National garden butterfly count in the Netherlands


This video is about Dutch butterflies.

On 1, 2, and 3 August 2014, there will be a national garden butterfly count in the Netherlands.

North American mastodons and mammoths, new study


This video from the USA is about mastodons and mammoths.

From LiveScience:

Mammoths and Mastodons of the Ohio Valley Were Homebodies

By Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | July 28, 2014 01:55pm ET

People may imagine mammoths and mastodons as enormous beasts that roamed the vast North American continent more than 10,000 years ago. But the mammoths and mastodons of present-day southwestern Ohio and northwestern Kentucky were homebodies that tended to stay in one area, a new study finds.

The enamel on the animals’ molars gave researchers clues as to where the mammoths and mastodons lived throughout their lives and what they ate. They discovered that mammoths ate grasses and sedges, whereas mastodons preferred leaves from trees or shrubs. Mammoths favored areas near retreating ice sheets, where grasses were plentiful, and mastodons fed near forested spaces, the researchers said.

“I suspect that this was a pretty nice place to live, relatively speaking,” lead researcher Brooke Crowley, an assistant professor of geology and anthropology at the University of Cincinnati, said in a statement. “Our data suggest that animals probably had what they needed to survive here year-round.” [Image Gallery: Stunning Mammoth Unearthed]

Both animals, now extinct, likely came to North America across the Bering Strait land bridge that connected Alaska to Russia when sea levels were lower than they are today, Crowley told Live Science in an email.

Mammoths — which had teeth ideal for grinding grasses, as well as curved tusks and humped heads — are more closely related to elephants than mastodons are, Crowley said. Mammoths came to North America during the mid-Pleistocene Epoch, about 1 million years ago, she added.

Mastodons arrived much earlier. They had spread across America by the Pliocene Epoch, around 5 million years ago. Their molars were shaped to crush plants, such as leaves and woody stems, and they had long, straight tusks that could grow up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) long, Crowley said.

In the study, the researchers looked at the remnants of carbon, oxygen and strontium, a naturally occurring metal, in the enamel of molars from eight mammoths and four mastodons that lived in Ohio and Kentucky about 20,000 years ago.

The carbon analysis helped researchers learn about the animals’ diet, whereas the traces of oxygen told them about the general climate at the time. Strontium provides insights into how much the animal traveled as their molars developed. Researchers can look at the type of strontium within the enamel and determine where it came from by comparing it to local samples of strontium in the environment.

“Strontium reflects the bedrock geology of a location,” Crowley said. This means that if a local animal has traces of strontium in its tooth, researchers can deduce where that type of strontium came from in the area. “If an animal grows its tooth in one place and then moves elsewhere, the strontium in its tooth is going to reflect where it came from, not where it died,” she said.

Surprisingly, the researchers said, the strontium in the mammoth and mastodon teeth matched local water samples in 11 of the 12 mammals. Only one mastodon appeared to have traveled from another area before settling in the Ohio Valley.

The findings, however, only apply to the animals that lived in that region. “A mammoth in Florida did not behave the same as one in New York, Wyoming, California, Mexico or Ohio,” Crowley said.

The study was published July 16 in the journal Boreas.

‘Monkeys use researchers as human shields’


This video is called Samango monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis).

From Science:

28 July 2014

Monkeys use researchers as human shields

A team of researchers in South Africa believes monkeys may be using their presence to guard against predators, according to a paper published online earlier this month in Behavioral Ecology.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The samango monkeys of South Africa usually have a good reason not to stray too far from the forest. Although they spend much of their time loping through the trees they know to keep within a certain range: climb too high and they’re targets for eagles, too low and they could be a big cat‘s lunch.

However, it seems there is an exception to this behaviour – and that’s when people are around. A new study from the journal of Behavioural Ecology reports that samango monkeys under observation by scientists use the researchers as “human shields”, counting on their presence to avoid being picked off by a leopard.

Desertas petrel, newly discovered vulnerable bird species


This video is called The View From The Ground – Desertas Islands (Madeira, Portugal) HD.

From BirdLife:

Newly born, the Desertas Petrel turns into one of Europe’s conservation challenges: are we ready for it?

Fri, 25/07/2014 – 11:40

The 2014 Red List of Birds update gives birth to a new European species, the Desertas Petrel, classified as Vulnerable.

The first time I heard about the Desertas Petrel, all I wanted to do was to climb on the peak of Bugio, one of the Desertas islands part of the Madeira archipelago in Portugal, where the bird breeds, and see this funny little pal with my own eyes.

