Posts

FMN CE Hike: Hold a Wild Bird, Stunning!

Article by FMNs Barbara Saffir and Janet Quinn; all photos by Barbara Saffir

Lions, and tigers, and bears?  Heck, no — but holding wild birds, snakes galore, and close  encounters with yellow birds that glow like the sun were some highlights during a recent

Banders at work

Fairfax Master Naturalists’ continuing education hike.  Hike leaders Barbara Saffir and Janet Quinn led eight FMNs on the “Hold A Wild Bird” hike and visited a bird banding at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge on April 24.  Since Covid rules for the banding forced the 10 hardy hikers to break into two smaller groups, Barbara’s group watched two Gray Catbirds, two Northern Waterthrushes, a Hermit Thrush, a House Wren,

FMN Dee Pistochini releasing banded bird

and a Swamp Sparrow being banded.  Janet’s group had a different experience.  The banders netted three birds during their visit and all three had previously been banded.  One was the Northern Waterthrush Barbara’s group had seen banded as well as a Song Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow.  The White-throated Sparrow was a “significant event” because it had been banded in 2017. Any bird captured which is older than five years is such an event.  The banders, all volunteers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,  measured, sexed, weighed, and banded the birds.  The group members then took turns learning how to safely hold the birds to release them.  (Photos and a slo-mo video of one release are attached.)  FMN 2022 trainee Deirdre “Dee” Pistochini, said it best: ” It was such a thrill to hold a wild creature so close that you can feel their heartbeat.  A once in a lifetime experience.”

Both groups also visited a great horned owls’ nest near Painted Turtle Pond. The big, fluffy, ivory-colored “babies” were napping when one group visited but the two owlets were standing tall and checking out their human admirers when the second group came to call.

Snake visit

After that, the naturalists took a two-mile spin around the refuge.  First they encountered four frisky northern black racers, then another racer poking its head out, and four northern watersnakes in two separate hideaways. Ospreys were parading around everywhere — and two were even caught in a Valentine’s Day act.  The group also eyeballed at least three eagles, a horned grebe in breeding colors, hundreds of blue jays flying over in small flocks toward their summer homes, and more.  But the bird of the day outside the banding was a prothonotary warbler, a tiny sunflower-yellow bird with a big personality — and seemingly a fondness for humans.  Four of the darlings came close to say hello.  Barbara could have sworn they also asked the hikers if they would return in a few weeks so they could show off their babies.

 

 

Want to see more?  Download these videos of the day taken by FMN Dee Pistochino:

Controlled chaos:  Banders work quickly.

Actual banding.

Blowing and tail measuring.

And even more!  The handout created for the hikers.

Prothonotary Warbler

Great Horned Owlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skunk Cabbage, Spies and Waterfowl, a Photo Essay — CE Hike

Photos:  Barbara Saffir, unless otherwise labeled

On January 15th, 2022, with the temperature in the 20’s, or “seasonally brisk” as one hiker described the day, a hardy group of Fairfax Master Naturalists hiked through Foxstone Park in Vienna.  This was a Continuing Education, or CE, Hike.  (Our first stop was at a bridge in a nearby neighborhood which FBI spy Robert Hanssen used as his “dead drop” site.) Jim McGlone, pictured above in tan gloves, FMN Chapter Adviser and hike leader, gave an informative talk on the botany of skunk cabbage. Although too cold for note taking with pen and paper, cameras were in top form, resulting in this photo essay.  See an excellent handout on skunk cabbage. 

The second half of the day took a smaller group into Washington, D.C. We didn’t find as many ducks at Constitution Gardens and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pond as we would have liked, but we still saw relatively up close several kitten-cute buffleheads, a dozen ring-necked ducks, a gadwall, a northern shoveler, and other birds braving the cold. Some ducks came REALLY close to our five naturalists like they had been PAID to do that on cue. Some male mallards jumped out of the pond right in front of us and came to visit right at our feet. Of course, if they had been rainbow-colored wood ducks instead of mallards, it would have been more memorable.  See an excellent handout on Winter Ducks in the DMV.

Leader Larry Cartwright, Sarah Mayhew, Sarah Glassco.
Hope to see you again soon!

FMN CE Hike: Bluebird Box Monitoring — Awesome!

BB nest feature photo by Barbara J. Saffir

Have you ever wondered what’s inside those white boxes on poles standing in open fields? They are Bluebird boxes paid for and erected by Bluebird Societies to provide habitat for Bluebirds, native cavity nesters. Trained personnel regularly monitor the boxes to record data for scientific research. A Fairfax Master Naturalist group recently explored the inside of 12 of them with Larry Meade, Northern Virginia Bird Club President and volunteer with the Virginia Bluebird Society. I was reminded of the carol The 12 Days of Christmas as Larry carefully opened each “gift” for a peek inside.

Organized by FMN Barbara Saffir, we met at Clark’s Crossing in Vienna on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. Larry tapped the side of each box first to warn the parent bird of our approach. Their departure from the box was our first clue to which species was inside. The boxes are intended for use by Eastern Bluebirds but the conservation groups don’t mind if they are used by Tree Swallows (TS), Chickadees and other native cavity nesters. Nesting by other species, such as the non-native House Sparrow, is prevented by removing nesting material before it is completed. The opening is too small to allow entry by European Starlings.

Larry then unscrewed the side of the box, lowered it and we’d look inside. What follows is the day’s official report, enhanced by Larry’s astute birding observations and comedic interludes:

TS nest by Julie Ables

Nest 1 – TS nest – 5 eggs
Tidbit: Tree Swallows use feathers to “feather their nests.”

Nest 2 – BB nest – 3 eggs
Tidbits: Bluebirds use pine needles to make their nests. Larry was logging eBird sightings and “birding by ear.” He wryly noted “butterflying by ear” doesn’t work.

Nest 3 – TS nest – 4 babies ready to go
Tidbit: We viewed quickly so parents could return and resume feeding these voracious eaters.

Nest 4 – BB nest – 3 babies
Tidbit: Larry used a mirror so we could see the babies tucked deep in the nest. This is the second brood in this box for the Bluebird pair.

Nest 5 – TS – 4 babies

Nest 6 – TS nest – 5 eggs
Tidbit: Parent was agitated and circling us. We moved on quickly.

Nest 7 – TS nest -4 big babies
Tidbit: Box monitors remove a nest after the babies have fledged so parents can build a new one. Turkey Vultures are known as TVs. What is a pair called? A TV set.

Nest 8 – TS nest – 5 babies

Carolina Chickadees by Marilyn Parks

Nest 9 – Chic nest – 3 Babies
Tidbit:  Carolina Chickadees! Parents use moss to make the nest. Chickadees are native species and left alone.

Nest 10 – empty
Tidbit: In nearby trees we see a juvenile Orchard Oriole! Larry notes that seeing a new bird is like seeing a movie star.  So true!

Nest 11 – TS nest – 3 babies
Tidbit: We discover a nearby mulberry tree and taste some of the berries. No wonder birds love them!

Mulberry photo by Barbara J. Saffir

Nest 13 – BB nest – 5 eggs
Tidbit: The nest is about 3 times as high as the other BB nests we’ve seen.

If you are interested in volunteering to monitor bluebird boxes, contact the Virginia Bluebird Society. Monitoring season runs from the end of April to early August each year. The excitement and joy of opening the boxes will enhance your contributions to citizen science!