Wildlife Wednesday

Female widow skimmer dragonfly. Photo by Jamie Simo.
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Hip Hoot Hooray for the HOOTenanny!

Ticket booth for the 2016 Hootenanny. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It’s that time of year again: Denver Audubon’s HOOTenanny has arrived! This annual event celebrating all things owl has been expanded this year from one day to five with daily, family-friendly programs on Tuesday, September 19th through Friday, September 22nd leading up to the big festival on Saturday, September 23rd.

Learn about the little-known owl constellation Noctua! Go on a night hike! Meet rehabilitated ambassador owls from Nature’s Educators! Listen to live music and get your face painted! All programming is held at the Audubon nature center at Chatfield except for Little Hoots story time, which is being held at the Roxborough Library.

Live bluegrass at the 2016 Hootenanny. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Admission is $8 for adult members and non-member children (3-12), $5 for member children, and $10 for non-member adults. That’s pretty cheap for entertainment these days and your admission helps support the great educational programming provided by Denver Audubon.

More information, including directions to the Audubon nature center and how to register, is available on the Audubon Society of Greater Denver website.

Rest in Peace

First day with Momo. Exploring Ian’s office. Photo by Ian Cyr.

It’s taken me a few days to process, but my bunny Momo has died. She was 3 years old. Someone dumped her at Chatfield State Park just shy of a year ago and my husband and I had cared for her ever since. She was the sweetest, sassiest, smartest rabbit I’ve ever met. She had an incurable sweet tooth, was an expert at escaping from her pen, and loved to be made much of.

Momo died of something called megacolon, a genetic condition linked to her particular spotted coloring that we weren’t even aware of until she started getting really sick. Megacolon is when the large intestine is abnormally enlarged and the peristaltic movements that allow food to move through the system are severely impaired or absent. As a result, there isn’t a lot of nutrient uptake through the colon’s walls either. She became really constipated a month ago and we had her on 4 different drugs and fluid to help things move through. She was also very thin. At the end she weighed 1.7kg and change. She seemed to be getting better until last weekend when she took a turn for the worse.

We found her body 4th of July morning.

It’s very cruel to breed an animal when the traits you’re breeding into the animal harm the animal. It’s possible Momo ended up with megacolon through a random mutation and it was just a fluke, but lots of rabbits with her pattern are produced through selective breeding of English Spot rabbits in order to produce a standard for show. We need to seriously look at what we’re doing when we breed animals to produce a particular “look.”

I miss my precious girl like crazy.

ID Challenge: Cattle Egret vs. Great Egret vs. Snowy Egret

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Ah, the egret. One of the most majestic and graceful of birds. Fashionistas of the past agreed: thousands of egrets were slaughtered for their long, silky plumes, which used to adorn ladies’ hats.

There are 3 egret species that regularly visit Colorado: the Cattle Egret, the Great Egret, and the Snowy Egret. All 3 are only found in Colorado in the breeding season and are generally white birds. So how’s a birder supposed to know which one they’re looking at?

Size comparison between the Great Egret (left) and the Snowy Egret. Photo by Jamie Simo.

One way is to look at where the bird is. Is it wading in ankle-deep water in a marsh or is it poking around in a (perhaps wet) pasture or agricultural field? If it’s in a field, sometimes surrounded by cows, you’re almost certainly looking at a Cattle Egret. Cattle Egrets, which somehow became established in North America in the 1950’s, are shorter and stockier than our native egrets with either dark legs in non-breeding plumage or orange legs in breeding plumage, and thick, orange beaks. In breeding season, their plumes are a rusty color on their crowns, backs, and breasts that immediately give them away. Neither the Snowy nor the Great Egret have colorful

Snowy Egret in breeding plumage. Note the plumes on the chest. Photo by Jamie Simo.

plumes.

The next biggest egret in Colorado is the Snowy Egret. Next to the Cattle Egret, the Snowy is taller and more slender with a longer, more pointed bill. As mentioned, the Snowy Egret has white plumes so it’s more difficult to tell it apart from the Great Egret than the Cattle Egret.

The Great Egret is about twice the size of the Snowy Egret, towering over the smaller bird. It’s roughly the same size as a Great Blue Heron. It can be hard to judge size if you are only looking at a single bird, however. The Snowy Egret has black legs with yellow feet, while the Great Egret has both black legs and feet, but if the bird’s feet are submerged in water, that’s not a helpful characteristic either.

Great Egret. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The best way to distinguish between the two birds then, is by bill color. The Snowy Egret has a black bill with a yellow patch of skin on its face while the Great Egret has an orange bill with a yellow patch of skin on its face that turns a bright green in the breeding season.

So head to your nearest wetland or cow pasture and look for some egrets to test out your newfound ID skills. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by these birds.