North Campus DIY

March 30, 2012

This week I've been working with Jared Nielsen, one of the Museum's Exhibit Technicians, who also happens to be a DIY (Do it Yourself) enthusiast. With his help we've managed to build and install two nest boxes and launch our first garden surveillance balloon!

Jared installing a nest box in the Shadow Garden

The other nest box in the Home GardenThe nest boxes we chose are made of PVC and designed to be particularly appealing to certain cavity nesting birds such as Western Bluebirds, Sialia mexicana.  These birds have been spotted in Exposition Park by Kimball Garrett, the Museum's resident ornithologist, and we hope they'll stick around to use our new nesting sites. The boxes are also designed to be minimally appealing to other species of birds that we don't wish to encourage, such as introduced European Starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, and House Sparrows, Passer domesticus.We ordered the boxes from the Gilbertson Nestbox Company and Jared brought all the materials necessary to assemble and install them in the North Campus. The cost for all materials including the nest box is approximately $30 each. Instructions for installation and how to properly monitor birds that move in are available on the Gilbertson website.I'll keep you posted, and let you know as soon as any birds move in. Of course Sam Easterson, our resident video naturalist is also waiting in the wings. As soon as a nest is built, he will install a video camera and we'll hopefully be able to capture images of eggs being laid and nestlings hatching!As if that wasn't exciting enough, today we launched our first garden surveillance balloon.

Affixing the surveillance camera to the balloonOur garden surveillance balloon is a project Jared discovered through the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science. Their Grassroots Mapping project provides instructions on how to build your own balloon mapping kit, or you can purchase a kit for $85 from their website!Jared opted for the DIY approach and sourced all of his own materials, including the 2 meter wide weather balloon and a rental helium tank! Following the Grassroots Mapping instructions, Jared rigged the balloon to carry a camera and tethered it to a 1000 foot long string which he held onto as we walked it around the site. The camera was also adapted to continually take pictures every second until our 16 megabyte memory card was full (about 2 hours). Over the next few days Jared will take all the images and stich them together using a free online software that will create an aerial map of the North Campus gardens. Not only will this map look really cool, it will also help us to keep track of all of the plants in the gardens and see how it changes over time. Yes, we are going to do this again, maybe even every few months!

We needed a lot of help from staff to make sure the balloon didn't float away as we were filling it with helium!(Jesse Daniel, Jared, Briana Burrows, and Karen Ewald)

Karen celebrates a successful launch

Our first aerial view of the North Campus.Can you spot us in the bottom right corner?

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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American Goldfinches Find Feeders and Get Counted

February 17, 2012

American Goldfinches, Spinus tristis, have found our bird feeders! Flocks of them have been visiting the nyger seed feeders that the Museum's live animal caretakers fill on an almost daily basis.

American Goldfinch (upper left) and Lesser Goldfinch (lower right) feeding on nyger seedLike most finches, American Goldfinches are primarily seed eaters, making them some of the most readily-attracted birds to feeding stations. They are fond of the small seeds of grasses and annual plants, especially a type of thistle seed called nyger. Within 24 hours of putting up our first nyger feeders, we recorded both American Goldfinches and the very closely related Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria. Of the two species, Americans are slightly larger and more numerous, but are usually only present in Exposition Park from October to April. Thanks to Museum ornithologist, Kimball Garrett's hard work (uploading his regular Exposition Park bird lists), you can explore the seasonality of birds around the Museum. Check out the seasonal abundance charts in eBird; you'll find the goldfinches at the very bottom of the chart.In the spring when American Goldfinches leave the park, they often head over to nearby streambottoms to nest. Some do travel a bit further afield, heading all the way to northern California or beyond. In contrast the Lesser Goldfinches can be found hanging around the park year-round. We haven't yet documented any nesting here, but now we have planted the North Campus, we hope to observe some soon. In an effort to record the birds at our feeders and in the newly planted areas of the North Campus, this year we are participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). So this morning at 10 am Kimball tromped around the Museum's grounds and counted all the birds he could find. This is what he recorded:1 Western Gull                  1 Rock Pigeon1 Mourning Dove3 Yellow-chevroned Parakeet4 Allen's Hummingbird (one female nest building)1 Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker2 Black Phoebe3 American Crow10 Bushtit6 Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler20 House Finch13 American Goldfinch15 House Sparrow

Kimball Garrett and Briana Burrows checking out the finches

Kimball Garrett is one diligent bird list maker!Feeders and seed are generously donated to us by Wildbirds Unlimited in Torrance, CA

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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First Owl Recorded in North Campus

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  Yesterday ,we recorded the first owl in the North Campus. This adorable Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia, was observed perching on the footbridge surveying the patrons in the Museum Cafe. However, this is not the first time a Burrowing Owl has been recorded at the Museum. A few years ago, a Burrowing Owl actually roosted in a T. rex skull that was stored on our fourth floor patio. According to Kimball Garrett, the Museum's Ornithology Collections Manager, "these owls are migrants that are coming in from more northerly or interior breeding areas the breeding population in Los Angeles Basin is gone, or virtually so."    

 Coincidentally, yesterday was also the date of Kimball's annual bird walk in Exposition Park. Between 8:10 and 9:45 am the group recorded 27 species of birds including the second ever record of a Wilson's Snipe, Gallinago delicata, for the park. Not that I registered that the brown blur flying away from me was a Snipe, let alone a bird, but I took Kimball's word for it!  

