Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tickle Me Elmo !!!

Not too long ago Teri finished a complex crocheted graph afghan that was a map of the United States.

She followed that one up with a smaller, simpler afghan that she was able to finish in just a few weeks.

This one will also be donated to the Linus Project.  Imagine the lucky child who will receive their very own Elmo!!


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Duck Banding - Part 3

In the last post I talked abut the process of identifying the species, sex and age of the ducks. Once that is completed the band is put on.

The bands come in several sizes, and different band number series are used for males and females, and for immature and adult ducks.  The bands are painted to help us locate the correct band, but the paint flakes off in a few days and the aluminum band will be silver from then on.

The bands are kept on this carousel to keep the different sizes and series separated and allow is to find the correct band quickly.  When you are holding a duck in one hand you don't want to be fussing around trying to find the correct band!

Teri keeps this sheet on her clipboard.  It tells us what size band is used for each duck species.  The Mallards use the largest size, while the Teal use much smaller bands. In some species the females get a slightly smaller band than the males.

Teri records the species, sex and age, along with the band size and number.  This critical information is kept so that when a banded duck is found, the banding information can be accessed. 

To begin banding I hold the upside-down duck along my left side, with its head under my arm.  This allows me to hold the duck safely while I use my right hand to close the band.  Some ducks are more cooperative than others. This Mallard was pretty mellow. 

The band is placed on the right leg of the duck. We use regular pliers to close the bands. 

We are careful to get the bands closed tightly and evenly, as leaving an edge or gap could cause the band to catch vegetation.  We don't want to cause the duck any future problems!

The duck is released with new jewelry to go off and live a happy life!!


Friday, August 24, 2012

Duck Banding, Part 2

Last blog I wrote about our duck banding operation. To recap, the ducks are lured into wire traps using barley as bait. Each morning, we go out to the traps and transfer the ducks into a cage and then bring them back to shore for identification and banding. Here is a picture of a trap, with Dean (Refuge Biotech) and I getting ready to retrieve ducks.

With a cage full of ducks back on shore, we take a duck out of the cage and begin the process of identifying species, sex and age. 
Dean with a Pintail
Identifying the species is pretty straightforward, but sex and age are tougher.This time of year the ducks are molting, so males and females look very similar. As far as age goes, we need to determine if they are "Hatch Year" (born this year) or "After Hatch Year" (at least one year old).

We use several field marks to determine sex and age.  We look first at eye color (for Cinnamon Teal) and bill color (Mallards).  These give us an idea of male/female, but are not conclusive.  We then look at the tail feathers. If the tips are notched it is usually a Hatch Year bird, but with feather wear this (again) is not conclusive.

This big duck is a Mallard, and the yellow/green bill tells us that it is most likely a male.  Females have orange bills. 

We extend a wing to look at patterns and compare them with a book that shows wings of each species broken down by male/female and hatch year/after hatch year.  This, along with the field marks mentioned above usually get us close.

This is a male Cinnamon Teal.  The red eye and wing pattern help to confirm this.  Since he is in eclipse plumage (molting) he lacks the trademark cinnamon color.  But he still has his honkin' big bill!!

But the final determination is made by "venting" the bird.  That is examining the genetalia to make the final determination of sex, and in many cases, age. To do this we flip the bird upside down, gently spread the vent, and look for the sex organs.  Since the vent serves several purposes this is also a good way to get pooped on!!

Flipping the bird over so that I can vent it to determine sex and age.

The indignity of it all.  I'm not sure who is more uncomfortable here, me or the duck!!

Once the identification is finished, it is time to put on the band. Check out Part 3 in a couple of days to see how the bands are placed.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Putting Jewelry onto Ducks !!

A researcher plans to band 1200 Cinnamon Teal in the Western US, and our refuge was asked to band at least 300 to contribute to that effort. Our summer interns departed last week, and Teri and I have been asked to assist with the duck banding effort. 

There is quite a lot involved with trapping, identifying, banding and releasing the ducks.

First, some equipment.  The traps are located out in ponds, and we have to wade out to retrieve the ducks.  The ponds have soft muddy bottoms, so I was issued a pair of waders. They fit tightly around my ankles, have a strap that goes around my calf, and another that attaches to my belt.  All good things as the muddy bottom is constantly trying to suck them off of my feet!!

Boots off, Waders on...

Very Stylish
The area around the trap site is baited with barley, and the bait has to be replenished every day, So we take about 30 pounds of barley out to each trap every morning.

Two of the trap sites are a ways off of the road, so everything gets loaded onto a large ATV.  Teri drives is out while Dean (the refuge biotech) and I walk out. We have waders, but Teri doesn't!!

We get as close to the trap as we can, and load up a sled/float with the cage, barley, net and other gear that we need to retrieve the ducks, and then it's out into the mud. 

Across the Mud...
And into the Water.
Check out the mud that we have to get across to go out, and come back across when we come back in. The footing is really awful.

Mud, mud, everywhere.

We transfer the ducks from the trap to a wire cage, and then haul them back to shore to do the identification and banding.
The long walk back.

A cage full of ducks.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we'll show you what we do with the ducks back on shore.  I promise some up-close duck pictures!!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Population Explosion

The National Wildlife Refuges here in the San Luis Valley provide crucial feeding, resting and breeding habitat for over 200 species.  In fact, Monte Vista NWR is one of the most productive duck breeding wetlands in North America.

