Dec 27 2012

Gorgeous Fluorescence


This gorgeous video of a nighttime coral reef was shot by Steffen Beyer of Five Dive Gear using specially filtered blue lights.

The creatures are spectacular.  The music is soothing.


(video by Steffen Beyer of Five Dive Gear)


p.s. If you don’t have 9 minutes to watch it, click at 5:55 to see the fantastic creatures that appear at minute 6.

For more information on how and why these animals glow click here or here.  To explore more photos and the gear that made the video possible visit

p.p.s. Thanks to Wanderin’ Weeta for pointing out this video.

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Dec 26 2012

Go on a Virtual Safari, Help Science

Published by under Beyond Bounds,Mammals

Nature observers and webcam lovers, here’s an opportunity to go on a virtual safari and contribute to science from the comfort of your home.

The University of Minnesota has been studying lions in Africa’s Serengeti for over 45 years.  Several years ago, in an effort to determine the population of other species in lion country, they installed 225 motion-detection cameras to record all the animals, both day and night, that pass by the study sites.

They now have thousands and thousands of photographs that contain an animal of interest … but which animal?   And how many?  And what are they doing?  Are there Wildebeest? Zebras? Serval cats?  Eland?  Guinea fowl? Grant’s gazelles (above)?

The task of identifying and counting the animals in so many photos was too huge for just a few people so they teemed up with Zooniverse to launch the Snapshot Serengeti website. It’s a citizen science project and you can help.

Visit to see the photos.  Try the tutorial. Learn how to identify the animals and how to use the clues for animals you’ve never seen before.  Then checkmark three items: what species, how many, what they’re doing.  Click Finish and you’re onto the next photo.

Of the two Zooniverse projects I’ve tried so far I like this the best.  At first I wasn’t very good at wildebeest vs. eland vs. buffalo but I quickly got better.  I could really tell I’m a “bird person” when I was excited to see two guinea fowl, and then a secretary bird!

Try it yourself.  Sign up at, sign in and you’re off on safari!

(screenshot from Snapshot Serengeti)

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Dec 25 2012

Merry Christmas

Published by under Books & Events

A cluster of poinsettias  wishing you a Merry Christmas!

(photo in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to seethe original)

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Dec 24 2012

Here To Stay

Published by under Songbirds

“Gone away is the bluebird, here to stay is a new bird.  He sings a love song as we go along, walking in a winter wonderland.”  — Winter Wonderland

Even though Winter Wonderland doesn’t mention Christmas, we sing it at this time of year with thoughts of snow and love.

The lyrics were inspired by snowfall in Honesdale, PA.  I like to think they have a special meaning for Pennsylvania birders.

Eastern bluebirds leave northern and western Pennsylvania during cold snowy winters so it’s accurate for a snowy song to say, “Gone away is the bluebird.”  (Bluebirds remain further north during mild winters.  Eight days ago it was 58 degrees during the Buffalo Creek Watershed IBA 80 Christmas Bird Count; I counted 35 bluebirds!)

And who is the new bird?  My choice would be the northern cardinal.

In 1800 northern cardinals were southern birds but they expanded their range northward as people changed the landscape and improved food availability.  Cardinals reached northern Ohio in the mid 1800s and were common in Pennsylvania and New Jersey by 1900.

So when the lyrics to Winter Wonderland were written in northeastern Pennsylvania in 1934, the northern cardinal was already here to stay.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

3 responses so far

Dec 23 2012

Holiday Frog

This Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) looks like he’s ready for the holidays with bright red eyes, green skin, orange toes and blue sides.

How does a frog this colorful manage to hide?  He would be easy prey except for his camouflage capability.

When young these treefrogs have brown skin that made it easy to hide in the Central American rain forest.

As an adult he tries to match the leaves.  He flattens himself against a green leaf, pulls in his orange toes and positions his legs to hide his blue sides.  Then he closes his red eyes.

Poof!  He’s a leaf.

When awake, he contributes to a vibrant world.

(photo by Charlie Hickey of a Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) at Vara Blanca, Heredia, Costa Rica, November 27, 2012. Click on the image to see the original)

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Dec 22 2012

Two Turtle Doves

Published by under Beyond Bounds

“On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves…”  –  The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Why turtle doves?

Probably because they are symbols of love, as in The Song of Solomon.

Pictured above, European turtle doves (Streptopelia turtur) resemble North America’s mourning doves but are more slender and colorful.  They breed in Europe and western Asia, spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa (see map).

Turtle doves used to be very plentiful but are now in serious decline in Europe.  As of 2007, their population had decreased 62% since the early 1980′s.  Scientists attribute this to changes in farm practices that eliminated the weeds and seeds these doves depend on for food, and the over-hunting of turtle doves in Mediterranean countries as the birds pass through on migration.

