Feb 12 2016

The Largest Dinosaur Ever Found! PBS, Feb. 17

Perhaps you heard on the news last month that “the largest animal ever to walk the earth invaded New York City’s American Museum of Natural History.”

He’s the largest dinosaur ever … but how big is that? Where was he found? And how was he reconstructed?

Find out next Wednesday when PBS NATURE premiers Raising the Dinosaur Giant with host David Attenborough:

A few years ago in the Argentinean desert, a shepherd was searching for one of his lost sheep when he spotted the tip of a gigantic fossil bone sticking out of a rock. When the news reached paleontologists at the MEF Museum in Trelew, Argentina, they set up camp at the discovery site to examine it and look for more bones. By the end of the dig, they had uncovered more than 200 other huge bones from seven dinosaurs, all belonging to a new species of giant plant-eating titanosaur whose name will be announced soon.

The giant was 121 feet long, weighed 77 tons, died 101.6 million years ago, and was still growing when he died!

Visit the dig and follow the forensic research.  See 3D animations and the skeleton’s reconstruction. See how these creatures compare to our largest land animals today.  The videos (above and below) show the enormous thigh bone and examine a baby dinosaur inside the egg.


Don’t miss Raising the Dinosaur Giant on PBS, Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 8:00pm (ET).


(YouTube videos from PBS NATURE)

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Feb 11 2016

Capitalism Benefits Brainy Birds?

Published by under Crows, Ravens

American Crow with peanut (photo from Shutterstock by Al Mueller)

American crow with peanut (photo from Shutterstock by Al Mueller)

On Throw Back Thursday:

A 17-year bird study that bridged the end of Communism and the start of capitalism in East Germany and Czechoslovakia showed the mix of species changed. Birds with small brains declined. Birds with big brains thrived.

Does capitalism benefit brainy birds? Click here to find out.


(photo from Shutterstock by Al Mueller)

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Feb 10 2016

Peregrine vs. Pomarine

Peregrine falcon harasses pomarine jaegar, Cleveland, Ohio, January 2015 (photo from Chad+Chris Saladin)

Peregrine falcon harasses pomarine jaegar, Cleveland, Ohio, January 2015 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

It was so cold a year ago that unusual arctic birds were forced off the frozen Great Lakes to Ohio’s and Pennsylvania’s rivers.

In January 2015, Chris Saladin went to see a pomarine jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus) on the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland.  Pomarines are piratical seabirds that nest in the arctic, famous for harassing gulls, terns and even gannets to steal their catches.

Chris was lucky to be on the scene when the female peregrine from the Hope Memorial Bridge decided to harass the jaeger.  Click here or on the photo above to see slides of the action.  At first the pomarine flies alone, then the peregrine sees it, and … the pomarine leaves.  See all of Chris’ photos and read the complete story here.

For more news of Ohio’s peregrines, visit C&C’s Ohio Peregrine Page on Facebook.


(photo and slideshow from Chad+Chris Saladin’s Ohio Peregrine Page)

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Feb 09 2016

Yes, The Sea Is Rising

Published by under Water and Shore

Flooding at Annapolis city dock (photo by Amy McGovern)

The sea floods Annapolis city dock, 2012 (photo by Amy McGovern)

Last September I visited Annapolis, Maryland and walked past these memorial statues on dry ground.  Little did I know this scene is their fate in the future.

In 1950 Rachel Carson wrote in The Sea Around Us:

We live in an age of rising seas. All along the coasts of the United States a continuing rise of sea level has been perceptible on the tide gauges of the Coast and Geodetic Survey since 1930.

66 years later the ocean has risen enough to create frequent, even daily, challenges for coastal communities.  Nuisance floods that close streets and parks are the harbinger of things to come.

NOAA’s diagram shows why these floods have become more common.  (Click on the image to see the larger diagram.)

Excerpt from Nuisance Flooding Diagram. Click on this to see the original (diagram from NOAA)

Excerpt from Nuisance Flooding Diagram. Click on this image to see the original diagram from NOAA

In 1950, the elevation between the highest high tide and street level was many feet deep and provided headroom for a storm surge.  By 2010, the sea had risen so much that the headroom was gone.  In some places it takes only a slightly higher tide to flood the street.  To make matters worse, climate change is accelerating the rise as heat expands the water and massive ice sheets melt into the sea.

Some places are especially threatened.  Chesapeake Bay is rising faster than the open coast.  At Annapolis, Maryland the water is rising 3.51mm/year with just 0.29 meters of headroom.  In only 45 years they can expect daily floods at the city dock, shown above.  Baltimore is not far behind.

With the sea already engulfing islands and lapping at their toes, Maryland is assessing coastal areas and making plans.  As Baltimore Magazine writes, “The question really isn’t what will be lost anymore, but what we will decide to save.”

Sadly, Florida and North Carolina both experience frequent flooding but have forbidden state employees from talking about it. (Florida last year and North Carolina in 2012).  They’re losing precious time.

Yes, the sea is rising.  Time and tide wait for no man.


(photo of flooding at Annapolis city dock at the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial, by Amy McGovern @ForsakenFotos, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

p.s. Read more about Maryland’s wet future and the expected loss of Blackwater NWR and Assateague Island in “The Sea Also Rises” in Baltimore Magazine. Click here for photos of nuisance flooding in Miami, Florida and North Carolina.

