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

Giant armadillo, new research


This video is called Mammals of the World: Giant Armadillo.

From Mongabay.com:

On babies and motherhood: how giant armadillos are surprising scientists (photos)

Jeremy Hance

Uncovering the reproductive mysteries of the little-known giant armadillo.

Arguably the most important moment in any animal’s life— whether it be a whale, a human, or a mosquito— is the act of giving birth, of bringing a new member of the species into the world. It’s no wonder that biologists treat reproduction— from conception to birth to child-rearing— as vital not only for understanding an animal’s natural history, but also its conservation. While some species have had their reproduction studied ad nauseum (think pandas) we still know very little about how most species reproduce, including some large, charismatic mammals. Until ten years ago scientist’s knowledge of the reproductive habits of the giant armadillo— the world’s biggest— were basically regulated to speculation. But a long-term research project in the Brazilian Pantanal is changing that: last year researchers announced the first ever photos of a baby giant armadillo and have since recorded a second birth from another female.

The giant armadillo is the only member of the genus Priodontes and the largest member of the Xenarthra order (including anteaters and sloths) which goes back at least 65 million years. Despite its hefty bulk— weighing in at 50 kilograms (110 pounds)— the giant armadillo is notoriously difficult to observe. Its rarity, nocturnal habits, and burrowing lifestyle mean people who live in the area are often wholly ignorant they share the wilderness with these great, shelled beasts.

“After working in the field for eight years I still had never seen a giant armadillo,” said Arnaud Desbiez, the head of the Giant Armadillo Project in an interview with mongabay.com. “Then one day my wife returned from an expedition in the field having seen one in her study area. I could not believe it! A few months later the owner of the ranch found a fresh carcass recently killed by a puma. I decided I wanted to try to learn more about this elusive species.”

Desbiez, a French native who has lived in the Pantanal for 14 years, started the Giant Armadillo Project in 2010. Since then his dedicated team have employed camera traps and radio tracking to unlock the hidden lives of giant armadillos.

What they found was amazing: for one thing giant armadillos are far more maternal than expected. Scientists had thought that giant armadillo babies only spent six weeks with their mother, but the project’s research discovered that in fact juveniles spend at least ten times that amount learning from their mother.

“We have not been able to determine exactly when it becomes fully independent. Although it starts exploring and foraging on its own after six months, it continues sharing a burrow with or near its mother for several more months,” explained Desbiez, who is also the Regional Coordinator for Latin America for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).

The project has also discovered that gestation lasts five months instead of four and that giant armadillos give birth to only one young at a time, instead of usually two as long believed. This information has huge impacts on the conservation of the massive, relict species.

“Each birth requires an incredibly high investment from the mother and we suspect they have a young only once every two years. Population growth rates are therefore very low. This explains why the population density of giant armadillos is so low, and why this species can so easily go locally extinct,” Desbiez said, who added that the project is now trying to determine how many young a female giant armadillo could have in a lifetime.

The giant armadillo is currently categorized as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List and is imperiled by habitat loss and hunting.

“It feels like we have barely scratched the surface and we still have many more questions than answers,” noted Desbiez. “The question that intrigues me most is we still do not understand how these solitary creatures meet and interact. They have huge home ranges and overlap seems minimal. We believe communication is olfactory through scents left in the burrows and sand mounds.”

Desbiez said giant armadillos are not alone in the fact that researchers know very little about its most basic behaviors.

“The truth is only a few species have been the focus of long term studies and many endangered and even iconic species lack real studies,” he said. “The giant armadillo is only one among many species in South America about which we knew very little. I would blame this on an overall lack of funding for species research and conservation. There are so many species that need urgent attention and too few people able to dedicate their lives to them due to the scarcity of funds.”

Desbiez has received the bulk of his funding from zoological institutions, including the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs two zoos.

Many newly discovered bird species in danger


This video from the USA is called Multiple bird species feeding frenzy: cardinal, bunting, blue jay.

