Category: Science

One of the many morning birding surprises: the green heron

So on my walk at Boomer Lake today I managed to spot the ‘secretive’ green heron.

Spotted the Green Heron

The green heron is a migratory bird that spends its summers in Oklahoma, and we’re lucky enough that there is usually a mating pair in town. Due to the start of the pandemic last year, I didn’t get in many walks at Boomer Lake during the summertime so I missed trying to get a picture of them last year.

A little closer view of the heron, and spotted a grackle and a few red-eared sliders as well.

I wasn’t expecting to see the green heron this morning–mainly because I was out ‘late’ (i.e. well after dawn), and usually these birds are roosting/hunting in the brush around the lake edges.

I was passing the area of the lake, that a birding expert refers to as ‘heron cove’ and noticed the green heron perched on a branch over the water cleaning its feathers.

Looking back towards the green heron

I tried to move down the hill quietly so that I could possibly get a closer picture, and while I did get a little closer–I’m not sure if the pictures give it justice or not.

Within the picture series, I also noticed that I managed to get a picture of several red-eared sliders and a grackle. I’m thnking that I may try to explore a little more of the wooded areas around the lake to see if I can possibly spot the black-crowned night heron again, and possibly even the belted kingfisher. As all three of these birds are usually more ‘morning’ birds (best seen usually close to dawn), though I have managed to spot them later in the morning.

Bird watching and photography are two of the things I enjoy doing during nice weather. What hobbies do you enjoy doing durin ghte nice weather?

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A Sunny Day Surprise: The Redheaded Woodpecker

So I’ve realized that the photography challenge is going to be sporadic this year–I’m aiming for new photographs at least 90% of the time, and the other 10% will be older pictures, but on specific days (such as #waybackwednesdays, #throwbackthursday, or #flashbackfriday). It will be a sporadic challenge, as I am also trying to vary the photograph subjects as much as possible. Since May is also National Photography Month, I was aiming for daily photograph postings–but will be going with at least weekly entries.

The winner for the challenge today was a redheaded woodpecker that I spotted up at Boomer Lake at the end of April. While I know that they’re in the area–I don’t go specifically looking for them, as I tend to avoid walking through heavily wooded areas (I’ve developed an allergic reaction to ticks, so I try to avoid the areas where I know that I could come across them).

Redheaded woodpecker on a light post

The redheaded woodpecker flew over my head and landed on the light post. Since it was a beautifully sunny morning (unlike the last time I got a photography of one), I managed to get a picture of it in all it’s redheaded glory. This woodpecker is named ‘redheaded’ because it has a totally red head–unlike the red-bellied woodpecker, which only has a pale red spot on it’s belly, but a red stripe down the back of its head.

Redheaded woodpecker

I actually had my longer telephoto lens with me that day (but no tripod), but by the time I got the lens on the camera, the woodpecker had flown off. I’ll be keeping my eye on the various light posts, which seem to be landing spots for various birds (possibly to eat their snack or meal), and then the tops of dead trees (since that is where I spotted the first one a couple of years ago).

I’m also keeping my eye out for the hairy woodpeckers as well–they’re similar in shape, size, and coloring to the downy woodpecker. Therefore I may already have a picture or two–just in the wrong bird folder. I think that if one chore this summer–make sure that all pictures are correctly labeled for the various woodpecker species.

What is your favorite woodpecker?

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Photography Challenge Winner: the small & elusive pied-billed grebe

The winner of the photography challenge for today is the pied-billed grebe. This is a small grebe that is a year-round resident in central Oklahoma and I’m usually lucky to spot one every couple of months up at Boomer Lake.

Pied-billed grebe spotted at Boomer Lake

It is also serving double duty in announcing that there are another series of bird pages live under the bird tab.

The weekend addition to the birding portion of the site includes the order Podicipediformes, the family Podicipedidae, and the pied-billed grebe. This is one of the seven grebe species that can be spotted within the United States and Canada; and is the only one that is found year-round in Oklahoma.

