Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Jeholornis

First dinosaur-birds with four wings, now one with two tails:
One of the oldest known birds, Jeholornis, lived in what is today China, along with a trove of other feathered dinosaurs discovered in the region over the last decade. It was also thought to sport only a long fan-feathered tail at its back end. Now, however, paleontologists are claiming discovery of a second tail frond adorning the bird.
"The 'two-tail' plumage of Jeholornis is unique," according to the study, which was led by Jingmai O’Connor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. The report of the discovery of the tail frond was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Of 11 Jeholornis fossils that retain evidence of ancient plumage, 6 have signs of this frond of 11 feathers, which would have jutted above the bird's back at a jaunty, upright angle in a "visually striking" manner, according to the study.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A new blue planet

For the first time, we know the color of an extrasolar planet:

Although the planet seems to be the shade of a deep ocean, it is unlikely to host liquid water. The exoplanet is a giant ball of gas, similar to Jupiter, and was previously often painted brown and red in artists' impressions.
The blue colour may come from clouds laden with reflective particles that contain silicon — essentially raindrops of molten glass. Evidence for this idea dates to 2007, when Hubble observed the planet passing in front of its star. Light from the star seemed to be passing through a haze of particles.
 (See also this post for more about exoplanet weather.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk

Note the wiggly object in its beak-- at first I thought this was a rodent's tail, but it could be an earthworm. These hawks have, in fact, been observed eating worms, and moments earlier I saw this particular bird foraging on the ground:
 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Great Egret


This egret stood very still for a while, and then it struck-- dipping its beak into the water and grabbing a crayfish:


Another shot of the same bird: