Warmest Ever, Yet Again

Sunset over the Atlantic (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

20 January 2022

Now that 2021’s global temperature data has been finalized we know the score.

2021 is one of the seven warmest years on record. The warmest seven years have all been since 2015, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 constituting the top three.

2021 One of Seven Warmest Years on Record, wmo data shows

Here are the Top 10, all within very recent memory.

If you’ve lived in the northern hemisphere for the last 50 years, things have changed dramatically in your lifetime.

image from Wikimedia Commons

But a static map doesn’t tell the story. In NASA’s Global Temperature Anomalies from 1880 to 2021 watch how the temperature changes for your home area since 1880.

Warmest ever. Yet again.

(photo, table and map from Wikimedia Commons, animation from NASA Scientific Visualization Studio; click on the captions to see the originals)

High Gloss Eggs

Elegant-crested tinamou egg about to hatch (screenshot from video by Jan Harteman)

19 January 2022

These high gloss eggs look like ceramic but were actually laid by members of the Tinamou family, native to Central and South America.

  • Great tinamou egg
Great tinamou adult (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Tinamous are shy, secretive ground-dwelling birds that resemble chickens but are closely related to ostriches and emus. 46 species range in size from the 8’7″ small-billed tinamou (Crypturellus parvirostris) to the 16-19″ grey tinamou (Tinamus tao). No matter where they live, rainforest, savannah or shrubland, all of them lay shiny eggs in a nest on the ground.

Great tinamou eggs in nest (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

One would think that shiny eggs would be easily found by predators, especially after researchers examined the cuticle, the egg’s outside layer, and found:

They quantified its smoothness down to the nanometer scale and measured the shininess of the mirrorlike surface, finding that tinamou eggs are up to 14 times as glossy as the average chicken egg. A spectroscopy test also revealed that the blue eggs were iridescent (the green and brown eggs were too shiny for the spectrometer to accurately measure).

New York Times: Easter Eggs without a Kit

However, the male tinamous who build the nest, incubate, and rear the chicks are generally successful as long as their habitat is not destroyed. 80% of the species are stable.

Watch the eggs’ beauty transform in this video of elegant crested tinamou eggs (Eudromia elegans) in a captive breeding facility.

When the chicks grow up they will look like this.

Elegant crested tinamou (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Read more in the New York Times: Easter Eggs Without The Kit.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, embedded from Tumblr and screenshot from embedded YouTube video; click on the captions to see the originals)

Sea Eagles’ Banquet on Ice

White-tailed eagle, Hokkaido, Japan (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

18 January 2022

On the recurring subject of sea eagles …

The Steller’s sea eagle in Maine was still near Boothbay Harbor on Tuesday 18 January 2022, as reported by @WanderingSTSE. The bird is 7,000 miles away from his native range and the only member of his species on the continent. What would his life be like if he was at home?

Steller’s sea eagles (Haliaeetus pelagicus) breed in Far Eastern Russia and migrate south for the winter but they don’t leave cold weather behind. One of their favorite winter locations is Hokkaido, Japan where floating ice provides a platform from which to fish. (Blue arrow points to Hokkaido.)

Steller’s sea eagle and range map (orange=breeding only, green=year round, blue=winter only) (images from Wikimedia Commons)

They are joined there by a smaller sea eagle, the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) of Europe, Asia and western Greenland. White-tailed eagles are very similar to their closest relative, the bald eagle. All three are sea eagles in the genus Haliaeetus.

White-tailed eagle (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

At Hokkaido the sea eagles have a daily banquet on the ice.

p.s. 18 Jan 2022 UPDATE on the Steller’s sea eagle in Maine:

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, video by John Russell embedded from YouTube; click on the captions to see the originals)

Still Snowing

Snow depth on Craig St in Pittsburgh, 17 Jan 2022, 6:54am (photo by Kate St. John)

17 January 2022, 9am

A week ahead of today’s snowstorm the predictions were dire. By yesterday morning the forecast called for 6-12 inches in the Pittsburgh area beginning with wet snow on Sunday, possibly some freezing rain, ending on Monday at 1pm.

With that much warning and a national holiday, Martin Luther King Day, the streets are empty in Pittsburgh.

At 6:50am I found a windless place to measure the snow in my neighborhood, 5.75 inches shown above, and it is still snowing at 9am.

Here are more scenes before dawn.

Still snowing in Pittsburgh, lit by floodlight, 17 Jan 2022, 6:50am (photo by Kate St. John)

Maintenance crews were already out blowing, shoveling, salting and plowing to keep up with as many as 3 more inches.

The sky was white with snow but I could see lights in the distance.

Snowing in Pittsburgh, 17 Jan 2022, 6:48am (photo by Kate St. John)
Snow in Oakland, 17 Jan 2022, 6:43am (photo by Kate St. John)

It was already drifting on the roof with a lot more drifting predicted as winds reach 17 to 20 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph.

More snow is on the way but the worst is now north of us, according to the NWS Storm Prediction Center. 1-2 inches per hour in the highlighted areas.

