Archive for January, 2016

Jan 31 2016

Near Open Water

Published by under Birds of Prey

Eastern screech-owl near Loyalhanna Dam, 28 Jan 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Eastern screech-owl near Loyalhanna Dam, 28 Jan 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Often the best birds are near open water, even if they don’t eat fish.

Anthony Bruno found these two at Loyalhanna Dam on January 27 and 28 — an eastern screech-owl (who doesn’t eat fish) and an immature bald eagle (who does).

Immature bald eagle, Loyalhanna Dam, 27 Jan 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Immature bald eagle, Loyalhanna Dam, 27 Jan 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

 

As we head into February, birds are harder to find in western Pennsylvania.  It’s the low ebb of our birding year.

Check out the places with open water and you’ll have better luck.

Look closely.  They may be camouflaged.

 

(photos by Anthony Bruno)

p.s. I went to Loyalhanna Dam today and saw 5 bald eagles but I missed the eastern screech-owl.

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Jan 30 2016

Not A Bluebird

Published by under Beyond Bounds

The bluest bird. Only a subspecies? (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The bluest bird. But only a subspecies? (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This is a blue bird but he’s not a bluebird.

He used to be in the thrush family, just like our eastern bluebirds, but he’s been reclassed as an Old World flycatcher (Muscicapidae).

He is from the Old World.  He breeds in the Himalayas at 9,800-14,500 ft and migrates downhill to spend the winter at 4,900-8,200 ft.  This particular bird was photographed in winter in the mountains of Thailand.

But who is he?

When the photo was taken he was called a Himalayan bluetail (Tarsiger rufilatus) but his species distinction is up in the air. Though he’s a short-distance migrant and much bluer, he’s under consideration as a subspecies of the orange-flanked bush-robin (Tarsiger cyanurus).  For now his old exotic name has disappeared.

He’s not a bluebird.  He’s not even a Himalayan bluetail.

 

(This is a Featured photo on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

 

 

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Jan 29 2016

How To Raid A Wasps’ Nest

There’s a bird of prey in South America that likes to raid wasp nests to eat the larvae.  The problem is that red-throated caracaras (Ibycter americanus) have bare skin on their faces and throats, an easy target for stinging wasps.

How do the birds get the larvae without a lot of pain?  Do they chemically repel the wasps?

In 2013, Canadian Sean McCann and colleagues studied red-throated caracaras in French Guiana on the north coast of South America.  They learned that, no, the birds don’t repel the wasps.  The caracaras are attacked but they compensate in other ways.

Watch the video to see how the birds nab their tasty meal.  They know something about wasp behavior that we had been ignoring.

Click here to read more in their PLOS ONE paper, Strike Fast, Strike Hard, or here at ibycter.com.

(video from YouTube)

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Jan 28 2016

Too Many Pigeons?

Rock pigeon flock (photo by Chuck Tague)

Flock of rock pigeons (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Throw Back Thursday:

It can happen at any time of year but more often in the warmer months.  People suddenly get fed up with the number of pigeons in their area and they want them gone … NOW!

Ideas for instant pigeon removal are usually bad and can be really bad for peregrine falcons who hang out near the pigeons.  Last week I got an email from Patricia M. who needed good ideas for pigeon removal because someone in her town wanted to shoot them.

It really is possible to reduce the pigeon population at a specific location.  I’ve seen it happen at the Cathedral of Learning in 2007 and at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square in 2014. The hardest part of pigeon control is changing human — not pigeon — behavior.

Read how to do it in this blog post from July 2008: Too Much of a Good Thing

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Jan 27 2016

Eagle Season Starts With A Bang!

Harmar Bald Eagle carrying nesting material, March 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Harmar bald eagle carrying nesting material in March 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)

For one of Pittsburgh’s three bald eagle pairs, this year started off with a bang.

Since late 2013 the Harmar pair that nests along the Allegheny River have been hard to observe because PennDOT blocked off the nearest viewing area while building a replacement for the 107-year-old Hulton Bridge.  Steve Gosser took the photo above from that viewing location in March 2013. It’s been hard to get good photos for years.

