Egrets, flamingos, crested larks of Kos, Greece


Black-winged stilt and little egrets, 15 May 2019

Still 15 May 2019 in the Alikes nature reserve on Kos island in Greece. A bit further than the black-winged stilts flock was this lone black-winged stilt and these little egrets.

Little egrets, 15 May 2019

Magpie, 15 May 2019

A magpie. A bird which we had not seen on Tilos.

Flamingos, 15 May 2019

On the other side of the lake, this flock of flamingos.

A zitting cisticola flying and singing.

Pheasant sound.

A clouded yellow butterfly.

Two swifts fly past.

A white wagtail on the footpath.

Blue-tailed damselflies in a mating tandem.

A grey heron flying over the lake.

Great reed warbler singing.

Moorhen, 15 May 2019

A juvenile moorhen.

Little egret, 15 May 2019

Yet another little egret.

Alikes, Kos, 15 May 2019

We walk on.

We arrive at the Aegean sea beach. The sound of migrating bee-eaters.

As we walk on, we pass a ditch with many tadpoles.

Crested lark, 15 May 2019

A crested lark on a rock.

Crested lark, on 15 May 2019

Then, another crested lark on the footpath.

Crested lark, Kos, 15 May 2019

At the end of our walk around the lake, a Sardinian warbler on a bush. This species seems to be less common here than on Tilos island.

As the evening fell, it turned out that not only barn swallows, but also a hooded crow and a female house sparrow drank from the swimming pool.

During the night, scops owl sound.

The next day, 16 May, we left Kos and Greece. We won’t forget the wildlife of Tilos and Kos islands!

Donald Trump’s lethal prisons for immigrants


Dead immigrant Johana Medina Leon, via Facebook: diversidadsinfronteraz (Diversidad Sin Fronteras)

By Niles Niemuth in the USA:

Three immigrants die in US custody in three days

6 June 2019

Three immigrants died in US custody in the three days between Saturday, June 1, and Monday June 3.

There is far more involved in these and many other deaths of immigrants than tragic oversights by individual agents or mismanagement by particular detention centers. It is US government policy that innocent people—men, women and children—should suffer and die in order to discourage others fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries from seeking refuge in the United States. The risks are calibrated to outweigh any “pull factors” that attract workers to make the harrowing and often deadly trek through Central America and across the Mexican desert into the US.

Johana Medina Leon, a 25-year-old transgender asylum seeker from El Salvador, died Saturday at the Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, after being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody for nearly two months. Medina Leon had been held at the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, a detention facility half an hour north of El Paso operated on behalf of the federal government by the for-profit Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The Otero facility is notorious for reports of assault, sexual harassment and medical neglect.

According to the Nation, Medina Leon had spent months in Juarez on the Mexican side of the border waiting for her asylum claim to be heard. She was forced to remain in limbo in Mexico due to new restrictions implemented by the Trump administration before she was finally admitted to the US on April 11 by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and transferred to ICE custody several days later.

Despite repeated complaints of ill health, Medina Leon did not receive medical attention until she complained of chest pains and requested an HIV test on May 28. She tested positive for the disease and was transferred to the hospital. ICE quickly processed her case and approved her for release on parole. Four days later she was dead.

Early Sunday morning, a 33-year-old man from El Salvador died after being detained by CBP agents near the border in Roma, Texas. An official statement notes that agents called Emergency Medical Services after the man began to suffer from what appeared to be a seizure. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

On Monday, a 40-year-old woman from Honduras died after she was arrested by CBP officers for crossing the border in Eagle Pass, Texas, outside the official port of entry. The woman collapsed at a Border Patrol facility and an ambulance was called to take her to a hospital, where she died.

Medina Leon and the still unidentified man and woman join six immigrant children who have died in federal detention since September. They are all victims of the Trump administration’s war on immigrants.

Internal ICE documents published this week by the Young Turks news website show that agency administrators were aware that multiple deaths in ICE custody were entirely preventable. They show, for example, that ICE agents have repeatedly failed to treat detainees for drug and alcohol withdrawal, leading to unnecessary suffering.

A memo sent on December 3, 2018, by an ICE supervisor to acting Deputy Director of ICE Matthew Albace outlines 18 cases where detainees where subjected to preventable harm, resulting in three deaths. ICE Health Service Corps “is severely dysfunctional and unfortunately preventable harm and death to detainees has occurred,” the supervisor noted.

