Category Archives: birds

Burrowing Owls

So many birds are having population declines. Burrowing owls suffer from all of the habitat loss and environmental poisons that other birds do, but have a couple big additional factors. Unlike many birds, Burrowing Owls have habits just like ground squirrels and other burrowing mammals that people like to kill for sport. I have found Burrowing Owls shot on their nesting burrows by these ‘sportsmen’.

burrowing owlMuch of their remaining habitat is near roads. Not only does this give ‘sportsmen’ easy access, but it also exposes the owls to direct mortality from automobile collisions. This photo was taken near a nesting burrow that was at the intersection of two busy roads, it was common to find the young owls dead on the road. Eventually the burrow fell into disuse – either they all got killed or the adults realized that the burrow was a poor place to raise a bunch of kids.

Read the book ‘Hoot’ to your kids. Go look for some owls.

A few Western birds…

This is a memory post. Living in Tennessee will be exciting, but here are some birds I will miss from Out West:

The Greater Sage Grouse is an iconic bird of the shrub steppe and a symbol of the intermountain west - it is a shame that we treat them so badly.

The Greater Sage Grouse is an iconic bird of the shrub steppe and a symbol of the intermountain west – it is a shame that we treat them so badly.

The song of the Sage Thrasher brings joy to the shrub steppe!

The song of the Sage Thrasher brings joy to the shrub steppe!

The call of the Poorwill means you are camped someplace very cool. This photo was taken by tracking the bird with a camera with an infrared focusing system and then snapping the shot with a flash.

The call of the Poorwill means you are camped someplace very cool. This photo was taken by tracking the bird with a camera with an infrared focusing system and then snapping the shot with a flash.

The West has enough corvids to bring a smile to anyone. Gray Jays have always been favorites of mine, but so are Ravens, Magpies, Pinyon Jays, Scrub Jays, Steller's Jays, Clark's Nutcrackers, and the rest...

The West has enough corvids to bring a smile to anyone. Gray Jays have always been favorites of mine, but so are Ravens, Magpies, Pinyon Jays, Scrub Jays, Steller’s Jays, Clark’s Nutcrackers, and the rest…

Burrowing Owls are very special birds to me. Once common, these birds are now having population declines.

Burrowing Owls are very special birds to me. Once common, these birds are now having population declines.

There are so many more birds that are part of this special place I have been privileged to live in. What birds make where you live special?

 

 

 

 

From the mouths of babes 2…

In this recreated photo Steve Bouffard is in the exact pose in which he fielded the ULTIMATE QUESTION during the cub scout's museum tour.

In this recreated photo Steve Bouffard is in the exact pose in which he fielded the ULTIMATE QUESTION during the cub scout’s museum tour as he demonstrated the diversity of bird eggs.

Today was the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History  work day. If you are in the Boise area, the work days are must attend events. You will learn so much from a truly great group of people. Today Steve Bouffard was giving a tour to a group of cub scouts when one of the cub scouts asked Steve the ultimate question (as explored in a previous posting): “Why are all the animals here dead?”

Steve’s response was swift and awesome: “Because if all the animals were alive, this place would be a zoo.”

Nothing we do is more important than educating children. I am so proud of Steve.

Strutting their stuff

Watching grouse dance is so awesome. I have ‘worked’ these spectacles – usually just providing a

Hey Babe! Take a walk on the wild side?

Hey Babe! Take a walk on the wild side?

count of individuals. This is the barest of data and does not capture the magic of what is going on. This photo of a strutting male Falcipennis canadensis, A.K.A. Spruce Grouse,  is much the same. It is an artifact of something magical that happened in the spring of 2012 in the Central Idaho Mountains. My stomping around with snowshoes did not spook this bird and he continued to display while I shot several photos. After getting my shots I retired to a respectful distance and continued to watch through my bino’s. During the time I watched he didn’t have any luck with the ladies – I only saw displaying male Spruce Grouse that day. It was a three grouse day – I also was lucky enough to see Dendragapus obscurus (Sooty Grouse) and Bonasa umbellus (Ruffed Grouse) – but I only heard the displays I didn’t get to see the displays. Still, it goes to show what can happen if you cover enough terrain in the right habitats…

Sage Grouse Dancing

When the intermountain shrub-steppe is transitioning from winter to spring, the Greater Sage SAGR butt 6-apr06Grouse begin to dance on leks. The dance of the sage grouse is something you should go see. When visiting a lek you should behave properly. Your local Audubon chapter or birder friends may know of leks close to your home that you could visit, but going to a grouse festival is another way to get yourself on a lek.

When you are sitting out in the cold, pre-dawn winds of the intermountain desert (toes growing colder as the snow on your boots melts) and you can hear (but not yet see) the swish – swish – PLOOP! of dancing grouse. You will know why you came. In a small, vicarious way you are participating in a ritual that is as old as the sagebrush steppe and your soul will be enriched by it. The grouse dance will enter your body through your eyes and ears, but it doesn’t have to leave.

Museum Workday!!

One of the best things about living in Southern Idaho is the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural

If your heart doesn't beat a little faster when you see this sign, maybe you have a heart problem!

If your heart doesn’t beat a little faster when you see this sign, maybe you have a heart problem!

History on the College of Idaho Campus in Caldwell, ID. Yesterday was the museum workday, when museum volunteers get together to work in the museum. Being a museum volunteer has a many perks! First of all you get to enter through the back door (but do not forget to sign in up front)! The front of the museum is impressive, but in the back there are stacks and stacks of fossils, fishes, insects, birds, books (the herbarium is upstairs) – all the stuff that breathes life into the museum. As you walk in the back door you are greeted by the promise of discovery! It is the coolest feeling. After walking

The view as you walk in the back door - isn't it exciting?

The view as you walk in the back door – isn’t it exciting?

through the back of the museum, you come to the coffee pot, which is a good place to find the Museum Director – Bill Clark. Bill keeps his network of volunteers on interesting and useful projects (I am certain it is like herding cats), and always has time to bounce ideas off and help you even though he is busier than 10 normal folks. Next, if you are me, you check in with Al Gillogly. Al is the curator of beetles, and he is always up to something interesting. Yesterday I had my mind blown by a hymenopteran in the genus Baeus, and a very non-typical coccinellid

A pitfall trap from Baja Mexcio - isn't this cool?

A field box of pitfall trap from Baja Mexcio – isn’t this cool?

and a tiny tenebrionid. George Sims had sent the Museum some Nitidula flavomaculata and Catops sp. so, I got to hone my pointing skills at the museum.

Being at the museum workday is like hanging out with the super friends. There is: Paul Castrovilla, who taught me about butterflies; Steve Bouffard, who has taught me about just about everything just by being a good role model; Mary Clark, who is busier than Bill but always makes time to answer my questions, Dave Ward, who has as his super power being about the nicest guy you will ever meet; Jim Ryan is the curator of entomology and is always up for ento-fun and knowledge, and there are all the other talented and passionate folks in other disciplines who make the Orma J. Smith Museum such a tasty stew. I drive home from the Orma J. Smith Museum not only having learned a ton about insects, but also feeling better about the human race.

The museum may gain a tiny amount of labor from my presence, but my gains are far greater. I am so grateful that Bill Clark allows me these opportunities.