Sunday, July 29, 2012

C is for Condor

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A Californian Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) flying over the Grand Canyon. It's a juvenile bird and doesn not yet have the red face of an adult.

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In 1987, only 22 Calfifornian Condors were left worldwide, the species was nearly wiped out by habitat destruction, (illegal) hunting, and lead poisoning from ingesting lead pellets with the carrion they feed on. The remaining birds were put into a breeding program. Today, there are 405 birds, with 226 of them in the wild. All of them carry number tags for easy identification.

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Californian Condors are the largest North American birds with a wingspan of almost ten ft/three metres and a weight of up to fourteen kilogram, the average condor weighs around nine.

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They feed on carrion and can travel hundreds of miles in search of food. Unlike turkey vultures, they have almost no sense of smell and either spot their food on the ground or are on the lookout for other birds circling in the air over a carcass. With their huge size, they can chase away almost every other scavenger, bird or mammal.

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You can see the full crop in this photos. Note the white underside of the wing - that's a good way to tell condors from Golden Eagles, apart from sheer size of course, but that can be difficult to estimate when the birds are far away.

Condors mate for life and can reach an age of sixty years. They usually live in larger groups with a well-establishes hierachy. Each year, a pair raises one chick. If the egg goes missing, another is layed and so it's common for breeding programs to take that first egg for hand-rearing in captivity using a hand puppet to prevent the chick from getting used to humans.

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In flight, they are elegant and graceful birds and can glide for miles without once flaping their wings. Seeing them fly over the Gand Canyon was quite a sight. There was a group of five birds who used the afternoon heat and the resulting air currents to easily gain height by circling.

A post for I'd Rather B Birdin' and ABC Wednesday

Sources and further information:
Condor Conservation - if you see a Californian Condor, send them a mail!
Vulture Territory
Wikipedia
Arkive
Internet Bird Collection
Condor Cam of the San Diego Zoo

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nature Notes: Ants

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These ants lived in a fallen tree trunk and thy were the biggest I have ever seen. I don't know what species they are. The photos were taken at Mesa Verde

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I wasn't about to use my fingers for size comparison, so here they are next to my ring.

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They chomped down on it quickly, maybe trying if it was any good to eat or trying to scare the strange thing away.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ABC Wednesday: B is for Bee

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I believe this is a carpenter bee, possibly Xylocopa varipuncta, the Valley Carpenter Bee. They are often confused with bumblebees because of their size, but carpenter bees don't have the fuffy abdomen of bumblebees. Here's a photo of a male Valley Carpenter Bee, they are not blue, but golden and have green eyes.

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Carpenter bees can chew holes into wood and then build their nests into the tunnel they made. The do this by chewing the wood with their mandibles and vibrating their bodies at the same time. Usually, they are considered solitary, but with many species, mothers and daughters will cohabit the same nest.

They are important pollinators for a number of flowers, this one is feeding on milkweed. The photos were taken at Capitol Reef National Park in Fruita, Utah.

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ABC Wednesday

Sources:
Wikipedia
Utah State University

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I'd Rather B Birdin: Divebomb

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Another observation from the campground at Fruita, Utah in Capitol Reef National Park. The campground offered a lot of birding opportunities, being next to the orchards, the Fremont river and the canyons and mountains of Capitol Reef. A number of Western Kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis) had nests in the trees of the campground.

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There were also a couple of ravens (Corvus corax) who came to check if anyone had left anything tasty out and to gorge themselves on the ripe apricots growing in the orchards.
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The kingbirds were not thrilled to see them.
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I followed the raven around for a few minutes while it was wandering across the campground, constantly divebombed by the kingbirds. I could tell when to start shooting by the behaviour of the raven, but often the attack were so fast that I ended up with lots of photos of a ducked raven and the kingbird already out of the frame.
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But I did get some good shots of the kingbirds in mid-attack. They were swift and mobile, swooping in from above, usually turning away at the last moment, but sometimes they actually made contact. The raven wandered off eventually (but it had taken some kingbird chicks from the nest the day before, someone told me).

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I'd Rather B Birdin', the Sunday birding meme!

Resources:
Western Kingbirds
Western Kingbirds at Internet Bird Collection
Ravens at IBC
Ravens at Wikipedia

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nature Notes: Monarch

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So I've been spending the last three weeks in the US, driving around Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada. I'm currently sorting through the 2000+ photos I took, but I already have picked some out that I think are just right for Nature Notes.

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I came across this (to me) strange plant at the orchards of Fruita, Utah in the Capitol Reef National Park. I wondered about it, it grew everywhere in the orchards and horse pastures, but I couldn't place it.

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Then I saw my first monarch butterfly ever and I knew it was milkweed - thanks to Rambling Woods, where Michelle has written about Monarchs and their close relation to milkweed many times - it's the only foodsource of their caterpillars.

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Many people don't want milkweed in their garden, but I think it's a beautiful plant with gorgeous flowers. Not only monarchs feed on them, but also other insects like this carpenter bee:
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If you have a garden and live in the US or anywhere else where Monarchs live, then why not leave a spot for milkweed to grow (or to just go wild on its own)? You'll be rewarded with butterflies and lots of other wildlife.

Monarch Watch is a great place to go for more information on Monarch butterflies.