Skinks in North America


This video from the USA says about itself:

Four-Lined Skink Found In Bush Alongside Brownsville Texas

11 February 2014

Plestiodon tetragrammus. The four-lined skink is a species of lizard, which is endemic to North America. It feeds on insects and spiders. It is a medium-sized member of the Plestiodon skinks. It ranges through Central and southern Texas, south into Mexico, north to south-central Arizona and extreme southwestern New Mexico.

From eNature Blog in the USA:

Blue Streak Special— Ever See A Skink?

Thursday, July 10, 2014 by eNature

There’s a rustling in the leaves. You look to see what made the sound, and bam—a blue streak vanishes into the duff. Was it a snake? A lizard? Was that intense cobalt color even real?

Yes, it was real. The creature responsible for the streak was a lizard called a skink. Now’s the time when the newborns hatch, and the intense blue tails of the juveniles are as bright as neon signs.

There are fifteen species of skinks in North America, a small percentage of the 1,200-plus species found worldwide (it’s the largest family of lizards). Most species keep their blue tails for the first two years of life; the tails of adults fade to gray or brown. As for why the young skink needs such a gaudy appendage, the standard textbook answer is that predators like birds and mammals will grab first at the bright tail. Because the tail easily detaches, the lizard escapes—tailless, yes, but at least still alive.

If this strategy is so advantageous, though, why don’t adult skinks have blue tails? One possible explanation is that young skinks tend to spend more time above ground where they’re subject to more predators. When they become adults, skinks establish territories inside rotting logs or under rocks and spend little time moving from place to place. (To tell the difference between a mature male and a mature female, look for the orange highlights on the male’s head.)

Mating takes place in the spring. Then, in late spring, the adult females retreat to burrows or other sheltered recesses, often deep in the ground, where they lay eggs and remain with them until hatching. A female may keep its eggs moist by licking them or otherwise moistening them or it may simply guard the clutch of two to six eggs. When the eggs hatch, adult females and their brightly colored newborns come to the surface to feed on insects and spiders for the summer. The first chill of autumn sends them underground, where they wait until the first warm days of spring beckon them back to the surface.

Have you come across skinks or other colorful amphibians? We always enjoy your stories!

Skinks are not amphibians, of course, but reptiles.

‘Supermoon’ in North America tonight


This video is called SUPERMOON TONIGHT July 12, 2014 – The 2014 Supermoon Summer!

From eNature Blog in the USA:

Don’t Miss Tonight’s Supermoon!

Posted on Saturday, July 12, 2014 by eNature

The moon that rises tonight (Saturday) is what has come to be called a “supermoon” — only hours from being perfectly full and hours from one of the year’s closest approaches to Earth.

This combination makes the moon appear bigger and somewhat brighter than usual, even for a full moon. And because the moon always looks larger as it rises, moonrise Saturday night may show off a moon that appears about as big, bright and round as the moon can get.

As the moon rises in the southeast at Saturday evening (at 8:30 or so on the East Coast) it will move west across the dark heavens through the night and early morning before setting in the southwest on Sunday morning.

Astronomers caution that without special equipment it’s difficult for the average skywatcher to assess the moon’s brightness or size. But a supermoon last year was reported to be about 15 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than the year’s run-of-the-mill full moons, and many people may consider themselves capable of spotting a 30 percent boost in brightness.

Of course, the brightness of the moon, as seen from earth, will depend, in part, on the sky’s clarity and the amount of cloud cover. If clouds do intervene, the next supermoon is not far off. There will be one in August and another in September.

More on the supermoon at Earthsky.com.

American goldfinches, why do they nest late?


This video is about American goldfinches singing.

From eNature blog in the USA:

What Makes Goldfinches Wait Until July To Nest?

Posted on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 by eNature

By July, most songbirds are in the final stages of raising their young, but not the American Goldfinches.

These appealing, colorful birds are just getting started.

Notoriously late nesters, goldfinches have been waiting for the thistles to bloom. When this happens in July, it signals the goldfinches that they can start building their nests which are made primarily of the silver fibers and down of thistle blooms. Generally, the nest is built in the fork of a horizontal tree limb, 4 to 14 feet above the ground.

