Saturday, August 29, 2015

Parc Perlière Celebrates 111th Yard Bird!

Barred Owl -- Francis Beidler Forest -- June 13, 2009

"Who, Who cooks for You All..."  I heard a muffled version of this from inside the house two nights ago.  At first, I thought the noise was the silly Beagle barking 2 doors down.  But finally, at one point, I heard it clearly and distinctly -- a Barred Owl!  Here on James Island in full suburbia just 2 blocks from Folly Road!  Holy Mackerel!  And so we created an eBird list to record our 111th Yard Bird!  Yea!  Since we were on the eBird site, we decide to investigate how frequently Barred Owls had been recorded on James Island.  I can say that since my earliest childhood, I cannot remember ever hearing a Barred Owl.  Eastern Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls, yes -- but never a Barred Owl.  The sightings map showed exactly 5 -- all in the last 2 years.  Of course, eBird is a more recent phenomenon relatively speaking.  But there are some dedicated birders who have posted all of their bird lists.  Dennis Forsythe, for example, did see (hear?) a Barred Owl on Folly Beach in 1992.  And we also discovered Carl's forgotten sighting of a Barred Owl in James Island County Park this past January.  I remember now my disbelief when he told me.  I think of these birds as being slightly more inland and certainly not in full suburbia. 

Unfortunately, we did not see him, though he was fairly close in the oaks just across or perhaps sitting in some branches over our creek.  He only hooted for about 20 minutes and then nothing.  I would like to hear him again.  The photo above is my best ever Barred Owl photo taken in the Francis Beidler Forest!  Below is another favorite photo taken this year in the Francis Marion National Forest.  Thursday night's owl must have just been passing through as we have not heard him since.  Happy silent flights my secretive night time visitor -- You made mark no. 111 in our recordbook!  Thank you!

Barred Owl eating something? -- Francis Marion Forest -- April 3, 2015

Postscript:  Silly me!  I forgot about my all time favorite photo of a Barred Owl!  It is the one below taken at the Center for Birds of Prey during their flight demonstration.

Barred Owl -- Center for Birds of Prey -- April 2, 2010

Sunday, August 16, 2015

TAP TAP TAP .... Guess who came back!

"Princess Bluebird" -- Eastern Bluebird -- Parc Perlière, Charleston, SC -- May 23, 2015

              Yes, I was once again napping on the sofa one Saturday afternoon in late May when I heard a vaguely familiar tap, tap, tap.  Could it be Princess Bluebird tapping in her familiar spot at the dining room window?  Sure enough!  She was back!  A couple of years ago, this bird nested in our nest box and learned how to use the mealworm feeder.  She became an enthusiastic user and I watched her with camera ready at an open window from the dining room.  She knew I was there and she knew who put the worms in the box.  Once when the box was empty, she flew to the dining room window where we have a seed feeder. and began peering into the house.  Then she began the tapping!  You can learn more of how this bluebird learned to use the mealworm feeder and of her ritualistic tapping in these previous blogposts from April 2013, May 2013 and July 2014.

"Princess Bluebird" -- Eastern Bluebird -- Parc Perlière, Charleston, SC -- May 23, 2015
                    Like last year, we opted not to respond to her "requests" for mealworms this year as we were preparing, like last year, to leave on vacation.  We did not want to start feeding mealworms to a bird who might have chicks by the time we had to leave and then not have a ready supply of mealworms.

"Princess Bluebird" -- Eastern Bluebird -- Parc Perlière, Charleston, SC -- May 23, 2015

Below are a couple more shots taken from a slightly different angle.  This angle shows her reflection in the window and caused us to wonder if she was simply attacking her own reflection as so many birds will do in car mirrors.

"Princess Bluebird" -- Eastern Bluebird -- Parc Perlière, Charleston, SC -- May 24, 2015

        After experimenting with proximity and angle with the window myself, I no longer believe this is the case.  I could see movement and people inside the house when I was close enough.  Also, she never tapped at any other window -- just the window where a bird feeder sat just inches away.  Of course, a bird's eyesight is not going to be the same as a human's.  But how they differ in terms of seeing reflections in windows at close range vs. seeing through the window to the inside, I do not know.  Previously, I had always had the impression that she was making eye contact with me through the window in her "requests" for mealworms.

"Princess Bluebird" -- Eastern Bluebird -- Parc Perlière, Charleston, SC -- May 24, 2015

         For a week, Princess continued to tap while she and her mate also considered the bluebird box as a potential nesting site.  But eventually they did move on.  Can we presume it is because she was not able to tap us into dispensing mealworms?  Will we see her next year?  I hope so.  I also hope that she comes at a time when we might be able to dish out some mealworms and watch her chicks grow up in the box as in years past!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Wood Duck Tales of 2015

Wood Duck family -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC -- April 18, 2015

              Looking back to three posts ago,  "Parc Perlière hosts Its 110th Yard Bird!" (yes, I know, way back when in April), I had promised readers a tale about our recently "fledged" Wood Ducks (seen above).  And then my professional life became a bit too time-consuming and I had to put the tale on hold.  Certainly, I should not withhold it any longer as I now have even more Wood Duck tales to tell.   I thought it would be hard to compete with last year's post about our Wood Ducks with the fabulous video compiled by Carl (scroll to the bottom for the video).  If you have not seen it, check it out!  It shows the story of what is happening both inside the box and outside the box on the day that they leap.  Also, last year we had some serious competition for the box with two females fighting in the box (again, scroll to the bottom of the page for the video).  The first female eventually drove off the interloper.  But that was last year's tale and you can read about it in the multiple posts listed in the sidebar  ....
         This year's tale:  Carl needed to replace last year's damaged camera with another.  Unfortunately, the new camera did not equal the quality of the old.  Though we could make out what was happening in the box, the picture was very pixelated and we no longer had the infrared option that allowed us to see into the box after dark.  Thus, we did not make an inside video to share this year .  But we did watch to keep track of what was going on.  We did not have quite the same drama unfolding in the neighborhood as last year with duck fights in the box.  There may have been some egg dumping on occasion though.

          We noticed mid-Spring more and more wood ducks -- both male and female were hanging out.   There seems to be a increase in the wood duck population in our neighborhood.  Many ducks began hanging our regularly under the feeder that we have hanging over the creek nibbling on the food that the birds push out.  Turtles, by the way, have also been taking advantage of this food source.

Male Wood Duck -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC -- April 18, 2015

           Yes, we had a clutch in the box in March with an expected hatch date of mid-April  The kids hatched out on Wednesday, April 15.  This meant that they would leave the box on Thursday, April 16.  There was an 80% chance of rain predicted for that day.  It just was not possible to stay home from work to watch it happen.  Unhappily, I went to work.  However, Carl has the video feed set up such that we can log into a live feed off of a home server that he built.  Even though the view inside the box was not good, I still did not want to miss the big jump.  So I pulled it up on my computer in the classroom and then, put it on the Smartboard.

           Imagine my French 2 students' puzzlement when they walked into the room.  They did not quite understand why Madame Miller would have a view of the inside of a Wood Duck box on the Smartboard.  By this time in the class, English is not allowed.  Their level of comprehension is still very basic.  Nonetheless, I explained, in very basic French -- translating new terms when needed, what was going to happen that morning and what they would see.  They learned a lot about Wood Duck nesting behavior.   I let them know that the chicks had hatched the day before and had to leave the box into order to eat.  They learned that the ducks would never return to the nest.  I told them that the whole screen would go dark when the Mama duck got up into the hole to look out to make sure the coast was clear.  Then, when she jumped out, we would see the chicks climbing up the sides of the box to the hole to also jump out.  I am sure that several were not quite sure that they understood everything.  We set about our usual classroom routine which involved a review, a seat assignment and a homework check.  They could watch the screen with the mass of moving ducks and work on their assignments as I moved about the room checking their work.  It was good to have so many eyes watching.  As I helped another student, all of a sudden, I heard a chorus of "Madame!"  Sure enough, the screen had gone black.  We waited, and waited.  I explained that the Mama had to make sure that it was safe for her babes to leave.  Finally, with a flash of light (the camera was readjusting) and the Mama Duck fell back inside the box.  Nope, she was not ready.  Sigh.  So we went back to work.  Two more times, I heard my students call out "Madame!"  The screen went black.  And 2 more times, Mama fell back into the box.  Well, the chicks were beginning to tire of their mother's overly cautious behavior -- they were hungry! Three of them began climbing the wall of the box towards the exit.  It is possible that one of them actually leapt.  We are not sure because Mama moved so very quickly to leave the box that time.  Then, it was a charge of little ducklings as they scrambled up the walls of the box and popped out!   They were all gone in about a minute!  The kids were entranced I am sure as much by the event as they were by my excitement!  It had become a great teaching moment in terms of their listening comprehension.   Many were not quite sure they had understood my description of the events until they unfolded before their eyes.   Also, the little ducklings became much cuter when they were not all bunched up in one pixelated mess.  And it all happened in French!

