Thursday, April 28, 2011

I am saddened to report...

Nightingale by: Dietmar Nill/Nature Picture Library

that "some of Britain's most cherished spring visitors are disappearing in their thousands. Ornithologists say species such as the cuckoo, nightingale and turtle dove are undergoing catastrophic drops in numbers, although experts are puzzled about the exact reasons for these declines." Read more at

"APRIL is the cruellest month..." ~T.S. Eliot (1888–1965) from The Waste Land, 1922

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rare Right Whale Event

North Atlantic Right Whale

By now you've probably heard about the record number of Right Whales feeding off the coast of Cape Cod. There are only 473 of these magnificent whales left on the planet! Around 200 of them have gathered to feed on an abundant supply of zooplankton.

Thank goodness for their proximity to land because already a marine rescue team from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies freed an endangered North Atlantic right whale that was tangled in rope yesterday in Cape Cod Bay, sparing the 30-ton mammal from potentially life-threatening complications. Below is the rest of the story by writer Taylor M. Miles from The Boston Globe:

Researchers from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies found the whale with a rope caught in its mouth that probably came from a fishing boat, officials said. The Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team worked on freeing the whale for several hours and loosed the rope by making a single cut and using large buoys.

Scott Landry, the response team’s director, said it appeared the “big, black and rotund’’ whale, which was about 35 to 40 feet long, had bitten down on the rope. The rope was so long it wrapped together behind the whale forming a loop, he said.

“The outcome of that could have been a very long and painful death,’’ Landry said.

The rescue team has seen worse entanglements, but if left unattended a whale can die after months of suffering, he said.

While the rope was only half an inch thick, it can slowly cut into the whale’s mouth. In this whale’s case, there were visible raw wounds and scars from cuts that had healed, Landry said.
The right whales come to the area to feed on plankton each spring, but Landry said there are an exceptionally high number of them close to the shore this year.

The whale is one of 473 right whales left in the population. The right whale is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, and is listed as “critically endangered,’’ according to a news release from researchers. The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, a coastal and marine ecosystem preservation nonprofit group, has encountered about 50 percent of the population off the coast of Cape Cod this year. The North Atlantic right whales inhabit the ocean area around the northeast United States and Canada.

The factors contributing to the death rate of right whales include entanglements with commercial fishing gear, as well as “human-caused mortalities’’ and “vessel strikes,’’ according to the coastal studies center. The law prohibits anyone from coming within 500 yards of a right whale.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Turkey Nests

Photo: Science Blogs


This post concludes my series on Eastern Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris): Turkey nests have been found in a variety of habitats. Sites are selected for their undergrowth characteristics. Nests are often found at the base of trees or against fallen logs. Hens will often select a nest site near a trail or open area. This allows for access to the nest and the trail or open area may be used for a feeding area during incubation. The nests are a shallow depression formed mostly by scratching, squatting, and laying eggs.
Most hens lay one egg a day, and have a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs. Laying hens cover the eggs with leaves or other material, while incubating hens leave the eggs exposed.

Hens that are incubating may occasionally roost in trees for the night, even after incubating continuously for several days. Most incubating hens leave the nest every day to feed, but occasionally they may skip a day. When a hen leaves the nest, she leaves the nest uncovered and goes directly to water, drink, defecate, and then feed. Time off the nest varies from day to day and weather can be a factor. On hot days hens seem to feed longer and in a more leisurely manner than on cold days.

Turkeys have an incubation period of about 26 days. Hatching begins with pipping. Pipping is when the poult uses its egg tooth (hard, sharp spike on the upper beak) to break the shell. The pipping poults rotate in the egg to make a complete break around the large end of the egg. Hatching takes about 24 hours. Once the poult frees itself from the egg it is ready to follow the hen within 12-24 hours.

Source: Department of Wildlife Management

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Birds do it

The hen sits to let the Tom approach her

One more post before I conclude my series on Eastern Wild Turkeys: There are between 18,000 and 20,000 Wild Turkeys in Massachusetts and their mating ritual is a long, drawn out affair. Toms follow the smaller and browner hens for weeks, displaying their colorful feathers and wattles, and competing with one another for courtship rights. While the hens appear indifferent a good deal of the time, they're definitely taking notice as the Toms, strut, gobble (click here to listen) and dance. Hens demand a long courtship period and Toms show tremendous patience, trailing them from dawn to dusk.

