Salting the earth, oiling the sea

For the last few months life has been an emotional roller coaster. The weather here in southeastern Arizona has been insane. Wildlife and people alike are still hurting from last summer’s drought, despite abundant winter rains that produced a good spring wildflower show and renewed the flow of creeks and rivers. A snowstorm struck the high desert and sky islands at the end of April, during what is usually the peak of spring migration. Seeing Red-faced Warblers and hummingbird nests in the snow was an unforgettable yet heart-wrenching experience.

On the personal front, Tom and I are celebrating the engagement of one of our most cherished friends, but three other friends recently lost battles with cancer (two in one week), and three more are fighting it. Many of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues are still struggling with the effects of the economic downturn, and the picture got bleaker with Arizona’s budget crisis, radical cuts to funding for education, and a tourism boycott spurred by the passage of state legislation promoting racial profiling and banning ethnic studies.

A more distant landscape that we love and the communities that depend on it have been brutalized, perhaps beyond recovery. I’m not trying to make the Deepwater Horizon disaster about me, just saying that as a native Texan who spent many happy days on the Gulf Coast I can empathize with the maelstrom of emotions—grief, rage, helplessness, resignation—that residents of the region are feeling right now.

I have nothing but disgust for the cheerleaders for the oil industry who keep chanting “drill, baby, drill” and “jobs, jobs, jobs” in the face of this tragedy. Human lives have been lost. Millions of animals and plants, parts of a natural cornucopia of marine and estuarine ecosystems, are doomed. Traditional ways of life and the communities that depend on them have been devastated. That’s far too high a price to pay for the illusions of energy independence and economic security.

It occurred to me that the oil companies and other huge industries stand to win big from this disaster beyond a short-term spike in oil prices. With the poisoning of the Gulf’s ecosystems, thousands of residents who for generations have fed their families directly from the bounty of the coastal wetlands and the sea suddenly have no jobs, no money to buy food, few immediate alternatives, and little hope for the future. The tourism industry that struggled to recover after Hurricane Katrina was dealt another brutal blow, leaving even fewer options for small businesses and the people they employ. Families and communities will be strained to the breaking point and beyond, as they were in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez.

Into this economic vacuum and social chaos step BP, TransOcean, Halliburton, and their ilk. Having figuratively sown the earth with salt, destroying the fertility of the Gulf and the traditional livelihoods of its people, they’ve created an employers’ paradise now and for the foreseeable future. These companies and other corporate giants will have cornered the Gulf Coast job market. It’s already started, with BP offering to hire out-of-work fishing boats for cleanup work. What’s to stop them from controlling the entire economy of coastal communities, turning once proudly independent Americans into wage slaves?

Part of me wants to see all the U.S. assets of BP, its partners Anadarko and Mitsui & Co., and its contractors TransOcean and Halliburton seized and turned over to a trust to fund ongoing cleanup of the Gulf, restoration of wildlife habitat, rehabilitation of oiled wildlife, and support of communities whose traditional economic base has been obliterated.

Of course, it would be a huge mistake to tie the welfare of the Gulf and its people to continued exploitation of offshore oil. That’s what led us to this awful situation in the first place. Think about all the people who have had so little to say about the disaster because they depend on the petroleum industry for their income. This isn’t just employees of the oil companies and/or the contractors that serve them. It’s conservationists, too.

Members of the oil and gas industry are major contributors to conservation organizations such as TNC, Conservation International, and the Sierra Club. In return for the millions they donate to these organizations, the companies get photo ops and fake awards to dress up their ads and annual reports, putting on pretty “green” masks to distract their shareholders and the general public from the damage they’re doing to the environment.

Even the promising Teaming with Wildlife proposal was hijacked by oil interests. The original bill would have emulated the highly successful Pittman-Robertson Act and Dingell-Johnson Act, establishing modest federal taxes on wildlife-related merchandise (bird feeders, field guides, camping equipment, cameras, etc.) to fund nongame conservation and watchable wildlife programs. TWW had widespread support from the public, manufacturers, and retailers, but because “tax” is a four-letter word in some circles oil-friendly members of Congress cut a deal to fund wildlife programs with revenues from offshore oil leases. Conservationists were forced to accept a Faustian bargain that is now coming back to haunt us.

