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February 24, 2012

Owl in Slow Mo, War with the Seagulls, and Final Pestering on the GBBC...

Hi,

First off, there's a bunch of copies of a fantastic video (various qualities) out there of an Eagle Owl shot at 1,000 frames per second. I've sent an email to the company that released the piece asking for permission to use it. More on that copyright info as I get feedback. (In this day and age of the Internet and YouTube, copyright doesn't mean what it used to, but still, I try to play by the rules...)

Now, about them seagulls... I'm not a huge fan of the concept of 'nuisance animals' but the gulls have got to go. They are obnoxious brutes who frighten off even the crows -- this means war.

400_IMG_2368.JPG

The answer of course is to not feed them. But how to accomplish that? To feed the crows is to feed the gulls... Or is it? Earlier this week I began putting bits of suet into a standard tube feeder which is slung under the trellis. While the crows can easily worm their way to the suet, the hulking, awkward seagulls are pretty much out of luck. This is only a temporary test, but the secret seems to be revealed -- arrange/create a feeder that the crows can access that will either stump the gulls, or prove inaccessible to the idiots. Stay tuned -- this dust up isn't over by a long shot.

Lastly, here is just one more nag reminding you about turning your Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) report... To give you some perspective, here are the stats so far for 2012:

  • Total Checklists Submitted: 93,755
  • Total Species Observed: 609
  • Total Individual Birds Counted: 13,219,893

By the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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February 21, 2012

What About Your Backyard Bird Count Report???

Hi,

So have you submitted your Great Backyard Bird Count yet? Here's how ours broke down after 30 minutes of what I initially thought would be zipoid activity...

pg 2_2012_420_2012-02-22_003609.jpg

2012_420_2012-02-22_002944.jpg

Note the two hawk sightings... Let's just say that they were up close...

420 red tailed_blur keep__MG_3785.JPG

Not bad... We even had a visit from a rather unusual downy...

420_orange_MG_3793.JPG

Who knows why the orange undersides and eye stripe...

By those studious feeders...

CapeCodAlan


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February 16, 2012

Great Backyard Bird Count and Birds and Barometric Pressures etc...

Hi,

First off, don't forget that the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) starts tomorrow! It takes as little as 15 minutes and is quite enlightening... don't miss out!!!

Next up... Back on January 22nd, I started wondering about bird activity and the barometric pressure (and the weather etc.) Was there any sort of correlation? So for the last 25 days I've been making quick notes on feeder traffic, and today, I looked up the atmospheric conditions for those days using the wunderground site. What follows is more or less self-explanatory -- my location's weather charts (in color) for Jan and Feb followed by my own charts (black and white) for observed bird activity. Take a second and it should all make sense...

Jan weather 400 2012-02-16_112249.jpg

Jan activity 420 2012-02-16_124034.jpg

Feb weather 400 2012-02-16_112249.jpg

Feb activity 420 2012-02-16_124034.jpg

Wasn't that exciting? (Before I go further, just a word about these charts and this 'research'... The stuff above is wildly unscientific: the sample size is miniscule, the observations are subjective and uncorroborated, and the initial objective was a blur to begin with. That being said, about the best we have is a 'hmmm study'.) The only things I find even slightly compelling are the activities around Jan. 27 and 28; and Feb. 11 and 12 -- when the barometer tanked (or was about to tank), the birds seemed to be riled...

As I said, not very scientific, but fun nonetheless...

By the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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May 14, 2011

Documentary Review: "Ghost Bird"

Hi,

Just watched an interesting documentary by Scott Crocker -- "Ghost Bird". Here's the trailer...

As you can tell by the clip, there are several stories woven into one film. Thoughts...

  • Technically, it's pretty good... The intro is a bit too long, the sound production is uneven, and the entire piece could have been tightened by about 15 to 30 minutes. But all told this is still great work. While this didn't come out of the Cornell Dept. of Ornithology, it did feature interviews with heavyweights such as David Sibley and Scott Edwards (curator of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology).
  • As I see it, the first story is simply that of the bird itself... does it, or does it not still exist? That's a tough question in that some pretty qualified people on both sides of the question are weighing in...
  • Interwoven into the question above are the politics (grant money) involved. From small-town officials to the federal government, everyone has a vested interest.
  • This is also the story of little America (Brinkley, AR) facing tough times. The purported sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has been a boon to the local economy just as the 1947 "crash of a UFO" in Roswell has created a rather lucrative cottage industry there.
  • Finally, there is the all-too-human narrative of wishful thinking on the part of the guy on the street, the ornithologists, the business folk, and even the viewer... I mean, wouldn't it be cool if there was final irrefutable proof that somehow, this beautiful creature somehow managed to elude humankind's selfish crush?

