Whiskered auklets, new study


This video from Alaska says about itself:

Pelagic birding in the Aleutian Islands, 2012

Laysan Albatrosses were in view almost constantly. We encountered a few Black-footed Albatrosses during the Attu tour, but they were more common near Dutch Harbor. We saw over 15 Short-tailed Albatrosses, one of the major targets of the tours, over the course of both tours. On the way to Attu, two or three were seen between Buldir and Shemya Islands. There were three or four at Stalemate Bank, and on the return to Adak, we saw at least three more. Between Adak and Dutch Harbor, we saw five or more in Seguam Pass and four or more west of Herbert Island.

Other highlights included Whiskered Auklet (scattered throughout the islands, but the largest numbers were in Little Tanaga Strait east of Adak); hundreds of thousands of Least and Crested Auklets with the biggest concentration at the nesting colony at Sirius Point, Kiska Island; Red-legged Kittiwakes between Buldir and Shemya Island and at Stalemate Bank; Northern Fulmars, which like Laysan Albatross, were almost constantly in view, and we saw hundreds of thousands at Chagulak Island, one of their largest nesting colonies. We also saw 10 other species of alcids, Fork-tailed and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Long-tailed Jaeger, and other pelagic species.

Mammals seen included many sperm and killer whales, one humpback whale, and a pod of Baird’s beaked whales, and Dall’s porpoises.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office in the USA:

Whiskered auklets lack wanderlust, are homebodies instead

May 30, 2018

A new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances presents some of the best evidence that Whiskered Auklets are an outlier in the auklet family by not migrating and instead staying close to “home” (their breeding colonies) year-round. Most migratory birds lead two opposite lifestyles in the same year. During the breeding season a bird’s location is constrained and their habits are repetitive given a nest full of chicks that require food, warmth, and protection. For some birds it is the only time they congregate or otherwise come together. Comparatively, during the non-breeding season their only true task is to survive. Whether migratory or residential, as long as the bird makes it back to the breeding grounds to reproduce, they can go almost wherever they want. Whiskered Auklets are consistent through the year though and don’t wander far at all.

Carley Schacter and Ian Jones of Memorial University of Newfoundland used light-based archival geolocation tags on Whiskered Auklets in Buldir Island, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, to determine the locations of their full annual life cycle. The data they collected corroborated what researchers have long suspected. This species is unique in the auklet family for not migrating at all. Most seabirds roost on the water at night, but Whiskered Auklets stay in the vicinity of the breeding colony year-round and consistently return to roost at night on land. Such behavior may not only be unique to auklets, but to the entire seabirds group. How could this unusual adaptation have come about? Whiskered Auklets capitalize on the foraging habitat close to their breeding colony which reduces metabolic costs. Given the influence of tradeoffs on animal behavior and life history strategies, this foraging area could be a large contributor to their residential behavior.

But there are risks to this strategy as well. Lead author Carley Schacter notes, “While this non-migratory behavior is very interesting to us on a theoretical level, there are also important implications for the conservation and management of this most vulnerable of auklet species. Year-round residence near the breeding site (an area of high fishing and shipping traffic) makes Aleutian-breeding Whiskered Auklets even more exposed than previously thought to human threats such as oil/fuel spills and light attraction leading to fatal collisions with vessels. Their nocturnal roosting behavior also makes them especially vulnerable to introduced mammalian predators such as rats and foxes.”

“The authors found evidence for an almost unique adaptation of a seabird in a remote, difficult-to-work-in, and isolated environment”, adds Jeff Williams, Assistant Refuge Manager at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, who was not involved with this research. “We now know that Whiskered Auklets are particularly sensitive to human-caused disturbances (oil spills, light attraction, invasive species introductions etc.) and can incorporate this information into management planning.”

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Russian cuckoos invade Alaska


This video is called Common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus).

