Snowy owl nest in Alaska on the Internet


This video says about itself:

Arctic Snowy Owl Prey Delivery by Male

9 July 2014

A pile of four owlets await their mother’s arrival on the tundra outside Barrow, Alaska. Soon after she alights, the male owl flies in to deliver a lemming, exchanges it with the female, and departs while she begins to provision the owlets.

Learn about the Owl Research Institute’s work with Snowy Owls here.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Watch Snowy Owlets in Alaska

In the tundra around Barrow, Alaska, Snowy Owls nest in the 24-hour sunlight. Now you can watch one of these nests, featuring seven growing owlets, live on our Bird Cams. The camera is located a respectful distance from the nest, so be aware that the owlets are not always visible (they tend to hunker behind a low rise). But their parents visit regularly with meals of lemming and duck—as you can see in this video highlight. What are the owlets up to now? Check in on the Snowy Owl cam.

Got Snowy Questions? We’re holding live-chat Q&A sessions every day through Friday this week, from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Alaskan shorebirds nest earlier because of climate change


This video is called Celebrating Alaska’s Shorebirds. It says about itself:

21 May 2014

In Alaska, hundreds of diverse species from tiny songbirds to the much larger sandhill cranes and majestic trumpeter swans all share the same rich nesting grounds.

The fact that these shorebirds, some weighing in at a fraction of an ounce, travel up to 20,000 miles annually simply gives us humans a profound sense of awe when they arrive each spring, right on schedule. Celebrating Alaska’s Shorebirds chronicles this amazing migration against the spectacular background of Alaskan scenery. Produced over a two and a half year period of field work this stunning film has captured many stunning images in a variety of locations with in Alaska where these birds land to feed, rest, nest and breed.

From Wildlife Extra:

Arctic birds nesting earlier to catch advancing springs

Snow melt in the Arctic Alaska is causing migratory birds to breed nearly a week earlier than ten years ago, a new study shows.

For nine years scientists have monitored 2,500 nests of four shorebird species and one songbird, across four sites, recording when the first eggs were laid in each.

They discovered that the birds have advanced their nesting by an average of 4-7 days over the nine years, and snow melt, over other contributory factors such as abundance of nest predators and the seasonal flush of new vegetation, was the main cause.

“It seems clear that the timing of the snow melt in Arctic Alaska is the most important mechanism driving the earlier and earlier breeding dates we observed in the Arctic,” said lead author Joe Liebezeit of the Audubon Society of Portland in the USA.

The four sites ranged from the oilfields of Prudhoe Bay to the remote National Petroleum Reserve of western Arctic Alaska, and the species monitored included the semi-palmated sandpiper, red phalarope, red-necked phalarope, and pectoral sandpiper.

“Migratory birds are nesting earlier in the changing Arctic, presumably to track the earlier springs and abundance of insect prey,” said Wildlife Conservation Society Coordinator of Bird Conservation Steve Zack.

“Many of these birds winter in the tropics and might be compromising their complicated calendar of movements to accommodate this change.

“We’re concerned that there will be a threshold where they will no longer be able to track the emergence of these earlier springs, which may impact breeding success or even population viability.”

Steppe bison discovery on Texel island


This video says about itself:

BBC Monsters We Met – 1 of 3 – The Eternal Frontier

Episode 1: Eternal Frontier (Alaska, United States, North America, 14,000 years ago) Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) American Lion (Panthera leo atrox) (live-acted by a African Lioness) Homotherium (Scimitar-tooth Cat) Smilodon (Saber-tooth Cat) Megalonyx (Jefferson’s Ground Sloth) Camelops (Giant Camel) (live-acted by a Dromedary Camel) Arctodus (Short-Faced Bear) American mastodon (Mammut americanum) Steppe Bison (live-acted by an American Bison) Hagerman Horse (live-acted by a Grevy’s Zebra) American Cheetah (live-acted by a Snow Leopard) Wild horse (live-acted by a Przewalski’s Horse) Grey Wolf (live-acted) American Bison (live-acted) Andean Condor (live-acted) Brown Bear (live-acted) Muskox (live-acted) Caribou (live-acted) Saiga (live-acted) California Condor (live-acted) Dall Sheep (live-acted) … Wolverine (live-acted).

