Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Jul 03 2017

Five Kinds of Chickadees

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Great tit, England (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Great tit, England (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In western Pennsylvania we have two kinds of chickadees: black-capped and Carolina.  Unfortunately they hybridize in Pittsburgh and look so similar that it’s hard to tell them apart.

The Birds of Europe lists five “chickadees” in Britain though they’re called tits, like our titmouse.  Only two are in the same genus as Pittsburgh’s chickadees and only those two look similar.  Here are all five.

The great tit (Parus major), pictured above, is 60% heavier than a Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) and more colorful.  He sports a yellow chest with a bold black stripe.

 

The coal tit (Periparus ater) is smaller than a Carolina chickadee though he looks large in the photo below.  Unlike our chickadees, his nape is white and he sometimes raises a tiny black crest on his head.

Coal tit in Devon, England (photo by Aviceda via Wikimedia Commons)

Coal tit in Devon, England (photo by Aviceda via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The blue tit or Eurasian blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) is about the same size as a Carolina chickadee but prettier in yellow, black, white and blue.

Blue tit in Lancashire, England (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Blue tit in Lancashire, England (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

The marsh tit (Poecile palustris) and willow tit (Poecile montanus) look similar to each other and to our chickadees. They’re all in the same genus, Poecile.

Marsh tit (photo by S?awek Staszczuk via Wikimedia Commons)

Marsh tit (photo by Slawek Staszczuk via Wikimedia Commons)

Willow tit, Lancashire, England (photo by Francis Franklin via Wikimedia Commons)

Willow tit, Lancashire, England (photo by Francis Franklin via Wikimedia Commons)

 

I think British chickadees are prettier than ours.  My favorite one is blue.

 

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

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Jul 02 2017

Tipping Point

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Rose-ringed parakeet, Kensington Gardens, London (photo by Tony Austin via Wikimedia Commons)

Rose-ringed parakeet, Kensington Gardens, London (photo by Tony Austin via Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine having this beautiful exotic bird at your backyard feeder on a regular basis.

One wild parakeet is a joy to watch. Two are nice, too.  But how many constitute a nuisance?

Rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri) are native to Asia and Africa and popular as pets in Europe, especially because they can mimic the human voice.  However escaped rose-ringed parakeets are now feral in many European cities and the seventh most numerous bird in London gardens (backyards).   Counts conducted a decade ago put Britain’s feral parakeet population at 30,000 birds.

In large flocks the parakeets are noisy and hungry, even voracious.  They shout everywhere they go.

“Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)” from xeno-canto by Timo Tschentscher. Genre: Psittacidae.

Ironically, the birds have reached two tipping points.  Their population is increasing in urban Europe but declining in their homeland, India, where they’re trapped for the pet trade.

How many is too many in Europe?  How few is too few in the wild?

Read more about the U.K. population at CBC news and on the RSBP website.

 

p.s. The bird pictured at the feeder is female and not nearly as colorful as the male, below.  The males have rosy rings on their necks.

Male rose-ringed parakeet (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Male rose-ringed parakeet (photo by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons)

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

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Jul 01 2017

Looks A Little Different

Published by under Travel,Water and Shore

Pied avocet, Netherlands (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Pied avocet, Netherlands (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

There’s something odd about this avocet.

The ones we see in Pennsylvania have orange heads in breeding plumage …

American avocet (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

American avocet (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

… and white heads in basic (winter) plumage.

American Avocet in basic plumage (photo by Bobby Greene)

American Avocet in basic plumage (photo by Bobby Greene)

 

The bird at the top looks different because he’s a pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), native to Europe, Asia and Africa.

Our avocets are “American avocets” (Recurvirostra americana).

Fortunately we can identify both birds as avocets.  All we need is the right adjective.

 

(first two photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals.
avocet in basic/winter plumage by Robert Greene, Jr.
)

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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 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.

“Eurasian Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)” from xeno-canto by Stanislas Wroza. Genre: Burhinidae.

 

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 13 2017

The Rarest Warbler in North America

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Kirtland's warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland’s warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland’s warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) is one of the rarest songbirds in North America.  I have never seen one.  Today’s the day.

