Thursday, February 9, 2012

Are you ready for the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count?

The 2012 GBBC will take place Friday, February 17, through Monday, February 20. Please join us for the 15th annual count! 
The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.  
As it happens, unfortunately, for the second year in a row, I am going to be away from my favorite birding partner during the 2012 GBBC! Last year, she was in India while I was stuck in the US. This time its the other way around. Perhaps she will be able to get her class to participate. What about you? Will you spend a morning counting birds in your backyard next week?

Friday, December 23, 2011

How easily we have come to kill ancient living beings in the name of green energy...

... and this time even in the name of green energy! Only fools would object to such wanton destruction in the name of sustainable climate friendly energy projects, we are told. Be a fool, feel for the silent ancient Mojave yucca, and weep with me...

A BrightSource contractor working on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station in California's Mojave Desert kills a Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera) that was likely between 400-800 years old. 
This video is posted under Fair Use provisions of US copyright laws, as a means of exposing activities by BrightSource that contravene that company's agreements and obligations to protect the fragile desert wildlife on the site it is now bulldozing.

The BLM recently reported that they expect as many as 140-150 tortoises to be found on the 4,000-acre site. If BrightSource is breaking its promises to transplant and preserve ancient desert plants, how can we trust what they're doing with the tortoises?
Imagine if this were a more charismatic plant, say a similar-aged Redwood or Sequoia tree - would you weep then? Would you be outraged?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don't Drink the Water... for this too is California!

This is not a scenario from some generic developing third world banana republic where environmental regulation is lax and the government/economy is weak and there is simply no wherewithal to provide safe drinking water to the public.

This is here in the central valley of California. In some of the richest most productive agricultural areas of the world, home to some of the world's richest farmers (or agriculture corporations), in an American state whose economy rivals some of the richest nations in the world.

This is not the third world. Or is it?

While the US is plunging towards third-world-dom, lead by a priceless bunch of narrow-minded rightwing (that includes both political parties) "leaders", the central valley of California has probably always had an air of the third world about it. My own first inklings of the economic disparities and deprivations hidden underneath America's shiny global facade came from reading Steinbeck's epic "Grapes of Wrath", much of which is set right here in the valley. That book, along with "East of Eden" (both of which I devoured while in college in Bombay) also gave me my first new mental images of California that diverged from the more romantic ones perpetuated through Hollywood's glamour on the one hand, and Ansel Adams' Yosemite landscapes on the other. Here in this valley, sandwiched between those two more picturesque, salubrious California dreamlands, lies a third world that tells many a different tale: of massive land transformation and farm-worker exploitation; of green revolutions and pesticides; of laser-leveled land crisscrossed by massive canals and shrinking aquifers; of dried up prehistoric swamps and over-irrigated farmland abandoned to leaching selenium; of Steinbeck's Okies and today's illegal aliens; of big agribusiness and industrial animal farms; of sprawling suburbs and highways; of endangered species and disappearing ecosystems; of exotic invasive species (the other "illegal aliens") and designer GMOs; of weed and meth and gangs and prisons; of vineyards and fruit orchards and nut farms overflowing with riches; of migrant farmworkers dying of dehydration and schools where feeding the malnourished children must take precedence over any "education"; of some of the nation's foulest air and dirtiest water. This too is California.

That last item on litany above, Water, is the subject of a special investigative series by Mark Grossi, currently being published by the Fresno Bee under the headline "Don't Drink the Water"! Now that's a standard warning I'm is used to hearing when talking about travel to India or Mexico, or other developing countries. The Bee is telling us local residents here in this rich, poor, messed up valley: Don't Drink the Water! At least read the special report first, and find out what cocktail may be flowing out of your faucet.

Don't Drink the Water!

Welcome to California. This is indeed the third world within the first.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

To be a bird, oh to keep on singing, in a noisy urbanizing world

Wcsp-fence[Crossposted at Reconciliation Ecology, and A leaf warbler's gleanings]

Among the many ways we are transforming the planet and its habitats for other species, one that is only now receiving some attention is that os sensory pollution. This is when we pollute the environment in such ways as to interfere with the sensory perception and communication systems of animals - i.e., dull their senses in potentially important ways. While much attention has been paid—and justly so, ever since Rachel Carson's clarion call—to the wide variety of chemical pollutants we've  introduced into habitats all over the world, we haven't really paid much attention to the sensory effluvia that come in the wake of modern civilization. Two common ways we mess up the sensory systems of animals are by interfering with the visual and auditory channels of communication: e.g., increasing turbidity in water makes it difficult for fish to see and communicate with each other using visual signals (color patterns, changes to and movements thereof); increasing noise from our cacophonous machinery on land and in water makes it difficult for animals to talk to each other. We are a flashy, noisy, brash, uncouth, species indeed! No consideration for the sensibilities of our planet-mates.

