Stegosaur species compared, video — Dear Kitty. Some blog

This 24 August 2018 video says about itself: Stegosaur family species comparison Welcome to the fifth round of the new dinosaur comparison videos. In this comparison video, we shall compare the different stegosaur family species, also known as stegosaurids. These dinosaurs have spines and plates and are one of the largest terrestrial land herbivore dinosaurs […]

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Handbook of the Birds of the World newsletter #50

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The August newsletter of HBW Birds Alive– a milestone as the 50th in this series – has just been released. I’ve already lost track of how many new things I just learned in a few minutes’ browsing. Highlights:



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Beach-nesting birds: assault from all sides

Their fortunes tied to the tides, many species of coastal birds nest directly on the beach. Here Nature seems to conspire against them in these places we so often associate with idyllic relaxation.

On North America’s temperate Atlantic Coast, beaches tend to be sandy, with remains of oyster beds, i.e., oyster rock or shell bank usually serving as the only solid ground. Shifting sands from wind and wave create a wild and dynamic landscape of attrition and accretion. One day there’s a low spot to step over, the next it is a channel to wade through. By the third day it might be connected again.

On barrier islands of our East Coast there is a general zonation from oceanside to mainland. First is the hard-packed, wetted sand of the intertidal zone. This is the denizen of Sanderlings and other shorebirds that hunt for food at the very edge of the surf. As the water recedes with each wave, invertebrates tumble in the foam and tiny holes bubble to reveal morsels just beneath the surface. Sanderlings are masters at pushing their luck to gather as much as they can before the next wave comes in.


Sanderlings are masters at pushing their luck to gather as much as they can before the next wave comes in.


Farther inland the sand is dry. This higher section of the beach – the sort of spot you are likely to lay out your towel – is only submerged during the higher tides and under stormy weather. Weeks can pass without it going under. Most of the time the sand is loose and blows in the wind. Tiger beetles zip across these sands hunting flies and sand fleas. Piping Plovers spend a lot of time here, too and I bet they’re happy to snatch a tiger beetle when they can.



It is just beyond that usually dry sandy zone that a line of debris will accumulate. On a vacation beach, this might get raked away by maintenance crews each morning. On a wild beach it will be Spartina stems, shells, driftwood, fishing nets, and other human refuse that form the wrack line. Here is a line the waves only cross a few times each year, under the highest tides and in the strongest storms. It is behind this line that often can be found a broad, flat area of more densely packed sand and shell with scattered spots high and dry enough to allow some plants like sea rocket and beachgrass to gain a toe-hold.

Beyond this overwash zone the higher dunes form. The sand is loose but held together where plants like sea oats take root. Continue reading

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Return to the Wild: Conservation hope for the scimitar-horned oryx

I’ve been following this reintroduction effort for a couple of years now. It’s great to hear about calves born in the wild!

Animal Ecology In Focus

In this post for Endangered Species Day Jared Stabach, a research ecologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute highlights the sharp decline in large mammal species across the Sahara and focuses on species that individuals and organizations are working to reintroduce.

Deserts cover approximately 17% of the world’s land mass.  While understudied and underappreciated, these systems support a unique and charismatic flora and fauna, with species that have evolved remarkable adaptions for survival.  The Sahelo-Saharan region, for example, is most impressive, supporting a diverse ungulate assemblage that include addax, dama gazelle, dorcas gazelle, and scimitar-horned oryx.  Sadly, many of these species persist across a small fraction of their former range, a result of range restriction, habitat degradation, increased competition with livestock, and overhunting.  Others, such as the scimitar-horned oryx, valued for the meat and quality of their pelt, are now extinct in the wild altogether.Red list figure

Hope, however, does exist thanks…

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Outdoor Radio: Grassland Ambassadors Help Globetrotting Bobolinks Successfully Nest — Vermont Center for Ecostudies

If there is any one bird that got me interested in birding, it’s probably the Bobolink. On the family farm in New York’s Mohawk Valley, we had Bobolinks nesting each summer in our small pasture and in the hayfields across the road. How my 4 siblings managed to grow up in the same place and not notice this song or the weird bird with the yellow bonnet that was black below and white on its back, I’m at a loss to explain.

Bobolinks also taught me about conservation: There were farms all around us but only certain fields had Bobolinks. Crop fields? Nope. Pastures? Not if the grass was short. Most hayfields? Too small. I was keenly aware of habitat selection, loss, and fragmentation – and how they resulted from management – before I had learned long division. All that took was looking for Bobolinks and developing a mental map of what they “liked”.

