A Different Kind Of Getting Clear

A flock of red-winged blackbirds over Long Island, N.Y.CreditCreditVicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Moment, via Getty Images

Thanks to the authors of this op-ed for a bit of clear thinking:

The Crisis for Birds Is a Crisis for Us All

The mass disappearance of North American birds is a dire warning about the planet’s well-being.

By John W. Fitzpatrick and 

Dr. Fitzpatrick is the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Marra is the director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative.


Steve Maslowski/Science Source, via Getty Images Plus

Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.

The disappearance of 2.9 billion birds over the past nearly 50 years was reported today in the journal Science, a result of a comprehensive study by a team of scientists from seven research institutions in the United States and Canada.

As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent. Continue reading

Home Team Great Backyard Bird Count 2019

It’s been 5 years since we first began highlighting the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. Since then, we’ve participated in 3 countries, on 2 continents, primarily in birding hotspots such as the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India, a special corridor of avian biodiversity in the foothills of Poas Volcano in Costa Rica, and Baja California Sur, Mexico.

The data that is collected by thousands of individual birders for eBird has long range benefits for monitoring both the health and range of particular species, as well as the state of the planet as species have to adapt to changing climate.

The map above indicates the locations from which checklists have been submitted (each gray dot represents a list, and the larger yellow dots are a moment frozen in time when a list has just been submitted. I highly recommend clicking on the image to view the site and watch the “lists” pop through the map!) Initially the GBBC only took place in North America, and birders worldwide rejoiced when it was expanded into a global event. (We were in India at the time, so I kid you not.) Continue reading

Protecting Nature & Defying The Odds


On a game drive in Akagera. Shannon Sims

Thanks to Shannon Sims for this story of a refuge defying the odds:

A Rwandan Game Park Defying the Odds

Despite modest tourism numbers, Akagera National Park is a success story in the making, particularly considering that, like its host country, it survived catastrophe.


A velvet monkey and her baby in Akagera National Park. The Rwandan park is a success story, despite modest tourism numbers. Credit Ben Curtis/Associated Press

The road through Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda was blocked. Two giraffes had positioned themselves smack in the middle of the dirt road and were rubbing their necks together. In the car, with a driver and a guide, my cell service was long gone; there was nothing to do but sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Right around this time of year, to the east of Rwanda’s borders, in Tanzania and Kenya, big packs of tourists are stumbling over each other to get the perfect photo of a scene like this. They’re driving through protected areas like Serengeti National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in caravans of Land Rovers, each packed so tightly that peoples’ binocular straps get tangled up. It makes sense: the animal migrations that occur in this part of the world these months are rightly considered by many to be the greatest natural show on earth. Continue reading

Notes from a Natural History Museum

Harvard Natural History Museum

I recently had the chance to visit the Harvard Natural History Museum. Despite having lived in Cambridge for nearly a year, and having often thought about visiting the museum when I passed by going to and from my apartment, I had not stopped in until now. What a treat! The collections are full, diverse, and well curated. On this occasion, I spent most of my time in the animal wing, but I plan to return soon to take in the flora and minerals, and spend much more time in choice display rooms (e.g. the absolutely gorgeous Mammals/Birds of the World permanent exhibit: see below for pictures).

A ground sloth skeleton. It is hard to get an idea of the size of this creature from this photo, but it probably weighed several tons while alive!

Continue reading

There Is No Effective Resistance To This Charm

We cannot resist sharing the snake stories of our own team members, and we also seem to favor this related topic of domesticated wild creatures gone amok; a story whose variations, it is now clear to us, we will never tire of as long as Amie keeps finding gems like this, as long as Phil continues to post about entrepreneurial solutions, and as long as the New York Times does not tire of sending its best reporters on the occasional odd wild something chase:

retro-python-wildpets-thumbWideRETRO REPORT

The Snake That’s Eating Florida

Burmese pythons appear to be in the Florida Everglades to stay, just one of a number of unwanted animals that have invaded America.

