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Researchers have identified a new species of tree in the Eastern Ghats of India Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Tirupati have identified a new species of tree in the Eastern Ghats of India. The tree, named Syzygium kurumbense, was identified during a survey of the Eastern Ghats conducted by the researchers. The tree, which belongs to the family Myrtaceae, is a small tree or shrub with a height of up to 3 m. The tree has alternate, elliptic-oblong leaves that are slightly toothed near the apex. The flowers are white in colour, and are arranged in clusters of three to four. The fruits are drupes, with a single seed in each fruit. The researchers also noted that the tree is endemic to the Eastern Ghats and is a rare find.

Red-crowned Cranes on Hokkaido - 10,000 Birds

The Red-crowned Crane is listed as Vulnerable, with an estimated 3000 individuals in 2009. Some populations – especially the Hokkaido one – seem to be doing quite well. On Hokkaido, the number rose from 33 in 1952 to about 1200 now, with the bird presumably benefiting from its symbolic importance for Japanese culture and its pull for tourists. Still, one source states that this is the second-rarest of all crane species.   What methods are effective to protect an endangered crane species? An interesting paper compares two different strategies, habitat management (as done in the US for the Whooping Crane) and artificial feeding in the leanest periods (as done in Japan for the Red-crowned Crane). Conclusion: the Japanese method seems to work better (of course, couched in the usual careful scientific phrases): “An initial review of these two case studies reveals indications that artificial feeding in periods of lean food availability resulted in much faster overall population recovery in Japan”.   An ex-girlfriend of mine once said, “Dancing is like sex. If it feels really good, it does not matter how it looks like”. I imagine that Red-crowned Cranes fully agree with this statement.   Here is a description of their dance from a website: “Red-crowned cranes use their courtship dance, which consists of bowing, head bobbing and leaping in order to communicate with each other. The dance is very beautiful and strengthens the bond between male and female pairs.”   Here we go again – “strengthening the pair bond”, the old explanation that does not really explain anything. And also: “very beautiful” – to me the dancing cranes look more like a bunch of punks at a UK Subs concert than classical ballet dancers.   Other individuals seem to have seen Saturday Night Fever a few times too often and now think they are John Travolta. And now for something completely different (Monty Python). It seems that the market for crane pornography is rather limited despite the lack of any legal obstacles to its distribution. The most likely reason is that it is just not that attractive to watch – clumsy rather than graceful, labored rather than sexy. One study makes one rather weird and disturbing observation – in China, the number of captive birds has risen faster than can be explained by the breeding of captive birds (more than 1500) alone. So, the likely reason is that wild birds were captured and added to the captive population, which is not quite what species protection should be about (particularly as other efforts for this species often go in the opposite direction, i.e., captively bred birds are released into the wild).   And yes, captive and wild cranes are not the same – they have different gut microbiota (source). Is this relevant? The authors of the study think it is (maybe they need more grants): “Comparing the differences in gut microbiota function and composition of captive and semi-free-range red-crowned cranes is critical for conservation management and policy-making”. As usual, they forgot world peace as a key argument.   Red-crowned Cranes have a misogynistic streak in them – they mainly feed on female rather than male crabs, even though the female crabs are smaller. The cranes defend this preference by pointing out that the female crabs offer a higher-energy reserve ratio, i.e., are more nutritious relative to their mass (source: HBW).   Life of a Red-crowned Crane can be difficult. On the one hand, in reserves such as the one at Yancheng, China there are disturbances from humans, particularly in the non-core areas of the reserve (source). This means there is more need for watching and thus less time for foraging. On the other hand, in the center of the reserve, where there is less disturbance from humans, there is a greater need for vigilance due to fights with other cranes. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It must be quite unpleasant to be a single crane, as the coupled individuals constantly shout out about their companionship. Would be much nicer to shut up – this just puts pressure on the single cranes.   In the longer run, China may not have to worry too much about its wild Red-crowned Cranes – one study by Chinese authors suggests that due to climate change, the breeding range of the continental population will shift northward over this century and will also change the country owning the largest portion of breeding range from China to Russia, ending with the statement that “Russia should take more responsibility to preserve this endangered species in the future.” The Red-crowned Cranes at the Hokkaido winter feeding spots have solved the problem by just ignoring humans completely, which sounds nice for photographers but actually makes life difficult if you only bring an 800 mm lens … (this is the rare occasion of my post giving some vaguely useful practical tips).   Interestingly – and slightly counterintuitive – Red-Crowned Cranes may benefit from reed cutting. One study found that the cranes prefer those areas where reed has been cut over those uncut ones.   Apparently, cranes (not specifically Red-crowned ones though) are mentioned twice in the Bible: once on account of its voice (Isaiah 38:14: “Like a swallow or a crane, so did I chatter”). To give you the other mention would require me to subscribe to www.biblestudytools.com, which – given that it would cost about 50 USD for an annual subscription and that my interest in studying the bible is rather limited – is not really an option for me.   In 2003, China’s State Forestry Administration submitted the opinion that “the Red-Crowned Crane is the national bird ” to the State Council, but this was rejected because the scientific name of the Red-Crowned Crane is “Japanese Crane”. There is a slightly paradoxical lesson here – if you want to become a national bird, do not align too closely with a nation. The importance of cranes in Chinese mythology is also reflected by the saying “Riding...

