Archive for February, 2016

Feb 29 2016

The Gift Of Time

Published by under Weather & Sky

Today we get the gift of time.  Leap Day, February 29, gives us 24 hours that are usually missing from our calendars.

You probably know we have to insert this day every four years because the earth revolves around the sun in approximately 365.25 days.  To make the calendar match the stars and seasons we add an extra day every fourth year with a complicated century exception.  The 4-year-old video above explains the details of this astronomical problem and how Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII figure into it.

Last June 30 we received the gift of an extra second.  You probably missed it because it happened just before midnight.

Leap Second on June 30, 2015 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Leap Second on June 30, 2015 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Leap Years and Leap Seconds are unrelated but caused by a similar problem. Just as calendars must adjust for Earth’s rotation, so too must atomic clocks. The clocks are extremely accurate but Earth’s rotation is slowing down and not even at a consistent rate.  An extra second is added whenever the difference between mean solar time (UT1) and Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) reaches 0.9 seconds.  The need for this second is so unpredictable that it’s announced only six months in advance.  Computers hate this but there are workarounds.

In the past eight months we’ve gained 24 hours (on February 29, 2016) + 1 second (on June 30, 2015) + 1 hour (changed to Standard Time on November 1, 2015).  This nets us 25 hours + 1 second.

Do something fun with the gift of time.  Happy Leap Day!

 

p.s. We’ll lose an hour in two weeks on Sunday March 13 when we switch to Daylight Savings Time.  Yikes!

(Leap year video by Epipheo on YouTube. Leap second illustration from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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Feb 28 2016

Gorgeous Galahs

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Galahs in southern Australia. Click the image to see the video (screenshot from Vimeo by the green eye)

Galahs in southern Australia. Click the image to see the video (screenshot from Vimeo by the green eye)

We haven’t had wild parrots in Pennsylvania since the Carolina parakeet(*) was extirpated in the 1800’s … and our lives are poorer for it.

In Australia some parrots are so common that they’re overlooked or considered pests.  The galahs (Eolophus roseicapillus) fall into that category.

Click on the screenshot to watch them in southern Australia. You’ll recognize a familiar introduced species grazing with them.  Enjoy stunning cockatoos at the 1:20 mark.

Parrots are gorgeous.

 

(screenshot of galahs from video by the green eye)

(*)The last Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) died in captivity in the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21, 1918.  That’s also where the last passenger pigeon died three and a half years earlier on September 1, 1914. 

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Feb 27 2016

Reading the Palms

Published by under Plants

Comparing Palms: Scrub Palmetto, Saw Palmetto, Sabal Palm (illustration by Chuck Tague)

Comparing Palms: Scrub Palmetto, Saw Palmetto, Sabal Palm (illustration by Chuck Tague)

Until last Thursday I thought these palms were hard to identify. On our visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Chuck Tague explained that if you look at the stem and arrangement of fronds it’s easy to tell the difference between these three Florida natives.

Scrub palmetto’s (Sabal etonia) fronds all grow from the tip of the stem in a palmate fan — the way your fingers branch out from your palm. It never stands up like a tree because its trunk usually remains underground. We saw a Florida scrub-jay perched on scrub palmetto at Scrub Ridge Trail.

Saw palmetto’s (Serenoa repens) fronds are also palmate but the stem is serrated, giving the “saw” in its name.  This one doesn’t stand up either. Its trunk lies on the ground or just below the soil.

Sabal palm’s (Sabal palmetto) fronds are pinnate, sprouting on two sides of the stem instead of from the tip. These palms are upright and become trees up to 65 feet tall — the state trees of Florida and South Carolina.

Look closely at the fronds and stems and you can read the palms.

 

p.s. Did you know these fallen-off stems are called boots?  People sometimes trim them off but they should be left on the trunk to support the tree.

"Boots" on a sabal palm (photo by Chuck Tague)

“Boots” on a sabal palm (photo by Chuck Tague)

 

(photos by Chuck Tague)

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Feb 26 2016

Life’s A Stage

 

Here’s a light-hearted look at the serious business of courtship among the birds-of-paradise.

Happy Friday!

 

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology on YouTube)

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Feb 25 2016

Peregrine On The Beach

Peregrine Falcon eating Laughing Gull, Daytona Beach Shores (photo by Michael Brothers)

Peregrine Falcon eating Laughing Gull, Daytona Beach Shores, 2012 (photo by Michael Brothers)

Throw Back Thursday:

Humans aren’t the only ones who visit Florida’s beaches in winter. Large flocks of gulls and shorebirds loaf on the sand and sometimes a peregrine falcon finds this irresistible.

In 2012 an unbanded adult peregrine ate a gull within 20 feet of passersby at Daytona Beach Shores. Click here to read the story and see the slideshow On The Beach.

 

(photo by Michael Brothers, 2012)

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Feb 24 2016

Only A Mother Could Love

Anhinga with young in nest (photo by shellgame via Flicker Creative Commons license)

Anhinga with young in nest (photo by shell game via Flicker Creative Commons license)

Last Sunday at Wakodahatchee Wetlands I was pleased to see anhinga nestlings up close even though the small ones are rather ugly.