One thing is clear. Don’t drive in it.

(photos by Kate St. John, map from NWS Storm Prediction Center via Twitter)

Black Bears Take To Water

Black bear swimming, Quebec (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

You may remember this news on 23 December 2021: “Three days before Christmas a 260 pound black bear was trapped behind Boy Scout Headquarters in Downtown Pittsburgh where he’d been living for more than two weeks on a wooded hillside.”

How did a black bear end up in a city that’s nearly surrounded by rivers? Did he walk through the East End neighborhoods?

The clue comes from the bear’s first sighting in the Strip District, a neighborhood built on the Allegheny River floodplain. He probably came from the north and swam across the Allegheny.

According to the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota black bears are “good swimmers though their speed and distance limits have not been tested. They can swim at least a mile and a half in fresh water. One bear swam more than 9 miles in the Gulf of Mexico.” (see Quick Black Bear Facts).

Since black bears operate at night to avoid us, we rarely see them swim but they can take to water like ducks when they want to travel or beat the heat. Here’s a black bear swimming in Canada.

During the heat of August 2015 a family of six bears splashed in a backyard pool in New Jersey.

The bears had fun but couldn’t help breaking things.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, videos embedded from YouTube; click on the captions/videos to see the originals)

Footprints in the Snow

Allegheny National Forest at Beaver Meadows Recreation Area, 12 Jan 2022 (photo by Barb Griffith)

15 January 2022

The sun was shining and the temperature was in the mid 30s when six of us arrived at Beaver Meadows Recreation Area in the Allegheny National Forest on 12 Jan 2022. We were there to find 40 red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) reported on 29 December. Just one perched in profile would be enough for me. I had to see the beak.

There were few birds in the forest but with an inch of snow on the ground we saw plenty of tracks including the small footprints of meadow voles or white-footed mice, the species that leave most of the little tracks in winter(*).

This one dragged his tail as he bounded across the path, planting his back feet in the prints of his front feet as he hurried from one subnivean hole to the next.

Likely the footprints of a white-footed mouse, Beaver Meadows, 12 Jan 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Since meadow voles have relatively short tails my guess is that the print was made by a white-footed mouse, (Peromyscus leucopus) pictured below. Notice the long tail.

We saw many other tracks including:

  • Fox on the lake ice
  • Otters slid on lake ice near their den. A local man helped us with this ID and showed us a photo of the otters.
  • Red squirrels made small highways between trees.
  • Bobcat,
  • Snowshoe hare.

This was my first ever look at snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) tracks but I recognized the distinctive large hind feet that spread like “snowshoes” to help them walk on snow. (An optical illusion may make the footprints appear to bulge. My boot is at bottom of the photo for scale.)

Snowshoe hare track + tip of my boot, Beaver Meadow Recreation Area, Allegheny National Forest, 12 Jan 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here are two sets of snowshoe hare prints, plain and marked up with notes. In the smaller track the hind feet are just less than 4″ long. In the larger the hind feet are about 6″ long.

Tracks of two snowshoe hares, Beaver Meadow Recreation Area, Allegheny National Forest, 12 Jan 2022 (photos by Kate St. John)
Tracks of two snowshoe hares, Beaver Meadow Recreation Area, Allegheny National Forest, 12 Jan 2022 (photos and markup by Kate St. John)

And here’s the mammal that makes these prints. Snowshoe hares are active at night, dusk and dawn so of course we didn’t see any.

Snowshoe hare in winter at Denali (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ultimately we saw 10 species of birds, only 26 individuals, five of which were red crossbills. It was worth the trip for the snowshoe hares. Yes I did see a crossbill beak.

(*) Information on tracks is from Track Finder by Dorcas Miller.

(photos by Kate St. John and from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Seven Continents of Birds

Wood duck, male, North America (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 January 2022

Today, some “eye candy” for a Friday — 7 beautiful birds from 7 continents.

See the captions for their names and continents. All photos are from Wikimedia Commons.

Common kestrel, Europe (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Grey-crowned crane, Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons by Luc Viatour https://lucnix.be/)
Blue Magpie, Asia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Major Mitchell’s cockatoo, Australia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Antarctic shag, Antarctica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Found The Crows!

Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock flies past South Oakland on 14 Dec 2021 (photo by Mary DeVaughn)

13 January 2022

Driving home yesterday from northern Pennsylvania I reached the edge of Downtown near the PPG Arena parking lot(*) at 5:35pm. Night was falling but the overcast sky was still lit.

As I drove up the ramp to Bigelow Boulevard three huge flocks of crows burst off the Flag Plaza hilltop (at right below) and swirled overhead to the roof of The Pennsylvanian (left), back and forth.

Location of Pittsburgh’s winter crows on 12 Jan 2022 at dusk, swirling from The Pennsylvanian (left) to the Flag Plaza hilltop (right) (image of Bigelow Blvd ramp from Google Streetview)

When I reached this part of the ramp (below) I could hear poot landing my car. The dark sky was thick with crows.

