Friday, December 30, 2005

Birds In the News #41 -- End of the Year Edition

Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus.
Currently, there is an irruption of snowy owls in Washington State, USA,
probably due to a disruption in their local food supply.
This individual was photographed in Discovery Park, Seattle.
(more details about this photograph below).

Birds in Science

Last week, scientists said they found a major cache of bones and likely complete skeletons of the long-extinct Dodo bird, Raphus cucullatus (pictured), which could help them learn more about the lost creature's physique and habits. The find is significant because no complete skeleton of a single Dodo bird has ever been retrieved from a controlled archaeological site in Mauritius. The last known stuffed bird was destroyed in a 1755 fire at a museum in Oxford, England, leaving only partial skeletons and drawings of the bird to go on. The bird was native to Mauritius when no humans lived there but its numbers rapidly dwindled after the arrival of Portuguese and Dutch sailors in the 1500s. The last recorded sighting of a live bird was in 1663. The international team of researchers found the bones on a sugar cane plantation on Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Madagascar. "We have found 700 bones including bones from 20 Dodo birds and chicks but we believe there are many more at the site," said Kenneth Rijsdijk, a Dutch geologist from the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, who led the dig. They presented their findings last week at the National Museum of Natural History in the Dutch city of Leiden.

Christmas Bird Count News

Will "winter finches" or northern raptors spread across North America this December? Will snow and ice blanket this continent, or will mild conditions prevail until the New Year? Will observers along the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast be able to discover the effects of this summer's hurricanes on their local birds? More than 50,000 observers in hundreds of locations throughout the United States and Canada, the Caribbean, parts of South and Central America, Bermuda, the West Indies and even a few Pacific Islands will be outside counting birds to find out. The Christmas Bird Count, also known as the CBC, now under the supervision of the National Audubon Society, began 106 years ago when ornithologist Frank Chapman and 26 fellow bird enthusiasts replaced the traditional Christmas Day bird hunt with a day of bird observation. The annual Christmas Bird Count starts on 14 December and extends through 5 January in any given year. Each official CBC location consists of a 15 mile-diameter circle. Observers start out before dawn, listening for owl calls, then drive and walk through woods, fields, wetlands and along lakes and streams from dawn to dusk, noting not only how many different species they can find, but the numbers of each species. Participants are not paid for the count. In fact, they each contribute a $5 fee to cover the cost of printing official lists, preparing other materials and publishing the results. For more information, click each link to view; this year's CBC results and last year's (105th CBC) photo gallery. You can also start off the new year by joining the National Audubon Society (always a great gift idea for that person on your list who has everything).

    Regional CBC news stories; These are nicely-written stories that I hope you take the time to read.

    York-Rock Hill, South Carolina (USA): 4 veteran CBC counters compiled an impressive list of 72 species on 19 December. This report includes a narrative, photographs of some of the birds seen and a very interesting table of their data with links to previous CBC data.

    Freeport, Texas (USA): 95 observers identified 208 species on 18 December.

    Shreveport, Louisiana (USA): 23 participants counted 116 species on 18 December.

    Oakland, California (USA): 150 people spotted 170 species on 18 December. All California CBC data for 2005.

    Anchorage, Alaska (USA): 118 volunteer observers counted 43 species on 17 December.

    Danville, Kentucky (USA): 26 observers sighted 66 species on 17 December.

    Crystal Springs Dam, California (USA): an unknown number of birders counted 192 species recently.

    GrrlScientist note: Please email links to your CBC news stories and I will publish them in next week's issue.

    Other CBC News

    A king eider, Somateria spectabilis (pictured), that nests in the Arctic has been spotted in Banff, Alberta (Canada) -- the first such sighting of the large sea duck in Alberta in more than 100 years. This recent sighting of the immature king eider was recorded by Peter Poole and Reno Sommerhalder on Banff's Lake Minnewanka during the annual Christmas Bird Count last week. "This is a find of a lifetime,'' said Jocelyn Hudon, curator of ornithology at the Royal Alberta Museum and chairwoman of Alberta's bird record committee. "We're talking about a bird that hasn't been seen in the province for over 100 years.''

People Hurting Birds

Thousands of seabirds are being killed each year after a massive rise in plastics pollution in the North Sea, according to a new report. Studies on the bodies of 600 fulmars that washed up on beaches revealed that 95 per cent had plastic litter in their stomachs - with an average of 40 pieces of plastic per bird. One fulmar had 1,600 pieces of plastic in its guts, according to the Save the North Sea project, which was set up by volunteers and professional organisations in all countries with North Sea coastlines. Fulmars are gull-like tube-nosed seabirds that have a massive breeding colony on St Kilda. They are affected because they mistake discarded plastic floating on the sea's surface for their normal prey, jellyfish. "Plastics pollution is a chronic problem in the North Sea. Heaven knows where some of this plastic comes from. They've found everything from balloons to shotgun cartridges in the birds' stomachs. But the commonest is beads of raw plastic before it is formed," said Mark Grantham from the British Trust for Ornithology.

