Advances In Animal Migration Studies

Illustration by Shyama Golden

Sonia Shah, a science journalist and author of “The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move,” has provided a great summary of recent developments on the study of animal migration:

Animal Planet

An ambitious new system will track scores of species from space — shedding light, scientists hope, on the lingering mysteries of animal movement.

‘‘I’m going to do a set of coos,” Calandra Stanley whispered into the radio. The Georgetown ornithologist and her team had been hunting cuckoos, in an oak-and-hickory forest on the edge of a Southern Illinois cornfield, for weeks. Droplets of yesterday’s rain slid off the leaves above to those below in a steady drip. In the distance, bullfrogs croaked from a shallow lake, where locals go ice fishing in winter. Continue reading

Migration Modeling Magic

Prothonotary Warbler by Jillian Ditner; Coastal black mangrove photo by Nick Bayly.

Thanks to the Lab of Ornithology for this:

Where Do Migrants Go in Winter? New Models Provide Exquisite Detail

By Gustave Axelson; Illustrations by Jillian Ditner

Part of the magic of migratory birds is their annual disappearing act—one autumn day there might be an oriole in a treetop, and the next day it’s gone, not to be seen again until spring.

Back in the 17th century, scientists had lots of ideas about where birds go during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, including one theory that they migrate to the moon. Today we know Neotropical migratory birds are intercontinental travelers, chasing summer as they leave the North for the warmer weather and longer days of the New World tropics. Continue reading

Animal Migration In A New Light

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Craig K. Lorenz

It’s been a while, Carl Zimmer! Welcome back to our pages and thanks for this new consideration of what is included in the definition of animal migration, a pair of words normally associated with big mammals and birds:

These Animal Migrations Are Huge — and Invisible

Swarms of insects move across continents each year. Scientists used radar to track one species and discovered a vast ecological force.

Ladybugs briefly took over the news cycle.

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In this radar image, green indicates a swarm of ladybugs over Southern California. National Weather Service, via Associated Press

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service were looking over radar images in California on the night of June 4 when they spotted what looked like a wide swath of rain. But there were no clouds.

The meteorologists contacted an amateur weather-spotter directly under the mysterious disturbance. He wasn’t getting soaked by rain. Instead, he saw ladybugs. Everywhere.

Radar apparently had picked up a cloud of migrating ladybugs spread across 80 miles, with a dense core ten miles wide floating 5,000 feet to 9,000 feet in the air. As giant as the swarm was, the meteorologists lost track of it. The ladybugs disappeared into the night. Continue reading

A Step Up for Bird Migration Maps

Image © National Geographic

In 2016 I wrote a couple times about eBird’s data––the observations contributed by citizen scientists––being used for migration maps, among other things. Those posts included animated gif images that illustrated the flow of thousands of birds across the Western Hemisphere at different times of year, which could be used in a casual setting to predict when to go out looking for a target species one wants to see in the wild, or in a conservation setting to know what time of the year is best to enforce certain environmental regulations, like open hunting or hiking seasons in sensitive areas. The moving maps also served as a mesmerizing graphic to simply astound us with the magnitude of travel these birds are undertaking.

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Peregrines Make for Better Starling Murmurations

Image via Audubon.org, by Nick Dunlop

We last mentioned murmurations about three years ago, linking to slideshows from the Guardian that covered European Starlings in the UK. And in our Bird of the Day feature we have shared photos of seven different species of starlings from around Europe and Asia, but somehow none of those species was the European Starling, which is an invasive species in North America (and at least some of Central America as well), but still a good-looking bird.

In this video, there are fantastic moments where the enormous flocks of European Starlings in Napa Valley, California form incredible shapes, largely because they’re being chased by Peregrine Falcons and other raptors.

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Fall Migration

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Green roof on the entrance building at TNC’s South Cape May Meadows Preserve. (Cape May, New Jersey) Sep 2017 © The Nature Conservancy/Cara Byington

Thanks to Cool Green Science for this story from a migratory birding hotspot:

Give Me Shelter

BY CARA BYINGTON

I’m climbing a somewhat rickety ladder when it occurs to me (not for the first time) that I really shouldn’t be doing this.

It’s September. Fall migration is getting underway. And I am in the very heart of one of birding’s holiest of high holy places: Cape May, New Jersey, that small curve of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay where millions of birds spend at least some part of their lives, year over year, season over season. Continue reading

Migrations in the “Animal Internet”

© BBC

A couple weeks ago we shared a story about animals’ ability to travel without getting lost, and we’ve also featured pieces about migration in birds and butterflies. That eBird post from Seth is a direct example of what Alexander Pschera calls the “animal internet,” where data is accumulated in life that can be tracked, whether with devices or by people connected around the world. John Vidal reviews Pschera’s new book and covers the idea for The Guardian:

Aristotle thought the mysterious silver eel emerged from the earth fully formed. The young Sigmund Freud could not understand how it reproduced, and modern biologists puzzled for years over whether it ever returned to the Sargasso Sea, where it was known to breed.

Last year a team of Canadian scientists found conclusive proof of that extraordinary journey. They strapped tracking devices to 38 eels and followed as they migrated more than 900 miles at a depth of nearly a mile to the Sargasso, in the Atlantic near Bermuda. This year French researchers used geolocators to watch them descending European rivers and passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, heading for the same spot.

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The Alphabets of Assimilation

The Salt

Teela Magar and Cing Neam prepare roti dough as part of Edible Alphabet, a program in Philadelphia that folds English lessons for immigrants to the U.S into a cooking class. PHOTO: Bastiaan Slabbers, The Salt

Roti is a staple in Indian homes. This unleavened flat bread made of stoneground wholemeal flour links tables in Asia and Africa. With its humble origins, simple spirit, and its versatility in being an economical yet nutritious accompaniment, the roti is a mainstay of an English-as-a-Second-Language class in Philapdelphia. So, how does breaking bread help immigrants pick up basics of English – a skill vital to their rehabilitation, assimilation, and survival in a foreign land? The Salt tells us:

“Food is warmth, it’s comfort, it breaks down those barriers.” Galeb Salman left his native Iraq 25 years ago and most recently lived in Thailand. He says he savors the choices and freedom he feels since arriving here in September with his wife and five kids. “When I think I want to learn, I want to study, I can. When I want to work, I can,” he says. “I feel we have good life now. …This is my new life.”

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Skimming the Globe

Stemming from a spontaneous fascination while living in India, I have photographed and written extensively about dragonflies in the past, and as an untrained naturalist, my interest has been mainly focused on dragonflies’ aesthetics rather than their physiology or ecological significance. However, as my interest in holistic ecology and the natural world grows, my thoughts have wandered from dragonflies and mushrooms to a bigger-picture ideology focusing on the connectedness and relationships between organisms within an ecosystem. Those relationships are present across the globe, year-round – regardless of how lifeless a place may seem. Being used to tropical climates unfortunately gives me a predisposition to fear the painful cold of Colorado mountain winters, and I retreat to a less hands-on approach to my research.

While seeking food for thought online, I stumbled upon a TED Talk given in 2009 on dragonflies – which in itself would interest me. But this talk concerns an exceptionally interesting species of dragonfly (though I didn’t realize it when I noticed its swarms in Gavi) – and one that aligns more with my current biological interests than those I held in the past few years (skimming the surface, some might say). Continue reading