Tonight we turn the clocks back and gain an hour of sleep.
The rest of nature will stay in the same time zone and on the same circadian rhythm it’s been using for a long time. Our bodies will too. They aren’t going to jog an hour just because we told them to.
This graphic from Wikimedia Commons looks complicated but it shows why this is going to happen. Our bodies have a circadian rhythm that triggers on daylight.
Click on the image to see the original graphic — and larger print — showing our circadian rhythm at the equinox. Since we have only 10.5 hours of daylight right now in Pittsburgh, the top of the graph is probably compressed. Sunrise today is 7:51am (where the graphic says 6:00). Sunset today is 18:15 (where the graphic says 18:00).
But tomorrow morning we will be magically transported to the Rio de Janiero time zone.
Until my circadian rhythm adjusts I’m not going to be myself.
(image by Yassine Mrabet from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
The American badger is ready for Halloween. He always wears a mask.
This nocturnal member of the weasel family isn’t found in Pennsylvania but occurs from western Ohio to the California coast. He makes a living by digging for small burrowing animals, especially mice, squirrels and prairie dogs so his favorite places are grasslands where the soil is easy to dig and his prey is abundant. That’s a habitat rarely found in Pennsylvania.
American badgers are nature’s backhoes but they work at night and are usually alone. This makes them hard to watch and census. Even so, we can guess they’ve declined or are missing from areas where prairie dogs have been eradicated.
When I learned American history in grade school, Christopher Columbus’ arrival on October 12, 1492 was Day One. So little was said of the people and habitat that preceded his landing that it seemed nothing happened until he got here. I learned that North America was an empty wilderness, barely inhabited. By the time the English settlers arrived it was indeed empty, but it wasn’t like that before the first Columbus Day.
In 1491 the human population in the Americas was greater than that of Europe, the Central Mexican Plateau the most densely populated place on earth. Unfortunately American Indians had no immunity to European diseases. Once the flame was lit their contact with each other and with escaped pigs from the Spanish expeditions fanned the plagues across the continents over and over again. In the 150 years between First Contact (the first Columbus Day) and the first English settlers, 95% of the American Indian population died.
This emptied the hemisphere of its keystone species — humans. Without the agricultural and hunting pressure of 100 million people the forest grew and other species took over. For instance, Mann explains that passenger pigeons and bison were not numerous when American Indians ruled the continent but their populations exploded in the sudden the absence of humans. Wow!
Sometimes while hiking I find a trace in the forest of a former homestead — a row of stones that bordered a field, an apple tree engulfed by weeds, a Norway spruce alone in the woods. Nature took over the site but I can see the past because someone told me what to look for. The settlers who arrived in the 1600′s found the continental equivalent of old field succession but no one was there to explain it.
Mann’s book gave me a window on the world before Columbus Day. If you haven’t read 1491 I highly recommend it.
(statue of Christopher Columbus by Frank Vittor, erected by the Sons of Columbus in Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, in 1958. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
RADical Days, an annual event now in its 12th year, is sponsored by the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) and its funded assets to thank the public for the sales tax funds that support the region’s parks, libraries, sports and civic facilities and programs, and arts and culture organizations.
As you can imagine his movements are constrained by his height, reputed to be 50 feet tall. (There is some disagreement on this. Some media outlets say he’s only 40 feet tall. We’ll have to ask the American Ornithologists’ Union for a ruling on this.)
Don’t miss this opportunity to add this species to your Life List!
It seems hard to believe but the subspecies Branta canadensis maxima (Giant Canada Goose) was nearly extinct in 1900 due to overhunting and habitat change. Many states conducted reintroduction programs to help the geese along. Here in Pennsylvania the birds so did well that there are nearly 280,000 resident maxima Canada geese, almost double the management goal of 150,000.
How do you determine the citizenship status of a Canada goose? By time of year and location. Only Pennsylvania residents are here in September. Migratory geese won’t be leaving Canada until the lakes begin to freeze in October and even then the South James Bay population visits the northwest corner of the state (Lake Erie to Pymatuning) and the Atlantic population stays well east of the Appalachians and south of I-80. In most of Pennsylvania, Canada geese are residents.
