Firsts and Lasts

A Rabbit Pond Exploration

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

Last week in my Ornithology class, Mr. Cone split us up into groups and sent us on different missions. My groups’ task was to venture down to Rabbit Pond and record the number and condition of birds that are occupying the bird houses set up around the pond. These “houses” are similar to your typical bird house, and there are eight of them surrounding the pond. Ironically, I never noticed them until that day!

We had a spread sheet that asked whether or not there was a nest in each of the eight houses, if there were eggs present, and what kind of nest it was. Out of the eight that my group checked, we found four nests, one of which contained four small eggs. Every nest we found was a house wren’s. Very easy to identify, these nests are made up almost entirely of sticks.

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Unfortunately, we did not actually see any house wrens in the area, but here is a picture for reference.

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During our adventure, we had the great fortune to see three sets of parents and their baby geese wandering around the outskirts of the pond. Now I know these little ones are famous by now in the Science Department, but I felt it was worth mentioning again. The baby geese, just like we learn, followed their respective mothers’ every move. Despite geese’s typically friendly nature, these mothers were especially defensive. With each step that we took toward the family, the mother was quick to hiss back at us. Needless to say, we kept our distance!

In addition to our adventure down to Rabbit Pond, my class had the opportunity to see one of Audubon’s Birds of America copy in the Addison. Known as his “double elephant pholios,” Audubon’s giant prints were incredible! This massive book contains hundreds of birds, reproduced from his original work by the use of a copper plate and a printing press. Did you know this book, which is worth a lot of money, was once on display in the library? Good thing the Addison decided to take it in, as many of the edges of the book had been damaged by students. Pictured below is one of Mr. Cone’s favorite Audubon prints:

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Here comes the hard part. Given this is my last post of the term, I wanted to thank all of my readers for following my journey through this class. It’s been a lot of fun to write for the PA Natural Sciences blog and learn more and more about birds. I want to give a special thank you to Mr. Cone for teaching such a great class. You will be missed at Andover, but we are excited to see your next adventure. Happy last week of class, and happy summer! ❤

With admiration, Sabrina Appleby

Home is Where the Sticks are?

Ornithology takes a look at different birds nests this week!

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

Last week in Ornithology class, we spent the double period inspecting the nests of a variety of American birds. When I walked into class, I thought that these nests were all going to look and seem the exact same. I could not have been more wrong. Each nest was so intricately made and contained a multitude of different materials. Amongst the many materials, the most frequently seen ones were grass, sticks, spider webs, feathers, mud, and moss. Here are a few that stuck out to me:

1. Robin’s Nest
Created with mud and sticks, a robin’s nest is perfectly circular. Mr. Cone told us that the materials are gathered by the male robin and the female makes the nest. She uses her body to sculpt the nest in a way that provides the circular shape.

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2. House Sparrow Nest
This nest is pretty gross. These lovely birds essentially gather up a bunch of grass, trash, and feathers and blend it all together in a messy heap of stuff. At least it’s an easy nest to identify?

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3. Downy Woodpecker
This one’s pretty straightforward – just some bark and holes.

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4. Speke’s Weaver Bird
Made of almost entirely of grass, the nest situates similarly to a bee’s nest – circular, sometimes hollow inside, and suspending from a tree. Often times, this bird hangs upside down from the nest, clinging on by its feet.

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These are just a few of the 20 nests that we looked at last week. In addition to learning more about the homes of these curious creatures, I also learned that Andover has wonderful resources to research birds and their habitats. Sometimes we take for granted all that PA has to offer. I encourage my readers to check out the casing on the first floor of Gelb that holds a variety of birds. Even if you take just a moment, you will see some pretty cool bird features up close and personal.

As always, thanks for listening. Check back next week for my take on John James Audubon – our next topic of the term.

Holt Hill Adventure!

Mr. Cone’s Ornithology Class Ventures to Holt Hill

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

This week in Mr. Cone’s Ornithology class, we took a trip over to Holt Hill! Believe it or not, it was my first time experiencing the beautiful views of the Boston skyline and the blossoming apple trees.

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On our way up the hill, Mr. Cone, already on the look-out, spotted a female and male bluebird. By the time he pointed out the male bluebird, it had taken off! But the female stayed behind for a couple minutes. She was had beautiful light blue back, not quite as vibrant as the males usually are, with an orange tint on her underbelly. She was enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine. My picture doesn’t do her colors justice, but you can see her peaceful perch on the tree branch.

Not far from the bluebird, we spotted two cowbirds, a male and female, perched on another tree. They were calm, but playful, as they interacted with one another up and down the branch. Once the female took off, the male did not hesitate to follow her. I tried to get a picture, but they were too active to get a good shot!

