UK Plant Prospecting & iNaturalist

While once gardening was somewhat of a battle against nature, people are now working with native plants and animals. Photograph: Kathy deWitt/Alamy

We are happy to see citizen scientists putting this technology to such use anywhere, but particularly gratified to know that a large organization is encouraging its use for such an important initiative:

RHS asks gardeners to find interesting ‘weeds’ that may be rare plants

People urged to submit specimens to an app as private gardens may be fresh source of scientific discovery

Record the “weeds” that pop up in your garden because they could be a rare plant, the Royal Horticultural Society has said. Continue reading

Collaborative Cataloging of Feathered Finery

Architect Esha Munshi and veterinarian Sherwin Everett, founders of the Feather Library

Over the years we talked about feathers from numerous perspectives, including scientific and artistic. Thanks once again to the Guardian for sharing this inspiring Citizen Science story.

Plucky idea: the feather library providing a visual A to Z of India’s birds

Finding a trapped silverbill during lockdown inspired Esha Munshi to create an invaluable record of species in an uncertain world

Esha Munshi, an architect based in Ahmedabad, has “breathed birds” as far back as she can remember. She has travelled all over India on birding trips and has, she says, spotted 1,060 of the 1,400 bird species in the country.

An Indian golden oriole feather, left, and white-throated kingfisher feathers

But it was at home, during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, that she saw an Indian silverbill caught in the protective netting on her balcony, attracting the attention of her cat. Although the bird escaped, some of its feathers were damaged. When Munshi saw the exquisite markings and patterns, she tried to identify the bird, but was struck by how little information there was online.

Continue reading

Seed Bank Futures

Hassan Machlab, a country manager with ICARDA in Lebanon, stands in the middle of a field with newly planted grains at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Protecting plant species’ futures with seed banks grows greater in importance as time passes, because challenges to the planet multiply. We appreciate updates like this one by Ruth Sherlock and colleagues at National Public Radio (USA):

How ancient seeds from the Fertile Crescent could help save us from climate change

Chickpea grains are tested for various diseases at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. Dalia Khamissy for NPR

TERBOL, Lebanon — Inside a large freezer room at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, tens of thousands of seeds are stored at a constant temperature of minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit. After being threshed and cleaned, the seeds are placed inside small, sealed foil packets and stored on rows of heavy, sliding metal shelves.

Barley grains stored at the ICARDA research station. Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Some of them may hold keys to helping the planet’s food supply adapt to climate change.

The gene bank can hold as many as 120,000 varieties of plants. Many of the seeds come from crops as old as agriculture itself. They’re sown by farmers in the Fertile Crescent region, where cultivation began some 11,000 years ago. Other seeds were deposited by researchers who’ve hiked in the past four decades through forests and mountains in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, searching for wild relatives of wheat, legumes and other crops that are important to the human diet. Continue reading

New York Waters Are Clean Enough For Fun Again

A pod of dolphins just outside New York harbor. Carsten Brandt/Getty

Our thanks to Oliver Milman, Mother Jones and the Climate Desk collaboration for this, and we hope the frolicking continues:

To New Yorkers’ Delight, Dolphins Return to the Bronx River

“We’ve come a long way.”

Dolphins have been spotted frolicking in New York City’s Bronx River, an encouraging sign of the improving health of a waterway that was for many years befouled as a sewer for industrial waste. Continue reading

Aeon & The Rise Of Maize In Asia

On the outskirts of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwestern China, 6 November 2006. Photo by stringer/Reuters

Aeon was a regular source of excellent ideas and information during our first few years, and we are happy to see it again:

Maize is arguably the single most important crop in the world and is rivalled only by soybeans in terms of versatility. That said, it is, along with sugar cane and palm oil, among the most controversial crops, proving particularly so to critics of industrial agriculture. Although maize is usually associated with the Western world, it has played a prominent role in Asia for a long time, and, in recent decades, its importance in Asia has soared. For better or worse, or more likely for better and worse, its role in Asia seems to be following the Western script. Continue reading

More Metrics For Animal Intelligence

(Credit: Viesinsh/Shutterstock)

We appreciate Conor Feehly’s article in Discover, expanding our understanding of and ability to measure the intelligence of our co-inhabitants on this planet:

How Intelligence Is Measured In The Animal Kingdom

As understandings of human intelligence evolve, so, too, do understandings of animal intelligence.

