Archive for the 'Water and Shore' Category

Sep 17 2015

TBT: Flightless

Common eiders in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Common eiders in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s something I’ve never seen:  Common eiders in flight.

I see common eiders every year when I visit in Maine in September but I’ve never seen them fly.

The reason why is in this Throw Back Thursday article from September 2012 –>  Flightless

 

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

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Sep 11 2015

The Haunting Call Of The Loon

Every year my husband and I spend a relaxing two weeks at Acadia National Park where we enjoy spectacular scenery, wildlife, and hiking trails. Now that we’re heading home I’ll share some of the highlights.  The best is a sound that I will certainly miss in Pittsburgh — the haunting call of the loon (Gavia immer).

In September common loons migrate through Canada and Maine from interior lakes to the sea. Each one migrates alone, independent of its mate and offspring.

One particular loon, distinctive because he was molting into winter plumage, often spent his evenings at the harbor.  Every morning I heard him make the tremolo call at dawn (click here to hear) but last Wednesday, when the fog came up just after rain, he made a haunting wail call that echoed among the mountains.

Watch the video above to learn what the wail means.

I wish I’d heard a call in response.

 

(video on YouTube from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

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Sep 09 2015

Reluctant To Fly, Except In Migration

Sora (photo by Robert Greene, Jr)

Sora (photo by Robert Greene Jr)

Soras (Porzana carolina) are the most abundant rail in North America but they’re so elusive that we rarely see them fly.  When disturbed they prefer to walk deep into the marsh rather than go airborne.  If you happen to flush one it looks weak and labored in the air.

Though they appear to be fly poorly, soras migrate long distances.  They’re very cold sensitive so they have to leave before the weather turns.  Birds of North America says they become lethargic as the temperature approaches freezing so “most soras winter in areas that have a minimum January temperature above –1°C (30°F).”

From their breeding grounds in Canada and the northern/western U.S. to their wintering grounds in the southern U.S. and Central and South America, soras may fly up to 4,000 miles.  We don’t see them on migration because (presumably) they fly at night but they’re sometimes found resting on ships hundreds of miles offshore.  We know they cross the open ocean.  Some of them winter in Bermuda and the Caribbean.

This month soras are hanging out in wetlands en route on migration.  If you’re lucky enough to see one, think of its journey — reluctant to fly, except to escape the cold.

 

(photo by Robert Greene Jr)

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Jul 14 2015

Find The Whimbrel

Whimbrel with eggs (photo by Dr. Matthew Perry, USGS)

Whimbrel with eggs at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada (photo by Dr. Matthew Perry, USGS)

Can you see the whimbrel and four eggs?

These ground-nesting shorebirds have natural camouflage but I’ll bet you can see the one above because the eggs have shadows and the bird’s mouth is open.  If you were holding the camera you’d hear the whimbrel shouting like this.

Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) nest in the northern tundra around the world.  In North America they lay eggs in the first week of June that hatch in the first week of July.  Mom stays with the family 3-14 days after the chicks hatch.  Then she leaves on migration while dad stays with the kids until they fledge in August.  The kids don’t leave until September.  This means that some sort of whimbrel is on the move in North America from July through September.

Successful mothers and birds whose nests have failed arrive on northern coasts in July on the first stage of their long migration.  Mary Birdsong saw this one yesterday at Presque Isle on Lake Erie’s shore (video below).

Their early stops are only way stations where the whimbrels fatten up for their transoceanic trips.  Some North American whimbrels fly non-stop 2,500 miles to South America.  (Others save time by wintering on the southern U.S. coast.)

Asian whimbrels spend the winter as far south as Australia. Here’s a group in Singapore.

Whimbrels wintering in Singapore (photo by Lip Kee via Wikimedia Commons)

Whimbrels wintering in Singapore (photo by Lip Kee via Wikimedia Commons)

But on migration they travel alone.

This month, if you’re lucky, you might see a whimbrel on the shore.  You’ll see it when its long down-curved bill stands out. Woo hoo!

 

(photo of whimbrel at nest by Dr. Matthew Perry, USGS. Video of whimbrel at Presque Isle State Park 13 July 2015 by Mary Birdsong. Photo of whimbrels in Singapore by Lip Kee via Wikimedia Commons.)

