May 03, 2018

Field Observation 7: Burlington College

Wednesday, May 2, 2018 from 10:50 am to 2 pm

Today was very warm and sunny, with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees F. I went towards the waterfront and explored the newly designated natural space around the old Burlington College campus. I started at the community gardens near North Street. Immediately, I heard a Carolina Wren calling to his partner, and was amazed to find him singing in a tree less than 20 feet from where I was standing. After allowing me to watch him for several minutes, he flew away and my eyes were drawn to a flicker of movement in a nearby snag. I was delighted to see a Pileated Woodpecker excavating a nest cavity in the snag!! I then continued on my walk, finding an Eastern Phoebe, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, and Tufted Titmouse, along with the songs of several birds I was unable to identify. Sadly, my phone was dead so I was unable to record their songs for later identification.

Posted on May 03, 2018 01:30 by jpupko jpupko | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 29, 2018

Field Observation 6: Reproductive ecology and Evolution

Friday, April 27, 2018 from 4:3 to 7:15pm

Today was a warm, overcast day with temperatures hovering around 58oF. We went to Redrocks, which has quite the diverse habitat. From Lake Champlain, to the rocky bluffs, to a variety of mature trees including red maple, eastern cottonwood, eastern white pine, white ash, and eastern redcedar, to name a few.

We started off by exploring the vernal pools, looking for herp eggs. As we wandered, we heard a group of Black-capped Chickadees chipping to each other while foraging and an American Crow indignantly squawking, as if threatened. We soon discovered the source of the crow’s distress, a Barred Owl began calling from the eastern white pine stand that the crow had just been sitting in. After listening for a while, I was able to triangulate the location of the Barred Owl and spend some time watching the lovely specimen.

We then headed over to the rocky bluffs, and were met with a symphony of birds, singing out their territory lines and communicating with potential mates. The first bird we observed was a Pine Warbler!! These birds build nests from late March to early June, with females doing most of the nest-building while males sing to mark the territory. Nests are built at the top of large conifer trees. The male we observed was singing in a large eastern white pine, likely guarding his mate as she worked. The habitat that this particular Pine Warbler had found was very prime habitat, as the eastern white pine was very large and appeared to be very healthy. Although the trees were near a few foot trails, the area is relatively undisturbed and surrounded by mature trees. Holding a prime habitat location, such as this one, shows that the male is a very fit individual, as he is able to expend that energy to defend his territory against other males that would be seeking this location. Pine warblers make their nests out of stems, bark, pine needles, spider webs and other materials, which are then lined with feathers. These nests are shaped as deep cups and are located near the end of branches.

As we listened, we heard Tufted Titmice, a Northern Carinal, a Pileated Woodpecker, and two Brown Creepers foraging. All of the birds were just chipping as thy foraged, except for the male Brown Creeper, who was giving his territorial call. Male Brown Creepers generally only call on their breeding groups, but will occasionally sing during migration. Their high, tremulous call is always a treat to hear. The last birds we heard as we stood and listened were a Wood Thrush and a Winter Wren. Male Winter Wrens sing vigorously during the spring breeding season to attract females. Once they have attracted a female, they will flutter around and show her different nests they have built in their territory so she can pick which one she wants to use. They nest in natural cavities that are close to the ground, and tip-up mounds created by fallen trees are very important habitat to them. Within the cavity, a nest is created of grass, moss, and rootlets, which is then lined with animal hair. Male Winter Wrens also sing to defend their territory.

Posted on April 29, 2018 22:07 by jpupko jpupko | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 18, 2018

Field Observation 5: Centennial

5:46 to 7:15 pm on Monday, April 16th, 2018

Today was raining and 40oF. I decided to go on a walk around Centennial, primarily to explore the marshy habitat close to Route 89. The walk started off on a great note, as soon as I got out of the car I was greeted with a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker. I was not able to identify whether the magnificent specimen was a male or female, but he/she skirted around the edge of the parking lot, teasing me by drumming on the opposite side of the tree from where I was standing.

After walking into the woods, I was greeted by 3 Black-capped Chickadees, a group of Song Sparrows, two Blue Jays and two American Crows. The Black-capped Chickadees and Song Sparrows were happily foraging in a brushy, marshy area while the American Crows and Blue Jays were jeering loudly from a distance away. It sounded as if a raptor was present and they were attempting to chase it away.

Then it started pouring. I had meandered to the far side of Centennial so I started back, not expecting to see anyone. However, as I was just about to leave the woods, I heard a small chip. I turned just in time to see a small brown bird fly to a tree near me. After it landed, I was able to identify it as a Brown Creeper!! I was super excited, even though I had seen a group of 4 of them the day before. They are one of my favorite birds – I love their trill-like song and how they pick their way up trees, searching for snacks. It was a wonderful way to end my bird walk.

