Monday, March 30, 2009

I found this video via the Oceanites feed (check out the The Team header to find out more about the great folks I get to work with). There is some great Leopard Seal footage to go along with an overall great video of an even more unknown Antarctica.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Mom and Dad got back today from Freezout Lake, near Choteau MT and I got to see a few photos. This was by far my favorite.

Here is a closeup from somewhere in the middle of the photo above.

Its amazing that they all just don't crash into each other.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Just Gotta Dance - The Other Grouse

This morning I went out to a Sharptail Grouse lek I hadn't visited before, in an area that I had surprisingly never previously ventured into which resulted in me driving down a dirt road in the early morning dark trying to find a spot on the map. Thankfully there were a couple of grouse in the road or I might have missed the lek on the first pass.

I really like watching Sharptails dance. They are much more active than Sage-Grouse, with lots of chuckles, cackles and growling to go along with the foot stomping.

It was a gorgeous morning with no wind. The birds were very active with a number of females flying into the lek resulting in mass dancing and chasing by the displaying males.

On my way home I also stopped by a small Greater Sage-Grouse lek and watched four males displaying to about as many females.
The area that I wound up driving through was wonderful and I plan on going back and checking it out a bit more. I also hope to get back to this lek for a few more photos this spring.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I have started a photo gallery I will share with my dad at PBase. I have a few photos loaded so far and I will keep adding photos as I get a chance. Check it out if you get a chance. Hopefully I can get Dad squared away and he can start loading some of his favorites too. He and Mom are off to Freezout Lake near Great Falls, MT to watch Snow Geese and attend a meeting this weekend. Hopefully there will be thousands of Snow Geese for them to watch along with a few Ross Geese and other assorted waterfowl. One of these springs we need to make that trip too. I hope to have a few photos from him when he gets back.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Extreme Ice

I just finished watching a great documentary called "Extreme Ice" on PBS. It is a joint effort between Nova and National Geographic and documents changes to the Greenland Ice Cap through the work of a photographer and scientists working on the ice cap. They documented entire lakes, 40 feet deep and miles across, disappearing from the surface of the ice cap in 40 minutes. Then the photographer, James Balog, rappelled into the drain holes left behind to take spectacular photos of the resulting cobalt blue icescape. He described it as something like "frightening, beautiful, evil, and gorgeous." The complex feedback between melt water, sea water, and glacial flow as also discussed. If you have a decent internet connection you can watch it online at the link above. I would recommend it catching it however you can.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Pied Goose

John, from A D.C. Birding Blog, asked about the partially white goose I posted a photo of earlier. Here are a few more photos of the bird. It is in the lower right portion of each photo. When I saw it later in the week it was standing in a field facing right and the white side and wing was very evident.


Between computer problems (still ongoing but at least now I have a somewhat functional laptop), spring weather, and work travel, my blogging has certainly been light. But not for a lack of material, particularly after a rather long winter.
The time between the first of March and the end of May seems to crawl along. When the migrating geese and raptors start showing up I expect the spring season to jump ahead to May right away, but I will have to be patient.
The geese are still coming through in large numbers although I think the bulk of that migration is now further north.

I saw this goose with some white patches last week. I am pretty sure I saw the same goose on Thursday only about 40 miles up the Milk River in a field along the highway. There have been constant streams of geese heading up the Milk River for the last couple of weeks.

The Tree Sparrows have descended into the back yard the last few days along with a Common Redpoll and a Pine Siskin. The American Robins are back and singing and I saw my first Western Meadowlark on Friday and heard one singing that familiar song on Saturday.

Last weekend I spent a bit of time taking photos around an old homestead. Below is one of those photos.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

March Migration

Last week was a bit brutal. We had a gorgeous day last Saturday but then the bottom fell out and by the middle of the week it was 20 below (see the graph below).

As the temperature moderated later in the week the biological March showed up and the Canada Geese began to arrive in earnest. I also saw my first Richardson's Ground Squirrel of the year, followed shortly by my first Ferruginous Hawk (which was eating a ground squirrel). The Rough-legged Hawk numbers have also increased and yesterday I saw at least 16 and this morning at least 12. There were Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and a Northern Harrier around too. In recent years there have been a few nesting attempts by Bald Eagles and at least one year of successful reproduction. This morning I found two occupied nests with at least one bird incubating.

Here are a few shots of an accommodating Rough-legged Hawk.

This one perched here for a while but then flushed when a Ring-necked Pheasant flushed from the shrubs below him.

Here you can see the hawk looking down and back where the pheasant was leaving

There are a lot of Canada Geese moving through the area right now. Loose flocks of 20 or so birds can be observed flying in from further south then coalescing into larger feeding flocks in the fields near the river or on the ice still left along the river banks. The geese moved through a bit earlier last year (see my posts from last year here and here), but the cold weather must have slowed them down a bit this spring.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Penguin Week - Adelie Penguin

The penguin week idea seems to have not only stretched out beyond the week, I am now into the second month of trying to get some Antarctic themed posts done. Here is the latest installment.

The Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae), along with the Emperor Penguin is a true penguin of Antarctica. They only nest on Antarctic islands and along the continent where there is a 'just right" combination of ice and snow free breeding areas juxtaposed with areas of relatively consistent and nearby sea ice. Most of the year they are found living in the pack ice. They forage under the ice for krill feeding on the algea growing on the underside of the bits and pieces.

In early October they begin to return to their breeding colonies. In keeping with my one place-one penguin species concept I used in my previous penguin posts, I am going to talk about Adelies at Paulet Island, a fairly small island in the Weddell Sea just east of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here (PDF) is a good overview of this island with most of the information coming from Oceanites work. There is a great aerial photo of the island in this PDF that gives a good view of the extent of penguins breeding on this island. This is one of the landings where most visitors to Antarctica get to experience Adelie Penguins en masse. A number of these guidelines for other islands can be found here.

And what a mass of penguins it is. Paulet Island is home to about 60 to 100 thousand pairs (so the actual breeding population on the island is somewhere between 120 and 200 thousand individual birds). And those are figures from about 20 years ago and probably pretty wild guesses at that. I suspect that given the available space on the island and my perception of vacant colonies, it is probably still at least that many penguins if not more. It is very hard to estimate the number of birds without quite a bit of effort, but one of the things that Oceanites has been doing is trying to get good estimates of the number of breeding pairs at these large colonies by GPSing the colony boundaries for all the colonies on the island and then applying a density figure to at least get a better estimate than the good old ocular estimate, i.e. "we eyeballed it".

These are tough birds. They nest is very inhospitable conditions and seem to do quite well even when the weather is not very nice for penguin counters.

A rather small colony at Paulet.

This is a view of the main landing beach at Paulet from the top of a nearby bluff (also pretty well covered in breeding penguins). The dark mass in the middle is the remains of a rock hut built by Captain Larson and twenty men after their ship the Antarctic sank in heavy pack ice in February 1903. They spent the winter of 1903 on Paulet, eating penguin and seal. Larson and five of his men managed to get to (somewhat) nearby Snow Hill Island in November, where the Nordenskjöld expedition they were sent to rescue were located. You can read more about this expedition here.

Another view of some of the colonies on the beach at Paulet.

Adelies nest in rather dense, regularly spaced colonies.

A pair of Adelies at their nest on the Fish Islands. The bird on the right (which appears to be the female to my eyes because of the slighter build of the bill - but I am quite out of practice at determining the sex of a penguin so it is just an educated guess) has just returned from a feeding bout and is initiating a nest relief with her mate. Notice how clean she appears compared to the male on the nest. One of the most critical time periods in determining the fate of a nest early on in the season is the first nest relief when the female returns after a feeding bout she makes right after laying the eggs. If she is not back to relieve the male within 10 days (give or take a day) the male will abandon the nest so that he can feed too. By that point he has been fasting for about two months at the colony and has reached the end of his physiological rope.

Sometimes late snowfall can completely bury nesting penguins. It can impact the breeding success of some pairs when the incubating bird forms an ice bowl around it and the meltwater doesn't drain from the nest and kills the eggs. Although probably not as important as a driver in determining Adelie populations as the environmental conditions related to sea ice, the loss of a years breeding can contribute to population declines when it starts happening with greater frequency. Heavy snowfall during this time seems to be increasing in frequency as more of the ocean surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula remains free of ice, increasing the transfer of moisture to the air. As with most declines in animal populations, the cause is often not just one factor but a multitude of factors that influence survival of individuals and their ability to produce offspring.

Clicker in one hand and the other is used to mark my spot in the colony when I am counting.

We arrived at Paulet just as the chicks were hatching. Many of the nests still had eggs, but a good number also had small chicks about this size, probably about a week old.

We were also able to see a number of birds hatched the previous year on this trip, a sight many people to not get to experience. These birds are easy to tell from older birds by the lack of black on the chin. They attain that plumage after their first full molt when they are one year old. They rarely return to the breeding colonies at this age, but spend much of their time just trying to survive and attain the mass needed to attempt breeding. They are often found in areas of high krill concentrations where there is still sea ice. We found many of them south of the Antarctic Circle in Marguerite Bay where there was still a fair amount of sea ice.

This is a sign at the former British Antarctic base Faraday, now the Ukranian base Vernadsky.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Biologist to the rescue

Since my computer is hopefully on the mend or at least repairable, I don't have the ability to do much with any of my photos (if I was able to take any lately). So I will have to be content with posting on interesting things I can find around the web. The latest that caught my attention was a report about a Golden Eagle crashing through the windshield of a semi in Nevada. The eagle was probably feeding on roadkill and flew in front of the truck. The best part was that the eagle survived and was apparently not happy about finding itself in the cab of a truck. I particularly liked this line:
"The guys in the truck immediately bailed out because it was one ticked off bird. She was pretty feisty," Doucette said. "Even the officer who responded didn't want to go in there so we had one of our wildlife biologists do it."
Again, the italics are mine. Finally some respect for the biologists.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Great Wildlife Video

I found some great video from the BBC this morning on the BBC News website. They are from the latest episode in the Natures Greatest Events series - The Great Tide.

I can't figure out how to embed the videos so here are the links. This one shows Cape Gannets plunge diving into sardine balls from above and below the surface. Amazing stuff.

This video also includes footage of dolphins, sharks, and gannets foraging on sardines, again from above and below the surface of the water.

Here is a link to the series home page for more great stuff.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Evolution in the News

I found this exchange in a recent post at the BBC website story on a recent UK survey to assess the peoples views on evolution and the origin of mankind (the italics are mine). Enjoy.

Cecil Andrews of fundamentalist church Take Heed Ministries said he was not surprised that Creationism was so prevalent in Northern Ireland.

"This little province has been blessed with a great biblical heritage and I think that's reflected in the results of this survey," he said.

Church of Ireland lay preacher Graham Nevin said Christianity in Northern Ireland "tended to be quite conservative".

"What does surprise me is that 25% of people in Northern Ireland had given any thought to where the world came from," he said.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

No Redpolls Today

The Common Redpolls were here early this morning but then soon departed en masse. It soon became apparent why.

This immature Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) has been terrorizing my Mom and Dad's backyard this winter but I haven't observed him much in my yard. I guess he just needed a reason, and with the arrival of the redpolls he figured he would check out the lunch opportunities here.