Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/30/2014: Christians or slaves

 Charles Darwin
"The fire, bed, and situation showed the dexterity of an Indian, but he could scarcely have been an Indian, for the race is in this part extinct, owing to the Catholic desire of making at one blow Christians and Slaves" Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

I guess by Christian, they imply a sedentary, agricultural people. So, I guess, it's not good enough to modify a culture's belief system but it is necessary to obliterate their entire culture. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/29/2014: What did the fox say? Ughhhhh

 Charles Darwin
A fox (Canis fulvipes), of a kind said to be peculiar to the island, and very rare in it, and which is a new species, was sitting on the rocks. He was so intently absorbed in watching the work of the officers, that I was able, by quietly walking up behind, to knock him in the head with my geological hammer. This fox, more curious or more scientific, but less wise, than the generality of his brethren, is now mounted in the museum of the Zoological Society. 

Darwin is exploring the islands of southern Chile, noted for the poverty of the people and the tameness of animals. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/28/2014: Patagonia gigas, biggest of the smallest

 Charles Darwin

"This second kind (Trochilus gigas) is a very large bird for the delicate family to which it belongs: when on the wing its appearance singular. Like others of the genus, it moves from place to place with a rapidity which may be compared to that of Syrphus among flies, and Sphinx among months; but whilst hovering over a flower, it flaps its wings with a very slow and powerful movement, totally different from that vibratory one common to most of the species" Charles Darwin - Voyage of the Beagle 

The Giant Hummingbird (Patagonia gigas) is a Chilean hummingbird and the largest hummingbird. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/27/2014: The hummingbird that wasn't

 Charles Darwin
"Two species of humming-birds are common; Trochilus forficatus is found over a space of 2500 miles on the west coast, from the hot dry country of Lima to the forests of Tierra del Fuego - where it may be seen flitting about in snow-storms. In the wooded island of Chiloe, which has an extremely humid climate, this little bird, skipping from side to side amidst the dripping foliage, is perhaps more abundant than almost any other kind. I opened the stomachs of several specimens, shot in different parts of the continent, an in all, remains of insects were as numerous as in the stomach of a creeper." Charles Darwin - Voyage of the Beagle 

I had some trouble tracking down the identity of Trochilus forficatus. The name has been changed and no longer is used for any bird I could easily find. Below is a picture from the Voyage but the only species that matches is the Green-backed Firecrown (awesome name). 

Most people think that hummingbirds subsist on nectar or exclusively on nectar. But they don't. Nectar is great at providing a carbohydrate (sucrose) but few amino acids and fewer minerals (yet people call it the perfect food).  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/26/2014: cover that butt!

 Charles Darwin

"The second species (or P. albicollis) is allied to the first in its general form. It is called Tapacolo, or "cover your posterior;" and well does the shameless little bird deserve its name; for it carries it tail more than erect, that is, inclined backwards towards its head." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle 

The genus has been renamed to Scelochilus albicollis (White-throated Tapaculo). 

There's a nice short video here

Didn't do much today except laundry and fixed a flat on my truck. Only 930 and I'm off to bed. Lame lame lame. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/25/2014: avian ridiculousness

 Charles Darwin

"The Turco is not uncommon. It lives on the ground, sheltered among the thickets which are scattered over the dry and sterile hills. With its tail erect, and stilt-like legs, it may be seen every now and then popping from one bush to another with uncommon quickness. It really requires little imagination to believe that the bird is ashamed of itself, and is aware of its most ridiculous figure. On first seeing it, one is tempted to exclaim, 'A viley stuffed specimen has escaped from some museum and has come to life again!'. It cannot be made to take flight without the greatest trouble, nor does it run but hops." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

NOT HOPPING!? Say it isn't so. Anyway, the Turco (Pteroptochos megapodius) is an endemic Chilean antbird. 
Good day at Wilkes with Adventures in Science - had 120 elementary school kids come by and we checked out microbes, parasites and I had a crab they petted (seriously). 


Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/24/2014: To kill a guanaco

 Charles Darwin

"It is asserted that the puma always kills its prey by springing on the shoulders, and then drawing back the head with one of its paws, until the vertebrae break: I have seen in Patagonia the skeletons of guanacos, with their necks thus dislocated." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

I have never heard this and I doubt this is the case across their range but I don't doubt that pumas specialize in their attack in different regions or with certain animals. Darwin also tells of cases of humans being killed and I know of recent cases. Scary stuff.

Pumas may have survived the mass extinction that killed off many other North American mammals by being generalists. See video here
Totally beat. Had lab 8-11, award ceremony 11-1, lab 2-5 and I still need to write a lecture for tomorrow. 

Still need to write an ecology lecture. 

Won the Faculty Choice Award today at Wilkes. Not sure what that means but it was nice to be recognized although I know many others that do much more for students.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/23/2014:

 Charles Darwin

"In the evening we reached a comfortable farm-house, where there were several very pretty senoritas. They were much horrified at my having entered one of their churches out of mere curiosity. They asked me, 'Why do you not become a Christian - for our religion is certain?' I assured them I was a sort of a Chistain; but they would not hear of it." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Darwin is in Santiago, Chile and meets some true believers. I wonder, as I often do, what makes them so confident.

Speaking of, the other day in the Y, I overheard a geezer sending people to hell for "making fun of God."  Such compassion would make Jesus proud. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/22/2014: Chilean copper in Welsh mines

 Charles Darwin
"These mines are of copper, and the ore is all shipped to Swansea, to be smelted. Hence the mines have an aspect singularly quiet, as compared to those in England: here no smoke, furnaces, or great steam-engines, disturb the solitude of the surrounding mountains." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

I suppose the Welsh coal and rail lines made the shipping a necessity. The downside is that smelting is probably the greatest source of pollution -then and now. The same situation occurs in Palmerton, where there was a zinc smelter. There were no zinc mines there and no coal but it was a convenient place for the two to meet. The result was exhaust full of heavy metals that obliterated the vegetation across an entire valley. With the loss of vegetation the soil washed away and left bare rock for two decades. I suspect that there are many sites like this in Wales. Fortunately, the site in Pennsylvania is currently being restored. Their restoration work can be viewed here. I've done some work at the Lehigh Gap Nature center on food webs and hope to get it published soon. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/21/2014: more camping love

 Charles Darwin
" When it was dark, we made a fire beneath a little arbour of bamboos, fried our charqui (or dried slips of beef), took our mate, and were quite comfortable. There is an inexpressible charm in thus living in the open air. The evening was calm and still;-the shrill noise of the mountain bizcacha, and the faint cry of a goatsucker, wer occasionally to be heard." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Darwin is camping out in the mountains of Chile. I think this is the third quote I give of Darwin camping under the stars. I get it. I miss it. Need to get my ass in gear and get more papers out so I can get grants and get traveling. I want to be in a hammock in the forest and so tired I don't worry about the scorpions crawling down the rope or jaguars stalking me. 

Back to school tomorrow, though I don't have any classes so writing writing writing. Dehydrated and had a class of wine so I'm feeling pretty good right now. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cape May weekend

Went to Cape May and Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge this weekend for a quick vacation. This is not the best time for birds. The winter birds have moved on and the migrants have only just begun moving. These are my three best pictures. Went to Cape May Point this morning and I realized that I left the camera battery in the charger. Grrrr. 

My Year of Darwin 4/20/2014: Tchauzinzo Tierra del Fuego

 Charles Darwin
"The Beagle anchored late at night in the bay of Valparaiso, the chief seaport of Chile. When morning came, everything appeared delightful. After Tierra del Fuego, the climate felt quite delicious-the atmosphere so dry, and the heavens so clear and blue with the sun shining brightly, that all of nature seemed sparkling with life." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

The narrative of Tierra del Fuego was downright depressing and I skipped over many stories of cannibalism and bleakness. Darwin does compare the climate over the Earth and species richness. Certainly not exhaustive or complete but does suggest there are some tantalizing issues - why species richness varies in climates that are seemingly similar. 
Lots of people are celebrating Easter today. I'm going birdwatching. How one believes that somebody that was dead for two days in a climate ideal for decomposition comes back to life is beyond my comprehension. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/19/2014: Keystone Kelps

 Charles Darwin
"The number of living creatures of all Orders, whose existence intimately depends on the kelp, is wonderful. A great volume might be written, describing the inhabitants of one of these beds of seaweed." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Kelp are keystone species. That is, kelp support an entire community. Without kelp, the community collapses. Kelp form the base of food webs so that organisms eat kelp and are, in turn, eaten by other organisms, which are eaten by other organisms. Kelp also form habitat for many filter feeders. 

