Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reasons I want to go to Turkey (2 out of 10)

(If you thought this series was about Costa Rica, you were gravely mistaken.)


(From Jorge Rubio Photography.)

It's a Lammergeier.  They're massively huge vultures, with a wingspan of up to 10 feet, weighing up to 17 pounds, found only in high mountains to 13,000 feet.  They're scavengers and are able to digest bones.

They're huge.

  (From Wikipedia.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Daniele Occhiato Bird Photography

While on the hunt for Turkish bird photos, I came across the stunning galleries of Daniele Occhiato on PBase.  The photos from Turkey and nearby countries multiplied my current Turkey craze exponentially.  

Snowfinch by Daniele Occhiato.

Be sure to check out the rest of his photos here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October Bluestem

I really love October.  It's probably my favorite month.  It seems like everything is my favorite color.  The prairie is stunning right now, with big and little bluestems turning to their radiant mahogany-red fall colors.

Little bluestem seedhead.

Big bluestem seedhead.

I was trying to take a self portrait of me jumping, but I jumped too soon.  It looks like I'm giving the prairie a big air hug, which works, too.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reasons I want to go to Costa Rica (1 out of 10)

(This series is in no particular order.)

A good reason for wanting to go to Costa Rica is to hear a Black-faced Solitaire's song in person.  Recordings (like the one below) give me goosebumps.

(From xeno-canto.)

Not a bad-looking bird, either.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Big Sit! 2010

The Big Sit! 2010 is coming up.  You should participate.

If you're wondering what The Big Sit! is, here it is in a nutshell, straight from The Big Sit! website:

"The Big Sit! is an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event hosted by Bird Watcher's Digest and founded by the New Haven (CT) Bird Club. Every team that observes this year's "Golden Bird" has a chance to win $500. We hope bird watchers from around the globe will unite on this special day by participating in this event (it's free!). The Big Sit! is sponsored by Swarovski Optik.
The Big Sit! is like a Big Day, or a bird-a-thon in that the object is to tally as many bird species as can be seen or heard within 24 hours. The difference lies in the area limitation from which you can observe. THIS FREE EVENT is OPEN to every person and club in any country!
Some people have called it a "tailgate party for birders." Today there are Big Sit! circles all over the world, including Guatemala, India, the Netherlands, England, Vietnam, and New Zealand.
The simplicity of the concept makes The Big Sit! so appealing. Find a good spot for bird watching -- preferably one with good views of a variety of habitats and lots of birds. Next you create a real or imaginary circle 17 feet in diameter and sit inside the circle for 24 hours, counting all the bird species you see or hear. That's it. Find a spot, sit in it, have fun."
Click here to find out more and register your circle.

I participated for the first time last year.  I had big plans to place my circle on the minimum maintenance road that's about a mile south of my house, hoping to find some awesome stuff.  However, the weather turned nasty (snow, cold, etc.) and I ended up having it in my yard.  It was still a lot of fun, even though it never got above 30° F and there were a few inches of snow on the ground.  I ended with 30 species, including my one-and-only Fox Sparrow of that fall, a flyover Prairie Falcon, and several Greater Prairie-Chickens. 

I didn't take any photos during The Sit, but here's a representative photo I took the day before of a Field Sparrow posing with a clump of snow in a still-green Siberian Elm.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

No Shortgrass

Most of Nebraska's prairie ecoregion maps look like this.

Or this.

Most sources seem to agree that most or all of the grasslands west of the Sandhills and south of the Pine Ridge (in other words, the High Plains) are "shortgrass prairie."  Shortgrass prairie is defined by the Nebraska Natural Legacy project as being "... dominated by short statured grasses such as buffalograss, blue grama, sideouts grama, and purple threeawn. ... The low precipitation in the shortgrass prairie ecoregion, in conjunction with grazing causes, [sic] most shortgrass vegetation to rarely exceed 10 inches in height."  This is a tidy way to classify Nebraska's High Plains prairies, but, as will be revealed below, not entirely true.

Enter Terrestrial Ecological Systems and Natural Communitese of Nebraska, Version IV, by Steve B Rolfsmeier and Gerry Steinauer.

I got this awesome publication about a month ago.  It defines the 19 ecological systems and 83 natural communities found in Nebraska and goes into great detail on all of them, including ranges, environmental descriptions, vegetation descriptions, invasive species of concern, and several other topics.  Most of their classification correlates with what other sources have classified, with one major exception: they changed the name of the universally-accepted "Western Great Plains Short-grass Prairie" to "Western Great Plains Mixed-grass Prairie."  Basically, they're ditching the term "shortgrass prairie."   Here's why:

"For many years, biogeographers and ecologists unfamiliar with the region have classified the High Plains of western Nebraska as a region of "short-grass prairie," as the global name for this ecosystem reflects.  Short-grass prairie is defined as dominated by blue grama with other short and mid-height grasses playing a secondary role.  In Nebraska, areas of short-grass prairie have been recorded, but always as a patches [sic] occuring within a mixed-grass prairie setting, apparently the result of localized heavy grazing.  These sites tend to revert to mixed-grass prairie once grazing pressure is diminished.  Prairie in the northern High Plains of Nebraska tends to be dominated by cool-season graminoids, with blue grama playing a supporting role (except where increasing under heavy grazing), so the inclusion of this area in a system dominated by warm-season grasses seems problematic.  "Short-grass prairie" was recognized as an accepted community in previous editions of this classification, but its occurrence as a patch type within several other mixed-grass prairie communities (usually Threadleaf Sedge Mixed-grass Prairie but also Loess Mixed-grass Prairie, Sandhills Dry Valley Prairie, and Northwestern Mixed-grass Prairie) indicates that in Nebraska it exists only as a temporary condition caused by livestock or herbivore grazing (though in some cases grassland associated with dense clays in extreme northwest Nebraska may be naturally-occurring shortgrass type, albeit limited in distribution."

So, assuming that the above is true (which I have no doubt that it is), it seems like "shortgrass prairie" should be out of the picture in terms of Nebraska's ecoregions, being replaced with "mixed-grass prairie"—more specifically, "Western Great Plains Mixed-grass Prairie."

Some Western Great Plains Mixed-grass Prairie in central Sioux County in late June.