Aug 23 2014

Waxwing Update

Cedar waxwing nestlings (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Remember the cedar waxwing nest I wrote about this month?  Marcy Cunkelman sent me an update this morning.

The eggs hatched more than a week ago and the parents have been busy feeding the nestlings.

All those trips to the fruit bushes have paid off.  Three healthy youngsters are tall enough now to be seen in the nest.  They have yellow wrinkled “baby” beaks and crests that look like bad toupees.

It won’t be long before they fly.

Keep growing, little guys.  Your”hair” will look better soon.

Click here to see what a just-fledged cedar waxwing looks like.

 

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Aug 22 2014

Very Close To Bears

Published by under Mammals

If you want to see black bears, northern Minnesota is the place to be.

Ely is home to the North American Bear Center where PixController‘s webcam made Lily the Bear internationally famous, and just west of Orr the American Bear Association’s Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary allows brave photographers to get very close to wild black bears.

The Vince Shute Sanctuary protects wild bears and provides educational opportunities in its 360-acre sanctuary.  The bears are encouraged to visit a two-acre clearing at the heart of the property where, on the summer evenings, the general public can watch them from the sanctuary’s elevated viewing platform.   Photographers wishing a close encounter can pay hundreds of dollars, learn about bear safety and sign a release. Then up to four photographers at a time can stand on the ground among the bears during the day.

Sparky Stensaas visited in early June and signed the release.  “Basically you sign your life away,” he says, but you can see why the sanctuary does that.  The bears come that close!

Watch Sparky’s video for cute cubs and a very close bear encounter.  Click here to see his video on Vimeo’s full screen and read more about his experience with the bears.

 

p.s. Listen to the sound track for crows and some odd calls that sound like humans saying “wooo.”  Those are ravens!

(video by Sparky Stensaas, The Photonaturalist)

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Aug 21 2014

TBT: Laying Eggs

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Cicada on a tree branch (photo by JohnTsui via Wikimedia Commons)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

August is a busy time for cicadas.  Though there aren’t a lot of them this year, those that are here are busy mating and laying eggs for the next generation.

Did you know that cicadas lay their eggs under the bark of tree twigs?  Eventually you can tell where they’ve done it because the leaves turn brown on the branch tips.

Brown tips on tree branches because of cicada egg-laying (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Back in 2008 I caught one in the act.  Click here to read about cicadas laying eggs.

 

(photo of cicada on tree branch by John Tsui via Wikimedia Commons.  photo of brown tree tips from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on each image to see its original)

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Aug 20 2014

Birds Can Recover Lost Hearing

Published by under Bird Anatomy

Dr. Edwin Rubel works to restore human hearing by studying birds (photo from Univ of Washington Dept of Medicine )

Dr. Edwin Rubel studies chicks’ ability to re-grow their hearing nerve cells. Univ. of Washington Dept of Medicine

My visit to an audiologist for a baseline hearing test revealed an awesome thing about birds.

This summer I had my hearing tested because I noticed I could still hear faint rustling sounds with my right ear but not with my left.  For a long time my left ear has been slightly “less good” but this spring was the first time I didn’t have stereo for everything.  I was looking in the wrong direction for the very quiet birds.

The hearing test showed that my right ear is still above average but I’ve begun to age and am very slowly losing the top end of sound.  My left ear has lost more than my right — hence the lack of stereo — but for a human I have good hearing.  The sounds I’ve lost would only be noticed by a cat (or a birder).  Since those sounds aren’t in the “human” range, the loss is not correctable.

But if I was a bird, I could correct it myself.

We hear thanks to tiny “hair cells” that line the cochlea of our inner ear.  Not “hairs” at all, they are actually protein-filled protrusions that vibrate when sound reaches them and transmit it electronically to the brain.  Age, loud noises, and toxins, including strong antibiotics, damage these cells.  Mammals cannot regenerate hair cells.  Birds can!

The photo above, from a 2004 article at the University of Washington’s Department of Medicine, shows the man who discovered this with a bird that helped him prove it.  In the late 1980′s Dr. Edwin Rubel at the University of Washington and Dr. Doug Cotanche at the University of Pennsylvania simultaneously discovered that birds can recover their hearing.  After hair cell loss they grow the hair cells back again!  Later research uncovered this same ability in fish.  (Click here for the 2004 UW article and here for information in the 2012 Hearing Journal.)