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Feb 08 2016

Winds On Water

Published by under Weather & Sky

Screenshot of animated Earth Wind Map from earth.nullshoot.net. Click on the image to see the animation. (To help orient you, red dots were added to the map for Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles)

Screenshot of animated earth wind map from “earth: a global map of wind, weather and ocean conditions.”  Click on the image to see the animation. (I added 3 red dots to the map to help orient you: Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles)

Science Fun on Monday:

John English told me about this cool website that animates global weather, especially wind on water.  The website is called earth, “a visualization of global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers updated every three hours.”

Click on the screenshot above to see conditions in the eastern North Pacific. Before you do, here are some tips:

  • In the animation, slow winds are blue to green, intense winds are orange to red.
  • Everywhere on earth, the most exciting winds are those surrounding low pressure systems.  In the northern hemisphere, they circle counter-clockwise. (How to remember this? See below.)
  • Notice the blank zones where there’s no wind. The largest are often in the center of high pressure zones.  Some of these line up with the warm water “Blobs” that are killing seabirds by starvation.
  • If you watch for 60 seconds more winds on the continent will start to show up. They aren’t as intense.
  • Click and drag to change the location of the map.
  • Click on the word [earth] at bottom left to change the parameters.  Select a new Mode to see pollution (“chem”) or dust/smoke (“particulate”).

Follow this quick link to see the North Atlantic and Great Lakes map.  There’s usually less excitement here but look north toward Greenland and you’ll see why the North Atlantic is a dangerous place to cross in winter.

And for a really tangled mess of wind click here to see the air flow between South America and Antarctica!

Visit “earth” on Facebook for more screenshots and videos of amazing storms.  You don’t need a Facebook login; just click on the link.


BONUS: Here’s how to identify low and high pressure systems in the northern hemisphere based on the direction the winds are circling. Use the right-hand rule. Curl your fingers in the direction of the winds (B) and point your thumb. The air column (I) is moving in the direction of your thumb. Low pressure sucks the air column up; high pressure pushes it down. The orientation of this diagram would be a low pressure system in the northern hemisphere.

Right-hand rule, illustration linked from Wikipedia

(screenshot of the earth wind map from earth.nullschool.net, right-hand rule illustration from Wikipedia)

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Feb 07 2016

Great Backyard Bird Count, February 12-15

Published by under Books & Events

Birds at Marcy's feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

How many birds can you count? (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Are you ready to count birds?  Next weekend is the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count: Friday through Monday, February 12 to 15.

It’s easy to participate in this citizen science project.  Just watch your feeders or go out birding.  Don’t forget to …

  1. Register here.
  2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes, keeping track of the highest count per species, the time you spent counting, and your location.
  3. Enter your counts via the GBBC website or eBird. (The Great Backyard Bird Count uses eBird and tags your entry as part of the weekend count.)

Download the instructions on the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count or read more here.

Have fun!


p.s.  Photographers, submit your photos to the GBBC Photo Contest to win one of these prizes.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Feb 06 2016

Mud Season

Daffodil leaves, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Daffodil leaves, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

In this weirdly warm winter all the snow melted a week ago, the daffodil leaves poked out further, and we didn’t have to wear jackets.  At 61o on January 31 it was 26 degrees above normal!

Though yesterday’s temperature was exactly on target, today will be 8 degrees above average.  That’s not a huge difference but enough to maintain our early mud season.

We already had mud in our neighborhood ballpark when rain on Wednesday morning enhanced the creamy mudscape.

Mud season in Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

An early mud season in Pittsburgh, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Off the beaten path at Schenley Park it was muddy too, though navigable.

Schenley Park, Falloon Trail, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park, Falloon Trail, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Are the plants in your area waking up early?  Put on your mud boots and go out to see.


(photos by Kate St. John)




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Feb 05 2016

The Reddish Egret’s Water Ballet

February is the month when birds are at a low ebb in Pittsburgh and birders want to get out of town.  Many of us think of Florida.

Whether or not you’re heading south you’ll enjoy this video of heron life at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  Filmed and narrated by Jo Alwood, it shows the reddish egret at his best — dancing his water ballet.


(YouTube video by Jo Alwood. Click here for her YouTube channel)

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Feb 04 2016

Birds’ Body Language

Published by under Bird Behavior

Peregrine mother, Dorothy, defends her babies on banding day, 2004 (photo by Jack Rowley)

Peregrine falcon, Dorothy, defends her babies on banding day in 2004 (photo by Jack Rowley)

On Throw Back Thursday, I found this gem in the archives from 2009.

What do birds mean when they puff up or raise their head feathers?  Imagine if we used the same signals.

Read more here about Body Language.


(photo of Dorothy, 2004, by Jack Rowley)

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Feb 03 2016

Pitt Peregrine Highlights, 2015

Published by under Peregrines

Dorothy feeds the chick, 24 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy feeds the chick, 24 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Looking back, 2015 was an emotional roller coaster for Cathedral of Learning peregrine fans.  It began at a low ebb with Dorothy showing her age and ended with Hope for the future.

As promised, here’s the long awaited slideshow of Pitt Peregrine Highlights, 2015 with a summary below:

To see a slideshow of Pitt peregrine highlights in 2015, click here or on the photo above.


(photo from May 24, 2015 at the National Aviary falconcam, University of Pittsburgh)

*NOTE:  A healthy chick normally doesn’t fall on his back and if he does he’s able to right himself quickly.  In reviewing the snapshots for this slideshow I discovered that Dorothy had been flipping the chick for weeks. She was so quick we hadn’t noticed.

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