Archive for June, 2017

Jun 30 2017

Do You Have A Hobby?

Published by under Birds of Prey,Travel

European hobby (drawing by Jos Zwarts via Wikimedia Commons)

European hobby (drawing by Jos Zwarts via Wikimedia Commons)

Do you have a hobby?

Jos Zwarts of the Netherlands has a hobby of drawing birds.  He drew this bird.  It’s a hobby (Falco subbuteo).

Native to Europe and Asia, the Eurasian hobby is a bit larger than a merlin.  North America has kestrels, merlins, peregrines and gyrfalcons but nothing like a hobby.

Click on the screenshot below to see a video of two Eurasian hobbies at Arkive.org.

Screesnhot of Eurasian hobby video at Arkive.org

Screenshot of Eurasian hobby video at Arkive.org

 

(drawing by Jos Zwarts via Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Video screenshot from Arkive.org)

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Jun 29 2017

Feathers Wear Out

Recently molted feathers of Black-legged Kittiwake (photo by Jymm in public domain on Wikimedia)

Recently molted feathers of a black-legged kittiwake (photo by Jymm in public domain on Wikimedia)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Many birds molt during summer’s “down time” between raising their young and fall migration.  At this point their feathers have worn out.

However (news to me!) female peregrine falcons choose a different time of year.  They begin to molt during incubation, a convenient time to do it because they’re temporarily sedentary and their mates supply their food.  That’s why we sometimes see a peregrine primary feather in the nest box.  Who knew!

Read more about feather wear and molting in this vintage article:

Anatomy: Feathers wear out

 

(photo from Wikimedia, in the public domain.  Click on the photo to see the original)

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Jun 28 2017

Sleepy Eyes, Thick Knees

Published by under Travel,Water and Shore

Eurasian stone curlew in France (photo by Pascal Aleixandre via Wikimedia Commons)

Eurasian stone curlew in France (photo by Pascal Aleixandre via Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a page in the Birds of Europe that shows a “curlew” unlike any found in the United States.  In fact he’s not related to them.

The Eurasian stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) and his Burhinidae relatives have been hard to classify.  They somewhat resemble bustards so were placed in the crane family, Gruiformes, but now they’re with the shorebirds in Charadriiformes. Even so, stone-curlews are far away in the family tree from our curlews, the true sandpipers Scolopacidae.

Eurasian stone-curlews breed in dry open places in Europe and spend the winter in Africa.  They’re nocturnal birds the size of whimbrels with thick knees and large eyes that look perpetually sleepy.  At night the stone curlew sings a loud wailing song.

We have no stone-curlews or thick-knees in the U.S. but they are in our hemisphere.  The nearest species lives in Central and South America, the double-striped thick-knee (Burhinus bistriatus).

Double-striped thick-knee in Costa Rica (photo by Steve Garvie via Wikimedia Commons)

Double-striped thick-knee in Costa Rica (photo by Steve Garvie via Wikimedia Commons)

Photographed northwestern Costa Rica, this bird is showing off his thick knees.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)

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Jun 27 2017

Spoonbills Here and There

Eurasian spoonbill (photo by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net, via Wikimedia Commons)

Eurasian spoonbill in the Netherlands (photo by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net, via Wikimedia Commons)

A bird this unusual must surely be from the tropics, but not this one.

The Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) is a large white wading bird with black legs and a spatulate bill that’s black with a yellow tip.  In breeding plumage they have feather crests and yellow chins. Click here for another view.

Spoonbills live in fresh and saltwater wetlands where they hunt for prey by sweeping their long bills side to side below the surface, snapping them shut when they feel prey close by.

Amazingly this spoonbill nests in both temperate and tropical zones.  Though they’re sparse in Europe, their range extends to Africa and wide swaths of Asia (see map).  Four hundred years ago Eurasian spoonbills disappeared from the British Isles. Happily, they returned to breed in the marshes of Norfolk County in 2010.

Breeding range of Eurasian spoonbill in Europe (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Breeding range of Eurasian spoonbill in Europe (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Of the six spoonbill species on Earth, all but one are white.  The pink one lives in our hemisphere, the roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja).

Roseate Spoonbill (photo by Steve Gosser)

Roseate Spoonbill (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Click here to see the six species of spoonbills, Platalea.  Ours is the one with “A ha ha!” in his name:  Platalea ajaja!