Their discoveries have led to work on a wide range of possible solutions, none of which are perfected yet.

For now, I compensate when I hear a faint bird sound — I turn my head.

Some day, thanks to birds, there may be a cure for us mammals.

 

(photo of Dr. Edwin Rubel from a 2004 article about his research at the University of Washington Department of Medicine)

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Aug 19 2014

Beer Bee!

Published by under Vocalizations

Male American goldfinch (photo by Chuck Tague)

I know American goldfinches are nesting when I hear the call “beer Bee!”

Loud or soft, the accent is on the second syllable.  Birds of North America Online spells it “bay bee”.  I hear “beer BEE.”

The call is a warning. Goldfinches use it near the nest when there’s a dangerous predator nearby.  Last Saturday I heard it repeated loudly for an hour while an immature Coopers hawk perched in my neighbor’s spruce tree.  As soon as the hawk left the goldfinches stopped saying it.

Listen for the call and you’ll learn two things:

  1. There’s a goldfinch nest nearby and …
  2. There’s also a hawk, cat or other danger in the vicinity.

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Aug 18 2014

Last Month Of Summer

Published by under Migration,Quiz

Common nighthawk closeup (photo by Dan Arndt)

August. The last month of summer.  School starts next week in Pittsburgh.

This bird knows summer is almost over.  By the end of the month he’ll leave for South America.

Do you know who he is?  Do you know why he leaves so soon?

 

(photo by Dan Arndt, Creative Commons license on Flickr.  Click on the image to see the original.  Dan lives in Calgary and writes for two blogs: Birds Calgary and Bird Canada.)

p.s. Check the comments for the answer.

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Aug 17 2014

Yo, Joe!

Published by under Plants

Joe-Pye Weed closeup, Jennings Prairie (photo by Kate St. John)

These are the tiny flowers of a very large plant.

Joe-Pye Weed is huge — 10 feet tall! — and stands out in any setting.  Its small flowers are arranged in large dome-shaped clusters, 6 to 9 inches across, that give dramatic tops to these perennials.

Their size is amazing considering they achieve it in only four months.  Click here for a view of the entire plant.

Two common species in our area, Sweet Joe-Pye (Eutrochium purpureum) and Spotted Joe-Pye (Eutrochium maculatum), are distinguished by the colors on their stems but they hybridize and mix it up.

So big and beautiful, I don’t care which one it is.

Yo, Joe!

 

(photo by Kate St. John, taken at Jennings Prairie, Butler County, Pennsylvania)

p.s.  Read Marcia Bonta’s blog to find out why it’s called “Joe-Pye.”
p.p.s. The genus name only recently changed from Eupatorium to Eutrochium, another case where I prefer the old name.

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Aug 16 2014

Love This Blue

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Red spotted purple butterfly (photo by Kate St. John)

The color of indigo buntings and mountain bluebirds, this butterfly is pretending to be something else.

Its name is “Red Spotted Purple” (Limenitis arthemis) — no mention of blue! — and its color mimics the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail.   I suppose the orangish red spots on its underside gave it its name.

This one was mud-puddling with other butterflies at Jennings Prairie last weekend, but I ignored them because they weren’t this color.

I have never seen the deep blue Pipevine Swallowtail.

Love this color.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Aug 15 2014

Raging Chickens

Lest we think that peregrines are the only birds that fight, take a look at this slow motion video of dueling sharp-tailed grouse from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Though they don’t have meat-tearing beaks and sharp talons these grouse are doing some damage to each other.

You won’t see this in August, even if you’re at the northern grasslands they call home.  Fighting is an activity that sharp-tailed grouse reserve for springtime courtship.  The males gather at the lek (courtship stomping grounds) and mix it up to prove who’s best.

Click here for a larger view of the video.

 

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology on YouTube)

 

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Aug 14 2014

TBT: Spunky

House Sparrow at Schenley Plaza (photo by Kate St. John)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

By August Pittsburgh’s house sparrow flocks have grown substantially and the birds are bold.  At Schenley Plaza they ask for handouts.

Click here for my encounter with a spunky sparrow in August 2008.   They’re up to the same tricks this week.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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