Osprey Monitoring

Osprey in Flight

Every week, from April through August, volunteers in Rhode Island head forth to check on Osprey nests. The monitoring program, overseen by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island (ASRI), is a model for efforts in other states. The monitoring of Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in RI began in 1977 by the RI Department of Environmental Management, and was taken over by ASRI in 2010. With one exception, data on Osprey nesting has been collected every year by citizen volunteers. Osprey numbers have increased annually, once the use of DDT was outlawed. The pesticide DDT accumulated in the food chain, causing major problems for birds like Osprey and Bald Eagles (among other species). DDT caused the shells of eggs to be thin, so thin that the weight of adult birds crushed them as the adults tried to incubate the eggs. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring highlighted these impacts, as well as the harmful effects of other pesticides, helping to jump start the modern environmental movement. Once DDT was outlawed in the United States, Osprey, Bald Eagles, and other species began to return in numbers and to locations they had previously enjoyed. Monitoring and reintroduction programs began. I am responsible for monitoring four nests this year, three in Hopkinton, RI, and one in West Greenwich, RI. Three of the four are active, meaning they are occupied and the adult birds appear to be incubating eggs or attending to young. In all cases it is not possible to see into the nests, so I have to judge from the adults’ behavior.

Osprey have several popular names: fish hawk, fish eagle, river hawk, and even sea hawk. As these names suggest, they eat fish exclusively, but are neither eagles nor hawks. Rather, Osprey are the sole species in their biological family. They are a holarctic species, meaning they are found throughout the northern continents of the world. Osprey occur on every continent except Antarctica, although they do not breed in South America, heading south in winter months from their nesting territories in North America. Osprey always fly with their wings crooked in an “M” shape and have a dark patch on their “elbows”, actually the equivalent of their wrists. They have scales on their toes that help them grasp fish, which they capture by diving. Unlike eagles and hawks, Osprey can rotate one toe backwards, better enabling them to hold their prey with two toes forward, two backward.

Looking for the King

King Eider – #3

Recently I went looking for the king–the King Eider, that is. King Eiders are an Arctic species, usually seen only in Alaska in the United States. Very rarely they will wander to the shores of New England in the winter, however. Over 25 years ago one was seen in Rhode Island waters, off the shores of Sachuest Point National Wildlife refuge. That was the first one I had ever seen until this winter, when a male King Eider started floating along the Cape Cod Canal with a bunch of Common Eiders.

King Eider with Common Eiders

Common Eiders are slightly larger than the King, but not as colorful, lovely though they be. The eiders were in a large raft hanging around Herring Run, where it flows into the canal, just south of Bourne, Massachusetts, on the west side of the canal. It was easy to get close to them, as they seemed not to mind people sitting on the rocks beside the water. The Common Eiders were showing some dominance and pair bonding behavior, as males chased one another and lifted up in display of their breasts. Young males were also among the group, the first year males having more dark areas in their plumage than the second year males. Also among the eiders were some Red-breasted Mergansers.

Common Eiders

Male Common Eider – #2

Enjoy these pictures of the King and his cohort.

African Penguins

Click For Animation

Click For Animation

A colony of African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus), also known as Jackass Penguins because of their call, nestles on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa.  Nestled as well are the penguins in their nesting burrows.  Other residents include Rock Hyraxes and visitors such as Cape Wagtails, Egyptian Geese, and Blacksmith Lapwings.

Penguin With Wagtail

Penguin With Cape Wagtail

African penguins are closely related to Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) and Humboldt Penguins (Spheniscus humboldti).  The three  species can be distinguished by their location.  As their name suggests, African Penguins come to land to breed along the southern border of South Africa, whereas Magellanic Penguins breed along the southern coast of South American, in greater concentrations on the Atlantic side of that continent, and Humboldt Penguins nest further north, along the coast of Peru.  They also vary in appearance.  African Penguins generally have a bare (pink) skin patch that extends over the eye, and have a single dark breast band.  Magellanic Penguins have a less extensive bare patch and a double breast band.  In Humboldt Penguins, by contrast, the bare patch extends under the chin, and there is a single breast band.

Visitors access the colony via an extensive boardwalk.  As one walks along, one sees Rock Hyraxes feeding and adult and juvenile penguins near their nesting burrows.  The young birds are of various ages, as breeding is poorly synchronized.  Some are still in their downy plumage from birth, others have more adult plumage, still others are already heading out to the near shore to feed for themselves.  It takes approximately 14 months for the birds to reach adult plumage.

Juvenile Penguin

Juvenile Penguin

Penguins Heading Out To Feed

Penguins Heading Out To Feed

The birds head out to feed singly or in groups.  Watching them return to land and an upright posture can be very entertaining.  In the next image, “Penguins Heading Out To Feed,” I think the animal further out is a Southern White Sea Catfish, but that is only an educated guess.  If anyone reading this can provide a more definitive identification, I’d be glad to know of it.  It is not a shark, I am fairly certain.

Upon returning, the adult birds frequently reinforce their pair bonds by calling and by posturing and bowing to one another.

Young Penguin After Swim

Young Penguin After Swim

Penguins Renewing Pair Bond

Penguins Renewing Pair Bond

Enjoy this little gallery of penguin pics!

