Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
This fall, scientists sequenced most of the turkey's genome.
In a study published in the journal PLoS ONE in September, a team of scientists estimated that the genome of the domestic turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, has 1.1 giga base pairs, about a third the size of the human genome, and bears a close resemblance to its relative, the chicken, whose genome was completed in 2004....Sequencing the turkey genome is a priority because of the species's economic significance as a food animal. Presumably it will help elucidate some evolutionary relationships as well, though the LiveScience article emphasizes the agricultural applications to the exclusion of anything else.
But there's more sequencing to be done before we have the genetic key to that distinctive turkey taste. Researchers would need to compare sequences from multiple individuals and multiple regions along the ladder-shaped molecule to understand the genetic basis for turkey taste, he said.
If you want to read the original journal article, you can find it here. It is in PLoS Biology rather than PLoS ONE.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
The top photo is from the canal; the rest of the photos are from the Sourlands Mountain Preserve. All of them link through to Flickr photo pages.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Yesterday's New York Times has an example of the sorts of challenges that people in coastal areas will face increasingly as the climate warms.
Climate change is a subject of friction in Virginia. The state’s attorney general, Ken T. Cuccinelli II, is trying to prove that a prominent climate scientist engaged in fraud when he was a researcher at the University of Virginia. But the residents of coastal neighborhoods here are less interested in the debate than in the real-time consequences of a rise in sea level....Norfolk has special problems since it has to deal with land subsidence in addition to sea level rise. The fill and natural sediment underneath the city is settling, which exacerbates the effects of climate change. Between subsidence and sea level rise, the city has lost 14.5 inches to the sea in the past century. While Norfolk's situation is unusually severe, it bodes ill for other coastal towns and cities.
Larchmont residents have relentlessly lobbied the city to address the problem, and last summer it broke ground on a project to raise the street around the “u” by 18 inches and to readjust the angle of the storm drains so that when the river rises, the water does not back up into the street. The city will also turn a park at the edge of the river back into wetlands — it is now too saline for lawn grass to grow anyway. The cost for the work on this one short stretch is $1.25 million.
The expensive reclamation project is popular in Larchmont, but it is already drawing critics who argue that cities just cannot handle flooding in such a one-off fashion. To William Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, a local conservation group, the project is well meaning but absurd. Mr. Stiles points out that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already spent $144,000 in recent years to raise each of six houses on the block....
Politics aside, the city of Norfolk is tackling the sea-rise problem head on. In August, the Public Works Department briefed the City Council on the seriousness of the situation, and Mayor Paul D. Fraim has acknowledged that if the sea continues rising, the city might actually have to create “retreat” zones.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Birds and birding news
- A birder in Montana found a leucistic Barred Owl. The owl is almost all white with only a few brown feathers, but its shape is still recognizable.
- A bird photographer photographed an Osprey catching and carrying away a Blue Crab; he believes that it is the first recorded observation of an Osprey taking one as prey.
- A man in Massachusetts persuaded his condo association not to use Avitrol to control pigeons.
- NPR interviewed Donald and Lilian Stokes on their new field guide and on birding in general.
- Three-quarters of the Barn Owls in Britain use manmade nestboxes because their traditional nesting sites have disappeared.
- A new study found that male Barn Owls consider larger dark spots attractive on female owls, but the reverse does not appear to be true.
- Researchers in Australia have found a new species of ground parrot, Pezoporus flaviventris, in Western Australia. It was separated from other ground parrots on the basis of a genetic study.
- According to new research, Common Cuckoos can vary the appearance of their eggs to match other bird species, but they cannot match the local variation in the eggs of Reed Warblers.
- Ohio is trying to reduce the number of cormorants within its borders.
- Another 350 birds died in one of Syncrude's oil tailings ponds shortly after the company was sentenced for an earlier incident in which 1,600 waterbirds were killed.
- Hummingbirds fight interference from wind by continually readjusting the angle of their wings while they hover.
- A scientist created a simple rubber device that can mimic sounds made by Zebra Finches.
- Not Exactly Rocket Science: How birds see magnetic fields – an interview with Klaus Schulten and How birds see magnetic fields – an interview with Thorsten Ritz
- The Hawk Owl's Nest: Bathroom Bird ID Quiz
- Earbirding: Do Violet-green Swallows Sing?
- IBRRC: Public's help still needed to locate injured gulls
- Notes from soggy bottom: eBird visualizations: Eurasian Collared-Dove explosion
- Birding Dude: Vagrant Fork-tailed Flycatcher in Connecticut
- Dave Hubble's ecology spot: Bird song vs urban noise
- A section of the Gulf of Mexico was closed to shrimping after a shrimper found tar balls in his net.
