Birds + Artists + Spraypaint = Audubon Murals

25audb10-superJumbo

A swallow-tailed kite and 12 other birds painted by Lunar New Year.

cruz_wall

Tricolored Heron by Federico Massa a.k.a. iena cruz. Photo: Mila Tenaglia

Murals with birds always capture our attention; we cannot resist linking to such initiatives when they are cleverly conceived, elegantly executed, and perfectly placed. Enjoy this epic series, a fitting tribute to the National Audubon Society:

Where Birds Meet Art . . . After Dark

mikefernandez_black_chinned_hummingbird_web

Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

The Audubon Mural Project is a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and Gitler & Gallery to create murals of climate-threatened birds throughout John James Audubon’s old Harlem‐based neighborhood in New York City. The project is inspired by the legacy of the great American bird artist and pioneering ornithologist and is energized by Audubon’s groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change Report, which reveals at least half of all North American birds are threatened by a warming climate. The project commissions artists to paint murals of each of the report’s 314 species, and has been widely covered in the media, including most recently by The New York Times.

Thanks to the Editorial Board of the New York Times for reminding us of this:

25audb1-master768

Louise Jones, with her husband, Gabe, working on a mural of an evening grosbeak. Credit Photographs by Karsten Moran for The New York Times

In his final years, John James Audubon, the celebrated 19th-century painter of bird life, lived in rustic uptown Manhattan in a house by the Hudson where some of his final paintings were of urban rats that caught his eye. Continue reading

Peregrines Make for Better Starling Murmurations

Image via Audubon.org, by Nick Dunlop

We last mentioned murmurations about three years ago, linking to slideshows from the Guardian that covered European Starlings in the UK. And in our Bird of the Day feature we have shared photos of seven different species of starlings from around Europe and Asia, but somehow none of those species was the European Starling, which is an invasive species in North America (and at least some of Central America as well), but still a good-looking bird.

In this video, there are fantastic moments where the enormous flocks of European Starlings in Napa Valley, California form incredible shapes, largely because they’re being chased by Peregrine Falcons and other raptors.

Continue reading

Environmental Progress Seen Through Bird Specimen Collections

FeatherDirt

Grasshopper sparrow specimens from 1907, top, and 1996. Credit Carl Fuldner and Shane DuBay

A fascinating story appears in the Science section of the New York Times this week. It is a reminder of the progress made over the last century in cleaning up the air in North America. Birds are key to the evidential trail in telling the story. The title is one of the most unappealing we have seen in ages, but science is not all sweetness and light:

The Dirty Secrets Saved in Dead Birds’ Feathers

Tucked away in the drawers of natural history museums across America’s Rust Belt, thousands of dead birds carry dirty secrets from America’s polluted past.

The specimens that were put away around the start of the 20th century are far grimier than the ones from more recent decades. And now, climate scientists and historians can thank museum curators for not having tidied them up before storing them. Continue reading

Fall Migration

IMG_2292-for-web-1260x708

Green roof on the entrance building at TNC’s South Cape May Meadows Preserve. (Cape May, New Jersey) Sep 2017 © The Nature Conservancy/Cara Byington

Thanks to Cool Green Science for this story from a migratory birding hotspot:

Give Me Shelter

BY CARA BYINGTON

I’m climbing a somewhat rickety ladder when it occurs to me (not for the first time) that I really shouldn’t be doing this.

It’s September. Fall migration is getting underway. And I am in the very heart of one of birding’s holiest of high holy places: Cape May, New Jersey, that small curve of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay where millions of birds spend at least some part of their lives, year over year, season over season. Continue reading

BirdsCaribbean Hurricane Relief Fund

Over the last month or so I’ve been helping to copy-edit articles submitted to the Journal of Caribbean Ornithology, which is where our findings on the Golden Swallow in Jamaica will be published soon. The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology is run by BirdsCaribbean, an NGO dedicated to the study and conservation of birds in the Caribbean basin.

After the catastrophic winds and flooding that occurred throughout the Caribbean in the last month, island natural habitat has suffered greatly, and not all birds were able to weather the storms, or if they did, they may not have the shelter and food needed to survive. But there is something you can do to help them!

Continue reading

Respect For The Praying Mantis

26SCI-MANTIS1-jumbo

A praying mantis outfitted with 3-D glasses during an experiment to determine whether the insects see in three dimensions. The conclusion: absolutely. Credit Newcastle University

Audubon’s 2017 Photography Awards Winners

Aud1

Gentoo Penguins. Photo: Deborah Albert/Audubon Photography Awards

Thanks to the judges who chose the Grand Prize Winner (above) in this year’s contest, among an impossibly great selection:

The more than 5,500 photos entered in this year’s contest, our eighth, show birdlife at its most vivid, vulnerable, formidable, and elegant. Photographers from 49 states and eight Canadian provinces submitted images in three categories: professional, amateur, and youth. While it wasn’t easy whittling those down, the following seven images proved exceptional. The category winners, in addition to garnering cash and trip prizes, are being displayed within the 2017 Nature’s Best Photography Exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  Continue reading

Clay-Eating Is Not Just A Bird Thing

gettyimages-522092748-2_wide-de7958c65f734cfb3d3e2c276d37cc2f7a4e3ff7-s1500-c85

Parrots at an exposed cliff in Peru, where they gather to eat clay, which is richer in sodium than plants in the area. Frans Lemmens/Getty Images

Thanks to Carolyn Beans and the salt colleagues at National Public Radio (USA) for this:

Why Do Parrots (And People) Eat Clay?

