Sunday, December 27, 2015

Eastern gray squirrel with white ear tufts

Visiting friends in Ann Arbor yesterday.  They live in a great area with woods and a tree-filled golf course behind the woods abutting their back yard.  The house has an upper level deck with bird feeders and yesterday the tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees and one white-breast nuthatch were busy.   

Cleaning up the spilled seeds on the deck below was this [probably] juvenile Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) with white ear tufts.  I looked through gray squirrel photos on Google images and a couple did show squirrels with white ear tufts.  Additionally, there were photos of completely albino gray squirrels.  I took these photos through the picture window with my iPhone camera.

This little squirrel was so cute and the first I've seen with white ear tufts.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What the Eye Hears: Tap Dancing and Bird Song

In the Nov. 30th, 2015 issue of The New Yorker Joan Acocella has an article titled Up From the Hold: the Story of Tap, pages 80-83.  She reviews the new book, What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing by Brian Seibert.  Apparently there has been very little written on tap dancing and this dance form may be in danger of disappearing from our culture.

Although I'm not knowledgable about any kind of dance, I read the full article probably because tap is my favorite form of dance.  Many years ago I saw Savion Glover's "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk" and was smitten by this live performance.  Then there are the old movies with tappers like Bill Bojangles Robinson (mentioned in the article), Shirley Temple, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and many others all thanks to Turner Classic Movies.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the great Gregory Hines.

What does any of this have to do with bird song?

The book's title, "What the Eye Hears" ... is what happens when we watch a bird sing.

Early in the article Acocella writes, "And that sensory doubleness, sight combined with sound, makes for a psychological aesthetic doubleness.

I read this and immediately thought of my love of seeing a singing bird. Unless the bird flies first, I have to watch it sing.  It's a thrilling sight. The sight and sound of a bird singing enhances our sensory doubleness.

I don't know about anyone else, but I need beauty in my life.  Seeing and hearing a bird sing ... well, you get it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bird eggs are fertilized by more than one sperm

From the 11/04/15 New York Times:  Bird eggs are fertilized by more than one sperm in a process called polyspermy.

From 11/05/2015:  Australia Employs Sheepdogs to Save a Penguin Colony,

Monday, October 19, 2015

... San Francisco treats

During most of last week I was in San Francisco to attend a conference.  I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and the conference didn't start until Friday evening and all day Saturday.  A colleague was with me and it was later in the afternoon on Wednesday when we arrived and checked into our hotel in Union Square.  So the first evening was spent in Chinatown and eating at a North Beach neighborhood Italian restaurant.  We met up with a friend of mine from all the way back to graduate school who has lived in S.F. for over twenty years and we had a great evening together eating and catching up.

On Thursday morning Mary returned to pick us up for a day outdoors at Crissy Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Amongst looking at a many other things, I was able to get a little birding in.

Immediately upon stepping out of the car the first bird I saw was this little cutie - the very photogenic Black Phoebe.

I love this photo for the composition of it.  Western Gull in the foreground, casting fisherman and shack in the background and steamer and Alcatraz Island in the far background.

I'm terrible at gulls.  I finally decided that this is a Western Gull and they were plentiful and rather tame in this very touristy area.  Also in the water were Pelagic Cormorants.  While looking at the gulls,  a small tern was flying around that I finally decided was a Forster's tern, which surprised me.

The iconic Golden Gate bridge was beautiful this morning.  I took dozens of photos.

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) in coastal California is so much darker with bolder, very dark breast streaking.  Their song, too, is different but still unmistakable.

Bridge sentries, two Ravens were perched on one of the bridge's cement pillars.

As we were leaving the bridge (we had walked to the first main support) I saw a bird fly into a nearby cluster of conifers.  Red-shouldered Hawk! 

Later in the afternoon, after a lunch of dim sum at a traditional Chinese dining room, we drove by Land's End for a quick look.

A Brewer's Blackbird perched in the parking lot is all eye.

The above photo shows the difference in the Pacific coastal White-crowned Sparrow from our larger, interior bird.  Note the yellow bill and the overall smaller appearance of the bird although, without a comparison bird in the photo, this is subjective.  If you have seen a lot of White-crowned Sparrows, you can just sort of see the size difference in this bird.

On Friday morning and afternoon I went to Golden Gate Park.  Hermit Thrushes were plentiful here.

Oregon-style Dark-eyed Juncos were also quite common.

I cannot resist a bathing Robin.  This one at the main entrance of the Botanical Garden.

I saw several Townsend's Warblers and thought I would never get a photo until this one cooperated.

Altogether I saw three California Towhees.  This one was in the Asian Garden.

Finally, a semi-sensible Fox Sparrow photo.

The best birding spot in the Botanical Gardens overall seemed to be the California native garden.  Here I found six sparrow species including Fox Sparrow and Lincoln's Sparrow. 

This was the bird I wanted a photo of most.  Every time I heard one I chased it down always to find it high up in a tree.  Finally, when I left the Botanical Garden and walked to the lake, I saw movement in a thicket.  A Stellar's Jay was eating seed that someone has placed on a large tree stump.

I love the two blue forehead stripes on this very beautiful bird.

Golden-crowned Sparrow found in the same thicket.

Another example of the dark Song Sparrow.  Both it and the Golden-crowned seemed to be trying for the seed on the stump but would only approach when the Stellar's Jay flew off.

