Friday, June 24, 2011

A Hidden Surprise

While dead-heading the front roses today, something jumped and landed on one of the roses. Just assumed it was a grasshopper, until I started thinking that it's too early for them.

I'm glad I took a closer look, I found this little guy peering out at me:

I'm not good at ID'ing Cope's Gray Tree Frogs vs. Gray Tree Frogs (we have both in Minnesota), but based on the fact that it's skin is fairly smooth, and that it's close to the ground, I'm going to guess a Cope's. (would love input on this!)

He emerged after a few minutes for a better view:

One of the fascinating things with both Cope's Gray Tree Frog and Gray Tree Frogs is that their skin color changes based on time of year. During the summer when it's warm and vegetation is green, both frogs' skin is green. During cooler weather and after foliage begins to die (or in the spring before it "greens up"), their skin is a mottled gray.

The other fascinating item about both frogs? They freeze in the winter! They produce glycerol that's converted to glucose that they pump through their blood system as temps begin to drop. This fills and encases their organs, preventing them from freezing, but the rest of the body freezes up when temps plummet. Their hearts even stop! They burrow into dirt for added insulation: in fact many people have them emerge from potted plants that they're overwintering.

The two frogs have very unique calls, which makes ID'ing them at night easy. Here's a link to the Cope's call; and a link to the Gray Tree Frog's.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Red Fox Release (and a small rant)

My Mom lives in Florida and one of our favorite games to play on the phone is "Guess what's in the car?" This is a result of me transporting various critters of all species and sizes around the state for rehab, release or placement.

Mom guessed yesterday's quiz after only two questions. Way to go Mom! The answer was four Red Fox kits on their way back to the wild.

The view from my rearview mirror yesterday was priceless: A large kennel cab with three pairs of pointy ears as three of the four young red fox kits I was transporting peered out the back window, much to the utter delight of my surrounding commuters. (have to admit that it took me a bit to figure out what all the people, especially kids, were smiling and pointing to as they went by...)

Fortunately for those commuters, I did not take a photo from that angle, but here's one from the rear of the car with the tailgate open. I can only imagine how cute they looked standing on their rear legs against the gated door looking out the window.

For those of you who have been involved in a wild animal release, you know that they are highly unpredictable. They are, after all, WILD animals.

Yesterday's release was no exception. We opened the large kennel door first and one of the three immediately bolted and disappeared north into the forest. The single one came out next and kind of hung around while the second fox from the large kennel braved a mad dash into the woods. We had to tilt and pretty much force the third fox kit out of the kennel, at which point it wandered off after the first two, while the single kit headed west.

After making sure they weren't going to re-appear, we packed up the kennel and drove away. Not five minutes later the single kit appeared trotting down the gravel road, heading south onto our neighbor's property. Best laid plans, right?

We stopped to make sure it wouldn't return to the road and our neighbor took the opportunity to approach us and ask if it was a fox he'd just seen. That conversation then evolved into a discussion on releasing fox near his land because he has chickens. (good for the fox, bad for the neighbor, I'm rooting for the fox)

After explaining that this is prime habitat for fox: hundreds of acres of open farmland mixed with large stands of hardwoods, and that there already are fox and coyote in the area, he proceeded to tell us that his neighbor's dogs had killed two of his chickens last week. And he's worried about a fox kit.

Isn't part of having free-range chickens in a rural, farm setting acknowledging that you'll have predation loss? How do you move to one of the few rural farm communities still within the Metro area, and not realize the environment into which you're moving?

I'd rather see a fox or coyote, part of the natural predation cycle, take chickens that a neighbor's dog.

Personal rants aside, the release was fun to watch and it's a lifetime experience to see these beautiful animals return to their native habitat.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Crazy Days of Summer

Working for a very seasonal non-profit has its pros and cons. Pros: intense stretches of learning new things, working closely with more than 150 species of wildlife, being fully caught up in the seasons and the ability to spend most of the winter off the grid in far Northeastern Minnesota. Cons: keeping a balanced life from May through August.

Keeping up with this blog is one of those challenges. (you don't want to see my poor weed-filled veggie garden!) 

Seems like every day I see something and think "how cool is that!" Sometimes I manage to snap a couple decent pictures, but alas they usually sit in my computer for days or weeks until I get time to write up a new post.

This week alone we admitted more than 500 patients at WRC. For every patient that comes in, there are phone calls, follow-ups, photos and other miscellaneous things to coordinate. I love my job, but it takes up a lot of time during our peak season.

Yesterday I drove to Duluth and back to release our first Avian Nursery patients of the season: two Hairy Woodpeckers (one of which is above) who had been orphaned as tiny, naked nestlings due to tree trimming. Here's my WRC blog post.

On the home front, once I've arrived home to the serenity of a rural acreage, I've been enjoying a fabulous blooming season for the gardens:

And watching the birds as they gather nesting materials and exhaust themselves flying back and forth from our feeders to their hungry nestlings:

And in between all this, I keep the brain cells going by keeping up with a fabulous group of intellectuals and nature lovers on Twitter. I love all the fascinating info people share about nature and science. Cheers to a great group of Tweeps!  Gotta love those Crazy Days of Summer...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nectar-sipping Tennessee Warblers

Did you know Tennessee Warblers drink nectar? I sure didn't. Prof Dan did. That's one of the greatest aspects of banding with a retired ornithology prof: the continual "cool!" moments when you learn something new (and for me, there's a lot of those).

The wild plum trees between our veggie garden and the meadow to the east were full of warblers last week. At first I thought they were picking the bugs off the blooms, but then I realized they were actually going from flower to flower and sipping the nectar. They'd stick their beak in as far as it would go, one after the other.

Of course, that meant go grab the camera and for the next half hour or so I was completely enthralled watching the birds as they hopped around. They'd hang upside down, stretch way up on their tippy toes - generally looking like they were in a Twister game, all for the nectar.

Several Nashville Warblers joined in the fun and games, too.

Periodically they'd switch over to our crab apple tree.

Judging by the spicier, almost muskier scent of the crab compared to the plums, I'm guessing it was to cut their sugar high.