Hofi-blogBut that may be changing. Sensory pollution is getting increasing attention from biologists in recent years, as exemplified by a symposium on the topic at Behavior 2011, the joint meeting of the Animal Behavior Society and the International Ethological Conference, being held at Indiana University this week. I wish I had been able to attend, especially for this symposium, because I've been thinking about and trying to study the effects of urban noise on bird song and behavior for some years now. Although I couldn't travel to the meeting, I'm happy that my lab was well represented - see below!

Today, Jenny and Pedro presented the first results from their research as a poster at Behavior 2011. Having helped them analyze their data and design the poster over the past few days, I've been something of an anxious parent this week, wondering how they are doing out there on their own, even as I followed the #behav11 hashtag on twitter to see what I was missing! A short while ago, a tweet (of course) informed me that "...they did a gr8 job!!" Phew! Not that I expected anything less...

If you, like me, missed the whole meeting, allow me to share their poster here, starting with this abstract:


Jenny Phillips, Pedro Garcia, Lauryn Moles & Madhusudan Katti 
California State University, Fresno, United States

Many animal species are dependent upon vocal communication to mate and defend territories. Selection will favor individuals that produce vocalizations that transmit best in their environments. The sensory drive concept suggests that environmental conditions, such as ambient sound, will influence the evolution of vocal behavior. Thus, background noise levels may have a profound effect on communication. We study how urban noise affects the cultural evolution of birdsong in two species: the migratory white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii) and the sedentary house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus). These two species are ideal study organisms because they each have one song type, are territorial, and are easy to identify. We recorded songs and ambient noise concurrently across the Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan Area (FCMA) and in outlying rural areas for comparative analysis of acoustic properties, in particular the frequency and temporal structure of songs. Because song influences fitness via phenotypic and genotypic mate quality, understanding how song changes in an urban environment may allow us to predict species adaptability in a changing world.


And here is the full poster - leave a comment if you have any thoughts on this ongoing study:

Phillips_et_al-ABS2011-Poster.pdf Download this file

Friday, June 17, 2011

Revisit FCBOS Friant Ranch Meetings

Fresno County Board of Supervisors-Friant Ranch Day 1, 12-07-2010 by Fresno Audubon

Fresno County Board of Supervisors-Friant Ranch Day 2, 2-01-2011 by Fresno Audubon

Barn Owl Nest Boxes Now Available!

Barn owl nest boxes for natural pest management now available from Fresno Audubon! Available while supplies last. Matt-559.715.2473

What: Barn Owl Nest Box Suggested Donation $25/box Cash, Check, Credit
When: Pickup Fridays through July starting 6/24/11 9am-Noon
Where: Discovery Center 1937 North Winery Avenue Fresno, CA 93703

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

From Silent Spring to Silent Night: A Tale of Toads and Men

As the semester winds down here at Fresno State, the Tri Beta Biology Club has a couple more special treats for us. For this week's Biology Colloquium, we bring you a real role model in Dr. Tyrone Hayes, an African American field biologist (yes, they exist, despite the stereotype) who became one of the youngest Full Professors at the University of California Berkeley. He will share his groundbreaking (and corporation-shaking) research on the effects of the herbicide Atrazine on amphibians, a taxon that has been in global decline for some time now, with pesticides hammering some of the nails in their collective coffin. Here's an excerpt about Dr. Hayes' work from the PBS documentary Frogs: The Thin Green Line:

And if that isn't enough to grab your interest, this might:

Here are details of the colloquium:

Tri Beta Biology Club presents:


Dr. Tyrone Hayes
Professor of Integrative Biology
University of Californa, Berkeley

on Friday, May 6, 2011
at 3:00 PM in AG 109 (download maps here)

The herbicide, atrazine, is a potent endocrine disruptor. My laboratory’s studies in amphibians have shown that atrazine both demasculinizes and feminizes exposed males at levels as low as 0.1 ppb. Our previous worked examined morphological effects, including the loss of androgen-dependent sexually dimorphic features, and the development of estrogen-dependent features in exposed males. These findings are consistent with an induction of aromatase, resulting in decreased androgen secretion and inappropriate estrogen synthesis and secretion. Our ongoing studies focus on behavioral effects in male frogs exposed throughout life and demonstrate both the loss of male reproductive behavior and the induction of female-typical behavior in exposed males. These data on amphibians and the proposed mechanism are consistent with findings across vertebrate classes, including humans, and raise concern about the role of this common environmental contaminant in reproductive hormone-dependent cancers and declining fertility in humans.

Call the Biology department (559•278•2001) for more information. You can also download the flyer here.