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Saturday
Feb022019

Great Backyard Bird Count

Lots of fun things happen in February – Ground Hog Day, Valentine’s Day and……the Great Backyard Bird Count!

The Great Backyard Bird Count aka the GBBC is an annual, world-wide event sponsored by National Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. Last year over 160,000 people participated. From two Blue-headed Macaws in Peru to six Oriental Greenfinches in Japan to eight Wild Turkeys in Castleton, Vermont, birdwatchers provided of a four-day snapshot of bird species across the globe.

We’ve been experiencing some pretty cold weather, but you don’t have to be IN your backyard to participate although you can be outside if you chose (more on that below). From Friday, February 15, through Monday, February 18, fill your feeders, grab your favorite cold weather beverage, take a sit by the window, and count the birds.

Common RedpollIt’s simple to participate. Count birds anywhere (not just your backyard) for as little as 15 minutes for any or all of the four-day event. Click here to find out more. It’s easy and fun and a great family project.

In conjunction with the GBBC, Rutland County Audubon, will be holding its monthly walk around West Rutland Marsh (fingers crossed for above freezing temperatures) on Saturday, February 16. We'll meet at the boardwalk on Marble Street in West Rutland at 8 a.m. The route is 3.7 miles, but there is an option to go halfway.

This year we have an added GBBC event for beginners. On Wednesday, February 13, Rutland County Audubon will hold a training session at the Poultney Library on Main Street from 3 to 5 p.m. Come learn how to be a citizen scientist and participate in the GBBC! But warning - birdwatching can be addictive!

 

Wednesday
Jan232019

When You Find an Injured Bird

My husband Marv and I had the privilege of assisting in a bird rescue this week. Kevin Gecha of Clarendon found a horned grebe on the exit off of Route 7 in Manchester. Grebes, like loons, can’t take off from the ground, only from water. We can only guess how it got there, but perhaps it saw the dark pavement of the exit and thought it was water. Fortunately, the bird appeared to be in good shape. 

So what to do? Kevin called his wife Casey, a birder lover. They knew to call the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS). VINS advised Kevin to bring the bird in. As he needed to be at work, my husband Marv and I volunteered to drive down to Manchester to pick up the grebe and take to VINS in Quechee. We kept the grebe in a box lined with a blanket on the way over.

Rutland County Audubon frequently receives calls about injured birds and other wildlife. Unfortunately, we are not rehabilitators so we cannot take in birds, only licensed rehabbers can do so. We have, however, included a list of rehabilitators on our website Resources section under Vermont Wildlife Rehabilitators. There are links to VINS and the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Both have excellent advice on how to handle injured birds and mammals.

Keep in mind that rehabilitators work from the goodness of their hearts (and donations!) so don’t be surprised if the rehabilitator asks you to bring the injured bird (or small mammal) to them. They can advise you how to best do this. 

Also, it doesn’t seem like it, but before long it will be spring and nesting season. That brings up another set of issues. What to do if you find a baby bird? Click here for a refresher on what to do in that situation.

And what should you do if you don't find an injured bird or mammal? Be thankful and make a donation to VINS or a rehabilitator near you!

Thursday
Jan172019

West Rutland Marsh - January 2019

Black-capped ChickadeeEight, very bundled up birders, managed to tally 21 species on January’s walk around West Rutland Marsh. This is two more than our average for this month of the year and one more than a year ago.

The morning started at 2 degrees, but when we really concentrated, we could feel the warmth of the sun on our backs (admittedly not a lot). Fortunately, there was no wind.

Black-capped chickadees were the winners of the day as far as numbers go. Forty-eight were counted along the route, some in groups of seven or eight. American robins were second, in two groups, one of about 30 or so. Three cedar waxwings were spotted among the robins.

One sharp-eyed birder stayed back along Pleasant Street where he spotted a northern shrike, which has been seen in the area since our December walk.

Eighteen wild turkeys were seen in fields along Whipple Hollow Road.

We ended the day with a white-throated sparrow among the American tree sparrows and chickadees near the boardwalk.

Our next walk is scheduled for Saturday, February 16. The walk is being held in conjunction with the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 15-18. If being out in the cold isn’t your thing, click here to find out how you can participate in the GBBC.

The list: 

Wild Turkey  18
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  3
Mourning Dove  19
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  5
Hairy Woodpecker  3
Northern Shrike  1
Blue Jay  30
American Crow  5
Common Raven  2
Black-capped Chickadee  48   
Tufted Titmouse  8
White-breasted Nuthatch  4
American Robin  42
Cedar Waxwing  3
American Goldfinch  1
American Tree Sparrow  6
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  2
White-throated Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  2
House Sparrow  4

 

 

 

Sunday
Jan132019

Winter Regulars & Rarities Field Trip

The temperature for this year’s Winter Regulars and Rarities in the Champlain Valley was brutally cold with the day starting around one degree. Fortunately, there was no wind for most of the day and the sunshine made for spectacular scenery along the route.

A quick stop at a turkey farm in Orwell yielded nine bald eagles and a very large number of ravens. We also saw a rough-legged hawk, a dark phase bird, which looked beautiful in flight against the bright blue sky.

Then it was on to find open water along Lake Champlain and hopefully some ducks. Although the water was open at the Champlain Bridge, it had frozen overnight so our first stop was at DAR State Park. There we observed a large number of common goldeneye with a few scaup and American black ducks mixed in along with a handful of mallards.

Lapland LongspurAt the Tri-Town Water District in Panton we found more goldeneye, about 750 with uncounted number around the corner and mostly out of sight. We also saw an immature bald eagle at this spot.

On Walker Road in Ferrisburgh we spotted a large flock of horned larks, some flying in fairly close and landing. We were able to pick out at least three Lapland longspurs in the group and a single snow bunting. A large flock of about 150 snow buntings were seen early on Schoolhouse Road in Vergennes.

