Friday, July 29, 2011

Flying Penguins

I have always told people that penguins can fly. They just happen to fly in a different medium than we are used to birds flying in. Now it turns out the sometimes they even fly in the air. Not like this, (check it out anyway), but in air under water. Now I suspect you are getting really confused. Let me explain. I found out about a recent study via the BBC Wonder Monkey blog that documents just how penguins fly in the air under water. The research hypothesizes that penguins reduce drag in the water by using air lubrication to promote fast ascent when Emperor Penguins jump out of the water. You may have seen films of penguins (or observed swimming penguins in the wild) and noticed long streamers of bubbles trailing the swimming birds when they accelerate. That observation in the BBC film Blue Planet by the authors of the study, and a discussion about the reason for the bubbles over a beer before a conference, lead to a more detailed study. They determined that the bubbles were not the result of cavitation nor did the the enhanced ascent speed of the penguins result from buoyancy, but was a result of a reduction in the frictional and form drag on the penguin from air bubbles released from under the feathers of the bird.
In my observations of swimming penguins, I always assumed the that bubbles were emerging from under the feathers and I noticed it was most evident when the birds were accelerating, but I had no idea that it enhanced the speed of the birds in the water.

Check out the blog post here.
Or read the actual PDF of the research paper in the Marine Ecology Progress Series here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Spring photos Vol 1

My last out-and-about post described my lek therapy morning with the Greater Sage-Grouse. I also was able to enjoy a morning of Sharp-tailed Grouse lek therapy as well. It wasn't the best morning for photography, but every morning on a lek is a great morning.

On my way home I visited a pair of Mountain Bluebirds nesting in a bluebird box along the highway.

Western Meadowlarks never sounded so good this spring.

One of the highlights of my travels back and forth between Billings and Fort Peck was a Sandhill Crane nest just off the highway. I was only able to stop and take photos one morning before the spring floods rendered that route to Billings impassable.

The next time I was able to travel this route the birds were gone and the nest was overgrown with cattails.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Birds of Montana" cover art

As my friend Jeff Marks recently said "get them while they last."

The print shown above is by the world-renowned wildlife artist Al Gilbert, who was recently featured in Birding magazine for his artwork for the book "Trogons: A Natural History of the Trogonidae". Mr Gilbert has completed an original watercolor of a Boreal Owl for the back cover of the Birds of Montana book and is working on a painting for the front cover. The book authors are working with Gil to produce a small number of signed limited-edition prints of the Boreal Owl illustration to help raise funds for the book. Although the Montana Audubon website currently doesn't have much more information, you can contact them here for more information on price and availability.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Nope, not turning into a butterfly. However, it might just be an apt metaphor for this blog as I am emerging from a self-imposed exile due to a few months of changes and general mahem. A forthcoming post will provide a fast forward through the last few months of events in photos, but for now here is a quick rundown - weekly commutes between Billings and Fort Peck, four hours one way through June; co-leader of a Montana Audubon bird tour to Westby in early June with Ted Nordhagen and a fine group of fellow birders; the rest of the week was spent leading field trips and doing one presentation for the Wings Across the Big Sky Montana Audubon bird festival in Glasgow; the next week the movers showed up and packed the house up, we sold the house and on Friday that week we bought another house in Billings (which is slowly starting to feel like home not just a vacation rental of some sort); the next week I attended a BLM wildlife biologist tour in Eastern Montana around Miles City while Laura arranged and unpacked to the best of her ability; followed by a week of training on the ins and outs of the Migratory Bird Treat Act in Cheyenne, WY. We are now settling in to our new house and we are still trying to find that box that has the salt shaker in it. Did I mention the floods?

Other transitions have occurred slowly over the last couple of years too, but the realization of their passage just became more apparently recently. It looks as if the "Ice" portion of this blog will not be represented much here any more. My time with Oceanites - the arrangement that allowed me the opportunity to visit "the ice" and along the way Patagonia - has apparently run it's course. I have been outsourced by grad students with better connections and more free time to spend away from work and home. I remain hopeful that somehow things might work out, but for now it appears that it is a rather distant possibility. I knew it was going to come to an end sooner or later but it still is very disappointing that the possibility is no longer perched in the not too distant future.

On the up side - I have a rather large new landscape to explore right here around Billings. The Mussleshell River watershed is probably one of the most out of the way places in Montana and I am looking forward to exploring the prairie and foothills in this relatively brand new landscape for me. The Beartooth Plateau and Yellowstone Park are only a couple of hours away, and the Pryor Mountains and the Crow Reservation are just to the south. The Crazies, Castles, Little Belt and Big Belt mountain ranges are all within striking distance. And the Yellowstone River is not that much farther away than the Missouri River was for me at home in Fort Peck (there are just a few more houses between me and the river now). We still miss our friends and we really miss our family, but we don't have to drive 20 miles for milk anymore (oh and there is this great barbeque joint just down the street).
So what do I have planned for Prairie Ice in the new future? Well, there are at least four book reviews waiting in the wings, I need to finish the story of Pronghorn 166 (and what a good story it is), and there are a few other posts lurking in the corners of my mind where they ran away and hid when I started writing this sentence.
So, if anyone is still checking in, there is a pulse.