Bottom line?" Well... This isn't Ken Burns, but it's pretty high-grade stuff and would be enjoyed by all family members... Most heartedly recommended... If you can get the Documentary Channel (or better yet, buy it)!

By the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 6, 2011

Follow Up on "Dead Red-Wings", Hutch Mishaps

Hi,

Last time I noted that birds (and fish and crabs) are dropping dead at alarming rates... Here's a likely explanation from National Geographic:

But the in-air bird deaths aren't due to some apocalyptic plague or insidious experiment--they happen all the time, scientists say. The recent buzz, it seems, was mainly hatched by media hype.

At any given time there are "at least ten billion birds in North America ... and there could be as much as 20 billion--and almost half die each year due to natural causes," said ornithologist Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C.

Not exactly the stuff of "The X Files", but still disturbing. You know, a part of me wonders if wildlife was like this before humans were around. Yeah, I know something like 99% of all species that ever existed on this planet are gone (Mr. Life, meet Mr. Darwin, existentialist), but it truly bugs me to see needless suffering and death... If it does turn out that something like fireworks did start the Arkansas panic, that would really be a shame... (On the other hand, I wonder if a shifting magnetic north pole had anything to do with this???)

Other stuff... We've finally got the hutch upstairs...

resized_IMG_1691.JPG

But the project didn't come without its more-than-fair-share of "ouchies". Each of the four major components (bottom and top carcases, drawers, and back) bear my initials in blood...

blood initials resized_IMG_1577.JPG

That really isn't so bad in that this was a large endeavor using a very hard wood (cherry) and lots of sharp tools. But the beast did have one last tantrum left in her. We were placing the 50 pound top when it noted my lack of leverage and felt the insidious urge of gravity... It dropped 40" (without the doors thankfully) taking out the bookshelf, phone, birdhouse, and yours truly. The noise was something spectacular really - sort of a sickening, chain-reaction roar. Here's my damage...

bruise resized_IMG_1778.JPG

The immediate aftermath found me et al scattered helter skelter. Mrs. CCA kept yelling, "Are you alright?!? Are you alright?!?", to which I kept saying, "'Bleep' me, how's the hutch?!?", "'Bleep' me, how's the hutch?!?". Thankfully, I tend to overbuild things (in the extreme), and the monolith is now fine, all secure, and ready for the finish team. (Read that, "The wife and my old cabinetmaker boss, Rick...") Another day in Paradise... All told, it was a great undertaking - I learned so much.

And what's next? Well, the next adventure will probably be this work skiff - a cakewalk compared to the brute above... Time will tell...

See you by those never-boring feeders...

CapeCodAlan


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January 4, 2011

Dead Red-Wings

Hi,

Well, this is what a red-wing looks like when it's alive...

400_ 08-11-07 red wing.JPG

As you're reading this, odds are that you already know of the significant "die off" of blackbirds in Arkansas... But that's not the entire story... Check out the following from AFP:

The second unexplained mass bird death within a week has been discovered in the southern United States, this time in the state of Louisiana, officials said Tuesday.

The latest incident affected some 500 birds which were discovered dead in Pointe Coupee Parish, said Olivia Watkins of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Watkins said an investigation was underway into the cause of the deaths, which occurred just a few days after thousands of birds were discovered dead in neighboring Arkansas.

"We sent samples to a lab in Missouri and are waiting to get some results," she said.

Nancy Ledbetter at the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission said officials in that state were awaiting test results to find the cause of death of as many as 5,000 blackbirds in the small town of Beebe as well as deaths of 80,000 to 100,000 fish found floating in the Arkansas River about 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.

That's not good. Regardless of whether each case is related to the others or not, that's still not good. While I don't believe in UFOs or other foolishness, I do believe in "nature talking"... I say that we keep a close eye on this one...

Antsy by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan


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November 28, 2010

Changing Dynamic in the Backyard

Hi,

Some time ago, one of our readers asked that I (we) spend more time exploring bird behavior, and I think we've taken a fair shot at that request. But something is starting to happen that just gives me the creeps (again...) Lately, whenever we put out food for the crows, the seagulls have shown up, chased off the crows, and simply ravaged the feeders. Here's an old photo that shows the sheer size of the brutes...

resized_P1010011.JPG

Size wise, they make a corvid look insignificant...