- Recently released emails from the Commerce Department show that government scientists were uncertain how much oil was leaking out of BP's well.
- The presidential spill commission reported that the government and BP were unprepared for an oil spill of the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. In addition, BP made risky decisions while drilling the well to save time.
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service designated 187,000 square miles of critical habitat for polar bears in Alaska. Most of the designated area is sea ice.It includes some areas where oil and gas companies want to drill; future drilling projects will need to be weighed against polar bears' needs.
- NPR explores the history and environmental condition of New Jersey's Passaic River.
- A new book argues that temperate and boreal rainforests store more carbon per acre than tropical rainforests.
- An unprecedented fire in the Alaskan tundra may be related to climate change. It was the most destructive fire in the area for at least 5,000 years.
- Carbon emissions in 2009 were higher than expected – just below the record-setting emissions of 2008 despite a major recession.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
the species page on NJodes, most of the records in the state were south of Monmouth County. November 15 is also a very late date for the species; prior to my sighting, the late observation date listed at NJodes was September 24. Thanks to Patrick Belardo and Allen Barlow for help confirming the identification.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Yesterday morning I was at Trenton Marsh. This is a good place to visit in fall and winter since the freshwater tidal marsh (the northernmost along the Delaware River) attracts migratory dabbling ducks and other interesting birds. Waterfowl are already starting to gather in the marsh. However, they do not seem to be at their peak numbers yet. I suspect that the relatively warm fall* allowed a lot of birds to stay further north. Water birds in the marsh included about 50 Gadwall, along with smaller numbers of American Wigeon, American Coots, Ring-necked Ducks, Green-winged Teal, and a lone Wood Duck.
* Worldwide, this October was the warmest ever recorded; in the lower 48 United States it was the eleventh-warmest October.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
Birds and birding news
- California Condors that forage and breed along the California coast may have trouble breeding due to lingering DDT contamination. Sea lions, a food source for those condors, still store DDE in their blubber because large amounts of DDT were dumped off the coast of Southern California by the Montrose Chemical Corporation up until 1971.
- During migration, birds can show up in places they normally would not normally use as habitat, such as American Woodcocks in downtown Washington.
- Wildlife officials are looking for help in finding and convicting the person who shot a Bald Eagle in Wareham, Massachusetts. Bald Eagles have also recently been shot in Vermont and poisoned in Delaware.
- British researchers placed cameras within European Starling roosts to learn more about how they live. Adults dominate the roost and push juveniles to colder parts of the roost, where the juveniles huddle together to keep warm.
- Only seven pairs of Hen Harriers nested successfully in England this year – a possible sign that the species will be extirpated in the near future.
- In the southeastern U.S., some hummingbirds stay through the winter, including western species that have migrated east. The wintering hummingbirds are being studied by banders to learn more about their movements.
- A flock of African Pink Pelicans recently landed in Siberia during an unusually warm November. The birds were captured by a local zoo and will be released in the spring.
- People on the remote island of St. Kilda survived by eating nesting seabirds well into the 20th century.
- ABC North Queensland is encouraging Australian birders to tweet their bird sightings under the hashtag #bluewrentweet. The project is coordinated on Twitter by Ron Smith (@bluewrentweet) and ABC North Queensland (@ABCnorthqld).
- NYC Birding: Statistical Models of Bird Identification
- Net Results: Ember: Kentucky Peregrine moves to Dearborn
- IBRRC: Reward raised to $6,000 for info on collared gulls
- Quick intervention by conservationists saved a colony of African Penguins from an oil spill a decade ago, but penguins that had been oiled and cleaned had less reproductive success in subsequent years.
- The National Academy of Engineering has been studying the gulf oil spill; they have already concluded that the companies involved inadequately managed the risks involved.
- In addition to the gulf spill, BP is in trouble for oil spills along its pipeline in Alaska, including one in 2009 that spilled 46,000 gallons of oil and oily water onto the tundra after BP ignored warning alarms.
- Estimates of the land footprints needed for generating electricity by coal and solar resources ought to include the land required for mining coal.
- Scientists have identified a new bat species (Myotis diminutus) from a specimen collected 30 thirty years ago in Ecuador. The species may be extinct since it was identified from such an old specimen and not a living animal.
- Some of the soil at the Hanford nuclear site is so radioactive that it has ten times the lethal level of radioactivity.
- A bill to limit carbon emissions was killed by Canada's Senate.
- A fisherman found a nine-inch oyster in the Rappahannock River. Such large oysters are rare now due to the Chesapeake's pollution.
