We got to enjoy some really great information on bats around the world from Cindy Bolch at our July Chapter Meeting in Milano. She brought lots of interesting handouts and gave us a really good overview of why bats are our friends.
A few highlights that I learned:
There are mega-bats and micro-bats.
The mega-bats are all found in Asia and use sight and smell to find food. Flying foxes are a primary example. They are just about as adorable as an animal can be (that was an opinion), and they have many specific adaptations to prey (fish, birds, etc.) or terrain.
Micro-bats are the ones here in the Americas and elsewhere. They primarily eat nectar, fruit, or insects and find their food through echolocation.
There are six types of bats found in Texas, though most of us are primarily familiar with the Mexican free-tailed bats that spend summers in this part of Texas eating lots and lots of insects. They spend days in caves (or under bridges as in Austin, Round Rock, and even Milano) and fly out at night to eat. Most of the ones we see here are females with pups.
The wings of bats have “fingers” spread out in them, making them very flexible and maneuverable. Bird “fingers” are all fused at the tops of their wings. Most bats mainly use their toes to hang on where they perch, but like I said earlier, some have long claws to catch prey, and a few, like vampire bats, can actually walk.
Even if you already knew a lot of bat information, you couldn’t help but be amazed by the variety of bats in the first video Cindy showed, and you couldn’t help but be charmed by the sweet baby bats in the second video. They look like flying dogs. Aww.
I know I’ll be telling lots of people the tidbits I picked up at the presentation!
Our June Chapter Meeting speaker was Marty Irwin, who had a long and successful career doing range conservation for Alcoa and other companies who performed strip mining for coal in this area. After Gary Johnson introduced him, Marty shared some pretty fascinating details with us, so I thought I’d summarize them for any who were unable to attend. (I was so busy writing that I didn’t get my usual zillions of blog photos. Oops.)
If I get any facts wrong, I apologize in advance. Also, note that his presentation wasn’t compatible with our laptop, so we all imagined what he was talking about as he went along. Thank goodness he was good at describing.
Disclosure: Dorothy didn’t really write this, so blame any inaccuracies on Sue Ann.
I found some older baby Carolina wrens at my house a few days ago, with no parents in sight. They were hungry! I waited to see if parents would arrive, but didn’t see them. I’d seen them earlier, but they seem to have disappeared.
So, like a good Master Naturalist, I looked up what to do with them and called and talked to a lady at a rescue organization. I got some of the meal worms that you feed to chickens, and the babies loved them.
I brought them to our Chapter Meeting, so I could feed them whenever they got to peeping. The good thing is they slept pretty often. Everyone seemed to enjoy seeing them and the chirping just added sound effects to Donna Lewis’s presentation on purple martins, anyway.
The next day I took them to a rescue organization. They told me the babies probably were not abandoned, and they’d do better back at home, so I dutifully took them back. I didn’t believe she was right, but did as told and put them back in the nest.
I actually finally saw a bird that looked like it was coming to check on them and did a quick u-turn upon seeing me.
The reason I felt so strongly they’d been abandoned is because I started watching so closely at only seven days old. It turns out the parents check on and feed the chicks less and less to encourage them to fledge. I suppose that process begins way earlier than I’d have thought. So, I learned something, and they survived me, I suppose.
I do wish the rescue lady would have told me to return them to the nest via one of my initial phone calls. But, at least I now know where the place is and can share that information with others, when needed.
Our chapter meets on the second Thursday of each month. We always look forward to a great speaker, and this month was no exception. El Camino Real chapter member Ann Collins put together a presentation on the birds that came to her back yard over this past winter, and she brought together two other members to provide additional information. Here are some highlights.
Ann both started and ended the presentation, first sharing some of the interesting birds she’s seen this year (leaving out the old favorites we all know and love). Her discussion of the three types of warblers helped me a lot, because I always have trouble with them, too, but now at least I’ll know a couple more. And she is GREAT with sparrows.
It impressed me that Ann has feeders that hold 40 pounds of black sunflower seeds. Wow. She did say that meant she didn’t have to fill the feeders so often. She also told us about the shallow wading ponds she had made, which birds really like, especially is the water is moving.
Recording Your Sightings
Joyce Conner then told us about some ways we can record the birds we see online and help to support research. She compared the relative merits of eBird versus the Project Feeder Watch. To quickly sum it up, on eBird you can document any bird you see, anywhere. Plus it’s free, though they appreciate a subscription to the Cornell Lab, who sponsor it. In the Backyard Feeder Watch, you watch just one spot for the winter birding season and record only what you see there on the same days of the week each week. It costs $15 per year, and they send you a lot of information, calendars, etc., when you join. So, they each collect slightly different kinds of data, but both are helpful for researchers.
Joyce also noted there are many other places you can record bird sightings (like iNaturalist where most of mine go, though I’m trying to get up and running with eBird, too).
Also, she was kind enough to share with us some wonderful materials from the Feeder Watch folks. There’s even a little poster we can put up!
Next, Cindy Travis shared how she attracts birds that aren’t the “feeder” type by making her own suet feeders. The recipe seems easy (and gooey). That will be shared in another blog post, so you can try it, too! Suet (which contains lard, peanut butter, flour, and optional dried seeds, fruits and nuts) is great for woodpeckers and other birds that like to climb trees, as well as many other birds that prefer more hearty fare than seeds.
Parts and More Parts
At the end of the presentation, Ann came back to talk to us a bit about bird anatomy, which she freely admitted was not her specialty, but the original speaker who was going to cover it was off in Austin becoming a Master Birder, which sounds really exciting!
The part of this talk that fascinated me was when Ann talked about there being different ways to identify birds. She says she does it visually, taking in the entire bird. She said she learned to read the same way, word by word. She compared the other main way to ID birds as more like phonetics in reading, where you learn all the parts and put them together, often identifying a bird by just one pertinent feature. (Our auditory learner friends often identify birds by sound, which makes it easy to know what birds are there that you can’t see; for me it’s usually woodpeckers and Chuck-will’s-widows.)
I was only SLIGHTLY distractred from the beautiful sunset that was going on during the meeting. I really shouldn’t sit near windows!