Posted on April 18, 2018 06:24 by jpupko jpupko | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 08, 2018

Migration

Saturday, April 07, 2018 from 9 am to 11 am

Today was a beautifully sunny day with temperatures in the low 40’s. We decided to head out to Lagoon Road in Hinesburg to look for migrating shorebirds. The habitat there is a prime location for shorebird migrants, as there are open, flooded fields with lots of sedge clumps and some open water areas. On the way home, we stopped at Carse Wetlands, which has multiple different habitat types, from open field, to forest, to open water.

We had quite a successful day. As we arrived at Lagoon Road, we immediately saw two Eastern Meadowlark, which was incredibly exciting, as it was a lifer for several people in our group. After watching them for a while, we got out of the car and walked around, seeing 14 Canada Geese, 4 Mallard, 1 Turkey Vulture, 7 Killdeer, 1 American Crow, 2 Common Raven, 15 European Starling, 6 Song Sparrow, 5 Red-winged Blackbird, and 2 Common Grackle. As we were leaving the area, we were pleased to discover a Red-tailed Hawk and a Northern Harrier, swooping over the field. Then, the highlight of the trip: “SNIPE!!” yelled one of my friends. Sure enough, there were 8 Wilson’s Snipe among the sedge clumps, gazing at us with their beady eyes and disproportionately large bill.

The Killdeer, being a facultative migrant, looked very out-of-place running around in the field covered a few inches of fresh snow from the night before. However, the Killdeer were not fazed, as they begin arriving to their summer breeding range (which spans from New York and Pennsylvania to Nebraska and north through New England, the northern-most mid-western states and across much of Canada) in mid-March, with migration peaks in April. Killdeer are found year-round across much of the United States and Mexico, with some migrating to Central and South America during the winter. Killdeer migration is highly variable, as many birds only move as far south as they need to find food and have access to open water. Killdeer diet consists primarily of invertebrates, like earthworms, grasshoppers, beetles, and aquatic insect larvae, so they do not stay in completely frozen areas where these resources are unavailable. When the snow retreats, Killdeer are able to migrate north and exploit the invertebrates that come to life with the unthawed ground. The plethora of available food sources and breeding space makes migration north for the spring and summer attractive to portions of the population, because an increase in habitat area and available resources leads to a reduction in intraspecific competition.

In contrast to Killdeer, American Crows are residents in Vermont. Although Killdeer are relatively opportunistic feeders, they generally stick to invertebrates, which results in their migration during the winter. American Crows are generalists and completely opportunistic when it comes to feeding, an adaptation that allows them to remain in Vermont during the winter. Additionally, American Crows roost in huge flocks during the fall and winter. There are a number of hypotheses as to why they do this, including information of productive foraging sites (which helps them get through the lean winter months), protection from predators, and protection from the elements. Additionally, American Crows have adapted to roosting in urban areas, again hypothesized to occur for a number of reasons. First of all, American Crows may have figured out that they cannot get shot in urban areas, and may be taking advantage of that. Second of all, urban areas are generally 5 to 10 degrees F warmer than the surrounding countryside, which helps them survive cold winter nights. Finally, roosting in cities provides protection from predators (particularly the Great Horned Owl), both because Great Horned Owls avoid urban areas and the artificial light helps American Crows watch for them.

After we finished birding at Lagoon Rd., we zipped over to Carse natural area. While there, we saw 5 Canada Geese, an American Crow, 2 Black-capped Chickadees, 3 Eastern Bluebirds (first of the year for me!!), 6 Cedar Waxwings, and 2 Song Sparrows. In my excitement about the return of the migrants, I began thinking about the distance these birds traveled. Eastern Meadowlark migration is variable, but those in Vermont will often travel over 621 miles from the southern United States back to Vermont. Canada Geese will migrate as far as 3,000 miles when moving from wintering sites in the southern United States back to the northern regions of their range. Migratory Mallards travel over 700 miles on average when returning to the north after wintering in the southern United States. Killdeer in Vermont must migrate back from Mexico and Central America, with distance averaging at 4,037 miles. Song Sparrows migrate to southern United States and Mexico during the winter, with a return flight averaging at 528 miles. Red-winged Blackbird average migration distance is 53 miles. Northern Harrier migrate depending on food availability, with return flights from southern U.S. and Central America averaging at 2,630 miles. Wilson’s Snipe migration from southern U.S. and Central America back to Vermont averages around 2000 miles. Eastern Bluebird overwinters in southern states, such as Texas, and have a return flight around 1,978 miles. When added together, these migrants traveled over 15,500 miles!