 

(photo credits:
Eurasian spoonbill by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net, via Wikimedia Commons
map of European breeding range from Wikimedia Commons; click on the map to see the original
Roseate spoonbill by Steve Gosser
)

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Jun 26 2017

Crow, Crow, Jay, Jay, Raven

Published by under Songbirds

Carrion crow in London, UK (photo by http://www.sharpphotography.co.uk/ via Wikimedia Commons)

Carrion crow in London, UK (photo by SharpPhotography via Wikimedia Commons)

I recently acquired a field guide to European birds and was surprised at the similarities between their birds and ours.  For the next two weeks I’ll explore some of the intriguing discoveries I made in Birds of Europe by Svensson, Mullarney and Zetterström.

Book cover: Birds of Europe (image linked from amazon.com)

Book cover: Birds of Europe (image linked from amazon.com)

The common English names of European birds are often similar to those in North America but you can’t assume that the species are actually the same.  Here’s why there’s name confusion.  We sometimes have …

  • The same common name for the same species found on both continents.  Example: peregrine falcon.
  • Same-name birds with different adjectives. They’re not the same species but in the same family. Example: crows and jays discussed below.
  • Same-name species that are not at all related. Example: European and American robins.
  • Birds in Europe unlike any North America bird.  Example: hoopoe.

Crows, jays and ravens illustrate two of these points.

Crow, Crow:

The crow pictured at the top of this article looks like an American crow, but he’s not.  You’d have to know he lives in London to know he’s a carrion crow (Corvus corone).  Carrion crows are the same size as American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and have the same habits.  Both are in the Corvus family, though not the same species.  Here’s an American crow.

American crow in Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

American crow in Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Jay, Jay:

Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) and blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) have the same common name with different adjectives.  Though they look different they are both in the Corvus family and have similar habits.  It’s not a stretch to call them both jays.  Here’s what they look like.

Eurasian jay (photo by Pierre Dalous via Wikimedia Commons)

Eurasian jay (photo by Pierre Dalous via Wikimedia Commons)

Blue jay at Algonquin Park, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Blue jay at Algonquin Park, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Raven:

A raven is a raven is a raven. The common raven has the same name and is the same species on both continents: Corvus corax.  Whew!  No confusion with this one.

Common raven, Bryce Canyon, Utah (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Common raven, Bryce Canyon, Utah (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Watch for more European birds in the days ahead.

 

(photo credits: Book cover linked from Amazon.com, all other photos from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the images to see the originals)

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Jun 25 2017

We’ll Stop Singing Soon

Gray catbird singing in Madison, Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Gray catbird singing in Madison, Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This week I noticed that the birds aren’t singing as much as they did a month ago.  Song sparrows and American robins are vocal but Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks have fallen silent.

Gray catbirds have been on and off.  They sang all spring but were quiet in mid-June.  This week they began singing again.  Birds of North America online told me why.

Gray catbirds sing from the moment they return in the spring until late in incubation, then become quiet when the eggs hatch and young are in the nest.  Their first brood fledged in mid June and now, in late June, they’re nest-building and incubating their second brood.  That’s why they’re singing again, though not as often.

Other birds have never stopped.  Northern mockingbird “lonely bachelors” are still singing all night.  John Bauman heard this one outside his window at 1:30am Friday morning!

By mid-July most birds will stop singing.

Maybe the midnight mockingbird will take the hint but it’s possible he’ll continue into August.  Yikes!

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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Jun 24 2017

Heal-All in Bloom

Published by under Plants

Heal all in bloom (photo from Flora Pittsburghensis, Creative Commons license)

Heal all in bloom (photo from Flora Pittsburghensis, Creative Commons license)

Mid to late June is not a good time for wildflowers.  The woodland flowers have gone to seed and most field flowers haven’t opened yet so it’s hard to find anything blooming.  Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) obliges. It blooms from June to September.

Heal-all or Self-heal is a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family native to Europe, Asia and North America.  It’s not picky about sun and soil and it survives mowing so you’ll find it in waste places, lawns and along woodland edges. This photo from the Netherlands shows a typical setting.

Heal-all plants in bloom, Netherlands (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Heal-all plants in bloom, Netherlands (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Though it’s mixed in with other plants heal-all’s flower head stands up like a knob studded with small tubular flowers that range in color from deep purple to pale lavender-white.

If heal-all is annoying in your lawn consider this:  You can eat it or apply it as a poultice on wounds or irritated skin.

For another look at the flower and some musing about its presence in North America, see this vintage article from 2010.

