So You Found a Feather!

I do not doubt you are excited when finding a feather, but there are some things to be aware of before picking it up with hopes of truly possessing it. Feathers are protected under a 1918 federal law even if the feather was found in your yard. In 2004 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was expanded to include all native bird species in the USA. So, the feather needs to stay where you found it, becoming the perfect time to take a photo of it.

It is unlawful to hunt, capture, kill or sell any part of a migratory bird without a permit. If a bird flies from one state to another or one country to another, it is a migratory bird. Some feathers symbolize deep spiritual meaning across many cultures. Native American Indians do obtain permits for certain feathers for their use through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

For those of us who are amateur naturalists, it can feel disheartening in not being able to keep the discovered feather. But with the photo we took and the website: www.fws.gov/lab/featheratlas/idtool.php we can identify the feather. Because of some unscrupulous people who shoot a bird for its feathers or raid a nest for its eggs, the federal law is so strict. If you find a non-native species (ex. house sparrow or European starling) or non-migratory bird (ex. quail or turkey) feather, you can pick it up and keep it.

Some people feel a spiritual connection when feathers show up in their lives. For me, here is how I look upon a feather:

I count my blessings, am grateful and thankful. While a bird lost a feather, it is my moment to recognize, appreciate and love what I have right now in my life.

I also feel free and inspired. The bird soared wherever the wind took it. The feather on the ground reinforces my travel goals and reminds me to stay positive and creative in my thoughts and actions.

With a photo of the feather, I research, at the website mentioned above, what bird flew over the area recently and wonder if I will see it in the upcoming hours or days. I hope so as I’ll always do my part to protect our birds!

Red tail hawk feather, I think.

Some May Call Me Crazy!

My goal wherever I travel is to see as much as I can since I never  know when I will return! Birdwatching is a challenge since I cannot always be where they are when they are migrating for an easier time to bird watch, but they are here each day! With patience I will see them even as I move through 3 states in this one day: South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska!

Today’s temperature rose from a morning 65 to midday 93 degrees; feeling like 103 degrees. Before leaving the area the next day, I had three places to visit. I camped in North Sioux City, South Dakota, a couple of miles from Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve. I spent a few hours at the homestead and loved it. I walked more than a mile on their trails and stood behind 2 wildlife blinds to ultimately observe 21 different species of birds and 4 deer, yet no sign of the red-headed woodpecker, darn! This 1500 acre property includes the family’s homestead and other buildings. Many of the trails you can also bicycle ride with hybrid tires being the best for the trail. Plenty of history here. Stephen Searls Adams in 1872 purchased Civil War soldiers’ homesteading rights through the Homestead Act. It was 120 years later, 1984, when his granddaughters donated the 1500 acres to the state of South Dakota. They wanted this place to be “a place for inner renewal”. 

I watched three great blue herons for a period of time. I thought the crouch of one was to be intimidating or to attract a female, yet it seemed there a was way to protect ones territory. Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve is a place worth visiting. Here are photos from this place:

Next I drove across the Missouri River to Iowa. I visited Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center. What beautiful indoor exhibits and also a “Bird of Prey” outdoor exhibit with a barred owl and red-tailed hawk, each in their own area, both unfortunately permanently injured. The three miles of hiking trails wind through forest and prairie areas and connect with Stone State Park trails. I loved seeing the tree fort and rock climbing area for children. There are also nature programs for children with trained naturalists. I walked the Whitetail Ridge Trail and did observe birds. Photos from here:

Next stop was Dairy Queen! I needed to sit in an air-conditioned area and have a “Blizzard”. No amount of water was keeping me cool, yet I knew I must keep hydrated and why not cool my innards!?

After starting in South Dakota, then to Iowa, I was now visiting Crystal Cove Park in Nebraska. Not much was happening at this park …. temperatures were over 100 degrees so that was understandable. I did talk with a couple of people who found it necessary to get their run in!?!?! I also talked about traveling to the 3 different states in such close proximity to each for gasoline, medical appointments, etc and they all agreed it does get tricky at times. My 3 visits were all less than 7 miles from each other and in three different states. Interesting!

I was exhausted, but had a good day and then a wonderful shower, but the black flies attacked my feet! I have so many bites and they itch unbelievably! After Bite is not helping! Never had this experience before and not enjoying it! Insects may rule the world in the future; horrible thought right now!

Looking forward to Bemidji!

My plan was to stay in Bemidji, Minnesota for 6 nights and look for loons. Day 34 of my trip started with a Weather Channel report stating beautiful weather in Bemidji, so I was on my way!

