Saturday, April 30, 2005

Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Streaming Video!

Here is a link to a wonderful streaming news report about the ivory-billed woodpecker sighting from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. It contains interviews with several of the team members and shows video footage from 1930 as well as the new video footage of the ivory-billed woodpecker. You need quicktime to view this report (link to free download provided).

I cannot view this video clip because I use a Mac computer. However, a friend tells me this video clip of the ivory-billed woodpecker is very good. It is hosted by National Geographic News and requires Windows Media Player to view.

The significance of the ivory-billed woodpecker, as reported by National Public Radio. This is from yesterday's Morning Edition show.

The Earth Observatory has a satellite photo from NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Habitat and a story that are very interesting.

This is a nice species account about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker by Jerome Jackson, woodpecker expert and author of the book, In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Links to two of John Tanner's 1935 black-and-white photographs of the ivory-billed woodpecker, published by Dover Publications. This link also includes two drawings that you will find very interesting. The first drawing shows the differences between ivory-billed woodpeckers and pileated woodpeckers, which amateur birders sometimes confuse as ivory-billed woodpeckers. The second drawing is a lovely and detailed map of the historic range of these birds, documenting the decline of their populations over the decades.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, April 29, 2005

Birds In The News #9: Day of Redemption

Even if you live in the White House, you are well aware that the Lord God, in all his glory, appeared recently in a swamp in Arkansas to several people, some of whom even caught him on video! The most astounding news of all? God is a Bird, locally known as the "Lord God Bird".

For more information about these amazing sightings of the "extinct" ivory-billed woodpecker, see my plethora (eight total) of blog entries from yesterday, entries that include exclusive confidential emails from several of the observers, also photographs, paintings, video clips, maps and links to several dozen radio, television and newspaper clips. To read any or all of this material, click on any of the top eight titles in the sidebar, on left.

In other news linked from today's issue of Birds in the News, my "peeps" and I found several interesting stories for your reading pleasure. These stories include articles about how songbirds are teaching us more about ourselves by helping us understand learning and memory. Another story shows how birds continue their valuable role as "canaries in the coal mine", but with regards to warning us about environmental pesticides that were thought to be long gone.

Additionally, a reader found a film trailer for a documentary film about parrots in San Francisco that I share with you here, I link to more exciting news about the five kakapo chicks of New Zealand, and to an interesting story about a "bird landlord" in rural Wisconsin. Of course, I cannot neglect to mention some conservation news where construction of a hotel is threatening to wipe out a significant proportion of an already endangered species of thrasher from its island paradise.

And last but certainly not least, is the featured reader photoblog, a stunning photograph of migrating sandhill cranes, Grus canadensis, which are close relatives to the endangered (but recovering) whooping cranes, Grus americana.

I hope you enjoy! If you have an interesting link that you'd like to share, or if you have taken a bird photograph that you wish to share with my readers, send it to me and I'll add it to next week's edition of Birds in the News.

Birds in Science:

One of my most favorite topics is birdsong (indeed, birdsong was so attractive that this research field lured me from cancer research into avian research). Bird song is the main model system for understanding learning and memory; how learning occurs, how memories are formed and how they function to produce a complex behavior such as birdsong. Basically, we know that distinct neural pathways are involved in song learning and memory, but the details remain mysterious. In these articles, scientists reveal that they have taken a major step forward in understanding one previously unknown step in the learning pathway that is common to humans and birds; understanding how the "playful variability in the little bird's babble" arose in the first place (read original press release here).

One of Florida's largest lakes, Lake Apopka, is teaming with bird species. In fact, "This lake has more species than any Florida lake I've ever been to," says scientist Lee Walton of Biological Research Associates in Tampa. "And we go to a lot of lakes." But does a large population of bird species signify that the lake and its surrounding ecosystem are healthy? After a huge bird die off in 1998 that was probably due to pesticide exposure, scientists wondered the same thing. To answer this question, they began testing bird eggs, looking for pesticides. This story shows that they found evidence of DDT in a significant proportion of eggs tested, which should serve as a warning that people should be more careful of what they put into the environment, especially because pesticides are toxic to humans, too. "We didn't expect that things would take so long to leave the environment," Walton concludes. [requires free registration]

People hurting Birds:

As a primary example that people, Homo hubris, are slow learners that stubbornly persist in their selfish and destructive behavior, a hotel and residential estate development on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia threatens almost a quarter of the world's total population of the white-breasted thrasher, Ramphocinclus brachyurus, an already endangered species. Astonishingly, a preliminary study carried out by an US company found no endangered species in the proposed development area even though it is well-documented that 138 breeding pairs of white-breasted thrashers – approximately 22% of the world population – are known to live and breed in this particular area slated for destruction.

People helping Birds:

The good news from New Zealand continues; the Department of Conservation's Kakapo Team are watching over five rare kakapo chicks, Strigops habroptilus, on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou off the bottom tip of New Zealand. The kakapo is a large, flightless nocturnal parrot that looks like a green owl and nests in burrows. This species nearly became extinct because rats and other introduced predators killed and ate their eggs, chicks and incubating hens. This story includes several cute pictures of the endangered parrots and their chicks, too.

What, you ask, is a "bird landlord"?? Well, meet Bird Landlord Duane Zabel of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, who tells you about his job maintaining 108 bird houses. His desired tenants? Eastern bluebirds, although he ends up providing housing for other native avian species as well, primarily tree swallows along with some wrens and chickadees. There are three species of bluebirds in North America. They are insectivorous birds and therefore are a valuable control for insect populations. The introduced English sparrow has displaced bluebirds throughout much of its range by out-competing them for nesting spaces. Bird landlords, as Zabel describes in this article, are helping to increase bluebird populations throughout the United States, where they once were more common, by providing nest boxes to them.

How much does it cost to protect an endangered species? In this short newsbrief, the US Fish and Wildlife Agency estimates the cost of protecting the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher, Empidonax traillii extimus, will be between $29.2 million to $39.5 million per year.

Birds and Entertainment:

Birdwatching is no longer an activity solely reserved for lonely little blue-haired ladies. There are several rapidly growing bird watching activities known as "listing" or "twitching" and occasionally as "extreme birding", that are sweeping the country. Further, birdwatching is a social and competitive event, too. In one such popular competitive team event known as the "Big Day", a team of four bird watchers seek out and list as many bird species as they can possibly see in a 24-hour time period. This past Wednesday, a team in Los Angeles significantly surpassed the old LA county record of 182 species for a "big day", as this article reveals; Bird-watchers feather nest with record.

It's true that I have a passion for parrots (and all birds), but like many people, I am reluctant to waste my hard-earned money on a silly films because, well, I have taste (and I am also broke). But even those people who don't have the level of passion that I have for birds report that they enjoyed the documentary film, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. After I saw this trailer for the film, I agree that this is a charming little must-see film. Tell me if you also agree!

Reader Photoblog:

This week's reader photoblog entry comes from amateur photographer and birder, Steve Taylor in Washington State, who recently took this spectacular photograph of migrating sandhill cranes.

Steve writes: The official start of Spring for my wife and me is our annual trip to central Washington State to see the migrating Sandhill Cranes.

Seeing these magnificent birds gives us both a sense of beginning and also a sense of timelessness. Beginning because the migration signals the beginning of the breeding cycle and timelessness because Cranes have been migrating like this for thousands, perhaps millions, of years.

The cranes have their own rituals. As part of their annual migration, they stop for around a month to rest and gain weight for the remainder of their flight. Within this rest period, they have daily rituals as well. Every morning they move from their roosting site to a nearby corn field where they feed for several hours. After feeding, they move to a day roost. In the late afternoon they repeat the cycle, going to feed and then flying to a night roost. Finding a vantage point to watch these daily flights is a priority for us and every year is different because the location of the corn fields changes.

This year, the birds were spending their days in an area known as Corfu in Grant County, Washington. There were excellent views of their daily movements from a road known as C southeast. C southeast sits on a gradual upslope about a mile and a half from Lower Crab Creek which was the day roost for a large number of Cranes this year. Beyond Lower Crab Creek, the land rises sharply to the Saddle Mountains. This geography combined with a 300mm lens and a 2x doubler gave me the opportunity to shoot some pictures as if I were flying above the Cranes. The late afternoon light was the final ingredient needed to produce the picture you see here.

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Academic Interviews: 1

Academic Job Offer (in the works): 1, for Adjunct Assistant Professor of Genetics at a real university.

Academic Job Rejections: 1 (Assistant Professor of Biology)


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker: The Latest News

Cornell's Laboratory of Ornithology's webpage is stuffed with wonderful links about the Ivory-billed woodpecker. It includes links to the video press release, original footage from the 1935 expedition (Quicktime is essential for viewing these), photogalleries, information about previous searches for this elusive bird, sound files and lots more!

The Big Wood website, where the Ivory-billed woodpecker was rediscovered. It also is packed with lots of links and photogalleries about this bird.

Discovery Channel's story about the video that captured the Ivory-billed Woodpecker as he tried to evade detection by David Luneau, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

There is speculation that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker might still live in Florida.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service says they may have more surprises (but maybe not pleasant ones, like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker) if their Refuge System funding crisis is not alleviated soon.

Once-thought Extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Rediscovered in Arkansas; Federal Government, Partners Form Rapid Response Partnership to Support Recovery of Bird [US NewsWire Service]


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Another Email from a Search Participant

This email was sent to PABIRDS@LIST.AUDUBON.ORG at 826 am, by Scott Weidensaul, a nature writer who also participated in the "Ivory-billed Woodpecker search party".


I was going to wait until after noon today (when a press conference is going to be held in D.C. on the subject) to post anything about this, but with the NPR broadcast following several days of email chatter on the Web, I guess the cat is out of the bag: The ivory-billed woodpecker has indeed been rediscovered in the vast bottomland forests of eastern Arkansas, an area known as the Big Woods that includes Cache River and White River NWRs.

Unlike the 1999 report from the Pearl River in Louisiana, which was never confirmed despite several attempts, this time the search team, a cooperative effort of the Nature Conservancy [TNC] and Cornell's Lab of Ornithology, has documented the presence of at least one male ivorybill, thanks to multiple sightings, videos and audio recordings. The Lord God bird lives.

I was incredibly privileged to have been quietly invited last winter to join the search team for a week in order to write an article announcing the find for TNC's magazine. More than 60 people were in the field for 15 months, operating under such strict secrecy that in many cases, their own families didn't know what they were doing. The secrecy was in part to protect the bird while documentation was gathered and management plans were being crafted, and in part to give TNC time to buy up land to further safeguard the ivorybill. In that short time, the conservancy spent more than $10 million on land acquisition in the Big Woods.

The area in question is in the Mississippi delta, forming a corridor of swamp forest 15 miles wide and 130 miles long -- big, deep, and difficult to penetrate except by canoe (and even then, you'd better know how to use a GPS). Over the past 20 years, TNC and others have protected more than 120,000 acres there, bringing to more than half a million acres land that's in conservation protection, largely within the two national wildlife refuges and state wildlife land. It's been a largely unknown conservation success story, and this news is an incredible validation of that work. TNC has plans to buy and restore an additional 200,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest there, including land that was cleared for soybeans in the '70s and '80s and will be reforested. Things should only get better for the ivorybill. In fact, things have probably been getting steadily better for decades, as the once-cut forests of the South have recovered.

Later today, there will be a lot of information about the events in Arkansas posted at two web sites:, and on the web site of the journal Science, which is publishing an article documenting the sighting, including a frame-by-frame analysis of the video SciencExpress.

In a nutshell, the initial sighting came in February 2004, when a Hot Springs kayaker named Gene Sparling was exploring a remote part of the Big Woods, and had a close, unmistakable encounter with a male ivorybill. Gene, a birder and experienced outdoorsman, understood the significance of what he'd seen. Two weeks late, Gene escorted Tim Gallagher, editor of Cornell's Living Bird magazine, and Alabama photography professor (and longtime ivorybill hunter) Bobby Harrison to the same area, where Gallagher and Harrison both saw the bird. Cornell and the Arkansas chapter of TNC were informed, and immediately launched one of the most intensive wildlife searches I've ever encountered, all while keeping it almost completely secret. The plan was to announce the findings next month, coinciding with the publication of the magazine article, but someone blabbed over the weekend, and as the ripples started spreading, the decision was made to announce today at the Department of the Interior.

The sightings were all of a single bird, always a male (though there was one undocumented sighting of a possible female). It appears the search team was not operating near the bird's normal home range, since the sightings averaged only about one per month; this is a huge area, and there's lots of room for even a duck-sized woodpecker to disappear. No one thinks it likely that this bird is the very last of its kind, so it's likely there are more out there in the huge Big Woods region, or in other bottomland forests along the Mississippi Delta.

Interestingly, in contrast to the noisy, fairly tame behavior Jim Tanner recorded for the species in Louisiana in the 1930s, this bird has proven incredibly shy and wary, always vanishing at the first hint of a human. Many people -- and I include myself in this -- had long assumed that if ivorybills survived in the U.S., someone would have found and documented them decades ago. The fact that so many people, backed up with technology like automated recording devices and cameras, had such a hard time getting documentation in the Big Woods, suggests we've been underestimating the difficulty of finding this species. The "intensive" Pearl River search, for example, involved six people for 30 days; most times that a sighting has been followed up, it's been someone in a canoe poking around for a day or two at most. One lesson from the Big Woods is that we cannot easily dismiss any of the reports elsewhere in the species' historic range, especially those in South Carolina and Florida which have been persistent for many years. I know scientists are following up on some of those reports even as the news is trumpeted from Arkansas. Let's all keep our fingers crossed.

This is one of the most hopeful stories I've ever had the privilege to report on, and it comes at a time when conservationists need some good news. It shows how incredibly resilient nature can be if we give it a chance. And it's a second chance that, frankly, America probably doesn't deserve, given our treatment of Southern forests.

My part in this was very small and very secondary, as much as I treasure the opportunity. I want to close this by expressing my gratitude and admiration for the folks who pulled this off in an incredibly professional, collegial manner, including Arkansas TNC director Scott Simon; John Fitzpatrick and Ron Rohrbaugh at Cornell; and Gene Sparling and Prof. David Luneau.

The ivorybill lives. It makes the sunshine just a little sweeter, doesn't it?

Scott Weidensaul
Schuylkill Haven, Pa.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Another Confidential-No-More email Message

Thanks to D. Rintoul, another colleague of mine, for sharing this no-longer confidential email with me. This email is from Timothy Barksdale, who was the lead cinematographer for the "Ivory-billed Woodpecker search party".


Hello Folks,

It has been a very long year in Arkansas. I can tell you that I have been signed to a confidentiality agreement that suddenly I am being released from.

I am sorry to have been at least a little bit quieter over this last year and many of you may have noticed that I have not been as communicative as normal. I felt I needed to avoid many of you due to the sensitive nature of my work in Arkansas. Too many questions and I would have felt horrible about deflecting and avoiding them.

