Montagu’s harrier migration, new research


This video is called Montagu’s Harrier – Britain’s Rarest Raptor.

Results of ten years of research into Montagu’s harrier migration were published recently.

Providing harriers with satellite transmitters proved there are three main ways for the birds to cross the Mediterranean sea on their autumn migration from Europe to Africa: through Spain, through Italy and through Greece (a newly discovered flyway, which only east European birds use).

Montagu’s harriers from the Netherlands use only the two western flyways.

Montagu's harriers flyways to Africa

In Africa, they winter in areas where they can feed on locusts.

When, in spring, the harriers fly back north, Morocco is an important stop over area for them. That is also a new discovery.

The new research was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The importance of northwest African stopover sites for Dutch, German and Danish Montagu’s Harriers: here.

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Barn swallows swallowed by tigerfish


This video from South Africa says about itself:

9 Jan 2014

The waters of the African lake seem calm and peaceful. A few migrant swallows flit near the surface. Suddenly, leaping from the water, a fish grabs one of the famously speedy birds straight out of the air! This swallow-swallowing behaviour, long talked about anecdotally, has now been documented by scientists for the first time.

Science, Space & Robots writes about this:

Video: African Tigerfish Catches Bird in Flight

An African tigerfish was captured on video capturing a swallow in mid-flight. Nature reports that the African tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus) has been rumored to jump and catch birds in mid-flight, but this was the first recording of the activity. The behavior was observed in the Schroda Dam, a man-made lake in South Africa. The fish can reach up to one meter in length and have sharp teeth.

Professor Nico Smit, co-author of the study, told BBC News, “The African tigerfish is one of the most amazing freshwater species in the world. It is a striking fish with beautiful markings on the body, bright red fins and vicious teeth.”

The researchers say they saw 20 successful attempts by African tigerfish to catch and eat swallows during the 15 day study. The research was published here in the Journal of Fish Biology.

Posted on January 13, 2014

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West African lions in danger


This video is called Wild West African lion cub at the Yankari Game Reserve in Nigeria eating a warthog.

From Wildlife Extra:

The West African Lion is dangerously close to extinction

January 2014: The African lion is facing extinction across the entire West African region reveals a paper authored by Panthera‘s Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Dr Philipp Henschel, and a team from West Africa, the UK, Canada and the United States.

The West African lion once ranged continuously from Senegal to Nigeria, but now, says the scientists, there are just 250 adult lions left in five countries; Senegal, Nigeria and a single trans-frontier population on the shared borders of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.

These results follow a massive survey effort that took six years and covered 11 countries where lions were presumed to exist in the last two decades.

Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter said: “Lions have undergone a catastrophic collapse in West Africa. The countries that have managed to retain them are struggling with pervasive poverty and very little funding for conservation.”

The West African lion is genetically distinct from the lions of in East and southern Africa.

“West African lions have unique genetic sequences not found in any other lions, including in zoos or captivity,” explained Dr. Christine Breitenmoser, the co-chair of the IUCN/SCC Cat Specialist Group, which determines the conservation status of wild cats around the world. “If we lose the lion in West Africa, we will lose a unique, locally adapted population found no-where else. It makes their conservation even more urgent.”

Lions have disappeared across Africa as human populations and their livestock herds have grown, competing for land with lions and other wildlife. Wild savannas are converted for agriculture and cattle, the lion’s natural prey is hunted out and lions are killed by pastoralists fearing the loss of their herds.

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White-throated bee-eater, new species for North Africa


This video says about itself:

On Location: The White-Throated Bee-Eater

The White-throated Bee-eater, Merops albicollis is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It breeds in semi-desert along the southern edge of the Sahara, Africa. The White-throated Bee-eater is migratory, wintering in a completely different habitat in the equatorial rainforests of Africa from southern Senegal to Uganda.

This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly-coloured, slender bird. It is predominantly green, but its face and throat are white with a black crown, eye stripe, and neckband. The underparts are pale green shading to blue on the breast. The eye is red and the beak is black.

The White-throated Bee-eater can reach a length of 19-21 cm, excluding the two very elongated central tail feathers, which can exceed an additional length of 12 cm. They weigh between 20 and 28 grams. Sexes are alike. The call is similar to European Bee-eater.

The White-throated Bee-eater is a bird which breeds in dry sandy open country, such thorn scrub and near-desert. These abundant bee-eaters are gregarious, nesting colonially in sandy banks or open flat areas. They make a relatively long 1-2 m tunnel in which the 6 to 7 spherical white eggs are laid. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs, but up to five helpers also assist with caring for the young.