Yes, the deep pockets of the oil companies are tempting, but the costs are just too high. Thankfully, there are a few politicians who understand this and are willing to take a stand against the formidable petroleum lobby. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had previously proposed expanding offshore drilling to put desperately needed revenues into state coffers, said, “You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, ‘Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'” (Why indeed. Perhaps President Obama would like to answer that question.) “If I have a choice to make up $100 million and what I see in Gulf of Mexico, I’d rather find a way to make up that $100 million.”

I like to think that Gov. Schwarzenegger would come to the same conclusion even if the coastlines of his state were inhabited by working people of modest means instead of rich celebrities. Here’s hoping that other governors and the President follow his example.

Crude Awakening: An infographic to help you understand the oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and the incredible costs that will affect us all

Integrity in Science: Non-profit Organizations Receiving Corporate Funding

Wildflowers of the Sierra Madre

GrrlScientist posted a couple of photos of cultivated dahlias in Manhattan (one so pink it hurts my eyes), so I though I’d post photos of some relatives of this and other garden ornamentals that grow wild in the Sierra Madre Occidental of western Chihuahua.

Something to crow about…

from an original photo by Juan Tello, licensed by Creative Commons

from an original photo by Juan Tello, licensed by Creative Commons

Woo hoo! I’ve just learned that my recent post “Do we see what bees see?” has been selected as one of 50 winners (out of >500 entries over 800 entries) for The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2008. It’s so exciting to see Life, Birds, and Everything right up there with some big names in the science blogosphere, including some of my regular reads such as fellow bird blogger GrrlScientist. The anthology will be available shortly as both a book and a download from Lulu.com.

The illustration above (from a photo by Juan Tello, Creative Commons) serves double duty, because this year my dear husband Tom presented me with my second favorite gift of my adult life: chickens. Okay, I didn’t actually get the chickens, but Tom’s donation to Heifer International in my honor will make it possible for rural residents in Central America to receive chicks to start their own flocks. I love chickens, and Tom said maybe someday we’ll get some of our own, but in the meantime this is a gift I can feel good about and won’t have to feed and clean up after. (My favorite gift? An acre of tropical forest in Belize that Tom adopted in my honor.)

Do we see what bees see?

Trans-Pecos Morning Glory

Trans-Pecos Morning Glory

Featured in The Open Laboratory 2008!space

If you’re a hummingbird gardener, you’ve probably developed a search image that helps you select flowers most likely to please your discriminating clientele. Essentially, you’re thinking like a hummingbird, associating trumpet-shaped blossoms in “hot” colors with the promise of a sweet reward. Most hummingbird feeders are based on similar visual cues, but what if your feeder sent mixed signals that unintentionally lured less welcome critters as well as hummingbirds?

I first began to ponder this issue twenty years ago, when I was co-manager of The Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve. The preserve was having a lot of trouble with bees, mostly long-tongued bumblebees and carpenter bees, on some of its twenty-odd feeders, mostly the Perky Pet 210-P and similar models with yellow plastic “flowers” around the ports.

As I read everything I could find about hummingbirds, including pollination ecology, it dawned on me that very few hummingbird-pollinated flowers are yellow and very few bee-pollinated flowers are red. A little reading confirmed that yellow is a color ecologists associate with flowers that are insect pollinated (entomophilous, “insect-loving,” as opposed to ornithophilous, “bird-loving”). And there’s shape, too. Those five-petaled plastic pinwheels around the feeder ports could stand in for the flowers of any of hundreds of species in the sunflower family. And who pollinates those little yellow sunflowers? Bees and other six-leggity beasties, that’s who.

Since the preserve’s bookstore sold hundreds of Perky Pet feeders every year, I called the company to ask if they could make us a few red plastic flowers using the same mold as the yellow ones. A few weeks later a box arrived containing several hundred red plastic flowers. I immediately grabbed a handful and used them to replace half the yellow flowers on a couple of the problem feeders. The results were unambiguous: The bees would fly up to the red side of the feeder, buzz around, maybe land briefly, but soon take off and fly around to the other side to join their hive-mates feeding around the yellow flowers. Very few remained at the red flowers long enough to discourage hummingbirds from feeding. This continued for a couple of weeks, well beyond the time it should have taken for the bees to learn to associate the red “flowers” with food.

It was out with the yellow and in with the red on of all the preserve’s Perky Pet feeders. The leftover red flowers we handed out to preserve visitors having bee problems with similar feeders. Eventually we phased out Perky Pet feeders altogether (even in the bookstore), but until then this strategy helped to reduce the preserve’s bee problems. Disappointingly, when I reported these observations to Perky Pet and suggested that the company consider at least offering red replacement flowers, the representative’s only comment was, “Well, our customers like the yellow flowers.” Not their feathered customers, of course, but the ones with the cash.