Mating itself requires the hen to bear the full weight of the Tom. While she can weigh as much as 12 pounds, he can tip the scales at close to 30. The endurance test for her comes when he stands on her back and stomps before mating. This is the dance he has been practicing during his struts and displays.

Hens emerge unscathed and continue mating until they decide it's time to build their nests. Then, mating season is over.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day needs to be every day

Otherwise we're going to turn our planet into a place that can only support one type of life form.

My series on Wild Turkeys will conclude in the next post.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Toms strut their stuff

A Tom struts his stuff to attract hens and intimidate other males

Toms strut and make nice while the hen bides her time

Continuing a series on Eastern Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris): Toms (males) begin their courtship of hens in March and April, when the flock is still together from the winter. When a Tom is excited, the wattles and the bare skin of his head and neck all become engorged with blood. The colors on his head depend on his mood ― blue and white when he feels amorous and red when he's ready to fight. A Tom spreads his tail feathers like a fan when he's strutting or displaying. He'll also puff up his chest feathers and drag the tips of his wings on the ground.

Some interesting identifying features of male turkeys are below (click on photos for better views of coloration, wattlesm beard and caruncles):

Wattles: folds of red skin under the chin

Caruncles: fleshy and wart-like growths on the head and neck, which turn bright red in mating season

Snood: flappy, fingerlike piece of skin that dangles over the beak, with the same coloring as caruncles

Spur: bony spike on the rear of each leg, which can be quite sharp and is used for fighting

Beard: black feathers that resemble long coarse hairs. Beards grow from the chest and become longer with age

Some of the Toms displaying here must be a decade old or more; their beards are impressively long!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lawn care with turkeys

Wild turkeys passing through

This is the third post in a series on Eastern Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris):

I love living with these birds and I really appreciate the way they naturally fertilize my lawns and gardens. Their droppings dry quickly and all it takes is a bit of rain to incorporate the nutrients into the soil.

Thanks to wild turkeys, my spring fertilizing is already done!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Peepers and Squill

Blooming Squill and the magical sounds of peepers are distracting me, hence this break from my series on Wild Turkeys, which I will continue in the next post.

The Winter of 2011 will not soon be forgotten. Snow, snow, snow, tree damage everywhere one looked and hardship for wildlife that seemed never-ending. But when I hear the peepers calling and see the cerulean blue petals of the first spring Squill, I am mad with forgetting, and it is a wonderful madness, indeed. The British author Ellis Peters, aka Edith Mary Pargeter, was right when she wrote:

Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Turkeys love their dust baths

Taking a dust bath in the warm spring sun

Click on the photos for a close up view

This is the second post in a series on Eastern Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris):

After a long, hard winter taking dust baths is both a simple pleasure that turkeys dearly love and a necessary part of good grooming. It's fascinating to watch them makes these body-sized, bowl-shaped depressions in loose soil, and I often find feathers or clumps of down nearby.

According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife: "Wild turkeys and other birds must maintain their plumage to keep the feathers from being saturated with dry flakes of skin, excess preening oil, and other debris. Many birds take water baths to accomplish this purpose, either by dipping into water or by erecting their feathers during a drizzle. However, birds that live in areas where standing water is unavailable take 'dust baths' as a substitute. They create wallows by scraping the ground and then throw the fine dusty soil over their bodies. The dust is worked into the plumage and then shaken out along with the skin debris and excess oil absorbed by the dust. Dusting may help the birds rid themselves of bird lice and other external parasites. "

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I live with a bunch of turkeys

A hen considers the attentions of two Toms in full display

This post begins a series on Wild Turkeys with whom I have the privilege of sharing my property. I so enjoy their company and the wonderful distraction they offer with all that's gone wrong in the world, especially the havoc we are wreaking on our environment: the massive amount of radioactive water that has poured into the Pacific Ocean; the damage to marine life still to be fully realized from the BP Oil spill, which happened almost a year ago; and the plight of little brown bats, whose demise is all but being ignored even though the natural pest-control services these insect-eating creatures provide save the U.S. agriculture sector as much as $57 billion a year.

This is mating season for wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) and in between the gobble-gobbles and incredibly beautiful displays of iridescent plumage, there are dust and sun baths, viscious fighting among immature Toms and fancy dances performed by outlandishly colorful mature Toms flush with the passion of the season.

This land is theirs, too and their presence helps usher in another miraculous spring.