Monday, October 27, 2014

Whooping Crane Art at the Smithsonian National Zoo

In 2013, I had the joy and privilege of working with the art curators at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and Gardens, in Washington D.C., in the creation of the interpretive art for their new Whooping Crane Exhibit at the park.  Earlier this year, I had my first opportunity to visit this exhibit--a spectacular experience!
The art images include an identification image for the species (shown on the panel below) and four watercolors for the banners (above) that depict the story of the ultralight-led re-introduction of Whooping Cranes to eastern North America.  
The re-introduction effort began in 2001 and continues today. Now more than 100 Whooping Cranes migrate from Wisconsin to wintering grounds in Florida and other eastern states.

In the early 1940's only fifteen Whooping Cranes remained in the wild migrating population that traveled from Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada, to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. That population was reported recently as having approximately 304 birds. Biologists have been concerned that a natural disaster, man-made disaster or disease could wipe out this entire population. To help ensure that this won't happen, they set a goal to establish a separate, migrating population in the east.

Each banner depicts one phase of the reintroduction story: captive-hatched chick, fall migration behind ultralights, the return to fledging grounds without human assistance, and the wild hatching of young.  It is the hatching of wild young that biologists hope will one day make the eastern population self-sustaining and help ensure that we continue to have wild Whooping Cranes.

When the Whooping Crane, Rocky, arrived at the Zoo in 2011, it was the first time in 88 years that the National Zoo had housed a Whooping Crane. One year later, Rocky was fortunate to receive a companion to join him at the exhibit. The female was hatched at the International Crane Foundation in 1992 and spent a period of time at the Calgary Zoo prior to joining Rocky.  Watching this pair of cranes together was fascinating.

Whooping Cranes are known for their bugle-like calls that can be heard for a distance of over a mile. Oddly enough, Rocky has no voice and no one knows why.

While visiting the exhibit in April, with my son, John, I watched the pair of cranes join each other in guard calls, a call that is given in warning and to sound a unified alert when an intruder is present--in this case, an exhibit attendant filling bird feeders.

Rocky threw his head back, pointed his beak toward the sky, and went through the motions of sounding an alarm call several times.  Within seconds of initiating this "head-thrown-back, open-mouthed" posture, his mate joined him, adding the vigorous, female companion call and making it sound as though both of them were calling.  If I had not known Rocky was mute, I would have never guessed this was so while watching their behavior.
Next time you are in our nation's capital, visit this spectacular park.  You will enjoy all of the exhibits, but especially say 'hello' to Rocky and his mate, and take in the art banners and interpretive panels. I am proud of the exhibit and proud of our international efforts to insure the survival of this spectacular species.

Visit my website gallery to see larger images of the banner art and more of my Whooping Crane art:  Whooping Cranes
You will also find Whooping Crane prints and art cards for sale at my online Shop
Visit my blog, Vickie's Sketchbook, to see more about the watercolor techniques used to create the banner art.
Go to Operation Migration’s Field Journal to learn about the current ultralight migration.
More about Whooping Cranes on this blog.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Seven Islands State Birding Park--Migrating Warblers!

A beautiful morning full of migrating warblers!
It is fascinating and exciting to see the transition of activities and birds as summer moves into fall. What our banding team captures in the mist net tells that story of change.
Patty Ford and Eddy Whitson set up a mist net in one of the net lanes.

Just a few weeks ago, our mist nets were full of fledgling American Goldfinch and young Field Sparrows and our nets were so full of birds that we had to close a few for a while inorder to get them all banded.  More than 100 birds were processed.
 Above, Patty Ford, stretching a mist net to its end pole.