On Thursday, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Nature Conservancy and a bunch of johnny-come-lately's will be announcing in Washington DC that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has been rediscovered in Arkansas. I was assigned to this project to act as lead cinematographer. Over 50 searchers participated. Cornell was the leader in selecting whom they wanted to participate. We have heard leaks and rumors at times, but have been able to down play this effectively until now. A major leak has developed in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and many e-mails have gone out within the last 24 hours. We have not seen many items on the websites but I am hearing claims that there are. [five nonsense words elided by GrrlScientist]

We had planned an orderly announcement to be on May 18th and all of us were to begin calling friends and family on the 16th or 17th. The press conference has also suddenly been moved to Washington DC so that....

Gail Norton-protoge of James Watt (perhaps the worst Secretary of the Interior ever) can appear as the Bush administration flunky. She has basically bought her way on to the stage by suddenly offering 60 million in funds to buy land.

I am on my way back to Montana pulling my trailer and will be very interested to see how this is handled.

Obviously, I have many more stories about the long ordeal, the difficulty of locating Ivory-bills and opinions on this final saga.

Long Live the Ivory-bill!

Hope this makes your day!

All my best,


Timothy R. Barksdale
Birdman Productions L.L.C.
P.O. Box 1124
65 Mountain View Dr.
Choteau, MT 59422


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News: Confidential No More

Email forwarded to me by a colleague, R. Moyle, for your reading pleasure. This is an email from Van Remsen, Curator of Birds and an Adjunct Professor of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science. He was one of the participants in the "Ivory-billed Woodpecker search party".


CONFIDENTIAL -- please do not forward this email until Thursday afternoon.

So that you hear it from ME and not from your TV screen ... Tomorrow at noon, there will be a national press conference at Dept. of Interior in Washington DC to announce that we have confirmation that at least one Ivory-billed Woodpecker still lives.

I have been part of a clandestine team over the last 7+ months that has attempted to obtain tangible evidence of the existence of this bird in the Cache River/White River area of SE Arkansas, following a reliable sighting last February. The team has been lead by Arkansas Nature Conservancy people and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and they will be the headliners in DC. Watch the evening news tomorrow (Thursday). Our technical paper will be published online by Science Thursday, and the print version should be out in a few weeks (including a cover).

I agreed to keep this a secret from everyone. I apologize for the secrecy -- I feel bad about not being able to let any of you know about it -- but I know you'll understand. Our search team has decided to let selected groups of people (like you) know the basics before you hear it from media.

We were originally planning the press conference for 5/18, but the word got out within a week after we divulged our evidence to state and federal wildlife agencies last week.


-- no, we do not have a nest or reliable way to see IBWOs, yet.

-- yes, we have tangible evidence -- a lousy, blurry, but indisputable video clip that will be available on the web, possibly Thursday.

-- despite many thousands of hours of systematic searching and deployment of dozens of Autonomous Recording Units, we have only a few reliable glimpses, and, on tape, some double-raps and some 'kent' calls. The bird (no evidence for more than one) is incredibly wary, mostly silent, and uses the core search area only a couple of days every couple of months, as best as we can tell. It has mostly eluded a core of experienced field people. No surprise, then, that I had no luck either.

-- by tomorrow, our web site on all this will be available, including directions on access points if anyone wants to try their luck.

Van Remsen
LSU Museum of Natural Science
Foster Hall 119, LSU
Baton Rouge, LA 70803


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Ivory-billed Woodpecker: Evidence

Photograph of A MODEL (NOT THE LIVE BIRD*) of an adult male published by Science magazine (right, arrow). This model was used for video comparisons (There are more linked pictures in my blog entries below, for comparison).

Video clip of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker flying through the trees away from a man in a boat (you also get a great view of his left hand and knees). If that link is too clogged up to download, you can try this link instead.You need Quicktime to view this video.

The abstract from the Science article.

A supplement to Science magazine.

The pdf of the original Science article.

Long Thought Extinct, Ivory-billed Woodpecker Rediscovered In Big Woods Of Arkansas [ScienceDaily News]


* many thanks to a colleague of mine, R. Moyle, for pointing out that this bird is a model used for video comparison purposes and is not the real thing. Incidentally, all the news services have this WRONG, and list this as a photo of the live bird.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Celebrate Woodpeckers!

The ivory-billed woodpecker lives from the Arkansas Times, featuring a beautiful, life-like painting of a male Ivory-billed Woodpecker and a long excerpt from Science Magazine's article.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Discovery cause for Celebration, Conservationists say [Environmental Media Services].

Ivory Billed Woodpecker, Feared Extinct, Isn't. [ABC News]

Has anyone noted that George Bush is holding his first news conference of his new administration tonight in his effort to increase his admistration's wanton destruction and pillaging of this country's natural resources? What do you suppose he will say about this bird, who is a victim of unsustainable use of our natural resources? We shall see tonight at 830 pm EST.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Woodpeckers WorldWide!

They are talking about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in India, in Germany, in Canada and in the United Kingdom! [the UK article is from the NewScientist, not from the general press]

There will be a press conference about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker rediscovery at NOON today. Also, the leading journal, Science, will update their website at noon today (why not earlier? Don't they know I have an interview this afternoon??). Original video clips of the bird will also be available on the web, sometime after noon today.

I was surprised it took the press so long to use Frank Gill's quote (see blog entry below) as part of a headline, but it finally happened; 'Elvis' of woodpeckers sighted after 60 years. This MSNBC News story includes another painting of a pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in their natural habitat.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Holy Grail/Holy Bird

This morning, I awoke, as usual, to National Public Radio (NPR) telling the news of the world. Except, this morning, the world was a different place than it was yesterday because NPR reported that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, which was thought by most to be extinct, had been rediscovered. This individual, an adult male, was seen and video-taped in the deep forest of bottomland hardwoods between Little Rock, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee.

"The bird captured on video is clearly an ivory-billed woodpecker. Amazingly, America may have another chance to protect the future of this spectacular bird and the awesome forests in which it lives," John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, said in a statement.

The Ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, is one of the largest woodpecker species in the world. It lives in old growth hardwood forests of the Mississippi Basin in the southern United States, and also on the island of Cuba. It was declared extinct in 1996 in the United States, after the last documented sighting of an adult female in 1944. It takes a long time before conservationists declare any species extinct because they do not want to give up trying to save an endangered species too soon.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is one of six North American bird species assumed to have gone extinct since 1880. The others are Labrador Duck, Camptorhynchus labradorius; Eskimo Curlew, Numenius borealis; Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis; Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius; and Bachman's Warbler, Vermivora bachmanii.

"This is huge. Just huge," said Frank Gill, senior ornithologist at the Audubon Society. "It is kind of like finding Elvis."

The Nature Conservancy, which has protected a large segment of land in the area, reported that the first sighting came on Feb. 11, 2004, by George Sparling of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

I am joyful beyond words. The world is a better, richer, more magical place. Knowing that this magnificent bird lives still, despite all the terrible things that we have done to them, provides a glimmer of hope that not all is lost.

Click on this image of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's historic range (right) to see a larger version in its own window. Also, some information about this habitat from the Nature Conservancy, which has been purchasing and protecting this area for many decades.

A photograph of a juvenile Ivory-billed Woodpecker, taken by James T. Tanner, who was an expert on ivory-billed woodpeckers.

