Mountain chickadees’ intelligence research


This video is called Mountain chickadee, filmed at Lac Le Jeune in British Columbia, Canada.

From Wildlife Extra:

Mountain birds are better problem-solvers than lowlanders

The mountain chickadee is better at working out problems than its relatives that live at lower levels

Living high up on an inhospitable mountain can make you mentally sharper. That’s what Dovid Kozlovsky and his colleagues at the University of Nevada in the US learned with mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli), a North American bird from the tit family.

Those birds that live at higher altitudes are better problem solvers than the same species living in lower regions.

Previous research showed that mountain chickadees living at harsher high elevations have bigger hippocampi, the part of the brain which plays an important role in memory and spatial navigation.

These chickadees also have far superior spatial memory. This helps them to be better at remembering where they hid food away for a later occasion.

Animals living in challenging or unpredictable environments such as deserts or snowy mountain peaks are generally thought to have enhanced mental abilities.

These include being better able to solve problems and not shying away from inspecting new things.

To understand if this is also true for mountain chickadees, Kozlovsky and his colleagues caught 24 young birds in the Sagehen Experimental Forest in California that had not yet experienced a winter.

Their findings are published in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Twelve birds were caught at a site around 1,800m above sea level, while another dozen were captured 600m higher.

Studies to test the birds’ problem-solving skills and their reaction to new objects were then conducted at the University of Nevada.

The researchers first watched what happened when members of the two groups were confronted with a clear test tube plugged with a wad of cotton and with a waxworm inside.

Members of the higher elevation group were able to work out how to remove the plug much more quickly than their counterparts from the lower region.

The researchers also tested if the birds would readily investigate and feed from a feeder that looked very different from the one that they were used to.

None of the birds in either altitude groups were inclined to do so. In fact, they all displayed similar degrees of neophobia, almost fearfully steering clear of the unknown object.

They did so even though the new feeder was baited with waxworms, one of their favourite meals.

According to Kozlovsky and his colleagues, this shows that problem solving and the ability to innovate and try new things do not necessarily go hand in hand in mountain chickadees.

“Enhanced problem-solving ability might be associated with living in harsher environments either via natural selection or by the animal’s adaptability to different environments,” Kozlovsky hypothesises.

“However, differences in problem-solving ability are not necessarily associated with differences in neophobia.”

Bird-friendly gardens not attracting more predators


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

18 February 2014

Redondo Beach resident Carl Leach talks about his bird friendly garden and reasons why you should build one.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Do Bird-Friendly Yards Attract More Predators?

As more bird enthusiasts replace their lawns with bird-friendly plantings like trees and shrubs, they might be concerned about attracting nest predators into the area. Though nest boxes can be equipped with predator guards, most open cup nests, like those of Northern Cardinals and American Robins, cannot be.

Researchers from The Ohio State University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology investigated whether there was a link between woody vegetation (i.e., trees and shrubs) and predator activity by conducting a study in several Ohio neighborhoods. The researchers surveyed for common nest predators in backyards, and looked for a relationship to the amount of woody vegetation. Common nest predators at the studied sites in Ohio included Eastern gray squirrel, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Blue Jay, and domestic cat (among others).

What they found was unexpected. Even though many nest predators use woody vegetation, bird-friendly landscaping did not attract predators. Yards and neighborhoods with more mature trees and shrubs were no more likely to have high predator activity than yards without. Their findings suggest that increasing the amount of shrubbery and trees in suburban yards does not encourage increased activity of nest predators. So with that in mind, feel free to check out our tips for landscaping for nesting birds.

Reference: Malpass, J.S., Rodewald, A.D., and Matthews, S.N. 2015. Woody cover does not promote activity of nest predators in residential yards. Landscape and Urban Planning 135: 32-39.

There are two species of hawks responsible for most of the predation on feeder birds: the Cooper’s hawk and the slightly smaller Sharp-shinned hawk: here.