What I didn’t know while climbing up was that Bugio would offer me an unforgettable wildlife experience: the red rock of the cliffs gives way to a plateau, 342m above sea level, with no trees or shrubs, but hundreds of seabird nests.  As the birds were spending their day at sea or guarding their deep nesting burrows, we could only see them at night – at the time, we didn’t have burrowscopes that would allow us to look inside burrows during daylight.

That was back in 2003 and we believed that the petrels on Bugio were the same species as those breeding in Cape Verde, so-called “Fea’s Petrel”.

The release of the 2014 Red List of Birds update officially treats the birds of the Bugio colony as a species in its own right called Desertas Petrel. This decision is based on solid scientific data, notably genetic studies, collected over the years by many BirdLife and other globally renowned biologists, and is outlined in HBW and BirdLife’s new Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World.

This year’s update involves the addition of 361 new species and the reassessment of over 4,000 bird species. It also tells us that seabirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds worldwide – and the Desertas Petrel is no exception: as soon as it was recognised as a new species, it was assessed as “Vulnerable”. If we are unable to eliminate the threats that currently affect the species, such as habitat deterioration and disturbance, its small population size could result in it becoming Critically Endangered in a relatively short period of time.

BirdLife is the Red List Authority for birds for the renowned IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which provides an authoratative overview of the species most in need of conservation action. The 2014 update will help the BirdLife Partnership redefine its conservation work on the ground and protect species like the Desertas Petrel which require urgent action.

Iván Ramírez, Head of Conservation at BirdLife Europe

Red-breasted geese migration, new research


This video says about itself:

Striving to save the Red Breasted Goose

2 November 2012

Euronews coverage of the first ever tagging of Red-breasted geese with GPS transmitters, a scientific experiment within the LIFE+ Safe Ground for Redbreasts project, carried out in January 2011 in NE Bulgaria.

From BirdLife:

Decebal and Darko’s journey across Europe: our Red-breasted Geese successfully reached Siberia!

By Elodie Cantaloube, Fri, 25/07/2014 – 13:38

Let me introduce you to Decebal and Darkos, two special Red-breasted Geese that were selected by SOR (BirdLife in Romania) to carry a satellite transmitter to provide conservationists with information on their migratory journey.

Red-breasted Goose, is a distinct red, black and white bird that breeds in the Taymyr Peninsula of Siberia and is one of the most beautiful geese in the world.  It’s also one of the rarest species of geese, and has a small, rapidly declining population. It’s threatened by illegal killing along its migration route and by changes to habitats and is listed as Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List.

SOR has been working intensively to protect this species.

The project “Save Ground for Redbreasts” aims to increase our knowledge of the route the geese take from the wintering areas in Bulgaria and Romania to the breeding grounds in Arctic, through satellite-tracking of a pair of geese: Decebal and Darko. The two adult male red-breasted geese were tagged with satellite transmitters, after being caught in mid-February 2014, near Durankulak Lake (Bulgaria).

Fortunately, Decebal reached Siberia on the 14 of June, 95 days after his departure. The goose arrived at his breeding grounds in the vicinity of Lake Kuchumka, 8922 kilometres away from his departure point.

The birds’ beautiful journey through Europe up to the northern part of Eurasia can be followed in this website, where SOR/BirdLife Romania uploads every 2-3 days his new positions.

Starling murmurations, new research


This video is about a starling murmuration in Britain.

From Science:

How bird flocks are like liquid helium

By Marcus Woo

27 July 2014 1:00 pm

A flock of starlings flies as one, a spectacular display in which each bird flits about as if in a well-choreographed dance. Everyone seems to know exactly when and where to turn. Now, for the first time, researchers have measured how that knowledge moves through the flock—a behavior that mirrors certain quantum phenomena of liquid helium.

“This is one of the first studies that gets to the details of how groups move in unison,” says David Sumpter of Uppsala University in Sweden, who was not part of the study.

The remarkable accord with which starling flocks fly has long puzzled researchers and bird watchers alike. In the 1930s, the ornithologist Edmund Selous even suggested that the birds cooperate via telepathy. Researchers have since turned to more scientifically sound ideas, using mathematical models.

In the 1990s, physicist Tamás Vicsek of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest came up with one of the more successful models, which is based on the principle that each bird flies in the same direction as its neighbors. If a bird angles right, the ones next to it will turn to stay aligned. Although this model reproduces many features well—how a flock swiftly aligns itself from a random arrangement, for example—a team of researchers from Italy and Argentina has now discovered that it doesn’t accurately describe in detail how flocks turn.