Saving the Spotted Owl—Zalea's Story: A KidLit Bird Book Review - 10,000 Birds

Award-winning free-lance science journalist Nicola Jones, most noted for her work on climate change and environmental issues, ventured into the book world with a picture book on the wildlife rehabilitation efforts for one of North America’s most endangered bird species, the Northern Spotted Owl. With a readership primarily of students, Jones—wisely, I believe—refrained from including the controversial efforts to kill Barred Owls in order to save the spotted ones. That issue aside, SAVING THE SPOTTED OWL—ZALEA’S STORY is a detailed nonfiction picture book with a view expands from one specific owl, to Spotted Owls in general, to conservation efforts via breeding centers to save other endangered species. The author is truly committed to this cause, and is donating half of her proceeds to the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program.  Zalea’s story began when the three-week-old owlet, not yet able to fly, fell from her tree to the forest floor, about as far as the drop from a 7th-story building. Scientists had been monitoring that tree, and when they found the chick on the ground, they made to decision to rescue. Through the course of the book, the readers are introduced to real owls and the real people working to protect them. One of the final spreads ends with photos of Zalea, grown and with chicks of her own. Sidebars provide additional information to give background to Zalea’s story, and are set aside not with boxes, but by a change in font (from a serif to sans-serif). Those sidebars include specifics about the Northern Spotted Owl, information on endangered species with the IUCN Red-List categories, and details about some of the jobs held by biologists.  From an art perspective, there’s not much cuter than a baby owl, with all its fluff and roundness and big eyes. Canadian artist Alexandra Finkeldey’s illustrations capture that incredible cuteness, while her intricate work for the sections such as the breeding center, egg development, and life cycle ground the book in its nonfiction reality. Her classroom scene is multicultural and inclusive, and her soft color palette of greens and browns captures the feel of the Pacific northwest.  If you think that picture books are just for little kids, think again. Jeopardy star James Holzhauer became a multi-millionaire in part by reading picture books as part of his game strategy. And this is the book to read if you’d like to learn more about Spotted Owls and the people and programs that make up their safety net of protection. And of course, it’s great for kids that love birds (or kids in whom you want to encourage a love of birds!). However, with its dense, rich text, this is not a book for younger kids. Aim this at the 7–13 year-olds in your life. With its inclusion of maps, graphics and life cycles, and details on job specifics, it’s a perfect fit for late elementary through middle school students and classrooms, and for school and public libraries.  Saving the Spotted Owl—Zalea’s Story by Nicola Jones, illustrated by Alexandra Finkeldey Kids Can Press, 2023 ISBN: 978-1-525-30555-9 $19.99 USA; $21.99 Canada 32 pages, Grade level 3-7, Lexile 1010 (5th-8th grades)

