubate the eggs. The young are fairly independent when they hatch, but they do stick around with the male for a while after hatching as he will protect them and guide them to foraging areas.

Magpie Geese also have an unusual mating system. Rather than being strictly monogamous like most geese, breeding trios are common in this species, where one male will pair with two females. The females and male will share the nest and care of the young. I should note that Magpie Geese are in a different family (Anseranatiade) than other geese (which are in the family Anatidae). The Magpie Goose lineage appears to be very old, although only one species remains in the family.

The below slideshow shows pictures I took on various walks in the park. The bush fire pictured was near the town of Jabiru. The Aboriginal people of Australia sometimes intentionally start such bush fires to manage vegetation. This is something they have done for millennia, and it is something they still do. There are numerous reasons for this practice. For example, it can encourage new vegetation growth which attracts grazing animals that can be easily hunted.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Kakadu is also known for its Aboriginal Rock art. Some rock art sites are off-limits to visitors, while other sites are easily accessed and can be viewed by visitors. I took pictures of rock art, as well as the informational signs about it. The Warradjan Cultural Centre in Kakadu has a lot of information on the rock art and other aspects of the culture and history of the Aboriginal people of the region.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next up will be pictures of birds from Cairns, with a focus on Rainbow Lorikeets. I saw numerous Rainbow Lorikeets in Kakadu, but didn’t get any good pictures.

Bare-eyed Cockatoos in Kakadu National Park

November 9, 2017 1 comment

I took a trip to Australia this September (2017), primarily to view birds and other wildlife. I spent time on the Cape York Peninsula (which is the peninsula on the northeast corner of the continent), the city of Cairns, and Kakadu National Park, which is in the Northern Territory. I took a lot of photos, which I am going to start sharing here.

I’ll start with photos I took in Kakadu, the location of which is shown in the map below:

kakadu

I was there during the middle of September, which is the dry season in northern Australia. It was also hot (up to 39 C) while I was there, and some of the waterbodies in the park were dried up. However, much of the park is more accessible during the dry season, as roads won’t be blocked by floodwater.

I explored the park on my own in a rented vehicle I picked up in Darwin. My first stop in the park was at the Aurora Kakadu Lodge, so I could pick up a park pass and have a look at the birds on the hotel grounds. Some sprinklers were on, which attracted all sorts of birds, including a large flock of Bare-eyed Cockatoos (Cacatua sanguinea). The birds were attracted to the sprinkler water, as well as the nice green grass and plants being watered by it.

Bare-eyed Cockatoos

Bare-eyed Cockatoos playing in a sprinkler at Kakadu National Park.

These Bare-eyed Cockatoos were among some of the most amusing wild birds I have ever watched. In that way, they reminded me of the keas I saw about ten years ago in New Zealand. The Bare-eyed Cockatoos were very playful and would wrestle each other like puppies, tackling each other and rolling on their backs, all the while squealing with apparent delight. I’ve seen many pet lories, caiques, and cockatoos act that way, but it was interesting seeing wild birds play like that. Cockatoos even have beaks that are shaped in a way that makes them look like they are smiling, so they can be very charming animals,

Corellas playing

Wild Bare-eyed Cockatoos playing under a sprinkler.

Corella

No, he’s not dead – he (she?) had been knocked over by another bird and got back up shortly after I took this picture.

Corellas

Bare-eyed Cockatoos

I took some video of these birds as well:

Bare-eyed Cockatoos (also called “Little Corellas”) were quite common throughout the park, both around lodges/camping areas and in wilderness areas. I saw several around the Cooinda Lodge, which is where I stayed while I was in Kakadu. They typically occurred in flocks of at least a few dozen birds, and sometimes a few Sulphur-crested Cockatoos would be associated with them. Bare-eyed Cockatoo flocks can number in the thousands, especially in agricultural areas.

Mixed cockatoos

A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (foreground) and two Bare-eyed Cockatoos in Kakadu National Park.

