Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Little Piece Of Georgia

While escorting a visiting delegation from China around biomass research sites in south Geogia, at one of our stops the butterfly shown below appeared. A quick look this evening at the Butterflies and Moths of North America Website gave me a positive identification - Gulf Frittillary. There was a small patch of flowers it was working over, surrounded by bermudagrass. Our guests didn't notice the small piece of Georgia Coastal Plains fauna - they were looking a fields of flora - Miscanthus grass grown from rhizomes that were planted the year before. Not too far into the future, this grass could be turned into  biofuels, grown in fields twelve time zones apart.

Gulf Fritillary
Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Nymphalidae 
Subfamily: Heliconiinae  
Identification: Upperside bright orange with black markings; 3 black-encircled white dots on forewing leading edge. Underside brown; forewing with orange at base; both wings with elongated, iridescent silver spots. 
Wing Span: 2 1/2 - 3 3/4 inches (6.3 - 9.5 cm).  
Life History: Males patrol for females, who lay eggs on many parts of the host plant. Caterpillars feed on most parts of the host. Adults overwinter in the south. 
Flight: Throughout the year in south Florida and South Texas, January-November in the north. Number of broods has not been determined. 
Caterpillar Hosts: Various species of passion-vine including maypops (Passiflora incarnata) and running pop (P. foetida). 
Adult Food: Nectar from lantana, shepherd's needle, cordias, composites, and other flowers. 
Habitat: Pastures, open fields, second-growth subtropical forest and edges, city gardens. 
Range: South America north through Central America, Mexico, and the West Indies to the southern United States. Wanders north to the central United States; rare northward.

Big Bird - Yellow Bird

Big Bird - Origins
A news headline in the Washington Post that didn't go unnoticed was yesterday would have been the 75th birthday of Jim Henson - creator of the Muppets. Most noticeable among birders is Big Bird. From the bright coloration of his plumage, Big Bird must ingest great amounts of carotenoid pigments - though I am not really sure what he eats - it has been a long time since I watched Sesame Street with our young kids. A lesser know fact about Henson is that his father was an agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture - a predecessor in the agency I work for and of the same profession. Jim Henson is supposed to have worked as a student at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center where his father was stationed later in his career. Even today, birds are not only of interest to those related to agriculturalist, but also to those in the field.

Autumn Color Changes - Goldfinches

Goldfinches & lone Chickadee
I have been away from home most of the past three weeks - Argentina one week; Texas the next; and Georgia this past one. Before heading to Georgia, I had Friday and Saturday nights at home, so a day to watch the back yard. The leaves were starting to show a faint bit of color change three weeks ago, but when returning from South America, the most noticeable affect was the American Goldfinch - many were taking on the winter brown coloration - one or two males still shined their bright yellow feathers, but the brown shading was more prevalent. The finches took to their seed feeder once I had cleaned out the caked seeds that had be swamped by all of the heavy rain storms - four, sometimes five at a time were perched on the screened perimeter. One male was particularly territorial - keeping all other comers at bay. He would chirp and dart at the intruder - chasing him away, and then return to his feeding spot. Once that male was finished and had flown away, others would later have their feast. A lone Black-capped Chickadee kept trying to get a foothold among the finches - lighting on the hanging flower basket nearby or on the cable supporting the hanging feeder - but to no avail. A journal article I came across described the male Goldfinches with the brightest yellow feathers as being the most dominant - the yellow color being the result of eating lots of carotenoid pigment from seeds in their diet. The brightest yellow males are the most dominant. Maybe the lateness of the coloring is also a sign of dominance - a signal to lesser avians to slow down while approaching, like at a busy intersection before the light turns red.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Drive-by Birding - Corpus Christ Style

We spent five days in the Corpus Christi, Texas area, and one day to and between Kingsville. There was relatively little time to stop and pick out the different kinds of birds, other than driving back and forth on the Highway 358 that cuts across the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway as I
Long-billed Curlew - silhouette
looked out the Mustang GT passenger window while my son drove - when he flies, he is propelled by JP-8 on static wings much heavier than the air, not ones that flap and which are supported by hollow bones. I recognized some of the aquatic birds like Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, and Great Egret - even at a glance - but many of the rest I had to make quick snapshot imprints in my mind, and then go back to my bird guide to try and identify. Kind of like the silhouette shapes that Roger Tory Peterson became famous for in one of his early editions bird identification guides. The other kinds of silhouettes are are occasional ship passing this side of the horizon, and the tall oil platforms that stood against the sky.