Steppe bison are an extinct species, ancestral to both today’s American bison and European bison.

Recently, a former employee of Ecomare museum found a steppe bison astralagus bone in the dunes of Texel island. Probably, it had landed there from the North Sea; which was land when steppe bison were still alive.

The discoverer gave the bone to Ecomare.

Wildlife biologists recently scanning photographs taken by a trail camera in the Uinta Mountains last winter, saw something never before captured in Utah: the first official photographs of a wolverine: here.

Leaked Document: Scientists Ordered to Scrap Plan to Protect Wolverines: here.

How polar bears survive the Arctic


This video from Alaska is called Grizzly vs. Polar Bear.

From Wildlife Extra:

Gene study reveals how polar bears cope with killer lifestyle

A study of the genes of polar bears reveals how quickly they evolved to handle the extremes of life in the high Arctic, and why, and how they cope with being profoundly obese. A comparison between polar and brown bears has found that the former is a much younger species than previously believed, having diverged from brown bears less than 500,000 years ago to spend life on sea ice. There, the bears subsist on a blubber-rich diet of marine mammals that would result in cardiovascular diseases in other species. The relatively short time that has passed in its evolution and how it evolved was what interested the scientists.

The study, published in the journal Cell, was a collaboration between Danish and Chinese researchers and a team from the University of California Berkeley, including Eline Lorenzen and Rasmus Nielsen.

Unlike other bears, fat comprises up to half the weight of a polar bear. “For polar bears, profound obesity is a benign state,” said Lorenzen. “We wanted to understand how they are able to cope with that. The life of a polar bear revolves around fat. Nursing cubs rely on milk that can be up to 30 per cent fat, and adults eat primarily blubber of marine mammal prey. Polar bears have large fat deposits under their skin and, because they essentially live in a polar desert and don’t have access to fresh water for most of the year, rely on metabolic water, which is a by product of the breakdown of fat.”

The genome analysis comes at a time when the polar bear population worldwide, estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000, is declining and its Arctic sea ice habitat is rapidly disappearing. As the northern latitudes warm, the polar bear’s distant cousin, the brown or grizzly bear is moving farther north and occasionally interbreeding with the polar bear to produce hybrids that have been called ‘pizzlies’. This is the possibly the same process that led to the emergence of polar bears in the first place.

The bears’ ability to interbreed is a result of a very close relationship, Nielsen said, which is one-tenth the evolutionary distance between chimpanzees and humans. “It’s really surprising that the divergence time is so short. All the unique adaptations polar bears have to the Arctic environment must have evolved in a very short amount of time.”

These adaptations include not only a change from brown to white fur and development of a sleeker body, but big physiological and metabolic changes as well. The genome comparison revealed that over several hundred thousand years, natural selection drove major changes in genes related to fat transport in the blood and fatty acid metabolism. One of the most strongly selected genes is APOB, which in mammals encodes the main protein in LDL (low density lipoprotein), known widely as “bad” cholesterol. Changes or mutations in this gene reflect the critical nature of fat in the polar bear diet and the animals’ need to deal with high blood levels of glucose and triglycerides, in particular cholesterol, which would be dangerous in humans.

What drove the evolution of polar bears is unclear, though the split from brown bears coincided with a particularly warm 50,000-year interglacial period known as Marine Isotope Stage 11. Environmental shifts following climate changes could have encouraged brown bears to extend their range much farther north. When the warm interlude ended and a glacial cold period set in, a pocket of brown bears may have become isolated and forced to adapt rapidly to new conditions.

There is potential for the polar bear research also to have applications in the study of human’s lifestyles. “Polar bears have adapted genetically to a high fat diet that many people now impose on themselves,” said Nielsen. “If we learn a bit about the genes that allows them to deal with that, perhaps that will give us tools to modulate human physiology down the line.”

See also here.