Birding the Datang area, Yunnan - 10,000 Birds

The Datang area stretches North from Tengchong, with basically just one road (G219) having less and less traffic before it eventually peters out in a series of curves about 10 kilometers before reaching the border to Myanmar. Unfortunately, this makes it sound a bit more interesting for birding than it turned out for me – though admittedly, I spent less than a day there. And the area was recommended to me, so most likely my limited birding skills are to blame, rather than the birds themselves. That said, there were a few interesting birds, such as the Bar-throated Minla. Somewhat strangely, the HBW calls it a “small grey to yellow babbler” – while the species indeed has some grey parts, that is not the color that sticks to mind when seeing or remembering the bird. Apart from some limited description in the HBW, there is again rather limited information available on the species, perhaps because it does not usually live on university campuses and thus is not a preferred target for ornithologists. An Indian paper mocks the Beautiful Sibia when discussing the range-restricted species that can be seen at an Indian birding spot, the Eaglenest Sanctuary: “… the ubiquitous Beautiful Sibia Heterophasia pulchella, a drab ashy-grey bird titled beautiful!” That seems a bit unfair to me. I usually restrict my unfair jokes to humans. Plus the sibia apparently plays an important role in the pollination of one endangered rhododendron species (source). When searching for information on the Black-headed Sibia, I stumbled across a promising-sounding web page titled “Uncovering the Fascinating Behaviors of the Black-headed Sibia“. However, the article itself disappoints. The fascinating behavior mainly seems to be that the members of the species “search for insects and larvae in trees”. And the description of the unique appearance of the species is followed by what sounds like a disclaimer, namely that while “… the Black-headed Sibia has distinctive features, it can be confused with other bird species”. If that was not boring enough, somebody also analyzed the complete mitochondrial genome of the species. Seeing Blyth’s Shrike-babbler (or White-browed Shrike-babbler) allows me to mention one of my favorite bands, the UK-based Blyth Power (named after a locomotive, not named after the ornithologist Edward Blyth – somehow I suspect that the shrike-babbler is named after the latter though I kind of hope to be wrong). Blyth Power songs that can be accessed online and come with my own recommendation include “Animal Farm“, “Guns of Castle Cary” “Alnwick & Tyne” and “Better to bat“. Advice to bird species that want to get featured on this blog: Don’t choose names that are too similar to names of my favorite bands. For example, a hypothetical National Bulbul would have no chance to get any coverage here. This is in contrast to the Brown-chested Bulbul. This bird may at some point may have failed to pay its membership fees to eBird – at least judging from the rather hostile description of the species as a “large dull bulbul of scrubby forest edges, farmland, and parks”. Makes the species almost sound a bit apocalyptic. A paper on the species asks the important question “Does nest sanitation elicit egg rejection in an open-cup nesting cuckoo host rejecter?” To rephrase: if you put some trash into a nest of a bird along with a cuckoo egg, does that improve the chance that the cuckoo egg will be kicked out? How to find out? Here is what the paper says: “In the first group, we added a blue, non-mimetic egg to the nest of the host, while in the second group we added a blue, non-mimetic egg and a peanut half-shell.” So, either just a fake egg or a fake egg and trash (a peanut shell). And the result: all peanut shells were expelled, but the ejection rate of the fake eggs was the same in both groups and (I think) quite low at about 53%. So, potentially plenty of cuckoo chicks would have been raised by the bulbuls. Poor bulbuls, but then again, they are large dull birds anyway, according to eBird. Scientifically speaking, the result is this: “Our study indicated that nest sanitation behavior of Brown-breasted Bulbuls did not influence their egg recognition and that egg discrimination ability of Brown-breasted Bulbuls was not directly related to nest sanitation behavior.” My guess is that this is an Eastern Buzzard. But feel free to disagree. While there are many explanations for how new species might develop, I still find some of the suggested mechanisms a bit implausible. The Eastern Buzzard is an example of how this might happen in reality (source). Aparently, there are two subspecies, one on the Japanese islands and one on the Asian mainland. While they winter together on some of the Western islands of Japan, they then migrate along very different pathways, one on the mainland and one along the string of Japanese islands. As the Sea of Japan is in between these two pathways (and buzzards neither like to swim nor to fly long distances over water due to the lack of thermals), these pathways seem to be quite separate from each other, and indeed the two subspecies have been genetically separate for about 0.8 million years (which is a long time for example when watching a boring movie, but not a very long period by the generous standards of evolution). Green-backed Tits seem to have been studied fairly extensively by ornithologists, which makes me wonder whether the species prefers nesting on university campuses or near good yet affordable hotels. For example, one study found that male tit parents prefer to feed large and medium-sized chicks while female tits make no such distinction. Judging from my experience in the human world, a very predictable result. Another study had a similarly predictable result: Green-backed Tits are able to discriminate against eggs of the wrong color (for example, added by a cuckoo) unless it is too dark. (Under pressure, I might admit that the actual findings of...