One of the biggest struggles we as Wildlife Conservation Interns have is getting the chickens to go in their coop in the evening. They might go in the coop by their own choosing if it became dark but we usually leave when there is still daylight so the chickens are reluctant to go in the coop. One of the things I try to do is to teach them to come to me when I crouch down and call for them. I also continuously say the word “coop” when I want them to go in the coop. They are making great progress but a little bit of motivation in the form of a treat is always a help.

Yesterday, I was a little disappointed to find that our wild blackberries right outside the cabin have shriveled due to this week’s extreme heat. They are the goodies that I use to coax the chickens into their coop in the evening. I like to use the blackberries because they are free and a good nutritious snack for our chickens.

When I realized I had no treats for them, I had to get crafty. I crouched down and pretended I had blackberries in my hand and called for them. Fo’ Shizzle ran up and then went into the coop when I said “coop”, taking her sweet time until finally strutting through the door. The other three watched warily. They knew I didn’t have food. But after a few more calls to get them to come to me, the rest of the chickens ran to me and then I gently corralled them into the coop. This whole thing took me about 10 minutes to accomplish and would have been easier with a snack.

After telling my mom about the day’s chicken troubles, she did a bit of research. I was surprised at what she found. Chickens can and will eat almost anything. With the exception of raw potato peels, salt, sugar, sweets, avocado pits and peels, raw eggs, beans, and citrus, chickens can eat some cooked meats, most fruits, and most raw or cooked veggies. They can even eat cooked chicken and cooked eggs! So, I looked through my fridge when I got home and found some tomatoes that my mom was willing to part with and I brought them in this morning.

When I first showed them a whole tomato, I got a cocked head and a confused but intrigued look. When they failed to touch it, I pulled it open, revealing the juicy, fleshy center and the tiny seeds. They seemed even more interested but I had to pull a piece off and offer it to Fo’ Shizzle before she would touch the tomato. After she decided she loved it, the other chickens tried it and came up with the same opinion. They ate a third of the tomato before I decided to save the rest for later. You can watch them eat more of the tomato later in the day in the video I posted belowūüôā

You’ll notice that I talk to them a lot and this is a way for them to know who I am and be comfortable with me. I like to say a big thank you to all the campers that helped me feed and get the chickens into the coop during aftercare!

 

Yesterday at the festival, Miracle showed me a behavior that I’ve never seen him do before. He began to build a nest in the grass! He would pick tiny twigs and loose pieces of grass and place them under his belly. Then, much like a dog does to get comfortable in their bed, he would pivot around in a circle. Most of the time, he would bow low with his head down and his tail up, flicking his wings and cooing softly to himself. I could tell he was happy just by the sounds he was making.

Miracle is quite the talkative bird. This can partially be explained by the fact that he is a male dove. He uses his voice to communicate many things with us. He coos to himself in his cage when he’s bored, coos loudly if he wants attention, coos to tell us he’s upset, and coos to tell us when he’s happy. Often, where he is or the situation he’s in can help us determine what the coo is for. For instance, Miracle coos when he’s bored if no one is around and he coos if he wants attention if he’s looking at someone from inside one of his cages. The coos also sound different from each other.

Miracle has three coos that he uses most often. The one that he was using in the grass yesterday was his happy coo which is soft and calm. This is also the coo he uses when he’s bored. He is more likely to preen himself or preen others when he is cooing this way. You can help convince him to get in the state of mind to do this coo by talking softly to him or very lightly scratching his throat or right behind his head.

His other vocalization is a territorial coo and it occurs in two parts. He uses it to tell whatever he sees as a threat to back off and inform them that it is in his territory. The same coo is also used to communicate with female doves during courtship. This coo starts off with Miracle crouching low to the ground as he approaches his target. He may hop toward the target to get closer faster because he’s not a very fast walker. During this time, he will do a coo that we call “laughing”. It is a loud and higher pitched cackle that leads helps lead him into the second part of the coo.

Once he is close enough, he straightens up nice and tall. He may shift rapidly from one foot to the other several times. Then, he begins to bow repeatedly. When he is standing up straight, he lets out the higher, one noted coo. Then, as he brings his head down for the bow, he lets the pitch drop and the rest of the coo reverberates and rattles in his throat. Then, he repeats.  Miracle often chooses this display when he wants attention or when he sees white objects or loose feathers, even his own! He thinks that the object or feathers are another bird. While I was watching back the videos for this post, Miracle hopped off my shoulder and onto the keyboard to do this display to himself on the computer screen.

