Archive for June, 2009

The four baby squirrels I rehabbed in my NYC apartment are out in the wild and donig okay–mostly. Three are doing great learning the way of the squirrel. Hayes, the sweet and dependent one, acts like I’ve taken him camping, it was fun, but he’d like to come home now. One of the tasks of a wildlife rehabilitator is to make sure your charges aren’t too imprinted or bonded to you.

I think I’ve done okay by him. Hayes is a perfect example of how individual animals really do have distinct personalities–but are also a product of the cultures they grow up with. Hayes and Garfield, another squirrel in this batch, were raised identically. Both were found at about 5 weeks, with little hair and eyes still closed. Both traveled with me to my office in my zippered shirt pocket since they needed to eat so often. And then both spent time in a cage till they were ready to be released. But Hayes was always more rambunctious and when he got old enough he insisted on getting out of the cage every time I stuck my hand in. He’d ride on my shoulder, climb window bars and follow me around. Still that was just 10 minutes every other day. He studiously avoided our dog Jolly.

Garfield was always quieter and calmer. He never wanted to come out of the cage. Hayes was found in a nest accidentally cut down by a utility worker. Garfield was lying in the middle of a Staten Island street.

Meanwhile the other two squirrels in this batch had a different personality type and each their own personalities. Both were picked up older. Chester had his eyes open and was following people around a Queens yard. I could always recognized Chester because he was the one who would lunge at my hand. Tito was an adolescent when two women found her outside Tompkins Square Park. They kept her for two weeks in a bird cage, then gave her to me. At first she screamed, growled and cried at the other squirrels. I calmed her down only by separating Tito and Chester into one cage and Garfield and Hayes into another.

I normally release squirrels in Tompkins Square Park, but I knew Hayes would get in trouble jumping on people. Other squirrels I’ve raised would jump on me–but only me. Hayes wants to be everyone’s friend. So friends outside Manhattan offered to take them in their yard. I carried them out there in their respective houses.

We let Hayes out and couldn’t get him back in the house. So we just put up the house and let him climb to it. Garfield came out–cautiously. Chester and Tito went up in their house as my friend Alan nailed it into a huge maple tree. Chester came out to explore, but Tito mainly hung out in the doorway, not even allowing her brother back in.

Over the last few days Hayes has explored widely, but also stuck close to people–any people.
Once he comes over for food, he wants to stay. He wants desperately to get in the house. He’ll try to get in on the screen door or squeeze past anyone entering. If anyone runs or walks, he follows them. He’s also suddenly decided it’s ok to jump on Jolly’s back.

Hayes is a smarty pants and I think he’ll be fine. This morning I saw him go into alarm over a nearby cat. There will never be a Hayes among squirrels taken in late in the season. They all seem cautious, fearful, somewhat aggressive. And if you set out to raise a friendly squirrel like Hayes I doubt you could. Hayes has a personality all his own.

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Every year birders from around the country to compete in the World Series of Birding, a 24-hour all-out push to see as many species as possible in the state of New Jersey. This year a local club, Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC) Lagerhead Shrikes, came in first with 229 species.

One of the remarkable things about the contest is that nearly every year since it started in 1984 the winning teams come up with somewhere in that neighborhood of 200-230 species. That shows it’s a fair competition to measure skill and knowledge. There are always species that non-winnning teams spotted that the winners didn’t. That shows there’s a chance for the moderately skilled to make a spectacular play. Through all the teams in 26 years, the contest has accumulated 328 sightings. Though, it actually may be more species than that. The rules of the contest only allow each team to count one species that isn’t on the official list. And birds recently reintroduced don’t count, either. So there may have been some oddballs that were amazing finds, but that didn’t make the cut.

But I got to email with Bert Filemyr from the Lagerhead Shrikes and he says seeking out the freakish rarities is not a sound strategy. “Each species counts the same,” he says. “Seeking out rare species does not do any good. Getting all the common species is enough to ensure success. We do see Piping Plover that while endangered is possible to find in the right location and habitat.” So, it’s kind of like the strategy for playing Monopoly: just buy everything, don’t hold out for Park Place.

Over the years they’ve noticed some birds getting harder to find. “Gold-winged Warblers are pretty much gone from the areas we cover,” Filemyr says. “Bobwhite are getting harder to locate each year.”

The date of the World Series is chosen to maximize the potential number of migrants found. The Summer Tanager, Kentucky Warbler, Cerulean Warbler and some others breed in New Jersey. Shorebirds pass through. And ducks are among those who winter in the Garden State.

Their team of four stays up then entire 24 hours, he says. “There are not sleep or rest periods. When we are driving significant distances between stops, some members will doze but sleep is hard to come by considering the circumstances.”

The team scouts out where to see certain birds ahead of time and changes their route accordingly from year to year. In addition to Cape May, where the event is based, they “usually go to Great Swamp NWR, Stokes State Forest, High Point State Park, Brigantine NWR and many areas in Sussex, Cumberland and Salem Counties.”

So far the World Series has raised $8 million for various conservation causes. And afterwards, the Shrikes got to celebrate–a little. “We got together in a motel room with all the team, some spouses and some friends. Beers were consumed and stories were told. Lots of laughs and a very good time.” he says. “The awards brunch was at 9 am the next morning so we had to get some sleep.”

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