January 30, 2010

The Oddness of Mountain Bluebirds

For the last week, I have been seeing little flocks of mountain bluebirds zipping back and forth where the prairie meets the foothills.

RIGHT: Mountain bluebird, Sialia currucoide, photo from Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. 

These small groups often mix in my memory with the snow squalls of spring, which leads to a question. If they are primarily insect eaters, what are they eating now? Cornell's page  says that they also eat small fruit, which around here would mean mainly juniper berries.

The little flocks are mostly males—or at least the males show up better. Getting a jump on territory-claiming?

Consider this, from Cornell's other site:

The Mountain Bluebird is probably the most aberrant of all thrushes. It nests in cavities, a habit shared by few other thrushes, and it lives in habitats far more open than those occupied by most other thrushes, including other bluebirds. It eats more insects than most other thrushes, has an unusually large degree of sexual dimorphism in its foraging behavior, and frequently hovers while foraging. In its behavioral ecology, in fact, it resembles not so much a thrush, or even other bluebirds, as it does a scaled-down version of an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius).

But that would be summer feeding, wouldn't it?


RIGHT: Beetle-killed pines near Granby, Colo. Photo by Jen Chase, Colorado State Forest Service

Via the Wildfire Today blog, a report from Oregon State University that the carbon emissions from forest fires have been over-estimated.

Bill at Wildfire Today comments, "The new research does not go so far to say that 'wood smoke is good smoke', but they do use my new favorite word, 'pyrodiversity'."

So when we light a fire in the wood stove, we are contributing to pyrodiversity.

And, in all seriousness, the lodgepole pine forests of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming are pyrodiversity waiting to happen--not to mention other pine forests in British Columbia and Alberta.

Other researchers continue to weigh the carbon-release issue.

Colorado Seeks State Duck Stamp Entries

From a Division of Wildlife news release:

Each year, the Colorado Waterfowl Stamp Program holds a contest for original waterfowl artwork to be depicted on the Colorado waterfowl stamp. A stamp and a print of the stamp are created for sale to waterfowl and wetland enthusiasts, bird watchers, and stamp and print collectors. The funds are used for wetland projects that benefit ducks, geese, shorebirds and other wetland-dependent wildlife species. The first place winner will receive $3,500, second place receives $1,000 and third place receives $500. Entries will be accepted through Friday, March 5, 2010, 4:00 p.m., MST. The winner will be announced by Monday, March 29, 2010. See Waterfowl Contest (pdf) for an application and details.

To Purchase a Stamp

Colorado requires all waterfowl hunters to buy a Colorado hunting license (either a small game or a combination license) with a Colorado duck stamp verification, in addition to the federal duck stamp.  An actual stamp can be requested at the time the hunting license is purchased and will be mailed to the purchaser.

To Order a Collector's Stamp

Collector Waterfowl Stamps are available at the Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Previous years' stamps are also available. Note: Collector Waterfowl stamps do not afford hunting privileges.

To Order an Art Print of the Stamp

Art prints of the Colorado Waterfowl Stamp may be purchased by contacting Terrie DeLoria, Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation, at tdeloria@cwhf.info.

January 29, 2010

Watch You Some Birdies on February 12

Friday-Monday, February 12-15, is this year's Great American Backyard Bird Count.

Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from novice bird watchers to experts. Participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online at www.birdcount.org. One 2009 participant said, “Thank you for the opportunity to participate in citizen science. I have had my eyes opened to a whole new interest and I love it!”

It's simple, it's free, and it's actual grunt-level science.

“The GBBC is a perfect first step towards the sort of intensive monitoring needed to discover how birds are responding to environmental change,” said Janis Dickinson, the director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab. “Winter is such a vulnerable period for birds, so winter bird distributions are likely to be very sensitive to change. There is only one way—citizen science—to gather data on private lands where people live and GBBC has been doing this across the continent for many years. GBBC has enormous potential both as an early warning system and in capturing and engaging people in more intensive sampling of birds across the landscape.”