Unfortunately, after reading about the cuckoo research mentioned in this blog post, I would not be too surprised to soon see smears in the Rupert Murdoch and other corporate media, depicting these beautiful birds as supposedly mechanical clock cuckoos sent by Vladimir Putin to subvert the USA … after all, the Russia! Russia! screamers have already smeared the Black Lives Matter movement, the United States Green party, former Democratic chairperson Ms Donna Brazile, Senator Bernie Sanders, and so many others as ‘tools of the Kremlin’ for thinking independently of the establishment …

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA:

Russian cuckoo invasion spells trouble for Alaskan birds

May 7, 2018

Common cuckoos and oriental cuckoos in eastern Russia appear to be expanding their breeding range into western Alaska, where songbirds are naive to the cuckoos’ wily ways, researchers report. A new study suggests the North American birds could suffer significant losses if cuckoos become established in Alaska.

Like brown-headed cowbirds, cuckoos are “brood parasites”, laying their eggs in the nests of other species, said University of Illinois animal biology professor Mark Hauber, who led the new research with Vladimir Dinets of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Cuckoos time their egg-laying so that their chicks will hatch first. The chicks then kick the other eggs out of the nest, “thereby eliminating the entire reproductive success of their hosts”, Hauber said.

“Brood parasitism is a rare strategy among birds. Only about 1 percent of birds engage in it”, he said. “Obligate brood parasites do it always. They never build a nest, they never incubate the eggs, they never feed their chicks. Instead, they sneak their eggs into somebody else’s nest, forcing the foster parent to take care of the young.”

Birdwatchers and ornithologists occasionally report seeing oriental cuckoos and common cuckoos in Alaska, and Alaskan natural history museums already contain a handful of cuckoo specimens collected locally, Hauber said. These birds are likely traveling from sites in Beringia, in eastern Russia.

“We don’t have evidence of them breeding in Alaska, but it’s likely already occurring,” Hauber said. “We wanted to know whether the potential Alaskan hosts are ready for this cuckoo invasion.”

In the new study, researchers tested whether more than a dozen Alaskan bird species had evolved defenses to counter the cuckoos’ parasitic ways. Such defenses are common among bird species that frequently encounter brood parasites elsewhere.

“There are strategies such as hiding your nest, nesting at a time when the brood parasite is not around or attacking the brood parasite when it is in proximity to your nest”, Hauber said. “If that doesn’t work, you can abandon the nest with a cuckoo egg in it.”

Some birds will pierce the cuckoo eggs and toss them out of the nest, he said.

For the new study, the researchers put fake eggs in the nests of more than two dozen bird species nesting in Siberia and Alaska — outside the normal breeding range of the cuckoos. The eggs were either pale blue, like those of the redstart host of common cuckoos, or light gray-blue with brown spots, like the eggs of pipits that often are targets of common cuckoos and oriental cuckoos. The researchers tested each nest at least twice, once with each of the eggs, in random order. After losses from predation, the team collected data from 62 nests of 27 bird species.

“What we found was very straightforward,” Hauber said. “Out of 22 experiments that we ran in Siberia, 14 rejected the fake cuckoo eggs. But out of the 96 experiments that we ran in Alaska, only one pair rejected one of the fake cuckoo eggs.”

The Siberian birds are better at rejecting the cuckoo eggs perhaps because they have encountered the brood parasites before, Hauber said.

“But the North American hosts have no defenses against invading cuckoos. They will be parasitized”, he said.

How Alaskan fur seal pups migrate


This video from the USA says about itself:

13 June 2013

This video footage supplements NOAA‘s Northern Fur Seal K-3 Curriculum Activity 1.4, “Walk and Swim Like a Pinniped”, and shows harbor seals and northern fur seals on land and underwater to compare and contrast movement styles of different species of pinnipeds.

