Not an Ugly Duckling in Sight

The cygnets of Edinborough are growing quickly and Anne, Cranky Cat Lady’s daughter, Emily Davis, has sent us an update.

The cygnets are looking more swan-shaped, look at their long necks!

June 20/20, ©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

June 21/20, ©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

June 21/20, ©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

June 21/20, ©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

A Fledgling Comes to Visit

©voyager, all rights reserved

There’s a robin’s nest in the eaves over my front porch, and I haven’t got the heart to evict them. Instead, I provide them with a birdbath and a regular supply of mealworms. In return, they’re cheerful to have around and provide me with lots of pleasant chirping and peeping and poop. I could do without the poop, but it’s a package deal, so I try not to grumble about the mess. It cleans up quickly enough with the hose.

This morning I heard one of the young birds making a fuss, so I went to the door expecting to see one of the parents out hunting in the yard. Instead, I found this little fellow sitting on the arm of my wicker rocking chair, looking a bit dazed and confused about what to do next. I watched him for about 20 minutes from inside the house as he quietly looked all around, trying to process this new perspective on the world. He spread his wings a few times, and I could see he had his flight feathers but hadn’t quite figured out how to use them. His mama was watching over him from a nearby tree, so I shut the door and walked away from it, hoping that mama would feel safe enough to come to his aid. Over the next 2 hours, I checked on him from the window, and the only thing that happened was that he took a nap. That seemed like a good opportunity to sneak out the side door with my camera, and I took a few snapshots through the railing before leaving him to the care of his still hovering mama. The next time I went to the window to check on him, he was gone. Bye, Bye, Birdie. Thanks for cheering me up 0n day eleventy-seven of the pandemic.

©voyager, all rights reserved

©voyager, all rights reserved

More Adorable Fluffiness

Last week we saw this fuzzy clutch of cygnets all huddled together in the nest.  Today we get to see them venture forth and go for a swim. Thanks to Anne, Cranky Cat Lady and her daughter Emily Davis for sharing them with us.

©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

Adorable Balls of Fluff

These sweet floofy faces were photographed by Emily Davis, who is the daughter of Anne, Cranky Cat Lady.

Emily has been watching the swans at Holyrood Park during her daily bird walks. They’re nesting, and today she has pictures of fuzzy cygnets. 

©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

©Emily Davis, all rights reserved

Friday Feathers: Adorafluffballs

First of all, a happy first of May. We may not be out there protesting, but it’s even more important than ever to defend the rights of working people and the working class, as they’re currently, quite literally, sacrificed of the altar of profit.

Having said that, here’s some cute.

The Nile geese had chicks, or whatever you crazy Anglophones call them.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Wednesday Wings: a Eurasian Blackcap, or how Sexism is Just Plain Stupid

Because obviously half the bird population does not halve a black cap, just like most blackbirds are brown indeed.

But it’s a cute LBB (Little Brown Bird) and I was happy to take her picture.

©Giliell, all rights reserved Always get that first shot, because you never know if you will have time to adjust the camera

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Here a Chick, There a Chick…

Kestrel has sent us an extra-special bit of adorableness.

I raise quail – these are Japanese Coturnix quail. On Easter morning I woke up to this sight in my incubator: 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

After the main crush was out of the incubator, one little late-comer to the party hatched out right into my hand. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

This was my Easter basket, but none of them ever turned into chocolate, or marshmallow.

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Hanging out at the water cooler in their new digs. The marbles are to stop the tiny little things from drowning themselves. Like all little babies they can get themselves into all sorts of trouble. Most of them are underneath the brooder plate, that black and yellow thing to the right. The underside of it stays warm, about 100F, but that is just not hot enough to start a fire, so these are much safer than heat lamps. The other benefit of the brooder plate, besides safety, is that since it does not work by a light, it gets dark at night, allowing the chicks to sleep like they naturally would. With a heat lamp you have to keep that light on all the time.

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Now they are one week old, and much bigger. They are even starting to get feathers, just like real grown-ups! The feeding frenzy is over very finely diced hard-boiled quail eggs, full of important nutrition

©kestrel, all rights reserved

This is the one that hatched into my hand on that first day a week ago. (I can tell, because this one has two white toes.) They grow very fast! By the time they are 3 weeks old they will be ready to leave the brooder and won’t need any heat to survive. These quail will be fully mature by the time they are 6 to 8 weeks old, at which time they will start laying eggs of their own and the whole thing will start all over again.

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Kites Arrived

And they sat on an old ash tree behind my house.

But taking pictures through a closed window at an angle, near noon and to the south-east of me is difficult. I cannot open the window due to the overabundance of bonsai trees and if I tried to go outside and get them from a better angle, they surely would flee.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The Importance of Having Soft Tissues

Everybody knows dinosaurs are awesome, but it’s also commonly known that scientists and artists are extrapolating heavily from the available fossilized remains – in other words, reconstructing the Jurassic past requires a lot of guesswork. What we think dinosaurs look like is a carefully estimated probability of which muscle attached where, based on the (sometimes very) few bones that are found.

However, from time to time the circumstances align just so and some soft tissues are also preserved – as formerly squishy soft things and also in the bones of dinosaurs.

