Soon, app for recognizing wild birds’ songs?


This video is called Some Brazilian birds and sounds.

From Queen Mary University in London, England:

Birdsongs automatically decoded by computer scientists

Scientists from Queen Mary University of London have found a successful way of identifying bird sounds from large audio collections, which could be useful for expert and amateur bird-watchers alike.

Thursday 17 July 2014

 

The analysis used recordings of individual birds and of dawn choruses to identify characteristics of bird sounds. It took advantage of large datasets of sound recordings provided by the British Library Sound Archive, and online sources such as the Dutch archive called Xeno Canto.

Publishing in the journal PeerJ, the authors describe an approach that combines feature-learning – an automatic analysis technique – and a classification algorithm, to create a system that can distinguish between which birds are present in a large dataset.

“Automatic classification of bird sounds is useful when trying to understand how many and what type of birds you might have in one location,” commented lead author Dr Dan Stowell from QMUL’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science and Centre for Digital Music.

Dr Stowell was recently awarded a prestigious five-year fellowship from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop computerised processes to detect multiple bird sounds in large sets of audio recordings.

Birdsong has a lot in common with human language, even though it evolved separately. For example, many songbirds go through similar stages of vocal learning as we do, as they grow up, which makes them interesting to study. From them we can understand more about how human language evolved and social organisation in animal groups,” said Dr Stowell.

He added: “The attraction of fully automatic analysis is that we can create a really large evidence base to address these big questions.”

The classification system created by the authors performed well in a public contest using a set of thousands of recordings with over 500 bird species from Brazil. The system was regarded as the best-performing audio only classifier, and placed second overall out of entries from 10 research groups in the competition.

The researchers hope to drill down into more detail for their next project.

Dr Stowell says: “I’m working on techniques that can transcribe all the bird sounds in an audio scene: not just who is talking, but when, in response to whom, and what relationships are reflected in the sound, for example who is dominating the conversation.”

Want to know more? Read the paper.

Extinct pigeon related to dodo, new research


This video is called Nicobar pigeon display.

From Wildlife Extra:

Liverpool pigeon found to be related to iconic dodo

After 200 years of being somewhat of an enigma, and having unknown provenance, the extinct spotted green pigeon has been found to be related to the iconic but extinct, flightless dodo.

Scientists in Australia analysed tiny DNA fragments extracted from feathers of the only remaining specimen (which is on show in the World Museum in Liverpool) and found it to be related to the nicobar pigeon of Indonesia and distantly related to the dodo of Mauritius.

Clem Fisher from the World Museum said: “We are very pleased that the extinct Spotted Green Pigeon has its correct place in the world of birds finally, after more than 230 years.”

The bird is often referred to as the ‘Liverpool Pigeon’ after the city in which the specimen is kept, but it would have come from either the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia or Oceania.

Leading scientist Dr Tim Heupink, from Griffith University in Australia said: “This study improves our ability to identify novel (new) species from historic remains, and also those that are not novel after all. Ultimately this will help us to measure and understand the extinction of local populations and entire species.”

Charles Darwin’s complete Galapagos library posted online


This video says about itself:

11 November 2011

A classic example of evolution on Daphne Major Island in the Galapagos. Natural selection works on beak size variation of Darwin’s Finches.

From ars technica:

Darwin’s complete Galapagos library posted online

404 volumes kept on board the Beagle join the giant Darwin Online repository.

by Sam Machkovech – July 16 2014, 10:40pm +0200

Charles Darwin‘s massive ship library, including astounding drawings of species from far-off lands, meant he rarely had to come above-board while sailing on the Beagle in the 1830s.

Charles Darwin’s five-year journey to and from the Galapagos Islands ended in 1836. While that was over two decades before the publication of On the Origin of Species, he credited his time on board the Beagle as a formative experience for his theory of evolution. That extended trip wasn’t only spent studying local wildlife, especially during lengthy voyages at sea to and from home—Darwin also devoured a library of more than 400 volumes of text.