His last vocalization can be heard if you listen closely to the very first video in this post at about 18 seconds in. When Miracle is content, he coos to himself in a soft muttering babble. While I think of the other coos as his form of singing, this one I feel is more like talking. Even now, as he tries to nest in my plastic bag I brought my lunch in, he coos quietly to himself in a variety of soft grunts and mumbles. He flicks his wings and moves around, curious about everything around him. Sometimes, if you imitate this cooing at him, he will respond with the same kind of coo and you can have a whispered conversation with him.

Our third turtle got outfitted with her very own transmitter today! She’s a very special recapture that has been spotted a total of four times since 2009 just as recently as two weeks ago. I say she’s special, not only because she is known to us by her frequent appearances, but also because she is missing a foot. Her right hind leg is a completely healed stump that ends where the foot would begin. She has full motion in her leg and seems to get around just as well as any perfectly healthy turtle would. Her shell shows clear evidence of the reason her foot is gone. The fringes of her carapace are chewed and jagged, leading us to believe that a predatory animal got a hold of her at one point. Her name is ABP but we will affectionately be referring to her as “Peggy”.

What is so remarkable about Peggy is that she has moved drastic distances between each time that we’ve caught her. When we first found her in 2009, she was near the grape arbor across from the carriage house. In 2010, she was found near the entrance to the disc golf course. On the 13th of June this year, she was found wading in the small pond just outside the cabin . And today when we found her, she was back on the disc gold course, not far from where we found CHO. In fact, we found her incidentally while following the direction that the receiver indicated CHO was today. She is definitely one of the more mobile turtles that we have found and it will be very interesting to see where she will go next.

From Trudie’s post last week, you can see that BIN and CHO can sometimes be very difficult to locate. Today, both were found buried under the damp leaves, CHO next to a fallen log and BIN next to a tree. But each time Peggy has been discovered, she has been walking out in the open. We also hope to see if this is a normal pattern of travel for her. According to thread trailing study conducted by Donald T. McKnight on eastern box turtles in a Maryland forest, box turtles prefer to travel paths with denser vegetation. It appears as though Peggy may be an exception to this rule, possibly explaining why we have found her so much and why a predator got to her. But only observation can tell us if this is true or not. For now we can only guess and Peggy has proven herself to be quite a survivor so far. Thank you again to Laura for letting me use her wonderful pictures!

Andrew, Matt, and I tracked down CHO so that we could paint her transmitter to match her shell. ¬†After getting covered in many spider webs and getting cut up by many thorns we found ourselves walking in a small circle unable to find CHO. ¬†We were all getting more and more frustrated as the receiver indicated CHO should have been right there. Matt excitedly shouted ‚Äúshe‚Äôs right there!‚ÄĚ and pointed to CHO walking right in front of my feet!¬† Lucky for us the receiver works remarkably well. We took CHO back to the center and I painted the transmitter to match her shell. After the paint dried we returned her right where we found her. Check out this video of us putting her back! (Link will be inserted soon!)

The next day Andrew and I went back out to find CHO. Again we found ourselves frustrated and walking in a small circle unable to find her! The receiver had us walking over a fallen tree and then turning around and walking back over the fallen tree. Then we realized that CHO must be inside the tree! Excited we pointed the receiver at it and walked along the tree until the receiver was beeping unmistakably loud. Then we began to dig! And dig and dig and dig! CHO was buried deep inside the tree. Andrew and I could not believe it! After recording the GPS units and taking a picture (unfortunately we only had a cell phone camera), we reburied CHO and rushed back to share our story at the center.

-Trudie

 

Finally!

After waiting several long months to get our transmitters and receiver along with countless hours of research as to how to carry out our telemetry study, we finally managed to attach a transmitter to our first eastern box turtle yesterday! Wooh! CHO, a beautiful 21-23 year old first time capture¬†female was our first recipient of a transmitter. (Refer to my earlier post “Box Turtle Survey!” to learn how we name our turtles!)

Telemetry is the science of acquiring transmitted data for analysis and study. By attaching transmitters to several turtles, we can release them and then rediscover them by picking up the unique signal emitted from their transmitter with a receiver. When we find the turtle again, we record information about the turtle including behavior, GPS coordinates, ambient temperature, sky index, and several other variables. With this information, we can make note of patterns in the data that could help us better understand these native reptiles. For instance, there may be a correlation between the temperature and how far a turtle moves between one day and the next. Maybe we’ll find that turtles move greater distances when it’s cooler or when it’s warmer.

We started by actively searching for a turtle to be our first study subject. I found her loudly rustling through the leaves near the start of the disc golf course found here at Leigh Farm Park. She has got to be one of the prettiest box turtles I’ve ever seen. She has strikingly bright colors on her head and legs for a female turtle (this is normally a male turtle trait but the rest of her morphology leads us to believe she’s a girl; high dome, dull eye color, flat plastron, and short nails and tail. This is also covered in my previous “Box Turtle Survey!” post.)

After bringing her to an eagerly waiting Gail, we decided where to place the transmitter. Our research helped us in this decision. We found that, because box turtle scutes expand in size as they age, the transmitter could not overlap scutes or it would inhibit the¬†growth of her shell. Because female box turtles are mounted during mating, it was also important to make sure the transmitter wouldn’t interfere with a male turtle. This led us to place the transmitter on a side scute¬†rather than in the middle or on the back. We also learned that it was crucial to paint the transmitter in an effort to camouflage¬†the quarter size grey device. This would keep her safe from discovery by would-be predators and curious people. Many other factors had to be acknowledged before we could carry out the attachment of the transmitter such as what material to use as a glue and what type of paint would withstand the elements. Because we didn’t yet have paint for CHO, we released her yesterday with¬†an unpainted¬†transmitter¬†until we could get camouflage colored acrylic paints which we now have.

And it’s a good thing that we now have those paints because camp counsellor¬†Andrew brought us another turtle today! He is a BIG 25+ year old¬†male and also a first time capture. He was found right near the cabin, close to a patch of wild blackberries. We decided to name him BIN. BIN did get his camouflage¬†paint on his transmitter which I tried very hard to match as closely to the natural pattern and color of his shell as I could. My fellow conservation interns should be posting a new blog entry some time in the next few days demonstrating¬†CHO’s camouflage painting process, maybe even as a video!

The hardest part of this entire study is trying to find the turtle with the receiver. Each transmitter emits a different frequency that can be picked up in the form of beeps on our receiver. The receiver looks like some weather vane/tv antenna hybrid. After tuning the receiver to the right channel (which I think could be much easier), we have to slowly sweep the receiver in a circle, listening for when the beeps are the loudest. Whatever direction the receiver is pointing when the beeps are the loudest is the direction that the turtle is in. We found that it’s easiest to find the direction, walk about 20-30 feet, and check for the direction again and repeat.

The first thing that my fellow wildlife conservation interns Laura and Matt and I did this morning (after releasing the female summer tanager with the campers which you can read about in the blog before this one) was to search for CHO. The receiver led us in almost exactly the same direction as where I found and released her yesterday. Laura is very good with the receiver and has a knack at pinpointing almost the exact location of the turtle. We picked through these terrible thorny vines and met up with an impenetrable tangle of spiky, dangerous looking plants.

While I stood at the closest point we could get to where Laura thought CHO was, Laura and Matt tried to get on the other side of the tangle to see if they could spot her from there. Just after Laura had an uncomfortable¬†encounter with a rather large spider, I saw her. She was just a few feet into the tangle so I decided to swat away the spider webs and crawl over the spiky vines to get to her. I didn’t expect to actually find her again on our first try so all three of us felt very accomplished and proud of ourselves. And CHO seemed happy and safe¬†which is the most important thing. She moved about 15 feet back away from the trail which is less than I thought she would move. It will be very interesting to see where she and BIN go over the time that we plan on studying them. Thanks for reading! (And thank you Laura and Gail for the picturesūüėÄ )

It was a normal day of camp for all the kids, or so it seemed, till all of a sudden… A bird! Not just one of the hundreds they see everyday, but an injured female summer tanager. (On a side note, speaking of tanagers, did you know that male tanagers are the only ALL red bird in North America? They are!)

All our awesome campers who took part!

Well, the kids were out exploring Hermit pond when they spotted some movement on the ground. They found the bird tangled in a green net around her neck. Two counselors, and some campers, then rushed back to the cabin to get some scissors to cut it off. But when the bird was struggling too much to have scissors by her neck, one of the counselors took it into her own hands to save her life. Crystal Morel, the brave counselor, bit the net off herself! After the bird was freed, she was extremely lethargic and hope of rehabilitation was looking grim.