Police ran down leads and the Royal Navy was on alert Thursday in the search for Toga, an 18-inch-tall baby penguin stolen from an Isle of Wight zoo Saturday night, creating a national soap opera rivaling Elton John's gay union for media coverage. "We're all a bit ragged here, to say the least," said Kath Bright, manager of Amazon World Zoo Park, which has received nearly $13,000 in donations — including $600 from the United States — to offer as a reward for the safe return of the nine-pound South African jackass penguin, Sphenicus demersis (pictured). As of today, Toga is still missing, and Bright said zookeepers were beginning to worry he could starve to death. Bright said that before the theft, the 3-month-old was still being fed by his father, Oscar, and his mother, Kyala. Because the parents simply regurgitate food directly down the baby's throat, Bright said, Toga wouldn't know how to find his own food and wouldn't accept any from humans. "He hasn't got a clue," Bright said.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News

This winter, 30 full-time research scientists and 112 volunteers — some of them looking from head to toe like balls of shredded camouflage cloth — are combing through thousands of acres of swampy Arkansas woods in search of a bird called Elvis. That is the affectionate local nickname given to the ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, a spectacularly shy but showy species that scientists thought had gone extinct around 1944. A dramatic announcement in April that at least one ivory-bill had been spotted here kicked off a massive effort to try to tally how many there are, research how they live and learn how best to protect them. The rediscovery also has turned into a resurrection of sorts for the rare habitat the woodpecker lives in, galvanizing public and private conservation agencies that for decades had been fighting lonely battles to save a few thousand acres of Arkansas’ swamp forests. But unfortunately, no convincing photographs of this bird exist. This winter, with more people looking, better high-tech search and recording gear, and more carefully laid plans, scientists are hopeful they will come up with “slam dunk’’ evidence of the ivory-bill, namely a clear, unambiguous photo or video (more information).

Avian Influenza News

According to a recent study, bird flu appears more likely to wing its away around the globe by plane than by migrating birds. Scientists have been unable to link the spread of the virus to migratory patterns, suggesting that the thousands of wild birds that have died, primarily waterfowl and shore birds, are not primary transmitters of bird flu. If that holds true, it would suggest that shipments of domestic chickens, ducks and other poultry represents a far greater threat than does the movement of wild birds on the wing. It also would underscore the need to pursue the virus in poultry farms and markets rather than in wild populations of birds if a possible pandemic is to be checked, U.S. and European experts said. ''There is more and more evidence building up that wild migratory birds do play some role in spreading the virus, but personally I believe - and others agree - that it's not a major role,'' said Ward Hagemeijer, a wild bird ecologist with Wetlands International, a conservation group in Wageningen, Netherlands. ''If we would assume based on this evidence that wild birds would be a major carrier of the disease we would expect a more dramatic outbreak of the disease all over the world.'' GrrlScientist note: I've been saying this very thing for more than one year (relying on incomplete data, unfortunately). I am pleased to see that the epidemiologists are starting to realize where the bird flu threat really is found; with domestic poultry raising and handling practices.

The Ornithological Council has published a peer-reviewed fact sheet on the implications of avian influenza for ornithologists, bird banders, rehabbers, and others who handle live birds. If anyone is willing to translate the fact sheet into Spanish, contact the Ornithological Council through their website and they will post the Spanish version, too.

A conservation group is astonished that Kapiti Island near New Zealand has been suggested as a possible quarantine station if a deadly flu virus hits the Wellington region. Kapiti Island Watching Interest president Hugh Barr said the island had been a bird sanctuary for more than a century – and should be the last place to isolate humans who could be carrying a mutated bird flu virus. "It is astounding that Wellington's health authorities should be considering quarantining bird flu sufferers in the same place as our endangered kiwi, kaka, takahe, kokako, stitchbirds, saddlebacks and weka," Dr Barr said. "These rare birds are likely to be susceptible to bird flu too." GrrlScientist note: This makes me realize that the United States isn't the only country in the world that has Really Stupid People in control of things. I am not sure if this is comforting or not.

Scientists are baffled over the case of two bird flu patients in Vietnam. Both patients died after developing resistance to Tamiflu, the drug that is being stockpiled in case of a flu pandemic. The girls received early and aggressive treatments with Tamiflu using the recommended doses, according to an Associated Press report. Doctors now think they may need to rethink dosages; lower amounts may promote resistance by allowing viruses or bacteria to mutate and make a resurgence, according to the press accounts.

