Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Spring Robins, Part 2

I vowed to leave the robins alone and was true to my word until today. But this morning, after being out of town for a few days, I had to peek out the window to see if all was well with the nestlings. The nest was empty but one of the chicks was sitting on a branch next to it, sporting very very mature looking feathers! What a difference a week and a half makes! I really hoped nothing had happened to the other, but that is the reality of baby birds.

Later in the morning I went out to get the mail and happened to look out at a tree about 20 feet from the nest. A robin chick was perched in the crook of a branch, holding perfectly still. After only a few seconds of my gazing, one of the parents flew to the ground and began an alarm chirp and hopped toward me, I think in an attempt to redirect my attention away from the baby. I brought out the camera and fired off a few quick shots, then went inside to look because the tree is right next to a set of windows and I could get a clear view. From inside I saw a healthy juvenile robin with 2 concerned parents perched in separate trees about 10 feet from their baby. And then another lump caught my eye--the second chick sitting on a higher branch in the same tree! They have both made it so far and appear to be very close to being able to fly. Lots of potential dangers on the horizon still, but things are looking good for this robin family.

First Baby Robin, Holding Still

Protective Parent

Robin Chick #2, Safe and Sound!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Happy Earth Day, It's Robin Season!

Robin Distracting Me

I've been watching a pair of robins in our front yard for the past few weeks. I first noticed them because they were spending a lot of time together, hopping around in the branches outside of our sunroom and making our (inside) cat hyperventilate. Then one day I went out to water some plants and came face to face with one of them sitting on a beautiful nest, carefully hidden in the shadows of a camellia bush. I got a photo of what I presume to be the mama sitting on the nest and the papa nervously watching from a magnolia tree 10 or so feet away. As I expressed more interest in the nest, the father became very agitated and flew down to the grass and ran the other direction toward some bushes. I think he was trying to distract me and guide me away from his family. I got the message and tried to steer clear, though it is a little difficult as they built their nest by our front door and mailbox. I changed my strategy and made most of my observations from the living room window, though the very safe location of their nest made it very hard to see well. And the parents can still see me through the window, which makes them nervous.

Sitting on the Nest, Tucked in the Dark Camellia

A week or so later, the sitting parent was off of the nest and I saw at least 2 pretty blue eggs! Unable to control my urges, I decided to try to get a photo of the eggs. But as I came in closer to the bush, I saw that the robin parent was sitting again and was very scared, so I gave up on the egg shot.

Over the weekend I saw a chance to peek in the nest and saw a couple of tiny fluff balls. They had hatched! But I felt terrible after getting this shot because I scared the parent away from the nest and into another tree where he/she remained for 5-10 minutes. I went inside to give them some space and security and watched cautiously from the window, hoping that nothing happened to the unattended chicks.

Fluff Balls

The next day I heard a bluejay scolding some crows that were marauding nests in another part of the yard and I was very worried about our little robins. Later that afternoon I found blue eggshells on the sidewalk, probably the result of the crow raid earlier. We have quite a few robins in the yard this year. I resolved to stay away from the camellia bush so that I would not to give away the location to the crows. They are very smart and observant.

Robin's Eggs

Today I went out to get the mail and saw (from a distance) the open beaks and fuzzy heads of two hungry chicks, mom or pop standing alert at the edge of the nest. The other parent was busy gathering bugs from the leaf litter. I hurried inside and got my camera and long lens and caught some shots of both parents feeding the youngsters. I hid myself against a wall and stayed as far away from the nest as I could to still see the action. It was so sweet to see the hungry mouths open and be filled with yummy bugs, and then see the tiny creatures settle down in satisfaction and exhaustion. It is hard work to hold your head up when you are so tiny! And those poor, dedicated robin parents--they will be running most of the time for the next few weeks until their chicks fledge and move on.

Delicious Lunch from One Parent

More Food from Other Parent

Open Wide!

Finally--We Were Starving!


Even though I tried to be respectful and careful, the robins always knew I was there and held back from returning to the nest with food. They didn't want to lead me or any other predator to their nest. So this will probably be the beginning and end of my robin nest photos. Even though I would love to get photos of them eating and maturing, I also want them to survive. It seems that all my attempts to observe them cause a change in their behavior, and they have a hard enough time without my help. So I'll just leave them alone. This is one of the messages I try to convey to children on our nature center trail walks--to love AND respect nature. I'll show my love for these robins by respecting them. Happy Earth Day Everyone!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

New Neighbors!