         Below are more photos that I took 2 days after their exit.

Slightly older Wood Duck chicks from a family that had hatched out form a neighborhood box -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC-- April 18, 2015

Mama Wood Duck -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC-- April 18, 2015

Mama Wood Duck with the chicks that hatched on April 15 -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC-- April 18, 2015

           The weekend before the chicks hatched, I had noticed 3 pairs of wood ducks hanging out in the creek & trees behind the house close to our box.  One male actually flew to roost on top of the box.  His female then joined him.  I went to the computer to see if it was perhaps the Mama duck.  No, she was inside on her eggs looking up towards the noise.  Then while the male on top of the box and the other 2 pairs watched, his female attempted to go in the box.  She quickly got the message that this prime piece of real estate had already been taken.  It was not long before all 3 pairs left.  Thus we were not surprised to discover the box became occupied nearly as soon as it was vacated.

          This means, that yes, we were expecting a second clutch of little ducklings!  Full time incubation began on May 6 which meant the ducklings should hatch by the end of the 1st week of June!  I hoped we could be home this time for the big leap.  We were to leave to spend a week in a cabin in the NC mountains on Sunday, June 7.  And we were indeed lucky this time -- the babes hatched Saturday, June 6.  On that Sunday morning, we were ready with our cameras!  The first event of the day, was the appearance of these 7 ? week old chicks passing by the box!  My apologies for the blur -- the light was low and they were moving fast.  It is possible that these are the same ones that exited the box earlier in the Spring! 

Wood Duck chicks from a previous clutch? -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC-- June 7, 2015

Then, Mama made her appearance a couple of times to do the safety check.  Carl and I had stayed in the house -- using it as a blind and we remained crouched down out of sight.  We watched the box via the computer feed and the live view option on our cameras.  Though we were out of sight, the fact that the windows were open probably aroused her suspicions.

Mama Duck checking to see if it were safe for her children to leap -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC-- June 7, 2015

 Finally, after twice returning inside the box, she came out and began calling her chicks.   This year, I took stills instead of video.  Here are the results!

Wood Duck chick -- Hoisting oneself up -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC-- June 7, 2015

Wood Duck chicks -- Two at a time -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC-- June 7, 2015

Wood Duck chicks -- One leaps, one hesitates -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC-- June 7, 2015

Wood Duck chicks -- Time to go! -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC-- June 7, 2015

What a precious moment!  I am so glad that we got to see it!  It is so exciting to see them leave the box to begin their new life!  That concludes our Wood Duck tales for the year!  During the rest of June, unlike in previous years where we NEVER saw the chicks again, we did frequently continue to see many Wood Ducks -- parents and chicks both --  gathering under our feeder at high tide.  Only on a rare occasion do we see them now.  The males were in serious molting stage last I saw. 

          In preparations for the next nesting season, Carl plans to rebuild our nest boxes -- both Wood Duck and Bluebird.  Because of the high demand for the wood duck box, he might actually build 2 of them.  We also want to buy new cameras and we will certainly be pickier about what we choose.  Hopefully, we will get sound next time, too!  The anticipation for next year is sweet!