Late summer birding in Alaska

Having been to the subantarctic, I always wanted to get myself to the high Arctic to personally compare the wildlife and experiences from the two different polar regions. A conference in Canada (which by the way I never went too, but that’s another story) provided the incentive. Though I originally wanted to drive from Edmonton (Alberta) northward into Musk Ox range, my research revealed that it was going to be way more sensible to fly to Alaska. From Alaska there are two options to get to the Arctic. In fact, there are only two roads crossing the Arctic Circle in North America. The first is the Dempster Highway in Canada. However, my ultimate choice fell on the James W. Dalton Highway because (a) more birders drive the road so more gen were available and (2) I can access the Arctic from the Dalton without needing a plane.

I was joined on this trip by my long-time birding friend Ray Schep. This report chronicles our visit. I first touch on some background and logistics, then provide my itinerary with brief comments before a brief annotated birdlist. I end with a list of target species we missed during the trip. Note that this trip report is photo-intensive. Fact is, this was an awesome trip, and I really just could not decide which pictures was redundant.

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Puerto Montt storm petrels

I just spotted an interesting article and thought some of you might be interested. In short, a group of potentially undescribed storm-petrels (features intermediate between Wilson’s and Elliot’s Storm-petrel) were seen off Chile/Argentina in 2009. Now, more recently (Feb 2010) some more of these stormies were photographed in the same vicinity as the original observations.

2009 Puerto Montt Storm-petrel
2009 Puerto Montt Storm-petrel
2010 Puerto Montt Storm-petrel
2010 Puerto Montt Storm-petrel

These findings have remarkable written all over them. Notably, while finding a new bird species in some African or southeast Asian forests is not that surprising, I find it extraordinary that a seemingly common bird such as this storm-petrel (up to 250 individuals were seen on Feb 8, 2010) could have remained undetected until now. Moreover, the last description one would expect from a overlooked species in a frequently-birded area is “strikingly-coloured“.

The moral of the story – keep birding with an open mind!!!

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This work by JOHNNY WILSON'S BIRDING BLOG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Posted in Discoveries, Oceans and Islands, South America | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Climate change ‘makes birds shrink’

Bergmann’s Rule states that there is a strong positive correlation between body size and latitude: equatorial animals have smaller body sizes than polar animals. Importantly, smaller animals have a lower surface area to volume ratio than larger animals. As such, smaller animals radiate more body heat per unit of mass, which helps them to stay cooler in warm climes. The opposite is of course true for larger animals who needs to stay warm in colder climes (poles).

While the Bergmann’s rule generally apply to spatial effects (polar vs tropics; valleys vs mountain tops), the authors of a recent Oikos article wanted to know whether Bergmann’s Rule also applies to a changing climate. Notably, they asked whether animals subjected to increased temperatures show reduced body sizes. To answer their questions, the authors examined body mass and wing length of 486,000 individual birds (102 species) caught at North American ringing/banding stations from 1961 to 2007.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak has lost 4% of its body mass over the last 46 years

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak has lost 4% of its body mass over the last 46 years

The study’s results were conclusive. Over 46 years, 60/82 spring migratory birds, 66/75 autumn migratory birds, 51/65 summer resident birds and 20/26 winter resident birds showed signs of reduced body size. With an average decline of 1.3% of their body mass most differences were not big, reduced body sizes were most noticeable in species migrating between the North America and tropical America (as opposed to residents, or species migrating between the north and south ends of North America). For example, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (a species breeding in Northern US and Canada and over-wintering in Central America and northern South America) has lost on average 4% of its body mass.

You can read the press release at BBC

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Summer birding in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Burj Khalifa, at 828m the tallest man-made structure ever built, towering out above the Dubai skyline

Burj Khalifa, at 829.84m the tallest man-made structure ever built, towering out above the Dubai skyline

I visited the UAE between Aug 14-18, 2009. Having essentially birded the entire southern African subcontinent (apart from much of Nambia :( ) from childhood to graduate student, I always dreamt of the birds present beyond out borders. I had my first taste now as graduate student in the USA. But I always wanted to do a trip, far away from my house, dedicated to birding. And this was it. I decided to do a longish lay-over in Dubai en route from the USA to South Africa on my annual visit to family. This was all rather intimidating, as I was going to do this all completely solo on what seems to be a rather bad time (summer) in the Middle East. But I’m happy to report that my trip was a major success, and I had a blast.

So what brings me to this, my first blog post? In short, while I found some amazing resources for birding in the UAE, and many trip reports from winter, I really struggled to find information about birding the UAE in summer. Sure, it’s probably not the most convenient time to visit. But people like me, who had limited options, still wanted to make the most out of our trips. So, apart from being eager to share my first real international twitching, I also wanted to provide an additional resource for birders traveling to the UAE over summer. This report chronicling my visit to the area. I first touch on logistics (notably information I was unable to obtain easily online), then provide my itinerary with brief comments before a brief annotated bird list. While my lack of experience, local knowledge, and, well, being maybe a bit naive at this twitching thing certainly affected my success rate, I still wanted to provide a list of target species I missed, as warning to future birders.

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This work by JOHNNY WILSON'S BIRDING BLOG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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