But here's where it all gets truly freaky. Mrs. CCA pointed out that so long as the crows put a cease and desist on their "feed me" cacophony, the gulls pay no attention, and the tray remains unmolested. Pretty clever on the part of the crows, no? Now stop and think about it for a moment... If the crows can't call, how will they tell me that they're hungry? Very simple... They've taken to either knocking on the front door, or swooping by the windows. (I couldn't make this stuff if I tried.)

I'm not sure whether I'm flattered, being manipulated, being initiated, or just warming up for the Alcoa head gear. (Thank heavens that Mrs. CCA has seen most of this behavior... At least if I have to break out the ol' aluminum foil hat, I'll have to do it in the plural.)

Really, I'm at a loss... Who is really pulling the strings here? Where most backyard birders become emotionally attached to their "flock", I've become intellectually engaged with my fellow murder members... Who knows what's next?

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. You know... We have this contest...


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September 18, 2010

Crow Flying in Small Quarters

Hi,

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I was trying to get a photo of a crow flying between two closely-situated trees. At the time, I had one of those, "I could have sworn that I got the shot!" moments. (And well I should have - I stood there next to the tripod for what seemed an eternity.) Anywho, when all was said and done, the image pulled a "D.B. Cooper" on me and disappeared... until now.

cropped and resized_KEEP_crow flying through trees.JPG

While the photograph is far from ideal, you should see my point. The crow has just flown through the narrow gap between those two trees and still has his wings drawn towards his body. It's tough to tell if the bird is on his first or second flap after the maneuver, but he clearly hasn't established the flat-wing, flat trajectory stroke that crows are known for. If I had to guess, I'd say he lost about 12" of altitude.

Why crows take such aeronautical risks is beyond me. He just as easily could have flown around the stand and been on his way. But if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it might be a matter of expediency, or perhaps a form of play. The latter explanation has real possibilities... We know that the corvids are highly intelligent, and that play is important to animals, even birds. (That last hyperlink is a must read if you're at all interested in bird behavior.) Then again, maybe the creatures are simply thrill seekers or show offs. Who knows... But they are a lot of fun to watch.

See you by those daring feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. We still have a word search puzzle contest waiting for a winner...


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June 29, 2010

Squirrels and Old Books/Prints

Hi all,

First things first... Faithful reader "Gipper" Morris asked about the use of hot pepper in repelling squirrels... To answer you directly Harry, no I haven't actually tried hot pepper as a squirrel repellent. As we do sell hot pepper suet plugs, I assume that they do work. As for plain old hot pepper, I've never tried to use that to drive off the "gray menace", but, as an experiment, I just sprinkled a heaping helping of "Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning" on the 4X4 post that holds one of our feeders... (Even though we use a metal conical anti-squirrel shield, the rascals still try to rob the birds!) So let's see what happens... If they have the intestinal fortitude to go near the 4X4, they'd better bring both their gastroenterologist and their cardiologist - Tony Chachere's two main ingredients are red pepper and salt. I'll let you know ASAP if the squirrels try their normal futile raids (or if the 4X4 is even there in the coming days).

But on to another subject that hasn't gotten nearly the attention that (IMHO) it should have... That of free or nearly free bird pics and info... Take a look at just one more plate I got out of an old 1916 bird book:

Northern Pileated woodpecker.JPG

Those are Northern Pileated Woodpeckers... But the real point I'm trying to make is that the book cost virtually nothing... There are no doubt tens of thousands of like tomes out there with great artwork, great descriptions, and a sub-dollar price tag. (I was going to say that I'd bet that I could sell the plates alone and make more than a few bucks... But I couldn't do that - this beauty belongs in our home.)

Anywho... There you go - repelling squirrels and fantastic bird prints... Only on eBirdseed.com...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Should you want any hi-res copies of old pics (copyright expired), just let me know... I'll be more than happy to scan and email to you or add to our eBirdseed.com photo library.


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January 25, 2010

Birds and Feeders, the 24/7/365 Hobby

Hi all,

Well there they are. (Not that you can see them - the birds are the little black dots...)

400_birds in rain_1_25_10 002.jpg

Just a bunch of birds in the rain. From what I could tell, they were robins and grackles. Kind of neat, even if it is messy outside. But that got me to thinking. Name an active (vs. passive) outdoor pastime that can be enjoyed for nothing (or as much as you want to spend), 24 hrs/day, 7 days/week, 52 weeks/year... What's more, you can have fun from inside or out, under any weather condition, and burn as many calories as you want to including zero. Add to that, this bit of recreation can involve no technical stuff, or it can be ideal for the geek... Better yet, you can partake, even at work. You know what? Aside from backyard birding and feeder watching, I can't think of a single avocation that is so versatile. (Don't forget, I include backyard night fishing (BNF) in this diversion.) Maybe, it's just me, but I have fun with the activity, soup to nuts.