I noticed that the wild Australian Bare-eyed Cockatoos I saw were a bit bigger than most of the captive ones I have seen in Canada. The reason is that most Bare-eyed Cockatoos in North America are the descendants of birds that were originally caught on the island of New Guinea. The Bare-eyed Cockatoos that occur on New Guinea (subspecies Cacatua sanguinea transfreta) are generally a bit smaller than the Australian ones.

corella map

Bare-eyed Cockatoo Range. Orange shows where they are native and purple shows where they were introduced. Map from http://www.iucnredlist.org/

Although they can be active and playful, during the hottest times of the day, Bare-eyed Cockatoos (and many other birds) will usually rest in trees, preferably in the shade. I saw many flocks of resting cockatoos in trees, and on very hot days they would sometimes be panting. They usually rested in woodlands close to a source of water.

Corella tree 3

Unless there’s a nice, cooling sprinkler around, many cockatoos spent time resting during the hottest part of the day.

Corellas 2

A pair of Bare-eyed Cockatoos. The bird on the right was panting, as it was about 39 C outside.

Bare-eyed Cockatoos usually forage on the ground but will sometimes feed in trees, and they will eat a variety of grass seeds (grains), nuts, fruits, berries, roots, and insect larvae. They will eat a variety of crop plants, and can be very common in agricultural areas.

Corellas Grazing

Bare-eyed Cockatoos foraging on the ground.

Corella 2

A Bare-eyed Cockatoo forages in a tree.

Bare-eyed Cockatoos were the most common parrot species that I saw in Kakadu. The other common cockatoo species I saw, the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, will be the subject of my next post.

 

Fascinating Feathers – Structure, Function and Care

August 31, 2016 Leave a comment
(NOTE: Here is an article about feathers that I wrote for ‘Parrots’ magazine).

Feathers are the defining feature of birds. Today, all birds and only birds have feathers. Feathers are versatile structures that allow birds to fly, provide them with lightweight insulation and protection, and can be used for communication. Feathers also give birds their color and much of their beauty and grace. Let’s examine these fascinating and unique structures in detail.

Feather Construction

Feathers are composed primarily of a protein called beta (β) keratin. Keratin proteins are found in the skin, scales, and hair of many animals. However, there are structural variations among different types of keratin. The β keratin molecules found in bird feathers are shaped like pleated sheets while the alpha (α) keratin molecules found in mammal skin and hair are helix (spiral) shaped. However, bird β keratin is quite similar to the β keratin found in reptile skin. β keratin is also found in bird claws, scales, and beaks, but the β keratin found in feathers is more elastic than other types of β keratin.

Mature feathers lack a blood supply and are therefore ‘dead’ structures that cannot be naturally repaired if damaged. Newly-growing feathers, however, are living structures with a blood supply, and as such are sometimes referred to as “blood feathers.” However, as a growing feather matures, the blood supply in it will start to recede. In large, shed parrot feathers, it is frequently possible to see remnants of the blood vessels that supplied the feather with blood as it was growing. These remnants (called ‘pulp caps’) will be present as thin bands that stretch across the inside of the hollow shaft of the feather.

New, growing feathers are coated in a waxy sheath that will flake off as the feather matures. Birds remove these sheaths by preening, but because birds cannot preen their own heads, single birds that do not have a partner to preen them may retain the sheaths on their head feathers a little longer than normal. Many parrot owners will preen pin feathers on their birds’ heads, but only do this when the sheaths are dry and flake off easily.

PHOTO3

The bands seen in the quill of this Blue and Gold Macaw feather are called “pulp caps.” They are the remnants of the blood vessels that supplied the feather with nutrients while it was growing.

As feathers can become worn through daily wear and tear, they are molted and regrown at periodic intervals. As parrots kept in captivity will experience different patterns of light and dark and may be fed different diets, the timing of the molt can vary among captive parrots. A parrot that has not undergone a molt for a long time (i.e. over a year) may have quite a bit of damage on the tips of its feathers. There may also be some black or brownish marks on the feathers, especially at the tips.