More information (will be updated as the day goes on, earlier stories appear lower down the page and later stories are at the top);

Long thought extinct, ivory-billed woodpecker rediscovered in Big Woods of Arkansas [Eurekalert from a joint press release from Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the Nature Conservancy]

Report: 'Extinct' bird sighted in Louisiana [Associated Press/WFAA News, Dalla-Fort Worth]

Woodpecker Thought Extinct Rediscovered [Associated Press, in San Francisco Chronicle]

Woodpecker Thought Extinct Rediscovered [LA Times]

It's confirmed: Ivory-billed woodpecker isn't extinct after all [Reuters News Service]

Woodpecker Thought Extinct Rediscovered [ABC News]

Woodpecker Thought Extinct Rediscovered [Washington Post News]

Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Scientists, Partners to Announce Dramatic Discovery Related to Species Conservation [US Newswire]

Woodpecker 'rediscovery' sets birders all atwitter [AZ]

Rare woodpecker found in Arkansas [Seattle Times]

Ivory-billed Woodpecker refound in USA [BirdLife International]

Birders all atwitter over report of ivory-bills [Star Tribune] (you have to sign in for this story)

'Extinct' Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Found in Arkansas [Reuters News]

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is Rediscovered in Arkansas! [personal account by one of the original observers]


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Good News (Maybe)

I have an interview!

This is a real, honest-to-gawd interview. For an academic position. This interview is four hours long (and yes, they feed me, too!) and best of all, this interview is not;

1. a frantic telephone call begging me to teach 36 hours before my class begins

2. not for an hourly part-time temp (adjunct professor) position

3. not teaching at a low-quality school that embarasses me

This interview IS;

1. for a position that pays well enough that I can actually pay my rent while simultaneously affording;

a. decent food that is NOT RICE AND BEANS!
b. MTA cards
c. my monthly cell phone bill
d. some decent clothes without holes in er, strategic locations
e. AND still afford to buy a few books and go to a movie once in awhile (Broadway shows will still be beyond my income, unfortunately)

I wonder if I will have health benefits, too??

This interview is in one month (we are working out the precise details now). It is for a contract position that pays better than an adjunct position (LOTS!) and even though it is not a tenure-track position, it is the next best thing. Not only would getting this position show some real progress along my career path, but it is an interview with a very high-quality institution, one that I will be proud to be associated with, one that I can pour my heart and mind into, a place into which I can invest every molecule of energy and passion I have. I don't want to say exactly who it is yet on my blog but you all have heard of them and you would all be thrilled to see me there, this I can guarantee you!

This position, if I get it, is for next spring semester, so all I have to do is figure out how to stay alive and housed through January, 2006.

Anyway, regardless of the outcome, I shall probably reveal who they are after the process is over. I will, of course, keep you posted as to my preparations: This requires careful planning if I am to succeed.

I am afraid to feel too happy about this, but I will indulge myself for the remainder of today in happy, floaty feelings because I will finally have a purpose again.

Uh oh, what to wear? What to wear? I have no idea what to wear! IEEE!!!

Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you with that weird picture.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Grand Rounds XXXI/Skeptic's Circle Blog Carnivals

Doctor Tony has published Grand Rounds XXXI.

Also, the author of Thoughts from Kansas is seeking submissions before 28 April for this issue of the Skeptic's Circle.

I am still trying to recover from my illness and from the depression that it seems to have worsened. But if I can get my shit together in the next 24 hours, I will submit something to the Skeptic's Circle. Gawd knows I have enough essays (five) sitting around half-finished and staring at me!

And also, a new reader sent a meme to me and for some mysterious reason, I seem to have lost it. If you are this person, please send the meme to me again (or post it here!) so I can answer it.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Saturday, April 23, 2005


Some of you might know that I was ill last week. Actually, I have been sick longer than that but I never mentioned it, thinking I was just feeling unusually depressed, which is to be expected in my situation. (Besides, aren't most bloggers depressed, anyway?). Unfortunately, I am still sick, although I am doing better than I was last week. After my pals found out that I was feeling poorly, some of them emailed me things to cheer me up so I thought I would share those things with you.

First, is a set of pictures from K, a friend who lives in NYC whom I met on Craigslist's "jobs" forum;

A week ago, I was writing about my job search woes on Craigslist using rather depressing word choices, so one of my friends noticed and sent me this picture in an email message entitled Where is Pale Male when you need him?

You MUST click on this picture to see a larger version in all its glory so you can more easily identify this man's pet. K wrote the following about this picture; I had fun taking it [the picture] - The guy spotted me photographing his rat, and started turning away, protecting his rat [from] whatever I angle I tried, so that first pic is the only decent one, hence the only one I sent. He finally, after a minute or two, began muttering at me, and then snatched up the rat and stuffed it in his bag, and left. What a goof! This took place out in front of the Flushing Library.

A couple days later, when I am really sick, K sent this very cute picture;

K writes; I got distracted by the "anti - fur" protest going on in front of Prada, which is next to where the cats were.

Who says that New Yorkers are heartless? Has anyone seen such a thing in their cities or towns?

Another friend, I, who lives near Seattle, sent a link that he knew would cheer me up, even if it could not alter the course of my illness; Bush has slime-mold beetle named after him. This story says that Cheney and Rumsfeld also have their own slime-mold beetles. I wonder if GW's, Cheney's and Rumsfeld's beetles all have blackened and twisted hearts? Besides the fact that there are undoubtedly more jobs in the slime-mold beetle research field than in mine, I see irony in this such that I almost wish I was doing research on slime-mold beetles (or even on slime-molds) instead of parrot evolution. Although I prefer living with parrots to living with slime-molds or with beetles.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, April 22, 2005

Birds in the News #8: Earth Day

Happy International Earth Day! Thirty-five years ago, this day was set aside as a time for dedication and commitment to the care of our planet, and as a time for thanksgiving and celebration. Click here if you would like to learn a little more about Earth Day from one of its founders, John McConnell.

In today's issue of Birds in the News, you will find a story that tells how a scientist discovered how the lovely manakin makes some of its peculiar courtship sounds. This story includes video links and I added sound files so you can watch and hear these sounds for yourself. My "peeps" and I also found a piece that describes how the Colorado State biologists are trying to reverse population declines of the once-numerous Gunnison's sage grouse, and we also found stories about birds that were thought to be extinct that have been recently rediscovered! Also linked are several articles that describe how birds are currently acting as "canaries in the coal mine" for humans, and I linked to an article that describes how the European starling came to America.

As always, dear readers, if you find a bird article that you'd like to share, or you want to contribute photographs to my reader photoblog, feel free to email them to me at grrlscientist at yahoo.

Birds in Science:

Manakins are brightly colored sparrow-sized birds from the tropical forests of South America. The males have a remarkable courtship display that involves elaborate dances and a "wing pop" that sounds like an electrical discharge. Thanks to the development of super high-speed cameras, the mystery of how a manakin makes his distinctive wing "pop" (click here to hear it) has been revealed, as described in this story, Jungle Dancers. A black and white video of dancing manakins is linked from this site but it is sometimes difficult to view during peak viewing hours in the evening. (The linked sound file and photo are from a male red-capped manakin, Pipra mentalis.)

I found a rather lengthy but basic primer for those who of you are interested to learn more about avian biogeography. If you look carefully at the diagram to the right, you will notice that it is not a modern map of the world but instead, it shows Gondwanaland as it began to break up into pieces and drift away to form the continents and oceans that we are familiar with today. This picture was taken approximately 125 million years ago. [By the way, avian (parrot) speciation, phylogeny and biogeography are my research areas.]

People helping Birds:

Due to increased oil drilling in their last strongholds, Colorado State Biologists say it is crucial to reverse the population decline in sage grouse, Centrocercus minimus. Sage grouse may number as few as 142,000 over 11 Western states and the government estimates that there may have been as many as 16 million sage grouse in the Western United States and Canada at one time. Human activities -- increased oil drilling and housing construction, drought, overgrazing by livestock and fire suppression, which appears to favor pinon and juniper trees over the birds' favored sagebrush -- have been blamed for the drop in the bird's numbers. (Click here for video clips and sound files of lekking sage grouse).

