Thanksgiving for the Butter-butt (but not the Butterballs)!

November 20, 2012

Hold your horses...give me a moment to clarify this title, I'm talking about birds here! When I say "butter-butt" I'm actually referring to a small grey songbird that has a bright yellow patch on its derrière (yes, this really is what dorky birders like myself call this bird when we're out birding). In particular, I'm talking about the below pictured butter-butt, that narrowly escaped death hence the giving of thanks. In contrast, all those Butterball turkeys won't be giving much thanks. But hey, maybe you'll be inclined to give some on their behalf!

If this bird had a speech bubble, what would it be saying?This is what Museum bird expert, Kimball Garrett, has to say about butter-butts, a.k.a. Yellow-rumped warblers:"There’s hardly a surer sign of the approach of winter in the Los Angeles Region than the arrival en masse of Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) throughout our lowlands in October. These hyperactive 12 gram songbirds breed widely in conifer forests of North America, and migrate in immense numbers to the southern United States (with some continuing as far south as Central America). In our area birds of the western 'Audubon’s' subspecies predominate. One secret to the success of this species is its generalized diet. Our fall and winter birds glean insects from vegetation or the ground, but also sally into the air to catch flying insects; they’ll also take nectar from a variety of flowers (winter-flowering eucalypts are especially preferred) and take their share of small berries as well. You’ll recognize Yellow-rumped Warblers by the eponymous color patch, as well as other yellow patches on the throat, the sides, and (usually hidden) the center of the crown, and white flashes at the corners of the tail. Grayish overall in their relatively subdued basic (“winter”) plumage, males don a brighter black, yellow and white plumage for the breeding season.Mortality in most small migratory songbirds of temperate regions is astonishingly high over the first year often approaching or exceeding 75%. In urban areas, collisions with human-built structures is an important cause of mortality, with glass windows accounting for a large proportion of these deaths. Some scientists have estimated that up to a billion birds are killed each year in the USA alone by such collisions. The hapless Yellow-rumped Warbler that hit a window by the Dinosaur Hall is, unfortunately, hardly alone."Hapless as this butter-butt may have been, it was one of the lucky ones, it revived and flew away some hours later. I wonder where it is now, how many insects and small berriers it has eaten since, and if it's learned to stay away from windows? Although, you won't be eating any insects (at least not knowingly) at your Thanksgiving feast, and you probably aren't rejoicing in life after narrowly esaping death-by-window, you probably have a lot of other reasons to give thanks. Go give 'em!

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


Thanksgiving for Mushrooms!

November 23, 2011

We're never going to spot a Wild Turkey in the North Campus, but I still wanted to post something related to the Thanksgiving holiday this week. Ah ha! Mushrooms, I thought. Not the Campbell's soup kind, but real honest-to-goodness wild mushroomslike the ones that are popping up all over L.A. after our recent autumnal rains.In preparation for this blog post I went out searching for mushrooms in the North Campus. What I found was this:

Unidentified little brown mushroom (LBM)Not being a mycologist, I had no idea what this small non-descript brown mushroom was, so I took it to the experts. Last night, the L.A. Mycological Society (LAMS) held their monthly meeting at the Museum. The meeting is a place for all things fungithere's a lecture (last night's touched on the insect zombification powers of some fungi!), mushroom show and tell, and of course snacks.During the mushroom show and tell, I politely asked a LAMS member to identify my mushroom. Not missing a beat he told me it was an LBM. A what? A little brown mushroom! He continued to explain that there are hundreds of species of small brown mushrooms, and it was impossible to identify my mushroom without  a much more in depth process. I almost left disappointed, but then I took a gander at the other mushrooms people had found throughout Los Angeles.

 An array of mushrooms found on a mushroom foray

 Earthstar, Geastrum spp. andWestern Destroying Angel, Amanita ocreata (small white mushroom)        

Jack O'lantern, Omphalotus olivascensThis musrhoom actually glows in the dark!       

Massive puffball mushrooomWow, what diversity! In the coming months I am working with the LAMS to do a formal survey of fungi in the North Campus. This survey will generate a species list for the site. Apparently there are almost 400 species of mushrooms and other fungi in Southern California, I wonder how many we'll find in the Museum's backyard?

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)