Archive for the 'Beyond Bounds' Category

Jan 26 2014

Bird On Camera

Pygmy nuthatch on camera (photo by Ed Sweeny (Navicore) via Wikimedia Commons)

Birds are often on camera, but rarely on the camera.

This photo of a pygmy nuthatch was an experiment by Ed Sweeney (Navicore on Flickr).  Thanks to its Creative Commons license on Wikimedia Commons, I found the photo and learned of Ed Sweeney’s extraordinary photographs.  See more on his Flickr page here.

 

(photo by Ed Sweeney, on Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original and Creative Commons license.)

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Jan 19 2014

Let’s Get Subtropical

Reddish egret (photo by Chuck Tague)

OK, it’s cold again, but not (yet) so cold as the worst we’ve seen this month so I think we can afford to get “subtropical” today.

Chuck Tague photographed this reddish egret in the subtropics between the 35th parallel and the Tropic of Cancer — specifically, in Florida.

Reddish egrets (Egretta rufescens) are found from Florida and the U.S. Gulf Coast, down both coasts of Central America to the Caribbean edge of South America.  But they’re not found everywhere.  They only fish in shallow saltwater so they’re restricted to specific locations, always coastal.  Click here for their range map.

Some reddish egrets are actually white but most have this distinctive reddish head, gray body and black-tipped pink bill.  They’re easy to identify if you watch them hunt.  They jump and dart like crazed dancers with their wings open.

Don’t take this beautiful bird for granted.  It’s listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List because “despite its large range it occupies a restricted habitat and is patchily distributed.”

If you’re at the coast within its range, take the opportunity to look for a reddish egret.

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Jan 12 2014

Let’s Get Tropical

Amazon kingfisher, Costa Rica (photo by Charlie Hickey)

Tired of the weather yo-yo?  Let’s get tropical.

Here’s a southern hemisphere bird that ranges from Mexico to Argentina.  She closely resembles the belted kingfisher, is virtually the same size, and has the same hunting habits.

But she’s green.  Her genus is Chloroceryle whereas the belted kingfisher’s genus is Megaceryle.

Amazon kingfishers (Chloroceryle amazona) are sexually dimorphic and follow the dimorphism of most birds — the male is more colorful than the female.  This one is female.  The males have rust color on their breasts. Click here to see a male Amazon kingfisher.

Belted kingfishers are backwards — the males are less colorful while the females have rust color on their breasts.  Click here to see a male, and here for a female.

This Amazon kingfisher was perched over water during Charlie Hickey’s fall trip to Costa Rica.  Click on his photo for a closer view of this tropical bird.

 

(photo by Charlie Hickey)

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Jan 04 2014

At The Top Of The Mountain

Black rosy-finch (photo by Steve Valasek)

Here’s a bird I hope to see some day … but I’ll have to go out of my way to find it.

The black rosy-finch (Leucosticte atrata) is an alpine bird from the American West that spends all his life at high elevation.  In the summer he nests on cliffs above the treeline in the Rockies.  In the winter he moves to lower mountaintops.

Steve Valasek photographed this one at a feeder at Sandia Crest, New Mexico … at the top of the mountain.

 

(photo by Steve Valasek)

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Dec 25 2013

Merry Christmas

Snow on Pyracantha (photo by Bob Muller, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

The colors of a Merry Christmas…

Pyracantha after a rare snowfall in Nags Head, North Carolina, February 2006 by Bob Muller.

 

(photo by Bob Muller (bobxnc), Creative Commons license via Flickr)

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Dec 20 2013

Penguins As Far As The Eye Can See

King penguin colony on Salisbury Plain, South Georgia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This week I read about colonial nesting in Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.  “About 13% of bird species, including most seabirds, nest in colonies.  Colonial nesting evolves in response to a combination of two environmental conditions: (1) a shortage of nesting sites that are safe from predators and (2) abundant or unpredictable food that is distant from safe nest sites.”

The book mentions king penguin colonies; sometimes they’re huge.  This one is on the Salisbury Plain of South Georgia, an island in a volcanic ridge that arcs from the southern tip of South America to the northern tip of Antarctica.  (Click here to see where it is on Google Maps.)

There are lots of king penguins in the photo above, but zoom out below and the number is stunning.  Half a million king penguins in one place!

King Penguins at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Obviously the advantages of living like this outweigh the disadvantages of occasional social strife, epidemics, or the crash of the food supply.

Imagine being in a place where there are penguins as far as the eye can see!

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals. Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 330 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

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Dec 19 2013

Same But Different

Steller's jay at Sandia Peak, New Mexico (photo by Steve Valasek)

Recent photos by Steve Valasek in New Mexico reminded me that western birds are often very similar to their eastern cousins.  Unlike the ecologically equivalent birds who live on different continents but have similar habitat requirements, these live on the same continent but have different habitat requirements.

Here are two western birds that fit the bill.

This Steller’s jay perched on a feeder in the Sandia Mountains is recognizably similar to our blue jay but he lives in evergreen forests in the mountainous West.  The blue jay prefers oak forests because he loves acorns.  Both jays like to visit bird feeders.

Below, the mountain chickadee also lives in dry evergreen forests in the Western mountains. He looks like a black-capped chickadee except for his white eyebrows.  The black-capped chickadee is far less picky about habitat and can be found in deciduous and evergreen forests, residential neighborhoods, weedy fields and cattail marshes.  Because of this the black-capped has a wider range.

Mountain chickadee, Sandia Mountains, New Mexico (photo by Steve Valasek)

 

And finally, a seed-eating generalist, this dark-eyed junco shows how different he looks in the West.  He’s different but the same.

