Come on over to the Sawyer Free Library tonight and learn how you can create a welcoming haven for birds, bees, and butterflies!
Please join me April 6th at 7pm, at the Sawyer Free Library where I will be giving my Pollinator Garden talk and screening several short films. The event is free and open to the public. I am looking forward to presenting this program at our wonderful Sawyer Free and hope to see you there!!
Have you ever wondered why sometimes you can see the brilliant red gorget (throat feathers) of the male Ruby-throated and Allen’s hummingbirds, and sometimes not at all? Or why iridescent feathers appear green, and then blue, or possibly purple, and then in the next moment look drab and dreary? I think about this when photographing birds such as grackles, buffleheads and hummingbirds. Most recently, the turkeys in our community are currently displaying their wildly varying iridescent feathers when in full courtship mode.
Iridescent red gorget in male Allen’s Hummingbird; same bird, different angles
There are two types of structural color, layering and scattering. Iridescence in bird feathers is created by layering. Bird feathers are made of a translucent protein called keratin, which is a very rugged substance. Not only are the feathers made of keratin, but keratin coats the bird’s claws, legs, and bill. Because of the structure of the feather, with its microscopic barbules, when light hits the feather it causes the wave lengths to bend, or refract. Keratin reflects short wave length colors like purples, blues, and violets. The other colors are absorbed by the underlying layer of melanin. The refraction works like a prism, splitting the light into an array of colors. As the viewing angle changes, because of the viewer’s movement or because the bird is moving, the refracted light displays a shimmering iridescence, or none at all. Beautiful color combinations are created when iridescent layers are combined with pigments present.
Keratin is interspersed with tiny pockets of air of within the structure of the feather filament (called barb). Scattering is created when light hits the pockets of air, which results in specific, non-iridescent color. The color blue in feathers is almost always created in this manner. Feathers of Blue Jays, Bluebirds, and Indigo Buntings are prime examples of scattering.
Here are two graphics found online from Cornell that I found very helpful in trying to visualize the difference between layering and scattering. The first shows how iridescence is produced and the second, how blue scattering is created.
For Nancy Lutts. Thank you dear lady!
After collecting Monarch eggs last weekend, Nancy graciously allowed me to return to her gorgeous Cabot Farm to film and to photograph. I was there at sunrise, which is relatively early in the day for butterfly sightings however, I did see four Monarchs and two were females depositing eggs all over the field!
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While visiting Liv and Matt in southern California we saw what seemed like zillions of hummingbirds. It’s early spring there with many flowering trees coming into bloom and the hummingbirds are on the move. They are drawn to the flower’s nectar and they also eat the small insects that are attracted to the blossoms. Unlike the Northeast, where typically only one species of hummingbird breeds in our region (the Ruby-throated Hummingbird), fourteen different species of hummingbirds have been reported in southern California. The five that are most common, of which we saw three, are Allen’s, Anna’s, Black-chinned, Rufous, and Costa’s Hummingbirds. Looking at the gorget is one way to tell the different species apart however, that can be a bit misleading because unless the light is hitting the brilliant iridescent feathers at just the right angle, the feathers will look dull and dark.
The gorget (pronounced ˈgȯr-jət) is the patch of feathers found on the throat or chin of an adult (not juvenile) male hummingbird. The word gorget comes from the swath of metal worn by knights-in-armor to protect their throat. The Eastern Ruby-throated Hummingbird takes its name from its gorget. Hummingbirds have possibly the most iridescent feathers known in birds. The beautiful iridescence is found not only on the gorget but the wings, head, neck, and back. Reasons many are speculated as to why hummingbirds have iridescent feathers; perhaps to confuse predators, to attract a female, or to guard its territory.
As the male Allen’s Hummingbird turns its head from side to side, the light catches the barbed cells of the glittering gorget. The photo above and the photo below perfectly illustrate how, with the tilt of its head, you first see the iridescence in the gorget, and then not at all.
We were happily surprised by the sight of the diminutive Black-chinned Hummingbird perched atop a thicket, spotted while hiking down the steep descent to the beach at Goleta, Santa Barbara. I loved the view of the region’s smallest bird juxtaposed against the world’s largest body of water, the Pacific Ocean. In the background you see Santa Cruz, one of the eight Channel Islands that comprise the archipelago off the southern coast of California, along the Santa Barbara Channel.