Footprints & Snow

Liam cannot resist the fluffy whiteness of snow. He goes out onto the deck barefoot to scoop up a handful which he then eats with great gusto.

I pointed out to him that, given the number of bird tracks in the snow, he might be eating a bit of bird poop. He just laughs at me like I'm crazy.

I think I'll tell him the story about the time I got sent home from school in first grade for wearing a Snoopy patch on my jeans that said "Don't Eat Yellow Snow." My mom sewed on that patch over a hole in the knee of my jeans. Mrs. Humphrey, the first-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Pella, Iowa was not pleased with the patch and sent me home early to change my jeans to something less offensive.

I've always wondered if she was offended by the subtle implication of peed-upon snow, or was she just anti-Snoopy, or did she think the advice on my patch was somehow not worth sharing with others? A few weeks later I remember taking mercury from a broken thermometer to school for show-and-tell! I dropped it before my turn and it scattered into a brazillion tiny pieces. Those were the days...

I wish I still had that patch. I'd sew it onto Liam's jeans. Bet he wouldn't get sent home from school nowadays.


Walk with me, this snowy path
Look close to see who passed this way
deep in the night now turned to day.

Softly whispering across the snow
listen now, nature's silent song
a melody lingering all winterlong.


Happy Holidays!

Some images of winter birds, winter colors, and winter scenes to go along with my best holiday wishes to all of you: the readers, comment-makers, and friends who stop by Bill of the Birds. Heck I'll even send along a happy holidays to the blog spammers from the Far East—clearly my posts mean a lot to them, too.

I'll be otherwise occupied through the end of the year: enjoying some family time, working on a book manuscript, trying to reconnect with our farm in its winter mode, and of course watching birds. I hope to be back to my regular blogging schedule in 2010, but I hope you know (and can understand) that I may not be an everyday poster.

Am I burned out? Not really. This could just be a hangover from the bad experience I had last night watching the movie "Julie and Julia" which, IMHO, made blogging seem like one of the planet's more insipid pursuits. But I digress...

What I love about having Bill of the Birds is that it allows me to [attempt to] write creatively. My goal is to balance the need to post daily with my in-born editor's sense of only posting what's worth writing AND worth reading. Because we all have days when we really having nothing to say, right?

But that's a conundrum for another day, another year. Right now it's time to write the captions on the next issue of Bird Watcher's Digest, then out the door for some last minute shopping. I will endeavor to stop several times during this holiday season to count my blessings, among which you all figure prominently.

Happy and merry and peace!

Bill of the Birds

When the Going Gets Rough (leg)

On our late November birding trip to The Wilds, the birding started out very slowly. Normally as we drive the roads around the property we spook up flocks of horned larks, Savannah sparrows, American tree sparrows, and dark-eyed juncos. Not on this reasonably mild winter day. It was Deadsville, dude.

So we did what any bunch of bored birders would do, we started scanning to see if we could spot anything interesting. I've already recounted our observations of the local white-tailed deer, plus the captive endangered species at The Wilds. A few red-tailed hawks, a flashy male American kestrel, and a distant male northern harrier were nice, but I was hoping for something a bit rougher. And there it was: a rough-legged hawk.

It was a distant bird, but even before I got the scope on it, I had a hunch it was a rough-legged because of where it was perched. It was in the top of a small tree along a fence line. It would be unusual to find a redtail perching in such a small tree. But for the comparatively tiny-footed rough-legged hawk, the thin branches of the small pine were perfect. Rough-leggeds have small feet for grabbing smaller prey such as rodents.

On the Arctic tundra where these birds breed, lemmings are a main prey item. Here at The Wilds, it's probably meadow voles. The red-taileds with their larger feet are seeking rabbits in the meadows and squirrels along the woodland edges. And when they perch, they are perching on larger, sturdier branches.

Around the back side of The Wilds we pulled up to an overlook and quickly spotted another roughleg hovering over a hillside. We jumped out of the van and took up positions in a grassy ditch to take some photographs. The hawk obliged us by flying over. I'm still not great at getting good shots of flying birds, but this bird was large enough that I couldn't strike out completely.
Here are a few of the images from that fly over.

The bold black-and-white wing pattern of a rough-legged hawk in flight.

Long, wide wings with black carpal patches. A black belly band.

The white tail with a broad black band shows well in this photo.

It was very cool to see this second rough-leg. And this sighting seemed to open up the birding action a bit. Soon we were scoping rafts of buffleheads and mallards, gadwall and scaup. We never did see a single lark, though, which seemed weird. Maybe the more recent snows have brought them down from up north.

Soon enough it was time to suit up and bug out. We let the sun say its fare-thee-well and then we did likewise.

