By Andrew Ocampo, Director of Aviculture
Spring is probably my favorite time of year at the Conservancy. We have so much to offer as the birds and environment continue to wake up from our long winter as we move into breeding season. Last year we had one of our best years rearing Scaly-sided Mergansers, raising over 20 ducklings. The Conservancy also saw its first Tundra Swan eggs ever. Although they were infertile, it was a step in the right direction. We were also able to raise several challenging species including Spectacled Eiders, Common Eiders, and Common Mergansers.
Over the course of the year, we continued to run our internship program which introduces future aviculturists and environmental educators to the birds here at Ripley. As many internships were cancelled due to Covid, we were fortunate to be able to offer this opportunity in a safe way.
During the winter months, we partnered with the University of Missouri to facilitate a research project at the Conservancy. GPS units were affixed to our Black Ducks and Mallards to assess their fit and function. Ripley staff then filmed the birds' activity, enabling researchers to pair signals from the transmitter with the birds' movement. In February of this year, the units were deployed on wild American Black Ducks along the east cost to help biologists better understand breeding behavior in a natural setting.
Lastly, in September of 2020, we were fortunate enough to welcome an adult pair of Siberian Cranes, a species critically endangered in the wild. With only a handful in captivity, they are something to behold. The pair will be sure to greet you during your next visit! All in all, it was a busy year for us, but we missed having our normal number of visitors to share in our work and passion.
With the new year and things back in full swing, we are excited to be open at full capacity once again. We are now offering public visitation on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm through the end of November. Hawk Walks and guided tours are also available and can be booked through our website. We hope to see you in the future so we can share some of our recent hatches and future aspirations. Please stay tuned for seasonal tidings to keep you up to date with exciting news from the flock!
News from the Flock
By Logan Connor, Aviculture Manager
Spring time for most people means spending more time outside and preparing for the summer months ahead. Here at Ripley spring time means checking nests and preparing for this year's hatch of ducklings, goslings, cygnets, and chicks. If you visited the Conservancy throughout the winter or early spring, you likely saw males of varying species putting on their best displays to impress the females. All of that effort was an attempt to attract mates for this spring. Although males will continue their courtship displays, most of the pairs have already been decided and it is now up to the female to choose an adequate nesting location and begin laying eggs.
So far this spring we have had a total of 26 species begin nesting. All four swan species (Trumpeter Swans, Tundra Swans, Black Swans, and Whooper Swans) have laid eggs. We have multiple species of geese currently building nests in our fields, and nest boxes are being "rented out" every day. In the barn, incubators are filling up quickly and we have the first hatches of the season (Wood Ducks, Common Mergansers, and South Georgia Pintail ducklings) splashing in the brooders.
As spring moves towards summer, we are looking forward to what is still to come. Now that the weather seems to be warming up, we are hopeful that more birds will continue to lay. Some of our most important species generally do not begin nesting until the end of May (Long-tailed Ducks, White-winged Scoters, King Eiders and Spectacled Eiders). In the meantime, we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that they have ample opportunity to find the perfect nesting site.
Last year was all about cranes! This year, we're excited to welcome an Edwards's Pheasant to our collection. The pheasants that call the Conservancy home are some of the most striking birds we have at the Conservancy. Our Reeves's Pheasant boasts stunning 3 foot long tail feathers. Our Impeyan Pheasant, although skittish and elusive, is always a favorite with visitors for its iridescent, metallic-colored plumage. The Edwards's Pheasant is no different. With an iridescent blue-black body, red facial skin and white crest, it is another eye-catcher.
A critical part of Ripley's mission is to protect and preserve endangered species, not only through conservation and captive breeding but also through education. The Edwards's Pheasant is an important ambassador for our mission. Once native to central Vietnam, they are now thought to be extinct in the wild, with no sightings since 2000. If it were not for the birds that exist in aviaries throughout the world, they would be gone forever. Conservation groups in Asia are working on an Action Plan to hopefully re-introduce these birds into the wild. Keeping diverse genetics in captive collections ensures healthy birds for future re-introduction projects.
