Archive for the 'Water and Shore' Category

Sep 17 2017

The Marbled Godwit’s Bill

Published by under Water and Shore

Marbled godwit (screenshot of video by Steve Gosser)

Marbled godwit (from video by Steve Gosser)

Yesterday’s blog described an online class from Cornell Lab for identifying shorebirds.  Here’s a shorebird you’ll really enjoy seeing, especially when you know who he is.

The marbled godwit (Limosa fedoa) breeds in northern prairies and at Hudson Bay, then migrates to the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts to spend the winter.

The bird is 16.5 to 19 inches long but that includes a 3-5 inch dark-tipped pink bill.  The females are larger than males, big for a shorebird but small compared to a roseate spoonbill (click here to see).

The godwit’s bill is a great tool for finding food.  Its length allows him to probe deeply for small mollusks, bristle worms, insects, leeches (yes!) and sago pondweed tubers, and it’s so sensitive that he can feel his prey without having to see it.

Click on the screenshot above to see Steve Gosser’s video of a marbled godwit at Conneaut Harbor, Ohio early this month. Watch as she probes rapidly, then pulls up her beak to swallow a morsel.  She plunges her bill so deeply that her face goes underwater.

She was one hungry bird!

 

(screenshot from video by Steve Gosser)

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Sep 16 2017

Shorebird ID Class: Online from Cornell

Be A Better Birder – online Shorebird ID class with Kevin McGowan

Do you find shorebirds hard to identify?  Cornell’s Bird Academy has the online class for you.

logo_cornell_bird_academy

“As summer ends, shorebirds head from their Arctic breeding grounds to their southern wintering areas, passing through most of North America on their way.

What better time to build your shore-birding skills?

To celebrate the season, we have re-issued the recordings of Kevin McGowan’s 5-part webinar series on Shorebird Identification, last presented live in 2014.

Over five hours of video instruction help you get to know the markings and behaviors of all the common shorebirds found in North America, 47 species in all.

The entire series is only $29.99 with unlimited access to all the archived video material plus downloadable handouts for each session to help you take notes.”

Learn at your own pace with this archived five-part class.  Click here or on the logo above to sign up for the series.

 

(screenshots from Cornell Bird Academy)

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Sep 13 2017

In Hot Water

Two men holding an Atlantic sailfish caught off the coast of Port St. Lucie, Florida (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Two men holding an Atlantic sailfish caught off the coast of Port St. Lucie, Florida, 2010 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The warming ocean has been in the news lately as the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded — Harvey’s rain and Irma’s wind — slammed into Texas, the Caribbean, and Florida.  The ocean is hotter now than any time since record keeping began in the 1880’s and, though hotter water doesn’t cause hurricanes we’ve learned it makes them worse.  Uh oh!

There’s another sign the ocean is warming.  Fish are on the move.  A wide variety of species including sole, haddock, herring, and black sea bass have left places too warm for them and migrated to cooler water.

For example an enormous Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans), normally off the coast of Florida above, was caught in the Cape Cod Canal in August 2013.  It was the first Massachusetts record.

It’s not just temperature that makes fish move.  Warm water has less oxygen, so it’s harder to breathe, and more carbon dioxide so it’s more acidic.  Acidic water holds less calcium carbonate, the building block of sea shells including those of tiny copepods.  With fewer tiny organisms there’s less food all the way up the food chain.

Fish swim away from these “deserts” but some animals can’t move very far. Think of lobsters, now gone from Long Island Sound.

The changes in species affect both fishermen and nesting seabirds.  The old catch limits refer to fish that can’t be found because they’ve moved north, and baby puffins starve because the new species are too big for them to swallow.

From more powerful hurricanes to fish leaving home, we’re in hot water!

 

Read more in this article from Yale e360: Feeling the Heat: How Fish Are Migrating from Warming Waters

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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Jul 30 2017

More Than Three Inches of Rain

Published by under Water and Shore

Two photos Monongahela River rising. Duck Hollow mudflat at 2:50p and 4:45p, July 29, 2017

Two photos Monongahela River rising. Duck Hollow mudflat at 2:50p and 4:45p, July 29, 2017

Early Saturday morning, July 29, more than three inches of rain fell in the Monongahela River watershed.   At the Allegheny County Airport more than an inch fell between midnight and 12:53am where the total was 3.51″ in 24 hours.