As feathers are made primarily of protein, parrots need sufficient protein in their diets to grow strong, healthy feathers. Pelleted diets generally contain sufficient protein (and amino acids), as can mixtures of grains, cooked beans, peas, quinoa and corn.

Feather Types

There are several types of feathers on a parrot, which include contour feathers, down feathers, semiplumes, bristles, and filoplumes. Within some of these major categories are different subtypes which have distinctive structures and functions.

Contour Feathers

Most of the feathers that are visible on an adult parrot are contour feathers. These include the tail feathers (also called “remiges”), the flight feathers (also called “retrices”), and the outer (visible and usually coloured) feathers on the head and body. The contour feathers have several functions. The flight feathers allow the bird to fly and the tail feathers help the bird control its flight path. Contour feathers also provide some insulation and waterproofing, protect the body from dust and debris, and can play an important role in communication. For example, cockatoos have erectile crests on their heads that they can raise and lower in order to express anger, surprise, or excitement. Hawk-headed parrots also have a ‘headdress’ of feathers on their heads they can erect. Even parrots without such specialized feathers can erect the contour feathers on their heads and napes if agitated or alarmed. Additionally, many parrots will fan out their tail feathers if alarmed or excited.

Contour feathers are the most structurally complex feathers on a parrot. They are composed of a long, central shaft that has a flat ‘vane’ on either side, except at the base. The base of the central shaft is hollow and will lack a vane. This part of the shaft is called the ‘calamus.’ The upper part of the central shaft, which has a vane on both sides, is called the rachis.

If you take a shed feather and pull the vane apart, you will see that there are many thin, hair-like structures branching off of the rachis. These are called barbs. Many contour feathers have two types of barbs, which are called plumulaceous barbs and pennaceous barbs. Plumulaceous barbs are located near the base of the feather and are white, loose, and soft. Some flight feathers have few or no plumulaceous barbs. Pennaceous barbs are located above the plumulaceous barbs and are firmer. In the pictures of blue and gold macaw feathers accompanying this article, the pennaceous bars are blue.

feathers2

Blue and Gold Macaw body contour feathers. The fluffy barbs at the base are called plumulaceous barbs and the stiffer blue ones are called pennaceous barbs.

The structure of pennaceous barbs is quite complex. Each barb will have a central shaft called a ramus. Each ramus will then have two rows of structures branching off of them called barbules. These will appear as ‘fuzz’ on the ramus to the naked eye. The ends of the barbules on one side may be covered in little hooks called barbicels. The barbicels can neatly wrap around the barbules on the barbs above. When all of these little hooks are wrapped around the barbules above them, the feather will have a very smooth and neat appearance. However, when a bird goes about its daily activities, the hooks can become dislodged from the barbules.

feather thing

Above: The ramus of a Red-lored Amazon flight feather, as seen under a light microscope. It has numerous barbules branching off of it, the tips of which are covered in barbicels (the hook-like structures)

Birds can restore the structure of their feathers by preening. When preening, a bird will run his feathers through his beak and this will rehook the barbs on the feathers back together. You can try this with a shed contour feather – pull the barbs apart and see if you can “zip” them back together with your fingers.

Remiges and Retrices

The remiges (tail feathers) and retrices (flight feathers) are the largest and stiffest feathers on a parrot and they provide little insulation but are critical for flight. They differ from other feathers in that they are generally attached to bones, instead of being anchored in the skin.

The primary flight feathers (the flight feathers at the end of the wing) provide forward thrust when a bird flaps its wings downward. These feathers are attached to a bird’s manus (‘hand’) bones and the bones of its second digit. Parrots have ten primary feathers. The secondary flight feathers are also critical for flight and they help provide a great deal of lift. These feathers attach to the ulna (“arm bone”) of the wing. Most parrots will have ten secondary feathers but this number varies from 8-14.

The primary and secondary flight feathers differ from contour feathers on the body in being asymmetrical, as the leading vane will be narrower than the trailing vane. Both primaries and secondaries are asymmetrical, but the primary flight feathers are typically longer and more pointed than the secondary flight feathers.

