urbpan: (dandelion)
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This set of pictures was taken at Crane Beach in Ipswich Massachusetts, a mixed conservation and recreation area. Much of the area between the beach and the dunes is roped off, to help protect the nesting habitat of the state and federally threatened piping plover. We didn't see any of the estimated 40 adult piping plovers (as of 2006) that are thought to nest there.

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Instead we saw hundreds of semipalmated plovers Charadrius semipalmatus*, the most commonly seen plover during the east coast migration. They pass along the coast, stopping in protected spots to pick insects, crustaceans, and worms from the sand and mud. A patient birder might pick out some other species in this crowd--I saw terns for sure, and possibly some small sandpipers.

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As the tide came in, the space between the humans and the birds narrowed. I was thankful for the roped off area, giving the plovers their own territory. Many plovers nest on open sand, relying on camouflage to protect their chicks. Vehicles, dogs, and gulls kill many in areas that have too much human traffic. If there were no laws protecting these birds, I'm sure they'd be extinct already.

* Charadrius referred to an old world bird originally, but now is taken to be the generic name for plovers. Semipalmated means that their feed are partially webbed.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The great black-backed gull Larus marinus* is larger still, in fact it is the largest gull in the world, with a wingspan approaching or exceeding 5 feet. They often flock with herring gulls, and are similarly predatory on other birds' chicks. They will quite readily, as the picture above attests, take advantage of human sources of food as well. The great black-backed gull is only found in the Northeast, migrating from the Canadian maritimes to as far south as the Carolinas. They winter as far west as the Great Lakes. They can be found in and around Boston year round.

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A checkered youngster takes flight with a couple adult blackbacks and a herring gull.

* this is rather embarrassing. It translates to "sea gull."
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Much larger than ring-billed gulls, herring gulls Larus argentatus* are about the size of red-tailed hawks. They are the most frequently encountered gull in North America, found from the Aleutians to the Caribbean. They are scavengers very well adapted to life near human activity. I've seen a wild population surviving on pizza crusts on Revere Beach, and I've seen one kill and consume a pigeon on Mass Ave in Cambridge. If their populations get too large, the populations of terns and other more sensitive species suffer, because herring gulls are ravenous predators of other birds' nestlings.

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It takes herring gulls four years to develop adult plumage. This banded youngster was probably hatched last year. Its neighbor in the lower left corner is a year or two older.

* Silver gull
urbpan: (dandelion)
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It's become a naturalist's cliche to say that there's no such thing as a seagull. We just say "gull," or if we know the species, as in this case, we say "ring-billed gull" Larus delawarensis.* The ring-bill is one of the most common urban gull, and the smallest in our area. About the size of a small crow, these gulls happily feed in parking lots and other places where humans leave edible trash. Among gulls in New England, they're the worst ones to call "seagulls." They prefer to nest near fresh bodies of water.

* Delaware gull. (tough one)
urbpan: (dandelion)
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5 fact-like statements about the American robin Turdus migratorius*:

1. Named after the European robin Erithacus rubecula**, a smaller unrelated songbird, due to a single visual field marking (red breast) and similar habitat related behavior--they both are unusually tolerant of human behavior and human-caused habitat disturbances.

2. Every year someone tells me they saw the "first robin of spring" and I have to choose between nodding politely or giving them a natural history lecture. In Boston there is a stable population of robins that do not migrate--the city provides year round food and habitat. In some parts of North America the robins herald the arrival of autumn.

3. Since earthworms didn't arrive in New England until European colonists did (with ships loaded with ballast soil), what the hell did robins eat before then? Probably there were a hell of a lot fewer of them, and they ate more beetle grubs and caterpillars in the spring. In the autumn they eat fruit.

4. Robins have about a 25% survival rate per chick per clutch. Since they love to nest near humans and our buildings, we encounter robin fledglings that are injured or dead more than many other birds. This is okay. If all the babies survived, they would only lay 1 egg per nest, twice a year. They lay an average of 4 per clutch.