Over the past couple of years I’ve started to get better at getting a picture of the pied-billed grebe. Since they’re such a small bird, if they aren’t close to the shore it is difficult to get a picture (at least without a good telephoto lens and tripod).

One thing I’ve noticed about the grebes–they’re great at literally sinking out sight and then reappearing quite a awaays away, unlike the loons that dive (though the grebe will do that as well on occasion).

Pied-bill grebe on the calm waters of Boomer Lake

A goal is to possibly get a picture of a family of grebes sometime this summer, though that may mean possibly lurking around the cattails and tall weeds.

There are three other species that may be spotted within Oklahoma during the migratory season: the horned grebe (and this one may even winter in state), the eared grebe, and the western grebe. The last three grebe species that are found within the US and Canada are more regional specific: the red-necked grebe is a ‘northern’ resident (Canada, Alaska, and some northern states), the least grebe is a Texan resident, and Clark’s grebe is found in the western half of the US.

I’m going to try to get up to Boomer Lake more often in the early mornings–especially in fall and spring to try to get a peak of other possible grebes that are migrating through town. Though I should also possibly expand my birding area to another small area lake and see what species I can spot there as well.

Have you spotted a grebe in the wild? If so–where and when? Do you have a favorite grebe?

No Comments bird watchingnatureoutdoorsPhotographyScience

An Elusive Fisher on Boomer Lake: The Belted Kingfisher

Another series of bird pages are now live under the bird tab.

This week’s addition to the birding portion of the blog/website is the order Coraciiformes, family Alceidinidae, and the belted kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher at Boomer Lake

As mentioned on the order page, there is just basic information on this order as there is still debate on which families actually belong within the order. So I’ve added the Coraciiformes order to my ‘research’ list along with the Gaviiformes order (the loons) in terms of looking more in the scientific literature and adding information from there. Though currently–this ‘research’ project is one of thw many on both the mental and the physical to-do lists.

Belted kingfisher in flight

While the family Alceidinidae has over 100 species within it–there are only about eight species within the ‘New World’, and only one that is ‘common’ within North America. That ‘common’ kingfisher is the belted kingfisher.

I’ve been on the lookout for the belted kingfisher ever since I manged to get a couple of pictures of one back in 2019. These are ‘secretive’ birds that you may not see unless you startle them from their perch or they’re on the way back to the burrow.

While writing the pages, I also realized that when I had managed to get the pictures–I had been at the lake fairly early in the morning (within about a half hour of the sun rising), and lately it has been about an hour or so after the sun comes before I leave the house. So, I think that if I want to be able to spot them again–I’m going to have to get up to the lake a little earlier in the mornings.

My main goal is to try to get a picture of the kingfisher from the front–that way I can tell if I had managed to get a picture of a male or female kingfisher.

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Photography Challenge Winner: Southern Prairie Skinks

So the winner for today’s entry in the photography challenge is a pair of prairie skinks that I noticed crawling around on one of our wood racks the other day.

Prairie skinks

These skinks are actually quite secretive and are usually only seen out and about during their breeding season. We usually have skinks along the creek side of the yard (numerous insects and small arachnids for them to eat), and occasionally in the garden area closer to the house during the spring to fall months. The one that I usually see running around is probably the more common five-lined skink (which I will be on the lookout for this year).

There are actually eighteen different lizards that can be spotted within Oklahoma, and I’ve probably only have seen two to four of them (and I’ve lived in this state most of my life). A goal now is going to be trying to get a picture of each of the different lizards (especially the Texas horn lizard–or the horny toad, as we called them when I was a kid).

Do you have lizards running around in your yard? What species?

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The runaway crayfish–winner of the daily photography challenge

So the winner for the photography challenge today is the crayfish, and it is pulling double duty–a blog post and a photography page.

Crayfish moving around in the creek

I’d been meaning to write and publish the photography page for about a month now–ever since I managed to get the pictures back in March.