Birds and the Environment:

If you thought that there are a LOT of starlings in the United States, you were right: There are approximately 200 million European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, in the USA today. These birds are not native to this country, even though people tend to accept them as such because "they've always been here". But we know that all of these birds are the offspring of 80 pairs of European starlings that were introduced into Central Park 120 years ago. These birds provide a powerful warning of the huge impact that a few exotic animals can have on local ecology and native species, as described in this article, the Bard to blame for influx of exotic birds. (Click here to learn more about European starlings.)

Recently, Ecuador designated the Galapagos Islands National Park as an Important Bird Area (IBA). As a result, the government will decide how to deal with longline fishing around these islands, a wide-spread practice that kills albatross, petrels, and other seabirds, and sea animals such as sea turtles. Their decision will have important implications for the recovery of the waved albatross, Phoebastria irrorata, and the Galapagos Penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus, which breed on the Galapagos and are threatened due to longline fishing near the islands. This story includes several pictures of the waved albatross as well as "editor's notes" and contact information for Conservation International-Ecuador and for photo usage.

On this Earth Day, it is a great pleasure to remind you of some good news by pointing you to this progress report; the forest spotted owlet, Athene blewitti (Heteroglaux blewitti) -- believed to be extinct for 113 years -- was rediscovered in 1997. It now is estimated to have a population of 79 individuals. This bird is found freely flying in the forests of Maharashtra, according to the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

More good news: after Angola's civil war ended in 2002, ornithologists and birders were allowed into the country for a look around in February, 2005. They found three bird species that were thought to be extinct as reported in Angola reveals its bird secrets. This story includes a photograph of one species, the orange-breasted bush-shrike, Laniarius brauni, a lovely bird that impales its prey on thorns. "These exciting rediscoveries are welcome news, but illustrate how poorly known the birds of Angola are. Further surveys are urgently needed in order to establish a more accurate picture of the species’ true status and conservation needs," says Dr. Stuart Butchart, Global Species Programme Coordinator for BirdLife International.

Use of DDT, a commonly used pesticide, was heavily restricted in the United States since 1972, when it was shown that it was decimating bird populations. But despite these strict controls, the evidence shows that DDT levels are continuing to increase in non-migratory birds to this day, as described in a concern that won't fly away. Does that spell trouble ahead for these still-healthy species? Are humans at risk? No one knows. But one lesson seems clear: Beware of what you put into the environment, because it can be extraordinarily difficult to remove.

Birds and other animals that display abnormal and bizare behaviors are not as amusing as they appear at first glance. In fact, these animals are a warning that they (and we) are living in an increasingly toxic chemical soup comprised of hormones and their break-down products, of heavy metals such as lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and additives such as bisphenol A, as explained in this NewScientist article, Pollution triggers bizarre behaviour in animals.

Bird Disease:

If you have looked around my blog, you know that I often write about avian influenza (I am finishing three more articles, too). Of course, writing about this topic means that I read vast amounts of primary and secondary literature about it as well. Bird-flu threat: Think globally, prepare locally is one of the better articles I've read recently because provides a nice overview of biosecurity measures taken by a chicken farm in the area, along with the latest CDC information about public health issues and the importation ban on exotic animals.

Are you a bird owner or small-flock bird breeder? If so, you will be interested to know that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is offering a free DVD or video on biosecurity for bird fanciers and small-flock poultry owners. The 15 minute presentation, part of the department's Biosecurity for the Birds campaign, is designed to help bird owners put in place practices to prevent the spread of diseases such as exotic Newcastle disease and avian influenza, should outbreaks occur in the United States. To order the video, call (301) 734-7799 or email

Native birds are also suffering from disease in the United States. In fact, bird feeders pose a problem when they are not kept clean, so kind-hearted people can in fact be "killing with kindness". This is the case for redpolls, Carduelis flammea (pictured), a small red-capped finch that is a common feeder bird throughout the northern regions of North America. These birds along with several other species, are dying from a bacterial infection, Salmonella, that they get from dirty bird feeders. This article was written by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and it provides good information about proper bird feeder hygiene so people living elsewhere can also protect their birds from harm. (Click here to learn more about the common redpoll. You can click on the redpoll picture above to see a larger image in its own window, too).

Birds and Politics:

This NY Times story was sent to me by a colleague regarding the outrageous and disgusting hiring practices of the New York City Parks Department. The hiring of this bozo, Thomas Cullen, an expert parrot and raptor smuggler and so-called raptor "expert", to bring Bald Eagles back to Inwood Park is an example of the indefensible hiring practices by New York City's Parks Department. I've said this before about similarly disgusting situations, and I'll say it here again: THIS GUY -- A FELON -- HAS A PAYING JOB working with birds while I remain unemployable! This article requires NY Times registration (free). If you prefer to remain anonymous, you can sign in using "clreader" as your username and password.

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Previous : : Birds in the News : : Next

Academic Job Applications: 11 (my last installment of the "shotgun method" of applying for summer adjunct positions that may or may not exist at local universities and colleges: This is my patented "toilet paper campaign" where I send applications to the chairs of all college and university science departments within subway range while simultaneously crossing all my fingers and toes).

Academic Job Rejections: 1 (Assistant Professor of Biology)


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Grand Rounds XXX

Welcome to this week’s edition of Grand Rounds! Despite the fact that I have been ill this past week and weekend (I still am ill, as a matter of fact), I still managed to write and publish this, the 30th weekly installment of Grand Rounds, for all of you to read and enjoy! I created categories for each topic so you could more easily find your way around. You will also notice that some stories could easily have been included in several different categories; in that case, my choice for placing the story was made primarily based on how many submissions already existed in each category.

Rites of Passage:

The process of getting into medical school can be daunting, requiring long years of study and preparation before the hopeful candidate even applies to med school, and then there’s that rite of passage, the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). For some people, just saying the name aloud makes their heart skip a beat. This report comes from a premed student, TheSquire, who just took the April MCAT.

How soon we forget those early days when we struggled to learn basic skills, such as taking a patient’s blood pressure, but the author of Top Of My Head takes us back in time by describing a few moments in her classroom with her students, who were learning how to take an accurate blood pressure reading.

Medical Practice:

Kevin, MD discusses Red Sox manager, Terry Francona’s hospitalization after he experienced mysterious chest pains and his subsequent diagnosis of a virally-caused myocarditis or pericarditis.

Journal Club comments about the most recent biventricular pacemaker study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). This blog entry includes a link to the original article and to an editorial about the procedure that also appears in the same issue of NEJM.

If a particular health care market is rapidly expanding, that means more money and personnel will be invested into it, right? Not necessarily, especially when you consider the expense of mammography. This story is part II in a series written by CodeBlueBlog.

Science writer Gina Kolata’s recent NY Times piece, The Body Heretic: It Scorns Our Efforts prompted RCentor to write this response, Working on the Probability Edge, where he concludes that Kolata is too fatalistic, that even though we cannot change things, [..] we can certainly improve our odds.

Mental Health:

Dr. Sanity is a psychiatrist who wrote this interesting three-part essay, “Narcissism and Society”. This series will certainly give you and your colleagues something interesting to talk about as you hang around the water cooler. All three parts are linked from an introductory prologue.

This double-feature essay, Electroconvulsive Therapy and Bestiality, by Dr. Maria is an interesting look at modern electroconvulsive therapy, which is nothing like what they showed us in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This essay ends with a story of an animal lover whose fondness for his dog was threatening his marriage.

