A Shoot, a Release and a Puzzle Solved

As the woods back on the quarry develops, the trees that make the forest are changing. Where there were hawthorne and honeylocust and hackberry, now sugar maples are the prevailing tree. In autumn, these maples provide the brilliant bursts of color that make New England the tourist destination that it is. What better time, then, for The Quarry Farm’s third photo shoot and nature walk?

For those of you that missed it – and you did indeed miss it; it was yesterday – it was just about as good a day as we could have asked for: warm, but not too warm; slightly overcast, but just enough so that it enhanced the lighting for photography; and breezy but not windy. Diane Myers, the rehabilitator behind Black Swamp Raptor Rehabilitation, came for the second time and brought a trio of birds. Included in the mix were a screech owl, a short-eared owl and a barred owl. These birds are permanent residents at her facility and as such are more accustomed to people than their wild counterparts, making image captures a whole lot easier.  The shooting of the birds went as expected, with Diane setting up shop on the grounds near Red Fox Cabin, leashing the birds to tree limb perches so as to increase the impression of a more natural environment. As a bonus, Diane also brought along two rehabilitated birds for release, a red-tailed hawk and a screech owl. In addition to the birds, aquatic macroinvertebrates were on hand, as well as a juvenile Virginia opossum.

The walk back onto the quarry proper was beautiful, but uneventful. We did, however, have a mystery resolved. While on last winter’s photo shoot and walk, we discovered a vole skewered in a hawthorne tree. There was a lot of conjecture at the time as to how the vole could have come to such a state and we settled on the idea that something most likely stashed it there. Well, we were right. According to Dr. Biehl, a naturalist and falconer who was along for this fall’s walk, the vole was stashed there by a loggerhead shrike (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/loggerhead_shrike/id.).

Raptor Rehabilitation and Release

One of two pre-fledgling turkey vultures surrendered to Black Swamp Raptor Rehab.

This past weekend, we were offered the opportunity to do something a little bit different. As part of our function at The Quarry Farm, we often serve as transporters for several area wildlife rehabilitation centers. Laura Zitzelberger, director of operations at Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education, contacted us and asked if we’d serve as courier and chaperone for two pre-fledgling turkey vultures. The barn the two birds were nesting in was destroyed by the storm that tore this area apart in late June. Since then, the birds had been under the care of Diane Myers at Black Swamp Raptor Rehab. Nature’s Nursery had taken in a nestling turkey vulture and were excited at the chance to properly socialize their charge by introducing it to the two birds from Black Swamp.

Despite some rather unsavory habits, turkey vultures are social, intelligent animals (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/turkey_vulture/id).

The nestling turkey vulture surrendered to Nature’s Nursery.

Sadly, these positive attributes create a challenge for rehabilitators. Imprinting becomes an even more serious concern as their social nature makes them more prone to identifying with their caregivers. This can prove disastrous for any animal and can even prevent their successful release back into the wild. In an effort to offset their natural inclination to bond with their caregivers, the three birds were brought together in the hope that they would bond with each other. Although they can’t be housed together because of a significant difference in age and size, the three birds will be kept adjacent to each other and share a common wall; two on one side, one on the other. It’s hoped that all three birds will benefit from this situation, improving their chances for a successful release.

And speaking of releases, not only did we transport two raptors up, but we also brought one back with us.

Early last autumn, we were called on to pick up a red-tailed hawk in nearby Miller City, Ohio. The bird had been on the ground for a couple of days and the homeowner in whose yard the hawk was sitting had called Nature’s Nursery. We’re not entirely sure what was wrong with the bird, but it was in sorry shape when we arrived. Emaciated and dehydrated, the hawk had no energy to defend itself and we simply walked up to it, wrapped it in a blanket, put it in a carrier and transported it north. After months of exceptional care, the bird’s appearance and attitude had changed drastically and the rehabbers at Nature’s Nursery asked if we’d return her to the county of her birth.

The red-tailed hawk perches shortly after release.

The hawk was slow to realize its situation and initially only flew far enough to perch in the nearest tree. But after a bit and the pestering of several camera-wielding humans, it finally took to wing and flew away and out of sight. I won’t say it was a picture-perfect release, but it certainly was a success.

We hope for the same results for the turkey vultures. When it happens, you’ll be the first to know.