Squeak Can Fly

The largest killdeer, Squeak, can fly nicely. Pip, the smallest killdeer, needs to catch up. Pip has always been smaller. About five days ago, I started giving Pip some medication to help its digestive system to ensure it was retaining more nutrients. There has been a big difference in Pip over the last few days.

Pip on January 12.
Pip on January 16.

These are the chicks when we first got them.

Pip and Squeak on December 30.
Pip and Squeak on January 16. Squeak is the one in the front. Pip is catching up.

Mischevious Vultures

Sandy, the sanderling.

I volunteer at the Ark Wildlife Rescue and clean the aviaries once a week in addition to rehabilitating some of the birds at my home. Part of the job is emptying and cleaning the pools and refilling them. There are two pools outside in a penned area where the birds are released while cleaning the inside cages. I like to be as efficient as possible and perform multiple tasks at the same time. It takes time to fill the pool, so I regularly leave a hose running in one pool to fill it while I clean something else. The visiting black vultures make it difficult to be efficient when filling the outside pools. When I leave the area while the pool is being filled, they pull the hose out of the pool. They do this regularly, so I asked Regis to come along today and video them in action while a friend and I cleaned the pens. Following is the video he captured.

The four birds at home are improving. Squeak, the largest killdeer will likely be flying soon. Sandy, the sanderling, has been grooming regularly and jumping up and stretching its wings. I am not sure why it can not fly, but the bird seems to be in better spirits and on the way to recovery. Regis and I both enjoy watching it jump about. All the birds remain on the lanai at night. We have a space heater and a heat lamp for them and I check them regularly all night. Last night, the killdeers and sanderling were regularly running around and not situated under the lamp even though it was in the 40’s (F). That is a good sign. Once I am comfortable that Pip, the smallest killdeer, is robust enough, I plan to turn the heat lamp off in preparation for a future release. We keep the space heater out for the red-bellied woodpecker since it removed many of its feathers. Until they grow back, I am concerned it can not keep itself sufficiently warm.

Sandy, the sanderling.

In the meantime, Dart started vomiting while on his anti-inflammatory that was working so well for him. After keeping him off of it for two days, he could not stand up first thing this morning and kept falling over. He eventually started to walk but would barely use his one back leg. I contacted the vet and she suggested trying an injectable pain reliever and giving him Pepto Bismal in addition to Omeprezole (anti-acid). She gave him a shot today and we have two more to get through the week-end. On Monday, we will assess where we go from here.

Honorable Mentions

The following images that I submitted to the 2020 Share the View International Nature Photography Contest won honorable mention.

The image below was taken while on a photography tour to Alaska.

Honorable Mention – Polar Regions, Sense of Place

The following image was taken while in Port Townsend, Washington. A pair of glaucous-winged gulls were raising their chicks on the roof of a local restaurant.

Honorable Mention – Urban Wildlife

Pip – Puzzle Solved

In my last post, I mentioned that our smallest killdeer chick, Pip, was discovered first thing in the morning nearly dead in the mealworm dish. The birds were on the lanai and it dropped into the 30’s that night. We have a heat lamp running and the temperature under the lamp was 82 degrees. The mealworms are near, but not under the lamp. We could not understand why Pip would get a midnight snack and then stay in the bowl until the weather got to it. In addition, there were mealworms strewn about outside the bowl. That was odd.

Today, after checking on the chicks as I do many times during the day, I found Pip in the mealworm bowl. The chick couldn’t get out. See the following video. This would explain why the chick nearly froze and why there were mealworms everywhere. I had no idea the bowl could be a death trap.

Pip, our killdeer chick, stuck in the mealworm bowl.

I am trying something else. I need a solution where the mealworms can not get out but the chicks can.

Dart/Wildlife Rescues

Dart.

DART

Dart is a Shetland sheepdog and performed in agility trials until we left Maryland when he was five. Florida does not offer many trials and I could only find one place to train. We stopped doing agility but Dart continued expertly catching his flying disk and we did other things to keep him exercised.

During the last couple years, Dart has slowed down considerably. He has been diagnosed with arthritis and has some other issues that slow him down. We moved into our current home around two years ago. We are situated on a preserve that backs up to a marsh on the intracoastal waterway. The house had a fenced yard when we moved in. We found the local animals used our yard as a super highway, so we keep the fence gates open in the front and back. After a deer went through the fence and bent the posts, we removed that section of fence. Dart has always stayed in the yard even with the gates open and the fence section removed. When critters ran through the yard, Dart would chase them to the property line and return. When Regis and I would wander through the preserve behind our house, Dart never joins us. I thought Dart stayed in the yard because he was well behaved. I was wrong.

