I am exploring Tashkent by bike and am noticing common birds found in the city. This morning I photographed this Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) in the Tashkent Botanical Garden. It is a strikingly large dove and I saw many of them in the garden. The wood pigeon is resident in the central and southern parts of Europe, and oddly with a gap, also found in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Central Asia.
There are also many Eurasian Magpies (Pica pica) in the parks of Tashkent. The magpie is a member of the crow family and is one of the most intelligent birds and animals in general, with a extremely large nidopallium (cognitive part of an avian brain). They can show emotion, recognize themselves and have elaborate social rituals. They are found all throughout Europe, Central Asia, all the way to China and far eastern Russia.
Probably the most common bird I see everyday is the Common Mynah (Acridotheres tristis). They are native to Uzbekistan, but are one of the most problematic invasive species in the world.
We are privileged to have a pair of Laughing Doves (Spilopelia senegalensis) nesting in our garden. They built a nest of sticks in our garage on top of the pool filters. We first noticed them when we first moved into the house on July 25. Later we noticed first one and then two round, white eggs in the next. Since the Laughing Dove is commonly found around human habitation and the wikipedia pages describes their nesting habits in accurate details.
The nest is a very flimsy platform of twigs built in a low bush and sometimes in crevices or under the eaves of houses. Both parents build the nest with males bringing the twigs which are then placed by the female. Two eggs are laid within an interval of a day between them and both parents take part in building the nest, incubating and feeding the young. Males spend more time incubating the nest during the day. The eggs are incubated after the second egg is laid and the eggs hatch after about 13 to 15 days. Nesting adults may feign injury to distract and draw predators away from the nest. Multiple broods may be raised by the same pair in the same nest. Seven broods by the same pair have been noted in Turkey. The young fledge and leave the nest after about 14 to 16 days.
Wikipedia entry of Laughing Dove
The photo below is of the female sitting in the nest in our garage. I’ve noticed she changes her position often. The position below is not her favorite however, and she is usually more towards one side or the other, with her back tail flat. Either the male or female is on the nest during most of the day, especially during the hot daylight hours. I am not sure how often she leaves. As I finish this blog post at 6:00 AM, she is sleeping in the nest. We can get almost next to the nest and she just stares at us calmly, showing little fear of activity near our door and the nest.
The laughing dove gets it name from its call. I remember watching them when I lived in Perth, where they were introduced in the late 1800s. They are naturally found in Africa and the Middle East. Uzbekistan is in the north of its natural range.
I am curious to see the chicks and see how long the whole process takes for them to leave the nest. It is nice to have an opportunity for field studies that I can do from my kitchen!
My great aunt Alice was showing us her magnificent Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)last night in her garden. The locals call it the “moon flower” because it blooms starting in the evening and fade by mid-morning. The flowers are pollinated by night-flying moths and early-morning bees. It is found all throughout eastern and central North America. Native Americans ate the roots and Evening Primrose oil is sold commercially for its medicinal properties. Another interesting aspect about the plant is that it is a biennial, flowering only in the second year of life. The flowers have an UV-light pattern on the petals and have a faintly sweet fragrance.
A classic sign of summer evenings in eastern North America are fireflies or lightning bugs. There are over 2,000 described species of soft-bodied beetles in the family Lampyridae that use bioluminescence during twilight to attract mates. They are irresistible to children and I fondly remember catching them and placing in a jar to create a natural lantern. Firefly populations are declining worldwide due to habitat loss, light pollution and pesticides/weed killers. I noticed that they are more abundant near trees and less so in open lawns.
To complete my final nature post from the USA, we also spotted an Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus). This is the most common subspecies which is found all through eastern North America. They are quite sluggish and easy to pick up because of the bufotoxin in their glands
I wanted to give a few nature observations of my time in the forests of north eastern Pennsylvania. The Poconos Mountains, part of the Appalachian chain are beautiful and reminiscent of my beloved Upper Peninsula of Michigan. One of my favorite trees is the Northern White Pine (Pinus strobus) the tallest tree in eastern North America, growing to over 200 feet (61 meters). They are easy to identify because of their size, the long, thin cones and their long needles come in bundles of 5. They are also very distinctive in the top of the tree, as it is spread out, not coming to a point like many pine trees. They were once the most important lumber tree in the 1800s, but were clear cut to oblivion by early settlers. They usually grow for 200-400 years and you can still find mature growth trees in parks and inaccessible places like canyons. There were some beautiful mammoths in the Hickory Run State Park.
The plant of the Appalachians is the Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). It is thicket-forming all throughout the Appalachians from Alabama to Maine and is found in rocky woods, mountain slopes and along streams. It is the street name (Kalmia) where my uncle lives and is the state flower of Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
Their flowers are unique because the stamens are bent and when an insect lands on the flower, they spring a spray of pollen on the insect. It must be annoying for insects, but the nectar is probably worth the mess. It must be similar to eating a mango or watermelon. Lots of juice, seeds and pulp, but worth the mess!