Budidaya Jalak Suren

Jalak suren sebenarnya bisa ditemukan hampir di seluruh pelosok Indonesia. Namun, sekarang burung ini semakin sulit ditemukan. Apa yang dialami burung lain, populasinya kian hari kian susut di alam, ternyata juga dialami jalak suren. Pencemaran sawah oleh pestisida, penangkapan untuk dipelihara atau diperdagangkan, dan penciutan hutan merupakan penyebab utama menurunnya populasi jalak suren yang bernama ilmiah Sturnus contra jalla.
Keistimewaan jalak surenJalak suren dilambangkan sebagai burung jinak penjaga rumah. Dengan memelihara burung ini, rumah akan selalu terjaga setiap hari. Mungkin ada benarnya anggapan ini karena jalak suren merupakan burung yang sangat peka. Jika ada orang datang, akan bersuara nyaring dan bervariasi. Bisa dipahami kalau banyak orang yang memelihara burung ini.

Ada empat alasan orang memelihara jalak suren. Pertama, untuk menjaga rumah. Kedua, untuk kesenangan. Ketiga, untuk memancing suara burung lain agar ikut berkicau. Kecerewetan jalak uren akan merangsang burung lain untuk mengeluarkan nyanyiannya. Jalak suren dapat dijadikan master bagi whamei atau whabi. Keempat, untuk ditangkarkan. Usaha penang-karan dilatarbelakangi oleh kesa-daran terhadap kelestarian jenis burung ini dan alasan ekonomis. Jalak suren hasil penangkaran dapat diperjualbelikan dengan harga Rp 350.000,00 per pasang.

Membedakan jantan dan betinaJalak suren mulai dewasa pada umur 8-10 bulan. Ciri fisik dan tingkah laku burung jantan dan betina mulai bisa dibedakan. Untuk membedakannya, harus dilakukan dengan pengamatan yang seksama.
Jalak suren jantan memiliki tubuh berbentuk lurus dengan ukuran relatif lebih besar dari betina. Tubuhnya lonjong dan panjang, kepa-lanya lebih besar dan bulat, paruhnya relatif lebih panjang dan kokoh. Bulu kepala, punggung, dan dada berwarna hitam legam dan mengilat. Warna merah pada kulit di atas mata lebih cerah dan jelas. Pada bagian yang memiliki bulu warna putih, di tubuh bagian bawah, kelihatan lebih bersih. Ekornya sedikit lebih panjang dan menyatu. Jari-jari kakinya lebih panjang dan lebih kokoh. Jambul kepalanya lebih panjang dan lebih melebar saat mengembang.
Yang betina memiliki bentuk tubuh bulat dan pendek. Warna hitam dan putihnya agak suram. Paruh, jari kaki, dan ekornya lebih pendek dan halus. Kepalanya agak ramping. Warna merah pada bagian mukanya lebih pucat dibanding burung jantan.
Selain itu, aktivitas dan gerakan burung jantan relatif lebih lincah dan agresif dari yang betina. Suara ocehannya lebih cerewet, bervariasi, dan lebih keras dari betina.
Untuk tujuan penangkaran, burung jantan dan betina harus dipilih yang memiliki pandangan mata tajam, postur tegap, gesit, gerakan lincah, suara lantang, dan nafsu makan tinggi.
Cara menangkarPenangkaran merupakan solusi penting dalam menjaga populasi jalak suren supaya tidak sampai punah. Dalam menangkarkan jalak suren, hal-hal berikut ini perlu diperhatikan.
Kandang sebaiknya memiliki bentuk meninggi. Di dalam kandang disediakan tanaman yang tinggi, bercabang banyak, dan berdaun lebat, misalnya kemuning, klampis, kersen, atau tanaman lain yang mirip dengan tanaman tersebut. Lantai kandang juga perlu ditanami tanaman perdu atau semak dan rumput-rumputan. Tempat berteng-ger diupayakan yang besar atau melebar untuk memudahkan perkawinan. Tempat pakan harus cukup memadai dan kebersihannya dijaga. Tempat minum dan mandi juga perlu disediakan. Sinar matahari harus dapat masuk ke kandang secara memadai. Banyaknya sinar matahari yang masuk sangat menentukan produktivitas perkawinan dan telur. Selain itu, tentunya juga perlu tempat berteduh sewaktu ada hujan.
Menurut pengalaman, jalak suren yang ditempatkan dalam kandang berukuran 100 x 175 x 200 cm atau yang lebih besar lagi (3 x 3 x 4 m) ternyata bisa berkembang biak dengan baik. Perlengkapan yang ada di dalam kandang ditata hingga menyerupai kondisi alami.
Pakan yang diberikan berupa pepaya, pisang, dan serangga (misalnya kroto, ulat bambu, ulat hongkong, atau jangkrik.
Selain itu, juga diberi voor yang berkualitas baik. Dengan pakan seperti ini, sepasang jalak suren yang sudah jodoh akan berkembang biak dengan baik.
Jalak suren mulai siap berbiak pada umur 10-12 bulan. Satu tahun untuk betina dan 1,5-2 tahun untuk jantan merupakan umur ideal untuk penjodohan. Biasanya betina lebih cepat dewasa kelamin dibanding jantan.
Tehnik penjodohan dapat dilakukan dengan beberapa cara. Pertama, kalau jumlahnya banyak, penjodohan bisa dilakukan secara bebas. Artinya, masing-masing burung dibebaskan memilih pasangannya. Bila ada sepasang burung yang saling berdekatan, berkicau sahut-sahutan, dan bercumbu, itu pertanda jodoh. Burung yang sudah jodoh harus dipindahkan dalam kandang tersendiri. Biasanya burung yang sudah jodoh akan merajai di antara yang lain dan menyerang sesamanya atau sebaliknya diganggu oleh yang lain yang sama-sama jodoh atau berebut jodoh. Ini akan mengganggu proses perkawinan dan perkembangbiakan selan-jutnya.

