Saturday, April 26, 2008


I got out birding today for the first time since February. I've of course birded locally around campus, but this was the first time I've gotten out of Ithaca and gone birding around Cayuga Lake up to Montezuma NWR. Things are a lot different now - lack of snow being a big difference. Gone are the waterfowl rafts on the north end of the lake. The only remnant of them was a single Canvasback. Here is my report from cayugabirds-l, annotated with pictures and comments:

Paul Hurtado and I headed up to Montezuma around 6:30 this morning. We stopped briefly on Lake Road for singing Eastern Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, and Turkey. We scanned the north end of the lake from Mud Lock, there was a lone Canvasback and not much else. At the refuge headquarters, the Purple Martins are back in force. One seemed to have some white speckling all over his head, I couldn't tell if it was disheveled feathers or actual pigmentation.

A busy Progne house

On the wildlife drive, we had a singing Warbling Vireo at the entrance. On the main pool we had a fair number of ducks composed of Northern Shovelers, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, a Black Duck x Mallard hybrid, Ruddy Ducks, a Redhead, and a handful of Ring-necked Ducks. Shorebirds present included a small gathering of Dunlin, a single Black-bellied Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, and the always-present Killdeer. I noted that the shorebirds did not seem to be in full breeding plumage - when do they finish molting?

Camera-shy Shovelers


Black-bellied Plover

At Railroad Road, we had two foraging Caspian Terns. Marsh Wrens and Swamp Sparrows were singing away, and Paul picked out a Marsh Wren nest hidden in the reeds. We heard a Virginia Rail kik-kikking in the marsh.

We looked for Sandhill Cranes at Marten's Tract and Carncross Road with no luck. We did here some Yellow Warblers singing at one point.

Our last stop was at the Seneca Fairgrounds for Upland Sandpipers. We were lucky and got to observe a single bird in the northwest corner and a pair walking together on the east side. These are great birds. They look very much like a curlew (Numenius), to which they are the sister genus. I also noted their name, Bartramia longicauda, as they exhibited a little bit of tail-bobbing behavior which emphasized their long tail. They also share the name Bartramia with a moss, which makes google searching confusing. If Wikipedia gets anything right, the sandpiper was named by Alexander Wilson for the naturalist William Bartram, while the moss is named after his naturalist father John Bartram. Here are some photos:

Back in Ithaca, I had Paul stop so we could check some of my Rough-winged Swallow nest tubes on Cascadilla Creek. The only thing occupying the tube was a yellowjacket nest (man, they occupied that fast!) but the highlight of stopping was finding at least seven Northern Watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon) in only 30 meters of creek. Walking along the walls looking down at the creek, we could see them basking and swimming without disturbing them. The patterns really stick out when they're in the water. Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera with me for this short side-trip.

It was a fun day. I'm looking forward to getting out and seeing some warblers now. More and more are arriving every day. I'm glad I only have a week left of classes to distract me.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A short ID quiz

Name this North American breeder:

Structural Color

Look at the way the color changes with angle in this Resplendent Quetzal (Trogonidae: Pharomachrus mocinno) feather:

This is produced by structural color. Instead of pigment, the fine structure of the feather reflects certain wavelengths of light, producing a specific color that changes depending on the angle viewed. This effect is most obvious in hummingbird gorgets, but this is a pretty neat example too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Songs of Science

If you need a little study break, like I do every day, here are a few wonderful tunes about Science. (Warning: some are rated R for language)

Richard Dawkins: Beware the Believers
So what if it's viral marketing for Expelled, this video is still funny as hell.

"Still Alive" ~ GLaDOS
This one is from the game Portal, so a lot of the references will go over your head if you haven't played. But I live by the last verse: "Look at me still talking when there is Science to do..."

"Trace Elements" ~ Hard N' Phirm
This one is particularly dirty, but when else are you going to hear a country song about Science?

The PCR Song
I've posted this one before, but it's still amusing.

"Lonely Lab of Broken Hearts" ~ The Arrogant Worms
This is a sweet, funny song, if you want a break from dirtier humor. The video itself is some random unrelated youtube video, just ignore it and listen to the music.

"Creation Science 101" ~ Roy Zimmerman
I had to finish with this...

3am birding

While walking across campus today at 3am, it was absolutely silent, with no other human in sight. I was amused to list four species of birds before I made it home, though. A Robin belted out song on campus, with the echos off of buildings making it sound like a small chorus was going. A Killdeer called once, and 2 different Juncos sang once. A Song Sparrow sang a few songs, and a second Robin started up. I knew birds sang at all hours of the night, but I always thought it was the occasional isolated incident...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Northern Leopard Frog

The other night I captured these photos of the Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens).