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Fukushima news update


This video from Japan about Fukushima says about itself:

March 11, 2013 2 year anniversary of man-made nuclear accident and tsunami

Hiroaki Koide, Master of Science in Nuclear Engineering, Assistant Professor at the Kyoto University Research Institute, Nuclear Waste Management & Safety Expert:

The cesium-137 that was released into the atmosphere by Units 1 through 3 was 168 times that of the Hiroshima bomb, according to the Japanese government report to the IAEA, an international organization which promotes nuclear power.

Very high levels of accumulated radioactive cesium have been detected in the mud of hundreds of reservoirs used to irrigate farmland in Fukushima Prefecture, where agriculture is a key industry: here.

”As if the hazards at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant needed to worsen, more highly radioactive water has leaked in one of the reactors. Wayne looks at growing international unease in the aftermath of the meltdown and the surrounding political winds. Colin follows up with Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry executive and now chief engineer at the Fairewinds organization“: here.

Fukushima disaster, USS Ronald Reagan sailors, and Alaskan ringed seals: here.

As the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake approaches, new studies of the ongoing effects of the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown show that the disaster is far from over: here.

Illegal nuclear dumping in Shiga raises alarms: Culprits not ID’d; 8,700 tons of cesium-tainted chips missing — The Japan Times: here.

U.S. Military personnel sickened after Fukushima face long recovery: here.

Three years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Japanese government is moving to restart the country’s nuclear plants, all of which remain shut down. A draft energy plan released late last month officially designates nuclear power as a long-term base power source, setting the stage for the resumption of nuclear plant operations: here.

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Smith’s longspurs, world’s most loving birds?


This video from Alaska says about itself:

5 Sep 2013

© 2013 Jared Hughey
All Rights Reserved

The Smith’s Longspur (Calcarius pictus), one of the least studied songbirds in North America, breeds on the arctic tundra and has become a species of conservation concern. I spent the summer working as a field technician for Heather Craig, a Master’s student at University of Alaska Fairbanks who is studying the breeding ecology of this polygynandrous species in the foothills of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska.

From eNature blog in the USA:

The Smith’s Longspur May Be Nature’s Champion Lover

Posted on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 by eNature

Are you the type that has an insatiable appetite for lusty affairs?

Do you seek the same qualities in a partner?

Then you’ll probably enjoy the story of the Smith’s Longspur. This bird’s 70’s swinging style is enough to make even Hugh Hefner blush.

Small like a sparrow, the Smith’s Longspur spends its summers in Alaska and Canada and its winters in the Midwest and the South, often congregating in open fields.

In terms of range, then, it’s a lot like some other species. What sets the Smith’s Longspur apart is its astonishing libido.

At the peak of the spring mating season, the typical Smith’s Longspur copulates more than 350 times a week. The females solicit these encounters, and the males cooperate roughly half the time. Otherwise the creatures are resting and refueling.

You can always plan eNature’s Mating Game to find what creature you most resemble in love.

John James Audubon named the Smith’s Longspur after his friend Gideon B. Smith.

More about the Smith’s Longspur is here.

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North American polar vortex disturbs Scandinavian bears’ hibernation


This video from Alaska is called Katmai National Park Bears: Brown Bear Hibernation.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Polar vortex over US brings abnormally mild weather to Scandinavia

Weather system disrupts flora and fauna in Nordic countries, with bears reportedly emerging from hibernation

Jessica Aldred

Friday 10 January 2014 17.11 GMT

The freezing polar vortex that has gripped the US has extended an abnormally mild winter in Scandinavia and disrupted the seasonal patterns of flora and fauna.

The weather system that brought snow, ice and record low temperatures to many parts of the United States this week left Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavia much warmer than normal.

On the back of a generally mild winter, there have been reports of bears emerging early from hibernation in Finland, changes in the behaviour of migratory birds off the coast of Sweden and plants appearing earlier than normal in Norway.

Scandinavia and Russia’s cold weather during the winter comes from a high-pressure system that keeps warmer, more humid air and low-pressure systems with wind and rain from coming up from the Atlantic Ocean.

The weakening of the jetstream that holds this in place has allowed cold air to spill further south into much of the United States and Canada, while bringing above-average temperatures to parts of Europe.