Jika hanya ada dua ekor, seekor jantan dan seekor betina, penjodo-han dapat dilakukan dengan mendekatkan betina ke jantan. Caranya, burung betina dimasukkan dalam sangkar kecil atau sangkar gantung. Burung jantan dibiarkan dalam kandang penangkaran. Selanjutnya, sangkar kecil berisi burung betina dimasukkan ke dalam kandang penangkaran. Karena memiliki sifat berahi yang tinggi dan musim kawin sepanjang tahun, kedua burung ini akan segera jodoh.

Burung yang sudah jodoh akan melakukan perkawinan 2-4 minggu setelah penjodohan. Selanjutnya, burung akan membuat sarang untuk bertelur pada tanaman yang banyak cabangnya.
Dalam kandang penangkaran jalak suren dapat dirangsang membuat sarang. Caranya, di beberapa tempat yang layak untuk bersarang -misalnya pada tanaman yang memiliki banyak cabang kuat, terlidung, dan aman dari gangguan- diberi tatanan dasar sarang. Di tempat-tempat yang telah ditentukan itu ditaruh bahan sarang seperti jerami, akar sulur yang panjang, ranting-ranting, atau daun-daunan. Bahan sarang ini ditata melingkar atau dalam tumpukan yang teratur. Cara ini dapat merangsang dan membantu jalak suren untuk bersarang.

Jalak suren akan memilih sendiri tempat yang sesuai untuk bersarang. Pembuatan sarang dilakukan selama 5-10 hari, tergantung agresivitas burung. Ukuran sarang termasuk besar. Panjang tumpukan susunan sarang antara 35-45 cm, lebar 20-30 cm, dan tinggi sekitar 20 cm. Lubang tempat keluar masuknya burung berada di permukaan atas sarang, agak miring dengan derajat kemiringan antara 40-45°.

Jalak suren merupakan salah satu, mungkin satu-satunya, jenis dari keluarga Sturnidae yang membuat sarang bukan di dalam rongga pohon, tetapi menaruh sarang pada cabang-cabang pohon.
Telur jalak suren berwarna biru, berukuran 19,8 x 27,7 mm, dan berjumlah 3-4 butir. Telur dierami bergantian oleh burung jantan dan betinanya. Telur-telur itu akan menetas setelah 14 hari dierami. Selain sebagai pengganti selama pengeraman telur, yang jantan juga bertindak sebagai penga-man di luar sarang. Anak jalak suren akan dipelihara induknya sampai berumur 1,5 bulan.
Jalak suren bisa berkem-bang biak sepanjang tahun. Puncak perkembangbiakan terjadi pada pertengahan tahun, yaitu antara bulan Januari-Juni. Bulan Juli-Desember merupakan masa penurunan perkawinan.

Perawatan anakInduk jalak suren akan menyuapi anaknya yang baru menetas dari telur dengan pakan berupa serangga, misalnya kroto, belalang, kupu-kupu, jangkrik, ulat hong-kong, ulat bambu, atau jenis serangga lain yang dijumpai. Anak jalak suren jarang disuapi buah-buahan. Demikian pula dengan anak yang sudah keluar dari sarang, pakan yang diberikan berupa serangga, sampai anakan umur 1-1,5 bulan. Setelah itu anak jalak suren mulai makan buah-buahan.
Pemberian makanan dilakukan 1-2 jam sekali setiap hari. Kira-kira umur 1,5 bulan anak jalak suren sudah disapih oleh induknya.
Selanjutnya anak jalak suren dapat dipisah dari induknya dan diperlakukan seperti halnya jalak suren dewasa. Burung muda ini selanjutnya bisa dilatih suaranya atau ditangkarkan seperti induknya. (Drs. Anthan Warsito)


Burung Ciblek

Ciblek (Prinia Familiaris) sekilas tampak tampilan burung ini kurang menarik, dengan warna bulu yang kurang memikat (berwarna dominan abu-abu) dan suara yang monoton yang sering di perdengarkan ciblek di alam, membuat banyak orang memandang sebelah mata terhadap burung ini. Berbeda dengan sepupunya Prenjak, yang telah lama memikat hati bagi sebagian orang karena kicauannya yang jika bersahutan antara jantan dan betina nampak serasi dan merdu serta enak di dengar.