But some people report no problems with bees on feeders with yellow parts, and others have terrible bee problems on all-red feeders. Why are some feeders with yellow parts ignored by bees? And why do some red feeders attract bees while others don’t?

The story is actually pretty complicated and starts with the different ways that bees, birds, and humans see the world. According to “Why Are So Many Bird Flowers Red?” by Miguel A. Rodríguez-Gironés and Luis Santamaría, the eyes of most bees, including honeybees, contain three types of color-detecting cone cells (trichromacy), each of which is sensitive to different wavelengths of light in a different band. The three sensitivity peaks fall at 340 nm (near-ultraviolet), 430 nm (violet-indigo), and 540 nm (yellow-green). Human eyes also contain three types of cone cells, but the peak sensitivities fall around 424 nm (indigo-violet), 530 nm (yellow-green), and 560 nm (yellow). Birds go us and bees one better with four types of cones (tetrachromacy) peaking at 370 nm (near-UV), 445 nm (indigo), 508 nm (green), and 565 nm (yellow) (Goldsmith 2006). The graphic below is my attempt to visualize the differences in color sensitivity between humans, honeybees, and hummingbirds:

spectrum

Notice that none of these photoreceptors peaks in the red range (~650 nm), yet we humans (and most birds) see red reasonably well. That’s because each type of cone cell can be stimulated by wavelengths near as well as at its peak. The sensitivity declines with increasing distance from the peak wavelength, so it takes some pretty intense red light to stimulate the yellow receptors of birds and humans.

So, leaving out some evolutionary bells and whistles that may enhance avian and insect color vision, bees’ eyes are substantially less sensitive toward the red end of the spectrum than our eyes or birds’ eyes. Both Rodríguez-Gironés & Santamaría and Spaethe, Tautz, and Chittka (2001) note that bumblebees presented with red flowers have a harder time locating them. Logically it should be likewise with red vs. yellow feeder parts, but it’s not quite as simple as that.

One variable has to do with the bees’ ability to see ultraviolet light. Insect-pollinated flowers often reflect UV differently from surrounding foliage and may even have UV markings that help attract and guide their pollinators. Hummingbirds can see into the near ultraviolet, too (Goldsmith 1980), yet their flowers don’t seem to use UV cues. In a tropical study, Doug Altshuler (2003) found that hummingbird-pollinated flowers reflected light mainly in the visible red wavelengths. Altshuler concluded that:

…hummingbird-pollinated flowers are not tuned specifically to hummingbird color sensitivity but instead may decrease conspicuousness to bees and other insects that have poor visual sensitivity to long-wavelength [e.g. red] color.” [emphasis mine]

Applying this conclusion to feeders, it’s clear that differences in UV reflectance between different types of plastic could make some feeders, or feeder parts, as conspicuous to bees as a neon sign in a dark alley, regardless of how they appear to human eyes.

But it turns out that contrast is more important than color alone in helping bees find flowers. The compound eyes of insects are capable of very low image resolution. The view through even the best compound eye was compared by a 19th-century naturalist to “a picture about as good as if executed in rather coarse wool-work and viewed at a distance of a foot” (Land 1997). In modern terms, think about viewing a normal (low-def) TV screen or CRT computer monitor from about an inch away.

Spaethe and colleagues noted that bees see color less well than contrast. The further a bee is from a flower, the larger that flower needs to be for it to be able to discriminate its color. It also takes them longer to process differences in color than differences in contrast. Naturally, the most important contrast is between flowers and the surrounding green foliage, so when searching for flowers at distances of more than a few inches, bees tend to home in on objects that stimulate their yellow-green receptors significantly more or less than the background foliage. The green receptors in bees’ eyes can be stimulated by red light of sufficient intensity, but whether they perceive the difference between a red flower and its green background depends in part on the relative intensities of light reflected from each.

