Archive for the 'Beyond Bounds' Category

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)

2 responses so far

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)

2 responses so far

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.

2 responses so far

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)

4 responses so far

Jun 22 2014

Portrait

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)

One response so far

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)

Comments Off on The Chicken From Hell With A Pittsburgh Connection

Mar 08 2014

Candy Cane

Shell, Liguus virgineus (photo by H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons)

This shell is so beautiful that it threatens the existence of the animal that wears it.

The candy cane snail (Liguus virgineus) is a land-based snail found on the island of Hispaniola, home of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  Because of its beauty it has been over-collected for the shell trade, making it hard to find and endangering the snail.

This particular shell is in the collection of the photographer, H. Zell, whose photo is one of the finalists for Wikimedia Common’s 2013 Picture of the Year.

Voting ended yesterday but you can still view Picture Of The Year finalists here.

 

(photo by H. Zell, Creative Commons license at Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

4 responses so far

Mar 02 2014

Wishing…

Aurora borealis over Bear Lake, Alaska (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

If only the sky would look like this …

… but it’s unlikely in Pittsburgh.  Not only are we too far south for most aurora borealis, but our skies are often overcast and city lights drown the spectacle.

This beautiful aurora was photographed over Bear Lake at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

 

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

4 responses so far

Feb 22 2014

Athene

Burrowing owl near Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil, standing on one leg (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The burrowing owl’s genus is named for Athena, goddess of wisdom.

In Brazil, this Athene cunicularia stood on one leg for his portrait.

Thinking big thoughts?

 

(This photograph was Picture of the Day at Wikimedia Commons on 19 February 2014.  Click on the image to see the original.)

No responses yet

Feb 11 2014

Subtle Differences

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Faces of green-winged and scarlet macaws (photos from Wikmedia Commons)

If you were paying close attention to last Wednesday’s post about scarlet macaws you noticed that I changed the photo on Friday. That’s because Diane Korolog pointed out that the original photo was misidentified.

When I first published the article I used the photo on the left (green background).  It’s a 2013 Featured Photo on Wikimedia Commons that was labeled “scarlet macaw” but Diane said it looks like a green-winged macaw (Ara chloropterus).  The scarlet macaw (Ara macao) is on the right.

How can you tell the difference with only a head shot?  Diane explained that the scarlet macaw has a clean all-white face, while the green-wing’s face has red feather lines.  The feather lines are so unique that you can identify individual green-winged macaws by their pattern.  This is as cool as identifying individual tundra swans by the yellow patterns on their bills.

The story doesn’t end there.  On Friday I wrote to Information at Wikimedia Commons, explaining the labeling problem.  A volunteer put me in touch with the photographer in Germany and we discussed the problem online.

Tuxyso photographed the bird at the Muenster Zoo where both scarlet and green-winged macaws live in the Tropical Hall exhibit. He labeled the photo “scarlet macaw” because this bird has the yellow wing feathers diagnostic of Ara macao.  But he isn’t a scarlet macaw.  The Muenster Zoo website held the hint to this bird’s true identity.

I can’t read German so I used Google Translate on the link Tuxyso provided.  The zoo explains that in the wild scarlet and green-winged macaws don’t interbreed but in the exhibit a scarlet and a green-winged secretly paired up and produced a hybrid offspring.  Tuxyso called the zoo and confirmed that the bird in his photograph is the scarlet-X-green-winged hybrid.

Everyone was right. This bird is both.

Subtle differences are important.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons: on left hybrid macaw by Tuxyso via Creative Commons license, on right scarlet macaw photo in the public domain)

2 responses so far

« Prev - Next »

Bird Stories from OnQ