Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bath Time

The sun came out yesterday, which can be a rare event during February around here.  I took the opportunity to visit Cranberry Lake in Deception Pass State Park.  I spotted some of the park residents also taking advantage of the sunshine.  Even though it was still chilly, these Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) were obviously having a good time bathing, splashing and socializing.

Altogether, there were thirteen birds in the group.  I am not sure if these are year-around residents, or migratory birds spending winter in the park.  We have seen family groups here before.

Canada Geese have become unwelcome pests in some locales.  They often find city parks and golf courses to their liking which leads to conflicts with humans.  They can also be a threat to aviation.  On Vancouver Island in Canada, wildlife biologists are concerned that their increasing numbers are damaging the natural habitat and threatening other wildlife.

Locally, I am not aware that the geese are considered a problem.  I rather enjoy my encounters with them.  At home, migratory birds often stop by on the beach during September and October.  A small stream flowing into the bay provides them a drink of fresh water and an algae snack.  On warm afternoons, they might pause awhile for a nap with heads tucked under wings.  I actually look forward to their visits every fall.

Meanwhile, further out in the lake, I spotted a small group of wintering Ring-necked Ducks (Aythya collaris) paddling and diving.  I mention this only because this was a first sighting for me:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Meet ArtMagenta

We wildlife enthusiasts spend a lot of time nourishing our left brains with data about taxonomy, habitats, ranges and the like.  If you are like me, you want to know everything possible about the species you see.  Sometimes these pursuits leave little opportunity for the right brain's imagination and creativity.  Even with wildlife photography we can get caught up in the technical details of a photo instead of stepping back to enjoy the "big picture."

How great it is to discover a wildlife blog that seems to be designed for the right brain.  Ulf Andersson is an illustrator in Sweden who goes by ArtMagenta on the internet.  He publishes the blog Bird of the Day.  Don't worry, you don't need to tala svenska to read it since his posts are in English.  For me, the drawings evoke a Japanese style of painting, simple, elegant and colorful.  Rather than portraying fine anatomical detail in his birds, he gives us wonderful caricatures that display their personalities.

I first discovered Ulf Andersson's drawings at Google+.  In addition to his blogs, he also posts them to Twitter in @ammagenta.  What a pleasure it is to come upon one of his drawings in my Twitter stream of science, technology and politics.  In another life, Ulf is a software developer who has been creating web applications since the earliest days of the internet.  No left brain deficit there.

Bird of the Day has been added to my blogroll here.  Check it out and see if you don't enjoy it as much as I do.

Illustrations by Ulf Andersson, ArtMagenta.com

Monday, February 13, 2012

Birdcam Sabotage and a Lesson

Webster's New World Dictionary defines "sabotage" in part as:
"Destruction of railroads, bridges, machinery, etc., as by enemy agents or an underground resistance."
"The deliberate obstruction of or damage to any cause, movement, activity, effort, etc."

This is the current state of affairs at my Birdcam 2 station in the back yard.  The key words in the definition are "enemy agents," "deliberate," and "damage."  In this case, the enemy agents are the non-native Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis):

This Birdcam photo shows the suet feeder under attack when it was still relatively undamaged.  For several weeks I had been getting virtually nothing but squirrel photos at the Birdcam from dawn to dusk.  Two entire cakes of suet would be consumed in a single day.  The situation was insufferable.  I took some steps to try to solve the problem.  You can see these in the photos:
  1. I used a more robust latch to lock the suet cages shut.  The squirrels had learned to destroy the flimsier latches, open the cages and run off with entire cakes.
  2. I noticed the squirrels preferred to chew at the suet from the bottom where it was easiest to reach.  In response, I put a small piece of sheet metal on the bottom to block access.
  3. Using hardware cloth, I added a second wire cage around the suet.  This made it more difficult for the squirrels, but still allowed the birds to reach it.
These efforts were only partially successful.  While the suet cakes were now lasting up to two weeks, I was still getting almost nothing but squirrel photos.  You can also see the damage the squirrels did to the feeder in response.  These wily critters found a way to inflict revenge for my efforts.

This is what has become of most of the feeder now.  It is gradually being reduced to cedar shavings scattered on the ground.

I installed my first Birdcam a year ago last October.  From the start, and for more than a year, I had wonderful successes.  You can follow the Birdcam tag links here to see these for yourself.  There are more photos on my other blog.  Those successes inspired the origin of this Wild Fidalgo blog as well as the installation of a second Birdcam station.

Recently, however, my Birdcam successes seem to have gone completely off the rails.  On Birdcam 1, I am using safflower seed which the squirrels don't like.  House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) seem to love it.  At this station I am now getting almost exclusively House Finch shots in mobs.  This is a non-native bird which has been spread by human activity, agriculture, and ironically, bird feeding.  They have been lured into new territories far distant from their homeland in Mexico and the Southwest US.  In the process, they are outcompeting and displacing our native Purple and Cassin's Finches.

There is a lesson to be learned here and it is revealed by the House Finch story.  Bird feeders are not a normal part of the environment.  In fact, we see that they change the environment significantly.  They disrupt natural feeding habits and alter the wildlife normally found in a particular spot.

Eastern Gray Squirrels and House Finches have found food sources they like in my yard.  More and more are attracted, and now these aggressive species are displacing everything else.  When things go awry, we have nobody but ourselves to blame.

For the moment, both Birdcam stations are shut down.  I am only stocking a couple of feeders the squirrels cannot reach and with food the House Finches don't relish.  Hopefully, a period of cooling down will help get things back to normal.

This post is also being published at Fidalgo Island Crossings.