Sunday, June 29, 2014

All About Downy Woodpeckers and more

Last night I stopped by to visit friends, Gerald and Jill, and some of their relatives who have arrived early for the July 4th celebration.  While I was sitting in their yard a downy woodpecker visited their feeders.  Apparently he is a frequent visitor.  Here is the one photo that I was able to get of this fast moving forager.

According to the website : "The active little Downy Woodpecker is a familiar sight at backyard feeders and in parks and woodlots, where it joins flocks of chickadees and nuthatches, barely out sizing them. An often acrobatic forager, this black-and-white woodpecker is at home on tiny branches or balancing on slender plant galls, sycamore seed balls, and suet feeders....Downy Woodpeckers are small versions of the classic woodpecker body plan. They have a straight, chisel-like bill, blocky head, wide shoulders, and straight-backed posture as they lean away from tree limbs and onto their tail feathers. The bill tends to look smaller for the bird’s size than in other woodpeckers.

Downy Woodpeckers give a checkered black-and-white impression. The black upper parts are checked with white on the wings, the head is boldly striped, and the back has a broad white stripe down the center. Males have a small red patch on the back of the head. The outer tail feathers are typically white with a few black spots.

Downy Woodpeckers hitch around tree limbs and trunks or drop into tall weeds to feed on galls, moving more acrobatically than larger woodpeckers. Their rising-and-falling flight style is distinctive of many woodpeckers. In spring and summer, Downy Woodpeckers make lots of noise, both with their shrill whinnying call and by drumming on trees."

Downy woodpeckers can be seen throughout most of North America.

More information and facts about the Downy Woodpecker is included from: :

Cool Facts

  • In winter Downy Woodpeckers are frequent members of mixed species flocks. Advantages of flocking include having to spend less time watching out for predators and better luck finding food from having other birds around.
  • Male and female Downy Woodpeckers divide up where they look for food in winter. Males feed more on small branches and weed stems, and females feed on larger branches and trunks. Males keep females from foraging in the more productive spots. When researchers have removed males from a woodlot, females have responded by feeding along smaller branches.
  • The Downy Woodpecker eats foods that larger woodpeckers cannot reach, such as insects living on or in the stems of weeds. You may see them hammering at goldenrod galls to extract the fly larvae inside.
  • Woodpeckers don’t sing songs, but they drum loudly against pieces of wood or metal to achieve the same effect. People sometimes think this drumming is part of the birds’ feeding habits, but it isn’t. In fact, feeding birds make surprisingly little noise even when they’re digging vigorously into wood.
  • Downy Woodpeckers have been discovered nesting inside the walls of buildings.
  • The oldest known Downy Woodpecker lived to be at least 11 years 11 months old.
Downy Woodpeckers eat mainly insects, including beetle larvae that live inside wood or tree bark as well as ants and caterpillars. They eat pest insects including corn earworm, tent caterpillars, bark beetles, and apple borers. About a quarter of their diet consists of plant material, particularly berries, acorns, and grains. Downy Woodpeckers are common feeder birds, eating suet and black oil sunflower seeds and occasionally drinking from hummingbird feeders.
Both male and female excavate the nest hole, a job that takes 1 to 3 weeks. Entrance holes are round and 1-1.5 inches across. Cavities are 6-12 inches deep and widen toward the bottom to make room for eggs and the incubating bird. The cavity is lined only with wood chips.
Downy Woodpeckers are numerous and their populations have increased since 1966, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 14 million, with 79 percent living in the U.S., and 21 percent in Canada.  
Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–8 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
0.7–0.8 in
1.9–2 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.6 in
1.4–1.5 cm
Incubation Period
12 days
Nestling Period
18–21 days
Egg Description
Completely white.
Condition at Hatching
Naked, pink skin, a sharp egg tooth at the tip of bill; eyes closed, clumsy.

This large moth was resting on one of my screens.

Finally, here is an updated photo of the front of the museum, featuring the new bench.

Dick Daniels, from 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

All About Firerflies

For today's blog posting I decided to include information about fireflies.  I have always been fascinated with them.  Once when I was a teenager a friend brought me up to a field that had tens of thousands of fireflies.  I will never forget that.  The whole field was glowing and blinking.

