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- Curious about something you saw while walking in the woods?  Spot the coolest bug ever?  The prettiest flower and butterfly?  Stumble on a rock and found a fossil? Or was it? This is the place to show your discoveries and share in the knowledge of the natural world right outside our doors. Join in the fun everyday at The Daily Bucket.  
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This diary is slightly above the level of an open thread.  Be prepared for some bad photographs and some bird carnage.  Fortunately the quality of the photos makes the carnage less obvious.

Our title references two things.  One is an experience I had long ago while doing field work in Phoenix.  I stopped to take a look at a raptor flying by and some guy who was passing called out "It's a Cooper's Hawk".  I told the friend I was with that, whatever else it was, it was not a Cooper's hawk (it was buteo of some sort).  My memory of the details of the event are hazy and the only reason I remember it is that my friend (he was a biologist but definitely not a birder) was quite taken with the phrase and would often repeat it, saying "It's a Cooper's hawk" imitating the rather yokelish accent of that long ago passer by whenever any kind of sizable bird might be seen.

The second reference is to the notorious difficulty of distinguishing Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks.  The most obvious difference between the two is size but there is overlap and size is not always easy to estimate from a distance.

In recent weeks a Cooper's hawk has been using our feeder as a diner.  I've seen it (or them) three times.  Twice I've seen it in flight and it is clearly a Cooper's with the rounded corners of the tail.  It is also crow-sized and much too larger to be a Sharp-shinned.

However the third sighting was of the bird perched in a water oak, plucking its recently captured prey.

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Sun Apr 05, 2015 at 06:05 AM PDT

Dawn Chorus: Open Thread

by matching mole

snowy egret

I don't think anyone is scheduled for a diary this AM.  I'm going to set this to publish at 9:50 so I can pull it if another diary appears.

Above is a picture of a snowy egret in full breeding plumy-ness from a few weeks ago.

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On Friday (the 13th) Daevid Allen died in Australia.  He was 77 years old.  Like Terry Pratchett, who died the day before, Allen was a figure whose whimsy masked a more serious core.  His death was a surprise when I read it in the NYTimes obituaries this morning.  I hadn't been paying attention and he had seemed immortal, the Keith Richards of the art rock world.

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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you. Insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds and/or flowers.  All are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
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Thu Feb 26, 2015 at 06:00 AM PST

The Daily Bucket: LBFOBW

by matching mole

AKA: Large birds from our bedroom window.


The Backyard Science group regularly publishes The Daily Bucket, which features observations of the world around us.  Insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds, flowers and anything natural or unusual are worthy additions to the Bucket and its comments.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to as we try to understand the patterns that are unwinding around us.
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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
No bucket yet today so I'll post a short one.
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Sun Jan 18, 2015 at 06:07 AM PST

Dawn Chorus: Open Thread

by matching mole

Hi everyone -

This is the Sunday Dawn Chorus.  No one has volunteered a diary for this week so there is an open thread for any and all birding conversation, photos, etc.

Today is also the first tally of the 2015 Backyard bird race.

Post away!

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Warning This is a long and kind of technical diary.  I have tried to keep it as simple as I could and still include what I think is really interesting but it is unavoidably very rich in nerdy detail.  Read at your own peril. You have been warned!

Way back in March 2011 I posted a diary outlining the findings of a massive effort (Hackett et al. 2008) to work out the phylogeny (tree of evolutionary relatedness) of modern birds.

Recently another phylogeny was published in Science (the same journal that published the 2008 study) that presented another estimate of the avian phylogeny by Jarvis et al. (2014).  This paper was part of a massive study (published as several papers as a set in the same issue of Science) that used entire genome sequences to study bird evolution.  The Hackett study had sequenced 19 genes from each of 169 bird species in constructing their phylogeny.  The current study (Jarvis et al. 2014) sequenced entire genomes for each species (tens of thousands of genes).  The down side to this is that they used fewer bird species than Hackett (48 rather than 169).  The upside (and it is a huge upside) is that the 48 different bird genomes  provide a lot of information about the evolution of bird characteristics such as learned vocalization, flight, and so on.  The 48 species were chosen to address certain evolutionary problems as explained in a second paper, Zhang et al. 2014.  We'll discuss that after the phylogeny paper.

I hope at least a few people get something out of the genomic analyses.  They are pretty tough going and I have chosen ones that I could understand and explain to some extent.  These analyses are part of what developmental biologist and science popularizer Sean Carroll has called the second great era of natural history.  These papers are basically giving a taste of what can be accomplished in terms of understanding evolution and diversity by studying genomes.  It really is a "let's see what's out there" type of affair but in this case 'out there' means deep inside the nucleus of a cell. These studies are just skimming the surface of each topic - pointing the way for much more detailed studies to follow.

All the images are figures from relevant papers.  Both the papers and the figures are freely available on the Science magazine website.  All the images are clickable to make them bigger as I know not all the text is going to be easily read within the diary.

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Several years ago during one of the flare ups between theists and atheists on this site I wrote the diary below which was well received albeit by a limited audience.  I thought I'd publish again given recent activity on the site.  As I state below it is not an attempt to convince others of a particular world view but rather an encouragement towards clarity in communication and actual attempts to understand (which does not equate with agreement) the 'other side' rather than simply talking past them which is the case in way too many of these diaries.

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- Curious about something you saw while walking in the woods?  Spot the coolest bug ever?  The prettiest flower and butterfly?  Stumble on a rock and found a fossil? Or was it? This is the place to show your discoveries and share in the knowledge of the natural world right outside our doors. Join in the fun everyday at The Daily Bucket.  
Christmas Eve, Tallahassee, Florida

Update:  Check out the companion bucket by PHScott with photos of the aftermath of the storm at his place about 10 miles to the west.

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