The female builds a durable, neat cup of thistle and cattail fibers, so dense that it will hold water. In it she lays 4 to 6 pale blue to white eggs and then she incubates them for 12 to 14 days, until they hatch. The attentive male often feeds his mate while she sits on the nest.

By the time the eggs hatch, the thistle has gone to seed, which is perfect timing for feeding young goldfinches. The parents nourish this chicks by consuming the thistle seed themselves, and then regurgitating the partially digested, milklike cereal into the mouths of their nestlings. This is as close as birds come to mammals that feed their young milk from mammary glands.

Baby goldfinches are fully feathered and out of the nest 10 to 16 days later. Almost immediately, they join their parents at bird feeders across America. That’s when many people suddenly notice so many goldfinches as the summer progesses.

Have you seen nesting goldfinches yet? Or young preparing to fledge?

Let us know by sharing your stories below.

Learn more about all three species of Goldfinch found in the US here.

North American birds in art


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA writes about this video:

A Supersize Mural Honors Peterson’s Famous Silhouettes

Many bird watchers remember the neat black silhouettes in the endpapers of the classic Peterson’s field guides—an eloquent reminder about the value of size, shape, and posture. Now, the Cornell Lab’s visitor center echoes those pages in a magnificent 40-foot-high mural painted by James Prosek. Featuring 170 birds, the mural celebrates biodiversity and challenges viewers to identify both the familiar and the unusual. Watch this video showing the mural coming to life.

North American bird songs learning game


This video from the USA says about itself:

Bird Song Hero: The song learning game for everyone

27 May 2014

For the full challenge, including the Bird Song Hero Ultimate round and free bird song downloads, visit here.

Train your brain to recognize and remember bird songs with the Bird Song Hero matching game. In this five-question video quiz you’ll listen closely to featured songs and match each with the correct sound visualization. Bird Song Hero is a fun way to practice the key skills you need to ID all the bird songs you’re curious about. Brought to you by the All About Bird Biology team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can find more interactives, quizzes, and videos to help you understand birds on our free educational website.

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How to see North American songbirds migrating


This video from the USA is called Studying Songbird Migration Patterns in the Gulf of Maine.

From Audubon magazine in the USA:

Migrating Songbirds Are All Around You. Here’s How to Spot Them

Forget traveling to a migration hotspot. Right now it’s easy to see small migratory songbirds no matter where you live.
By Kenn Kaufman

Published: 05/01/2014

I can’t help it. At this time of year, I’m obsessed with bird migration. I talk about it with everyone—even complete strangers. Often I hear responses like this: “Well, I’d like to see migrating birds sometime. But I don’t live on a flyway.”

Here’s the good news: We all live on a flyway. It’s true that some birds, such as geese and cranes, follow fairly narrow corridors of travel, and shorebirds will gather only at certain spots. But right now, in early May, hundreds of millions of small songbirds are migrating north, and they pass over every square mile of land and water in the temperate regions of North America. In fact, during their travels, a few of them will stop in just about every tree on this continent. So no matter where you are, you have a chance to see some migrating songbirds.

The nature of their travel

The stars of the show right now are small birds that travel large distances: songbirds that spend the winter in the tropics, coming north to spend the summer in the United States and Canada. These birds—dozens of species of warblers, thrushes, vireos, orioles, flycatchers, tanagers, grosbeaks, and more—migrate mostly at night. They take off just after dark, fly through the night, and land near dawn, if they’re over land at that point (if they’re over water, of course, they keep going). They may cover 200 miles or more during a night flight, and when they come down, they need to rest and feed and build up their strength for the next flight.

These birds have amazing navigational powers. A blackburnian warbler, for example, might fly from Maine to Ecuador in the fall, coming back in spring to the very same tree in Maine where it sang the year before. But during their night flights they are subject to wind and weather, so in the morning they might come down practically anywhere. If they still have energy left, they may fly several miles after sunrise, looking for a choice patch of woods or marsh or meadow. But eventually, each bird will settle for whatever spot it can find, and that spot will have to serve as its stopover habitat.

