The Magic Fence

This bamboo fence is very popular among the birds. We can see it from the veranda of the cottage and we always check to see what’s perched on it.

One day it was Tali, the Pied Harrier. We watched him and admired his full adult male plumage. Earlier in the year he was brown, then in March we saw his black adult feathers coming in. In April, we thought he had migrated and that we wouldn’t see him in full adult plumage. Here he is in July in full male adult plumage!

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After giving us good views Tali flew off. We thought that was the end of the show. Thirty minutes later a Grass Owl flew in and landed on the same spot! Maybe the Grass Owl wanted to see what Tali was looking at. There’s a path of short grass in front of the fence. It’s a good place to nab a meal.

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The following week the fence was host to these Spotted Doves that decided that bamboo fence was a good spot for sex!

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The Fruits of a Summer’s Labor

This year Tonji spent 21 days building ponds. He started building in February to give himself enough time to get a few ponds in before the start of the rainy season in June. He would have continued building even longer except that we were not able to go the the farm regularly for two months.

The first pond he built was Pond No. 5. It was slow-going and took him 9 days to complete because the area was wet and sticky. In March, we got an unexpected day rainy day and were thrilled to see puddles forming at the bottom of the pond!

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March – Pond No. 5 being inspected by Momo and Barkley

When the real rains came around in June, the pond got filled up half way! It takes a lot of rain to make all the soil settle down and form a waterproof layer that will hold water.

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June – Pond No. half full!

It was nice to see the pond fill up with water, but had the wildlife discovered the ponds yet? Were the Philippine Ducks using it? Did they know that they now had seven ponds at their disposal? We inspected the pond for signs of life. We found lots of small feathers around the pond edge!

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June – signs of life!

This month we’ve resumed our regular farm visits and are thrilled with the results from the pond building! We’ve been having the most amazing views of Philippine Ducks!

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If you look closely, you can see water drops on the duck’s chest. They probably came from the pond!

I also had a wish fulfilled. I was finally able to take the photo I’ve been dreaming of — a Philippine Duck standing by one of our ponds!

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Pond No. 5

And even better, there were TWO of them! There may have been more ducks in Pond No. 5, but we didn’t want to disturb them by going closer. So all of us including Momo and Barkley walked away quietly and left the ducks to enjoy their pond.

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Two Philippine Ducks at Pond No. 5

That same morning we inspected Pond No. 7 and seven Philippine Ducks flew out of the pond. This pond took ten days to build.

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Pond No. 7

The smallest of the three new ponds is Pond No. 6. It took only two days to build and we’ve also seen ducks in it!
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It is so gratifying and encouraging to see our projects working! It’s a thrill to be able to share our space with wildlife.

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!