Monarch butterfly migration starting in North America


This video is about monarch butterfly migration.

From eNature Blog in the USA:

The Monarch Butterflies Migrating Now Aren’t The Ones You Saw Last Spring

Posted on Thursday, August 28, 2014 by eNature

Fall is just around the corner throughout most of North America.

You’ve probably noticed that your local birds are preparing for it— and so are our many of our butterflies.

Monarch butterflies are famous for their annual migrations. Some of these insects travel thousands of miles each fall—an astonishing distance for such fragile creatures.

Yet few people realize that the Monarchs we see in the spring are not necessarily the same ones that fluttered past in the fall.

Beginning in late September, the skies along the Gulf Coast of Texas slowly become filled with meandering groups of Monarchs. Their flight, while not hurried, is purposeful, moving southwest toward a small forest in the highlands of Central Mexico. These butterflies travel from southern Canada and the northern United States at a rate of approximately 50 miles per day. They’ll spend the winter in a few small groves of evergreen trees, with each grove containing as many as 20 million butterflies. Sheltered from the wind and snow, the butterflies conserve energy, for they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

The Monarchs become active again in February. Mating begins, and the air fills with swirling masses of copulating pairs. The first warm days of late March trigger their northward flight. A close look at these butterflies, now eight months old, reveals that their wings are faded and tattered. Still, the Monarchs fan out across the southern United States, looking for Milkweed plants on which to deposit their eggs.

Four days later, the eggs hatch, producing small caterpillars that immediately begin to feed on the Milkweed leaves. Ten to fifteen days later, each caterpillar stops feeding and forms its chrysalis—a beautiful soft green jewel flecked with gold. In another ten to fifteen days the chrysalis splits open, and a new Monarch emerges.

This generation of butterflies mates, lays eggs, and dies within the span of a few weeks. During this time it moves north, following the progress of spring and the emergence of Milkweed.

By the end of summer, two more of these short-lived generations will have repeated the process, ultimately coming to inhabit the Milkweed patches in the far north latitudes.

Thus the Monarchs born in the Northeast and Canada in September are the great great grandchildren of the last Monarchs to inhabit the area. These are the ones that will head to Mexico. They’re significantly larger than the three generations that preceded them and still sexually immature. Rather than mate and lay eggs, they seek out nectar-producing flowers. The nectar serves two purposes: some of it fuels the southward migration, and some of it is converted to fat reserves that sustain the butterflies through the winter.

This incredible annual cycle applies to all Monarchs east of the Rockies. The populations in the West follow a similar pattern, though their migratory path is westward, from the Great Basin to overwintering sites along the Pacific Coast.

Since 1992 MonarchWatch has been carefully tracking Monarch Butterflies as they migrate.  Much of their data comes from the work of volunteers who tag and track the butterflies. They can always use more helpers…..

Are you seeing butterflies in your neighborhood?

Best birdseed for North American birds


This video from Indiana in the USA says about itself:

Winter Birds’ Feeding Frenzy

5 January 2013

My pagoda sunflower seed bird feeder served as the perfect feeding station, making this feeding frenzy a birdwatchers’ delight. Watch as Bluejays, Northern Cardinals, Chickadees, House Finches, Goldfinches, Tufted Titmice, Nuthatches, and House Sparrows all dart in to feed and take a spin on the pagoda feeder, while Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers dine on the nearby suet. Listen as the Pileated Woodpecker comes in close to scold from a nearby tree, but stays out of camera’s view. Notice, as the days get longer, the Goldfinches are already starting to get some yellow back.

From eNature Blog in the USA:

What’s The Best Birdseed To Put In Your Feeder This Fall?

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 by eNature

Fall is all but in the air in many parts of the country—and it’s a time of the year when many people think about feeding birds in their backyards. We’re not sure why this happens only in autumn, because feeding birds throughout the year has many rewards. Yet, autumn is the time when bird seed sales are held, and bird feeders are promoted most widely.

Perhaps, it’s the notion that birds need more help in cold weather, and therefore, bird feeding is more popular in winter. Whatever the reason, the bird feeding season is on, and people are buying lots of bird seeds.

The kind of seeds you offer backyard birds makes a difference, because all birds don’t eat the same foods.

If there is one kind of seed that is most attractive to the greatest number of backyard birds, it would be sunflower in any form. Sunflower seeds are relished by finches, grosbeaks, cardinals, jays, and even some species of woodpeckers.

The two most popular forms of sunflower seeds for birds are the black oil sunflower seed, which is in the shell, and the hulled (medium cracked) sunflower seed, which is out of the shell. eNature’s bird expert, George Harrison, tells us that if he could feed only one kind of bird food in his backyard, it would be hulled sunflower seeds.

Other popular seeds for finches, include niger (thistle), also spelled nyjer, a tiny black seed that is offered in a tube feeder with tiny port holes. Safflower seeds are a favorite among cardinals, doves, and house finches. And the various wild bird seed mixes are eaten by sparrows, doves, juncos, and blackbirds.

So don’t miss out on having a busy backyard this fall. If you leave bird seed out, it’s almost certain to get found.

What do you do this time of year to attract or (as some of us like to say) take care of your local birds?

We always appreciate hearing your hints, suggestions and stories. Just leave your thoughts below in the comments.

And have fun with the birds this fall!

North American songbird southward migration, new research


This video from the USA is called Act for Songbirds – Help Save Threatened Migratory Birds.

From the Journal of Field Ornithology in Canada:

Connecting breeding and wintering grounds of Neotropical migrant songbirds using stable hydrogen isotopes: a call for an isotopic atlas of migratory connectivity

Volume 85, Issue 3, pages 237–257, September 2014

ABSTRACT

There is an overdue and urgent need to establish patterns of migratory connectivity linking breeding grounds, stopover sites, and wintering grounds of migratory birds. Such information allows more effective application of conservation efforts by applying focused actions along movement trajectories at the population level. Stable isotope methods, especially those using stable hydrogen isotope abundance in feathers (δ2Hf) combined with Bayesian assignment techniques incorporating prior information such as relative abundance of breeding birds, now provide a fast and reliable means of establishing migratory connectivity, especially for Neotropical migrants that breed in North America and molt prior to fall migration.

Here we demonstrate how opportunistic sampling of feathers of 30 species of wintering birds in Cuba, Venezuela, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, regions that have typically been poorly sampled for estimating migratory connectivity, can be assigned to breeding areas in North America through both advanced spatial assignment to probability surfaces and through simpler map lookup approaches. Incorporating relative abundance information from the North American Breeding Bird Survey in our Bayesian assignment models generally resulted in a reduction in potential assignment areas on breeding grounds.

However, additional tools to constrain longitude such as DNA markers or other isotopes would be desirable for establishing breeding or molt origins of species with broad longitudinal distributions. The isotope approach could act as a rapid means of establishing basic patterns of migratory connectivity across numerous species and populations.

We propose a large-scale coordinated sampling effort on the wintering grounds to establish an isotopic atlas of migratory connectivity for North American Neotropical migrants and suggest that isotopic variance be considered as a valuable metric to quantify migratory connectivity. This initiative could then act as a strategic template to guide further efforts involving stable isotopes, light-sensitive geolocators, and other technologies.

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.