Where to look for migrants

The short answer is that you can look for them almost anywhere. Most of the migratory songbirds live in trees and shrubs, so they’ll settle for even one tree or one shrub, at least temporarily, if they have no other choice. (I once saw an ovenbird and two American redstarts in the shrubbery of a small planter at a bank building in downtown Philadelphia.) Small city parks often host a fine assortment of migratory songbirds; the surrounding square miles of concrete serve to concentrate the birds, as the tired migrants gravitate toward the small patches of green. Isolated trees in city backyards or hotel courtyards may act as stopover habitat for small birds that are just passing through.

Very large patches of habitat, such as large parks or forest areas, can be better for the birds but more challenging for the birders, as the migrants become harder to find in those surroundings. Songbirds in stopover habitat often gather in mixed flocks, so if you’re not seeing any birds, keep moving until you find a migrant—then look around to see if it has company.

When to look for migrants

Because these birds travel at night, early morning is the time when they’re most likely to be seen in marginal habitats. By later in the day, they may have moved on to look for another spot with taller trees or thicker thickets. If you have a backyard or a nearby park with only a few trees, try to check them first thing in the morning to see if any new visitors have arrived overnight.

Some nights produce much heavier bird traffic than others. Watch the weather to look for good flight nights. The ideal night in spring will be when areas just to the south of you have clear skies, warm temperatures, and steady winds out of the south. If storms move in during the latter part of the night, the rain will cause birds to come down wherever they happen to be at that point. A damp morning after overnight showers can produce a bonanza of new migrants in your local trees.

Be alert to the possibilities

Most people don’t see migrant birds because they don’t look for them. You can increase your chances simply by being aware of the possibilities. Get a bird checklist from your local Audubon chapter, borrow a basic field guide from the library, and try to get a general idea of the groups of migratory birds.

And above all, just take a second look at any bird that you notice. That brown bird under the hedge might not be one of the local city sparrows—it might be a Swainson’s thrush, just arrived from Panama. That yellowish bird in the tree might not be a local goldfinch—it might be a Cape May warbler that has just flown in from Jamaica. At this time of year, migratory songbirds are everywhere, pausing for a moment in practically every tree. Just by paying attention, you may get to make the acquaintance of some amazing world travelers.

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103-year-old orca still swimming


This video is called Amazing Orca Killer Whales In The Wild [Full Nature Wildlife Documentary].

From Wildlife Extra:

An orca called Granny swims into the record books

Just in time for Canada’s Mother’s Day last Sunday an orca named J2 – more commonly known as Granny – arrived in the waters between Point Roberts in Washington State, USA, and East Point on Saturna Island in British Columbia, reports The Province newspaper. This was not unusual as J-Pod – the name researchers have given this group of orcas – would normally be expected in the area. What did excite Captain Simon Pidcock of Ocean EcoVentures in Cowichan Bay was the continuing appearance of Granny because she is believed to be 103 years old. She is the world’s oldest known orca and has lived far in excess of the average lifespan of 60 to 80 years for a wild animal.

There was no doubt the orca was Granny, according to Pidcock. He recognises the senior cetacean by her saddle patch, a distinctive white patch each whale has behind its dorsal fin. “They’re like our fingerprints,” he said.

Granny is also recognisable because of a half-moon-shaped notch on the trailing side of her dorsal fin.

Granny is one of the southern resident group of orcas that inhabit the coastal waters from Haida Gwaii, on the north coast of British Columbia, to Northern California for about eight months of the year. Michael Harris, executive director of Pacific Whale Watch Association, which has members in both the US and Canada, said J-Pod had been spotted off the Russian River in Northern California just over a week before.

“The thing I found really interesting is that she’s in the shape to travel, to make the trek she just did with J-Pod,” said Harris. “That’s 800 miles in not even eight days. It’s amazing.”

She appears healthy because of the lack of a “peanut head,” which Pidcock said is a divot-like depression around the animal’s blow hole which appears when they are malnourished. Her endurance and healthy appearance may come from feasting on recent big chinook salmon runs near the Columbia River.

Granny’s birth date of 1911 is an extrapolation by researchers based on her offspring.

She currently has a great-grandchild travelling in J-Pod. Pidcock said researchers also determine age based on the size of the whales, and Granny’s current bulk can be compared to photographic images taken of her in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The oldest orcas in captivity are both about 50 years old, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, and belong to the northern and southern resident groups that travel through the Pacific Northwest.