Mungkin ketertarikan awal orang akan burung ini adalah karena tampilannya yang aktraktif dan relatif lebih mudah di ”rawat” di bandingkan dengan burung prenjak yang lebih sensitif, maka burung ciblek lebih mudah ”survive”. Sampai saat ini kita masih dapat dengan mudah menjumpai burung ciblek di beberapa pasar burung dengan harga yang relatif ’terjangkau’. Untuk burung ciblek liar yg sudah berumur, di pasar kebayoran baru dan Pasar pramuka kita dapat membeli burung tersebut dengan harga kisaran Rp. 10.000,- sampai dengan Rp. 20.000,- tergantung pasokan barang. Untuk burung ciblek yang masih lolohan atau masih muda harganya di patok kisaran Rp. 25.000,- sampai dengan Rp. 50.000,- tergantung kondisi burung. Cerita akan lain jika burung tersebut sudah ’mau bunyi dan sudah belajar makan voer’, dengan kondisi burung yang sudah demikian, maka sepertinya kita akan dipaksa untuk merogoh kocek agak dalam. Untuk burung yang sudah mau bunyi dan sudah mau makan voer (sebagai pakan utama) maka harga yang dicapai bisa kisaran Rp. 50.000,- sampai dengan 100.000,-. Beda lagi jika ternyata burung tersebut bermental baik, yang akan di ketahui jika burung itu dipertemukan dan mau bertarung dengan burung lain, rasanya harga Rp. 150.000,- akan menjadi tawaran yang menggiurkan untuk kicaumania.
Harga tersebut tentunya akan beda tergantung pada waktu dan tempat juga demand (minat) terhadap burung ciblek. Dan akan berbeda lagi jika kita temui burung dengan kualitas Istimewa.
Burung kualitas istimewa disini biasanya bermental sangat baik, dengan volume yang diatas rata-rata burung ciblek pada umumnya. Tampilannya juga aktraktif dengan gerakan lincah saat berkicau dan menarikan ekornya untuk memperagakan tarian perangnya jika berhadapan dengan musuh/burung ciblek lainnya.
Variasi suara burung ciblek biasanya senada dan diperdengarkan dengan tempo tinggi (ngotot) dan terus menerus, sehingga enak di dengar. Beberapa ciblek telah dapat di master dengan suara burung lain. Istilah suara tembakan, suara ngebren adalah istilah yang biasa di gunakan oleh penggemar burung ini untuk menggambarkan suara burung ciblek yang sedang berkicau.
Suara tembakan adalah suara burung saat memperdengarkan suara kerasnya secara satu persatu dengan tempo nada yang tidak begitu rapat. Ngebren adalah suara ciblek yang di perdengarkan dengan tempo tinggi/rapat dan keras. Rasanya jarang kita temui burung ciblek yang bersuara ”setengah hati”. Variasi suara burung ini akan tergantung pada kecerdasan burung dalam menangkap dan merekam suara burung lain disekitarnya.
Sebenarnya ciblek merupakan burung yang layak kembali untuk dilombakan pada kelas tersendiri.sudah sepantasnya burung ini tidak lagi di pandang sebelah mata dan dianggap sebagai burung ”kelas II”. Burung ini terkenal memiliki mental yang baik, kemampuan aktraktif-nya pun sangat enak di pertontonkan, layaknya melihat miniatur burung petarung seperti hwa mei yang sedang bertempur dengan gaya fighter membuka sayap dan mengibas-ngibaskan ekornya turun dan naik pada tangkringan sebagai atraksi menekan mental lawannya. Kriteria penilaian burung ini dapat di nilai dari variasi lagu, mental, gaya saat menghadapi lawan, serta tidak lupa kicauan yang bertempo cepat, tebal dan tajam.
Mental burung ciblek yang sudah ’jadi’ tidak perlu di ragukan lagi. Penulis beberapa kali menemukan ciblek yang bermental sangat baik, yang bukan saja berani bersahutan dengan burung sejenis, namun burung ciblek yang sudah jadi terkenal berani berkicau dan bersahutan dengan burung yang secara fisik maupun volume suara lebih besar.
Tidak saja untuk di pertandingkan, burung ciblek juga dikenal sebagai burung ”master” yang baik, khususnya untuk burung kenari, branjangan, cucak hijau dan lainnya.
Ini dimungkinkan, karena burung ini yang akan ”ngotot” berkicau jika mendengar suara burung lain, sehingga cocok untuk masteran burung lain karena akan berkicau setiap saat, juga suara burung ini akan sangat menonjol dan biasanya di gunakan sebagai senjata ”tembakan” bagi burung lomba lainnya.
Peliara ciblek... Lomba Ciblek.. Siapa takuutttt.... !!!

By : Indraf


Menangani burung ngurak

Mitos Yang Salah Tentang Mabung (Ngurak)

Mabung atau rontok bulu (moulting) adalah siklus normal dari keluarga burung, seperti halnya ganti kulit pada jenis ular. Secara gampang, saat mabung kondisi burung jelas tidak nyaman, atau merasa “sakit”. Bagi penggemar burung berkicau, khusus yang merawat burung lomba, perawatan saat mabung adalah menjadi hal yang sangat penting. Sedikit daja kesalahan, hasilnya bias sangat mengecewakan, bukannya membuat burung menjadi bagus, tetapi malah burung menjadi “rusak”.
Burung yang rusak karena salah urus saat mabung, umumnya ditandai dengan perubahan “adat” burung yang berubah tidak seperti sebelumnya. Perubahan yang dimaksud saja berubah menjadi buruk, misalnya burung menjadi tidak stabil penampilannya, suka loncat, sampai yang ekstrim menjadi macet atau tak mau bunyi ketika dilombakan. Normalnya, dalam satu tahun burung akan sekali mengalami masa mabung selama kurang lebih 2-3 bulan.

