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! 🙂

 

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!

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.

Baby Geese!

Ornithology Returns to the Pond to Feed the Baby Geese

Guest Blog Post by Peyton McGovern ’16

Hello Readers!

Classes are winding down but the birds on campus certainly are not! Between the baby geese (one of these adorable babies can be seen in a photo courtesy of Angela Dolan ’16), baby Phoebe and the other bird nest at Stuart, campus is bustling with bird activity. It has been so exciting to watch my final term at Andover transition from the brisk end of winter to the sunshine and warmth of spring. Along with the changes in weather, so many birds have returned and filled campus with their lovely songs. It’s been so amazing to watch each week as new species return from their winter migration.

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As my class enters it’s final week together, we will most likely take one more field trip and study to prepare for our final exam. As an all senior Ornithology class, it feels especially bizarre to know we have such a short time left at the school. However, it’s great to spend one period per day studying birds, which is such an interesting and fun topic. Ornithology has been a great class for me this term specifically for three reasons: I have learned a lot about identifying local birds, gotten to engage a lot with my classmates on our field adventures and finally tried a unique course that I wouldn’t be able to take at many other high schools. So much bird watching to do with such little time left!

Ornithology Feeds Baby Geese at Andover Pond

Great Weather for the Ornithology Class Field Trip!

Guest Post by Peyton McGovern ’16

Hello Blog Readers,

This past week was an action packed adventure for those of us in Biology 421. During our double on Thursday, we took an off campus field trip to North Andover, where we searched for Herons. Unfortunately, we saw some nests but we did not see any Herons themselves. The landscape was a vast open swamp filled with many dead trees. The area looked seemingly eerie and desolate; however it was surprisingly filled with many red-winged Black birds and of course the Herons nests. After we spent some time on the dock overlooking the swamp, we drove to a nearby meadow, which was quite beautiful. We spotted some Bobolinks at the meadow, but it was a bit difficult for us because they were easily lost in the thick grass. Luckily, the weather was incredible which made this trip enjoyable for everyone. 

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Perhaps, my favorite part of the week came on Friday when our class fed the goslings at Rabbit pond. The baby geese were so adorable, tiny and fluffy. Mr. Cone brought us some bread to feed them, which they definitely enjoyed. We were surprised by the fact that the parents did not feed their young and often actually took the bread for themselves.

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Although the parent geese do not feed their babies at this stage, they are still extremely protective of their young. Whenever any of us or another adult geese got a bit too close, you could hear the parents hiss or see them change to a more aggressive position. Overall, it was a fantastic week in class and definitely our most interactive so far!

Spring is for the birds…

A Visit to the Bird Blinds to Prepare for Grandparent’s Weekend

A couple of times this term, Melanie Poulin and I were fortunate enough to accompany Mr. Tom Cone and Mr. Marc Koolen down to the Bird Blinds. For those of you who don’t know, a bird blind is an area where you can watch birds through slits in fence, so as not to frighten the birds away with your presence. This particular bird blind was made possible through the generous funding of the Abbot Academy Association in 2003.

The bird blinds are located off of Highland Road across the street from the 1929 House.You have to walk a bit down the beaten path, but it is well worth it. You come up to a large fence with benches on one side, but you cannot tell what is behind it until you get up close and look through the slots.

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When you look through the slots, you see that there is a pole system that holds lots of different bird feeders. There are lots of tree around and a little stream nearby that creates habitats for lots of different birds.

Every few days, someone will go down to fill the feeders so that the birds will keep coming back and give us something to view! Lots of birds will come to visit, just in time for Grandparent’s Weekend!

Along the way, we also saw a few nests with either baby birds in them or mother birds sitting on their eggs! We saw a little baby Phoebe bird sticking it’s head out of this nest:

A baby House Finch’s tail sticking out of this nest:

And a mother Robin sitting on her eggs in this nest:

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A Collection of Nests

Ornithology Begins to Wind Down With Oral Presentations and Bird Nest Viewing

Guest Post by Peyton McGovern ’16

Hi Blog Readers,

Our Bio 421 class is now in our oral presentation phase. This past Tuesday we had two sets of partners present their topics. The first group, Richie Ciufo ’16 and Ben Anthony ’16, showed the class their PowerPoint on Bird Vision. Their slides compared human vision to bird vision. It was quite remarkable to see how much better the birds eyesight was. Not only can birds follow things faster with their eyes, they also have the ability to see ultra violet light. Next came Livy Golini ’16 and Morgan Gramlich ’16, who presented on bird’s magnetism. The extent to which bird use magnetic fields is still widely debated and currently being researched. Tomorrow, my partner Olivia Lamarche ’16 and I will present on bird emotions. Similar to Richie and Ben, we will also compare bird and human emotions to see any similarities or differences.

On Friday, we took a break from oral presentations to observe the best collection that Mr. Cone set up for our class. We looked at over 20 nests and were tasked with identifying which material were used to create each nest. Certain nests were made out of pine needles and mud, whereas others may have contained feathers, leaves and sticks.

It was really unique to see such a variety of nests all in one place. I always assumed all nests were circular, which was not the case at all. Some were square and others did not have an explicit shape.

This week we will have presentations on Monday and Tuesday and most likely an outdoor adventure Thursday! I’m hoping to see the sun more this week than we encountered last week.