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Attracting butterflies to North American gardens


This video from North America says about itself:

Warm weather in the spring time brings with it the butterfly migrations of Red Admiral, American [Painted] Lady, Painted Lady, Eastern Comma and Question Marks, among others. The Monarch is among them but not as abundant for my location. Normally these all zip by at light speed rarely stopping for more than a brief rest. I was fortunate enough to get up close with one, which was not an easy task. The blue flower towards the end is Amsonia ciliata, which is basically the same as Amsonia hubrichtii but the flowers are slightly larger.

From the National Wildlife Federation in the USA:

How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

Brightly colored butterflies can be a welcome addition to your wildlife garden, not only because of their beauty, but also because of their usefulness in pollinating flowers.

Attracting butterflies involves incorporating plants that serve the needs of all life stages of the butterfly. The insects need places to lay eggs, food plants for their larvae (caterpillars), places to form chrysalides and nectar sources for adults.

Butterfly Garden Necessities

Plant native flowering plants

  • Because many butterflies and native flowering plants have co-evolved over time and depend on each other for survival and reproduction, it is particularly important to install native flowering plants local to your geographic area. Native plants provide butterflies with the nectar or foliage they need as adults and caterpillars. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has lists of recommended native plants by region and state.
  • Plant type and color is important - Adult butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes.
  • Plant good nectar sources in the sun - Your key butterfly nectar source plants should receive full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Butterfly adults generally feed only in the sun. If sun is limited in your landscape, try adding butterfly nectar sources to the vegetable garden.
  • Plant for continuous bloom - Butterflies need nectar throughout the adult phase of their life span. Try to plant so that when one plant stops blooming, another begins.
  • Say no to insecticides - Insecticides such as malathion, Sevin, and diazinon are marketed to kill insects. Don’t use these materials in or near the butterfly garden or better, anywhere on your property. Even “benign” insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are lethal to butterflies (while caterpillars).
  • Feed butterfly caterpillars - If you don’t “grow” caterpillars, there will be no adults. Bringing caterpillar foods into your garden can greatly increase your chances of attracting unusual and uncommon butterflies, while giving you yet another reason to plant an increasing variety of native plants. In many cases, caterpillars of a species feed on only a very limited variety of plants. Most butterfly caterpillars never cause the leaf damage we associate with some moth caterpillars such as bagworms, tent caterpillars, or gypsy moths.
  • Provide a place for butterflies to rest - Butterflies need sun for orientation and to warm their wings for flight. Place flat stones in your garden to provide space for butterflies to rest and bask in the sun.
  • Give them a place for puddling - Butterflies often congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling,” drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles. Place coarse sand in a shallow pan and then insert the pan in the soil of your habitat. Make sure to keep the sand moist.

Common Butterflies and the Plants Their Caterpillars Eat

Acmon Blue – buckwheat, lupines, milkvetch
American Painted Lady – cudweed, everlast
Baird’s Swallowtail – dragon sagebrush
Black Swallowtail – parsley, dill, fennel, common rue
Coral Hairstreak – wild black cherry, American and chickasaw plum, black chokeberry
Dun Skipper – sedges, grasses including purpletop
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – wild black cherry, ash, tulip tree, willow, sweetbay, basswood
Giant Swallowtail – prickly ash, citrus, common rue, hoptree, gas plant, torchwood
Gray Comma – gooseberry, azalea, elm
Great Purple Hairstreak – mistletoe
Gulf Fritillary – maypops, other passion vines
Henry’s Elfin – redbud, dahoon and yaupon hollies, maple-leaved viburnum, blueberries
Monarch – milkweeds
Painted Lady (Cosmopolite) – thistles, mallows, nievitas, yellow fiddleneck
Pygmy Blue – saltbush, lamb’s quarters, pigweed
Red Admiral/White Admiral – wild cherries, black oaks, aspens, yellow and black birch
Silver-Spotted Skipper – locusts, wisteria, other legumes
Spicebush Swallowtail – sassafras, spicebush
Sulphurs – clover, peas, vetch, alfalfa, asters
Variegated Fritillary – passion flower, maypop, violets, stonecrop, purslane
Viceroy – willows, cottonwood, aspen
Western Tailed Blue – vetches, milkvetches
Western Tiger Swallowtail – willow, plum, alder, sycamore, hoptree, ash
Woodland Skipper – grasses
Zebra Swallowtail – pawpaw

Download the Attracting Butterflies tip sheet (pdf).