Tenang, Belajar
Kondisi tubuh burung yang sakit membuat masa mabung burung perlu ditempatkan di tempat yang relative tenang, jauh dari hiruk pikuk kebisingan. Bukan berarti tidak ada suaara sama sekali, karena masa tenang juga bisa dimanfaatkan sebagai masa “belajar”.
Sejumlah kicau mania berkeyakinan bahwa saat mabung adalah saat yang tepat untuk memaster burung. Bahkan, bila ketika mabung tidak dimaster, ada yang berkeyakinan lagu burung bisa hilang lagi. Selain untuk mengingatkan lagu yang sudah bisa dinyanyikan, juga untuk menambah lagi variasi lagunya, sehingga setelah selesai diharapkan penampilannya lebih bagus, lagunya juga lebih lengkap dan merdu.

Titik Balik
Mabung juga dianggap bisa menjadi titik balik untuk mengubah atau memperbaiki karakter burung. Kicau mania yang memiliki burung baru dan kemudian kesulitan menemukan setelan untuk dilombakan, biasanya akan berusaha untuk “memabungkan”.
Ini berangkat dari asumsi, setelah mabung, stelan sudah bisa diubah sesuai dengan keinginan pemilik baru. Burung yang karena satu dan lain hal rusak, punya adapt jelek, salah satu resep untuk mengembalikannya adalah perawatan pada saat mabung. Bila perawatannya pas, seusai mabung burung bisa kembali melesat seperti sedia kala.

Mitos Yang Salah Tentang Mabung
• Mabung disebabkan atau bisa dipacu dengan pemberian pakan tertentu, misalnya diberi kroto atau ulat hongkong dalam jumlah banyak secara terus menerus.
• Selama mabung burung terus dikrodong, tanpa dibuka, tanpa dibersihkan kandanganya.
• Selama mabung burung diberi makanan dan minuman sekedarnya, asal cukup atau asal kenyang.

Ini Baru Benar
• Mabung adalah siklus normal, bukan karena diberi makanan tertentu.
• Proses mabung bisa terganggu atau terhambat karena ada gangguang metabolisme. Gangguan metabolisme bisa terjadi karena asupan pakan yang kurang berkualitas. Kroto, ulat hongkong, jangkrik, adalah contoh pakan yang bagus dan bisa memperbaiki proses metabolisme. Bila pemberian pakan ini membuat mabung menjadi lancar ya karena butuh perbaikan menu pakan, bukan karena makanan tersebut jadi pemacu mabung.
• Selama mabung burung memang perlu dikrodong dan disendirikan, jangan terlalu sering diganggu karena kondisinya memang sedang “sakit”.
• Beri pakan yang berkualitas, juga air minum yang bersih dalam jumlah cukup, ternasuk pakan tambahan seperti kroto. Bila perlu berikan tambahan suplemen, vitamin, atau probiotik yang menurut pengalaman sangat membantu proses pemulihan. (bukan doping lho..).
• Cadangan pakan dan minuman kira-kira cukup buat tiga hari paling tidak seminggu dua kali kandang dibersihkan sambil mengganti pakan dan minum.
• Kandang yang tidak dibersihkan, kotoran menumpuk, mengundang bibit penyakit, apalagi saat musim hujan karena kandungan amoniak dalam kotoran juga meningkat.
• Secara teknis, kebutuhan makanan dan minuman selama mabung meningkat, baik dari sisi kualitas maupun jumlah. Jadi, jangan diberi pakan seperti kondisi normal.
Tulisan ini merupakan sebuah sharing pengalaman mungkin bisa dijadikan sebagai wacana dan tidak ada salahnya bila dicoba siapa tahu bisa dijadikan sebagai solusi bagi para kicau mania yang memiliki burung ngurak (mabung).


Buck Fever at The Wilds

The rolling grasslands of The Wilds, a "reclaimed" strip mine that is now an endangered animal facility and a birding hotspot.

Heading back to The Wilds for another post or two...

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we took the kids on a drive to The Wilds, near Cumberland, Ohio for a day of birding and animal watching. Deer-hunting season was set to start in two days. Because The Wilds has vast areas of fenced grassland where endangered animals are captive bred and studied, hunting is not allowed inside its boundaries.

The local white-tailed deer know this, and they spend hunting season inside the fenced areas, practically thumbing their noses at the hunters driving the perimeter roads. The hunters, for their part, can barely see out of their truck windows because their hyperventilating has caused the glass to fog. Why are they hyperventilating? Because right across that tiny little fence is a group of monster bucks practically begging to be "harvested." Aside from the bounty of meat these giant deer would provide, their heads and awesome racks would look so righteous on the den wall back home.

The bucks gather in loose groups, loafing, grazing, casting glances at the trucks driving slowly past—trucks with heavy sighs and even sobbing coming from them. Each buck we spotted was bigger than the last. Eight-pointers looked puny. Ten pointers and larger were the norm.

