As human population soars and fish populations plummet illegal fishing has ramped up in the world’s oceans. With 50% of the world’s fish population now gone, countries protect fish within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) but dishonest fishing vessels sneak in to capture endangered species and overfish what’s left.
In 2017 Henri Weimerskirch and colleagues at Centre of Biological Studies Chizé launched an innovative study to uncover the extent of illegal fishing. They equipped wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) with radar detectors that transmit location data to satellites. The research team then matches albatross radar sightings to AIS satellite sightings. If there’s a radar ping but no AIS, the boat is operating illegally.
The research team expanded the study in 2019 by fitting 169 albatrosses from Crozet and two other islands with radar detectors (map below). From December 2018 to June 2019 the albatrosses encountered 353 ships, 37% of which had turned off their AIS.
After a 6-month study with the large seabirds, the researchers estimate that more than one-third of vessels in the southern Indian Ocean are sailing undercover, confirming concerns about illegal or unreported fishing.
Scientists began using DNA sequencing to see who’s related to whom. They learned that ducks and geese are older than loons, loons are related to penguins, falcons are related to parrots (not hawks), and grosbeaks are newer than sparrows.
The phylogenomic supertree below, current to July 2019, shows the new relationships in a clockwise spiral from the center. The first bird, closest to the dinosaurs, is the common ostrich (Struthio camelus), photo at top.
The last and newest bird is the yellow-shouldered grosbeak (Parkerthraustes humeralis(*)), native to western Amazonia in South America.
As of February 2020 there are 10,928 species on the worldwide taxonomic checklist of birds. Regional checklists show a subset of birds, limited by geographical or political boundaries, so the first and last birds vary by checklist:
Additional DNA sequencing will change the lists over and over again.
I wonder who will be first and last in 2050.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons, phylogenomic supertree from MDPI; click on the captions to see the originals)
p.s. (*) DNA sequencing gave the yellow-shouldered grosbeak a new genus — Parkerthraustis — named for the late Theodore A. “Ted” Parker III, a superb field ornithologist who died in a plane crash in Ecuador in 1993, age 40.
Though Pennsylvania’s peregrine falcons don’t lay eggs until March, pairs court at their nests nearly every day in February. The ritual, called a “ledge display,” is hidden at most sites but is easy to see on the National Aviary’s falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh.
This month Terzo and Morela have increased their ledge displays at the Cathedral of Learning. Their ritual follows the same pattern that all peregrines perform.
The male (Terzo) arrives first, swaggering in a high stepping tip-toe gait on his way to the scrape. The “scrape” is the bowl they dig in the gravel where she will lay eggs.
He bows and calls to his mate to join him.
When the female (Morela) arrives, they bow low over the scrape and say “ee-chup, ee-chup,” bowing repeatedly. The male usually bows lower than the female. Notice that she is much larger than he is.
As the female gets closer to egg laying, the ceremony lasts longer and becomes more intimate. They call softly, twist their heads to opposite sides, sometimes touch beaks.
The male always leaves the nest first, then the female.
As egg laying time approaches the female will linger to prepare the nest and dig the scrape.
You’ll see all these behaviors, though abbreviated, in yesterday’s three-minute visit at 12:55pm (17 February 2020).
Here’s a tip on when to see Terzo and Morela on camera: For the past few days, 14-17 Feb 2020, they have visited the nest around 4:30pm or as late as 4:55pm. Will they show up at 4:30pm today for a ledge display? (I hope they cooperate!)
In a study reported widely last month, animal cognition scientists at the Max Planck Institute discovered that African gray parrots will share with each other even when the sharing individual knows it will get no reward.
According to the USA National Phenology Network, Spring is three weeks ahead of schedule in the southeastern US:
Spring leaf out has arrived in the Southeast, over three weeks earlier than a long-term average (1981-2010) in some locations. Charlottesville, VA is 24 days early, Knoxville, TN is 20 days early, and Nashville, TN is 18 days early.