Fish that consume the smaller organisms then become food for larger fish, otters, and cormorants. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/18/2014: Darwin and the creeper of Fuego

 Charles Darwin
"the creeper (Oxyurus tupinieri) is the commonest bird in the country. Throughout the beech forests, high up and low down, in the most gloomy, wet, and impenetrable ravines, it may be met with. This little bird no doubt appears more numerous than it really is, from its habit of following with seeming curiosity any person who enters these silent woods; continually uttering a harsh twitter, it flutters from tree to tree, within a few feet of the intruder's face." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Darwin comes across the Thorn-tailed Rayadito (Aphrastura spinicauda) in the dense forests of Tierra del Fuego. This is an ovenbird (Furnariidae) that forages for insects along trunks much like a woodpecker. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/17/2014: Darwin meets Krummolz

 Charles Darwin
"At length we reached that which from a distance appeared like a carpet of fine green turf, but which, to our vexation, turned out to be a compact mass of little beech-trees about four or five feet high. They were as thick together as box in the border of a garden, and we were obliged to struggle over the flat but treacherous surface." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

I believe these types of forests are called a krummolz formation and form, particularly in coastal locations, where strong winds stunt tree growth and any individuals that grow above the rest are knocked down. The effect is to create a dense and uniform plant growth. I've seen this on the coast of Newfoundland where the spruces and firs formed a fence so dense you could walk on top of them. 

I had a similar perspective as Darwin in a canopy tower outside Manaus. Though we were nearly 30 m in above the forest floor, the canopy was dense enough that appeared to a be a gently rolling landscape. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/16/2014:

 Charles Darwin
"Captain Fitz Roy siezed on a party of natives, as hostages for the loss of a boat, which had been stolen, to the great jepardy of a party employed on the survey; and some of these natives, as well as a child whom he bought for a peal-button, he took with him to England." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Underline is mine for emphasis. This is the story of Jemmy Button. Keeping-it-classy Fitzroy buys a kid for a button. 

Netted birds at Nescopeck State Park or tried to - nets were completely frozen shut for most of the morning. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/15/2014: Meeting Fuegians

 Charles Darwin
"Their very attitudes were abject, and the expression of their countenances distrustful, surprised, and startled. After we had presented them with some scarlet cloth, which they immediately tied round their necks, they became good friends. This was shown by the old man patting our breasts, and making a chuckling kind of noise, as people often do when feeding chickens. I walked with the old man, and this demonstration of friendship was repeated several times; it was concluded by three hard slaps, which were given me on the breast and back at the same time. He then bared his bosom for me to return the compliment, which being done, he seemed highly pleased." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

The Beagle is now rounding South America and they're stopping off to meet Fuegians. 
Was supposed to band birds for the Secretary of PA DCNR and the governor's wife but it was cancelled due to rain. Tomorrow we're on to catch birds for a STEM school in Hazelton. It's supposed to be 40F. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/14/2014: Shared but not shared

 Charles Darwin
"Thus we find in South America three birds which use their wings for other purposes besides flight; the penguin as fins, the steamer as paddles, and the ostrich as sails." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Homologous features exist as a result of common ancestry and can take on various roles in different lineages. Darwin doesnt state this explicitly but i know he's thinking about it.