At Converse Bay we found a belted kingfisher, Canada goose, mallard, including a mallard x American black duck hybrid, bufflehead, and more goldeneye.

The Charlotte Ferry Landing was mostly frozen, with no birds in the water. At Charlotte Town Beach we encountered our first wind of the day so we did not stay long. There were mallards, ring-billed gulls, bufflehead and goldeneye present.

We ended the day at Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area and, in the fading light, saw two northern harriers, a rough-legged hawk, a red-tailed hawk and two short-eared owls.

A total of 10 eBird checklists were submitted for the day, representing 35 species.

Thanks to C. J. Frankiewicz for leading the trip. It was great to be out in the sunshine despite the cold temperatures. The list:

Canada Goose
Mallard
American Black Duck
Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid
Greater/Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Wild Turkey
Mourning Dove
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
European Starling
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
House Sparrow

 

 

 

Canada Goose
Mallard
American Black Duck
Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid
Greater/Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Wild Turkey
Mourning Dove
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
European Starling
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
House Sparrow

 

 

Monday
Jan072019

Book Review: The Family of Hummingbirds

Here, reproduced entirely, in The Family of Hummingbirds by Joel and Laura Oppenheimer, are the 418 magnificently detailed hand-colored lithographs of hummingbirds by John Gould (1804-81), the “British Audubon.”

White-throated Mountain GemIn the opening essay, co-author Laura Oppenheimer tells the story of Gould’s nearly predestined career, beginning as an apprentice to his father, horticulturist at Windsor Castle. While cultivating diligent and observant gardening skills, he found a secondary interest in ornithology and taxidermy, largely self-taught. In London, he set up shop as a successful taxidermist in a Victorian Age obsessed with the strange wonders of the natural world sent back to England by intrepid explorers. Elizabeth Coxen, formally trained in drawing and painting, became his wife (she later executed many of his prints). His knowledge was recognized by his appoint as superintendent of the ornithological department of the Zoological Society Museum, which provide him with a network of learned, wealthy gentlemen naturalists.

These successive life events nicely telescoped into his magnum opus, The Family of Hummingbirds. Gould had been entranced by the hummingbirds collected in the New World, where their habitats extend from Alaska to the tip of South America. Their skins, preserved in arsenical soap, were transported back to Britain. Gould mounted over 5,000 hummingbirds. With entrepreneurial business and organizational skills, he assembled a staff of talented artists and printers, and published, over 13 years (1848-61) the 418 plates. Gould tactfully promoted sales of his lavish production by combining it with a public display of 1,500 taxidermied bird specimens at the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park. 75,000 attended, including Queen Victoria. Eager subscribers were astounded by these ‘living gems’ as he called them.

Gould’s complementary use of two innovations – lithography and gold leaf under hand-coloring – make this work outstanding. Prior to his time, the laborious process of engraving and etching on copper plants had often been used for printing natural subjects. Gould brought a more advanced method of lithography to maturity and a greater expressive potential in his bird prints. Here, the initial drawn image is transferred to a limestone slab with a greasy lithographic crayon. (Joel Oppenheimer, in the introduction, compares the techniques of etching and lithography in detail.) The beauty of lithography was that it enables the original artists to participate more directly in the process, resulting in a more faithful final image. The process was also more economical, producing more affordable prints.

Gould himself, initially sketched an overall design, with a male and female of each species, in a composition with a plant native to its habitat. An artist would further develop it to completion with only a few subtle adjustments suggested by Gould. The finished drawing was transferred to the lithographic stone. e resulting black and white toned print then required a final state of hand-coloring Here, Gould’s achievement was to illuminate the reflective iridescence of these ‘living gems’ with use of ‘transparent oil and varnish colors over pure gold leaf.’ And that is all we know of the formulas and techniques he labored over, for many years, to perfect. No notes have been found, and he obtained no patents.

The plates are indeed, awe-striking. The exquisite jewel-like patterns of the birds’ feathers stand out against muted background botanicals. About a dozen of the hummingbirds are further shown in enlarged images. But, unfortunately, in order to accommodate all 418 plates, it was often necessary to squeeze nine on one page, such that each is barely the size of a playing card and thus difficult to decipher and appreciate.

I was particularly taken by the design and composition of each plate. The birds do no merely perch on a branch, but seem comfortably at ease in their surroundings. Their poses are so animated that they appear like a balletic pas de deux pirouetting and jete-ing as they sweep across the page. How could Gould have such imaginative insight of their acrobatic activities when he dealt with dead specimens and did not see a live hummingbird until a trip to Philadelphia in 1854?

Each plate, actually, usually has three birds. Since the third has a slight size and color variation, I assume it is a juvenile.

Acquainted only with our common ruby-throated hummingbird, I was surprised to learn of their marked heterogeneity. Yes, I knew their long, pointed bills had supposedly co-evolved to extract nectar from deep inside trumpet-shaped flowers, but there are also ‘saw, sword, and tooth’ -billed hummingbirds. Tails may be ‘racket’ or ‘scissor’ -shaped. ‘Comet, sylph, sunbeam and sungem’ are just a few of the species names, attesting to their brilliant plumage.

If the birds were not present on the plates, this tome would nonetheless be a virtual encyclopedia of tropical foliage. Though, as noted, in somewhat lighter, cooler colors, the botanicals are beautifully rendered, many derived from Walter Fitch, chief illustrator for the era’s preeminent Curtis Botanical Magazine. Regretfully, none of the plants are labelled.

The Family of Hummingbirds will captivate birdwatchers, fans of natural history art and hummingbird lovers everywhere.

$65.00

www.rizzoliusa.com