Dart was not using one of his hind legs recently, so I took him to the vet. An X-ray indicated there were no bone issues. The vet suggested an anti inflammatory/pain reliever to see if it was a soft tissue problem. After several days on the medication, Dart was transformed. I recently walked the path to the marsh and not only did Dart come out with me, but he ran ahead of me on the path he has never traversed. As we were leaving the lanai the other day, a young raccoon was doing cleanup under the feeder and Dart saw him. He chased that raccoon out into the preserve and leapt like a gazelle over a dead tree. When he finally stopped, he stared at me from behind that tree like he didn’t know how he got there and he needed me to rescue him. I told him “you got yourself into this pickle, you can get yourself out of it.” He returned like an old dog. He did the same thing again the next day. Now, we are closing gates and considering putting the sections back up.

WILDLIFE RESCUES

Pip almost died early this morning. The birds have been staying out on the lanai and last night was very cold. We put a space heater near Pippen’s cage (woodpecker) and we keep the heat lamp on all the time for Pip and Squeak (killdeers). Since Sandy (sanderling) is housed with them, Sandy gets to enjoy the heat lamp also.

Regis woke up around 6:00 a.m. this morning (it is dark until almost 7:30) and checked on the birds to make sure they had mealworms. He found Pip laying in the mealworm dish hardly moving. He brought the bird in and spent 10 minutes trying to warm it by holding it in his hands and blowing on it. Regis got me to run a blow dryer on a rag to warm it up and then wrap the bird in it. After I did that, I got a heating pad and put it on my lap. I put the bird on the heating pad and held my hands over it. It was barely moving. It took a long time, but the bird eventually warmed up and revived. It has been active all day.

It is going to be even colder tonight, so I brought Squeak and Sandy in and set up a very large area in the house for the birds to roam. Pip and Squeak sleep together and I didn’t want them to be apart. I do not want to let Pip back outside until the bird is stronger. Sandy was perky today and Regis even saw the bird hovering. The bird is improving and I look forward to the day it starts flying around the house. Today all the birds were running around together in a little flock.

Pippen got a new cage today. It has a lot more room. He hated the process of moving to the new cage, but I think he will be much happier with the extra room once he settles in.

Pippen’s new cage. You can see him looking at me from inside the cavity in the log.

THE ARK WILDLIFE RESCUE AVIARY

I clean out the aviary at the Ark Wildlife Rescue once a week. Last Friday, I took a video to show the birds that wait outside the aviary hoping for some fish to be tossed to them. If there is extra fish available, we toss it to the wild birds. This week, we were short on fish. The residents get enough food that they are picky and when you have to cut up the fish, they will leave the heads and tails lying around to stink up the place and attract flies. We usually get smaller fish for the birds that can not eat the big fish. We did not have enough small fish and I had to cut up the big ones into small pieces. I gave the heads and tails to the pelicans, vultures, and wood storks hanging around. They were happy to have them.

This pelican was so close I could not get the whole bill in the picture. This is one of the visitors hoping for some fish.
A visiting wood stork hoping for some fish.

There was a loon that I had to move from the swimming pool into one of the penned areas. Since the loon I tried to rescue (see here) last month was docile, I forgot to adequately grab the birds head and I was rewarded with several jabs to my hand. I quickly got the situation under control. I am not likely to forget next time.

A loon with a sharp bill. It appears that it may be released soon.

Rescues Update

This shows how many feathers are missing from the left wing. They need to grow back so it can fly and we can release it.

I’m just getting started in this process of trying to help rescued birds and it is a learning experience. The little killdeer I was worried about seems to be doing much better. It gained 2 grams since yesterday while Squeak gained 4 grams. The sanderling is doing well but I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it. It was caught up in fishing line which is why it wound up at the Ark. It doesn’t appear to have any physical injuries. Its wings look good and it stretches them regularly, but it won’t fly. It mostly stands in one spot. Maybe it just needs some time and space to get itself back together.

I’ve been bringing the chicks in at night, along with the sanderling for company. Tonight I will be leaving them on the lanai but the heat lamp will be there if they need it. They need to be prepared to be on their own.