This essay, A Swamp Plant & A Cactus is written by a loving parent who is dealing with not one, but two, sons who suffer from a variety of mental and physical illnesses. Despite the similarities of their disorders, her sons’ disorders are manifested in opposite ways, so she compares them to a swamp plant and a cactus.

Medical Science:

And now, for the best news of the week, Chocolate Stops Cancer. This, according to a story published recently in Science Daily, is due to a natural ingredient found in chocolate, pentameric procyanidin (pentamer), that apparently has cancer-fighting properties. The reaction of various special interests will be interesting, says Interested Participant.

Red State Moron returned from a medical conference recently where he attended a lecture about elective Cesarean deliveries. In his article, The Obstetric Buffet, he compares the advantages and risks to mothers from vaginal births versus Cesarean deliveries.

MedGadget, a blog that investigates emerging medical technologies, in this essay, Nanoscience Meets Cochlear Implant, draws our attention to a report about a cochlear implant that might stimulate regrowth of hearing nerve cells. This essay includes links to press releases.


Orac, as usual, comes through with another well-written story, the tragic account of The Orange Man. This story discusses “alternative medicine” and how damaging it is when desperate people choose to believe the claims of quacks whose only care is lining their pockets with “blood money”.

Practical Support:

Dr. Bob at The Doctor is In explains his idea for providing health care for poor people in Turning Back the Clock. As you might know, lack of health care to the un(der)employed is one of my top three blog rants, particularly since I am living this scenario right now. I think that the good Doctor’s idea is elegant; fund health care for the poor by providing tax credits to physicians who provide charity care.

Have you found yourself staring at a computer screen, wondering where the heck that note that you just wrote disappeared to? Well, join the club. According to How to Kill Patients Through Bad Design, published by Over My Med Body, medical usability is an increasingly important issue that will affect more medical practitioners as time goes on.

Medical Philosophy:

Medviews is a blog written by a doctor who teaches a Health Policy class. As the result of a discussion in this class, he has written a particularly interesting story about the ethics of expending large resources on patients with limited life spans in The Market for Hearts.

Different River writes a piece, Doctors Without Conscience, about an article that recently appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. The original article by Elie Wiesel, asks how doctors and other educated people can become murderers. Different River’s conclusion? Academic education is not moral education; that is, it does not provide any morality whatsoever.

In this whimsical essay, Bioethics Dude compares diagnostic challenges encountered by Tom and Ray, the hosts of CarTalk, to those encountered by medical doctors in the Trouble with Diagnosis: Car Talk vs. Doctors.

Do gifts from pharmaceutical companies influence your choice of which medications you prescribe for your patients? No? Well, think again, according to DoctorMo. According to a recent opinion linked from this essay, the evidence shows otherwise. DoctorMo’s essay, Prescribing Under the Influence is part of a series of articles that will appear about this topic. (I just love the title of his essay, by the way!).

Sue Pelletier at Capsules also discusses this same issue in Is it possible to take the bias out of medical education? She concludes that other things, such as improved patient-doctor communications, often have a greater impact on patient care than what’s available in a physician’s medicine chest.

“Did you read my blog?” As everyone knows, keeping a blog is a hobby that is taking the world by storm, freeing people to express themselves semi-anonymously in writing. But can blogging affect the doctor-patient relationship when patients blog about their doctors? Shrinkette considers the implications in this essay, particularly for psychiatry.


Blogborygmi took a break from his studies to talk about the Multiple Gripe Test, otherwise known as the Medical Board Certification Exams, that he will be taking soon. This essay also could have been included in the “Rites of Passage” section.

Speaking of Medical Certification exams, Aggravated DocSurg has a few interesting comments about the Medical Certification board exams in light of the FDA’s recent decision to allow silicone breast implants onto the market again in his article, Interesting Precedent.

In this concise essay, GruntDoc wonders why a nurse with experience, a been-there and done-that nurse has to accept being addressed by their first name by anyone, especially new docs in Patronizing Nurses.

Even though I am your host this week, I have been ill and unable to write much recently, but I didn’t want to disappoint you all by not giving you anything of mine to read. So I decided to link to my somewhat humorous living will. I hope you enjoy it.

Reader Recommendations:

One of the highest compliments that any writer can receive is when another writer recommends their material to others. This moving piece, written by Head Nurse, was recommended by Shrinkette. In this essay, Head Nurse eloquently describes her delight in, and passion for her career.

This story could also have been included in the “Rites of Passage” category. The author of the blog, The Chaplin News, recommended this story written by a Marine now medical student, “Doc Russia”. In “First Time for Stitches”, Doc Russia describes his first time stitching a laceration, located between the toes of a 13-year-old kid. His words of wisdom; “If you want to do procedures as a medical student, you have to fake it until you make it.”

This story is my own recommendation. Written by Joe, it is the moving story about the sudden and unexpected hospitalization and long recovery of his friend, Vasco. It is published in four parts; Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Next week, Grand Rounds XXXI will be hosted by Dr. Tony. If you did not get your submission published in this issue of Grand Rounds, please accept my sincere apologies. I was feeling much sicker as the evening wore on, and so I finally called it quits and published Grand Rounds at 1 am so I could go home and get some sleep. If you were not included in this issue of Grand Rounds, please be sure to send your article link to drtonyblog AT hillsides DOT com. Of course, new submissions are being sought by DrTony, too.

I am going home now for a well-deserved rest. If there are any errors that need to be corrected, please let me know by sending email to GrrlScientist at yahoo and I will take care of it as soon as humanely possible.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Grand Rounds Appeal for Submissions (pretty please?)

This week's Grand Rounds is shaping up slowly .. very slowly. Too slowly in fact! I have received only four submissions so far so I am getting very nervous! Please

email links to me at yahoo

(GrrlScientist AT yahoo) for your wonderful, gross, heartrending, heartwarming, funny or medically correct stories so I can include them in this Tuesday's Grand Rounds. Please get your links emailed to me before 9pm EST, although I will accept them after that, if I am still alive and connected to a computer. But the sooner that you get your links to me, the happier I will be because I am fighting some sort of evil feverish aching sickness that has stopped my own writing efforts, thus, it is likely that I will not be able to contribute any of my own material to this week's effort.

So, this is an emergency! Calling all blogging doctors, nurses, medical scientists and other medical peeps, please make this poor, sick girl feel better by contributing your experiences to this week's Grand Rounds!


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist


I woke up this morning, quite late, and felt I was stumbling slow-motion through the fluffy pillows of a dream. Wouldn't you know it? I have ignored it for a week, but I can't ignore it any longer: I am ill. As usual, I have impeccable timing. Today and tomorrow are the warmest days of the year so far in NYC; lovely spring days without the typical life-sucking humidity, days that are full of migrating warblers that I won't see because I am sick. These will probably be the best days of the entire summer in NYC, and I will be trapped inside, in a swirling, boring, miserable sauna of illness.

I do not have internet access in my apartment so I rode the subway in to my former employer's building where they lend me use of a computer with internet access. So here I am, feverish and aching, and feeling terribly guilty because I am not accomplishing much. I planned to work on 11 "shotgun" job applications, six writing samples for another job application, and try to make a dent in that four-inch stack of lab reports and exams I have to grade before Tuesday. After all that is done, I planned to reward myself by working on my issue of Grand Rounds (which should be easy since I have received only four submissions so far, geez!). But I can't concentrate. I don't have enough energy to remain focused for longer than three seconds at a stretch. I don't even have enough energy to worry about my impending unemployment that looms in three weeks, I don't have enough energy to worry about my sudden and surprising scarcity of cat-sitting and dog-walking jobs that have otherwise kept me fed for the past eight months.

