Migration: Watch it Live on Radar

Doppler radar image originally posted by Badbirdz--Reloaded.com. Click image for animation.

What does spring migration look like? Until now I could only imagine it. I’ve often wondered where I could find up-to-date tracking information on bird migrations. Building a strategic network of bird alerts to subscribe to and read each day would be one method, of course. Recently though, I discovered not one but two birding blogs that present Doppler radar tracking of migrating flocks: Badbirdz–Reloaded, based in Florida, and Woodcreeper, which covers New Jersey. Their posts from the last few days — Feeling the Zugunruhe! [migration restlessness] and Migrants Just Making it into New Jersey offer animated Doppler radar images of birds on the move. Fascinating!

According to Badbirdz–Reloaded, both sites were inspired by Noel Wamer, a birder from Northeast Florida with a passion for tracking bird migrations using radar. Noel was apparently quite a personality, as a Woodcreeper tribute post to him from March 2007 attests.

If Noel taught these bloggers how to use radar to track birds then he has done a great service to everyone. Both sites extend that knowledge with pages for explaining how this is done. Badbirdz–Reloaded.com has a Birds and Radar Primer with several important links, including a New Jersey Audubon article How NEXRAD Sees the Atmosphere. Woodcreeper.com provides a Radar & Migration FAQ with a link to Radar Ornithology: Introduction  of the Clemson University Radar Ornithology Lab.

Although it seems to be a firmly established field, radar ornithology represents a whole new aspect of birding for me. It is exciting to discover a brand new aspect of hobby that you’ve been enjoying for some time. There is so much to read and learn. I better hurry though. The birds are coming and now I can see them.

Celebrating Science in Philadelphia

There is a new event happening April 15 – 28 here in Philadelphia that aims to be an annual event. The first Philadelphia Science Festival will spotlight the long and esteemed history of science in the city and highlight the important role of science in Philadelphia’s current academic, economic, and cultural life.


For two weeks Philadelphia’s schools, universities, cultural institutions, and research centers will come together as a single, united voice to put science in the spotlight. Scientists and engineers throughout the city will present fun, interactive programs for Philadelphians of all ages.

The Philadelphia region has long been a birthplace of innovation and continues to be an incubator of countless breakthroughs across a variety of disciplines. Yet many are unaware of the fascinating scientific activity happening all around us. The Philadelphia Science Festival aims to remedy this by engaging all Philadelphians in the science that makes this city great. A unique collaboration among organizations of varying sizes and missions, this truly citywide event is fueled by the best scientific and educational resources this city has to offer.  [http://www.philasciencefestival.org/]

I’m sure there will be great activities for kids, but I’m hoping there will also be informative and thought-provoking events for adults as well. Philadelphia has an exceptional tradition in the sciences: from Ben Franklin’s experiments with electricity to ENIAC, from sponsored natural history research at the Academy of Natural Sciences to medical breakthroughs at the cities prestigious teaching and research hospitals.

While you are contemplating what events to attend, vote on a name for the official festival brew — a special Belgian-style ale crafted by the Yards Brewing Co.!

Name the Philadelphia Science Festival Beer!

To celebrate the Philadelphia Science Festival, Yards is brewing a special Belgian Strong Ale. Its first tapping will be at the Science Festival tap party on Friday, April 15. It will also be available at café events throughout the city, throughout the Festival.


My suggestion was: Bartram’s Botanic Ale .  If that shows up in the list please vote it up!

This is a great idea for a festival and especially for a city like Philadelphia!

Releases from Philadelphia Science Festival Press Room

First Philadelphia Science Festival “experiments” with broad range of events this April. – March 9, 2011

Dow Helps Launch Philadelphia Science Festival in April through Presenting Sponsorship. – March 3, 2011

Philadelphia Science Festival Celebrates City’s Rich History of Invention, Innovation. – February 15, 2011

Philadelphia Science Festival will turn schoolyards, theaters – even a Major League ballpark – into hands-on laboratories for learning. – January 19, 2011

Philadelphia’s Museums, Cultural Institutions, Universities and Corporations Join Forces For Unprecedented Citywide Science Festival – September 27, 2010

Presentation to the Humboldt Society

My partner Michael and I will be presenting a travelogue of our January 2011 trip to Brownsville and McAllen, Texas.

Details are at the Humbolt Society website.

A Tavelogue Presentation by Michael and Michael

Treat yourself to a vacation in Southeastern Texas –vicariously– by joining Michael LoFurno and Michael Thompson as they present photos from their January 2011 birding trip to Brownsville, Texas and the lower Rio Grande Valley. A lush sub-tropical paradise? Well, not exactly, but the birding is indeed exceptional. The Brownsville-McAllen Texas area is a Mecca for birders hoping to add that stray Mexican specimen to their US bird list. It is a perennial meeting place for migrants and vagrants and an indispensable stop for birders doing a Big Year. This presentation is chock full of bird photos so, please, join us


The iPad and the Microscope

My iPad has not be the topic of a blog post until now. Maybe that is because I’ve had so much fun browsing the Internet and reading books with it that I’ve not stopped to write about it; besides, so many people have written, and continue to write, about the iPad that anything I might think to say would be surplufuous — other than the heretical wish that it had a tiny track ball like my Nexus One Android phone has for fine positioning of the cursor between letters. My finger tips are not well designed for navigating 10 pt fonts, even with the pop-up magnifying bubble to assist.