Bobolinks are still common, not for our lack of trying. Our native grassland birds are embattled and their numbers have plummeted from peaks in the last century. This link addresses what some in Vermont are doing to help them and, by extension, all manner of other native grassland wildlife. Check it out.

A handsome male Bobolink lands in the tall grass to feed and sing for a moment on the McCuiag’s farm. / © K.P. McFarland With a burst of tweets and twitters that sound like R2D2 from “Star Wars” movie fame, the Bobolinks circle overhead. After a long migration from their wintering grounds in South America,…

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Agricultural & Urban Habitat Drive Long-Term Bird Population Changes — Auk & Condor Updates

Birders are constantly confronted with loss of habitats we think best support various species and the surprise of finding species in what we would consider unsuitable habitat. It’s easy to write off the marginal places as population sinks or ecological traps –– and that’s very often the case –– but not always, as this paper illustrates.

Land use changes are a major driver of species declines, but in addition to the habitat to which they’re best adapted, many bird species use “alternative” habitats such as urban and agricultural land. A new study from The Condor: Ornithological Applications documents a century of land use change in Illinois and shows that species’ long-term […]

via Agricultural & Urban Habitat Drive Long-Term Bird Population Changes — Auk & Condor Updates

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You know these answers

I’ll begin with a brief quiz. You don’t need to study for this; I think you’ll do quite well. Read the prompt and pay attention to the first thing that pops into your head:

  1. powerhouse of the cell
  2. king of pop
  3. quicker picker-upper
  4. two roads diverged in a wood and I,
  5. make America

I suspect most folks – at least in the US – will have immediately thought of . . .

  1. mitochondria
  2. Michael Jackson
  3. Bounty paper towels
  4. I took the one less traveled by
  5. great again
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Americans of a certain age will never forget Rosie.

In advertising, branding, music, politics –– even when studying for your biology test –– repetition can make simple associations stick. I’m not exactly sure of the mechanism or theory behind this phenomenon, but I think it has to do with the brain seeking familiar patterns. Familiar thought patterns are attractive because they take less effort than the mental attention required to make sense of an unfamiliar set of ideas. I think of it like needing to get across a field and having the choice between following a well-groomed path or cutting your own way through the greenbrier and raspberry.

Familiar mental patterns can be relaxing and comforting internally, but they can also be powerful unifying forces for big groups, as is on display anytime a sports teams needs a boost from the hometown fans, chanting something in unison.

Comfort. Tribalism. When these emotions are played to advance some agenda of the playER, they can be powerful enough to affect human behavior even when it might conflict with otherwise objective realities. When we sacrifice logic for these repetitively-driven thought patterns, that’s where I would say we’ve crossed into the realm of hypnotic repetition. In a place of familiar comfort and solidarity with people like us we can fall prey to some pretty awful ideas.

If repetition helps us remember something, that’s memorization. It might be too simplistic to get us very far, but it’s generally innocuous. If repetition changes the way we think about something, that’s the hypnotic part. See hypnotic repetition in politics here.

Of course, few have mastered this art quite as well as Donald J. Trump. It’s how he got elected, and he uses it all the time.


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Crooked Hillary. Lock her up! Fake news. No collusion.

Pithy slogans like these are the Trump doctrine. It makes sense, too: his entire real estate career and most of his other ventures have to do with branding. Labeling something Trump, in his mind at least, means it’s the best of the best. It’s the most most glamorous. The glitziest! He’s made a fortune not in constructing the most spectacular buildings, but in acquiring properties and existing structures to brand with his name. The more he says that Trump products are the best, the more people come to believe it because it’s familiar and familiar is good. The better his “ratings” are the happier he is, because he understands that every time a human being encounters his name, he’s likely to make more money.

Hypnotic repetition gets dangerous when it’s combined with great power. Then you’re potentially manipulating the thought processes of millions of people. (“Under His eye.” “May the Lord open.”) In Trump’s case, his latest attack on the free press as Amy Siskind illustrates above is reckless. It may even have already cost lives at the Capital Gazette, but it’s also counter to the guarantee of a free press established in the First Amendment of the US Constitution:

Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In other words, Trump’s deft application of hypnotic repetition is being used before our eyes to –– on its face –– sow discord among Americans concerning the Mueller Probe. That’s bad enough, but if successful in casting doubt on the validity of our free press or indeed its right to report on Mueller’s investigation, Trump’s use of hypnotic repetition will have damaged a core principle of what it means to be American.

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