New grey whale migration research


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

Super Pod of Gray Whales

27 January 2015

We ran an ultimate 8 hour Whale Watching trip on 1-25-15 from Dana Point to Catalina; we are Dana Wharf Whale Watching. Here’s the final sightings report from that day. There were sightings of 45 + gray whales which included a superpod of 15+ and another of 12+ (interacting with Risso’s dolphins), 1 Fin whale, 200 Offshore bottlenose dolphin, 40 Risso’s dolphin, 35 Long beaked Common dolphin, 3 Harbor Seals, dozens of CA Sea Lions and a Bald Eagle on Catalina Island. Watch all the way to the end you will see a group of Risso dolphin harassing the Gray Whales, and how they react to them. Enjoy once again, we thank all our “Whale Geek” friends and a BIG THANKS to Captain Todd Mansur and Captain Frank Brennan for flying these amazing drones.

From Wildlife Extra:

New technology counts migrating whales by seeing the warmth of their breath

The Grey Whale migration down the west coast of America from the summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to the wintering grounds off Baja California, Mexico, is being charted in even greater detail thanks to new technology employed by scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just south of Monterey Bay.

Counts used to be done just by NOAA personnel using binoculars but now they are employing three thermal imaging cameras linked to a computer that is capable of analysing the images and distinguishing the whales from the heat put out by their blow as they surface to breathe.

“A whale is this great big motor that takes in a breath of air and holds it inside for a long time,” says Wayne Perryman, a NOAA Fisheries scientist who helped develop the new system. “When it exhales, the air is much warmer than the background, and we can detect that difference very easily, both day and night.”

Human observers can only work in daylight hours so in previous years the count could never be that accurate. Now the cameras work round the clock for the duration of the entire migration, so much more accurate figures can be recorded and compared year-on-year.

The thermal imaging cameras are much the same as those used by helicopter police to track criminals at night. What’s most innovative is the software that works with the cameras.

“The biggest challenge was getting the detector to be as accurate as possible without having it get fooled by false alarms,” said Dave Weller, the NOAA Fisheries scientist who leads the survey team.

The refined software the team developed can now distinguish between whales, flocks of birds and passing boats.

Not only that, but when the computer sees a blow, it can predict where and when the same whale will surface to blow again. That prediction algorithm, which is based on years of research into Gray Whale’s diving behaviour, means that the computer can track individual whales.

“If you don’t have a way of tracking who’s who, you can double-count some whales or miss them altogether,” Weller says.

“The biggest advantage of the new system is that it vastly increases our sample size. That means we can more accurately estimate the size of the population.”

Some of the thermal imaging footage can be seen here, with a passing whale being overtaken by a flock of birds and a pod of dolphins appearing in the foreground.

Rare Pacific right whales are back near US coast


This video says about itself:

31 October 2011

National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry describes a magical but risky experience photographing an enormous [southern] right whale off the coast of New Zealand.

From the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, USA:

Research Highlight: The Sound of Hope

Rare whale species heard off continental U.S. for the first time in more than 20 years

Feb 09, 2015

Once upon a time in the ocean, North Pacific Right Whales thrived.

Their unique calls could be heard across the seas from Asia to North America. Intense whaling activities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries changed all that, decimating their population. Mid-twentieth century recovery efforts—backed by international whale-protection laws—were hampered by illegal Russian whaling in the 1960s and ’70s.

Today, only several hundred North Pacific Right Whales remain, divided into two groups: one in the Sea of Okhotsk off Russia and a second in the eastern Bering Sea off Alaska. For years scientists have been seeking any sign of the Bering Sea group because it is considered one of the most critically endangered cetacean populations in the world with only about 30 animals remaining.

Now, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego researchers have reported some good news for the precarious population with a glimmer of hope that its numbers may be rebounding. A team led by Scripps researcher Ana Širović recorded the first evidence of these animals off the continental United States in decades.

Širović and her colleagues analyzed marine mammal sounds recorded in 2013 with four High-frequency Acoustic Recording Packages (HARPs), underwater microphones developed at Scripps that capture the calls and clicks emitted by various species. North Pacific Right Whales are known to produce distinctive low-frequency sounds—acoustically classified as up-calls, down-calls, gunshots, screams, and moans—that can travel across vast distances in the ocean.

To their surprise, the team discovered two Right Whale calls in HARP data recorded at Quinalt Canyon off Washington State, the first off the continental U.S. in more than 20 years, and separately at Quinn Seamount in the Gulf of Alaska.

“We had been looking for Right Whales for some time, knowing that the chances of hearing them were pretty small,” said Širović. “So it was very exciting and I was quite surprised when we heard their calls. It was a good day.”