Let's see what else?

Well, the hutch build goes reluctantly forward. But cherry being the obstinate wood that it is, twists and warps at will. So trying to truly square the beast up (let alone get some sort of decent grain pattern) is an exercise in trade offs.

Sorry to cut this short, but gotta run...

Wait! Wait! Wait! Don't have to run just yet... Don't forget the Great Backyard Bird Count coming up February 12 - 15... It's fun, free, informative, easy, quick...

Now I've really got to run...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 16, 2010

Bird Size and Bird-Brained Math

Hi all,

Oh, you're going to love this one - determining bird size from a photograph. For the backyard birder, this is pretty easy as long as you have a known reference. (Though for a nature birdwatcher, I'd imagine the task is a bit more formidable.) Alrighty then... Where to begin? Well, how about at the beginning Beguine? Here's the pic and we want to know the length of the crow...

crow with pizza in mouth1_enhanced_300.jpg

(Before we get to truly rocking and rolling, be forewarned that I'm using a digital microscope and a digital caliper, so if the following photograph strikes you as odd, that's OK. I'm just trying to introduce as much accuracy into the process as possible. There's no reason why you can't use a magnifying glass and a decent rule to perform the same steps...)

And away we go!

  1. Right off the bat, we're going to have to relate the unknown length of the beastie to a known length in the image. Well, it just so happens that I built that crow feeding tray and know that the rail that goes around the top is .75" tall. So now we have a reference.
  2. Next, I used the microscope and found the length of the bird in the picture.

    400_crow length from microscope.jpg

    Hmmm... Looks to be about 31 mm

  3. I repeated the step above and found that the .75" rail was about 1.4 mm
  4. So what is the ratio of the image railing to the real railing? It's about 13.25.
  5. Onward! To get the real length of the creature, we'll have to multiply the picture length of 31 mm by 13.25 and that gives us 410 mm, or about 16.125". That sounds right and looks right. Granted, the bird might be crouching or the snapshot angle may not be at a true 90 degrees... But close enough.
Well, that's about it... Sibley says that the length of a full-grown American Crow is 17", so if anything, this is probably a first-winter critter. Yeah, I know... That kind of info won't make the world spin off its axis, but it still is kinda cool...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 30, 2009

Another Bird's Ears and a Flower

cardinal with ear_400_1 7-25.JPG

Since the last post was so popular (it included a photo of a bird's ear), here is another shot. (Maybe the wife should dump the kayak more often. The more we put the old Olympus C-2100 to work, the better it looks. Take a look at the butterfly bush below...)

butterfly bush_400.JPG

Butterfly bushes are great--they're virtually un-killable. You cut the bare wood down almost to the ground in the dead of winter, and by July, the bush is fully leafed out, blooming like mad, and about eight feet tall. Plus, of course, the hummingbirds and the butterflies love it, it provides shade and shelter to the other birds who come to visit the bird bath. It also happens to be fragrant and quite beautiful.

Butterfly bushes also come in different colors and sizes, so there's likely a perfect choice for you. Consider adding one to your garden this year. You'll be glad you did, and so will the birds who visit you.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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July 27, 2009

We Might Have Some Good Pics... (Read that Wow!)

Hi all,

Don't get your hopes up too high, but I put out the NovaBird remote, movement-triggered camera just in time for a virtual "bird storm".

Okey dokey, the afternoon has passed and I just brought in the old NovaBird and am looking at the snapshots - all 354 of them. Let's see what we got...

  • A bunch of nice grackle photos (love the white iris)
  • The cardinals didn't let us down
  • There are the usual chickadees
But wait a minute... Wait a minute! out of the 354 images, 30 are keepers, and two are really something. The first seems to capture the very (angry) essence of a grackle...

DSC_0134_angry_grackle_400.JPG

But better yet, we've got perhaps the finest shot of a bird's ear ever. (Well, okay.. maybe it ain't the finest, but should the picture make the rounds, I'd guess a few ornithologists will sit up and take notice! The link to the high res photograph is here. You can also use our library link below and browse to it there.)

Birds ear_400_DSC_0085.JPG

Is that not wild or what?!? I've searched the Web, and looked at my books: Sibley, Peterson, and Alsop III... So far, this is the best I've found. That hole behind and below the eye is called the auricular, or outer ear. Normally this is covered with down/feathers. Hopefully, given the time of year, this little fellow is still molting (versus being sick.)

