Archive for November, 2013

Nov 10 2013

Face In A Gall

Oak apple gall that looks like a face (photo by Kate St. John)

Before the oaks leafed out last spring I found this oak apple gall on a seedling at Cedar Creek Park.

When I bent down to look closely I saw the face.

Now that the leaves have fallen, look for fun features like this on the bare trees.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Nov 09 2013

Now We Are Six!

Six Crows, six cupcakes, six years (animaiton by Joan Guerin)

As of today I’ve been writing Outside My Window for six years.   The crows are crowing, “Yow!”

Every year I provide statistics, but since this is a Saturday I’ll keep it brief so we can get back to our errands or play time. (In my case, errands.)  Here we go:

Did you know you’re one of 574 visitors per day (this year’s average) who generate 21% of all traffic to WQED.org?

Some days are more popular than others.  Sadly the most visited blog entry was the news of Silver Boy’s death on June 14.  More than 3,000 people read about him that day, 79 commented here, and many more commented via Facebook and at the news websites.

Falcon or Hawk? from 2011 continues to win the top prize from Google search.

My favorite photos this year are those that tell stories:  Dramatic peregrines stooping to conquer, turkeys strutting their stuff, and a robin mistaking his reflection for a rival.

Three of the many blogs that taught me new things were:  Juvenile peregrines have special gear to help them fly, modern cornfields are wastelands, and the Border Wall affects birds, too.

Thanks to you, my readers, we have something to crow about.

 

Now we are six!    :)

 

(animation by Joan Guerin)

11 responses so far

Nov 08 2013

Canary’s Call Opens Today

Published by under Books & Events

CANA_mesh1_rsz_wikiCanary in a cage (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“The canary in the coal mine”

We use this phrase all the time to describe a small voice warning of imminent environmental danger. Before modern instruments, miners took canaries underground as indicators of unsafe conditions.  If the canary was in trouble, the mine was unsafe.

Birds tell us about the world around us if we know how to look and listen.  A new exhibit opening today at the National Aviary, Canary’s Call, highlights five unsafe conditions and links birds as the indicators of human overpopulation, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species and over-consumption.

Last night I attended a special preview of Canary’s Call.

The exhibit is absolutely gorgeous!

Located in the arc beyond the Tropical Rainforest Room, this area of the Aviary used to be a dark and tunnel-like place.  It’s now beautifully lit by hundreds of photos that tell the story of human impacts on the world of birds.

Canary's Call exhibit (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)

Several photos by the Aviary’s Mike Faix bring the story home.  Peregrine fans will recognize Dorothy and Silver Boy from the Cathedral of Learning, and “Paul” the juvenile Downtown peregrine who hitched a ride on a truck roof.

New with this exhibit are six Malayan flying foxes, indicators of human overpopulation.  These mega-bats eat fruit so they have large bright eyes, small ears and faces like foxes.  I didn’t expect to like the bats but these ladies are really cute!  All six are female. Be sure to ask why when you visit them.  (Yes they are hanging upside down in this photo.)

Malayan flying foxes at the Canary's Call exhibit (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)

 

Canary’s Call has four signature bird species — canaries, rhinoceros hornbills, Guam rails, and rainbow lorikeets — that are sentinels for pollution, habitat loss, invasive species, and over-consumption.  I was amazed by the Guam rails’ story as a “canary” for invasive species.

The exhibit is fun and educational.  The photos are stunning.  I found so much depth, so much to learn:  What bird is this?  Where is that desert located?  When was the canary photographed in the mine?  I learned something new each time I looked.

Don’t miss this beautiful, new exhibit at the National AviaryCanary’s Call opens today.

 

(photo of a canary (not from the exhibit!) is from Wikimedia Commons. Photos of the Canary’s Call exhibit are courtesy of the National Aviary)

One response so far

Nov 07 2013

Parrot Confidential

Blue and Gold Macaw (photo Courtesy of Joe Brunette/©2013 THIRTEEN Productions LLC)

No one knows for sure how many parrots are kept as pets in the U.S. — maybe 10-40 million — but we’re about to learn one thing: Thousands of them lose their homes each year and thousands more desperately need to leave their current situation.

