Pintail, other ducks, Naardermeer, Netherlands


Male pintail ducks, Naardermeer, 16 October 2022

Male pintail ducks, Naardermeer, 16 October 2022

The 16 October boat trip in the Naardermeer nature reserve landed at the duck decoy. There, these male pintail ducks swam.

Pintails, domestic ducks, mallards, Naardermeer, 16 October 2022

Pintails, domestic ducks, mallards, Naardermeer, 16 October 2022

Sometimes, female pintail ducks joined them. Sometimes, mallards and domestic ducks.

Pintail ducks, common pochards, Naardermeer, 16 October 2022

Pintail ducks, common pochards, Naardermeer, 16 October 2022

Sometimes, common pochards.

There was also a kingfisher at the duck decoy.

Herons, other birds, Naardermeer, Netherlands


Grey heron, Naardermeer, 16 October 2022

Grey heron, Naardermeer, 16 October 2022

On 16 October, this grey heron flew over the beautiful Naardermeer nature reserve in the Netherlands.

I went along on a boat trip in the Nardermeer then. The trip was organised by the conservation organisation Natuurmonumenten, owners of the Naardermeer.

Naardermeer, trees, 16 October 2022

Naardermeer, trees, 16 October 2022

The Naardermeer is a lake with many marshy areas.

Naardermeer, birch trees, 16 October 2022

Naardermeer, birch trees, 16 October 2022

We saw this great egret.

Great egret, Naardermeer, 16 October 2022

Great egret, Naardermeerm 16 October 2022

Other birds that morning: an osprey, goshawk, common snipes. We heard a Cetti’s warbler.

Raptor migration, Shuamta, Georgia, September 2022


Shuamta raptor count point, Georgia, September 2022

Shuamta raptor count point, Georgia, 11 September 2022

This photo shows the raptor migration observation point in Shuamta, Georgia. It is not far from Batumi city, like the other hilltop observation point Sakhalvasho which is a few kilometres more to the west.

On 11 September, many black kites passing.

Shuamta raptor count point, honey buzzard, Georgia, 11 September 2022

Shuamta raptor count point, honey buzzard, Georgia, 11 September 2022

Of course, also honey buzzards again.

Shuamta raptor count point, honey buzzard flying, Georgia,11 September 2022

Shuamta raptor count point, honey buzzard flying, Georgia,11 September 2022

Bee-eaters, not officially counted, like usually.

Booted eagles, who are counted.

A painted lady butterfly.

Two sparrowhawks overhead.

A snake eagle circling.

In a flock of bee-eaters, an Alpine swift.

A long-legged buzzard.

A hummingbird hawk-moth.

Two hobbies.

Honey buzzards migrating, photos Georgia, September 2022


Honey buzzard, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

Honey buzzard, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

This photo shows a honey buzzard, landing on a branch near Sakhalvasho bird migration watchpoint near Batumi in Georgia.

Honey buzzard lands, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

Honey buzzard lands, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

Honey buzzards are the most numerous species of the millions of birds migrating in autumn along the Black Sea coast of Georgia.

Honey buzzard landed, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

Honey buzzard landed, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

The honey buzzard finds out that the branch is a bit thin for its weight.

Honey buzzard flies, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

Honey buzzard flies, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

So, it flies away again.

Honey buzzards fly, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

Honey buzzards fly, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

If flies along with many fellow honey buzzards (sometimes also black kites and other birds of prey join in), circling in the air, to profit from thermals.

Honey buzzards flying, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

Honey buzzards flying, Sakhalvasho, September 2022

It flies with still more other birds.

Honey buzzards flying, near Sakhalvasho, September 2022

Honey buzzards flying, near Sakhalvasho, September 2022

And still more other birds.

Purple heron, red-backed shrike migration, Batumi Georgia


Purple herons, Batumi, 7 September 2022

Purple herons, Batumi, 7 September 2022

This 7 September 2022 photo shows purple herons migrating along the Black Sea coast near Batumi, Georgia.

