Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vigilant Vervets

Vervet monkeys are one of Africa's most widespread species of monkey, although there are at least six subspecies and they can also be found on some Cape Verde islands as well as the West Indies.  Vervets are sexually dimorphic with males being somewhat larger than the females.

Source:  Wikipedia

Vervets are a social species living in groups of sometimes more than 50 individuals with a definite hierarchical structure.  Vervets live in a variety of habitats from tropical rainforest to sub-Saharan desert and due to their adaptability have one of the most diverse diets in the primate world from leaves, fruits, nuts and seeds to bird eggs, rodents and lizards depending on the season and what is available.

Source:  Wikipedia

Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth have done long-term studies on vervets and were the first to discover some interesting things about their vocalizations.  Vervets have distinct alarm calls, different calls depending on the predator approaching and different responses to each call.  An approaching leopard elicits one type of alarm and those within hearing leap into the trees, while an overhead bird of prey invokes a different call, group members take a quick glance toward the sky and then dash under a bush.  And a snake prompts a third call; individuals quickly stand on their hind legs looking to see where it is. Youngsters learn these calls and often before responding, adults will look to see who gave the alarm.  Often youngsters will get a scold if the call they gave was incorrect according to the predator.  Youngsters and adults have to know the difference between actual birds of prey and other nonthreatening birds flying overhead.

Source:  Wikipedia

Vervet monkeys are just another example of how intelligent animals are when people bother to study them.   Click here to hear Robert Seyfarth talk about the significance of vervet vocalizations.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Naughty Penguin

Last weekend I caught the first couple of episodes of The Frozen Planet on the Discovery Channel - made by the same folks who brought us Planet Earth.  There was one particular part that made me laugh about Adelie penguins.  Adelies build their nests with rocks.  Not exactly a comfy spot for a baby penguin, but evidently it works.  Here's the clip - showing one penguin stealing rocks from another penguin.

Adelie Penguin   Source:  Wikipedia

The Frozen Planet is a great series - if you haven't seen it already you should check it out.  This link will also take you to the episode list and more video clips from the show.  New episodes are at 8:00 on Sunday evenings.  Another episode airs tonight.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bursting Blossoms

We've had 70 degree temperatures all week here in Rhode Island.  This weekend and all next week we come back to reality with more normal temperatures in the 50s and low 60s.  But while it lasted, it felt great!  It was certainly enough to get the flowers and trees going, although it was very strange to be enjoying convertible-top-down weather and have trees with no leaves!

On closer inspection you can see the buds, but from a distance they look rather dead!  But other trees and flowers have taken up the gauntlet and proven themselves worthy of some photos.

And I would be totally remiss if I didn't include a photo of my assistant.

A neighbor's cat came to investigate as I was taking photos of the flowers in HIS yard.  Unfortunately, all these photos are of neighbors' flowers and trees - not mine.  And then I found these strange blossoms.

I had a visit from the skunk last night.  The woodchucks are back and there have been reports of at least two baby raccoons that I haven't seen yet.  Ahh, spring is truly here!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Modest Margays

Margays are beautiful little cats native to southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America.  However, one unusual characteristic about the margay - it can spend almost its entire life in the trees.

Source:  Wikipedia

While it will go down to the ground when moving from one hunting area to another, once there it prefers to stay in the trees and has been seen chasing squirrels, monkeys and birds through the branches.  Also on its diet are lizards, tree frogs, rodents and eggs.  Naturally, it is a very agile climber and can come down a tree head first as it has specially adapted claws and feet - and ankles that rotate 180 degrees.  It can also hang from a branch by its hind feet.

Photo by John H. Gerard, National Audubon Society

Females are slightly smaller than males who can reach up to 30 inches long.  Margays are mostly nocturnal, although they can be seen hunting occasionally during the day.  Their main habitat is secluded areas of dense forest, as they can be rather shy.  Margays are solitary except during mating season.  Instead of having a litter, the female has just one single baby, or on rare occasions two.

Source:  Wikipedia

For a video, click here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Where the wind has a sound like a
sweet song,
And anyone can hum it,
And the heather grows upon the hills
And shamrocks not far from it. 

Shamrock   Source:  Wikipedia

Source:  Wikipedia

Source:  Wikipedia

Irish Setter  Source:  Wikipedia

County Down  Source:  Wikipedia

Horse racing in Sligo  Source:  Wikipedia

Whenever I dream,
It seems I dream
Of Erin’s rolling hills
Of all its lovely, shimmery lakes
And little babbling rills.
I hear a colleen’s lilting laugh
Across a meadow fair.

And in my dreams
Its almost seems
To me that I am there
O, Ireland! O, Ireland!
We’re never far apart

For you and all your beauty
Fill my mind and touch my heart.

Enjoy your day!  For some Irish music and more pictures, click here and here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Swarming Starlings

Besides the hordes of sparrows, I also have swarms of starlings that come and eat the food I put out for the cats.  They eat the cat food and then leave starling poo all over my patio.

What we have in the states is the European starling which was introduced to North America for whatever reason.  Boy, would I like to get my hands on whoever made that decision!

Source:  Wikipedia

If I had starlings that looked like this...

