Sunday, May 31, 2015

All About Bluebirds

Last night after closing the museum I was playing cribbage with friend, Renee, when she noticed the bluebird in front of my house.  I immediately grabbed my camera and was able to get a couple of photos.

The bluebirds are a group of medium-sized birds in the genus Sialia of the thrush family (Turdidae).  They are known to be mostly insectivorous, but can be omnivorous.  Gardeners like to have them around since they can be voracious in their appetite for insects.  They are blue with rose beige underside. Female birds are less brightly colored than males, although color patterns are similar and there is no noticeable difference in size as can be seen in the Wiki image below.

The species I photographed is an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), which is the state bird of Missouri and New York.

Bluebirds are territorial and prefer open grassland with scattered trees. This is similar to the ecosystem of many other species.  By the 1970s, their numbers had declined by as much as 70% due to unsuccessful competition with house sparrows, woodpeckers, and starlings.  Introduced species of competitive birds caused most of the decline in numbers.  However, in the last decade volunteers have established and maintained bluebird trails and platforms, which has helped these beautiful birds to increase their population numbers.   The range for the Eastern Bluebird is shown below.

Eastern bluebirds are very social birds. At times, they gather in flocks of a hundred or more. However, they are territorial during the breeding season and may continue to defend a feeding area throughout the winter. Mating occurs in the spring and summer. A mature female typically raises two broods each season (March through August). Males identify potential nest sites and attract prospective females by singing, flapping his wings, and placing some material in a nesting box or cavity. If the female accepts the male and the nesting site, she alone builds the nest and incubates the eggs.

Nests are constructed in trees within abandoned woodpecker holes or other cavities that provide adequate protection (usually several feet above ground). The female takes around 10 days to complete the nests, which are small, cup-like structures lined with grass, feathers, stems, and hairs.

Each female lays three to seven light-blue or, rarely, white eggs. The female incubates the eggs, which hatch after 13 to 16 days. The young cannot care for themselves upon hatching. The female broods the chicks for up to seven days after hatching. Fledglings then leave the nest 15 to 20 days after hatching.

Both parents cooperate in raising the young, which they feed a diet consisting almost entirely of insects. Some young stay around the nest to help raise another brood. Fledglings are grayish in color, with speckled breasts. The blue color becomes much more prominent and the speckles on their breasts disappear as they mature. Bluebirds may begin breeding the summer after they are hatched. Eastern bluebirds can live for 6 to 10 years. The record lifespan for a bluebird was 10 years and five months.  However, a majority of bluebirds die within their first year of life. Starvation and freezing can threaten young bluebirds, but most threats come from other animals, including humans. Natural predators of eggs and nestlings can include eastern chipmunks, flying squirrels, American black bears, fire ants, and raccoons. Bluebirds of all ages (including adults) are threatened by rat snakes, racers, and American kestrels. Introduced species such as European starlings, house sparrows and domestic cats pose a major threat to bluebird nests, as well, with the cat being a serious predator of adult bluebirds and the other birds being competitors for nesting sites. Non-nesting adults face predation with all native species of falcons, owls, and most varieties of hawks (particularly in the Accipiter genus). When approached by a predator, males make a song-like warning cry. If a male is not present, a female will begin to sing, hoping to attract a protective male back to the territory. Both males and females also flick their wings and warble when predators are nearby, but losses are often heavy when a persistent predator finds their nest.

Eastern bluebirds  live in open country around trees that have little understory and sparse ground cover. Original habitats probably included open, frequently burned pine savannas, beaver ponds, mature but open woods, and forest openings. Today, they’re most common along pastures, agricultural fields, suburban parks, backyards, and even golf courses. This bird also occurs across eastern North America and south as far as Nicaragua. Birds that live farther north and in the west of the range tend to lay more eggs than eastern and southern birds

Identification information from the website is below.
  • Size & Shape

    The Eastern Bluebird is a small thrush with a big, rounded head, large eye, plump body, and alert posture. The wings are long, but the tail and legs are fairly short. The bill is short and straight.
  • Color Pattern

    Male Eastern Bluebirds are vivid, deep blue above and rusty or brick-red on the throat and breast. Blue in birds always depends on the light, and males often look plain gray-brown from a distance. Females are grayish above with bluish wings and tail, and a subdued orange-brown breast.
  • Behavior

    Eastern Bluebirds perch erect on wires, posts, and low branches in open country, scanning the ground for prey. They feed by dropping to the ground onto insects or, in fall and winter, by perching on fruiting trees to gulp down berries. Bluebirds commonly use nest boxes as well as old woodpecker holes.

