Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of the Year Post

I thought it would be nice since it is the end of the year to post some pictures from the landfill that did not make it on to the blog. Some are especially nice right now since they bring back memories of warmer days and more colorful birds. Enjoy and have a happy new decade.

Horned Lark


Orchard Oriole

Silver-streaked Skipper

Prairie Warbler

Monday, December 14, 2009

dePaul School: Day 2

More questions today from Mr. Kepler's third grade class at the dePaul school. Let's see what they have for us today.

Q: Have you ever seen an owl at the landfill?

Yes in fact we have seen owls at the landfill. Last summer a pair of Great Horned Owls nested at the landfill in a strip of trees by the highway. These are BIG birds and they are the birds most people have in mind when they think of owls.

These birds have great vision and hearing. Unlike most birds, their eyes are both facing forward on their face. This means they can see in three dimensions much like you and I, and makes them skilled at finding and grabbing prey from mice up to big mammals like raccoons and armadillos. Another special adaptation they have is that their ears are not symmetrical. That means that the left ear is placed higher on the head than the right ear. This allows the owl to pinpoint exactly where the sound they are hearing is coming from and makes them better hunters. You may have thought that those big tufts on it's head were it's ears, but in fact they are a bundle of feathers, or "horns", that owls use to attract mates.

Q: How many birds do you see in a week?

That is an almost impossible question to answer. There are thousands of birds from American Goldfinches to European Starlings to Red-tailed Hawks and more that make the landfill their home. Although we attempt to count them every day, it is not meant to be a total count, but instead allows us to get some idea of how many birds are present and whether there are more or less than previous months and years. So while I cannot say exactly how many birds we see in a week, it is surely more than several thousand.

Thanks for the questions Team Three! Keep them coming!

Big Whoop

I took a trip with some fellow birders to the Brownstown, IN area in search of Sandhill Cranes and Short-eared Owls. The owls were a no-show but we did get to see several groups of Sandhills loafing in the corn fields and flying overhead.

And then we saw this big white bird in the field among the Sandhills. The Whooping Crane is the largest bird in North America, standing around five feet tall. As few as 16 birds were left as of 1941, when efforts to bring back the bird's population began. Today there are around 315 in the wild and more in captivity. They are still endangered despite the great amount of effort that has been put into their conservation.

Flocks of Sandhills

The Sandhill Cranes were on the move Friday as several flocks were spotted in the air. There were many other reports from birders of Sandhills on the move Friday as well, possibly because the cold weather was pushing them south. Several hundred were seen passing over the landfill in four separate flocks.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

dePaul School: Day 1

Over the next few weeks I will be fielding questions from Mr. Kepler's Team 3 students at the dePaul School as they start their science unit on birds. They will be asking me questions about birds and the landfill, and come early January I will be speaking to their class about the importance of birds and how they are different. This is a bright bunch of third graders and I look forward to their great questions! Lets begin!

Q: What is your favorite bird and why?

A: That is a tough question! There are so many types of birds, from ducks to hawks and sparrows to herons, that it is difficult to decide which is your favorite. Birds come in a stunning variety and I think all of them are amazing. If I was forced to pick one, it would have to be the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. These guys are real common and you have probably seen one drinking sugar water from a feeder on your back porch.

Hummingbirds are some of the smallest birds but they have a lot of personality. Males like the one above have bright red iridescent throat patches that they use to attract females. The red feathers sparkle like rubies when the light hits them at the right angle and that is how they got their name. They are small but they can move VERY fast. Their wings beat 53 times a second, so fast that you can hear a hum when they fly past. Since they use so much energy they must constantly eat to stay alive. Hummingbirds can eat twice their weight in a day! Can you imagine eating twice your weight in food a day? That would be a ton of school lunches!

Q: What area of the landfill do you see the most birds?

