Tag Archives: Morgan Heim

Red Desert Caravan on Labor Day Weekend

 

Who says you have to go to Africa to go on Safari?

Biodiversity Conservation Alliance is taking people out to see the sites of the Red Desert. Better yet, this guided trip is free. Learn more and watch a slideshow of what the trip promises on my Red Desert Blog entry Red Desert Caravan on Labor Day Weekend.


Weird Wildlife Factoid Game

I dug this up from a project I did a few years ago, but wildlife factoids never go out of style. So go ahead and test your wildlife savvy with this wacky wildlife trivia. Some you probably know without breaking a sweat, but others might take you by surprise. (Answers are upside down in the green border at the bottom. You can click on the quiz to view it bigger.)

Weird Wildlife Factoids by Morgan Heim

Mountain plover not warranted for endangered species listing

Nesting mountain plover (Photo/Fritz Knopf)

Here’s some food for thought.

The mountain plover’s populations now range around 20,000 birds left in the world. Across the globe, a very different creature, the saiga antelope, only boasts about 40,000. One of these animals is globally listed as critically endangered, and one was found not qualified for federal endangered species status. Any guesses?

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after a review of the current scientific and commercial information found mountain plover not warranted for listing, citing threats to its habitat as less significant than previously thought.

Mountain plovers are a small ground-nesting bird that rely on short-grass prairies and shrub-steppe environments in the American West for breeding habitat. Land use and habitat loss have been a primary suspect in the disappearance of the plover, an animal so good at hiding, that science is just now starting to get a better idea of how many are left. Recent research shows that rather than being pushed out by agriculture, mountain plovers are actually using farmland as a refuge during nesting season.

I want to take this as good news, but with short-grass prairie and steppe disappearing, swallowed up by energy development and overgrazing, active cropland does not sound like the most stable of refuges for a bird of small numbers, stature and a master of camouflage.  My hope is that not being listed will help avoid animosity of the animal by landowners, and perhaps even foster pride and care of the plover so that farmers will not have to contend with being the harbor of an endangered species.

Saiga Antelope, numbers around 40,000, critically endangered and rightfully so.

How many of an animal is left is not necessarily determinant of whether a species should be protected. Many factors go into the decision. But one has to wonder, what makes a population of 20,000 birds so much more stable than 40,000 of another species?


Video of Rare Ice Age Tree in Boulder

While learning about all things conservation in Boulder, I was told about a special type of tree that grows in one spot here. The paper birch is a species of tree that has grown here since the time of the last Ice Age. They are rare in the West. Boulder represents the southernmost population of the tree west of Nebraska.

Actually seeing them is like stumbling upon a secret. So I made this quick little video to show you what they look like and some of the cool things about them.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Video of Rare Ice Age Tree, posted with vodpod

What I’ve learned is that there are amazing things right in my backyard. I bet there are in yours too.

What’s special about your local nature?

Send in some photos, put up your YouTube clip or even send a few words, and I’d be happy to share it on Nature Files. I bet you won’t have to look very far.


Naked Penguins

Naked featherless African Penguin by Nola Parsons

Feather-loss disorder has also been observed in African penguins, which inhabit the coast and offshore islands of South Africa. (Photo/Nola Parsons)

Penguins already endure their fair share of image problems. They’re a bit pudgy around the middle (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They have wings, but can’t fly, and a beach strut that’s really more of an awkward waddle. Now these tuxedoed birds can add bald to that list.

In a somewhat alarming twist of fate, penguins are being born featherless, and scientists don’t know why.

The phenomenon first emerged in 2006 when researchers observed featherless black-footed (AKA African) penguin chicks at a rehabilitation center in Cape Town, South Africa. That year about 59 percent of penguin chicks at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds lost their feathers, followed by 97 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Washington in Argentina also observed featherless Magellanic penguins in the wild.

In both cases, the featherless chicks grew at slower rates than their downy counterparts, most likely because they had to expend more energy to regulate their body temperature, said the researchers in a press release. The goose-fleshed penguins also had a tendency to spend more time in the sun, compared to feathered penguins. Many of these vulnerable chicks died during the study.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick. (Photo/Jeffrey Smith)

So far, scientists don’t yet know what’s causing what looks like the avian version of mange. Disease, thyroid disorder, genetics and nutrient deficiencies could all be potential culprits, they say.

On a slightly more positive note, it does look like chicks that survive do eventually grow feathers. Researchers are working furiously to figure out what’s causing the trouble.

“We need to learn how to stop the spread of feather-loss disorder, as penguins already have problems with oil pollution and climate variation,” said P. Dee Boersma, one of the study authors in a press release. “It’s important to keep disease from being added to the list of threats they face.”

Scientific Journal:

Waterbirds

Study Authors and Affiliations:

Olivia J. Kane, Jeffrey R. Smith, and P. Dee Boersma of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Washington; Nola J. Parsons and Vanessa Strauss of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds; and Pablo Garcia-Borboroglu and Cecilia Villanueva of Centro Nacional Patagónico

Contact:

John Delaney, jdelaney@wcs.org, 718-220-3275, Wildlife Conservation Society


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Urban flora photography project

Queen of the Prairie (Photo/cm195902 wikimedia commons)

The last time someone found the Queen-of-the-prairie — a pretty, pink rose-like flower — growing in Indianapolis, Indiana, was in a small damp spot at the edge of Water Canal and 52nd Street. The time was July 1935.

Urbanization has had an untold impact on local wildlife. Of the 700 plus species of plants found in Indianapolis, native species have long been replaced by invasive ones. What we see today makes it hard to imagine what we might’ve seen 50 years ago. But a new study, that also happens to be a fantastic premise for a local conservation photography project, might help with that.

Ecologists at the Friesner Herbarium in Butler University, Indianapolis, compared species composition of 2,800 dried plant specimens predating 1940 to plants collected by students between 1996 and 2006. They found a floral community drastically changed from pre-urbanized days. While the number of species was similar, about 700, about 168 (if my math is correct)  native plants, including the Queen-of-the-prairie, have been replaced by non-native ones, such as the amur bush honeysuckle.

Honeysuckles don’t sound so bad, and the US Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service actually promoted the planting of it as a means to prevent erosion and feed wildlife. The plant has proven to do neither. The invasive honeysuckle now proliferates throughout the city along banks and wetlands and land managers pay hand over fist to eradicate it.

Perhaps the big take away from the study is that the plant changes caused by urbanization, at least in Indianapolis, is taking away their floral individuality, said the researchers in a press release.

So how does this turn into a photo project? The project by Butler University just screams visualization. I’m betting most urban areas have universities or museums with historical plant collections. They might even consider well-done portraits of these collections an asset to their archival and educational endeavors. Just think who you could partner with and what you could illustrate by creating a series of floral portraits comparing past and present plant communities in your city.

If you think a project like this isn’t important, keep these words from study lead and Director of  Friesner Herbarium Dr. Rebecca Dolan in mind. “As cities continue to grow, urban green spaces are becoming important refuges for native biodiversity and for people. In coming decades, most people’s contact with nature will be in urban settings, so the social importance of urban plants has never been greater.”

You can find the study in the current issue of the Journal of Ecology.

“As cities continue to grow, urban green spaces are becoming important refuges for native biodiversity and for people. In coming decades, most people’s contact with nature will be in urban settings, so the social importance of urban plants has never been greater.”

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