Dec 18 2014

TBT: Walks On Water

African Jacana chick at a zoo in Japan (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Throw Back Thursday: (TBT)

This tiny bird practically walks on water.

Read more about him and the unusual lifestyles of his parents in this blog post from 2011:  Walks On Water

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Dec 17 2014

She Went Far — Very Far

Published by under Peregrines

U.S. Peregrine ends up in Japan (photo of article by Gary Gerhardt in the Rocky Mountain News, July 16, 1993)

In February 1993 Mamoru Nakamura photographed a female peregrine 100 km southwest of Tokyo.  She didn’t look like one of two peregrine subspecies normally found in Japan and she had bands that no one recognized — an all-black band on her left leg 5/V* and a silver band on her right.

Her photograph made its way to Japanese raptor expert Teruaki Morioka, co-author of Birds of Japan in Photographs and author of Birds of Prey in Japan.

Believing this peregrine to be a Western Hemisphere anatum subspecies he sent a letter and photo to raptor expert William F. Clark, author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hawks of North America.

Bill sent the photo to the National Park Service who confirmed her identity.  She was banded as a nestling at Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona in June 1991 and photographed in Japan in February 1993.

How did she get there?

The Rocky Mountain News article (snapshot above) called her “Wrong Way Peregrine” because she apparently flew west, not south as expected — but she may have been wandering as peregrines are wont to do.  Mike Britten of the National Park Service speculated that she hitched a ride on a ship crossing the Pacific and disembarked (without passport!) when she reached Japan.  We will never know.

In any case she went far — very far!

I heard about this bird from Bill Clark himself while on the Valley Raptors outing he led at last month’s Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  As we gazed at a peregrine perched on a water tower, Bill described this 1993 world traveler and later sent me a scan of the news article.

Thank you, Bill, for a great outing and such a wealth of raptor information!  I saw 13 Life Birds and my first ever aplomado falcon, white-tailed hawks and zone-tailed hawk on the Valley Raptors outing.

Check out Bill’s bio and publications here at The Peregrine Fund.

 

(photo of July 16, 1993 article by Gary Gerhardt in the Rocky Mountain News)

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Dec 16 2014

Socially Isolated? Age Faster

African grey parrot (photo by Keith Allison from Wikimedia Commons)

Early this month I wrote how lobsters don’t age because they have telomerase that repairs the DNA sequences at the ends of their chromosomes (telomeres).   Most adult organisms don’t have that advantage so every time our cells divide our telomeres get shorter.  This ages our cells and ages us.

African grey parrots are highly social creatures who are often stressed when they live alone.  It turns out that loneliness affects their telomeres.

In a study published last spring in PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine at Vienna, Austria examined blood samples from captive African grey parrots and compared the telomeres of parrots who lived alone versus those who lived with a companion parrot. (*)

Despite being the same age, solo African grey parrots had noticeably shorter telomeres than those who lived with friends.  The solo parrots aged faster than their peers.

Not only did the study illuminate the sadness of single parrots but it suggests that “telomeres may provide a biomarker for assessing exposure to social stress.”

Read more here in Science Daily.

Humans are social creatures, too.  Doctors and nurses know that isolated humans don’t heal as fast or live as long, so when you’re sick it helps to have the care of those who love you … which leads me to an update on my husband’s recovery (see this blog post for news of his accident).

Today it’s been three weeks since Rick was hit by a car in a crosswalk.  He’s making progress though there are setbacks, such as the operation to fix his broken nose.  Fortunately his friends and relatives have rallied to help him (and me).  Rick is a very social creature — more social than I am — so calls and visits from his sister and friends have raised his spirits.

For now my life is circumscribed by his needs and appointments.  I miss birding and hiking alone (I’m not as social as Rick) but I try to go outdoors every day because that’s what keeps me sane.

We are hoping for good long telomeres when this is over.  ;)

 

(photo by Keith Allison from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

(*) The parrot news release notes that in Austria it’s illegal to keep a parrot in isolation from other parrots, though some people do.

