Lance-tailed manakins’ display in Panama

This video says about itself:

Trio of Manakins Practices Courtship Displays – Apr. 11, 2017

When there are no females around to entertain, the male Lance-tailed Manakins on Isla Boca Brava hone their courtship skills by practicing dance displays together.

Watch live here.

This cam shows one display perch in a population of Lance-tailed Manakins on Isla Boca Brava, Chiriquí, Panamá, that has been monitored intensively since 1999.


Donald Trump’s wars update

This video from the USA says about itself:

Afghans Respond to Insult of U.S. Dropping Massive Bomb: “Would a Mother Do That to Any Children?”

14 April 2017

The “Mother of All Bombs” is the nickname for the bomb the U.S. dropped Thursday on Afghanistan, but our guests in Kabul say civilians there are asking if any mother would conduct such an attack.

Basir Bita is a mentor with Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, and Dr. Hakim is a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for over a decade. He works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war. We are also joined by Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who is just back from Afghanistan, and Wazhmah Osman, professor of media and communication at Temple University and member of the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association.

By Bill Van Auken and David North in the USA:

14 April 2017

The US military’s dropping of the largest non-nuclear weapon in its arsenal on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border Thursday is a crime against humanity. Even as the US government and the mass media were engaged in a lying propaganda campaign denouncing Syria and Russia for the use of poison gas, the American military was positioning the monstrous weapon—the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB)—for use in Afghanistan. …

The weapon, officially known as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, designated by the Pentagon as MOAB, or “mother of all bombs,” detonates nearly 20,000 pounds of explosives in mid-air, igniting the atmosphere and creating a massive concussion that obliterates everything within a radius of 1,000 yards. Its shock waves are capable of killing people within a radius of up to 1.7 miles. The impact of the explosion is the equivalent of a nuclear weapon for those caught in the target zone.

Designed for use in the “shock and awe” campaign unleashed with the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, it was never utilized in combat over the course of 14 years. Even as the Pentagon carried out a war and occupation that claimed some one million Iraqi lives, the weapon was seen as too destructive to serve US strategic purposes.

NBC News in the United States led its evening news on April 13 with an “exclusive” report that the Trump administration is prepared to carry out a “preemptive strike with conventional weapons” if it believes North Korea is about to conduct another nuclear weapons test: here.

Australia: Amid a media barrage to try to drum up public support for US-led military attacks on Syria and North Korea, the corporate media and the Turnbull government have launched an extraordinary vilification campaign against academics seeking to expose the lies behind last week’s US cruise missile strike on Syria: here.

How young eels swim, new research

This video from Pennsylvania in the USA says about itself:

Stocking Susquehanna tributaries with baby eels to improve water quality, Buchart Horn, York PA

27 June 2011

As part of the Sunbury, PA Riverfront Improvement Project, Buchart Horn proposed baby eels be re-introduced into the Susquehanna River watershed. Freshwater mussels filter and improve water quality. Freshwater mussel larvae piggyback on ells. Eels extend mussel habitat. More eels equals more mussels. More mussels equals cleaner water.

From Science News:

Young eels use magnetic ‘sixth sense’ to navigate

Ability explains how fish find ocean currents that sweep them to Europe’s rivers

By Laurel Hamers

12:06pm, April 13, 2017

Earth’s magnetic field helps eels go with the flow.

The Gulf Stream fast-tracks young European eels from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea to the European rivers where they grow up. Eels can sense changes in Earth’s magnetic field to find those highways in a featureless expanse of ocean — even if it means swimming away from their ultimate destination at first, researchers report in the April 13 Current Biology.

European eels (Anguilla anguilla) mate and lay eggs in the salty waters of the Sargasso Sea, a seaweed-rich region in the North Atlantic Ocean. But the fish spend most of their adult lives living in freshwater rivers and estuaries in Europe and North Africa.

Exactly how eels make their journey from seawater to freshwater has baffled scientists for more than a century, says Nathan Putman, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Miami.

The critters are hard to track. “They’re elusive,” says study coauthor Lewis Naisbett-Jones, a biologist now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “They migrate at night and at depth. The only reason we know they spawn in the Sargasso Sea is because that’s where the smallest larvae have been collected.”

Some other marine animals, like sea turtles and salmon, tune in to subtle changes in Earth’s magnetic field to help them migrate long distances. To test whether eels might have the same ability, Putman and his colleagues placed young European eels in a 3,000-liter tank of saltwater surrounded by copper wires. Running electric current through the wires simulated the magnetic field experienced at different places on Earth.

With no electric current, the eels didn’t swim in any particular direction. But when the magnetic field matched what eels would experience in the Sargasso Sea, the fish mostly swam to the southwest corner of their tank. That suggests the eels might use the magnetic field as a guide to help them move in a specific direction to leave their spawning grounds.

Swimming southwest from the Sargasso Sea seems counterintuitive for an eel trying to ultimately go northeast, Putman says. But computer simulations revealed that that particular bearing would push eels into the Gulf Stream, whisking them off to Europe. Catching a more circuitous ride on a current is probably more efficient for the eels than swimming directly across the North Atlantic, says Putman.

Magnetic fields could help eels stay the course, too. A magnetic field corresponding to a spot in the North Atlantic further along the eels’ route to Europe sent the eels in the tank heading northeast. That’s the direction they’d need to go to keep following the Gulf Stream to Europe.

