Pollinator Parade

BUZZ BIXBY: Good Morning and Happy Harvest to you! Welcome to Critter Radio’s broadcast of the 73rd Annual Harvest Festival Pollinator Parade, right here on 99.9 KRTR!

I’m Buzz Bixby…

CECILY SWALLOWTAIL: … and I’m Cecily Swallowtail…

BUZZ BIXBY: …and we’re your hosts for this wonderful panorama of floats, performers, balloons and marching bands, all celebrating pollinating insects and their buggy friends. It’s a beautiful day for a parade… Continue reading

Batty About Bats (Part 2) Chatty Batties

Bat Week continues… In Part 1, we talked a little about bats, and their importance to the environment. We then followed the intrepid Heinz Refuge Bat Team into the field to search for these important critters by recording their high-pitched echolocation calls.

We left the team with lots of memory cards filled by chatty batties… Continue reading

Kayak Days Are Here Again

It’s kayak season! There is no happier place for me than on the water. This wet, chilly spring, it seemed those treasured kayak days would never get here, but arrive they did. I’m fortunate to have three paddle buddies this year. Without further ado… Continue reading

The Tinicum Tattler

Hello, my darlings! C’est moi, Madame Catbird, gossip maven extraordinaire! I’ve got all the latest celebrity dish from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge for you, right here on KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio.

It’s the season for love, and all that results from love, and don’t I have the juiciest tidbits for you today!

Everyone, simply everyone, is talking about the handsome young Prothonotary Warbler laying it all out for romance in the impoundment. He’s doing everything right, dearies! He’s found the most-coveted property in town, and decorated with the best moss.

Look at him singing his blessed little heart out.

It’s not all about home decor and show tunes, though, and he isn’t afraid to show his masculine side! He’s carried on a relentless aerial battle with the local tree swallow families in the vain hope of having the tony neighborhood of Horseshoe Cove to himself.

The paparazzi have been camped on the doorstep of our golden boy for weeks. Who will be first to get that money shot of the lucky Mrs. Prothonotary? Only time will tell… but time is running out if Mr. P. hopes to hear the patter of tiny feet in his waterfront mansion this summer!

Guess who else was caught on film this week, my lovelies? Yes, those reclusive songsters, the Marsh Wrens.  We are frequently graced with their operatic voices, but not their feathered fabulousness. They much prefer the quiet life at home in their posh upscale development, The Reeds.

Not so now. The Wrens are busy, busy, busy, plucking bugs from the spatterdock and carrying them off to The Reeds. Why, could it be? Do they have a bun in the oven – or chicks in the nest? Madame Catbird thinks so!

Surprising to hear that the Least Bitterns have been out and about in public recently. They are notoriously camera-shy, don’t you know, dearies.

They’ve taken the art of dodging the flashbulbs to new lengths.

“You can’t see me,” says our plumed contortionist.

“You can’t see me!”

“Can you?”

Let’s leave them their little illusions, shall we?

Rumor has it the Least Bitterns are also raising a family in the oh-so-exclusive conclave of The Reeds.

Madame hears that a few very lucky fans have caught glimpses of the bouncing baby Bitterns!

There’s a new star in town, my darlings, and he’s got the Missus and the little ones in tow. It’s been many a year since the Common Gallinules saw fit to raise a family in our neck of the woods. Why, back then they were known as the Common Moorhens, mere hoi polloi.

Yet, here they are now, with a distinguished new name, mingling with the beautiful people. Perhaps there’s a little scandal lurking in the Gallinules’ family tree, no?

Clearly Mr. Gallinule now has exacting standards, and this elite community has met them. He’s made sure to show off his lovely mate and their four fabulous offspring frequently, parading them past the persistent paparazzi at every opportunity.

Ah, a little escargot for the little cherub. Parents may crave the spotlight, but the little ones are little ones, after all, and their needs must be met.

Mother and father alike see to it that the youngsters experience only the finest haute cuisine. Aren’t they just adorably ungainly at this age?

Madame Catbird has many, many more delicious morsels to dish about. You say you must have more celebrity goodies? Now, now! Patience, darlings! Moderation in all things, don’t you know?

Do tune in next time to find out just who has all the bees abuzz, won’t you? Madame Catbird awaits! Until we meet again, on KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio.

Au revoir!

Extraordinary Birds, Woodland Edition

Extraordinary (adjective): 1. beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established. 2. exceptional in character, amount, extent, degree, etc.; noteworthy; remarkable. SYNONYMS: uncommon, singular, rare, phenomenal, special. (Dictionary.com)

If the commonplace birds that frequent our everyday world are “ordinary”, then “extraordinary” birds must be those that are unusual or rare visitors in our lives.

What’s ho-hum to one birder might be remarkable to another, however. Here are a few of the extraordinary birds I saw in the woods this spring, each one more special than the last.

I see Yellow-rumped Warblers like the one above all the time. Common, yes, but far from ordinary.  Because there’s no such thing as an ordinary bird. Yellow-rumps in breeding plumage are quite striking.

Yellow Warblers are also at Heinz NWR in large numbers in the spring. They’re plain, but very bright. And they are always cheerfully singing their little heads off.

In the Pine Barrens, a Prairie Warbler spent a long time perched  at the top of a pitch pine in the sun.

Then he started caroling. Prairie Warblers are more frequently heard than seen, for me at least.

Back at Heinz, an Eastern Kingbird at the water’s edge.

I see Baltimore Orioles from time to time in the spring. If one oriole is good, two must be better!

Spring migration brought the warbler hit parade to Heinz. Magnolia Warbler.