On the lake, an out-of-focus Eared Grebe.  Initially I called this dull-plumaged bird a horned grebe but my friend Matt offered a correction. I have since seen a couple of photos of horned g. with a much different bill shape.   

A pretty nice photo of a female Ruddy Duck.

At first I didn't recognize this preening, and odd-looking, Hooded Merganser.

Pied Grebe

After circling the lake, I returned to the Botanical Garden to meet my colleague who also decided to visit the park.  We took another spin around the garden which is beautiful and well worth the $8 fee for non-San Francisco residents.  With my colleague we focused more on the plants and flowers.  By the early afternoon the sun had come out and it was warm.  For the first time all day a few butterflies were also seen - alas, none of which landed for photos.

Around 1:30 pm I reluctantly left Golden Gate Park (had my colleague not shown up I would have stayed until it was time to shower for the conference) and we had lunch at the Indian restaurant Marsala Dosa on 9th Avenue.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Belle Isle this morning

Fall is here and it's time to begin birding Belle Isle again.  I went last Sunday morning and again this morning for a couple of hours.  When time is limited, as it was this morning, I typically just walk around the Nashua trail.

The parking lot near the handball courts had at least a half dozen cars because this morning it seemed that some kind of handball tournament was going on.  Courts 1, 2 and 3 were active with matches.

Entering the trailhead an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) was flycatching near the first bridge.  After that, along the zoo side of the trail, I spotted Northern Flicker ((Colaptes auratus), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) and White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinesis) all in the bare branches of a dead tree.  Following these too far to photograph birds, I came across a little group of White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) - my first this fall - but still not suitable for photos.

The baby American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) above was the first photographable moving thing I saw this morning.

The little toad was followed by this stunning, recently emerged Monarch (Danaus plexxipus) butterfly.  I took several photos and then moved along, but was called back by a thrush call note.  I was focused on trying to locate the thrush and was ignoring the irritated chatter of a House Wren and another unfamiliar alarm note.  I turned around and saw ...

... this completely charming Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) perched out in the open.

In spring and early summer I hear Ovenbirds, and see them too behind leaves, on the ground, etc. but rarely, if ever, with a decent view to photograph. 

The bird never stopped giving it's alarm chip as it repositioned itself and looked around in clear view on an unobstructed branch.  The photos below are more pixelated unfortunately.  

Seeing this bird made me so happy.  One of my favorites!

While I was still taking photos of the Ovenbird, I was distracted by another bird who also seemed to be paying attention the the Ovenbird's alarm chips - a Black-troated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens).  I didn't get a photo, but she made a fleeting appearance in the 22 second video I took trying to record the sound of the Ovenbird's chipping.

There is a beautiful little bee on the left aster.

To cap off my hour and three quarters of birding this morning, another Belle Isle first for me, an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) perched in a dead tree on one of the islands in the little lakes along the road.  These photos are horrible, and I knew they would be, but I cannot recall ever having seen an Osprey on Belle Isle and I wanted to document it.

Belle Isle is changing.  More crowded.  Lots of events.  Last weekend there was a run; this weekend something with dogs or dog walking. Will see if this continues as the weather gets colder.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

2015 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest

Entries for the 2015 Federal Duck Stamp

I was fascinated by this series of entries.  I would have been able to chose a single loser, but I'm not sure I would have been able to select a winner.

The winner, apparently, was entry #052.

Purchase at your local post office for $25 or you can buy from the American Birding Association ($4.95 shipping and handling fee) to make your birder's voice heard.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

How the hummingbird tongue works

From the New York Times on 09/08/2015.

Just the 1:11 second video - ScienceTake: The Hummingbird's Tongue

The video and article together:   The Hummingbird's Tongue: How It Works.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Unidentified vocalization

Around mid-week, Wednesday, August 19th, we finally got some rain.  It has been dry for awhile and my grass is brown and crunchy.  

The rain came at night, starting around 1:00 am and continued off and on, sometimes heavily, until morning.

I keep my bedroom window wide open and as the rain began I heard a loud vocalization that seemed mostly bird-like to me.  It awakened me - perhaps not fully - but out of habit I found myself running through familiar bird songs and calls in my head.  I could not match it with any.

I'm a restless sleeper.   Around 3:00 am I was reawakened by the rain coming down harder and I heard the call again. This time I was ready. I got my cell phone and made these two recordings from my 2nd floor bedroom window.  Unfortunately, the loud volume of the calling is diminished by the heavy rain.

I was focused on the vocalizer being a bird.  But yesterday - 8/29/15 - I went through a variety of frog vocalizations with friends.  While we couldn't match it up with any, this exercise made me be able to think more broadly and I've edited this post to consider non-bird vocalizers.

The first video is 10 seconds and the second video is 12 seconds.   Have your volume turned up.  Any help with the identification of this vocalizer would be appreciated.

Snowcap ... back to the beginning of 2015

Every so often someone will ask which bird or birds are my favorite.  I never have an answer for this question when it's asked, but later when I think about it, I feel like my answer is flycatchers and shorebirds.

Nevertheless, on my trip to Costa Rica at the end of January and 1st week in February, I fell for the little Snowcap (Microchera albocoronata).  I really love its latin name.  So accurately descriptive.  

This is one constantly moving bird and good photos with a point and shoot ... well, forget it.  Doesn't matter - these are the best of the many I took.  

18 seconds of a tiny moving machine video below.

I think that seeing a Snowcap ranks as a must see experience.  Okay, okay so that's over the top ... but it's a great bird.