Location of Pittsburgh’s winter crows on 12 Jan 2022 at dusk, swirling from The Pennsylvanian (left) to the Flag Plaza hilltop (right) (image of Bigelow Blvd ramp from Google Streetview)

It was a scene like this screenshot from Gerry Devinney’s mid-December video, probably 3,000 to 5,000 crows. (Click here to see Gerry’s video.)

Crows swirl near the mid-Oakland roost, 18 December 2021 (screenshot from video by Gerry Devinney on Vimeo)

I was lucky to find them in another part of town after the crows were a No Show at the Christmas Bird Count. It’s ironic that they are in the same place where the black bear was found before Christmas. Perhaps they are roosting in the Strip District.

View from Flag Plaza in March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

If I visit Flag Plaza at dusk will I be able to count them? Nope. Too close. I will have to find a place with a much longer view.

(photos by Mary DeVaughn, Google StreetView, Gerry DeVinney (screenshot) and Kate St. John; click on the captions to see the originals)

p.s. (*) The PPG Paints Arena parking lot on Centre Ave at Washington Place is torn up by construction on its way to becoming something else. It is the old site of the Civic Arena.

Guacamole and Quetzals

Resplendent Quetzal, male (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

What does the resplendent quetzal (pronounced ket ZAL) have in common with the Mexican food guacamole?

Guacamole with two chips (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Answer: Avocados

Guacamole’s main ingredient is mashed avocado from cultivated Persea americana trees. Small fruits of wild avocado trees (Persea sp.) are the resplendent quetzal’s (Pharomachrus mocinno) favorite food.

The cultivated avocado fruit and tree looks like this.

Cross section of a cultivated avocado (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Botanically speaking avocados are berries and there are many species.

In Mesoamerica, Persea proliferated into many new species, and the berries of some of them constitute a valuable food supply for quetzals that live in the montane rainforests of Mesoamerica. In particular, the resplendent quetzal‘s favorite fruits are berries of wild relatives of the avocado. Their differing maturing times in the cloudforest determine the migratory movements of the quetzals to differing elevation levels in the forests. With a gape width of 21 mm (0.83 in), the quetzal swallows the small berry (aguacatillo) whole, which he catches while flying through the lower canopy of the tree, and then regurgitates the seed within 100 meters (328 ft) from the tree.

Wikipedia: Persea genus

Resplendent quetzals time their breeding to coincide with the most abundant fruit and delay breeding in poor fruit years. Here’s a male quetzal and a wild avocado tree he might visit, Persea caerulea.

Resplendent quetzal, male, Monteverde, Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Aguacatillo Persea caerulea fruits and leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Watch a pair of resplendent quetzals and their (gray colored) youngster among the wild avocado trees. The fruit is just the right size for a quetzal to swallow whole.

So now when you eat avocados you can think of resplendent quetzals.

(photos from Caroline Mueller and Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

p.s. This topic was inspired by Caroline Mueller’s avocado saplings which she grows from the leftover pits.

Two home grown avocado trees (photos by Caroline Mueller)

Where is The Sea Eagle?

Steller’s sea eagle in Hokkaido, Japan, its native range (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

11 January 2022

When a bird is extremely rare, very large, nomadic, and easily recognizable it quickly becomes a celebrity. There is only one wild Steller’s sea eagle in North America(*) and wherever he goes birders flock to see him. He lingers sometimes then leaves for parts unknown. Every day the question is, Where is The Steller’s sea eagle?

Closely related to bald eagles, Steller’s sea eagles (Haliaeetus pelagicus) are the largest eagle on earth weighing up to 20 pounds with a wingspan as much as 8 feet. They breed on the coast of Far Eastern Russia and winter on the coasts of Russia and Japan.

The total population of Steller’s sea eagles is only 5,000 and they are declining. One has come to North America. Here’s his story so far.

History of the bird as of 23 Dec 2021 when last seen in Massachusetts:

Video of the bird in Maine on 31 Dec 2021:

Photographed at Boothbay Harbor, Maine on 7 Jan 2022 by John @manbythesea:

Photographed in Maine on 8 Jan 2022 by Erin @ourtravelintale:

As of 9 January the sea eagle was last seen flying away near the bridge at Southport, Maine. Today everyone’s asking “Where is The sea eagle?”

Track his Maine locations via Maine Audubon’s Rare Bird Alert Steller’s Sea Eagle or at https://linktr.ee/StellersSeaEagle or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WanderingSTSE.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, 300 miles from the nearest ocean, I will probably never see this bird. I can imagine the disappointment and expense of spending a day or two flying or driving to the sea eagle’s last known location and arriving after it had left. Sigh.

(*) The closest we come to a Steller’s sea eagle in Pittsburgh is at the National Aviary. Their sea eagle, Kodiak, escaped on 25 September 2021 and was captured on 3 October. For eight days the National Aviary was definitely asking “Where’s The Sea Eagle?”

(photo of sea eagle in Japan from Wikimedia Commons; videos, tweets and Instagram embedded from original sources)