Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mushrooms in Wood Duck Boxes

My latest "enthusiasm" as my daughter Naomi put it, is to poke around in bird nest boxes.  I'm not looking for anything in particular, just looking for the sake of discovery.  This activity is restricted to the winter months when birds aren't nesting in the boxes, though I admit even in the winter it can be disruptive.  Mice use the the smaller boxes if they aren't closed up, and you may encounter an occasional woodpecker.
So with the goal being merely to look it was exciting to start finding dried mushrooms of various species in some of the Wood Duck boxes located at Westwood Hills Nature Center (Ok, I had another goal too.  I also hoped to befriend a family of mice, but so far all attempts have not been successful.  I guess I wouldn't make a good disney princess).

There were five boxes with mushrooms in two separate locations, on opposite sides of Westwood Lake.  In one location there four boxes with mushrooms out of six total boxes.  In the other location there was one box with mushrooms out of six total boxes.
The big question of course is who put the mushrooms in the Wood Duck boxes.  My first guess was Red Squirrels, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus who are known to store mushrooms.  But it was pointed out to me that the boxes were well protected from the ground by predator guards, and were generally not immediately near a tree, since a potential Wood Duck nest predator could also come from above, squirrels included. 

After that I was stumped, but then learned that Flying Squirrels, Glaucomys spp also store mushrooms.  And the boxes were close enough to trees that a Flying Squirrel could glide down to them.  Flying Squirrels, though common are very nocturnal and difficult to spot.  I set up a trail camera to hopefully catch one in action.  But no luck.  But even without more concrete evidence, Flying Squirrels seem the most likely candidate. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Nemesis Bird 2015: American Bittern

The American Bittern, Botarus lentiginosus - after almost 20 years of birding (wait, really!) I have yet to see an American Bittern.  It has been a long time resident on my Nemesis Bird list.

A Nemesis Bird is a bird that you should have seen by now.  It's one that everyone else that you know has seen, maybe even people who don't bird that much.  It's a bird that you looked for countless times but have never seen.  I have a loose top ten nemesis bird list.  Its inhabitants fluctuate with the seasons and my mood, but the American Bittern has always been on it, if not in one of the top three spots.

2014 was a good year for shortening my nemesis bird list.  I saw a Long-eared Owl at Westwood Hills Nature, a Least Bittern at Wood Lake Nature Center, and many American Dippers at Rocky Mountain National Park.  Of course the list never really shortens, other birds quickly move onto the list immediately.  Regardless, no American Bittern was found.

And really I have no excuse for not seeing one.  I work at Westwood Hills Nature Center, which has a large cattail marsh, ideal American Bittern habitat.  Other people have seen them at Westwood, but not me.  And I think I bird often enough and in enough places where they could be found that by some birding law of averages, I should have seen one by now.  I have had a few maybe sightings; quick glances large, brown heron-like birds flying off and disappearing.  But never enough of a look to definitively say it was an American Bittern and not an immature Black-crowned Night Heron.  So this year American Bittern is officially moving to the top of my nemesis list; finding one is my one resolution for 2015.