My love of birds has me fascinated with almost anything that flies. Perhaps this is true for you too.
Last month my sister-in-law sent me a link to this 2004 video called Romancing The Wind. Produced by Robert Holbrook, it shows professional kite flyer Ray Bethell flying three kites simultaneously in an aerial ballet. Music from Leo Delibes’The Flower Duet complements the kites.
Ray Bethell is an amazing man. Over 80 years old, he’s a Multiple Kite World Champion from Vancouver, Canada who holds world records in endurance and number of simultaneous kites flown. Here you see him flying three kites at Vanier Park, holding one in each hand with a third tied to his belt. He’s used this same technique to fly 39 kites at the same time! Read more on his website here.
Like the falcons, Ray Bethell’s kites court in the wind.
p.s. The kite model Ray is using has a falcon name: Kestrel.
I rarely spend time near sand dunes so I was amazed to learn that sand can sing. In fact there are 35 places around the world where the dunes sing a low frequency hum in the bottom half of a cello’s range.
The droning happens naturally when the wind causes a sand avalanche. People can force the song by pushing sand downhill. The songs are well known but people have always wondered how and why they happen.
Singing dunes are crescent-shaped barchans with their backs to the wind and their horns pointing downwind. The slipface is inside the crescent (downwind) with its surface at the angle of repose and a stationary layer beneath.
Experiments have shown the importance of the grains themselves. If they’re spherical, 0.1 to 0.5 mm in diameter, and contain silica, they will sing in the lab when they slide down an incline.
Researchers took the Omani sand back to the lab and sifted it down to a nearly uniform size — 200 to 250 microns — and sent it down an incline. Voilà. The sand made a sound of 90 hz, close to the song of the Moroccan dune. (Click here for more information about the study.)
What are the songs like? In this video, filmed in Morocco, a man shows how he learned to make the sand sing. Turn up your speakers and you’ll be able to hear a variety of sounds as he puts the sand through its paces. The video is in French with subtitles, some of which are surprisingly translated as in the first sentence that says “Beware” when it means the less dangerous-sounding “Be aware.”
Thanks to science we’ve learned how the sand sings, but we still don’t know why.
True confessions. When I’m in Maine I usually go on a whale watching trip but my real goal isn’t whales, it’s pelagic birds.
I’m not the only birder on the whale watch boat. There’s usually a dozen of us keeping our eyes peeled for gannets, shearwaters, jaegers and storm petrels.
Storm petrels are my favorites because they’re so dainty. Only the size of starlings, they appear to walk on water as they search for food.
The most common type in the Gulf of Maine in early September is Wilson’s storm petrel, pictured above. When I learned where they came from I was amazed.
Wilson’s breed in colonies on the coast of Antarctica. Like most storm petrels they nest out of sight in crevices and burrows and only visit their nests under cover of darkness. That’s how they hide their eggs and young from raiding gulls and skuas.
When not breeding they live on the open ocean and never come to the land, but they’re easy to see on a pelagic trip because they’re willing to approach boats.
So while it’s winter on the southern ocean I get to see this Antarctic visitor off the coast of Maine. Soon they’ll journey back.
(photo by Patrick Coin via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to see the original)
When ruddy turnstones arrive on the U.S. coast in August, they’re still decked out in their calico colors: black, white and rusty red.
Though all of them are born in the Arctic, ruddy turnstones spend only three months up there. The adults arrive on the breeding grounds in late May or early June and lay eggs by mid-June. The eggs hatch by mid July. The young fledge by early August. As soon as the young are independent their mothers, then their fathers, leave for the south. By mid-August most of the adults have left. The young follow soon.
This schedule means that the first ruddy turnstones we see in August are probably adult females. I saw some early turnstones, probably female, at Cape Cod on August 2nd. Chuck Tague saw his first in Florida around August 22.
Perhaps they’re in a hurry to go south. I haven’t seen any on the coast of Maine this week.
When I’m at Acadia National Park, as I am right now, I make sure to visit to the southwestern edge of Mount Desert Island where migrating song and shorebirds stop before launching across Blue Hill Bay. This lighthouse marks the southern tip.
The Bass Harbor Head Light has warned sailors of the rocky entrance to Bass Harbor since 1858. It was automated in 1974 so there’s no access inside, just a pretty walk down to the shore where the view of the lighthouse dominates the sky.
But don’t take that walk in the fog. The path is rocky and steep.
Most beautiful: Painted buntings at Merritt Island Visitor Center. Last Sunday it was very cold and windy so three male painted buntings stayed close to the feeders. Their blue, red and green colors (shown above) glowed in the nearby bushes.
Best raptor was a peregrine falcon at Daytona Beach Shores who hazed the gulls loafing on the sand, then flew to the tallest building to wait and watch for another opportunity. By focusing on the peregrine I missed seeing the jaegers. Oh well.
Most amazing flock: The 30+ American white pelicans who herded fish at Merritt Island. They swam in tight formation stirring the water with their feet, drove the fish ahead of them, and gulped them up. Overhead a flock of gulls kited in the wind, hoping for an easy catch. From a distance the gulls looked like flags waving above a grandstand.
Crowd Pleaser: Without a doubt the vermilion flycatcher at Orlando Wetlands Park was a crowd pleaser. It was a life bird for me in Nevada last year but this time I had a much better look at it. What a cooperative bird! Like all flycatchers he perched on a branch, made forays to catch bugs, and often returned to the same branch. Everyone on the Halifax River Audubon outing got good looks at him.
Thanks to Chuck and Joan Tague for showing me so many wonderful birds!