HBW Alive #42 – December 2017

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The latest newsletter update from the Handbook of the Birds of the World is out, and it took me about 10 seconds to open the file and learn something new. In this case, the first thing I learned was that there’s a bird called the Snow Mountain Tiger-Parrot that lives up to the treeline in the New Guinea Highlands. It is, as you might imagine, cool. Wanna see one foraging?  Of course you do.

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Speaking of high-altitude birds from tropical climes, do you know what a duet from a pair of Grey-browed Wrens sounds like?

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Thanks to Nick Athanas’ recording of duetting Grey-browed Wrens in Peru, you do now!


Is there other cool stuff in the newsletter?  Of course there is: sign up and check it out!


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Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away


Excitement is building in the Upper Midwest as Super Bowl LII at Minneapolis’ US Bank Stadium is less than two months away and the hometown Vikings stand a legitimate shot of being the first hometown team to play in the game. The sustainability-related news surrounding the game is also positive — for the most part. 

Earlier this month, GreenSportsBlog featured the many good, green works of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. And US Bank Stadium is up for LEED certification. 

But there is one environmental aspect of Super Bowl LII and US Bank Stadium that draws concern: The problem of birds crashing into the largely glass exterior of the stadium that opened in 2016 and killing themselves; a problem that the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority made aware of during the stadium’s design phase. 

I have to admit, I never thought about the possibility of glass buildings being…

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Acknowledgments first! Stop stealing your own thunder.

via Why do people blow the punchline in scientific talks? The destructive effect of acknowledgements slides

I’ve been trying to get my students to do this for quite some time now. Josh Schimel explains better than I why this is important!


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Do Species Matter: responding to an op-ed by R.A. Pyron in the Washington Post as a piece of writing.

And I still think that Pryon’s op-ed was an alt-right dog whistle . . .

Writing Science

R. Alexander Pyron just published an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that we don’t need to protect species from extinction.


Many, unsurprisingly, are criticizing this piece on grounds that span from ethics to practicality. I want to evaluate it differently: as communication. Writing and rhetoric. The writing is lively and engaging; Dr. Pyron uses words well. But the core of a piece of writing is its structure and argument.

Dr. Pyron’s argument is predicated in the ethical/philosophical belief that “The only creatures we should go out of our way to protect are Homo sapiens.” One can disagree with this belief and one can be appalled by it, but one can not challenge it on scientific grounds—it’s a belief.

Instead, consider the logic of the argument that Dr. Pyron develops from that predicate. When I consider issues of writing, story structure, and even the ethics of scientific communication…

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Vicarious early winter in Vermont

Snow squalls sweep across the mountains in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. ./ © K.P. McFarland Fear not, during these short days and long nights of December, we’re still finding plenty of life in the fading light. Once we pass the winter solstice, which strikes at 11:27 am on December 21st, more light will…

via Field Guide to December 2017 — Vermont Center for Ecostudies

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Jimmy Stewart, the Abominable Snowman, and Christmas

Fun to revisit this post each Christmas season and each time some new yeti news comes out!

The Waterthrush Blog

I’ve long been a fan of the actor James “Jimmy” Stewart.  He was a handsome everyman, homespun yet sophisticated, scrawny yet tough.  He did it all from comic pratfalls to Hitchcockian suspense to dusty Westerns.  He also famously ate himself into a stupor to make weight so that he could enlist in the US Air Force during WW2.  He flew 20 combat missions and ultimately retired at the rank of Brigadier General.  Jimmy wasn’t just a great actor, he was a true patriot and one of thousands of American heroes in whom we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.

But that story is for another time.  This one is Christmas-themed: At this time of year, it is a singular pleasure in our home to invest a couple of hours reveling in arguably Stewart’s most iconic role: George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. (Plus I get to look…

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More nails in the yeti/bigfoot coffin

The pseudoscientific business of belief in undescribed hominids wandering the wilder places of our planet marches on like a yeti across an alpine snowfield. I found this Barry Gibb-resembling bigfoot at Pike’s Peak in Colorado last summer, and it was one of dozens of bigfoot-themed items celebrated and for sale in the gift shops. 20245852_10104792646604752_2489587807736474282_nThe Bigfoot Field Researcher’s Organization has five scheduled field trips in 2018, with individual registrants paying $300–$500 a pop. Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot has insulted our collective intelligence through at least 11 seasons and 89 episodes and, without a single bigfoot ever having been “found”, sponsors still pay for it to air. Bigfoot remains big business.

How to rectify that, though, with the complete lack of the hairy namesake?

Bigfoots can’t be reliably photographed, evidently, and they’re so rare that it’s unlikely to ever find a dead one – at least according to arguments from proponents. But bigfoots, yetis, and similar mythical beasts leave behind traces in the form of their footprints. Those are really easily to fabricate, however, so even better would be hairs, bits of bone, etc. from which experts could extract DNA and determine what the heck these things really are.

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Photo of a footprint I found in the woods last summer that dwarfs my size 11 boot. It’s big, in some squatchy habitat, and it even shows the “mid-tarsal pressure ridge” of a flexible foot that some scientists like to say is diagnostic evidence of a real bigfoot. (And I made this print myself in < 60 seconds.)

So what happened when the best physical evidence was subjected to genetic analysis by real-deal scientists? This:

Sykes et al. 2014

Thirty-seven samples of most robust provenance from the US, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sumatra, and Russia were analyzed, and all were confirmed 100% NOT bigfoot, yeti, orang-pendek, or almasty. They were instead confirmed to have come from bears, serow, horse, cow, raccoon, tapir, sheep, porcupine, canid, human, and deer. There really is no such thing as bigfoot.

Rather than persisting in the view that they have been ‘rejected by science’, advocates in the cryptozoology community have more work to do in order to produce convincing evidence for anomalous primates and now have the means to do so.” Sykes et al. 2014.

New this week, however, is a published study of genomic analysis of additional material from the Himalayas.  Perhaps this time we can finally find proof of the yeti!

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In this study, researchers analyzed 15 samples of bears from collections in the Himalayas and 9 samples of putative yeti tissue. The result?  One dog and 23 bears.

Lan et al. 2017

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This result from Lan et al. 2017 does not mean that there is no yeti (can’t prove a negative and all that), but it illustrates that the things that people in the Himalayas think are yetis are, in fact, bears.

So here is what we’ve learned over the past few years:

  1. It is decidedly, demonstrably, and objectively NOT the case that so-called mainstream science ignores cryptozoology in general and bigfoot/yeti claims in particular. These were real scientists using real science and publishing in real journals.
  2. The absolute best evidence that cryptozoologists had to analyze amounted to 100% not-cryptid, known animals.
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