Magnification is, in fact, the topic that brings me to mention my iPad today. I’m excited about a purchase I just made to outfit my iPad for fun, education, and maybe a bit of citizen science. I just ordered the ProScope Mobile, a wireless, wifi-enabled microscope with exchangeable lenses. The microscope creates a wifi-hotspot and to transmit images to the iPad (or an iPone, iPod) and accessed with AirMicroPad (or AirMicro) software. Actually, it can transmit to over 250 devices at once, which is a bit of overkill even if it is being used by students in a large classroom. AirMicroPad can display stills and video from the microscope.

I am so looking forward to playing in the garden and woods with this. In addition to exploring tiny things to whet my own curiosity, I see this as being useful on HumboldtSociety.org field trips. Once I get it I’ll post some pictures from the micro-world here and give a review of how everything works. I wonder if AirMicro might someday be available in an Android version?

Birthday at Roatan and Belize’s Barrier Reef

Three years ago I learned of a Caribbean island called Roatan by following news about hurricane Felix. That was 2007 and the entry was called: Discovery by Hurricane. That brief post is one of the most visited on this blog, probably because of folks searching for Roatan as a cruise destination. Well, I’ll be actually visiting Roatan myself in a couple of weeks. My partner is taking me on a Caribbean cruise for my birthday this month.

I’ve never been on a cruise before, but I know that I love being on boats and the open water. The cruise is with Norwegian Cruise Lines and runs from Miami to Isla Roatan, Belize City, Coasta Maya, Mexico, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. In addition to the cruise he booked two snorkeling excurisions one in Belize and one in the Bahamas.

It’s hard to say what I’m looking forward to the most — being out in the Caribbean on a ship or snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef. As I mentioned in my 2007 blog entry, that reef is the world’s second largest. Since I snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef once, this will be an excellent experience to add to that.

I’ve been studying a field guide for Belize since I learned we would be going. If my photos turn out well I’ll post them to my Flickr account where I have currently pictures from our Jan. 2009 trip to Ecuador.

I’m also looking forward to birding while in the Caribbean. From the map of our route it looks like we will be passing near the Cuban coast on the way out from Miami and back. There might be some good pelagic birding opportunities and I’m considering taking our birding scope and tripod to see shearwaters, petrels, tropic- and frigatebirds, etc.

This trip is an excellent present and a great, although belated, follow-up to that blog post from 2007.

Preparing to go where no two shuttles have gone before


NBC News space analyst James Oberg’s article: NASA set for dramatic shuttle rescue is a clear and interesting report on what plans NASA has for rescuing the crew of STS-125/Atlantis should Atlantis be damaged during its mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. The article appeared the same day that the new Star Trek movie premiered and I think that the synchronicity of the two is worth noting. The reality of real and present space flight is much grittier and limited than flight in the future fiction of Star Trek, yet the human willingess to accept danger and reach out from our planet to take a place in the heavens beyond it is comparable. In our enthusiasm to witness the emotion and drama of movies like Star Trek let’s just not forget that there is plenty of drama surrounding our real-life, present-day forays into space. Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

The Franklin Institute’s Red Tail

(Photo copyrighted by Derek Ram 2007, GNU Free Documentation Lic., posted to Wikipedia)

Two red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) set up housekeeping on the side of Philadelphia’s science museum – The Franklin Institute. Staff members have installed a web cam so that anyone can follow the pair’s efforts to raise their three, very recently hatched, chicks. There is no artificial lighting so you’ll need to watch during daylight hours (Eastern Daylight Time).

Also recently hatched are three bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) chicks in Sidney, British Columbia. This nest can be seen on the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, a site for streaming wildlife cams.

Contemplating Loss of Green Friends

Although it is overcast today the weather is very pleasant. There is the slightest breath of a breeze and the temperature is a comfortable 64F (17.8C). What a great day to be having coffee on the deck!

The cats are out too. Fleck is doing that funny chattering thing that cats do when they see pigeons. Kai, the hyper-alert one, is scanning everything around him like a radar scope. Since the deck is 10ft high and has no stairs to the garden, it is essentially a giant outdoor play pen for them and they love it. I’m enjoying it quite a bit myself, but as I look at the garden below and imagine how it will be greening up soon, I notice that our largest hemlock is not well.

The graceful thirty foot tall tree, one of an original four, is dying. The hemlock at the back wall died last year. This one nearer the deck will die this year–next year at the latest. Its normal dark green needles have been yellowing and thinning out since last fall. I knew it was likely to happen, although I vainly hoped that our garden in Center City Philadelphia was isolated enough that the woolly adelgids would not find it. Clearly, there is no where for hemlocks to hide from this insect. It has been killing them everywhere and will probably wipe them out much like the chestnut blight wiped out mature American chestnuts from 1904 to 1940.

Worse than contemplating the loss of our garden trees is the thought of the changes this introduced pest is causing to the forests near Asheville, NC where I grew up. A recent article in Science Daily reports that the dying is progressing faster there than previously thought. I saw signs of it myself last September when I visited the area.

We will replace the dead hemlocks in our garden with something else. I wonder what will take the place of the ones in the coves of the southern Appalachians. Something will, as oaks replaced chestnuts, and spring will still come, but saying good-bye to the hemlocks is still not an easy thing to do.