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Add your biodiversity sightings to “iNaturalist” – Big Sioux Rec Area, Beaver Creek Nature Area

Banner page for a new iNaturalist “project” page, “Biodiversity of Beaver Creek Nature Area”. You can enter sightings of any form of life you find in the park boundaries, and iNaturalist will summarize those observations and provide an accounting of all life observed there.

Twitter is a dangerous thing for me. I’m relatively new to it, starting 2 years ago. But it’s rather addictive, and if I don’t curb myself I can spend far too much time on it. The good news…this weekend I spent very little time on Twitter, even going (gasp!) almost 36 hours without even looking at it. The bad news…it’s because Twitter itself got me hooked on another online activity.

When visiting the Black Hills a week ago, I took a number of flower and butterfly photos. I don’t really “do” butterflies and flowers, so didn’t know the ID of most, so I posted some blocks of photos on Twitter. People did help with ID, but I also got multiple suggestions to join iNaturalist. Now, I have done eBird for years, and greatly enjoy recording all of my bird sightings. iNaturalist is similar but expanded to…everything…all life that you wish to record, be it a bird, a reptile, a tree, a shrub, a bug, a fungi…anything. But unlike eBird, where you’re expected to know the species you’re entering, iNaturalist is also a platform for helping you to identify your finds. You upload a photo, identify as best you can, and other people confirm your identification, or offer a corrected identification. There’s a system in place where the “grade” for your entry depends upon matching IDs, with “Research Grade” ranking given to entries that have confirmed IDs from multiple users.

I have many, many thousands of photos over the years, mostly birds, but also other critters. I also have occasionally taken photos of flowers, fungi, and other life, but haven’t really given an ID to most. So instead of wasting time on Twitter this weekend, I spent FAR too much time entering old photos onto iNaturalist.

One feature I think is really cool about iNaturalist is that you can set up your own “project”. Your project can define an area where you can summarize observations. You can also select what taxa are part of your project. So for example, you could set up a project for your favorite birding spot, and do something like “The Birds of Newton Hills”. iNaturalist would then record ANY sighting of a bird, be it by yourself, or someone else, and summarize all the sightings of birds for that area. It’s all automated in that once the project is set up, it automatically records the sightings any one makes within your defined parameters (area, type of life, time of observation, etc.).

A cool concept! And since I admittedly get a little fatigued with bird photography, from the standpoint of taking photos of the “same old birds” (how many American Goldfinch photos do you need?), and since we live right across the street from the Big Sioux Recreation Area, I thought why not start an iNaturalist project that records ALL life in the park? And so that’s what I’ve done, with a new iNaturalist project “Biodiversity of the Big Sioux Recreation Area“. My other most visited birding location is Beaver Creek Nature Area, just 4 miles east of where I live. I started another project for Beaver Creek, “Biodiversity of Beaver Creek Nature Area“.

Join in if you’d like! If you ever visit either the Big Sioux Recreation Area or Beaver Creek Nature Area, just start taking photos of the plants, animals, fungi…whatever life you run across in those two parks. Join iNaturalist and record your sightings. You do need a photo, and you do need to include the location of the sighting. That’s easy if you use your cell phone for the photo (or if your camera has GPS), as the location will be automatically recorded when you take the photo, and uploaded automatically when you add the photo to iNaturalist. And…that’s it! If the sighting is recorded within the boundaries of those two parks, it will automatically be added to these “projects”.

And don’t worry if you don’t know the identification of the plant or animal! That’s the point of iNaturalist. It will offer an initial suggestion based on your photo (most of the time the suggestions are very good!), and others will chime in and offer their 2 cents on ID.

I don’t need another online hobby, but…this one is a bit different! Not only did I end up starting these two iNaturalist “projects” this weekend, but each day I ended up taking long walks through the Big Sioux Recreation Area, going very slowly, and taking photos of a lot of the plants and insects I came across. It’s an online time sucker, but…it’s also an exercise routine in a way! So it all balances out. ūüôā

Give it a try and start entering your sightings! But beware, it’s fun, but a bit addictive. Here are the links again to the two iNaturalist projects I set up:

Biodiversity of the Big Sioux Recreation Area

Biodiversity of Beaver Creek Nature Area

Burrowing Owl? Here?!? POTD – From 10 years ago today

It was 10 years ago when I had one of my better birding moments. There are always those great trips to “new” places that get the birding juices flowing, but one of the best aspects of birding is that you never know what you might see when you go out.

