Albatross fails to stick landing

March 10, 2021 • 2:30 pm

This about as awkward a landing as I’ve ever seen a bird make, and this albatross must have been really embarrassed in front of that chick! The Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) is limited in range during the breeding season:

Northern royal albatrosses nest on the Chatham Islands (Forty-fours Island, Big Sister Island, and Little Sister Island), Enderby Island in the Auckland Islands, and at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula of New Zealand. The Taiaroa Head colony is the only albatross colony found on a human-inhabited mainland in the Southern hemisphere. When they are not breeding, northern royal albatrosses undertake circumpolar flights in the southern oceans, and in particular like the Humboldt Current and the Patagonian Shelf.

The video below is from Tairoa Head, and is from a collaborative Albatross Cam:

You can watch the 24 hour livecam here or here; it’s a partnership between New Zealand’s conservation department and the Cornell Bird Lab; the second link tells you about the collaboration.  Here are some of the YouTube notes:

Flying for the Northern Royal Albatross is mainly effortless, landing can be a little bit harder. #RoyalCam​ chick had a front row seat to a ‘how not to land’ lesson.

Landing is challenging because of the narrow wings of the albatross, which do not generate sufficient lift to fly slowly. Their preference is to take off and land when it’s quite windy, which allows better control at slow speeds while using the angle of the wing and the speed of the wind to control the descent. However, on calmer days, things can get tricky, as is seen here.

Lucky for the somersaulting alby, recovery was quick and only the chick was watching!! Albatrosses are sturdy birds accustomed to periodic mishaps on landing, and true to form, this adult walked away and appeared fine.

Royal Cam is a 24-hour live stream of a Northern Royal Albatross nest during the breeding season at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head on the southeast tip of New Zealand’s South Island.

Baby otter cam!

February 13, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Below is a livecam of Joey, a rescued baby sea otter, and his friends, disporting themselves at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Vancouver (I’ve been there!). As I write this, it’s snowing, and the otters are having a fine old time. And no worries about the animals: they’re being rehabbed for release, and are getting the finest of care!

Joey is actually a teenager now, as he entered the Centre in July. You can watch an adorable video of his early days here.

h/t: Jean

The DuckCam and Botany Pond website are live!

April 28, 2020 • 8:30 am

There is now an official university website for the Botany Pond Camera, as well as new social media sites and a YouTube site. The website is called “On Botany Pond.” There’s also a Twitter site (@OnBotanyPond), where the University can post duck and pond pictures, and a Hashtag site, #OnBotanyPond, where you can share your own thoughts and photos.

First the official website (click on screenshot to visit). The cover photo was taken by a University photographer:

Note that there are five links, including “Meet Honey the Duck” (I’m not yet sure that the picture on that page is Honey, but rest assured we’ll get it right).

Clicking on the LiveCam takes you to a 24/7 view of most of the pond (not all of it is visible, but what you can see covers most of the action). Or you can watch the pond live on YouTube at the site below, which is part of the website. Right now you’ll be able to see Wingman and his buddy swimming around, as the hens are still on the nest.

Fortunately, when I fell into the pond this morning (a first, and that post will be up later), it wouldn’t have been visible as it would be just out of view at the lower right corner of the screen.  But you’ll probably see me on camera feeding and tending the ducks from time to time. Look for the old guy with shaggy hair tossing food to the waterfowl.

Note that the University’s first tweet on its site was a retweet of a lovely drake photo (Wingman?) by Arne Duncan (below) You’ll remember Duncan as the man who served as Obama’s Secretary of Education for seven years.

Go knock yourself out, and in a week there will be ducklings.

Our PondCam

April 23, 2020 • 2:00 pm

Today they finally installed the PondCam that will survey Botany Pond. It shows almost the whole pond, or at least the bits where the ducks and ducklings like to hang out. I don’t think it’s movable or zoom-able, but you’ll at least be able to see the action and watch the ducklings and their moms (hatch date: about May 3). If you’re there at the right time, you’ll see me feeding them.

Below is Eddie, the awesome camera installer who spent four days putting it in, from installing all the electric through conduits to the basement, to installing the bracket and finally to mounting the camera this morning. I didn’t realize it would be so big, but now I don’t feel so bad that it wasn’t trained on the nests: such a big camera would have been impractical.

I’ll let you know when it goes live, which will be 24/7 on a website yet to be designated. I’d like to call it the Web(Foot)Cam, but the media people, who promoted its installation, may have other ideas. Can you suggest a name?

