Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The ecology of urbanization and things that want to eat you (in the US!)

Here's a science blog about a doctoral student studying puma prey in California. I've been around big cats in the Amazon but that was nothing compared to these cats - jaguars don't eat people (that we know of). 

I really hope they can pull of the wildlife highway tunnel and that starts a movement. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter is coming

Lots of geese in the sky today and freezing rain tonight.

Winter is coming. And working on the "last" game of thrones book as well. My nerd fantasy is to finish this in the snow at the Jacobs property. Thankfully I'm a horribly slow reader. So it might be the end of January when I get there.

The stuff of bird nightmares

Here's a blog post about Eleonora's Falcon (Falco eleonorae) and a unique behavior for a predator. 

The authors of the original paper report that this species caches live, but disabled, prey (small birds) in rocks, purportedly to keep the prey fresh. The falcons disable the prey by removing primaries (outermost 9-10 wing feathers) and retrices (tail feathers) and stashing them in rock crevices. 

I think a commenter in the blog brings up a very good point. Injured prey are very likely to seek out crack and crevices and hide. My students will tell you that if you give a the smallest crack in your hand you'll lose the bird. Like mice, many birds are extremely adept at moving with their feet and I'm skeptical that birds could be held in the manner described.

I suspect that the falcons are exploiting the escape behavior of the birds. Still, and to entirely anthropomorphic, this stuff has got to be terrifying for a small bird.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Goals for winter break

I think having goals is a bad idea. Does anyone ever complete a lists of tasks beyond picking up bread and going to the dentist? So this goes against my better judgement. I have until January 18 to get a bunch of stuff done including 

  • Organize the Galapagos trip including a few days in Ecuador
    • finalizing logistics
    • fundraising 
  • Organize the Galapagos course
    • what we read and when
  • Update Biostatistics notes
    • move from OpenOffice to Google Docs
  • Update biostatistics lab
    • need to spend an afternoon turning verbal hypotheses in equations (this is how I approach statistics when I see a problem for the first time). For example, you might ask "what is the relationship between getting diabetes and the amount of sugar intake and exercise"  ->  p(diabetes) = sugar + exercise 
  • Finish the West Georgia manuscript on urbanization and birds
    • intro needs work
    • results and discussion and graphics (ugh).. why is it that paper is so damn hard to work on? 
  • Contact... I totally forgot what I was saying 
  • Update the Academic Planning Committee website to include a clickable flowchart 
  • Send out the survey of undergraduate programs in ornithology survey to start building up a database of ornithologists at undergraduate institutions  
  • Get out to birdwatch four times

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Robin singing that strange whistle as a whisper

Mid-December should be the time of the year when most birds are silent but this afternoon there was a robin in the neighbor's yard whisper singing. This is when birds practice their song but at a very low volume. So it was late for behavior. But what was even more interesting was that he was singing/calling this high pitch whistle. 

I had to laugh because I thought it was a nose whistle at first. 

Puppetry and coelacanths

I find these shorts amazing in terms of the artistry and the story.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Grading palooza begins

Been farting around all day with chores and checking emails. Time to settle down with a cup or two of coffee and get grading. Once done - I'm done. And the writing begins.

(I'm also going to finish the last Game of Thrones book)

Friday, December 18, 2015


This morning I was given access to a room on campus with some very special books. Here are some images

Newton's Principia from 1755

Einstein and Infeld's The Evolution of Physics  (signed) 

Darwin's Variation of Animals and Plants

Sitwell's Fine Bird Books 1700-1900

This quetzal page is 4 feet long. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Darting doves at dusk

My favorite time in the winter is dusk: the way trees are silhouetted and the quietness that comes to the city (even Wilkes-Barre). Last night a flock of snow geese flew overhead - high enough to be out of sight. Moments like this are magical. 

Also, two pairs of mourning doves flew past - not at a normal speed but as if they were being pursued. But no pursuer. I've seen this many times before and always at dusk. Is this part of pair bonding or courtship? Are they trying to escape a predator that was waiting for them to roost at dusk. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Flame Bowerbird: amazing courtship display

The Flame Bowerbird (Sericulus aureus), a species native to Indonesia, is a member of the the Ptilonorhynchidae - a group of species with very elaborate courtship displays. I have seen this BBC video before and I may have already posted it here. So it goes. I find it remarkable that this behavior and a host of others are coded in this tiny brain.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

20,000 views... wut!? wut!?

Hey, I just noticed I went over 20,000 views!

That's awesome! Thanks so much. 

This semester I've been focused on teaching and getting my notes in order online as well as committee tasks. Semester ends in 9 days and I'm ready to head out to the woods and doing some writing. I applied to the study abroad director position and I have an interview with the deans tomorrow. Nervous but I have nothing to lose and I think I have a great vision for the position. 

Reading over my daughter's freshman bio report. Holy cow it's good. 

More later and thanks again peeps. 

For your good behavior.. a pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Kiwis, not the fruit, eat robins eggs, but not those robins.

To a yank like myself, Kiwis are completely mysterious. They're part of a group of birds called ratites, which includes ostriches, emus, and rheas. I tell my classes that Kiwis use their long bills to probe the ground for arthropods. 

Kiwi bird genome sequenced

Apparently, kiwis have a side to them that was unknown to ornithologists. Apparently, like many many organisms, they enjoy bird eggs. In this case, the New Zealand Robin was the victim. 

Here is a link to the video