While I'm happy with these shots, my efforts to capture video of any of the four Rana species at our local ponds was met with failure. They are too wary to allow close approach and stop calling. In Colorado, Joe Farah took a different strategy and came up with some neat video. He set the camera up on a good spot and walked away. Check out the results:

Monday, April 14, 2008

One year of blogging

April 7th, 2007 was my first post on this blog. What an up-and-down ride it has been. While I don't feel much like sentamentalizing it, I will say that I love doing it. This post from 10,000 birds: the future of bird blogs, has got me really thinking about my site, what I can do with it, and where I will go from here. It remains to be seen whether I can maintain an active site with all that is coming in the next several years, but I will do my best. Stay tuned.

~ Nick


A lot has happened since I stopped posting a while back. To summarize - spring happened, and I almost missed it. It began back in March. The first birds back were the waterfowl. While running around on campus, flocks of Canada and Snow Geese passed by overhead on their way to Cayuga Lake and points north. A small flurry of Golden Eagle sightings occurred in the Basin around this time, although I never connected with one on campus. One bird I did connect with (finally) was a Bohemian Waxwing among several hundred Cedars on the campus crabapples. The waxwing flocks were difficult for people this winter. Bohemian(s) were sighted several different times in different locations around Ithaca, and never seemed to stick to one place where people could refind them.

The next wave of birds were the various blackbird species. A particularly nice sighting was a Rusty Blackbird, with rusty fringes still present on its black plumage, feeding around the main feeders at the Lab of O. Many students from my Ornithology Class got to check it out. Since then, more and more migrants have been found. Tree Swallows are back, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Purple Martins are just returning too. Phoebes are back everywhere, and Pine Warblers are being reported. The first shorebirds are moving through this past week. An American Woodcock put on what sounded like an awesome display at Sapsucker Woods, feeding and sleeping in plain view for many for several days. I of course didn't get out to see it. There was a lot of discussion about the Woodcocks rocking behavior during feeding. Check out Paul Hurtado's video and photos here.

I have actually gotten outside since I turned in my Honor's Thesis last week. I've been placing artificial nesting tubes for Northern Rough-winged Swallows, in order to observe their behaviors inside the burrow with nest cameras. This is my third field season with this work and I hope to get some good data this year. I'm putting out three times as many tubes as previous years, so I have good hopes about actually getting nests. I did see some neat spring sightings while placing the tubes on Sunday, including a Belted Kingfisher digging a burrow (there was a pile of fresh dirt underneath) and White Suckers making their spawning runs. These fish aren't very appealing outside of spawning, but right now they sport very bold coloration of dark and light stripes.

One of the most exciting spring things that I have been able to experience is the Ambystoma migration. Every spring on the first rainy night above freezing, many salamanders migrate from the surrounding woods to vernal pools to mate. These include the Jefferson's Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), which migrate so early they cross snow fields, and the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) which migrate just a little bit later in the season. Here are some Jefferson's migrating exactly one month ago.

This one made it to shallow water. They are surprisingly well camouflaged in the water.

I wasn't stepping on it, it tried to crawl under me while I was still.

The snow fields they cross. There is a Jeff just left of bottom center.

Dance of the Headlamps

I've been taking a lot of video in addition to pictures this season. I was hoping to put together a nice little movie about the migration, but I missed some of the peak nights and didn't get nearly as much as I wanted. Here are some good ones though. Eric demonstrates how to sex Ambystoma.




A little later in the season, when the weather was more decent, turtles came out to bask on the ponds - I counted an even 50 in one day at Sapsucker Woods. I found my first Garter too. At the vernal pools, the Spotted Salamanders joined the Jefferson's and the frog choruses started up. On their best night, Shawn and Eric's group counted 151 Ambystoma migrating to the pools. On the warmest night yet of the season, last Friday (upper 50's and rain/thunderstorms), the Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) was so powerful I could hear them from over half a mile away as I walked to the ponds. Here are a few pictures from that night and subsequent nights, when I spent some time wading in the ponds themselves.

Jefferson's Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum)
Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

A maculatum with a leech

A maculatum with reduced spotting

Ambystoma egg masses

Taking data on migration direction

Now for some frogs. Here is a Spring Peeper who panicked when I approached and couldn't deflate his vocal sac in time. He was kicking around the surface being held up by a balloon.

Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica)

N. Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens)

The coolest find was this aberrant Green Frog (Rana clamitans) tadpole. It has some kind of pigment problem, I'm not sure what it will look like as an adult.

Hanes' new color-changing socks

It's been a good spring so far (at least what I've seen of it). Hopefully I will be able to get out more now, and be able to report more. I will certainly hope to be in the field a lot more in the coming weeks, attending Rough-winged Swallow nests.