One of the pleasures of working from home is taking a break whenever I need one so I can putter around the house. I do the dishes, clean up a bit, whatever’s necessary to clear my mind a bit or work out some bodily kinks.
Sometimes I’ll just stand in my kitchen and look out the window, watching nature do whatever it is it does. I was doing that today, a little while ago in fact. As I stood looking over the lawn, a common Robin swooped in and landed in our eaves. To my delight, it hopped into an old abandoned House Finch nest and started redecorating:
How wonderful! Who cares about a housing bubble when you can simply assume the mortgage of a slightly used fixer-upper? Unless the previous owners don’t even know, in which case this is robin from them.
By the way, I took this picture by holding my phone up to my binoculars. It was surprisingly difficult, and this was the best out of about two dozen I took. If and when the eggs hatch, I’ll try to take more.
- Grotesque Caturday
- Baby swallows
- You know who wanted to see evolution in action? Katydid.
- Rapturday (possibly NSFL pix)
At first, Nyan Cat got off to a rocky start.
Via my pal Miss Cellania (possibly not her real name) at Neatorama, I saw this short cat video which is really pretty funny:
Ha! This is a great example of audio pareidolia; hearing (instead of seeing, as it’s usually done) some recognizable pattern in a completely unrelated series of noises. It helps a lot if you’re cued in some way to hear it with subtitles. In this case the title of the Neatorama post had me listening for the words "I don’t want to", but I think I would’ve heard it anyway.
But I wonder: if they were going to a dispensary and asked the cat what they were getting, would you hear "marijuana"?
Check out the posts below for more of this sort of thing. The first one still makes me laugh.
I actually got a note on twitter recently asking me why I haven’t posted a picture of my dogs recently. That was a refreshing idea since I get complaints when I don’t write about astronomy.
So here you go: nothing profound or deep or cosmic or philosophical. Just me and Canis Minor.
… and as for the title of this, Harlan Ellison fans know what I’m talking about. I think I showed marvelous judgment, if not particularly good taste.
[Just a note: if you're not a fan of nature documentaries because they sometimes show nature being natural -- specifically, predators eating prey -- then you might want to skip this post.]
This morning I was at my computer, just settling down with my coffee and a ton of emails to get through, when the dogs started barking upstairs. It wasn’t their usual "Alert! Alert! The neighbors are outside!" or "Wake up! A truck drove by!" bark — it was urgent and non-stop. Wondering what it could be, I got up, walked over to the back door, and HOLY CRAP THERE’S A HAWK EATING ANOTHER BIRD THREE METERS FROM MY DOOR!
I grabbed the dogs, threw them in the bedroom, hastily told my wife what was happening, ran back to my office to grab the camera, and took about a hundred shots.
[Click to accipiterenate.]
I have some software that helps identify birds, and it turns out to be surprisingly difficult to figure out what kind of hawk is what. My best guess is that this is a Sharp-shinned hawk, judging from the tail coloration and the plumage. The software says they can have blue-gray upper parts, but all the pictures I see look like this fierce raptor, with red-brown striped feathers. It’s definitely not a Red-tailed hawk. [UPDATE: in the comments a lot of folks seem to be converging on it being a Cooper's hawk. I looked at some photos, and it does match.]
The bird it was eating was also hard to identify from a distance (especially given the circumstances). At first I thought it was a gull; we get them around here at dumps and reservoirs. However, once the hawk left and I got the privilege of cleaning up (yuck; there were feathers everywhere) I could see it was a common white pigeon.
Here are a couple of more shots, which I’ll put after the jump just in case some folks are squeamish. They aren’t horribly gruesome, but might disturb more empathetic readers.
You see, this is why I didn’t do very well in my graduate quantum mechanics class.
I couldn’t think outside the box.
"On the other hand we really don’t know her momentum at all."
"Placebo control groups really aren’t appropriate for quantum experiments."
"How science will be done under a Rick Perry Presidency."
"This is what happens when you let Schrödinger’s dog run the experiment."
"My quantum trap finally succeeded for capturing a mewon."
A few nights ago, my wife went outside for a moment, only to come running back in a minute later, grabbing me. "Phil, come out here, you have to see this!"
So I went out, and she pointed out this lovely lady to me:
I recognized it right away: a katydid, though that’s a fairly generic name. I think that’s actually an example of Microcentrum retinerve, or the Lesser Angle-winged Katydid (though it’s possibly Microcentrum rhombifolium; it’s hard to tell in these pictures*). They’re pretty common in North America, though usually not this far west from what I can tell. It was roughly 5 – 7 cm long, and quite pretty. I suspect this one is female because there are no brown spots near the tops of the wings, which males have (I wondered briefly if it may have been a nymph, but this late in the season that seems unlikely). I would’ve checked for an ovipositor, but c’mon, have some respect.
Check out those wings: they look amazingly like plant leaves, which is of course why my wife was so excited. The obvious conclusion is that long ago, the insects like this that had greenish wings with vein-like structures were harder to spot by predatory birds, and were able to pass this characteristic down to their kids (ones that were easier to see got eaten, and didn’t get a chance to reproduce as much). Little by little, bit by bit, every time one insect’s wings looked a bit more leafy than its siblings it would tend to live longer, and reproduce more. Over thousands, millions, of generations of katydids we get this: an insect that would be incredibly difficult to see from the air. Natural selection at work, my friends. Some people would even call this evolution. I know I would.
A very cool thing to see, and a fun example of how wonderful and subtle nature can be.
But sometimes subtlety is overrated. Wouldn’t it have been cooler to see one like this?
* And duh, of course I had to look those names up online. I’m an astronomer, not a bugologist.
I know this cat is unhappy, and I know it was probably really really upset, and I know I shouldn’t laugh at this.
But I did. A lot.
I’m a terrible person.
Tip o’ the hairball to my pal Chris Pirillo. Follow him on Google+.
Yesterday I went out for my first real bike ride in a couple of weeks (Dragon*Con took up a lot of time!) and had a wonderful excursion. Besides seeing the Mork and Mindy house (which I’ve biked and driven past a million times but never stopped to look at), I saw this cute couple by the road:
Awwwww. Funny– I knew if I got off my bike they’d run, so I had my phone out and ready, biking slowly so the picture would be steady. I was surprised at how well it came out!
It’s actually fun to hang out near a colony and listen to the noises they make; they have different sounds for various things they want to communicate, like getting another’s attention, or warning about a predator. I know the picture looks, um, prurient, but prairie dogs are actually highly social, and like to stand near each other. When they want intimacy, they go underground.
I’ll have to bring a better camera with me next time I go past this colony. They were pretty active, and just too adorable.