Monday, March 30, 2015

Beavers Emerge From the Ice

We were all pleased to find that our beaver colony made it through this record breaking cold winter. All 9 members were accounted for this week as the ice finally receded from the their main pond. Of course, just lately the ice has been reforming at night, but thin ice is no problem for beavers to deal with. In fact they seem to relish busting it up in their various ways.
Julia swims just beneath the ice

Beaver heads make great ice-breakers

Breaking ice with your back also works surprisingly well
Wen (1-year old) and Tippy (3-year old) often emerge from the lodge together
Tippy comes out of the water to ask for a carrot
Another 1-year old scores an apple
Extracting a carrot from the dam
GenLo manages to hold both a carrot and an apple piece - this trick is a hard one for most beavers to manage
Snacks are disappearing in all directions
Checking to see if there are more carrots on the dam
Julia, the colony's matriarch, is the most adept at breaking ice
Wherever she goes in the pond, Julia makes it a point to break ice 
Wen brings a mouth full of Pussy Willow branches back o the lodge
Julia comes for some branches - note the ice on her head
Posing by the dam
Muskrat under ice
Three Muskrats seek out beaver snacks
A Muskrat coming up onto the snow
Muskrats searching for overlooked carrot pieces
The muskrat lodge towers over the ice in the second pond
Still lots of ice-breaking left to do

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Winter Was Tough on Owls and Waterfowl

This Screech Owl was one of many found starving around our region - she was helped in time
With the harsh weather finally beginning to abate, we hope that hard times will soon come to an end for the region's raptors and waterfowl. Last week I conducted yet another release of a Horned Grebe that had come down in a parking lot. Prior to the release the bird had spent at least a week at Woodhaven Wildlife Center (WWC) where it was fattened up with minnows. Other recent waterfowl coming into WWC from around the region included a Red-breasted Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Canvasback and Red-necked Grebe. Owls have also been coming into the center with disturbing regularity. I myself brought in a female Screech Owl from Clinton. The bird had been discovered perched on a low porch railing - apparently oblivious to her surroundings and to any potential danger. People and a dog walking in and out the door didn't even elicit the slightest reaction from the owl. Most likely rendered unable to hunt given the deep snow, the owl seemed like it had just given up. Given her state, I didn't hold out much hope for a recovery, but after a week at WWC, she had regained her strength and was ready for release. When I arrived at the facility to retrieve the Screech, more birds were pouring into the Center including a Barred Owl and a Redhead duck. Both of those birds were also starving.
The Owl release went well. The bird lunged out of the carrier as soon as it was opened. She landed in a large conifer in the backyard, where she effectively melted into the surroundings.
Another Horned Grebe released into the Mohawk River
A small group of ducks including 2 Common Goldeneye were upstream of the release site
This grebe, like the 2 released last week, almost immediately began diving for fish
The grebe is quickly heading downstream and out of view
A pair of Canvasback Ducks recover in a bathtub at Woodhaven Wildlife Center
A male Red-breasted Merganser waits for his  turn in tub
While boxing up the Screech Owl, a  starving Barred Owl was brought into Woodhaven 
After being released the Screech Owl found a place that well matched her camouflaged plumage

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

This Winter Takes a Heavy Toll

Two fattened up Horned Grebes headed for release
This Winter has been very hard on wildlife. Persistent below zero temperatures and deep snow has been a challenge for land animals, but diving Ducks, grebes and loons have taken an especially heavy hit as the fishing areas that they rely on as winter habitat and as migratory stopovers have remained frozen tight. These weakened, starving and/or disoriented birds have been landing in fields, parking lots and roads, where only a few fortunate ones have been rescued and brought in to wildlife rehabilitators. Grebes make up a surprisingly large number of the casualties – primarily Horned Grebes and Red-necked Grebes. 
Two Horned Grebes in a bathtub at Woodhaven Wildlife Center
This Red-necked Grebe came down in a parking lot, but later was unable to be located
Horned Grebes released on the Mohawk River - immediately began fishing
Lots of flapping right after release
Initially the stayed close to the release site and then moved downstream 
There were lots of ducks downstream - "Ducks along the Mohawk"
Last week I released 2 Horned Grebes into a large open patch of the Mohawk River. There were a number of diving ducks feeding there so I surmised that the grebes would be able to find enough fish. Last year a similar ice-up on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie caused a die off of tens of thousands of waterfowl. It is thought that this winter will kill many more since the ice cover has been more extensive. Raptors have also been dying off – primarily from starvation and vehicle impacts. These causations are linked, since during times of deep snow, raptors spend time more hunting on road sides where their rodent prey is more likely to emerge into the open. These hawks and owls are then struck by vehicles when they peruse prey into the road.
Last week we had an Eastern Screech Owl roosting in one of our nest boxes
Bald Eagles are frequently seen in the few places that do have open water
Our beaver Pond have been iced over now for many weeks - the dam has a large snow drift over it
We've tried to keep a hole open in the ice near the dam - This way we've been able to supplement the beaver's food supply
We assume that there is still some food in the beaver's underwater food cache, but there's no way to confirm that
Care packages of poplar and willow branches are gratefully accepted