Beavers Build Habitats, and Sometimes That’s a Good Thing

'Beavers create habitats and opportunities for just about everything else.' Photograph: Ben Lee

‘Beavers create habitats and opportunities for just about everything else.’ Photograph: Ben Lee

We’ve written about this industrious animal before on these pages, but in a completely different light. As with many introduced species, there are frequently unintended consequences on a disastrous environmental scale when the species has no natural predators in their new locations. Indeed there are huge areas of new wetlands in Patagonia’s Tierra del Fuego, but at the expense of millions of trees. (It’s actually calculated that in Patagonia beavers cause the 15 tons of biomass per year.)

However the case in Northern England and Scotland is quite different.

Beavers lower the canopy around a water body by felling trees and digging canals – opening it up. Solar energy piles in to places that have been in shade for decades. They stir life into action, kicking up nutrients as they beaver about their daily doings. Nature loves change; it frees up opportunities. Species of every size and shape wade in and snatch their chances. Beavers shift everything, tirelessly, instinctively, creatively. That’s why ecologists call them a “keystone species”. By doing their own thing, they create habitats and opportunities for just about everything else. Continue reading

Biomechanics Exhibit at the Field

Animals that move through air and water have evolved a variety of wing and fin forms, as well as sleek, streamlined shapes that harness the power of fluid dynamics for propulsion. © Ernie Cooper 2012, macrocritters.wordpress.com

Every day, just using any part of our bodies to move, see, talk, or eat — among countless other activities, we are enjoying the biomechanics that have evolved to perform the functions necessary to survive. An exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago called, “The Machine Inside: Biomechanics” will be closing on January 4th, so this post is more of a celebration of the exhibit than an invitation to check it out. If you won’t be in Chicago before the 4th, they have a great website with photos and a good video.

Imagine if your jaws could crush over 8,000 pounds in one bite, your ears could act as air conditioners, and your legs could leap the length of a football field in a single bound. From the inside out, every living thing—including humans—is a machine built to survive, move, and discover.  Beginning March 12, 2014, investigate the marvels of natural engineering in The Machine Inside: Biomechanics. Explore how plants and animals stay in one piece despite the crushing forces of gravity, the pressure of water and wind, and the attacks of predators. Using surprising tactics, creatures endure the planet’s extreme temperatures, find food against fierce competition, and – without metal, motors or electricity – circulate their own life-sustaining fluids.

Continue reading

The Nilgiri Marten


Photo credit : Aparna P

Photo credit : Aparna P

The Nilgiri marten (Sc. name: Martes gwatkinsii) is the only marten found in southern India, in the Nilgiris and western Ghats. Martens are fairly widespread members of the family Mustelidae, which also includes the familiar otter, badger, weasel, ferret, and other small carnivorous mammals. The Nilgiri marten, like other martens, makes its home in the forest, inhabiting the moist and semi-evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. They are quite rare and not very well researched; although mostly arboreal, their wide-ranging travels motivated by their carnivorous diet will occasionally bring them down from the trees where lucky photographers may be able to snap a few photos before the marten hightails it. Continue reading

Humanity’s Diet Makes A Difference, Historically As Well As Futuristically

On the timescale of evolutionary history, paleo enthusiasts note, agriculture is a fad. Credit Illustration by Mike Ellis.

On the timescale of evolutionary history, paleo enthusiasts note, agriculture is a fad. Credit Illustration by Mike Ellis.

Since the early days of this blog we have been hungry consumers of environmental long form journalism, of which Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker chronicles are best-in-category. They are also, frankly, almost always depressing.

Nonetheless, they put humanity into its natural context. This not-at-all-depressing chronicle demonstrates the value of that contextualization well:

The first day I put my family on a Paleolithic diet, I made my kids fried eggs and sausage for breakfast. If they were still hungry, I told them, they could help themselves to more sausage, but they were not allowed to grab a slice of bread, or toast an English muffin, or pour themselves a bowl of cereal.

