Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Great Black-backed Gull

A lot of people say to me "Amateurnithologist, huh? Maybe you should change your name since you're such a bird expert now!" Then they usually take my lunch and shove me into a locker, because the world is filled with mean bullies. On the other hand though, I can see the point they're trying to make. I have gotten better at this birding thing. I mean, probably, right? I'm correctly identifying more birds in the field, people are asking me bird related questions in my real life, and I recently got accepted into an awesome bird picture calendar. But something still nags at me, keeping me from saying I'm truly a moderately-well-versed-nithologist. If I want to figure out if I've really gotten better, I'll need a rematch with my old foe, seagulls. For a brief perusal of my embarrassing history with seagulls, click here, here, and definitely here. Ok, that was demoralizing, but let's give it a try~

Great Black-backed Gull
Bird Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Member of the Gull Family
★Largest Gull
§A Flotilla of Gulls§

~real bird quote~
"While cruising along the bleak and barren coasts of southern Labrador I learned to know and admire this magnificent gull, as we saw it sailing on its powerful wings high above the desolate crags and rocky islets of that forbidding shore, its chosen summer home. Its resemblance to the bald eagle was striking, as it soared aloft and wheeled in great circles, showing its broad black back and wings in sharp contrast with its snow-white head and tail, glistening in the sunlight. It surely seemed to be a king among the gulls, a merciless tyrant over its fellows, the largest and strongest of its tribe. No weaker gull dared to intrude upon its feudal domain; the islet it had chosen for its home was deserted and shunned by other less aggressive waterfowl, for no other nest was safe about the castle of this robber baron, only the eider duck being strong enough to defend its young."
-Arthur Cleveland Bent, Life Histories of North American Gulls and Terns, 1921

~true bird fact~ It's true, what Arthur Bent said up there. The Great Black-backed is a tough bird. Here is a *not great* image I captured of him chasing away the notoriously chicken Bald Eagle. This was a behavior I observed many times on my birding trips. This bird fears nothing, is huge (5 foot wingspan), and has been known to swallow up smaller gulls and puffins (no!) in one bite. Well, he fears nothing except the most deadly animal of all (turns out its man). In the 1800's Black-backed gull feathers were considered extremely fashionable, and so the gull was hunted to the point of serious population depletion. After the feather trade ended in the 1900's, the population recovered, thanks in large part to the expansion of garbage dumps that gulls could easily feed at.

Exactly as tough as everyone thinks he is
Had a bad childhood. Doesn't know any other way to do things
Has a menacing calm to him
Just a real bad dude with real bad 'tude overall
Makes an example of those who get in his way

 /!\ Trigger Warning: Dead Bird /!\

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee
Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Member of the Titmouse and Chickadee Family
★State Bird of Massachusetts and Maine
§A Banditry of Chickadees§

~true bird fact~ Chickadees are tiny, tiny birds, so you might expect them to be kind of dumb. They do have super-small brains, after all. However, all evidence points to them actually being very bright- they've got an extremely complex system of communication, having different calls for alarms, contact calls, identifying specific other birds, or even other flocks. They can also remember food that they've stored in hundreds of different places. They even appear to have some kind of social hierarchy within their flocks. How do they do this? Well, apparently Chickadee neurons die off in huge numbers every year in the autumn, allowing them to grow new neurons which quickly pick up new and useful information. In other words they never run out of room to learn new things.

Curiosity and mischievous nature often gets her into trouble
Precocious vocabulary, very dramatic
Even grumpy old people can't help but smile at her positive attitude
Orphaned by her parents at a young age

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bald Eagle & Family

The Bald Eagle. Majestic Bird of Prey. Powerful Symbol. Doting Parent? 
Yes to all of the above.

The pictures in this blog were taken at the Bird Islands on the Northern Coast of Nova Scotia. These small islands are something of a haven for all manner of sea birds to breed, since they have no terrestrial predators on them. Of course this also makes the island perfect for birds of prey. Every year Bald Eagles take their juvenile offspring to these islands to teach them how to hunt. Sorry puffins.

I know you want to see that in .gif form, so click here. What an impressive sight!
Here you can see the adult and juvenile in one of the sea caves ringing the island, perhaps on the lookout for the next opportunity, or maybe just doing some parent-child bonding. Bald Eagle can't help but wonder what will become of their once close bond as his child gets older and seemingly more distant. And yet he sees in him such potential, feels such pride. It is a time of many confusing emotions. Also, his kid is a dumb idiot who doesn't know how to do anything, like all teenagers. Life is rough for Bald Eagle. Why else would he be losing his hair like that?

Bald Eagles, Adult
Bird Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Member of the Kites, Eagles, and Hawks family
★National Bird of the United States of America
§A Jubilee of Eagles§

~true bird fact~ Not quite the brutally efficient hunters they might appear to be, the Bald Eagle is kind of a baby. He gets easily scared away by smaller birds, and your amateurnithologist witnessed him getting harassed by seagulls on this very expedition, which is not something you live down easily.  Furthermore, Bald Eagles often get their food more through cooperation with each other, or by harassing other raptors into dropping their newly caught prey. It is because of these characteristics that Benjamin Franklin did not want this bird to become our national symbol, famously preferring the Turkey. Here, have ye a quote "For my own part, I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. … Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District.”

A real neurotic. Second guesses everything
Channels frustration about home life into being a real dick at work
Uses political clout to get his kid out of trouble
Has Opinions about Taxes
Bald Eagle, Juvenile

Doesn't want to be like you, dad, GOD!
Doesn't think about other people's feelings
Makes real efforts to be open to new experiences, but is secretly terrified
Actually pretty similar in character to his dad, deep down