Anyway, the whole point here is that I like to look at paleoart. But how do we know they are right? (Spoiler: we don’t, not really.) What C.M.Koseman has done is examine some modern day animals and try to reconstruct them from the point of view of a fossil hunter millions of years in the future (personally, I think there might be a multi-leg bias in future interpretations, but Koseman has done his best):

C.M. Kosemen is an Istanbul-based artist and author (along with John Conway and Darren Naish) of the 2012 book, All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. A long-time creature designer, Kosemen had always had an interest in dinosaurs, but he embarked on his book with Conway after they began to realize that something was a bit off. “We were both dinosaur geeks, but the more we looked at these skeletons, and the more we looked at the pictures, we noticed that most mainstream dinosaur art didn’t look at dinosaurs as real creatures,” says Kosemen.

Most serious paleoart bases itself on the detailed findings of paleontologists, who can work for weeks or even years compiling the most accurate descriptions of ancient life they can, based on fossil remains. But Kosemen says that many dinosaur illustrations should take more cues from animals living today. Our world is full of unique animals that have squat fatty bodies, with all kinds of soft tissue features that are unlikely to have survived in fossils, such as pouches, wattles, or skin flaps. “There could even be forms that no one has imagined,” says Kosemen. “For example there could plant-eating dinosaurs that had pangolin or armadillo-like armor that wasn’t preserved in the fossil. There could also be dinosaurs with porcupine-type quills.”

I think he undervalues the vast majority of the artists who do draw prehistoric art, because the process involves a lot of imagination and creativity, with the added pressure of scientific accuracy. Certainly we don’t know the outer shapes of dinosaurs or other prehistoric creatures, so artists must work with what little scientific information they do have, and look at animals existing today, and then add layers of interpretation – not easy by any stretch. If Koseman is just arguing for more flamboyance, though, I’m 100% on board.

Anyway, the Atlas Obscura article has some examples from C.M.Koseman, and they are suitably creepy:

How a baboon skeleton might be interpreted by future paleoartists. via Atlas Obscura

My favourites are the swans, though – not going near those anymore!

Swans imagined as though they were featherless dinosaurs. via Atlas Obscura

Are these overexaggerations? Maybe. But until we see some real dinosaurs (someone invent that time machine and make it back alive, please), there is no way to know how accurate today’s interpretations (which have already changed so much).
The closest we can get, though, are the afore-mentioned paleoartists, and one of my favourites is Mark Witton:
Two main aspects of my life have, for as long as I can remember, been art and palaeontology. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil and have stubbornly refused to grow out of the dinosaur/palaeontology craze that afflicts most children. The latter proved so hard to shake that I studied for a degree in Palaeobiology and Evolution between 2002 – 2005 at the University of Portsmouth, UK and stayed there for my PhD studies between 2005 – 2008. I have since held a research position at Portsmouth. In 2010 I was honoured to be part of a joint University of Portmsouth/Royal Society exhibition which installed several models of giant flying reptiles in the centre of London (image of me and Bamofo, one of our giant azhdarchid models, right). In 2013 my book, Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy was published by Princeton University Press to critical acclaim. I now make a living as a technical consultant on palaeontological documentaries, palaeoartist, graphic designer and author.
He’s got a great collection of prints and books, and… household products. There’s a certain appeal to hiding behind a large T.Rex while enjoying a hot shower, I have to say.
Do check out his gallery, I will end with a small sample here:

Go look at more.

Jack’s Walk

This must be where the bluebirds live. ©voyager, all rights reserved

Jack and I occasionally circumnavigate a small wooded area that lies behind our local middle school. It’s an uninviting, snarly sort of place, all tangled with vines and thick with underbrush, so we’ve never ventured past the perimeter, until today, when a do-goodness adventure invited us inside.

“Mommy, you’re going to need a garbage bag,” Jack called out as he ran ahead.
“Right here,” I said, reaching into my pocket for a poop bag.
“That’s gonna be too small, Mummy. We need a big bag to clean up this mess.”
As I got closer, I could see that he was right. The entire area was littered with aluminum cans, discarded water bottles, and bits of paper. I sighed and reached into my inside pocket for a reusable shopping bag.
We began by walking around the woods, and after one pass, my bag was nearly full, and I had that do-good kind of feeling. Next, it was time to work our way into the brush, and I called out,
“Bubba, where is the easiest place for me to go into the brush? Someplace not too tangly. ”
“Over here, follow me,” Jack said as he led me into the little woods. Once inside, we were met with a few surprises. First, we found several well trampled paths and open spaces, none of them visible from the perimeter, So… a hiding place.
Then, there was the stuff we found – beer cans (lots!), 2 empty liquor bottles, cigarette butts, used condoms (ick!) and condom wrappers, a used tampon (again, ick!), a single black sock and a disintegrating striped towel. So… a make-out place.
Jack and I spent the next half hour, picking up trash. I used a poop bag as a glove, and it wasn’t long before we had the place looking spic and span. After that, Jack and I hauled our trash to the school garbage can where we sorted our recyclables and tossed the rest. It took us nearly an hour to manage the job, and my gross meter was maxed out. By the end, I was feeling tired and sore, but positively glowing with do-goodness.

“Mummy, why do people throw things on the ground? The garbage cans are really close, why don’t people use them?”
“Most people do put their trash in the garbage, Bubba. In this case, I think it’s because they were kids doing grown-up things, and they were afraid of being caught.”

“Well, I think that if you’re too young to clean up after yourself, you’re too young to do the grown-up things,” Bubba said as he set out toward home.

“Yep, I agree, Bubbs. I agree.”