Wednesday, February 27, 2008
A recent post to the Montana Outdoor Birding Group by Chad Adams provided a link to an article on albinism in Great Gray Owls. In this article the authors Pentti Alaja and Heimo Mikkola describe a number of Great Grays with abnormal pigments in Yellowstone National Park and in nearby Idaho. Bozeman is not that far (as the owl flies) from these observations.
This is a striking bird and apparently many birders went to find it today. Unfortunately some of them trespassed into private property to "get a better look" at this bird and then the neighbor who originally reported the bird to Cheryl was verbally abused by some of the birders when she told them they were trespassing. The original observer unfortunately now regrets telling anyone about the owl and Cheryl, who was very careful not to disturb this bird when she took these photos, is rightly upset that she led to these transgressions by alerting the general birding public to the location of the owl. This is a shame and I guess I expected better of my fellow birders there (I was formerly the president of the Sacajawea Audubon Society in Bozeman). The result will probably be that observers who care about the birds they see will not report interesting birds they see to protect the birds and avoid rude and inconsiderate behavior. We all lose then.
Alaja, P. and H. Mikkola. 1997. Albinism in the Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) and Other Owls in Biology and Conservation of Owls of the Northern Hemisphere, Second International Symposium. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report NC-190. http://www.ncrs.fs.fed.us/epubs/owl/
Davis, J. N. 2007. Color Abnormalities in Birds: A Proposed Nomenclature for Birders. Birding 39(5)36-46
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Before I left for Antarctica last November I made a post about my late friend Richie Skane. In that post I described how a group of people who knew and loved Richie had petitioned to name a geographic feature at Cape Monaco after Richie and that there was now a Skane Nunatak on Cape Monaco. I had hoped to visit that area on my trip to get my own photos of Skane Nunatak and pay my respects to an old friend. Although we were in the vicinity I was unable to see the nunatak.
Then in January I received the following letter from Richie's brother in response to my post.
I don't know whether you want to call it fate or divine intervention, but sometimes things happen and we don't have a logical explanation for it.There is a picture of Richie on my desk and he looks out smiling everyday, the look is much like you describe on your website. But there was one particular day, three days before Christmas that the smile was different. It was if Richie were saying that there was something I hadn't done and for some reason I googled Richie's name, I don't know why, it just happened.
Maybe it was the quick blurb on googling yourself on a news station here in Boston, or just maybe it was Richie being Richie. Whatever the reason as I hit the enter key I was looking at Richie's name on the screen. I opened the first website and it was John Carlson's Prairie Ice site. At a quick glance I looked at John's picture and I thought it didn't look like Richie. It wasn't Richie, huh so there is another Richie Skane. Then I looked to the right and saw Richie's name and began to read the paragraph. The words started to jump out: carpenter's helper, Colorado, fun, fair person. It was Richie! Your description of Richie is excellent; you don't need a picture to really see him. Continuing the article there it was- the naming of a feature in Antarctica after Richie. I remembered at his service a number of people from the ice were speaking about Richie and the people on the ice that loved and respected him, the people who would miss him, and the people who felt they had lost family. I remember someone stating that they were going to try to get the USGS to name a feature after him. We all realized what an honor this was, but then as always time moves ever forward.
Time moves forward at a seemingly ever-changing pace, sometimes slowly and other times like a lightening bolt. We can get lost in the things that were and the things that are, dealing with love, loss and daily routine differently. Every now and then my sisters or I would check to see if anything had happened. Eventually as the months and years passed, our thoughts were of Richie and our memories of Richie and we forgot about the feature that might be named for him. I think we all thought that someone would contact us. But then we failed to realize that this is not about us. It is about Richie, his love of the ice and for all of those he worked with. It is about your relationships with Richie, that special bond developed on the ice. You were and all are all truly brothers and sisters in arms.
Richie let us know that it was time to check again, so that we would know about the feature named for him, so we could thank you. Thank you for all of your efforts, for the hard work and dedication you put into the Skane Nunatak. Its ironic that this was the first Christmas the whole family has been together to celebrate the holidays since Richie's death. Ironic that your website would find its way into our lives and eventually into our hearts. Copies of the information and your efforts were wrapped as gifts for my sisters and my father and addressed to them from Richie and from you guys. I can't tell you how grateful we are to you all for the great Christmas surprise we all received under the tree.
You mentioned Richie's eyes and it is true that eyes can tell a great deal about people. The story told in Richie's father's eyes when he read the information and saw the picture is something I hope you can see, or imagine. He has the picture and description of the Skane Nunatak hanging on his wall next to Richie's picture.
My family thanks you for the honor, the love and the respect you have shown Richie. The naming of a nunatak after him is so very special. I know he is smiling that smile as he watches from his summit. Reading Glenn Grant's blog is a humbling experience, to think that one person can be that much a part of people's lives. To think of how much he meant to all of you. To see him again on the ice and around the United States carried in the hearts of so many. I have some pictures of Richie that you might enjoy; one in particular shows him on the ice with some people starring out at the world around him. It is almost as if he were sitting up on his nunatak staring out at all of us. There is another picture that a friend took of Richie at the family cottage, he has that look on his face, that smile and those eyes. The eyes that directed us to the website and to his friends, who still see him on the ice. Thank you.
