Friday, November 23, 2012


As you recall I identified the raptor that flew into our window this week as a Merlin.  Not so say my expert ornithologist friends.  They identified the beast as an immature sharp shinned hawk.  I agree.

The slender, long-bodied sharp-shinned hawk has short, rounded wings and a long, narrow tail. The adult has a dark, blue-gray back and a rusty-barred breast; immature hawks have more brown, with streaking on the underparts. The sexes are similar in appearance, but the female is about one-third larger than the male. Like all accipiters (a genus of small hawks with short wings and long tails), the sharp-shinned flies with several quick wing beats and a glide. 

Sharp-shinned hawk populations declined in the 1970s due to eggshell thinning caused by pesticide contamination in their prey. Although pesticides no longer play as large a role in the decline of sharp-shinned populations today, the species is still affected by other factors, like the loss of habitat. Collisions with plate glass doors and picture windows are responsible for the deaths of many sharp-shinned hawks annually. The glass reflects the surrounding woods and cannot be readily distinguished by a hawk chasing prey or seeking cover.

 The hawks usually bring their prey to a feeding perch or log. Such logs, and the feathers, fur or animal parts near them, are characteristic of the territory of sharp-shinned hawks and other accipiters.

The sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest North American accipiter. Its short wings and body design allow it to capture other birds while flying through thick woodlands.
This hawk gets its name from its flattened, thin "shins" or shanks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Merlin Arrived Yesterday

Yesterday afternoon we heard a thump on the living room window. On the ground was this beautiful falcon.  Yes, these critters are often called pigeon hawks, but they are actually falcons.

Judy, my bird whisperer, quickly scooped the raptor up in a soft towel and checked the beast out to see if he was OK.  No injuries were evident.

This bird was a male.  The adult male is dark slate-blue above  (females and juveniles are brown), streaked with black on the back, and the underneath is streaked with brown.  The tail is banded. 

Here are a few facts on the Merlin.
  • Merlins belong to the family Falconidae, a group of 60 species of caracaras, falconets, pygmy falcons, forest-falcons, and falcons.
  • Merlins were once known as pigeon hawks because their flight resembles that of pigeons (Columbiformes).
  • In medieval falconry, Merlins were used by ladies. Both Catherine the Great of Russia and Mary Queen of Scots flew Merlins.
  • Merlins have slightly larger wingspans than American Kestrels, and weigh up to three times as much as kestrels.
  • In North America, juvenile Merlins occasionally migrate in loose flocks, sometimes together with Sharp-shinned Hawks.
  • Each Merlin eats as many as 900 birds a year.
  • Few Merlins live to be five years or more, in part because they often collide with cars, buildings, and trees.
  • Merlins sometimes feed on birds such as pigeons, which are twice their size.
  • Larger raptors sometimes prey on Merlins.
  • The number of Merlins living in urban areas has increased substantially in the last 30 years.

Below you can see the typical banded tail of the Merlin.

We are so happy that this bird quickly recovered and flew away without any signs of injury.

OK - With all this being said, our friend Greg Park said that he believes it is an immature sharp shinned hawk.  I am consulting with our resident expert and will let you know.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Population Update
updated 11/13/2012 6:09:59 PM ET

The world's mountain gorilla population has grown slightly to 880 animals, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conservation group. That's up from an estimated population of 781 animals in 2010. 

The critically endangered animals live in only two places in the world — Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and the Virunga Massif area, which spans parts of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. 

The latest census counted 400 mountain gorillas living in Bwindi, while 480 animals were counted in the Virunga Massif in 2010. 

"Mountain gorillas are the only great ape experiencing a population increase," said David Greer, WWF's African great ape program manager, in a statement. "This is largely due to intensive conservation efforts and successful community engagement."

 Several groups of mountain gorillas have become accustomed to the presence of humans and the animals have become a significant tourism draw, which has helped fund conservation efforts and local schools, according to the WWF statement. 

The gorillas still face grave threats from habitat loss, poaching and disease transfer from humans, however. Oil exploration around Virunga National Park is also a cause for concern, the WWF said.
"More people in Virunga would likely lead to an increase in deforestation, illegal hunting and more snares in the forest," Greer said.  "At least seven Virunga mountain gorillas have been caught in snares this year and two did not survive. The gorilla population remains fragile and could easily slip into decline if conservation management was to be disregarded in the pursuit of oil money by elites."

Gorillas live in social groups known as troops and the 400 mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park form 36 distinct troops, with an additional 16 solitary males. About 10 of these groups are habituated to the presence of people for tourism or research, the WWF noted. 

