United States herring gulls studied


This video is about Appledore Island in Maine, USA.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Life In A Gull Colony

by Taylor Heaton Crisologo, Cornell University, ’16

My first time in a gull colony was a riot of vocalizing birds and flashes of white wings. However, once the gulls settle, the finer details come into focus. By sound, the chorus of yeow calls and the occasional long call echoing through the colony. By sight, the great expanse of densely-packed nests dotting the nooks and crannies of the rocky terrain. By atmosphere, the sensation when a good breeze blows through and dozens of gulls lift off and hover lightly in the sky.

This scene was not always so lively. In 1900, only about 8,000 Herring Gull pairs were left in the United States due to feather collecting for ladies’ hats and egg collecting by hobbyists. Today, with federal protections in place for all native birds, there are at least 90,000 to 100,000 breeding pairs along the East Coast. The Herring Gulls that I study nest on Appledore Island, a small island off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. There, the colonies offer opportunities for students at the island’s field station, Shoals Marine Lab, to gain experience in field research through summer-long monitoring projects.

Typical Herring Gull nest monitoring is similar to the work enjoyed by other NestWatchers, with some added twists. Information is meticulously collected on nest context, nesting density (the distances between the nearest neighboring nests), and egg sizes. Herring Gull eggs average about 90 grams, or about 50 times the size of a Tree Swallow egg! Once the nesting profile is completed, each nest is monitored from incubation to fledging.

This summer, with the guidance of Dr. David Bonter of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I investigated the connections among nesting success, shelter availability, and nest defense behavior. To test the importance of nest shelter on reproductive success, I placed artificial chick shelters at sites with little natural cover from predators and the elements. By linking the results of my experiments to the nest success data, I hope to gain further insight into the factors which may be limiting the survival of chicks in this system.

While I’m still analyzing my field data from the summer, one thing is certain: this breeding colony of Herring Gulls provided my first experience in ecology. My weeks spent nest monitoring and collecting data have offered me insight on staying positive, thinking critically and creatively, and rolling with the dive-bombing birds. I’m so grateful to the gulls for providing me with these data to ponder and for helping me start my career as an ornithologist. So thank you, gulls, for being the first birds to take me under your wings.

Interested in watching gull nests for NestWatch? Check out Taylor’s tips for successful gull nest monitoring.

Owl news update


This is a video from California in the USA about baby western screech owls in a wildlife hospital.

From the Cornell Lab or Ornithology in the USA:

New owl resources!

Have you ever heard something go screech in the night, and wondered what it was? There’s a good chance it was an owl! Not all owls hoot; some shriek, bark, and wail!

For a limited time, you can download free owl sounds from the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library. They’re owl yours to do with what you like…use them as your phone’s ringtone, or add them to your Halloween party playlist! Just get them before they disappear into the night.

Can’t get enough owls? Find out which owls in your area you can attract with a nesting box or platform. Enter your region and habitat into our Right Bird, Right House tool, and get free nest box plans and placement tips.

And if you’re wondering why so many Halloween decorations feature owls, consider this: owls are symbols of death in many cultures. Read our Citizen Science Blog post, Myths of the Ghost Bird, to find out how these helpful birds crept into Halloween folklore.

British bird migration to Africa, problems


This video is a documentary about bird migration and their stop overs in the North West of England.

From BirdLife:

New report reveals scale of declines of UK migratory birds wintering in Africa

By Martin Fowlie, Thu, 16/10/2014 – 15:53

The migration of millions of birds across the face of the planet is one of nature’s greatest annual events. Every spring some species move in one direction, while every autumn those same species move in the opposite one, very often linking continents.

Although these migration patterns are as regular as the seasons, monitoring is revealing that, for some species, fewer birds are making the journey each season as the populations of these birds, including species nesting in the UK, are declining rapidly.

The latest in the annual series of State of the UK’s Birds report includes a migratory birds section, including trends for 29 migrant species which nest in the UK in summer and spend the winter around the Mediterranean, or in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. For the first time the recent population trends for these migratory species have been combined into an indicator revealing some marked differences between species that winter in different areas.

Species, such as Whinchat, Common Nightingale, Tree Pipit and Spotted Flycatcher, which winter in the humid zone of Africa – stretching across the continent from southern Senegal to Nigeria and beyond – show the most dramatic declines: the indicator for this group of species has dropped by just over 70% since the late 1980s. This contrasts with species, such as Sand martin, Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler, wintering in the arid zone (just below the Sahara desert). These species have fluctuated considerably since 1970, but show a less than 20% decline overall.