Happy news on Valentine’s Day! Last evening the Audubon Society of Western PA (ASWP) announced:
[Pittsburgh, PA, February 13, 2020] – Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania confirms an egg in the Hays, PA Bald Eagle nest. The egg, laid at 6:30 pm this evening, is visible in the nest on the eagle cam when the incubating adult stands up: http://aswp.org/pages/hays-nest. There is typically a 2-3 day span in between eggs being laid in a Bald Eagle nest. In 2019, the Hays Bald Eagles laid three eggs; two hatched and the juveniles successfully fledged the nest.
In the run up to egg laying, peregrine falcons perch prominently and perform stunning aerial courtship displays. February and March are the best months for confirming peregrine nest sites and discovering new ones. In southwestern Pennsylvania we need observers to look for peregrines. I hope you can help.
In 2019 we found 10 peregrine pairs in the Pittsburgh region. Two on buildings (red dots at Cathedral of Learning and Downtown Pittsburgh) and eight on bridges (blue dots).
Two of the bridges, Ambridge and 62nd Street, were not(*) confirmed even though adult peregrines are regularly seen there. Nesting can’t be confirmed until someone sees a peregrine take food to a nest or a nestling/juvenile in or near a nest.
There are 10+ Peregrine Sites to watch in southwestern PA. Please leave a comment if you can help or if you’ve seen anything. (Confirmed nest sites in prior years are marked with #.)
Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh #: This nest is on camera so we’ll easily confirm it this year.
Downtown Pittsburgh #: We know there’s a peregrine pair Downtown but we don’t know who they are (Louie died last summer) and we don’t know where they’ll nest. Lori Maggio is Downtown’s lead observer but the area is a big place to monitor. Help wanted!
OHIO RIVER, Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge -or- Monaca-East Rochester Bridge # Peregrines choose one of these bridges to nest on each year — it’s all the same territory. A pair was seen on the railroad bridge in November. Observers needed!
OHIO RIVER, Ambridge Bridge: This site hasn’t been confirmed as a nesting site though peregrines are seen here often. Mark Vass saw one on 8 Feb 2020, Karen Lang saw two on 9 Feb and one on 10 Feb & 11. More observers needed!
OHIO RIVER, Neville Island I-79 Bridge #: In use as a nest site since 2012, Jeff Cieslak photographed a peregrine on the bridge on 4 February 2020.
OHIO RIVER, McKees Rocks Bridge#: Even though this bridge has been a nest site since 2008 it’s hard to monitor because it’s 1.38 miles long. Peregrines are best seen from the McKees Rocks side. I haven’t heard of any sightings yet.
ALLEGHENY RIVER, Graff Bridge, Rt 422, Kittanning#: In use by peregrines since 2016, this bridge is best monitored from the bike trail under on the Kittanning side. I haven’t heard of any recent sightings.
ALLEGHENY RIVER, Freeport Bridge: Peregrines haven’t been known to nest here but one was seen during the winter. Is this a new nest site? Observers needed.
ALLEGHENY RIVER, Tarentum Bridge#: The Tarentum Bridge, which has a nestbox, has been in use since 2010. Dave Brooke photographed a peregrine here on 30 Jan 2020.
ALLEGHENY RIVER, Highland Park and 40th Street Bridges: These bridges may be too close to existing territories … or are they? Are peregrines hanging out at these bridges? Observers needed!
ALLEGHENY RIVER, 62nd Street Bridge: There’s been a nestbox on this bridge since 2007 but no peregrines on site until 2019 when a banded female was identified and a fledgling seen at Tree Pittsburgh near the bridge. I hear it’s easy to see the nest box from the Pittsburgh downriver side. Be the first to confirm nesting at this site!
MONONGAHELA RIVER WATERSHED, Westinghouse Bridge over Turtle Creek#: Peregrines have used this bridge since 2010. Dana Nesiti photographed one here on 9 Feb 2020.
Look for peregrines in February and March. We need your help to re-confirm every site.
Please leave a comment if you can help, if you need directions, or if you’ve seen anything. Thanks!