Parrots have twelve retrices (tail flight feathers), which also have asymmetrical vanes. The central retrices are attached to the tail bone (pygostyle). Tail feathers play an important role in steering and braking.

Down Feathers

Underneath the contour feathers are down feathers. They provide lightweight and effective insulation and they are white and have a simpler structure than contour feathers. They either lack a central rachis, or have a very short one. If there is a rachis, the barbs will be much longer than it. The barbs can have small projections on them, but they do not hook together the way pennaceous barbs on a contour feather can.

unnamed

A down feather from a Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, as seen under a microscope.

Cockatoos, African gray parrots, and Mealy Amazons also produce large numbers of specialized down feathers called powder down feathers. A few other groups of birds, including herons, also produce powder down feathers. The barbs of powder down feathers slowly disintegrate over time and produce a white talcum-like powder that will coat the bird’s feathers. Unlike other types of feather, powder down feathers grow continuously and are not molted.

Semiplumes

There are feathers that appear to be intermediate between a down and a contour feather. These are called semiplumes. Unlike down feathers, they have a central rachis, but the barbs are white and fluffy, like the barbs on down feathers. They are usually hidden underneath the surface contour feathers and likely help with insulation.

Filoplumes and Bristles

Filoplumes are inconspicuous feathers that are hard to see and are somewhat hair-like in appearance. They are composed of a central shaft with a few short barbs at the top. They are associated with contour feathers, especially those on the wings and tail. They have a sensory function and monitor the movements of the contour feathers. When feathers associated with filoplumes move, the filoplumes move too. Because filoplumes have many sensory cells at their bases, their movement allows the bird to sense movement in his feathers.

Bristles are also simple in structure. They are short and have a central shaft with a few barbs at the base. On parrots, they are often located around the eye and nostrils where they presumably have a protective function and keep debris out.

Preening and the Preen Gland

Parrots spend a lot of time preening their feathers in order to keep them smooth and clean. A small gland just above the base of the tail also plays an important role in preening. This gland (the uropygial, or “preen” gland) secretes a mixture of chemicals, including waxes, fatty acids, fat, and water. When parrots preen, they often nibble at the preen gland (to get preen gland oil on the beak) and then rub their beaks along their feathers. That applies the preen gland oil to the feathers. They may also rub their heads against the gland and then rub their heads on the feathers.

It is not completely clear what the function of preen gland oil is (particularly in parrots), although it generally appears to help with waterproofing feathers and maintaining their elasticity. In addition, the preen gland oil of chickens contains vitamin D precursors, and many books and articles on birds state that when ultraviolet light hits these precursors after they are spread on feathers, they are converted to vitamin D, which the bird can then ingest as it preens. Thus, preen gland oil may provide a vitamin D supplement. However, some parrots, including Amazons and Hyacinth Macaws, lack preen glands but do not generally suffer from vitamin D deficiencies.

Parrots preen themselves to maintain the integrity of their feathers, and they also need baths or showers to keep their feathers clean and healthy. Some birds prefer showers, and such birds should be sprayed with water a few times per week. Others may prefer to bath, and such birds should be offered bowls of water for bathing purposes. If a parrot really enjoys water, it’s fine to bath or shower him or her every day if desired.

Conclusion

Feathers are beautiful and complex structures. They provide our parrots with warmth, help them to communicate, protect them from debris, and allow them to fly. Because feathers are so important, they are molted and regrown as they become worn. They also require maintenance, which parrots provide through preening and bathing. You can help your parrot have healthy feathers by providing him or her with a healthful diet and periodic baths or showers.
Categories: Birds Tags: , ,

Fleeing the Flames

June 27, 2016 Leave a comment

Back to blogging again! My life has been very crazy during the past couple of months. I was offered a new job working as a biologist specializing in birds that required me to move to Fort McMurray, Alberta. The job started in May and my husband and I decided that I would move up first with five of the parrots and Micro the Maltese, while he stayed behind with the rest of the pets to prepare our house for sale.