Color and contrast notwithstanding, a combination of opportunity and necessity may be responsible for much of the variation in bee problems at hummingbird feeders. Not only do drought, late freezes, and other factors that reduce flower availability tend to increase bee problems, but some bees may have evolved to take advantage of bird-pollinated flowers as a back-up or even primary nectar source. Raine and Chittka (2005) note that among bumblebees, the one species that showed a distinct (though secondary) preference for red is Bombus occidentalis, a species whose range in western North America is rich in hummingbird-pollinated flowers. The marauding carpenter bees (Xylocopa californica arizonensis) that rob nectar from my cultivated salvias also take advantage of the natural bounty of bright red, tubular ocotillo flowers in the late spring dry season (Scott et al. 1993). Like a naturally abundant hummingbird flower, hummingbird feeders present a rich resource for any bee capable of taking advantage of it. A poorly designed feeder is going to be more profitable for bees to exploit than a thoughtfully designed one, which is why a feeder’s vulnerability to bee problems may go beyond color.

Until we know how different hummingbird feeders appear to bees and other insects, we can’t be absolutely sure how much influence color alone has on the potential to attract unwelcome feeder visitors. Nevertheless, the scientific evidence clearly indicates that it’s wise to avoid feeders with parts that reflect light in the yellow to violet “bee-friendly” portions of the visible spectrum.

References:

Altshuler, Douglas L. 2003: Flower color, hummingbird pollination, and habitat irradiance in four neotropical forests. Biotropica 35(3):344–355. Abstract

Goldsmith, Timothy H. 2006. What Birds See. Scientific American. PDF

Goldsmith, T.H. 1980. Hummingbirds see near ultraviolet light. Science 207:786-788.

Land, Michael F. 1997. Visual acuity in insects. Annual Review of Entomology 42:147-177  PDF

Raine, Nigel E. and Lars Chittka. 2005. Colour preferences in relation to the foraging performance and fitness of the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. Uludag Bee Journal, Volume 5, Issue 4 (November 2005): pp. 145-150. PDF

Rodríguez-Gironés, Miguel A., and Luis Santamaría. 2004. Why Are So Many Bird Flowers Red? PLoS Biol. 2004 October; 2(10): e350. Link

Scott, P. E., S. L. Buchmann, and M. K. O’Rourke. 1993. Evidence for mutualism between a flower-piercing carpenter bee and ocotillo: use of pollen and nectar by nesting bees. Ecological Entomology 18:234-240.

Spaethe, J., J. Tautz, and L. Chittka. 2001. Visual constraints in foraging bumblebees: Flower size and color affect search time and flight behavior. PNAS 98(7):3898-3903. PDF

Thorp, R. W., and M. D. Shepherd. 2005. Profile: Subgenus Bombus. In Shepherd, M. D., D. M. Vaughan, and S. H. Black (Eds). Red List of Pollinator Insects of North America. CD-ROM Version 1 (May 2005). Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Link

Six-Word Memoir

The Birdchick has tagged me (and four other marvelous bird bloggers) for the Six-Word Memoir meme (for background, see Smith Magazine, and Treehugger). It seems to have morphed into a blog meme at the hands of non-birding blogger bookbabie, who prescribed the following rules:

1. Write your own six word memoir

2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like

3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere

4 .Tag five more blogs with links

5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

Here’s mine (sorry, no photos available at press time):

Hummingbirds Hijack Herp and Hawk Hugger

Not as lyrical as Ecobirder’s or Hannibal’s or as socially relevant as Birdfreak’s, but at least it’s alliterative.

That satisfies rules 1 through 3, but for various reasons the rest is going to have to be DIY. If you’re a blogger who’s dying to participate but haven’t been tagged, consider yourself “it” (Mark, are you reading this?). When you’ve composed and posted your own memoir, please leave me a comment on this post with a link to your own memoir.

And to Sharon I say: Hie thee from this place and meme no more!

The tragic tale of the Quelili

When I first heard the news about the rediscovery of Beck’s Petrel, the bird’s name sent a little shiver down my spine. The man for whom it was named, Rollo Beck, was an ornithological collector who, on December 1, 1900, may have unwittingly (?) finished off another bird species, the Guadalupe Caracara or Quelili, Polyborus lutosus.

The caracara was one of a variety of fauna and flora endemic to Guadalupe Island, approximately 150 miles off the west coast of Baja California. The island’s relative isolation led to the development of species and populations of animals and plants distinct from their counterparts on the mainland. Its original avifauna included:

  • Guadalupe Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma macrodactyla)
  • Guadalupe Flicker (Colaptes cafer rufipileus)
  • Guadalupe Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii brevicauda)
  • Guadalupe Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus guadalupensis)
  • Guadalupe Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus consobrinus)
  • Guadalupe Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula obscurus)
  • Guadalupe House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus amplus)
  • Guadalupe Junco (Junco insularis)
  • and of course the Guadalupe Caracara (Polyborus lutosus).

