Archive for: December, 2005

Birds In the News #41 -- End of the Year Edition

Dec 30 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus.
Currently, there is an irruption of snowy owls in Washington State, USA,
probably due to a disruption in their local food supply.
This individual was photographed in Discovery Park, Seattle.
(more details about this photograph below).

Birds in Science

Last week, scientists said they found a major cache of bones and likely complete skeletons of the long-extinct Dodo bird, Raphus cucullatus (pictured), which could help them learn more about the lost creature's physique and habits. The find is significant because no complete skeleton of a single Dodo bird has ever been retrieved from a controlled archaeological site in Mauritius. The last known stuffed bird was destroyed in a 1755 fire at a museum in Oxford, England, leaving only partial skeletons and drawings of the bird to go on. The bird was native to Mauritius when no humans lived there but its numbers rapidly dwindled after the arrival of Portuguese and Dutch sailors in the 1500s. The last recorded sighting of a live bird was in 1663. The international team of researchers found the bones on a sugar cane plantation on Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Madagascar. "We have found 700 bones including bones from 20 Dodo birds and chicks but we believe there are many more at the site," said Kenneth Rijsdijk, a Dutch geologist from the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, who led the dig. They presented their findings last week at the National Museum of Natural History in the Dutch city of Leiden.

Christmas Bird Count News

Will "winter finches" or northern raptors spread across North America this December? Will snow and ice blanket this continent, or will mild conditions prevail until the New Year? Will observers along the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast be able to discover the effects of this summer's hurricanes on their local birds? More than 50,000 observers in hundreds of locations throughout the United States and Canada, the Caribbean, parts of South and Central America, Bermuda, the West Indies and even a few Pacific Islands will be outside counting birds to find out. The Christmas Bird Count, also known as the CBC, now under the supervision of the National Audubon Society, began 106 years ago when ornithologist Frank Chapman and 26 fellow bird enthusiasts replaced the traditional Christmas Day bird hunt with a day of bird observation. The annual Christmas Bird Count starts on 14 December and extends through 5 January in any given year. Each official CBC location consists of a 15 mile-diameter circle. Observers start out before dawn, listening for owl calls, then drive and walk through woods, fields, wetlands and along lakes and streams from dawn to dusk, noting not only how many different species they can find, but the numbers of each species. Participants are not paid for the count. In fact, they each contribute a $5 fee to cover the cost of printing official lists, preparing other materials and publishing the results. For more information, click each link to view; this year's CBC results and last year's (105th CBC) photo gallery. You can also start off the new year by joining the National Audubon Society (always a great gift idea for that person on your list who has everything).

    Regional CBC news stories; These are nicely-written stories that I hope you take the time to read.

    York-Rock Hill, South Carolina (USA): 4 veteran CBC counters compiled an impressive list of 72 species on 19 December. This report includes a narrative, photographs of some of the birds seen and a very interesting table of their data with links to previous CBC data.

    Freeport, Texas (USA): 95 observers identified 208 species on 18 December.

    Shreveport, Louisiana (USA): 23 participants counted 116 species on 18 December.

    Oakland, California (USA): 150 people spotted 170 species on 18 December. All California CBC data for 2005.

    Anchorage, Alaska (USA): 118 volunteer observers counted 43 species on 17 December.

    Danville, Kentucky (USA): 26 observers sighted 66 species on 17 December.

    Crystal Springs Dam, California (USA): an unknown number of birders counted 192 species recently.

    GrrlScientist note: Please email links to your CBC news stories and I will publish them in next week's issue.

    Other CBC News

    A king eider, Somateria spectabilis (pictured), that nests in the Arctic has been spotted in Banff, Alberta (Canada) -- the first such sighting of the large sea duck in Alberta in more than 100 years. This recent sighting of the immature king eider was recorded by Peter Poole and Reno Sommerhalder on Banff's Lake Minnewanka during the annual Christmas Bird Count last week. "This is a find of a lifetime,'' said Jocelyn Hudon, curator of ornithology at the Royal Alberta Museum and chairwoman of Alberta's bird record committee. "We're talking about a bird that hasn't been seen in the province for over 100 years.''

People Hurting Birds

Thousands of seabirds are being killed each year after a massive rise in plastics pollution in the North Sea, according to a new report. Studies on the bodies of 600 fulmars that washed up on beaches revealed that 95 per cent had plastic litter in their stomachs - with an average of 40 pieces of plastic per bird. One fulmar had 1,600 pieces of plastic in its guts, according to the Save the North Sea project, which was set up by volunteers and professional organisations in all countries with North Sea coastlines. Fulmars are gull-like tube-nosed seabirds that have a massive breeding colony on St Kilda. They are affected because they mistake discarded plastic floating on the sea's surface for their normal prey, jellyfish. "Plastics pollution is a ch
ronic problem in the North Sea. Heaven knows where some of this plastic comes from. They've found everything from balloons to shotgun cartridges in the birds' stomachs. But the commonest is beads of raw plastic before it is formed," said Mark Grantham from the British Trust for Ornithology.