The typical gorilla troop includes one silverback, a male leader, one immature male, three or four adult females and three to six young offspring under 8 years of age. A male mountain gorilla can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height and weigh around 480 pounds (220 kilograms).

Friday, November 16, 2012

 Hurray, Some Hope!

The death of Galápagos tortoise Lonesome George this summer was thought to mark the extinction of a subspecies, but a new study hints that the reptile may not have been the last of his kind after all. 

Researchers from Yale University recently trekked to the northern tip of Isabella Island, the largest of the Galápagos, and collected DNA from more than 1,600 giant tortoises. The genetic samples showed that 17 of these tortoises were hybrids that had a parent like Lonesome George from the subspecies Chelonoidis abingdoni.

What's more, five of those hybrids were juveniles, suggesting purebred C. abingdoni tortoises may still be roaming a remote part of the island. 

"Our goal is to go back this spring to look for surviving individuals of this species and to collect hybrids," Yale ecology researcher Gisella Caccone said in a statement. "We hope that with a selective breeding program, we can reintroduce this tortoise species to its native home." 

But even if examples of C. abingdoni are found on Isabella Island, how did they get there? Lonesome George's species is native to Pinta Island, 37 miles (60 kilometers) across the seas from the Volcano Wolf area on Isabella Island where the hybrid samples were collected.

 These tortoises are massive, reaching nearly 900 pounds (408 kilograms) and almost 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length, and the researchers don't think ocean currents carried them between the islands. The team does suspect, however, that 19th-century sailors did. 

Volcano Wolf is near Banks Bay, where naval officers and whalers marooned giant tortoises picked up from other islands after they were no longer needed for food. Researchers have previously found other hybrid turtles in the region with genetic ancestry of another tortoise, C. elephantopus,  which was thought to be lost. This species was native to Floreana Island, where it was hunted to extinction some 150 years ago. But the new evidence suggests several members must have been brought to Isabella Island, where they mated with C. beckitortoises.

The new findings are detailed in the journal Biological Conservation.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

 2012 FEI Image Contest 

An aphid on a leaf

The 2012 FEI Image Contest gave scientists and researchers the chance to share their exploration of the submicroscopic world. From July to October 2012, a winner was selected each month as the best in four categories: Around the House, The Natural World, The Human Body and Other Relevant Science. This aphid was the "Around the House" category winner for September/October.
Here are a few of the winners.


Geranium flower power

This image of the pollination of a geranium flower was the August/September winner in the "Natural World" category.

An itch factory

The Aedes aegypti mosquito egg. 
The insect originated in Africa but is now 
found in tropical and subtropical regions 
throughout the world.  The tiny mosquito 
is a force to be reckoned with and can transmit 
several diseases, including dengue fever. 
This image was the August/September winner 
in the "Other Relevant Science" category.

  Let there be light!

The tungsten filament of a household incandescent lamp. Tungsten is used because of its electrical and mechanical properties: strength, ductility and workability. This image was the June/July winner in the "Around the House " category.

Intestinal fortitude

The human intestine containing hundreds of different kinds of bacteria. This image was the July/August winner in "The Human Body" category.

Sea 'monster'

The head of an embryonic zebrafish. This is a model organism currently being used for studies into the genetic causes of neurodegeneration. This image was the September/October winner in "The Natural World" category.

War in the trenches

Here we see the dramatic encounter in the liver of our unsung heroes (immune cells) against an invading parasite (the trypanosome). Each side bears an impressive arsenal of chemical weapons that will define at the end the onset, or not, of Sleeping Sickness. This image was the June/July winner in "The Human Body" category.

There's a mouse about

A mouse kidney fractured to show podocytes, cells that help the kidney filter out substances in blood. This image was the August/September winner in the "Human Body" category.

Spidery close-up

This image shows the texture of spider skin. A hair root and pollen grains are adhered to the skin. This picture was the July/August winner in the "Natural World" category.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

 Tentacled Snakes


For the first time in more than a decade, a group of tentacled snakes was born at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. 

The eight baby snakes, which sport little feelers on their noses, were born Oct. 21 after four years of unsuccessful breeding attempts, the zoo announced Thursday. 

The unusual aquatic species from Southeast Asia is not endangered, but researchers say it's poorly understood. The creatures, referred to as Erpeton tentaculatus in the scientific community, are relatively small, growing to about 20-35 inches (50-90 centimeters) in length, and they're the only snakes with two short tentacles on their snouts, which allow the reptiles to sense vibrations from fish that swim by.
Tentacled snakes spend their lives in water and use their tails to steady themselves as they wait to ambush their prey. Recent research has focused on how the snakes use their sharp hunting skills to scare fish right into their mouths. A study detailed in the journal PLoS ONE in 2010 showed that the adept predators have evolved a mechanism to capture spooked prey that end up parallel to their heads instead of in front of the snake's open jaws. Apparently, their nervous systems allow them to predict where a fish prey will end up when startled. 