Hildebrandt's Starling  Source:  Wikipedia

maybe I would be more tolerant.  Just like Australia has a ton of robins (see previous post), Africa has a multitude of starlings and some are pretty spectacular.

Fischer's Starling  Source:  Wikipedia

Golden-breasted or Royal Starling  Source: Wikipedia

Superb Starlings  Source:  Wikipedia

Myna birds are part of the starling family and, just like mynas, starlings have a talent for imitating not only other bird songs, but other things as well.  Maybe if the starlings talked to me like this Myna bird, I'd also be more excited to see them.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Harbingers of Spring

Saturday I noticed that my neighbor has some violas blooming, another neighbor's forsythia are in bud and so is my tree, and my periwinkle has flowers!  AND I saw my first robin!

Source:  Wikipedia

Did you know that the American Robin is actually a member of the thrush family?  Unlike the European Robin which is now considered to be a member of the flycatcher family.

European Robin  Source:  Wikipedia

There are quite a few birds called robins, but they are not necessarily related.  Did you know there is a robin with a pink breast?  It's native to Australia, and called the (wait for it) Pink Robin.

Male Pink Robin   Source:  Wikipedia

It's closest relative is the Rose Robin, also native to Australia.

Male Rose Robin   Source:  Wikipedia

And Australia lays claim to the Scarlet Robin, also found in Tasmania.  (Unlike our robin some males and females look very different.)

Female Scarlet Robin   Source:  Wikipedia

Male Scarlet Robin   Source:  Wikipedia

Australia also has the Western Yellow Robin...

Source:  Wikipedia

the Hooded Robin...

Source:  Wikipedia
the White-Browed Robin...

Source:  Wikipedia

the Grey-headed Robin...

Source:  Wikipedia

and one of the most spectacular - the Red-Capped Robin.

Male  Source:  Wikipedia

How did Australia end up with all these different robins and we only have one?  And I haven't included them all.

The Pacific Robin is found on the Pacific island countries of Samoa and Fiji, among others.

Source:  Wikipedia

He sort of looks like our Rose-headed Grosbeak.  Then there's the North Island robin from New Zealand.

Source:  Wikipedia

And the Black Robin or Chatham Island Robin from the Chatham Islands off New Zealand.

Source:  Wikipedia

There are several subspecies of the New Zealand Robin.  This is the Stewart Island Robin.

Source:  Wikipedia

As spectacular as some of Australia's robins are, I was still very happy to see OURS.  And Sunday I heard a couple of loud squeaks and squeals while I was hanging clothes on the line - telltale sounds of woodchucks under my shed.  My 'Signs of Spring' post from last year was April 11th - an entire month later than this year, although things were a little further along in that post.  We're supposed to be in the 60s all this week so things will really start to pop.  Even though we've had a relatively mild winter, those 60 degree temperatures are still going to feel like heaven.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Slippery Soccer

There's a soccer field connected with one of the neighborhood schools not too far from my house.  It's actually right next to the post office so I have occasion to go by it on a regular basis, plus I usually come home that way from my current temporary job.  The powers that be put up three black metal silhouettes of a dog on the field, I believe to try to discourage the Canadian geese from hanging out there.  Not a nice thing to be playing an exciting game of soccer and slip and fall in goose poo!  (It's all fenced in so dog poo is not a problem.)  Now that it's winter it's not such an issue, but come summer...  Yeah, well I don't think the "dogs" are working!

The day I took these pictures there was just a small flock, some days there are a hundred or more geese! It'll be interesting to see what they put up next.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Unexpected Guests

Birdwatchers in Rhode Island have had a thrill this winter - a visit from a snowy owl that's been hanging out for a month or more in a wildlife refuge in Middletown.  Snowy owls are arctic tundra inhabitants and having one this far south is unusual. Snowy owls are impressive birds and can be almost 30 inches long and have a wingspan of over 50 inches.  Females and youngsters have brown barring while the male is almost pure white, getting whiter as it gets older.

Source:  Wikipedia

If you're thinking this bird looks familiar, it may be because Harry Potter's Hedwig was a snowy owl!  In the wild, snowy owls' diet consists of rodents like voles and mice during the breeding season, although lemmings make up the majority of their diet.  However, rabbits, squirrels, smaller birds, fish, raccoons, and other mammals can be on the menu during the winter.  The snowy owl in Middletown favors a rocky outcropping near the ocean - a fine place to feast on fish and shore birds.

While a rare visitor to Rhode Island, snowy owls have been seen regularly near Boston's Logan Airport for years.  Evidently the area around the airport reminds them of home!  For the past ten years many snowy owls have been captured around the airport, banded and relocated.  Some are fitted with radio transmitters so they can be tracked.  You can read more about the Snowy Owl Telemetry Research Project here.

Source:  Owl Pictures

This year not only have snowy owls been seen in Rhode Island, but many other states as well, a major migratory event.  It is believed that the mild winter has precipitated an extremely successful breeding year and that more youngsters than normal have survived (owlets normally average about a 50% survival rate), and being very territorial the adult owls have driven the younger ones further south.

Whatever the reason, birdwatchers in the northern 48 are glad to see these gorgeous birds.  To see videos, click here and here.