Archive for the 'Water and Shore' Category

Mar 14 2016

Mallards Make Ducklings

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are common ducks in the northern hemisphere so their courtship behavior is easy to observe.  Here are tips on what you’ll see in March as they prepare for nesting next month.

Did you know that mallards are already paired up by now?  They start forming pair bonds in September and most have a mate by the end of the year.  This leaves some unattached bachelors however because their sex ratio is usually skewed — 1.33 males for every female.

Now that they’re paired up they get down to the serious business of making baby mallards.  The video above shows several characteristic moves and sounds of a paired couple:

  • Head bobbing: a pre-copulatory action that gets them in tune with each other.
  • Inciting:  The female (all brown) incites the male by dipping her bill in the water over her shoulder.
  • Leading: He turns back his head, then swims away from her to lead her away from the crowd; she follows.
  • Vocalizations: He whistles. She quacks loudly (only the females make the loud quacking sound).

The excitement went out of the pair shown above, but the video below shows head bobbing and copulation. Notice that the male always grabs the female by the back of the neck as he mounts her.  After mating the pair bridles (rears up) and steams (swims with head low).  Sometimes the male turns back his head and leads again.

Mallards are monogamous but Cornell Lab’s Birds of North America says that “paired males actively pursue forced extra pair copulations” — a polite name for what looks like gang rape.  Knowing this, the paired males stay close to their females to protect them during the egg laying period.

After egg laying their match falls apart.  Male mallards desert their mates during incubation and won’t pair up again until autumn.  They can afford to do this because the females incubate alone and the ducklings are precocious.

So it’s only once a year that wild mallards make ducklings.

 

(videos from YouTube. Click on the YouTube links to see the originals)

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Mar 04 2016

Getting In Tune

If you’ve been watching the Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning falconcams this month, you’ve seen the peregrines bowing and “chirping” to each other in courtship display.  Their rituals cement their pair bond and get them in tune with each other for the breeding season.

Some birds have fancier courtship displays.  Pairs of waved albatrosses (Phoebastria irrorata) get reacquainted after six months at sea by doing a courtship dance.

The video above shows their elaborate ritualized moves: bill clacking, rapid bill circling, bowing, touching the ground and their sides with their beaks, raising their bills, and making a whoo sound.  You have to visit the Galápagos to see them as it’s the only place where they breed.

The pairs do their dance in time for the female to lay her single egg in April to June.  Nestlings reach adult size in December and leave the colony by January to forage at sea until they reach maturity at 5-6 years old.

During El Niño there is too little food to raise a family so many birds don’t breed at all.  This year is a hard one for the waved albatross.

Sadly, this species is critically endangered.  The waved albatross’ range is confined to the Galápagos and the Humboldt current off the coasts of Peru and Ecuador.  Though long-lived, these birds are slow to reproduce and their population is declining, especially at the hands of longline fishing.

It’s quite a privilege to see them dance.

 

(video from Peregrine Travel Centre Adelaide on YouTube)

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Mar 01 2016

Out In The Open

American bittern with fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bittern with fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bitterns are usually hard to find because their plumage matches their favorite habitat — marshland vegetation.  Last week I saw one easily when he stepped into the open to catch a big black fish at Green Cay Wetlands in Delray Beach, Florida.

These photos, taken at a New Jersey marsh by Billtacular, are so similar to my experience that I just had to share.

At first the bittern was impossible to find.  I saw him nearby when he moved but he “disappeared” into the background when he stood still.

American bittern craning his neck (photo by Billtacular on Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bittern craning his neck (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

A fish caught his eye and he struck.  What a long neck!

American bittern splashes to get a fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bittern splashes to get a fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Success!

American bittern catches a fish (photo by billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

American bittern catches a fish (photo by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

At Green Cay the fish was so large that the bittern had to pause to swallow it.  He remained in the open — very photogenic — until the bulge in his throat finally went down.

 

(photos by Billtacular via Flickr Creative Commons license)

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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 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 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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Feb 09 2016

Yes, The Sea Is Rising

Published by under Water and Shore

Flooding at Annapolis city dock (photo by Amy McGovern)

The sea floods Annapolis city dock, 2012 (photo by Amy McGovern)

Last September I visited Annapolis, Maryland and walked past these memorial statues on dry ground.  Little did I know this scene is their fate in the future.

