Monday, May 26, 2003

How Many?

Units of measure and conversions from one system to another. Boring topics, right? Only if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Russ Rowlett’s A Dictionary of Units of Measurement, where he explains everything from a (a symbol for year) to zoll (the traditional German inch). You can also read Fred Baldwin’s popular review of Rowlett’s dictionary: Mickey by Mickey, Twip by Twip.

But wait, you say this has nothing to do with birds? You would be mostly right, of course, except that I had occasion to access this site while writing a scientific paper on birds, so I figured that it qualified as an honorary addition to Birds Etcetera.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

New Yard Bird: Common Yellowthroat

Last Saturday morning (05/18/03), I was walking down the front staircase when I distinctly heard a loud, whistled song reminiscent of the Common Yellowthroat's witchity, witchity, witchity, witch, except that this was slightly different, more like tu-witchity, tu-witchity, tu-witchity,tu-witch. When I first heard the song, I was somewhat taken aback, not able to identify the singer because it was so out of place--the Common Yellowthroat being an inhabitant of brushy wetlands. But no, there the song was again. It had to be a yellowthroat! I walked to the front door, carefully opened it, and watched and listened from the threshold. Suddenly, I caught a flash of movement in the evergreen shrubs that line the front of the porch. Then, a male Common Yellowthroat in brilliant breeding plumage--yellow head and breast with a bold black mask across the eyes--hopped to the top of the bushes, gave one more outburst of his tu-witchity, tu-witchity, tu-witchity, tu-witch song, then fleeted away across the road. Probably a migrant headed back to his patch of breeding habitat, who was temporarily grounded by the heavy rains and overcast skies of the previous evening and sought shelter in the shrubs in our front yard. A nice way to start the day!
Birds on Cigarette Cards

Cigarette cards are one type of paper memorabilia on which collectors can find illustrations of birds. Franklin Cards provides brief descriptions and illustrations of 18 different sets of bird cards, all British I believe. Some of these cards can be incredibly expensive.
Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation

“The definitive guide to the evolutionary biology of sex” is, as Dr. Tatiana’s own home page modestly proclaims, “a hilarious natural history in the form of letters to and answers from the preeminent sexpert in all creation.” Dr. Tatiana is the alter ego of evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson. To whet your appetite, check out Dr. Tatiana's advice to Twiggy, “the stick insect who has been copulating for 10 weeks.” This book sounds like a fun way for adults of all ages to learn about evolutionary biology while reading about some of the weirder aspects of animal sex.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Charging Hummingbirds

Lynn S. of Reflections in d minor offers this short observation on hummingbirds and includes a few links to hummingbird Web sites. She also recently provided a link to the Flightless Hummingbird, “a pseudo-periodical” that has absolutely nothing to do with hummingbirds, except for this concluding sentence in the Statement of Purpose: “It is luck and luck alone that allows you to bag a charging hummingbird.” Very weird!

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Perpetuating Environmental Fraud

The folks at CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) ask, "How did a book authored by an obscure Danish academic with little or no expertise in environmental scienc become an international media event?" Curious? Then you will definitely want to read Matthew Nisbet's harsh criticism of Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg and the controversial claims made in his best-selling book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg has been a popular guest on the Ameircan talk-show circuit. I heard him just the other morning on the Jim Bohannon Show. Lomborg is probably very popular among the occupants of the Bush White House.
Demand for Bird's Nest Soup Sparks Environmental War

A 2-year-old, but still extremely interesting (as well as disturbing), article from the Associated Press notes that increased demand and soaring prices (as much as $58.00 per bowl) have led to overharvest of swiftlet nests, and thus declines in populations, in Southeast Asia.
My All-Time Favorite Bird Bumper Sticker

I'd Rather Be Birding
This has been around forever. I date it to the early 1970's and associate it with the early days of the American Birding Association. I didn't think it was available any longer, as I haven't seen one in ages. But I recently discovered that the Sequoia Audubon Society sells it by mail order for $2.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

In the past, I have been critical of the Wildlife Services program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for not making environmental documents available on the Web. I have just learned that copies of at least some of the environmental documents prepared by Wildlife Services for various types of control actions can be downloaded at this site. Here's a summary of bird documents that are available for the Greater West Virginia Region:

Bird Damage Management

Nothing available

Nothing available

Nothing available

Crow Damage Management and FONSI - Additional Information
Reducing Pigeon, Sparrow, and Starling Damage - FONSI

West Virginia
Bird Damage Management - FONSI

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Coyotes, Deer, and Politics: A Wildlife Management Debacle in Maine

Ted Williams' article about Maine's War on Coyotes is an excellent example of what can happen when a political appointee is put in charge of wildlife management. The NoSnare Task Force web site provides additional excellent background information on this raging controversy in Maine.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Bob Hines Art Exhibit

The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury Maryland, is featuring an exhibit of paintings and memorabilia of Bob Hines (1912-1994), an accomplished artist-illustrator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The exhibit, entitled "Bob Hines: National Wildlife Artist," runs from May 16-August 17, 2003.
Bird Bumper Stickers

The following two bumper stickers were noted on a car at my place of work in Arlington, Virginia:

Caution: Sudden Stops!
We're Bird Watchers


We Brake for Birds!