Kudos to The University of Chicago Media Relations and IT people for getting this done.

An iPhone photo of the camera in place, and Wingman drifting by:

Ruffed grouse at the feeder

February 20, 2020 • 3:00 pm

Here’s some light entertainment for the afternoon: 11 minutes of a lovely Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) visiting an Ontario birdcam. I’ve added the YouTube notes (indented) so you can see when it erects its plumage, which is a stunning sight. Such beautiful feathers!

I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these in the wild, though I’ve mostly lived out of their range (map below). They are nonmigratory, and don’t seem to be near Chicago.

Well hello there! It’s always a treat when a Ruffed Grouse stops by the Ontario FeederWatch cam, and this individual isn’t shy about showing off its cocked crest and beautifully mottled plumage while strutting around the platform. You absolutely don’t want to miss when the grouse begins to display at 6:33 by fanning its tail feathers and erecting the glossy black feathers on its neck into a ruff!

Watch online with highlight clips and information about the birds at

Thanks to Perky-Pet for helping to make the Ontario FeederWatch Cam possible! The FeederWatch cam is located in a residential neighborhood in Manitouwadge, Ontario. This northern site is an excellent location to see winter finches like redpolls and grosbeaks as well as two species of Jays and even Ruffed Grouse!

The feeders sit in the middle of a large backyard with a large birch tree that the birds love, as well as a mixed stand of conifers and several fruit and berry producing shrubs. There’s a small swamp just beyond the backyard as well as larger stands of woods and a small lake.The feeder system is the product of the camera hosts’ ingenuity, making use of plastic piping to support the feeders high enough above ground to foil the occasional squirrel, and a rotating set of feeders that provide black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer seed, whole and shelled peanuts, and peanut butter suet in a homemade hanging log to the dozens of species that visit.

The range map from the Cornell Bird site:

Watch this livefeed NOW! Whalefall: deep sea whale skeleton covered with worms, eels, and octopuses!

October 16, 2019 • 1:50 pm

The tweet (h/t: Matthew Cobb), who adds about the video:

Amazing. If you rewind 30 mins or so you can watch the moment they find it! It’s 3km down! The poor thing’s body drifted all the way before becoming lunch!

The feed: Click on this now!

Hawk and owl fight over a nest

February 13, 2019 • 2:30 pm

Reader jj sent a video of an owl and a hawk fighting for a nest. The owl eventually won. jj’s notes:

Perhaps others have sent these links; in case not, here’s a link to a cool video showing a pair of Great Horned Owls displacing Red-tailed Hawks from their nest.  At the end of the time-lapse video, in which one or another of the pair of hawks makes several passes at one or another of the owls, the hawks seems to have won; but not, because now in the newly renamed “Raptor Cam”, there are owl eggs in the nest and a mother owl brooding them.
The confrontation:

The live raptor cam. Owl won!  It’s raining now, and the owl is complaining now. But she owns the nest:

RaptorCam notes:

Last year, we all watched live as a pair of Presidio Red-tailed Hawks successfully reared two chicks and the two chicks fledged the nest. This year we have an unexpected plot twist: a pair of Great Horned Owls have been seen visiting the hawks’ nest and look as though they intend to take up residence there.

This is not uncommon – this reflects the interdependence of species and the way animals in the wild often rely on each other for survival. In this case, Great Horned Owls don’t build their own nests; rather, they take over the nests of other raptors. Over the last few weeks, these owls have stopped by at night to inspect the Red-tailed Hawks’ nest while during the day the hawks, unaware of the nightly owl visits, continued to prep the nest for the season. Recently, there was a brief confrontation between the owls and the hawks where it appeared the hawks maintained the nest, but then during the early hours of February 5, the owls laid an egg in the nest, and on February 9, they laid a second egg. The incubation period for these eggs is about 30-37 days, so we should expect the eggs to hatch around the first week of March. Also, the hawks have back-up nests in the park and our wildlife ecologists are monitoring these nests to find out where they end up nesting.

Stay tuned to watch as the drama between the owls and the hawks continues to unfold.

