Feb 20 2015

Incoming!

Published by under Weather & Sky

Most of us were asleep at 4:50am on Tuesday morning when a 500-pound space rock hurtled into Earth’s atmosphere.  It was on its way to Pittsburgh.

Fortunately the meteor’s aim was off a bit — just enough to miss all the populated areas and disintegrate east of Kittanning.

Considering its early morning arrival we wouldn’t know about it if a few people hadn’t been awake.  Eyewitnesses reported seeing and hearing it on the American Meteor Society (AMS) website and NASA’s camera at Allegheny Observatory recorded its arrival in the video above.

Using eyewitness reports AMS generated a map of its trajectory.  Scroll down to see what it was aiming for.  Yikes!

We were lucky.  In an uncanny space-time coincidence a very big meteor whooshed over Russia two years and two days before the Kittanning event.  It weighed 10,000 tons(*) and injured over 1,000 people.  February 15, 2013 in Russia.  February 17, 2015 in Pittsburgh.

…What is it about February?

I wish I had seen it.  I was awake but I wasn’t paying attention.

 

(YouTube video of the February 17 fireball from NASA’s Marshall Center)

(*) that’s 40,000 times heavier than the meteor at Kittanning.

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Feb 19 2015

TBT: Cold Feet

Mourning Dove in winter (photo by Marcy Cunklelman)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT)

Unlike many birds, mourning doves are prone to frostbitten toes.  Can they do anything to avoid it?

Last Sunday morning when it was 2o F, two mourning doves flew in to stand on the dry patch in my heated bird bath.  They were warming their feet!

This morning it is zero degrees Fahrenheit so I expect they’ll be back.

Here’s why they need to warm their toes in an article from January 2010:  Cold Feet.

 

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Feb 18 2015

First Hays Eagle Egg of 2015

If you haven’t been watching the Hays Bald Eaglecam, now’s the time to start.  Last night Mother Eagle laid her first egg of 2015, revealed on camera at 7:37 pm.

Bald eagles are one of the earliest birds to lay eggs in Pennsylvania because their young take so long to grow up and fledge.  The pair at Hays in the City of Pittsburgh has been courting, mating, and tidying their nest since January.  Then on Sunday the female eagle started spending her nights on the nest — just in case.

We saw the first egg on Tuesday, February 17 at 7:37pm when she stood up and looked at it.  (After laying an egg the female bird usually stands over it until the shell dries.)

Dedicated eagle watchers are already calling this egg “H5″ in anticipation of its hatching.  (“H” is for Hatch Hays, 5 means the fifth hatchling (see the comment below from Joyce))  Its hatching event is a pretty good bet.  The first egg a bald eagle lays is always the first to hatch — if it’s fertile — and fertility is not in doubt with the amount of mating this pair has been up to.

Egg #2 is due on Thursday or early Friday when the temperature dips to -8 oF.  Mother Eagle will certainly be clamped down to keep the egg(s) warm!  We’ll have to keep an “eagle eye” on her to see her reveal Egg#2.

Click here to watch the eaglecam and chat with fellow eagle watchers on the PixController website.

 

p.s. Thank you to Bill Powers of PixController for installing the eaglecam.

(YouTube video from PixController)

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Feb 17 2015

Who Made This Hole?

Pileated woodpecker hole in dead white ash tree, Pennsylvania (photo by Kate St. John)

Sometimes you can tell who drilled a hole just by looking at it.

This one caught my eye at Raccoon Creek State Park.  I can tell by its big, rectangular shape that it was made by a pileated woodpecker.

Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) are the size of crows, mostly black with white on their necks and faces, white on their wings (seen in flight) and a red crest. Males, like the one below, have red foreheads and mustaches where the females are black.

Male Pileated Woodpecker (photo by Dick Martin)

Male pileated woodpecker (photo by Dick Martin, 2009)

These are huge woodpeckers! And so are their holes.  Here’s a closer look.

Pileated woodpecker hole in deah ash tree (photo by Kate St. John)

As you can see, the hole is oblong — about 9″ tall by 3.5″ wide — and hollow inside.  The male chooses the site and excavates the interior, gathering wood chips in his beak and throwing them out the “door.”  Eventually his mate helps, too.  It takes them 3-6 weeks to finish a new nest hole each spring.

They only use the nest for one season, but nothing goes to waste.  Pileated woodpeckers stay on territory all year long and use their old holes for roosting at night.  They usually roost alone but on cold winter nights like these “Ma” and “Pa” may roost together to stay warm.

Maybe even in this hole.

 

(photos of woodpecker hole by Kate St. John. photo of pileated woodpecker in Cumberland County, PA by Dick Martin, 2009.)