Lampyridae is a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles, and commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey. Fireflies produce a "cold light", with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale red, with wavelengths from 510 to 670 nanometers.

There are around 2,000 species of firefly found in temperate and tropical environments. Many can be found in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food. These larvae emit light and often are called "glowworms." In Grand Marais I have seen the larvae glowing along side creeks and lakes.  In many species, both male and female fireflies have the ability to fly, but in some species, females are flightless.

Fireflies tend to be brown and soft-bodied, often with the front wings more leathery than in other beetles. Although the females of some species are similar in appearance to males, larviform females are found in many other firefly species. These females can often be distinguished from the larvae only because they have compound eyes. The most commonly known fireflies are nocturnal,

A few days after mating, a female lays her fertilized eggs on or just below the surface of the ground. The eggs hatch three to four weeks later, and the larvae feed until the end of the summer.  Fireflies hibernate over winter during the larval stage, some species for several years. Some do this by burrowing underground, while others find places on or under the bark of trees. They emerge in the spring. After several weeks of feeding, they pupate for 1.0 to 2.5 weeks and emerge as adults.

The larvae of most species are specialized predators and feed on other larvae, terrestrial snails, and slugs. Some are so specialized that they have grooved mandibles that deliver digestive fluids directly to their prey. Adult diet varies: some are predatory, while others feed on plant pollen or nectar. Some, like the European Glow-worm beetle, Lampyris noctiluca, have no mouth.

Most fireflies are quite distasteful to eat and sometimes poisonous to vertebrate predators. This is due at least in part to a group of steroid pyrones known as lucibufagins (LBGs), which are similar to the chemical  found in some poisonous toads

Light production in fireflies is due to a type of chemical reaction called bioluminescence. This process occurs in specialized light-emitting organs, usually on a firefly's lower abdomen. The enzyme luciferase acts on the luciferin, in the presence of magnesium ions, ATP, and oxygen to produce light. 

All fireflies glow as larvae. Bioluminescence serves a different function in larvae than it does in adults. It appears to be a warning signal to predators, since many firefly larvae contain chemicals that are distasteful or toxic.  Light in adult beetles was originally thought to be used for similar warning purposes, but now its primary purpose is thought to be used in mate selection. Fireflies are a classic example of an organism that uses bioluminescence for sexual selection. They have a variety of ways to communicate with mates in courtships: steady glows, flashing, and the use of chemical signals unrelated to photic systems.  Some species in Southeast Asia cooperate and all flash at the same time.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Lake Superior Beach

Yesterday we exercised by going up and down the steps at First Creek again.  Here are a few photos I took....

Channel lighthouse.


Looking east.

Looking west.

First Creek.

Jamey and Lois.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Iris Flowers and Sunset

Yesterday I didn't get a chance to go out and exercise since I had repair people at my house.  I had some of the snow monster damage repaired (broken roof vent) as well as some other work done.  Years ago I had a new well system installed due to lighting damage and the licensed professionals did not install it correctly.  It is amazing that it has worked since then -- at least until recently. 

So the good news is that my plumbing is now working correctly.  The bad news is that my house is mosquito infested, due to the plumbers coming in and out over a three hour period.  I was able to make one agate window last night, but then I spent over an hour and a half killing mosquitoes.  It became impossible to hold a hot soldering iron with the mosquitoes attacking.   am so sick of these tiny monsters.  Without exaggeration, I killed over 500 mosquitoes yesterday INSIDE MY HOUSE.  This morning I have already killed around 100.  I think I am finally making a dent in their population numbers. I agree with the Facebook posting I saw last week:  Noah should have killed both of them.

Iris blooms in my garden.

Sunset after glow last night.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Grand Marais Scenes

For today's posting I have miscellaneous pictures taken over the weekend.  On Saturday, I joined Jamey and Lois for exercise at First Creek.  Up and down the steps multiple times. 

Looking west -- there were several people on the beach.

Looking east there were a few people, too.

First Creek...

Jamey found a friend....

The remnants of sunset on the summer solstice....

Yesterday I took friends, Scotty and Billy, on a tour of some of the Grand Marais sites.  Logslide....

A passing freighter....

Au Sable Point..