But there are other, even more impressive antlered creatures at The Wilds. The super-rare Pére David's deer from Asia is bred at The Wilds. Its antlers branch upward impressively, dwarfing the largest of the white-taileds. This species, extinct in the wild in its native China since the late 1800s, was saved by a French missionary named Father (or Pére) David Armand. Captive breeding in Europe throughout the last century has permitted the species to be reintroduced to small parts of its former range in China.
Pére David's deer, digiscoped at great distance.

While we were enjoying a northern harrier coursing low over the fields, a herd of sable antelope trotted over the rise. These handsome dark brown animals have long, tapered horns that arch up and backward. Native to Africa, sable antelope are prized by big game hunters for their amazing horns. The herd here at The Wilds seemed to be about a dozen animals, including at least one well-horned male which stood out in the crowd. Unfortunately I did not get a decent photo, so I borrowed this one from The Wilds' website, where you can see images of all the animals being bred and studied there.
Sable antelope. Image ©The Wilds.

With the day's end drawing near, we enjoyed the sunset and began the drive home. Just a mile down the road, we found the last monster buck of the day, crossing a field rather nonchalantly. He was outside the fence but seemed to think he was still off-limits because he scarcely made a move to run as we lowered our windows and snapped photos. The light was poor, so the pictures were less than ideal, but this regal creature seemed the picture of health.

We hope he's still that way now, several weeks later.

A trip to The Wilds may yield some great looks at birds, but there's a lot of other stuff to ogle, too. By the way, for those of you within driving distance of The Wilds, The Ohio Ornithological Society will be holding its annual winter birding day at the Wilds, on Saturday January 16, 2010. You can get more info on this free event at the OOS website.

Here Comes the Solstice!

It's wonderful to think that by next week the winter days will begin to lengthen and the nights begin to shorten. We can't complain, really. Our winter has been fairly mild thus far. But the killing frosts and chill morning air remind me just how much I love spring.

These two shots show the last full moon over the winter landscape near our southeastern Ohio farm. How ironic that as winter begins, so, too does the long slow tilting of the Earth toward spring.

Swans Mystery

Back to the mystery swans we encountered at The Wilds. As some of you web-savvy readers have already determined, these were trumpeter swans. I should pay more attention when I name my images for uploading!

Before 1900, trumpeter swans were extirpated from most of their North American breeding ranges by hunting. Only a remnant breeding population remained in Alaska and remote parts of the West.

During the 1990s there was a captive breeding and reintroduction program for trumpeter swans here in Ohio. The Wilds served as a captive rearing facility for birds hatched in captivity. The goal was to acclimate the birds to living in the wild so they could later be released along the Lake Erie marshes. More than 150 swans were released and today there is a small breeding population. At The Wilds a few birds are still around. I assume the flight feathers on their clipped wings grew back and they are now fully flighted, but don;t really know where to go.

The weird thing about these two birds is that one had black legs and one had yellow legs—at least the upper parts of the legs we could see above the water. You can see this in the photo below: the right hand bird has the yellow upper legs.

We checked the birds carefully in the spotting scope. Black bills eliminated mute swan. No pale yellow lore leaned us toward trumpeter. The notably long, straight black bill also pointed to trumpeter. The yellow-legged bird also was banded.

Yep. Captive but free-flying trumpeters.

Knowing that trumpeters had been captive-raised here, it's exciting, but not that exciting, to see them. Now if these had turned out to be tundra swans, we'd have been a bit more stoked. Tundras fly right over southeastern Ohio in the late fall/early winter on their way to the Atlantic Coast. Seeing a couple of tundra swans is always a notable event.

Odd swans are the least weird thing one can see while birding at The Wilds. More on that soon.

At The Wilds: Mystery Birds

The Saturday after Thanksgiving we took the kids birding to The Wilds, a 20,000-acre recovering strip mine that's an endangered animal breeding and research facility. In the temperate months you can tour The Wilds in one of their buses. But most bird watchers visiting The Wilds just like to drive the roads to see what birds are around, in the vast grassy fields, and the many ponds and lakes that dot the landscape.

On the south side of The Wilds there's a long, string-straight piece of road that passes a couple of long, narrow lakes. Well, calling these lakes might be a bit of a stretch—they are not naturally occurring. Really, they are deep scars in the earth, cut by massive machinery as it removed seams of coal. Now these giant holes have filled with water.

That matters not to the waterfowl that pass through these parts. The two white birds above were on this lake, loafing and preening. Swans, at first glance. But which swans?

More on this line of inquiry tomorrow.

Greed and Manners at the Bird Feeder

Tufted titmouse eating with its bill open.

Our new feeding station on the deck railing outside the kitchen table window has been a busy, busy place these past two weeks. The weather has taken a decided turn for winter. The naturally occurring food supply—fruits, berries, seeds, late insects—has been diminished, so our seed, nut, and suet-eating friends are coming to our feeders in greater volume.