I do, however, have enough energy to worry about this illness becoming something much worse. Even though I rarely become ill, when I do, I tend to get very ill. I learned two weeks ago that, as an Adjunct, I do have health insurance .. after I've taught for four semesters straight for 10 hours or more per semester at the same school. Since summer semesters aren't included in this scheme, that translates into 2 YEARS of teaching before I have the right to see a doctor or a dentist without eviction for non-payment of my rent.

I feel so lucky.

I am not sure when I will be writing another blog entry. I was working on a piece that was supposed to be done today, an essay that investigates how cockfighting spreads avian influenza and other diseases, but I probably will not be able to finish it in time to include in this week's Grand Rounds blog carnival, as originally planned. But I know I will be publishing Grand Rounds on Tuesday, as promised, and that I will also be teaching that day regardless of how ill I am (Adjuncts don't get paid sick leave), but other than that, I might be away from my blog for a few days. Sorry. With the exception of my birds, books and music, my readers are the only thing that give me any pleasure these days. Take care of each other and I'll be back as soon as I am feeling better. Who knows? Maybe I'll meet a cute, single doctor who makes house calls and who likes parrots?

Well, dreams are still free, aren't they?


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Fahrenheit 451 Book Meme

Thursday, Rexroth's Daughter added this to my comments section so I decided to make my response a stand-alone essay rather than a short reply. I copied her original comment here;

Oh, I hate to do this to you, but you've been hit by the book meme--

You are stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book would you be?
[Note: In the novel - because books were burned - to save the content of books, people memorized one in order to pass the content on to others.]

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

What is the last book you bought?

What are you currently reading?

Five books for your desert island cruise package.

Who are you going to pass this book meme baton to and why? (only three people)

There's normally a curse if you break a chain - so - If you break the chain, you'll know.

I have not purchased any books (or anything else, except the basics, like beans and rice) for nine months because I was too busy trying to save every dime that I could get my hands on in anticipation of unemployment and poverty. For a bibliophile who reads 1-4 books every week, this is indeed, cruel and unusual punishment. However, two weeks ago, I couldn't stand it any longer and spent my entire tax refund on a box of books from a book club (I'm not saying who they are, but I'll bet you all know anyway). I took advantage of their "five books for five bucks" special, purchased one book at regular price to complete my membership requirements and then canceled it. I forgot how good it feels to have my own books to read and I also forgot how good it feels to get fun mail! So this meme showed up just in time to take advantage of that treasure trove of books.

The curse that accompanies the meme is really hilarious because I would have answered anyway, even without the threat of a curse. Besides, I am already cursed (with unemployment) for I-don't-even-know-what evil that I committed (probably committed in a previous life).

Which book would you be?

Only one, huh? That's very tough. I guess I'd choose to be Pulitzer Prize Feature Stories, edited by David Garlock. This book has the most amazing "creative non-fiction" stories, a genre that I wish to pursue as an alternative career if only I had the talent to do so. But don't forget that I could happily be one of several hundred (or more) other books, but many of them would probably already be taken by someone else. I am guessing that few people in my social circle would have read this book and so would not choose to "preserve" it, but they would love it (and wish to preserve it) if they ever did read it.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I did have a crush on John Thornton, Buck's last owner and love-object in Call of the Wild. He was a man of deep and powerful convictions who also had a kind heart. Also, I crush on Professor Dumbledore, the Headmaster in the Harry Potter books, for the same reasons I cite for John Thornton. I am sure there are more fictional book characters whom I've crushed on, but I can't recall any of them at the moment.

What is the last book you bought?

Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder. This is a moderately well-written autobiography written in a sweet, funny, conversational tone. It reminded me of all the reasons that I fell in love with Gene Wilder when I was a wee one. In fact, I will never forget the first time I saw Gene Wilder. He was starring in one of his early box office flops that is actually one of my favorite movies, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (I didn't see it until it was on TV any number of years later). In the scene where I first saw him, he immediately made an impression on me.

My recollections of that scene: It was a sunny morning. Gene Wilder (as Willy Wonka) was dressed in a purple velvet suit and tophat. He came out of his amazing Chocolate Factory and walked across the small cobblestone plaza towards the crowd standing at the iron gate. Within seconds, all the joy and hilarity ceased among the crowd because their hero, Willy Wonka, was hobbling along with a cane. They stared. He walked slowly, laboriously, and then his cane became stuck in a crack between cobblestones. He stumbled a step or two onwards without his cane, stopped momentarily and flexed his empty hand before he fell. At the last nanosecond, he saved himself from a nasty belly-flop onto the rough stones with a perfect summersault. Suddenly, he was standing in front of the crowd, unharmed, with his arms open wide, a broad smile on his face. "Welcome everybody," he said in his sweet self-effacing way. "Welcome to my chocolate factory."

The crowd fell in love with him at that moment because their hero did not disappoint them by being a cripple. That scene intrigued and delighted me because Willy Wonka was so much more than he first appeared. (I later learned that this scene was one of Gene Wilder's original contributions to the film.) Anyway, throughout the entire film, Gene Wilder's inner sweetness shone through and that's why, as a kid, I fell in love with him. He has a genuinely kind heart. I never knew people could be like that.

What are you currently reading?

I nearly always read two books at a time. One book is my "subway book" that is generally fairly intellectual or science-y while the other book is my "bedtime" book that is lighter or funnier than my subway book or it is a collection of essays or poetry (I generally crawl under the covers and read until I pass out, and continue reading when my worries wake me in the middle of the night).

Currently; my subway book is Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan. This book is funny and surprisingly well researched. Besides the fact that it is crammed full of fascinating and often gross rat-lore, it also takes place in NYC, so it is fun to read because I recognize some of the places he talks about, even though I have only lived here for 2.5 years. I plan to go on an expedition to find and peek into the author's rat alley after I have finished reading this book.

My bedtime book is The Truth About History by the editors of Reader's Digest. This book is so interesting because it shows how modern science is changing our view of history. It has lots of nice pictures and short essays that tell how reason is overcoming the darkness of irrationality, good for giving me sweet dreams as I nod off.

Five books for your desert island cruise package.

I assume food, water and a rudimentary shelter are available to me? If so, these would be my books;

Island Biology by David Lack. This is the classic book about avian biogeography. Not only that, but it is well-written, too.

Shaking the Tree edited by Henry Gee. Packed full of seminal peer-reviewed evolutionary biology papers that also happen to be well-written, so this is a really interesting and satisfying book.

Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in our Time by Jonathan Weiner. This is an amazing book, both for the quality of the writing and for the quality of the ideas and it reads like a mystery. It's just really top-notch writing.

Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis. This is the only title in this collection that I have not yet read at least once (I am still looking for a reasonably-priced or free copy, as a matter of fact) but I want to read it very, very much.

New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. Mary is my most favorite living poet. Her poetry says what I think and feel but am too clumsy and out-of-touch to capture with words.

If food, water and a rudimentary shelter are NOT available to me, I'd bring these books;

Wilderness Survival by Gregory Davenport. This is supposed to be one of the best survival guides out there.

A Naturalist's Guide to the Tropics by Marco Lambertini. I hope my deserted island would be tropical, otherwise, I don't want to play this game any more.

The New Oxford Book of Food Plants by J. G. Vaughan, et al. This book might keep me from poisoning myself while foraging.

Coral Reef Fishes: Indo-Pacific and Caribbean by Ewald Lieske and Robert Myers. Guess what else I will probably eat while on this island?

Reef Fish Identification - Tropical Pacific by Gerald Allen, et al. I need two fish ID books because they have pretty pictures and also because the Pacific region fish books are not very complete.

