Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Meet me in Zihuatanejo

I have had a busy few weeks.  With several events, trainings, trips, etc, our schedule at the Center has been packed.  When you add the beginning of the raptor breeding season, vacations and the fact that there just aren't enough days in the week for us to get everything done and have time to recharge you end up tired.  Satisfied, but tired.  I will share a few experiences from these last few weeks along with photographs from my new camera.  I hope it is educational and enjoyable.

It seems that no matter how hard I try not to, I always schedule some big program and neglect to avoid scheduling three other big programs on the weekends surrounding it.  It is not my strength.  I can however power through them after having done it for years.  Last Thursday, I spoke with over 1000 students in Beaufort County including a brand new charter school (that I was highly impressed with!) and a boys and girls club group with great leaders, and finally, a full house on Fripp Island for the Audubon Club meeting!  Beginning to end, it was a 13 hour day.  I took our marvelous black vulture, Harris' Hawk, Spectacled Owl, and Tawny Eagle.  I had help with loads and unloads from Pete Richards and some others from the Audubon Club.  Next year, plan to have an assistant.

"Meet me in Zihuatanejo"

Eggs really are the rage this time of year.  Everybody is either laying them, hunting for them, dying them, scrambling them or trying to break out of them.  Very popular.  At the Center, the eggs that are getting the most attention are those which remind me of scenes in two of my favorite movies.  Think "Shawshank Redemption" and "Raising Arizona."  Both have great jailbreak scenes concluding with some sort of rising from a pool of sewage.  Chicks hatching are not quite as wet and messy, but the scene is filled with excitement just the same. There is always the chance you won't make it.  

We breed a limited number of birds at the Center every year for education.  It is now officially the time of year when owls hatch chicks.  I was corrected by a friend at the Audubon meeting that owls don't have "babies" only people have "babies". I appreciate correctness and therefore now call the man who corrected me a friend despite having spoken to him only once.  At any rate, owl eggs started hatching last Thursday while I was away.  Things have not been easy for those trying to get out of Asian Brown Wood Owl (Strix leptogrammica) eggs over the last few attempts.  In fact, only one had made it out alive and only lived a few minutes on the outside.  Young pairs often take a few trys to get things right.  We did what we could to help, but the breakout can only be executed from the inside.  Blood vessels in the egg membranes must be gradually pinched off by the chick's beak (with egg tooth) movements.  Outside help, while well intentioned, can cause death from "external" bleeding.  Yikes.  

Several had reached the pipping stage (seen in picture above), but had failed to turn in the egg and therefore failed to break out.  The chick must rotate and chip a "belt" around the egg separating it into two halves.  We weren't sure if it was an issue of humidity or some congenital defect.  We fixed the humidity issue and were patiently awaiting this egg's pip.  36 hours went by with little rotation.  Aargh.  But he had started with 2 cracks.  He had rotated some.  A step in the right direction.  Keep going little fella.  Keep going. 

When I arrived Saturday morning, we were almost there.  Like most good escapes, the bulk of this one happened under the veil of darkness.  Just a little way to go.  Don't give up.
Saturday afternoon, I could see the egg flexing as the chick stretched its legs and wings.  I could not resist assisting at this point because I knew all of the veins had been closed.  It was only a tiny application of pressure and with a snap, the chick rolled out onto the hatching incubator's surface, mostly wet, but with a small fluffy area that had been exposed to the outside world for a day.  Notice that the egg must serve as a sewer as well as a home. I think it looks most like John Goodman covered in mud.  
The final shot is of our new Asian Brown Wood Owl chick lying on the beach in Zihuatanejo with its old friend Andy Dufresne.  Freedom is sweet.

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