Why don’t our resident geese migrate?
Geese travel in family groups which collect at staging areas to join larger flocks. The young geese learn the migratory paths from their parents. If their parents don’t migrate the whole family stays put. The reintroduced geese had no one to teach them to migrate so they and their descendants live here year round.
The resident geese know our habits and will gather in the no-hunt zones this month. You may see more of them on our city rivers and in county parks in the days ahead.
Meanwhile, remember that fall is here and with it comes hunting season. Wear blaze orange, especially if you visit State Gamelands where it’s required even if you’re not hunting.
(photo of Canada geese in Ottawa, Ontario from Wikimedia Commons. These geese are migratory. Click on the image to see the original)
The series by John Downer Productions follows birds in flight on six continents using camera techniques and close ups reminiscent of the 2001 film Winged Migration.
I previewed the “North America” segment and like Earthflight better, not only because the camera technology has improved and miniaturized, but because Downer’s producers let the birds lead us to natural phenomena from the birds’ perspective. Brown pelicans over Baja California show us the amazing water dance of “devil” stingrays. Great egrets in South Carolina reveal where dolphins purposely beach themselves to herd fish.
The series took four years to produce, in part because key birds in the film were imprinted from birth on humans and raised to be comfortable with cameras, ultralights and microlights. John Downer himself became an accidental “mother” to a duck whose egg he was delivering to a cameraman. The egg hatched in transit and the duckling immediately assumed Downer was its mother. She followed him everywhere for almost a year. “It was a total commitment,” Downer said, “but one that rewarded me with one of the best moments of my life as it flew alongside me in a parascender.”
The episodes are packed with birds and wonders:
North America, Sept 4, stars snow geese, bald eagles, brown pelicans, whales and the “devil” rays.
Africa, Sept 11, follows vultures, cape gannets, flamingos and the great migrations of wildebeest and sardines (chaos in the ocean; a sky full of diving gannets).
Europe, Sept 18, features white storks, cranes, sand martins (watch them drink and bathe while flying), and — bonus for Peregrine Fans — 20 million starlings trying to out-fly the peregrines in Rome.
South America, Sept 25, follows condors, swifts, hummingbirds and scarlet macaws. See the Nazca lines with the birds.
Asia and Australia, Oct 2, stars demoiselle cranes, bar-headed geese (at 27,000 feet over the Himalayas), pigeons, rainbow lorikeets and Japanese cranes dancing in the snow.
Flying High, Oct 9, shows how the series was made, the birds who starred in the show, and unexpected mishaps including the time when the camera crew lost snow geese (temporarily) in Brooklyn, NY.
Watch Earthflight on PBS Nature beginning September 4 at 8:00pm EDT. In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.
My interior debate upon opening any new field guide is: Should I jump right in or read it first? The first quarter of the book is not to be missed. It provides excellent tips on how to use the book, What to Notice On A Warbler, How to Listen to Warbler Songs and how to read sonograms.
But during Confusing Fall Warbler season you might have to jump right in. Use the Quick Finders.
Try the East Fall Quickfinder on pages 110-111. Use a Post-It note to bookmark the page edge so you can jump here quickly. Pick the closest bird you see but don’t worry about making a wrong guess. When you get to the species account you’ll find similar Comparison Species and ample descriptions to point you to the right bird.
If you already have a guess, flip to the species accounts and — Hooray! — they’re in alphabetical order by common name, not in the confusing ever-changing taxonomic order.
The accounts are rich with easy to find tips. I’ve already learned from the Diagnostic Field Mark ✔ that’s “always sufficient for a confident ID.” Did you know you can always ID a drab confusing Blackburnian by the pale braces on its back and dark olive cheek patch that’s pointed at back and bottom? Now I know.
The end of the book is full of treasures too with a Quiz and Review, right-sized photos of Warblers in Flight and a table of Habitats and Behaviors.
Added bonus: Download the audio guide of warbler sounds including chip calls. You’ll need them during fall migration.
Confusing fall warblers are arriving soon so be prepared with The Warbler Guide. Click here or the image above to learn more and buy it from Princeton University Press.