Nature observers and webcam lovers, here’s an opportunity to go on a virtual safari and contribute to science from the comfort of your home.
The University of Minnesota has been studying lions in Africa’s Serengeti for over 45 years. Several years ago, in an effort to determine the population of other species in lion country, they installed 225 motion-detection cameras to record all the animals, both day and night, that pass by the study sites.
They now have thousands and thousands of photographs that contain an animal of interest … but which animal? And how many? And what are they doing? Are there Wildebeest? Zebras? Serval cats? Eland? Guinea fowl? Grant’s gazelles (above)?
The task of identifying and counting the animals in so many photos was too huge for just a few people so they teemed up with Zooniverse to launch the Snapshot Serengeti website. It’s a citizen science project and you can help.
Visit snapshotserengeti.org to see the photos. Try the tutorial. Learn how to identify the animals and how to use the clues for animals you’ve never seen before. Then checkmark three items: what species, how many, what they’re doing. Click Finish and you’re onto the next photo.
Of the two Zooniverse projects I’ve tried so far I like this the best. At first I wasn’t very good at wildebeest vs. eland vs. buffalo but I quickly got better. I could really tell I’m a “bird person” when I was excited to see two guinea fowl, and then a secretary bird!
“Gone away is the bluebird, here to stay is a new bird. He sings a love song as we go along, walking in a winter wonderland.” — Winter Wonderland
Even though Winter Wonderland doesn’t mention Christmas, we sing it at this time of year with thoughts of snow and love.
The lyrics were inspired by snowfall in Honesdale, PA. I like to think they have a special meaning for Pennsylvania birders.
Eastern bluebirds leave northern and western Pennsylvania during cold snowy winters so it’s accurate for a snowy song to say, “Gone away is the bluebird.” (Bluebirds remain further north during mild winters. Eight days ago it was 58 degrees during the Buffalo Creek Watershed IBA 80 Christmas Bird Count; I counted 35 bluebirds!)
And who is the new bird? My choice would be the northern cardinal.
In 1800 northern cardinals were southern birds but they expanded their range northward as people changed the landscape and improved food availability. Cardinals reached northern Ohio in the mid 1800s and were common in Pennsylvania and New Jersey by 1900.
So when the lyrics to Winter Wonderland were written in northeastern Pennsylvania in 1934, the northern cardinal was already here to stay.
Pictured above, European turtle doves (Streptopelia turtur) resemble North America’s mourning doves but are more slender and colorful. They breed in Europe and western Asia, spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa (see map).
Turtle doves used to be very plentiful but are now in serious decline in Europe. As of 2007, their population had decreased 62% since the early 1980′s. Scientists attribute this to changes in farm practices that eliminated the weeds and seeds these doves depend on for food, and the over-hunting of turtle doves in Mediterranean countries as the birds pass through on migration.
The decline in Europe is so severe that birders fear they are headed for extinction on the continent that immortalized them in a Christmas song.
Fortunately, turtle doves are not declining in western Asia so they won’t go extinct worldwide.
In the future turtle doves may be as mysterious a gift in Europe as they are to us.
(photo by Yuvalr via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
This week’s Tenth Page is on Thursday because Friday is an important day.
Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, when Pittsburgh will have only 9 hours 17 minutes of daylight compared to 15 h 4 m during the summer solstice.
This annual ebb and flow of daylight is an important cue for organisms that live in the temperate zone.
Birds, animals, plants, fungi and even blue-green algae all have internal clocks approximately 24 hours long. Humans have long clocks: 24 hours and 11 minutes plus or minus 16 minutes. Some birds have short clocks that run less than 24 hours.
The discrepancy doesn’t matter because our internal clocks reset every day in response to daylight. In constant dim light we have no cues. Experiments with common chaffinches show that their circadian clocks drift until their “days” are only 23 hours long in the absence of sunrise and sunset.
Birds also have circannual clocks that trigger their annual cycles of molt, migration and reproduction. These clocks respond to the shorter days of fall and winter and the lengthening days of spring and summer.
After the breeding season birds’ reproductive organs shrink, an adaptation for flight that lightens their load during most of the year. The shrinking is triggered by the decreasing light of fall and winter days. After the winter solstice, the increasing photoperiod triggers their organs to grow in preparation for breeding.
Experiments with juncos show that they require a winter solstice for this to happen. If the photoperiod increases without first decreasing, their reproductive organs don’t grow.
Our birds need the solstice to set their clocks.
(Inspiration for this Tenth Page is from page 250 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill. Photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)
It’s poinsettia time so I went online to look for a pretty picture. That’s when I got into trouble.
I searched Wikimedia Commons for poinsetta and found only four pictures. Huh? Only 4? That cannot be possible.
One of the photos pointed to another view of the same plant and I finally got the hint. I was spelling it the way I pronounce it. I was spelling it wrong.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico where they are very leggy plants in the wild. They were named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, first U.S. Minister to Mexico, who brought them to the U.S. in 1825.
The plant became popular as a Christmas decoration when Albert Ecke became fascinated by them, his son learned to make them into bushier, more beautiful plants, and his grandson promoted them on television in the 1960′s. The rest is history.
Meanwhile, I was shocked — shocked! — to discover that there are two i’s in poinsettia and the second “i” should (or could) be pronounced. I have never pronounced that second “i” and I wondered if this was a ‘Burgh thing (we have a notoriously vowel poor accent) so I conducted an informal poll.
How do you say the name of this plant?
So far, everyone I’ve asked says poin-SET-ah (no second “i”). Two people knew about the extra “i” and one of them changed her pronunciation after she learned about it — but she didn’t start out that way.
I’ve heard that in some parts of the U.S. people say poin-SET-tee-ah, but if you’re from the Pittsburgh, well… Poinsetta.
Hah! No wonder I misspelled it.
(photo by André Karwath on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)