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Feb 16 2015

Tracks In The Snow

Published by under Mammals

Deer mouse and squirrel tracks in the snow (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t feel trapped indoors on this cold bank holiday.  There’s snow outside and there are animal tracks in it!   Identify the tracks and you can read their story.

You don’t have to stand out in the snow to identify them.  Bundle up and take a camera or cellphone and a ruler.  (The ruler is important! In your photos it will show you the size of the paw print and the distance between prints.)

Run out to the feeder, set the ruler near some tracks and take a bunch of pictures.  Then come inside and identify the tracks at your leisure. Here are some tracking guides to help:

Using Dorcas Miller’s Track Finder booklet, I identified the squirrel tracks beneath my bird feeder. It helps that I saw the squirrels make them.  ;)

 

(photo of deer mouse tracks(across the middle) and squirrel tracks (in the back left corner) from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original by Jomegat.)

 

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Feb 15 2015

Are You Mocking Me?

Published by under Bird Behavior

Two mourning doves (photo by Donna Foyle)

Last week Donna Foyle captured two mourning doves having a silent conversation.

They seemed to be sitting together peacefully but their rumpled feathers indicate something is up.

One of them stretched his right leg and tail.

Two mourning doves (photo by Donna Foyle)

The other one stretched, too.

Two mourning doves (photo by Donna Foyle)

But stretching the tail requires raising a wing and wing-raising is an aggressive move among mourning doves.

Uh oh!  Now they’re both upset.

Two mourning doves (photo by Donna Foyle)

“What are you doing?  Are you mocking me?”

 

(photos by Donna Foyle)

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Feb 14 2015

Happy Valentine’s Day

Pair of mute swans (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A mute swan pair bows in courtship.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

NOTE:  Mute swans were imported to North America. Though beautiful they are very aggressive and pose a threat to our native waterfowl.

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Feb 13 2015

Watercolor

Published by under Beyond Bounds

CORM_Zurich_Seefeld_rsz_wiki

Great cormorants at Zürichorn, Seefeld (Zürich), Switzerland.

 

Though this resembles a watercolor it is actually a photo by “Roland zh” on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.

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Feb 12 2015

Owls Coming to PBS, February 18

Screenshot from PBS NATURE's Owl Power program

Who can see in the dark, fly silently, and hear their prey beneath deep snow?  Owls!

Owls live on every continent except Antarctica, some in extreme heat, others in extreme cold.  How do they thrive in the nighttime world?  PBS NATURE explores their special talents on Owl Power, premiering next Wednesday, February 18.

The show explains some amazing facts about owls.  Did you know that … Their eyes take up 70% of their skull.  Their ear tufts aren’t for hearing, they’re for expressing moods(!).  Owls can hear the sound-frequency of a mouse 10 times better than we can.  And, to an owl the night is 2.5 times brighter than it is for us.

And there are cool video segments including…

  • A thermal-sensing camera shows what’s really happening at night!
  • The barn owl’s slow flight style is compared to a peregrine and a greylag goose.
  • Great gray owl babies fall branch to branch when they “fledge” from the nest.
  • Super-sensitive microphones record the sounds of a pigeon, a peregrine and a barn owl in flight. Only the barn owl is completely silent. (Of course, peregrines don’t need to be silent … just very fast!)

Click on the screenshot above for a preview, then watch Owl Power on PBS next Wednesday February 18, 8pm EST/7pm CST.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.

 

(screenshot from PBS NATURE’s Owl Power)

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Feb 11 2015

Crows Exonorated!

In some cultures and for some people, crows have a bad reputation. Their black feathers and eerily intelligent behavior have linked them with bad luck and death.   Even those of us who like crows are upset when we see them take birds’ eggs and nestlings.  Our distaste for this extends to other members of the corvid family as well.

Some game and conservation organizations kill corvids believing this will help the small birds that corvids prey upon.  Does it?  A recent study published in Ibis says “No.”

The Institute of Research in Game Resources (IREC) studied 326 interactions between corvids and their prey in Europe and North America.  They monitored 67 prey bird species including passerines and game birds.

When researchers removed all predators from the study areas the prey-bird populations increased but when they removed only the corvids there wasn’t much change.  In fact, some prey populations suffered in the absence of crows!

Crows had an impact on reproductive success but this didn’t make much difference to the species’ populations.  Study author Beatriz Arroyo said: “In 81% of cases studied, corvids did not present a discernible impact on their potential prey. Furthermore, in 6% of cases, some apparently beneficial relationships were even observed.”

So is it good conservation practice to kill corvids?  “This method of managing populations is frequently ineffective and unnecessary,” says Arroyo.

Crows are exonerated!

Read more about the study here in Science Daily.

 

p.s. As you can see in the video, crows just want to have fun.  ;)

(video of a hooded crow on YouTube.  Hooded crows are native to Europe.)

 

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