- So far the Obama administration has added 51 species to the Endangered Species List (well behind Clinton's pace) while leaving 251 species on its candidate list.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The American citizen arrested for stealing bird study skins has been charged.
Detectives investigating the theft of nearly 300 brightly colored stuffed birds from the Natural History Museum in Tring arrested Edwin Rist on Friday.
Police said Monday the 22-year-old has been charged with burglary and money laundering offences.
The bird skins disappeared after reports of a break-in at the museum in June last year.
Richard Lane, director of science at the museum, said the specimens were valuable and included male trogons and quetzals from Central and South America, and birds of paradise from New Guinea.
Monday, November 15, 2010
In late October, a White-tailed Kite – possibly the same one that spent the summer in Connecticut – showed up in a small part of Forsythe NWR in Barnegat, New Jersey. This was only the second state record for the species, and a lot of the state's birders eagerly rushed to see it. Yesterday was my first chance to look for the kite, so I headed down with my mother and sister. We arrived at the Barnegat Municipal Dock and scanned the far shoreline for about 40 minutes with no sign of the kite. Another birder told us that he had been there for about an hour before we arrived, also with no luck. Moving on, we stopped at two vantage points for the Forsythe impoundments, one at the public beach and the other at a small observation platform. Neither had any sign of a White-tailed Kite, though we did see some waterfowl and a Belted Kingfisher. After checking the first location once more, we moved on.
We stopped at Cape May Point State Park in the late afternoon. I had hoped to see the Ash-throated Flycatcher that has been hanging around there; unfortunately it must have turned in for the evening by the time we were walking the trails. Instead, there were lots of waterfowl to look at, including a Eurasian Wigeon among the hundreds of American Wigeon. Other ducks included Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, and Green-winged Teal. I noticed two male Green-winged Teal swimming close by each other, one of which had a much more prominent vertical white bar than the other one. I am not sure if this is simply normal variation or marks a difference in populations. Sibley has an illustration of a Green-winged X Common Teal hybrid that has a similarly narrow vertical bar; however, that hybrid should have a more prominent white line where the wings rest against the body than this bird does.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Speaking at the time, Professor Richard Lane, director of science at the museum, said the birds formed part of the collection assembled over the past 350 years.I hope that the skins were not severely damaged and that any scientific information accompanying them is recovered also. A bird skin is literally that: the skin (with feathers attached) of a deceased bird, stuffed with some material. (To see how a skin is prepared, see Nate's posts: part 1, part 2.) Each skin is a record of how an individual bird looked at a particular time and place. While field observation has become increasingly sophisticated, examining birds in the hand is still vital. Bird skin collections are training tools for bird illustrators, repositories for the type specimens for species and subspecies, and records of historic distribution, among other things. A theft of that many skins would be a major loss for ornithology, not just for the skins themselves, but the information they conveyed.
He said the items were of scientific interest, and many were irreplaceable and "literally priceless".
There are some 750,000 bird skins, representing 95% of known living species, held at the museum.
Some of them appear on the Red List of endangered species.
Professor Lane said the ornithological collections were used by researchers throughout the world, who either visit Tring or request loans.
He said: "The knowledge gleaned from these collections can help protect endangered species and answer questions about the biodiversity of the world around us.
"It is very distressing that we should have been deliberately targeted in this manner."
Saturday, November 13, 2010
a couple days ago. I like photographing leaves backlit or against the sky since that seems to bring out the best in their color, whether it is green in summer or other colors in autumn. This is true of the Pin Oak at top and even more so for the plum tree above, whose colors look far more dull when viewed from other angles.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Birds and birding news
- California hosted two rare gulls this week. First, an Ivory Gull showed up at Grover Beach in San Luis Obispo County. It was only the second state record for that species. Second, a Black-tailed Gull was found at Long Beach in Los Angeles County. You can read more about the rarities (including a Taiga Bean Goose) at Christopher Taylor's blog.
- Recent sightings patterns suggest that Ivory Gulls may be encountering ecological turmoil on their home range. Since 2005, there have been 12 records in the United States, compared to 28 over the past century.
- Open landfills in northern Alaska are causing a boom in the population of Glaucous Gulls. This is great for the gulls but not so great for other birds since Glaucous Gulls prey on the eggs and young of many nesting shorebirds.
- Staten Island hosts a small flock of Wild Turkeys that has been wandering around the Ocean Breeze neighborhood since 2000. The birds may not be completely wild since their plumage shows evidence of some domestic lineage.
- A roadkill Bald Eagle in New Brunswick, Canada, was banded as a nestling in Maine in June 1977; this makes it the oldest Bald Eagle recorded in the wild at 32 years, 10 months. Another Bald Eagle found dead in Maine lived to be 32 years, 4 months.
