Monthly Archives: February 2010

Real Snow

21 inches in my backyard, 8:00am Feb 6, 2010 and still snowing (photo by Kate St. John)
Remember last month when I showed you Marcy's orange ruler measuring almost 10 inches of snow?

This morning I had to get out the yardstick.

At 8:00am there were nearly 21 inches in my backyard.  I left the ruler out there and it now reads 21.75 inches.

And it's still snowing heavily.

I'll try to take more pictures today if I can get outdoors, but it'll be a challenge because my boots aren't that high!  Meanwhile you can click on the yardstick to see what our neighborhood looked like from the street at 8:00am.

(Sorry for the poor image quality; these are from my cell phone.)

(photo by Kate St. John)

Anatomy: Rectrices

Great Crested Flycatcher in flight (photo by Chuck Tague)Having covered the nape, mantle and rump we've gotten to the end of the bird and can now talk about its tail.

Rectrices is a word for tail feathers that's not often used.  I find it hard to remember because it resembles another feather word, remiges, and because I tend to mispronounce both of them.

The good news is that information on the origin of these words makes it easier to figure out their meanings.  Here's how.

Rectrices (pronounced REK.tris.iz) are the strong tail feathers that direct the bird's flight.  Rectrix is the singular form.  When you see them spelled side by side, it's pretty obvious that rectrix and direct come from the same Latin word.

Remiges (pronounced REH.midg.iz) are the wing's flight feathers.  Remex, its singular form, comes from the Latin word for oar and used to mean "rower."   Watch a crow fly and you'll see his wings rowing through the sky.

So the remiges are for rowing and the rectrices are for directing.

Wings row.  Tail directs.  Maybe now I'll remember.

(photo of a great-crested flycatcher showing off his cinnamon rectrices, by Chuck Tague)

Beyond Bounds: Wood Stork

Wood Stork (photo by Kim Steininger)
This bird may have beautiful feathers but look at its feet, look at its face that only a mother could love.

This is the wood stork, a wading bird native to the Western Hemisphere and the only stork that breeds in the U.S.

The wood stork is found year-round in South America, along the Gulf Coast in winter and in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina during the nesting season. It feeds on fish, frogs and large insects that it feels with its sensitive bill.  It also clatters its bills to communicate because, like all storks, it has no voice.

Wood storks are beyond the bounds of western Pennsylvania except for the rare lone juvenile that may show up at Presque Isle State Park in autumn.  These solo birds probably make a fatal navigational error that takes them to the shores of Lake Erie.   The loss of these youngsters is made sadder by the fact that the wood stork is endangered due to water degradation and habitat loss.  Their population has declined so dramatically that they're now considered an indicator species for the Everglades restoration.

Storks and motherhood are often associated but this stork is not the one who brings babies.  That's the job of the white stork of Europe, Central Asia and Africa who nests on chimneys and roofs.

(photo by Kim Steininger)

Cold Road

Roadrunner (photo by Cris Hamilton)
This is one very cold bird who's so fluffed up he doesn't look like himself. 

Can you guess who he is?  Here's a hint:  I put part of his name in the title of this blog.

Still stumped? 

Cris Hamilton sent me this photograph of a greater roadrunner she saw on a trip to New Mexico last December.  She writes:  "We found that the roadrunners were very skittish - not real easy to find, and once found, they would take off quickly in the opposite direction. ... We found this one at the visitor's center of the White Sands National Monument.  It was really cold - like in the teens if I remember correctly, but sunny."

At that temperature he's indeed a "cold road."  Click here to see what greater roadrunners normally look like.

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

Tomorrow is a really big day

Groundhog Day 2005 (photo by Aaron Silvers, Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)
If you've got nothing to do at dawn tomorrow, jump in your car right now and head for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  You're going to have to leave early because the festivities are already underway and the really big show starts long before dawn on Tuesday.

Yes, tomorrow is Groundhog Day and people across North America will pull their groundhogs out of hibernation and ask them what they think of the weather.  If the groundhogs see their shadows they'll scurry back to their burrows and we'll have six more weeks of winter.  If dawn is overcast the groundhogs will be happy and predict an early spring.

If you presented me with a sunny or cloudy day and asked me the same question my prediction would be the opposite but I am not Punxsutawney Phil, the Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.

You may be wondering... Why does this festivity happen on February 2nd?  Groundhog Day, which is also Candlemas, is an old celebration of the date that falls exactly halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  For winter-weary humans it's just about the only thing we can celebrate at this time of year and it happens to be six weeks away from spring.  Funny how that works into Phil's prediction.

So don't delay!  It's a huge celebration.  The trek to Gobblers Knob begins at 3:00am.  The fireworks start before 7:00am and Phil makes his prediction at daybreak (approximately 7:25am).

If you can't make it to Punxsy, watch it live online on the VisitPA website.

(photo of Groundhog Day 2005 by Aaron Silvers, from Wikipedia via Creative Commons license)