August 5, 2013
Anyone with a pair of binoculars is able to contribute to our understanding of migratory birds by simply keeping a look out for birds with bands. Birders Pat and Doris Leary have made significant contributions to science by focusing on bird bands and reporting their findings. You can help, too. Our blogger tells you how birders can turn every outing into an exciting citizen science project.
August 2, 2013
What makes for a great animal live cam feature? Of course you need some compelling animals — but that’s just one key ingredient in the recipe. You need science, community and a willingness to let people project their imaginations onto the critters, too.
August 1, 2013
All kids eventually leave home to make their own way in the world. While most human parents have 18 years or so years to prepare for the inevitable “empty nest” syndrome, bird parents only have a few months. Such is the case with our charismatic osprey family on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, stars of this summer’s popular blog and social media hit, Osprey Cam. Now, eager wildlife cam fans want to know: will the osprey cam be renewed in 2014?
July 23, 2013
Heading to America’s first national park? Our blogger points you to the best spots to see Yellowstone’s diverse wildlife, including creatures very, very large and those very, very small.
June 19, 2013
Want to see a Manus Friarbird? Birder and conservation scientist James Fitzsimons will point you in the right direction on this off-the-beaten track birding destination.
June 13, 2013
Cheatgrass keeps ecologists up at night. Its spread eliminates native plants, sage grouse and mule deer. New research adds golden eagles to that list.
June 3, 2013
There are some new neighbors in town, and I can’t stop spying on them!
Allie and Bama recently moved to Orange Beach, Alabama. They live on prime real estate in this pristine beach town along the northern Gulf Coast. The climate is sub-tropical, grocery shopping is close-by, and the commute to work is more than manageable. They utilize locally sourced food for nourishment and have recycled building material for their humble abode. Their family is healthy and quickly growing with the arrival of two new offspring.
Allie, Bama and their newborns are not your typical beach-town family. They are birds of prey, called osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and in late spring this spring, The Nature Conservancy and our partners installed a camera to monitor their activities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
We have been invited into the home of Allie and Bama, and it has been the best unscripted reality show I’ve ever seen!
May 27, 2013
Need an app that helps you identify birds in the field? Don’t bother searching for “birds” in any app store. Unless that thrush happens to be angry, those dozens of Angry Bird apps that pop up won’t be of any use to you.
So here is my expert take on 5 iPhone birding apps — Audubon Birds, iBird Pro, National Geographic Birds, Peterson Birds, and Sibley eGuide to Birds (all also available on Android) — that are focused on the things that birders need for identifying birds in the field:
April 19, 2013
They appear like ghosts before light: small groups of plump birds standing amongst the sagebrush. They puff up, tail feathers erect, chest extended. Large air sacs are inflated on their breasts, making a distinct plop.
I’m on the spring display grounds of the greater sage grouse, one of the arid West’s most iconic birds. Each spring males gather on these grounds, known as leks, to impress females with their display.
You have to get up early in the morning and sit motionless in the high desert. But you’ll be rewarded in the soft light of dawn, as sage grouse begin their show. It’s not unusual 15 males vying for the attention of female grouse on a lek, a site that grouse use year after year. (I’ve seen more than 50 on a lek at The Nature Conservancy’s Crooked Creek Preserve).
It’s one of the world’s most memorable wildlife spectacles. But finding it has grown increasingly difficult, as sage grouse continue to decline across their range.
Why are sage grouse on the decline? And is there anything we can do about it?
March 18, 2013
Most baby birds, cute though they may be, are not exactly colorful. This makes good evolutionary sense: Baby birds, unable to fly, make easy meals for predators.
They thus must blend into their surroundings. A drake mallard or canvasback is a colorful, striking water bird, but baby ducks are nondescript. They disappear into the marshy reeds, making it harder for a hungry raccoon or mink to find them.
Not so the American coot.
Adult coots are fairly drab birds. But their babies? They look like they were designed by a deranged tattoo artist.
The front half of the coot’s body is covered in orange-tipped plumes, giving them a jarring appearance. We’re not used to seeing baby birds covered bright feathers. While this orange fades rather quickly—in about six days—it still leaves them conspicuous when they are at the most vulnerable stage of their lives.
This coloration makes them more susceptible to predation. What advantage would such feathers possibly confer?
March 15, 2013
Sometimes when you go birding, you can’t help but see other animals – elephants, army ants, beautiful butterflies.
Occasionally, if you get out early (as birders always do), you can get to a park before the crowds and you might see something really special (and, in this case, gruesome).
In January, we traveled to Ghana for some superb birding. Our visit included the famous canopy walkway at the Kakum National Park near the Ivory Coast. The seven bridges strung high up in the trees usually teem with visitors who have no appreciation of the amazing birdlife.
They might notice the monkeys, but for most, the canopy walkway is just a low-tech amusement ride. They shriek as they bounce from one platform to the next on the narrow, swaying wooden planks.
We arrived very early, our guide having arranged for the park to admit us before the regular opening hour. We were the first visitors on the path that climbs to the walkway.
It was barely light as we tramped up the steep hill, trying not to trip over hidden roots and rocks. As we reached a turn, we heard a ruckus near the trail – about head height — and we all peered into the tangle of vines and branches. We had the surprise of our lives.
March 14, 2013
The airboat whirs over the shallow wetland, as huge flocks of coots, ducks, herons and other birds flush before me.
It’s the kind of scene that could entice one to wax rhapsodic on the beauties of untrammeled nature.
Except this isn’t. Not quite.
Just six years ago, this expansive wetland was cornfields and a cattle feedlot.
It’s now Emiquon Preserve, a 6,600-acre project on the Illinois River that is one of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the Midwest.
How do you go from cornfield to wildlife paradise?
The easy answer is to invoke Field of Dreams: Build it, and they will come.
The hard answer: Research, and lots of it. Behind Emiquon’s incredible conservation success is an extensive science program.
Each March, the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Therkilsden Field Station at Emiquon—the preserve’s flagship research center—convenes a gathering of researchers to share results from their studies.
While it may look like the wetland is nature primeval, it is this research that is restoring what once was known as the “inland fishing capital of North America.”
March 13, 2013
I was just revising the “marine chapter” for a textbook I have coauthored, and looking at reviews from professors who had taught a conservation course using our first edition. We were criticized for making marine conservation too much about fishing and marine protected areas, while neglecting ocean pollution as a big deal, and probably the greatest threat to our oceans.
It turns out these critics were right.
For much of human history the ocean has been viewed as a place to dispose of waste where it would be so diluted that it does no harm. We now know better.
Dead zones, floating mats of plastics, and toxic chemical residues in marine fish tissue are striking evidence that human waste and by-products could be every bit as much of a threat to our oceans as over-fishing.
Dead zones now affect more than 400 systems, and cover vast areas of the ocean — more than 475,000 square kilometers. Plastic debris in the oceans is now so common it is hard to find a beach without washed up plastics. This plastic is much more than a matter of aesthetics; all sea turtles, 45% of marine mammals, and 21% of seabird species are harmed by plastic.
The sheer volume of human waste products and the fact that most people live along coasts means that there will be no simple, single measure that can address marine pollution.
Take something as specific as cigarette butts — over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded annually, and researchers have observed a 96-hour mortality effect (measured as LC-50) in larval topsmelt (a Pacific ocean silverside) at a dilution of one cigarette butt per liter of water. Latte-drinking enthusiasts in my hometown of Seattle have given rise to elevated caffeine concentrations in Puget Sound, which are known to cause chemical stress in mussels and other marine invertebrates.
So what are we to do?