Our Window on Nature

. . . exploring the world around us

Avian Behavior

Filed under: Birds — Lowell Christie -- April 9, 2016 @ 6:33 pm

W-GrebesWhat is bird-watching? If we limit our definition to the identification of new birds in order to lengthen one’s “life list,” birders who cannot afford to travel ’round the world chasing different species would soon check themselves right out of the sport. After you reach the point where nothing but rarities interests you, what’s left?

Fortunately, only a few birders take that narrow an attitude; most of us find watching a bird’s behavior every bit as entertaining as identifying its family lineage. Waves of warblers and kettles of raptors appear only several times each year, but the patterns of courtship and territorial and feeding behaviors are constantly occurring around us. (Read the rest …)

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Those 0l’ Devil Winds

Filed under: Weather — Lowell Christie -- April 1, 2016 @ 5:42 pm

DustDevil-3Prodigious pillars of sand … stalking with majestic slowness … their tops reaching to the very clouds.” So wrote Swiss adventurer John Burchardt when describing the swirling phenomena that he saw while exploring the deserts of northern Africa. The Native Americans of the Southwest called this sort of manifestation a “devil wind” when it occurred in their land. Today, we’re most likely to refer to it as a whirlwind or a “dust devil.”

But don’t give Satan the credit. A dust devil is actually a special type of dust storm. Instead of sweeping across the terrain as a broad sheet of blowing dust and debris, it is made up of dust that whirls in the form of a spinning column. (Read the rest …)

Searching for Spring

Filed under: Plants — Lowell Christie -- March 24, 2016 @ 7:59 pm

Columbine-LTwo thirds of the way through March is the beginning of the season we call spring. Often those in the colder parts of the country celebrate with snow shovels, digging out from a late winter storm.

[Originally written in 2009] Headlines such as last year’s are not unusual: March 21, 2008 – EARLY SPRING SNOWSTORM SOCKS MIDWEST; March 21, 2008 – NASTY SPRING SNOWSTORM AFFECTING FLIGHTS IN AND OUT OF CHICAGO; March 22, 2008 – SNOW SUSPENDS SPRING.

What is this thing called spring? Can we really pin its beginning to a particular date? Or does the date depend on specific plants – when they bloom, or when your particular locality turns green instead of white? Like many things in nature, spring seems to be a process, a gradual transition that doesn’t really have a beginning or an end.

Let’s start by examining why, on this year’s calendar, March 20th is marked as the beginning of spring. Then we’ll show how you can take part in a project to help define the other spring – the one that doesn’t have a date. (Read the rest …)

Cranes Congregating Along The Platte

Filed under: Birds — Lowell Christie -- March 13, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

Sandhill CraneThe earliest birds arrive while winter reigns along the Platte River in central Nebraska. Leaving their wintering grounds in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, most of the world’s population of lesser sandhill cranes follow an hourglass-shaped migration route that reaches its narrowest point where it crosses the Platte. Here the birds pause for almost a month to build up their fat reserves before dispersing widely over their breeding grounds in northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. You may see sandhill cranes in many states, but only in Nebraska and only in March will you find such a massive congregation of these birds. (Read the rest …)

Rattles From The Sky

Filed under: Birds — Lowell Christie -- February 27, 2016 @ 7:56 pm

Raven_croakVoices clatter overhead like rattling bones in an old calypso song. We’re lucky enough to share the neighborhood with ravens, and they attract our attention every time they pass by. This pair seems determined to prove the suitability of their name, Corvus corax (from the German word for croaker.)

The most common call we hear is a loud, deep-voiced croake-croake. The dry bones rattle, cur-ruk, that we hear less often is given mostly in flight. Naturalists have long known that ravens have a language of their own, but they’ve learned only recently to decipher its meaning. We don’t claim to speak raven, but when our duo flies over they do appear to be deeply engrossed in conversation. (Read the rest …)

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