Friday, January 28, 2011

Live Hummingbird Web Cam

This Friday's Fun Coffee Break is a live Web cam from California of two baby Allen's Hummingbirds. Not only is the cam just an amazing (and addicting) stream, for those of us in cold climes it's a most welcome dose of floral greens in the middle of a snowy winter. 

Here's info on Allen's Hummingbirds from Cornell. 

Just wait until you see the mom hummingbird come in to feed the babies - she looks huge!  Yep, completely addicting stream...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Squirrelly Colors

While up in Brainerd we enjoyed watching the antics of the resident black squirrel.

Black squirrels are not a separate species of squirrel, rather they're most often a color variation of the Eastern Gray Squirrel (EGS).  In fact, you can have albino, melanistic (black), and gray squirrels all in one litter.  I've only seen that happen twice at WRC, but seeing all three in one tiny litter is a pretty amazing sight.

Looking closely at these photos, I actually began wondering if this might be a melanistic Fox Squirrel rather than a gray.  See how orange its sides and face highlights are? And how large it is? This points toward it being a Fox Squirrel, which are quite common in Minnesota, although you tend to see more of them outside of the Twin Cities metro area.

Research revealed that there is a relatively high incidence of melanism in Fox Squirrels, especially in the southeast United States where they're more common. If we could actually measure the squirrel we'd know for sure: EGS max out around 20" in length whereas Fox Squirrels average 24."  Since we can't measure it, I've showed the photo to a few other experts and all agreed it's most likely a melanistic Fox Squirrel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brainerd Ice Fishing Extravaganza III

I've returned from a fun weekend at the cabin in Lakeshore, which is a computer-free zone btw - sorry for not posting in a few days.  Where is Lakeshore?  It's just north of Brainerd, Minnesota home of the world's largest ice fishing tournament: 10,000 strong this past weekend!

It's our third year venturing out onto this frozen slab of water with thousands of other hopeful souls.  Our 1st year air temp when we hit the ice at 11am was -27, last year it was raining and turned to snow just as we got to our holes. When standing around on ice for three hours, rain is bad, snow is good. Our timing was perfect.

The big news last year though was our friend Jon, our northwoods neighbor from Tom Lake in Hovland, placed 7th out of 12,000 people with a 2# tulibee. What's a tulibee you ask? We asked the same thing and now, thanks to Jon embracing the ecstasy of his win ALL year long, have it burned into our brains that it's a "commercially important whitefish." huh. Ugly fish, didn't know they even existed, but it did win him a very nice bright red Strikemaster ice suit (proudly displayed below) that kept him toasty warm this year when air temp was -15, windchill of -31.

Immediately after the canon-fire kickoff at noon people all around started reeling in fish. It was amazing to watch. The crowd of nearby ice-fishing hopefuls all cheer as soon as you start reeling in the fish, then yell to put it into a bag of water (catch and release of course), then yell at you to run. The "run" chant is picked up by hundreds, then thousands of other hopefuls as you slip and slide over ice to the check-in tent for official registration of your fish.

Why run? The only thing I can figure out, other than that it is amusing to watch some of the more inebriated hopefuls try to run across ice while they're bundled up like the Michelin Man, is that it sets you apart from 10,000 other people so everyone can look on longingly, curse their own iceholes and keep a loose track of how many fish are heading into the registration tent.

Alas, I only lived all this vicariously through my neighbor fishermen. Not a fish to be had in our group of four. Strategizing for next year has already begun: looks like we'll be in shallow water hoping for a passing northern (a 7.1# won this year) or a tiny perch (a .43# one captured the final spot on the leader board this year winning the lucky fisherman a brand new Arctic Cat ATV).

Check out the official photos and the winners on the Brainerd Area Jaycee's site.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Fine Physique

I was flipping through recent photos on our new Nikon and was surprised to see that I've actually captured a hint of a pileated's tongue in one of the photos.

Considering that a pileated's tongue is so incredibly long that it actually coils up in the back of its head, you would think that it'd be more common to see their tongues.  Alas, their lightening quick flicks are far faster than my slow synapses!

Up close, a woodpecker's tongue looks like a nasty weapon which, if you were an ant, it would be.  Just take a look at the amazing woodpecker tongue photos Hilton Pond Center has on their site. They even have one of a woodpecker skull so you can see how the tongue wraps around the inside.

Pileateds, like all woodpeckers, are physically designed to withstand pounding into trees while searching for insects (in the pileated's case, preferably ants) and excavating nesting cavities (2' deep!). They have a specially built skull that cushions their brain, a barbed tongue, incredibly strong toes that can cling to nearly anything, and a long tail that they use as a balance point.

I've always been fascinated by these large woodpeckers, but getting to know their actual physique and how they're built to do what they do just makes them even more amazing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Fun Friday Coffeebreak

Every now and then you need something to take you away from your current project, something to just break up the day. I found my distraction for this morning: tracking the movement of Minnesota and Wisconsin loons.

The Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC), working with scientists, the USGS, and state DNR programs, has embedded dozens of transmitters into loons to track their migration patterns.  You can learn more about the study here.

But, the best part, and the true distraction, is to watch the loons actually move around their breeding lakes and then take a giant migration flight to Lake Michigan, before heading southeast. Just click on one of the loons for the animated migration pattern.

MPR has a full story, plus audio and video interviews on their site.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Sidetrip

Took a break today and crossed over to Hudson, Wis., to see the migratory waterfowl and, of course, hoping to catch a glimpse of 88F (the rehabbed swan who reunited with his mate in Hudson).

Unfortunately no sign of him, but it was nice to see approximately 100 other swans in the wild. A surprising lack of other winter waterfowl: only mallards, geese and one lone white farm duck that has heeded the call of the wild.

Trumpeter Swans, like the ones in Hudson, travel in family units and usually not more than 4-6 in one flying flock.  If you see a "v" of swans flying overhead numbering more than a dozen, those are Tundra Swans.

Juveniles spend their first year with their parents and are grey like the one above, gradually becoming fully white by their first birthday. Adults do mate for life (but they will find a new mate if the original mate dies) and return to the same nesting area each year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Spring Songs Celebrate Perihelion

This morning, at a brisk 12 degrees, I heard the spring songs of our black-capped chickadees. Yes, it's sunny. I suppose you could try to fool yourself into thinking it's warm outside. Or that spring is just around the corner.  But we Minnesotans know better. We have another 3 months of snowy weather ahead of us.

So, exactly what is the chickadee fee-beeing about?  I learned that today we are at perihelion: the closest we'll be to the sun all year. And somehow the chickadees know it.

From today all the way until July, we'll be gradually moving farther away from the sun in our elliptical orbit. You can read more about this, and see some cool photos of the sun at both perihelion and aphelion (when we're farthest from the sun) on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy site.

Smart chickadees.