This was one of those double take sightings–you know when you see something that you know is ‘real’ but at the same time you mentally ask yourself: ‘did I really see that?’

I mean I thought that someone had thrown a lobster into the creek due to its size–and turned to google to make sure that crayfish in Oklahoma actually get to this size. I’m totally use to the small ones that are usually used as bait for fishing, and swim away from you if you get to close to them–this one probably would have stood its ground if I tried to pick it up.

I was lucky that the water was fairly clear and slow moving–usually when there is a decent amount of water in the creek it is murky and you can’t see anything.

Crayfish trucking along in the creek

But the water was ‘clear’ enough that I managed to track this guy for probably ten to fifteen minutes before I lost sight of it under a branch and some other debris.

I also know that I’m not going to be wandering through the creek bare-foot either (not that I’ve done that for years), cause I don’t want one of these biting my toes.

Do you prefer small or large crayfish?

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, pulls double duty: day 3 of photography challenge and has it’s own page

So this is a double post–an entry into the photography challenge (slightly late–but day 3), and an announcement of an additional woodpecker page.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker at the small suet feeder

Last month I managed to get a couple pictures of this woodpecker at the small suet feeder, and I think I noticed it several times before (but never had my camera on me). As I mentioned on the page–I spent a month thinking it was the hairy woodpecker, because it was larger than a downy woodpecker, but alas it turns out to be the yellow-bellied sapsucker instead.

While it is a winter resident within Oklahoma, I’m pretty sure that this is the first time I’ve seen one up close and not on a tree.

As their name implies–they prefer to eat the sugar rich sap of certain trees, but in some cases they can be found eating at suet feeders. It looks like they prefer the more ‘lardy’ suet to the ones that are caked in seeds.

Since it wasn’t showing a bright red neck, I’m pretty certain that this was a female yellow-bellied sapsucker that was getting a meal before possibly starting her trek north to her breeding grounds.

While I know that I won’t be seeing these birds again until winter–I’m hoping that maybe I will also be able to spot a male at the suet feeder as well. We do have a maple tree in the front yard, so I will be keeping an eye out to see if any decide to start ‘tapping’ it for its sap.

With the addition of the yellow-bellied sapsucker, I’ve gotten pictures of 6 of the 23 species that can be spotted within the US. One goal is going to be trying to get a picture of the hairy woodpecker (for real), I know that it is larger than the downy, and that their bill is longer than the downy’s bill at some point this year.

I have noticed that the red-bellied woodpecker and the downy woodpecker are back (though in truth–they never left) at the feeders, it will be interesting to see what other woodpeckers come through this year as well.

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The ‘game birds’ (order Galliformes) pages are up

So another series of bird pages are live under the bird section of the website.

The latest series is on the ‘game birds’ or the order Galliformes.

These are called the game birds, because all the ‘popular’ birds that are hunted such as the ring-necked pheasant, wild turkey, quails, and grouses belong to this order.

There are basically 290 species found within this order (with over half of them belonging to the family Phasianidae) that are divided into five different families.

The other four families are the Odontophoridae, Numididdae, Cracidae, and Megapodiidae.

North America is home to species found within three of the five families: Phasianidae, Odontophoridae, and Cracidae.

I’ve been lucky to capture pictures of a member of each of those families, and for the family Cracidae it is the only member of the family that is found within the United States.

Wild turkeys grazing in a neighbor’s front yard.

The wild turkey is ‘common’ throughout the lower forty-eight states, and while it’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen them in the neighborhood, we’re close enough to the woods that I’m pretty sure they’re still around. They can even be seen within ‘city proper’ of some larger cities (such as Boston,MA).

Quails are more ‘shy’ and usually can be observed earlier or later in the day foraging for food in groups. That made getting the picture of the Gambel’s quail that much more special–since it was a single quail out in the ‘semi-open’.