The parrots of Southeastern Peru crave an earthy delicacy: dirt. At the Colorado clay lick, a cliff face rising above the Tambopata River in the western Amazon Basin, parrots — often hundreds at a time from up to 18 species — gather each day to feast on sun-hardened clay. Continue reading

Habitat Conservation via Travel Choices

The greater sage grouse is a favorite among birders. Credit Rick McEwan

 

As protected areas and wildlife come under threat through lessening of restrictions on invasive oil and gas exploration, the importance of proving the economic value of conservation tourism become more and more evident.

Birders and Naturalists Ponder the Fate of the Greater Sage Grouse

Evan Obercian says it is the highlight of his Colorado birding tours every spring, even though he has to wake his clients up before 5 a.m. to be in the sagebrush flats before the sun comes up. And there they wait in Mr. Obercian’s van, listening to strange whoops and popping sounds that float magically from the predawn darkness.

The first rays of a new day’s sun reveal what is making the noise: large brown birds more than twice the size of a barnyard chicken, strutting and shaking while thrusting bulbous yellow air sacs out of their chests, and fanning a fantastic spread of pointy tail feathers. The bird is the greater sage grouse, and the sight is their spring mating ritual on their dancing grounds, called leks.

“It’s profoundly moving for me, and my clients,” said Mr. Obercian, “watching this ancient nuptial dance that’s been performed since way before there were any people on this land. It’s something way beyond just checking another bird off a list.”

The van acts like a blind, so the sage grouse do not notice that people are nearby, watching. Sometimes the grouse will dance right up to the tires. Birders are under strict orders not to get out, because as Mr. Obercian says, sage grouse “are very sensitive.” Continue reading

Weather Waves and Habitat Changes

This animation shows where the 21 species in the study occur during each week of the year. Brighter colors (yellows) indicate more species are present than darker areas (blues and purples); overall, the species spend more time in Central American wintering grounds than on their northern breeding grounds. Map and animation by Frank La Sorte.

Once again eBird data and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology studies highlight the importance of forest conservation for species survival, as seen in Climate Change Or Habitat Loss? Study Weighs Future Priorities For Conserving Forest Migrants:

Birds are among the first to let us know when the environment is out of whack. But predicting what might happen to bird populations is tricky. Studies often focus on a single issue or location: breeding grounds or wintering grounds, changes in climate, loss of habitat. But in the real world, nothing occurs in isolation. A new study just published in the journal Global Change Biology pulls the pieces together. Continue reading

Entomological Wonders Will Never Cease

Crane_Tiny-Parasite-Could-Save-Darwins-Finches

Galápagos finches, which helped inspire the theory of evolution, are under urgent threat. Will a controversial scientific technique be their deliverance? Photograph by Mint Images Limited / Alamy

Thanks to Brent Crane writing in the Elements section of the New Yorker’s website:

A Tiny Parasite Could Save Darwin’s Finches from Extinction

Five years ago, George Heimpel, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, travelled to Trinidad in search of insect larvae. He was after several kinds in particular—Philornis downsi, a fly whose parasitic young feed on the hatchlings of tropical birds, and various minuscule wasp species whose own offspring feed on those of the fly. Continue reading

Life List Birding

Jabiru Stork by Richard Kostocke - La Paz Group

Jabiru stork taking flight from the Blue Creek rice fields, Orange Walk District, Belize

The name “Jabiru” is derived from the Tupi–Guarani family of languages from South America and means “swollen neck”; an apt description. This is the tallest flying bird in South and Central America and is second in wingspan (excluding pelagic flyers like albatross) only to the Andean Condor.  This denizen of wetland habitats is a voracious, opportunistic forager on a wide variety of animal matter, living or dead.  Needless to say, an impressive bird and I was ecstatic to see it!

It was past the mid-point of our Belize vacation, and as good and enjoyable as the birding had been, life birds (new species that I had never seen before) were fewer and farther between than I had anticipated/hoped.  I guess that was to be expected given that I have visited the Neotropics several times previously.  I had already seen many of the common, easy, widespread species (e.g., many if not most of the hummingbirds, parrots, motmots, etc.) that make birders new to the Neotropics giddy.  After talking to the local guides, apparently most of my desired life birds were the tough ones (hard to find, rare, skulky, etc.).  As I went through my list of target birds, they just kind of smiled and shook their heads. Continue reading

Laying Eyes on the Ocellated Turkey

Ocellated Turkey Details Photo Credits: TL: Leander Khil, TR: Seth Inman, BL & BR: Richard Kostecke

When we first met recent guest (and now contributor) Richard Kostecke at Chan Chich Lodge he shared that the Ocellated Turkey was a life list bird for him. Like many birders we’ve met here, he was thrilled by the fact that this near-threatened species is so prevalent around the lodge and throughout our 30,000 acres.

