Friday, August 31, 2012

Halo of the Cat's Eye

I haven't done an APOD for a long, long time.  Today's picture of the day from NASA 

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  Halo of the Cat's Eye
Image Credit & Copyright: Don Goldman
 Explanation: The Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is one of the best known planetary nebulae in the sky. Its haunting symmetries are seen in the very central region of this tantalizing image, processed to reveal the enormous but extremely faint halo of gaseous material, about 6 light-years across, which surrounds the brighter, familiar planetary nebula. Made with narrow and broadband data the composite picture shows the remarkably strong extended emission from twice ionized oxygen atoms in blue-green hues and ionized hydrogen and nitrogen in red. Planetary nebulae have long been appreciated as a final phase in the life of a sun-like star. But recently many planetaries have been found to have halos like this one, likely formed of material shrugged off during earlier active episodes in the star's evolution. While the planetary nebula phase is thought to last for around 10,000 years, astronomers estimate the age of the outer filamentary portions of this halo to be 50,000 to 90,000 years. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Blogversary #2

Goodness, I'm still here after two years.  Quite amazing, since I'm rather prone to not continuing my hobbies and interests for terribly long.  That said, I've been a little lax in the posts this year.  My original intent was to post something daily.  Err....that vow fell a bit short and...

This was part of that 'problem'

Freddie arrived in my life all of a sudden on August 29th last year.  She was only a few weeks old; a feral kitten scooped up from my cousin's backyard.  There wasn't much time for anything other than kitten care, along with almost immediately starting a blog all about her!

Freddie, All The Time

I wanted to train this cat to be travel-friendly, so we went on a few RV trips in the Fall to prep for a long road-trip to Tucson, AZ in March.  

My big adventure this past year was to go on a birding trip around SW and Central Manitoba and then up to Churchill.  I have long wanted to go to Churchill.  I plan to return.  Great trip; beautiful scenery; fantastic birding; excellent birding companions.

This summer has provided very good birding here in my local area, with the appearance of extensive wetlands (revived from long drought and due to the flooding we experienced a year ago) so I haven't been out on any trips at all.  Perhaps the wanderlust will hit again now that Fall is arriving.  We'll see. 

To all of you who read my blog, thanks so much. 


Monday, August 20, 2012

Souris River Valley

This is one of my favourite local drives - along the Souris River, east of Roche Percee, SK.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Heronry & Cormorant Colony

Last year my part of Saskatchewan was under water.  A lot of moisture-laden snow over the previous Winter and unrelenting heavy rains all Spring caused serious flooding.  Not to make light of the destruction caused, there is one huge benefit to all this water - every bit of low-lying land is now slough/marsh/wetland/small shallow lake.  It is a wading bird and bird-watcher paradise.

This is one of hundreds of bluffs of trees that have been drowned.  Some enterprising Great Blue Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and apparently, Cattle Egrets and Great Egrets realized these leafless, now-isolated-by-water trees were a terrific place to build nests and establish a roost.

One of our local birders found this nesting colony last week.  

We've got Cattle Egrets and Great Egrets in unprecedented numbers.  In previous years, we might see one or two of each.  It is the mixed-grass (usually hot & dry) prairies, after all and in the past, by August sloughs are usually dried up or close to it.  

Not in the photo but roosting are Cattle Egrets (at least 30 have been counted),  Great Egrets (10-12), Black-crowned Night-Herons.  These probably nested there as well. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Days

Sorry for the lack of new posts.  I take "lazin' in the summer afternoon" to new levels every August.  It is incredible how very, very little I can accomplish in one nice, warm summer day.  And, no, I wasn't paying much attention to the Olympics.

All that said, I'm having a terrific summer of bird-watching.  This is a little bit unusual for my part of the world.  It is usually so hot and dry that nothing but crickets and grasshoppers have enough energy to move about.  Not so this year.  We still have vast wetlands from all the rains last year - and that makes for fantastic birding.  

I've been visiting local places such as this slough with an ibis and several kinds of shorebirds near Fillmore, SK

And Moose Mountain Creek wetlands north of Stoughton (north side of the road)

And south side of the road

Many Gadwall, American Wigeons and Red-necked Grebes on the water yesterday.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa).   

Field Notes:  large, bulky,  long-legged shorebird; very long bill is slightly upturned, with a orange-pink base and black tip. Breeding adult plumage is warm tawny-brown, mottled with black above, barred below.  Juvenile & non-breeding/winter plumage is mottled above, plain buffy-brown below.  In flight, all birds show cinnamon wing linings and along the trailing edge of upper wings.

Marbled Godwits breed in the northern prairies (southern Canada & northern US), with small populations along the coast of James Bay in Ontario and the western coast of Alaska.  In winter, they are common in large flocks on mudflats and estuaries along the California coast and west coast of Mexico; present but in smaller numbers along the east and Gulf coasts.

Their loud 'korreck korreck korretica' call is a familiar sound around prairie sloughs in spring and summer. 

They are one of the first shorebird migrants to arrive on the breeding grounds - not too far to travel.

The nest is a scrape, well concealed in grass, near water, sometimes covered with a canopy of grass.   3-5 olive green eggs are incubated for about 24 days.  Both adults incubate the eggs.  The adults are very protective;  the incubating adult may not flush from the nest when discovered. The young leave the nest soon after hatching and are independent about three weeks after that.  The female usually leaves at this point; the male stays with the young until they learn to fly.

Marbled Godwits are long-lived and monogamous.

The summer diet is mostly insects, roots and seeds.  During migration they eat plant tubers almost exclusively.  The winter diet in coastal areas is mollusks, crustaceans and worms.

Marbled Godwits are often found in company with Long-billed Curlews.  These two species are very similar in plumage.  It is often difficult to distinguish sleeping birds when you can't see the bill shape.  Long-billed Curlews are larger, have longer, decurved bills and paler legs than the godwits.

The conservation status of this species is listed as 'Least Concern'.  Numbers decreased dramatically during the 1800s, but have been steadily increasing since a hunting ban was put in place in the early twentieth century.  Probably because large portions of its former breeding habitats are now cropland, it has not increased in numbers to repopulate its former breeding range.

Information sources:

All About Birds

Birds of North America On-line, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Web Bird, Seattle Audubon Society

The Shorebird Guide. Michael O'Brian, Richard Crossley & Kevin Karlson

The Encyclopedia of North American Birds, Michael Vanner, Paragon Publishing