From the American Geophysical Union:

Ocean winds influence seal pup migration

February 13, 2018

Scientists have confirmed what native Alaskans have observed for centuries — maritime winds influence the travel patterns of northern fur seal pups. New research presented at the Ocean Sciences Meeting here today shows strong winds can potentially displace seal pups by hundreds of kilometers during their first winter migration.

Most northern fur seals breed on islands in the Bering Sea during the summer and embark on an eight-month-long journey to the North Pacific Ocean to forage for food in November and December of each year. For unexplained reasons, seal births have been declining there since the late 1970s, prompting increased research into the animals’ behavior. Researchers found many pups die during their initial migration from the Bering Sea to the North Pacific Ocean, but the rate at which this happens varies from year to year — and scientists are unsure why.

New research comparing the movements of individual seal pups during their migration with reconstructions of ocean surface winds shows that as wind speed increases, pups increasingly move downwind and to the right. The preliminary findings suggest surface winds could influence an individual pup’s displacement by hundreds of kilometers during their first winter migration.

It is unclear whether being blown downwind is helpful or harmful to the seal pups, but the results offer a new insight into environmental effects on seal survival, according to the researchers.

“They’re at the whims of what’s happening in the environment of the North Pacific Ocean”, said Noel Pelland, a physical oceanographer and National Research Council postdoctoral associate at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington, who will present the new research today at the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting, co-sponsored by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, The Oceanography Society and the American Geophysical Union.

Northern fur seals are among the most long-studied marine mammals because of their historical importance to the fur trade. They have been a staple food of native Alaskans for thousands of years and have been commercially harvested for their fur since Europeans arrived in Alaska in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the new research, Pelland and his colleagues analyzed data from more than 150 seal pups equipped with tags that allow satellites to track their movements. The researchers compared the pups’ movements to models of wind speed and intensity in the North Pacific from 1997 to 2015.

They found differences in the prevailing winds aligned with where the pups ended up. During years when strong winds blew from the west, the pups ended up farther east, in the Gulf of Alaska, by about January 1. But in years where winds were weaker and came from the north, the pups ended up farther south, closer to the Aleutian Islands.

The researchers are unsure which scenario is better for pup survival, but the results confirm anecdotal evidence of seal migration behavior observed by native inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands, Pelland said.

In 1892, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury sent Captain C. L. Hooper to the Aleutian Islands with instructions to gather as much information as he could about northern fur seals from the Aleuts who lived there and hunted them. The Aleuts consistently told Hooper seals always travel with a fair wind and disliked traveling against the wind.

“What’s cool is that with this project, we have this sophisticated technology that allows us this unprecedented look at the lives of individual animals, and what it allows us to do is quantify things that may have been known for millenia, by the people who’ve lived there and experienced this species”, Pelland said.

How Alaskan bears help plants


This video about Alaska is called The Land of Giant Bears.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Great scat! Bears — not birds — are the chief seed dispersers in Alaska

January 16, 2018

It’s a story of bears, birds and berries.

In southeastern Alaska, brown and black bears are plentiful because of salmon. Their abundance also means they are the primary seed dispersers of berry-producing shrubs, according to an Oregon State University study.

The OSU team used motion-triggered cameras to record bears, birds and small mammals eating red berries of devil’s club, and retrieved DNA in saliva left on berry stalks to identify the species and sex of the bears. Researchers found that bears, while foraging, can disperse through their scat about 200,000 devil’s club seeds per square kilometer per hour. Rodents then scatter and hoard those seeds, much like squirrels hoard acorns.

The study was published today in the journal Ecosphere.

In most ecosystems, birds generally are thought of as chief dispersers of seeds in berries, said Taal Levi, an ecologist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences and co-author on the study. The researchers found that birds accounted for only a small fraction of seed dispersal.

This is the first instance of a temperate plant being primarily dispersed by mammals through their gut, and suggests that bears may influence plant composition in the Pacific Northwest.