When I was sweeping the lanai the other day, I noticed a lot of small feathers that came from the woodpecker. I wasn’t sure why but Regis figured it out this morning. He watched the woodpecker from the other side of the room with a pair of binoculars and saw it pulling its feathers out. It will do that if it is stressed. I spoke with Karen and she suggested getting a log that might have bugs in it to give the woodpecker some stimulation. Regis is the best in these circumstances and found a perfect solution. There was a dead tree that was home to a red-bellied woodpecker nest when we first moved in. Regis got some amazing video of the parents and chicks and even timed the fledging right. (See here.) This year, that tree blew over in a storm. Regis cut the part of the tree with the hole and placed that in the woodpecker cage. The little woodpecker seems to be very happy with his new circumstances. In the meantime, I am working on getting him a bigger cage to give him more room. We will work hard to provide him with some stimulation so he doesn’t get stressed or bored and keep pulling his precious feathers out.

This image shows how many feathers the woodpecker has plucked from itself in boredom or stress.

Following is a video of the birds with the woodpecker exploring its new log.

CBC, Pip, Squeak, and Sandy

Black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

I kayaked by myself for the Matanzas Christmas Bird Count. I left from the Butler boat ramp where we pulled out the other day and promised to be careful. It was windy, so I kept to the oyster beds and stayed away from the open water. It only took an hour and a half to get to the accessible places. I saw some White Pelicans across some open water. I started toward them and wisely reconsidered. I took a photo instead and kept to calmer water. My most exciting find was a Whimbrel which I have only seen twice.

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

I did very well on the water, but not so well on land. As I was backing the Jeep out of the parking spot, I bumped the boat trailer parked next to me. We have had the Jeep since 2016 and traveled all over the country dragging it behind the motorhome and then taking off on all kinds of back country roads and it finally got its first ding. Fortunately, it was the rubber bumper and it is scraped but fine. The boat trailer looked fine. I took a picture and left my card anyway.

It was the first time I kayaked by myself and loaded the kayak by myself. Unloading is a breeze. One only has to lessen the effect of gravity on the kayak. To load it, I put the front end up on the carrier and then lifted it up from the middle to get the whole kayak loaded in the rack. It worked well. We have Thule hydraulic jacks, so getting the kayak on top of the car is not a problem. The biggest problem has always been getting the kayak situated on the carrier when it is waist high.

Yesterday, I got worried about Pip because he keeps sitting back on his legs. His legs seem weak. We weighed the chicks and Pip is 26 grams while Squeak is 38 grams. Pip wasn’t too hard to weigh. We put each one in a bowl on a scale. Squeak became a bouncing bean and kept jumping as high as it could to get out. He/she did not want to be in the bowl and it took a few seconds to get a weight.

Today, Regis tried using a bag with somewhat better success. Pip is now 27 grams and Squeak 39 grams. At least Pip is growing.

I went on the first whale survey of the season this year. Weekly between now and mid-March, I will be on a team looking for Northern Right Whales that come to calve in the waters off southeast Georgia and northeast Florida. They are rare and we do not see many. On the way home, I drove by the Ark and picked up a Sanderling. Boring, but I named it Sandy. Sandy is in the same penned area as Pip and Squeak. Karen, from the Ark, told me that Pip is exhibiting a calcium deficiency. She has vitamins on order and she told me to make sure the birds get plenty of sun.

When I got back, I put the birds in a plastic container in the sunshine and monitored them. Not only was I making sure no one escaped, but I was making sure a hawk did not have them for lunch. Once they calmed down after moving them, the two killdeers went to sleep in the sunshine. Very cute. I could not take a picture because my movement would wake them.

Following is a video of the three of them in their plastic bin before they fell asleep.

Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis)
Short-billed dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus)
White ibis (Eudocimus albus)
Willet (Tringa semipalmata)

Rescued Instead of Rescuing

Two kayaks awaiting rescue along with their owners on a windy, crazy day.

Today my friend and I needed to be rescued.

It all started simple enough. The Matanzas Christmas Bird Count is Saturday and I wanted to check out an area for kayaking for the count. My friend Paige, who grew up in the area, said she would go with me. I selected the nearest boat ramp which is along the intracoastal waterway (ICW) at the Rte 206 bridge. Paige had not launched from this ramp before, but she was familiar with our destination. She agreed it was the closest ramp that did not require us to cross the ICW but could be difficult at low tide.

The weather looked to be sunny and warm today with 11 knots of wind. We preferred to have less wind, but it was tolerable. We launched at high tide and planned to return before the tide got too low.

