One of the problems with our human senses is they can be wrong, spectacularly wrong sometimes. This story has been repeated several times, and continues to happen. Data need to be verified, we are fallible.
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’.
Much 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.
This is a memory post. Living in Tennessee will be exciting, but here are some birds I will miss from Out West:
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?
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.
Watching grouse dance is so awesome. I have ‘worked’ these spectacles – usually just providing a
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…
When the intermountain shrub-steppe is transitioning from winter to spring, the Greater Sage Grouse 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.
One of the best things about living in Southern Idaho is the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural
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
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
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.