The five parrots to come with me were Pteri (Blue and Gold Macaw), Mitri (Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo), Ripley (Red-lored Amazon), Chiku (Green-cheeked Conure mix), and Dip (Rose-crowned Conure). Sadly, Peggy, my Jenday Conure (who I named this blog after), had passed away in November, 2015. Otherwise, she would have come with me as well. Dip is a new bird I got in December 2015.

I moved up April 30 and during the evening of May 1, I noticed a huge cloud of smoke coming up from the south of the city. I later found out that a forest fire had started there, and that it had started to spread very quickly.

uhoh

Picture of smoke taken May 1 2016. Fort McMurray.

Most of the city was extremely smoky on May 2 and a few communities in the southern part of the city were ordered to evacuate but I wasn’t affected. On the morning of May 3, everything looked quite clear but the city fire chief noted that this was deceptive, as the smoke from the fire was staying near the ground due to the weather conditions. He warned people that the fire was not under control.

By the afternoon, I could see heavy smoke coming from two different directions, and bits of burned debris (including conifer needles) were falling from the sky. More parts of the city were ordered to evacuate, and I was starting to think that I would have to evacuate as well.

inferno

This did not look good. Picture taken May 3 2016, Fort McMurray.

ash

Ash falling on the windshield of my car.

Unfortunately, my car was very low on gas, and by the time I was able to try to fill it up, gas stations in the area of the city I lived in had run out of gas. Luckily, I was able to get out of town with a co-worker and we were able to take a work truck.

Once the part of town I lived in was ordered to evacuate, I had to gather up my parrots and dog, and decide what to bring with us. I had no idea how long this evacuation would go on or where we would end up. I did have five carriers handy – one for each bird – but Micro would have to leave with just his harness and leash. When packing supplies, the first thing I thought of were the parrots, and I packed bags of parrot pellets, small bowls, several towels, newspaper, and several bottles of water. I also prepared a big Ziploc bag of dog food, which I ended up forgetting. This meant that Micro got to eat a lot of people food during his adventure. For me, I brought some toiletries (toothpaste, soap, etc), socks, underwear, my laptop, and a book. My co-worker picked us up in a truck and we headed out.

Getting out of town took a long time as there are only two roads out of the city – Highway 63 going north or Highway 63 going south. We were in the northern part of the city so we went north.  All of the radio stations in Fort McMurray had stopped broadcasting so we listened to CBC (the national radio station) for updates.

gettingout

Gridlock in Fort McMurray

There is only one hamlet north of Fort McMurray that can be reached by road, which is the First Nations community of Fort MacKay. The town did generously house many evacuees but there was no way it could handle the tens of thousands of people who had to flee north. This left various work lodges as potential evacuee destinations. There are many oil extraction operations north of Fort McMurray and there are a lot of lodges there that house workers at these operations. Some of them are huge and can house a few thousand people.

Numerous work lodges opened their doors to evacuees and a lot of the larger oil operations sent workers home to make room for evacuees. After several hours of driving north, we saw a person holding a sign saying that the Shell Albian Sands camp was open and had room for evacuees so we headed there.

It took us about eight hours to arrive at the camp. Under normal circumstances, it takes about 45 minutes to make the same drive. Because of the fuel shortage, some people had to abandon their vehicles at the side of the road. However, the police were patrolling the roads to help people who had run out of fuel. I also saw people heading north riding on ATVs.

jam

Vehicles heading north on Highway 63.

Once we got to the Shell camp, we had to park the truck in a lot and wait in a line outside for a bus to shuttle us to the camp. The parrots were surprisingly calm given the circumstances and they attracted a lot of attention. Pteri in particular generated a lot of interest as she would say “Hi!” to people. I did have to warn people not to put their hands in the bird cages, as all the birds were tired and probably cranky. Micro, however, was happy to have attention and a lot of kids petted him. There were also a lot of other dogs waiting in the line, and even a few cats. As far as I know, all of the lodges taking evacuees were allowing pets of all types.