Police ran down leads and the Royal Navy was on alert Thursday in the search for Toga, an 18-inch-tall baby penguin stolen from an Isle of Wight zoo Saturday night, creating a national soap opera rivaling Elton John's gay union for media coverage. "We're all a bit ragged here, to say the least," said Kath Bright, manager of Amazon World Zoo Park, which has received nearly $13,000 in donations — including $600 from the United States — to offer as a reward for the safe return of the nine-pound South African jackass penguin, Sphenicus demersis (pictured). As of today, Toga is still missing, and Bright said zookeepers were beginning to worry he could starve to death. Bright said that before the theft, the 3-month-old was still being fed by his father, Oscar, and his mother, Kyala. Because the parents simply regurgitate food directly down the baby's throat, Bright said, Toga wouldn't know how to find his own food and wouldn't accept any from humans. "He hasn't got a clue," Bright said.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News

This winter, 30 full-time research scientists and 112 volunteers — some of them looking from head to toe like balls of shredded camouflage cloth — are combing through thousands of acres of swampy Arkansas woods in search of a bird called Elvis. That is the affectionate local nickname given to the ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, a spectacularly shy but showy species that scientists thought had gone extinct around 1944. A dramatic announcement in April that at least one ivory-bill had been spotted here kicked off a massive effort to try to tally how many there are, research how they live and learn how best to protect them. The rediscovery also has turned into a resurrection of sorts for the rare habitat the woodpecker lives in, galvanizing public and private conservation agencies that for decades had been fighting lonely battles to save a few thousand acres of Arkansas’ swamp forests. But unfortunately, no convincing photographs of this bird exist. This winter, with more people looking, better high-tech search and recording gear, and more carefully laid plans, scientists are hopeful they will come up with “slam dunk’’ evidence of the ivory-bill, namely a clear, unambiguous photo or video (more information).

Avian Influenza News

According to a recent study, bird flu appears more likely to wing its away around the globe by plane than by migrating birds. Scientists have been unable to link the spread of the virus to migratory patterns, suggesting that the thousands of wild birds that have died, primarily waterfowl and shore birds, are not primary transmitters of bird flu. If that holds true, it would suggest that shipments of domestic chickens, ducks and other poultry represents a far greater threat than does the movement of wild birds on the wing. It also would underscore the need to pursue the virus in poultry farms and markets rather than in wild populations of birds if a possible pandemic is to be checked, U.S. and European experts said. ''There is more and more evidence building up that wild migratory birds do play some role in spreading the virus, but personally I believe - and others agree - that it's not a major role,'' said Ward Hagemeijer, a wild bird ecologist with Wetlands International, a conservation group in Wageningen, Netherlands. ''If we would assume based on this evidence that wild birds would be a major carrier of the disease we would expect a more dramatic outbreak of the disease all over the world.'' GrrlScientist note: I've been saying this very thing for more than one year (relying on incomplete data, unfortunately). I am pleased to see that the epidemiologists are starting to realize where the bird flu threat really is found; with domestic poultry raising and handling practices.

The Ornithological Council has published a peer-reviewed fact sheet on the implications of avian influenza for ornithologists, bird banders, rehabbers, and others who handle live birds. If anyone is willing to translate the fact sheet into Spanish, contact the Ornithological Council through their website and they will post the Spanish version, too.

A conservation group is astonished that Kapiti Island near New Zealand has been suggested as a possible quarantine station if a deadly flu virus hits the Wellington region. Kapiti Island Watching Interest president Hugh Barr said the island had been a bird sanctuary for more than a century – and should be the last place to isolate humans who could be carrying a mutated bird flu virus. "It is astounding that Wellington's health authorities should be considering quarantining bird flu sufferers in the same place as our endangered kiwi, kaka, takahe, kokako, stitchbirds, saddlebacks and weka," Dr Barr said. "These rare birds are likely to be susceptible to bird flu too." GrrlScientist note: This makes me realize that the United States isn't the only country in the world that has Really Stupid People in control of things. I am not sure if this is comforting or not.

Scientists are baffled over the case of two bird flu patients in Vietnam. Both patients died after developing resistance to Tamiflu, the drug that is being stockpiled in case of a flu pandemic. The girls received early and aggressive treatments with Tamiflu using the recommended doses, according to an Associated Press report. Doctors now think they may need to rethink dosages; lower amounts may promote resistance by allowing viruses or bacteria to mutate and make a resurgence, according to the press accounts.

Streaming Birds

For the last week of 2005, BirdNote discusses The Myth of the Wren on St. Stephen's Day; Morning in Oaxaca, visiting our summer birds south of the border; Winter on the Columbia River; A Year's Worth of Birds; and for the last show of 2005, Queen Bee in Winter. BirdNote programs are two-minute vignettes that incorporate the rich sounds of birds provided by Cornell University and by other sound recordists, with photographs and written stories that illustrate the interesting -- and in some cases, truly amazing -- abilities of birds. Some of the shows are Pacific Northwest-oriented, but many are of general interest. BirdNote can be heard live, Monday through Friday, 8:58-9:00AM in Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia on KPLU radio and now also in North Central Washington state on KOHO radio. All episodes are avail
able in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [mp3/podcast].