Initial flooding occurred along streams and creeks and affected homes and roads, but by the time I visited Duck Hollow at 2:50p Nine Mile Run was back inside its banks while the Monongahela River was rising fast.

My two photos above show where the mudflat used to be at Duck Hollow. In only two hours — 2:50p to 4:45p — the river engulfed all but three trees.  I expect they disappeared later.

To give you an idea of what’s missing, here’s Don Kerr’s photo of the mudflat only 20 days ago, 10 July 2017.  There’s a lot underwater!

Mudflat at Duck Hollow, 10 July 2017 (photo by Don Kerr)

Mudflat at Duck Hollow, 10 July 2017 (photo by Don Kerr)

 

After watching the river I walked up the Nine Mile Run Trail and found more evidence of flooding along the creek.  Check the captions for more information.

Fisherman near the mouth of Nine Mile Run (photo by Kate St. John)

Fisherman near the mouth of Nine Mile Run (photo by Kate St. John)

I was amazed to find four snakes sheltering in this tree above the water. They are wrapped together in coils, two by two, waiting for the water to go down. Probably northern water snakes. (See the comments. I am bad at identifying snakes. I had guessed black rat snakes.)

Four snakes sheltering above high water on Nine Mile Run (photo by Kate St. John)

Four snakes sheltering above high water on Nine Mile Run (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Inside Frick Park, Nine Mile Run scoured the landscape next to the creek.  Flood debris was chest-high in the lowest lying spots and there was evidence the creek had overrun Commercial Street.

Flood debris snagged waist-high on this railing at Nine Mile Run in Frick Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Flood debris snagged waist-high on this railing at Nine Mile Run in Frick Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Nine Mile Run flooding scoured the woods in lower Frick Park, 29 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Nine Mile Run flooding scoured the woods in lower Frick Park, 29 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The flood carried away bricks from the walkway next to Nine Mile Run in Frick Park (photo by Kate St. John)

The flood carried away bricks from the walkway next to Nine Mile Run in Frick Park, 29 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

No wonder the Monongahela River is rising!

 

(photo of the Duck Hollow exposed mudflat by Don Kerr in Duck Hollow Facebook Group. Remaining photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 26 2017

Endangered Plovers Return to Pennsylvania

A bird that hasn’t nested in Pennsylvania since the early 1950’s returned this year to Presque Isle State Park in Erie.

The piping plover (Charadrius melodus), a very rare bird, has been endangered in the Great Lakes region since 1986. This spring for the first time in over 60 years they nested at Gull Point.

Their decline was due to habitat loss.  Their return is an environmental success story.  As Dan Brauning, PGC‘s Wildlife Diversity Program Chief, said, “This is a testament to dedication and teamwork, not only in Pennsylvania but throughout the species’ range. Their return wasn’t by chance, or an accident.”

Piping plovers nest on wide, sparsely vegetated sand or cobble beaches but 20 years ago Presque Isle State Park had nothing like that.  As the population of Great Lakes piping plovers grew, a plover would sometimes stop at Gull Point during migration but it never stayed.  PGC, DCNR, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy worked to clear invasive vegetation and protect Gull Point during the nesting season.  Then Audubon monitors, including my friend Mary Birdsong, watched for piping plovers each spring.  For a couple of years Mary observed a male piping plover stay at the point, calling for a female, but he was a lonely bachelor.  This year, success.  Two pairs!

Read here about their nesting success and how eggs were rescued from the waves.  Click here to see a close up of a piping plover.

 

p.s.  Gull Point habitat improvements have made it better for all the birds.  The shorebird population has tripled and increased bird populations all the way up the food chain.  Snowy owls now visit during irruption yearsPeregrine falcons, nesting in Erie, use Gull Point as their hunting territory.

(screenshot and video from Pennsylvania Game Commission)

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Jul 05 2017

Kingfisher Envy

Published by under Travel,Water and Shore

Two common kingfishers, Alcedo atthis (photo by Lukasz Lukasik via Wikimedia Commons)

Two common kingfishers, Alcedo atthis (photo by Lukasz Lukasik via Wikimedia Commons)

Though only the size of a sparrow, the common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) found in Europe, Asia and Africa looks anything but common to birders from North America.

Our much larger belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) is plain by comparison.

Belted kingfisher, Seattle (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Belted kingfisher, Seattle (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

What’s not to love about a tiny iridescent electric blue bird?