The shuttle bus arrived and luckily I had a lot of help getting the five birds onto the bus. They had never really ridden on buses before but they were very quiet. Once we arrived, we had to stay in a common area as the camp was saving rooms for people with small children or health problems. We were given a bunch of blankets and pillows by the staff.

I stacked the parrots by a wall and made sure they all had food and water. It was about 2 am by the time I got everyone settled. I also covered Pteri’s cage with a towel as she would screech when she saw people get too close to her cage. Having the towel over her cage seem to calm her down.

I tried sleeping on the floor. Admittedly I did not get much sleep as my dog was, understandably, rather agitated so he whined a lot. He was in a room with other dogs, a few cats, and many stressed and upset people. Many of these people had lost their homes and those who hadn’t were worried that they would. I had to take Micro outside a few times for bathroom breaks. At one point, I tied him to my heavy bag and tried to rest, but he backed out of his harness and wandered around the lodge. Someone found him and called my cell number (which was on Micro’s collar tags).

The next day, we were able to get a little room, which relieved me as I think the parrots were getting a stressed at this point. I was able to give each bird some time out of their cages to stretch their wings. We had a luggage cart they were able to perch on as well. They all seemed quite content once we got into a room. They were fairly quiet, and spent their time napping, preening, or eating.

Mitriperch

Mitri perches and preens on a luggage cart

The birds had enough pellets to eat, but I was able to get them some vegetables and fruit from the cafeteria. Evacuees were able to eat for free at the large cafeteria that is normally used by the workers who stay at the lodge.

We stayed at the lodge for a few days, but then they started to fly people out to either the Calgary or Edmonton airports. People and animals were being flown out at no cost from the oil sands aerodromes. A few of the oil sands mines have their own private aerodromes that they use to fly workers in and out and Shell is one of them. I signed up to fly back to Edmonton. All of my birds except Chiku (whose carrier would fit under the plane set) would have to fly in the cargo part of the plane but I was assured that they would  be safe. I have to admit I was worried about them. I wrote each birds’ name, my name, and my cell phone number somewhere on each carrier.

To get onto a flight, I had to wait in a long line with the birds’ (in their carriers) on a luggage cart. Of course, they attracted a huge amount of attention. Pteri even delighted a group of people by saying “Good Morning” to them. Most of the time, though, I kept her cage covered with a towel, which seemed to reduce her stress levels. The other parrots were surprisingly calm.

parrotcart

The parrots waiting in line for their flight.

We had to take another bus ride to get to the aerodrome but that went smoothly. Micro and Chiku rode in the passenger section of the plane and the other birds went to cargo.

mitridip

Mitri and Dip ride the bus.

All of the birds and Micro were fine after the flight and they got to ride in a taxi to get back to my place in Edmonton. I had a few spare cages there that my husband and I had intended to sell but hadn’t done so yet. The birds had to stay in these cages.

For a little while, I wasn’t really sure if all the things I had moved to Fort McMurray survived the fire. I saw on the news that several homes a couple blocks from my place had burned to the ground. However, I saw on a later report that my place was okay.

I wasn’t able to go back to Fort McMurray until June 3. There was no major damage to my place and I was able to move the five parrots back up there to their bigger cages. I was also able to retain my job up there. Sadly, many other people were not so lucky, as about 2500 homes were destroyed.

I had a place to keep my parrots while I was in Edmonton but not all evacuees had a place for their pets. One local parrot supply store, Meika’s Birdhouse, generously offered to look after parrots belonging to evacuees. There is a news story about this here:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/parrots-unperched-from-fort-mcmurray-find-refuge-in-sherwood-park-1.3581323

I never really thought I would have to evacuate during an emergency. I’m glad I had enough carriers for my birds and that I was able to get them out safely.

Bird? Or Pile of Leaves?

January 23, 2015 1 comment
Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque

The above example of camouflage in the the animal kingdom is courtesy of the Common Pauraque. A resting pauraque looks very much like a pile of dirt and leaves.  During the day, they rest on an open place on the ground and remain very still so predators will have trouble detecting them. Females also build their nests right on the ground and rely on camouflage for protection.