5. The one in these pictures was having difficulty flying. It was unclear if it was a fledgling with mature plumage or an adult suffering from some injury. It's also none of my business. I grabbed it up and put it over the fence in our brush pile so the dogs wouldn't kill it.

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* "Migratory thrush." I've long thought it's name should be the "yard thrush," or the "suburbs thrush."

** "Little red robin." A bit on the nose, don't you think?
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Australian swans. According to Wikipedia they have a 25% homosexuality rate and a 6% divorce rate.
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I like the Massachusetts story of the heaviest flying bird in North America. It has gone from valuable food source to completely extirpathted from the state, reintroduced from other states, and is now a fearless suburban pest. Wild turkeys are hunted across the region, but they have adapted to rely on human food sources, and the protections that come with living in settled areas. There's no turkey season in the town center, or at the wildlife sanctuary where I took these photos.

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Imagine if the largest land mammal in North America had a similar story. Wood bison at your birdfeeder? Towering hornless rhinos nibbling at the tops of the maples and sycamores lining main street?
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Lily cuddles into Sarah's sweatshirt.
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The snow recorded a crow walking in a spiral
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Get all your ducks in a row they said. Well, all the peacocks are in a row, that should count for something.

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All the ducks are in a small amount of unfrozen water--impossible to get in a row.
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urbpan: (dandelion)
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When I was scouting out Drumlin Farm on Sunday morning, checking for mushroom hot spots, I came across this troop of giant birds. They were not very afraid of me. I held still, two of them walked right by me while the others cut through the woods to avoid me.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Duck duck duck duck hey you gonna finish that?

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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Capron Park Zoo is a small zoo in Attleboro Massachusetts, near Rhode Island. It's the closest zoo to me that I hadn't been to yet (now York's Wild Kingdom holds that place), and a former coworker is a zookeeper there. In fact, I've met most of the staff from this zoo, owing to our regular zookeeper meet ups! I thoroughly enjoyed this zoo, which was clean and attractive, providing a lot of value for a relatively small space. Their lions look very different from the one at Franklin Park--a different subspecies I think.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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160 lbs of rumpled khaki on an old mountain bike.

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Meanwhile, inside in the tropics, a yellow-billed stork and some scarlet ibises look down upon it all.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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From up on the footbridge, it looks a little like chaos, but we can see a commuter rail train leaving North Station, the Zakim bridge, Boston Garden (which changes its name every few years with the change of corporate sponsorship), and some tall apartment buildings over the frosty river.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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This snapshot-from-my-phone idea was going so great until I left my phone in my pants pocket and then put the pants through the wash. My Beloved Wife went and got herself a Windows Phone the dimensions of a 1975 Texas instruments calculator and gave me her phone. (I'm fantasizing about the waterproof Sony phone with the really high megapixel camera. That thing costs a lot of bucks but I'll tuck it away on my list of material possessions that will fix all my shortcomings and make my life better if I could only afford them.)

So here's a nice snapshot of Sigmund the yellow-billed stork taken with my regular camera on Thursday. Sigmund is the largest free-flight bird in the tropical forest exhibit, flying wherever he likes but spending much of his time with the saddle-billed storks, similar but much bigger birds who seem to tolerate him.

I forgot my camera on Friday and took a snapshot with my interim phone which was Alexis' last pre-smartphone phone. I couldn't figure out how to send the picture anywhere, and it sucked anyway, so let's just let that one disappear between the cracks of technology.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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On the second to last day of the vacation we decided to return to Fort Myers Beach. We had enjoyed it before, and it was close enough to the last place we wanted to visit (the Edison/Ford) house, and we were not disappointed by going back.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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As I said earlier, we stayed at the Tween Waters Inn, in a room on the top floor of the building behind my dad in this picture. We were told that since it's "cold," that the manatees have moved away from the ocean into warmer inland waters.
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urbpan: (dandelion)
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The beaches at Sanibel and nearby Fort Myers Beach, I noticed, are composed mostly of the surf-ground skeletons of bivalve mollusks. It ranges from unbelievably fine, to entire shells.

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