Conserving endangered species in captivity is vital but it is not enough. Educating and inspiring the next generation of conservationists is critical to the future of our planet's wildlife. That is why our aviaries are so important. We are able to offer a close-up experience with at-risk species, creating a connection to nature and hopefully motivating visitors to take action in defense of the environment. If you have visited the Conservancy, you may have noticed that our pheasants are quite hard to spot. Or maybe you haven't seen them at all. It is difficult to cultivate a connection to our pheasants if they cannot be seen!
This year we hope to construct a brand new Ripley Pheasantry. This specialized aviary will be dedicated to our pheasants, allowing us to showcase their beauty, educate visitors about their plight, and offer an ideal breeding environment so we may continue to preserve their genetics in captivity. But we need your help! Contributions made will not only directly support the care of our flock, but will also aid in the construction of new projects such as the Pheasantry. If you would like to make a donation to the Conservancy, please consider joining the 2021 Annual Benefit Committee!
LRWC is excited to announce that our new rainwater harvest and reverse bog system is up and running! This project is LRWC's next step in its mission to conserve waterfowl and wetlands by enabling the Conservancy to reduce, reduce, and recycle one of the world’s most precious commodities, water.
LRWC houses a collection of approximately 400 rare and endangered birds from around the world, inclusive of 85 different species, the majority of which are waterfowl (i.e. ducks, geese, and swans). These birds are critically dependent upon fresh, clean water for their survival, a resource that is becoming increasingly limited.
In an effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle water, the Conservancy partnered with O & G Industries to develop an innovative bog system, designed specifically for water conservation while simultaneously supporting the health of our birds.
This project was completed in two phases, the first phase focused on reducing our water need by collecting and conserving rainwater runoff. To accomplish this, we added gutters to our rearing barns and installed a large underground storage tank. During storm events, rainwater runoff is collected off of the roof and transported to the tank for holding. The storage tank then feeds directly into the newly constructed bog, which was the focus of phase two. The bog connects and provides clean water to four of our front ponds, cycling water throughout each pond before being recycled back into the bog to undergo natural plant remediation for its reuse.
Phase 1: Rainwater Harvest and Storage
LRWC installed gutters along its rearing barns to capture rainwater runoff. These barns have a total surface area of 3,000 sq. feet, which can collect approximately 1,800 gallons of water per one inch of rain. Connecticut receives an average of 51 inches of rain per year, equating to the collection of over 90,000 gallons of water from runoff alone!
Step Two: Reverse Bog System
The collected rainwater is transported from the storage tank into the reverse bog system, flowing between four ponds before entering an underground filtration matrix. This matrix supports water filtration as it flows through smaller and smaller spaces, acting like a sieve. After exiting the matrix, the filtered water is then pumped up and recycled back into the top of the pond.
When the water reaches the top of the pond, a second filtration occurs as the water flows through a man-made “bog” of native Connecticut flora. Wetland plants naturally filter out organic waste and sediment, absorbing nutrients for their own growth. Lastly, the water flows between each pond through a man-made waterfall, which not only enhances the habitat for the birds, but also naturally oxygenates the water.
LRWC is proud to support water conservation and is planning on utilizing the completed bog as an education tool. Anyone interested in learning more about the bog or wanting to schedule a program should contact LRWC's Head of Education, Colleen Peters.
In April 2019, I spent two weeks on Prince Edward Island (PEI) working with wildlife biologists from Canada, Connecticut, and Maine to research Canada goose migration patterns. We were specifically interested in the North Atlantic Population of Canada geese (NAP), which winter throughout New England and utilize PEI as a migration layover area before making a final push to their breeding grounds in Labrador, CA.
The primary goal of our research was to capture and affix Canada geese with NanoTag backpacks, which have the capability of recording movement data for several years. This information can provide researchers with valuable knowledge about Canada goose migration patterns and breeding and wintering ground selection.
LRWC initially became involved with this project during its planning stage, when we were approached by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) to field test the newly developed NanoTag. We decided that our collection of Snow geese would offer the best comparison to Canada geese and attached the tags and recorded durability. Following this preliminary assessment, the NanoTags were deployed to PEI for utilization in the field.
