August 29, 2016

An Unexpected Find

On a cloudy summer day I explored the new Logan Hill Preserve with my ThermApp. Much like a typical outing in the woods with a thermal camera, you quickly run across a squirrel or a chipmunk:



Shortly thereafter, the camera found this much larger hotspot high in a distant tree:


It's hard to tell for sure, but it looks like a raccoon:


Here's another view of that same probable raccoon:



There were certainly other raccoons in those woods, as I soon had this guy come traipsing down a log, seemingly unaware of my presence.




Anytime you're in a forest with cavitied trees and a healthy population of rodents, you come across warm spots like this:



I have no idea what's in there, but that space between the bark and the trunk of the dead tree certainly looks like a good resting spot for some critter.

Here's another such warm spot in a fallen tree:


Bringing up my binoculars, I saw a strange face staring back at me, so I got closer:





Can you tell what it is from that thermal image?




When using my ThermApp to seek out wildlife, I'm always looking for warm spots, because those are what stand out against the background. But in this case, the face staring back at me was a toad, and it is colder, not warmer, than the surrounding. (More precisely, it is approximately the same temperature as the surrounding, being "cold-blooded" and all.)

So I guess it was just a coincidence that while investigating a warm spot in a tree I happened to locate this cold-blooded animal instead. Or, you could also conclude that that toad decided to hang out in that cubby precisely because it s slightly warmer than its surroundings! Meanwhile, the source of that warmth, presumably some critter deeper inside that log, remains unknown.

May 21, 2016

Virginia Rails

When you visit the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in upstate New York, one of the first things you see along the wildlife drive is this marsh thick with cattails:



Here's a thermal infrared image focused on one part of the marsh:



Notice the white spot near the middle? (It's easier to see if you click above for an enlarged view.)
Zoomed in with a high-power lens, you see this:


It is the nest of a red-winged blackbird, with a female sitting on it.
Here's a short video of the same nest, taken with the ThermApp, but pay attention to the lower-left corner of the frame:



Did you notice a shape slinking away? That was a Virginia Rail, an elusive little bird that is seldom seen due to its secretive nature, skulking among thick marshland reeds. On this morning, with help from my ThermApp thermal camera, I was finally able to photograph one:



Here is a longer infrared video, with two clips showing the Virginia Rail in action:



I'm not sure if you noticed, but in the "chase scene", the camera focus actually switched from bird #1 to bird #2; after the chase, we're watching bird #2 forage while bird #1 is grunting from off-screen (somewhere to the right). I hadn't noticed this switch myself when taking the video in the field.

BTW, if you're a birder, you may have noticed some interesting species singing in the background audio, including Willow Flycatcher and Blackpoll Warbler.

Here's another photo of a virginia rail, this I believe is a different bird from the first photo above.



This all happened around 11am on a day with medium-overcast skies and ambient temperatures at around 60F (15C). While there was a fair number of other warm spots in the surroundings (cattail spikes, sticks), the birds still showed up quite clearly and could be easily tracked.

April 9, 2016

Red Morph

On an unseasonably cold April morning, I led a Spring Field Ornithology group to the Lansing Center Trail. It had started to snow when we arrived, and apart from a cooperative kestrel and many song sparrows scuttling in the brush, we weren't seeing many birds. When we got to the small woodlot, I pulled out my ThermApp, and was soon alerted to this hotspot:


Having seen many such hotspots by now, I instinctively assumed it was probably just another squirrel, but the binoculars revealed a most pleasant surprise: a red-morph Eastern Screech Owl!



I did not have my good camera with me at the time, so I returned later, after the snow had abated and the sun had started appearing, to take the two photos above.

Meanwhile, here's a random Therm-App image of the road leading to my house, showing a number of Dark-Eyed Juncos foraging by the road.


March 27, 2016

Woodcock Sky Dance

Background


The American Woodcock has got to be Mother Nature's most ridiculous concoction. With its oddly-placed eyes and grotesquely long bill, its appearance alone nominates it as candidate for goofiest-looking creature alive.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
When it walks, it bounces its body back and forth in a most comical way:

 
Source: YouTube

As if that weren't enough, during its mating display it makes a strange "peent" sound, like a high-pitched game show buzzer, as captured nicely in this Lang Elliott video:

 
Source: YouTube

The "peent" is the prolog of an elaborate mating display called a "sky dance", where the bird flutters its way up high into the sky, making a continuous twitter as it ascends; the twitter eventually sputters to a peak, after which it drops erratically like a leaf, making an odd "chowp" sound as it descends, to land at its starting point. This sky dance is performed at dusk, usually when it's too dark to be seen. But with an infrared camera, we get to see what this sky-dance looks like.

The Skydance Infrared Video

And so, without further ado, here's a thermal infrared video of a full woodcock sky dance. Listen for a soft "gulp" preceding each "peent".



In this next video, I positioned myself closer to the woodcock's stage, and was pleased when the bird landed about 30 feet away. The "gulp" preceding each "peent" is louder and more nuanced, reminiscent of a dove's cooing. What happened next was a total surprise...



The videos were taken with a Therm-App HZ using the ThermAppPlus app, on a Nexus 7 tablet. Audio is from the Nexus 7's built-in microphone, with the volume normalized to the loudest peent. The first video uses a 19mm lens, the second a 35mm lens, which had to be manually refocused when the bird got too close to me.

The original MP4 files as recorded by ThermAppPlus are available at http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~suan/infrared/info.html.

And Now For Some Fun

Here are a couple of fun YouTube woodcock remixes.



Source: YouTube


Source: YouTube

February 24, 2016

Squirrel and Owl

On this pleasant winter morning, I took a stroll through the woods of Six-Mile Creek with my Therm-App. The sky was cloudy, but occasionally thinned out enough for the sun to project some warmth onto the scenery. Nonetheless, warm mammals continued to stand out in the infrared image, such as in this scene:


The bright spot is this squirrel, which even in this close-up photo blends pretty well with the surrounding bark:


I soon entered a thick grove of spruce trees, at which point I could hear some mobbing calls first from some blue jays, then from some crows flying in to complain vehemently before taking off. Once the commotion had passed, I made my way to a better vantage, where I found this:



It was a pretty distinct shape, of a great horned owl:


Zoomed in for maximal impact:


I tried clumsily to make my way into a clearing for better shots, but the cacophony (or possibly simple boredom) drove the bird to take to the wing and drift silently into the ravine and out of sight.

January 10, 2016

Pipits at the Lakeshore

On this cool winter day, as I was walking along the shore of Cayuga Lake, I flushed several American Pipits, little brown birds whose color blends very well with the shingle beach. These relatively rare visitors from the north flew a short distance up the beach and disappeared amid the rocks, where it was a struggle to locate them with binoculars. One big source of frustration is even knowing whether the birds are there; they could easily have taken off unnoticed.

But they could not hide from my Therm-App. Here's a visual and infrared view of the section of beach where I thought the birds might have landed.


While I'd guessed that there might have been about three birds, the Therm-App showed me that there were, in fact, seven birds foraging on the beach in loose association. With some patience I was able to get this close-up of one of them.



And here's a photo of four birds in the same frame, this after my slow approach encouraged them to gather closer to each other.


The flock eventually took to the sky, during which I was able to confirm a count of seven individuals.

Not far from that beach at Salt Point, I came across a nestbox that was showing some warmth:


A closeup photo shows some fur.


Looks like a squirrel has found itself a nice home for the winter.