On Wednesday November 13, PBS NATURE will premiere Parrot Confidential, the story of these intelligent, social, still-wild birds and their plight when a home with humans doesn’t work out.

Most parrots have successful relationships with their owners.  This is the untold story of the failures.  Jamie McLeod of Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary explains, “People will say, ‘I want a bird that talks, that’s quiet, and that doesn’t bite.’  And that species has not yet been discovered.”  As a result, she says, “People typically keep parrots 2-4 years. The birds live 80 years.  Crunch those numbers out and there’s a lot of unwanted parrots out there.”

There are many reasons why a parrot-human relationship sours despite everyone’s best intentions.  The birds are highly social and demand lots of interaction and stimulation; in the wild they would never be alone.  Parrots take several years to become sexually mature and when they do they choose a mate.  In the absence of their own species they choose a member of the household, sometimes treating the rest of the family with aggression.  Changes in the human and pet family structure can trigger a parrot upset: the death of a loved one or addition of a new family member.  Some birds cope with stress by screaming, plucking and biting.

Unfortunately when a parrot needs a new home there aren’t enough shelters.  Some birds are emotionally scarred and go out for adoption over and over again.  The stories are sad but there are bright spots in the show to warm your heart:

  • There are dedicated parrot owners who love their birds and work to find what’s best for them.
  • The rescuers are real heroes.  Some have saved hundreds of parrots.
  • Some rescued parrots find a soul-mate of their own species at the shelter.
  • Because scarlet macaws are endangered in the wild, the ARA Project breeds rescued macaws in Costa Rica and releases their offspring to the forest.

I shed a few tears for the parrots, but partly for joy at the scarlet macaws flying free in Costa Rica.

Don’t miss Parrot Confidential on PBS NATURE, November 13 at 8:00pm EST.  In Pittsburgh watch it on WQED.

 

(photo of blue-and-gold macaw courtesy Joe Brunette/©2013 THIRTEEN Productions LLC)

p.s. See the comments for a discussion of parrot longevity.

Update on November 21:  Watch the entire show online at the Parrot Confidential website.

9 responses so far

Nov 06 2013

Magic Eyes

Published by under Beyond Bounds,Mammals

When lights shine on an animal’s eyes at night, what color is reflected back at you?

For cats it’s green.  For possums it’s red.  For arctic reindeer it depends on the time of year!

The tapetum lucidum in reindeer’s eyes changes color to cope with the bright light of summer and low light of winter.  In summer their eyes reflect gold, in winter they look blue.

This cool effect was discovered by a team from University College London and University of Tromsø, Norway thanks to funding from BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council).

Watch the video above and read more about the study here at Phys.org.

 

(video from BBSRC via phys.org)

 

p.s. Reindeer have two other amazing traits: (1) They can see ultraviolet light and (2) They have no circadian rhythm.

No responses yet

Nov 05 2013

Mackerel Sky

Published by under Weather & Sky

Clouds, 20 Oct 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

I love it when the sky does this.

These pretty clouds won’t rain … yet.  They drift by in thin shields with gaps between and when they thicken they look like buttermilk (click here to see).

These are altocumulus clouds that form in the mid-level of the cloud deck, between 6,500 and 20,000 feet.  Their thicker version is called a mackerel sky because the effect resembles the scales on a king mackerel.

Weather sayings confuse me about the message these clouds are bringing.  One poem says, “Mackerel sky, mackerel sky – never long wet, never long dry.”   Worst case:  These are overtaken six to eight hours later by different clouds that bring rain.

On the day I took this photo I was outdoors for six hours and yes, these happy clouds were followed by thick, potential rain clouds.

But it didn’t rain until I got home.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

No responses yet

Nov 04 2013

Feed In The Middle If You Can

Semipalmated sandpiper (photo by Steve Gosser)

For two years Guy Beauchamp carefully watched the behavior of migrating semipalmated sandpipers on the tidal flats at the Bay of Fundy.  He noticed the birds were doing something that no one had ever reported.

The sandpipers on the edge of the flock kept their heads up while feeding.  They were always on the lookout for danger, especially for merlins or peregrines that could easily snatch one of them.  Meanwhile the sandpipers in the middle were more relaxed and kept their heads down most of the time.  It turns out the birds in the middle were eating different food than the ones on the edges.