Continue reading

Lepidoptera Diversity in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to some 1200 butterflies and another 8000 species of moths (both diurnal and nocturnal varieties). This astounding diversity is no surprise, given the country’s neotropical climate and its position as a land bridge between North and South America, each home to a plethora of diverse ecosystems. The tremendous number of butterflies that can be seen goes hand-in-hand with the fact that Costa Rica is home to about 4% of the world’s total biodiversity! Of the butterfly species, some of the most famous include Continue reading

Home On The Range

Prairie Project

The great plains play an important role in both the history and prehistory of North America on many levels–in terms of wildlife, ecosystems and human occupation–and the American bison were an integral part of all three. The American Prairie Reserve is an ambitious project to reintroduce herds of the species into 3.5 million acres of public and private land patched together to create a protected area roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

Sean Gerrity is passionate about the project, so much so that he is able to leverage his successful Silicon Valley business acumen into creative 21st-century solutions to the world’s conservation challenges with ideas that include the 73 bison calves awaiting their release into the wild the next day.

If all goes well, this bull calf will spend the rest of his life roaming grasslands that once teemed with millions of his forebears. He will encounter herds of elk, deer, and pronghorn. He will sniff the wind nervously for the scent of cougar and bear and wolf. Prairie dogs will dive for cover at the tremor of his hooves while hawks soar hungrily overhead in the endless sky. He will run for miles, for days, with no fence to hinder him.

If all goes well, this bull calf—or perhaps this calf’s children or his children’s children—will belong to a herd 10,000-bison strong, the largest conservation herd in all the world and the cornerstone inhabitants of the American Prairie Reserve, which has set its sights on becoming the largest wildlife reserve in the continental United States. Continue reading

Periyar Tiger Reserve – Thekkady

Photo credits : Unni P

Photo credit: Unni P.

Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady is one of  27 tiger reserves in India. The reserve’s diverse environment includes tropical evergreen and moist deciduous forests, grass lands and lakes. Although Periyar is a tiger reserve, there are many more animals than just tigers to be seen in the region: elephants, bison, Sambar deer, leopards, and wild boars also share the grounds. Continue reading

Unseen Munnar

Photo Credits: Roji Antony

Photo Credits: Roji Antony

Located 1600 metres above sea level, this hill station become the headquarters for several tea plantations scattered throughout the Western Ghats. The need to serve these plantations led to the growth of  Munnar and its surroundings. With the tag of tourism, it has became a magnet for travelers, offering great opportunities for walking, trekking, nature photography and golfing. Continue reading

Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary – Kerala

Photo Credits : Surus

Photo Credits: Surus

Parambikulam is located in the Palakkat district of Kerala. It is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots that supports diverse types of habitat and wildlife. Considering its biological richness, abundance of wildlife and  scenic beauty, the Sanctuary is one of the most attractive national parks in the entire stretch of the Western Ghats. Continue reading

Sakleshapur – Karnataka

Photo credits :Dileep Kumar

Photo credits: Dileep Kumar

Sakleshapur is a hill station town in the Hassan district of Karnataka state nestled 3600 feet above sea level in the foot hills of Western Ghats. The area is known for its tall mountains, vast tracts of greenary enveloped in mist, endless expanses of coffee estates and picturesque sheep and cattle enjoying the grass in the warm sunlight. Continue reading

Wild Gaur – Periyar

Photo Credits : Roji Anthony

Photo Credits: Roji Anthony

The Periyar Tiger Reserve is home to an estimated 500-1000 Wild Gaur, popularly known as “Indian Bison”. They are ferocious looking but shy bovines, and some of the largest in the world. The male bison can weight up to 1000 kg, grows to 6 feet in height and has very dark brown skin. Female gaur are smaller in size and are a lighter brownish black, and the calves are even lighter still. Continue reading