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All posts for the month November, 2011

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

The sun is setting on the month of November, and this is bringing the Blog Blitz for Membership month to a close as well.  Thank you to all who tuned in this month and enjoyed the variety of new posts that we shared with you, our loyal readers.

There is plenty to look forward to in coming months, as we bring you more interesting stories, images, and highlights from Delaware Nature Society happenings.   There is lots of excitement about new programs and initiatives within the organization, and we look forward to sharing with you as we explore the Nature of Delaware.

By Jim White, Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity Management

The Loggerhead Shrike on Bennett's Pier Road, sporting colored leg bands from its banding location in Ontario. Image by Jim White, November 11, 2011.

I have always been fascinated by the Loggerhead Shrike.  It’s hard not to like a bird that is often referred to as the Butcherbird. In fact, the scientific name for the genus to which it belongs is Lanius, Latin for butcher.  The name refers to the bird’s habit of impaling its prey on a thorn or barb wired fence to secure it for eating.  The Loggerhead and its relative the Northern Shrike are the only passerine (song bird) in North America that kills its prey by severing the spinal column with its hooked bill.  Only the size of an American Robin, the Loggerhead Shrike is a ferocious predator taking large insects, lizards, and even small mammals.      

Lately Loggerhead Shrike sightings in Delaware are few and far between. However, in 2010 and again this year a single bird has been observed in the Milford Neck area along the Delaware coast.  This year, long time Delaware birder Andy Ednie found the shrike on Bennett’s Pier Road. Andy and others noticed that the bird was sporting color bands on its legs which led fellow birder Chuck Fullmer to try to find out where the bird was banded. He was able to determine that the bird was banded on June 1, 2011 near Napanee, Ontario, Canada and is one of 21 breeding pairs being studied along the north shore of Lake Ontario.  The study is part of the Canadian Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery project.

The range of the Loggerhead Shrike has shifted dramatically over the last 300 years. In the 1700’s and earlier, the bird was restricted to the southern areas of the Northern Hemisphere where open habitat existed. As European settlers cut down the extensive forest of the Northern US and Southern Canada to make way for agriculture the shrike expanded its breeding range northward. These Loggerhead Shrikes were able to take advantage of the open habitats such as old fields, meadows, and range land created by humans. The northern nesting Loggerhead Shrikes were migratory, spending the winter in southern areas of the U.S. The shrikes east of the Great Plains wintered in the southeastern U.S. , including in Delaware.  These birds are considered by many as a separate subspecies: the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus migrans). 

However, the change in farming practices from small diverse farms to large monoculture operations and the loss of open space to development and reforestation over the last 50 + years has greatly reduced favorable nesting shrike habitat in northern areas–  especially in the northeast where they are endangered in eastern Canada and becoming very rare in the Northeastern U.S.  Hopefully, recovery projects like Ontario’s will help ensure the survival of the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike.

Prize Alert:

What state-owned wildlife area and birding hotspot is located in the area around Bennett’s Pier Road?

The first person to submit the correct answer in the “Comments” section will receive a copy of their choice of one of Jim White’s books (about Reptiles and Amphibians, or Dragonflies and Damselflies).   Good luck!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A Great Blue Heron holds a large fish in its beak at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, in May 2009. Image by Derek Stoner.

After bellying up to the Thanksgiving table yesterday and filling up on too much food, many of us probably feel like we’ve eaten more than humanly possible.

For a bird, though, our consumption rate relative to our body size may not seem like much.  Many birds routinely eat 10 to 20 percent or more of their body weight each day.  Imagine an average-size human eating 20 pounds of food at a sitting!  That’s extreme!

Today’s photo shows a Great Blue Heron that may have grabbed more than it can swallow.  A large fish shows evidence of the heron’s stabbed with its beak, but with no teeth to cut the fish into pieces, the heron is struggling to swallow the fish whole.  I did not witness the conclusion of this heroic eating attempt, but we can only guess that the heron tried its best to devour the fish!

Prize Alert!

Can you identify the species of fish to its proper family?

The first correct answer posted in “Comments” will receive a copy of Delaware’s Freshwater and Brackish-Water Fishes

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Wild Turkeys brighten up the landscape with their unique pattern of colors for both display and camouflage. Image by Derek Stoner.

Today is the most bird-centric of all our holidays.  Americans have carved out an entire dedicated to the consumption of one key food item:  turkey.  These domestic birds do not bear much resemblance to their wild cousins, but are still descended from the same stock that the original Pilgrims and Native Americans feasted upon together.

Here in Delaware, the Wild Turkey population is estimated at around 5,000 birds.  We do not have many turkeys in northern Delaware, but they may be found in isolated pockets across southern Delaware. 

Beautiful, showy, and cunning, the Wild Turkey is a symbol of the American Wilderness.  Ben Franklin famously pushed for the turkey to be named the official symbol of our nation, but the Bald Eagle won that honor.   So we have Ben to thank for the fact that we are eating delicious turkey today and not eating fishy-tasting eagles!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  We are thankful to all of the members of Delaware Nature Society, and appreciate all your support of The Nature of Delaware blog.   Enjoy the holiday season.

Prize Alert:

What organization is responsible for the restoration of Wild Turkey populations in Delaware during the past two decades?  Please write your answer in the “Comments” section.

The first person to post the correct answer will receive a copy of “Identify Yourself:  The 50 Most Common Identification Challenges”  — a most helpful and insightful book about birds.