Source Links:
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/crows/crowfaq.htm
https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/jfo/v049n01/p0017-p0034.pdf
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478

Posted on April 08, 2018 18:05 by jpupko jpupko | 20 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

March 25, 2018

Social Behavior and Phenology

Julia Pupko
Observation 3: Social Behavior and Phenology
Friday, March 23rd from 2:45pm to 7:15pm

Today was a partially cloudy day with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees F. Once again, we headed out towards Dead Creek Wildlife Management, stopping there before continuing to the Champlain Bridge and hitting Lake Road in Chittenden County on the way back. The habitats spanned included open agricultural fields, wetland regions, open water, riparian zones, and open fields. Some of the most common tree species included American elm, eastern cottonwood, and silver maple. Most of the agriculture fields were corn fields and the open meadow appeared to be vegetated with native grasses.

On the way to Dead Creek, we saw our first few species: a Northern Harrier and a Turkey Vulture. Immediately upon arrival at Dead Creek, we saw around 10 Horned Lark, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a large flock of Mallards and Canada Geese. After watching them for a while, we continued on to the Champlain Bridge, where we saw roughly 100 Canada Geese, 5 Mallard, 16 Ring-necked Duck, 40 Greater and Lesser Scaup, 12 Common Goldeneye, 4 Common Merganser, 7 gull spp., a Bald Eagle, and a lone Snow Goose. The lone Snow Goose may have been a Ross’s Goose, as we later saw a large flock of Snow Geese at Dead Creek and would not expect this goose to have left the flock, but the bill appeared to be a little too long to be a Ross’s Goose, so we did not make a positive identification.

Watching the water birds interact was a treat. We observed many flocks of Canada Geese coming and going, flying in their v-formations as they flapped towards their destination. The group dynamic was awesome, with everyone honking and communicating with each other. The geese communicated with a combination of honks and hisses, letting each other know when one individual was invading another’s personal space and when close contact was acceptable. Many of the flocks of ducks freely mingled with the geese, happily dabbling and diving. Many duck species like Mallards will touch down in the same place as geese while migrating, possibly looking to the geese to find good feeding spots and for the protection offered by the larger species. The male Common Goldeneye were particularly fun to watch, as they have begun their mating displays, flaunting themselves by fluffing up and flipping their heads back. Their actions appeared to be primarily mating displays and not territorial displays, as the group is still migrating together and acting as a social unit. When waterfowl are not migrating, they are generally much less social and much more territorial, but during migration, it is advantageous to remain associated with a group for protection and the flight assistance that comes with travelling long distances in a v-formation.

We left the bridge and headed back towards Dead Creek. Once back at Dead Creek, we saw a flock of several hundred Snow Geese and Canada Geese, another Red-tailed Hawk, and 3 American Crow. After bopping around in the area for a while, we started trekking towards Lake Road near Charlotte Town Beach to look for Short-eared Owls that had been sited there. On the drive, we saw a Snowy Owl (we stopped and admired him for some time), a Rough-legged Hawk, a small flock of European Starling, a Red-winged Blackbird, and a Northern Harrier. Once we got to Lake Road, we were gifted with two Short-eared Owls, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and another Northern Harrier.

Watching the Short-eared Owls was a treat. They emerged at dusk, as they are particularly active in the evening. Short-eared owls hunt in open fields, soaring over the field looking for rodents. Every once in a while, they would stop soaring and hover, before spiraling and dropping onto the ground to snag a rodent. One of the owls caught something and appeared to stash it to continue hunting. After several minutes of flying, the owls would perch on a fence post or bush for several minutes and survey the field before continuing on.

As I watched the Short-eared Owls soundless flight, I compared their plumage to that of Mallard Ducks. Mallards have very water-proof feathers and brown plumage with black-edged feathers. The coloration of their plumage is cryptic, making it more difficult for predators to see them, especially while nesting. Their flight is very noisy, as they have no need for silent flight. The Short-eared Owls, in contrast, have silent flight, which helps them with hunting. Their plumage is dark brown and black mottled on the back and lighter white with light stripes on the stomach. A light underside makes them blend in with the sky when looking up, which makes it easier for them to sneak up on prey without alerting prey to their presence. A darker topside helps them blend in more with the ground when looking down on them from above.

Posted on March 25, 2018 23:52 by jpupko jpupko | 20 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 09, 2018

Ecological Physiology

Julia Pupko
Field Observation 2: Ecological Physiology
3:30 to 6 on Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Today was overcast and 43 degrees. We drove out to Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison County. On the drive to Dead Creek, we saw six Red-tailed hawks, two Common Ravens, and a Mourning Dove. After arriving at Dead Creek, I took a moment to make note of the landscape. Most of the region is agriculture fields, interspersed with fragmented deciduous forests, ponds, streams, and wetland areas. The vegetated areas give the birds we saw a place to roost, and the agricultural fields provide a good foraging spot. A lot of snow had melted and the fields we were navigating were completely mud soup. We were on the prowl for an owl, a snowy owl to be exact.

