It was only a matter of time before the highly invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) made its way to western Pennsylvania but it’s disturbing to learn that it’s so close to Pittsburgh.
On 20 January 2020 the Columbus Dispatch reported that spotted lanternfly egg masses were found at the Norfolk Southern railyard in Conway, PA. They probably arrived by train and are now less than 20 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh and even closer to Ohio.
At this time of year the adult bugs are not active so an egg mass, pictured below, is the only thing to be found. It’s bad news anyway. USDA says that spotted lanternflies are the worst invasive species we’ve seen in the United States for 150 years.
Learn how to identify them and see why they’re so awful in the video below.
Both studies correlated the annual mean summer temperature of the species’ breeding range and reached the same conclusion: As the climate heats up, birds are getting smaller.
We should expect this.
There’s a biological rule of thumb called Bergmann’s Rule which states that, within a species, populations living in colder climates have larger body size than those in warmer climates. Bergmann’s explanation is that large animals have a lower surface-area-to-volume ratio so they lose heat more slowly in cold climates while small animals have a higher surface-to-volume ratio and can cool off faster when it’s hot.
Song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) provide a good example of Bergmann’s rule because they range across North America from Alaska to Newfoundland and south to Mexico. I saw their variability up close in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Section of Birds in December 2016. My photo below shows sparrows collected in Alaska in the top row, sparrows from Pennsylvania on the bottom.
Here’s a closeup placed side by side (below):
On the left, two song sparrows collected in Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh (leftmost) and Geneva Marsh.
On the right, song sparrows collected in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands at Unalaska (leftmost) and Sanak.
Alaskan song sparrows are so large that they have to be placed sideways in the tray!
Smaller size is normal where it’s warmer.
It isn’t bad news for birds and it tells us two additional things:
Birds’ bodies have been registering climate change long before we humans noticed or admitted it.
Today a Quiz. Here are two super sharp photos of plants from very different families. What are they?
Quiz #1: The top photo is a focus stack of 100 images. In real life the image would be 2mm wide so I think it’s been magnified about 80 times. (This one is hard to guess. It helps to squint your eyes to make it look small.)
Quiz #2: The photo below is a focus stack of 70 macro images. What it is?
If you’re desperate for clues, click the links on the captions to view the photo descriptions. Here’s a clue for #2: It’s edible.
Have an idea? Leave a comment with your answer.
p.s. In case you’re curious … Focus stackingis a digital processing technique in which the photographer takes multiple images of the same object at different focal points, then digitally merges the photos to produce a completely in-focus image. The object has to hold still and so does the camera. It requires special software to merge the images.
This video shows how it works.
(photos and video from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Here are two seaside bird cams to watch while we wait for Pittsburgh’s eagles and peregrines to lay eggs in the coming months.
Above, a northern royal albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) couple nests on camera at Taiaroa Head Nature Reserve in New Zealand. The pair have lots of combined experience — he’s 21 years old, she’s 25 — so they know their egg, laid in Nov 2019, is due to hatch at the end of this month (January 2020).
Since New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of Pittsburgh it’s best to watch from noon to midnight Eastern Time if you want to see the birds in daylight. This is a perfect schedule if want to kickback at the end of the day. See the northern royal albatrosses at their nest on Cornell Lab’s Royal Albatross bird cam.
Just one time zone ahead of Pittsburgh, the female Bermuda cahow (Pterodroma cahow) rejoined her mate at their nest on Nonesuch Island, Bermuda on 10 January 2020. Almost immediately she laid her single egg. Watch their reunion in this short video.
Morela has made brief visits to the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest every day this week. Snapshots from the National Aviary’s falconcam show her bowing and calling to her mate Terzo. He hasn’t joined her yet but don’t worry, he’s around. I saw him kiting in the wind yesterday.
On Sunday 12 January 2020 Morela spent five minutes bowing and calling.
When Terzo didn’t join her she stepped forward to look around, “Where is he?”
On Monday 13 January she had just finished eating when she stopped by for a visit. Notice the bulge in her crop as she bows and calls.
And yesterday, 14 January, she stopped by for only a minute.
The top photo is a once-a-minute snapshot from the (soon to be) streaming camera. It shows what’s happening there right now. You have to refresh your browser to see if it changes.
When there’s a peregrine on camera I save the photo to my hard drive or cellphone. Then I refresh the browser.
In January the nest is usually empty but I know when a peregrine is there because I follow @pittpefaALERT on Twitter. Every tweet from @pittpefaALERT is a 15-second “change” image showing what’s different at the nest. Changed pixels are shown in red. Here’s what they look like and what they mean.
Tweets that don’t matter: At dawn and dusk and on partly cloudy days the change is just sun and shadow. Here are two sun and shadow changes — red images with straight edges.
When a peregrine shows up: The change image may look like a bird (left image below) and it certainly has curved lines (right). Here are two peregrine tweets.
When I see a tweet that looks like a peregrine I go to the FALCONCAM – CL Snapshots link. The snapshots refresh every 60 seconds. If I’m nimble I can capture the first one.
Now that climate change has really settled in there are loads of free fun winter activities that we can’t do in Pittsburgh. I was reminded of this when I heard that the Beaver County Snow Shovel Riding Championship was postponed last Saturday. Last year it was eventually canceled. As the Beaver County Times wrote last month:
The Beaver County Snow Shovel Riding Championship returns in 2020. That comes with the major assumption that sufficient snow rests on the 165-foot hill at Old Economy Park, just off Route 989 in Economy, on Jan. 11 or the makeup date of Jan. 18.
Last Saturday, 11 January 2020, was so hot that it broke a 130-year record. At Pittsburgh International Airport, nine miles from that Beaver County hillside, it was 71 degrees F. Of course there was no snow.
Other winter fun we’re missing includes building snowmen, making snow angels, and cross country skiing. These still might happen for a day or two if we get one big snowfall.
But some winter fun is just plain dangerous in today’s world. Ice fishermen used to count on our frozen lakes but these days the ice is missing or very thin. Unsafe!
To emphasize this dilemma, the Great Lakes were virtually ice free on January 12.
No winter fun.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; map from U.S. National Ice Center; click on the captions to see the originals)
When I bought this stalk of Brussels sprouts, I wondered about the wild plant it came from. Did you know that cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts are all the same species? Every one of them is a cultivar of Brassica oleracea, also called wild cabbage.
Wild cabbage is a biennial that grows naturally on limestone sea cliffs in Europe. In its first year it’s a rosette of leaves. In its second year it blooms. As you can see by the flowers, it’s a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae or Cruciferae).
Ten thousand years ago humans foraged for wild cabbage leaves. At the dawn of agriculture we began to cultivate them. One thing led to another, as described at Wikipedia: