Owl Pellet Project

Owl pellets are pretty fascinating. They are not poop.

Owl pellets are the hard, undigested bits from an owl’s meal that are regurgitated in the form of a pellet. Things like bones and fur that cannot be digested are formed into a pellet in the gizzard. The owl has to cough out this pellet before it can eat again.

They are also not that easy to find at the farm. We have managed to stumble across a total of TWO owl pellets at the sanctuary. Franco found the first one in July 2015 on the ledge of the round pen. We were excited to see an owl pellet!  We didn’t really know what to do with it, so we picked it up, broke it apart, and scattered the bits on the ground.

In the US and other countries, they let school children dissect owl pellets as a science activity. I never did anything like that as a child! Too bad I threw away the pellet, at the very least, I could have saved it. I didn’t know that later that year, one my biologist friends would ask me for owl pellets for her college students who were writing a paper on owls!

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owl pellet from July 2015

I also didn’t know that it would be three years until I stumbled across an owl pellet again!

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owl pellet collected on 11 April 2018

The second owl pellet was found by Momo and Barkley in the middle of the path, near the bamboo fence where we sometimes see Grass Owls perched.  There were feathers scattered on the ground.

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owl feathers

This time, I bagged the pellet and took it home for further study.   I wasn’t going to miss my opportunity to do my very own owl pellet project!

Step 1 – Observe and take notes

This pellet was large, oblong-shaped, and covered in fur. There were also long hairs that looked like whiskers. It clearly contained the remains of a rat or mouse.

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Step 2 – Prepare

Owl pellets can contain bacteria and parasites.  They can be sterilized by soaking in disinfectant or baking in an oven. I decided to bake the pellet. I wrapped it in two layers of foil and baked at 325F for 30 minutes.

I wanted to make sure the bones inside the pellet didn’t break. I soaked it in water to soften so I could easily remove the bones.

Step 3 Separating the bits

The sterilized, wet pellet smelled very strongly of urine. The fur was especially smelly. I wanted to save bit of the fur, but the smell was too strong and overpowering. It might have been better to soak the pellet in disinfectant after baking it

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It felt like the stench was stuck in my nose for days!
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Why is the tooth red?

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Step 4 Reassemble

Next I grouped the bones by shape and glued them on a sheet of paper that I placed inside a box. I put the tiny bits and bone fragments in a small plastic bag.

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And here’s the finished owl pellet project!

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Crows in the House and on the Horse!

Some birds aren’t that scared of people and will hang out near the house. Like this cute little maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

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And then there are crows. I confess that I used to sit around thinking of schemes to get rid of the crows. Crows have a bad reputation. They eat other birds. They steal eggs from nests. Other birds mob them and try to drive them away. They are associated with witches and bad omens.

They are also very intelligent birds. They are part of the corvid family. There are studies that show corvids using all kinds of tools, remembering the faces of researchers at a university and then attacking them when they saw them in the campus, and solving complicated problems such as dropping pebbles into a container of water so they can get a sip of water just like the Aesop’s fable!

Now that I’m not scared of them or trying to drive them away, I can just watch them.

There’s a murder of crows that hangs out at the horse house.

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What would happen if Barkley entered the horse paddock? Would they attack Barkley?

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Ha! Barkley didn’t even feel threatened.

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They are no match for Barkley and just leave him to do his thing in the paddock.

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I thought it was so nifty when I saw a crow drinking from the horses’ water trough. I ran back to the house so I could take a photo.

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And then the other day I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was the crow really standing ON Takoy’s back?

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Yes, he was! And Takoy wasn’t bothered at all!

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The crow stayed there for a long time. What was going on? Was he going to groom Takoy? Get a bug from Takoy’s back like those Oxpeckers and Rhinoceros in Africa? Walk behind Takoy waiting for him to unearth bugs from the grass like a Cattle Egret and carabao? Grab some feed from Takoy’s bucket? I didn’t see anything like that, the crow just flew away. But who knows what I’ll see next time!

 

 

 

Farm Bird List as of March 2018

These are all the species we have seen at the sanctuary over the years, with notes on recent sightings.

 

Common Name Scientific Name Notes on recent sightings
1 Wandering Whistling Duck Dendrocygna arcuata
2 Philippine Duck Anas luzonica had our highest count in January, 23 birds at one time
3 King Quail Excalfactoria chinensis
4 Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus
5 Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus was common in 2017
6 Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax not common, first seen in August 2017
7 Striated Heron Butorides striata
8 Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
9 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
10 Purple Heron Ardea purpurea there’s one individual in the picnic area
11 Great Egret Ardea alba
12 Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia there was one very close to the cottage in March, might have gotten blown in with the strong wind
13 Little Egret Egretta garzetta
14 Philippine Serpent Eagle Spilornis holospilus
15 Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis
16 Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos  Tali and Laiya!
17 Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus  seen frequently
18 Barred Rail Gallirallus torquatus
19 Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis moved to picnic area, no longer near cottage
20 Plain Bush-hen Amaurornis olivacea  hear them a lot
21 White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
22 Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca not common, first seen in August 2017
23 Spotted Buttonquail Turnix ocellatus
24 Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator
25 Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago megala
26 Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum
27 Rock Dove Columba livia
28 Island Collared Dove Streptopelia bitorquata good views of them perched on a wire on our access road
29 Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica
30 Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis  seen frequently
31 Philippine Cuckoo-Dove Macropygia tenuirostris  February, 2 birds
32 Common Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica  still haven’t taken a photo
33 Zebra Dove Geopelia striata
34 Pink-necked Green Pigeon Treron vernans they seem to be more common now
35 Philippine Green Pigeon Treron axillaris first seen in August 2017
36 Philippine Coucal Centropus viridis at the mango farm, on top of the trees
37 Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis at the picnic area and F.A.
38 Rough-crested Malkoha Dasylophus superciliosus February at the sampaloc tree when it was fruiting
39 Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus heard only
40 Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx pectoralis
41 Eastern Grass Owl Tyto longimembris  seen frequently
42 Philippine Scops Owl Otus megalotis  heard only
43 Philippine Nightjar Caprimulgus manillensis  they used to be on the access road only, now near cottage also
44 Savanna Nightjar Caprimulgus affinis
45 Grey-rumped Swiftlet Collocalia marginata
46 Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis
47 Ruddy Kingfisher Halcyon coromanda first seen in September 2017 when we had my cousins over! I didn’t see it!
48 White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
49 Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris seen frequently
50 Indigo-banded Kingfisher Ceyx cyanopectus
51 Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus seen frequently
52 Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala
53 Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos maculatus
54 Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
55 Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
56 Philippine Hanging Parrot/Colasisi Loriculus philippensis
57 Philippine Pitta Erythropitta erythrogaster  haven’t been hearing them
58 Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida   haven’t been hearing them
59 Golden-bellied Gerygone Gerygone sulphurea  seen frequently
60 White-breasted Woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus seen frequently
61 Pied Triller Lalage nigra  not near the cottage
62 Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus  seen frequently
63 Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach  seen frequently
64 Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis  seen frequently
65 Philippine Pied Fantail Rhipidura nigritorquis   seen frequently
66 Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea  takes effort to see
67 Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos  seen frequently
68 Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula
69 Yellow-wattled Bulbul Pycnonotus urostictus
70 Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier seen frequently
71 Philippine Bulbul Hypsipetes philippinus seen more frequently and closer to the cottage than before, I think there are more of them now
72 Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
73 Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
74 Striated Swallow Cecropis striolata
75 Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus
76 Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus xanthodryas
77 Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus not common, first seen in August 2017
78 Striated Grassbird Megalurus palustris  seen frequently
79 Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis
80 Golden-headed Cisticola Cisticola exilis
81 Grey-backed Tailorbird Orthotomus derbianus
82 Lowland White-eye Zosterops meyeni
83 Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis
84 Stripe-headed Rhabdornis Rhabdornis mystacalis
85 Philippine Magpie-Robin Copsychus mindanensis  
86 White-browed Shama Copsychus luzoniensis heard at cement bridge
87 Mangrove Blue Flycatcher Cyornis rufigastra
88 Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope
89 Pied Bush Chat Saxicola caprata  seen frequently
90 Red-keeled Flowerpecker Dicaeum australe
91 Pygmy Flowerpecker Dicaeum pygmaeum
92 Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis seen frequently in groups in the flowering madre de cacao
93 Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus  seen frequently
94 Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
95 White-bellied Munia Lonchura leucogastra not common, first seen in August 2017
96 Chestnut Munia Lonchura atricapilla  seen frequently
97 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
98 Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus

Let There Be Ponds!

We are harnessing the power of water to restore, rehabilitate, and rejuvenate our property and make it more attractive to wildlife. One way to do this is to make a lot of ponds! The ponds catch and store rainwater so it can be used by plants and animals instead of just running off the land. We don’t use pond liners so that the water can eventually sink into the water table to recharge it.

We are making all sorts of ponds and trying different pond building techniques.

Our very first pond was built in February 2015. It’s our biggest and deepest pond. It was build by hand by 6 people.  We wanted Pond No. 1 to be deep so it would hold more water for a longer time The deepest section is two meters deep.

The workers also built two smaller ponds near Pond No. 1. We learned from these smaller ponds that even smaller ponds can hold water for a long time. It’s not that necessary to make the ponds very deep.

In 2016 Tonji decided that he wanted to build the ponds himself. We bought a small backhoe. He built Pond #4 in March 2016. This pond has a small island in the center. It was very popular with the ducks last year!

In 2017 we didn’t build any ponds. Tonji did some pond maintenance and enlarged Pond No. 3.

This year Tonji completed two ponds and is working on a third! It took him 9 days to build Pond No. 5. This pond has a back “wall” made up of mounded dirt that is supposed to hold water and add depth to the pond. At the other end it tapers out to a shallow overflow area. Tonji thinks his backhoe is equivalent to 4 men digging. This pond was finished quickly with the help of workers to move the dirt out and finish the sides by hand.

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First he clears the grass with the grass cutter
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Oops, stop digging while Barkely inspects the work!
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Momo’s turn to inspect the work
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Pond No. 5 after one day of rain

Pond No. 6 took only two days to build! It is a small pond that Tonji hopes will provide water for the trees growing by the side.

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start of Pond No. 6
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Pond No. 6 almost finished, will be tapered by hand

Pond No. 7 is still under construction. Tonji says this is going to be a big pond.

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Day one of Pond No. 7

 

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Tonji’s companion while digging for 3 days! 

Pond Stats:

Pond No. 1
built from 25 Feb 2015 to 27 March 2015
current dimension: 17m x 8 m

Pond No. 2
built 2015
did not measure

Pond No. 3
built 2015
current dimension: 7m x 4m

Pond No. 4
built March 2016
did not measure

Pond No. 5
built February 2018  in 9 days
current dimension: 7m x 10m

Pond No. 6
built March 2018 in 2 days
current dimension: 6m x 5m

Pond No. 7
started March 2018
still under construction