- Three men in Newfoundland were fined for selling Common Murres and Common Eiders.
- Early ripening and late ripening berries attract different sets of bird species. The latter are especially useful for overwintering birds.
- A rare Flores Scops-owl was recently photographed in Indonesia by visiting Danish scientists.
- Applying UV decals to the windows of the Baltimore Sun building seems to have reduced bird collisions.
- Net Results: Bird-Friendly coffee piece on NPR
- Sibley Guides: Questions about Starling migration
- Birdchick: I Hired A New Orleans Street Poet To Write A Titmouse Poem
- Birding in Maine: Hand Feeding Pine Siskins
- Avian Images: Brown Creeper!
- WolfeNotes: Cost Benefit Analysis For The Birds
- A new report argues that oil companies and governments are ill-prepared to deal with an oil spill in the Arctic.
- According to a local television station, some Turkey Vultures were found and rescued while coated in oil and floating in Florida's Biscayne Bay. The station does not report where the oil came from or how the vultures got there. (One possibility is that they were tired migrants.)
- Dead coral found on the seafloor around the site of BP's blown out well was probably killed by the oil spill.
- Oil from BP's well entered the food web by way of marine bacteria, which were in turn eaten by zooplankton. The latter will eventually be eaten by larger creatures.
- Entomologists recently recorded 6,619 ants of 13 species on the medians of major streets in Manhattan.
- The EPA issued guidelines about how it expects to enforce its new greenhouse gas regulations. Regulators will take technological constraints into account when deciding whether to require modifications of an existing carbon source.
- You can find more accurate information about climate change in The Onion than you will hear from my state's governor.
- The winners of the 2010 European Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition were announced this week. National Geographic has a gallery of the images.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
this tree.) In black and white, the contrast between the blue of the sky and the red of the leaves jumps out much more dramatically than it does in color. In this version, the blue sky appears dark while the red leaves appear light.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
The report shows how the status of waterbird populations is improving in regions where strong conservation legislation is implemented, such as North America and Europe.Among long-distance migrants like shorebirds, 70% of the populations are decreasing. Cranes are an exception, with stable or recovering populations thanks to active conservation efforts. You can read the full report (pdf) online.
However, the rate of decline of waterbird populations is increasing in all other regions without such instruments. The situation is especially alarming in Asia where 62% of waterbird populations are decreasing or even extinct.
“The combination of rapid economic growth and weak conservation efforts appears to be lethal”, said Ali Stattersfield – BirdLife’s Head of Science. “Waterbird populations are exposed to a wide range of threats, such as agricultural intensification, leading to the loss and degradation of marshes and lakes, as well as unsustainable hunting and the impacts of climate change”.
The status of long-distance migrant waterbirds is generally worse than of those remaining in regions with strong conservation measures. This highlights the importance of coordinated conservation measures across entire flyways from the breeding to the non-breeding grounds.
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
In birds affected by what scientists have termed “avian keratin disorder,” the keratin layer of the beak becomes overgrown, resulting in noticeably elongated and often crossed beaks, sometimes accompanied by abnormal skin, legs, feet, claws and feathers. Biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center published their findings in this month’s issue of The Auk, a Quarterly Journal of Ornithology.
“The prevalence of these strange deformities is more than ten times what is normally expected in a wild bird population,” said research biologist Colleen Handel with the USGS, “We have seen effects not only on the birds’ survival rates, but also on their ability to reproduce and raise young. We are particularly concerned because we have not yet been able to determine the cause, despite testing for the most likely culprits.”
The disorder, which has increased dramatically over the past decade, affects 6.5 percent of adult Black-capped Chickadees in Alaska annually. Beak deformities in this species were first observed in the late 1990s and biologists have since documented more than 2,100 affected individuals. Increasing numbers of other species have also been observed with beak deformities throughout Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. An estimated 17 percent of adult Northwestern Crows are affected by avian keratin disorder in coastal Alaska.
online gallery shows images of those two species, plus American Kestrel, Common Raven, White Pelican, Downy Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, European Starling, Northern Flicker, Steller's Jay, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-billed Magpie, Black-crowned Night Heron, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Clark's Nutcracker.
According to the USGS, beak deformities can have a variety of causes, so more research is needed. Possible candidates include pollution, poor nutrition, and diseases. Deformities have sometimes been traced to specific pollutants such as agricultural runoff.
To learn more, you can explore the USGS beak deformity website, which includes a section on how to help (if you live in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest) and links to articles the research team has published about the beak deformity problem. The two recent Auk papers are both downloadable at the last link.