One of the most dramatic declines is that of the European Turtle-dove with a decline of 88% since 1995. The following species have also declined over the same period: Wood Warbler, 66%; European Pied Flycatcher, 53%; Spotted Flycatcher, 49%; Common Cuckoo, 49%; Common Nightingale, 43%; and Yellow Wagtail, 43%.

Concern about migratory bird species is growing and future editions of the State of the UK’s Birds report will contain a regular update to the migratory bird indicator. To understand the changing status of the UK’s migratory birds, researchers need to understand more about what’s driving these declines. Evidence is currently being gathered from a variety of sources including tracking studies and on-the-ground surveys.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: ‘West Africa is the winter home for many bird species that breed in the UK. But many of these birds that cross continents are in rapid decline. Their nomadic lifestyle, requiring sites and resources spread over vast distances across the globe makes identifying and understanding the causes of decline extremely complex.

‘The problems may be in the UK or in West Africa, or indeed on migration in between the two.’

David Noble, Principal Ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), said: ‘We can accurately monitor the patterns of decline in these once-familiar summer breeders thanks to several decades of careful observations by an army of volunteer birdwatchers. More recently, tracking devices have shed light on migratory routes and key wintering areas.

‘To take appropriate action, further study is needed to determine the pressures faced in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as breeding here in the UK.’

Colette Hall, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) Species Monitoring Officer, said: ‘The length of many bird migrations – often thousands of miles – makes it very difficult to pinpoint where and what is causing populations to fall.

‘So the more information we can get all along the migration routes – on land use changes, new infrastructure etc – the better we can target protection measures. It’s important that we help build up the capacity of local bird organisations and volunteers across the world to provide vital information through their own long-term monitoring.’

Alan Law, Director of Biodiversity Delivery at Natural England said: ‘It is self-evident that effective conservation of a migratory species requires appropriate measures to be in place at each step of the migratory cycle.

‘For some species, there is growing evidence of pressure on breeding success here in England. Our focus therefore is to ensure that well-managed habitats are available in this country so that migratory species can breed here successfully; this work involves close collaboration with land managers both on designated conservation sites and across the wider farmed countryside.’

David Stroud, Senior Ornithologist with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, said: ‘Migratory birds depend on conservation actions in all the countries they move through in the course of their annual cycle.

‘The UK is working with these countries to help improve the condition of their critical habitats through its participation in multi-lateral environmental agreements such as the Biodiversity Convention and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.’

The State of the UK’s Birds report also covers the UK’s Overseas Territories. The latest evidence reveals mixed fortunes for two important albatross populations in the UK’s Overseas Territories. Seventy per cent of the world’s Black-browed Albatrosses nest in the Falkland Islands. A population increase here has allowed researchers to downgrade the extinction threat of this species from Endangered to Near Threatened. Sadly, the fortunes of the Grey-headed Albatross has deteriorated as declines have been reported in nesting colonies on South Georgia, which hosts half the world’s population.

The State of the UK’s Birds report is published by a partnership of eight organisations: RSPB; British Trust for Ornithology; Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust; Natural Resources Wales; Natural England; Northern Ireland Environment Agency; Scottish Natural Heritage; and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Rare mushroom discovery in the Netherlands


Leucoagaricus marriagei in Robbenoordbos, photo by Piet Brouwer

In the Robbenoordbos woodland in the Netherlands, a rare fungus has been found, news agency ANP reports.

This species, Leucoagaricus marriagei, had been found only three times before in the Netherlands.

Extinct giant kangaroos, new research


This music video is called Saint Saens: Carnival of the Animals~Kangourous (Kangaroos).

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The mystery of the extinct giant kangaroo is solved – it didn’t hop

The giant Sthenurus – dead for 30,000 years – was three times the size of the modern-day kangaroo

Steve Connor, science editor

Wednesday 15 October 2014

It looked like something out of the pages of Alice in Wonderland but this giant, short-faced kangaroo hid another peculiar characteristic down its pouch – it walked rather than hopped on its hind legs.

The extinct marsupial, which was nearly three times bigger than the largest living kangaroos, died out 30,000 years ago, but only now have scientists been able to tie its locomotion down.

With a leap of the imagination, the researchers were able to visualise how the giant Sthenurus kangaroo, which weighed up to 240kg, moved around by putting one foot in front of another rather than hopping on both legs.

