About 40 years ago I watched as a couple of dozen transplanted Wild Turkeys were released in Carver Park. It was hoped a few of them would survive and perhaps even reproduce. Well, any worries those folks had were long ago set aside. We might even have created a new species: Urban Turkeys. In some places, Prospect Park in southeast Minneapolis for example, they’re hardly wild. This pair of birds has settled in along Orlin Avenue SE. They wander through the neighborhood, nibbling at plants, digging in gardens for acorns buried by squirrels. They really like rose hips according to my friend Susan who called me recently as the birds stood on the deck of her house and pulled at her rose bushes. Last year, this pair of birds (or another) nested in an Orlin flowerbed. Incubation began in April. The homeowner took pity in August and removed the obviously infertile eggs so the bird could get on with its life.
Federal duck-stamp competition and surrounding events begin Saturday with display of the 2008 stamp art contest entries at the Bloomington Art Center. There are many events scheduled through Oct. 18, the day the 2009 stamp winner will be announced. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better opportunity to view wildlife art, take tours and wildlife walks, learn about wildlife photography, learn to identify birds, meet some of the nation’s most talented wildlife artists, and participate in the excitement of the contest itself, including announcement of the winner. For a complete schedule, go to web site www.fws.gov/duckstamps/contest_events.htm
Magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror. Crows, however, can recognize you. A recent study in the Seattle area has shown that crows can distinguish individual humans. They know if you’ve been naughty or nice, politely following people who fed them, and actively harassing people who treated them poorly, trapping them for study, for example. The birds need not have first-hand experience with the person recognized. They can be taught to recognize individuals by their parents or other crows in their flock. Similar behavior has been seen in gulls and other bird species. The study was reported in The New York Times.
A flock of birds is the common way to describe a group or gathering of species. Bird names offer other choices, however. Here are some examples, thanks to Phil Davidson of Maryland. He posted this to the birding email list known as Birdchat. A glimmer of Northern Flickers. A hangover of Red-eyed Vireos. An alphabet of jays. A maniac of ravens. An arena of Redwings. A hood of robins. An assortment of Varied Buntings. A litter of catbirds. A nebula of starlings. A range of Ovenbirds. A drift of Snow Geese. A tart of bitterns. An illusion of merlins. A trailerpark of Red-necked Phalaropes. And an asylum of Common Loons. Have you one to share?
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska — Day Five
Doughnuts are fueling this trip. This day has been highlighted by three doughnuts and a pair of nesting dark-phase Parasitic Jaegers. We first saw one of the jaegers four days ago, over the tidal mud near the mouth of the Kenai River. The Kenai city docking site was our observation point. It is one of the stops on the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail, the source of our various birding destinations on this trip. It’s salmon season here. Commercial fishermen come into the river near the docks to unload their fish at the processing plants along the river bank. Inside the plants, long tables are lined with men and women in yellow rubber bib overalls. They’re fileting salmon, thousands and thousands of fish. The discarded parts are ground into a slurry and discharged into the river. Gulls come to feed at this banquet. Perhaps 30,000 gulls — Herring, Glaucous-winged, and Mew — nest on a vast sedge meadow just across the river. The river front is jaeger heaven. They come to worry the gulls, chasing them in dog-fight pursuit, hoping a gull carrying food to chicks will drop the food during the chase. The gull’s loss is the jaeger’s gain. We watched that first jaeger, almost black against the gray-green river, as it swept among the white gulls looking for a victim. We were about 500 yards away. Eventually, we moved to another dock to be closer to the action. The jaeger, of course, immediately flew downstream to work in front of our previous viewing site. Then, we lost the bird. We’ve been checking that stretch of river twice a day, hoping to see that dark dart again. Today, we found the jaegers’ nest site. We stopped along a nearby highway to scan a mudflat for whatever. One jaeger was found standing on the mud. The second appeared minutes later, rising off what we believe is their nest. The birds are a rich chocolate brown with tan accents. They are almost exactly the same color as the dried silt on which they are nesting. If they hadn’t moved we wouldn’t have seen them. We watched the pair eventually fly off into the ever-present gull flock. We’re going back later this afternoon to see if they have returned to the nest site. It is less than 100 yards from the road, allowing good looks with binoculars. I never eat doughnuts, by the way, but this place, with its never-ending daylight and the wealth of birds, keeps me hungry.