Written on my phone.  Not easy.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/13/2014: Darwin and the steamer

 Charles Darwin
"In these islands a great loggerheaded duck or goose (Anas brachyptera), which sometimes weighs twenty-two points, is very abundant. These birds were in former days called, from their extraordinary manner of paddling and splashing upon the water, racehorses; but now they are named, much more appropriately steamers. Their wings are too small and weak to allow of flight, but by their aid, partly swimming and partly flapping the surface of the water, they move very quickly." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

This is not a species I was familiar with and I totally forget reading about it back when I read Voyage the first time. Careful reading is one of the reasons I'm enjoying having a blog, even if I have few readers (I appreciate every one!).  
Setting up mist nets at Nescopeck State Park today with some students. The head of PA DCNR is coming and another VIP (yikes). Sending a draft of my book chapter to my coauthor. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Squirrels pruning trees

Our local gray squirrels have covered the side of road with clippings from the box elders. This isn't the best picture but it shows that the clippings are 3 - 10 cm and each clipping has several flowers. I'm familiar with this behavior from one of my colleagues, Mike Steele, who described this behavior with silver maples. Squirrels are thought to prune the trees to increase seed size of the remaining seeds.  

Whatever the reason, squirrels have spent a ton of time and effort and exposure to predators doing this! And I find this interesting because there's no immediate pay off for the squirrels (but then neither is there with caching acorns). 

My Year of Darwin 4/12/2014: Darwin and the jackass

9 Charles Darwin
"This bird is commonly called the jackass penguin, from its habit, while on shore, of throwing its head backwards, and making a loud strange noise, very like the braying of an ass." Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Darwin is still in the Falklands and comes across a few species of birds, one of them is the Jackass Penguin. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/11/2014:

9 Charles Darwin
"Within a very few years after these islands shall have become regularly settled, in all probability this fox will be classed with the dodo, as an animal which has perished from the face of the earth" Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Darwin is traveling in the Falkland Islands and comes across the this "wolf-like fox" that is tame enough to take food from the hand of a gaucho (who then stabs it). 

Of course, Darwin was right. The Falkland Islands Fox went extinct in 1876. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

My Year of Darwin 4/10/2014: To soar with a condor

9 Charles Darwin
"This day I shot a condor. It measured tip to tip of the wings eight and a half feet, and from beak to tail four feet" Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Darwin is traveling through Patagonia, the dry rugged region of southern South America. I've never seen a live Andean Condor but they are on my bucket list of must see's. This is my 100th Darwin quote posted. Yay!  

Let's celebrate with David Tennant talking about Andean Condors! 


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Not a shocker: Homeopathy doesn't work

Here's the report from a large Australian meta-analysis

Here's the upshot:

NHMRC concludes that the assessment of the evidence from research in humans does not 
show that homeopathy is effective for treating the range of health conditions considered. 
There were no health conditions for which there was reliable evidence that homeopathy was 
effective. No good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful 
result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than a substance 
with no effect on the health condition (placebo), or that homeopathy caused health 
improvements equal to those of another treatment. 
 For some health conditions, homeopathy was found to be not more effective than placebo. 
 For other health conditions, some studies reported that homeopathy was more effective 
than placebo, or as effective as another treatment, but those studies were not reliable. 
 For the remaining health conditions it was not possible to make any conclusion about 
whether homeopathy was effective or not, because there was not enough evidence. 
To be confident that the health benefits of homeopathy that were reported in some studies 
were not just due to chance or the placebo effect, they would need to be confirmed by other 
large, well-designed studies. 
Evidence included in the overview 
The overview considered 57 systematic reviews that assessed the effectiveness of 

homeopathy for treating health conditions.

They're back!

Tree Swallows were down in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. They're now passing through our area in large numbers. Most of these guys are just stopping by and eating the stone flies emerging from the Susquehanna River on their way up to Canada and Alaska. 

I've seen a few knock-down-drag-out fights over boxes that left feathers drifting in the wind. They're an interesting bird and I'm glad to have them back 

My Year of Darwin 4/9/2014: Another piece of the origin puzzle

9 Charles Darwin
"We do not steadily bear in mind how profoundly ignorant we are of the conditions of existence of every animal; nor do we always remember that some check is constantly preventing the too rapid increase of every organised being left in a state of nature. The supply of food, on an average, remains constant, yet the tendency in every animal to increase by propagation is geometrical" Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Decades before the Origin of Species, we have 

1. Contemporary organisms are linked, genealogically, to their ancestors 
2. Extinctions are common if not the fate of most organisms
3. More organisms are born than can possibly survive

A few pieces are missing: traits vary,traits are passed from one generation to the next, some traits infer greater probabilities of survival and reproduction (fitness). Almost there Darwin!