My drive from Madison, Wisconsin to Bemidji, Minnesota was 7.5 hours and then while taking some breaks for snack, stretch and lunch it was about 9 hours. Interesting change in the scenery with Minnesota being more open whereas Wisconsin seemed to be more forested. Both states have agricultural land with corn and soybean, dairy farms and beef lots. Minnesota had ponds, rivers and lakes every turn I took. How do truck drivers survive the long hours? My body feels like it needs to unfold after a couple of hours. I can understand the need for their truck plazas for food, gasoline, showers, and whatever else they offer to cater to truckers. Their job is not easy … staying awake, in shape, hydrated and fed, and having a place to pull off the road to sleep.

About 2.5 hours away from reaching my camping destination I was surprised to see a gray sky, especially after listening the the weather report. One moment there were a couple of raindrops, so I thought maybe it is a local rain. An hour away from my destination, I pulled off the 2 lane road that had no shoulder so I could take a pee stop.

Finally saw a safe place to pull off the road and I immediately realized it was smoke creating the gray in the sky. I arrived in Bemidji and had to cancel my 4 nights of camping. There was no way I could breathe the smoke for 24 hours and for a few days … so I moved my 2 hotel nights to my arrival and the next night. I was lucky to get the last room at the hotel! Apparently the smoke is from Canadian wildfires … our earth is really burning up! Forest management seems to be the topic for today, along with water management as even Minneapolis, Minnesota has put water restrictions in place.

Day 35: A full day in Bemidji! I spent hours at Diamond Point Park and saw 16 different species of birds. I also walked one mile along Lake Bemidji near the state park, but no loon seen even though I waited to look for them between 4 – 6pm. Photos of some birds are below. 

It was less smoky today, but still not good for tenters. Staying at the hotel allowed me to breathe air-conditioned air and be away from the smoke. I contemplated extending my time, but additional hotel costs are not in my budget, so another plan needs to be considered. I will definitely return to Bemidji some day. This was another area for some bicycling and I definitely need to find a loon! People in both Wisconsin and Minnesota have been friendly and helpful. I look forward to returning to both states.

Know Cranes?

I love seeing birds in the natural world; unfortunately, for whooping cranes and Siberian cranes they are close to extinction and people care about their future. I visited a facility at the International Crane Foundation where all 15 species of cranes around the world reside. Threats to cranes around the world are climate change, habitat loss, poaching and illegal trade. 

I remember my visit to Bhutan and learning the black-necked cranes are revered in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Each November there is a celebration when the cranes arrive. It would be wonderful if more of us felt the same way when cranes arrive. I do know in southeast Arizona many of us do welcome sandhill cranes when they arrive.

There is no way I can identify every crane I saw today, so this blog will have photos I took while at the International Crane Foundation. The birds had plenty of area to walk around within their enclosure of grasses, wetland and a building to walk within. Fences kept visitors away from the birds, but the viewing platforms were well done so it was easy to see the birds. There are a few hiking trails around a small pond, into the woods, and onto the prairie. Plenty to do and a nice picnic area so bring a lunch. This place is worth a visit if you are in the area. Now for the cranes:

Retzer Nature Center … in Wisconsin

Thanks again to people bequeathing their land! In 1938 this land was once the 90 acre home of John and Florence Retzer who restored the land with over 26,000 trees, flowers and shrubs. In 1973 it was given to the Waukesha County “to conserve the scenery, natural life and wildlife, leaving the land unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations”. In 1974, plans to develop a nature center began and in the 1980’s the site expanded to 335 acres. I walked the trails under gray skies, but no rain, and really enjoyed the area. It is a place to return to and for anyone with children wanting an environmental education experience. I saw 16 different species of birds and photographed some despite it not being the best light for photography.

After hours of hiking at the center, I stopped at a laundromat to wash and dry cotton towels, eat a bratwurst at the Elegant Farmer, known for apple pie baked in a paper bag, before heading back to the campground. I needed to organize everything in my car since it was easiest to do when it is not raining. All things need to be in their place for ease in finding them. At times I think I packed to much, but then again it could have been colder and I would have needed the heavier clothing layers! Just as I had wondered if the silk liner for my sleeping bag was necessary, I discovered it was best to use it alone in the heat at night when sleeping. Glad I packed it!

In June 2020 I had hoped to bicycle ride and camp north of Madison Wisconsin. Unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic thwarted that travel plan! But I am now realizing this area around Milwaukee has wonderful places to visit too. I may be back some day!

Here are some photos:

Learning a New Vocabulary While Birding!

Thankfully I already knew about “crests” so obvious on the head of northern cardinals. However, when I delved into reading descriptions of birds I was newly identifying, with the help of bird guidebooks, I discovered I was soon to learn a whole new vocabulary. It may not just be about the bird’s head; look closely and determine if there is an eyebrow stripe or supercilium. Now I know: a supercilium is a stripe that runs from the base of bird’s beak above its eye and finishing near the back of the head. And when in contrast with feathers next to it then it is called an eyebrow stripe, such as with the vireo below showing an eyebrow stripe!