The particular bird in the above picture was pointed out to me by a tour guide at Estero Llano Grande State Park near Weslaco, Texas. He roosts in the exact same place everyday, so has been photographed by many birders. I even saw his picture in the February 2015 issue of “BirdWatching” magazine.

The guide gave us a good tip on finding roosting pauraques – they often roost on the ground among shrubs where there are a lot of leaves. However, they don’t like to walk much (they have tiny legs) and their wingspans are about a foot and a half wide. So, they will generally be found roosting in spots they can get to by flight. Due to their wingspans, they will be found roosting in areas with suitable flight paths (over a foot wide) leading to them.

Common pauraques are in the nightjar family (Caprimulgidae), which is a family of nocturnal/crepuscular insectivorous birds that generally hunt their prey on the wing. Common Pauraques occur from southern Texas to central South America in woodland areas that have some open areas nearby for foraging. They do rely on their sight while foraging, so they are most active at dusk, near dawn, and on moonlit nights. They do most of their foraging on the wing, but can also jump from the ground to catch insects, and they may run a bit on the ground (despite their tiny legs) to catch insects.

Estero Llano Grande is a good place to see Common Pauraques. I saw a second one fairly close to the first one that was pointed out to me.

Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque

Estero Llano Grande is considered a birding ‘hotspot’ due to the wide variety of habitats found there. It’s also a good place for butterflies. Here are a few more pictures of wildlife I saw there:

Northern Cardinal

There are several bird feeders around the visitor center, where quite a few different birds (such as green jays, inca doves, and black-crested titmice) could be seen. I managed to get a picture of a northern cardinal.  They’re beautiful birds that I don’t get to see very often.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

There were also plenty of hummingbirds visiting the hummingbird feeders. Most of them were buff-bellied hummingbirds, which can be found in the US along the Gulf Coast.  In the US, they breed in southern Texas, but some of them migrate a bit north for the winter and stay along the coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Florida.

Hummingbirds can be very interesting to watch. Despite their tiny size, they can be quite territorial and often chase each other from feeders or flowers.

American Coot

American Coot

There’s a large viewing area by the visitor’s center where one can watch birds at a large wetland. Quite a large variety of waterfowl and wading birds can be seen there, including coots, ducks, ibises and egrets.  The bird in the above picture, an American coot, looks somewhat like a duck but is actually in the rail family.  Note the strange-looking feet – they are not webbed and the toes are lobed.

Gadwall and Northern Shoveller

Gadwall and Northern Shoveller

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

The ducks were also interesting to watch, as many species actually pair up on their wintering grounds, and a few males were already courting females. That’s what the Gadwall in the above picture is doing, although the female gadwalls are out of frame.

There were about seven Yellow-crowned Night Herons around “Alligator Lake.” And yes, I did see a few alligators:

American Alligator

American Alligator

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadees were quite common. The only place to see them in the US is the far south of Texas, but they are very widespread and common in Central and South America.  They can often be found perched on branches near water bodies, where they will repeatedly fly out to capture an insect or small fish.

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

Above is a Black Phoebe. Like the Great Kiskadee, they often perch on branches near water bodies and fly out from the branch, grab an insect, and then fly back to the same or a nearby perch.

Altamira Oriole Nest

Altamira Oriole Nest

Like the Great Kiskadee, the Altamira Oriole is a south Texas specialty.  They are striking, black and orange birds that occur in Central America, Mexico, and the far south of Texas. The above picture shows an Altamira Oriole nest.

I would have liked to see the actual birds but didn’t get a chance that day. However, on the last day of my trip, I went  to the Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, and saw one just as I was walking back to my car. He was even nice enough to perch still so I take his photo:

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole

Texas Birding Trip: Birds of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

January 3, 2015 Leave a comment

In my last post, I wrote about Whooping Cranes and the trip I took to see them at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The Whooping Cranes were the highlight of that trip, but the refuge is home to many other bird species. Here are a few pictures of birds and other wildlife at the refuge:

pelicans

Brown and American White Pelicans

Both species of pelican that occur in North America were quite common in the area.  The smaller Brown Pelicans are coastal species and occur in the area year-round and breed there. American White Pelicans, however, are generally migratory, although there are populations in Texas and Mexico that do not migrate.

