Are you missing the nighthawks?


eBird reports for common nighthawks in January. Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Right now, nighthawks are living the high life in the southern hemisphere while we shiver in our bunks through the long winter. But, if you are missing the nighthawks here is a couple posts here and here  and here about their migration this fall.

The Persistence of Pesticides


Rachel Carson. Photo Credit: Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Anyone tired of me talking about this topic yet? I talked about pesticides here, here, here, here, here, here  and here .

But now there’s this story and this video about pesticides, in particular the neonicotinoids, and their effect on birds and our own food. The story just doesn’t go away. Rachel Carson wrote at length about pesticides and their impact on the health of ourselves and our wild neighbors in Silent Spring, published in the 1960s, and we banned DDT as a result. Then we invented more.

[Side note: I highly recommend The Gentle Subversive, a short biography of Rachel Carson by Mark Hamilton Lytle.]

Water, water, water everywhere


It was a wet year in the Badlands. Beautiful, yes, but what does that mean for the organisms unused to so much moisture?

This summer in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area was a wet one. Many communities experienced flood as higher than average rainfall overfilled our waterways. We can expect more of this to come, according to climate scientists. In other areas, increased rainfall caused wet conditions that impacts habitat for animals not used to the moisture in their environment. But, remember, when we live near water, eventually it will come for you.

Water does not resist. Water flows,
When you plunge your hand into it,
all you feel is a caress. Water is not
a solid wall, it will not stop you. But
water always goes where it wants to
go, and nothing in the end can stand
against it. Water is patient. Dripping
water wears away a stone. Remember
that, my child. Remember you are
half water. If you cant go through an
obstacle, go around it. Water does.

~Margaret Atwood

The Hidden Marine World


The hidden nocturnal world is my balliwick

I’ve often talked about the hidden world of wildlife on land and in the air, but I have paid very little attention to the majority of this planet, our oceans. Chalk it up to ignorance and my own bias, I have been remiss. And while the majority of our planet’s surface is covered by water, still more lurks in the depths. This infographic was particularly startling.

Leaf Habitat


Wisconsin’s Driftless Area in the Winter, with hibernating mussels, catfish, and beaver. Not pictured: The microbiome overwintering in the soil.

It’s a little late in the season to talk about leaf removal, but if you’ve been lazy like me, or as I prefer to think of it, consciously lackadaisical, and left your leaves on the lawn, congratulations! You have created overwintering habitat and food for  the critters that live in our soil. Many of them fertilize and pollinate our lawns and gardens. Check out this story for more information.

Injured Raptors and Roadside Trash


Me and a young red-tailed hawk at the raptor workshop. Photo: Gretchen Newberry.

At the end of a field season back in Oregon, I decided to take a trip east, visit family, and attend a weeklong workshop on handling raptors. While in the Twin Cities, I visited the Raptor Center on University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

I took the tour and learned that many of the injured animals convalescing at this veterinary clinic had been struck by cars. The culprit? They were attracted to prey who gather alongside roads to feed on our trash.

Check out this post by Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuges on the subject. It explains that even biodegradable trash like apple cores can be a problem.

Stress and Memory


Artist Unknown

Back when I was working with swallows in Oregon, I first learned about the connection between stress and memory. Each day, we would head out to capture swallows and take their blood. We wanted to measure stress hormone levels. First,  we needed to take the blood within a three minute window of capture to get their baseline level of corticosterone, the stress hormone in birds, and again after 30 minutes of handling to get their elevated level, as per classic methods used by physiologists (Wingfield et al., 1994).

We did this early on in the nesting period and again later with the same bird. What should come as no surprise is that the second capture became very difficult. The birds were on to us, and we would need to switch up our capture methods.

One day while driving back home, I was listening to Science Friday on NPR and heard a biologist describe the connection between memory and stress hormones. Essentially, it is to the animal’s benefit to remember stressful events in order to avoid a repeat performance. The stress hormone is a result of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal complex of endocrine system organs. The hypothalamus receives the signal that such an event has occurred and spurs the pituitary and adrenal glands’ hormones into action. The cycle of events cause the body to remember the event.

In short, the very act of intentionally stressing the birds, we made our jobs harder down the line.

Now, there’s this terrific TED Talk video that explains more, and why acute stress can counteract the recollection of memory.

Source: Wingfield, J. C., C. R. Suydam, and K. Hunt. 1994. The Adrenocortical responses to stress in Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) and Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) at Barrow, Alaska. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology C 108: 299-306.