Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tucson & Saguaros

Now that my sister & bro-in-law have a winter home in Tucson, AZ, the cat & I travel down for a yearly visit ... 

It was about this time last year, Freddie & I set off.  It takes 4 or so days to drive (less if Freddie could take a shift at driving, but refuses to even try - isn't that just like a cat!)  We endured very strong winds from the South Dakota through to the Oklahoma panhandle, then snow in northern Arizona but finally reached the place where saguaros grow.

Both Cactus Wrens and Gilded Flickers use saguaros for nesting

The more arms, the older the saguaro

And eventually, like all things, these desert giants die

The skeletons of a fallen saguaro, with a nest

Not kidding the spines are strong and sharp!  Somebody put this rock on top of a young saguaro along the path. 

We're going back this year...soon.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Zen Of A Rusty Hinge

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus or Yellow-headed Blackbird or as Pete Dunne calls it 'Saffron-hooded Cacophony'.  Sums it up.

Nothing is more entertaining than watching a male YHBL puff out his chest, spread the tail feathers, hunch out his wings, throw back his head and let loose with....a sound almost exactly like a very rusty old gate opening for the first time in years.

These boys are unmistakable and very common out here in the western side of the continent.  Years ago, I was birding at Delta Marsh at the bottom end of Lake Manitoba.  The south end of the lake is bordered by a small collection of deciduous trees and a vast wetland full of reeds, cattails and phragmites.  I was jubilant having just seen my first Blackburnian Warbler.  I met a young couple on the marsh boardwalk who were acting equally as jubilant.  We shared our exciting news.  They were from Ontario and had just seen their first Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Yay  (Blackburnian Warblers nest in their yard).

I grew up with the birds and frogs of prairie sloughs making joyful racket.  When I want to clear my thoughts, exorcise my worries, achieve my particular state of zen, I wander off to the nearest cattail marsh.  

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are among the first birds to return in Spring, staking out their territory in the marshes.  A late season snow will bring the blackbirds into town to scrounge at the seed feeders.  

The female of this species is a mostly brown bird, with some yellow on the brow, face and upper breast, some white streaks on lower breast.  Immatures are similar.  The females build nests on the emergent vegetation, the nest is always placed over deep water. 

Unfortunately, I haven't got a decent photo of a girl YHBL to post so here is another one of buddy, throwing his head back in mid-sqwak. 

Apparently there have almost always been Yellow-headed Blackbirds.  Cool Fact from All About Birds:
Pleistocene fossils of Yellow-headed Blackbirds (from 100,000 years ago) have been dug up in California, New Mexico, and Utah.

Range Map from All About Birds
Yellow-headed Blackbird Range Map
Information Sources:

Pete's Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion

All About Birds

Sunday, February 2, 2014

World Wetlands Day

Today, February 2nd, is 

1.  Groundhog Day.  We are in the middle of cold and snowy winter where I live, so rodents of any size are still deep in their hibernation and no amount of silly human intervention is going to prod any of them out of their dens.

2.  Superb Owl Day.   Although I am a football fan, I don't really care who wins the Superb Owl - or Super Bowl as some like to call it - today. 

3.  World Wetlands Day.  The local wetlands are also frozen over and will be for some time to come.

I love prairie sloughs where Marbled Godwits

Black-necked Stilts

and tiny baby Sora rails can been seen if one is lucky.

A large slough will be home to ducks, geese, large wading birds maybe even a  White-faced Ibis

a flock of dowitchers

 or an American Bittern

and a million other species of organisms.   

Please appreciate your local wetlands.  Thanks.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Meet Emission Nebula NGC 6188

I've never really been a 'night person'.  I go to bed early and I get up at Insane O'Clock in the morning.  I love my mornings.  Therefore,  I can't seem to convince any part of me that it would be a terrific idea to get up in the middle of the night - even on a warm summer night - to go outside to look at the stars.  True, it is dark when I get up; however, unless I am going on a birding excursion, my early mornings are dedicated to coffee, playing with my cat, reading, blogging and other internet-involving stuff.

So, I look at the NASA site most mornings to get my 'self-importance' bearings - you know, just in case I start thinking any worlds revolve around me, etc. etc. etc....

NGC 6188 and NGC 6164
Image Credit & Copyright: Harel Boren and Tal Faibish
Explanation: Fantastic shapes lurk in clouds of glowing gas in NGC 6188, about 4,000 light-years away. The emission nebula is found near the edge of a large molecular cloud unseen at visible wavelengths, in the southern constellation Ara. Massive, young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association were formed in that region only a few million years ago, sculpting the dark shapes and powering the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. Joining NGC 6188 on this cosmic canvas is rare emission nebula NGC 6164, also created by one of the region's massive O-type stars. Similar in appearance to many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164's striking, symmetric gaseous shroud and faint halo surround its bright central star near the bottom edge. The impressively wide field of view spans over 3 degrees (six full Moons), corresponding to over 200 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 6188. Narrowband image data has been included in the natural looking color composite, adding to deep red emission from hydrogen and sulfur atoms and the blue-green light of oxygen atoms.