Today's session was also busy, but the story moved from breeding season to migration.   Above and below, a beautiful Magnolia Warbler.  Even with their fading fall colors, warblers are stunning. 
Magnolia warblers are boreal forest breeders, breeding in Canada and the northeastern U.S.  This time of year they are on their way to wintering grounds, mostly in Mexico and the West Indies to Panama, fattening up along the way.
Above, the beautiful tail pattern of the Magnolia Warbler.
One of the indicators of a healthy, migrating bird are the fat deposits found on the bird's belly indicating that the bird has met its nutritional needs well enough to store fat that will sustain it during its long journey.  In the image above, the oval, light, bulging area shows the bird's fat deposits which, on the banding report, were recorded as level "three" (zero indicates no fat).
Above, a Palm Warbler showing its new band.  Billie Cantwell is holding the bird in a bander's grip while she consults Pyle's Guide for details on aging.  Below, she is examining the wing.  Mark Armstrong is weighing a bird on the scale. A small stocking is placed over the bird's head to keep it calm until weight is measured, which only takes a few seconds.
Palm warblers breed in the northern boreal forests of Canada and are moving through Tennessee now on their way to more southerly wintering territories along the coast.
In the image above, you see a Palm Warbler's wing and tail as Mark and Billie consult on the freshness and color of feathers to help determine the bird's age.
Palm Warbler

The banding table.  Mark Armstrong, Master Bander (left), Billie Cantwell, banding apprentice, and Janie Kading recording, all members of the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society.

 Another beautiful wood warbler species--the Tennessee Warbler.

Billie uses a straw to blow feathers away from the skull.  The skull of a young bird is pink. Because a bird's skin is transparent, other charateristics of growth and age can be found from examining the skull.  

Tennessee Warbler

Billie opens her hand and the Tennessee Warbler pauses for a moment before it flies away.

Above, Justine Cucchiara, the parks' ranger-in-training, talks with birder, Morton Massey.

A beautiful male Eastern Bluebird.  Several bluebirds were caught in adjacent nets and were calling to each other while held in bags waiting to be processed.  Their calls helped us locate them (which bags) and they were processed and released in a short amount of time.
Eastern bluebirds wander in family groups during the late summer and fall months and remain in Tennessee during the winter.  They are often joined by northern birds and maintain a wintering flock to aid winter survival.
Above, Billie bands a male Eastern Bluebird, and below, an image of the dark tips on his wing feathers
In addition to Western Palm Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, Magnolia Warblers and Common Yellow-throats, the Oven Bird was our fourth warbler species for the day.

Always a favorite, this beautifully marked ground-nesting warbler breeds in Tennessee. This time of year the species is moving to northern South America for the winter.
Situated on more than 410 acres along the French Broad River, Seven Islands State Birding Park includes raparian zones (where land and water meet) and open grassland habitat planted with native grasses, wildflowers, shrubby fruit-bearing plants, and trees, providing favored habitat and food sources for many grassland species and migrating warblers.

Visit my previous posts on bird banding.
More views of the Oven Bird
More information on Eastern Bluebirds:  Bluebird Family
Knoxville Chapter, Tennessee Ornithological Society
Visit the Knoxville Chapter of TOS on Facebook
Seven Islands State Birding Park
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge now Seven Islands State Birding Park

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Juvenile Helpers" in Bluebirds of North America Summer Issue!

By September, most of our Eastern Bluebirds in Tennessee are wandering, hanging out in open fields and woodland edges, families of bluebirds traveling together, and some flocking with other families, to teach their juveniles survival skills.  
Watching bluebird families is fascinating and I decided to share some of my observations with the Journal of the North American Bluebirds Society.  To my delight, the publication editor, Scott Gillihan, liked my article and published it in the 2014 Summer issue of Bluebird, Journal of the North American Bluebird Society, with the title, "Eastern Bluebird Juvenile Helpers in Two Successive Seasons."
The article and photos describe my observations in 2011 and again, in 2012, when in the last days before a family's second brood was to fledge, the parent female disappeared. The male solicited help from his three juveniles to care for the young, and I watched the juveniles participate in feeding the nestlings, removing fecal sacs, chasing away intruders, and feeding their siblings after they fledged.
Visit the North America Bluebird Society's website to find a wealth of information about bluebirds. In Tennessee, as well as, many southeastern states, bluebirds remain near their breeding territories during the winter months, visiting nest boxes for potential winter roost sites and in search of possible nesting sites in the spring.
Above, two eastern bluebird juveniles visit the bird bath.