The discovery of an ivory-billed woodpecker, which many had believed to be extinct, outside Brinkley, Arkansas, has brought profound changes to the town. With hundreds of birders and scientists passing through to catch a glimpse of the bird, locals are attempting to capitalize on the excitement. National Public Radio's Morning Edition story. [9:15, RealPlayer or Windoze Media Player required]

Miscellaneous Birds

BirdLife has published their year in review edition that highlights the non-event of avian influenza, the exciting rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a list of new avian species recognized this year as well as those species lost forever to extinction, island "super mice" that kill endangered albatross chicks, and the near-collapse of the vulture populations in Asia due to widespread use of a veterinary drug, just to mention a few stories that they cover.

Calm down, Oprah fans! It was ordinary wear and tear that almost took down Oprah's private plane, not a collision with a bird as originally reported.

Featured Bird Photograph Details

Marc Hoffman says; The photo was taken on a sunny day at 10:56 a.m. I was about 60 feet from the owl, which was resting on a woodpile in Discovery Park, a large park in urban Seattle. About 8 other birders were present. This owl had been sighted for a few weeks and has been well-watched. At the time the photo was shot, the owl was resting, opening its eyes and turning its head every 10 minutes or so. This is one of a number of snowy owls reported recently in Western Washington. Several others have been sighted in and around Seattle, including one that perched on the second floor of an office building in nearby downtown Bellevue. The camera I used is a Minolta DiMage A2 with a Raynox DCR 2020 Pro (2.2x) teleconverter attached, providing an effective zoom of 15.4x. More photographic details are available on request from Marc or from me.

The Fine Print: Thanks to my bird pals, Caren, Bill, Ellen P., Wise Crow, Ian, Mike, Ellen B. and Ron for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here. Thanks to Jamie and Ian for reminding me that the generic name for Snowy Owls was changed to Bubo scandiacus. Best regards to John B. his $upport. Special thanks to long-time readers, Jamie, Tony and anonymous blog reader, for surprising me by nominating Birds in the News for a 2005 Koufax Award for Best Series! There will be an announcement here, along with more details, when voting begins. As an aside, it has come to my attention that Internet Explorer does not respect the formatting of this blog. I apologize because I am not sure how to rectify this situation except to say that this blog looks best when viewed with Firefox.

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Survival Job rejections: 1 (I applied for a survival job as an adjunct at this one particular school, but they put my application in with the tenure-track medical school applicant pool for reasons I cannot comprehend. Today, I received their rejection letter!! I was rejected for a position that I never applied for! I hope this mix-up is not indicative of the quality of their medical training, although I do have my doubts.)

6 responses so far

Androgynous

Dec 28 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Where do you rank on this scale? What do you think of the questions they used to determine your scores?

Androgynous
You scored 66 masculinity and 56 femininity!
You scored high on both masculinity and femininity. You have a strong personality exhibiting characteristics of both traditional sex roles.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online dating free online dating
You scored higher than 59% on masculinity
free online dating free online dating
You scored higher than 40% on femininity

Link: The Bem Sex Role Inventory Test written by weirdscience on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

7 responses so far

Tsunami: One Year Later, Part I

Dec 27 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

What We Know About The Event Itself

    Worldwide patterns of wave propagation triggered by the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake. The massive tsunami triggered by an undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean literally rippled around the world. NOAA scientist Vasily Titov, using seismic data, rendered an animation showing how the tsunami waves propagated around the Earth. Some of the waves reached the United States and many other nations outside the Indian Ocean. This cartoon depicts a period of 44 hours and 27 minutes of tsunami propagation. The tsunami reached the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States about the same time, some 28 hours after the earthquake struck on Dec. 26, 2004, at 00.59 UTC or 7:59 p.m. EST. Titov's model also was used to interpret the data gathered by four satellites for determining the tsunami's wave height. [Image credit: NOAA].

One year ago today, the world was stunned to learn that a giant tidal wave, or tsunami, had smashed into the coastlines of twelve countries in southeast Asia, causing unimaginable devastation and killing what turned out to be hundreds of thousands of people and leaving millions homeless. This tsunami was triggered by the largest earthquake to occur on the planet in forty years; the third largest earthquake since these events were formally measured. Various official agencies measured this submarine earthquake to be between 9.0 and 9.3 on the moment magnitude scale (the higher estimate would make this the second largest earthquake to have ever been measured). Authoritative analyses of the data now estimate the magnitude at 9.15.

This earthquake, known in scientific circles as the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, occurred on the sea floor of the Indian Ocean at a depth of 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) below average sea level. This was a very large earthquake, geographically speaking; occurring over 1200 kilometers of the fault line that lies roughly between the islands of Sumatra and Andaman. It resulted from a tectonic slip that occurred along the fault line where the India Plate dives beneath the Burma Plate. The epicenter was just north of Simeulue Island, which is located 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the western coast of northern Sumatra.