Human beings — with our big brains, technology and mastery of language — like to describe ourselves as the most intelligent species. After all, we’re capable of reaching space, prolonging our lives and understanding the world around us. Over time, however, our understanding of intelligence has gotten a little more complicated. Continue reading

Stories from the Field: Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

I now realize that when I posted about my experience at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, I had gotten ahead of myself, because the germ of that visit began at Namdapha National Park.  Namdapha…the name flirts and rolls around to fill your mouth, just as trekking there fills your senses.

I first met with Shashank Dalvi in March 2015 when he had organised a trek to Namdapha. After my initial foray into Kutch, I traveled every month of the year and covered the Central Himalayas extensively. I badly wanted to photograph the colourful birds of the North East and grow my list to 1000 birds of India. I had covered most parts of India by the time I was ready to travel to Namdapha.

I was seeking solitude and needed to take life at an easy pace during 2015. All the travel around the rest of India was done at a frenetic pace. Namdapha was that perfect place to bird at a gentle pace and that solitude came from the serene and silent forest. A perfect place to be lost inside a forest that totally separates you from rest of the world.

I had heard from every corner about Shashank Dalvi and especially about his work in Doyang, Nagaland. He and his team had put a stop to the annual culling of Amur Falcon’s in Nagaland, especially in Doyang.

We had heard rumors of large-scale bird hunting around the Doyang Reservoir in Nagaland some time ago. In September 2012, Bano Haralu, Ramki Sreenivasan, Rokohebi Kuotsu and I decided to investigate. What we saw shocked us – a massacre of thousands of Amur Falcons. Roko and I spent the next couple of days filming the slaughter and interacting with the hunters to understand the extent and nature of the hunt. It remains the most difficult and emotionally harrowing experience of my career.

Since then, I always wanted to bird alongside this man and learn his skill and patience. When you are in love with all creatures around you and understand their roles and impact on universal relationships you become patient in your role towards contributing toward their conservation.

I became a bit more patient. 7 days in Namdapha and surroundings gave ample time to listen about snakes, and behaviour of many mammals. 

Namdapha is declared a Project Tiger Reserve. It is also known as the land of four big cats. The only place on earth to host them all in one forest. This is also the place for rare mammal like the Takin, Musk Deer and the veryrare Slow Loris. The fragrant Agarwood is also found here. With an area of 2000 square kilometers, Namdapha is the largest virgin forests of India. Continue reading

American Prairie & American Bison

Scott Heidebrink, the director of bison restoration for the American Prairie Reserve in northeast Montana, checks on a herd. “There are ways that bison were impacting the landscape that we haven’t even thought about,” he said.

Bison restoration has been on our radar, primarily stories from the western USA, but also from the European context, where there has been considerable progress in recent years. Here is a good look at a conservation organization focused on habitat restoration, and the multi-species benefits:

Where the Bison Could Roam

Bison once numbered in the tens of millions in the United States. Now, a nonprofit is working to restore the shortgrass prairie, where the American icons and their ecosystem can thrive again.

MALTA, Mont. — Around 200 chocolate-brown bison raise their heads, following the low growl of a pickup truck slowly motoring across the sagebrush-studded prairie. Continue reading

Aggressive Tourism

A group of safari vehicles packed closely together as passengers look out windows and open roofs at animals grazing on a yellow plain.

About 60 vehicles waited near the Mara River in Kenya as wildebeests and zebras gathered in August to cross the waterway as part of their migration on the Serengeti Plain. Simon Espley

We have Maria Cramer and Costas Christ to thank for this reminder about our responsibilities as producers and consumers of travel experiences:

A video showing dozens of vehicles moving in on a pair of big cats in a Kenyan game reserve highlights how “aggressive tourism” can put endangered animals at even greater risk.