Two interns, Laura Gebhart (me) and Trudie Henninger, then took the injured bird to the Triangle Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic. After a couple of days of constant medical treatment, we got the call that she pulled through and was able to be released immediately! While she was in the clinic she had laid an egg and that was what called for her prompt release. The campers were so proud, as they should be, because they saved her life and helped to be a part of keeping our wildlife happy, healthy, and free!

Getting a closer look.

And the answer is….

You don’t!

Fo' Shizzle Looking Pretty

Last week, our chickens seemed to think that flying up into the large cedar near their coop was a good method of escape from curious campers. They might have¬†been right but when it was¬†time for them to come down and get in the chicken tractor for the night, they seemed to think it was a better idea to stay up in the tree. Colin, one of our wonderful counselors in training and a long time volunteer, attempted to climb into the tree and coax them down to minor success. Fo’ Shizzle came down first, joining John who was the only chicken that didn’t fly up into the tree. After leaving them alone for a bit and offering them bribes of chicken treats, Mocha finally flew down. When I left that evening, Snowball was still in the tree but the other three were waiting patiently in the chicken tractor for the night.

From left to right: Fo' Shizzle, Mocha, John, Snowball

Hungry predators would love to get their paw or talons on stubborn chickens that don’tend up in their coop at night. If the chickens were to stay in the tree all night, they would be less accessible to predators but we lost our chickens last year to a fox and a cooper’s hawk. The more we can do to help¬†keep our feathered friends safe, the better their chances of surviving to be able to lay eggs in the next couple of months.

Yesterday at raptor training group, I held Athena, one of our barred owls.¬† I have come up in the world of raptor training.¬† Yup, I’ve graduated to the big birds now.¬† I transferred Athena with other people¬† and took her for a few short walks.¬† She stepped onto my hand so beautifully.¬† Nothing could have been easier, and I was grateful that she didn’t try to bait the first time I had her on my hand.¬† Holding such a big bird on my hand with its head so close to my chest was incredible.¬† It was hard trying to tear my eyes off her.¬† I could see the little feathers wreathing her dark black eyes.¬† It was so beautiful and thrilling.¬† At the same time, holding a bird when it’s calm is different from the ability to control the bird, identify signs of stress and stressors, prevent it from baiting, and knowing what to do when it does.¬† As ideal as handling the barred owl was, I know I want to be ready when things are not so perfect.¬† I think I’m ready for a little imperfection to come my way.

Margaux Escutin

Hey blog followers!

My name is Megan and I am a summer Wildlife Conservation Intern here at Piedmont Wildlife Center. I am a returning intern from last summer and am extremely happy to be back! Since I have a job at Sears in Wilmington, I only intern Monday through Wednesday. My main tasks here are to care for the education animals which include feeding, socializing, and cleaning up after them. But along with the animal care, I also take part in the Box turtle study we are conducting in Leigh Farm Park, handling our educational birds of prey, helping to construct new raptor cages, and odd jobs around the center that need tending to. I am going to be posting regular blog entries in which I will talk about many different things. I want to share with you what goes on at PWC so you can get an idea of what it’s like to spend the day at Leigh Farm Park. No day is the ever same and nothing is ever predictable and I hope you find my posts as interesting as I find it to work here.

~-~

My first post (today’s post) is an entry that I had up on our blog from last summer. Our blog received a makeover and in the transfer of blogs, my post was lost. I still believe this post explains a great deal about how our box turtle survey is run, why it is run, and what we can learn from it so I will be posting it for a second time.

The Turtle Survey!
Leigh Farm Park, where PWC is located, has a substantial population of Eastern Box Turtles. As North Carolina’s state reptile, these native turtles are an integral part of North Carolina’s natural ecosystem.  Without them, the delicate balance of flora and fauna would surely suffer. It is thought that human impacts are affecting our wild Eastern Box Turtle populations. What we don’t know is exactly how much a decline in the box turtle population would impact our natural world. By acquiring box turtles for research and returning them to the wild, we can gain a better understanding of the role these scaly critters play.