As a result of this earthquake, Simeulue Island, near the southern end of the fault line, gained at least 6 feet in elevation and the Nicobar Island group, at the northern end of the fault line, were similarly thrust upward while several of these islands were broken into two or even three pieces. The earthquake itself was felt as far away as Thailand, Singapore, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and the Maldive Islands.

The Sumatra-Andaman earthquake was a megathrust earthquake that occurred over a large geographic area over a period of approximately five minutes, perhaps longer. Megathrust earthquakes are unusual, consisting of vertical movement where one tectonic plate slips beneath another, pushing it upward, in a process known as subduction. In addition to generating vertical movement, megathrust earthquakes may also be accompanied by sideways movements of the tectonic plates, as occurred in this case.

Satellite and GPS data are being used to determine the precise nature and extent of the many geological changes that occurred as a result of this earthquake. For example, it is estimated that the seabed along the fault line rose by several meters, and that some of the smaller islands located south of Sumatra moved southwest by as much as 20 meters (66 feet). Other calculations estimate that the northern tip of Sumatra itself may have moved as much as 36 meters (118 feet) to the southwest.

The earthquake's sudden vertical movement caused the seabed to rise by several meters, which displaced a tremendous amount of seawater. This displaced water rippled outward in a series of waves that traveled faster through deeper seas and slowing in shallower waters. These waves raced through the world's oceans at speeds between 500 to 1,000 kilometers/hour (310 to 620 mph), taking anywhere from fifteen minutes (Aceh) to seven hours (Somalia) to hit land. Unfortunately, until they slowed and mounded up in shallow coastal waters, these tsunamis were not easily detected: satellite data revealed that the largest of these waves, recorded in open ocean two hours after the event, was approximately 60 centimeters (2 feet) high.

Even though it was widely reported that there was only one tsunami, the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake actually triggered a succession of four large and very destructive tsunamis whose peaks arrived on land approximately 30 minutes apart. The third of these four waves was the most devastating, with a peak estimated to be as high as 30 meters (100 feet) in some locales in Aceh. In addition to these four major waves, many smaller tsunamis occurred throughout the region for the remainder of that day.

Because the fault line lies lengthwise in a north-south orientation, the strongest waves were triggered in an east-west direction and thus, the greatest damage from these tsunamis occurred along coastlines in the Indian Ocean that were also oriented east/west. As a result, Bangladesh, a low-lying country located north of the epicenter, suffered relatively few deaths and damages when compared to the much more distant Somalia, located directly west on the African continent.

These tsunamis had a global effect: they devastated portions of the shorelines of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Southern India, Thailand and neighboring countries. Most of these areas are still ruined, being described by recent visitors as resembling “the aftermath of a bomb blast”. Additionally, tsunamis were recorded along coastlines around the world (see cartoon at top). For example, Struisbaai, South Africa, which is 8,500 kilometers (5,300 miles) away from the epicenter, recorded a 1.5 meter (5 foot) high wave approximately 16 hours after the earthquake. Remarkably, the tsunamis also traveled into the Pacific Ocean, hitting the shoreline at Manzanillo, Mexico, with a 2.6 meter (8.5 foot) wave. These tsunamis also caused deaths as far away as the east coast of Africa, where the most distant tsunami-caused death occurred at Port Elizabeth in South Africa -- 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) away from the epicenter!

Speaking of deaths and damages, Part II of this series will explore the human toll due to this event.

Sources

The Global Reach of the 26 December 2004 Sumatra Tsunami (2005) by Vasily Titov, Alexander B. Rabinovich, Harold O. Mofjeld, Richard E. Thomson, Frank I. González. Science, 309 (5743): 2045-2048. abstract (free) and PDF (not free, the weasels!).

2004 Indian Ocean earthquake [Wikipedia].

Tsunamis and Mangroves: The Shrimp Connection [Opinion piece that I wrote in the days after the tsunami]

Index of 11 streaming tsunami stories [National Public Radio].

The Tangled Bank

Included with "The Best Science, Nature and Medical Blog Wri
ting" by The Tangled Bank,
Issue #44.

Included with "The Best Recent Blogged Writing" by The Carnival of the Vanities, Mark II.

Included with "The best weblogging about Science and India" by The Scian Melt, issue #13.

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9 responses so far

Happy Holidays

Dec 25 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Click image for a larger version in its own window.

This image is kindly provided by my Seattle bird pal, Dawn. This photograph was taken in a small valley south of Puyallup, Washington. You can see more of Dawn's beautiful photographs by going to her photobucket account.

5 responses so far

The Seven Times Seven Meme

Dec 24 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Coturnix and Philaelaethes both nailed me with a meme. I think this is part of their grand distraction project.

