That’s a bird report headline from PABIRDS, February 7, 2016. If you’re not familiar with 4-letter bird codes it’s a meaningless message and you wouldn’t know these may be Life Birds. (Fortunately the names are inside the report.)
Few birds have short names so abbreviations come in handy when you’re writing down a lot of them … as we’re doing today for the Great Backyard Bird Count. The U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) ran into this problem early on and made a standardized list of 4-letter codes for birds in North America based on their complete English names. The coding scheme works roughly like this.
4 words in name: First letter of each word. Greater white-fronted goose = GWFG
3 words in name: First letter of first 2 words + 2 letters of the last word. Great horned owl = GHOW, Red-eyed vireo = REVI.
EXCEPT if the last two words are hyphenated. I always get this wrong! It’s the reverse of the rule above and there aren’t many names that fit this pattern. Rule is: First 2 letters of first word + first letters of last 2 words:
Eastern screech-owl = EASO
Eastern wood-pewee = EAWP
2 words: First 2 letters of each word. Snow goose = SNGO, American robin = AMRO
1 word: First 4 letters. Sora = SORA, Brambling = BRAM
Collisions: Sometimes two bird names result in the same code as in BTGW for both the Black-throated green warbler and Black-throated gray warbler. In this case, look up the code using the links below.
Question: What do these two people have in common? On the left, a real person. On the right, the symbol for a fictional one.
Answer: They have the same name and there’s a bird connection.
Birders, did you know…?
The person on the left is ornithologist James Bond. Born in Philadelphia in 1900 he was the curator of ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences and the preeminent authority on birds of the Caribbean. His definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies, was first published in 1936. Updated over the years, it was the only field guide devoted to Caribbean birds until 1998. Click here to read more about the real James Bond.
Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond 007 books, was an avid birder and writer who spent every January and February writing novels at his villa in Jamaica. Of course he had a copy of James Bond’s field guide to help him identify local birds. When he needed a name for his 007 hero he chose James Bond because it was “brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon, and yet very masculine – just what I needed.”
Fleming received James Bonds’ permission to use his name and they later met in person. Fleming also connected birds and Bond by placing many bird references in Dr. No including a guano (bird poop) mine and a bird sanctuary for roseate spoonbills. Click here to read about the 007 connection.
How did I find this out? When I returned from my Caribbean trip last month, Tony Bledsoe told me about the two James Bonds.
Thanks to Wikipedia, the source of this information. Note the copyright information below: * photo of James Bond the ornithologist in 1974 from Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see the original. * Screenshot from the Dr. No trailer, James Bond 007, from Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see the original and its rights information
Today we’ll have a plant identification quiz. I have an answer but you may have a better one.
I found this plant on June 29 at Dead Man’s Hollow in Allegheny County. The leaves are so distinctive that its identity begs for some detective work. Here are the clues I gathered:
alternate on the stem,
edges are entire (not toothed),
leaves are perfoliate. (The stem perforates the leaves, a very cool feature.)
bottom leaves are larger than the violet leaves nearby.
The plant had no flowers and no buds. Instead it had developing fruits which gave me clues about the flowers. Here are two photos of the fruits.
The fruits are:
on stems that sprout from perfoliate spots on the leaves
three sided with a seam in the middle of each side. Does this mean the flower was three-petaled or six-petaled?
still maturing? Or are they in their final form?
I looked up “six petals with alternate, entire leaves” in my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and found a familiar spring wildflower with perfoliate leaves.
However, I am not completely satisfied with my identification. I have never seen “my plant” arc horizontally like this when it’s blooming and the fruits in the illustration look different. Is my Newcomb’s Guide missing a species? Have I never noticed that the plant “lies down” in the summer? Are the fruits going to match the illustration when they mature in a few weeks?
So here’s the quiz: What plant is this?
Leave a comment with your answer. I’ll post my guess after I’ve heard from you.
UPDATE: See the Comments for the answer and a link to the flowering version of this plant.
It was alive when it fell. It grew leaves this spring so the structural weakness wasn’t evident until the tree broke.
This is the only broken tree at this location in Schenley Park. Even if a strong wind snapped the trunk it wasn’t strong enough to damage other trees.
The trunk is not hollow inside the break though there are air gaps between the light outer wood and dark inner core.
There’s a white flaky substance inside the trunk that coats the light wood layers. Is it a fungus?
Did the white stuff weaken the trunk? Is it responsible for the break?
The trunk isn’t hollow, but…
Here’s a close look at the white flaky fungus. It reminds me of the white correction tape I use on paper.
Do any of you know what this is? Is it the reason the tree fell over?
Leave a comment with your answer.
(photos by Kate St. John)
UPDATE on June 5 with the ANSWER! It’s a species of Armillaria or honey fungus. (See Maureen Hobma’s comment below.) Well, I feel a little dumb. I wrote about Armillaria on 16 January 2014 because I was fascinated that it’s the largest living organism. I even included a photo of the white sheets inside the heartwood but, having never seen the white sheets before, I did not remember them. Until now I had only seen the black rope-y strands and the honey mushrooms so that’s all I knew of Armillaria. The white sheets are the newer growth, the mycelium, and can be bio-luminescent! I learn something new every day.
This morning I heard the sound of a lonesome dove.
When seeking a mate male mourning doves call like the ones in this video. Those who’ve found true love don’t need to sing because the cooing is a solicitation call, not a territorial defense.
Unmated males perch-coo from the heights as loudly as they can, “Ladies, I’m available.” It’s amazingly loud considering they don’t even open their mouths. A few have already begun calling in my neighborhood but the peak time will be late April through June.
Males also use flap-glide flight to attract female attention. Taking off with exaggerated wing-claps, they fly up above the trees and rooftops, then spiral down with stiff wings held slightly below their bodies. From a distance their silhouettes resemble kestrels or sharp-shinned hawks. They’ve fooled me more than once. Here’s my attempt at what they look like, gliding from left to right:
Today sunrise is at 6:49am so a lot of us are awake before the perch-cooing begins, but lonesome doves can be annoying in June when they start calling at 5:00am.
Quiz! Test your “birding by ear” skills with this video. In addition to the mourning dove there are at least seven other species singing in the background. Who are they?
(video by Carl Gerhardt, musicofnature.org via YouTube. Silhouette drawing by Kate St. John)
Fill your feeders and get ready for the bird count you can do in your pajamas.
For four days — tomorrow February 14 through Monday February 17 — you can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count from the comfort of your home. All you need to do is count birds for at least 15 minutes, keep track of the highest number of each species you see, and record your count on eBird (instructions here). If you take pictures, submit them to the GBBC Photo Contest.
Join with others across the continent in this weekend science project. Your data will show trends in winter bird populations across North America as you can see in these statistics from prior years.
Don’t want to stay indoors? You can count birds anywhere or join others at one of these local events. (Scroll down for the many events in Pennsylvania.) Here’s how to participate no matter where you choose to count.
Meanwhile, you can practice counting with this photo by Marcy Cunkelman. What species and how many birds are in the picture?