I am really tired of cold weather and the effort it takes to walk around in heavy clothes and boots. I can hardly wait for spring and yet … I flew north yesterday to the Arrowhead of Minnesota where the high temperatures are lower than Pittsburgh’s lows, the lows have been -30F, and it snowed six inches yesterday. What was I thinking?
Well, I have a list of northern birds I’ve never seen and my best chance to find them is at the Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival this weekend in Meadowlands, Minnesota.
Jess and Brian Botzan were here last month and saw all the birds on my wish list: great gray owl, northern hawk owl, boreal chickadee, black-billed magpie, gray jay and pine grosbeak. Braving -50F wind chill Jess photographed this great gray owl at the very bog where I’ll be looking for one today. I hope to be so lucky.
So I’ve put on my long johns, corduroys, ski pants, turtleneck, thick wool sweater, polarlite cardigan, parka, Nordic earflap hat, two layers of mittens, wool socks, Sorel boots, face mask, bula and “Hot Hands” heat packets stuffed near my toes and fingers. I look and feel like a purple Pillsbury dough-boy but I am not cold.
My husband, who is too nearsighted to enjoy birding, has wisely stayed home.
Call me crazy.
(photo by Jessica Botzan)
p.s. Thanks to Jess Botzan who’s providing photos from her trip to illustrate my expedition.
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)
When birders don’t see a bird they’re specifically looking for some of them say they “dipped” on that bird. Loosely speaking, dipping means “I didn’t find it.” It comes from British birding slang.
Though I’ve never searched out an American dipper, I have certainly missed seeing one when I was in the right habitat for North America’s only aquatic songbird. (Dippers swim!)
Last year Steve Valasek set himself the challenge of finding all the birds listed in a small New Mexico field guide by the end of 2013. He looked for American dippers but didn’t find one until ten days into 2014. Click here to read his account of finally not dipping on this American dipper.
(photo by Steve Valasek)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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!
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.)