White-throated Bee-eaters also feed and roost communally. As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. However, this species probably takes mainly flying ants and beetles. Widespread and common throughout its large range, the White-throated Bee-eater is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The other white-throated bee-eater video, below here, shows this species rather poorly, compared to the first video. However, it is still a special video, as it recorded a white-throated bee-eater much further to the north than usually.

This video says about itself:

White throated Bee eater, Gleb Jdiane, Morocco, Dec 2013. Noëlle & Hervé Jacob.

4 Jan 2014

Video footage of the first White-throated Bee-eater (Merops albicollis) for the Western Palearctic.

The bird was seen at Gleb Jdiane, a few kilometres south-east of Dakhla on the Aousserd road, Oued Dahab, southern Morocco on 5 and 6 December 2013 by Noëlle and Hervé Jacob.

From Birdwatch magazine in Britain:

Birders score Western Palearctic first

Posted on: 04 Jan 2014

Two French birders managed to video an exotic regional first while on a birding trip to the hot-spot of Gleb Jdiane, Western Sahara, last month.

Noëlle and Hervé Jacob were on a trip to the disputed desert territory – jointly administered by Morocco and Mauretania – and on the morning of 5 December were waiting for sandgrouse to appear at a well-known waterhole at Gleb Djiane, about 14.5 miles along the Aousserd road.

They said: “We saw a White-throated Bee-eater perched on a tamarisk, that was observable for at least 10 minutes until a Southern Grey Shrike chased it away. Sadly, we were unable to take photos, because we didn’t realise that this bird was not supposed to be there.

“The following morning we went back having missed the sandgrouse, probably partly because it had rained over the previous days and there were several other waterholes in the desert. Fortunately, the bee-eater was still there, but we could not get the car we were using as a hide any closer, so we were only able to shoot the poor video footage.

“The bird will be the first for both Morocco and the Western Palearctic, though the area is legendary for producing many regionally hard-to-get species such as Sudan Golden Sparrow, Cricket Warbler and Dunn’s Lark.

White-throated Bee-eater is a seasonally nomadic species which wanders the most at the beginning and end of the rainy season in the Sahel, and it is likely that due to the unseasonal rains this individual ranged further than most. Anecdotal reports suggest that the rains are particularly late this year, and this bee-eater species would usually be on the savannah to the south of the arid regions by now.

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African penguins and physics


This video is called African penguins go for a swim – Mountain of the Sea – BBC.

From National Public Radio in the USA:

RoboCop? How About RoboPenguin!

by Adam Cole

January 01, 2014 3:06 AM

At the American Physical Society’s fluid dynamics conference this winter there was a healthy infusion of biology. In between talks on propellers and plane wings, there were presentations about flying snakes, fire ants, humpback whales and hummingbirds. Physicists from all over the world are turning to the natural world to help them solve engineering problems.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Otto Lilienthal, the “Father of Flight,” famously studied storks to help him develop his gliders. But it’s still a bit surprising that another scientist has turned to flightless birds for inspiration — specifically, he’s turned to African penguins.

Flavio Noca, now a professor of aerodynamics at Switzerland’s University of Applied Sciences, first encountered the power of penguins back when he was a grad student. He came across a paper that described the incredible acceleration of emperor penguins: from zero to 15 mph in just a second.

“I was just amazed by their performance,” Noca remembers. “That’s when, basically, I decided, ‘OK, I want to work on penguins.’”

It’s not just their speed that impressed him. Penguins can move side to side and make sharp turns effortlessly – things that underwater craft built by humans struggle to do. But very few people have studied penguins, so little is know about how these champion swimmers manage their underwater acrobatics

“There are just, for some reason, only two basic papers,” Noca says.

So Noca set out to learn more. He started by filming zoo penguins to track the exact movement of their wings.

“It was very hard because penguins have their own mind(s) so they’re not going to go where you want them to go,” Noca says.

But after analyzing lots of underwater videos, Noca and his students were able to describe the exact stroke of a penguin’s flipper. But they still needed a way to model that movement in the controlled lab environment.

This year, Noca’s research assistant, Bassem Sudki, developed and manufactured a completely novel joint mechanism that can mimic the stroke of a flipper. With the mechanical flipper churning in the water, Noca can better measure the flows and forces involved, and learn exactly how penguins achieve their maneuverability. He says someday this mechanism could help underwater craft dart through ocean.

The flipper mechanism was just one example of bio-inspired design on display at this year’s fluid dynamics conference. Many of the attendees believe they are on edge of a new wave of discovery. Scientists finally have the technology to not only understand mechanics in the natural world, but to actually replicate natural structures within human-made machines.

Nature, they say, can help engineers when they are stuck on a particular problem.

“Nature has been going through millions of years of engineering,” Noca explains. “And it has found one solution.”

It might not be the best solution, but it could be one that humans are able to imitate and improve upon.