Last October the new bridge was completed and dedicated but the eagle viewing area was still closed while PennDOT began to deconstruct the old bridge.  However …

Yesterday morning, in a flash of light and sound, the old Hulton Bridge was imploded into the river.  Here’s a video from Dave DiCello, posted at The Hulton Bridge Blog on Facebook. (Dave also filmed the Greenfield Bridge implosion last month.)

 

Staff from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania were on hand to monitor the eagles just in case.  As ASWP reports below, the eagles weren’t affected at all. They were 3.4 miles away as the crow flies.  (The eagles would have flown along the river, which is even longer.)

The Harmar eagles were down river near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club at the time. Our staff member monitoring the eagles said that the birds “didn’t even flinch” at the sound of the implosion.

The eagle viewing zone at Harmar will be closed a while longer but you can watch this pair easily now on the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania website.  ASWP has both the Hays and Harmar eagles’ nests streaming live at eagles.aswp.org. Click here to watch.

And for more images of the Hulton Bridge coming down, check out The Hulton Bridge Blog on Facebook and this story with videos at KDKA.

 

(photo of Harmar female eagle in March 2013 by Steve Gosser. Video by Dave DiCello)

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Jan 26 2016

Death By Warm Water

Common Murres, Peruvian Boobies (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Common Murres, Peruvian Boobies (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

These two species — common murres and Peruvian boobies — have something in common. Both have starved in record numbers in the Pacific Ocean recently.

Common murres (Uria aalge) have a circumpolar range in the North Atlantic and North Pacific while Peruvian boobies (Sula variegata) are native to the west coast of South America yet both seabirds are affected by the same problem: warm seawater.

In the southern Pacific, the failed trade winds of El Niño have ceased the upwelling of cool undercurrents and raised the sea surface temperature near South America.  A similar lack of wind has caused three warm Blobs to persist in the Northern Pacific.  Sea surface temperatures in these regions are running 2oF to 7oF warmer.  That small rise doesn’t sound like much but it’s enough to scare off cold water fish and even generate toxic algae blooms.  There’s a drop in nutrients, a drop in fish life, and that means starvation for seabirds.

Three "blobs" of warm surface water in the Northern Pacific, 1 Sept 2014 (image from NOAA via Wikimedia Commons)

Three “blobs” of warm surface water in the Northern Pacific, 1 Sept 2014 (image from NOAA via Wikimedia Commons)

In June 2014 Peruvian boobies were the first wildlife indication of a strong El Niño when thousands of dead and starving boobies washed ashore on the coasts of Peru and Chile.  Their cold water fishery had failed.  Some were so desperate they flew way out of range to the Galápagos and Panama.

That winter, November 2014 to January 2015, Cassin’s auklets (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) became a warm water casualty on the U.S. West Coast.  In their case the original Blob was to blame.

And now 100,000 dead common murres have washed ashore on the coast of Alaska, victims of warm water in the Gulf of Alaska.

Where will it end?  The El Niño may weaken this spring but who knows when The Blobs will change?

For cold-water sea life, it’s death by warm water.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on these links to see the original photos of common murres and Peruvian boobies)

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Jan 25 2016

Unicorns At Sea

Published by under Beyond Bounds,Mammals

Narwhals

Narwhals “tusking” (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know there’s a whale with a horn like a unicorn?

The narhwal (Monodon monoceros) is an arctic whale, closely related to the beluga whom it resembles.

Close relatives: Beluga whale and narwhal (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

Close relatives: Beluga whale and narwhal (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

Like the beluga, it has teeth though it doesn’t use them for chewing.  All but two of the teeth are vestigial but one of those, the left canine, grows though the male’s upper lip spiraling counter-clockwise, straight out, in a single tusk as much as nine feet long.

The tusk is not a sword.  Instead, like our teeth it’s made up of layers but it’s hollow inside and much more sensitive.  The outer layer is permeable, allowing seawater to pass through the dentin into the hollow core filled with millions of nerves. Scientists know the tusks can sense salinity but they probably can sense a lot more. When narwhals surface to breathe and rub tusk to tusk they’re not fighting, they’re communicating.