It was 10 years ago that I was coming back from a business trip. I flew into the Sioux Falls airport and was driving back to my little home town of Brandon (about 6 miles west of Sioux Falls). I was driving by an open alfalfa field, when I noticed a bird on a post.¬† It was a…no…couldn’t be…yes! a Burrowing Owl!¬† Here in far eastern South Dakota, just a few miles from Minnesota. Historically Burrowing Owls used to be around here, but there hadn’t been a breeding record of Burrowing Owls anywhere close to here in decades.¬† Our grassland is gone, and we just don’t have the prairie dogs or other creatures that Burrowing Owls are often found with.¬† Yet here was an adult Burrowing Owl, hanging out on a fence post, in early August.

I quickly drove the last 4 miles home, got my camera and returned. Upon looking around I saw another Burrowing Owl…and another…and another.¬† There were two adults, and at least four young!! It didn’t take long to find their home. They were using an old badger hole, in the middle of the alfalfa field by the road.¬† The young were already as big as the parents, although with a different plumage. I had a blast for the next month, watching the little Burrowing Owl family feed on grasshoppers, crickets, and other little critters, primarily using a big CRP (?) grassland that was right next to the alfalfa field. By early September they started disappearing, one by one.

That alfalfa field is now on a corn and soybeans rotation. The CRP field they were using to forage? Also plowed under, used for corn and soybeans. In the 10 years since, I’ve never again seen a Burrowing Owl anywhere close to¬† my part of the state. But I’ll always remember the little Burrowing Owl family that successfully fledged several young, just 4 miles from my house.¬† Here’s one photo I took at night, of one of the adults foraging for insects alongside the road.

Burrowing Owl - Athene cunicularia

Killer Grizzlies, Ice Twisters, and more – Science, Nature, and other news

Killer Grizzlies,¬†“Ice Twisters”, and more…Science, nature, and other news of the week. Click on each headline for the story itself.

Grizzly Bear - Ursus arctos

Taken this morning, A Grizzly Bear, lurking JUST outside the Brandon Valley Middle School attended by my son. STAY BRAVE, MY SON!! We finally have a leader…nay…a HERO…who will stand up for you and your fellow children. ¬†No longer will you cower in fear each day at school, wondering if…wondering WHEN...the next child will be taken by a Grizzly Bear. Prepare for firearm training, my son! Soon you will be able to defend yourself!

Grizzly Bear Scourge Killing Thousands of American Children — With all the testimony this week of potential Trump Cabinet members, the most insightful, meaningful words of wisdom came from Betsy Devos, the woman who (shockingly)¬†is about to lead the Department of Education. ¬†When asked about her stance on guns in schools, Devos first deflected, stating that it should be a local choice. ¬†When pushed, Devos spoke of the one issue that wasn’t discussed NEARLY enough during the fall campaign…the deadly scourge of Grizzly Bear attacks on our children at school. ¬†Yes, that’s right folks, FINALLY we have a Trump Cabinet member who “gets it”, who understands the daily struggles of everyday Americans. Who hasn’t worried about Grizzly Bear attacks when dropping off their child at school in the morning? Betsy, we love you. ¬†You’ve proven you are one of US, everyday Americans struggling with everyday, life-or-death problems. ¬†Hopefully under your watch, teachers, or…better yet…children THEMSELVES will be allowed to carry semi-automatic weapons to combat the Grizzly Bear scourge. ¬†God bless you, Betsy Devos!