The first bird we saw at Dead Creek was another Red-tailed Hawk. She was massive, and kindly perched in a tree next to the road for us to admire her. After she flew away, we continued on, seeing a pair of Mallards. Then we saw her: our first Snowy. She was contently perched on a fence post next to a pond. As I gazed at her through the scope, she turned her head and calmly met my gaze. I was ecstatic… Snowy Owls were a life bird for me. We slogged over to another field and saw the second Snowy of the day.

Snowy Owls have interesting winter migration pattern. It is sporadic, but numbers of them move south during the winter, which is why we were able to peep these beauts. The erratic nature of their migration seems related to food abundance: when there are high populations of food during the breeding season, a higher number of Snowy Owl eggs will be laid and hatch, so more migrate south during the winter. This is different from many species who migrate when they are starving. To save energy, Snowy Owls have adapted to sitting still in open places when they hunt, waiting until they see prey. They hunt a variety of prey, usually rodents such as lemmings, but will occasionally take down bigger prey like geese. Lemmings are the staple of Snowy Owls when they are in the northern portions of their range. I am so grateful I was able to share the space with these magnificent visitors.

Posted on March 09, 2018 03:48 by jpupko jpupko | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 16, 2018

ID and Flight Physiology

Field Observation #1
10:00 – 11:45am on Sunday, February 11, 2018
Weather: Overcast, 27oF with periodic light bursts of freezing rain. Six inches of snow on the ground.
Location: Charlotte Town Beach, Charlotte, VT
Habitat: Small harbor, a corn field, and a small park that was backed up against a mixed deciduous and coniferous forest. Major tree and bush species included shagbark hickory, northern white-cedar, staghorn sumac, white ash, and eastern cottonwood.

After parking, my friend and I meandered towards the waterfront to look for two Harlequin Ducks that had been sighted several times over the last few days. Immediately after getting out of the car, we were met with a group of 28 American Robins, browsing on the grapevines that covered a few trees. We heard several Black-capped Chickadees chattering to each other, along with a pair of Tufted Titmice. Off in the distance, a Common Raven gurgled as a group of around 15 Cedar Waxwings zipped overhead. The morning was off to a solid start.

Nearing the water, we identified four Common Mergansers, 100 Common Goldeneyes, and three Ring-billed Gulls. Sadly, there was no sign of the Harlequins. We then walked up the road and around the field and saw a Common Raven, two American Crows, a Tufted Titmouse, six Black-capped Chickadees, a Rough-legged Hawk, four Downy and three Hairy Woodpeckers, two American Robins, and four White-breasted Nuthatches.

As the Downy Woodpeckers foraged from tree to tree, I observed their flight pattern and shape. Downy Woodpeckers have an undulating flight pattern, where they beat their wings a few times then drop for a few seconds before beginning to flap again. This flight pattern, which resembles a sign curve, is characteristic of woodpeckers. Downy Woodpeckers have very shallow dips as they fly, which can be used to set them apart from other woodpeckers, along with the small beak to head ratio. Their wings are short and rounded, with a low aspect ratio. This allows them to take off quickly and maneuver easily through the thickly vegetated forest where they forage. Short, round wings are not good for flying long distances, but since Downy Woodpeckers are resident species, this is not an issue.

After initially landing on the bole of a tree, the Downy Woodpecker (in this case a male) began picking his way up the tree, stopping to forage every few hops. Once the little guy got up to a choice branch, he picked his way out onto the thinner twigs and continued to forage for a while. He then fluttered or hopped to a branch of the next tree and continued this pattern for five to 10 minutes, finally taking off and flying to another tree across the thicket, bouncing his way through the air.

I compared the Downy Woodpecker’s flight to that of the Common Goldeneye. While we were at the waterfront, several pairs of Common Goldeneyes came and went. Their wing shape is short and pointed, giving them a lot of thrust and allowing them to fly rapidly. The medium-high aspect ratio and relatively low maneuverability of their wings is helpful for migration and a life history in relatively open habitat. When flying, Common Goldeneyes must flap quickly and continuously, making their flight pattern very even (in contrast to the undulations of the Downy Woodpecker) but seemingly more laborious. They are rather noisy fliers as well, making whistling noises as they flap.

Before we left, we returned to the waterfront. We noticed an elderly gentleman with a scope and walked up to say hello, asking if he had spotted the Harlequin Duck. He said yes, and offered us a peek. Only the male was there, and the man proceeded to tell us that two Bald Eagles had been seen bothering the pair and the female had not been seen for a few days. I am afraid that she may have become dinner. He also showed us said Bald Eagles, who were standing on the ice, and pointed out a Red-breasted Merganser. This concluded our day, which was very fulfilling overall.

Posted on February 16, 2018 02:27 by jpupko jpupko | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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