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Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

To celebrate the Heron Observation Network’s fifth year, I put together a collection of Photos from the Field, taken by myself, co-workers, and some very talented HERON volunteers.  Many THANKS to all the HERON volunteers who monitored colonies, and to the landowners that allowed access.  Here’s to another exciting year ahead of us!  Happy 2014!

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Photo by Doug Albert.

The great blue heron nesting season went by as quick as a flash this year.  Fall is when I collect all the HERON volunteers’ data and enter it into the database to get an idea of how the season went for herons (which I will blog about at a later date).  It is also a great time to visit colonies on the ground for several reasons: 1) I can usually get a fairly accurate nest count because the nests typically persist into the fall (and most often as long as the following spring); 2) the birds no longer occupy their colonies at this time of year, so I can get real close without causing any disturbance; and 3) there are no biting insects to contend with!

My colony of choice to visit this week was one that is 3.5 hours driving time from my office in Bangor.  Sometimes it is difficult to commit to a long day of driving for just one site, but this turned out to be well worth it.  The weather was absolutely perfect, the company was very pleasant, hospitable, and knowledgeable, and the site was quite unique as far as heron colonies go.  Below is a photo journal of the day’s visit.  Hope you enjoy the adventure…

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The following article was originally written for the October 2012 issue of “SWOAM News”, the newsletter of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine

Great blue heron nests are often found in snags located in beaver flowages. Photo by Michael Merchant.

Great blue heron nests are often found in snags located in beaver flowages. Photo by Michael Merchant.

Mention the great blue heron and most envision a large bird with long legs and neck knee-deep in water slowly stalking its prey. These wetland icons also rely on trees, both live and dead, for nesting. These magnificent birds build large platform stick nests 8-100 ft up in trees and nest in groups, or colonies. In Maine, colonies occur on coastal and freshwater islands, in beaver flowages, and in upland settings. Their nests are built in mature hardwoods and softwoods and can be in live, dead, or dying trees. Chances are, your property is potential nesting habitat for these prehistoric looking and sounding birds.

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Snowy egrets perched in apple trees.

This past May, I had the unique opportunity to assist National Audubon Society (NAS) with a wading bird census on Stratton Island in Saco Bay.  Part of NAS’s Phineas W. Sprague Memorial Sanctuary, this 23-acre island is located 1.5 miles south of Prout’s Neck and is home to an immense diversity of wading birds, waterfowl, seabirds, and songbirds, and is an important stopover for all the above during migration.

In fact, Stratton Island hosts the most diverse wading bird colony in Maine, and is the most northerly U.S. breeding location for a few of these species.  On the north side of the island, great and snowy egrets, black-crowned night-herons, little blue herons, and glossy ibis layer their nests in among the branches of choke cherry and apple trees.

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We’ve had some hot sultry days this summer, and if you were smart you retreated to a shady spot or went for a swim at a nearby pond.  But what about all those great blue heron nestlings that were sitting in their nests 20-100 feet up in a  tree, often in full sun?  Sure, their nest tree may be surrounded by water if it is a snag in a beaver flowage, but that water is completely inaccessible to a nestling who takes around 80 days to learn how to fly. 

How do they keep cool on those 90+ degree days?  Like humans, birds rely on evaporative cooling to release heat; however, birds do not have sweat glands like you and me.  Instead, they lose heat through their respiratory tract.  Some birds do this by panting, but others, including herons, do so by “gular flutter”.  Gular flutter is a rapid vibration of the upper throat and thin floor of the mouth.  By opening their mouths wide and rapidly flapping the thin gular membranes of the throat, they expose a large featherless area to moving air.  To see what gular flutter looks like, click on the link below to a web album containing 2 short videos:

Gular Flutter Videos

Herons may also change their posture to keep cool.  The “sunbathing” posture or “delta-wing” is sometimes assumed to aid in cooling the bird itself as well as to help shade its nest contents (eggs or nestlings).  Often sunbathing is accompanied by gular flutter.  The sunbathing posture I witnessed below was seen in mid-May on a day that was not noticeably hot (at least to me, but I was shaded by a blind).  This adult most likely had eggs or newly hatched young in the nest, but it doesn’t appear that the sunbathing posture is serving to shade any nest contents here.  The adult is actually facing into the sun.  Perhaps this is one of many reasons that led to this nest’s failure?  It was inactive only 1 week later.

Adult great blue heron “sunbathing”.

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Introduction

Since 2007, the great blue heron (Ardea herodias) has been listed inMaine as a Species of Special Concern.  While this status has no regulatory significance, is does signify possible decline and that more information is necessary to accurately determine the population trend.  Thus, an effort was initiated in 2009 to better track great blue heron colonies and the number of nesting pairs in the state, both on coastal islands and at inland sites. (more…)

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A radiograph of a common loon showing a lead sinker (the brightest white object) in its gizzard. Photo courtesy of Avian Haven.

 

One of my not-so-glamorous duties as a wildlife biologist in our agency’s Bird Group is to collect dead loons and send them to the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine’s Wildlife Clinic to be necropsied (a necropsy is an autopsy of a wild animal).  Dr. Mark Pokras and his students determine the cause of death as part of an ongoing study, and then let me know so I can inform the concerned citizen who originally notified me or a coworker of the dead loon.  I just finished cataloguing, bagging, and freezing 2 loon chicks and 5 adults.  With the help of Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation facility in Freedom, we were able to get radiographs of a few adults – 2 individuals showed obvious lead sinkers in their gizzards.  These were both adults, most likely breeding adults, that were otherwise healthy.  A sad twist of fate presented them a lead sinker instead of an ordinary stone to add to the numerous stones already in their gizzard used for grinding food.  It doesn’t take much lead to cause lead poisoning, and death is only a few days away. 

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