I have to admit that I grimace a little bit at the "Great American" part. It's so 1976 Bicentennial-esque, taking me back to when the landscape seemed to sprout "Great American ..." this and that. "Great American Spaghetti & Woodstove Company," that sort of thing. Where's my AMC Pacer?*

M. and I are already doing Cornell's  slightly more complicated citizen science bird project known as Project Feeder Watch. But maybe this year we can work in the GBBC too.

*No, I never owned one. Had a Ford F-100 back then.

Why Did the Elk Cross the Road?

Henry Ford's Amazing Snow Tractor

Deep snow a problem where you live?

This silent film clip shows Henry Ford's "Snow-motor" of the 1920s in action, with bowler-hatted, stiff-collared  Ford himself at the controls. (There is a Chevy too.)

The snow-screw propulsion system works well in the deep stuff, but I suppose it was less-capable in shallow snow, mud, etc., which is why caterpillar tracks were adopted instead.

January 27, 2010

New Sierra Club Director on Obama, etc.

Politico interviews Michael Bune, new director of the Sierra Club.

Brune made his name as executive director of the Rainforest Action Network — a scrappy corporate accountability group that stages headline-grabbing protests against major corporations that engage in logging, mountaintop coal mining and other practices that can be environmentally destructive.

Bune approves of some of the Obama administration's environmental policies, but not surprisingly sees room for improvement.

The administration has indeed done an excellent job in its first year promoting a wide range of environmental initiatives. At the same time, we also believe the administration hasn’t realized its full potential. It has made, specifically, clean energy a top priority and yet hasn’t really leaned into a whole series of initiatives that would make a bigger impact.

January 22, 2010

I Should Be Posting This in August

But I just found it and wanted to share. Cornell has a mushroom blog, and here is a sample: "How to eat a bolete."

Bear Cubs!

The den of a black bear in Minnesota has a web cam.

We listen for cub sounds. The team is trying to get rid of the buzz so all can hear better. To answer a common question, the light is invisible infra-red. The camera converts it to visible light for us to see on the internet, but it does not illuminate the den. On the other hand, darkness is not important to hibernation. Many bears build above ground nests and spend the winter in broad daylight. Some get covered by snow at times, but they give birth and raise cubs successfully anyway.

January 20, 2010

Theorizing the Yowie

Darren Naish reviews a recent book on the Yowie, Australia's Bigfoot.

While it's all very well saying that any and all reports of an ape-like creature in the Australian bush are nonsense and that the phenomenon can hence be rejected without question, the problem is that at least some Yowie accounts really do sound extremely intriguing at the very least. Maybe all the reports represent misidentifications, hoaxes and the manifestations of cultural stereotypes or something, but even if this is so, there's still an interesting phenomenon here that's worthy of investigation. Those of us predominantly interested in zoology sometimes forget that cryptozoological reports might tell us more about folklore, psychology, witness perception and/or cultural transmission than anything else. As a result I still think that investigation of subjects like the Yowie is worthwhile, and within the remit of science.

January 18, 2010

Why You Should Wash New Clothes First Thing

M. always insists on washing new clothes before wearing to remove any chemicals, sizing, or starches remaining from manufacture.

And anything from Goodwill, ARC, or other thrift stores gets washed and aired on general principles and to get rid of the "thrift store smell." What that smell is I don't know, but they all have it.

Apparently another good reason for washing new clothes is that they can carry quite a bacteria load.

(Via Instapundit.)

Biologist Studies Moscow's Strays and Subway Dogs

Last April I linked to an item about stray dogs in Moscow who commute to the city center.

The phenomenon of "commuting dogs" has drawn increasing scientific study.

Where did these animals come from? It’s a question Andrei Poyarkov, 56, a biologist specialising in wolves, has dedicated himself to answering. His research focuses on how different environments affect dogs’ behaviour and social organisation. About 30 years ago, he began studying Moscow’s stray dogs. Poyarkov contends that their appearance and behaviour have changed over the decades as they have continuously adapted to the changing face of Russia’s capital. Virtually all the city’s strays were born that way: dumping a pet dog on the streets of Moscow amounts to a near-certain death sentence. Poyarkov reckons fewer than 3 per cent survive.

Neanderthal Body Paint

The headline says "make-up," but I suspect the paint was not to exaggerate beauty but to make the wearer look more scary, more divine, or more like something else.

But how would we know, really?