The supervisor wrote that many detainees with serious mental illness were simply ignored, highlighting the case of Efrain De La Rosa, who committed suicide after a dozen notifications that he was suffering from suicidal ideation and psychosis. Such reports were routinely ignored, the memo’s author noted. Despite the warnings, De La Rosa was not given any medication and instead placed in solitary confinement, resulting in his death. The memo stated that De La Rosa “could have been saved.”

Immigrants are being subjected to inhumane treatment all along the line, guaranteeing that there will be more deaths.

A Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s report found that 900 immigrants had been crammed into a facility designed to hold just 125 people. At the Paso Del Norte Processing Center in Texas, detainees in one cell were seen to be standing on the toilet in order to get breathing space and make room for others.

Meanwhile, children are being forced to sleep on concrete floors in cells designed for adults or on the ground outside at Border Patrol stations as they await transfer to detention centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). NBC News reported this week that 37 migrant children spent between 23 and 39 hours in a van last July as they waited to be reunited with their parents after having been torn from them as part of the Trump administration’s family separation policy.

Increasing the hardships faced by children, the administration has directed the HHS to end services in migrant shelters which are “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety”, including English language courses, free legal aid and recreation programs.

Pastor Betty Rendón

Less than a month after being held at gunpoint and kidnapped in her home by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents, Betty Rendón, a grandmother, wife and aspiring Lutheran pastor was deported to Colombia last Tuesday, May 28, along with her husband, Carlos Hincapié. The couple had resided in their Chicago home for over 10 years before ICE agents detained them last month: here.

Honeybees, more intelligent than thought


This 5 June 2019 video is called Bees can link symbols to numbers, study finds.

From RMIT University in Australia:

Bees can link symbols to numbers, study finds

June 5, 2019

We’ve learned bees can understand zero and do basic math, and now a new study shows their tiny insect brains may be capable of connecting symbols to numbers.

Researchers have trained honeybees to match a character to a specific quantity, revealing they are able to learn that a symbol represents a numerical amount.

It’s a finding that sheds new light on how numerical abilities may have evolved over millennia and even opens new possibilities for communication between humans and other species.

The discovery, from the same Australian-French team that found bees get the concept of zero and can do simple arithmetic, also points to new approaches for bio-inspired computing that can replicate the brain’s highly efficient approach to processing.

The RMIT University-led study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Associate Professor Adrian Dyer said while humans were the only species to have developed systems to represent numbers, like the Arabic numerals we use each day, the research shows the concept can be grasped by brains far smaller than ours.

“We take it for granted once we’ve learned our numbers as children, but being able to recognise what ‘4’ represents actually requires a sophisticated level of cognitive ability,” Dyer said.

“Studies have shown primates and birds can also learn to link symbols with numbers, but this is the first time we’ve seen this in insects.

“Humans have over 86 billion neurons in our brains, bees have less than a million, and we’re separated by over 600 million years of evolution.

“But if bees have the capacity to learn something as complex as a human-made symbolic language, this opens up exciting new pathways for future communication across species.”

Mini brains, maximum potential: what the bees learned

Studies have shown that a number of non-human animals have been able to learn that symbols can represent numbers, including pigeons, parrots, chimpanzees and monkeys.

Some of their feats have been impressive — chimpanzees were taught Arabic numbers and could order them correctly, while an African grey parrot called Alex was able to learn the names of numbers and could sum the quantities.

The new study for the first time shows that this complex cognitive capacity is not restricted to vertebrates.

The bee experiment was conducted by Dr Scarlett Howard, formerly a PhD researcher in the Bio Inspired Digital Sensing-Lab (BIDS-Lab) at RMIT and now a fellow at the Research Center on Animal Cognition, University of Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier, CNRS.

In a Y-shaped maze, individual bees were trained to correctly match a character with a number of elements.

They were then tested on whether they could apply their new knowledge to match the character to various elements of the same quantity (in the same way that ‘2’ can represent two bananas, two trees or two hats).

A second group was trained in the opposite approach, matching a number of elements with a character.

While both could grasp their specific training, the different groups were unable to reverse the association and work out what to do when tested with the opposite (character-to-number or number-to-character).

“This suggests that number processing and understanding of symbols happens in different regions in bee brains, similar to the way separate processing happens in the human brain,” Howard said.

“Our results show honeybees are not at the same level as the animals that have been able to learn symbols as numbers and perform complex tasks.

“But the results have implications for what we know about learning, reversing tasks, and how the brain creates connections and associations between concepts.

“Discovering how such complex numerical skills can be grasped by miniature brains will help us understand how mathematical and cultural thinking evolved in humans, and possibly, other animals.”

Studying insect brains offers intriguing possibilities for the future design of highly efficient computing systems, Dyer said.

“When we’re looking for solutions to complex problems, we often find that nature has already done the job far more elegantly and efficiently,” he said.

“Understanding how tiny bee brains manage information opens paths to bio-inspired solutions that use a fraction of the power of conventional processing systems.”

The paper, “Symbolic representation of numerosity by honeybees (Apis mellifera): Matching characters to small quantities” with co-authors Aurore Avarguès-Weber (University of Toulouse), Jair Garcia (School of Media and Communication, RMIT) and Professor Andrew Greentree (ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale Biophotonics, RMIT), is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Saving Australian koalas from climate change


This 2015 video is called Amazing Animals: Wild Life Of Koalas.

From the University of Sydney in Australia:

Koala drinking stations can reduce impact of climate change

Expert calls for urgent action to conserve iconic Australian species

June 5, 2019

Summary: New research shows the koala will supplement its water needs from free-standing sources, raising hope that drinking stations can be an important strategy to support this and other species from the impacts of climate change.

A long-held view that koalas get all their hydration from eating leaves has been overturned by new research published today from Dr Valentina Mella and colleagues at the University of Sydney.

The study in PLOS ONE offers hope in the fight to conserve this threatened species, with researchers finding that koalas will regularly use artificial water stations, particularly during hot and dry conditions.

“Drinking stations could help koalas during heat and drought events and might help mitigate the effects of climate change”, said Dr Mella from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Dr Mella also said drinking stations could prove a useful strategy to support other arboreal folivores such as gliders and possums in Australia and sloths, lemurs and some monkeys on other continents.

Koala populations along Australia’s east coast have been declining due to lost habitat from deforestation, diseases such as chlamydia, attacks from feral animals, fire and vehicle collisions.

The Australian Department of Environment estimates that combined koala populations in Queensland and New South Wales declined from 326,400 in 1990 to 188,000 in 2010, a drop of 42 percent.

However, koalas are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, suffering heat stress, Dr Mella said, and because the trees they rely on are affected by temperature and rainfall change.

Koalas can’t simply eat more leaves to compensate for reduced water content in their favourite food. This is because koalas are limited in their food intake by leaf toxins.

“It is predicted that increased CO2 emissions will increase the level of phenolics and tannins in eucalyptus leaves,” Dr Mella said. “This means koalas will need alternative strategies to find water — and that’s where we can help with drinking stations.”

Dr Mella has been conducting field work in Gunnedah in western NSW where, in 2009, a heat wave killed an estimated quarter of Gunnedah’s koala population.

“We weren’t sure if the water stations could be used to mitigate the impact of extreme weather events,” Dr Mella said. “But our results clearly show koalas will regularly use these stations to supplement their water needs.”

During the first 12 months of the study, Dr Mella and her team recorded 605 visits to 10 pairs of water stations, with 401 of these visits resulting in koalas drinking.

They found that the total number of visits and total time drinking doubled during summer compared to other seasons.

“Frequent access to water may be fundamental for koalas to assist thermoregulation when temperatures are high,” Dr Mella said.

Initial findings about koalas‘ drinking behaviour were announced in 2017 with videos that showed widespread use of water by the iconic mammals, particularly during drier periods.

The release of these findings prompted a successful fundraising campaign at the University to support further research into koala conservation that raised more than $150,000.

Dr Mella’s study has influenced the direction of state and national koala research, with water supplementation adopted by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, included as a specific feature of the NSW Koala Research Strategy and used by the North West Local Land Services as a central concept to koala management on private properties.

These results also prompted Campbelltown council in Adelaide to install drinking stations for koalas.

“We need to monitor how effective these are — as the stations can also attract feral animals and predators. Fortunately, we haven’t seen any deaths from predators near the drinking stations in Gunnedah”, Dr Mella said.

To mitigate this risk, her team has now developed drinking stations that are inaccessible to ground-based predators.

“Our next steps will be to see if disease, such as chlamydia, influences koala drinking behaviour,” Dr Mella said. “And we will also monitor individual koalas to examine these drinking behaviours over a longer time period.”

Poo transplants are helping expand koala microbiomes, allowing the marsupials to eat a wider range of eucalypts and possibly survive habitat loss. A study featuring University of Queensland researchers has analysed and altered microbes in koalas’ guts, finding that a faecal transplant may influence what species of eucalypt koalas can feed on: here.