Saturday, April 9, 2016

Red-shouldered Hawk in snow...

It was a unpleasant surprise to look out to snow this morning. Our resident Red-shouldered Hawk seems to agree with the assessment...

A beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk sits in a snow-covered tree.
Big Red perches in the snow-covered Mulberry Tree.  A stripe of snow clings to the center of his forehead.
I don't think he's pleased... 
 
Snow in April 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Shelling at Lake Erie...

I love trips to Lake Erie because birding is always involved, but this time, unexpectedly, a little shelling was thrown in too...

These small, beautiful conically shaped shells are gastropods, or snails. They are probably Pleurocera acuta.
Conical-shaped shells we found on the beach along Lake Erie at Maumee Bay State Park.

Thousands of these spiral-shaped conical shells were clumped along the beach at the water's edge at Maumee Bay State Park (near Toledo, OH). They were all in perfect shape and incredibly beautiful. I know nothing about shells, so I took a handful home to learn about them. After a few Google searches, I found a NOAA site from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), and learned these beautiful little shells had once been homes to aquatic algal grazers in the gastropod family, commonly know as...snails!

Thousands of the shells were clumped together near the water's edge.

From the photos and the descriptions on the GLERL page, I'm guessing these shells are Pleurocera acuta (common name, Sharp Hornsnail). According to the information on the webpage, these snails are native to the Great Lakes and Ohio River. They like to burrow in sand and mud, and they like the slower flowing areas of rivers near the bank. I'm going to start looking for them along the Little Miami River. Since it drains into the Ohio, they might be there too.

This is a photo of several Sharp Hornsnail shells. One is black and white stripes, two are amber, two are maroon and white striped, one is blueish, and another is black and white striped.
The color variations among the Sharp Hornsnail (Pleurocera acuta) shells are beautiful...greens, ambers, blues, browns, pinks, maroons, and whites. It will be interesting to see if the colors fade over time. 

The whorls can be multi-colored like the shell on the left of dark blue, orange, and white, ...or made of similar colors, like the roses and pinks of the shell on the right.
"Whorls" are the rings spiraling the conical shell. Pleurocera acuta can have up to 14 whorls.
After checking the shells I brought home, I found most had between 9 and 11 whorls.

Although they look like black and white stripes, closer inspection shows the dark stripe is really a dark chestnut brown.

Sharp Hornsnail shells from Lake Erie (Pleurocera acuta)


Further reading
If you want to learn a little about snail shell morphology, click here for the paper, "North American Freshwater Snails," by J. B. Burch, and go to page 25 (in Walkerana, 1986, 2(6) on the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society (FMCS) website. You can learn about the whorls, aperture, shell size, and shell shapes, e.g., the shape of our little Sharp Hornsnail is "elongate conic." This booklet is packed with a lot of information.

Freshwater Gastropods of North America is a blog with higher-level scientific info. Click here for a link to "Pleurocera acuta is Pleurocera canaliculata," by Dr. Rob Dillon. Just like in birding, it seems the species names of gastropods can change!

Where did the colors come from?
In the comments section, Mary Ann asked if I new why the same mollusk would make shells in various colors. I didn't, so I did a quick check to find out. Click here for a blog post by Richard Goldberg titled, "The Significance of Snail Shell Color and Pattern" (6-19-2009) on the Art and Science of Nature blog. Goldberg explains that these varied colors ("inter-population variability") can be explained through evolutionary science, mentioning "extreme color polymorphism" in a population is good, because "looking different from your neighbor" prevents predators from developing a "search image" for its prey. Read the article for more details.

As for the colors themselves, they are produced in many ways, including pigments the mollusk acquires from what it eats, pigments the mollusk produces to strengthen shells, hereditary colors to offer camouflage, and much more. Click here for an article by Gary Rosenberg titled, "Why do Shells Have Their Colors?" on the Conchologists of America, Inc. website for details.

Update!
I emailed Dr. Rob Dillon, a professor in the Department of Biology at the College of Charleston, to make sure I had identified Pleurocera acuta correctly. He replied that I did (yeah!). But there's more...in 2013 Pleurocera acuta received the trinomen "Pleurocera canaliculata acuta" as a subspecies and "junior synonym" of canaliculata. (Pleurocera acuta was first described by Thomas Say in 1821 as canaliculata and the new name reflects that history.) Thanks, Professor Dillon!  See the paragraph above under "Further reading" for a link to Dr. Dillon's blog. Click here if you want to learn what a subspecies is. 

___
This post is part of our "Big Water" trip to Maumee Bay. Click here for more posts in the series.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Red-shouldered beauty in winter...