It was well-known that bears were dispersing seeds through their scat, Levi said, but it was not known that they were dispersing more seeds than birds, or the relative contribution of brown and black bears to seed dispersal, or whether the two species bears were eating berries at different times of the year.

“Devil’s club is extremely abundant in northern southeast Alaska, so it didn’t seem plausible that birds were dispersing all this fruit”, Levi said. “Bears are essentially like farmers. By planting seeds everywhere, they promote a vegetation community that feeds them.”

The researchers found that in the study area along the Chilkat and Klehini rivers in southeastern Alaska, brown bears dispersed the most seeds, particularly before salmon became widely available. They also found that after the brown bears switched from eating berries to salmon later in the season, black bears moved in and took over the role as principal seed dispersers. Black bears are subordinate to brown bears and avoid them.

The fruit on a devil’s club stalk is clustered into a cone containing berries. The researchers observed through the camera recordings that brown bears can swallow an estimated 350 to 400 berries in a single mouthful. Birds, on the other hand, consumed on average 76 berries per plant that they visited.

“That’s pretty remarkable,” Levi said. “When birds visit these shrubs, they take a few berries and fly off. They don’t eradicate the cones like a bear.”

Laurie Harrer, Levi’s co-author, swabbed devil’s club to retrieve environmental DNA from residual saliva left by animals and birds that ate the berries. Harrer, a master’s student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, analyzed the samples to determine that female brown bears ate more berries than male brown bears, female black bears ate more than male black bears and brown bears ate more than black bears.

Brown bears, also known as grizzlies, are extinct in Oregon and California and are nearly extinct in Washington.

“The indirect effect of salmon is that they support abundant bear populations that then disperse a lot of fruit”, Levi said. “We’ve lost the salmon-bear ecosystem that once dominated the Pacific Coast. That has implications for the plant community. These seed dispersal pathways through brown bears are all but eliminated. The degree to which black bears can fulfill that role is not clear.”

‘Abu Ghraib’ prison in Alaska


This video from the USA says about itself:

Guards paraded Alaska inmates naked on a ‘dog leash,’ report finds

5 October 2017

Correctional officers at the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, Alaska, subjected prisoners to sexual embarrassment and harassment, a state watchdog found.

From the New York Times in the USA:

Guards Paraded Alaska Inmates Naked on a ‘Dog Leash,’ Report Finds

By JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH

OCT. 4, 2017

Inmates at a state prison in Alaska were stripped naked in front of female prison staff members, walked naked on a “dog leash” and left without clothing or cover in cold, filthy cells for hours at a time, according to a report released by a state watchdog.

The report, released online last week and referring to events from a 10-day period in August 2013, provided a look at how correctional officers at the maximum-security Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward subjected prisoners to sexual embarrassment and harassment, as well as situations of extreme discomfort, seemingly as punishment for two incidents that had taken place earlier in the month.

The report, prompted by a complaint filed by an inmate, found that he and 11 other prisoners had been taken from their cells for reasons that were never officially explained, moved to a different location, unshackled and “ordered to strip naked in front of female staff.”

The complaint said the group was handcuffed again and walked nude on a “dog leash,” which the report identified as a cuff retainer, to another area of the prison while correctional officers ridiculed and laughed at them.

The inmate who filed the complaint said he was then placed naked in a cell that was filled with debris and feces, and had blood on the walls, and was left there for hours.

The report was completed and released by the office of the Alaska ombudsman, Kate Burkhart. The ombudsman’s office found that the complainant’s allegations were justified — meaning that the investigation established that they had occurred — and that the prison staff had violated federal and state laws in its treatment of the inmates.

“The allegations are so shocking that they are almost unbelievable,” Ms. Burkhart said in an interview Wednesday.

She said she had been startled by the egregiousness of the alleged violations upon reading the report this summer, when she was named ombudsman. “Proving that they occurred required that level of real in-depth investigation and thoroughness,” she added, when asked why the report took four years to be released.