Seven Things To Do Before I Die

    1. visit my birds' relatives in the wild in the islands of the south Pacific Ocean
    2. see a live wild Ivory-billed Woodpecker (this was a good guess, Coturnix)
    3. go to the moon
    4. finish writing that book (well .. those books that I am writing. On second thought, this ought to instead go into the next category; things I cannot do)
    5. fall in love with a person who will love me back
    6. clone a velociraptor
    7. find a real job in my field, you know, one that pays a living wage along with benefits

Seven Things I Cannot Do

    1. find a real job, you know, one that pays a living wage and benefits and doesn't involve shoveling shit
    2. forgive george bush for being such a bullying dumbshit
    3. write my name in the snow in pee
    4. get paid a living wage to write my blog
    5. reverse my looong run of bad luck
    6. author a paper that is published in either Nature or Science
    7. stop buying books

Seven Things That Attract Me to Blogging

    1. writing about really cool topics for an appreciative audience
    2. pretending that I am as articulate, thoughtful and knowledgeable in real life as I appear here
    3. I am treated with more respect and kindness in the blogosphere than in real life
    4. the occa$ional donation make$ it worth it
    5. the writing
    6. the formatting
    7. my readers

Seven Things I Say Most Often

    1. what the fuck? [because I rarely scream at people when I am angry, I use this as my verbal cue, instead]
    2. I prefer cash
    3. I got a PhD so I can do what?
    4. what are you doing, Zazu?
    5. I don't know
    6. no, thanks; I'm not interested
    7. thank you for your feedback [I hope you become mired in the same hell that I am in right now, you mean-spirited jackass]

Seven Books That I Love (How about authors I love, instead?)

Seven Movies That I (would if I could) Watch Over and Over Again

    1. Snow Falling On Cedars
    2. Schindler's List
    3. The Thomas Crown Affair (the version with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo)
    4. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the version with Gene Wilder)
    5. Children of a Lesser God
    6. The complete Lord of The Rings Series
    7. Presumed Innocent

Seven People I Want To Join In Too

    1. Philaelaethes, who I learned has a nice wife as well as a nice ass and he already tagged me with this same meme earlier!
    1. PZ, whom I admire greatly but who will probably ignore this silliness anyway wow, I can't believe it, but he answered it (thanks to his desire to procrastinate from his grading angst)
    2. Sailing Muffin, a friend who is new to blogging but who is preparing to set out on a grand adventure of a lifetime
    3. Dr. Fluffy Jones, another friend who is new to blogging but who is one of the most extraordinary young poets alive today
    4. James, because I miss hearing from him
    5. Chris, whom I admire greatly and who might indulge me this
    6. Black Rat, cuz you will have answered one of the things I wonder about you by answering this meme
    7. Rexroth's Daughter, because I can't believe that you haven't been nailed two dozen times already with this meme already tagged, too.
    7. Dr. Charles, who will give me an elegant answer

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11 responses so far

Birds in the News #40 -- Christmas Edition

Dec 23 2005 Published by under Uncategorized


Tufted Titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor, copyright by Doris Dumrauf.
Winner of WildBird Magazine's 2005 amateur photography contest
(Click image for larger picture in its own window).
Photograph appears here with permission of Doris Dumrauf.

Birds in Science

It took years of study and involved weighing 10,000 sparrows, but Scottish scientists believe they have discovered a vital clue that could unravel the mystery surrounding the dramatic decline of one of Britain's best-known birds. Research results showed that house sparrows, Passer domesticus (pictured), fail to prepare effectively for the low food supplies and freezing temperatures during winter months. Instead of eating extra food before cold weather, sparrows retain their sleeker shape to allow them a better chance of fleeing predators -- despite the disadvantage of having a low body weight when the temperatures drop. The study, a collaboration between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the universities of Glasgow, St Andrews and Oxford, also explained sparrows' susceptibility as resulting from habitat change: Cleaner towns and cities, as well as intensive farming (which reduces the amount of spilled grain and the seed-rich winter stubble favored by sparrows) have reduced the amount of food available to the birds in the winter.

Global warming has apparently lulled Europe's songbirds into canceling their winter stays in Africa. Instead, they'll warble in Britain, bird experts say. Eleven species of migratory warblers wintered in Britain last year and reports from more than a thousand British birdwatchers included sightings of approximately 1,500 blackcaps, Sylvia atricapilla, and almost 1,000 chiffchaffs, Phylloscopus collybita (pictured). "I am amazed by the numbers of warblers that were reported," says Greg Conway, a researcher with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who runs the survey. It's as if the birds are now saying, "Let's not bother to go all the way to Africa this winter." Increasingly mild winters mean the birds can now cope with Europe's coldest months, giving them a head start when choosing territories the following breeding season. "Because they have the best breeding sites, they have the best productivity. And because it's a genetic trait, they are pumping out more and more kids which come (to Britain in the winter)." As for food, the BTO says bird feeders and berry-laden shrubs in gardens are helping blackcaps get through the lean winter months. GrrlScientist notes; but see the report below (People Helping Birds) that discusses how many British birds are dying of starvation due to massive failure of seed crops, forcing them to fight over rapidly diminishing berry crops.