Narwhals are so specialized it may lead to their extinction.  They live only in the Arctic Ocean where they depend on its icy habitat for food and shelter.  They roam in pods of 5-10 individuals and may migrate in groups of 1,000 but they seem more loyal to their favorite sites than to following their food.  As climate change heats the water and melts the arctic ice, narwhals will have less food and fewer places to live. Like the polar bear, narwhals are threatened by climate change.

If or when this whale goes extinct it may pass into mythology, like the unicorn.

Unicorn in the Book of the properties of Bartholomew the Englishman, early fifteenth century (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

Unicorn in the Book of the properties of Bartholomew the Englishman, early fifteenth century (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

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Jan 24 2016

See Five Planets

Published by under Weather & Sky

EarthSky.org illustrates view of 5 visible planets 80 minutes before sunrise, Jan 20 - Feb 20, 2016 (image linked from EarthSky.org)

EarthSky.org illustrates the view of 5 visible planets 80 minutes before sunrise, Jan 20 – Feb 20, 2016 (image linked from EarthSky.org)

In case you didn’t hear this on the news last week … you’ll be interested to know that between January 20 and February 20 you can see all five visible planets 80 minutes before sunrise in an arch across the southern sky.  That’s Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter in order left to right.

The illustration above, linked from earthsky.org, shows where to look and when.  Click here or on the illustration to read more about this phenomenon.

Sunrise tomorrow, Monday, January 25, is at 7:35am in Pittsburgh, but before you set your alarm so you can be outdoors facing south by 6:15am you’ll want to know if it’s worth it. Pittsburgh’s skies are notoriously cloudy in the winter.  Will the sky be clear enough to see five planets?

To find out, check the handy chart for Pittsburgh here at ClearDarkSky.com.

Here’s a sample of what you’ll find when you get there.  This is yesterday’s chart surrounded by an orange border to remind you that this is ONLY A SAMPLE! Click on the image to see the real thing.

Sample of ClearDarkSky.com chart for Pittsburgh, PA for SATURDAY JAN 23 2016 (Sample Only!)

Sample of ClearDarkSky.com chart for Pittsburgh, PA for SATURDAY JAN 23 2016 (Sample Only!)

On the chart, dark blue on the “Darkness” line is good.  The white to pale blue areas indicate cloud cover, moonlight or sunlight.

Check the chart and get up early between now and February 20.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, click here to find your location.

Good luck!

 

(illustration of five planets linked from EarthSky.org plus a sample of the Pittsburgh Clear Dark Sky chart from ClearDarkSky.com)

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Jan 23 2016

Confused About Names?

Published by under Weather & Sky

screenshot from winter storm newson The Weather Channel, 23 Jan 2016. Click on the image to read the story.

Screenshot from winter storm news on The Weather Channel, 23 Jan 2016. Click on the image to read the story.

If you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed that most media about this weekend’s weather calls it “the storm.”   It does not have a name. But if you tune into The Weather Channel, they call it Jonas.

In October 2012 The Weather Channel announced they would name winter storms to improve their communications about the storms.  This was not a popular move.

Within a month the National Weather Service announced they would not use the names. By February 2013 Accuweather, the New York Times, the Washington Post and others went on record that they wouldn’t use them either.

That’s why, three+ years later, only those who watch The Weather Channel call this storm by name.

 

(screenshot from The Weather Channel. Click on the image to see the news article at TWC)

p.s. On a personal note, I get my weather from the organization that provides the data (in the public domain & mostly free of charge!) that The Weather Channel uses to make their forecasts:  The National Weather Service

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Jan 22 2016

Why The Apple Tree Came Down

Published by under Mammals

One autumn evening in Sweden, a man came home from his nighttime job and heard a strange bellowing in the dark coming from his neighbor’s apple tree.

A drunken moose was calling for help!

To rescue the moose they had to chop down the tree.

And that’s why the apple tree came down.

 

(video from YouTube)

p.s. The moose had been eating fermented apples.

 

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