A couple of nights ago I spotted this Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) in the neighbor’s yard. I was able to approach it within about 2 meters while it was digging and eating something in the yard. However, when it did finally notice me, I heard it hiss and immediately face me with its tailed raised! I quickly left to avoid getting sprayed. It is truly an American mammal being found in all 48 states in the contiguous USA.
Finally, I have been eating as many blueberries as humanly possible. We again visited a local blueberry farm. I would make a good migrant fruit picker, although a few too many would go into my mouth rather than the bucket. I thought it interesting that they ripen at different times and there always seemed to be a couple ripe berries in each cluster instead of the whole cluster being ripe. Absolutely delicious!
The Ghost Plant or Indian Pipe is one of my favorite North American plants. I went for a short walk in the forests right outside of the town of Freeland, Pennsylvania. Freeland is the highest borough in Pennsylvania at 1,943 feet and is located in the former coal mining country in the Poconos, a range in the Appalachian Mountain chain.
The Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora) is a mycotrophic (fungus-feeding) wildflower. As you can see, it does not have green chlorophyll like most plants. It gets its energy from a fungus growing on the roots of trees. The fungus and tree roots are in a symbiotic relationship, with the tree getting more surface area and more water/nutrient intake and the fungi getting carbohydrates and micronutrients from the tree. The Ghost Plant jumps in and makes is a threesome, but only takes from the fungus and does not give anything back to the fungus or tree. The species name comes from the “one-turn”
They are found all over the USA with the exception of the drier parts of the American southwest. The Indian Pipe was also a favorite of American poet, Emily Dickinson.
I also saw three Eastern Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens). They are commonly found throughout eastern American forests. They live a long time compared to other amphibians, 12-15 years and so go through several life stages. The Red Eft stage, is a juvenile land stage the Eastern Newt goes through. Researchers are not sure how long they are in this stage, but it is a time of dispersal and they travel far from the pond which they were born. They are brightly colored in this stage, advertising the neurotoxin that they produce that makes them poisonous to eat.
The newt after 2-3 years, then finds a pond to complete their life cycle. They turn olive green and go back to an aquatic lifestyle, breed and die. They are quite small, ranging from 6-10 centimeters in length.
It was almost of perfect day back with my family after a trip to Uzbekistan. Spring is in full force here in Osaka and the blue skies, the new green of the trees and the millions of flowers in bloom filled me with life! After a long, cold, wet winter, it was such a rebirth of the earth and the warm sun felt so good as we walked through the cool air under the sugi conifers. The family and our guest from Bolivia hiked the 4 kilometer pilgrim path to our favorite temple, Katsuo-Ji in the Minoh Quasi National Park. I will make a nice video of the hike when my wife brings back my phone.
We heard the calls of many birds and on the way back down the mountain near sunset, we spotted two male narcissus flycatchers. They are in full breeding plumage and the males were also feeling exhilarated in the spring weather. It was easy to recognize the beautiful songs. The Narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) prefers thicker forest so it is hard for me to get a focused photo with my camera in the fading light. They are common in the Minoh Quasi National Park and breed in Japan. They are named after their resemblance to the Narcissus (Daffodil) flower, not any personality disorder. I hope the vocal males were successful in their search for a mate!
*The reference to the title is from a country and western song I remember from my youth, Johnny Lee’s Lookin’ for Love. Why that song popped into my head, I don’t know. I probably haven’t heard the song for over 30 years.
We also noticed hundreds of butterflies in the farmer’s fields and I should go around this weekend and try to identify some of them. I did capture this Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) near the edge of rice fields and forest. The Copper is common throughout Asia, Europe and North America. The males are aggressive in defending their territories.
We made it back safe and sound beating the oncoming rain for a cold craft beer at the Minoh Beer Warehouse, an end to a perfect day!
I am seeing more Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata) as the winter moves towards March. They started arriving to northern Osaka a couple of weeks ago. They really stand out for their spatulate bills. Both the male and female have it. They breed in the north (hence the name) and winter in the south from North America to Europe to East Asia. The green head and bright chestnut belly are characteristics of the breeding male plumage.
Japan is a refuge for Mandarin Ducks (Aix galericulata) because their habitat in Russia and China is being lost. Outside of Japan, scientists estimate they are down to 1,000 breeding pairs, but in Japan, there are an estimated 5,000. This is true of several animals including the beloved Sika Deer. Japan does a nice job of limiting habitat loss and hunting, which is much different than most other countries in Asia. They are a resident duck in Japan, but I only see them in the winter here in Osaka. I notice that they are a bit skittish early in the winter, but later, they become accustomed to the irrigation ponds and come close to the banks where I can photograph them closely.
The male has such an incredible array of colors that the duck looks fake. The female as in all bird species has a much more understated plumage. There is always a group of photographers in the Senri Chuo Park.
Finally, another winter visitor to Osaka is the Daurian Redstart, an Old World Flycatcher. It breeds in Manchuria, Russia, Mongolia and central China and northern Korea. I’ve noticed them around bodies of water, although they are not a waterfowl. The guidebook says they are quite tame, but I find them difficult to photograph. I finally got a decent photo of this male, near the pond in Kita Senri Park.