The video surfaced online around October. Filmed from a distance, it shows an antelope grazing on the African plain. Suddenly, two cheetahs race toward it and the antelope takes off, running toward the camera. But the cats are too fast. They converge on it and bring it down. They begin to feed. Continue reading

Agnostics Thankful For The Sacred

The Futarasan Shrine in Nikkō, Japan. Ancient forests surrounding Japan's Shinto temples cover more than a quarter-million acres.

The Futarasan Shrine in Nikkō, Japan. Ancient forests surrounding Japan’s Shinto temples cover more than a quarter-million acres. NORTOPHOTO / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

We are agnostic when it comes to how conservation of nature is motivated, and how it is accomplished. Thanks as always to Fred Pearce:

Sacred Groves: How the Spiritual Connection Helps Protect Nature

From Ethiopia’s highlands to Siberia to the Australian rainforest, there are thousands of sacred forests that have survived thanks to traditional religious and spiritual beliefs. Experts say these places, many now under threat, have ecological importance and must be saved.

Governments from across the world made grand promises last month at the biodiversity conference in Montreal to save nature by protecting 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030. Continue reading

Stories from the Field: Eaglenest, Arunachal Pradesh

With Gaurav Kataria

When Gaurav Kataria, a birder and tour operator, invited me to go along with him to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary during March of 2015, I had loads of apprehension about the weather, terrain and the proximity to medical assistance. Earlier, before my trip to Namdhapha it was Gaurav who counseled me on similar fears and he egged me on: Namdhapha, a lowland rainforest with “empty forest syndrome” calls out to only a handful who are fortunate to appreciate it, continuing that having managed that, Eaglenest would be a cakewalk for me. In the presence of intense birders, tough itineraries become a joyous holiday. Eaglenest and Bompu camp were no exception. As the jeep, loaded with breakfast and lunch, followed us at intervals, I never felt the need to hop onto it. We would walk with our gear on the shoulders for 6 to 8 hours each invigorating day.

The virgin forests of Mandala, Eaglenest and the trek between Bompu Camp to Haathi Naala and Lower Kellong threw up surprises at each bend. The change in habitat and seeing different flocks or individuals after every 500 meters is a photographer/birder’s delight.

We had Phurpa Arteju as our guide. This kid was a big surprise. He could identify dozen birds in a mixed flock by their calls alone.
Trekking with him we heard and saw 220 species and photographed around 75 species.

The moment you cross into Arunachal Pradesh the change in air quality and visuals is palpable. Cross Balukpong and the festival begins. We were welcomed by the Rufous woodpecker amongst the bamboos and 500 meters later we were wondering which bird to focus on. My jaw just dropped looking at the activity of the hunting flocks.

Mandala is a constant surprise and the birds were quite comfortable in our presence. At Eaglenest, the Bugun gave us the slip. 6 trips later, it showed up as the “Year Bird” in 2018.  That time my companions and I had to leave the pair of Bugun Liochicla after watching it to our hearts content.

Bompu Camp is a visual delight. The stay and food are both excellent.
It was here I met Marmot Snetsinger, daughter of Phoebe Snetsinger, my idol, the record holder for seeing the highest number of birds. That meeting was more precious than the sighting of the rare Chestnut Breasted Partridge. The moment Marmot slung Phoebe’s binoculars around my neck, patted my back and asked me to go watch birds was the most magical moment in my bird photography life.

Continue reading

It’s Not About the Birds…

Maguri Beel, Assam – photo credit: Gururaj Moorching

The title of this post are the opening words to photographer Gururaj Moorching’s  website, where he expresses his love of India, and passion for the nature and culture within her boarders.

Gururaj and I have never met – not even when I lived in India – but we’ve known each other for over 6 years through his photographs.  Coincidentally, almost exactly 4 years ago I wrote about his Birding “Big Year” on this site, acknowledging that through his  photos we’ve been chronicling and sharing his adventures with our readers.

This current post is an introduction to a “Stories from the Field” series that will more directly share his birding experiences.

Stay tuned!

 

Like Seeing Santa Claus On A Beach

Bird-watchers and photographers on the lookout for the snowy owl. Mark Rightmire/The Orange County Register.

Closing out 2022 with a story that all in our bird-centric community will enjoy, I know from firsthand experience what unexpected encounters with birds can do:

Neighbors have come to notice a pattern with the bird, which seems to take off in the evenings before reappearing sometime later. Mark Rightmire/The Orange County Register

‘Extremely Rare’ Snowy Owl Sighting Transfixes a California Suburb

What brought the owl to the city of Cypress, in Orange County, remains a mystery.

The forbidding frozen wilderness of the high Arctic tundra is the natural home of the snowy owl, a great predator perfectly adapted to hunting its primary food source, lemmings. Continue reading

Carbon Cowboys

Levi Sucre Romero at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal last week.

Levi Sucre Romero at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal last week. ANDREJ IVANOV / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Carbon credit brokers are busier than ever, and that is welcome news, but Levi Sucre Romero’s concerns give pause:

Forest Equity: What Indigenous People Want from Carbon Credits

To Indigenous leader Levi Sucre Romero, carbon credit markets have failed to respect Indigenous people and their key role in protecting their lands. In an e360 interview, he talks about how carbon brokers have taken advantage of local communities and why that must change.

Indigenous protesters at the opening ceremony of the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal this month.

Indigenous protesters at the opening ceremony of the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal this month. ANDREJ IVANOV / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In a world where carbon credit markets are taking advantage of Indigenous people and their forests, the United Nation is losing its leadership on combating climate change, says Indigenous leader Levi Sucre Romero.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Romero, who is from Costa Rica and is coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, calls out the “carbon cowboys” — the brokers who he says are wrecking efforts to allow Indigenous communities to have ownership of the carbon credits generated on their land, and who, by acting unscrupulously and secretively, are undermining global hopes of using nature to mitigate climate change. Continue reading

What To Do With A Tenner

‘In the woods, there will be much more fungi and even more colour: scarlet elf cup (above), orange witches’ butter, yellow stagshorn, green elf cup, blue roundheads.’ Photograph: fotoco-istock/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This recommendation from Lucy Jones is as good as any we might otherwise recommend:

‘Wet weather makes for particularly juicy moss.’ Water droplets on moss on a wall. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

The winter world may seem gloomy – but look closely, and you’ll see nature casting a spell

For less than a tenner, do as I do: buy a hand lens, head outside and discover fungi and moulds lighting up the darkness

‘You won’t believe how exquisite slime moulds are.’ Photograph: Alastair Hotchkiss/Woodland Trust/PA

The profound therapeutic benefits of connecting with nature and spending time outside are well known. But in winter? When it’s cold, gloomy and everything looks dead? In fact, especially in the winter, when we are susceptible to fatigue, illness and seasonal low mood. And actually there is plenty of life, beauty and wonder right outside our doors, if we look closely.

Come and take a short walk with me in my nearest wild patch – an urban cemetery, a common environment across the British Isles. Continue reading

Fungi Lost & Found

The sculptured toadstool (Amanita sculpta) had not been seen in Singapore for more than 80 years. Photograph: Adrian Loo/National Parks Board of Singapore

Over our nearly dozen years linking to stories we have shared plenty of what we have called lost and found stories (including this and this and this, and this), as well as fungi stories too numerous to link back to, this is the first lost and found fungi story:

Lost and found: how a Facebook post led to the ‘chocolate chip’ toadstool

The sighting of a ‘magnificent’ specimen of the Amanita sculpta, not seen in Singapore for 80 years, shows how the public can aid in conservation efforts

The cap is like a chocolate chip cookie,” says Serena Lee, senior manager at Singapore Botanic Gardens’ herbarium, describing the top of the sculptured toadstool (Amanita sculpta). Continue reading

Land Use By Food Type, Data For Thought

The Conversation

Chart of land use per 100g of protein for different foodsThe Conversation is “a news organization dedicated to facts and evidence” and with the tag line “Academic rigor, journalistic flair”. Our kind of reading. The graph to the left illustrates this article’s point; the photo below to the right is too composed for rigor:

Brazil’s enormous soy farms mostly produce food for animals, not humans. lourencolf / shutterstock

New food technologies could release 80% of the world’s farmland back to nature

Here’s the basic problem for conservation at a global level: food production, biodiversity and carbon storage in ecosystems are competing for the same land. Continue reading

Bronx River Alliance’s Foodway

Just after recently learning that this borough is the greenest, another story clues us in on this innovative program:

The Bronx River Foodway

Fresh Food from Our Land

The Foodway connects the river area with people, growing food and medicinal plants. Come explore the food forest and relish (hah!) the delight of seeds becoming plants for life.

The Guardian’s Meka Boyle gives another reason why visiting this borough is a worthwhile extension to any visit to New York City:

‘It made my heart sing’: finding herbs and medicine in the Bronx food forest

The Bronx River Foodway, the only legal place to forage in New York, celebrates the end of a season

Foodway team members gathered around a picnic bench at the New York Botanical Garden created by the artist Elizebeth Hamby. Photograph: Courtesy Elizabeth Hamby

Bimwala’s tours are a mix of returning foragers eager to learn more and newcomers, many of whom have lived in the Bronx for decades. Photograph: Courtesy of Nathan Hunter

On a crisp November day in the South Bronx, more than 300 people made their way from Westchester Avenue below the clamor of the 6 train down a tree-lined path leading to Concrete Plant park. This is the home of the Bronx River Foodway, a quarter-acre food forest full of edible, mostly native plants. What looks like a stretch of land dotted with trees appears at first glance to be overrun by weeds, but the wild foliage has been intentionally planted by the Foodway. It is the only legal foraging site in New York City.

Neighbors young and old poured on to the grassy banks of the Bronx River to celebrate the end of the season and the foliage of the Bronx, including an array of snacks made from foraged ingredients: ginkgo cheese and acorn crackers, and pickled mushrooms and herbal ales made at recent four-part cooking series put on by the Foodway over the last two months. Continue reading

Biodiversity, Montreal & Us

The opening plenary of the U.N. biodiversity conference in Montreal. Photograph by Andrej Ivanov / AFP / Getty

We continue, as a species, to document our impact on other species. The warning signs keep getting clearer. It is not pleasant reading, but it is documented for a reason; it is about us. It is about our responsibilities. Our thanks, as always, to Elizabeth Kolbert:

Can the U.N. Save the World from Ecological Collapse?

At this week’s summit, delegates will consider ambitious new conservation targets—even though the old ones have yet to be achieved.

The Red List of Threatened Species might best be described as a lack-of-progress report. Continue reading

The Bronx & Greener Pastures

Van Cortlandt Lake, one of the many places popular with birds — and those who watch them.

Early in our life together, in the early/mid-1980s, Amie and I lived in two of the five boroughs that make up New York City. We never lived in the one that today, we learn, has had the most nature all along (we thank David Gonzalez for both the photographs and text of this article).

While we are not giving up the greener pastures we chose decades ago to be our home base, we are happy to know that The Bronx is so green, and can even picture making a special trip to visit this often unheralded part of New York City:

The lagoon at Pelham Bay Park.

Soundview Park

If you said Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island or Queens, guess again.

From hidden coves tucked along the Orchard Beach marshes to wide promenades covered by regal arches of trees in Soundview, there is a lot more green to the Bronx than the zoo or the infield at Yankee Stadium. The pastoral vibe might make you think you’re upstate, but as they said in the classic ’80s hip-hop movie “Beat Street,” this is the Bronx. Continue reading