Tufted titmice, I've noticed, are hit-and-run eaters. Normally they drop in, hop onto a feeder, grab a seed or peanut, then fly off to a handy perch to consume it. One titmouse seems to want more from his foraging visits. He tries to take more than a single bit of food. Does he perhaps have some blue jay or American crow in his ancestry? Those well-known gluttons will gobble up several food items, filling up their throats before adding one or two more pieces, held firmly in the bill. These corvid family members will cache food—hiding it for later consumption, but that's not as well known as a behavior in titmice. However, it turns out that they DO cache food, too.
Twisted titmouse.

This particular titmouse was intent on getting another peanut into his bill, perhaps for caching. But every time he'd pry one loose, it would fall before he could grab it. The piece he had in the back of his bill prevented him from getting a secure grip on a second nut. Notice I am assuming this was a "he" even though TUTIs are not sexually dimorphic. This just seemed like typical behavior for a male.

As he tried, other birds would land on the peanut feeder and he would try to chase them off. Most fled, but not the male red-bellied woodpecker. He parked himself on the feeder and stayed put. I watched as the peanut dust flew and the level of nuts in the feeder dropped noticeably.

Red-bellied woodpecker.

I sat there wondering if the birds ever think of each other like we humans do. Do the other titmice give each other knowing looks and mutter things like "There's Todd that greedy hog. Just look at him stuffing his face! That dude needs to learn some manners! It's like he was raised by jays or something!"

Cooking Lunch in the Woods

This image and most on this post were taken by Julie Zickefoose.

The borders that were most likely to be breached having been thoroughly posted, Liam and I headed down the valley toward Beechy Crash. Beechy Crash is so-named because in 1992, when, with the ink still wet on the real estate papers, we first hiked this land of ours, we discovered a huge sandstone and shale ravine crisscrossed with fallen, giant beech trees.

An early spring hike to Beechy Crash a few years ago. One of these people is Sharon The Birdchick Stiteler.

Most of those fallen monsters are gone now, rotted back to the soil by the combined effects of time, weather, and the ravine's moist embrace. Just upstream from Beechy Crash is a flat spot where an old logging road once passed. This is the spot where our food cache was waiting, where there was plenty of firewood, and a fire circle of stones I'd gathered a few years earlier.

Halfway down the hillside, Liam and I met with the girls and Chet Baker, who initially barked at us gamely, as if he did not recognize us as a part of his roaming pack.

The kids raced down the hill. The parents proceeded more carefully.

Once the light bulb of recognition went off in Chet's head, he ran headlong for us and gave us warm dog kisses.
Chet Baker strikes a majestic pose.

I moved downhill ahead of the others, wanting to get the fire going. This day was mild enough that we did not need the fire for heat, but that is not always the case. Once last winter we went for a long, cold hike down this same valley with friends. The four kids (two from each family) all got soakers falling into the stream. A front blew in and the temperature dropped as we headed home, but home was a long way off. In a moment of clarity I forged ahead of the group and built a fire along the path—at this same spot where we were heading today. I'm not sure a warming fire was ever appreciated more by chilly hikers.

By the time Liam, Phoebe, Julie, and Chet arrived, I had this cooking fire going—at least slightly. The kindling on the ground was still a tad moist from recent rains, but with some newspaper we got things burning soon enough.

Out came the hamburgers, onions, frying pan, beans, cook pot, utensils, and we were cooking caveman style!
When I was a kid, growing up in tiny Pella, Iowa, sunny fall Saturdays when my dad was home, we'd load up the station wagon and drive a few miles out into the country for a picnic. Sometimes we'd invite another family along. We'd toss a football, or perhaps hike or fish a little. But the highlight was building a fire and cooking out. Hotdogs were a staple, but we'd sometimes add other dishes like corn on the cob, or my mom's potato salad. And always there were the s'mores.

Now I find it particularly gratifying to try to make some of this same kind of memory with my kids. Julie and I were laughing about my caveman like tendencies, loving the challenge of cooking a meal in some remote spot. She said "My dad used to take us out for long country rides in the car all the time. But we never got out of the car much, and if we did we certainly never cooked a campfire meal. This is WAY more fun!"

The caveman with his caveman meal cooking on the fire.

Caveman not able leave fire alone. Must poke it to make flame big. Fire good!

Liam, I do believe, has caught the bug, too. He loved stirring the beans. And his cooking "jones" has been documented before by his mom.

Of course we had to share our food with Chet Baker, who behaved like a perfect gentleman even though we were far from civilization.
Please dew not take pitchers of me beggin'. It ain't dignified, but I am helpless to resist hamburger.

Everyone agreed that the burgers and onions tasted fine (even without ketchup!) and the beans were nicely smoky. The s'mores were pleasingly gooey and messy.

After the meal was consumed, the paper plates burned, the gear washed and re-packed, the fire put out (by the Hotdog Brothers with an assist from the stream), we headed for home, stopping only once, to say hello to our old friend, the beech we call OK 1902.

This old tree has done well for itself in the 107 years since it felt the bite of a farm boy's pocketknife.

The sun was sagging behind the western hills now. It was time to get home and savor a day well spent.

The Hotdog Brothers Post the Border

Liam was a big help on our border posting expedition.