These two pelican species have different foraging styles. Brown Pelicans will dive for their food, and I frequently saw them dive straight into the water from the air. American White Pelicans do not dive like that and scoop prey from the water. They will also steal food from other species, especially cormorants.

more pelicans

Brown Pelicans and a Neotropical Cormorant

The above picture shows three adult and one juvenile Brown Pelican. The dark brown bird is the juvenile. Note also the white necks on the adults. Adult Brown Pelicans have white necks when they are not breeding, while during the breeding season, the backs of their necks will be dark brown.

The black bird in above picture is a Neotropical Cormorant. Cormorants are frequently seen in the company of pelicans and both Neotropical and Double-crested Cormorants occur on the south Texas coast. These two cormorant species are not always easy to differentiate, although the neotropicals are smaller, have shorter beaks, and have longer tails. The shape of the gular (throat) pouch also differs between the two species.

American White Pelicans

American White Pelicans

I actually took the above photo in Lethbridge, Alberta, but it shows one structural difference between breeding and non-breeding American White Pelicans. During the early breeding season, American White Pelicans develop a round, horny disk on the top mandible of the beak. This is lost after the breeding season.

pelicans_etc

Brown Pelicans,  Cormorant, Caspian Terns (with red beaks), and Gull-billed Tern (back left)

I managed to see quite a few “lifer” birds on the trip, as I’d never been to the east coast. A “lifer” would be a bird that I had never seen before. The Gull-billed Tern (seen in the above photo) and the Neotropical Cormorant were lifers for me. It’s always exciting to see a see a new species, and ever better for me if I can get a decent picture.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Osprey were very common, but I also managed to see a Peregrine Falcon. Peregrines are well-known for having the fastest dive speed among birds, as they can reach speeds of 320 km/hour during a dive. The species was considered endangered in the United States during the mid twentieth century, and population declines were largely due to the use of organochlorine pesticides (primarily DDT). These pesticides caused females to lay eggs with thin shells. The species has since made a recovery due to DDT bans and the release of captive-bred birds.

turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Shorebirds are abundant on the gulf coast during winter, as many species that breed further north overwinter there. Shown above is a Ruddy Turnstone. They spend the winters on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the USA and breed in the high Arctic. Their breeding plumage is much sharper than their winter plumage.

Willet

Willet

Willets (one is shown above) are medium shorebirds that overwinter on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and breed on the north Atlantic coast and inland in central Canada and the northwestern USA. They are rather plain shorebirds, but in flight, they are easy to recognize due to the sharp, black and white striped patterns they have on the undersides of their wings.

egret

Snowy Egret

Herons were also quite common, and the above photo shows a Snowy Egret (which is in the heron family).  Cattle Egrets, Great Egrets, and Reddish Egrets also occur in the area.

dolphin

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin

Dolphins were also quite common and often swam beside or behind the boat. I also saw several dolphins while on a boat trip off of South Padre Island.

curlews

Long-billed Curlew

I took the photo of the above bird (a Long-billed Curlew) in a field between Harlingen and Corpus Christi. A very large flock of curlews was foraging in the field. Long-billed Curlews often forage for worms in pastures and their long bills help them probe deep into mud. On coasts, where some birds overwinter, they will forage for shrimp and crabs and can often reach them in their mud burrows.

A Ferruginous Hawk and Sprague’s Pipit were also present alongside the curlews. These three species are declining in Canada (the Ferruginous Hawk is particularly scarce), so seeing all of them in one spot was quite thrilling for me.  I couldn’t get a decent picture of the hawk (it was too far away), but here’s a photo of one I took near Mountain View, Alberta.

ferr

Ferruginous Hawk

The Texas pictures were all taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 camera. It has a 60X zoom lens, so I didn’t have to get too close to the birds to get decent pictures.

%d bloggers like this: