In the early 1900’s Joseph Grinnell made extremely detailed records of flora and fauna in California’s Mojave Desert for the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. A century later the average temperature in the Mojave is now 2oC (3.6oF) higher. Using Grinnell’s records a team led by Eric Riddell resurveyed Grinnell’s locations to find out how birds and mammals fare in hotter, drier conditions.
If you like birds, you won’t like the news.
[In the Mojave Desert] Over the past century, occupancy of small mammals remained stable while birds severely declined.
On average, every spot surveyed had lost more than 40% of its desert bird species, such as American kestrels or mountain quail. At most sites, even the remaining species were scarcer.
In September 2015 K. Theule of the US Fish and Wildlife Service was in the office at Cokeville Meadows NWR, Wyoming when she saw a skunk outside the window. She picked up her camera and …
Sometimes as a photographer, I don’t make the wisest decisions. Usually it’s a light or angle or exposure mishap. However, today my risk assessment wasn’t fully completed before I poked my head out the office door. After pressing the shutter a few times I was left wondering if the smell was going to last. But who can resist a skunk only 10 feet in front of your office door?! Just a warning to any visitors this week – the Cokeville Meadows office might stink a bit for the next few days.
On Wednesday night, 17 February just after 7pm, a raccoon scaled one of the branches that holds the Hays bald eagle nest. The mother eagle was on the nest and heard the raccoon coming so she rose up, spread her wings, and scared him away.
Seven years ago a raccoon intruder did the same thing. This one was a little braver.
The raccoon hid nearby, frozen in place, but four minutes later he moved again and the father eagle arrived to help. Two eagles!! The raccoon finally left.
Have you ever been near a power tower whose lines are hissing? We can hear the electrical discharge but we can’t see where it’s coming from. Reindeer can see it!
You’ve probably experienced hissing power lines and wondered about the source of that noise. Sometimes the sound is so bad that it makes us worry. I remember hiking through a power line cut in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands(*) where the lines were crackling. The sound was so spooky that I practically ran to the other side of that clearing!
The hissing is a corona discharge, the ionization of the air surrounding the high voltage conductor (wire). As electricity leaks into the air it creates hissing and crackling sounds and flashes in a spectrum we cannot see.
Miniature sleigh? Tiny reindeer? A human-sized Santa Claus needs a normal sleigh and full-sized reindeer to pull it. Just two reindeer take up a lot of space.
Imagine eight of these!
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), called caribou in North America, range in size from 5.3 to 7 feet long. Males weigh 350 – 400 lbs, females weigh 180 – 260 lbs. Both sexes have antlers though at different times of year.
These are not small animals. Eight full-sized reindeer and a full-sized sleigh would damage any house they landed on. Santa really needs tiny reindeer. Perhaps he went to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, to get them.
Like other island species the reindeer on Svalbard have evolved to a smaller size. If you need small reindeer they’re the smallest on Earth, only 50-60% the size of other caribou.
It’s safe for Santa to come tonight.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Because fishers are scarce, most foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have never seen one and may mistake them for prey. That appears to happen at the start of this interaction, filmed by Becky Rowe in northern PA on 28 November 2020. Then the fox changes his mind.
By the end of their encounter it looks like they’re playing Chase Me. Fox and fisher having fun.
Thank you, Becky Rowe, for sharing this rare encounter.
[Replace] Giraffa camelopardalis with four new ones: the southern giraffe (G. giraffa), found mainly in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana; the Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi) of Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia; the reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata) found mainly in Kenya, Somalia and southern Ethiopia; and the northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), found in scattered groups in the central and eastern parts of the continent. The one remaining subspecies is the Nubian giraffe (G. camelopardalis camelopardalis) of Ethiopia and South Sudan. It is a distinct subspecies of the northern giraffe.
This year a DNA study on gentoo penguins revealed that they should be split in four species, too.
Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) breed on Antarctica and islands in the southern hemisphere reaching as far as the Falklands, South Georgia and Kerguelen Island. Two populations are considered subspecies; they don’t intermingle. In 2012 the subspecies map looked like this:
The proposed split elevates both subspecies and adds two more!
The researchers suggest the two subspecies [P. p. ellsworthi and P. p. papua.] should be raised to species level and two new species created.
The four species we propose live in quite different latitudes – for example P. ellsworthi lives on the Antarctic continent whereas P. poncetii, P. taeniata, and P. papua live further north, where conditions are milder, and so it’s not that surprising that they have evolved to adapt to their different habitats.