Đ’asil at the English language Wikipedia:

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mars Rover Curiosity Photos

When I finished up at the museum last night I had a meeting and then when I was thinking about going for a hike -- the rain came in buckets.  Needless to say, I just headed home.  So for today's blog posting, I checked in to see what is happening with the Mars rover, Curiosity from the NASA webpage:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona 

The above map shows the route on lower Mount Sharp that NASA's Curiosity followed in April and early May 2015, in the context of the surrounding terrain. Numbers along the route identify the sol, or Martian day, on which it completed the drive reaching that point, as counted since its 2012 landing.

The map covers an area about one-third of a mile (half a kilometer) across. North is up. After the observations and measurements made by Curiosity's instruments at the base of Mount Shields, the rover resumed its approach to Logan Pass, on a route passing west of "Jocko Butte." The Sol 976 drive was completed on May 5, 2015.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M Univ. 

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover recorded the above photos of the sun setting at the close of the mission's 956th Martian day, or sol (April 15, 2015), from the rover's location in Gale Crater.  The four images shown in sequence here were taken over a span of 6 minutes, 51 seconds. This was the first sunset observed in color by Curiosity. Dust in the Martian atmosphere has fine particles that permit blue light to penetrate the atmosphere more efficiently than longer-wavelength colors. That causes the blue colors in the mixed light coming from the sun to stay closer to sun's part of the sky, compared to the wider scattering of yellow and red colors. The effect is most pronounced near sunset, when light from the sun passes through a longer path in the atmosphere than it does at mid-day.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech 

The Martian outcrop above shows where pale rock meets darker overlying rock.  This is an example of a geological contact, which can reveal clues about how the environmental conditions produced the rock types. NASA's Curiosity Mars rover took this image  after finishing an uphill drive of about 72 feet (22 meters) on the 991st Martian day, or sol of the rover's work on Mars (May 21, 2015). 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Grand Sable Lake Area Hike

Last night I went on a quick hike with friend, Lois Fite.  We went up and down the dunes at Sable Lake a few times -- for exercise of course.

Looking north....

Looking south across Sable Lake....

Along the edge of the dunes there were large patches of this incredible wonderful smelling flowers.  Does anyone know what type of flower this is?

There were also lots of very healthy looking wild pea....

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Interesting NASA photos and diagrams

It has been raining in Grand Marais for the past couple of days.  Rain and fog certainly makes for gray days.  We did get exercise last night (Sable Falls steps), but since we walked in the rain I did not bring my camera.

So for today's blog posting I went to one of my favorite NASA websites:

Baked Alaska

During the third week of May it was warmer in Fairbanks, Alaska, than in Washington, D.C. The small town of Eagle, Alaska, was hotter on May 23 than it has been on any day in Houston or Dallas this year. In what has become a frequent occurrence in the past few years, temperature profiles in North America appeared to be upside down.

The map above shows North American land surface temperatures from May 17–24, 2015, compared to the 2001–2010 average for the same eight-day period. Shades of red depict areas that were hotter than the long-term average; areas in blue were below average for the week. White pixels were normal, and gray pixels did not have enough data, most likely due to excessive cloud cover.

Chilean Volcano Ash


In late April 2015, Calbuco volcano in southern Chile spewed at least 210 million cubic meters (7,420 million cubic feet) of ash and rock during three explosive eruptions. A significant amount of the ash came to rest in neighboring Argentina. But some of that material didn’t stay put for long. On May 3, 2015, one of NASA’s  satellites acquired the above image of ash resuspended in the atmosphere—that is, it was picked up by low-level winds like debris in a dust storm. Calbuco (not pictured) is located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest from the lower-left corner of this image.

Other ash from Calbuco moved north toward Villarrica—another volcano in Chile that has seen renewed activity in 2015. On April 27, 2015, NASA acquired the image above, which shows a small steam or ash plume rising from Villarrica. But the brown, airborne material surrounding the volcano, and presumably some of the brown material on its flanks, is from Calbuco, located about 220 kilometers (140 miles) to the south.

Persian Gulf Dust Storm

NASA’s Aqua satellite captured the above natural-color image on April 22, 2015. Strong winds blew a thick plume of dust from Saudi Arabia out over the Persian Gulf. There is a rich supply of dust in the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter or Rub’ al Khali. Considered empty because it has so few human inhabitants, the Empty Quarter contains half as much sand as the entire Sahara Desert.

Mount St. Helens -- 35 years later

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens gave way to a cataclysmic flank collapse, avalanche, and explosion that killed 57 people and displaced many others. The event dramatically reshaped the volcano and surrounding land in southwest Washington.