We headed north along the marsh, looking for the mouth of Moses Creek. The marsh is a maze of little pathways that lead nowhere. Upon entering one of those pathways, Paige felt something was wrong and checked her GPS. We were too far north. The wind had increased, so I checked my weather app and it now said the winds would be 17 knots. Not good.

We started back south and when we got to more open water, which was necessary to traverse to get where we needed to be, Paige said she knew 20 knot winds and these were 20 knot winds. There were whitecaps on the water. We tried to head back and had great difficulty making headway. Paige showed me that an easier way was to get out of the kayak and walk the kayak through the marsh. It was slow going and worked until we hit one of those water pathways through the marsh and the water was too deep. We had to get in the kayak and paddle past these spots while waves crashed over us and then try walking again. The bridge next to the boat ramp suddenly appeared very far away to me.

I checked my app again and it was up to 18 knots and showing no sign of slowing down until after sunset. This was not the plan. The wind was obviously stronger on the open water.

We were wearing out. I was contemplating how lousy the day was going to be walking through the salt marsh in water up to our knees for over a mile and dealing with the relentless wind. Kayaking in this wind was almost undoable. Having the energy to make it back to the ramp seemed out of the question.

Then Paige had an idea. She has lots of relatives in the area and said she would get someone to rescue us, starting with a call to her husband. At this point, we were at the mouth to Moses Creek and headed up the creek to get out of the wind. We saw a father and daughter kayaking toward the ICW and told them it was rough out there. They gave a polite reply that I don’t remember and kept going while we headed up the creek to get to a dry shore, arrange for a rescue, and eat lunch. Twenty minutes after we stopped, the father and daughter kayakers showed up. They were looking for a way to walk back. They had wheels with their kayaks, so they could walk them. We had stopped at an overnight camping area that had a kiosk with a map, so the team figured out if they paddled another mile or so up the creek, they could get out and walk about a mile to get back to their car. We didn’t have wheels.

Paige at the kiosk on Moses Creek with the map.

Paige called her husband Kevin who immediately headed out with their daughter Kai and her boyfriend Job to help us out. Kevin was bringing a Gheenoe which is a canoe with a motor on it. The plan was to strap the kayaks to the side of the Gheenoe and all of us ride in the Gheenoe back.

Paige and I enjoyed the scenery while waiting for Kevin to arrive. We were on an elevated place and with binoculars I could see Kevin in the distance. He stopped, then starting going the wrong way. He was stuck. He got out of it but it was a bad omen for what was to come.

This image was taken from the spot at Moses Creek where we had lunch. The bridge in the distance is where the boat ramp is located. So close, yet so far. It is hard to see, but there are white caps in the water we have to traverse to return.

Kevin arrived at our picnic spot and tied the kayaks to the Gheenoe and we loaded our gear to leave which was easier said than done. The tide was significantly lower and we were standing in muck. Kevin did all the dirty work while Paige and I tucked ourselves into the Gheenoe and held the kayaks and Kevin sunk in mud up to his armpits. Okay, it wasn’t that bad but I’m sure Kevin was not enjoying it.

Getting out of Moses Creek turned out to be harder than coming in. Kevin ran aground frequently because of the low tide and the strong wind made it difficult to get out of the situation. He spent more time out of the boat than in it while walking us through the oyster beds. If the water never got too deep, he could have walked us all the way back. There are deep spots and there are shallow spots and it was a mess. Every time we got to deeper water and Kevin tried to start the motor, the wind would push us back near the marsh grasses. It was slow going.

The closer we got to the ICW and the more the wind was an impact, the more Kevin realized we could not get back to the boat ramp. He would have to head out to deeper water in the ICW and go against the wind. Also, the boat ramp might now have been inaccessible at such a low tide.

Kevin or Paige called Kai and Job and had them drive to a boat ramp across the ICW to pick us up. THis was a different boat ramp than where we launched. The wind was more favorable in that direction and the boat ramp was more accessible at low tide. It was a long journey across the ICW and there was lots of bird activity. We saw a bald eagle catch a fish and many pelicans diving in one area. The scenery was beautiful.

We got to the boat ramp and they tied my kayak on top of their truck and we drove back to the original boat ramp so I could load the kayak on my car and we all headed home.

Thank you Paige for the adventure and thank you Kevin (and Kai and Job) for rescuing us.

It brings to mind the time I scouted prior to a Matanzas Christmas Bird Count in 2018 and almost sunk the Jeep (see here). Hmmmm.

Regis will say it was a successful day because I am unlikely to be discussing the purchase of a boat any time soon. What a way to end a crazy year.