The researchers did see a fair amount of variation in how strongly individual eels responded to magnetic fields. But that makes sense, says Julian Dodson, a biologist at Laval University in Quebec City who wasn’t part of the study. The Gulf Stream is such a powerful current that the eels could wriggle in a spread of directions to get swept up in its flow.

Now, the researchers are looking at whether adult eels use a similar magnetic map to get back to the Sargasso Sea. Adults follow a meandering return route that might take more than a year to complete, previous research suggests (SN Online: 10/5/16). But whether there’s some underlying force that guides them remains to be seen.

Starling murmurations

This video says about itself:

Dance with me….60.000 starlings in flight with two falcons hunting them.

Filmed by Tuur Hofman in March 2011 near Utrecht, the Netherlands.

He left just the RAW data on YouTube. A pity to leave it like that.

I resampled this file, did some colour and contrast correction, adding music to this marvelous example of behaviour in nature.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Monty Starling‘s flying circus

Friday 14th April 2017

Red Arrows, eat your hearts out and vacate the skies for the starling marvel of murmurations is about and has wholly bewitched thousands – including PETER FROST

ISN’T it nice that the evenings are at last starting to get lighter? Since the clocks sprang forward an hour a week or two ago, I’ve been out in the evenings enjoying the blossom, the spring flowers and that wonderful, low-sinking sun that shows the countryside in the best light.

Recently those slightly brighter twilights have brought me some delightful and, indeed, spectacular nature sightings.

The low evening sun had thrown the old medieval ridge and furrow field patterns into bold relief. But it was what was happening in the sky above that took my breath away. What I saw was one of the most remarkable phenomena in the entire animal kingdom. It is called a murmuration.

A murmuration is the delightful term used to describe a huge flock of starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) all swooping, looping and diving in unison. The birds made incredible patterns in the sky as they performed their tightly packed aerial ballet. It’s completely breathtaking to witness.

Murmurations can involve many hundreds of birds or even many thousands. Some of the biggest of these flight displays have been known to include over a million birds.

The starlings perform these amazing airborne spectaculars for many reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers — predator birds of prey such as kestrels, sparrowhawks, peregrine falcons, buzzards and other raptors find it hard to target one bird in the middle of a hypnotising flock of thousands.

Starlings form the murmurations as they gather over their roosting site — and perform their wheeling stunts before they roost for the night. They like to gather in large roosts to keep warm and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas.

Smaller than blackbirds, with a short tail, pointed head and triangular wings, starlings appear black at a distance but when seen closer they are glossy with a sheen of purples and greens.

Their flight is fast and direct and they walk and run confidently on the ground. It is one of our commonest garden birds having a love-hate relationship with gardeners.

It consumes many garden insect pests but can also ruin fruit harvests picking at buds and stealing ripe soft fruit. Most starlings are residents, and most never leave us.

However, this number almost doubles every winter with the arrival of thousands more birds from Europe. Nigel Farage must be doing his nut as the birds wheel and turn triumphantly over Kent after crossing the channel to complete their journey.

Surely, Ukip should be up on Beachy Head with a flight of trained hawks to see the immigrants off. Have they learnt nothing from Donald Trump?

These migrations account for the huge increase in the starling population which occurs when birds from northern Europe arrive to spend the winter in Britain because the weather is relatively mild here and food and shelter are easier to find.

They begin to arrive during September but the majority of starlings will arrive in October, before our winter weather really sets in. Most of the birds coming to Britain are from Scandinavia but one individual, caught in Bedfordshire, had been ringed the previous spring in Lithuania, over a thousand miles away.

Despite the incredible size of today’s flocks, starling numbers are just a fraction of what they used to be. Huge starling flocks used to gather over industrial cities like Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast.

Today, you have a much better chance of seeing the birds and their spectacular mumurations over rural areas.

For the last few years huge flocks have attracted a great deal of attention at Gretna Green. The police had to control the traffic as people flock to see the amazing spectacle.

Likewise tens of thousands of starlings can be seen swirling above Brighton’s beaches and piers each late autumn.

Despite the evidence of these huge flocks, the starling population has fallen by over 80 per cent in recent years, meaning its decline has put it on the critical Red List of British birds most at risk.

As with so many other species, the decline is believed to be due to the loss of permanent pasture, modern farming practices and increased use of farm chemicals. A shortage of food and nesting sites in many parts of Britain also play their part in the decline.

Starlings have an amazing ability to change their internal organs throughout the year as food supplies alter. During the breeding season, starlings rely on invertebrates, especially the larvae of crane flies, a real garden pest known as leatherjackets.

They harvest them from short grassland and meadow. Gardeners love the bird when it clears garden lawns of leatherjackets. In the summer and autumn, they take more seeds and berries including soft fruit from suburban gardens and that isn’t so popular with those same gardeners.

This seasonal shift in diet is matched by a lengthening of their intestine to cope with the increased plant material, which is harder to digest.

Starlings will readily use bird tables and feeders throughout the year. In fact, quite a few garden birdwatchers complain about starlings because they seem to clean out a feeding station in minutes.

Very occasionally you may spot a white, or albino, starling. Beautiful birds, but sadly they don’t usually last too long as their colour makes them easy targets for birds of prey.

This albino starling can often be confused with a very rare visitor to Britain, the rosy starling (Pastor roseus). Sometimes known as the pink starling, one has been causing much excitement among birdwatchers and photographers in the last week or so by taking up residence in Crawley.

London twitchers have been out in force to see the pink and black bird that has made the 5,500 mile journey from its winter home in India and Sri Lanka.