Cape Sugarbirds

Cape Sugarbird Male Singing, #1

Cape Sugarbird Male Singing, #1

Did you know there is an entire floristic kingdom almost exclusively found in South Africa?  It’s called “fynbos,” the Afrikaans name meaning fine-leaved.  In Afrikaans, “y” is pronounced as a long “a”, so “fynbos” would sound like “fain-boss”.  Fynbos is also the name of an ecological biome, confined almost exclusively to South Africa.  During our trip we saw several plants endemic (found exclusively in) to the fynbos of South Africa.  A number of fynbos plants belong to the genus Protea, also known as sugarbushes.  These beautiful plants are quite varied, having nectar-rich flowers and beautiful bracts colored pink, red, yellow, and/or orange.  Unfortunately, I’m a very long way from being a botanist, so I was totally overwhelmed by the plant species we encountered.  I had enough difficulty with the new bird groups with no counterparts in North America.  I cannot identify the species of protea these birds are feeding on.

One species of bird did put on quite a show for us on the third day (August 27), however, the Cape Sugarbird.  I was able to get enough photos of this bird to warrant its own post.  As you might expect, Sugarbirds feed on the sugarbush plants.  They are relatively large, larger than the Sunbirds, being 10-17 inches long, including the tail.  There are only two species found in Southern Africa, the ones we saw being Cape Sugarbirds.  This species is endemic to the fynbos, feeding almost exclusively on proteas and associated arthropods.  No hummingbirds are found in the Eastern Hemisphere, so Sunbirds and Sugarbirds fill the same ecological niche, feeding on nectar and thus pollinating the nectar-producing plants.

Looking For A Better Flower, #2

Looking For A Better Flower, #2

Male Sugarbirds have very long tails, with some variety in the length.  The one at the beginning of this post fared well in this regard.  Males will fly up and make a remarkable display, flapping their wings and clattering their tails.  Apparently females find this attractive, for various studies have found that longer tail length yields greater pair bonding success, but not necessarily greater reproductive success.  Those wiley females sometimes mate with shorter-tailed males in addition to their longer-tailed social partners!

We saw two males, one with a longer tail and one with a shorter tail.  Also hopping around and begging for food was a juvenile.

Enjoy this series of images of Cape Sugarbirds. 

Strandfontein Wetlands

From Strandfontein Wetlands

From Strandfontein Wetlands

We were blessed with good weather while at the Cape.  Prepared for rain and low temperatures, we were happily spared both, although South Africa as a whole needs rain.

Our second day, August 26, we traveled south from Cape Town to Strandfontein Wetlands.  This is actually a sewerage treatment area, but there’s little olfactory evidence of its actual purpose.  (In the US, we would use “sewage” instead of “sewerage,” the word used by the facility in South Africa.)  The area is also highly attractive to birds, both grassland species and waterbirds.  We saw some little grassland species, such as the Karoo Prinia and Levaillant’s Cisticola.  The Prinia’s call is a regular buzzy call, but the Cisticola’s is more melodious.

Levaillant's Cisticola, Front

Levaillant’s Cisticola, Front

When we arrived we learned that several avid birders, Twitchers by nick-name, were hoping for another glance of the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, the wayward migrant I mentioned in an earlier post.  We had several brief glimpses of the Fiscal Flycatcher while waiting.  We walked along, looked at the Prinia and Cisticola, then returned, just as the Scrub Robin appeared on a log, perking up its tail similarly to a wren.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Zickefoose Amid Flowers

Julie Zickefoose Amid Flowers

That lovely surprise was followed by beautiful flowers and lots of waterbirds.  We saw Cape Teal and Red-billed Teal.  Teal are small ducks; we have a few species in North America, as well.  Both the Red-billed Teal and the Cape Teal have red bills.  The Red-billed, however, also has a black head.  Easy to tell them apart with that field mark.  We also saw Cape Shovelers, with that unique filtering bill that shovelers have.  The sexes look alike except for eye color; the male’s is yellow.

Cape Shoveler Pair, #1

Cape Shoveler Pair, #1

The teal seemed to enjoy the company of a Black-winged Stilt.  The reason for its name is obvious!  We made our way to an observation blind, called a hide locally, where Greater Flamingos abounded, flying back and forth.  Trying to capture these beautiful, but ungainly, flyers was quite a challenge.

Greater Flamingo Duet

Greater Flamingo Duet

Hanging out on some piers were Sacred Ibis, Hartlaub’s Gulls, and Swift Terns, also known as Greater Crested Terns.

Swift Tern Landing

Swift Tern Landing

After a long but lovely morning at the wetlands we sought out some lunch, then made our way to Table Mountain.  It was a beautiful day–no rain, not a lot of wind–so our hopes were high that we would ride the cable car to the top for some magnificent views of Cape Town and the rest of the vicinity.  No such luck.  We unloaded from the van, which Kim parked, then strolled down to the ticket booth, only to learn that summer hours didn’t begin until next week.  Nor were we the only ones disappointed.  As we engaged (argued) with the agent, another tour guide, with her entourage and a similar understanding as ours, aonly to be equally surprised and disappointed.  The cable cars were indeed running, but the final group had already ascended, and the cars were only bringing people down.  We debated briefly about trying to come the next day, but rejected that plan since it would come at the cost of something else more desirable.  Still, the view of Cape Town from the parking area is nevertheless lovely.

Cape Town from Table Mountain

Cape Town from Table Mountain

We ended the day with a beautiful sunset over Chapman’s Bay.

Chapman's Bay Sunset

Chapman’s Bay Sunset

Enjoy these images from south of Cape Town.