Sparrows, Swifts, and Hummingbirds, OH MY!

Spring Brings More Birds to Campus

Guest Blog Post by Peyton McGovern ’16

Hello Ornithology Blog readers,

With the slightly warmer spring temperatures, my class has spotted a few more birds on campus that have begun to migrate back up north after their winter getaway including: Chipping Sparrows, Phoebes and Red Winged blackbirds. Mr. Koolen has heard a mockingbird on campus, which we have yet to see but hope to spot on our next field day, this Thursday. In the following weeks some other birds should also be returning to campus such as, Catbird, Baltimore Oriole, Chimney Swift, Hummingbirds and a bit later the Kingbird as well. In his trip down to North Carolina this past weekend, Mr. Cone spotted some Red eyed Vereos, which will also migrate up to Andover later in the season. According to Mr.Cone, the Vereos have one of the most boring calls of all birds, which makes it quite distinguishable.

As for my own bird observations, I traveled into Boston yesterday to watch the marathon, where I noticed many birds roaming about, especially on the Boston Common. Most popular by far was the pigeon but I also saw Chickadees as well. With the trees beginning to flower and more sunlight, I am sure the city will be overwhelmed with the bird songs soon.

We have 3 day week this week so unfortunately, my bird watching class will only meet two times this week but we will be able go outside for the double period. Our campus route starts on Rafferty field, goes along Hyland Road, passes by Moses Stuart House, goes through Pine Knoll and finally ends at Rabbit Pond. Rabbit pond offers us a great spot to view geese, and birds making nests nearby.

 

Jane Goodall Visits Andover

Dr. Jane Goodall, beloved researcher and conservationist, visited Andover on Friday, April 8th to give an inspiring talk about protecting our natural world.

My Bio 100 students attended the lecture and wrote reflective responses. They were inspired, even transfixed and calling the presentation “magical,” commenting on Jane Goodall as a person and a mind. They remarked on her determination to follow her childhood dreams in spite of lack of resources, her empathy with animals and connection to nature, her rejection of authority and stodgy scientific biases and conventions, her passionate and tireless work, her humanity, and her invocation of a global community made up of responsible beings concerned with common good. As the students’ teacher I felt pretty inspired by not just Goodall but by these students. I also feel determined to spend more time outside in Bio 100! ~ Anna Milkowski, Biology Instructor

This talk meant a lot to Tom Cone, Biology Instructor and part of the Campus Beautification Committee, who has fought to protect so many things in “our” natural world – including the Cherry Tree between Morse and Sam Phil.

Below is a recording of her full presentation.

Cherry Tree Cookie Day

Biology Faculty Tom Cone celebrates one of the natural beauties of the Phillips Academy Campus

One of Andover’s great traditions is when Tom Cone puts out cookies under the Cherry Tree between Sam Phil and Morse Hall to commemorate spring and to call attention to one of the natural treasures of the campus.

This morning was that morning. Mr. Cone’s first period Bio-100 class helped him prepare many trays of cookies to put out throughout the morning. They helped him bring the table and “Welcome Spring” sign out and, of course, helped themselves to the first bites of the goodies!

 

The entire class then gathered beneath the tree, where Mr. Cone used this as a learning opportunity as all the Bio-100 classes are learning about the anatomy of flowers and other plants. He pulled a couple of buds off the trees to demonstrate the pieces of a flower that they had learned about in class.

The cherry tree also has a rich history on the campus – it has been around for decades and was almost cut down – twice! The first time was in the early 1970’s, when the old Evans Hall Science Building still stood. Some in the school thought that the cherry tree blocked the view of the building from the west side of campus and planned to cut the tree down. Students and faculty heard this and many people literally “hugged” the tree the day the cutters came so they could not cut the tree down. They did not come back.

Later, after the Gelb Science Center was built in 2004, some in the school again thought that the tree blocked the view of the building from the Foxcroft area. Members of the PA community fought to keep the tree and when the architects of Gelb agreed with the community, the result was an agreement to keep the tree.

While this year, because of the recent warm, then cold, weather, the blooms are a bit sparse, it should come to full bloom in the next couple of days. Be sure to stop by some time this morning to marvel this magnificent tree (and get some cookies!) or make sure to notice it at some point in the next few days, before the bloom is over.

Below are photos taken of the Cherry Tree during a great bloom year!

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Happy Spring from the Division of Natural Sciences!

The Life of Birds

Inclement Weather causes Ornithology to Watch Birds in a Different Way

Guest Post by Peyton McGovern ’16

Last week in Ornithology we did less field watching than in the previous two weeks. Instead, we took our first assessment, watched an interesting documentary and studied the taxidermic birds in the Gelb halls. The video we watched on Thursday [Life of Birds: Meat Eaters; BBC] focused on birds ability to catch prey and their various strategies to attain food. I was surprised at how skilled and intelligent the birds were. For instance, a vulture in the jungle was able to smell and track down a piece of meat on the jungle ground from over a half mile away. I have always underestimated bird’s but this movie definitely altered my perception of their capabilities.

[Below is a clip of an wild owl hunting in the arctic recommended by Mr. Cone.]

On Friday, we stayed inside due to the inclement conditions outdoors. As a class we went to the hallways and observed the field marks of each bird inside the glass cases. Personally, I enjoyed the starling because from a distance it simply looks like a common black crow; however, up close its feathers contain various shiny colors such as blue and green.  

   Over the course of the upcoming week we are tasked with identifying these two birds in the pictures using our Peterson field guide.

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On our quiz this week we had a similar assignment. The two birds on the quiz were a female belted Kingfisher and an oven bird.  In the next week we will hopefully be back outdoors to explore more birds on campus, especially as more begin to migrate back up North.

