Archive for the 'Beyond Bounds' Category

Nov 30 2014

Rarely Stands Still

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Silver-eared Mesia (Leiothrix argentauris), Mae Wong National Park, Nakhon Sawan,Thailand (photo by JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons)

Except for the “jumpy” attitude in her eye, this beautiful bird looks as if she forages slowly on the ground.

Silver-eared mesias (Leiothrix argentauris) are native to Southeast Asia where they live in the forest eating insects and fruit.

DNA testing recently re-classed them into new family (Leiothrichidae) and genus names (Leiothrix instead of Mesia), so it’s confusing when you look them up.  The books are hopelessly out of date and the Internet has both names.

At this link to an old name, Mesia argentauris, you’ll find videos, photos and sounds.  The birds are so fast-moving that some of the videos are posted in slow motion!  Even when standing still, silver-eared mesias rapidly flick their wings and tails.  Click here to see a male foraging at a feeding station.  Wow!

This female was photographed in Mae Wong National Park in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand.  After you’ve seen them move, you realize how hard it was to capture this sharp photo.


(this photo is a Featured Picture on Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original.)

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Nov 22 2014

Shorebird Of The Savannah

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Spotted thick-knee, South Africa (photo by Cris Hamilton)

He looks like a shorebird, doesn’t he?  But you won’t find him in North America.

This is a spotted or Cape thick-knee (Burhinus capensis), a nocturnal(!) bird who lives in the tall grass of the African savannah.

Cris Hamilton photographed this one in the Serengeti in eastern Africa.

If you don’t want to travel that far you can see him at the National Aviary.


(photo by Cris Hamilton)

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Oct 26 2014

Ugly But Beautiful

Published by under Beyond Bounds

King Vulture at  Weltvogelpark Walsrode, Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

From a distance the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) of Central and South America looks simply black and white but up close his naked head is amazing.

That’s his skin that’s so colorful — yellow, orange, red, blue, gray and purple.

Ugly but beautiful.


(This featured photo on Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons license) was taken at Weltvogelpark Walsrode in Germany.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Oct 10 2014

Click On Every Penguin

Penguin Watch: count the penguins (image from Zooniverse Penguin Watch)

Are you hooked on penguins? Would you like to see more of them from the comfort of your home?

Check out the new online citizen science project, Penguin Watch, where you can view more than 175,000 photos of Antarctic penguins, chicks and eggs.

Because penguins are declining, scientists are monitoring them using remote cameras.  The cameras have taken a lot of pictures — so many that the task of counting the penguins and their breeding success is impossible for the few scientists involved.  That’s where citizen science comes in.

Zooniverse put the photos online and made an easy tool for counting the penguins.  Look at the photo.  Click on every penguin. Done!  The clicks become a crowd-sourced map of Antarctica’s penguins.

It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes because crowd-sourcing smooths out the errors. You can even chat about the images with other volunteers and the researchers at Penguin Watch Talk.

Help scientists understand why penguin populations are declining and how to protect them by visiting or these links on Facebook and Twitter.

Look at the photos.  Click on every penguin.  That’s all you have to do.


(remote camera photo of penguins in Antarctica from Zooniverse Penguin Watch.  How many do you see?)

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Oct 08 2014

Gallinule On Steroids

Purple swamp Hen at Wollongong botanic gardens (photo by Toby Hudson)

Have you ever seen this bird?

It resembles a purple gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus) but it’s the size of a chicken with darker plumage and scary-looking feet.  It looks like a gallinule on steroids.

This is, in fact, a purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), native to Africa, tropical Asia, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, but you don’t have to travel that far to see one.

I learned in an ABA article by Bill Pranty that purple swamphens mysteriously appeared at the Silverlakes development in Pembroke Pines, Florida in 1996.  Some speculated that the birds had escaped from Miami MetroZoo during Hurricane Andrew four years earlier, but the zoo hadn’t lost any swamphens.  Closer inspection revealed that two breeders a quarter mile from Silverlakes had allowed their purple swamphens to roam free.  Naturally some of the swamphens didn’t come home.

