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!
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)
Oh, Mr. Tree Swallow, where did you get that blue?
(photo by Jessica Botzan)
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)
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)
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)
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.)
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)
Last fall Parrot Confidential introduced us to the ARA scarlet macaw recovery project in Costa Rica and a bird named Geoffrey who was abandoned by his mother. I assumed at the time that Geoffrey was rescued because his mother was new to motherhood and unskilled in raising her first brood.
But no. Scarlet macaws have a very unusual parenting strategy. The female lays up to four eggs but when the eggs hatch the parents choose just one of the nestlings — usually the first — and shower it with attention. The rest are ignored, unfed, not brooded. They die within three weeks. The parents raise an only child.
I learned about this very unusual behavior in an article in wired.com about the Tambopata Macaw Project in southeastern Peru. Since 1989 the project has collected a wealth of information on scarlet macaw biology and behavior including the birds’ habit of raising only one chick each year. From Nadia Drake’s article:
Observations suggest that this outcome is one of choice, rather than resource limitation. So far, the reasons why are still a mystery. This parenting strategy seems to be unusual even among birds, which often lay extra eggs and then distribute limited resources among chicks with brutal efficiency.
The truth is that macaw chick mortality does not appear to be the accidental or inevitable result of scarce resources.
“This is death by neglect,” said ornithologist Donald Brightsmith of Texas A&M University. “Complete and utter neglect.”
This parenting strategy is an unfortunate trait for an endangered bird but it explains why the ARA Project has a natural supply of baby scarlet macaws: Every nest has an abandoned nestling. By raising the “extra” birds the project boosts the local population.
Scarlet macaws are very intelligent. They have a reason for choosing to raise an only child. We just don’t know what it is yet.
Read more here at wired.com.
(photo in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
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.)
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)