The Bewick’s Wren and towhee apparently disappeared before Beck’s infamous visit in 1900, while the storm-petrel and flicker had vanished by 1910 (the flicker was later replaced by colonists of the nominate subspecies from the mainland). The kinglet clung to existence for decades but was presumed extinct after surveys in 2000 failed to find any. The Rock Wren, House Finch, and junco persist, but the junco lost most of its forest habitat to the voracious goats. (Also resident on Guadalupe is a population of Anna’s Hummingbird that is considered morphologically indistinguishable from the mainland form but whose males sing simpler songs than their continental counterparts. Hmmm…)

The beginning of the end for the caracara and its ill-fated neighbors was when seafarers dropped off goats in the early 19th century. This was a common practice, intended to provide a reliable source of fresh meat for crews of whaling and sealing ships on extended voyages. The goats proceeded to eat Isla Guadalupe down to rocks and dirt, devouring plants that had evolved for untold millennia in the absence of large herbivores. With the loss of chaparral vegetation that once provided ample condensation surfaces for sea fog, the island became more arid. The loss of habitat for the island’s fauna was compounded in the 1870s by the introduction of cats, which preyed on birds, especially the smaller species, and were major contributors to their extinctions.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the island’s unique and increasingly rare birds attracted the attention of ornithological collectors. In those days, it was common for private citizens to maintain their own collections of natural history specimens, often through trade or purchase, so the market for bird skins and eggs went far beyond museums and universities. Some collectors, such as A.W. Anthony (1901) and Thayer and Bangs (1908) wrote of scouring the island for the last remaining specimens of now-extinct species, presumably operating under the philosophy that shooting them for collections was better than letting them “go to waste” on the increasingly inhospitable island.

The significance of these ornithological visitors wasn’t lost on island residents. The same people who persecuted the caracara for its occasional depredations on kid goats soon realized that the species’ increasing rarity could be exploited. Live specimens were brought to San Diego and offered for sale, often for a king’s ransom by the standards of the time. Clinton Abbott’s obituary for the species (1933) reconstructs the heartbreaking stories of these unfortunate birds, including one killed in a Tripp-esque fit of pique when its captor failed to get his asking price. Daniel Cleveland, a charter member of the San Diego Society of Natural History, wrote to Abbot about a fisherman who brought six caracaras to San Diego in 1897. No one was willing to meet his asking price of $150, and the birds all died within a month. Cleveland remarked that “…the man’s greed resulted in our failure to rear some of these birds in captivity….” As much as I disapprove of rewarding such exploitation, had someone been willing to pay these poor birds’ ransom, we might be celebrating the successful reintroduction of the caracara to its island home instead of grieving its extinction.

On December 1, 1900, Rollo Beck encountered a flock of 11 caracaras. They were very tame and approachable, as island species with no land-based predators often are. He shot them all, but two managed to escape. By his own account he did not realize until later how rare they were and that he may well have been the last person to see one alive.

At the risk of raising the ire of some of my respected museum colleagues, I have serious doubts about this profession of ignorance. According to Abbot’s correspondence with various players in this tragedy, the caracara was acknowledged to be “a rare bird in process of extinction” as early as 1875, a quarter century before Beck’s fateful visit. It’s hard to imagine that such a well-connected character as Beck was so out of the loop that he was completely unaware of the increasing rarity of this species. Wasn’t the promise of rare specimens precisely what lured ornithological collectors to Isla Guadalupe?

If you thought that this sad story would change the attitudes of the collectors who followed and the institutions who employed them, you’d be wrong. The birds of Guadalupe Island were hunted by ornithologists at least as late as the 1950s, though hopefully with somewhat more restraint than shown by Beck.

This wasn’t the only time Beck helped hasten a critically endangered species toward extinction. In 1906, on an expedition to the Galapagos Islands for the California Academy of Sciences, he collected three male Pinta Giant Tortoises, Geochelone [nigra] abingdonii, out of only four known survivors at the time. Again, Beck was simply one nail in the coffin, the others being relentless exploitation of the tortoises for meat and habitat destruction by introduced goats (a familiar pattern). The species was thought lost until 1971, when a lone male was discovered roaming the Pinta backcountry. Dubbed “Lonesome George” for his dismal romantic prospects, the tortoise was moved to the Charles Darwin Research Station for safekeeping and study. He has so far lived up to his name by failing to produce any hybrid progeny with females from the Wolf Volcano (Isabela Island) species–which, like the rediscovered petrel, bears Beck’s name (Geochelone becki).