I don’t see Black-throated Green Warblers too often, and had never photographed one before. Catching this one was tough. It hung around for a long time, but like most warblers, it never stayed in one place, and was always just a little too far away.

Canada Warbler. Another bird new to my photo collection, though not my life list.

I can’t show you my favorite warbler of the spring. There was a brilliant Blackburnian Warbler in a treetop at Heinz. I’ve only caught brief glimpses of Blackburnians in Michigan. This time I got a good look at the bird, but you’ll have to take my word for it. He didn’t come close enough for a portrait.

Rarer still was this bright confection in Higbee Beach WMA in New Jersey. It’s a Yellow-breasted Chat, only the second one I’ve ever seen. I was shooting here from a tall observation platform at treetop level, the perfect perch from which to watch this warbler sing and dance.

Walking along the path at Cape May Point State Park, I spotted a flash of bright blue. Bluebird? Blue Jay? Tree Swallow?

Nope!

At the edge of the woods, a Blue Grosbeak was feeding on grass seeds. I’ve never seen one before. That makes this a life bird, the first one of its species I’d ever spotted.

Warblers to orioles, kingbirds to grosbeaks, there’s no such thing as an ordinary bird. They’re all special in their own way.

How extraordinary!

The Turtle 200

Critter Radio Logo v3Welcome back, race fans, to the annual Turtle 200! It’s been a year since the armored beasts took to the track. We have a good lineup of reptilian racers for you today, all tuned up and ready to roar down the track at a breakneck quarter-mile an hour. You can hear all the action right here on KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio. Tension is mounting!

160526_PA HNWR Morning Turtles_8388acaThere’s quite a crowd watching the action from the turtle bleachers. They crane their necks for a better view as the competitors plod past.

160526_PA HNWR Morning Turtles_8379Every stadium has that one guy, right? Big, pushy, late to the party, he has to climb over everybody to get to his seat. Today it’s a Red-bellied Turtle throwing his weight around amongst the smaller patrons.

The Red-bellied Turtle, sometimes called a Red-bellied Cooter, likes deep water with a sandy or muddy bottom and lots of aquatic vegetation. They sometimes hang out in the sun with Painted Turtles and Red-eared Sliders, but they are much larger. They are distinguished by their reddish plastron, the lower shell. Red-bellied Turtles are listed as a threatened species in Pennsylvania. Loss of habitat is taking its toll, as is nest predation, road mortality when females come on land to lay eggs, and competition with the exotic Red-eared Slider.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3589acsHere we go, fans! Coming into the first turn is an Eastern Box Turtle. Surprising to see him in the lead. Box Turtles are known to be particularly slow, which is saying something when you’re talking about turtles. Look at the domed carapace (upper shell) on this guy!

140926_Forsythe NWR_3606acsLooks like he’s made the turn safely. He was really pulling those Gs though!

140926_Forsythe NWR_3618acsThe look on his face says it all.

160531_PA HNWR Evening_9169acsThis Painted Turtle shows some uniquely beautiful markings as he strains his neck going around the curve.

FUN FACT: A few species of turtles have an eye stripe like this. A fellow photographer pointed out that, no matter what angle the head and neck are, that eye line is always parallel with the horizon.

Wait! The Caution flag is up!

160526_PA HNWR Morning Turtles_8341acsSeems we’ve got a three turtle pileup of Red-eared Sliders on the track.

Red-eared Sliders look quite similar to Painted Turtles, and the two species frequently sun together. The red stripe on the side of the Slider’s head gives it away. They don’t belong here; they are native to the Mississippi River Basin. But they are popular pets, and frequently released into the wild, so that they have become established throughout the country. They often out-compete other turtles, the hallmark of an invasive species.

HNWR Snapper_6644 ASNow we’ve got a green flag, we’re back to racing. A snapping turtle has lumbered into the lead.

This is one BIG turtle! They can reach 60 pounds. Everything about them, from their heads to their claws, is huge. You don’t want to get near their powerful jaws.

HNWR Snapper_6657 aThe Snapper meanders on down the track, dragging his very impressive tail behind him.

06222016_DE Bombay Hook Terrapin_2130acsThe White flag is up – it’s the final lap. A Diamondback Terrapin moseys toward the finish line.

She’s almost there…

06222016_DE Bombay Hook Terrapin_1481acs…AND she’s pulling over for a pit stop. In an actual pit, which she’s digging herself to lay her eggs. Right in the road. Track managers frown on this type of behavior; it makes a mess for the grounds crew to clean up. In the meantime, this beautiful female has cost herself the trophy.

Diamondback Terrapins are turtles of brackish estuaries, tidal creeks and marshes. They are the only turtles in the country that live in water with a salt content between that of fresh and salty seawater. Population numbers are dropping due to habitat loss, and predation. Females crossing roads to lay eggs are killed by cars, they are collected illegally for the pet trade, and frequently drown in commercial crab traps. Numerous conservation programs are trying to help these beautiful turtles.

160526_PA HNWR Morning Turtles_8110acsNow another Snapper is gliding toward the finish line…

Oh, the drama! The Snapper had the finish line in his sights, only to be passed by a Painted Turtle in the last few yards as the checkered flag waves.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3555acsThere’s your winner, folks: the Painted Turtle has taken the coveted Turtle 200 Cup!

That’s another fine race in the history books. Don’t miss next year’s competition, brought to you by KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio. It’s sure to be another nail-biter!

We leave you now, as always, with the words of the incomparable Ogden Nash:

The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks

Which practically conceal its sex.

I think it clever of the turtle

In such a fix to be so fertile.