I don't know why that stupid picture above gives me such a kick, but it does. I've made it no secret that I'm not a bird nut... Yeah, I like to look at them, and yeah their songs sound nice. And their flights are acts that human dance will ever approach... But I'm still not about to pop a second mortgage to go to Peru and search for the rare "Ha Cha Cha" bird. Sorry...

Still there's something very rewarding about that picture. (Eat your heart out USGS!) I don't know... Maybe it's just that a well-intentioned though time-challenged amateur can occasionally come up with some pretty fair stuff. Maybe it has to do with these inexpensive results compared to the exorbitant costs of "real birding"... In any event the photograph looks cool beans by my eye.

Very content by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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November 14, 2008

Play and Spatial Communication

Toby in frig_ADS.jpg

The shot above is of our cat Toby partaking in one of his morning games - "Let's explore the refrigerator". It's a silly game really in that he doesn't like anything in the fridge, but it's part of a set of games he uses to communicate. He has an elaborate pattern we're still trying to pin down. Play/groom in the morning, sleep in the day, play at night, then sleep and repeat the process. If he's frustrated or mad, he retreats to a corner. If he wants to initiate a new series of games, Toby slinks under the TV. There's a rug for particularly exciting games or exciting things. All told, there are over a dozen games/locations. But all seem to revolve one key element: spatial communication.

Now, let's extrapolate that sort of behavior/communication to birds - in particular, the corvids (our local crows). We all know that there are times when the birds frequent the feeders. But that's not what I'm talking about. Crows seem to have their own sort of patterns just like Toby. In the mornings they caw from the eastern side of the house. As the sun moves westward, so do the crows. OK, given the Corvid's intelligence, behavior patterns shouldn't be too surprising. However, there are two perceived tendencies that are a little creepy in a Hitchcockian sort or way. The first is they seem to watch us quite frequently. From time to time the wife or I will pass by the glass slider or walk into the kitchen and there will be a crow standing on top of the bird house just staring at us. The second habit tends to be a bit more freakish. Twice I've been cleaning the gutters and discovered rocks on the roof. I mean come on, I know crows leave stuff around, but rocks? (Here's a great article about animals at play.)

Anyway, my assertion is that animals like Toby and the crows do communicate not just by the obvious vocal means but also by spacial location and play. Love to hear from others concerning this stuff...

I'll be standing over at the feeder's six o'clock with my jacks...

CapeCodAlan


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September 15, 2008

Ike Info, and Don't Touch the Feathers!

Hi all,

Before we get started, once again here's a gentle reminder that our neighbors in Texas (and beyond) took a pretty big hit from Ike... The Red Cross contact information follows:

  • Web site: http://www.redcross.org/
  • Phone: 1-800-REDCROSS /1-800-257-7575 (Español)
  • U.S. Mail: American Red Cross National Headquarters 2025 E Street, NW Washington, DC 20006
Onward...

Back in June of 2007, we took a good close look at a feather. Well, here's another one.

turkey feather_entire_400.jpg

But that's not a very detailed photograph. Here's a close up... PICT1214_close up.JPG

Jeez... This was to be such a simple issue/post... Mention a feather... Toss in a few snapshots... Well, nothing in life is easy. Just a tad of searching on the Web warns of the dire legal and health risks of picking up feathers....

From what I can glean, it takes special licenses to handle feathers of virtually every ilk, and the officials aren't fooling around. (Read that: "You can drive like an idiot on the highway right in front of the police, and at worst you'll get pulled over and have to pay a ticket... But pick up a chickadee feather in your backyard and lookout!")

Add to the threat of legal trouble the matter of health issues. (The experts say that feathers need to be picked up with gloves, placed in Ziploc bags, frozen for 2 months, then microwaved for 30 seconds or so... I kid you not.)

So... In compliance with the law, my massive feather collection (5) have properly been disposed of (thrown outside where I found them), and I have literally scrubbed my hands down with rubbing alcohol. (Seriously, I do that several times a day regardless - I'm an anti-germ freak.)

Enjoy the pics above, 'cause I ain't going down this road again...

With a deep sigh, see you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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January 22, 2008

Amateur Ornithologist - Bird's-Eye View

Hi,

This post was originally intended as an overview of bird's eyes... (That seemed an appropriate adjunct to the Oct '07 post, Crow Brains.)

Crow_eye_300.jpg

Preparations for this post included the usual for this sort of entry... Dig through the Web, prep for "PhotoStudio" diagrams, "bullet" avian anatomical characteristics, compare and contrast between differing bird orders, etc. Until...

Until BIO 554/754, Ornithology, Nervous System: Brain and Special Senses II came into view...