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When we finally made our way toward the open field, my class all stopped in their tracks to admire the views. It was truly amazing, especially given that we were there for a class (thanks Mr. Cone!). Immediately, we could hear birds singing everywhere, and Mr. Cone was quick to call attention to two turkey vultures flying overhead. Over in one of the apples trees, in the midst of white flowers appeared a Baltimore oriole. It’s bright orange colors were hard to miss. If you look closely at the picture I took through my “binocs,” you can see a little speck of orange surrounded by the white flowers.

Considering this spell of gloomy weather, we were lucky to get outside on Thursday and enjoy the sunshine. It truly was beautiful. Each time I go outside, I am more and more keen to the birds around me. The moments when I either see or hear a bird and can identify it are the most rewarding for me. It is nice to know that I can keep this knowledge with me wherever I go! Until next time! 🙂

 

The Herring Are Coming!

Bio100 Visits the Shawsheen River

This year’s Bio100 class had the unique opportunity to visit the Shawsheen River last week and learn a bit about habitat change. Each period piled into a bus and drove down to near Whole Foods in Andover to a bridge overlooking the Shawsheen River.

There, they met Jon Honea, a professor at Emerson College in Boston whose research involves making computer models to see how habitat change effects different communities. In this particular spot, two dams that were built approximately 200 years ago were taken down to allow the migratory fish to return to the area. He is now monitoring the return of the fish that used to be native to this area, namely the River Herring. These fish are silver in color and about a foot long. Mr. Honea and his team are watching the river for about 10 minutes at a time to see how many of these fish are spotted. This data will help to estimate the fish’s spawning population time.

Mr. Honea talked to them a bit about why it is so important for us to repopulate the river with this Herring. They play an important role in the ecosystem as food for many animals. They spawn in fresh water rivers and then move to the ocean to grow up. Mr. Mundra also talked a bit about the two dams that were removed from the area. These dams were preventing the fish from coming back to spawn in the river. These dams were built approximately 200 years ago as a source of energy for the Powder Mills in the area. Mr. Honea also said that the downstream dam was purely ornamental – the owner of the Mills wanted a gurgling sound for his administrative staff to feel comfortable working in the building.

The class then helped Mr. Honea to count the fish in the river. They took some basic data down, the weather and temperature of the air and water, and began to look for the fish. We are looking for the stray fish who are now able to make it upstream, to see how many make it up now that the dams are gone. Unfortunately, in the 10 minutes that we were there, no one saw a fish, but the hope is that within the next three or four years the population will be thriving!

Non Sibi Day 2017

Students and Alumni help clean up Thompson Island on Earth Day

Up Close and Personal

The Ornithology Adventure Continues!

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

After a gloomy and rainy 3-day week, Mr. Cone’s Ornithology class is back outside again! This past Thursday, during our usual double period, my class explored more of main campus in addition to our usual route down in Pineknoll. Mr. Cone was hoping to point out a new bird to us: the starling. He said that they liked to nest in the gutters on the side of the library. We started on our route toward the back end of the library. When the group reached the path between Common’s circle and the library, the excitement began. We saw a handful of starlings and their nests, settled within the articulate copper gutters on the left side of the library (picture below).

As we circled the back of the library, we began to see more and more starlings. If you get the chance, look up around the roof of the library and you’re bound to see one! They have black bodies with little white specks, and they have a yellow beak.

We found our way over to the Gelb lawn, and we were instantly intrigued by an unfamiliar song: “chip, chip, chip!” My class had met their first Chipping Sparrow! These tiny birds are hard to find but very easy to hear. After finally finding the chipping sparrow hiding in one of the trees on the Gelb Lawn, Mr. Cone asked me and two of my classmates to fetch some loaves of bread from Commons. Without any explanation given, the three of us were en route to Commons for bread.

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Our next adventure was over by 1924 House, which is home to a Phoebe’s nest. As we very quietly approached the house, we waited to hear the distinct noise: “phoebeee.” But to no avail. Then, Mr. Cone showed us the nest, and with his handy mirror, he tried to see if there were any eggs in the nest. While we didn’t see any, this is only the beginning! We will have plenty of opportunities to see and hear more Phoebes.

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It was not until we passed Mr. Robinson’s bird feeder that Mr. Cone revealed the reasons for the bread. Of course! We were going to feed the geese at Rabbit Pond. Mr. Cone explained to us that the “tagged” geese would be willing to get pretty close to a group of humans like us, because of their previous exposure to humans – probably a result of habituation (a common bird behavior type). He was right. After about 5 minutes, we were feeding two geese about five feet away from us!

Cherry Tree Cookie Day 2017

Biology Faculty Tom Cone welcomes Spring and calls attention to one of the natural beauties of campus with cookies at the Cherry Tree

It is time again for a great tradition of Phillips Academy Andover, cookies at the Cherry Tree. For his last time, Tom Cone, put out cookies between under the nearly 65 year old Cherry Tree between Sam Phil and Morse Hall to commemorate Spring and to celebrate one of the natural treasures of the campus. Tom Cone is retiring (after 51 years of teaching!) at the end of this school year, so this is his last trip to the Cherry Tree. The Biology Department is committed to keeping this tradition alive for years to come!

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Keeping with tradition, the first period Bio100 classes helped make the trays and bring them out to the table set up under the tree.

And the crowds quickly followed! Mr. Cone reminds everyone who takes a cookie to look at the tree and marvel in its beauty.

This nearly 65-year-old cherry tree 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.

If you look closely at the tree, you can see it is held together by wires! The tree would probably fall right over if they had not brought in an expert to repair the tree and keep it standing. Thank goodness they did, because this is certainly one of the most amazingly beautiful trees on campus. It only blooms for a few days – as you can see, the petals were already starting to fall off! So, enjoy this natural beauty while it lasts!

A Friday Treat!

Mr. Cone’s Ornithology Class Takes a Trip to the Bird Blind

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

After Mr. Cone’s bird quiz from last Thursday, we were all relieved to get outside on Friday. Though the weather predictions had said warm and sunny (which we all needed after the rainstorm on Thursday), dark clouds still loomed above us. Of course, this certainly didn’t stop my class from getting the most out of our outing last week!

Now that we have the lay of the land, I expect Mr. Cone thought it was time to take us down Salem Street to a designated bird watching area located off the beat and path of the main road. This re contains ten bird feeders, blocked off by paneled wooden walls, that attract many birds from the area; it’s the perfect destination to observe all the birds we are lucky enough to have around here. As soon as each of us took a seat around the walls and opened up the small panels that allowed us to see the bird feeders, the watching began.

A goldfinch with the most vibrant yellow coloring, a female downy woodpecker, and a peaceful cardinal were amongst the many birds that we had the privilege to watch on our outing. Not to mention the array of chickadees that paid us a visit. I attempted to get some photos through my binocs again:

It was an exciting day for me and my classmates, as we were introduced to some new faces in addition to ones more familiar to us. Mr. Cone was quick to point out a dark-eyed junco. He said they would not be around New England for much longer, as they start migrating north after our winter months! They must really like the cold!

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Dark-eyed Junco

Despite the gloomy skies, the excitement during our bird watching outing provided a nice change of pace. I think we are all starting to our embrace our newfound bird knowledge. I know I am! The other day, when I woke up to my alarm, I heard birds chirping outside my window. I thought to myself, that must be a house sparrow. And sure enough, it was!

With spring seeming to finally be upon us, I suspect there will be many more faces to come. Stay tuned for more adventures from Mr. Cone’s Bio 421 Ornithology class!

Spring is Near!

Mr. Cone’s Spring Ornithology Class Begins!

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

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Photo from National Audubon Society [http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/downy-woodpecker]
As we donned our binoculars and prepped for our second outing in Mr. Cone’s Biology 421 Ornithology class, none other than Mr. Cone himself pointed out the rare sighting of a male downy woodpecker from the window of our classroom. This particular bird, according to Mr. Cone, does not often visit the bird-feeder by Gelb, but, that day, we were lucky enough to catch it. With its stark red field mark, Mr. Cone could immediately tell it was a male. The class watched as the bird climbed its way up the feeder, using its sharp tail as a “third foot.”

This is how our outings usually begin. We start from Gelb and make our way around campus, going from one bird feeder to the next, with the hopes of sighting a new bird or observing the behaviors of ones already familiar to us. We have already seen a number of chickadees and become especially accustomed to hearing their high pitched “dee-dee-dee” call. In addition, robins, white-breasted nuthatches, and tufted titmice have frequented our campus skies. Even some less common birds have paid a visit: a male and female house finch and a cardinal. When we made our way over to Rabbit Pond, we found two Canada Geese cleaning their wings in the water, ducking their heads and turning upside down. I was able to get a photo through the “binocs” (as Mr. Cone calls them) on my phone. If you look closely, there’s a mallard duck sleeping on the cluster of rocks.

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On our walks, Mr. Cone encourages us to not only be on the lookout for birds, but also to take some time to enjoy nature. In our world, it takes more effort to go outside than to revert to our tendencies to stay inside. Mr. Cone’s class not only gives us the opportunity to learn about birds, but also it reminds us how much we take nature for granted. I imagine that by the end of this term, my classmates and I will have taken the time to reconnect with nature and develop a greater appreciation for all the beauty that birds have to offer.