Jan 18 2015

Natural Ice Sculptures

Published by under Hiking,Weather & Sky

Icicles along the Butler-Freeport Trail near Monroe Road (photo by Kate St. John)

A week ago I found beautiful ice formations along the Butler-Freeport Trail at Monroe Road.

Water’s constant drip made a curling fountain.

And some of the icicles accumulated frosty teeth.

Frosty teeth on the icicles (photo by Kate St. John)


The weather was warming that day and part of this massive ice cliff …

Cliff lined with massive icicles (photo by Kate St. John)

… had crashed to the ground across the trail.

Icicles crashed to the ground (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s one of the smaller chunks near my boot.  I’m glad I wasn’t there when it fell.  Watch out below!

Chunk of fallen icicle for size comparison (photo by Kate St. John)


This weekend the weather has been unseasonably warm.

I wonder what the icicles look like now.


(photos by Kate St. John — taken with my cellphone because I forgot to bring my camera)


4 responses so far

Jan 17 2015

Ice Imitates Art

Ice flows off the Kamchatka coast (photo from the International Space Station via Wikimedia Commons)

Ice off Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula moves in circles shaped by wind, water and the coast.

Seen from the International Space Station, ice imitates art.


Click here to read more about this photo on Wikimedia Commons.

(photo from the International Space Station via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

No responses yet

Jan 16 2015

Make The Best Suet

Published by under Musings & News

Blue jays and red-bellied woodpecker eat at the suet log (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Backyard birds need high-calorie food when the weather is harsh.  Did you know you can “cook” for the birds?

Marcy Cunkelman has a favorite No-melt Peanut Butter Suet recipe that’s a real bird-pleaser and well worth trying.

The recipe has a long and famous history in our area.  Scott Shalaway calls it The Best Suet recipe and has been telling folks about it on his radio show since 2005.  He credits Martha Sargent in Alabama for passing it along to him.  Julie Zickefoose, from southern Ohio, has a similar recipe called “Zick Dough” that omits the sugar and adds chick starter.

Marcy makes Scott’s version and loads it into holes drilled in old logs.  (The blue jays, above, are waiting for her to reload the holes.)  You can also offer it on trays or in suet cages. The secret is real lard — not substitutes.

No-melt Peanut Butter Suet Recipe (from Martha Sargent in Alabama)
Melt 1 cup of lard and 1 cup of crunchy peanut butter in microwave or over low heat in a kettle. Stir, then add:
2 cups of quick cook oats
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup of flour
1/3 cup of sugar

Pour into square containers and freeze for your suet holders or load into a suet log or even spread on a tree trunk.

Red-bellied woodpecker ready to eat Marcy's homemade suet that's rubbed on a tree trunk (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

We’re heading into a warming trend but winter is still with us so there’s plenty of time to “get cooking.”


Note this caveat from Julie Zickefoose:  Julie used to feed her birds Zick Dough all year long but the bluebirds got gout from it!  (Yes, even birds can get gout from a rich diet.)  The bluebirds recovered when she stopped feeding them suet in the non-winter months.  Here’s her recipe and warning at Birdwatcher’s Digest.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)


3 responses so far

Jan 15 2015

A Jovian January

Published by under Weather & Sky

Jupiter and its Galilean moons (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Jupiter has captured my imagination this month so on Throw Back Thursday (TBT) I’m pointing you to one of my favorite January topics:  The Moons of Jupiter.

It’s a Jovian January. 

Watch for another Jupiter post later this month.


(retouched photo of the moons of Jupiter by Don E. Stewart from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to see the original.)

No responses yet

Jan 14 2015

Eagles Fight in Russian Winter

Published by under Birds of Prey

Gloden eagle grabs Stellers sea eagle by the leg in a fight over food (screenshot from National Geographic online)

In North America we think of our bald and golden eagles as large birds but they’re no match in size for the Steller’s sea eagle.

Steller’s sea eagles live on the coast of northeast Asia so they rarely encounter North America’s bald eagle but they do run into goldens who are lightweights by comparison.  The largest Steller’s can outweigh a golden eagle by a factor of two.

At Lake Kuril on the Kamchatka Peninsula Steller’s sea eagles and golden eagles compete for food.

Click here or on the screenshot above to watch them fight in the Russian winter.  



(screenshot from National Geographic’s Wild Russia series)

No responses yet

Jan 13 2015

Me And My Shadow

Published by under Weather & Sky

Io with its shadow on Jupiter (image from Wikimedia Commons)

When the sky is clear on cold January nights, the planet Jupiter shines brighter than the stars.  Step outside with binoculars and you can see up to four of its moons.