In 1950 Rachel Carson wrote in The Sea Around Us:

We live in an age of rising seas. All along the coasts of the United States a continuing rise of sea level has been perceptible on the tide gauges of the Coast and Geodetic Survey since 1930.

66 years later the ocean has risen enough to create frequent, even daily, challenges for coastal communities.  Nuisance floods that close streets and parks are the harbinger of things to come.

NOAA’s diagram shows why these floods have become more common.  (Click on the image to see the larger diagram.)

Excerpt from Nuisance Flooding Diagram. Click on this to see the original (diagram from NOAA)

Excerpt from Nuisance Flooding Diagram. Click on this image to see the original diagram from NOAA

In 1950, the elevation between the highest high tide and street level was many feet deep and provided headroom for a storm surge.  By 2010, the sea had risen so much that the headroom was gone.  In some places it takes only a slightly higher tide to flood the street.  To make matters worse, climate change is accelerating the rise as heat expands the water and massive ice sheets melt into the sea.

Some places are especially threatened.  Chesapeake Bay is rising faster than the open coast.  At Annapolis, Maryland the water is rising 3.51mm/year with just 0.29 meters of headroom.  In only 45 years they can expect daily floods at the city dock, shown above.  Baltimore is not far behind.

With the sea already engulfing islands and lapping at their toes, Maryland is assessing coastal areas and making plans.  As Baltimore Magazine writes, “The question really isn’t what will be lost anymore, but what we will decide to save.”

Sadly, Florida and North Carolina both experience frequent flooding but have forbidden state employees from talking about it. (Florida last year and North Carolina in 2012).  They’re losing precious time.

Yes, the sea is rising.  Time and tide wait for no man.

 

(photo of flooding at Annapolis city dock at the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial, by Amy McGovern @ForsakenFotos, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

p.s. Read more about Maryland’s wet future and the expected loss of Blackwater NWR and Assateague Island in “The Sea Also Rises” in Baltimore Magazine. Click here for photos of nuisance flooding in Miami, Florida and North Carolina.

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Feb 05 2016

The Reddish Egret’s Water Ballet

February is the month when birds are at a low ebb in Pittsburgh and birders want to get out of town.  Many of us think of Florida.

Whether or not you’re heading south you’ll enjoy this video of heron life at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  Filmed and narrated by Jo Alwood, it shows the reddish egret at his best — dancing his water ballet.

 

(YouTube video by Jo Alwood. Click here for her YouTube channel)

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Jan 26 2016

Death By Warm Water

Common Murres, Peruvian Boobies (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Common Murres, Peruvian Boobies (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

These two species — common murres and Peruvian boobies — have something in common. Both have starved in record numbers in the Pacific Ocean recently.

Common murres (Uria aalge) have a circumpolar range in the North Atlantic and North Pacific while Peruvian boobies (Sula variegata) are native to the west coast of South America yet both seabirds are affected by the same problem: warm seawater.

In the southern Pacific, the failed trade winds of El Niño have ceased the upwelling of cool undercurrents and raised the sea surface temperature near South America.  A similar lack of wind has caused three warm Blobs to persist in the Northern Pacific.  Sea surface temperatures in these regions are running 2oF to 7oF warmer.  That small rise doesn’t sound like much but it’s enough to scare off cold water fish and even generate toxic algae blooms.  There’s a drop in nutrients, a drop in fish life, and that means starvation for seabirds.

Three "blobs" of warm surface water in the Northern Pacific, 1 Sept 2014 (image from NOAA via Wikimedia Commons)

Three “blobs” of warm surface water in the Northern Pacific, 1 Sept 2014 (image from NOAA via Wikimedia Commons)

In June 2014 Peruvian boobies were the first wildlife indication of a strong El Niño when thousands of dead and starving boobies washed ashore on the coasts of Peru and Chile.  Their cold water fishery had failed.  Some were so desperate they flew way out of range to the Galápagos and Panama.

That winter, November 2014 to January 2015, Cassin’s auklets (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) became a warm water casualty on the U.S. West Coast.  In their case the original Blob was to blame.

And now 100,000 dead common murres have washed ashore on the coast of Alaska, victims of warm water in the Gulf of Alaska.

Where will it end?  The El Niño may weaken this spring but who knows when The Blobs will change?

For cold-water sea life, it’s death by warm water.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on these links to see the original photos of common murres and Peruvian boobies)

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