Dark-eyed Junco, Embudito Canyon, New Mexico (photo by Steve Valasek)

Juncos breed in northern or mountain forests but can be found in a wide variety of habitats in winter.

When I first started birding juncos like this one were listed as a separate species, the Oregon junco.  Since then evidence has shown that the slate-colored junco of the East, the Oregon junco of the West, and the “white-winged” and “gray-headed” juncos are different races of the same species, now called the dark-eyed junco.

There is still much scientific discussion about the “lumping” of the junco.  Given enough time and isolation eastern and western juncos could become separate species and settle the question for us.

 

(photos by Steve Valasek)

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Dec 14 2013

Wearing A Bad Toupee

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Boat-billed heron (photo by Charlie Hickey)

Here’s a bird you don’t see every day … unless you visit the National Aviary where they live in the Wetlands Room.

The boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) is a strange-looking bird from the mangrove swamps of Central and South America.  Not only does he have an unusually fat bill but his head feathers resemble dark hair.

Charlie Hickey took this photo in Costa Rica and noticed immediately that the bird looks like he’s wearing a bad toupee.  Click here to read whose toupee Charlie’s reminded of.

 

(photo by Charlie Hickey)

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Dec 09 2013

Snowy Owl Respect

If you read PABIRDS you’ve seen this discussion and perhaps the video, but it’s well worth passing along.

This winter has quickly shaped up to be an “invasion” year for snowy owls. These big, beautiful birds are popping up in open spaces, on buildings and at shorelines across the northern United States.  On the PABIRDS listserv alone, at least 33 snowies have been reported in Pennsylvania since December 1 — about half of them at Presque Isle State Park.

Snowy owls “invade” in the winter when they’ve had a hugely successful breeding season up north because of super-abundant lemmings last summer.  Most of the visiting birds are young owls on their first trip away from home. They’ve come south to eat our abundant food and rest between meals.  Studies have shown this is a good move on their part.  Scott Wiedensaul points out that the vast majority eat well and return to the Arctic in spring.  Of those that die, the leading cause of death is trauma, not starvation.

But they shouldn’t be harassed. Last Saturday there were seven snowy owls at Presque Isle as well as birders, photographers and owl enthusiasts.  Most people kept a respectful distance but two photographers approached the owls and flushed them repeatedly even though observers warned them not to. This prompted Jerry McWilliams to write:

“Just a reminder to birders and photographers who are interested in observing or photographing the Snowy Owls. You should resist the urge, as we have all experienced, to try and approach too closely. The owl that visited my waterbird count this morning was very alert and did not remain in one spot for long. Between the Coyotes and enthusiastic humans, it is a challenge for these northern invaders to have a chance to rest and find a meal. Please come and enjoy them, but keep your distance and respect their needs.”

The disrespect is not limited to Pennsylvania.  A similar discussion occurred on NJBIRDS about incidents in New Jersey.

Presque Isle Audubon and the state park are doing something about it.   Presque Isle Audubon is organizing volunteers to alert visiting photographers and birders about owl etiquette as they enter the Gull Point Trail.  State Park rangers (DCNR) will also be monitoring the situation.

If you see people harassing wildlife, speak up or report them to park rangers.  If you would like to volunteer at the Gull Point Trail, click here for Presque Isle Audubon contact information.

A gentle reminder to respect the owls will go a long way.

 

(video by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, first published in 2010)

p.s. Click here to read an excellent explanation of wild bird reactions to humans — with a special emphasis on raptors and owls — by Julia Ecklar of the National Aviary.

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Dec 06 2013

Bird Equivalents

Tufted titmouse, Great tit (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s an interesting thought: Around the world there are birds with similar habitat and food requirements that are ecological equivalents to each other.  Though they live on different continents they occupy similar niches.  Sometimes they even look alike.

I was intrigued by this when I found a graphic on page 630 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill showing three sets of equivalent birds from North America and Europe.  Here they are:

Set #1.  The tufted titmouse in North America (at left above) is an ecological equivalent to the great tit in Europe (at right).

All About Birds says the tufted titmouse prefers “eastern woodlands below 2,000 feet elevation, including deciduous and evergreen forests. Tufted titmice are also common visitors at feeders and can be found in backyards, parks, and orchards.”

Europe’s great tit prefers similar habitat.  I wish our titmouse was as colorful.

 

Set #2.  Our black-capped chickadee (at left below) is equivalent to Europe’s willow tit (at right).

Again according to All About Birds, “Black-capped chickadees may be found in any habitat that has trees or woody shrubs, from forests and woodlots to residential neighborhoods and parks, and sometimes weedy fields and cattail marshes. They frequently nest in birch or alder trees.”

In Europe, look for the willow tit in these habitats.

Black-capped chickadee, Willow tit (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Set #3.  The chestnut-backed chickadee of the Pacific Northwest (at left below) is equivalent to the coal tit in Europe (at right).

All About Birds says, “Chestnut-backed chickadees are found in dense coniferous and mixed coniferous forests of the Pacific Coast. You can also find them in shrubs, trees, and parks of cities, towns, and suburbs.”

The coal tit has similar habitat requirements in Europe and fills a wider niche in Ireland where competing marsh, willow and crested tits aren’t present.

Chestnut-backed chickadee, Coal tit (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

 

There are many more ecologically equivalent species.  GrrlScientsist shows us Kenya’s ecological equivalent of the red-tailed hawk at this link.

Can you think of other bird equivalents?

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on these links to see the originals: tufted titmouse, great tit, black-capped chickadee, willow tit, chestnut-backed chickadee, coal tit.
Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 630 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.
)

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