A: That is a good question. The spot on the landfill that has the most birds would be the active area, that is, the area where the garbage trucks dump the garbage. Big bulldozers push and squish the garbage into as small an area as possible, but that doesn't keep the birds from trying to eat it. Most of the birds that try to eat the trash are European Starlings, a bird that was brought over to America from Europe in the 1800's. There can be over 1,000 birds at a time trying to eat yesterday's trash as it goes into the landfill.

However, the spot with the most types of birds would be the wetlands. That is because wetlands are some of the most productive types of habitats, meaning they have the things birds want the most like food and nesting sites. All kinds of birds have been seen in the wetlands like sparrows, warblers, and herons.

Q: What is your favorite part about your job?

A: A big part of my job is that we try to scare away blackbirds and vultures because the landfill is located right next to the airport. Planes are constantly landing and taking off over the landfill and it is our job to make sure the skies are clear of birds and safe for the planes and passengers. We use different kinds of noisemakers that sound like fireworks to scare the birds away. They usually leave but often they do not go far. So we are always looking for birds to shoo away. Therefore, I would say my favorite part of my job is making sure the planes can fly safely and that they can worry less about flying into a big flock of birds.

These were great questions Team 3 and I look forward to your future questions!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bald Eagle

This Bald Eagle came right in towards me today and soared right over the open face before flying off to the south. This was the first time one has been seen on the landfill.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Northen Harrier

Another interesting visitor showed up at the landfill today. A Northern Harrier was seen prowling the landfill, flying low and pouncing frequently. This isn't the first time a harrier has been seen on the landfill with the last one seen in January after the major ice storm. They typically like marshy wet open areas where they fly low over the ground and drop down on prey. The most obvious field mark is the large white rump patch along with their owl-like facial disk.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A New Record

A new Kentucky birding record has been set at the landfill! Records are kept for migrating birds concerning the earliest date they are seen in spring and the latest they are seen in the fall. Most birds fly north or south during a short period of time, usually in April and May in spring and September and October in the fall. However, sometimes there are stragglers, birds that hatched late, or newly recovered injured birds that take a little longer to leave for their wintering grounds. It was one of these late birds that was observed December 1st at the landfill, a Common Nighthawk. Most nighthawks migrate south between August and October, sometimes together in flocks. It is impossible to say why this bird was around so late, but whatever its reason for staying, it better fly south fast to avoid this cold winter blast.

The most distinguishing characteristic of Common Nighthawks are the broad white bands across the wings. They have a very bat-like flight that makes them stand out from other birds. They belong to the group of birds known as "goatsuckers", named for the old myth that they suckled milk from goats. Goatsuckers are also known as nightjars and are in the family Caprimulgidae along with other birds such as the Whip-or-will, Chuck-will's-widow, and the Oilbird of South America. Most of these birds are ground nesting birds and are extremely well camofluged with cryptic coloration, making them difficult to see to predators.

Nighthawks are most often seen at dusk as they forage for areal insects. If you hear a nasally "peent" noise coming from above on a summer evening, look up and you will likely see a nighthawk. The males also have a peculiar display where they dive at high speed toward the ground and when they are a few feet of the ground they quickly pull up, their wings emitting a loud booming sound. They will perform this feat to impress females but also to ward off intruders including people. They have adapted to nesting on the roofs of big box stores and I have personally seen them many times foraging for insects above the parking lot of Wal-Mart and other stores. They certainly are interesting birds made even more so by this late visit to the landfill in KY.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Rare Bird Map

A new feature has been added to the blog. Now you can see exactly where rare birds have been seen on the landfill, the date, and if available, a picture of the rare bird. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the map that has been loaded from Google maps. You can zoom in and out and pan around the landfill as if you were using Google maps. The satellite photo of the landfill is rather old and the place is constantly changing as hills are filled, roads are built or removed, and ponds are created. Nonetheless, I have done my best to place the markers in the accurate locations. Enjoy and let me know what you think of the new feature and the landfillbirdblog in general.


White-tailed Deer

The cold weather has the deer moving with 14 seen this morning. An 11-point buck has been seen several times courting a doe and another doe was seen this fall with three fawns in tow. I shot (a picture) of this doe and her young last week.

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