This morning nine friends and I are embarking on a Michigan Audubon Kirtland’s Warbler Tour to visit its breeding grounds near Grayling, Michigan.

The Kirtland’s warbler is a habitat specialist, breeding only in young jack pine forests and almost exclusively in this area of Michigan.  When the forest became fragmented and no longer burned to regenerate, the warblers’ population crashed in the 1960’s and early 70’s.  Listed as endangered, it recovered from a low of 400 individuals to an estimated 5,000 birds thanks to careful forest management and control of the brown-headed cowbird, a nest parasite.

Without human help the Kirtland’s warbler would be extinct by now.  The people of north central Michigan are understandably proud of their work to save the bird and happy to share their rare gem with visitors.  There’s a Kirtland’s roadside marker in Grayling and a monument to the warbler in Mio.  Read more about local efforts in this article from Michigan Live.

When not in Michigan, Kirtland’s warblers winter in the Bahamas, then migrate north through Florida and Ohio.  During migration solo birds are sometimes found in Ohio in early May.  This one, photographed by Brian Wulker, was in Stubbs Park near Dayton on 6 May 2016.

Kirtland's warbler (photo by Brian Wulker via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland’s warbler (photo by Brian Wulker via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland's warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker), Creative Commons license on Flickr)

Kirtland’s warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker), Creative Commons license on Flickr)

I can tell you there are plenty of insects for birds to eat in north central Michigan’s woods.  The mosquitoes are frightful!!

UPDATE: yes we saw the Kirtland’s warbler. It’s amazing how loud his voice is, even when he sings with his back to us.

 

(all photos by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license; click on the images to see the original)

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Mar 07 2017

Not A Squirrel

Published by under Mammals,Travel

Central American agouti, in Panama (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Central American agouti, in Panama (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

What rodent is as big as a groundhog, looks like a squirrel, and has long legs like a small dog?

The agouti (pronounced “a GOO tee”) lives in forests, nests in burrows, and eats fallen fruit and nuts.  Eleven species in the genus Dasyprocta range from Mexico to South America and in the Caribbean.  Four are endangered because of habitat loss and over hunting but the Central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), the species I saw in Costa Rica, seems to be doing fine.

Agoutis look like very large squirrels but their bony legs and extremely short hairless tails set them apart.

Central American agouti, walking in Gamboa, Panama (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Central American agouti in Gamboa, Panama (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Like squirrels, they are diurnal but avoid humans because we hunt them.  Where they feel safe, though, they’re almost tame. At Las Cruces Biological Station they’re protected so they stroll around the Wilson Botanical Garden and stop by the bird feeders every morning to glean the fruit knocked off the feeders.

This agouti was wary when I followed him at the garden to take his picture.  I was amazed when he raised the greenish fur on his rump when I got too close. He lowered it when I stopped following him.

Agouti at Las Cruces Biological Station, February 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Agouti at Las Cruces Biological Station, February 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Despite their physical resemblance, agoutis aren’t even related to squirrels.  Their nearest relatives are guinea pigs.

 

(top two photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals. Last photo by Kate St. John)

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Feb 28 2017

Tanagers True And False

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Silver-throated tanager, Cherrie's tanager, yellow-crowned euphonia, Feb 2017 at Las Cruces (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Silver-throated tanager, Cherrie’s tanager, yellow-crowned euphonia, Las Cruces, Feb 2017 (photo by Jon Goodwill)

When I visited Costa Rica this month I saw more tanagers than I’d ever seen before … but some of them weren’t really tanagers.

Tanagers (Thraupidae) are the second largest family of birds on earth but their membership is constantly in flux as DNA tests move birds in and out of the family every year. In the photo above, all three birds used to be Thraupidae but one of them moved out in 2012.

Thanks to photos from fellow travelers Bert Dudley and Jon Goodwill, and from our guide Roger Melendez, here are tanagers we saw in Costa Rica, both true and false.