Cat toll on wildlife tallied – We had a neighbor with a cat that started showing up on their front step. ¬†They adopted it, although for the much of the time, they kept it as an outdoor cat. Every night it would be out on its own, and often during the day as well. ¬†It was a sweet cat! It was also an evil, bird-killing machine¬†that was seemingly always in our yard.¬†There would be many, many times I’d look out our sun room at the bird feeders, only to see the cat crouched and hiding by a nearby bush. Over the years, the visits to our yard became less frequent, either because 1) it was scared to death of me chasing it out of the yard again, or 2) it progressively got fatter and less agile. ¬†He took a toll on birds in my yard. ¬†I often witnessed him killing a bird, and other times, I’d just find the aftermath, with a pile of feathers or a dead mangled body. One cat, one yard, and likely many dozens upon dozens of kills. ¬†So what is the toll of cats on wildlife? ¬†As this story notes, a wildlife rehab group in Virginia tallied cat-related animal injuries over the years, and found they treated over 80 species that had been attacked by cats, including over 60 different bird species. ¬†This past summer, the neighbor cat disappeared one day, as it didn’t return home after (yet another) night left outside on its own. ¬†I love what pets bring into a home, but admit I was NOT fond of the way the neighbor cat was treated, and what it was allowed to do. Leaving it outside all the time ended up costing it its life, but it also ended up costing the lives of countless small critters over the years.

Tornado - 1884

What’s thought to be the world’s oldest photo of a tornado, taken in 1884. This photo always terrified me, ever since I saw it as a kid. It just looks…evil. And hey, GREAT! THANKS SCIENCE! In addition to every other way a tornado can kill you, now we also know that the inside of a funnel is quite cold! “Ice Twisters”, the SyFy movie, may have actually been a documentary!

Ice Twisters!! —¬†Several weeks ago, my son and I were flipping through the channels, and as we passed the SyFy channel, we saw a movie called “Ice Twisters!” was on. ¬†Typical SyFy movie…government research gone wrong, with drone-related atmospheric research somehow resulting in deadly “Ice Twisters” that were ravaging the landscape. In the movie, the cause of death for those impacted by an Ice Twister wasn’t necessarily wind…no…they froze to death! ¬†Yes, twisters that were THAT cold! ¬†Well, it turns out there’s a hint (the slightest hint) of truth in the show. ¬†The story goes back to 1955, when three employees from a radio station in Nebraska were taking cover from a tornado in the basement of an old stone house. The vortex passed directly overhead, and as it did so, the structure above was blown away. ¬†The three people in the basement noted the difficulty in breathing as the tornado passed overhead, but also felt the temperature dropping very sharply. ¬†Researchers studying the case found that the temperature likely dropped from around 27¬į Celsius to 12¬į as the funnel went overhead. ¬†The drop in temperature and the difficulty they had in breathing were related. The density of the air in the funnel would have been equivalent to being at nearly¬†30,000 feet in elevation, and as warmer, denser air is sucked into low pressure of the funnel, the expansion causes the large drop in temperature. ¬†Touche’, SyFy, Touche’. ¬†Never again will I make fun of your (admittedly sometimes entertaining) movies. ¬†Ice Twisters was simply a movie ahead of its time, ahead of the science behind it.

Move over “Polar Vortex”! Now we have “Atmospheric Rivers” — I just love when the mainstream media gets excited and jumps all over a “new” scientific phenomenon. A few years ago, somebody put a label of “Polar Vortex” on the same kinds of cold snaps the U.S. has always experienced, evidently deciding that just calling it “winter” as we always have wasn’t exciting enough. ¬†Today, I see we have a new entry in the journalistic annals of creating¬†new and exciting ways to describe phenomena that have been around forever. A very significant precipitation event did just recently occur in California, but the same kind of event has occurred countless times throughout history. ¬†The term “Atmospheric Rivers” itself is evidently old, mentioned by a couple of researchers back in the 1990s. Other terms for it in California have been the “Pineapple Express” or “Hawaiian Express”. ¬†Reading this story, however, and you’d think it was the first time such a phenomenon had been discovered or discussed.

February 2016 Temperature Anomalies

An image that shows global temperature anomalies in February of 2016. February was the most “anomalous” month in history up to that point, with the greatest departure from the “normal” for any month that had ever been measured. 2016 as a whole ended up setting yet another global temperature record. Leading the way…much of the Arctic. This graphic shows a temperature anomaly of nearly 12¬į for much of Arctic, but even greater departures from normal were found this fall and early winter.