While many of those books were referenced in his later research, they were not preserved as a collection once the Beagle returned to England, leaving a gap in our understanding about the books and studies that kept Darwin’s mind occupied during such an historic era. Now, thanks to the painstaking efforts of a two-year Beagle project funded by the government of Singapore, that complete on-ship library has been transcribed and posted at Darwin Online, the world’s largest repository of Darwin-related texts and writings.

The library, which was stored in the same cabin as Darwin’s bed and desk during his journey, totaled out at 195,000 pages by the time researchers at the National University of Singapore assembled the full collection (and these weren’t exactly picture books, with only 5,000 corresponding illustrations). The complete list is quite astounding, made up of atlases, history books, geology studies, and even a giant supply of literature. Darwin also enjoyed a few books in French, Spanish, and German, along with a book in Latin about species and a Greek edition of the New Testament.

Historians and fans can read and perform text searches of the fully transcribed library. But if you’re pressed for time, we strongly encourage you to at least skim through the collection of gorgeous illustrations.

Rare butterfly invasion in the Netherlands


This 15 July 2014 Dutch entomology video is about the recent invasion in the Netherlands of scarce tortoiseshell butterflies; a species, new for the Netherlands.

See also here.

Four-winged Chinese dinosaur discovery


This video says about itself:

Reptiles of the Skies – Walking with Dinosaurs in HQ – BBC

9 November 2012

The Cretaceous period saw the breaking up of the northern and southern landmasses. Flying dinosaurs like Tapejara would master the air and the new coast lines of prehistoric Earth. The largest flying dinosaur Ornithocheirus prepares for a long flight to breeding grounds.

However, this video is about pterosaurs: flying non-dinosaurs, living at the same time as dinosaurs.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Four-winged flying dinosaur unearthed in China

Newly discovered Changyuraptor yangi lived 125m years ago and was like ‘a big turkey with a really long tail’

Nishad Karim

Tuesday 15 July 2014 17.18 BST

A new species of prehistoric, four-winged dinosaur discovered in China may be the largest flying reptile of its kind.

The well-preserved, complete skeleton of the dinosaur Changyuraptor yangi features a long tail with feathers 30cm in length – the longest ever seen on a dinosaur fossil. The feathers may have played a major role in flight control, say scientists in the latest issue of Nature Communications, in particular allowing the animal to reduce its speed to land safely.

The 125m-year-old fossil, believed to be an adult, is completely covered in feathers, including long feathers attached to its legs that give the appearance of a second set of wings or “hind wings”. It is the largest four-winged dinosaur ever found, 60% larger than the previous record holder, Microraptor zhaoianus, in the family of dinosaurs known as microraptors.

These beasts were smaller versions of their closely related, larger cousins, the velociraptors made famous in the Jurassic Park movies. They belong to an even wider group including the king of all dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex. At 1.3 metres long and weighing 4kg, the meat-eating C. yangi is one of the largest members of the microraptor family, which tended to weigh 1kg or less.

Microraptors, which are close relatives of modern birds, had many anatomical features that are now only seen in birds, such as hollow bones, nesting behavior, feathers and possibly flight. They were dinosaurs rather than pterosaurs, the more well known flying prehistoric reptiles.

C. yangi was [like] a big turkey with a really long tail,” said Dr Alan Turner from Stony Brook University, one of the authors of the paper. “We don’t know for sure if C. yangi was flying or gliding, but we can sort of piece together this bigger model by looking at what its tail could do. Whether or not this animal could fly is part of a bigger puzzle and we’re adding a piece to that puzzle.”

The fossil was discovered in Liaoning province, northeastern China, an area noted for the large number of feathered dinosaurs found over the past decade, including the first widely acknowledged feathered dinosaur, Sinosauropteryx prima, in 1996.

