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.
Tomorrow the New Jersey legislature will consider a bill that will either protect or destroy 15 acres of state park land where a neighboring golf course wants to build 3 golf holes. The showdown between those who love public parks and nature versus extremely rich developers is well described in the New York Times: Golf Club for the 1 Percent Wants to Seize a Migratory Bird Habitat.
I don’t know how the fight will play out in human terms but I’m sure of one thing. In the end the sea will win.
Caven Point Natural Area is a sandy peninsula on the Hudson River in Jersey City, NJ, a migratory bird stopover and nesting site so sensitive that the area is closed April through September to leave the birds in peace. American oystercatchers, shown above, are some of the cool birds you can see there.
Though it’s part of Liberty State Park, Caven Point Natural Area (yellow circle) is not contiguous to it.
Liberty National Golf Club is one of the most exclusive golf courses in the US with an initiation fee of nearly half a million dollars. The course has breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline which you may have seen on television last August when Liberty National hosted the PGA TOUR’s FedEx Cup Playoffs from August 6–11, 2019. This photo, uploaded by Redi-Rock International in 2015, gives you an idea of the view.
To us humans, Nature is the backdrop to the protests, letter writing, legislation and legal battles, but Nature will be the foreground in the years ahead. Climate change and sea level rise will engulf Caven Point and part of the existing golf course. It is already happening.
This map of the Caven Point area from NOAA’s Sea Level Rise Viewer shows red where the highest high tides inundate the land today. This doesn’t include the 5-foot wall of water that washed over the area during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
If the ocean rises 3 feet, as predicted for this century, Caven Point will become an island, ponds on the existing golf course will overflow (green) and the end of Liberty National’s parking lot near the clubhouse will be underwater every day (green).
Even if it doesn’t rise three feet very soon …
“Nobody’s debating that sea-level rise is happening. It’s back to how much, how fast,” Helen Amanda Fricker, a glaciologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told me. Even the most optimistic scientists have recently increased their low-end estimates, she said.
(photo of American oystercatcher by Tony Bruno. Caven Point walkway by Bill Benson on Flickr, Liberty National Golf Course by Redi-Rock International on Flickr, maps from New Jersey State Parks and NOAA Sea Level Viewer; click on the captions to see the originals)
On rare occasions, winter weather and the sea conspire to make ice balls that stack on the beach when they roll ashore. This ball ice, about the size of softballs, covered Stroomi Beach at the Baltic Sea in Estonia in December 2014.
Ball ice is so rare that it made the news last month in Alaska and Finland. Similar to hail, it forms in bays where the water is relatively calm and just cold enough to make ice. A “seed” of ice or grit starts the process, then wind and gentle waves keep turning the floating ball as it grows.
Sometimes two cool things happen at once. In this tweet from NWS APRFC, a field of ice balls in Alaska acquired pointy hats when snow or rime accumulated on one side.
Interesting formation of ice on the banks of the Wulik River near Kivalina. We suspect a combination of strong waves and super cold water created these ice balls. pic.twitter.com/oIM19Jle2N
Long-tailed ducks, common eiders and surf scoters eat crustaceans and mollusks that they pull from the ocean floor. Their populations are in steep decline, in part because hundreds of thousands of them die as bycatch in gillnets.
Federal fishing laws solved the bycatch problem for dolphins and whales by requiring pingers to warn the mammals away. Fish can’t hear the pingers but dolphins can. Is there a sound that will work for ducks?
University of Delaware grad student Kate McGrew tested long-tailed ducks, common eiders and surf scoters and found out they can hear 1-3 kHz underwater.
Fish cannot hear above 2 kHz so there’s hope for the ducks.
This New York Times ScienceTake video shows how McGew trained the ducks.
Dovekies eat small invertebrates and fish but the majority of their diet is made up of copepods. A single dovekie eats 60,000 of them per day. Quadrillions(*) fall prey to dovekies during the breeding season. So … What the heck is a copepod?
Phytoplankton is really tiny, so small that you need an electron microscope to see it. The Barents Sea bloom above is thought to be Emiliana huxleyi, shown below. The disks are made of calcium carbonate which is also the primary component of seashells. The calcium in phytoplankton makes its way up the food chain.
Thus if phytoplankton is scarce, copepods are scarce and the dovekies starve. That’s how a seabird relies on algae.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
(*) How many copepods? Here’s a back of the napkin calculation: Suppose there are 50 million dovekies, each one eating 60,000 copepods/day. Dovekies live in their breeding range for four to six months, so there have to be quadrillions of copepods available during that period. Dovekies aren’t the only animal that eats copepods. The numbers are staggering! (My original calculation had a power-of-10 problem. See Tom Brown’s correction.)
By now our sewers are over 100 years old and too small to handle heavy rain. In some places it takes only a 1/4 inch to cause a sewer overflow, sending toilet paper to the rivers. Meanwhile climate change has brought frequent heavy downpours that flood some valleys with sewage, including the neighborhood below Schenley Park.
That neighborhood, called The Run, is located at the base of Four Mile Run’s watershed where all the old sewers converge before reaching the Monongahela River (highlighted in red on the 3D map below).
The less rainwater that enters the sewer system the better it is for The Run. Toward that end the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PGH2O) is working in Schenley Park for the next several months, building detention swales along Overlook Drive and the Bridle Trail to channel stormwater away from the sewer system.
When the project is done they’ll plant more trees than they removed.
Last month I found this pitted shell at Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach and assumed the holes were made by sand and waves. But that can’t be true. If it was, most shells would look like this. So what happened here?
Boring sponges make their homes by boring holes into the calcium carbonate shells and skeletons of animals like scallops, oysters and corals. Using chemicals, they etch into the shell and then mechanically wash away the tiny shell chips, slowly spreading holes within the skeleton or shell and sometimes across its surface. Eventually, these holes and tunnels can kill their host, but the sponge will continue to live there until the entire shell has eroded away.
Cliona celata is a common boring sponge that lives on oyster reefs in Chesapeake Bay and around the world. It’s considered a major pest by Bay oyster harvesters. Here’s what it looks like underwater and in two closeups.
When European starlings are frightened by an aerial predator they fly in tight formation in a giant shimmering blob called a murmuration. If you’ve never seen it, check out these two examples: Murmurations in Lorain by Chad+Chris Saladin and Murmuration a 2011 film on Vimeo.
Starlings aren’t the only ones who fly like this. Shorebirds are masters at staying in formation, flying high and low and sweeping between the waves when threatened from above.
In the video below, a shorebird flock flashes black and white at Ocean Shores, Washington in November 2018. Their backs are dark, their bellies are white, so they change color as they turn in the air.
The flock is doing this for a reason.
Watch a predator dive in at the 0:13 time mark. It looks like a peregrine falcon to me. 🙂