We walked down the trail west of the Log Slide to the first overlook.  Everything is very lush this year!

We made a quick stop at the "meteor."

Jack in the pulpit....

Our next stop was the boat ramp at Sable Lake.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

New NASA Images from Space

For today's blog posting I checked in with NASA's Earth Observatory web page

In the above photo the green-brown waters of Barkol Lake sit within the pale shorelines of an ancient lake, hinting that the climate was once much wetter in this part of western China. Today the region is arid and brown. Barkol Lake’s annual mean precipitation is 210 millimeters (8 inches), while the annual evaporation rate is 2,250 millimeters (89 inches). The desert lake receives most of its water from runoff, and the water that remains after evaporation is very salty and full of minerals. Square ponds on the edge of the lake are probably evaporation ponds used to extract those minerals from the water.

Astronauts on the International Space Station snapped this photo on the lake on November 6, 2013. The astronauts were looking over the lake from the west, so east is toward the top of the photograph. The basin is closed, which means that the small streams in the photo run into the lake, but nothing runs out. Evaporation is the only means through which water leaves Lake Barkol.

The ancient shorelines show up as concentric rings, indicating that water levels have varied many times. One study identified five climates at Barkol Lake over the past 8,000 years, ranging from warm and wet to cold and wet and finally cold and dry. The average annual temperature in the area is now just 1° Celsius (34° F), though temperatures swing from extreme highs (33.5° C or 92.3° F) to extreme lows (-43.6° C or -46.5° F).



The two photos above show the before and after appearance of an area in Colorado that experienced a huge land slide.

On Sunday, May 25, 2014, a large mudslide rushed down a Colorado mountain near the town of Collbran covering an area three miles long and one-half to three-quarters of a mile wide. It claimed the lives of three ranchers and triggered a small earthquake.

The extent of the mudslide is evident in the top image, which was acquired by the Landsat 8 satellite on June 7. The lower image, taken by Landsat 8 on June 20, 2013, shows the slide region before the slide. The top edge of the slide, the scarp, is on the lower side of the image. The debris flowed north and ended at the toe, partially covering a natural gas well.
The slide happened in the Grand Mesa region of western Colorado, an area extremely prone to landslides. In fact, the recent mudslide began at the scarp of a previous landslide. The region is unstable because of its underlying geology. A layer of basalt lies on top of soft claystone that erodes easily. The basalt slumps when water erodes the soft rock beneath it, as illustrated in this diagram:

Landslides are most prevalent in this region during the spring and early summer when the ground is moist from snow melt and runoff.

On average, Colorado experiences thousands of landslides every year. According to the Colorado Landslide Inventory, most of the slides occur in the mountainous western half of the state.

To the human eye, the wind is invisible. It can only be visualized by proxy, by its expressions in other natural phenomena like blowing leaves, airborne dust, white-capped waters—or the patterns of clouds.

Cumulus cloud streets trace the direction, and sometimes the intensity, of winds. As puffy cumulus clouds form in the warmth of morning sunlight, they line up parallel to the direction of the wind. Often this means a straight line, as seen in the winter when cold winds blow over warmer waters, as shown in the NASA image below of the Great Lakes.

But clouds can also line up along the concentric, curved lines of high-pressure weather systems. The image above of Brazil was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite on June 5, 2014. It shows a broad swath of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil and Bolivia as it appeared in the early afternoon (1:20 p.m. local time or 1720 Universal Time).

“Convective cloud streets form during the day due to heating of the land, often over fairly flat surfaces,“ wrote Patrick Minnis, a cloud researcher at NASA’s Langley Research Center. As sunlight warms the Amazon rain forest in the morning, water vapor rises on columns of heated air (thermals). When that humid air runs into a cooler, more stable air mass above, it condenses into fluffy cumulus clouds that can line up with the prevailing winds. “The clouds form in the morning and die out in the afternoon as the surface heating diminishes. They are very common over the United States during summer.

Kristopher Bedka, another Langley cloud researcher, examined a numerical weather prediction model to find the wind direction near the top of the boundary layer on June 5. “There appeared to be a high-pressure center in southeast Brazil causing the air flow to move counterclockwise around the center,” he noted. “The cloud streets aligned almost perfectly with the wind flow.”