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Dec 15 2014

Can’t Tell Their Sex By Their Color

White-throated sparrow, white-striped color morph (photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license)

White-throated sparrow, white-striped color morph (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Many birds are sexually dimorphic — males are more colorful, the females are drab — but this isn’t true of white-throated sparrows.

White-throated sparrows come in two color morphs: white-striped shown above, tan-striped below.  The crisp white-striped birds aren’t always male, the plain tan-striped birds aren’t always female.  You can’t tell their sex by color.

White-throated sparrow, tan-striped color morph (photo by Henry McLin on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

White-throated sparrow, tan-striped color morph (photo by Henry McLin, Flickr Creative Commons license)

Here they are side-by-side: white-striped on left, tan-striped on right.  Notice that …

White-throated sparrows -- white-striped and tan-striped side-by-side (photos from Wikimedia Commons and Henry McLin, Creative Commons licenses)

  • Head stripes are black-and-white versus brown-and-tan
  • Lores are bright yellow versus dull yellow
  • Malar stripe is weak versus prominent
  • Breast is gray versus brown-and-tan
  • Breast is mostly clear versus very streaky

Not only do they look different but the white-striped birds are aggressive, philandering and don’t take much care of their kids while the tan-striped birds are gentle and very caring of their young.

You would think these differences would force one of the color morphs to disappear from the gene pool but it doesn’t.  The reason is surprising.

When it comes to picking mates, these birds always mix it up.  White-striped (aggressive) males mate with tan-striped (care-giving) females and the tan-striped (gentle) males mate with white-striped (philandering) females. Thus the color morphs and personalities persist.

Learn more about their amazing social behavior in this article by GrrlScientist in The Guardian, May 2011.

And when you see white-throated sparrows you’ll know you can’t tell their sex by their color but the drab ones are always good parents.

 

(photos: White morph white-throated sparrow from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license.  Tan morph by Henry McLin on Flickr, Creative Commons license.  Click on each photo to see its original)

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Dec 14 2014

Ice Sculptures

Published by under Weather & Sky

Needle ice on a cold morning at Moraine State Park (photo by Kate St.John)

Have you ever seen these ice structures?

Needle ice forms when the soil is still warm and the air is freezing.  As ice forms on the soil’s surface, it draws up subsurface water by capillary action and builds new ice from the bottom.  The result is a structure that looks like needles or tiny barricades. Since there is very little soil above the ice it pokes into the air.

Later in the season when the soil freezes, needle ice forms underground as part of a frost heave.  Click here to see a cut-away frost heave in Vermont.

This patch of needle ice formed above a seep at Moraine State Park last weekend.  Downstream the ground was squishy but here it was forming ice that looked like tiny walls.

Needle ice at Moraine State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Watch for these ice sculptures on moist soil.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Dec 13 2014

Christmas In July

Published by under Phenology

Orange Sulphur butterlfly on Cardinal Flower (photo by Chuck Tague)

Red, green and gold holiday decorations are brightening Pittsburgh’s gray December days.

Nature paints with these colors all year long.

Chuck Tague photographed an orange sulphur butterfly on a cardinal flower in mid summer.

Christmas in July.

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Dec 12 2014

The Falcon Of The Queen

Screenshot of Falco della regina (screenshot from YouTube)

This beautiful YouTube video shows a family of Eleonora’s falcons (Falco eleonorae) at their summer home in Sardinia.

Eleonora’s falcon is an Old World hobby(*) falcon that winters in Madagascar and East Africa and nests on barren islands in the Mediterranean.  It was named for Eleonor of Arborea, national heroine of Sardinia. When you know Eleonor’s history you can see the honor of this name.

Eleonor took over Arborea, a sovereign state in west-central Sardinia, in a moment of crisis in 1383. The Crown of Aragon based in Barcelona had conquered all of Sardinia except Arborea and succession to the Arborean throne was shaken by the murder of Hugh III. Eleonor’s infant son Frederick was next in line to the throne so she rushed to Arborea and became regent Judge at age 36. In the first four years of her reign she united the Sardinians in a war against Aragon and won back nearly all of the island.