Friday, May 16, 2003

Mosquito Fish to Control West Nile Virus?

On 05/15/03, I posted the following message to the WestNileVirus-L listserv:

American University Radio (WAMU - 88.5), an NPR affiliate in Washington, D.C., featured a half-hour broadcast today at 1 p.m. on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on the use of mosquito fish (Gambusia holbrooki) to control WNV. The program included guests from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheres, York County Mosquito Control, and The Nature Conservancy. The State of Virginia is reviewing applications and issuing permits to local mosquito control authorities to introduce G. holbrooki, even to parts of the State where it is not native, despite the following known or potential detrimental impacts of this species (from the Nonindigenous Aquatic Species website):

1. Recent critical reviews of the world literature on mosquito control have not supported the view that Gambusia are particularly effective in reducing mosquito populations or in reducing the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.

2. Because of their aggressive and predatory behavior, mosquitofish may negatively affect populations of small fish through predation and competition.

3. In some habitats, introduced mosquitofish reportedly displaced select native fish species regarded as better or more efficient mosquito control agents.

4. Mosquitofish are known to prey on eggs, larvae, and juveniles of various fishes, including those of largemouth bass.

5. Introducing mosquitofish also can precipitate algal blooms when the fish eat the zooplankton grazers, or in an increase in the number of mosquitoes if the fish eat the invertebrate predators.

I worry about the unintended consequences of introducing yet another alien aquatic predator into waters where it is not native. with no guarantee that it will be effective in reducing mosquito populations or the incidence of WNV. I wish this were all a hoax, but I heard it with my own ears!

Cassette tapes of the program are available from WAMU.
Thanks to Diedtra Henderson for pointing me to this article from the Denver Post, which reviews concerns about using Gambusia for this purpose in Colorado.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Anatomical Birds

Following my recent serendipitous discovery (thanks to the Dave Barry Blog) of a Web site describing and illustrating an amazing appurtenance of the male Lake Duck (Oxyura vittata)–a resident of southern South America–I began thinking about the ways in which ornithologists have incorporated the color, size, and shape of various anatomical features into common names.

These features include (but are perhaps not limited to) the back, beard, belly, beak, bib, bill, breast, bridle, brow, cap, cheek, chest, chin, collar, crest, crown, ears, eyes, face, flank, foot, front, gape, girdle, goggles, head, hood, legs, lores, mantle, nape, neck, nose, plumes, rump, shoulders, sides, tail, tips, toes, tooth, throat, tuft, vent, wattles, whiskers, and wings. Whew!

How many birds on the West Virginia list are named for some part of their anatomy? Probably way too many to list here individually, but some examples of West Virginia birds with anatomy-inspired appellations include Great Black-backed Gull, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black-capped Chickadee, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Double-crested Cormorant, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Short-eared Owl, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-headed Woodpecker, Hooded Warbler, Black-legged Kittiwake, Red-necked Phalarope, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Long-tailed Duck, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Tufted Titmouse, and Golden-winged Warbler.

We have to venture outside West Virginia, however, to find birds described for other anatomical features. Elsewhere in the AOU Check-list area we have, for example, Eyebrowed Thrush (why no hyphen in Eyebrowed?), Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Red-faced Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Blue-footed Booby, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Hooded Warbler, Light-mantled Albatross, Red-naped Sapsucker, Yellow-nosed Albatross, White-tipped Dove, Double-toothed Kite, Long-toed Stint, Black-vented Shearwater, and Black-whiskered Vireo.

And elsewhere in the world, we can find such exotic and mysterious-sounding species as Silver-beaked Tanager, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, White-bibbed Ground-Dove, Buff-bridled Inca-Finch, Coppery-chested Jacamar, White-chinned Thistletail, White-gaped Honeyeater, Black-girdled Barbet, Black-goggled Tanager, Red-lored Parrot, and Golden-plumed Parakeet.

And finally, do ornithologists appear to exhibit an inordinate amount of interest in a certain anatomical feature common to both birds and mammals? That sounds like a topic for another post!

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Unusually Tolerant Bald Eagles

Nesting pair with two young in a nest within the shadow of active construction on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge near where it crosses the Potomac River into Maryland (from the Washington Post).

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

A Well-Endowed Duck

The vast majority of bird species do not have penises, and in those few species (mostly waterfowl) that do have them, they are not known to be especially well-developed. Of more than passing interest, then, is the surprising news that the Lake Duck (Oxyura vittata)--a resident of southern Argentina and Chile and a close relative of the Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) of North America--sports a penis that is as long as its body, a whopping 42.5 centimeters (16.7 inches)! The discoverers of this anatomical wonder, Dr. Kevin McCracken and colleagues in the McCracken Lab at the University of Alaska--Fairbanks, published their remarkable finding as a short communications in the prestigious journal, Nature. Showing that even serious research scientists have a sense of humor, the authors conclude their paper with this sentence:
The Argentine Lake Duck offers a sizeable opportunity to study sexual selection and sperm competition in birds [emphasis added].
Can't avian taxonomists and nomenclaturists come up with a more descriptive appellation for this species? I mean, just about every species of duck in the world spends time on a lake at some point during its life cycle. It's as if we suddenly started calling Mallards "Pond Ducks" and Blue-winged Teal "Marsh Ducks." Ornithologists are fond of naming birds for their obvious physical attributes. We have, for example, such things as the Large-billed Crow, Large-headed Flatbill, Large-tailed Antshrike, Long-billed Curlew, Long-legged Buzzard, Long-tailed Duck, Long-tufted Screech-Owl, and Long-winged Antwren, to name but a few. Surely some imaginative ornithologist can coin a more descriptive yet socially acceptable name for the bird laying claim to the longest male reproductive organ.

Monday, May 12, 2003

If A Tree Falls . . .

Two "important tree scientists" from Earl's Corner Bar provide an answer to this age-old philosophical question in this delightful scientific spoof.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

What’s Up With Mute Swans?

There’s no doubt that Mute Swans are beautiful birds that evoke special emotions in many people. But it is also true that Mute Swans are not native to North America. Mute Swans were not known in North America until the 1880’s or 1890’s when they were first introduced to a few large private estates in New York. The simple truth is that Mute Swans are out of place in North American wetland ecosytems. In fact, in many of the areas where they have been established the longest, places like the Mid-Atlantic region (Connecticut to Maryland) and the Great Lakes States, they are considered to be invasive (i.e., harmful to native plants and wildlife).

Mute Swans have the distinction of being the only invasive species in the United States that is protected by Federal law. In December 2001, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Mute Swan is subject to the protective prohibitions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But using its managment authority under the MBTA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started issued depredation permits to those States that wish to undertake measures to control the growth of Mute Swan populations. The most aggressive State to date has been Maryland. In April, the Governor of Maryland announced his intention to implement a Mute Swan Management Plan that calls for the elimination of at least 3,000 of Maryland’s 4,000 Mute Swans.

Prompted by Maryland’s announcment, the Swans in the News blog was started with the aim of chronicling online news stories about the Mute Swan and efforts to control its population in the United States.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Unusual Literary Application of Cormorant

As we all know, a cormorant is an ungainly, some would say ugly, fish-eating bird. Thus, Boston Globe colomnist Ellen Goodman's use of the word in an oped piece entitled "The Republican Theocracy" is quite unusual and imaginative. To quote from the first paragraph:
As a certified flap watcher, I will look back on the Rick Santorum controversy as the cormorant of its species. It took an enormous amount of energy to achieve a modest liftoff, and then it flopped unceremoniously back into the political ocean. The flapping began after the Pennsylvania senator offered his comments on the Texas sodomy case . . .'

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Night Visitor

My wife awoke me from a sound sleep at about 1:17 AM this morning to say, "What's that, a Mourning Dove at this hour?" My first groggy response was, "No, that's our daughter talking." I then awoke just enough to recognize the clear, staccato, and unmistakable hoo-HOO-HOO-hoo-hoo call of a Great Horned Owl coming from our back yard. The calls were repeated at what seemed like 20-second intervals for at least 5 minutes. A pleasant surprise in the middle of a city of 15,000 people.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Bird Blogs–Where Are They?

I share the sentiments of surprise expressed by Sylvie over the apparent lack of bird blogs. On 04/25/03, she wrote (no direct link available):

Okay, this is weird. I can find lots of knitting blogs, but up to now, I've found only one birdwatcher's blog. What? Are knitters more on-line than birdwatcher's? Maybe I'm not looking in the right places.
Well, I've been searching for bird blogs for more than a year, and this is what I had found as of 11/15/02.

Today, I discovered one more: RCAS Blog, Rutland County [Vermont] Audubon's interactive weblog.


The FatBirder's Nest
FatBirder Web Ring