Red-backed shrike, Batumi, 7 September 2022

Red-backed shrike, Batumi, 7 September 2022

These photos, also 7 September 2022, show a young red-backed shrike near the Black Sea coast near Batumi, Georgia.

Red-backed shrike, near Batumi, 7 September 2022

Red-backed shrike, near Batumi, 7 September 2022

Migrating birds near Batumi, Georgia photos


European roller, September 2022

European roller, September 2022

4/5 September 2022. At the Batumi Raptor Count point near Sakhalvasho village in Georgia.

Although it is called Raptor Count, also some non-raptor birds on their southwards autumn migration are counted. Like the European roller on the photo above. Hundreds of them flying daily past the counting point in these September times.

Most non-raptor bird species are not counted. Like bee-eaters, numerous and filling the air with their beautiful calls.

Gulls at the Black Sea, September 2022

Gulls at the Black Sea, September 2022

Lower in the Batumi area, closer to the Black Sea. Many gulls. Mostly yellow-legged gulls. Also at least one Armenian gull.

Greater short-toed lark, 5 September 2022

On the stony beach of Batumi city, not only wheatears, but also greater short-toed larks like this one.

Nightjar, Batumi park, 5 September 2022

Nightjar, Batumi city park, 5 September 2022

In Batumi city park, various nightjars like this one, resting during daytime, before migrating toward Africa again during the night.

Stay tuned for more posts about bird migration in Georgia!

Oldest giant ichthyosaur discovery


Cymbospondylus

Cymbospondylus

From ScienceDaily, 23 December 2021, by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in the USA:

The two-meter skull of a newly discovered species of giant ichthyosaur, the earliest known, is shedding new light on the marine reptiles’ rapid growth into behemoths of the Dinosaurian oceans, and helping us better understand the journey of modern cetaceans (whales and dolphins) to becoming the largest animals to ever inhabit the Earth.

While dinosaurs ruled the land, ichthyosaurs and other aquatic reptiles (that were emphatically not dinosaurs) ruled the waves, reaching similarly gargantuan sizes and species diversity. Evolving fins and hydrodynamic body-shapes seen in both fish and whales, ichthyosaurs swam the ancient oceans for nearly the entirety of the Age of Dinosaurs.

“Ichthyosaurs derive from an as yet unknown group of land-living reptiles and were air-breathing themselves,” says lead author Dr. Martin Sander, paleontologist at the University of Bonn and Research Associate with the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM). “From the first skeleton discoveries in southern England and Germany over 250 years ago, these ‘fish-saurians’ were among the first large fossil reptiles known to science, long before the dinosaurs, and they have captured the popular imagination ever since.”

Excavated from a rock unit called the Fossil Hill Member in the Augusta Mountains of Nevada, the well-preserved skull, along with part of the backbone, shoulder, and forefin, date back to the Middle Triassic (247.2-237 million years ago), representing the earliest case of an ichthyosaur reaching epic proportions. As big as a large sperm whale at more than 17 meters (55.78 feet) long, the newly named Cymbospondylus youngorum is the largest animal yet discovered from that time period, on land or in the sea. In fact, it was the first giant creature to ever inhabit the Earth that we know of.

“The importance of the find was not immediately apparent,” notes Dr. Sander, “because only a few vertebrae were exposed on the side of the canyon. However, the anatomy of the vertebrae suggested that the front end of the animal might still be hidden in the rocks. Then, one cold September day in 2011, the crew needed a warm-up and tested this suggestion by excavation, finding the skull, forelimbs, and chest region.”

The new name for the species, C. youngorum, honors a happy coincidence, the sponsoring of the fieldwork by Great Basin Brewery of Reno, owned and operated by Tom and Bonda Young, the inventors of the locally famous Icky beer which features an ichthyosaur on its label.