I am suffering from kingfisher envy.

 

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

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Jul 01 2017

Looks A Little Different

Published by under Travel,Water and Shore

Pied avocet, Netherlands (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Pied avocet, Netherlands (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

There’s something odd about this avocet.

The ones we see in Pennsylvania have orange heads in breeding plumage …

American avocet (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

American avocet (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

… and white heads in basic (winter) plumage.

American Avocet in basic plumage (photo by Bobby Greene)

American Avocet in basic plumage (photo by Bobby Greene)

 

The bird at the top looks different because he’s a pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), native to Europe, Asia and Africa.

Our avocets are “American avocets” (Recurvirostra americana).

Fortunately we can identify both birds as avocets.  All we need is the right adjective.

 

(first two photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals.
avocet in basic/winter plumage by Robert Greene, Jr.
)

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Jun 28 2017

Sleepy Eyes, Thick Knees

Published by under Travel,Water and Shore

Eurasian stone curlew in France (photo by Pascal Aleixandre via Wikimedia Commons)

Eurasian stone curlew in France (photo by Pascal Aleixandre via Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a page in the Birds of Europe that shows a “curlew” unlike any found in the United States.  In fact he’s not related to them.

The Eurasian stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) and his Burhinidae relatives have been hard to classify.  They somewhat resemble bustards so were placed in the crane family, Gruiformes, but now they’re with the shorebirds in Charadriiformes. Even so, stone-curlews are far away in the family tree from our curlews, the true sandpipers Scolopacidae.

Eurasian stone-curlews breed in dry open places in Europe and spend the winter in Africa.  They’re nocturnal birds the size of whimbrels with thick knees and large eyes that look perpetually sleepy.  At night the stone curlew sings a loud wailing song.

“Eurasian Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)” from xeno-canto by Stanislas Wroza. Genre: Burhinidae.

 

We have no stone-curlews or thick-knees in the U.S. but they are in our hemisphere.  The nearest species lives in Central and South America, the double-striped thick-knee (Burhinus bistriatus).

Double-striped thick-knee in Costa Rica (photo by Steve Garvie via Wikimedia Commons)

Double-striped thick-knee in Costa Rica (photo by Steve Garvie via Wikimedia Commons)

Photographed northwestern Costa Rica, this bird is showing off his thick knees.

 

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

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Jun 27 2017

Spoonbills Here and There

Eurasian spoonbill (photo by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net, via Wikimedia Commons)

Eurasian spoonbill in the Netherlands (photo by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net, via Wikimedia Commons)

A bird this unusual must surely be from the tropics, but not this one.

The Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) is a large white wading bird with black legs and a spatulate bill that’s black with a yellow tip.  In breeding plumage they have feather crests and yellow chins. Click here for another view.

Spoonbills live in fresh and saltwater wetlands where they hunt for prey by sweeping their long bills side to side below the surface, snapping them shut when they feel prey close by.

Amazingly this spoonbill nests in both temperate and tropical zones.  Though they’re sparse in Europe, their range extends to Africa and wide swaths of Asia (see map).  Four hundred years ago Eurasian spoonbills disappeared from the British Isles. Happily, they returned to breed in the marshes of Norfolk County in 2010.

Breeding range of Eurasian spoonbill in Europe (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Breeding range of Eurasian spoonbill in Europe (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Of the six spoonbill species on Earth, all but one are white.  The pink one lives in our hemisphere, the roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja).

Roseate Spoonbill (photo by Steve Gosser)

Roseate Spoonbill (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Click here to see the six species of spoonbills, Platalea.  Ours is the one with “A ha ha!” in his name:  Platalea ajaja!

 

(photo credits:
Eurasian spoonbill by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net, via Wikimedia Commons
map of European breeding range from Wikimedia Commons; click on the map to see the original
Roseate spoonbill by Steve Gosser
)

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Apr 21 2017

Throwing His Head

Hooded mergansers are headed for the woods where the females will nest alone in hollow trees.  On the way they’re choosing mates.

What features are the ladies looking for?

Based on the video above, I’ll bet they’re impressed by the biggest white hood.

Most of these birds have moved north of our area but a few breed in Butler, Crawford and Erie counties.

If you see a pair cruising together, wait to see if he throws his head.

 

(video by Alex Galt on YouTube)

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