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15 April 2019

The Feather Thief, by Kirk Wallace Johnson

In 2009, a thief broke into England’s Tring Museum and stole hundreds of curated bird skins. The thief was a talented American musician attending school in London. He broke apart specimens collected by Alfred Russel Wallace and Lionel Walter Rothschild and sold the feathers to men who tie salmon flies (originally for fishing, but now an art form in its own right). The story of this crime is well documented by an author who became obsessed with solving the case of the missing birds.

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1 March 2019

Friday fold: Gold Harbour, South Georgia

Near Antarctica, South Georgia Island is a good place to find glaciers and penguins. And, as it turns out: massive recumbent folds! Let’s take a look.

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1 January 2019

2018 Yard List

New year’s day is the time I tally up and report the bird species seen in my yard on the forested slope of Massanutten Mountain in Shenandoah County, Virginia. This is my seventh such annual list. Here are the previous iterations: 2012 (39 species) 2013 (51 species) 2014 (58 species) 2015 (65 species) 2016 (59 species) 2017 (56 species) It’s been a good year. Two new “seen for the first …

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13 March 2018

The Evolution of Beauty, by Richard Prum

This fascinating new work by ornithologist Richard Prum re-examines sexual selection (mate choice) as a driving force of evolutionary change independent of (and sometimes in contradiction to) the mechanism of natural selection (environmental adaptation). Prum positions himself as a modern advocate for the ideas Charles Darwin expressed in The Descent of Man, and that Alfred Russel Wallace argued against in the years following Darwin’s death. In The Evolution of Beauty, …

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1 January 2018

2017 Yard List

New year’s day is the time I tally up my accumulated bird species seen in my yard on the forested slope of Massanutten Mountain. This is my sixth such annual list. Here are the previous iterations: 2012 (39 species) 2013 (51 species) 2014 (58 species) 2015 (65 species) 2016 (59 species) Here we go, in chronological order of first appearance in our yard: Red-tailed hawk Red-bellied woodpecker Mourning dove Raven …

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3 April 2017

Virtual owl pellet

Owls are nocturnal birds of prey that eat rodents and grasshoppers, digest the good stuff, and cough up the rest in compressed “pellets” of fur, bone, and chitinous exoskeleton. I found an owl pellet in my yard a few weeks ago, and imaged it using my GIGAmacro Magnify2. I rotated it around to get multiple views, as seen here. I’ve got both Flash and non-Flash versions of the GigaPan embed …

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31 December 2016

2016 Yard List

Eastern bluebird (and its lunch, a camel cricket) Purple finch (male) At New Year’s, I post my “yard list” here. It’s a list of all the bird species observed in my yard in Fort Valley, Virginia, over the course of the previous calendar year. I have been posting this list every year since I moved here: 2012 (39 species) 2013 (51 species) 2014 (58 species) 2015 (65 species) Yellow-billed cuckoo …

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28 November 2016

Scenes from the Wildlife Camera

Here’s a look at some of the wild critters that have been visiting my yard this year: The video’s organized in alphabetical order, so it starts with bears, and ends with a walking stick insect. See how many you can identify! Plus, here’s a compilation of 125 still photos of black bears from June of 2015:

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3 October 2016

A virtual field trip to Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland

Rathlin Island lies north of mainland Northern Ireland, a few miles offshore. I spent three lovely days there this past summer, investigating the geology and appreciating the wildlife (puffins and other sea birds, and seals). The geology is pretty straightforward: Paleogene basalt overlying Cretaceous “chalk” (really not so chalky here – technically, it’s the Ulster White Limestone). Here’s a suite of interactive imagery that you can use to explore Rathlin’s …

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20 April 2016

Who ate the woodpecker?

Occasionally, our big windows get in the way of birds. The latest casualty was a hairy woodpecker, Leuconotopicus villosus. While it’s sad that our home being where it is caused the end of this bird’s life, its body was an opportunity to teach my son something about wildlife and ecology. We have a motion-sensitive wildlife camera trained on our compost pile, and so I put the woodpecker’s body there in …

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