Streaming Birds

For the last week of 2005, BirdNote discusses The Myth of the Wren on St. Stephen's Day; Morning in Oaxaca, visiting our summer birds south of the border; Winter on the Columbia River; A Year's Worth of Birds; and for the last show of 2005, Queen Bee in Winter. BirdNote programs are two-minute vignettes that incorporate the rich sounds of birds provided by Cornell University and by other sound recordists, with photographs and written stories that illustrate the interesting -- and in some cases, truly amazing -- abilities of birds. Some of the shows are Pacific Northwest-oriented, but many are of general interest. BirdNote can be heard live, Monday through Friday, 8:58-9:00AM in Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia on KPLU radio and now also in North Central Washington state on KOHO radio. All episodes are available in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [mp3/podcast].

The discovery of an ivory-billed woodpecker, which many had believed to be extinct, outside Brinkley, Arkansas, has brought profound changes to the town. With hundreds of birders and scientists passing through to catch a glimpse of the bird, locals are attempting to capitalize on the excitement. National Public Radio's Morning Edition story. [9:15, RealPlayer or Windoze Media Player required]

Miscellaneous Birds

BirdLife has published their year in review edition that highlights the non-event of avian influenza, the exciting rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a list of new avian species recognized this year as well as those species lost forever to extinction, island "super mice" that kill endangered albatross chicks, and the near-collapse of the vulture populations in Asia due to widespread use of a veterinary drug, just to mention a few stories that they cover.

Calm down, Oprah fans! It was ordinary wear and tear that almost took down Oprah's private plane, not a collision with a bird as originally reported.

Featured Bird Photograph Details

Marc Hoffman says; The photo was taken on a sunny day at 10:56 a.m. I was about 60 feet from the owl, which was resting on a woodpile in Discovery Park, a large park in urban Seattle. About 8 other birders were present. This owl had been sighted for a few weeks and has been well-watched. At the time the photo was shot, the owl was resting, opening its eyes and turning its head every 10 minutes or so. This is one of a number of snowy owls reported recently in Western Washington. Several others have been sighted in and around Seattle, including one that perched on the second floor of an office building in nearby downtown Bellevue. The camera I used is a Minolta DiMage A2 with a Raynox DCR 2020 Pro (2.2x) teleconverter attached, providing an effective zoom of 15.4x. More photographic details are available on request from Marc or from me.

The Fine Print: Thanks to my bird pals, Caren, Bill, Ellen P., Wise Crow, Ian, Mike, Ellen B. and Ron for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here. Thanks to Jamie and Ian for reminding me that the generic name for Snowy Owls was changed to Bubo scandiacus. Best regards to John B. his $upport. Special thanks to long-time readers, Jamie, Tony and anonymous blog reader, for surprising me by nominating Birds in the News for a 2005 Koufax Award for Best Series! There will be an announcement here, along with more details, when voting begins. As an aside, it has come to my attention that Internet Explorer does not respect the formatting of this blog. I apologize because I am not sure how to rectify this situation except to say that this blog looks best when viewed with Firefox.

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Survival Job rejections: 1 (I applied for a survival job as an adjunct at this one particular school, but they put my application in with the tenure-track medical school applicant pool for reasons I cannot comprehend. Today, I received their rejection letter!! I was rejected for a position that I never applied for! I hope this mix-up is not indicative of the quality of their medical training, although I do have my doubts.)


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

7 Peer Reviews:

Blogger Alon Levy said...

I read your site on both IE and Mozilla, but notice no difference between how they render it.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

I am so excited to see that the snowy owl is in western Washington. Seeing one is definitely on my wish list!

Happy New Year. Hope 2006 brings you great things. Wishing you well

11:36 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Alon; thanks for mentioning that. i have looked at my site using all the main browsers and haved not noticed any problems, except that safari renders certain punctuation marks as a series of wacky characters that detracts from the stories (grr).

RD; i look forward to your story and photographs of a snowy owl -- coming soon to a site near you!


1:39 PM  
Blogger Black Rat said...

Best wishes for a successful and prosperous 2006. Hope the New Year makes all your dreams come true. Many thanks for all your support at my blog over the last year.

(I'll be posting answers to your meme over the next week or so).

Enjoy tonight, whatever however you're spending it. xx

2:45 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

BlackRat; you're so sweet! it's always good to see you commenting here. i was bragging to a couple friends of mine on new year's eve that you'd posted here and they looked at me blankly. i tried to explain who you are and finally gave it up for a lost cause. but if they had been following your story all along, well, they would have known why i was bragging!


7:29 AM  
Blogger Black Rat said...

You're too kind! I'm still working on getting out to NY again...hopefully, 2006 will be the year I do so and we can catch up over a Martini or two in Manhattan. x

12:41 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

BlackRat; i would love that!

6:17 AM  

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