Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Um, no it's not.
The wild bird sphere utilizes some odd terminology. A bird that is more white (or just lighter) than usual used to be called albino, or partially albino. More recently, the term "leucistic" has sprung up. None of these are particularly useful, or even correct.
Why the insistence on using such generic terminology? Am I missing something? Why has the knowledge of color genetics gained through other research on other animals (including birds) not gained regular usage amongst birders?
I spent a lot of time researching color genetics in horses, and in Peach-Faced Lovebirds, with minor forays into the color genetics of dogs, cats, other parrots, and chickens. I have gotten started on a degree in genetics (just some first and second year courses under my belt).
Albinism is a particular condition, a complete absence of pigmentation. No, you can't have a partially albino individual. They either are albino, or they aren't. Partially albino is a useless, antiquated term. In addition, if the bird is completely white, with dark legs and eyes, it is NOT an albino.
Within domestic bird populations (and occasionally wild birds), the first color mutations to occur are usually reduced pigment (dilution genes) and random de-pigmentation (spotting genes).
Small genetic mutations allow for different colors. These mutations do occur in wild populations (Budgerigars, in Australia, for example - blue birds are occasionally seen in the wild) but these individuals do not usually live long enough to pass on their genetics.
The actual mutations of the genes involved do not occur more often in captivity than in the wild (as far as I know however, this hasn't been studied). The difference is that they are usually disadvantageous in wild individuals (again, leading to a lessened chance for survival), but are almost always selected FOR in captivity. Why do these small mutations occur then, if they don't translate to an advantage in wild animals? That's that little "evolution" thing, you know, small changes in genetic code, some of 'em work, some of 'em don't.
Most "off-color" or "aberrant" wild birds are not diluted - they have white patches in their plumage, which is otherwise normally colored. Sometimes, this can be caused by injury - say a small bird is hit by a hawk but escapes. It may acquire scar tissue, leading to some white-colored feathers. However, most of these aberrant wild birds have much more white coloring than we would expect from an injury, such as an all-white head, or the Pigeon at the top of this post. These individuals have a spotting gene. Just like pinto horses, and Border Collies. :)
I would very much like to see a better term applied to these birds, "leucistic" being much too general. Click here for a very brief overview of the word. The most important point is that it is a VERY general description of a phenotype, indicating *nothing* of the genotype. If the phenotype is visible enough to make enough of a distinction to label the bird as "leucistic", it's likely visible enough to say whether the individual is diluted, or spotted.
Here's an example. Pictured below are, left to right, a bay, a buckskin, and a bay pinto.
So why do we lump it all together with birds? Even at a distance, a spotted Pigeon is clearly distinct from a diluted (think "Fawn-colored") Pigeon. Aren't we as birders scientifically sophisticated enough to make this basic distinction?
If you made it all the way to the end, I thank you for your time, and apologize for my long-windedness!
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Can't judge the legs or breast streaking, and since it appears to be a juvenile, can't use the nape color either.
Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks
Inspecting this photo has made me question a yard bird we had a couple of years ago, which I thought at the time was a Sharp-Shinned, however it was also quite large. I have no photos though, and my memory is sketchy! So that bird will remain a "don't know".
Monday, December 21, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
I don't see myself wanting to see that many birds... I like birds, and taking bird trips, but that's extreme. Whoa.
It did make me curious for one thing - I wanted to have a chronological life list. I want to be able to say what my 100th bird was. I had a life checklist, but wasn't sure where it was. Found most of my bird books and entered all the info I could find into a database. Ended up with 2605 records. For a piddly life list of 183. Figured it would be at least 200. Sigh. I could increase it without birding if I could get some of my bad blurry photos recognized - my pics aren't good enough to say which peeps I've seen, so I didn't count any. But that won't make it 200.
It ends up being especially bad considering that my yard list is 75!
Oh well, more excuse to go birding!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Believe in whatever you want to believe. But don't expect to be taken seriously if you've got nothing to back it up with.
The Wall Street Journal has a new article out, summarizing (and rebutting) most of the claims of the "I don't believe in Global Warming" crowd. Just a synopsis, but handy.
Click Here for the Story
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Saturday, December 5, 2009
There's an article on BBC News (found on Birdchick) detailing the evolutionary changes underway within the Blackcap.
There's an interesting lack of opinion as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing... Must nosh on these thoughts...
Friday, December 4, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
The following is from another blog I had, that I plan to delete. Didn't put much info on it, but don't want the info to disappear! A few sightings from earlier in the year. Purpose was so that I could record my sightings from work or from home!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
What: Gray Partridge (1), Church Ave, btw McPhilips & Fife (at front yard feeder)
What: Gray Partridge (1), Church Ave, btw McPhillips & Fife
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
What: Common Raven (heard) answered by American Crow (heard)
When: 24 Mar 2009 (100 pm)
What: Seven Canada Geese flying overhead (at Inkster&McPhillips intersection)
What: Two Gray Partridges, along Church Ave (btw McPhillips and Fife) running lawn-to-lawn.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
What: One Common Raven, in front of house. Heard croak, then saw bird flying off
What: One Gray Partridge on Church Ave, btw McPhillips and Fife, boulevard, south side of the street. Standing lookout? First sighting on the south side of the street.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
What: About five Gray Partridges on the boulevard on Church Ave (sheltering in a depression in the snow around a tree trunk)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
No new drawing! Just a word about my profile photo. This photo contains all of my (current) tools. My medium is graphite. To be more specific, a 0.5 mm "bic" mechanical pencil. I don't use art pencils (2B or 2H, that is the question) as I'm too impulsive and disorganized to toggle back and forth between a bunch of pencils. I figure I'm doing well if I can find the one! If I need a darker effect, I keep coloring over the area. Or press harder. For a lighter effect, I don't press as hard. Life's just easier that way.
