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.

Fun on a Snowy Day

Thursday in Rhode Island was a very snowy day, with over a foot of snow arriving at my house. I have always wanted to try to photograph snowflakes, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to try. Got out my 105mm macro lens, put it on my Nikon D500 crop sensor camera, stacked on all the extension tubes I could find, and even added two close up filters to the front of the lens. After all, snowflakes are really tiny little things. Well, I discovered that I will need lots and lots of practice with that rig, since the depth of field is practically nonexistent. Will try again another time.

As I was standing in the sunroom, which is not insulated, I noticed that globules of snow had formed on the door. I stripped down the rig to just the macro lens, and illuminated the globules from an angle with a strong LED flashlight. That yielded a couple of interesting photos, which I share with you here. Enjoy.

 

Women’s Rally In Rhode Island

Crowd Pano #1

January 21, 2017 marked the gathering of more than two million people in over 670 sites in the US and 63 countries around the world. Here in Rhode Island I joined an estimated 7,000 men, women and children in front of the Rhode Island State House, gathered in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington, DC. The crowd here, as estimated by Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements, Jr., was larger than any he could recall seeing on the state house lawn.

State House Setting

People were there to make their voices heard in support of women’s rights, men’s rights, LGBTQ rights, Earth’s protection, immigrant rights, union rights, and the many other causes and concerns that are potentially threatened by the presidency of Donald Trump.  The Donald himself was present, in mock form. Shanna Wells, the event organizer, introduced a variety of speakers and performers, intermixed with chants of “Rise Up!”

Governor Gina Raimondo spoke, as did her husband, Rhode Island’s First Gentlemen, Andy Moffitt. They were accompanied by their daughter. The Governor urged vigilance and pledged support for protection of civil rights in Rhode Island, a state that has welcomed immigrants for decades. People of all ages were there, women and men, too. Banners declaring “No Limits for Women” were joined by the rainbow banner of the LGBTQ community. People’s concern is illustrated by changes made to the White House web site at noon on inauguration day, January 20. Purged from the site were all references to civil rights, LGBT rights, and climate change. In addition, Trump signed an action requesting delay in the Justice Department’s case against Texas for its deliberately racist voter registration law. What will our country be like for this little guy?

Very Young Protester

The Extraordinary Rendition Band

Entertainment included Actress Rose Weaver and The Extraordinary Rendition Band, which led the enthusiastic crowd in singing “We don’t want your tiny hands anywhere near our underpants!” Signs with various messages were everywhere. At one point people were asked to turn to their neighbor and declare they were not working alone, but together. All in all, the event was positive and without any violence. One protester chanting “Trump is my president” was quietly led away. I have a feeling this will not be the last such gathering during the next four years.

Rise Up Chant

Bird Atlas, Part 2016-03

Flicker-Front

Flicker-Front

We were atlasing in East Providence yesterday, in the woods behind Gate of Heaven Cemetery.  We saw some interesting things, some saved for a later post.  For today, however, I want to share with all of you who have ever had a bad hair day.  This bird certainly did.  This is a Northern Flicker, a type of woodpecker.  You can tell, in this view, by the black crescent shape near the neck, as well as the spots on the breast.  Well, in a well-groomed bird you can see the spots!  Another identification mark is the red marking on the back of the head, seen here.

Flicker-Side

Flicker-Side

Unlike many other woodpeckers, red on the head does not distinguish males from females.  For this species, the males have a black malar stripe, which this and other females lack.  The malar stripe extends backward from the base of the bill, and is named for the malar, or jaw bone.

Flickers also have a white patch at the base of the tail, visible here.

Flicker-Tail Coverts

Flicker-Tail Coverts

This feature is frequently seen as the bird flies up from the ground, where it has been foraging for ants.  That’s right, flickers seem to spend more time on the ground than they do in trees, since ants are their primary food source.  The tail, as with all woodpeckers, is very stiff, and the tail feathers end in sharp points.  All of that enables woodpeckers to use the tail as a third leg to steady themselves as they peck wood.  Woodpeckers excavate nesting holes in dead trees.  (There is an exception, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, that excavates nest cavities in live trees.)  They may make several nest cavities before settling on one to actually use.  The flicker’s tail is visible here.