Now, 35 years later, satellites in orbit and scientists on the ground still monitor the mountain and track its recovery. The image above shows a view the mountain, looking toward the southeast, as it appeared on April 30, 2015.

The mountain’s north flank was the site of the collapse and lateral explosion that devastated 390 square kilometers (150 square miles) of the landscape. The visualization below, based on digital elevation models from the U.S. Geological Survey, shows the elevation of the volcano’s summit before and after the blast.

Deposits from the landslide on the north flank—one of the largest in recorded history—buried the valley of the North Fork Toutle River with debris up to 180 meters (600 feet) deep in some places. Rivers have since reworked their way across the landscape, and new vegetation has greened up much of the land. The Pumice Plain still looks barren in the satellite imagery, but ground surveys note that small plants have regrown here too.

Not all of the recovery, however, is natural. According to Steve Malone, an emeritus professor at the University of Washington, much of the blow-down area was replanted and fertilized to get commercial crops, such as timber, growing again. “Only within the monument have things been left to recover naturally.”

Scientists also keep a vigilant watch on the inside of the crater, where two lava domes have formed. In the image at the top of this page, the dome in the crater’s foreground grew until 1986, at which time the volcano became quiet again. Renewed activity in 2004—followed by a phase of lava extrusion that lasted until 2008—formed a second lava dome immediately behind the first.

On the left side of the top image, log rafts are still visible in Spirit Lake. These drifting rafts are composed of floating trees, thousands of which were uprooted and carried there in 1980. The raft is gradually shrinking in size from year to year as trees sink to the bottom of the lake.

Not visible in this image, however, is the 2,600-meter-long (8,500-foot-long) drainage tunnel constructed in 1985 to carry water from the lake, through a ridge, and into a nearby creek. Eruption debris had blocked the natural outlet into North Fork Toutle River, so the tunnel was built to control the water level and prevent a potentially disastrous flood. News reports say the tunnel is becoming constricted and “needs work.”

NASA Earth Observatory map by Joshua Stevens, based on land surface temperature anomaly data from the NASA Earth Observations (NEO) Website. Caption by Mike Carlowicz. 

Volcano photos: NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Landsat 8 image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Caption by Kathryn Hansen.

Dust storm photo:  NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Adam Voiland.

Mount St. Helens images by Jesse Allen and Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and ASTER GDEM2 data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption by Kathryn Hansen. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Agate Beach Sunset

Last night I went for a walk with Jamey and Lois east of town.  I had my bug shirt on and both Jamey and Lois had bug hats.  However, the mosquitoes were out of control so we cut the walk short.  I didn't bring my camera with me (forgot it in my car), so I stopped by agate beach to get some photos of sunset.

There was an awesome cloud bank over Lake Superior....

The sun popped through under the cloud bank...

There is some rock on the beach, but not as much as the agate hunters want!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend Photos

There are a few people who were disappointed that I did not open the museum until Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.  I feel bad about not being open on Friday and Saturday, but each year my grandson's birthday party is on the Saturday of the holiday weekend.  I want to and will always attend this party.  I am so glad that I did this year.  Keenen is two and is, as you would expect, full of nonstop energy.  He is also talking now so it is great to have some two way communication.   The party is in Lewiston, so it is only a 3 1/2 hour drive from Grand Marais.  What a beautiful day we had!

Birthday boy....

Jonathan, Jessica, and Keenen....

Jess found one morel mushroom.  We looked for more without success.


Local resident....

The fruit trees were all in bloom.

Go, go go!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Spring Wild Flowers

Yesterday I took a quick hike at Sable Falls.  The trilliums and Marsh Marigolds are out in force.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Exploring the Beach East of Town -- Post 2

Believe it or not -- we have had snow flurries this morning.  It is 29 degrees outside with a brisk Northwest wind.  I was not emotionally prepared to see more snow.  After all, the flowers are up; there should not be any more snow!

Today I will post the rest of the photos from the beach hike the other night.  We were able to climb up the bluff.  As we walked the bluff, we saw a fishing boat coming our way.

Finally, we found a spot to climb down and back up.

After being gone visiting relatives for a while, Jamey and Lois's dogs (Bear and Nora) were as glad as we were to be down the beach.

The erosion has revealed more black sand.

Possible eagle nest.  We were not sure, but the mass was 3-4 feet high.

We walked east on the beach looking for the stump.  Then I spotted it.

Bear becomes one with the sand.

Jamey being Jamey.

Layers of black sand...