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United States songbirds migrate with the wind, new study


This video from Canada says about itself:

Indigo bunting, Blackburnian warbler, stop on migration at my bird feeder

14 May 2013

My first sighting of Indigo bunting, Blackburnian Warbler, photos and video on their way North, Woodslee, Ontario.

From Wildlife Extra:

US songbirds are found to migrate with the wind

Millions of tiny songbirds, many weighing less than an ounce, migrate thousands of miles from North America to Central and South America each year. How they do it has been somewhat of a mystery, but now scientists have discovered how far they take advantage of prevailing wind patterns to save calories.

“Most of what we’ve known about migration routes comes from ducks and geese,” said Frank La Sorte, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology research associate and lead author of the paper in the Journal of Biogeography. “But terrestrial birds are much smaller and they aren’t reliant on the same kinds of habitats. There really isn’t a narrow migration path for them, and they aren’t necessarily in the same place in spring and fall.”

The findings from this study are important as they may help refine ideas about how and where to plan for conservation along migratory pathways.

“All these species migrate at night, at high altitudes, where we can’t see them,” La Sorte said. “But when the sun comes up in the morning they have to find somewhere to land. So any new knowledge about where they’re travelling is valuable to conservation planners.”

For years US scientists assumed songbirds followed the same well-defined “flyways” that ducks, geese, and shorebirds used to travel up and down the continent. There is one known wildfowl flyway along each coast, one up the Mississippi River valley, and one in the centre of the country. Those flyways were marked out from studies which compiled data from recoveries of birds with leg rings and records kept by hunters, but those methods don’t work for small songbirds that migrate at night.

The new work solved this problem with a fresh approach using crowd-sourced data submitted to the Cornell Lab’s eBird project between 2004 and 2011. The researchers analysed thousands of people’s sightings to develop, for each of 93 species, an aggregate picture of where a species is during spring and autumn migration. Although they weren’t tracking individual birds, collective sightings gave them an indication of how the species were migrating. They then used computer models to sort species with similar movement patterns into groups and compared migration routes with seasonal patterns of prevailing winds at night.

The study revealed that most US land birds fit into three main groups: a western one of 31 species, a central group of 17 species, and an eastern of 45 species. Examples of each group include the black-throated gray warbler, the clay-coloured sparrow, and the American redstart, respectively. The researchers noted that the flyways for these are much more spread out across the continent than those of wildfowl, and routes in the central and eastern groups overlap considerably.

The analysis also revealed that many more land birds than previously realised follow different routes through America in spring and autumn — particularly in the East, where many species cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single overnight flight.

Unlike wildfowl, which migrate north and south along the same relatively narrow routes, rather like lorries on a motorway, songbirds are more like passenger cars touring back roads. They are less tied to a single wetland habitat, so they can fan out. By shifting routes, birds take advantage of stronger tailwinds in spring and less severe headwinds in autumn. Tailwinds represent a huge advantage for small birds heading north to their breeding grounds, while finding weaker headwinds allows southbound birds to make the best of a bad situation.

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American crows, new studies video


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA writes about this video:

To Know the Crow: Insights and Stories From a Quarter-Century of Crow Study

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

American Crows have followed us into our suburban and urban neighborhoods, becoming one of our most familiar birds. They have socially intricate lives, with more complex goals than converging at your local dumpster—in fact, socially, they are probably more like us than any primate. Ithaca is home to the longest running study of marked American Crows anywhere: it is now 26 years since Kevin McGowan first began banding them.

McGowan, a scientist who works in the Cornell Lab’s Education program, and his collaborator Anne Clark, of Binghamton University, gave a seminar about their research to a packed house at the Cornell Lab. Watch this archived video of their talk to hear their crow studies and stories, including tales of family values and treachery, stay-at-homes and travelers, dynasties and disease:

(Note: if you want to skip the introductory matter, the main talk begins at about 7:10)

The talk took place on April 21, 2014. It was part of the Cornell Lab’s long-running Monday Night Seminar series, a tradition established decades ago by Lab founder Dr. Arthur Allen.

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