Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ABC Wednesday: T is for Turaco

a White-Cheeked Turaco (Tauraco leucotis)
Turacos are a family of African birds, usually with brightly coloured plumage and a fancy crest of feathers on their head. There's a group that is also known as go away-birds due to their habit of giving warning calls that sounds like go away and all turacos are fairly noisy birds.


They feed mainly on fruit and leaves, with insects as an occasional part of their diet. Turacos are important for many trees because they don't digest the seeds and so help with spreading them.

a Guinea Turaco (Tauraco persa)

A turaco's plumage gets its vivid colouring from two copper pigments that are only found with turacos, turacoverdin and turacin.

Turacos have a way of jump-gliding through the branches that looks very peculiar and it's a good first step to identify them. They can fly, but prefer to jump or just run. They also have a flexible third toe that can either face forward, to give the birds a better grip when perching, or backwards to make it easier to run along branches. You can see a bit of that in this video.

I don't have a photo of my favourite turaco species, the red-creasted turaco, but here's a video of those beautoful birds.

More Ts at ABC Wednesday and more birds at World Bird Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Turaco Society
Internet Bird Collection

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

World Bird Wednesday: Shama

Shamas are also called magpie-robins, I think it's easy to see why. This is a female White-Rumped Shama. The male is below:

These birds are native to Southeast Asia and their preferred habitat are bamboo forest, where they forage for insects on the floor. They will occasionally take fruits and berries as well.

They are very territorial, possibly with males and females each defending their own territory outside the breeding season. During courtship, the male displays his tail feathers for the female and sings. Males sing throughout the year, females only during breeding season. Shamas have a very melodious voice (listen here) and are also known to imitate other birds. The first recordings of a bird song (and of animal sounds in general) ever made in 1889 was of a white-rumped shama.

A pair will raise one, sometimes two clutches of 3-5 eggs per year, with the female incubating, but both parents feeding their young. Juveniles look similar to females and they can hunt for their own food when they are about 26 days old.

All my photos were taken at Burgers Zoo in Arnhem, where the walk-through Mangrove enclosure houses a pair of very relaxed shamas.

More birds at World Bird Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Honolulu Zoo
Natural Sounds - on the history of nature recordings
Internet Bird Collection

ABC Wednesday: S is for Sea Squirt

Sea squirts are also knows as ascidians (from their scientific name Ascidiacea). They are invertebrates, tubeshaped animals that attach themselves to rocks and feed by straining water through their body. In the photo, you can see the two siphons they use for that.

What makes them especially remarkable is their development from egg to adult animal. The larvae are free-swimming, they have a tail, a primitive eye, a notochord and a nerve cord with a small brain - they look strikingly like vertebrate embryos. With vertebrates, the notochord is eventually replaced by the backbone. Sea squirts have no need for all this once they have chosen a place to settle down and so they lose the tail with the notochord, almost all sensory organs and their brain.

an illustration from Ernst Haeckel's wonderful book "Kunstformen der Natur"

Sea squirts either live alone or in colonies and they almost all are hermaphrodites, they have both male and female sexual organs. Those living in colonies are often able to reproduce asexually as well, growing little buds that turn into new sea squirts.
Despite being invertebrates, they are counted among the Chordata,like mammals, birds, fishes ect. It's very possible that animals just like them were the link between invertebrates and vertebrates. You can see photos of a sea squirt larva and its development here

See what else S stands for with ABC Wednesday.

Sources and further reading:
Hannover University

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nature Notes: Bittersweet

Since you were all so helpful last week with my unknown flower, I remembered a plant I found a while ago. The fruit look a lot like chilis, I opened one up and the seeds are very similar as well.
Here are the leaves. I didn't get a photo of the flowers, but they were small and purple. If you know what this is, let me know :)

Edit: John identified the plant for me, it's Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara, a member of the nightshade family.

And a sunset:

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

ABC Wednesday: R is for Roadrunner

A Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) at Burgers Zoo. They are instantly recognisable bird, not just because of their cartoon counterpart. Roadrunners are cuckoos, but unlike other species in this family, the roadrunner much prefers running and walking to flying. They are capable of flight, though, and they are the fastest running birds who still can fly. 17mph seems to be a comfortable speed for them, the fastest roadrunner has been clocked at a speed of 24mph.
Roadrunners feeding on insects/invertebrates and some fruits and berries, but they will also prey on small reptiles and snakes, rattlesnakes in particular. It's also not uncommon for them to sneak up on other, smaller birds. Here are photos of a roadrunner stalking and killing a cowbird on The Birdchick's blog.

A pair stays together after mating and raises their chicks together. There's usually a clutch of 4-9, sometimes up to 12 eggs, but unless it's a very good year, only the chicks who hatch first survive. Any runts are often thrown out of the nest or even eaten by the parents.

Sources and further reading:
Desert USA
Wikipedia, German and English

More Rs at ABC Wednesday and more birds at World Bird Wednesday

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nature Notes: Late Bloomers

I don't know what this is, I just know I didn't plant or sow it

Nicandra seed capsules - I sowed those in the spring, the plants all died and then others grew that had sowed themselves last year

the primula I bought in the spring, I'll try to bring it over the winter

I thought this was buckwheat, but the leaves are lance-shaped

and some leaves and seeds/fruit I found in the backyard

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

ABC Wednesday: Q is for Quail

A pair of Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), native to the Southwestern United States and much of Mexico. They like a dry habitat with small trees and shrubs for cover and will run rather than fly when they are disturbed.

Scaled quail feed on seeds and they take whatever they can get when its in season, with grass seeds making up a big part of their diet. They will also take insects, like grasshoppers, and will feed on insect galls. Despite the dry habitat, they need a water source in the vicinity and will readily use the water meant for livestock.

During breeding season, a pair lives together with its chicks, but the quails will gather in bigger groups of up to 30 birds during the winter. Scaled quail are hunted for food and also kept and bred for both eggs and meat.

My photos were taken at Burgers Zoo. I also took two videos of the pair that is kept there - they move like wind up-toys.

More Qs at ABC Wednesday and more birds at World Bird Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
All About Birds
That Quail Place
Scaled Quail

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Friday My Town Shoot Out: Signs

a warning not to go too close to the shoreline of a lake - more expressive than most of those warning signs

and a series of signs I encountered in the Netherlands while driving through a stretch of roadworks

More signs at My Town Shoot out

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

ABC Wednesday: P is for Pitta

A male Banded Pitta (Pitta gujana), a species native to the Malay Peninsula.

Pittas are a family of birds first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1766. Most of them are about the size of a blackbird/American Robin, although there are smaller species.
They are forest dwellers who forage on the ground, looking for earthworms (a huge part of their diet) and other invertebrates. The method of finding prey is similar to that of a thrush: sweeping leaf litter aside and probing with their bill. Some species will also use stones as an anvil to smash open snails, also similar to thrushes.
A Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida), a species common in Eastern Asia.

They are territorial birds and a pair will stay together to raise their chicks. Both sexes will incubate the eggs and will also both feed the chicks.
Pittas are popular cagebirds, but fairly hard to keep. They are quite often found in zoos, especially in zoos with walk-through aviaries. But due to their secretive lifestyle, they are often overlooked. I took the photo of the Banded Pitta at Hagenbecks Tierpark and of the Hooded Pitta at Burgers Zoo.

See what else P stand for with ABC Wednesday and more birds at World Bird Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Internet Bird Collection