In either situation, I'd also be compelled to cheat by smuggling several bird field guides with me.

Who are you going to pass this book meme baton to and why? (only three people)

Honestly, I am quite eager to see what YoungFemaleScientist will have to say on this topic and the accompanying curse (harhar, as if she would believe that) is as good a reason as any to share the wealth with her.

I am also curious to know what Chris, the author of Creek Running North reads .. he is such a wonderful writer that I am certain he must read some really great books -- books that I want to read, too. The bad thing is he is away from his blog for two weeks so I have to wait for his response (if he even chooses to play the game).

I also want to pass this on to Orac at Respecful Insolence because he seems interesting and I imagine he reads lots of interesting history books. Like Chris, Orac is also away from his blog for a week or two. Alas, more delayed gratification.

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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, April 15, 2005

Birds in the News #7

This issue of Birds in the News starts off with a link to the newest dinosaur discovery, an individual that was carrying developing eggs when she died. My bird pals and I also found lots of new nesting bird cams, many of them international, so you can see bird species that may be new to you. I also included a link to Mike Yip's webpage in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, that is full of breathtaking bird photographs that will knock your socks off. Other topics in this issue include a story about a duck that has charmed this nation's capital, a singing parrot, and other treats that you will enjoy. This week's featured reader photoblog essay is about the trials of a great horned owl family.

Birds in Science:

If you are like me, you were excited yesterday to learn that a Dinosaur Fossil Carries Bird-Like Eggs Inside was reported in this week's issue of the top journal, Science. The dinosaur, a theropod, lived during the Upper Cretaceous Period, which was between 98 to 65 million years ago.

This very interesting story describes recent research, also published in Science, showing that introduced species can have major and permanent impacts on habitats. Donald Croll, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and first author of this paper, summarizes these findings this way; "Introduced species are a global phenomenon, and we tend to focus on the direct effects, such as the reduction or extinction of species that are consumed by an introduced predator. This study shows how the effects of introduced species can spread throughout an ecosystem in unpredictable ways."

Is Baer's pochard, Aythya baeri, slipping ever closer to extinction? That is what ornithologists think because this migratory duck has been mysteriously absent from almost all of its traditional flyways and wintering areas in Asia in the past several years.

Bird Cams:

Did you know that the average birdcam costs approximately $5000 per year to operate? This is according to one of my reader photoblog contributors whom I was trying to convince to install a streaming bird cam link into her wood duck nestbox. Needless to say, she will not be streaming live pictures of nesting wood ducks this year. Despite the cost of birdcams, they are growing ever more popular. My birdy pals and I have located yet more webbed indices of nesting bird cams from around the world, including a penguin cam in Antarctica, a large number of stork cams in Germany, an Egyptian goose in Netherlands, a rare white-tailed Eagle cam in Scotland, and a large number of peregrine falcons from all around the world. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has a nice nesting birdcam index that displays several nest videos on the same page. Another interesting bird cam is this solar-powered bird cam that refreshes twice per second (or once every 5 or 20 seconds, your choice, if that works better for your connection) so it is almost as good as streaming video! This cam is unique because it focuses on a trio of bald eagles (two females and one male) tending a nest. If you are really interested in bird cams, there are more listed in previous issues of Birds in the News.

I also linked to the Vancouver Island Birds webpage, which is filled with some of the most astonishing photographs of west coast birds that I have ever seen. You simply must see it to believe it.

People Helping Birds:

Who is more popular that all of our government officials combined? A DUCK! It's a female mallard, nesting on the lawn in front of the Treasury Department, just off Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. She is being guarded from hundreds of her eager admirers by the Secret Service, who have given her several names, including my personal favorite, T-Bill.

"Hacking" young raptors is an ancient practice that has been adopted widely throughout the conservation community as a "soft release" method for introducing domestically raised birds into the wild. This story describes the practice and includes pictures of peregrine falcons, who were teetering on the brink of extinction in several countries before this technique was successfully used to increase their populations.

People Watching Birds:

Learning how to identify wild birds as they flit through the trees is not easy, but more people are learning how to do this every year. This raises the issue of how should as aspiring birder learn how to identify birds without becoming discouraged. One ornithologist and expert birder, Kamal Islam, claims that the brightly colored warblers, the 'jewels of the bird world', are a good target for beginners because of their beauty.

Birding hotspots around the world is an exhaustive collection of places to see particular species of birds in the wild, and includes a tremendous index of photographs provided by the website's readers.

Birds Entertaining People:

There is at least one baseball fan out there who wears feathers while singing Take me out to the ballgame. This story has both a slideshow and a video link.

After breaking into a house where a woman was in distress, police were startled to discover a very talented parrot, instead. And where do you suppose this parrot learned to say such things? My guess; television. conducted a very interesting interview with the director of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. It also includes updates and delightful pictures of several feathered stars of the film.

Miscellaneous Birds

This webpage indexes photographs of extinct birds and other animals. They have photographs of famous extinct species such as the Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon (including a close-up of this species' iridescent plumage), a variety of Hawai'ian akialoas that compare beak shapes, and the great auk. This site also has a faded painting of one of my research bird species, the severely endangered ultramarine lory. This site also includes photographs of extinct mammals.

Reader Photoblog:

GreatHornedOwlNestChickThese resized photographs show a great horned owl hen and one of her two chicks (click on each picture to see the larger original in its own window). The owls live in the chaparral of San Diego County where photographer and fellow blogger at JamulBlog, Tom, lives with his wife. Tom and his wife discovered the owl nest in an oak tree in their neighbor's front yard several days ago when they found one of the chicks on the ground. The chick is apparently unhurt and is recovering nicely by eating dozens of mice every day at a wildlife rehab facility located several hundred miles away.

Why was one chick on the ground? Tom writes; Nancy [the rehabber] tells us that two scenarios are common: accidentally falling out, and being kicked out by the sibling. The accidents happen, she says, because the owls frequently occupy another (smaller) bird's (smaller) nest. And in fact, we believe the nest our owl is in was a crow's nest. The sibling kicking out the other happens, she says, especially when food is short and there's intense competition -- and this could be either because of a real shortage or an inattentive parent. There's certainly not a real shortage where we are; we're having a rodent explosion this year because of heavy rainfalls and the resulting vegetation. So I'm thinking the accident theory is the most likely... The kicked out chicklet was very hungry, but it had food available (a dead rat alongside it, apparently left by the parents). Nancy tells us that the defining characteristic of an owl chicklet is insatiable hunger; that they'll eat as long as you put something in front of them. I'm not sure how serious she was about that, exactly, but clearly she didn't think the fact that it was hungry was any sort of indicator [of hunger] at all.

GreatHornedOwlnChickWe learned from our books that the Great Horned Owls tend to use the same nests year-after-year, so we got to wondering why this owl showed up. Of course it could simply be this parent owl's first brood, or just some accident of fate. But here's another theory (mine): we had very large fires in San Diego County in October 2003. These fires burned tens of thousands of acres, including a large percentage of all the riparian live oak habitat in the county. Where we live is some of the best such habitat remaining, and we're just outside the burned area (whew!). So I'm thinking that maybe this was a displaced owl.

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Academic Job Applications: 9 (the "shotgun method" of applying for summer adjunct positions that may or may not exist at local universities and colleges: This is my patented "toilet paper campaign" where I send applications to the chair of all college and university science departments within subway range while simultaneously crossing all my fingers and toes. Fortunately, two positions were advertized, and one seems like "it was made for me". We shall see if they agree).

Professional Job Rejections: 4 (Assistant Professor of Biology, Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Adjunct Professor of Biology, also a Postdoctoral Fellowship -- 1 position with 200 applicants).


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