My support (surface to which medium is applied) is paper. Specifically, printer paper. The kind you get in big packages from Staples. I've bought many sketchbooks, and rejected each. I like the bright-whiteness, smooooooth surface and not-bound-into-a-book qualities of the printer paper. I tie my pages down to a clipboard. We're real fancy around here!
Sunday, November 22, 2009
This has probably been the best birding year yet! Today we added a new yard bird. It's the *ninth* new yard bird this year - haven't had that many new ones since the first year we had feeders up! A very exciting bird, a Summer Tanager. It was a funny moment, all four of us were sitting at the kitchen table (a rare event). E. noticed it first. "What's that?" The two words guaranteed to get a reaction out of me when sitting next to the watching window! "Never mind, it was a leaf." Uh, ok.. Then I. chimed in. He'd seen it to, and went to the back door to check. "It's on the grapes!" Then we all saw it fly from the grapes onto the cherry tree. Grabbed for the binocs, but it was behind branches! Agh! Get the camera, get the camera, GET the CAMERA! Managed to get a couple of bad photographs.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Male) - Graphite on Paper
Copyright Nicole MacPherson, 2009
I sure look forward to these birds arriving in the spring! They usually arrive just before the orioles, and have the most beautiful song. The males are very conspicuous in the trees, red spots on bright white chest. They're more skittish than many of the birds, and aren't usually willing to come to the feeders nearer the house, preferring to eat seeds on the ground.
I enjoy drawing dark birds. It's more work, uses more pencil (and eraser!) and is more complicated - must only work down and to the right, or else pencil will be smudged EVERYwhere! But I find it easier to draw than the lighter birds. I must have a heavy hand with the pencil!
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Copyright Nicole MacPherson, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Plan: Drive out of Winnipeg!
Destinations: Oak Hammock Marsh, Teulon
Weather Forecast: Clearing
March 21, 2009: Left town going north on McPhillips, turned west onto Hwy 67, then north on PR 220 to head for the interpretive center. Encountered about 6 Canada Geese on PR 220, feeding in the stubble. I'm not sure if this exaggerated pose was for our benefit, or his (?) mate!
Canada Goose, Oak Hammock Marsh, March 21, 2009
Hoping for a Meadowlark sighting, but no such luck. Just before the turnoff, saw in the distance (around the Artesian Well?) a group of flying birds. Possibly the Mallards everyone had been talking about? Only a short debate was necessary over the possibility of heading that way - the Volvo is a trooper, but the possibility of getting stuck was too great... Turned into the interpretive center and drove up to the sightings board. Our footwear was inadequate for the amount of water and snow, so we didn't attempt the trails. Headed back down PR 220. Saw another group of geese hanging out on the ice just south of the Interpretive Center's parking lot.
Turned west on Hwy 67 and saw a Snowy Owl on a road sign! He wasn't feeling charitable however, and flew off on our approach. Disappointing, but this breaks a five year dry spell on Snowy Owls for me! Very glad for the sighting!
Grain Elevator, Teulon, March 21, 2009
Major excitement - our Snowy Owl is still there! Perched on the opposite side of the road, picture-taking opportunities are limited to shooting through the windshield. I couldn't see any black spots on him at all! He gave us a few shots, then took off into the nearby field. I'm assuming this was the same individual we saw previously, as the two road signs were almost directly across the road from each other.Snowy Owl, Hwy 67, March 21, 2009
Continued driving west, almost at the turn to Oak Hammock Marsh. "Wait, what's that over in that tree?" "What tree?" It always helps to have a birding partner with great eyesight! I don't know how he saw this one! The photo below was taken with a 48x zoom.Snowy Owl, Hwy 67, March 21, 2009
Turned south of PR 220 to return to Winnipeg. Hadn't gone a hundred yards before having to stop! Another Snowy!! This one let me get one photo, then flew to the next pole. We continued, slowly, driving in what was hopefully a very non-threatening manner. Stopped under that pole, and got a few more photos, before the owl swooped down and landed in the field. I LOVE that crown of black feathers!
"What's it got?" "What do you mean?" Our owl hadn't left because of us - she'd found a meal!