By October 2006 purple swamphens were so prolific that Florida’s wildlife managers decided to eradicate them, but more than two years of shooting had no effect.  The swamphens continued to expand their range.  The failed eradication program ended in December 2008.

The first time I ever saw a purple swamphen was last December at Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach, Florida, about 40 air-miles from their original release point.  I’ve birded in Palm Beach County numerous times since the swamphen’s release — especially at Wakodahatchee Wetlands where they appeared in 2000 — but it took 20 years for me to see one.

Though the bird was added to the official ABA Checklist in February 2013, their reputation is tarnished.  When I pointed out my new Life Bird to another birder standing nearby she said, “They aren’t a good thing to see.”

Read about the purple swamphen’s history, the unsuccessful attempt to eradicate them, and their expansion in Florida in this article by Bill Pranty.


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

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Sep 28 2014

Stunningly Blue

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Purple honeycreeper, Trinidad (photo by Greg Smith via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Though he’s called a purple honeycreeper this bird looks stunningly blue in photographs.

Since deep purple can be misinterpreted as blue by the camera lens I wonder … Is this bird purple in real life?  I’d have to visit northern South America or Trinidad to verify his color.  He doesn’t migrate.

Click on his scientific name — Cyanerpes caeruleus — for his range map.


(photo by Gregory “Greg” Smith via Flicker, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)

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Sep 26 2014

Storing Food


Fall’s here now. Winter’s coming.  Birds who stay through the winter are already using their best survival strategies.

Blue jays bury acorns, nuthatches hide seeds in bark crevices, but the real champion of food storage is a bird who doesn’t live in Pennsylvania.

Check out this Cornell Lab video from southern California.  I think California is a warm place where a bird couldn’t possibly need a large pantry but acorn woodpeckers never stop.


(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology on YouTube)

p.s. Check the comments for the real reason why this California woodpecker stores so much food.  Thanks to Janet Campagna for her on-the-spot report.

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Aug 24 2014

A One Day Wonder

Red-necked phalarope at Conneaut Harbor (photo by Steve Gosser)

Pittsburgh birders always hope that a trip to Lake Erie’s shore will uncover a rarity.  Will there be something awesome at the end of that 2.5 hour drive?

This rare bird showed up at Conneaut, Ohio nine days ago.  The August 15 rare bird alert reported an immature red-necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) on the sand spit.  Birders flocked to see him so far from his species’ normal migration routes west of the Mississippi and offshore in the Atlantic.

Steve Gosser photographed him less than 24 hours later.   Isn’t he gorgeous!

Red-necked phalarope at Conneaut Harbor, 16 Aug 2014 (photo by Steve Gosser)

That was Saturday.  I drove to Conneaut on Sunday and the bird was gone.

I should be more nimble if I want to see these One Day Wonders.


(photos by Steve Gosser)

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Jun 22 2014


Published by under Beyond Bounds

Tree swallow (photo by Jessica Botzan)

Oh, Mr. Tree Swallow, where did you get that blue?


(photo by Jessica Botzan)

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Mar 20 2014

The Chicken From Hell With A Pittsburgh Connection

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Illustration of the chicken from Hell (Anzu wyliei) by Mark Klingler, linked from NPR

This morning NPR has news of a newly identified dinosaur that lived 66 to 72 million years ago.

Bones of “the chicken from Hell” were first discovered more than a decade ago by Tyler Lyson at the Hell Creek formation in the Dakotas.  Specimens made their way into museum collections and intrigued Matt Lamanna at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History who suspected this was an oviraptorosaurian theropod dinosaur (bird ancestor!) similar to those found in Asia.

Now Lamanna and his team — Hans-Dieter Sues, Emma Schachner and Tyler Lyson — have figured out what animal made these bones and published their findings in PLOS One.  It was Anzu wyliei, an enormous 500-pound feathered dinosaur with a bony crest on its head.

This illustration by the Carnegie’s Mark Klingler shows what it looked like.  Wow!

Read the full story here at NPR.

(Illustration of “the chicken from Hell” (Anzu wyliei) by Mark Klingler, linked from the NPR article)

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