Anhingas (Anhinga anhinga) nest colonially in woody shrubs above water during south Florida’s dry season (November to May) because low water levels concentrate the fish and make them easier to catch.

Newly hatched anhingas are pale, naked and reptile-like though their eyes are open*.  The females lay eggs up to four days apart and begin incubation immediately so the young in recently hatched nests range in size and appearance from small naked hatchlings to large downy first-born.

The nestlings beg with their mouths closed and their gular pouches extended (the skin beneath their beaks), asking their parents to dole out food by regurgitation.

Below, an older nestling has his head inside his mother’s mouth to get food from her gular pouch while the younger one on the left looks angular because he’s begging with extended gular skin.  His throat looks bigger than the top of his head!

Anhinga feeding its young while second nestling begs (photo by shellgame via Flicker Creative Commons license)

Anhinga feeding nestling while second nestling begs (photo by shell game via Flicker Creative Commons license)

 

Eventually the youngest catch up to the oldest … still with faces that only a mother (and father) could love.

Anhinga nestlings (photo by Jimmy Smith via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Anhinga nestlings (photo by Jimmy Smith via Flickr Creative Commons license)

 

(photos by shell game and Jimmy Smith via Flickr, Creative Commons Atrribution Share-Alike Non-Commercial License)

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Feb 23 2016

I Can Count Him

Published by under Songbirds

Spot-breasted oriole (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spot-breasted oriole (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Here on the east coast of Florida I’m looking for a Life Bird.  I’ve been to this part of the country so often that I’ve seen all the easy ones, but there’s a bird in Broward County that fits the bill.

Spot-breasted orioles (Icterus pectoralis) are native to Mexico and Central America but were introduced to the Miami area in the 1940’s.  Since then they’ve raised families, spread out a bit and become so established that they’re “count-able” according to American Birding Association rules.  I found out they’re at Markham Park in Broward County where I heard that a western spindalis was hanging out with them in January.

The western spindalis is gone (alas! not reported since January 31) but the spot-breasted orioles are still there so I’m going to seek them out.

If I see one, I can count him.

 

(*) “Countable”: When a new species is introduced to North America it can’t be counted as a wild bird on ABA Life Lists until the ABA determines that it’s become established on its own.  Of course I have my own list of exceptions that count for me but aren’t official.  Click here for the ABA rules and here for the ABA checklist.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

p.s. Alas! Bad luck. I didn’t find the spot-breasted orioles even though two were seen on Sunday.

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Feb 22 2016

Dramatic Tides

Published by under Water and Shore

Low and high tides at the Bay of Fundy (photo © Samuel Wantman / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL)

Low and high tides at the Bay of Fundy (photo © Samuel Wantman via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL)

Since I come from a landlocked place (Pittsburgh) I don’t pay attention to tides but I’d better take note this week if I want to see shorebirds.

The tide where I’m visiting the east coast of Florida has a high-to-low difference of 2 to 3 feet depending on the harbor.  This doesn’t look like much but it makes a difference to birds. They can take their time in Florida as the water rises slowly.

Birds have to act fast at the Bay of Fundy where the tides are the highest in the world. With a range of 40-55 feet docks look absurd at low tide and mud flats are inundated quickly.  The time-lapse video below shows tidal rise and fall at Hall’s Harbour, Nova Scotia.  The birds show up for a relatively brief moment at low tide.

 

On the opposite side of the Atlantic there are locations in the U.K. with impressive tides, too.  Click here for illustrations, then click on each photo of low tide to get the same scene at high tide.

Dramatic!

 

(low and high tide photos by © Samuel Wantman / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL. Click on the image to see the originals.  Hall’s Harbour time lapse by Leo de Groot on YouTube)

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Feb 21 2016

Three Eggs at the Hays Eagle Nest


Third bald eagle egg at Hays

Since yesterday afternoon at about 2pm there are now three eggs at the Hays bald eagle nest in the City of Pittsburgh.

In backwards order, the egg above is the 3rd one (February 20). The video below is the second one, laid on February 16. Click here for the first one on February 13.


Second bald eagle egg at Hays

There are still no eggs at Pittsburgh’s other webcam eagle nest at Harmar, but by the time you read this it may have changed.

As always, watch the Hays and Harmar eaglecams on the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania website at eagles.aswp.org.   Read more on their Facebook page.

(videos of the Hays bald eagle near in Pittsburgh, PA from PixController’s Facebook page)

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Feb 20 2016

Primary Colors

Scarlet ibis, little blue heron, Venezuela (photo by barloventomagico via Flicker)

Scarlet ibis, little blue heron, Venezuela (photo by barloventomagico via Flicker)

If you’re in the right place at the right time you can find herons in red and blue!

Barloventomagico photographed this scarlet ibis and little blue heron at El Cedral Ranch in southern Venezuela.

All they need is a large yellow bird to make up the primary colors.  In Venezuela, which bird would that be?

 

(photo by barloventomagico via Flicker)

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