True Tanagers whose names include the word tanager:

Blue gray tanager (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Blue gray tanager (photo by Jon Goodwill)

  • Cherrie’s tanagers (Ramphocelus costaricensis) were plentiful at Las Cruces Biological Station.  Here’s a male, in velvet black and orange with a blue-gray beak, perching next to a female.
Cherrie's tanager, male and female (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Cherrie’s tanager, male and female (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Palm tanagers with red-legged honeycreeper in the background (photo by Roger Melendez)

Palm tanagers with red-legged honeycreeper in the background (photo by Roger Melendez)

  • Speckled tanagers (Tangara guttata) are subtly gorgeous birds. These were at Las Cruces.
Speckled tanagers (photo by Bert Dudley)

Speckled tanagers (photo by Bert Dudley)

Silver-throated tanager (photo by Bert Dudley)

Silver-throated tanager (photo by Bert Dudley)

 

True Tanagers whose names don’t say “tanager”.  These species are in the Tanager family but you’d never know it by their names.

Green honeycreeper (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Green honeycreeper (photo by Jon Goodwill)

  • The scarlet-thighed dacnis (Dacnis venusta) has beautiful scarlet thighs. Too bad the leaves are hiding them.
Scarlet-thighed dacnis (photo by Bert Dudley)

Scarlet-thighed dacnis (photo by Bert Dudley)

Streaked saltator (photo by Roger Melendez)

Streaked saltator (photo by Roger Melendez)

Slaty flowerpiercer (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Slaty flowerpiercer (photo by Jon Goodwill)

 

False Tanagers that are still called “tanagers.”  These birds in the Piranga genus were moved to the Cardinal family (Cardinalidae).

Flame-colored tanager (photo by Bert Dudley)

Flame-colored tanager (photo by Bert Dudley)

Summer tanager (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Summer tanager (photo by Jon Goodwill)

 

“False” Tanagers that used to be in the Tanager family, though “tanager” is not in their name.

  • The yellow-crowned euphonia (Euphonia luteicapilla), pictured at the top with two true tanagers, was in the Tanager family (Thraupidae) until 2012 when he became a Finch (Fringillidae).  This didn’t affect the euphonia’s life but it scrambled our field guides.
Yellow-crowned euphonia (photo by Roger Melendez)

Yellow-crowned euphonia (photo by Roger Melendez)

 

As you can see, the Tanager family can change in a flash!

 

(photos by Bert Dudley, Jon Goodwill and Roger Melendez)

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Feb 11 2017

In The Subduction Zone

Published by under Travel

Subduction landscape along the Costanera Sur, vicinity of Quepos (photo by Kate St. John)

Subduction landscape along the Costanera Sur, vicinity of Quepos (photo by Kate St. John)

Reflections on a trip to Costa Rica, Jan 27-Feb 6, 2017:

One of the unusual features of Costa Rica’s landscape is the bumpy-looking surface in the subduction zone.  Pennsylvania has nothing like it.

Near Costa Rica’s Pacific shore the Cocos tectonic plate dives under the Carribean plate.  This slow but relentless movement causes ripples in the landscape with small stand-alone hills and pockets where the surface was dragged under. (Here’s a diagram of tectonic subduction.)

The photo above was taken in the subduction area on Route 34 near Quepos.  Below, I’ve marked light pink circles for each small hill and dark pink for the visible subsidence pockets among the grass.

Hilltops (light pink) and pockets (dark pink) in the subduciton zone near Quepos, Costa Rica (retouched photo by Kate St. John)

Hilltops (light pink) and pockets (dark pink) in the subduciton zone near Quepos, Costa Rica (retouched photo by Kate St. John)

This isn’t a stable place to build anything.  Even the road has dips and ripples.

We don’t have a subduction zone in southwestern Pennsylvania but we know something about subsidence.  In Washington and Greene Counties, longwall mining machines remove the coal seam and then back out of the mine causing the roof and surface to collapse.  You can see its effect in the roller coaster appearance of Interstate 79 in Washington County.  Click here for DEP photos of longwall subsidence problems on Interstate 70 and here for a map of locations where longwall mining has undermined both I-70 and I-79.

Pennsylvania’s man-made subsidence has a cost.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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