This is without a doubt one of the finest bird Web sites around. Seriously, this is a stunning piece of academia... If you’re at all interested in birds, take a Sunday morning and a tall cup of joe and wander through that site. Kudos to Dr. Gary Ritchison.

So, now what? Let's see... Random stuff...

  • Your chance to win some free genuine Cape Cod Clam Chowder (and a signed picture of yours truly wearing Mickey Mouse ears out on the clam flats) is rapidly slipping away. (See contest info and more contest info.) To make things more interesting, an old programming buddy was notified concerning the contest. Let's see what he can do...
  • The New England Patriots are Super Bowl bound... But wait! This just in... Brady may be hurt! The Boston Herald is running with the story. Arghhh!!! No really... Arghhh!!! Quickly... Check your keyboard for a "Panic Button"!!! After all, there is a "Lombardi-esque" historical event hanging in the balance.
  • Not sure how many of you know that we have an eBirdseed.com newsletter... But there's the link.
  • The question has come up concerning the shutter speed of the NovaBird remote, movement-triggered camera. A request to NovaBird concerning this info went unanswered, so testing will follow in a later post.

That should do it for the moment,

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

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August 9, 2007

Amateur Ornithology - Part One: Problem-Solving Crows and Other Animals

Ah yes, we've all faced the problem... We need to use the minimal amount of gift wrapping paper (that's left over) to cover the maximum amount of gift box. (And as weird as it all seemed, the more we tried different but similar gift boxes, the more (or less) the paper usage worked out.) Sometimes it really does seem that more is less and less is more.

I first learned this lesson when laying out rectangular gardens with chicken wire... I'd have a 150' roll of chicken wire. Now, if I made the garden 25' by 50', I'd use all the chicken wire and have a garden consisting of 1,250 sq. ft. But, if I used that exact same 150 foot roll of chicken wire, and made the garden 10' by 65', I'd get a garden of only 650 sq. ft. With a little time I figured out that the most efficient way to make a rectangular garden was to make it 37.5' on each side; that way, I'd use all the chicken wire, and get the largest rectangular (square) garden with a total of 1,406.25 sq. ft. However, if I attached the fence to the side of a garage, I'd max my square footage at 2,812.5 using the dimensions of 37.5' by 75'... And if all that wasn't bad enough, if I broke the rules, and made the garden a perfect circle, I'd get a garden of almost 1,800 sq.ft.

What on earth is going on here, and why is CapeCodAlan trying to bore us to death with yet more math???


Here's the deal... What we're talking about are called "maxima" and "minima" in the field of calculus. In "people speak" we're asking, "How can we fit the most into a given area or volume using the least containment material?" Each and every one of us bear witness to the problem every day without even knowing it... What are the ideal dimensions for that soda can such that it still holds 12 oz., but uses the least amount of metal? What's the largest shelf size given a fixed amount of wood?

And what's the most efficient way to pack french fries and other stuff into a crow's mouth?

Crow--fries with that_enhanced_400_232.jpg

No, this isn't a joke. That last question was for real, and the answer has startling implications about the intellect of crows and other creatures.

Tune in for an explanation in Part Two of this series...

I'll be waiting for you right by those feeders,

CapeCodAlan
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July 4, 2007

Amateur Ornithologist - Mechanical Engineers Chime In on the Structure of a Feather



Extraordinary Boredom Alert!!!


As you might remember, the last time we were looking at the structure of a feather. I asked for help from an old chum (and mechanical engineer), and his thoughts follow...

I found this: http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/reprint/201/22/3057.pdf

It contends that the strength of the feather's stem is largely due to the cortex, and hence, the cross section of the stem. You may want to cut the feather stem and start looking at the cross section, and then compare the cross-sectional interior of the shape to common structure shapes (like T-bars, I-bars, tubes - things like that).

-Alec


To speak to Alec's thoughts concerning the cross section of the feather... Unfortunately, in trying to cut the feather, I deformed it. But under magnification, it looks like this:

hand-drawn%20feather%20cross-section_with_hollow_final_compact.jpg

(Yeah, I know... I stink as an artist. But you get the idea.)

Judging by what the authorities have to say, it appears that the common feather straddles the fine line between the ability to repeatedly flex and the strength not to buckle.

(Anyone who would care to explore the issues of compression and tension on the surfaces of the sheath of the rachis spine (which covers the keratin core) of a feather should use the "Comments" button below. I'd like to delve into this deeper, but if I did, someone would probably throw a rock at me!)

See you by the feeders... (And watch out for that next contest, because you guys are all going to have to work together or NO ONE gets a shot at the prize!)