Heal-all

 

(photo credits, Creative Commons licenses: top photo from Flora Pittsburghensis, second photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

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Jun 23 2017

Osprey Family of Four

Published by under Birds of Prey

Ospreys at their nest near Duquesne (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Ospreys at their nest near Duquesne, 19 June 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

The young Hays bald eagle (H7) has flown but another fish-eating bird still has chicks in a nest near the Monongahela River.

Early this week Dana Nesiti (Eagles of Hays PA) visited the Three Rivers Heritage bike trail in Duquesne to check on a long-time osprey nest.  The ospreys return from migration every March to set up housekeeping on an old power pole in a railyard.  During the nesting season the adults are easy to see but the chicks aren’t visible until they’re almost ready to fledge.

On 19 Jun 2017 Dana wrote, I “stopped at the Osprey nest this evening and when the male flew past two little ones poked [their heads up] and when he brought a fish back only saw two again. I think we can confirm two this year.”

Osprey nest with two young near Duquesne (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Osprey nest with two young near Duquesne, 19 Jun 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

 

It’s always cool to see a fish delivery. “Incoming!”

Incoming! An adult osprey brings fish to the nest near Duquesne, 19 June 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Incoming! An adult osprey brings fish to the nest near Duquesne, 19 June 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

 

Thanks to our cleaner rivers, there are plenty of fish for this family of four.

 

See photos of the Hays Bald Eagles and other local birds of prey on Dana Nesiti’s Facebook page: Eagles of Hays PA.

(photos by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA)

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Jun 22 2017

Poison Hemlock

Published by under Plants

Poison hemlock flowers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Poison hemlock flowers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Speaking of poisons as I did yesterday, here’s a poisonous plant that’s probably growing in your neighborhood.  In late June it’s five to eight feet tall.

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is an invasive weed made famous for killing Socrates.  Arrested and condemned to death, Socrates had to drink hemlock infusion as the capital punishment of ancient Greece. If you’re curious about what happened next, click here.

How do you know if it’s in your neighborhood?  Look for a member of the carrot/parsley family that has purple splotches on its stems, as shown below.

Purple-splotched poison hemlock stem (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Poison hemlock stem (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Find out more in this vintage article from June 2011:

It’s Best to Know What You’re Dealing With

 

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

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Jun 21 2017

Surprisingly Poisonous

Hooded pitohui (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Hooded pitohui (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know that your fingers will go numb or burn if you handle this bird?  You’ll be lucky that’s all that happens.  This bird is poisonous!

Though it superficially resembles our orchard oriole the hooded pitohui (Pitohui dichrous) is an Old World oriole that lives on the islands of New Guinea. Its skin and feathers are poisonous to touch though not as deadly as the golden poison frog of South America shown below.  Both animals exude batrachotoxin, a deadly neurotoxin that kills by paralysis and cardiac arrest.  The frog is 50 times more poisonous than the bird.  He contains enough poison to kill 10 men!

Golden poison frog, Columbia (photo from Wikimdeia Commons)

Golden poison frog, Columbia (photo from Wikimdeia Commons)

These animals are poisonous because they eat poisonous insects and yet they don’t die!

Fascinated?

I learned this and more at The Power of Poison exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Power of Poison in the Natural World (exhibit banner from Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

Power of Poison in the Natural World (exhibit banner from Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

The exhibit explores our relationships with poison in nature including how we avoid it, work around it, use it to kill or use it to cure.  Throughout it all we are fascinated by its power.  Here are a few of the cool things you’ll see:

  • A terrarium with live golden poison frogs!  (Find out why these particular frogs are harmless.)
  • Foods we eat that are/were partly poisonous. How about cashews?
  • The real poisons behind famous literary scenes in Macbeth‘s witches’ brew, Alice in Wonderland‘s Mad Hatter, Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie.
  • What killed the Borgias’ enemies? Cleopatra? Ponce de Leon?
  • Poisons that cure cancer and treat high blood pressure.

In the end you’ll get to test your skills with solve-it-yourself poison mysteries.

Visit the Carnegie Museum’s The Power of Poison exhibit, now through September 4, and find out what’s surprisingly poisonous.

Make plans for your visit here.

 

p.s. By the way, poisons in nature aren’t that unusual.  We have poisonous blister beetles, jimsonweed and poison ivy in Pennsylvania, just to name a few.

(photo credits: bird and frog photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals.
‘Poisons in Nature’ banner from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
)

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