The Journal, Bluebirds, is a publication that is received with membership in the North American Bluebird Society.  Information about membership can be found here.

Visit my videos of juvenile helpers at this link:  Bluebird Family Videos and see more blog posts about bluebird families by clicking the link.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival Features Banding!

One of the central attractions of the Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival each year is the hummingbird banding demonstrations given by Mark Armstrong, Master Bander of hummingbirds and songbirds.  

Small groups make it easier for everyone to hear the bander and see the banding process.  While visitors wait their turn, Oliver Lang, above, talks with visitors about hummers and banding.   In another area, Mike Nelson describes the life of hummingbirds and how they are captured for banding. In the images below, Mike shows a tiny hummingbird nest to visitors from Indiana.
Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

Hummingbirds are captured in wire traps that surround the feeder.  The traps have a door that lifts open.  Hummingbirds seeking nectar will go inside the trap to drink and the door, connected to a long fishing line, can be lowered once the hummer is inside.
Hummingbirds are attracted to nectar feeders and flowers.  A large stand of Jewel Weed was present near the hummingbird banding area.
Photo credit:  Jody Stone               Jewel Weed is a favorite nectar blossom for hummingbirds

Hummingbirds that are captured in the traps are removed and carefully placed in a mesh bag to hold them until the bander is ready to process them.  Hummingbirds, like other birds, feed more actively in the early morning hours.
Photo credit:  Jody Stone

Master banders undergo many hours of training and receive a special certification that allows them to capture and band birds.  Data collected is reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory in Bethesda, Maryland, and contributes to scientific knowledge about bird populations and migration patterns.
Before he removes the hummer from the bag. Mark explains what he is going to do and how the band fits on the hummingbird's leg. 

He first checks to see if the hummingbird wears a band. Below, he uses a blunt darning needle as a tool to lift the hummers tiny foot and check its legs.
When no band is present, Mark places a new band on the hummer's leg with a special number series that will identify the bird if re-captured.  
The band is closed around the leg with a special set of banding plyers.
Below, you can see the band and its tiny numbers.  If Mark captures a hummer that is already wearing a band, he records the band number and checks his records to see if the band number is one of his.  This year at the hummingbird festival, he re-captured one of the hummingbirds that he banded at last year's festival, giving him an opportunity to check its health.  Hummingbirds are known to be very loyal to their feeding territories and can often be found in that territory on the same days each year.

Photo credit:  Karen Wilkinson

Above and below, Mark examines a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird using magnifying glasses. With a digital instrument, he measures the length of the beak.
Photo credit:  Karen Wilkinson

Males, females and juveniles range in the length of their beaks, with the males generally having shorter beaks.
Above, Mark uses a magnifying loop to examine a juvenile's beak for grooving to help age the bird. Juvenile bills are still growing and have grooves while adults have no grooving
When the examination is complete, Mark shows visitors the banded hummer.  Janie Kading (left) assists him during banding.
Photo credit:  Karen Wilkinson

When banding is complete, an assistant allows a young visitor to release the bird. The sensation of a hummer's wings fluttering in the hand as it buzzes away is delightful to all ages!
Photo credit:  Karen Wilkinson

Watch for next years festival date on this blog's side bar.  I will post it where you see the current year's date as soon as the 2015 date is decided!

Visit all the posts on this year's festival by clicking the link:  Wonder of Hummingbirds--2014

Wonder of Hummingbird festival on Facebook
Wonder of Hummingbird Festival Blog
Wonder of Hummingbird Festival_2013
Wonder of Hummingbird Festival 2013 on Tennessee Wildside
KTOS on Facebook
Hummingbird Banding Demonstration 2009
Mark Armstrong, Master Bander
Knoxville Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society
Ijams Nature Center

For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham