But perhaps they’re forgetting how recently those species evolved from mallards. The Mexican duck (Anas diazi) that occurs in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest was thought to be a subspecies of mallard until 1957.
Mallards are just working on creating new species. 😉
Read more about mixed up ducks in this vintage article: Ugly Ducks
Lake Mead at Hoover Dam, 1998 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Lake Mead at Hoover Dam, 2015 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
It’s hard to remember what we worried about before the coronavirus, but long term water crises provoked by climate change are still chugging along in the U.S. West. The most troubling of these is looming at the Colorado River, the water source for over 40 million people.
Many of the seven western states in the Colorado River watershed are suffering under severe to extreme drought. Of course it affects the river.
Albedo is a reflectivity measure of various surfaces as they reflect sunlight back into space. Snow and ice have high albedo, bare ground and trees have low albedo. Melting snow and ice expose low albedo ground so the temperature rises. As the temperature rises more snow and ice melt. This climate change feedback loop is affecting the Colorado River.
The two photos at top span 22 years on the Colorado River at Lake Mead where Hoover Dam holds back the river. The amount of water in the lake is highly controlled by upstream dams but about 20% of that “bathtub ring” can be attributed to the albedo effect.
On a late July visit to Washington’s Landing (Herr’s Island) I saw two song sparrow families with begging fledglings. Unfortunately the begging youngsters were brown-headed cowbirds, not song sparrows.
Female brown-headed cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of smaller birds. Each cowbird chick is raised, not by its own mother, but by foster parents of another species. To make matters worse, cowbird parents lurk near the foster nest to make sure their own baby survives. They remove the host’s eggs or kill the foster parents’ young to give their own chick a better chance.
Cowbirds parasitize many species but are especially fond of song sparrows and yellow warblers. Yellow warblers are well aware of cowbird eggs and will “abandon” the nest by building a new nest on top of the old one. Experienced song sparrows get upset but don’t have an immediate solution.
However, song sparrows have a secret weapon — their breeding season is longer. Their first of two to four broods may begin before cowbirds are ready to lay eggs while the last nest starts after cowbirds are done.
In Pennsylvania brown-headed cowbirds stop laying in early July while song sparrows are still going strong. What I saw at Washington’s Landing was this year’s last round of cowbird babies.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)
Did I say peregrine falcons? Here’s a view from the high-rise roof. When I took this photo I saw (through binoculars) two peregrines perched on the Cathedral of Learning, one on the north face, one on the east.
Today we’ll be really busy moving from one side of Schenley Park to the other.
The movers come at 8:45am. Gotta run!
(photo by Kate St. John. Moving Day cartoon from Wikimedia Commons, click on the caption to see the original)
It’s been so dry in western Pennsylvania this summer that we find ourselves wishing for rain. Yesterday some areas were lucky. It rained 0.61 inches at Pittsburgh’s airport but not throughout the region. Precipitation is still down -2.24 inches since June 1. Are we in a drought?
The US. Drought Monitor map (28 July 2020 above) shows drought conditions and severity across the country. Pale orange in southwestern Pennsylvania indicates areas of Moderate Drought with short-term impacts (“S“). Yellow is Abnormally Dry.
The map above changes quickly if it rains heavily one day. The Drought Severity Index (Long Term Palmer) map, below, charts prolonged abnormal dryness or wetness and matches what gardeners and farmers are dealing with. Southwestern PA has felt like it’s in a drought and, yes, according to the Palmer Index the situation is Severe. (Black on the map is missing data.)
Our situation in Pennsylvania is mild, though. The real concern is out West where the Drought Monitor is bright red (Extreme Drought) with long term impacts (“L“) and the Palmer Index is dark orange.
West Texas is suffering the double whammy of rampant COVID-19 + extreme drought. Today’s a good day to count our blessings in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Last week in Schenley Park I stopped by the Westinghouse Fountain to see swamp milkweed and a photogenic bumblebee.
My cellphone camera was able to capture it in flight!
As I left the fountain a doe crossed W Circuit Road and walked between parked cars to the woods beyond. A fawn soon followed but jumped back in fear before the cars and stopped in the road. Fortunately there was no traffic. It was joined by a second fawn.
The two approached me (I missed that shot) then turned away …
… and were joined by a second doe.
Eventually they all walked between parked cars and caught up with the first doe.
Schenley Park’s numerous deer aren’t afraid of people but they learn to fear cars at a very young age.
p.s. My cellphone can take nice closeups of bumblebees but fails on deer at a distance.
Some animals such as western grebes (above) and giant anteaters (below) carry their young piggyback.
Pigs don’t do this so why is it called piggyback?
The term began as two words that morphed into “piggy + back.” Here’s the origin from World Wide Words.
It started out in the sixteenth century as “pick pack,” carrying something on the back or shoulders. Pick is a medieval version of pitch, so it meant a load that was pitched on to a person’s back for carrying. … Piggy-back came along later in the century, with piggyback a modern loss of the hyphen
Seven years ago I wrote an article that’s rediscovered every summer when people find unusual “pine cones” hanging from their trees.
Though the structures are coated in plant material they aren’t part of the tree. They’re the cocoons of evergreen bagworm moths (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis) whose larvae are disguised by vegetation while they eat the tree. Here’s one that’s sticking its head out.
One of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic is our poor ability to quarantine to stop the spread. This summer’s COVID-19 surge in Pittsburgh was sparked by travelers who returned from vacation (Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Florida, Raleigh, Nashville) but did not quarantine for 14 days.
Perhaps we could learn from ants. An April article in Treehugger described how social species avoid each other to stop the spread of disease. This includes black garden ants.
Ants are very social creatures, always working together to feed and protect the colony. Nurse ants stay inside the nest and tend the larvae; workers forage outside for food. A study of black garden ants found that when workers contract a fungal infection they know to stay outside the nest and avoid contact with other ants. Meanwhile nurse ants move the larvae deeper inside the nest to avoid infection. Ants basically quarantine themselves.