When winter has drained the color from the trees, and gray settles in like it owns the place, our Red-shouldered Hawk is conspicuously beautiful. His red shoulders and the strong contrast between the black and white stripes in his tail feathers pop in the landscape...

A Red-shouldered Hawk takes flight from a young oak tree in our backyard.

This is the first time I've seen our Red-shouldered Hawk perch in the young oak tree. It started as a sapling about 10 years ago and has been growing quietly ever since. It finally caught Big Red's eye. Our little oakling is growing up.

Even from behind, and at a distance, a Red-shouldered Hawk is gorgeous and stops you in your tracks.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Red loves his new platform feeder!

Earlier this winter, the platform feeder my dad made me back in 1990 when Rick and I moved from our apartment into our first house died. I went out to stock it with seed, and it was shattered on the ground...raccoon, squirrel...Sasquatch? Who knows who dealt the final blow. All I knew was it broke my heart. That feeder was part of our backyard landscape for over 26 years, and because my dad made it, I loved it all the more. It was Red's favorite feeder as well, and I was surprised how hollow it made me feel to look out and not see Red and his buddies crowded around eating sunflower seeds from it. The thought of putting a new store-bought feeder in its place made me feel even worse, so I just threw seed on the ground and ignored the gaping hole until Rick stepped in to save the day by making a beautiful "Cedar Palace" for Red and me...

Northern Cardinals visit a cedar platform feeder covered in snow.
Red and his buddies took to Rick's cedar platform feeder right away. When the snow melts away,
I will take a few closeups of of it. The Cedar Palace is a work of art...no nails, btw...all mortise and tenon.

Rick took the dimensions from my dad's feeder and got to work. He came up with his own design, and even made cedar shakes for the roof by hand. This thing is sturdy and will no doubt last as long as my dad's, which when added to my current age will make me 80...wait...80???? That can't be right, but after a quick re-add, it is. (I think I'm going to ignore that bit of info for now and just keep watching, painting, and photographing the birds.)

If you want to see my dad's old feeder, click here for the post from 2009, "This bird feeder has seen a lot of action..." It was only 20 years old back then!

(Thank you, Dad, for making the best bird feeder ever, and thank you, Rick, for carrying on the tradition. Lots of hearts, lots of smiley faces, lots of love.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

How to turn a coconut into a bird feeder...

If you have a drill, a vice, a coconut, and some chain, you can make a super cute coconut bird feeder! Back in November I posted a Blue Jay gobbling up sunflower seeds out of a coconut bird feeder (click here for the post). Rick had made the feeder for me earlier in the day, and while he was making it, I photographed him. I had a hunch someone would want to know where I got it, or how I made it, and several people did, so here it goes...

1. Pick up a coconut from your local grocery store.  
Our Kroger's store carries coconuts that have been scored about halfway through. Look for those, because it's a breeze to open them with just a tap from a hammer along the score line. After you crack it open it, clean it out, then get busy...

2. Mark three equidistant spots to drill holes.   
You can do math to create the three evenly spaced points, but it's much easier to just guesstimate or use "The Force" (like I do). Use painter's tape to mark them.

Painter's tape marks the spots for the three holes. 

3. Knock out two of the "eyes."   
Find the three holes at the bottom of a coconut. Two are soft and are easy to push through. These "eyes" make ideal drainage holes to keep water from building up in the shell.

Use a screwdriver or the end of a pencil to push through the eyes to create the drainage holes.

4. Place the coconut in a vice.
Use cardboard squares to cushion the coconut and help keep it from slipping.

It's much easier to drill the holes if you can anchor the coconut in a vice. Little squares of cardboard make nice cushions.

5. Drill baby, drill.
Make sure the drill bit is large enough to create a hole that will fit the chain you've chosen. Drill about 1/4" to 1/2" from the edge.

It's better to drill a larger hole than a smaller hole. The chain I use isn't that wide, so a medium-sized bit works for me.

6. Cut three even lengths of chain, and open the last link on each chain.   
Only open one link at the end of each chain. Use the vice to secure the last link and simply twist it open with a needle-nosed pliers (or any type of pliers that fits).

It's easiest to open the chain by securing half of it in the vice.
You can use any type of chain. I like this type because it's easy to open the links, and the metal is very durable. I usually choose black because it doesn't stand out, but you can use any color. I've made coconut bird feeders using twine, rope, and leather (which looks cool), but chains are the best and last the longest.

7. Thread the open link through the drilled hole.   
Use the needle-nosed pliers to help you thread the link through. After it's through, close it up using the pliers.

It's very easy to attach the chain. Feed the link through and clamp it shut!

8. Hang the three loose ends of the chain on an S hook, and close the hook.   
Be sure to use the pliers to clamp the S hook closed so the chains don't slip off.

Could it be any easier? Hang the feeder in a tree, fill it with seed, and watch and wait!  

A sweet Carolina Chickadee was the first bird to sample the goods. The Blue Jay came next. The birds that most love this feeder are Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and Blue Jays. Strangely enough, the squirrels leave it alone! 

When did my love affair with coconut bird feeders start?
It goes all the way back to February 9, 1906. Yes, you read that right...1906! That's when Edith Holden wrote about a coconut bird feeder in her book, A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. At the end of her book, on page 176, she included an illustration of the feeder, and I fell in love with it.

Edith Holden's book is a hand-written record of her daily walks and observations of the countryside around the small village of Olton in Warwickshire, England. Edith is a talented artist and naturalist and fills the pages of her book with beautiful watercolor illustrations of the wildlife and scenery she encountered every day on her walks. Rendered with a naturalist’s eye for detail, her paintings are soft, colorful and engaging. Her love and deep understanding of nature is apparent in every painting. She also scatters her favorite poems in with the illustrations and includes historical information and even folk sayings.

Other Options
Sunflower seeds are not the only thing you can put in the coconut. You can also fill it with suet, or even leave the coconut meat in it. The birds will peck away at it (and if you look closely at Edith Holden's painting above, you'll see that's what she did. The little birds are grabbing pieces of coconut from the shell.).  I want to try making a few suet recipes and putting the suet in a coconut. When I find one that works really well, I'll let you know!

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Rock Pigeons at Rock House...

Back in October, we took a trip to Hocking Hills State Park in southeast Ohio. The park is only two hours from Cincinnati and offers wonderful hiking and spectacular scenery. Rock House is one of the caves in the park. Located halfway up a 150-foot wall of blackhand sandstone, the true cave has a 25-foot high ceiling, is about 30 feet wide, and is 200 feet long...but even better, it is home to a beautiful flock of Rock Pigeons....

A Rock House Rock Pigeon!

Rock Pigeons are city birds, right? So the last thing I expected to see when I stepped into the long dark tunnel deep in the woods was pigeons...but I shouldn't have been surprised. Originally, before humans came along and built cities, Rock Pigeons lived in crevices and caves on coastal rock walls and cliffs in Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. European colonists brought them to North America in the 1600s. Their name reflects their native habitat, so it was especially fun to find them living in the wild!

The trail leading to the Rock House is beautiful. 

Inside Rock House looking out. The pigeons would fly in and out through this opening in the cave. Birds roosted in the many crevices and cracks on the wall outside the cave as well as those inside. 

The birds would fly in and out of the cave, and I loved listening to their cooing and the constant flutter of their wings as they flew from roosting spot to roosting spot.

This fellow is above me on a ledge inside the cave. If I would look to my right, I would see out of the opening in the photo above. Eventually this pigeon flew outside while another flew back in.

Love those pink feet!

This small rectangular reservoir was carved into the sandstone by Native Americans. They would use it to collect water. Now the pigeons used it for drinking and bathing (see the video at the end of the post). 

A view out of the opening opposite the back cave wall where the birds were. This opening looks a little like a bird... 

Rock House video
Click here to watch the "Naturally Ohio: Rock House" video. It was made by the Ohio Public Broadcasting Station, and Pat Quackenbush, an ODNR Naturalist, is the narrator. Pat takes you on a tour of the trail and explains the flora, fauna and history of the Rock House. It's only 20 minutes, and it's really good!

Can pigeons diagnose cancer?
Click here for the article "Can Pigeons Really Diagnose Cancer? A new study says yes, but you're not likely to see them in lab coats anytime soon," written by Hannah Waters on the Audubon web site to learn about pigeons' ability to identify and sort visual patterns, including cancer cell patterns and healthy cell patterns. It can recognize all 26 letters in the alphabet, as well as different faces in photos.

The domestication of the Rock Pigeon
Click here to read about the earliest encounters of man with the Rock Pigeon. The first art appears in Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets dating back over 5000 years ago, but it's more likely the pigeon was domesticated by Neolithic man over 10,0000 years ago in the area near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers when humans started cultivating grains. In prehistoric times, Rock Pigeons probably lived with man in caves and in the crevices on the surrounding rock walls and cliffs.

A unique way of drinking water
Pigeons and doves drink water by using their bills like a straw, sucking water in while their bill is still immersed in the water. Most birds take a sip and toss their head back so the water flows down their throat. The following video is dark and poor quality (taken in a cave with my cell phone), but you can see the pigeon sucking up the water through its bill...

A Rock Pigeon drinking water at the Rock House from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fly Red, fly!!!

Mrs. Red-shouldered Hawk is watching you...

A Red-shouldered Hawk in the mulberry tree in our backyard. 
She perched there for about 30 minutes before flying off empty-taloned.