America’s Fattest Bear

October 10, 2018 • 2:00 pm

The Cut has a summary of Fat Bear Week: an annual competition among the grizzlies of Katmai National Park in Alaska to see who is the Bear of Greatest Size. But don’t worry, for this is healthy obesity—packing on pounds for the Winter Sleep. The website gives details:

Fat Bear Week — a fleeting celebration of enormous, perfect brown bears — has sadly come to an end. The battle started last week with 12 beefy boys and girls in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, and culminated today in a Facebook showdown between the two finalists, bear 747 and 409 Beadnose. Though all the bears have put in admirable effort and showmanship, while having absolutely no idea that this contest is happening, there can only be one America’s Next Fattest Bear. And the winner is: 409 Beadnose.

409 Beadnose received about 6,300 Facebook likes to 747’s 2,800. She was first identified in the park back in 1999. According to the Bears of Brooks River 2018 e-book — the best book of the year and possibly the century — 409 is a mother who’s had at least four litters of cubs. “When she is not raising cubs, this bear is usually one of the fattest females in the fall,” the book explains. “Raising offspring is very energetically taxing for bears. Females with offspring must sacrifice body fat to raise cubs.” (Women still can’t have it all!) She easily displaced last year’s winner, 480 Otis, in the second round of the competition. “She’s an independent woman after emancipating her cubs early in the season and she was able to keep all that salmon for herself,” Katmai park ranger Andrew Lavalle told the Cut. “And she’s looking quite pudgy because of it.”Although Fat Bear Week has been an annual fixture since 2015, Lavalle said this year saw by far the most interest the contest has generated since its inception. “I think it’s a little bit silly, it’s fun, and in some aspects of our culture, we need that at this juncture,” he explained. “And it’s something we can all get behind – protecting and cherishing these really majestic wild animals.”

“The whole point of it is to really educate the public — this is a struggle for survival for these bears,” he added. “They’re going to lose one third of their body weight in hibernation and so that’s why they’re eating as much as they are, just cause they have to gain all that weight back that they’re going to lose in the winter.” The bears’s competition training diet primarily consisted of salmon, and the largest of the chunky beauties reach 1,000 pounds.

747 is certainly a strong contender for that distinction,” Lavelle said when asked about the fattest bear he’d ever seen in person. “This year, at times, he looks completely ovular.”

For those reeling at the conclusion of Fat Bear Week, take comfort in the fact that Katmai’s live bear cam will still be running for the next few weeks. Until next year, may your hibernation dreams be sweet and your bears … extremely fat.

Here’s a Park tweet showing an earlier stage of the competition, just before Beadnose edged out 747. The competition is apparently decided by readers’ “likes” on Facebook, not by weighing these beasts.

In the meantime, here is the winner: the magnificent 409 Beadnose. No bear fat shaming, please: she needs that weight to hibernate!

The beautiful 409 Beadnose. Photo: Katmai National Park

NPR also has a story on the contest, including pictures of the two final contenders before and after. Look at that weight gain! These are truly Sumo Bears.

Bear 409 at the end of June and at the end of September.

I don’t know: this was a very close contest. Look at the salmon belly on 747!

Bear 747 at the end of June and at the end of August.

You’ll want to click on the “live bear cam” link above: a few minutes ago there was a mother and three cubs scanning the stream for fish. I took a screenshot (below). Some day I will be up there and watch the grizzlies heave big salmon out of the rapids.

h/t: Tom

Mississippi flyway cam

September 18, 2018 • 2:30 pm

Ducks in the central part of the U.S. migrate (when they do migrate) down the Mississippi Flyway, which is not only an obvious road South, but provides the wetlands and food that migrating ducks need. (Other birds of course also use this route, but for some reason I’m most concerned with ducks.) This map shows the four great flyways that migratory waterfowl use in North America; the one under discussion is in blue:

Reader Amy called my attention to a live Mississippi River flyway cam showing bunches of birds massing before they head south. The YouTube description says this:

The Raptor Resource Project has established a new bird cam on an island in the heart of the Mississippi River’s Driftless area. Located in the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge on Lake Onalaska, the Mississippi River Flyway Cam will offer an unparalleled look at migrating birds and river wildlife, including bald eagles, American white pelicans, sandhill cranes, Caspian terns, cormorants, and many species of ducks, gulls, and other waterfowl.

The cam is north of here, as shown in the map below, but the birds that fly south will undoubtedly be accompanied at some point by James and Honey—if they migrate. In the meantime, look at the live FlywayCam below and see what’s doing. I saw ducks earlier today, Amy saw some lovely sandhill cranes, and right now there’s a hawk and a bunch of pelicans. I saw some MALLARDS a few hours ago!