CapeCodAlan
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July 2, 2007

Amateur Ornithologist - The Feather Revisited by a Couple of Old Engineers



Boredom Alert! Boredom Alert! Boredom Alert!


What follows is from a message that I'm sending to an old engineering buddy (Alec) concerning the spine of the bird feather pictured below.

Spine%20of%20Crow%20quill_300.jpg


Hi Alec,

Long time no talk!!!

Ummm... There are a million things new here... But best to cut to the chase.

First off, this email will be duplicated in a post I write for www.ebirdseed.com/blog. I know... It's weird, but I've come to the conclusion that there are no non-engineering problems - only poor engineers who don't see the problems for what they really are.

Anyway... Here's an example... When you get a chance, take a look at some of the pics linked below. There are a number of shots of the back of a crow's feather's quill. Notice the wild cross section structure of the thing! It appears to be some sort of an arched or cylindrical beam embedded longitudinally within the cylindrical, hollow quill itself. This is just nuts. (At least I've never seen anything like this... Have you?) The links to those pictures contain a close-up, the entire set of feather photos, and the complete collection of bird pics itself.)

In general, the feather's shaft seems to be flexible but strong in all directions of deflection... It is resistant to shear, tension, and compression... So what gives with the goofy spine within a spine?

Have you seen any human-made structural elements like this?

Alan (aka CapeCodAlan)


I'll post Alec's response shortly, and in the meantime, see you by the feeders,

CCA
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June 25, 2007

Amateur Ornithologist - The Feather (And More Camera Info)

We've got a busy one here today folks... We need to take a good look at a feather off the right wing of a crow. (In doing so, we also need to revisit Gerry's questions about cameras.)

But before all that... Don't forget that the contest is winding down!!!

Now then, let's start with a continuation of Gerry's question about optimizing photos for the Web... There is one tiny little issue I failed to mention... Namely the camera lens! (Ok, so I'm an idiot... We all know that by now.) Here's the skinny... Small lenses work well at short distances (or focal lengths). Large lenses are happier at longer distances. (Just think of the lens of a microscope vs. that of a telescope.) The pictures you're about to see were shot with the Vivitar Vivicam 8600s - an 8MP (Megapixel) camera with a small lens. Our Olympus 2100 with a large lens just can't compete when it comes to making close-up macro photos like these. However, when it comes to distance shots, the lowly 2.1 MP Olympus rules the day! Moral of the story? Different lenses for different jobs.

Onward...

Below is a typical feather weighted down by two quarters. (Whether you live in the city, or in the country, you probably pass by a feather or two every day... So they're not all that uncommon.)

Alrighty then... What's in a feather? Well... It turns out that there's a lot in a feather... (Did I hear a yawn?!? Just wait...) Anyway, let's take a look at a typical feather... The parts are as follows... (Now you know why I don't have an MFA degree.)

PICT0104_just%20the%20feather%20and%20two%20quarters_1_400.jpg


1 Rachis: The central spine of the feather.

2 Calamus: Base of the hollow quill.

3 Outer Vane: The small leading edge of the feather.

4 Inner Vane: The largest portion of the feather... It trails behind the outer vane and is attached to the rachis.

5 Barb: The individual "strands" that come off the quill.

6 Afterfeather: The downy fluff near the calamus.

Man oh man, that's hot stuff! (I was going to make a "Viagra-truck-crash-in-Las-Vegas" joke here - but I knew my boss would take an extremely dim view of the gaff.)

Onward yet again... Let's look at the parts above... We'll cover the first three in this post, and the last three in the next.

  • First up... The rachis or quill... More boring than a clutch of librarians holding a door-knob convention in a flour factory, right? Not so fast bucko! Take a gander at the photo below... Things get a little more interesting when you get up close and personal!

    Rachis_top_close_400.JPG


    But that's not the truly interesting part... Check out the rachis on the underside of the wing.

    Rachis_bottom_close_400.JPG


    That last photo ain't chump change. In fact, for an engineer, it's stunning. It's not an "I-Beam", but it serves the same type of function. I'm going to have a buddy of mine who's a mechanical engineer look at this one.
  • Next is the calamus or base of the rachis... Hmmm... The image below is roughly the size of a dime. Small wonder that quills were used as pens.

    calamus_1_408_final.JPG


  • Finally (for this post anyway), is the outer vane... This is a simply stunning (and wildly symmetrical) collection of "barbs" that radiate from the rachis... It also is the leading edge on an airfoil.

