Nothing Can Go Wrong

What happens when you put a very smart parrot in the room with a voice-activated virtual assistant?

The owners of an African grey parrot named Petra also own an Amazon Echo, the tall black cylinder that activates a blue light when it hears the word “Alexa.”  Say “Alexa” and the computer carries out your command.

Here are three short clips of Petra with Alexa.  Above, “All lights on.”

“Tell me a fact” …

… and “lights off.”

 

What will happen next?    Um … Nothing can go wrong.

 

See more of Petra and Alexa on the PetraGrey YouTube channel.    Read more about Alexa here.

(videos from the PetraGrey YouTube channel)

Two Kinds of Spring Beauty

Carolina Spring Beauty, Core Arboretum, 8 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Carolina Spring Beauty, Core Arboretum, 8 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Last Sunday I saw Carolina spring beauties blooming at the Core Arboretum in Morgantown, West Virginia.  They reminded me of this 2011 article, Two Kinds of Spring Beauty, though I didn’t see the second kind.  (Click the link to read about both flowers.)

Flowers bloom earlier in Morgantown because it’s 60 miles south of us.  Spring moves north 13 miles a day so we should expect our spring beauties to bloom today or tomorrow. And they will because of our temporarily hot weather.

If you’re near Morgantown, the Core Arboretum offers wildflower walks on three Sundays in April every year.  The first walk was last Sunday but you still have time to join naturalists from West Virginia University at 2pm on April 15 and April 22 to see what’s blooming.  Click here for directions.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

Fly With The Birds

This beautiful video from Auvergne, France shows people flying with birds.

Since 1995 Christian Moullec has been working with geese and cranes, pioneering ultralight flights with them and assisting rare birds on migration.

His company, Voler Avec Les Oiseaux, now offers ultralight flights to the public with his own small flocks of birds.

Read more on his website Voler Avec Les Oiseaux (in French).  See videos on his YouTube channel.

 

(video from Voler Avec Les Oiseaux on YouTube)

p.s. Thanks to Bob Donnan for sharing this video.

Time Slowed Down

Dorsal and ventral views of museum specimen, Morpho menelaus, Peru (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Dorsal and ventral views of museum specimen, Morpho menelaus, subspecies from Peru (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen lives in the jungles of Central and South America.

The blue morpho (Morpho menelaus) is as large as my open hand, iridescent blue above and patterned brown below.  When it flies, sunlight winks blue on its open wings.  On the upstroke it shines gold.

In Panama we were transfixed when blue morphos appeared one by one above the road, floating toward and over us.  They defied our efforts at photography so I looked for a video on YouTube.

But only the slow motion videos matched my memory of morphos. (We did not see the black-blue butterfly in this video, only the all-blue one.)

 

In fact they flew rather fast.  You can see in this video how hard it is to keep up with one.

 

My memory of these butterflies is in slow motion because my brain was busy processing the new and beautiful experience.  This happens to all of us when we focus on new information.  (Read more here about our perception of time. )

Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the beauty of nature.

When I watch blue morphos time slows down.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original.  All videos from YouTube; click on the YouTube logos to see the videos full screen)

Caution For Hatch Day

APRIL 24, 2017: Hope picked up her first pipped egg. Later she killed and ate it. (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
APRIL 24, 2017: Hope picked up her first pipped egg. Later she killed and ate it. (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The peregrine eggs at the Cathedral of Learning nest are due to hatch at the end of this week, but here’s a word of caution:  You might not want to watch.

My calculation says that hatch day for Hope and Terzo’s eggs will be this Friday April 13 or Saturday April 14.

However, it probably won’t be a happy event.  Hope has a habit of killing and eating some of her chicks just after they pip.  Her behavior is very rare and upsets nearly everyone who sees it.

In 2016 Hope killed and ate two chicks before they could emerge from their eggs.  Last year she killed one. (Click on the links to find out more.)

We don’t know why she does this and we don’t know if she’ll repeat it this year but my word to the wise is this:

Caution! Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

Hope has a history.  We hope she won’t repeat it this year.

 

p.s. After hatching is over, Hope becomes a good mother. She fledged 1 youngster in 2016 and 3 in 2017.

(snapshot from 24 April 2017 from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Terzo Gets Into The Act

Terzo looks alert while incubating (screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Terzo looks alert while incubating (screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo has certainly grown into his role as “father peregrine” since he first arrived at the Cathedral of Learning during 2016’s tumultuous nesting season.

He often spends more than half the day incubating while his mate Hope takes a break.  (She incubates all night.)  He has also learned a thing or two about dealing with her.

Hope is a very loud bird, so loud that her shouting can be heard inside the Cathedral of Learning and blocks away from the building.  I don’t know why she shouts but I found out last year that when she shouts she’s looking at Terzo.

This year Terzo is shouting back!

At the beginning of this April 4th video clip, Hope shouts from the nest.  Then you hear another peregrine shout back. It’s Terzo, off camera.  At the end of the clip Hope falls asleep and Terzo shouts at her and wakes her up.  Hah!

 

This went on for a while.  I could have shown you 6 minutes of shouting but decided to spare you.

See and hear them on the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh.  Be ready to use the mute button.   😉

 

(video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

p.s. Having trouble watching the falconcam?  Here are tips for viewing.

Lots Of Water This Week

Waterfall in Schenley Park, 20180223_122714

Last week heavy rain swelled this waterfall in Schenley Park.  Again!

I filmed this video after heavy rainfall in February but the waterfall looked the same this week after record snow on April 2 (2.8″) and heavy downpours on April 4 and 5.

So far we’ve had more than 16 inches of precipitation in 2018. That’s almost 7.5 inches above normal in only 14 weeks.

Lots of water!

 

p.s. We have a dusting of snow this morning in Pittsburgh.  Will it ever end?!?

(video by Kate St. John)

I’m A Tanager


(video by Daniel CR on YouTube)

With their big orange bills the slate-colored grosbeaks I saw in Panama must certainly be related to northern cardinals, right?

Slate-colored grosbeak, northern cardinal (photos from Wikimedia Commons)
Slate-colored grosbeak, northern cardinal (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

They also sound like cardinals. (recording of slate-colored grosbeak in Panama Xeno-canto XC354030 by William Adsett)

But are they related?  No, they’re not.

Slate-colored grosbeaks used to be classed in the cardinal family (Cardinalidae) but DNA studies show that Saltator grossus is in the tanager (Thraupidae) family instead.

Don’t be fooled, “I’m a tanager.”

 

(video by Daniel CR on YouTube; photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the names to see the original photos: slate-colored grosbeak, northern cardinal)

Where Are They Now?

Ruby-throated hummingbird (photo by Steve Gosser)
Ruby-throated hummingbird (photo by Steve Gosser)

Despite the cold weather a ruby-throated hummingbird arrived in eastern Pennsylvania this week.  He appeared April 2 on the hummingbirds migration map.

Observers in North America enter their first spring sightings of male ruby-throats at the hummingbirds.net website and their entries populate the map.

This screenshot taken at 5am April 5, 2018 shows the northernmost pioneers are in New Jersey and the Delaware watershed.

Spring 2018 (zoomed) map of Ruby-throated hummingbird migration as of 4/4/2018 (screenshot from hummingbirds.net)
Spring 2018 (zoomed) map of Ruby-throated hummingbird migration as of 4/4/2018 (screenshot from hummingbirds.net)

Hummingbirds move north when it’s warm but this spring’s weather has held them back.  In 2012 it was so hot that they’d already reached Minnesota by now (click here to see).

Follow their migration on the hummingbirds.net map.  Enter your own first sighting at this link.

Where are they now?  Check the map to see.

 

(photo by Steve Gosser, screenshot of map from www.hummingbirds.net)

p.s. Thanks to Donna Foyle for sending this news.

Something To Be Thankful For

Living with Alligators PSA 2018 from My FWC on Vimeo.

April 4, 2018:

Spring is on hold again as the temperature falls to 26 degrees F tonight — but here’s something Pittsburghers can be thankful for 😉

Yes, it’s cold in Pennsylvania and spring takes too long to get here but we don’t have to worry about this message from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

However, if you live in Florida or plan to visit please pay attention.

Tweeted last week by @MyFWC:  Warmer spring weather means #alligators are more active. Here’s how to stay safe: ow.ly/ULpK30ja6V4 #Florida

Alligator safety message from Florida WFC
Alligator safety message from Florida WFC

 

(message, video and poster from Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission)