Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pigs on a Scooter - UPO (Unidentified Pork Objects) Not a HOAX!

This photo of Pigs on a Scooter was taken on 10/31/2010 in Washington, D.C. by me in the company of trusted friends Eric, Rebecca, Frank and the less trustworthy Mandy. Recently a second photo of Pigs on a Scooter has surfaced lending additional credibility to the first photo. 

Some have derided it as a hoax, a composite of a bustling DC scene and an unrelated photo of two costumed Pigs on a Scooter. The technical skill of capturing Pigs on a Scooter as they whizzed by on a busy Saturday afternoon seems too daunting to some yet I was in fact able to capture the moment with my Nikon 4500.

Others have pointed out that two Pigs on one Scooter could not maintain the necessary speed and inertia to navigate the city streets but eyewitnesses confirm not only is it possible, they did it without proper safety helmets and a clearly under inflated back tire. Pig heads do not constitute proper safety gear for motorcycles in D.C. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Skim a Little Off the Top - The Black Skimmer

The bill of a bird often says a lot about how a bird feeds and what they feed on. If you’d never seen a Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) before you could certainly tell they have a unique beak. The upper mandible is considerably shorter than the lower mandible. They don’t sift their food like a spoonbill. They don’t probe the mud and worm holes like an ibis. They don’t tear their food like a hawk.

Just as their name would suggest, they skim for their food. Flying low over the water, the skimmer places the lower mandible beneath the surface and continues to fly until it feels something touch the bill – and then snaps the bill shut. Amazingly, when the skimmer catches fish or other prey species, the head drops into the water and points to the tail end of the bird. The bird maintains flight, lifts the head back out of the water continues the hunt.

The lower bill of the Black Skimmer is constantly growing to combat wear from friction as the bird skims the surface of the water. The upper mandible does not grow at the same rate, resulting in an asymmetrical appearance. The difference in length of each mandible makes picking up objects with the bill more difficult. The upper and lower bills of juveniles are roughly the same until the bird matures.

The eyes of the skimmer are largely ignored by casual birders as they’re relatively small compared to the stout size of the rest of the bird. The eye has a pupil similar to that of a cat or an alligator and can be closed to a vertical slit. This type of eye is best for night foraging.

This flock of about 200-250 Black Skimmers was located on Bunch Beach in Fort Myers. The somewhat secluded sandbar is a preferred resting spot for skimmers, godwits, turnstones and other shorebirds. As I paused to take a photo, a jogger detoured towards the birds. Oddly, the skimmers took flight while other species remained. After a moment, the skimmers circled back and rested again on the sandbar.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ugly Baby - The Wood Stork

It’s generally considered bad behavior to scream at birds and yet there I was flailing my arms and yelling at an endangered Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) who was gracefully flying near my home. Everyone knows that the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) brings babies and pickles, but the bald, black-headed, wrinkle-skinned Wood Stork brings ugly babies and my wife was due in two weeks.

The Wood Stork is an opportunistic nester. Too little water and their diet of fish, frogs and invertebrates may dry up. Too much water and the same dietary cast of characters can easily disperse, making it tough to for nesting parents to capture enough food to feed themselves, let alone their young. To raise two chicks they require nearly 450 pounds of food throughout the nesting season. If they can’t find food, they don’t nest and if the season goes sour they may abandon a nest.

In the air they are remarkably elegant, using long, broad wings to soar on thermal updrafts and swoop in to marshes and swamps. On approach they drop down their landing gear, a pair of thin, sturdy legs that reminds me of the wheels on a plane. Up close they have a face that looks like a vulture. Although younger storks retain a slightly feathered head, “stork-patterned baldness” sets in upon adulthood, providing an easier feeding experience as they dunk their smooth, domed heads in the water to seek prey.

I love Wood Storks. I can’t help but point one out every time I see one. I’m just superstitious and on this particular day as the white and black bird glides over the pines and nears my lawn, my soon-to-be parent instinct leads to my maniacal “nooooooooooooooooooooooo”. It works and the bird majestically takes a slightly altered flight line.

Theodoro Corradino was born on 1/31/2011. If he’s anything but the most beautiful baby I wouldn’t know. I would imagine the Wood Storks think the same of their hatchlings.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Something Big Lives Behind My Stove

There are few good reasons to pull a stove away from the wall in anyone’s house. Maybe there’s a portal to a secret dimension where you never grow older or there’s a treasure vault hidden by a bootlegger in decades past. I was simply looking for the stove model # and what I found was horrifying.

Typically the items discovered behind any large appliance include Chinese takeout menus, diamond-grade pasta noodles, the fridge magnet letters X or J and maybe a pet hamster that has long since been eulogized and buried. But what I saw sent me reeling. I wouldn’t even dare take, let alone post a picture. Cast about on the tile behind the stove was a ring of spider appendages that looked like a skeleton poking up through the sand in the desert. Each of the eight, L-shaped, stiff-haired legs measured nearly two inches. Absent were any other body parts. Something big ate this spider. Something big lives behind my stove.

Should I not be content that the hideous creature that entered my house uninvited has been unceremoniously dispatched? It’s bad enough knowing the spider was inside these walls but something captured, killed and devoured this beast.

Days later I noticed a conspicuous pile of scat on the floor. It looked like a tiny tootsie roll left in the sun to long. I cleaned it up. The next day there was another. I cleaned that too and like a kid waiting for financial compensation from a tooth fairy, I came out the next morning to see if something had been left behind again. And it had. Not particularly magical.

My dad was visiting that day and I asked if he knew what it was. “That’s skink poop” he said with absolute certainty. It should be noted that not only have I cleaned up his quote for this post, but he is also an expert on the matter.

Days later I spotted the brilliant turquoise tail of a juvenile Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus) zip under the fridge and suddenly it all made sense. I made a deal with the skink – you eat the spiders, I’ll clean up your poop.