    Leading%20edge%20final.JPG


If you can, take a look at the colors in the leading edge... It's an amazing array of blacks, purples, yellows, and greens. That's what gives the wing of crows (and their ilk) their phenomenal sheen... Finally, consider the following poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins (written in 1877) when he tried to describe that brilliance... Wow...

The Windhover: To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, — the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Time to wrap this one up... Next time, the Inner Vane, the Barb, and the Afterfeather.

CapeCodAlan

Once again, thanks to the following:

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May 19, 2007

New England Bird Picture Library

Hi all,

Obviously, for some time now, the wife and I have been posting pictures on this blog. And the pictures have looked ok... But out of necessity, they've been small and consequently lacked detail. That just changed...

A few days ago, we expanded our Flickr account (a picture hosting service) to hold all our bird photos. And those pictures (roughly 900) are carefully categorized to help in bird identification. Here they are:

New England Bird Picture Library


Using this library, the photos may be viewed as they were shot. (The "All Sizes" button is a small but useful gadget!) Some of the resolutions are up in the 1600 x 1200 pixels range or even more... What else should you know about this library? Well, it took me a little time to get used to Flickr, but once you get the GUI under your belt, it ain't all that bad... Not that bad at all... Just remember that you're looking for "CapeCodAlan" and "Sets". And if all else fails, close Flickr, come back to this post, and use the link above.

Now, about the usage of these pictures (copyrights and stuff). The boss and I are still mulling this one over. My guess is that it's fair to say that if you want to download a picture to use as your Windows wallpaper, all is cool. If you want to download a picture for commercial purposes (rated "G"), you're probably fine - just drop us an email or a comment beforehand out of courtesy. But if you want to use any of these pictures for any "non-rated 'G'" purposes... Forget about it. (I didn't stand for hours waiting to get that perfect picture just so you could rip it off and paste it on the cover of tens of thousands of adult DVDs "baring" the title "Sparrow McNaughty... The Chick with the Ruffled Feathers!")

Time to wrap this one up... Normally I'd post a photo, but I think the link to 900 above should keep you busy...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan
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May 11, 2007

A New Ballgame - Amateur Ornithology for the Masses

Starting a new thread here... The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has their Citizen-Science Gateway. It's a brilliant idea, and we strongly suggest that you participate. But if that's not your cup of tea, why don't you follow along with us folks here at eBirdseed.com. (And for heaven's sake, don't think amateurs can't make significant contributions to science, the natural sciences, and all things technical! Einstein was a lowly assistant patent clerk when he started to unleash his theoretical physics unto the world... The Wright Brothers weren't engineers, but just bicycle mechanics... Bill Gates went to Harvard to study pre-law...)

Where to begin? Here's my thought... Given the advanced technology of the modern camera, I suggest that we take a shot (or shots) of a common bird, and break it (them) down. Let's see what we can figure out... I nominate the following as the first:

Grackle_Ornithology_1_400.jpg


Alrighty then... What have we really got here? The books and the Web say that it is a Common Grackle (Order: Passeriformes; Family: Icteridae; Genus: Quiscalus; Species: Quiscula). Given the bright colorings, this is probably a male.

Yeah, it's the ubiquitous grackle... "Boring!" You say... But let's just see... If we start with the feet and the legs, it ain't so boring no more!

Grackle_Ornithology_1_leg_and_knee_only_400.jpg


It's the Order (Passeriformes) that gives it away... This four-toed/foot rascal has a hind toe as long as the middle front toe. In fact, the feet are categorized as "anisodactyl". Put another way, these are classic grasping/perching birds. But what of those freaky scales on the legs and feet? Those are called "scutella", which basically means "bony plates".

Ok... I'm bored to tears. Maybe the following will perk things up a bit... Take a good look at the picture above of the leg of the grackle...

Now look at the picture below of a Harrier military jump jet...

harrier_pointing%20left_enh.jpg

If memory serves me correctly, the engineers who designed jets like the Harrier studied leg joints like this in both birds and insects to create the front landing gear of military aircraft such as the Harrier.

That's about it for today guys... Please note that now more than ever, we need your input. While "looking at the birds" has always been a hobby of mine, ornithology has not. (Read that... I'm gonna' need a hand!)

See you by the feeders, and bring your slide rule...

CapeCodAlan

And as always, thanks to the following resources:
  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Wikipedia
  • Audubon Society
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • The National Audubon Society’s “The Sibley Guide to Birds”
  • ”Birds Of North America” published by Golden
  • ”Birds of New England” from Smithsonian Handbooks
  • Chapman's "Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America"
  • Peterson's "A Field Guide to the Birds"
  • "Birdwatching" from publisher "Discovery Travel Adventures"
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