When any of us (including the campers) discover a box turtle, we bring them back to the cabin and record a bunch of information about them and then release them to exactly where we found them. This is important because box turtles maintain a territory of their own inside which they know where all of the resources necessary to them are located. These resources include the food, water, and shelter they need to survive. A displaced box turtle would most likely spend the remainder of its life trying to locate its old home. When we find a box turtle, this is what we do:

  1. Determine the conditions of where the turtle was found including air temperature, sky index, time of last rain, type of habitat the turtle was found in, how it was found, and the coordinates of the turtle at the time of capture.
  2. ¬†Acquire the box turtle’s weight and measure the shell (the upper carapace and lower plastron) at certain places
  3. Those distinct sections of the turtles shell that look like patches on a soccer ball are each called scutes. The central scutes run down the back where the spine is located and the costal scutes are the sections on either side of the central scutes. The outer ring of scutes is called the marginal scutes. By counting the annuli on the central or costal scutes, we can get a rough estimate of the age of the turtle. The annuli are the rings found inside each scute that, much like a tree’s rings, can be counted as one year per ring.
  4. Determine the gender to the best of our ability of the box turtle using 5 physical characteristics that differ in males and females (I will list them a bit later.)
  5. Take a few clippings of the nails of the turtle that we place in a vial of fluid to be sent to a lab for DNA testing
  6. And, finally, we use a method of identification that allows us to identify the turtle if we were to recapture the same turtle which I will now explain: Remember scutes? Now we’re going to talk about the marginal scutes. The tiny scute right behind the turtle’s head is not counted in this process. When looking down at the turtle shell with the bum facing you, the scutes are labeled with letters of the alphabet, starting with “A” and going clockwise. Between scutes “L” and “M” is the tail of the turtle and if you continue to label them all the way back up to the head, the last scute before you get back to the central scute, assuming the turtle has all of its scutes, should be named scute “X”. Now, we have a list of 3 letter codes that we can use to name each turtle. So, let‚Äôs say we decided to name the turtle “ABC”. We would take a file and shave a shallow triangular notch in the center of scute “A”, scute “B”, and scute “C”. That way, if we catch the turtle again, we can see that the notches are in the middle of those scutes and know that this is turtle “ABC” that we, say, caught last summer. Turtle shells are much like our nails so filing the notch doesn’t hurt them at all and is completely noninvasive to the lifestyle of the turtle. We never file down scutes D-G and scutes R-U. These scutes, termed the bridge marginal scutes, contain vascular connections between the carapace and the plastron of the turtle. Filing these scutes may harm the turtle so these scutes are never used in naming.

Activity!: I’m going to post a picture of a turtle shell at the bottom of this post and I want you to tell me the name of the turtle based on our naming system! If you get it right, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you‚Äôre on your way to being a citizen scientist! Good for you!

The 5 physical differences in male and female box turtles!
A) The eyes: Females will have darker colored eyes compared to the male. Females can have dark brown to pale orange or dark red eyes while males will generally have bright orange, light brown, or yellow eyes.

B) The head and legs: Box turtles have brown scaly skin with yellow or orange accents. The same goes for the shell. Males have much brighter, more pronounced yellow accents on their bodies and shells than females who will be a duller, pale yellow or orange. The way I like to think of it is that male birds generally have brighter colors than female birds. Same goes for turtles.

Male (left) and female (right)

C) The shell: Since females have to store eggs under that domed carapace, they tend to have a higher shell than male turtles. This can be hard to tell unless you have a male and a female to compare to one another. Also, the marginal scutes near the rump of male box turtles flare outward while females do not.

D) The plastron: The plastron is the bottom plate on the tummy of the turtle. Males will have a concave section in their plastron that will assist them in staying on the female during mating.

E) The tail: Females have small, short tails while males have longer, fatter tails.
Matching just one of these characteristics isn’t enough to reliably determine the turtle’s gender. For instance, females can also sometimes have a slightly concave plastron or show distinctly bright eye color but still be a female. The only way to be certain is blood testing but what we do is see which gender gets the most matches.

As always, thanks guys! Take care!

Here's your educational activity! What's his name? Leave a comment and let me know!

Yesterday, two of the wildlife conservation interns and I were searching for turtles in a dry stream bed.¬† The closest thing we found to a turtle was what appeared to be the foot off a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure.¬†¬† I embarked on a fruitless version of “Where’s Waldo?” where I was searching under the canopy, among dried brown leaves on the forest floor, looking for a sign of disturbance or a shell, something.¬† I was a little disheartened from not finding any terrapins, but I did find something else: a supplement for lunch.¬† Apparently, my lunch was not quite enough.¬† Since I was feeling a little hungry, on the way back from our turtle expedition, I foraged for wild edible plants, which I learned to identify from Naturalist Guild walks and classes at Piedmont Wildlife Center.¬† While I didn’t find turtles for the turtle study, I was able to use skills I’ve learned here to make a very healthy snack of wild edible salad.

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