3rd straight year of record global temperatures — For the first time ever, we’ve now had three straight years where all-time global temperature records have been broken. As stated by Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, “‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs going on in the Arctic is really very impressive; this year was ridiculously off the chart”. Parts of the Arctic were 20 to 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) above normal for much of the fall and early winter, including days with temperatures hovering at or above freezing even at the North Pole. Globally, levels of sea ice have never been lower.¬† Irrefutable evidence of the continued onslaught of climate change…not that more evidence is needed at this stage, but it comes at a time when a new incoming President and his Party are about to take power in Washington D.C. ¬†Which leads into…

Mixed bag for Trump’s Cabinet on Climate Change — Not a single story, but a collection of stories related to confirmation hearings for Trump’s Cabinet members this week. First the good…incoming Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, openly disagreed with Trump’s statements on climate change. ¬†He stated “The climate is changing, and man is an influence”, certainly welcome words from a man tasked to manage the Department that oversees Federal lands and natural resources. ¬†Responses related to the issue of climate change were more reserved and mixed from other Trump nominees. ¬†Scott Pruitt, tasked to lead the Environmental Protection Agency said “I do not believe climate change is a hoax”, but he stopped short of saying man was the major cause, or that we need regulation and change to mitigate the effects. Given that EPA is the Federal Agency that can potentially regulate greenhouse gas emissions, it’s not comforting to see a lack of conviction about regulatory action. ¬†The aforementioned Betsy Devos, who could very well be in charge of the Department of Education (GOD I hope not), didn’t specifically comment on climate change in her confirmation hearing, but did offer a simple statement of “I support the teaching of great science“. ¬†Note the word “simple”, a statement that could be attributed to MUCH of her testimony this week. ¬†It’s not encouraging when the Secretary of Education is clearly not even aware of the many programs her agency is responsible for. ¬†Rex Tillerson, an oilman slated to become Secretary of State, did state that the climate is changing and that greenhouse gases are a cause. However, he also stated that the science was murky, saying¬†‚ÄúThe increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.‚ÄĚ ¬†Tillerson’s comments were perhaps the most representative of what’s likely to happen in a Trump administration. ¬†In the face of overwhelming evidence that’s slowly convincing even a scientifically illiterate American public, the stance of many Cabinet members was to recognize climate change as “real”, yet simultaneously state the science is very uncertain. In short, they’re setting the stage to potentially monitor the situation, but not do a damn thing about it.

Sit on your butt and watch your life drain away — That’s the basic message of new research that assessed the biologic “age” of cells, related to the level of physical activity. ¬†Telomeres, little caps on the ends of DNA strands within a cell, gradually shorten as a person ages. Telomeres protect your chromosomes, and a shortening of telomeres is associated with cell “aging”, and increased likelihood of diseases including diabetes and cancer. Interesting study, and one of the first to take this form of measurement and connect it with activity levels. ¬†That’s the price of blogging, I guess…sitting here for hours trying to come up with interesting and clever stories, all while my damned telomeres shorten by the second.

Eating and Sitting

A family sitting AND eating at the same time. As science has proven this week, this could be one of the most dangerous aspects of American life. This, or rampaging Grizzly Bears around our children’s schools.

Don’t eat, live longer — To riff off of Charlton Heston…Damn you, science. ¬†DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!! ¬†FIRST you have the story above about deadly Ice Twisters, amplifying my already well-ingrained fear of tornadoes. ¬†Then you have the story of your DNA rotting away while you sit still. ¬†And now, this story, noting that restricting calories is one way to ensure a longer life. Survival and health of rhesus monkeys was found to be significantly higher as caloric consumption was reduced. ¬†Great. ¬†What. ¬†The. ¬†Hell. ¬†My favorite pastime is lounging on the couch in the basement, hiding from tornadoes, eating a bowl of ice cream. ¬†Little did I know how much I was putting my life in danger. As a scientist, and as an avowed atheist, I do find it incredibly fascinating that so many things that human beings crave in life, are inherently bad for you. ¬†Eating fatty and sugary foods, relaxing and taking it easy. ¬†From an evolutionary and biologic standpoint, does that make sense? ¬†Does it make sense that the very things we crave can kill us? How does simple biology explain that? ¬†It’s times like this where my belief in a “god” may not be reinforced, but it does reinforce my belief in a “devil”.