On the lighter side of things, I picked up the two baby killdeers that made it successfully through Christmas. They could not possibly be cuter. They are very noisy and cheep constantly. The first time they quieted down after bringing them home, I was worried something was wrong and checked on them. That started them up again. Sleeping dogs and babies should be left alone, same for killdeers if you want any peace. Notice how long the legs are on these little chicks. The minute I met these guys and listened to all that peeping, I named them Pip and Squeak. Pip is the smaller one.

Squeak on the left and Pip on the right. Killdeer chicks rescued by the Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.

Morning over the Intracoastal Waterway

Watching the sun rise over the GTM Reserve and the intracoastal waterway.

Yesterday morning I went to the boardwalk over the Palencia salt marsh to get some sunrise photos. The water on the intracoastal waterway (ICW) was peaceful and calm. It was a lovely way to start the day. Across the ICW from the salt marsh is the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas (GTM) National Estuarine Research Reserve. We get to watch the sun rise over the reserve in the morning. It is a little piece of heaven to have the reserve across the water and in a natural state.

The west side of the ICW looking north over the Palencia salt marsh.
The pier at the end of the Palencia boardwalk. It juts over the intracoastal waterway with the GTM Reserve in the background.

Following is 1 minute and 20 seconds of staying in one spot and experiencing the morning. Watch it to experience the calmness of a peaceful sun rise at the salt marsh.

Fishing Line

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) actively looking for fish.

I went to the dam at the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR) to try to get pictures of Osprey catching fish. The dam has an outlet from Guana Lake to the Guana River and the fish hang out on both sides of this outlet. The fishermen flock to this place and so do the birds. Its a better place to try to get pictures of osprey in action than a kayak. Trying to focus on a swiftly moving bird diving into the water after a fish while in an unstable craft is challenging. I thought standing on stable ground at the dam would be promising.

I was not disappointed in the opportunities to get a picture, but I was disappointed in my results. It was joy to be outdoors on a great day taking pictures. It will not be torture to return again and again to work on getting the great picture I strive for. I’ve included a couple okay ones here. I am hoping to capture a sequence of pictures that shows the osprey rotating the fish so that it is face forward. Osprey always align the fish after catching it.

While at the dam, I got a phone call from a friend. While chatting with her, I noticed a tern struggling in the water. I hung up, ran to my car to get my net, and ran to where I thought the bird was headed. By the time I got there, a fisherman had reeled the bird in and was trying to untangle it from fishing line. He was struggling to hold the bird, who was not happy, while also untangling the line. I netted the bird and held it still, keeping its beak from inflicting damage while the fisherman untangled the bird. It was a success and the bird took off after a short hesitation to catch its breath. Although I would have been able to help without the net, it made things much easier. I am glad I carry it in the car.

Royal tern (Thalasseus maximus). It may or may not have been the one that got entangled in fishing line.

When I returned home to go through my pictures, I noticed several pictures of birds touching fishing line. While taking the pictures, I did not notice the line. Although the birds were touching the line, they were usually not getting tangled and were able to fly away. Clearly, sometimes they get entangled.

Royal tern with fishing line against its right wing. It did not get entangled on this effort.
Gull fishing. Notice the fishing line horizontally in the picture and just touching the birds right foot.

I also may have an answer to how the laughing gull I photographed about a week ago (blog post here) got a broken bill. The cement around a portion of the dam where the fish are gathered slopes into the water. I saw a tern dive for a fish where the cement lies under the water. If a bird dove too far, it would hit the cement with its beak.

While I was photographing the birds fishing, the fisherman nearest me caught a fish. He was happy to have me take his picture, a Filipino man with a fish. His name was Noli and he jokingly asked if he would be in National Geographic. I said “no, but he could be in my blog post”. He smiled. I noticed that when the fishermen could not social distance from non family members, they wore masks. Noli was not wearing a mask, but he was being safe and I was able to capture his smile. I had my telephoto lens on the camera, so we were clearly social distancing.

Noli with his recent catch.

I watched this boat-tailed grackle steal a fisherman’s bait fish.

Boat-tailed grackle (Quiscalus major) eyeing a fisherman’s bait fish.
Boat-tailed grackle as a successful thief.

I captured a short video of the red-bellied woodpecker rescue who hides from me behind his branch when I clean his cage and feed him. He keeps peeking out from behind the log. Yesterday, I meant to get video but failed to press the correct buttons and got a picture of a log in a cage. You will find this video more interesting.