Monday, August 23, 2010

Goodbye to Summer and Birds taking a Bath

Summer is coming to an end ....
...but what can be more evocative of  summer than the sounds of crickets?

I have set a shallow water-filled ceramic plate on the porch railing as a bird bath, but usually the birds are just stopping by after visiting the feeder to take a drink and rarely bathe. Yesterday, as a gentle rain was falling, a Chickadee and a female House Finch felt inspired to take a bath.

Chickadee taking a bath
Female House Finch

Shaking her head... but beak remained centered

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

More Terns - Least Terns renesting and courting

On August 9th I went on a whale watching/birdwatching trip out of Newburyport, MA. We didn't see many birds, nor many whales. On the way out we passed a beach. The air was shimmering in the heat. I focused my camera on a tern as a couple of beach goers and their dog were walking by

We passed the breakwater at the mouth of the Merrimack River. Terns and Ruddy Turnstones were lounging and preening on the rocks.

Roseate Terns
Roseate Terns
Out in the open water on our way to the Southeastern edge of Jeffrey's Ledge we encountered a Minke Whale and a Right Whale , unusual in this location - they are ornery animals; there was a report from South Africa a couple of weeks ago that a Right Whale breached on a sailboat; luckily no one was hurt. We stayed at the safe required distance of 500 ft.

We also encountered isolated Wilson's Storm-Petrels, several  Northern Gannets and Great Shearwaters (no longer "Greater")

Adult Northern Gannet

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

We returned to port at 4:30 PM. I didn't want to get stuck in the rush hour traffic around Boston and decided to head out to Plum Island. I parked at Sandy Point and walked to the tip of the peninsula. It was low tide. As soon as I skirted the roped-off area off the beach I was being dive-bombed by irate Least Terns, defending their territory. I had to raise my arm to ward them off and saw one coming pretty close squirting white poop at me. Fortunately it missed. This kind of behavior seems to be universal in the animal world  - I guess  it's  the ultimate insult. I retreated a few paces and after a while they left me alone.

I took photos of a tern settling down in the sand. When I looked at  them at home I saw that it was settling down on a couple of eggs. Here is a sequence of shots:

Tern settling on speckled eggs


This is quoting from Cornell's Birds of North America site: "Renesting commonly follows nest or chick loss; up to 3 nests/season. Least Terns display second wave of nesting, involving birds that have lost clutches in the same colonies, renesting birds from other colonies, or younger birds (2–3 yr old) that are breeding for first time (Massey and Atwood 1981).
These late-nesting birds usually insert themselves within existing colony, selecting sites used by earlier pairs or areas with little or no prior use (Massey and Atwood 1981)."

I also observed courting behavior with the male presenting a small fish to the female. I didn't actually see the female accepting the fish.

I also saw several Piping Plovers in the same area, but did not take any photos since I already had so many from my previous trip. I did not look for the Scissored-tailed Flycatcher, although I saw a couple of birders in the distance who apparently were. It was getting late, time for me to drive home.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ordinary Life

A dog barking somewhere, children's voices in the neighbor's yard, .... faint thunder followed by a flash of lightening, the sound of rain on the roof... a freight train passing in the distance... the sounds of ordinary life.
But life changes in the blink of an eye ... the awful heartbreaking news that my younger brother is lying comatose in a trauma center in Hamburg, Germany,  following a bicycle day a smart geophysicist, caring husband and father, the next a patient with traumatic brain injury.... my sister-in-law's life in shambles, all plans for the future nil and void, looking at years of care for an invalid husband --- if he survives, that is --- two college-bound sons struggling to understand what is going to happen... and the specter of many more hurdles yet to come..
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Friday, August 6, 2010

How Bats got me to look at the Moon, and a Bird Song Puzzle

Bats have suffered a devastating decline in the Northeast in recent years due to White Nose Syndrome, and  so the sight of two little brown bats that appear at dusk every night makes me happy, particularly since they are doing a great job of keeping the mosquitoes down.  - Bats, I read, can eat about half of their body weight in insects every night.

For evenings on end standing on our deck I tried to get a photo of a bat flying over our house, impossible to do with my camera set-up I found out; I could not set the large aperture required for the low light condition and obtain a  fast enough shutter speed to stop bat motion in mid flight. This motion blurred image was all I could come up with:

Little Brown Bat in motion

I finally gave up and since it was such beautiful clear evening I pointed my camera at the waxing gibbous moon hanging in the sky.

Waxing Moon

Have you ever looked at the moon with binoculars? All those dark splotches you see with the naked eye show their true topography as flat planes and  maria (seas) ..... and then there are the mountain ranges, and the many craters - it's quite amazing how much you can see! Here are my photos taken over a series of nights to record three lunar phases.

Waning Moon
Waxing Moon

The topography of the full moon is less revealing, lacking the highlights and shadows that bring out the topography in relief.

Here is a map of the lunar landmarks
Moon Map
The moon is a piece of our earth, not many mysteries there, and after the Apollo 17  mission in Dec '72 the  the moon program was stopped as interest in further explorations had faded.

Back when I was young I and my friends,  like all young adults I suppose, talked a lot about what life may have in store for us, trying to decipher the meaning of life, and speculating about the universe in which we were living, trying to grasp Earth's  infinitely small peripheral spot on the Orion Arm in our Milky Way Galaxy

Image from Wikipedia. The Orion Arm is labeled Local Spur and the yellow dot denotes the position of the Earth
I remember a walk on a first date years ago with somebody I had just met at a school dance. It was a clear moonless summer night. Looking at the starry sky I said something about the zillions of frozen worlds in the universe, imagining what it would be like to visit there. My date stopped in his tracks, saying quietly, mournfully, "Is that what you are seeing?" and I found out that he wanted us to see the stars as so many candles on the night sky. Suddenly a yawning gap, a total disconnect between our views, ever curious me and him with romance on his mind. The End.  We obviously functioned on different planes.  I continue to be fascinated by reading about the universe, engrossed by such books as Brian Greene's Fabric of the Cosmos... or Lisa Randall's Warped Passages....

Anyhow, getting back to birds, here are a couple of recent photos:

Willow Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

And lastly a songbird puzzle for which I don't have an answer. The bird was vocalizing in a stand of trees near a river. Please leave a comment if you can name the bird.

Thanks for stopping by and please leave a comment if you like.

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