Comments : 6 Comments »
Tags: rarities, winter
Categories : Avian Reflections, birds, nature, rarity, Recently Spotted in SSW
Look carefully at this group of mallards and you’ll see that, in fact, they’re not all mallards. It’s like that old Sesame Street skit, “One of these things is not like the other things, one of these things just doesn’t belong…“
The last couple of days have been good for our less common Sapsucker Woods birds: the day before this wildfowl visitor showed up (any guesses as to its identity?) we had several great looks at a northern shrike terrorizing the north side of the pond. I even overheard someone this morning saying that they had watched a shrike impale and dismantle a mouse just a hundred feet off of Sapsucker Woods Rd. Looking at the Sapsucker Woods eBird data from the last 100 years, it shows that shrikes are fairly common during the fall and winter, but the odd duck out is a fairly rare occurrence.
Now, you might be thinking that a duck and a hook-billed songbird aren’t all that exciting; but add in a sprinkling of dozens of pine siskins, a healthy dose of american tree sparrows, and a light dash of white-throated sparrows, and you’ve got quite a diversity of birds to watch. Not to mention the red-tailed hawk that skimmed by right outside the windows of the lunchroom. And the furtive brown beady-eyed mink that I saw in the gloaming last night. Plus a group of rosy-breasted robins in the late dusk sunlight, high in the trees.
So keep an eye on those windows! Despite the single-digit highs of the next few days, there’s no telling what else the woods will reveal…
Comments : 2 Comments »
Tags: fog, sapsucker woods
Categories : contrast, habitat, nature, perspective
Sapsucker Woods has always been a place where clouds and moisture get the chance to interact with terra firma. It sits over 700 feet above lakeside Ithaca, and cold rain and wind on the lakeshore can often lead to whiteout conditions and snow accumulation here at the Lab. As far back as 1950, studies indicated that humidity is typically higher and temperatures are usually lower here than in Ithaca (up to 10% in Owen’s 1950 thesis).
This last Thursday was a perfect example of humidity interacting with temperatures to create our own foggy fantasyland. Each day, I drive across two creek watersheds on the way to work. On this day, the first of the watersheds was draped in a high fog, the second filled with brilliant sun. My arrival at the Lab was greeted with high clouds and scattered patches of blue sky. Within two hours, the temperature had decreased a few degrees, and an intense fog rolled in (shutting down the airport as well!) The picture above was taken midmorning, and it remained that way for several hours, giving a surreal sense of wandering through an out-of-focus dreamscape…
By midafternoon the skies had cleared, the temperature had risen a few degrees and planes were buzzing around the skies, making me wonder if it had all just been a dream. Then, looking at the pile of work still remaining to be done on my desk, I hoped that I was still dreaming.
Comments : 1 Comment »
Categories : birds, nature, perspective
I guess I need to take my blogging hat off and do a little self-promotion. This past winter I wrote an article for the Lab of Ornithology’s flagship publication Living Bird. Well, the issue just went online in the last week, and I wanted to point anyone wanting to learn a thing or two about Black Oystercatchers to my piece, now online, with plenty of multimedia, photos, and google maps to keep you busy…You can also look at a set of additional pictures from Kenai Fjords on my Flickr page. Enjoy the reading!
Comments : 5 Comments »
Tags: bunny, mustelid, predation, yum
Categories : nature, non-avian
While pulling garlic mustard in Sapsucker Woods the other day, I was suddenly aware of a keening wail coming from nearby. It was the sort of sound that makes a person feel a bit uncomfortable, so I stopped for a moment to see if I could figure out what it was…
Six birds (2 robins, 3 RW blackbirds, and a goldfinch) perched in a small oak about 20m away, looking agitated and peering down at the ground, but not the source of the sound…Now my curiosity was really piqued, so I maneuvered for a better vantage point and was greeted by an uncommonly viewed scene of predation: a long-tailed weasel was firmly attached to the back of a cottontail rabbit(!), biting repeatedly at the base of the rabbit’s neck. The rabbit was the source of the wail, and as I watched the keening soon stopped and the weasel was left with his lunch.
This weasel was likely a male (males are larger than females and tend to go after larger prey, like rabbits), and was hunting right around the time that weasels have young. Distinguishing long-tailed weasels from short-tailed weasels can be difficult, as the male short-tails overlap in size with the female long-tails, but given the prey choice of this weasel I am fairly confident that it was a long-tailed weasel.
This joins several other predation events I feel lucky to have witnessed here in Sapsucker Woods–several others involved frogs or turtles being carried off by crows (in one instance a chipmunk ate a green frog!), Cooper’s Hawks and Red-tails feeding on birds or small mammals, and the ubiquitous fish/frog foraging of the great blue herons and belted kingfishers. But this was my first mammal-on-mammal predation in Sapsucker Woods (not counting the trespassing deer-hunters this past winter), and it was pretty spectacular! Any predation happening in your backyards?
Comments : 1 Comment »
Categories : birds, contrast, nature, perspective
A pulse of life is rippling through Sapsucker Woods. Amid the screeching blackbirds and honking geese it is now possible to discern the melodious tones of a host of wood warblers, buzzy phoebes, even monotonous vireos. All this noise is presaging one thing: it’s time to breed! And there’s already evidence that breeding is occurring across a wide range of birds right under our noses: at one end of the spectrum, the rotund massiveness that is the Canada Goose, and at the other end, our petite Black-capped Chickadee
There aren’t many similarities that come to mind when comparing Black-capped Chickadees and Canada Geese. One can weigh in excess of 5000g (or 11 lbs!), the other tops out at ~12g (the weight of two quarters in your hand!). Geese migrate long distances in family groups, chickadees stick it out for the winter across most of their range. And despite both of these species being grossly different, they actually share a number of fine details that allow them to succeed as early-season nesters:
- Both begin nesting in the early spring: Geese are able to breed through the cooler spring temperatures thanks to their massive bodies, which generate sufficient heat to keep themselves and their eggs warm. Chickadees use a different tactic, utilizing the wooden insulation of a tree cavity to avoid the elements.
- Both leave the nest at around 28-30 days…but baby geese and baby chickadees are worlds apart! Goslings are precocial: when they hatch out, within 24 hours they are motoring around on their own, foraging for themselves, but still needing mom or dad to thermoregulate. Chickadees, on the other hand, are altricial: their first days are spent blind and helpless, hatching out of their eggs in ~14 days. When they leave the nest (at around 30 days) they are able to fly, are fully feathered, and able to (somewhat) fend for themselves (click here for neat video from a chickadee nest, thanks to Project NestWatch). Young Canada Geese take another 6-10 weeks before finding themselves aloft…
- Both are fiercely territorial! The sweet clear “fee-bee” whistle of the chickadee begins in early Spring as the dominant males begin to jockey for the best woodland locations and nest cavities. Geese act similarly, waiting for the water to open then engaging in protracted battles that often result in a loss of feathers for the losers and ceremonial posturing for the winners. This territoriality is important in securing the resources that are needed for a successful nesting attempt.
Leave me a note in the comments if you come up with other natural history similarities among these two modestly plumaged birds…