 

p.s. I often go to Conneaut Harbor, Ohio to find shorebirds but the sandspit is inundated right now because the harbor water level is 20 inches higher than normal.  See this message at OhioBirds.

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Jul 12 2015

Wall Of Water

Published by under Water and Shore

Wall of water in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wall of water in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Lots of rain means a lot of water, especially in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle.

When I visited Fern Cliff Peninsula on July 1, I was astonished at the river’s height and roar.  The site is downstream of two dams — Deep Creek and Confluence — yet the river made walls of water just above the falls.

Here’s what it looked like on July 1 after a very wet June.

For perspective: the wall of water is on the woman's right, Youghiogheny River, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

For perspective the closeup below is on the woman’s right.  Youghiogheny River atOhiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wall of water in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wall of water in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Trees that had been on islands stood alone, fighting the river’s relentless pull.

A tree that had been on an island stands alone, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

A view from the other side: A tree fights the river alone, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

And this Joe-pye weed and a patch of grass are all that’s left of a ledge.

Joe-pye weed as an island (photo by Kate St. John)

Joe-pye weed as an island (photo by Kate St. John)

Despite the high water, rubber-raft whitewater trips were operating just below the falls.

You couldn’t pay me to ride these waves.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 23 2015

Best Bird This Week

American white pelican in breeding plumage (photo by Pat Gaines)

American white pelican in breeding plumage (photo by Pat Gaines)

Normally when I visit Magee Marsh in May the Best Bird is a warbler, but not this year.

I struck out on two Life Bird warblers — the Kirtland’s at Oak Openings and the Connecticut warbler at the Estuary Trail — and that took the wind out of my sails.  However, on my last day in northwestern Ohio I visited East Harbor State Park and found three white pelicans in Middle Harbor.

American white pelicans spend the winter in California, the Gulf states, Mexico and Central America. Those who breed in the prairie potholes and lake regions of central and western North America rarely stop at Lake Erie on migration, but these three apparently spent the night at Middle Harbor.  They were preening before continuing their journey.

In early breeding plumage they have bright orange bills with a laterally flattened “horn” on top.  This looks odd to us but sexy to other white pelicans.

American white pelicans migrate during the day because they need thermals for lift.  By 10:00am the air had heated up and the three pelicans circled up and headed northwest.

They were my Best Bird this week — other than peregrine falcons, of course.

 

(photo by Pat Gaines)

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May 03 2015

Graceful Tern

Caspian tern diving, Scranton Flats on the Cuyahoga River

A Caspian tern dives gracefully into the Cuyahoga River at Scranton Flats (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

 

 

(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

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Apr 01 2015

Corals Tell The Climate Story, April 16

Coral reef at Palmyra Atoll (photo by Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Coral reef at Palmyra Atoll (photo by Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Knowing the Earth’s past climate is key to understanding the future but our records of the past are sketchy.  Paleoclimatologists turn to fossils for help.  In cold and temperate areas they analyze ice cores and ancient tree rings.  In the tropics corals tell the climate’s tale.

Obtaining a record of the warm oceans’ history is important because so much of Earth’s weather is controlled by conditions in the Tropics.  Think El Niño and La Niña, for starters.

In the tropical Pacific Dr. Kim Cobb examines live and fossil corals to assemble a climate record that now spans 7,000+ years.  Thanks to the University Honors College she’s coming to Pittsburgh on April 16.  Through video and photos, she’ll take the audience to her field sites to hear the corals tell their climate story.

Dr. Kim Cobb
Corals as Climate Communicators
April 16, 2015, 4:00 PM

Charity Randall Theatre (in the Stephen Foster Memorial Building)
4301 Forbes Ave

Here’s a quick video of Kim Cobb discussing climatology.  She describes herself on  Twitter as “40% Climate Scientist, 40% Mom and 20% Indian Jones.”  Her lecture on corals will not be a dry subject!

 

This lecture is free and open to the public but space is limited. Click here to read more about this University of Pittsburgh Honors College event and reserve your seat.

 

(photo of coral reef at Palmyra Atoll (a location where Kim Cobb works on corals) by Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons. Video of Dr. Kim Cobb via PopTech.org)

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Mar 28 2015

Mixed Parentage

Redhead-Ring-necked Duck hybird, Duck Hollow, Pittsburgh, PA, 25 Mar 2015 (photo by Tom Moeller)

Redhead-Ring-necked hybrid duck at Duck Hollow, Pittsburgh, PA, 25 Mar 2015 (photo by Tom Moeller)

What duck is this?

Photographed by Tom Moeller on March 25 at Duck Hollow in Pittsburgh, this odd duck defies a single label.  Apparently one of his parents was a redhead, the other a ring-necked duck.

Here are the two species he resembles: male redhead on the left, male ring-necked duck on the right.

Two male ducks: Redhead and Ring-necked (photos by Chuck Tague)

Two male ducks: Redhead and Ring-necked (photos by Chuck Tague)

He has the head color, eye color and shoulder of a redhead and the head shape, bill color and body color (except for his non-white shoulder) of a ring-necked duck.

Depending on the light and the distance you might see a feature of either species and call him accordingly.  David Poortinga figured him out and told Tom what it was.

Here’s another look him.  He’s a redhead with a fancy bill and black back.  Or he’s a ring-necked duck with a red head.

Redhead-Ring-necked Duck hybird, Duck Hollow, Pittsburgh, PA, 25 Mar 2015 (photo by Tom Moeller)

Redhead-Ring-necked Duck hybrid, Duck Hollow, Pittsburgh, PA, 25 Mar 2015 (photo by Tom Moeller)

Ducks and geese hybridize a lot compared to other birds.  Duck hunters see these hybrids up close because they have the bird in hand so Ducks Unlimited explains:

“Waterfowl crossbreed more often than any other family of birds. Scientists have recorded more than 400 hybrid combinations among waterfowl species. Mallards crossbreed with nearly 50 other species, and wood ducks hybridize with a surprising 26 other species. Nearly 20 percent of waterfowl hybrid offspring are capable of reproducing.”

Mallards being the least picky, or the perhaps most promiscuous, breed with many species.  According to Ducks Unlimited their mates include northern pintails, black ducks, wigeon, shovelers, cinnamon teal, green-winged teal, and gadwalls.  Perhaps every dabbling duck is a mallard at heart.

Will the Odd Duck attract a mate this spring ?  If so, will she be a redhead or a ring-necked duck?  What will his offspring look like?

Yikes!  Talk about mixed parentage!

 

p.s. As of yesterday, March 27, the hybrid was still at Duck Hollow.

(photo of hybrid Redhead-Ring-necked Duck by Tom Moeller.  Composite photos of redhead and ring-necked ducks by Chuck Tague)

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Mar 16 2015

This Many!

Snow Geese take off from Middle Creek (photo by Kim Steininger)

How many snow geese are in this picture?  Imagine if it was your job to count them!

Snow goose migration got off to a slow start this spring because the lakes remained frozen in Pennsylvania.  In warm winters they start to arrive at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on the Lebanon-Lancaster County border in late February.  But that was out of the question this year.  The narrow north end of Chesapeake Bay was frozen in mid-February and there were 10-12 inches of ice on Middle Creek lake.  The geese stayed south.

The situation changed rapidly, though.  A week ago there were 100 snow geese at Middle Creek.  On Thursday March 12 there were suddenly 20,000.  On Friday there were 75,000 with more arriving throughout the day.  The count this morning is anyone’s guess.

Actually, the number of snow geese at Middle Creek is Jim Binder’s very educated estimate.  Jim has been the manager of Middle Creek WMA since 1997 and has decades of experience counting these birds.

The trick to counting is that snow geese always rest on the lake’s open water at night.  Jim comes out before dawn and counts them at first light before they leave for the day.  He knows the lake well and the numbers it can hold.  He’s so good at counting that he can tell the number by their sound.  The record is 180,000!

But Jim has to work fast. The flock wakes up and stretches its wings. Small groups leave in a leisurely fashion to feed in nearby fields but if something scares them — an airplane, a helicopter, or a bald eagle — the entire flock goes airborne at once with a roar.

When I want to see this spectacle I read Jim Binder’s snow goose count and arrive at Willow Point before dawn.  Kim Steininger took this photo on a day when there were 80,000 to 100,000 snow geese at Middle Creek.

How many snow geese do I hope for?  This many!

 

Note: Because the ice melted so late this year, snow goose migration is likely to be intense and over quickly.  The geese are running out of time to get home.

(photo by Kim Steininger)

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