“Our ability to detect rare species, such as the North Pacific Right Whale, has been dramatically improved by the development of new technology for listening underwater,” said Scripps Oceanography Professor John Hildebrand, a co-author of the study, published in Marine Mammal Science.

In 2013, two Right Whales were visually identified off British Columbia, Canada, marking the first such sightings that were made in the area in more than 60 years. Širović said there is no way of definitively knowing whether the animals seen were the same as the ones that were heard.

Nevertheless, the recent acoustic recordings and visual sightings may be good signs for the population of this rare animal and these instances “may offer a sliver of hope for its eventual recovery,” the researchers said in the report.

“Given the rarity of this species, and very few visual or acoustic sightings that have occurred outside the Bering Sea, our detections are an important indicator that this population is using a larger oceanic area of the North Pacific,” said Širović. “I think we are all doing this kind of work hoping to find good things to report. This was one of those good news moments. It was a happy finding.”

Recovered birds freed in Oregon, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

American Avocet at International Bird Rescue

June 2013: Baby bird season at International Bird Rescue in California means a multitude of orphaned species, including this American Avocet chick, shown here feeding on live fish for the first time. Thanks to Isabel Luevano for photos and Kathy Koehler for the video peak at feeding time.

From International Bird Rescue in the USA on Twitter today:

Released 20 more seabirds cleaned of #MysteryGoo: 11 Surf Scoters, Eared Grebe, 4 Dunlins, & 4 Western Sandpipers: @Port of Oakland

Mysterious storms on planet Uranus


This video says about itself:

Extreme Storms Shake the Atmosphere of Uranus

15 November 2014

Storm on Uranus: Astronomers witnessed extreme stormy, huge and bright cloud systems on the planet Uranus. The storm permits the experts to view the hazy blue-green atmosphere of Uranus.

Uranus is an ice giant which is four times larger than the diameter of the Earth. The planet is located 19 times farther from the Sun as compared to the Earth.

From the BBC:

Strange mega storms sweep Uranus

Last year was the stormiest ever on Uranus but astronomers don’t quite know why

Usually there’s not much to see on Uranus, says astronomer Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley. But last year was its stormiest on record.

Ever since its equinox in 2007, when the Sun shined directly on its equator, the seventh planet has been becoming more active. Last year it hit a new peak.

When analysing infrared images of Uranus, Prof de Pater’s team noticed eight large swirling storms in its northern hemisphere in August 2014. One of these storms was the brightest ever observed. It reflected 30% as much light as the rest of the planet, the team reports in the journal Icarus.

Nobody had expected it, says de Pater. It shows how little we understand even about planets inside our own Solar System.

The team analysed bright patches on images of Uranus. These spots of light represent clouds.

They deduced how thick the clouds were, and how high up in the atmosphere. From the altitude they could then infer what the clouds were made of.

The clouds they saw were extremely high up. As they rose ever higher, methane gas condensed into methane ice, causing the clouds to glow.

“The very bright one we saw high in the atmosphere must be methane ice,” says de Pater. “Another one observed by amateur astronomers could be hydrogen sulfide.”

Uranus takes 84 Earth years to travel around the Sun. For half this time one of its poles is in darkness. But during the 2007 equinox each pole was equally lit up, and astronomers expected that this change in illumination would cause a particularly stormy year.

While they did see some turbulent weather, it was nothing compared to the storms of 2014.

Mystery squalls

“We have no idea why this is happening right now,” says de Pater.

The storms might be driven by the changing seasons, but to find out we would need to see if they also occur over the southern hemisphere. That will take many more years. “I don’t think I will live enough to see the whole cycle of Uranus,” she adds.

While we frequently see images from Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus has only ever been fleetingly visited by one space craft, Voyager 2. But that was in 1986 and it only observed a “featureless haze” of dense clouds.

That’s why scientists rely on images taken at the ground-based Keck observatory in Hawaii. Increasingly, they also combine these with images taken by amateur astronomers, as their telescopes are powerful enough to see Uranus.

NASA Finds Mysterious Bright Spot on Dwarf Planet Ceres: What Is It? Here.

Five Earth-sized planets around the star Kepler-444 may reveal insight on the history of how solar systems develop: here.