Before this study, it was thought that the small size of microraptors was a key adaptation needed for flight, but the discovery of C. yangi suggests that aerial ability was not restricted to smaller animals in this group.

See also here.

New butterfly species discovery in the Netherlands


This video says about itself:

Scarce Tortoiseshell Feeds on Oak Sap ヒオドシチョウがミズナラ樹液を吸汁

9 February 2014

A Scarce Tortoiseshell (aka Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell; Nymphalis xanthomelas japonica, family Nymphalidae) feeding on the fermenting sap of an oak tree (Quercus crispula, family Fagaceae). October 2013 in Japan.

Translated from the Dutch Vlinderstichting entomologists:

July 14, 2014

Invasion of a new butterfly species in the Netherlands: scarce tortoiseshell seen

This week a butterfly species entered our country which had never been seen before in the Netherlands: the scarce tortoiseshell. This involves dozens of individuals. This species was initially unnoticed because it is very similar to another one: the large tortoiseshell. An expert from the Butterfly Foundation discovered that many sightings of large tortoiseshells reported since late last week were incorrect. It was in all cases the scarce tortoiseshell.

Usually, this species, new for the Netherlands, lives much further to the east.

Senegalese and Dutch black-tailed godwit research


This video is called Godwits – Limosa limosa at Giganta Ricefields, Porto Alto, Portugal.

From BirdLife:

Gerrit and Khady: a Black-tailed Godwit romance

By Obaka Torto, Mon, 30/06/2014 – 14:59

Through the work of BirdLife International, Africa and Europe have come together many times for the love of birds. Khady Gueye from Senegal and Gerrit Gerritsen from the Netherlands offer a fine example of this. Both Khady and Gerrit are passionate about Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa), a ‘Near Threatened’ migratory shorebird. Khady studies them while they winter in Senegal and Gerrit is the godwit conservation specialist of Vogelbescherming Nederland (VBN, BirdLife in the Netherlands). He makes every effort to conserve the breeding habitat of the godwits in the Netherlands. The linkage between the two is even stronger. A bird ringed by Gerrit in 2007 went missing for six years, only to be rediscovered alive and well by Khady in Senegal in 2013.

Khady and Gerrit in Friesland, The Netherlands (Photo: Barend van Gemerden/VBN)

Khady and Gerrit in Friesland, The Netherlands (Photo: Barend van Gemerden/VBN)

Khady met Gerrit during her visit to Friesland, a province in the North of the Netherlands. Here she joined the researchers from the University of Groningen / Global Flyway Network to study the breeding habits of Black-tailed Godwits. Thanks to the team of Prof. Theunis Piersma and Jos Hooijmeijer, Khady learned a great deal about godwits and research techniques that will help her study.

Khady: “My job was to assist the team in their research; looking for nests and chicks, monitoring and ringing chicks. We also captured adults to read their rings and conduct biometric measurements. I improved my skills in reading rings and I now have a clear idea on how to study the availability of feeding resources for the birds at a site.”

Khady with just fledged chick of Black-tailed Godwit (Photo: Barend van Gemerden)

Khady with just fledged chick of Black-tailed Godwit (Photo: Barend van Gemerden)

Khady proved to be a valuable member of the team and her interest in the Black-tailed Godwit and determination to continue her research was held in high esteem by the entire team in the Netherlands. Khady: “Most exciting was working with the research team of Jos Hooijmeijer in the Netherlands, and the prospect of them coming to Senegal during the next season. While I was there, I better understood the ecology, migration strategies, as well as threats to the Black-tailed Godwit.”

Overall, Khady was highly impressed by what she saw in the Netherlands. “From my point of view, it is a very organized country. In Friesland in particular, people are friendly and pleasant. In this part of the Netherlands, the conservation of biodiversity and especially birds, is extremely important to the community.” To strengthen the commitment of the local community, Khady also participated in a successful visit of school children to a farm where many godwits breed. Khady’s presence emphasised the international connections that exist through migratory birds.