I've been taking pictures of baby birds since we arrived here, and with breeding wrapping up I thought it was time to show the population explosion that has occurred this summer.  I showed some flying Canada Geese in the last blog, so I'll start with them.

First things first, the egg.  When we arrived here there was a Canada Goose nesting in a large tree in the yard.  Unfortunately that nest wasn't successful, as we later found an egg laying on the ground.

Do you have any idea how big a goose egg is??

Other nests were successful, and we started seeing families in the wetlands as early as late May.

We saw different aged chicks on the same day, so geese were starting their nests at different times.  We saw both of these broods on June 28th.  In the first picture the chicks look quite young, while in the second they are practically the same size as the parents.

So the Canada Geese did well this summer at Monte Vista NWR. 

Stay tuned for Population Explosion, Part II.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Out our Window - Honkin' Big Geese

When we arrived here in Colorado, Canada Geese seemed to be everywhere, including the yard where our RV is set up.  But once they started nesting and rearing their young they became less obvious.  Well, they're back!

Family groups are out and about, foraging in the fields during the day and moving back to the safety of the refuge wetlands at night.  This means that we often see and hear them flying.

This morning as we were getting ready to head out I heard some loud honking as geese approached.  I took these shots while standing just inside the front door of the RV.

See you later...


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Signs, Signs, where are all the Signs ??

One of our tasks here was to find, photograph and get GPS coordinates on all of the signs at Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges.  The refuge staff is starting a mapping project that aims to locate all of the infrastructure. Thank goodness they didn't want all of the little "Refuge Boundary" and "No Entry Beyond This Point" signs documented, as there are thousands of those things.  But everything else needed to be found, photographed and GPS'ed.

This gave us a chance to completely explore the refuges. We were surprised at how many places we hadn't been.

Once a sign was discovered, I took a photo of it, and placed the GPS on it to get the most accurate reading. Teri kept the data sheet with sign description, picture number, and GPS coordinates. She later entered the data in a spreadsheet for the refuge to use in their mapping project.

We documented over 100 signs.

This is one of the large entry signs at Monte Vista.

See the GPS unit hooked to the top of the sign?  It averaged 50 separate readings to get better accuracy.

 Most signs were next to the road, but a few were over the fence and up in the weeds.

Some examples of the types of signs on the refuge:
Recognizing Partners

Walking Trail

Interpretive Panel

Driving Sign

Sign that needs to be replaced!!

Kiosks in Hunter Parking Areas

Main Refuge Entrance Signs

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Another Great Reason to Volunteer

We volunteer for many reasons, but mainly because we truly enjoy helping out at parks and wildlife refuges.  We meet great people and learn new things.

Volunteering also allows us to stay in parts of the country that we enjoy, or that we've never been to before. We came to Colorado this summer because we've always loved the state, and because we've decided that Central Texas is not a summer-friendly place!

We knew that Colorado was a prime summer destination for lots of tourists, but until we had been here a while we didn't appreciate another benefit of volunteering. National Wildlife Refuges generally have a small campground or at least a trailer hook-up or two for their RV volunteers, These are usually tucked away in some hidden corner of the refuge, away from the public area. So as RV volunteers, we get our own little campsite.

Since Southern Colorado is a popular summer get-away, there are plenty of RV campgrounds. But the prime camping season here is only a few months, and most campgrounds really pack folks in to get the most money over the short season.  Check out this campground in the popular Wolf Creek Pass area:

I guess that these folks are getting to enjoy the cool weather and beautiful mountains, but they are also getting to enjoy their neighbors ten feet away.

Now check out our home for the summer. We are tucked in behind an historic farmhouse (unoccupied) with lots of huge old cottonwood trees in the yard.  The closest neighbor is about 1/4 mile down the road, and there is nothing between us and the San Juan Mountains but a large field of sunflowers!

You couldn't ask for a nicer spot to spend the summer!

I shouldn't neglect to mention sunsets over the San Juan Mountains.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Another Beautiful Afghan

Teri blogged last year about her crocheting.  She has been doing it since before I met her, and it continues to be a favorite hobby of hers. She always has at least one, and sometimes two in the works.  She donates all of her new ones to the Linus Project, which provides blankets to children in need.  Teri's specially is "Graph Afghans" which are intricate patterns that result in amazing pictures and shapes.

She finished her latest last week, and here it is:

This one is larger than usual, at about 5' long and 3' wide.  Imagine the lucky child who will receive this!!


Friday, August 10, 2012

Birds in Flight

Teri wrote a blog a while back about her new camera, which was a result of my buying a new camera. I got the Canon 7D because it can shoot 8 frames per second and has a very quick focusing system.  All of this adds up to a good camera for attempting pictures of birds in flight.

Big, slow birds like hawks are on the easier end of the spectrum, but smaller, quicker birds like swallows are really tough.

I'd been wanting to shoot some Common Nighthawks in flight, but they usually wait until evening when the light is poor.  I got lucky one cloudy afternoon when the nighthawks started flying in the gloom, and then the sun broke through the clouds.  Teri and I rushed over to the refuge tour loop and I started shooting pictures. 

Out of about 100 shots, here are the four best of Common Nighthawks in flight.