Christmas Bird Count News

Will "winter finches" or northern raptors spread across North America this December? Will snow and ice blanket this continent, or will mild conditions prevail until the New Year? Will observers along the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast be able to discover the effects of this summer's hurricanes on their local birds? More than 50,000 observers in hundreds of locations throughout the United States and Canada, the Caribbean, parts of South and Central America, Bermuda, the West Indies and even a few Pacific Islands will be outside counting birds to find out. The Christmas Bird Count, also known as the CBC, now under the supervision of the National Audubon Society, began 106 years ago when a couple dozen birdwatchers replaced the traditional Christmas Day bird hunt with a day of bird observation. The annual Christmas Bird Count starts on 14 December and extends through 5 January in any given year. Each official CBC location consists of a 15 mile-diameter circle. Observers start out before dawn, listening for owl calls, then drive and walk through woods, fields, wetlands and along lakes and streams from dawn to dusk, noting not only how many different species they can find, but the numbers of each species. Participants are not paid for the count. In fact, they each contribute a $5 fee to cover the cost of printing official lists, preparing other materials and publishing the results. For more information, click each link to view; this year's CBC results, and here to see last year's (105th CBC) photo gallery. You can join the National Audubon Society (always a great gift idea for that person on your list who has everything).

GrrlScientist note: Please email links to your CBC news stories and I will publish them in next week's issue.

People Helping Birds

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is encouraging people to put out supplemental food for wild birds who are suffering from food shortages after the failure of several seed crops, with fears many could die of starvation before the end of the winter. Three major sources of food -- oak, beech and fir trees -- have failed to produce much fruit this year, leaving birds such as woodpigeons, Columba palumbus, coal tits, Periparus ater, and chaffinches, Fringilla coelebs (pictured), struggling. It is highly unusual for all three seed crops to fail in the same year, according to the BTO. As a result, these birds have now started feeding on berries much earlier than normal, putting them in competition with species such as the robin, Erithacus rubecula, and long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus. Mike Toms, of the BTO, said: "What this means for our garden b
irds is that a food source which would normally last them through the winter months is already pretty much exhausted." A severe cold spell at the beginning of December has made conditions even worse, leading to trees being stripped earlier than they would have been. "The food that garden owners put out for birds could be the difference between life and death for many species," Toms said.

People Hurting Birds

How far would you travel to feed your baby? A female Christmas Island Frigatebird, Fregata andrewsi (pictured), named Lydia, recently made a 26-day journey of about 2,500 miles across Indonesian volcanoes and some of Asia's busiest shipping lanes, in search of food for her chick. The trip, tracked with a global positioning device by scientists at Christmas Island National Park, is by far the longest known nonstop journey by one of these critically endangered seabirds. Previously, the black-and-white scavengers with distinctive pink beaks and wingspans of up to 8 feet were known only to fly a few hundred miles from their nesting sites, staying away for just a few days at a time, officials said. "The thing that really surprised me is that it was a long, nonstop journey, and that she crossed overland over volcanoes," said David James, coordinator of biodiversity monitoring for Christmas Island National Park, the birds' only known breeding ground. "Normally, you would expect the seabirds to fly over the sea." Lydia's trip started October 18 from Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean approximately 310 miles south of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, and 1,600 miles northwest of Perth, in western Australia. "It is tragically ironic that while Lydia nests on one the world's most remote and pristine islands, she makes her living in some of the most degraded seas on the planet," James said. "Fishing pressure is huge and marine pollution is severe." GrrlScientist wonders; In view of Alexander Kitaysky's research on the diet of young kittiwakes, I wonder how good this chick's chances are of surviving into adulthood and reproducing?

Two domestic ducks have been rescued after two residents found them swimming among wild ducks in a corner of the library's mostly frozen duck pond. "I'd hate to come out here someday and see them frozen," said Diane Holmgren, at the duck pond before the rescue last week, where she walks nearly every day with her husband, Frank. Holmgren called animal control, the Humane Society and Recreation and Parks, afraid that the ducks wouldn't survive the winter. Unfortunately, these birds are not as unusual as one might think. In fact, they are part of a growing national problem known as unwanted pet syndrome. "I get about a half-dozen e-mails a day from all over the country asking for help because white Pekin ducks (pictured) are getting frostbite and frozen and being euthanized. It's horrifying," said Kim Link, co-president of Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary in Lebanon, Connecticut, one of only a handful of shelters set up to accommodate domestic waterfowl that have been rescued. "Folks see ducks on ponds and decide to set their ducks 'free' to live happily ever after. What they don't realize is that domestic ducks do not fly. They are not free and they are not wild. They are trapped on the ponds they are abandoned to. They can't migrate. They lose their food supply. The pond freezes over, they get frostbit legs and bills, they freeze into the ice -- if only people knew what they were doing." Rescued waterfowl are in need of loving and safe, predator-proof homes. Click here if you would like to help.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of December 19, learn more about rete mirabile, the reason that birds' feet don't freeze. Also; swallows in winter?; solstice fires and the return of the sun; why woodpeckers don't get headaches; and today's show, The Twelve Days of Christmas -- the derivation. BirdNote programs are two-minute vignettes that incorporate the rich sounds of birds provided by Cornell University and by other sound recordists, with photographs and written stories that illustrate the interesting -- and in some cases, truly amazing -- abilities of birds. Some of the shows are Pacific Northwest-oriented, but many are of general interest. BirdNote can be heard live, Monday through Friday, 8:58-9:00AM in Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia on KPLU radio and now also in North Central Washington state on KOHO radio. All episodes are available in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [mp3/podcast].