The birds on the edge of the flock pecked quickly at amphipods (similar to tiny shrimp) that were easy to see.  Their sentinel behavior made it safe for those in the middle to swish their beaks back and forth and filter the tidal slurry of diatoms (algae) and phytoplankton.  Swishing behavior wouldn’t have been possible if the flock hadn’t posted sentinels.  The birds had the advantage of living in a group.

This semipalmated sandpiper is alone, feeding with his head up, and probably has an amphipod in his beak.

I’ll bet he’d like to feed in the middle of the flock if he could.

Read more about this study here in Science Daily.

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

2 responses so far

Nov 03 2013

Cormorants On The Move

DCCO_drying_sgosserDouble-crested cormorants drying their wings (photo by Steve Gosser)

These double-crested cormorants are drying their wings after diving for fish.  Are they visiting our area?  You bet.

Double-crested cormorants were on the move last week along Lake Erie’s shore.  According to Jerry McWilliam’s waterbird count, 2,125 flew past Presque Isle State Park last Sunday (Oct 27), 227 on Monday, and 680 on Tuesday. Then their numbers dropped.

When cormorants are on the move, the ducks aren’t far behind.

November may be cold but it’s a great month for watching waterfowl.

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

2 responses so far

Nov 02 2013

Messing With Our Clocks

Published by under Books & Events

Human biological clock (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Tonight we turn the clocks back and gain an hour of sleep.

The rest of nature will stay in the same time zone and on the same circadian rhythm it’s been using for a long time.  Our bodies will too.  They aren’t going to jog an hour just because we told them to.

This graphic from Wikimedia Commons looks complicated but it shows why this is going to happen.  Our bodies have a circadian rhythm that triggers on daylight.

Click on the image to see the original graphic — and larger print — showing our circadian rhythm at the equinox.  Since we have only 10.5 hours of daylight right now in Pittsburgh, the top of the graph is probably compressed.  Sunrise today is 7:51am (where the graphic says 6:00). Sunset today is 18:15 (where the graphic says 18:00).

But tomorrow morning we will be magically transported to the Rio de Janiero time zone.

Until my circadian rhythm adjusts I’m not going to be myself.

 

(image by Yassine Mrabet from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

2 responses so far

Nov 01 2013

Crows Adapt

Published by under Crows, Ravens

American crows gather in a tree in Pittsburgh (photo by Sharon Leadbitter)

Since the first big flock returned ten days ago Pittsburgh’s winter crows have been gathering at dusk in Oakland.

During Wednesday evening rush hour I saw a flock of 100 wheel high over Flagstaff Hill, circle twice and split in two.  Half the crows dropped into Junction Hollow.  The other half flew past CMU.   The flock was so high and quiet that I was the only one to notice…

…until they landed.  In the trees they have a lot to say and keep saying it until dark when they silently leave for the roost.
American crows gather in Lawrenceville (photo by Sharon Leadbitter)

 

Their roost location is still evolving.  In October and early November they favor the trees near Soldiers and Sailors Hall but typically move to Polish Hill by Thanksgiving.  I can tell where they spent the night by the marks on the sidewalk.

Bird poop below the crow roost (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The crows have favorite trees they return to each evening. On Monday a lot of them returned to a surprise.

While they were away, eight of their roosting trees disappeared from Ruskin Avenue.  Literally disappeared!  Here’s what’s left of one of the London plane trees.  Click on the photo to see the row of stumps.  One of six London plane trees cut down on Ruskin Ave, 28 Oct 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

A couple of Novembers ago I counted crows roosting in those very trees and estimated 40 crows per tree that night.  Multiplied by eight my guess is that 320 crows had to find a new place to roost on Monday.  This was significant.  I wish I’d been there to see their reaction.

What did they do?  They probably shook their heads (“Those humans were at it again!”) and moved on.  After all they’re transient.  They sorted it out.  It was no big deal.

Crows adapt.

 

(photos of crows by Sharon Leadbitter. photos of trees and sidewalk by Kate St. John)

p.s. I predict that non-birders will first notice the crows this coming Monday evening.  Some of you know why. ;)

5 responses so far

« Prev

Bird Stories from OnQ