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Afternoon in the Garden

March 15, 2010

The five of you who’ve been following my Bird a Day challenge have likely seen the depths to which I’ve fallen in that undertaking.  I have worked my way through nearly every commonly occurring bird in my area over the last two and a half months, and if I don’t get some early spring migrants soon I’m going to have to tie a bow on this thing mid-March.  It sounds bad when you saw it that way, but honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it out of January and every bird on this side of March is a testimony to some more than decent birding at my job and sheer luck.  Needless to say, every day is a potential loser so I’ve had to come up with some interesting ways to convince my wife to let me go for my daily bird every single day.

A close look at the rules shows you that the bird on your list need not all be wild, but at the least non-captive and free-flying.  This is open to a fair amount on interpretation as manky Mallards and domestic Geese do indeed count and I needed something, anything to fill the gap on Sunday.  If crazy exotic ducks count, the the goals is to go someplace with crazy exotic ducks, which just so happens to be the kind of place I can sell as a “family” destination.  So that was how I convinced the wife to take Noah to Duke Gardens so I could look add a bird to my list.

But as with any time you go out, birds aren’t the only thing you pay attention to, and the screams of young children near to where we’d set up our picnic lunch drew me to find what had scared them so.  A harmless Garter Snake, one of the first herps to stir in the spring had drawn itself out to bask in the sun.  I decided then, rather than leave the snake to the whims of a frightened family, to do a little outreach so I hopped off the trail to scoop the snake up as I am wont to do when a snake is around.

It was a good thing I was wearing my Museum of Life and Science vest, because it’s instant credibility when you do something like this.  When a weird dude comes over to see what’s up and then jumps off to grab a snake you might get some odd looks.  But if that weird dude is wearing a jacket with the logo of a local museum? Well, that’s all in a day’s work, isn’t it?

The initial scaredy-kids enjoyed getting up close and personal with what turned out to be a really confiding snake and I was able to take it over to Noah sitting nearby and show him his first snake of what will likely be many.  He’s merely the latest in a long line of snake handlers.  No, not those snake-handlers.

Oh and the birds!  Well, we did come across a trio of Barnacle Geese that I figured I could count for the day.  After all, ornamentals count, right?  It wasn’t until I got home and started looking at the pictures that I realized that I had a problem.  Do you note anything odd about the birds below?

They’re missing their primary feathers on their right wings, meaning they’re pinioned so they’ll stay in the garden and therefore not free-flighted. Dang.

Fortunately, I spotted a couple Turkey Vultures too but that was a bird I was saving for desperate times; rainy days when I can’t get out or weekdays that I don’t have time to bird.  It’s not a weekend bird is what I’m saying.  So that’s one more bird I had in the hole that I had to used.  So be it though, swallows and gnatcatchers should be in soon.  I just hope I can wait until then.

  1. Michael Neece permalink
    March 15, 2010 9:27 am

    I follow your adventures as time permits and…everytime I check, I am cheering for you to find something truly exotic and fun to learn about. It sounds like you are having a lot of fun and I certainly hope it continues to be satisfying and challenging.

    Great picture of Noah with the snake! I can’t believe you have a child who is that old!!

    Be well and keep on writing!

  2. March 15, 2010 11:22 am

    I too did a double take when I first saw Duke Gardens’ Barnacle Geese. Wouldn’t that have been a good find in the middle of Durham?! I wonder if the Mallards, Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and that lone Canvasback have their wings clipped too? Would be interesting to know.

  3. March 15, 2010 11:32 am

    Wow, the cool Museum Dude! 😉

    As a Eurasian birder who has literally seen tens of thousands of Barnacles I can attest that there is an isolated and very little known population on a remote Russian island where all the birds have extremely short primaries on the right wing that will not show at all when the birds are perched / swimming.
    This population is so little known as it is largely non-migratory and never leaves the Russian high Arctic to areas better covered by birders.
    Well, they are not really non-migratory, it’s just that their assymetrical wings will make them fly around in circles for days and days until they finally succumb back onto their island. I am aware though that an intrepid American explorer caught three and brought them to a zoo in North Carolina.
    I can’t remember the name of the zoo, but it was something like Duck Gardens, and it is a place where cool Museum staff members will show little kids snakes they find in the picknick area.

    I have no idea why I brought this up, but thought you might be interested in my little story.

  4. Nate permalink*
    March 15, 2010 12:50 pm

    @Mike- Thanks! I can’t believe it either most of the time.

    @Robert- I’m certain the Canvasback has been clipped. The Hoodies and Woodies might be legit, as they tend to gravitate to those quiet little ponds anyway. In any case, it’s hard to tell.

    @Jochen- It’s a nice thought, but I’m not buying it.

  5. March 15, 2010 12:52 pm

    I’m sure the snake found your approach very charming.

  6. March 15, 2010 6:27 pm

    Cool Post Nathan. Thanks for being such a good ambassador for snakes and our museum.

    I’m wondering, is it a common practice around here to modify birds/ducks like this? Who would be qualified to do this if qualification is needed? Do you know if they pay somebody to bring the birds in too?

  7. Nate permalink*
    March 15, 2010 7:35 pm

    @John- I can hope.

    @Troy- It’s fairly common practice among keepers of exotic waterfowl. As far as I know Duke Gardens is the only place that does it around here. They would almost certainly have bought the birds from a breeder of which there are several around the US and even a couple big ones in eastern North Carolina. I don’t know whether there are any sort of regulations with regard to keeping and clipping waterfowl. My suspicion is that the breeders have some hoops to jump through, and some species are out of bounds, but that there’s nothing keeping a public garden or even an individual from owning something like the Barnacle Geese, which are very common in their native range in Europe.

  8. March 16, 2010 9:24 pm

    I am also alive, but just barely. And I already used Turkey Vulture!!! Saving my owls for a really bad day. Still have Cardinal open for a really bad day.

  9. March 18, 2010 11:49 pm

    Nate, what a valiant service you performed for those frightened children! 🙂

    I LOVE that picture of your son with his little baby fingers curling around the snake. Your wife must have had it “together,” since she was probably the one taking the picture!

  10. March 20, 2010 1:48 pm

    How great it would be if everyone could have their first exposure to a snake be calm and full of wonder, like Noah’s experience was. We might not have so many adults whose first thought is always “KILL IT!!!”

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