An obscure area in New Mexico called Bosque Del Apache is where the world's largest concentration of sandhill cranes, Grus canadensis (pictured), migrate every fall. Every year, Bosque Del Apache hosts upwards of 20,000 cranes and these majestic and ancient birds form seas of blue along the Rio Grande. Writer Doug Fine watched some of this year's migration and reports about it for Morning Edition, heard on National Public Radio. [3:19, RealPlayer or Windoze Media Player required]

Miscellaneous Birds


Mark Brazil is the author of my constant companion, The Birds of Japan (pictured), when I visited Tokyo for six weeks a few years ago. In this article, he expounds upon the joys of birding in the nude in Japan. Need I say more?

Mistletoe, a plant that is distributed by birds, has been associated with Christmas for centuries. In fact, this plant's name is derived from old English, meaning "dung on a twig", because it frequently is propagated from bird poop found on twigs of trees. Now, just in time for Christmas, you can read a nicely written and photographed natural history about mistletoe that is featured at This Week at Hilton Pond (scroll down a little on that link). As always, the naturalists at Hilton Pond include a tally of birds banded there, as well as miscellaneous notes about local nature happenings. Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization located in York, South Carolina, USA.

The fine print: Thanks to my bird pals, Bill, Caren, Ellen and Ron, for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here and thanks to Ian and Candy for correcting my errors. Best regards to Lawrence B. and to anonymous for their generous $upport. And special thanks to long-time readers, Jamie, Tony and anonymous blog reader, for surprising me by nominatin
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Birds in the News for a 2005 Koufax Award for Best Series! There will be an announcement here, along with more details, when voting begins. As an aside, it has come to my attention that Internet Explorer does not respect the formatting of this blog. I apologize because I am not sure how to rectify this situation except to say that this blog looks best when viewed with Firefox.

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Transit Strike Fallout

Dec 21 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

As you know, dear readers, I live in NYC, so you might imagine that I, along with several million other New Yorkers, have been impacted by the public transit strike. But throughout the night, I was in denial that this strike would actually occur; after all, I could still hear the elevated trains roaring through the darkness as late as two in the morning. Early this morning, I awoke to an ominous silence, a stillness that was formally confirmed when the awful truth was announced on the radio; transit strike! I briefly thought about investing the day in restoring order to my neglected apartment while teaching my birds to say a few foul words. But, being the wanderer that I am, that thought was too much to bear. Instead, I decided that I had to get out, even if I did have to walk eight million miles each way in the freezing weather to get to my destination.

So I set out, realizing -- too late -- that I was underdressed for the cold. After surviving two bouts of pneumonia, you'd think I would have learned my lesson by now. My numb toes and fingers finally made me brave enough to poke one blue thumb out of my tightly clenched fist into the frigid air in the typical hitchhiker's pose. Surprisingly, within just a few minutes, a van stopped and I began a grand, serendipitous adventure after climbing into the back seat, warm air enveloping me.

And so it was that I met Rodney, the manager for a men's formal wear store in Chelsea. Rodney is Peruvian, but was born in NYC and lives in the Bronx. Due to Rodney's generosity (and also because he needed at least three people in his vehicle to pass the police check points to enter the business district), I also met a Russian immigrant, Ellie, and a Dominican beautician, Pat.

For more than an hour, we snailed through the tremendous crush of traffic, our progress and spirits buoyed as we shared stories and gifts along the way. We grumbled about huge delivery trucks clogging the streets, and complained about taxi drivers who refused to bring us to the business district or who were only too happy to charge us twice the set rate to do so. We laughed together when we noticed that the snowy-haired policeman sitting in his car at the westside highway entrance ramp was asleep. We swapped contact information so we could find each other tonight, and again tomorrow, for our return.

This one vehicle's cargo reflected the face of NYC and all that makes America great; each of us different, separate, yet the same; a black woman, a brown man, and two white women; almost all of us bilingual; two of us immigrants, one, a transplanted New Yorker and one, a native New Yorker, brought together by circumstance.

This one vehicle blended smoothly into the masses as it carried us all into the raucous, chaotic, glowing heart of the city.

