Last night(*) in the second episode of Penguins: Spy in the Huddle we saw how vulnerable young penguin chicks can be. Fortunately, the dangerous period doesn’t last long. In this final episode they’ll grow up and become independent. Whew!
Independence is forced on penguin chicks because they’re so hungry. Both parents have to fish to keep up with their kids’ demands so the chicks are left largely alone. Young emperors naturally huddle in a crèche but rockhopper teenagers have to be poked to join the group by the few non-breeding adults who watch nearby.
The crèches are safe places to learn from each other but everyone’s equally clueless. How do we walk on ice? What is this wet stuff (melted ice)? My gosh, my down is falling out and I’m getting feathers!
The chicks learn to fight their attackers. Their parents bring food. Life is good. And then…
Their parents don’t come back. Amazingly this triggers a desire to walk to the ocean, a place they’ve never seen. Everything is new but they figure it out and even get help from some unexpected allies.
By now we’re all convinced that penguins chicks are clumsy … until they jump in the ocean. Oh my! They fly underwater! Faster and faster, the rockhoppers make beautiful bubble trails as they disappear in the distance. Such joy!
When folks wonder why blue jays are scarce they turn to the Internet and find my 2012 blog post “Have You Seen Any Blue Jays Lately?” In the past two+ years 116 readers have commented on the status of blue jays where they live.
The most recent comments are on the absence of jays: Where have they gone? Why did they leave? When will they come back … if at all?
Over the winter blue jays eat acorns, beechnuts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts and other mast (nuts). Their range map looks as if they never migrate but they will leave if nuts are scarce.
How can we know if the blue jays will leave? Check the Blue Jay Forecast.
Every fall Ron Pittaway produces a Winter Finch Forecast for Canada based on the abundance of tree seeds in Canada’s forests. The finches in his report eat a wide variety of seeds including spruce, fir, birch and mountain ash. If food is abundant the birds stay home all winter. In poor mast years they irrupt southward. Here in Pennsylvania we wait for Pittaway’s forecast to tell us which species will visit us in coming months.
Blue jays depend on tree nuts too and they often move when the finches do, so Pittaway includes them in his forecast. This year he says “Expect a good to heavy flight (many more than last year) moving westward along the north shorelines of Lakes Ontario and Erie because the acorn, beechnut, hazelnut and soft mast crops averaged low in northeastern, central and eastern Ontario.”
If you live in Ontario, don’t expect to see a lot of blue jays this winter. Lots of them are in Pittsburgh — at least right now. Guess where they came from.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” Well, that’s how I feel today, September 30, 2014.
Today I’m retiring after 39 years in computer science, 24.5 at WQED — a little bit early, but I do look younger than I am.
I’ve been dreaming of this day since the moment 18 years ago when I paused on the Glacier Ridge Trail in Butler County and thought, “I want to retire now. How many more years must I work?” At that point I’d already worked 21 years and thought I had 22 to go. Groan! I wasn’t even halfway! Luckily my husband and I didn’t have to wait that long.
I say “retired” but I also view this as a career change from computer management to birds. I’m not changing what I love to do, I’m just doing more of it including this blog. The best part is that I don’t have to find an employer for my new career. I’m my own boss.
So tomorrow I’m not going to sit at a desk. I’ll be off to see what’s new in the great outdoors.
p.s. Don’t worry that by leaving WQED I’m leaving this blog behind. No way! Outside My Window is my own copyright, I own it, it goes where I go. I’ve been happy to work at WQED. I’m happy to keep hosting my blog at wqed.org.
(Thanks to Dave Hallewell (at WQED!) for the photo above. Click on his name to see his popular Flickr site that just hit 1 million views last week.)
Since 2007 the Falcon Research Group’sSouthern Cross Peregrine Project (SCPP) has satellite-tracked some of the longest migrating peregrines in the Western Hemisphere. Tagged at their wintering grounds on the coast of Chile, these peregrines have shown amazing stamina as they travel back and forth from Chile’s coast to the tundra cliffs of northern Canada.
Over the years the project has tracked 13 birds but now only “Island Girl,” pictured above, has a working transmitter. First tagged in 2009 she’s provided many years of data.
In the screenshot below SCPP mapped her 2009-2013 north and south migrations. As you can see she changes her route a bit year to year and season to season. Heading south (red) she prefers to fly the shortest route to Chile, often across the Gulf of Mexico. On her way north (blue) she travels by land and arcs across central Canada. Click on the screenshot to see Island Girl’s combined 5-year map and explore her routes.
Winter comes early to the Arctic so Island Girl began her southward journey this month, leaving her Baffin Island home on September 17. By the time she roosted last night she’d already traveled 1,478 miles and was spotted by satellite at Vandeleur, Ontario just west of Eugenia Lake.
Since deep purple can be misinterpreted as blue by the camera lens I wonder … Is this bird purple in real life? I’d have to visit northern South America or Trinidad to verify his color. He doesn’t migrate.
“First Steps” is full of happiness, fights and danger.
Happiness when the eggs hatch and adorable chicks emerge. So cute!
Fights when emperors and rockhoppers without chicks gang up on parent birds and forcably try to adopt their “kids.” Fights ensue. The chicks run away. Who knew that penguins could be kidnappers?!
Danger when… Well, danger is everywhere for baby birds. Will there be enough food? Will the chicks get separated from their parents? Will any predators be successful? Usually the birds triumph but sometimes it ends badly. A touching scene among the emperors reminds us that mothers’ grief is universal.
The cleverly disguised spycams play an unexpected part. Penguins and predators are both interested in the eggcams. The penguins try to adopt them. The predators try to eat them. This produces very close looks at penguin belly feathers and far, tumbling views of the colonies.