Flicker-Tail Covertse

Flicker-Tail Coverts

Flickers have undergone an identity crisis in the nearly 60 years I’ve been birding.  I first learned this species as the Yellow-shafted Flicker.  The flicker part of the name comes from its habit of flicking its bill.  The yellow-shafted part of the name is apparent in this photo.

Flicker-Shafts

Flicker-Shafts

The yellow shafts are coloration in the primary flight feathers.  Although I don’t currently have a picture, the underwing of the bird is a beautiful yellow, especially if seen in good light.  There is another similar species, the Red-shafted Flicker, that resides in the western United States.  These were originally considered separate species.  One criterion that aids in speciation is whether individuals in two populations interbreed.  The Red- and Yellow-shafted Flickers originally were isolated from each other, so they met this criterion.  However, Americans joined east and west with telegraph wires in the 19th century–1861, to be precise.  The flickers followed the wire and met in the middle.  Love at first sight, I suppose, as one finds individuals cross-breeding near the 100th latitudinal line.  The hybrid offspring may have a mixture of characteristics.  The basic differences between the two now subspecies are that the Red-shafted Flickers have red shafts, lack the red on the back of the head, and males have a red malar stripe.

Bird Atlas, Part 2016-02

April provided more opportunities for finding birds.  The weather was sometimes on the cool side, but we had some luck, rewarding our hours of effort.  Here’s a little sample.

Red-bellied Woodpecker.  No, that's not a typo.  It's NOT a Red-headed Woodpecker, although there is such a species.

Red-bellied Woodpecker. No, that’s not a typo. It’s NOT a Red-headed Woodpecker, although there is such a species.

We heard this Red-bellied Woodpecker for quite a while before locating him.  He was drumming on several trees and checking out various holes.  Finally we spotted him, and he nicely obliged by posing in the morning sunlight.  You may make a common error in thinking this is really a Red-headed Woodpecker, but it’s not.  That is a different species, with an entirely red head and a black back with large white patches in the wings.

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

This little Tufted Titmouse is a year-round resident and a frequenter of bird feeders.  Starting in the spring you can hear his ringing “Peter-Peter, Peter-Peter” call throughout the forest.  They are cavity nesters, so check out holes you find, especially in Oak trees.

This White-breasted Nuthatch male was guarding the nest hole, right after he fed his mate, incubating the eggs inside.

This White-breasted Nuthatch male was guarding the nest hole, right after he fed his mate, incubating the eggs inside.

Speaking of cavity nesters, the White-breasted Nuthatch is another one.  This little fellow flew in, landed on the tree, worked his way down the trunk (nuthatches are the only birds that do that), and stuck his head in to feed his mate.  Of course that’s the shot I missed!  Then he posted guard, as shown here.

White-throated Sparrow, tan phase.

White-throated Sparrow, tan phase.

Sometimes photography is very useful in identifying the species to which a bird belongs.  That was the case with this White-throated Sparrow.  The white-throat, as it’s called, is primarily a winter visitor.  Sometimes you hear it’s “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada” call in early spring.  This one, seen in April, was a bit of a puzzle, as it is lighter than most individuals seen.  It is a tan morph of the species, a less common color form.  The trick to identification is the white throat and the yellow areas above the eyes, called lores.

This Yellow Warbler male was quite a show-off.

This Yellow Warbler male was quite a show-off.

Yellow, that’s the word for the Yellow Warbler.  This male was duking it out, song-wise, with another male.  Both had recently arrived (they were the first of the species we’d seen for the season), and may well simply be passing through to more northern territories.  Often the males arrive first, stake out territory, and wait for the females to arrive.  Yellow Warblers are easy to spot, as they frequently stay at lower elevations than other warblers.  My mother loved to hear their songs in the back yard: “Sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet.”  This little guy hopped around in the bush for a bit before popping right out in the sun.  Then, of course, he departed.

Sometimes you're lucky to get even this much of a departing bird.

Sometimes you’re lucky to get even this much of a departing bird.