Padre Island National Seashore
One eventing after dinner, we drove out to Padre Island National Seashore and parked at the first viewing trail just inside the gate. We took the branch to the left on the asphalt trail - walking with the
wind and sun in our faces. A small lizard scooted across the path and waited on the small bank on the left of the trail - looking back over the shoulder, watching for my next move. The sparse grassland appeared to have more wildlife abundance than sky - pretty depauperate of birds other than some kind of swallow, and those in
Texas Spotted Whiptail Lizard
the distance - a few hundred yards beyond the path - darting towards the ground and rising again - quickly with the breeze to their tails, momentarily paused when they turned into wind. In the far distance, a small flock of pelicans trailed one another - reminders that there is more water than land within a few mile radius of where we were. Perched on a tall grass stem was possibly an Eastern Kingbird or juvenile Fork-tailed Flycatcher - whatever it was (likely the flycatcher), it was hard to identify for sure because of the distortion when enlarging the photograph - but had a dark tail and upper body and crown, with a white throat and breast. There were also Spotted Ground Squirrel, Jackrabbit, and one White-tailed Deer - some sort of burrowing animal also left mounds along the edge of the paved trail.

Black-necked Stilt (above)
A couple of days later, my son and wife showed great patience and humored me by taking the ramps off of 358 so I could take some pictures of the birds along the shore for later identification. My favorite among the birds I saw that needed later identification was the Black-necked Stilt - never had heard of this species before. The other species identified were: Herring Gull, Little Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Long-billed Curlew, Short-billed Dowitcher (pictured below the Stilt in the picture to the right), Lesser Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Stilt Sandpiper, Redhead Duck,... (more to be identified).

On the drive from Corpus Christi International Airport back to San Antonio, the sky was full of dark clouds that turned to large billowy
Flycatcher or Kingbird
ones and remained that way after the night and early-morning rains - the first precipitation in a long time. The scenery changed from cotton stubble left after the fields had been harvested, to a scrub woodland and eventually an oak woodland. The most abundant bird for the first hour of driving on Interstate 37 from the airport towards San Antonio was the Tree Swallow (though there may have been some Northern Rough-winged ones as well). There seemed to one or two darting every 20 seconds of driving 70 miles per hour. The most interesting sighting was a single Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and then a group of three - the three heading for an oak tree off to the right side of the freeway. A single Crested Caracara was also spotted. Back on San Padre Island, the most common inland birds were Long-tailed and Great-tailed Grackles and Mourning Doves - an occasional Turkey Vulture was seen.

I was surprised when I did a little bit of background reading before our trip by the diversity of birds in the region. It seems like the kind of place one could hang around in for some time, and not be surprised to see another new bird each day.
For lists of the nature found on Padre Island National Seashore, click on the following links: reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Augustine Told Me About: Olrog

When we arrived for our meetings at the Obispo Colombres research center in Tucumán City, our hosts told us that at the end of the day our group would visit a wildlife preserve near the city - Daniel and Jorge had remembered my interest in birds during my last visit and had
Rufous Hornero on its nest
followed through with a promise from 11 months before that if I were to visit again, they would see to it that I have an opportunity to see the birds. It was during the visit to the center the year before that I was introduced to my first Hornero (Oven Bird) and its mud nest in a tree that was pointed out to me by my host. The first night in Buenos Aires this trip I picked up a copy of Guia de Campo Collins' Aves de Sudamerica at a bookstore near the restaurant where I ate Sunday evening. The paper back complements the weighs-like-a-brick Field Guide to the Songbirds of South America, The Passerines by Tidgely and Tudor that I brought along in my luggage - last and this trip. Aves de Sudamerica with the subtitle No Passerifores Desde nandues a carpinteros (Google Translator doesn't help with this one) covers the rest of the birds not found in Tidgely and Tudor. Regardless of the preparations I made to be ready to catch glimpses of new birds and then the hope of identifying them later when back in my hotel room, it turned out that one of the young scientists at the center is an avid wildlife enthusiast and so was my guide as we walked about.

Augustine rattled off the names of each bird that appeared on the grounds of the research center as well as at the refuge. But just as with wider discussions in the meetings throughout the week, and the descriptions in my new field guide, the new information wasn't all that accessible because everything is in Spanish - a translation required. I find that in many of the places I visit, the folks there know my language far better than I know theirs' - I often apologize at the beginning of my presentations - through the interpreter of course. While we walked about the refuge, Augustine mentioned a helpful field guide for birds in the region, and I had him write down the title. He said that all of the illustrations of birds were drawing (I presumed rather than photographs), but then, that is the way most field guides are published. When I was back at my hotel room, I looked on line for the book by its author - Olrog. As it turned out, a famous ornithologist in the Spanish-speaking world - a Roger Tory Peterson in his own right (click here, and then click on the "listen" pronunciation icon).
Swedish ornithologist Claes Christian Olrog (1912-1985) emigrated to Argentina. He can be defined as a pioneer of tropical ornithology. His formal career began at biological universities in Uppsala and Stockholm (1935-1945). As a youth he joined the Museum of Natural History in Stockholm and conducted expeditions in Scandinavia,
Claes Christian Olrog
Lapland, the Danube Delta in Iceland, and Greenland. During his doctoral thesis in Stockholm, he began gaining he  knowledge of South America during a second expedition to Tierra del Fuego (1939-1941). Between 1946-1947, he conducted ornithological expeditions to central and northern Paraguay, the land of the ox-cart and train. In 1948 he accepted an academic position at the Instituto Miguel Lillo and Universidad Nacional de Tucumán in northwestern Argentina. There he began his long ornithology career for the entire South American continent. Throughout his life he maintained an active association with individuals and institutions outside of South America, and contributed to many international conferences and congresses.