Two Saturdays ago, Liam and I had the first major Hotdog Brothers' adventure of the winter. We finished posting the east and south borders of our 80-acre farm with No Hunting/No Trespassing signs. Having lived on this patch of land for the better part of the past two decades, I know that my signs are really just a formality—a way to ask nicely that our boundaries be respected. Most years we have hunters on our land anyway. I do my best to assume that it's accidental trespassing by cityfolk out enjoying their annual walk in the woods while fully armed. But I know that it's not all that innocent.

With the economy being so tough we had several more folks ask us for permission to hunt our land this year. We aren't anti-hunting at all. But we feel that it's important that some portion of our immediate area should be free from the disturbance and the noise. So we thank them for asking and explain why our answer is no.

Finding the actual property lines in these woods and hills is part science, part art. Our land is a giant rectangle, a half-mile on the north and south and a quarter-mile on the east and west. But it doesn't follow the contour of the land at all. Two large wooded valleys and dozens of heads and hollers filled with downed trees, viney tangles, and slippery, leaf-covered slopes make walking difficult.
We choose trees for posting that are plainly visible..

But I know where certain boundary markers are and I can find the line by looking for clues. A twist of rusty barbed wire sticking out of a tree trunk means I may have found a "line tree." Line trees are trees along a property line where the tree served as a fencepost for the omnipresent barbed wire. Since our farm and all the land around it was open, treeless grazing meadow about 40 years ago, there were wire fences all around the perimeter to keep the cows contained. Remnants of the fence persist.

Loggers hate line trees because they are often the only large trees still standing on a wooded property. But nothing ruins a saw blade like an old piece of fence wire, so the line trees are left uncut. Good neighbors won't cut line trees and I don't post my signs on line trees, either. I post well back from the line, but still plainly visible.

Gearing up for posting, I carry the signs and tools in the same newspaper shoulder bag I used in the mid-70's to deliver the Marietta Times.

I'd been out posting part of our border a few weeks before. It's no simple matter. I need to take a hammer on a belt hanger, a nail pouch full of short roofing nails, a roll of bright yellow signs, some hand clippers, a hatchet, my binocs, a walkie-talkie, a pocket camera, some water, and a bucket. The bucket is to stand on so I can post the signs high on trees, out of reach. About ten years ago, along our south border, someone walked along our line after I'd posted and ripped my signs down or cut my name out of them with a knife. With the bucket along, I can add a couple of additional feet of height to my reach at 6' 4". So, unless Yao Ming comes along to help, no one is going to reach the signs.
Posting high on a tree. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

Liam initially was belly-aching about having to go along, saying things like:
"Hey Daddy? When are we going back to civilization?" and "Hey Daddy, how LOOOOOONG did you say this was going to take?"
My personal coffee-cup holder.

But soon enough he got into the spirit of the adventure and task at hand. I think he finally got a feeling for how much land we own, and how important it is for us to take care of it.

We took a few breathers—it was hard work hiking the hollers.

As we worked our way along the line, spotting line trees, old fence posts, gas lines, and other telltale markers, we fought through the briers and brambles, leaped over the dry runs and rills, hitched over logs, all the while keeping one eye on the line and one eye on the hunt for perfect posting trees. Many of the previously posted trees still clung to their signs. The good ones I left in place. The ragged ones I tore down and replaced. The one aspect I really dislike about this job is having to pound nails into the trees. I use the shortest nails possible—so short that many trees actually push them out as they grow. Still, I always say a quiet apology to the trees I'm posting. I try to choose already dead wood, or trees with extra thick bark, or trees so big that it's clear they have survived much worse treatment from weather and woodpeckers.

As we worked along we found some evidence of other people. Along the township road there is much litter. Once hunting season is over, I'll go out with a couple of trash bags and pick it up. As much as it disgusts me, it also reminds me how lucky I am to come from a long line of people willing to shout "Litterbug!" at those who care so little about their impact on the planet.

Finding an unfortunately placed tree stand complete with bait below it, I knew it was time to ask for help from my neighbor. I needed to know where the corners of our properties met and neighbor Sherm was kind enough to walk out into the woods with us to find it. The tree stand is on the property line, but the baited area is not. It's the work of some new neighbors who live up north and come down here, like thousands of others, to hunt in the southeastern Ohio woods. I hear they're nice enough. I figure I'll meet them one day and we can talk about the border we share.

Mystery solved, Liam and I bid Sherm a farewell and began the long hike down to the bottom of our east valley. Just then the walkie-talkie crackled. It was the girls calling. They were headed down to Beechy Crash from the other side of the valley.

Liam asked excitedly me if Mommy and Phoebe were coming to meet us? I said yes, and that we were going to cook our lunch in the woods. He whooped for joy.

Earlier in the morning, I had packed up two large backpacks of food, drinks, and all the necessary gear to have a campfire lunch in the woods. Julie toted the bags down to Beechy Crash for me and left them, and I knew just where we'd rendezvous for the feast.

Tomorrow I'll tell you all about it.

Heading down the southeast slope of our east valley, through wide-open beech forest toward our rendezvous with civilization.
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