The knock-on effects of the vortex follow one of the mildest Decembers in a century in Nordic countries. Ketil Isaksen, a scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, said the country had been 4.2C above the mean temperature for December with parts of Oslo and south-eastern Norway experiencing the third warmest December on record. “It was very unusual to see no snow in large areas where it is normal in December. Only in the mountains and certain parts of Norway could you find snow.”

Much of the precipitation in lowland and populated areas had fallen as rain instead of snow, he said. “In general it was a very wet December. Large parts of Norway had up to three times as much rain as normal and the country as a whole had 180% more than average.”

Finland too has seen heavy rain, with flooding in western coastal areas and the majority of Finland’s lakes containing record volumes of water. Temperatures exceeded their normal seasonal average by 4-5C nationwide, with Helsinki and southern Finland recording the mildest second half of December in 30 years.

Temperatures in parts of Sweden have fluctuated greatly, at Nikkaluokta falling from 4.7C on 3 December to -40.8C on 9 December, then rising two days later to 7.7C. Many locations measured their warmest December temperatures on record. “In the north, winter has arrived, but in the south it’s autumn according to the meteorological definition,” the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said.

The rainy weather in Finland has reportedly disrupted the winter slumbers of many bears, bringing them out of hibernation early. Heavy rains and high waters may have invaded some dens, forcing the animals to seek new shelter.

Prof Jon Swenson of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, leader of the Scandinavian bear project, said he was worried about the indirect effects of the warmer weather. “If you go down into southern Europe, it’s warmer, and there are some bears that don’t hibernate.

“It doesn’t seem to be harmful not to hibernate,” he said. “What we are afraid of is that it means there will be more thawing periods … this really stresses the berry-producing plants. This can cause some mortality, and can have a very adverse effect on berry production. And that’s what the bears survive on in the autumn, and what they use to get them through the winter. So the results of this mild weather won’t be seen for some time.”

Last week, the local Norwegian newspaper Sunnmørsposten published reader photographs of daffodils emerging as early as 14 December as well as crocuses, daisies, dandelions and honeysuckle.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Norway chief executive, Nina Jensen, said she was “cautious about drawing conclusions from one mild winter into specific changes in nature”, but there were signals that changes were happening.

“We are definitely seeing plants like bluebells flowering that wouldn’t come out until spring, and birds singing that wouldn’t normally be at this time of year. There are quite obvious changes in the growth season, plant growth and migratory bird routes and timing. The flip side of this warmer winter is that we will also have an increasing threat of harmful introduced organisms, such as the wild boar or ticks that thrive in warmer temperatures.”

Pål Hermansen, a wildlife photographer based in Oslo, said: “It’s the smaller things where you see it most, especially butterflies and other insects. The combination of ‘proper winters’ with lots of snow, alternating with winters like this one, makes everything very unstable. In the 30 years I’ve been working we’ve seen butterfly populations reduce by 80-90%. We’re now seeing mosquitos and ticks during the winter, which is unheard of. Ticks are spreading much further north than they ever were before.”

Stephen Menzie, an ornithologist working at Falsterbo Bird Observatory – a migration point in south-west Sweden – said it was “certainly true” that milder weather this year had played a part in delaying the southbound migration of many species.

“We had one day in November when we ringed over 800 birds, compared to the same period last year when we struggled to catch double figures on most days.”

Additional reporting by Ben McPherson in Oslo

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Alaska’s Rat Island, a bird island again


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

Achieving Balance: Anacapa Island Ten Years After the Removal of the Black Rat

6 March 2013

Ten years after removing nonnative rats the ecosystem on Anacapa Island, including rare seabirds, is showing profound results of recovery.

Ashy storm-petrels are nesting on the island for the first time ever recorded and Cassin’s auklets have expanded their territories in the absence of rats as predators. Significantly, the number of Scripps’s murrelets nests has quadrupled with a 50 percent increase of eggs hatched.

Rats are known to have negative impacts to island ecosystems. Rats are the most significant cause of bird extinctions on islands and are estimated to be responsible for half of bird and reptile extinctions worldwide.

Nonnative black rats, which were first reported on Anacapa Island in the early 1900s, threatened critical breeding habitat for these rare seabirds. They were eating approximately 70 percent of the eggs of the once common Scripps’s murrelet, a state-listed threatened species. They also preyed upon native deer mice, reptiles, insects, intertidal invertebrates, and plants.

