Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rites of Spring

As is typically the case, spring visited coastal South Carolina for only a few moments again this year and summer came crashing in with the subtlety of a skunk ape.  It is hot!  What better conditions for sitting down for a couple of minutes to write a long overdue entry in my blog.  A lot has happened in the last few months here at the Center.  The breeding season has been a productive one producing several species not bred before here at CBP.  We have acquired individuals from several species not represented in the collection before and the diversity of wild birds utilizing the campus has been incredible.  While I cannot possibly cover all of the excitement in one blog post, I will try to hit on a couple of the highlights.

For those of you that follow the CBP on "facebook" you likely saw some pictures from our last MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivor ship) banding session earlier this week.  While most living along the southeast coast are familiar with the painted bunting, its "monochrome" cousin the Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) is a virtual unknown despite its fantastic plumage.  This "sparrow like" (Passerina) bird can be identified by the overall dark blue color (cyanea) of the male in breeding plumage or its high pitched warble of repeated phrases "sweet-sweet, sweeter-sweeter,here-here."  Last month, I followed the call of an Indigo bunting near our amphitheater for nearly an hour without even a glimpse of the bird.  Even though I only got to see photos of the one banded in our study area, it was enough to send me back into the field with my binocs for another hour in the summer heat to hopefully catch a glimpse!  

On a more "raptorial" note, the Center acquired a Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus)last week from the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA.  This is a particularly exciting acquisition as it is the only representative of the "Old World Vultures" in our collection.  The OWV's look similar and fill the same ecological niche as the New World vultures such as the turkey vulture, but they are distant evolutionary relatives at best.  We often refer to the concept of evolutionary "convergence" where two relatively distant relatives look and behave similarly due to the pressures they face in their daily "jobs."  For example, both the turkey vulture and the hooded vulture scavenge on carrion and are often picking the tiny pieces from between bones.  Consequently, they both have rather fine beaks to fit in tight places and nearly bare heads to minimize fouling from blood and guts in an area that is very difficult to clean with their beak!  From a distance they look like twins, but upon closer inspection, you can also note distinct differences.

Finally, a note on the breeding season.  While we produced several interesting non-native raptors this year, the big story again is our foster rearing Eastern Screech owls.  Our educational pair have outdone themselves again by rearing 9 chicks that ran into trouble in the wild.  One of the chicks was laid (as an egg of course) by a mother that was admitted to our medical clinic following a car collision.  Sometime during her first night, she laid an egg in her kennel in critical care.  This egg was incubated, hatched and reared by our incredibly selfless  resident EASO 1477 who has been a part of our educational collection for over 10 years!  We couldn't do it without her, that is for sure.  The above photo shows 6 of the class of 2011 EASO "orphans".

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