From BirdLife:

One tenth of bird species flying under the conservation radar

By Martin Fowlie, Thu, 24/07/2014 – 00:10

More than 350 newly recognised bird species have been assessed by BirdLife International for the first time on behalf of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Worryingly, more than 25% of these newly recognised birds have been listed as threatened on The IUCN Red List – compared with 13% of all birds – making them urgent priorities for conservation action.

The first of a two-part comprehensive taxonomic review has focussed on non-passerine birds – such as birds of prey, seabirds, waterbirds and owls – and has led to the recognition of 361 new species, that were previously treated as ‘races’ of other forms. The new total of 4,472 non-passerines implies that previous classifications have undersold avian diversity at the species level by more than 10%.

“Put another way, one tenth of the world’s bird species have been flying below the conservation radar”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Head of Science.

Species such as Belem Curassow Crax pinima from Brazil and Desertas Petrel Pterodroma deserta from Madeira have been listed as Globally Threatened. In the case of the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest Oxypogon cyanolaemus, a beautiful hummingbird from Colombia, it may already be too late, as the species has not been seen for nearly 70 years.

The new criteria for determining which taxa qualify as species have created a level playing field, by which all bird species can be assessed equally. They also bring an added precision to help us shine a light on the places most important for birds, nature and people – the areas of the planet that we need to urgently protect and save.

Until now, only one species of Ostrich had been recognised and was assessed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List. However, Somali Ostrich Struthio molybdophanes, which is found in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, is now recognised as a distinct species and listed as Vulnerable. Its population is thought to be in rapid decline because of hunting, egg-collecting and persecution, and its status could worsen if action is not taken soon.

“This species highlights both the need for improved knowledge of the world’s birds and the need for conservation action in some of the most challenging parts of the globe”, said Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Officer.

“The latest reassessment of birds for The IUCN Red List highlights the importance of taxonomic review in accurately identifying the conservation status of species, as well as those areas which require priority conservation action,” says Jane Smart, Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “Thanks to the ongoing assessment work of BirdLife, the early recognition of those threatened species such as the Somali Ostrich should result in timely targeted action to safeguard the species and protect important sites.”

As well as assessing newly recognised species, the 2014 Red List also re-assesses the status of some existing species. The colourful Bugun Liocichla Liocichla bugunorum is known from only three small areas in the Himalayas of eastern India, where just a few pairs have been located. Following the recent construction of a road through its habitat, and damage caused by uncontrolled fires, the species has been re-classified as Critically Endangered. Thanks to successful conservation efforts, Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus is recovering in Europe, but globally it is declining because of poisoning, disturbance and collisions with powerlines, resulting in it being assessed as Near Threatened rather than Least Concern.

The 2014 assessment also raises the importance of several threatened bird hotspots. Many of the newly recognised species are found in South-East Asia, where biodiversity is highly threatened. Parts of this region have already been identified as globally important areas of endemism (holding many species that occur nowhere else on Earth). Some have now been shown to host even more unique species than previously thought, including the Indonesian islands of Talaud and Sangihe and parts of the Philippine archipelago, such as the island of Cebu.

These areas need immediate conservation attention to protect the remaining habitat and safeguard the future of Critically Endangered birds such as Sangihe Dwarf-kingfisher Ceyx sangirensis and Cebu Brown-dove Phapitreron frontalis – neither of which have been recorded recently, but both could still be clinging on in small numbers.

There are also some worrying implications for conservation on the Indonesian island of Java. Newly recognised species such as Javan Flameback Chrysocolaptes strictus, a species of woodpecker classified as Vulnerable, and Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher Alcedo euryzona which enters The IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, show how the island has evolved many distinct species. However, Java’s very high human population density and increasing rates of development and encroachment are impacting the conservation status of these endemic species, which are now threatened with extinction.