Is it a crown, cap or nape on that bird? Well, if the colored feathers are only on the back of the bird’s neck it is nape, top of head substantially to the back is a crown or less substantially only a cap. Pictured below, Gila wood pecker on left is with small cap and ladder-backed woodpecker on right is with an extensive red crown.

Thanks to National Geographic’s Field Guide to Birds of Western North America I am including a picture from the guide showing the red nape of male “yellow-shafted” northern flicker below.

Also notice when the colored strip is below the eye it is a whisker, as shown in the picture above! You noticed they are both males so how can they have different colored whiskers? Good observation! Ah, the red whiskered male is a “red-shafted” northern flicker. Someday I hope to be that observant to notice these details while viewing a bird through my binoculars as it makes a big difference when identifying the birds!

One more moment while observing a bird’s head, notice the bristles around some bird’s eyes or mouth, such as with this female vermilion flycatcher:

They are called rictal bristles and apparently scientists still are unclear as to their purpose. But the operculum, flap of cartilage, covering the nares (nostrils) on some bird’s beaks is important for diving birds. What about the colorful forehead shield we see on a common moorhen? Is there a specific purpose? I could go on and on … let’s not forget the culmen, the upper ridge of a bird’s bill which is measured during bird banding. (Glad to know that word if I ever do participate in a bird-banding.)

So as you can see I have only begun to learn the vocabulary related to the bird’s head! So much to learn; all keeps my brain engaged – another positive effect of birding!

Young Birds Are Hard to Identify!

Yes, young birds are a challenge for me to identify, along with not having a sharp view of them adds to the challenge. I watched 2 young barn owls, I believe, or are they young great horned owls, on a sandstone ledge in Arizona. See what you think and let me know! Since they could not take off in flight it seems they are less than 2 months old. Fascinating!

Birding at Kachina Wetlands, Flagstaff, AZ

Friends and I traveled to a new birding location. Kachina Wetlands receives wastewater, from a nearby community a mile away, after its secondary treatment and chlorination. The water then flows here through 8 ponds by gravity. The initial plan for this wetland had more ponds, but work and constant evaluation through the years by many individuals checking the pond water’s pH, checking that there are no leaks, planting native vegetation, removing invasive plants, and constructing birdhouses and blinds with an overall goal to create a wildlife habitat. Thanks to the cooperation between Northern Arizona University, AZ Game & Fish, and Coconino County their work and continued efforts make it possible for many of us to birdwatch on this 70 acre parcel of land. I believe we will see more wetlands near communities, but understand years of work are needed to get to this stage. The operation here began in 1988. When we look at environmental issues needing solutions, time is needed. That is why we’ll be hearing more about climate change and the timeline needed for certain actions and solutions now, assuring future generations of us leaving them clean air and water.

We walked the trails around the ponds while a few other people rode their bicycle. Egrets, yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows and other small birds were abundant.

We spent time watching a couple of ospreys flying easily on the thermals and then diving to the pond’s surface to capture a fish. Many times they were not successful, but sometimes they had a fish to show for their efforts.

Off in the distance we saw a bird in the air and identified it as a bald eagle. We watched it land in a tree and my camera still did not have the capability of getting a good photo. So we walked toward where we saw the eagle land.

There is a balancing act when attempting wildlife photography. Do you take the photo you can from where you are, or do you try to get closer to the subject and take the photo, and/or do you put a teleconverter on your camera and hope for the best from where you are standing? I decided to move closer, but there was a pond between me and what I discover are 2 bald eagles in a tree! I took my photos. When I do move closer the angle from under the tree is not right and then the birds take off. We saw 2 majestic bald eagles and when I looked across the wetland, a coyote was also passing though. The wildlife appreciate this habitat!

Coyotes are here too!

Walking a Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona

Seven thousand feet elevation is slightly different than where we live, so we hoped to see different birds while on our hike. The ponderosa pine trees were majestic and wildflowers were beginning to bloom. We walked the Sandy Seep Trail uphill, about 1.3 miles, till it met other trails heading off in other directions. It is an out-and-back trail but we decided to hike a social trail back to the parking lot. At first, we did miss which social trail to take to return to our car. Thanks to the AllTrails app we knew exactly where we were and walked through a beautiful area observing birds, hearing an over-ambitious woodpecker hammering on a tree, and just before leaving the trail we saw a man on his horse. He seemed to be training his horse to not be startled by the lasso whirling by its head.

Birds seen: mountain chickadees, green-tailed towhee, Steller’s jay, ravens, Virginia’s warbler.

Ospreys at Work

Taking time to observe wildlife. A photo story of 2 ospreys at their nest …

And the other osprey flying to the same nest …

Hmmm… will be interesting to see what happens in the next days …. this may only be nest-building time. I hope I see more activity in the upcoming days.