Gambel’s quail walking through the brush

If you can’t spot the quail (no worries)–head over to the page, and I added an additional picture highlighting where it is in the picture.

The plain chachalaca is the only member of the family Cracidae that is found within the United States, and you have to either be in southern Texas or possibly on islands off the coast of Georgia to be able to spot them.

Adult and young plain Chachalacas foraging for food

So out of the basically 290 species, 21 can be found within North America (emphasis currently is on the US–so there probably are more species that are native to Canada or Mexico that I’m not addressing), and I’ve managed to spot 3 of them (or a seventh, or 14%).

As noted on the different order/family pages, a photography goal is to get pictures of other members, including any that may be native to Canada or Mexico (and not seen within the US).

With the addition of these 7 pages, it brings the total number of bird pages to 52 (9 bird orders, 14 bird families, and 29 species). Looking at my ‘master’ list, I still have (in total) another 95 pages or so to add (8 bird orders, 26 bird families, and approximately 61 species). Therefore I may have this section ‘up-to-date’ with current pictures possibly by the end of summer or early fall.

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Insights & thoughts wanted for improving the ‘All things Science’ pages

So I was going to try to share the science page ‘Brief Introduction to the Central Dogma of Biology’ directly, but realized that tehre are no ‘share buttons’ for the different pages, only for blog posts.

But what I can do is link the page to the blog post (check).

So as I’ve mentioned briefly in quite a few earlier blog posts, that expanding the ‘All Things Science’ section of the site was going to be more sporadic than expanding the other sections. The reason behind that is while it may not take any longer doing the research (though this can vary depending on the topic), it will take me a little longer to write/edit to ensure that I’m not just throwing out scientific jargon at people that only a handful would understand. That isn’t an insult, but acknowledging that science has a language of its own, that very few people speak.

So the first page that I added to the section was the ‘Brief Introduction to the Central Dogma of Biology‘.

This page is very short, considering about half of it is basically a reminder that the posts within the section will be sporadic. The actual topic starts below the cartoon image in the middle of page.

I’m also going to admit a few things: 1) I was dealing with a moderate bout of depression (as I wrote and posted the page about three-to-four months after losing two dogs), 2) I was also dealing with a moderate to semi-severe case of anxiety (as I was wondering what I was going to be doing with my life), and finally 3) it probably should be considered a rough draft due to the length.

So as the page has only gotten a few views over the years, if people would take just a few minutes to read it and then give an honest opinion, I would appreciate it.

I do have a few questions then: 1) is the introduction too brief? If so, where should I expand? 2) For future pages, roughly how long should the post be, before one loses interest? 1000 words? 1500 words? And finally, for the blog post (linking back to the page), would a 500-word post be long enough?

Thanks for the help, and just a quick note on comments: all comments are initially flagged as ‘spam’ until I ‘un-flag’ them so don’t be upset if the comments don’t show up right away.

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Three bird pages are live: the loons. They also showed more details are needed

So there are another set of bird pages live under the bird tab.

I managed to the pages posted for the order Gaviiformes, family Gaviidae, and the common loon.

Common Loon seen on Boomer Lake

As I mentioned on the Gaviiformes page–the limited amount of information present was due to 2 things–the first, there isn’t that much information on either the order or family, and the second was I didn’t want to be repeating the same information numerous times. I usually will repeat a little information between the order page, the family page, and then the individual species pages–but there just wasn’t enough to do that here.

Therefore the pages for Gaviiformes and Gaviidae are extremely short in terms of information and words. I think each page is less than 200 words, but it has also planted a seed of an idea–can I do enough research to be able to flesh out those pages? Because even if you google the terms–the wikipedia pages only contain the bare minimum of information. So that is something that I’m going to slowly start looking into over the next few weeks–seeing what information is out there, and then what is needed to fill in various ‘holes’.

There are four other loon species that can be spotted within either North America or northern Eurasia, and now one of my photography goals is to get a picture of each of them.

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