10,000-km long “wave” on Venus — The Akatsuki spacecraft captured a spectacular image of Venus in December, marked by a massive, vertical “smile” that stretched nearly pole-to-pole. ¬†The 10,000-km long feature is thought to be a “gravity wave”, which would make it the largest gravity wave observed in the solar system. ¬†It’s thought to have developed from air movement over mountain ranges on the surface of Venus, with the feature then propagating higher into the thick Venetian atmosphere. However, such a feature isn’t easily explained by the current understanding of the surface of Venus and near-surface atmospheric conditions. Either some other explanation is in order, or our understanding of the surface/atmospheric interactions on Venus needs to be reevaluated.

 

Temperature at freezing point. At the North Pole. On the Winter Solstice.

It’s the winter solstice. ¬†The day when the Northern Hemisphere receives the least light of the year. ¬†And yet tomorrow, temperatures at the North Pole itself are forecast to hover around 32¬į Fahrenheit, the freezing mark. ¬†That’s 50 degrees…FIFTY DEGREES…above normal for the date.

Not much to say on the matter, other than a direct challenge to climate-change denying losers…EXPLAIN THIS, without referencing overall climate change. (Crickets…)

In The News – Week of November 13th

A return to normality, at least as much normality as I can summon up in a post-apocalyptic, Orange-Hitler-as-President kind of world.  Some news stories of interest from over the past week:

Deer Mouse

A Deer Mouse…cute little suckers, but not when they try to enter your home! New research reveals they have the same genes that control speech in humans, so perhaps when one tries to get into the house, he’s just looking for a little camaraderie and conversation.

Other animals have genes for speech — I, of course, love birds. ¬†I love attracting birds to my yard, with a small feeder complex outside of our sun room, and trees and bushes to attract birds. ¬†Unfortunately, the feeders also attract other critters. ¬†Some…Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels…are cute and I don’t mind. ¬†Others…Deer Mice…are not wanted guests, particularly if they try to occasionally get into your home! ¬†We’ve taken measures to get rid of them, but after reading this study, perhaps I overlooked one method…a simple conversation! ¬†According to this research, many mammal species have been found to have the same kind of genes that regulate speech in humans. ¬†This includes mice, the focus of this study. ¬†Next time a wayward Deer Mouse decides he wants to investigate our house, perhaps a stern discussion will be all that’s needed to convince him to head back outside where he belongs.

Scientists react to election — From Nature, a summary of opinions from a number of scientists on what Trump’s election means for science in the U.S. ¬†Some pretty high-minded statements about what Trump should consider as the government science agenda likely becomes realigned. ¬†To the ten or so scientists offering their opinions and advice? ¬†You’re giving the Trump administration FAR too much credit if you think there’s this much thought that’s going to be placed into their science agenda. ¬†Look for far simpler motives (corporate profit, political motivations) than what these experts have outlined.

2016 set to break climate records — 2015 was the hottest year on record. ¬†2016 is almost certainly going to break that record. ¬†Perhaps this is why climate change doesn’t get anywhere close to the amount of attention it should be getting? ¬†Is it pure boredom? ¬†The same old same old story? ¬†Indeed, at this stage you can take the title of this paragraph, leave the “2016” blank, and just fill in the current year from her on out, and there’s a good chance you’ll be correct. ¬†Despite the lack of “novelty” in stories like this, perhaps the media should focus on how frighteningly commonplace such headlines have now become and what that means for our future.

Beer Pong

Science, used to explain the sanitary filth that occurs when playing beer pong.

Beer Pong Bacteria — I wasn’t ever a huge drinker in college. Perhaps I was just being smart. ¬†In what has to rank as one of the most “fun” science experiments ever, scientists studied what happens from a sanitary standpoint when people play beer pong. It’s not pretty! ¬†As you can imagine, if you bounce a ping-pong ball on a table, it hits the floor on occasion, it’s bouncing from cup to cup after people have been drinking from them…the biodiversity that starts to build up in the cups gets to be a little disgusting. ¬†Perhaps that morning-after feeling isn’t all just from the alcohol…

Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya all in one bite — Our vacation in 2015 was to the U.S. Virgin Islands. We’d never been in the Caribbean, and had a lovely cottage that we rented, with our own private beach and ocean access. ¬†It was wonderful, and we really enjoyed the privacy, the snorkeling, and the beautiful weather. ¬†One thing that was NOT enjoyed…the mosquitoes. ¬†OH MY GOD, the mosquitoes. ¬†Upon arriving, the Virgin Islands were in a very bad drought, to the point they were shipping in fresh water. ¬†We were told that because of the drought, mosquito populations were very low. ¬†Somebody forgot to tell the mosquitoes that! ¬†I’ve never had so many mosquito bites in my life. In one way we were fortunate…”Chikungunya” disease had swept through the Caribbean the previous year, a new mosquito-borne virus that infected a very high percent of inhabitants across the region. It had largely burned itself out by our vacation, and despite the dozens of bites, none of us were ill. ¬†As this story notes, scientists have now found that mosquitoes in North America have the ability to carry THREE tropical viruses…Zika, Dengue Fever, and Chikungunya. ¬†For you lucky folks in the southern U.S., central America, or the Caribbean, you could strike the lottery and get sick from all three illnesses, all from a single mosquito bite.

The Onion

Facebook and Google are joining forces to reduce the influence of “fake” news online. I just hope they implement the new rules judiciously, and recognize the brilliant satire of The Onion! We NEED this kind of humor right now!

Facebook and Google cutting revenue to “fake” news sites — For anyone on Facebook, it can be rather annoying to see sensationalist “news” stories, often which include propaganda and other material that is anything BUT “news”. ¬†During the campaign and after the election, stories were coming out that revealed a shockingly high proportion of the American Public relies on social media as their primary news source. ¬†Given the preponderance of fake news (aka, “bullshit”) on Facebook, this week both Google and Facebook have cracked down on fake news sites, greatly reducing advertising revenue to sites that attempt to titillate¬†or serve as click-bait for fake news. ¬†Fake news didn’t decide the election (no, I’ll blame an ignorant, hateful electorate), but this is a nice move on the part of both Facebook and Google. ¬†Both entities have such a massive influence over the distribution of information…it’s good to see them recognize the harm that can come from misleading information.

Skim Scum Stops Sickness — Is it possible we are just TOO focused on cleanliness, and that it is making us sick? Our skin is home to a bacteria-filled mini-ecosystem, one that we simply do not understand very well. ¬†This research highlights the beneficial role one kind of bacteria plays in protecting the skin from diseases such as psoriasis, dermatitis, or even skin cancer. ¬†With allergies and other select other diseases exploding over the last several decades, scientists are finding several similar situations, where our very cleanliness and focus on sanitation may have a negative impact on immune response and the progression of disease.

Eastern Fox Squirrel

Cute? Cuddly? How about EVIL SLAYER OF HUMANITY!?!?! Scientists have unexpectedly found that squirrels in Great Britain are serving as a host population for the same strains of leprosy that devastated Europe in the Middle Ages.

Gun Control Laws Work, Says Science — Americans seem hell-bent on ignoring fact and logic, despite the best efforts of scientists and other “truth-based” occupations. ¬†While I’m sure this will be ignored by the vast majority of gun-loving, weapon-toting Americans, here’s yet another study that shows how incredibly effective gun control laws are at preventing violent crime. Americans, this is now your cue to 1) start screaming about the 2nd amendment, 2) start screaming at the people behind this study as liberal nincompoop, and 3) go out and purchase more guns and ammo for your in-home arsenal.

Leper Squirrels Invading Great Britain!! — There’s nothing to immediately panic about, my British friends. ¬†Not yet, anyway. ¬†But alas…those cute, cuddly Red Squirrels running around your yard could very well be infected with the same leprosy bacteria that caused such misery for humans in past centuries. ¬†Leprosy dramatically declined in Europe after the Middle Ages, and is almost completely absent in today’s world. ¬†However, scientists unexpectedly found that two different strains of leprosy bacteria have been found in Red Squirrels, strains that are remarkably similar to centuries-old versions that caused disease in humans. ¬†Scientists are now working to understand how the bacteria has survived for so long in another host, and whether squirrels or other mammals may serve as a reservoir of the bacteria that could someday re-emerge and start infecting human beings again.

 

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