“The IUCN Red List is crucial not only for helping to identify those species needing targeted recovery efforts, but also for focussing the conservation agenda by identifying the key sites and habitats that need to be saved, including Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas”, said Butchart. “The updated 2014 Red List for birds will help set future conservation and funding priorities.”

Find out more about BirdLife’s work to save threatened species

Tyrannosaurs hunted in packs?


This video is called Tyrannosaur Rivalry – Planet Dinosaur – Episode 3 – BBC One.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Researchers find first sign that tyrannosaurs hunted in packs

Discovery of three sets of dinosaur trackways in Canada reveals that predators were running together

Ian Sample, science editor

Wednesday 23 July 2014 19.36 BST

The collective noun is a terror of tyrannosaurs: a pack of the prehistoric predators, moving and hunting in numbers, for prey that faced the fight of its life.

That tyrannosaurs might have hunted in groups has long been debated by dinosaur experts, but with so little to go on, the prospect has remained firmly in the realm of speculation.

But researchers in Canada now claim to have the strongest evidence yet that the ancient beasts did move around in packs.

At a remote site in the country’s northeast, they uncovered the first known tyrannosaur trackways, apparently left by three animals going the same way at the same time.

Unlike single footprints which have been found before, tyrannosaur trackways are made up of multiple steps, revealing the length of stride and other features of the animal’s movement. What surprised the Canadian researchers was the discovery of multiple tracks running next to each other – with each beast evidently keeping a respectable distance from its neighbour.

Richard McCrea at the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre in British Columbia was tipped off about one trackway in October 2011 when a hunting guide working in the area emailed him some pictures. The guide had found one footprint that was already exposed and later uncovered a second heading in the same direction. McCrea made immediate plans to investigate before the winter blanketed the site with snow.

He arrived later the same month and found a third footprint that belonged to the same trackway under volcanic ash. But the real discovery came a year later, when the team returned and uncovered two more sets of tyrannosaur tracks running in the same south-easterly direction.

“We hit the jackpot,” said McCrea. “A single footprint is interesting, but a trackway gives you way more. This is about the strongest evidence you can get that these were gregarious animals. The only stronger evidence I can think of is going back in a time machine to watch them.”

The footprints were so well-preserved that even the contours of the animals’ skin were visible. “You start wondering what it would have been like to have been there when the tracks were made. The word is terror. I wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley at night,” McCrea said.

From the size of the footprints, the researchers put the beasts in their late 20s or early 30s – a venerable age for tyrannosaurs. The depth of the prints and other measurements suggest the tracks were left at the same time. They date back to nearly 70m years ago.

Close inspection of the trackways found that the tyrannosaur that left the first set of prints had a missing claw from its left foot, perhaps a battle injury. Details of the study are published in the journal Plos One.

During the expedition, McCrea’s team unearthed more prehistoric footprints from other animals, notably hadrosaurs, or duck-billed dinosaurs. Crucially, these were heading in all sorts of directions, evidence, says McCrea, that the tyrannosaurs chose to move as a pack, and were not simply forced into a group by the terrain.

“When you find three trackways together, going in same direction, it’s not necessarily good evidence for gregarious behaviour. They could be walking along a shore. But if all the other animals are moving in different directions, it means there is no geographical constraint, and it strengthens the case,” said McCrea.

Internet game about hummingbirds


This video is called Full Documentary – Incredible Nature: Hummingbirds – Magic in the Air.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

New Citizen Science Blog Takes Flight

The citizen science program at the Cornell Lab invites you to be the first to preview a new kind of blog. Our new Citizen Science Blog is a blog inspired by the contributions and passions of citizen scientists—like you!

In its inaugural month, Citizen Science Blog will start with a look at everyone’s favorite winged jewels, hummingbirds! Can you match the speed of a hummingbird’s wings with your fingers? Find out in the interactive game, Beat the Beats. Plus, see how much liquid you’d have to consume to eat like a hummingbird. Check in often as new posts are added weekly.