The ombudsman’s office found that several other inmates had filed similar complaints. At least one said he had been left naked in a cell for 12 or more hours. Another reported that the cells were “probably 50 degrees at most” and that correctional officers were told they would be fired if they provided the inmates with clothing.

The initial inmate filed a grievance with the state Department of Corrections in August 2013. According to the inmate, the department assigned the same staff member who had supervised the punishments to investigate the complaint. That staff member, a lieutenant at the prison, also investigated the others’ grievances. (Names of inmates and prison staff members were redacted throughout the report.)

The lieutenant completed his investigation in October 2013. His report said that the inmate had been involved in a group protest on the evening of Aug. 5 and that he and the others were restrained and stripped, partly to “alleviate the security threat” posed by the prisoners’ misuse of their state-issued clothing.

The assistant superintendent of the prison upheld the lieutenant’s findings and rejected the inmates’ complaints, then subsequently denied their appeals.

When asked to explain how the inmates had “misused” state clothing, the assistant superintendent said that inmates had used it during the protest to yank plumbing fixtures from the wall.

He was unable to articulate how the inmate was intending to misuse his clothing again, the report said. No other written accounts of the episode, including the lieutenant’s, alluded to inmates misusing clothing.

Ombudsmen — government watchdogs established by state legislatures in Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska, Iowa and Arizona — have no punitive power, so the report’s findings do not carry the weight of law.

It made a series of sweeping recommendations, including that the Department of Corrections revise its policies on restraint devices such as handcuffs and those on strip and body cavity searches.

The report also recommended that the department begin recording staff interactions with body cameras, which Ms. Burkhart argued would protect inmates and prison staff alike.

The department declined to put in place several of the policies, the report found. Phone calls to the commissioner’s office Wednesday went unanswered.

Alaska’s corrections department has undergone several changes in leadership since 2013. A report released by the governor’s office in 2015, prompted by the deaths of seven prisoners, found that the department was in turmoil, with organizational failings, varied implementations of severe punishments and flaws in its internal investigation process. The next year, one of that report’s authors was chosen to lead the department, to the dismay of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association.

Ms. Burkhart said that given the time that had passed, many of the correctional officers involved in the episode were no longer working at the prison and that its administration had changed. Nonetheless, she said, the public “should be alarmed that this happened.”

She was not required to release the report publicly, but said she did so because the egregious behavior detailed in it deserved notice from public officials.

“The ombudsman doesn’t have enforcement power, but the governor and the legislature certainly do,” Ms. Burkhart said. “If there’s evidence that a state agency isn’t following the law, then putting the governor and the legislature on notice that it’s happening, so that they can react and hopefully resolve the problem, is important.”

The Scourge of Racial Bias in New York State’s Prisons. A New York Times investigation draws on nearly 60,000 disciplinary cases from state prisons and interviews with inmates to explore the system’s inequities and the ripple effect they can have: here.

The inmates were just starting their day on July 6 when dozens of corrections officers burst into their dormitory, shouting for everyone to get down on the floor. The raid at Mid-State Correctional Facility, outside Utica, N.Y., officials said, was a surprise search for weapons made urgent after a bloody injury to a guard three days earlier. But over the next two hours, according to inmates, officers beat and stomped on each of the more than 30 prisoners present that morning, screaming curses and racial epithets and destroying property. Several men said their ribs were broken by kicks and punches. A 58-year-old prisoner said he was rammed, headfirst, through the Sheetrock wall in his room. Down the hall, a 41-year-old inmate said his nose was broken as a guard repeatedly slammed a metal door into his face: here.

Grizzly bear cubs on swimming mother’s back, video


This video says about itself:

Adorable Bear Cubs Hitch a Ride on Mom’s Back | National Geographic

4 July 2017

An onlooker recorded this precious scene of two grizzly bear cubs perched on top of their mother’s back as she swam across Lake Aleknagik in Wood Tikchick State Park, Alaska.