Sincerely, George Skane
Although I was not in on the effort to name a geographic feature for Richie (I found out about it after the petition had been submitted to USGS), I am glad that I was able to let his family know about it. The passage where George described how my blog had let to Christmas gifts for his family and in particular Richie's father (the italics are mine) made the creation of this blog worthwhile even for just that one post. Even though George said that my description of Richie didn't need any photos here are few that George sent me so you can see the man I wrote about.
The photo she posted is of the National Geographic Endeavour, the ship I was on in November. I remember passing them in the ice and here is a photo of her ship from my view. For the record, we did wave and I would have to argue her claim that her ship was the better ship.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Yesterday I estimated there were about 600 individuals either eating on the dried apples in our backyard or waiting in the neighbors cottonwood tree.
This species is quite common in the Fort Peck area during the winter with thousands feeding on Russian Olive and ornamental fruit trees in town and along the Missouri River. It may even breed in the northwestern part of the state. Early records, which have been carried forward into recent range maps and accounts, suggested that this species was an occasional breeder but recent reviews of these records show that no nests were ever actually found and the supposition of breeding in Montana was based on a lot of conjecture and little fact. They do nest not that much farther north into Canada but for now there is no hard evidence of this species breeding in the state.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
I thought "that's a curious word - thagomizer. I wonder where that came from?"
A little searching through the text found that it indeed was a curious word with an even more interesting etymology. It turns out that the Thagomizer was named after the late Thag Simmons. Who was Thag Simmons? It appears that, according to a good source, Thag Simmons was an unfortunate pre-historic human who first discovered the dangers of a Stegosaurus tail first hand. OK you say, now this is getting weird. Everyone knows that dinosaurs and any sort of pre-historic human did not exist during the same time! Would it help if I told you my source was Gary Larson?
Apparently paleontologist Ken Carpenter thought the thagomizer was a good name for the business end of the Stegosaurus tail and he used the term in a 1993 presentation in which he described the most complete Stegosaurus ever found. However, Ken may have originally been joking a bit. He did not use thagomizer to describe the Stegosaurus tail in a subsequent paper (Carpenter 1998) describing what was probably the same specimen but the book states that it is now accepted scientific nomenclature.
Here is the cartoon which I found at the Wikipedia site that describes the thagomizer and it's origins a bit more. This was too good to pass up.
So is the Dinosaur encyclopedia. I bought it for my son Benton's fifth birthday and he loves it (thanks to Darren at Tetrapod Zoology). I really like it too. It has great illustrations and I look forward to reading more, particularly on the Avialians (of course).
Carpenter, Ken. 1998. Amor of Stegosaurus stenops, and the taphonomic history of a new speciment from Garden Park, Colorado. Modern Geology 23:127-144.
"Now this end is called the thagomizer, after the late Thag Simmons."
Saturday, February 16, 2008
This was pretty good timing as it gave me a bit of a nudge to link to a few blogs that I have recently discovered or posts I particularly enjoyed that I have been meaning to pass along.
First is a post from Pohanginapete with stunning photos of New Zealand's Blue Duck or Whio. One of my favorite groups of birds in the world are the ducks that inhabit fast moving waters - the Harlequin Duck in North America, the aptly named Torrent Duck in South America, and the Blue Duck of New Zealand. I have yet to see the Whio but this is pretty close to being there. Pete always has very well crafted posts with great stories and photos.
This is one of my photos of a Torrent Duck in Torres Del Paine NP,
Chile in November 2007
Next is a new blog that I found via Fretmarks and Querencia (again). Talking Pictures is another blog in the same vein as Pohanginapete, well done posts with great photography and thoughtful essays. I really like it and have added a link to my sidebar. Natasha vicariously feeds my traveling and birding wishes for India.
Another blog that I have somehow failed to add to my sidebar until now is Rebecca O'Conner's Operations Desert Dove. This is, directly from Rebecca, a falconry blog... and more. Much more.
Pete at Midway is next on my list. I discovered Pete's work via a link at Trixie's View and I have been able to get my seabird fix while in Montana via Pete's photos and stories of working with albatrosses, tropicbirds, and petrels. Check out the photos of the sea turtles here.
I also like the irreverent Martin and George Bristow's Secret Freezer. Martin always provides a great perspective on birding and more importantly birders. Martin never fails to make me laugh particularly when he hits close to home like here:
I actually think the birds can be a bit boring on a blog. Does anyone care how many gannets I saw today?* Even me? Really what I'd like to do is to fill it up with petty libels, anecdotes, woodpecker news**, Heroes of the Birding Revolution etc. Can't manage that at the moment, hence the disappointing lack of peripherals.
Thanks Martin and I agree. I promise to try to do less of the "what I saw today or what I took a photo of today" posts but they are so much easier than actually writing a decent post. I will try though.
Fridays usually mean that John Betham at A D.C. Birding Blog has his Loose Feathers roundup posted. I look forward to Fridays just to see what interesting bird related links John has gathered from the internet via blogs, the news, and other sources (I even made his blog roundup once!).
My last new link to mention is Birdchick. Sharon is probably best described as a bird ambassador. Her enthusiasm for birds is contagious even via the internet and I always enjoy seeing what she is up to. Anyone who would organize an event called "Birds and Beers" at a local pub is alright in my book. Hey Sharon, want to come to Montana and speak at our local bird festival one of these years?
Friday, February 8, 2008
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Saturday, February 2, 2008
This photo depicts a typical scene in Eastern Montana this time of year. Although this happens to be a Bald Eagle, more often it is a Golden Eagle perched on these knobs.