Archive for the 'Water and Shore' Category

Mar 10 2017

Vaudeville Gulls

It's Vaudeville time with duets of gulls singing and dancing.

Above, two yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis) sing in Europe.

Below, European herring gulls (Larus argentatus) dance in Penzance, UK.

Their acts are serious business.  Gulls sing when they're courting and dance for their dinner.

You'll hear lots of gulls singing in the months ahead as they enter the breeding season.

But you'll be lucky if you find a dancing gull.  In Europe gulls stamp on the ground to bring worms to the surface.  I've never seen them do it in North America.  Have you?

 

p.s. I guessed at the identity of the dancing gulls. If you know they're not herring gulls, please tell me what they are.

(videos from YouTube)

One response so far

Mar 02 2017

The Shock of Swan Divorce

Bewick's swans (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bewick's swans (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Some birds are so faithful to their mates that it's absolutely shocking when they divorce.  Such was the case with two pairs of Bewick's swans at Slimbridge in 2010.

Read more here in this vintage article: Swan Divorce

 

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

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Feb 17 2017

The UnSpotted Sandpiper

Published by under Water and Shore

Spotted sandpiper in February at the Yucatan (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spotted sandpiper in February at the Yucatan (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spotted sandpipers (Actitis macularius) in mid winter make you wonder how they got their name.

They spend the winter from the southern edge of the U.S. to Central and South America, but no matter where you find them they are spotless at this time of year.

Their behavior provides a clue to their identity as they forage alone and bob their tails.  The photo above, taken in the Yucatan in February, shows a blur for the bird's tail because it's moving.

Next month they'll start to molt into breeding plumage before they travel north.  By the time they reach western Pennsylvania in April they'll look like this:

Spotted sandpiper in breeding plumage (photo by Bobby Greene)

Spotted sandpiper in breeding plumage (photo by Bobby Greene)

 

During this weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count, they'll be "unSpotted" Sandpipers.

 

(photo of (un)spotted sandpiper from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Photo of a spotted Spotted sandpiper by Robert Greene, Jr.)

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Jan 06 2017

I’m Not A Sea Gull

Published by under Water and Shore

Ring-billed gull in non-breeding plumage, Lake Erie, Ohio (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ring-billed gull in non-breeding plumage, Lake Erie, Ohio (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Some people call them "seagulls" but this species doesn't care about the sea.

Ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) are surprisingly continental birds. Most breed in interior North America, migrate near fresh water, and spend the winter on the coast or at inland lakes and rivers, landfills and shopping malls.

They like to live near water because it's safer to sleep on water than on land, but they don't need the ocean at all. A lake or river will do.  And parking lots are marvelous for daytime loafing.

The ring-billed gull's range map, linked here from All About Birds, shows their inland preference.  It's the reason why they're so plentiful in Pittsburgh in the winter.

Range map of ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis), linked from All About Birds website

 

To prove their land-loving ways, here are three ring-billed gulls courting and arguing far away from the ocean. The parking lot is in Crystal Beach, Ontario across the water from their large nesting colony in Lackawanna, New York.

 

Ring-billed gulls will tell you, "I'm not a sea gull. I'm just a gull."

 

p.s. That's why birders call this group of birds "gulls" not "seagulls."

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, range map linked from AllAboutBirds.org. Click on the images to see the originals in context.  Gull video by Jay Burney on YouTube)

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Dec 29 2016

No Regrets

Snowy Egret (photo by Kim Steininger)

Snowy Egret (photo by Kim Steininger)

 

On Throw Back Thursday:

Because of a poem, I have another name for snowy egrets that describes how I feel when I see them:

No regrets!

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Dec 28 2016

A Puzzle For Learning Ducks

Published by under Water and Shore

Diving Ducks puzzle, preview and pieces (All About Birds Academy)

Diving Ducks puzzle preview from All About Birds Academy

If you like puzzles, here's one that helps you identify birds.

Cornell Lab's All About Birds Academy offers an online puzzle of male diving ducks.  Practice your ID skills while you put it together.

Click on the puzzle piece above or here to play.