Snowy Owl and Meal, PR220, March 21, 2009
While Owl #3 didn't seem particularly nervous about us, it looked like she ate quickly, then stayed in place, scoping the area. We got many photos, but the distance was too great for really detailed pics. Then... "What's that in the distance?" "Where?" Would ya look at that - Owl #4 is sighted, in the same field. Very far away, only just barely close enough for ID. No photos of Owl #4, sorry!Snowy Owl, PR220, March 21, 2009
Continuing along the road (am I the only one who has trouble leaving a cooperative bird?), we saw another Red-Tailed Hawk, several more Crows, and two pairs of Gray Partridges, about a mile apart. Also saw a white bucket overturned on a post. We tried our best, but couldn't turn it into Snowy Owl #5.Gray Partridge, PR220, March 21, 2009
Snowy Owl (4)
Red Tailed Hawk (2)
American Crow (~10)
Gray Partridge (4)
Canada Geese (~12)
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Wilson's Snipe - Graphite on Paper
Copyright Nicole MacPherson, 2009
We used to have the same snipe as the Europeans - the Common Snipe. Turns out the Snipe on this side of the pond has a different display flight and different tail feathers. Who knew? So we have the Wilson's Snipe. Most literature describes these birds as elusive, but around here in the spring, they are often conspicuous, perching on fence posts and vocalizing. One quick late afternoon drive through the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve (near Tolstoi, Manitoba) produced six such sightings in less than two hours, but there wasn't enough light for great reference photos. None were clear enough for full drawings. Hence, another sketch.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
In field guides, Ovenbirds look rather nondescript. I was surprised at how different they look in person - the few I've seen were not brown, much more of an olive color, visible even without the binocs.
Ovenbird - Graphite on Paper
Copyright Nicole MacPherson, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Northern Flicker (Male) - Graphite on Paper
Copyright Nicole MacPherson, 2009
Flickers are great birds! These Woodpeckers are often found foraging on the ground. "Northern Flicker" was previously divided into two species - "Yellow Shafted" and "Red Shafted" Flicker. We get the Yellow-Shafted variety here, drawn by the Virginia Creeper vine. They stop by in spring, and stick around longer in the fall, when the berries are ripe. This male was sunbathing after eating some VC berries.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Plan: Drive around Westman.
Destinations: Oak Lake, Virden, Whitewater Lake
Weather forecast: Cloudy and/or rainy
Day 1 (October 10) Winnipeg to Brandon: Didn't leave Winnipeg til mid afternoon. Took the road north of Assiniboia Downs to get out of town. Some nice fall color to be seen. Weather remains cloudy, but patches of blue sky are seen, so optimism is high! Surely it wouldn't be cloudy for three whole days!
Oops! Rather than heading right back out on the roads after getting to Brandon, shopping and supper took up the rest of the daylight. Hoping for greater motivation tomorrow!
Day two (Brandon to Souris to Oak Lake to Souris): Oops! Slept in (way in!) and didn't leave town til mid afternoon again. Headed for Oak Lake, conditions still cloudy. Still some fall color to be seen around here as well.
Distracted by a small group of horses - thought this was one was the prettiest!
Not many birds to be seen, and evening approaching quickly. Got to the first marsh along PR254. Lots of birds in the water, but too dark for ID. White bird-shaped blobs, pelicans? Snow Geese? Swans? Made it to the resort and took some photos of the lake. Better luck tomorrow?
Oak Lake, October 11, 2008 Day Three (Souris to Oak Lake to Virden to Coulter to Whitewater Lake to Souris): Weather has changed. No longer cloudy. Now rainy. Determination remains high, however! Goal: head back to Oak Lake to identify our white bird-shaped blobs. First, town security watched us leave.
Daylight (of a sort) showed us some of the color we missed the night before.
A mammal sighting! We usually see many more birds than mammals on these trips, this one has been close to an exception! (Pardon the barbed wire)
Made it to the marsh! Our birds are swans! Rain increasing, visibility decreasing, but non-goose like necks are apparent, even in long-distance, no-light, blurry-as-all-get-out photos.
Tundra Swans and unidentified ducks, Oak Lake, October 12, 2008
Flocks of Snow Geese were seen on the way out from Oak Lake, most uncharacteristically not concerned with our presence.
Leaving Virden produced more flocks of Snow Geese (Click on photo to enlarge)
And some other birds. "What are those?" "Canada Geese." "No, they're not..."
I'd only seen Sandhill Cranes a few other times, with the greatest number at once being around six. This was amazing! (Click on photo to enlarge)
Photos aren't the clearest, but for these shots, I kind of like the misty, dreamy effect.
Travelled to Coulter, Sourisford and Waskada. Animal sightings were short, but lots to see, including grain elevators and burial mounds. We did add Horned Lark and Ring-Necked Pheasant. On to Deloraine and Whitewater Lake!
Distracted by a misty cow...
The road was A-W-F-U-L. It had been raining all day, and the car was struggling! The roads to Whitewater Lake are often difficult, but on this day, they were impassable for our poor little Volvo. Shortly after this photo, we turned around and almost got stuck. This was taken as a sign that it was time to head back!
The Snow Geese around Whitewater Lake are much more suspicious of people and cars.
Final bird tally not available (no list created at time of trip, and memory prone to failure). A good time was had by all!