Eleonor’s greatest legacy was the Carta de Logu, the laws she promulgated in 1395.  Advanced for its time the laws were a uniform code of justice, publicly available, that set most criminal penalties as fines instead of imprisonment or death and preserved the property rights of women.  The Carta de Logu was so good that it lasted four centuries.

Eleonor passed another important though lesser known law: the protection of this falcon that bears her name.

As the video title says in Italian, this is the Falcon of the Queen.

 

(video posted on YouTube by santonagriva)

(*) Hobbies are smaller than peregrines, larger than American kestrels, and were often used by falconers to hunt birds. “Hobby” does not mean amateur pastime. Instead this word comes from Old French, probably derived from Middle Dutch “hobeler” which means to turn or roll.

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Dec 11 2014

TBT: Ubiquitous Human Noise

Aldo Leopold at his Salk County shack, around 1940 (photo from Univ of Wisconsin Digital Archives)

Aldo Leopold at his Salk County shack, around 1940 (photo courtesy UW Digital Archives)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT) to October 2012:

Imagine listening to birds without the sounds of human activity in the background.

In 2012 ecologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison recreated a soundscape from Aldo Leopold’s time without today’s background noise of vehicles, airplanes, boats, trains and tools.

Click here to read more and hear what it’s like to escape our ubiquitous human noise.

 

(photo of Aldo Leopold, courtesy UW Digital Archives)

 

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Dec 10 2014

Jackie O

Published by under Birds of Prey

Jackie O, barn owl at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Meet the beautiful Jackie O.

Jackie was just a nestling when she was rescued by Ohio DNR who’d arrived to band barn owl chicks at her nest.  They discovered that Jackie’s left eye had been severely damaged, probably by one of her siblings, so she was taken to Medina Raptor Center where she’s lived ever since.

Jackie’s on the small side for a barn owl so the Raptor Center thought she was male and named her Captain Jack (a one-eyed pirate…).  As she matured her plumage looked female and a DNA blood test confirmed her sex so she was renamed Jackie.

The first time Jackie meets you she uses her good eye to check you out (above).   Eventually she shows you her whole face and you can see that her left eye is missing.

Barn owl, Jackie O, at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Among all the birds at the Raptor Center Jackie’s story is unique.  She’s the only one whose injury was caused by a bird.  Every other raptor was injured by humans, directly or indirectly — hit by vehicles, crashed into buildings or wires, poisoned, or shot.  It’s very sad that we cause so much trouble for birds.

Jackie O travels to events as an educational bird ambassador, teaching us how to prevent raptor injuries and how barn owls benefit us by controlling rodent populations.

You can sponsor her and other birds at Medina Raptor Center by clicking this link.

 

p.s.  O is for Owl. ;)

(photos by Kate St. John)

 

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Dec 09 2014

Modern Home

Barn owl in flight near its nest box (photo by Chuck Tague)

Since Chuck Tague first posted this on Facebook, his photo of a barn owl near a white box has stuck with me.  As odd as it looks, the box is the barn owl’s home.

Barn owls nest in structures — often in barns — but they don’t need entire buildings to make them happy.  A right-sized hole and good interior space are what they look for when they’re ready to nest.  If you can satisfy their needs with a smaller structure the owls will make it home.

As barn owls declined due to habitat loss, wildlife agencies across the U.S. worked to restore their populations by installing barn owl nest boxes.  This modern-looking box, designed and sold by Pittsburgh-based Barn Owl Box Company, was installed at Lake Apopka Restoration Area in Orange County, Florida.

The boxes are also popular with farmers and vintners who’ve learned that barn owls are a great alternative to poison rodent control.  The owls are tolerant of humans, tolerant of each other (no fights), breed like crazy at successful sites, and focus their hunts on the highest density rodent locations.  Lots of rodents lose their lives to feed the baby owls.

Click on this link to watch an America’s Heartland video of owls patrolling California vineyards where they’ve installed these modern homes.  As they say on the video webpage, “The next time you raise a glass of fine wine, you might want to thank an owl .”

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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