Possible rays of hope from these tragic stories:

  • Guadalupe Island, which was originally declared a nature preserve way back in 1928, is now a biosphere reserve where goats are ungulata non grata. Seacology, a nonprofit organization whose mission is the preservation of endangered island biodiversity throughout the world, contributed to the recovery of what’s left of Guadalupe’s fauna and flora by funding another group, Island Conservation, to erect goat exclosures within which native plants could find refuge. The Mexican government funded a major goat removal program, and with the hooved locusts almost gone the vegetation is beginning to recover. Survey teams have even rediscovered several plant species presumed extinct, but only in a conservationist’s wildest fantasies could we hope for the rediscovery of Isla Guadalupe’s lost caracara, towhee, wren, flicker, or petrel.
  • A research team working in the Galapagos has identified a male giant tortoise on Isabela Island as a first-generation hybrid between the Isabela and Pinta species. Another male doesn’t do Lonesome George much good, but the team is optimistic about finding a female with pure Pinta DNA among the 2000-odd tortoises on Isabela (maybe the hybrid’s mom?).
  • Speaking of DNA, skins of the Quelili and the other extinct birds of Isla Guadalupe can be found in various collections in the Americas and Europe. If DNA could be extracted from them, might it be possible one day to resurrect these lost birds by implanting eggs of their closest relatives with cloned embryos?


On a much lighter note, this brings to mind a song about Lonesome George that some friends and I (one of whom, Alan Tennant, has gone on to vastly bigger and better things) wrote in a tequila-fueled fit of whimsy. The melody is long gone, and I can only remember a few of the lyrics, which were from George’s POV:

…the keepers here are nice but they’re fast
and love for me has to last…and last…and last…

…I dream at night of her leathery face
and making love at a tortoise pace…

Resources:

Anthony, A.W. 1901. The Guadalupe Wren. Condor 3(3):73.

Thayer, John E. and Outram Bangs. 1908. Present State of the Ornis of Guadaloupe Island. Condor10(3):

Abbott, Clinton G. 1933. Closing History of the Guadalupe Caracara. Condor 37(1):10-14.

Howell, Thomas R., and Cade, Tom J. 1954. Birds of Guadalupe Island in 1953. Condor 56:253-294.

Seacology Island Projects: Guadalupe Island

Island Conservation: Guadalupe Island Restoration Project

Charles Darwin Research Station Fact Sheet: Pinta Giant Tortoise

ABC News: Iconic Tortoise George May Not Be The Last of his Kind

(Note: The misleadingly named Guadalupe Island Conservation Fund appears to be entirely devoted to shark research and conservation; the island itself apparently serves only as its base of field operations.)

Rods and mango redux

LB&E has experienced a spike in popularity this week, and I’m not entirely comfortable with the main reason behind it. It seems that The History Channel’s MonsterQuest series has sparked renewed interest in so-called “flying rods” (motion-blurred images of insects and other moving objects misinterpreted and/or misrepresented as paranormal phenomena). Inquiring minds are finding my original post about them via Web searches and “what’s hot” lists. On the assumption that my new readers are on a quest for facts, here are links to the best sites on the phenomenon (each link will open in a new window or tab):

The “Rods” Hoax by astronomer Bob DuHamel

Sol’s “Rod” Study

HOT RODS: Fact or Fiction?
(backyard “rod” photos by Shannon Story)

    It’s interesting that so many rod-related Web pages and images, including almost all of “Rod Man” Jose Escamilla’s site, are no longer available. Could it be that The History Channel came along a few years too late to milk this phenomenon to the max?

    Thankfully, people are still coming to LB&E for the “B” content. The unexpectedly hot topic in that category is the Wisconsin Green-breasted Mango (previous entries 1, 2, 3, 4). I’m not sure what’s behind the sudden resurgence of interest in this disgraceful chain of events, which ended with the poor bird permanently incarcerated at the Brookfield Zoo. There’s no longer any hope of winning him his freedom and a free ticket to Texas, so the best we can hope for is to prevent this, or something even worse, from happening to the next vagrant bird that’s not (yet) covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. I’ll be posting more about this later, so please stay tuned.