field research program activities were carried out under difficult conditions, including wildlife areas not well known in Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil. He devoted much energy, even in the last years of his life, encouraging students to field work.

He published over 100 articles and books in six languages, in general biology, morphology, biogeography, ecology, and systematics of birds, mammals and reptiles.

His first 1959 field guide Las Aves Argentinas was for many years the only paperback identification guide on the continent. Like many of his works, this book was one of many efforts produced under limited resources conditions so paid for out of his own pocket. His 1984 New Guide was published by the National Parks Administration of Argentina.

Other notable works are the list of species of Aves Argentinas (1963, 1979) and A Guide to Mammals of Argentina (1981).

He left the unfinished manuscript for the book of birds of Bolivia, South America, and a 2-volume work on the birds of the continent.

He described numerous species and subspecies. (1) New species have been named after him including the Olrog's Four-eyed Opossum (
Philander olrogi),  Olrog's Gull (Larus atlanticus), and Olrog's Chaco Mouse (Andalgalomys olrogi).
(1) Translated with Google Translator from the Wikipedia biography in Spanish of Claes Christian Olrog.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Music On The Street - By The Wall

The band Aqualactica
This is my second trip to Argentina in the last 11 months. A business colleague and I have walked and walked around the streets in the area around our hotel - the Etoile Recoleta - this morning, afternoon, and early evening after dinner. While eating at Clark's Restaurant a-block-and-a-corner around from our hotel, a string band called Aqualactica played across the street in front of the wall surrounding the Recoleta Cemetery. A small crowd had gathered and was listening as we walked by. The band's music was soothing-to-the-ear as sitting with my feet up in my room was later this evening after lots of walking today following an eight-hour flight from JFK Airport in New York City to Buenos Aires last night. Thirty Argentine pesos - about $7.00 U.S. was a pretty good deal and an easy way to support the local arts. (1)
(1) Kind of like U2 with stage names like Bono and Edge- Aqualactica has one band member nicknamed Gato - the cat.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Look What Hit The Windshield

Tim was making his dash out the front door, ready to make a run up to BWI Airport to pick up a friend. When he did, a Bush Katydid (Scudderia sp. Order Orthoptera / Family Tettigoniidae / Genus Scudderia Stål, 1873) changed places with him.

Bush Katydid
Jan didn't think well of it.

"Where is it?"

"Right there on the floor," Tim replied.



I picked it up, and then it flew over by the love seat in the living room, and landed on the floor under the coffee table. It was strange the way it looked as it flew.

"Where is it?"

"There on the floor," Jan replied this time.

"Bye." Tim went back out the door, laughing.

I picked it up again, and held it in the cup of my right hand while I juggled with my camera to change to the 55 mm lens. Jan helped, and I put the bright green insect down on the bench in front of the window.
Tron Light Sailer
It climbed around on my glasses as I took a few shots. I only guessed whether I was using the correct focus sensor as a rattled off several more shots. With that done, I picked it up a last time and gave it a toss out into the dark that was only lit by the 60 watt bulb outside our front door. I immediately went into flight mode, and as it sailed away, it looked kind of like the Tron Light Sailer - appearing to float effortlessly, slowly across the front of the house and out of sight. I wished I had my camera to capture it again - image only.
I remembered, or so I thought, that there was a Steely Dan album titled Katydid, or something like that. I quick look on the Web and I saw that it was Katy much for that working along with the big green insect I identified by Google'ing "big green insect," and described above. Interestingly, when I saw the cover of the album, it turned out to be a Katydid. The Wikipedia narrative describing the one of the songs mentioning the use a couple of times of themes around Katy:

The album cover features a picture of a katydid, a "singing" (stridulating) insect related to crickets and grasshoppers. This is most likely a pun on the album's title; the "singing" of a katydid sounds as though they're saying "Katy did, Katy didn't" although a lyric in the song "Doctor Wu" mentions "Katy tried, I was halfway crucified", and "Katy lies, you can see it in her eyes," which could very well be what the album's title refers to.

I wonder how it came about that a katydid singing inspired Walter Becker and Donald Fagan to write a simile about a "big green bug."