In their new study, the team, led by physicists Andrea Cavagna and Asja Jelic of the Institute for Complex Systems in Rome, used high-speed cameras to film starlings—which are common in Rome and form spectacular flocks—flying near a local train station. Using tracking software on the recorded video, the team could pinpoint when and where individuals decide to turn, information that enabled them to follow how the decision sweeps through the flock. The tracking data showed that the message to turn started from a handful of birds and swept through the flock at a constant speed between 20 and 40 meters per second. That means that for a group of 400 birds, it takes just a little more than a half-second for the whole flock to turn.

“It’s a real tour de force of measurement,” says Sriram Ramaswamy of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Sciences in Hyderabad, India, who wasn’t part of the research.

The fact that the information telling each bird to turn moves at a constant speed contradicts the Vicsek model, Cavagna says. That model predicts that the information dissipates, he explains. If it were correct, not all the birds would get the message to turn in time, and the flock wouldn’t be able to fly as one.

The team proposes that instead of copying the direction in which a neighbor flies, a bird copies how sharply a neighbor turns. The researchers derived a mathematical description of how a turn moves through the flock. They assumed each bird had a property called spin, similar to the spins of elementary particles in physics. By matching one another’s spin, the birds conserved the total spin of the flock. As a result of that conservation, the equations showed that the information telling birds to change direction travels through the flock at a constant speed—exactly as the researchers observed. It’s this constant speed that enables everyone to turn in near-unison, the team reports online today in Nature Physics.

The new model also predicts that information travels faster if the flock is well aligned—something else the team observed, Cavagna says. Other models don’t predict or explain that relationship. “This could be the evolutionary drive to have an ordered flock,” he says, because the birds would be able to maneuver more rapidly and elude potential predators, among other things.

Interestingly, Cavagna adds, the new model is mathematically identical to the equations that describe superfluid helium. When helium is cooled close to absolute zero, it becomes a liquid with no viscosity at all, as dictated by the laws of quantum physics. Every atom in the superfluid is in the same quantum state, exhibiting a cohesion that’s mathematically similar to a starling flock.

The similarities are an example of how deep principles in physics and math apply to many physical systems, Cavagna says. Indeed, the theory could apply to other types of group behavior, such as fish schools or assemblages of moving cells, Sumpter says.

Other models, such as the Vicsek model or others that treat the flock as a sort of fluid, probably still describe flock behavior over longer time and length scales, Ramaswamy says. But it’s notable that the new model, which is still based on relatively simple principles, can accurately reproduce behavior at shorter scales. “I think that’s cool,” he says. “That’s an achievement, really.”

Sumpter agrees. “It’s kind of reassuring we don’t need to think about the telepathic explanation,” he says.

See also here.

Ring-necked parakeets conquer Haarlem city


This video is about ring-necked parakeets in Greece.

Dutch SOVON ornithologists estimate there are now about 10,000 ring-necked parakeets in the Netherlands. Mainly in the big cities The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

However, they are spreading to other cities like Haarlem.

The birds showed up for the first time in Haarlem in 2005. Last winter, 500 parakeets were counted at Haarlem sleeping roosts. In June 2014, 937 individuals were counted.

Coots in France studied


This video is about Eurasian coots in Sweden.

From Ringing & Migration, Volume 29, Issue 1, 2014:

Common but poorly known: information derived from 32 years of ringing Coot Fulica atra in the Camargue, southern France

Abstract

Rallidae are common and widespread, yet relatively poorly studied. We analysed the ringing data from more than 8,000 Common Coot Fulica atra, accumulated between 1950 and 1982 in Camargue, southern France, in terms of the dynamics of their biometrics throughout the year, migratory pathways and annual survival rate. Mean monthly body mass and wing length indicate seasonal differences, with birds captured in autumn and winter being heavier and larger than those captured in spring and summer.

The temporal and spatial distribution across Europe of more than 950 ring recoveries indicates a mixing of sedentary and migratory birds. Capture–recapture analysis indicated lower annual survival rates during the year after ringing, and greater survival rates in adults and in males. Mean survival rate across sex and age classes greater than one year after ringing was 55%. This is somewhat lower than found by other studies, and may be influenced by Coot hunting in the Camargue, especially during the years of this study.

Blue whales’ lives saved by new technology?


This video is called Why are blue whales so enormous? – Asha de Vos.

From Wildlife Extra:

New technology could save blue whales from being hit by ships

Scientists from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science are developing a near real-time computer model that predicts where endangered blue whales will gather as they move around the Pacific ocean off California, reports digital news site, TakePart.

Ultimately this technology will mean that ships can be notified of the presence of whales and the chances of a collision will be minimised.

Collisions with cargo ships are the primary threat to endangered blue whales. In 2007, four blues were killed, likely by ship strikes, in or near the Santa Barbara Channel.

In 2010, five whales, including two blues, were killed in the San Francisco area and elsewhere along the north-central California coast.