The tentacled snakes also develop at an astonishingly fast rate, which staff at the zoo in Washington, D.C., witnessed firsthand. 

"Within a few hours of being born, the snakes were already acting like adults," Matt Evans, a keeper at the Smithsonian's Reptile Discovery Center, said in a statement. "Instincts took over and they were hunting. We don't know much about this cryptic species, but we're already learning so much just watching them grow."
The snake babies will likely be sent to other zoos when they get older, Smithsonian officials said. Four adult tentacled snakes, meanwhile, are on display at the zoo's Reptile Discovery Center.

Monday, November 12, 2012

 Veterans Day!

The photo above was taken of Mom and Dad during their wedding in California.  They were married on October 7, 1945 in San Diego.   Mom is part of the WV Veterans Legacy Project administered by Glenville State College.

The college had a great performance of the Project last Thursday and Friday.  Mom played a central role not only in the display in the Fine arts Center, but in the documentary as well.

As part of the Veterans Project, a book was printed that contained all the participating veterans.

Mom and Dad had four pages in the publication dedicated to their service.

 Mom's closing comment in the interview (and was part of the production) is shown below.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Sarah and Jeff returned from Pittsburgh Sunday evening with the newest member of their family.  Rusty is a 6 year old Golden Retriever who had been placed in a rescue home for adoption.  His previous owner owned a farm.  When he was unable to keep the farm, the man had to move into an apartment.  Rusty was not able to live in the new apartment and was placed for adoption in the Golden Retriever Rescue Program.

Sarah researched the web site and found that Rusty was available.  She and Nate traveled the previous week to Pittsburgh to see Rusty.  They fell in love.  Rusty is great with the kids.  He is calm and gentle.  It was a good choice for the Dodson clan!  Welcome home, Rusty!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Farmers Market
Bridgeport Conference Center

On Sunday (Nov 4) around noon, Judy and I left the boys with Grandma Shirley and headed to the Bridgeport Farmers Market off Jerry Dove Drive.  As we entered the facility we noticed that the hotel was having a brunch.  As we approached the seating area, we immediately recognized Justin Murphy who was a Gilmer County lad and a former student.  Justin worked in California and has moved back into this area.  Hugs were exchanged, of course!

Chef Dale Hawkins and his co-worker, Patty, were selling their produce from Fish Hawk Farms in Rock Cave.

They are such nice folks and always have quality products.

This sign below immediately caught my eye.  As you folks know, we have been searching for quality salt rising bread.  It has been a many-year endeavor.

WE FOUND IT.   Our search ends with this fine bread baker.  Joanne Tait and Mike are from Grafton.  Their bread was marvelous.  I had to call Joanna and congratulate her on a job well done!

The market is held in a conference room of the convention center.  The vendors have a variety of wares such as bird feeder gourds, art, jewelry, pottery, and various other items.

This young man was providing music for the enjoyment of the patrons.

We were impressed with the variety of goods offered.

Sarah and Jeff returned on Sunday around 8:30 with the new family member.  You will meet him tomorrow on the blog.

Friday, November 09, 2012

 Rainbow Pancakes

Rainbow (or Tie-dyed) Pancakes

On Saturday I cooked rainbow pancakes for the kids.  One separates the batter and add food coloring.  Each color is then placed into separate zip lock bags.  The tip of each bag is cut to form a makeshift pastry funnel.  Sarah was out of red which is needed for contrast.

The boys did not seem to mind that red was missing.

The idea came from our friend Tamara Cicogna who owns one of  our favorite eateries, Town Square Cafe and Restaurant in Sutton.  She had posted on her Facebook page Rainbow Waffles as`seen below.


Thursday, November 08, 2012

 Nate's Halloween Party

On Thursday (Nov 1) Judy and I had the pleasure of attending Nate's Halloween party at Simpson Methodist Church.  The kids started the festivities with a parade through the hallway.

There were 12 kids present this day.  The costumes were great and the kids were so cute.

Grandma fixed Nate's hair with gel so he would be more zombie like.  He did not walk like a zombie - nor did he mumble "BRAINS!  (OK- you non zombie people should know that all zombies want to eat your BRAINS!)

Here are some views of other kids in Nate's school.

While the kids were finishing up a short film, the moms and grandmas prepared snacks for the party treat.

Nate immediately started sampling the Halloween cupcakes and fruit cup.

The other kids quickly got into the treats.

Velva arrived a little before 11.  She and Nate were having lunch together.  It was certainly a fun time.