These are the Galilean moons, named for Galileo because he was the first to report them in 1610. He used an improved 20-power telescope that wasn’t even as good as today’s birding scopes.  When the moons are in the right position you can see what Galileo saw — something like this.

However on the night of Friday January 23 you’ll need a real telescope to view them because three of the moons — Europa, Callisto and Io — will transit (pass across) the disk of Jupiter and cause eclipses on the planet.

Above, the Hubble Space Telescope captured Io playing “Me and My Shadow.”  At one point on January 23-24 all three moons will play this tune.

Astronomy.com calls it a triple shadow transit.    Click here for their drawing of what you’ll see in the telescope at 1:40am EST on January 24.

This is your last chance to witness Jupiter’s triple shadow transit until 2032, but it’ll take some preparation and luck to see it.  You’ll need a telescope and the sky has to be clear.

In Pittsburgh we’ll have to cross our fingers.  Our sky is usually overcast in winter.


(photo of Io and its shadow on Jupiter from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.  Click on the image to see the original)

No responses yet

Jan 12 2015

That’s Close Enough

Published by under Bird Behavior

Emu closeup (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

These pictures from Wikimedia Commons tell a story.

Christian Jansky was capturing some nice closeups of an emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) at the zoo in Stadt Haag, Austria while the bird stood patiently.

Suddenly the emu had had enough.  “Don’t come so close!”  He made a move to bite the camera.

Emu closeup with its mouth open (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Notice how the nictitating membranes are now covering the bird’s eyes so they don’t get hurt while he attacks.

I wonder what happened next.


(photos from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the images to see the originals.)

One response so far

Jan 11 2015

I’m Gonna Get You!

Raven chases bald eagle chasing osprey (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This photo is tiny but it shows the pecking order in the sky.

The bird on the left is an osprey, the middle one’s a bald eagle, the right one is a raven.  Click here or on the photo to see a full size image with a better view of the birds.

The bald eagle wants the osprey’s fish. The raven’s harassing the bald eagle. It’s unusual that all three lined up in one big chase.

“I’m gonna get you!”


(photo by Ciar via Wikimedia Commons.  Click here to see the original photo with documentation.)

One response so far

Jan 10 2015

Take A Look Outdoors

Published by under Beyond Bounds,Trees

Cone of a Japanese larch (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Feeling cooped up by winter weather?  Tired of staring at four walls?

Put on your hat and coat and take a walk outside.  Even though it’s cold, nature has beauty on display.

Take a look outdoors. … Then you can reward yourself with hot chocolate.


(photo of a Japanese larch cone at John J. Tyler Arboretum in Media, Pennsylvania. Click on the image to see this Featured Picture on Wikimedia Commons.)

6 responses so far

Jan 09 2015

Rocks With Pizzazz

Published by under Musings & News

Willemite-Franklinite-Rhodonite in normal light, Sterling Mine, Ogdensburg, NJ (photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

(photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

To a novice like me, this rock is interesting because of its shape and color, but I would never have found its photo if it hadn’t had pizzazz.

It’s a rare and valuable specimen of Willemite, Franklinite and Rhodonite. Mineralogists can tell you that Franklinite pinpoints its origin right down to a single county — Sussex County, New Jersey — the only place on earth where Franklinite is found. This rock came from the Sterling Mine at Ogdensburg.

But that’s not what I mean about pizzazz.

Back in October at the Wissahickon Nature Club we learned about fluorescent minerals from Harlan Clare who showed us many samples under normal and “black” light.  What really impressed me is that a boring rock can display amazing colors if the mineral is fluorescent.

Expose this rock to ultraviolet light and it bursts into glowing green and orange!

Willemite-Franklinite-Rhodonite under ultraviolet light from the Sterling Mine, Ogdensburg, NJ (photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

(photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)


Most rocks look boring in normal light so how did people figure out that some of them glow?

At a rock mine the ore sits out in the sun for a while after it’s pulled from underground. If you take a fluorescent rock back into the dark mine, it glows because it was exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet light.  Sir George Gabriel Stokes named this fluorescence in 1852 when he described why fluorite glows.

So now when you see a basket of boring rocks for sale, think of the possibilities.  When you know what you’re looking at you can find one with a hidden punch.  Harlan Clare carries a small UV flashlight so he can preview the rocks before he buys.

Some rocks are like willets.  They’re boring until they open their wings.


(photos of Willemite, Franklinite, Rhodonite from the Sterling Mine, Sterling Hill, Ogdensburg, New Jersey (George Elling Collection) by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

3 responses so far

« Prev - Next »

Bird Stories from OnQ