Saturday, January 24, 2009

Camera Critters: Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

The Tufted Titmouse is a common songbird in the forest and at feeders in the Eastern United States.  Since the 1940s Tufted Titmice have gradually expanded their range northward into the Great Lakes region and southeastern Canada.  Prior to that their range only extended as far north as Iowa, Ohio, southern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  Researchers are not certain of the exact reason for this expansion, but global warming, the maturation of abandoned farmlands to forest, and increased number of winter bird feeders are suggested as possible explanations.

Summer Range:  Resident from southern Minnesota, northern Michigan, southern Ontario and southern Vermont, southward to northeastern Mexico and the Gulf Coast.

Habitat: Deciduous and mixed woods forests as well as gardens, parks and shrub land.

Feeding Behavior:  Forage actively on branches, sometimes on the ground, mainly eating insects, especially caterpillars, but also seeds, nuts and berries. They will store food for later use.  Titmice tend to hold food -- like the sunflower seed in the photos -- in their feet and peck at it to open.

Nesting: Titmice nest in a hole in a tree, either a natural cavity or sometimes an old woodpecker nest. They line the nest with soft materials, sometimes plucking hair from a live animal such as a dog. (Once while napping on a camping trip, I was the live animal whose hair a titmouse attempted to include in its nest.)

Sometimes, a bird born the year before remains to help its parents raise the next year's young. The pair may remain together and defend their territory year-round. These birds are permanent residents and often join small mixed flocks in winter.

Sources and additional information:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More Frost Flowers

Last week's subfreezing temperatures produced many frost flowers.  Like snowflakes they are all unique.

Briefly, frost flowers form when water trapped inside the stem of some plants freezes, expands and is extruded out cracks in the stem. For more details and links to other sources, please see my previous post.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

Camera Critters: Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)

The winner of our Most Frequently at the Feeder award here in the Ozarks. The Carolina Chickadee is a year round resident, but we seem to have many more of them in the winter.

Many thanks to Nate for taking the time to correct my original identification of this bird as a Black-capped Chickadee. According to the Cornell site linked below the range of the Black-capped Chickadee is across southern two-thirds of Canada and northern two-thirds of the United States. The Carolina Chickadee pictured above is a southeastern counterpart to the more widespread Black-capped Chickadee. Based upon his birding experience in the Ozarks, Nate says Black-caps are generally found on the north side of the Missouri River, Carolinas to the south.

Physical characteristics distinguishing the two species are: 1.) Carolinas have more grayish flanks while those of the Black-Caps are brown. 2.) The black bib area on the Carolinas is more cleanly demarcated than the more rough transition found on the BCs. (Carolinas are also smaller, but that's often difficult to distinguish without side by side comparisons.)

Since the social behavior of the two species is quite similar, I'll leave the information about the Black-Capped Chickadee at the bottom of this post. Pages dedicated to the Carolina are: Cornell University and Wikipedia.

Thanks again to Nate for the correction. Be sure to visit his birding blog, The Drinking Bird.

(Edited by Marvin 1/20/2009.)

Cool facts from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology:

► The Black-Capped Chickadee hides seeds and other food items for later recovery. Each item is placed in a different spot and a bird can remember thousands of hiding places.

► The chickadee's simple-sounding calls have been found to be extremely complex and language-like. They code information on identity and recognition of other flocks as well as predator alarms and contact calls.

► Breeding pairs and nonbreeders join up into flocks outside of the breeding season. Nonbreeders may be members of several flocks, with a different position in the dominance hierarchy of each flock.

More information is also available from Wikipedia.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Skywatch: Hemmed In Hollow Falls

Nothing but blue sky (and a few pigeons) above Hemmed In Hollow Falls on New Year's Day 2009. Hemmed In Hollow is located in the Ponca Wilderness Area of the Buffalo National River near Compton, AR. At 209 ft. (63 m), the falls is said to be the highest between the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains, an assertion akin to claiming a height advantage in a room full of midgets since the middle of the U. S. is noted for its flatness and not its soaring peaks.

Since giving up partying on New Year's Eve, Jo and I adopted the tradition of hiking on New Year's Day. This particular hike was 2.5 miles (4 km) from the trailhead down to the base of the falls and 25 miles (40 km) back up from the falls to where our van was parked.

(Editor Note: My attempt at humor has caused some confusion. Our hike was only five miles round trip, plus another mile or so because we missed a turn on the return trip. Twenty-five miles is what the return trip back over the same trail felt like because returning is all uphill, sometimes steeply uphill.)

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Scenic Overlook: Harrison, AR

A high plateau-like area about five miles west of Harrison, AR, on Highway 43 -- a very large area of relatively flat land for this part of Arkansas. Jo and I were on our way over to the Ponca Wilderness Area on the Buffalo National River for our New Year's Day hike.  This shot was taken from a Scenic Overlook along the highway.

(Sorry about the haze, but we get very few crystal clear days here in the Ozarks and January 1, 2009, wasn't one of them.)