Get Ready! 
I'm so excited! I have been waiting for the new neighbors to show up since we arrived in Athens this past summer and saw a sign about them on a wooded lot just down the street. For weeks afterward, then months I kept checking for them, then found their Facebook page and read articles online to learn more about the project that was bringing them here. And at long last, on April 1 (no joke!) the Chew Crew arrived! The Chew Crew is a UGA project that is enlisting the services of a group of goats to eat invasive bushes, weeds and vines in 2 natural areas on campus, Tanyard Creek and Driftmier Woods.

Welcome Party at Driftmier Woods

Eating Oak Leaves With Gusto!


Goat at Work
The goats were everything I had hoped for in new neighbors--friendly, helpful and fairly quiet. There was a big party when they arrived and UGA students and staff and people in the neighborhood turned out to greet them. The crew at our neighborhood site (Driftmier Woods) consists of a big white Billy Goat and 7 smaller (female?) goats. I know they all have names, but I haven't learned them yet. (I think there may even be a mama and baby, but I'm not sure--I have some detective work to do!) They will stay at Driftmier for 3 weeks, then move back to Tanyard Creek for some touch up work. When they're not eating at UGA, they clear residential property. They are very busy goats! Their first day here the goats were already working hard on improving their wooded lot. Driftmier Woods is a small old growth Piedmont Forest on the UGA campus that over the years has become overgrown with invasive plants. Underneath and behind all the invasives there are huge white oaks (probably 150 years old), beeches, sweet gums and other hardwoods and pines. It is a wonderful hilly spot with hiking trails and picnic tables and a small creek that runs along a low area. It is tucked between the engineering building and graduate housing apartments and people use it to hike, cut through to campus and even ride mountain bikes. I've seen hawks, songbirds, insects, ferns and pretty wildflowers. I've heard that owls, deer and foxes have been spotted in the evenings.

Tall White Oaks

Forest Path

Cranefly Orchid Leaves
Right now the woods remind me of those jungle movie scenes where someone with a machete chops away a clump of vines and uncovers the lost kingdom. There is a lot of work to do here to remove the tons of Chinese Wisteria, Japanese honeysuckle, English Ivy, privet, nandina, lyriope, ligustrum, and a host of other invasive species that are literally covering the forest. The proximity to campus buildings and homes makes the area a poor candidate for prescribed fire, but it is perfect for prescribed grazing. The goats can get into rough terrain and eat and clear vegetation where it might be tough to bring in machinery (though something will need to be brought in to take care of larger bushes and trees). So the goats chew the forest back to health. And volunteers pull, chop, dig and saw. After the site is rehabilitated, it has the potential to be a fabulous small nature area, providing important green space and urban habitat. The project is a collaboration between several UGA departments and involves faculty, students and interested citizens (like me!) Project organizers secured a $25,000 grant to fund the operation and many people are volunteering time to make it a success. They have done such great work with the other site, Tanyard Creek, that I'm sure this will be successful, too.

Overgrown with Invasives

Hidden Jungle Ruins

The Chinese Wisteria that Ate the Woods

The project coordinators are carefully measuring and documenting the effect that the goats are having on the natural areas. At Tanyard Creek, where the goats have been clearing since 2012, the Chew Crew has done a great job and there are not many invasive woody shrubs left. I spent a lovely morning there last month helping to identify and measure herbaceous plants within defined grids. At Driftmier Woods, in addition to clearing the invasives, the concern is that the goats will eat the oak seedlings and will have an adverse effect on the regeneration of the forest when the invasive cover is cleared, so I spent an afternoon tagging and measuring oak seedings. Now that the goats have arrived, it is pretty clear that they LOVE to eat oak seedings, so I imagine that lots of wire cages will be needed to protect them to ensure new forest growth. It is a huge project and only one section of the woods have been fenced for goat foraging so far. Much more work is yet to come. It makes me appreciate how much effort has gone into all the existing natural areas that I enjoy so much.

Tanyard Creek Plant ID

The Grid for Counting Plants

Cages to Protect Baby Oaks

As a new person to town, I have been looking for ways to get involved and find my niche. I think this is a good fit. I have only pitched in a little so far, but they will need a lot more help over the coming years, clearing, pulling, counting and measuring. Independent of the Chew a Crew project, I'm making a personal project of observing and photographing birds, plants and other wildlife in Driftmier Woods and have added it to eBird as a birding location. It would be nice if over the years I could document an increase in the diversity of species. I hope that I can become as intimately acquainted with these woods as I did with the Ditch and Morningside and La Chua Trail in Gainesville. I've already met some friendly and interesting people and it feels great to be part of a big community project. This one is perfect for me, given my interests in native wildflowers, invasive plants, wildlife and environmental education. It will be exciting to see the changes and I'm really happy to be part of it. Chew on, goats!

Chew On, Goats!