Feb 5, 2011
Hole in the Clouds
Jan 10, 2012
Jan 12, 2012
Pigeons take care of a freshly poured concrete sidewalk in Los Angeles, January 17, 1956.
Jan 15, 2013
The Russian painter Ivan Shishkin was illustrating scenery in Poland in 1890, when he completed this painting of the swampy forests of the Pripyat, or Rokitno, marshland. Today, the spot where he set up his easel could be in Ukraine or Belarus or Russia or perhaps extreme eastern Poland.
But the scene he painted may or may not look much the same. The marshes of Polessia remained lightly settled throughout much of the twentieth century; the forests there provided years of cover for partisans fighting for and against the Nazis and the Soviets.
Then came the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, which devastated much of the countryside, leaving large stretches radioactive and uninhabitable. Not all the wildlife has returned. Although herons have again been reported, "mushrooms and berries," it is said, "set Geiger counters screaming."
Jan 22, 2014
Jul 6, 2014
Dec 1, 2014
Seemed to take a long time to get through the whole month of November, when too many days looked just like this. Actually, though, this photo was taken way back in mid-October, for Philly Photo Day, by Donna Henry.
What are all those birds waiting for? Spring?
Feb 6, 2017
For example: Is she currently setting on a nestful of eggs? If so, then blowing back the feathers around her belly will reveal a patch of unfeathered skin. This is the brood patch; when mama bird settles down on the nest, her warm belly skin is in direct contact with the eggs, incubating them. Soon after they hatch, her brood patch will disappear.
And while you've got a bird in hand, you might as well spread out the wing feathers, as seen below on a spotted towhee, to learn the bird's age and get an idea of how many miles it's clocked:
More than two million times since 1989, through an ongoing program known as MAPS, scientists and volunteers at thousands of stations across Canada and the U.S. have captured wild birds, identified them by species, blown on their bellies and spread out their feathers and noted dozens of critical characteristics related to age and health, and then fixed tiny numbered bands around skinny little bird ankles and let them fly free.
The bird below is being fitted for its new ankle band:
Very early one morning last July, these birds and more than 50 others were trapped for banding at Morse Wildlife Preserve, near the headwaters of the north fork of Muck Creek, south of Tacoma, Washington. Three of the birds had been banded previously, and another three were banded that morning and then recaptured the same day.
Before dawn, the banding crew set up fine-mesh nets, known as mist nets, in a dozen clearings in the spruce forest and overgrown farmland at the preserve.
Banders checked the nets every fifteen minutes until about noon, and almost always, they found little birds snarled in the mesh. Very young birds may try to squirm their way out, but all the others hang immobile in the net, apparently in shock. We're told that the shock can be fatal, so banders try to un-net the birds gently but quickly; risk is greatest early in the morning, before the day has warmed up, when some birds may require warming under the banders' shirts. But such problems are exceedingly rare, and almost all the birds are released unharmed.
No one is allowed to touch these birds until completing comprehensive training in bird identification, handling, measurements, and other data-gathering, An early lesson involves the proper way to hold a captured bird, such as this common yellowthroat:
Over the years, bird banding for the MAPS program–Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship–has vastly improved our knowledge of bird migration patterns and has begun to focus on the links between bird populations and climate change. Banding teams return to each station every few days throughout the summer breeding season; the Morse preserve has participated in MAPS for almost twenty years.
Some MAPS banding is now high-tech, using miniaturized GPS transmitters that are now so small they can be attached to the legs of birds who weigh as little as 3 ounces, such as robins. Some MAPS stations now collect feathers for DNA sequencing. But the Morse program is old-school; the bands are tiny numbered strips of aluminum, and all the data associated with each band number–species, sex, age, body fat, condition of wing feathers, etc., etc., etc.–is entered by hand into logsheets on clipboards.
Although a bird in hand is a whole lot easier to identify than one on the wing or in a distant bush, the banding worktable was loaded with books and notebooks full of reference materials. For identification of birdsong, the banders had apps on their phones.
Not all species were bandable; hummingbirds, for example, were logged in and then released unbanded. We were told that teensy little hummingbird bands do exist, but handling them requires special certication. Two hummingbirds were caught that morning at Morse:
This freshly banded junco posed for a picture before flying off to get on with its life:
Apr 17, 2017
May 5, 2017
Some of their migratory cousins may winter with them in Florida, but if a sandhill crane expects to fly all the way back to summer nesting grounds in the marshy tundra of northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia–which is the way most of these birds like to live their lives–then it's going to have to get out of Florida by the end of February, early March at the very latest. A rest stop each March for more than 600,000 migrating sandhill cranes is the Platte River near Fort Kearny, Nebraska, where skies darken with what is said to be one of the great natural spectacles on earth.
Sandhill cranes dance, and they have a call that's sort of in between a dove and a turkey.
Apr 1, 2018
Easter and Passover have their religious significance, but on the level of humble material culture, both holidays come down to eggs. So here are some really pretty chickens, photographed in a barnyard portrait studio by Tamara Staples.