Evolutionary Lessons in Bio500

Students discover Darwin and his journey ’round-the-world

March 24, 2016

Starting off the spring term here at Andover, the Biology-500 students are learning about Darwin and evolution. To demonstrate and speak about Darwin’s journey around the world, Marc Koolen and Christine Marshall-Walker, Biology Instructors, used models of the HMS Beagle and Darwin’s workshop.

Students learned the conditions in which Darwin was selected to sail aboard the HMS Beagle where his scientific explorations eventually led to the publication of his theories on evolution. At the time, Darwin was trained to enter the clergy and did not have a degree in any type of science. Typically, the ‘naturalist’ aboard a British Naval Vessel was the ship’s doctor and also a naval officer – Darwin was neither. The ship’s captain, FitzRoy, eventually chose Darwin for his social standing, rather than his skills as a naturalist and so that there would be someone of equal stature with which to speak. Being a civilian, Darwin could speak freely with the captain without the worry of discipline.

The model above (crafted by Mr. Marc Koolen himself) shows, in detail, Darwin’s workshop aboard the HMS Beagle. The HMS Beagle had been modified to be a survey vessel whose mission was to map coastlines around the globe for British merchant ships to use.  “The ship was basically a jeep with sails…all work, no luxury. Darwin came from an extremely wealthy family and had lived a very pampered life…how he survived 5 years under such primitive conditions is truly amazing.” said Mr. Koolen during his lesson.

The lesson was super interesting! Although our typical lectures are far from boring, it was neat to use different mediums of education to supplement the material. Mr. Koolen’s model was an awesome tool to do this with! It really gave us historical context to support what we already learned about Darwin as well as a visual tool to help us really grasp the lesson. – Janet Conklin ’17

The students then went on to look at some preserved organisms, all of which launched a discussion about evolution and how evolution is evidenced in shared structures between extinct organisms and today’s organisms.

A Murder of Crows

Mr. Cone’s Ornithology Class Observes Crows in Lawrence

Guest post by Peyton McGovern ’16

March 31, 2016

This past Tuesday, my 6th period ornithology class took a field trip to Lawrence, where we observed a large flock of crows. Crows flock in hundreds during the winter, which we got to witness firsthand at an industrial building on Merrimack street. Our class was working to answer the question of why these birds gather in such large numbers? After our field trip we were tasked to analyze a few different hypothesis as to why this could be. One hypothesis is that they gather for protection (strength in numbers), while another concludes that they gather because a certain spot is most suitable to their needs, so they all congregate in that one spot.

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In order to watch the crows interact we fed them cat chow, which according to Mr. Cone, is one of their favorites. The birds were hesitant at first because we were close but eventually decided the food would be worth it. We were surprised by how little competition existed amongst the birds even with the food present. There was seemingly no squabbling amongst them despite the large number of birds. We were quite fascinated by one of the crows, which only had one leg. We observed that this bird had less power for take off but it’s flying abilities were not impacted. Overall it was a great opportunity to observe the crows first hand and to work on a question that many, many scientists have dealt with.

We ended the night with a quick McDonald’s stop to fuel our brains after our scientific field work. Today, we will head outdoors for on campus exploration of the wide variety of birds that exist on our campus.

 

UMass Senior Helps Discover New Galaxies

Astronomy News in The Boston Globe

March 30, 2016

Today, an article in the Boston Globe features a senior who attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst and how he helped discover some of the brightest galaxies in the universe.sky-space-galaxy-milky-way

Kevin Harrington was among the team who’s groundbreaking research was published in a prestigious European astronomy journal this month, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. He made this discovery first by sifting through mountains of publicly available data and drawing his own conclusions and theories about said data. He was the lead author of a paper outlining the findings published in the above publication.

Harrington is 23 years old and discovered his love of astronomy in high school – he will be graduating UMass this spring and heading to start his doctoral work in September.

In response to this article, Clyfe Beckwith, Phillips Academy Physics Instructor gives “a shout-out for public institutions and to someone who is tenacious enough to sift through someone else’s (public) data.”

The article, “UMass senior helps find universe’s brightest galaxies, by Nestor Ramos, was featured on the front page of the Boston Globe on Wednesday, March 30th, 2016.

Spring has Sprung for BIO100!

Phillips Academy Biology-100 Courses Plant Seeds on the Gelb Lawn

March 25th, 2016

Today, as part of Andover’s Biology-100 course, a garden was started outside the Gelb Science Center.

Areas of soil were carved out of the grassy area next to Gelb in preparation for this experiment. The faculty brought each period of Biology-100 students out (in the rain!) to spread seed on their section of the plot. Periods One, Two, and Three planted “Meadow Mix” (a mix of different types of grass) in one plot and Periods Four, Five, Six, and Seven planted a Wildflower Mix in another plot.

Biology Instructor, Raj Mundra, explained to the first and second period classes that they were contributing to a bigger experiment going on throughout the Phillips Academy Campus. They are planting a mix of grasses that may not have to be mowed! A tuft of grass next to this plot will not be mowed as a control to this experiment to see how tall the new grass gets in comparison. The results of this experiment could lead to a new frontier of landscaping!

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After spreading the seeds over their part of the plot, the classes then walked over the seeds to make sure they were secure in the soil. The faculty explained that his drizzly day was the perfect day to plant these seeds because they will get water right away and begin the growth process.

But wait! There were four plots in the photos at the beginning of this post – what about the other two, you ask? These same Biology-100 students will be planting seeds of their choosing in these two plots. Stay tuned to find out what they plant and to keep updated on the progress of our “Gelb Garden”!