Field Notes

The Naked Ladies and coneflowers are dominating the late summer flower gardens now, while the regal purple of the Ironweed reigns over the brushy bottoms and pastures. And recent cooler morning temperatures in the 50s have been well-received after several weeks of very warm weather.
Bears seem to be popping up everywhere, especially at the observatory where it seems somebody sees them nearly every day. Last week, a sow and two cubs crossed in front of the tour bus near the 40 foot antenna while numerous yearlings and cubs have also been spotted. They are probably attracted to the broom sedge that covers much of the poor, open fields. In its understory of thick, short grasses can be found plenty of dewberries, grasshoppers, slugs and other consumables just waiting for young bears to comb through with the long claws and be found. Sows bring the cubs to areas like this where they learn to forage and feed themselves.
If you are riding a bike or hiking on the observatory, be aware of bears and keep your eyes open. They are very wary and usually will run to escape as soon as possible. If they don’t, then make some noise. A little hollering or shouting may help to drive them away. Make yourself look big and threatening by holding your arms straight up and waving them in the air. If you are walking a dog, keep it on a leash so that it does not get into a confrontation with the bear. That could end badly for the dog and the bear. Above all, don’t try to feed the bears. They know how to take care of themselves.
Nesting season for cavity nesters is nearly at an end. The last two baby blues fledged from a box near the GBT last week. One box with three baby wrens has yet to fledge and they should be the last for this year. They were not doing well when last checked last Friday. Feathers were in bad shape and eyes were matted, so they were removed from the nest which had several fly larvae and mites in it. The old nest was cleaned out, new nesting material was placed in the box, and the young ones returned there. They might have a chance now that the parasites were removed.
While the final numbers for nesting success have not been tabulated yet, overall it was not a good year. Almost half of the bluebird nests failed because of parasites, with blow flies being the primary problem. So expect blues and tree swallow numbers to be down some. Even successful nests often just fledged one or two birds as opposed to the normal four or five young.
The Wood ducks that come into the wastewater ponds at the Green Bank Observatory had their share of bad luck with parasites also. At least four families, each consisting of a hen and up to eight to 12 young ducklings showed up in mid-May after hatching from their own cavities, usually found in hollow trees. By mid-July, only one lone juvenile could be found out of the original bunch of 40 or so.
Baby ducks tend to get picked off by all manner of predators including hawks, owls, turtles, snakes, cats and foxes but the biggest predator is probably the crow. They can always be found hanging out there and looking for a duck dinner.
As sometimes happens, there was a second nesting of Woodies, probably ones that were unsuccessful in May. Steve White ran into one of those families of ducks the day before the Tri-athlon as they passed through his yard on Hannah Road in Arbovale. Of course panic and chaos followed with ducks running off in every direction. The next day, July 11, two hens with five young each appeared at the wastewater ponds. There is little doubt that one of those families had already met Mr. White.
The late families did well through July, but as of last check, four young were together in one family while only two survived in the other. These guys better grow fast because they will need to be flying by mid-September.
Dave is a retired operator from the Green Bank Observatory and can be reached at

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