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Follow Up on An Issue of Birds in The News

Dec 21 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

In a recent issue of Birds in the News, I linked to an obituary about a woman, Jane Olyphant, who had banded 84,000 birds in her lifetime. Either yesterday or today, her granddaugther, Melissa, found that the number two story that popped up on a google search of her grandmother's name was the 37th issue of Birds in the News. Melissa was kind enough to post a comment to that blog entry (I encourage you to read it) and her message included a link back to a blog where she has a really sweet picture of herself and her grandmother, holding a goldfinch.

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How to Stuff a Lory During the Holidays

Dec 19 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Fijian (Solitary) Lory, Phigys solitarius. Known as the Kula Bird by the locals.
(Click image to see a larger version in its own window).
Photograph by Ryan Photographic, who kindly granted permission for it to appear here.

Some of you, dear readers, might know that I have lived with lories for most of my life. Lories are small- to medium-sized parrots that feed on nectar and they are endemic to the islands of the South Pacific Ocean. As companion pets, they also are very curious and active and can cause a lot of trouble in a short period of time if not closely supervised. This recipe for how to prepare a holiday meal while in the company of a lory has been circulating "out there" for awhile, so I thought I'd rewrite and revise it and then share it with you here, just in time for the holidays. The lories pictured below are some of the many species that I bred, hand-fed and lived with at some point in my life.

Ingredients:

Turkey
Dressing
Sweet Potatoes
Mashed Potatoes with Gravy
Green Beans
Cranberry Sauce
Hot rolls and Butter
Relish tray
Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream
Wine, both red and white, and lots of it
Hot Coffee

Instructions:

Get up early in the morning and have a cup of coffee. It's going to be a long day, so place your lory on a perch nearby to keep you company while you prepare the holiday meal.

Remove your lory from the kitchen counter and return him to his perch.

Prepare dressing, then remove your lory from the edge of the dressing bowl and return him to his perch.

Stuff the dressing into the turkey and place the turkey into the roasting pan. Remove your lory from the edge of the pan and return him to his perch. Have a glass of wine to steady your nerves.

Remove your lory's head from the turkey cavity and return him to his perch, and then restuff the turkey. Quickly place the turkey into the preheated oven to roast.

Prepare the relish tray, and remember to prepare twice as much as you need so there will be enough servings for your guests after your lory has eaten his fill. Remove your lory from the kitchen counter and return him to his perch. Have another glass of wine to steady your nerves (it is the holidays, afterall).

Prepare the cranberry sauce, discarding the berries that your lory threw to the floor.

Peel the potatoes, then remove your lory from the edge of potato bowl and return him to his perch. Whip potatoes.

Arrange the sweet potatoes in a pan and cover with them brown sugar and miniature marshmallows. Remove your lory from the edge of the pan and return him to his perch. [Note: caution should be used when carrying out this maneuver because lories are especially fond of sugary substances. They may viciously attack anyone who dares to separate them from such food items]. Replace missing marshmallows and hide the sweet potatoes in the oven. Have another glass of wine with your guests as they begin to arrive.

Brew another pot of coffee. While it is brewing, clean up the torn coffee filters. Pry the coffee bean from your lory's beak, then have a cup of coffee with your guests to counteract the effects of all that wine (oops!). Remove your lory from the kitchen counter and return him to his perch.

When serving the meal:

Place a stick of butter out on the counter to soften - think better of this idea and return it to the refrigerator.

Place the roasted turkey on a large platter and cover your lory's beak marks with strategically placed sprigs of parsley.

Put the mashed potatoes into a serving bowl and rewhip at last minute to conceal beak marks and claw prints.

Place the pan of sweet potatoes on the sideboard -- since you are out of marshmallows now, forget about "presentation" because there's no way to hide those marshmallow-free areas from your guests.

Put the warm rolls into a decorative basket, then remove your lory from the side of the basket and return him to his perch. Remove beaked rolls from basket and serve what's left.

Wipe down the kitchen counter to remove mashed potato claw tracks. Remove your lory from the kitchen counter, wipe the mashed potatoes from his feet and return him to his perch.

Serve dinner to your guests.

Cut the pumpkin pie into serving sized pieces. Wipe the whipped cream from your lory's beak and return him to his perch. Place large dollops of the remaining whipped cream onto each pie slice. Serve intact pie slices to your guests, reserving the beaked-out slices for the yourself.

Place your lory inside his cage and lock the door.

Have another glass of wine and sit down to a nice relaxing dinner with your guests - accompanied by shrill cries of "WANT DINNER!" or "FEED ME!" from the other room.

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Included in the

Christmas Eve Carnival of Recipes (71st edition).

Included in the first

Carnival of Christmas

7 responses so far

What Would Hermione Say About This?

Dec 18 2005 Published by under Uncategorized


GrrlScientist's Elf Name Is...


Trixie Mince Meat

What's Your Elf Name?

For the record, I hate mincemeat. But it's a relief to see that PZ's elf name is sillier than mine is!

Also for the record ..

Hermione Granger's Elf Name Is...

Grumpy Snowballer

2 responses so far

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