In other mountain ranges of Nevada, paleontologists have been recovering fossils from the Fossil Hill Member’s limestone, shale, and siltstone since 1902, opening a window into the Triassic. The mountains connect our present to ancient oceans and have produced many species of ammonites, shelled ancestors of modern cephalopods like cuttlefish and octopuses, as well as marine reptiles. All these animal specimens are collectively known as the Fossil Hill Fauna, representing many of C. youngorum’s prey and competitors.

C. youngorum stalked the oceans some 246 million years ago, or only about three million years after the first ichthyosaurs got their fins wet, an amazingly short time to get this big. The elongated snout and conical teeth suggest that C. youngorum preyed on squid and fish, but its size meant that it could have hunted smaller and juvenile marine reptiles as well.

The giant predator probably had some hefty competition. Through sophisticated computational modeling, the authors examined the likely energy running through the Fossil Hill Fauna’s food web, recreating the ancient environment through data, finding that marine food webs were able to support a few more colossal meat-eating ichthyosaurs. Ichthyosaurs of different sizes and survival strategies proliferated, comparable to modern cetaceans’ — from relatively small dolphins to massive filter-feeding baleen whales, and giant squid-hunting sperm whales.

Co-author and ecological modeler Dr. Eva Maria Griebeler from the University of Mainz in Germany notes, “due to their large size and resulting energy demands, the densities of the largest ichthyosaurs from the Fossil Hill Fauna including C. youngourum must have been substantially lower than suggested by our field census. The ecological functioning of this food web from ecological modeling was very exciting as modern highly productive primary producers were absent in Mesozoic food webs and were an important driver in the size evolution of whales.”

Whales and ichthyosaurs share more than a size range. They have similar body plans, and both initially arose after mass extinctions. These similarities make them scientifically valuable for comparative study. The authors combined computer modeling and traditional paleontology to study how these marine animals reached record-setting sizes independently.

“One rather unique aspect of this project is the integrative nature of our approach. We first had to describe the anatomy of the giant skull in detail and determine how this animal is related to other ichthyosaurs,” says senior author Dr. Lars Schmitz, Associate Professor of Biology at Scripps College and Dinosaur Institute Research Associate. “We did not stop there, as we wanted to understand the significance of the new discovery in the context of the large-scale evolutionary pattern of ichthyosaur and whale body sizes, and how the fossil ecosystem of the Fossil Hill Fauna may have functioned. Both the evolutionary and ecological analyses required a substantial amount of computation, ultimately leading to a confluence of modeling with traditional paleontology.”

They found that while both cetaceans and ichthyosaurs evolved very large body sizes, their respective evolutionary trajectories toward gigantism were different. Ichthyosaurs had an initial boom in size, becoming giants early on in their evolutionary history, while whales took much longer to reach the outer limits of huge. They found a connection between large size and raptorial hunting — think of a sperm whale diving down to hunt giant squid — and a connection between large size and a loss of teeth — think of the giant filter-feeding whales that are the largest animals ever to live on Earth.

Ichthyosaurs’ initial foray into gigantism was likely thanks to the boom in ammonites and jawless eel-like conodonts filling the ecological void following the end-Permian mass extinction. While their evolutionary routes were different, both whales and ichthyosaurs relied on exploiting niches in the food chain to make it really big.

“As researchers, we often talk about similarities between ichthyosaurs and cetaceans, but rarely dive into the details. That’s one way this study stands out, as it allowed us to explore and gain some additional insight into body size evolution within these groups of marine tetrapods,” says NHM’s Associate Curator of Mammalogy (Marine Mammals), Dr. Jorge Velez-Juarbe. “Another interesting aspect is that Cymbospondylus youngorum and the rest of the Fossil Hill Fauna are a testament to the resilience of life in the oceans after the worst mass extinction in Earth’s history. You can say this is the first big splash for tetrapods in the oceans.”

C. youngorum will be permanently housed at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where it is currently on view.