 

(jigsaw puzzle pieces in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Diving ducks puzzle preview from All About Birds Academy)

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Dec 26 2016

Surf Scoter At Highland Park Dam

Published by under Water and Shore

Surf scoters, female in background, male in front (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Surf scoter pair in Virginia, female in background, male in front (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Reports on PABIRDS just before Christmas say there's been a surf scoter on the Allegheny River upriver from the Highland Park Bridge.

The reports don't indicate whether it's a colorful male or a dull looking first-year male or female.

This photo from Wikimedia Commons shows a female and male to give you an idea of what to look for.  Notice the heavy triangular bill typical of scoters, and the white patch on the back of the head typical of surf scoters.

If you go looking for the bird, here's where: Allegheny River at Highland Park Dam

 

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

2 responses so far

Dec 20 2016

Blue Is A Color Morph

A dark colored snow goose, called a "blue goose," comes in for a landing (photo from USFW via Wikimedia Commons)

A dark colored snow goose, called a "blue goose," comes in for a landing (photo from USFW via Wikimedia Commons)

The cool thing about science is that it's open to revision.  If new data shows a different solution and the solution stands up under repeated, intensive review, then science changes its stance.

Museums are great places to see this kind of scientific progress in three dimensions.

The Blue Goose diorama at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is good example.  When the diorama was created in 1925, the blue goose was considered a separate species from the snow goose. The diorama was devoted to the unique "blue" species.

The Blue Goose diorama at Carnegie Museum (photo by Kate St. John)

The Blue Goose diorama at Carnegie Museum (photo by Kate St. John)

But the blue goose isn't a separate species at all.  By 1961 genetic tests had shown that the blue goose is a dark color morph of the snow goose.  According to Birds of North America Online, the color is "controlled by a single locus, the blue allele being incompletely dominant to the white."   Although the blue color is somewhat dominant, snow geese tend to pick mates the same color as their parents so their white color persists.

The plaque next to the diorama explains how we've learned new things over time.

Blue Goose Diorama explanation (photo by Kate St.John)

Blue Goose Diorama explanation (photo by Kate St.John)

So when you hear a scientist making statements that include words like "may indicate" or "likely," consider this.  Scientists aren't being vague.  They're speaking carefully from data that's currently available. When they get even stronger evidence they'll let you know. Statements like this are truthful: "Scientific studies indicate that extreme weather events such as heat waves and large storms are likely to become more frequent or more intense with human-induced climate change." It only sounds vague to our society hungry for absolutes.

Meanwhile, we do know this is true: Blue geese are a color morph, not a separate species.

 

Visit the dioramas at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History on the first floor near Discover Basecamp.

(photos taken at Carnegie Museum by Kate St. John. photo of snow geese from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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Dec 18 2016

Quiz: What Bird?

Published by under Quiz,Water and Shore

What bird is flying over the iceberg in Franz Josef Land? (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

What bird is flying here in Franz Josef Land? (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This Featured picture from Wikimedia Commons was taken in Franz Josef Land, a Russian archipelago of 191 islands in the Arctic Ocean.

It's a beautiful photo of an iceberg and there's a bird in it.

Quiz:  What bird?

Here are some hints:

So what bird is flying by this iceberg in Russia?  I think I know.

Leave a comment with your answer.

 

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

14 responses so far

Dec 07 2016

How Birds Keep The Arctic Cool

Little auks (Alle alle) at Svalbard breeding colony (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Little auks (Alle alle) at Svalbard breeding colony (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Here's amazing news:  Seabird colonies help keep the Arctic cool.

Seabirds gather on Arctic islands to breed during the summer.  Thousands of them nest close together and produce a lot of guano (bird poop).

Atmospheric scientists studying the Arctic noticed summertime bursts of ammonia-based particulate.  These tiny particles cause clouds to form because they gather moisture as they move through the air.  The clouds reflect sunlight and keep the land and water cool.

Where does the ammonia come from?  It wafts off the guano at the seabird colonies.

These findings were published on 15 November 2016 in Nature Communications.   Read the summary here at Science Daily.

 

(photo of little auks, Alle alle, at breeding colony on Svalbard by Alastair Rae from London, UK via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

 

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