This is especially true during the past several months, when we see the parades of chicks running behind the attendant adults throughout the property.

As a parting gift Richard had sent us a link about the species from Cool Green Science, a site we frequent ourselves.

Found only on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) certainly bears a resemblance to the American wild turkey.

But it’s a different species. It is smaller and lacks the “beard” typical of the more familiar wild turkey. Its mating call is higher pitched than the usual “gobble.” The most striking difference, though, is the color.

The vibrant, almost unreal color: iridescent feathers, large spots on the tail, a bright red ring around the eye and a blue head covered with red and yellow nodules (nodules that swell and become brighter in males during the breeding season).

It’s a turkey as conceived by Dr. Seuss. Or perhaps Alexis Rockman. Continue reading

Yellow-bellied Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco

 

On a trip to Acadia National Park, I photographed this unusual  Dark-eyed Junco. It had a very distinct yellow belly and yellow up into the chest.  I showed the photo to the Park Ornithologist, Seth Benz, and he had this to say about it.

“It is an oddly colored Dark-eyed Junco. The yellowish underside is unusual.
I don’t know of anyone marking juncos using picric acid (which turns white feathers yellow).

Continue reading

Rich Versus Ostentatious

1487266642.jpg

Ocellated turkey / Pfauentruthuhn (Meleagris ocellata) | Detail of the side of a male individual.

I am not even a novice birder, which is strange considering that my work is primarily dedicated to birders. But birds are well placed in the pantheon of natural wonders that I worship, and a photo that I just received from a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge (a photo similar to the one above, which I have commented on before) helps explain why. During seven years in India, where the peacock is the national bird and so is in its natural habitat, I got accustomed to their ostentatious display.

Peacocks are often awkward animals, noisy and bumbly in places and at times (as when in the habitat of tigers) I have wished for silence. Those otherwise annoying behaviors are compensated for by their plumes. The colors in the image above, belonging to the ocellated turkey, are rich but only during mating would these birds ever be described as ostentatious. The more time I spend in Belize, and specifically at Chan Chich Lodge, the more I see the beauty in humble display of rich color.

Birds Banging On Drums

29tb-cockatoos01-superJumbo.jpg

A male palm cockatoo, right, drumming with a stick for a female. Credit Christina Zdenek

Todd Rundgren, a musical talent better known to an earlier generation, had an oddball hit song about banging on drums. It came to mind immediately when reading this oddball story about cockatoos. If you do not already know the song, you might want to find it to accompany your reading of this story:

Whales and songbirds produce sounds resembling human music, and chimpanzees and crows use tools. But only one nonhuman animal is known to marry these two skills.

Palm cockatoos from northern Australia modify sticks and pods and use them to drum regular rhythms, according to new research published in Science Advances on Wednesday. In most cases, males drop beats in the presence of females, suggesting they perform the skill to show off to mates. The birds even have their own signature cadences, not unlike human musicians. Continue reading

Laguna Seca

LagunaSeca.jpg

Yesterday afternoon, Emily and I went on a walk at Laguna Seca with Luis, the nature guide who picked me up from the airport on the first day. This experience is one of many guided walks offered at Chan Chich Lodge.

The tour started as soon as we hopped into the truck. Throughout the 25-minute drive to Laguna Seca, Luis would stop whenever he saw a bird among the trees along the road. He would intricately describe what and where he was looking, because to the untrained eye, it seemed like he stopped the vehicle for no reason.

How he can spot an olive-colored parakeet in olive-colored vegetation in his peripheral vision I will never know, but he – along with the several other guides at Chan Chich – offers an invaluable skill to the property and the nature surrounding it.  Continue reading

Cactus Tales

On Seth’s invitation, I am honored to have a chance to contribute to the group. I have a biology background, but am now retired and have an interest in photographing birds. I use point and shoot cameras, starting two years ago with a Canon SX60HS, graduating to a Sony RX10iii this year. I teach classes in bird photography with these cameras. My interests are in telling a story of birds in a small ecotype such as a pond, or in this case one plant species, a cactus, the cardon of the deserts of Northwest Mexico. These photos were taken over two trips to the Baja California Sur Cape Region, and the majority were on one cardon that was outside the bungalow I was staying at in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico while having my morning coffee.

Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus, is a close relative of the Saguaro of the desert southwest. It is the tallest cactus in the world, lives for several hundred years, and has a fungal-bacteria symbiotic relationship that allows it to grow on bare rock. For birds, it is the perch of choice for everything from hawks to wrens, a source of abundant food,  a prolific producer of fruit and used by all woodpeckers for their nesting holes. On larger cardons it is not uncommon to see several bird species on a cactus at once and most birds whose territory includes a cardon will touch it several times a day for a song, a snack, and good luck.