The decline in Europe is so severe that birders fear they are headed for extinction on the continent that immortalized them in a Christmas song.

Fortunately, turtle doves are not declining in western Asia so they won’t go extinct worldwide.

In the future turtle doves may be as mysterious a gift in Europe as they are to us.

(photo by Yuvalr via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

One response so far

Dec 21 2012

The Sun As Pearls

Published by under Weather & Sky

Like a three-strand necklace of pearls, this composite photo shows the sun’s position hour by hour at the summer solstice, the vernal equinox, and the winter solstice.

It was taken at the same location in Bursa, Turkey over a period of six months by award-winning amateur astronomer and night sky photographer Tunç Tezel, a member of The World At Night.

The top strand is the sun’s transit during the summer solstice in June, the longest day of the year.  You can tell the sun was up for 15 hours because there are fifteen pearls on that strand.

The middle strand was taken during the equinox when every place on earth has 12 hours of daylight.

The lowest strand was taken on this day, the winter solstice, when there are 9 hours of sunlight in northern Turkey.

There are nine hours of daylight in Pittsburgh today, too.

Northern Turkey and western Pennsylvania are on approximately the same latitude so these sun tracks are what we see here in Pittsburgh.

The whole world shares the same sky.  We all can see the sun as pearls.


(photo copyright by Tunç Tezel, member of The World At Night (TWAN).  This photo was NASA’s Astronomy Photo Of the Day on September 23, 2012.  Click on the photo to see the original and learn more about its creation.)

2 responses so far

Dec 20 2012

In Response To Daylight

Published by under Tenth Page

This week’s Tenth Page is on Thursday because Friday is an important day.

Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, when Pittsburgh will have only 9 hours 17 minutes of daylight compared to 15 h 4 m during the summer solstice.

This annual ebb and flow of daylight is an important cue for organisms that live in the temperate zone.

Birds, animals, plants, fungi and even blue-green algae all have internal clocks approximately 24 hours long.  Humans have long clocks: 24 hours and 11 minutes plus or minus 16 minutes.  Some birds have short clocks that run less than 24 hours.

The discrepancy doesn’t matter because our internal clocks reset every day in response to daylight.  In constant dim light we have no cues.  Experiments with common chaffinches show that their circadian clocks drift until their “days” are only 23 hours long in the absence of sunrise and sunset.

Birds also have circannual clocks that trigger their annual cycles of molt, migration and reproduction.  These clocks respond to the shorter days of fall and winter and the lengthening days of spring and summer.

After the breeding season birds’ reproductive organs shrink, an adaptation for flight that lightens their load during most of the year.  The shrinking is triggered by the decreasing light of fall and winter days.  After the winter solstice, the increasing photoperiod triggers their organs to grow in preparation for breeding.

Experiments with juncos show that they require a winter solstice for this to happen.  If the photoperiod increases without first decreasing, their reproductive organs don’t grow.

Our birds need the solstice to set their clocks.

(Inspiration for this Tenth Page is from page 250 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.    Photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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Dec 19 2012

Named For…

Guess why this South American bird is called a Bearded Bellbird.


(video from YouTube)

p.s. that beard is not made of feathers.  It’s long stringy skin.  :-o

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Dec 18 2012

How Do You Say?

Published by under Plants

It’s poinsettia time so I went online to look for a pretty picture.  That’s when I got into trouble.

I searched Wikimedia Commons for poinsetta and found only four pictures.  Huh?  Only 4?  That cannot be possible.

One of the photos pointed to another view of the same plant and I finally got the hint.  I was spelling it the way I pronounce it.  I was spelling it wrong.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico where they are very leggy plants in the wild.  They were named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, first U.S. Minister to Mexico, who brought them to the U.S. in 1825.

The plant became popular as a Christmas decoration when Albert Ecke became fascinated by them, his son learned to make them into bushier, more beautiful plants, and his grandson promoted them on television in the 1960′s.  The rest is history.

Meanwhile, I was shocked — shocked! — to discover that there are two i’s in poinsettia and the second “i” should (or could) be pronounced.    I have never pronounced that second “i” and I wondered if this was a ‘Burgh thing (we have a notoriously vowel poor accent) so I conducted an informal poll.

How do you say the name of this plant?

So far, everyone I’ve asked says poin-SET-ah (no second “i”).  Two people knew about the extra “i” and one of them changed her pronunciation after she learned about it — but she didn’t start out that way.

I’ve heard that in some parts of the U.S. people say poin-SET-tee-ah, but if you’re from the Pittsburgh, well…    Poinsetta.

Hah!  No wonder I misspelled it.

(photo by André Karwath on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

7 responses so far

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