Looking at American Goldfinches on the Museum Feeders (photo courtesy of Brenda Rees)   Here's the entire list including numbers of individuals seen:   Merlin (Falco columbarius)  1 Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata)  1 Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)  6 Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)  8 Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  22 Yellow-chevroned Parakeet (Brotogeris chiriri)  4 Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  3 Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)  4 Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii)  1 Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)  5 American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  10 Common Raven (Corvus corax)  1 Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  20  Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  1 Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)  7 American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  6 Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)  4 European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  8 Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  20 Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata)  1 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)  20 Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  1 Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)  1 House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)  10 Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)  1 American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  20 House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  10   Other notable sightings: Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) 2 Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) 5 Korean Air Airbus A380 1 (It seems Kimball is adept at identifying aircraft also!)      

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Bird Crashes into Museum Building and Dies For Science

September 29, 2011

Soras, Porzana carolina, seem to be really poor fliers. So much so that last week one flew into the side of the Museum and killed itself. This brings the Exposition Park Bird List, maintained by Kimball Garrett, our Ornithology Collection Manager, up to 167 species. "But wait," I hear you crying, "what about bird number 166?" In my previous post New Bird For North Campus List, it clearly stated that the Rufous Hummingbird was species 165. No I didn't forget to tell you about bird 166, and no Kimball didn't miscount, funnily enough bird 166 was documented the same exact day the Sora died. Bird 166 is in fact a Swainson's Hawk, Buteo swainsoni, that Kimball saw migrating overhead.  

Sora, Porzana carolina, ready to be prepped in the bird lab  

Sora study skin after being prepped and accessioned into the collection   Soras are secretive yet fairly common birds in the rail family. They live most of their lives in the dense vegetation of freshwater or brackish marshes, and are usually thought to be reluctant flyers. However, in the spring and fall they take to the wing, some individuals migrating up to hundreds of miles. During these times they are often found after colliding with various built objects such as communication towers, wires, and buildings just like the one we found in the loading dock!   

Swainson's Hawk, Buteo swainsoni, surveying the land  (note this is not the individual documented for our bird list)   As with Soras, Swainson's Hawks aren't very visible in the urban core of Los Angeles. However, they can easily be seen migrating along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains during their fall and spring migrations. The individual Kimball spotted over the Museum was on its way south to its overwintering site. Although we don't know where this individual will stop, we do know it will be somewhere between western Mexico and Argentina.   Thanks to Kimball for providing natural history information and pictures of the birds and also to Michael Wilson and Jerome Brown for finding the dead Sora!

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Black Phoebes Build Nest

May 6, 2011

More Nest SurveillanceThis week we found another active bird nest! This nest belongs to a pair of Black Phoebes, Sayornis nigricans, and is built under the eaves of the Rose Garden maintenance shed. Once again this find is thanks to Kimball Garrett, who noticed the nest Monday morning on one of his regular Expo Park bird surveys.  Footage of the phoebe landing on her nestNaughty NeighborsThis is the second nest Kimball has found in this location this year, but it is a site that has been used by phoebes in past years. Unfortunately, this year's first nest was disturbed by unknown causes, but it is possible that a squirrel is to blame. Eastern Fox Squirrels, Sciurus niger, are very common in Expo Park, and they are known nest predators. When they locate a nest they will eat any eggs or young birds they find. We'll never know for sure if a squirrel is to blame for the first nests' failure, but fortunately the phoebes persevered and built a second nest.

Eastern Fox Squirrel on top of the Butterfly PavilionBetter Luck This TimeUntil today we were not sure if the new nest contained any eggs. This morning Kimball and I went out with a mirror and now we can confirm there are four eggs!

Kimball checks out the nest

The mirror reveals four eggs in the clutchNow that we know there are eggs, we are going to regularly monitor the nest. I'll keep you posted as the eggs are incubated, they hatch and then the immature birds develop. If we are lucky, we'll be able to document the entire process.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Bushtits Move In

April 29, 2011

New Neighbors     A pair of Bushtits, Psaltriparus minimus, just built their nest in the live oak tree behind the Butterfly Pavilion. Kimball Garrett, our resident bird expert, found the nest this Monday and promptly sent me an e-mail detailing the nest's location. As soon as I got into work on Tuesday morning, I headed out to the Butterfly Pavilion to check it out.      

Adult Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus   Nest Hunt   Thankfully Kimball had given clear instructions to find the nest, as it was very well hidden in the oak foliage. The effort was well worth it, as it was one of the coolest nests I've ever seen in the wild. As the picture below shows their nests are woven from dry plant material and hang from branches of the tree. They are small and dainty, this one measures about seven inches from top to bottom. The small opening at the top of the nest, which is only about an inch in diameter, is just big enough for the adults to enter and exit.      

Bushtit entering nest   Bushtit Behavior After spending a good portion of my morning watching the nest, I realized I had to blog about it. But what is a blog without images, or even better some actual video footage. I ran up to my colleague, Sam Easterson's office to see if he could get some for me. Sam recorded the nest for about an hour, and we captured some interesting behaviors, including removal of fecal sacs! A fecal sac is clean, tough membrane that encloses the excrement of young birds. Not all birds produce fecal sacs, but for those that do sacs are usually produced directly after each feeding and promplty removed by the adult to maintain a clean nest interior.                Bushtit cleaning nest   Sam Easterson is a video naturalist and also our new Media Producer for the North Campus and Nature Lab exhibits. He's really into implanting cameras into natural environments, and is best known for his animal borne imaging work.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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