Prior to 2010, PEI annually banded Canada geese by setting corn bait piles in potato fields and capturing geese via rocket netting. Our team had planned on utilizing this capture method, however, upon arrival, we learned that farming practices on PEI had drastically changed over the past decade. During this time farmers had transitioned over from a single crop to a double crop rotation, switching between planting corn or potatoes.
In 2018, PEI saw an early winter which resulted in the lost harvest of multiple cornfields. This created an abundance of leftover corn, making our bait piles less compelling to the birds. In response to this setback, we adapted our methods to bait near wetland habitat instead of agriculture fields and focused on midday loafing areas and roosts.
As we neared the end of the first week, we took our first shot and captured 15 birds, we deployed the Nanotags and the project was finally on its way. As we entered the second week, extreme wind, snow, and rain slowed our progress, but we tried to capitalize on the small openings of clear weather. While some attempts were more successful than others, we eventually began capturing and affixing Nanotags on geese on every outing and by the end of the trip we were able to deploy a total of 53 Nanotags.
I’m proud to have represented LRWC on this project, which supports and advances our mission to conserve waterfowl and wetland habitat. The chance to work with Canada geese, which are a part of our local ecosystem here in CT, really opened my eyes as to how magnificent these creatures are. While Canada geese often receive a reputation as being pests, working with these birds and experiencing them in a new environment really changed my perspective.
This post was written by Andrew Ocampo, LRWC's Director of Aviculture
Historically, the new year is approached with optimism for the future, a nostalgic look to the past, and a mindful reflection on the present. These three key elements are necessary to devise a healthy formula for opportunity and growth. When addressing environmental sustainability, whether it be referring to the longevity of an organization or its impact upon the community, the same three tenets can easily be applied. What are our accomplishments? What are we doing to ensure we continue this trajectory of success, and what are our obtainable goals for the future?
When reflecting on S. Dillon Ripley, and his legacy, it is glaringly apparent that the man had a vision that encompassed not just his penchant for waterfowl, but a holistic view of the environment and an execution of sustainable practice that was well ahead of its time. The fledgling stages of what would eventually become the Livingston Ripley Waterfowl Conservancy were the product of a young man’s deep fascination and passion for the natural world and all its inhabitants. At the age of 17, Dillon Ripley built his first duck pond in Litchfield, Connecticut. Several decades later, he would champion the effort to rescue the native Nene (Hawaiian) goose, becoming one of the first to propagate the Nene in captivity in North America. He is credited for assisting with the population rebound, after sending a small flock of geese back to the Hawaiian Islands for reintroduction into the wild. Today, LRWC pays homage to Dillon Ripley and his conservation accomplishments by maintaining a small flock of Nene at The Conservancy.
Dillon Ripley’s contributions extend well beyond Litchfield. During his tenure as secretary of the Smithsonian from 1964-1984, he transformed the museum into a more inspirational and less “stodgy” destination with the addition of several eyebrow raising attractions. In 1967, he had a 1920's carousel installed on the National Mall, much to the chagrin of many of Washington’s elite. Upon its installation, people flocked to the merry-go-round, paying twenty-five cents a ride. In the same year, he commissioned several men to produce the first Folklife Festival; an incredibly successful effort that brought our waning folk traditions from stale gallery displays to vibrant, living history. The New York Times described the endeavor best when it reported the mission was, “to let fresh air into our Nation’s attic”. Through Ripley’s 20+ years of influence, the Smithsonian Institute became an “Every Man’s” destination, with a growth of exhibits that a broad, diverse audience could identify with.
Today, at LWRC, S. Dillon Ripley’s responsibility to the local (and global) environmental community is still ever present. As illustrated during his lifetime, there is not just one permanent recipe that broadens interest and awareness; there are multitudes! From local, hands-on educational offerings that cover crucial topics such as water health and threatened species, to award winning distance learning courses that bring the conservancy into the international classroom. How about yoga with geese and cranes? Absolutely! A night prowl to listen for owls? Whoooo else? LRWC is upholding the vision and perception of their founder by continually expanding and innovating in an effort to draw in and engage supporters on as many levels as possible. By regularly building the latest “carousel” and waiting to see who climbs aboard, LRWC will uphold its mission and ensure a thoughtful and comprehensive evolution of sustainable conservation and stewardship. Happy New Year!!