Bipedal hopping is a quintessential feature of kangaroo locomotion, but the Sthenurine group of extinct ‘roos was clearly made for walking, according to Christine Janis of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who led the study published in the on-line journal PlosOne.

“When I first saw a mounted skeleton of a Sthenurine I was struck by how different it was in the back end to modern kangaroos, despite the superficial similarity of long hind legs,” Dr Janis said.

“My work emphasises that the large modern kangaroos are highly specialized in their anatomy for hopping in comparison with other large extinct kangaroos,” she said.

“Sthenurines almost certainly did hop, except perhaps for the very largest ones. The issue is that their anatomy is also suggestive of bipedal walking, which is the unexpected issue here,” she added.

Modern kangaroos use hopping to move around at speed but when moving slowly they walk mostly on all fours, using their massive tails as support – so-called “pentapedal” locomotion.

The extinct Sthenurus, however, must have walked on its hind legs because its anatomy does not fit with the notion of hopping or pentapedal locomotion, Dr Janis said. For a start, it had “robust”, heavier bones compared with the more slender anatomy of modern kangaroos, which would have made hopping hazardous.

“If it is not possible in terms of biomechanics to hop at very slow speeds, particularly if you are a big animal, and you cannot easily do pentapedal locomotion, then what do you have left? You’ve got to move somehow,” Dr Janis said.

An analysis of the giant kangaroo’s anatomy suggests it was well suited to bearing the animal’s entire weight on one leg, which is crucial for bipedal walking. Its ankle bone, for instance, had a flange over the back joint to provide extra support – something missing in modern kangaroos.

Sthenurus has proportionately bigger hip and knee joints than today’s kangaroos and the shape of its pelvis – broad and flared – suggested that it had large gluteal muscles in is backside, which would have allowed it to balance on one leg as it moved the other leg forward, Dr Janis said.

“I think that they originally took this up as an alternative slow gait to the way that other kangaroos move slowly on all fours using their tail to propel their hind legs past their front legs [because] hopping is biomechanically impossible at very slow speeds,” Dr Janis said.

“This requires a flexible back and supporting their weight on their hands, whereas sthenurines had a stiff back and specialized hands for feeding. So they had this unique walking gait,” she said.

Sthenurine kangaroos died out around the same time that modern humans arrived in Australia and began to spread across the continent, suggesting that their demise may have had something to do with human hunting.

Walking rather than hopping would have been a slower and less efficient means of moving fast, which may have been one of the reasons by the giant, walking kangaroo went extinct, leaving their hopping cousins to fill the void, Dr Janis explained.

Madagascar reptile and amphibian biodiversity, new study


This video is called THE CHAMELEONS OF MADAGASCAR.

From Wildlife Extra:

No single explanation found for Madagascar’s biodiversity

Just how the tiny African island of Madagascar (a country that makes up less than 0.5 percent of the Earth’s land surface) developed so many unusual species has puzzled scientists for decades.

But now a new study shows that there is no single explanation for biodiversity in Madagascar. Instead it owes its evolution of more than 700 species of reptiles and amphibians to a variety of circumstances and each group responded differently to environmental fluctuations over time.

The results are important because they suggest that climate change and land use in Madagascar will have varying effects on different species, said co-author Jason Brown of the City College of New York.

“It means that there won’t be a uniform decline of species — some species will do better, and others will do worse. What governs the distribution of, say, a particular group of frogs isn’t the same as what governs the distribution of a particular group of snake. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ model doesn’t exist.”

Located 300 miles off the southeast coast of Africa, the island of Madagascar is a treasure trove of unusual animals, about 90 percent of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Cut off from the African and Indian mainland for more than 80 million years, the animals of Madagascar have evolved into a unique menagerie of creatures, including more than 700 species of reptiles and amphibians — snakes, geckos, iguanas, chameleons, skinks, frogs, turtles and tortoises.

“Not surprisingly, we found that different groups of species have diversified for different reasons,” said Duke University biologist and fellow author Anne Yoder, ” “One of the lessons learned is that when trying to assess the impacts of future climate change on species distribution and survival, we have to deal in specifics rather than generalities, since each group of animals experiences its environment in a way that is unique to its life history and other biological characteristics.”

Understanding how species distributions responded to environmental fluctuations in the past may help scientists predict which groups are most vulnerable to global warming and deforestation in the future, or which factors pose the biggest threat.

Madagascar is of course famous for its lemurs, including the Ring-tailed Lemur. Read a field guide to these charismatic individuals with their striking stripy tails here.