From Wildlife Extra:

Rat Island cleared of rats after 230 year infestation

Rat Island is officially rat free

October 2013. Biologists have confirmed that Rat Island, a remote island in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, is now rat-free for the first time for 230 years. The report comes after two years of careful field monitoring at Rat Island, where the invasive predator caused major declines on native bird populations by preying on eggs and chicks and altered the native ecosystem in numerous ways.

Largest rat eradication in Northern Hemisphere

Restoring habitat on Rat Island to benefit native wildlife is the largest rat eradication ever undertaken in the Northern Hemisphere and the first in Alaska. The eradication of the non-native rats took place in September of 2008 after four years of planning. The restoration of the 10-square-mile island was accomplished by Island Conservation, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

7,000 acres reclaimed for wildlife

“Rat Island is the most ambitious restoration effort we’ve undertaken on a refuge island, and we couldn’t have done it without our partners,” said Geoff Haskett, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Nearly 7,000 acres of wildlife refuge habitat has been reclaimed for native wildlife and that is an exciting result.

Giant song sparrow increases

Biologists have confirmed increased numbers of at least one native bird after just two rat-free nesting seasons on the island. The giant song sparrow, found only in the central and western Aleutian Islands, is now commonly occurring on Rat Island. Song sparrows were only rarely seen on the island prior to the restoration. Other species confirmed nesting on the island and expected to benefit from rat removal include black oystercatchers, glaucous-winged gulls, pigeon guillemots, rock sandpipers, common eiders, red faced cormorants and gray-crowned rosy finches. Over the long term, burrow nesting seabirds, driven from the island by rats, are expected to return and re-colonize the island.

“The presence of nesting birds is deeply gratifying,” says Bill Waldman, executive director of the non-profit Island Conservation. “Our field team was overjoyed to see so many song sparrows this year after working on the island for several years with only an occasional glimpse of one.”

Arrived in 1780

Though Rat Island is a remote island in the Aleutian chain about 1,300 miles west of Anchorage, invasive Norway rats arrived via a 1780′s shipwreck preying on native birds and altering the native vegetation during the ensuing 220 years. The Rat Island restoration is the most recent project in a long campaign to restore otherwise healthy seabird habitat in the Aleutians.

“We’re incredibly pleased to see this fresh new start for Rat Island,” said Randy Hagenstein, director of The Nature Conservancy in Alaska. “In the Aleutians, great clouds of seabirds normally fill the skies over islands teeming with life. The rats’ devastation had turned Rat Island into an eerily quiet place.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been at work in the Aleutian Islands, most of which lies within the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, restoring seabird habitat by eradicating non-native species for more than four decades. Non-native foxes have been taken off over 40 islands in the refuge including Rat Island but this was the first rat eradication for the refuge.

Stop Rats!

To ensure that invasive rats don’t spread to other globally significant seabird habitats in Alaska, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leads the ongoing Stop Rats! campaign to help ships, harbours, and towns to prevent the spread of rats.

“The history of Rat Island shows we need to prevent future disasters caused by invasive species. Alaska is almost entirely rat-free, and it’s absolutely vital we work together to keep it this way. Birds that build nests on the ground – such as ducks, seabirds and songbirds – simply can’t defend their eggs and chicks from non-native predators such as rats,” said Haskett, Alaska Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

300 successful rat eradication programmes

Island habitat restorations are occurring across the globe. Worldwide, there have been more than 300 successful eradications involving invasive rodents. Rats are responsible for about half of all bird and reptile extinctions on island habitats.

In 2008, the Rat Island Wildlife Habitat Restoration team spread grain-based bait pellets across the island from helicopters flying a GPS-guided flight path.

Two years of monitoring following international standards revealed no sign of rats. Although initial non-target mortality was higher than expected, no sign of any additional bird mortality was observed in 2010 and populations of affected bird species are already recovering on Rat Island.

With the rats gone, restoration partners and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association agree that an Aleut (Unangan), name would be a fitting tribute to the restored island. APIA is now taking steps to enact a name change. Once a name is selected, it will await approval from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.