Khady scanning for Black-tailed Godwits in Senegal (Photo: Barend van Gemerden/VBN)

Khady scanning for Black-tailed Godwits in Senegal (Photo: Barend van Gemerden/VBN)

Young Graduates Research Project

Khady Gueye is a one of the awardees of the Young Graduates Research Project (YGRP) award, a conservation project grant under The Conservation of Migratory Birds (CMB) project, funded jointly by MAVA Foundation and Vogelbescherming Nederland (VBN).

This award is targeted at MSc-level students conducting ongoing research on migratory bird species in Cape Verde, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone and the Gambia.

This is a recurring award and the next grant opportunity will be announced shortly, so stay tuned to the CMB project page!

Skinks in North America


This video from the USA says about itself:

Four-Lined Skink Found In Bush Alongside Brownsville Texas

11 February 2014

Plestiodon tetragrammus. The four-lined skink is a species of lizard, which is endemic to North America. It feeds on insects and spiders. It is a medium-sized member of the Plestiodon skinks. It ranges through Central and southern Texas, south into Mexico, north to south-central Arizona and extreme southwestern New Mexico.

From eNature Blog in the USA:

Blue Streak Special— Ever See A Skink?

Thursday, July 10, 2014 by eNature

There’s a rustling in the leaves. You look to see what made the sound, and bam—a blue streak vanishes into the duff. Was it a snake? A lizard? Was that intense cobalt color even real?

Yes, it was real. The creature responsible for the streak was a lizard called a skink. Now’s the time when the newborns hatch, and the intense blue tails of the juveniles are as bright as neon signs.

There are fifteen species of skinks in North America, a small percentage of the 1,200-plus species found worldwide (it’s the largest family of lizards). Most species keep their blue tails for the first two years of life; the tails of adults fade to gray or brown. As for why the young skink needs such a gaudy appendage, the standard textbook answer is that predators like birds and mammals will grab first at the bright tail. Because the tail easily detaches, the lizard escapes—tailless, yes, but at least still alive.

If this strategy is so advantageous, though, why don’t adult skinks have blue tails? One possible explanation is that young skinks tend to spend more time above ground where they’re subject to more predators. When they become adults, skinks establish territories inside rotting logs or under rocks and spend little time moving from place to place. (To tell the difference between a mature male and a mature female, look for the orange highlights on the male’s head.)

Mating takes place in the spring. Then, in late spring, the adult females retreat to burrows or other sheltered recesses, often deep in the ground, where they lay eggs and remain with them until hatching. A female may keep its eggs moist by licking them or otherwise moistening them or it may simply guard the clutch of two to six eggs. When the eggs hatch, adult females and their brightly colored newborns come to the surface to feed on insects and spiders for the summer. The first chill of autumn sends them underground, where they wait until the first warm days of spring beckon them back to the surface.

Have you come across skinks or other colorful amphibians? We always enjoy your stories!

Skinks are not amphibians, of course, but reptiles.

Hedgehog fossil discovery in Canada


This video is called Tiny Hedgehog Fossil Could Answer Climate-Change Questions.

From Wildlife Extra:

Fossils of tiny, unknown, hedgehog found in Canada

Fossil remains of a tiny hedgehog, about two inches long, that lived 52 million years ago have been discovered in British Columbia by scientists from University of Colorado Boulder.

Named Silvacola acares, which means tiny forest dweller, it is perhaps the smallest hedgehog ever to have lived and is both a genus and species new to science.

“It is quite tiny and comparable in size to some of today’s shrews,” said lead author Jaelyn Eberle.

“We can’t say for sure it had prickly quills, but there are ancestral hedgehogs living in Europe about the same time that had bristly hair covering them, so it is plausible Silvacola did, too.”

The fossils were found in north-central British Columbia at a site known as Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park that was likely to have been a rainforest environment during the Early Eocene Epoch.

See also here. And here.