Scientists and the shipping industry have been looking for ways to reduce the number of collisions, but they have had little solid data on the whales’ whereabouts until now.

The project merges the past movements of satellite-tagged blue whales with current environmental conditions off the California coast that influence where the whales travel.

In 1993, Ladd Irvine, a marine mammal ecologist at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, and his colleagues began fixing satellite tags to blue whales off the California coast.

By 2008, they had tagged 171 blue whales, which they watched swim to the Gulf of Alaska and the southern tip of Baja, Mexico. In the summer and early autumn, the whales returned to the California coast, feeding on krill before migrating south for the winter.

Near Los Angeles and San Francisco, shipping lanes crisscross these key feeding grounds.

“We got a nice detailed look of where the whales spend their time in US waters from year to year and the timing of when they are present and when they leave,” said Irvine.

“It happened that the two most heavily used areas were crossed by these shipping lanes.”

Most of the tags stayed with the whales for two or three months, but one whale held on to its transmitter for more than 500 days, giving the researchers a unique look at its annual route.

Whale No 3300840 followed its prey over the summer season and returned to several spots within a week of having been there the previous year.

Adding this data to satellite-monitored environmental data – including sea surface temperature, chlorophyll concentration (which reduced food for whales), and upwelling (where nutrient-rich waters move closer to the surface) – could reveal more precisely where and when blue whales will congregate along the shipping routes.

If the model forecasts a whale hot spot, ships could be rerouted or their speeds reduced to avoid collisions.

Helen Bailey, the marine mammal specialist leading the Maryland study, says this information is invaluable.

“We’ll be able to say, given the current conditions, what is a whale hot spot,” she said. “The hot spot might only coincide with the shipping lane a few months of the year. If the shipping lanes could be modified, it would reduce the risk of a whale strike.

“Only three can be killed per year to keep the population sustainable, and anytime we hear a number close to that is reason for concern because it’s probably a large underestimate.”

About 2,500 blue whales live in the North Pacific and another 500 in the North Atlantic. Estimates suggest the global population of blue whales is between 10,000 and 25,000.

Since 1900, the blue whale population has declined or remained flat, even though it is a protected species.

The results of the study are timely as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently planning a review of shipping lanes in the Southern California area.

“Having more information from the whale perspective helps NOAA look at the broader story to see if there is a way to reduce the risk of strikes,” said Monica DeAngelis, a marine mammal biologist at NOAA.

Commercial whaling was banned almost 30 years ago, but why hasn’t the world’s whale population recovered yet? Here.

African harrier-hawk in Cape Town, South Africa


This video from South Africa says about itself:

An African Harrier-Hawk hunting upside down (Gymnogene)

The African Harrier-Hawk, Harrier Hawk, or Gymnogene is a bird of prey. It is about 60-66 cm in length, and is related to the harriers. It breeds in most of Africa south of the Sahara.

From the Sunday Argus in South Africa this week:

Pics: Harrier-hawk’s urban takeaway

A large bird of prey swooped through Long Street, startling pedestrians and motorists alike

Cape Town – Was it a small plane? Was it Superman? No, actually, this time it was a bird in the form of an African Harrier-hawk that swooped around the heart of Cape Town last week, startling motorists and pedestrians and scaring the living daylights out of the pigeons.

And in the case of what appeared to be a young fledgling pigeon, this was literally true, because it was caught and devoured by the raptor that was formally known (and still is to many bird-lovers) as a Gymnogene.

The graceful but highly manoeuvrable raptor was photographed with its prey by Weekend Argus photographer Leon Muller at the intersection of Long and Waterkant streets.

Pedestrians and shoppers also whipped out their cellphones to record the unusual event while anxious Hartlaub’s Gulls squawked raucously as they tried in vain to drive the intruder away. The Harrier-hawk simply ignored them as it polished off its meal before taking off again.

A few days later it was seen alighting on the Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square, sending the local flocks of pigeons wheeling in terrified flight.

This raptor species has the ability to climb, using its wings, claws and double-jointed knees, which allows it to raid nests, particularly those of cavity-nesters such as barbets. It also feeds on alien species, like feral pigeons and house sparrows.

Professor Peter Ryan, director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, confirmed the identity of the raptor.

“They are increasing in the Peninsula and are partial to squirrels, among other things,” he said.

That has to be good news for nature-lovers concerned at what appears to be the rapid population explosion of the alien grey squirrel that, although predominantly vegetarian, also feeds on the eggs and chicks of indigenous Cape birds.

Grey squirrels are native to North America and were among several exotic species introduced to the Cape by arch-colonialist Cecil John Rhodes.

john.yeld@inl.co.za

John Yeld, Sunday Argus