Category Archives: Birds, wildlife

Amusing Monday: Ten new species, each with unique stories to tell

An international team of taxonomists has chosen the “Top 10 New Species of 2018” from among some 18,000 new species named last year.

They range from the large — a majestic tree that is critically endangered — to the small — a microscopic single-celled organism discovered in an aquarium with no obvious connection to any known species.

They include a fish that has survived in the deepest, darkest part of the Pacific Ocean — at record depth — with credit for its discovery going to a team of scientists led by a University of Washington researcher.

The list of new species also includes a rare great ape — an orangutan that has been identified as a separate species — as well as a prehistoric marsupial lion identified from fossils found in Australia.

The 11th annual list is compiled by the International Institute for Species Exploration at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York.

College President Quentin Wheeler, the founding director of the institute, said the annual list demonstrates the value of species exploration and diversity.

“I’m constantly amazed at how many new species show up and the range of things that are discovered,” he said in a news release.

“We name about 18,000 per year but we think at least 20,000 per year are going extinct,” Wheeler said. “So many of these species — if we don’t find them, name them and describe them now — will be lost forever.

“And yet they can teach us so much about the intricacies of ecosystems and the details of evolutionary history,” he added. “Each of them has found a way to survive against the odds of changing competition, climate and environmental conditions. So each can teach us something really worth knowing as we face an uncertain environmental future ourselves.”

Wheeler blames humans for the high rate of extinctions. “At this stage, it’s us,” he explained. “People are altering habitats and changing the climate. As inconvenient as it might be to adapt to climate change with our crops and relocate cities in the most extreme scenarios, what we can’t do is bring back species once they’re gone.”

The top-10 list is made public each year around May 23 to recognize the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish botanist who is considered the father of modern taxonomy.

Swire’s Snailfish: Deepest fish in the sea

Pseudoliparis swirei

Its appearance reveals nothing about its character, but a fish that lives in the deepest, darkest part of the ocean must be doing right. The newly named Swire’s snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei) is about 4 inches long with a translucent, tadpole-like body with no scales — and no other fish on Earth has been found in a deeper location.

Large numbers of the new species were captured in baited traps in the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific at depths between 22,000 and 26,000 feet (between 4 and 5 miles deep). One fish was recorded on camera at 27,000 feet, but without a specimen researchers could not be confirm it as the same species.

A scientific paper describing the fish was published in November in Zootaxa, and Michelle Ma of UW News reported on the discovery.

“This is the deepest fish that’s been collected from the ocean floor, and we’re very excited to have an official name,” lead author Mackenzie Gerringer, a postdoctoral researcher at UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories, was quoted as saying. “They don’t look very robust or strong for living in such an extreme environment, but they are extremely successful.”

Mackenzie also spoke with Craig Welch of National Geographic, who said the pressures that the fish endure are equal to the weight of 1,600 elephants.

“There are real limitations to life in these trenches,” she said. “They have evolved adaptations to that pressure to keep their enzymes functioning and membranes moving.”

P. swirei belongs to the snailfish family, Liparidae. Among the family’s more than 400 named species are fish found at all depths, from intertidal pools to the deepest reaches. It is believed that about 27,000 feet is a physiological limit, meaning that no fish can live in water any deeper.

Other info:

Tapanuli Orangutan: Endangered great ape

Pongo tapanuliensis

Orangutan // Photo: Andrew Walmsley

Genomic evidence has revealed that a small, isolated population of Sumatran orangutans is so distinct from other orangutans in the region that they should be considered a separate species. With only about 800 known individuals remaining, Pongo tapanuliensis becomes the most endangered population of great apes in the world.

In 2001, the orangutans of Sumatra and Borneo, which had been considered one species, were recognized as two: Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus. Before naming the new species, an international team of researchers examined the morphometric, behavioral, and genomic evidence of the various orangutan populations. Genomic evidence shows that the new species — isolated at the southern limit of the range occupied by Sumatran orangutans — diverged from other orangutans some 3.4 million years ago, whereas the northern Sumatra and Borneo species separated about 674,000 years ago.

The importance of this finding was quickly recognized, as the estimated 800 individuals live in fragmented habitat spread out over 250,000 acres in forested hillsides with elevations ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 feet.

Size of the new species is similar to other orangutans, with female heights under 4 feet and males under 5 feet. Researchers discuss the unique characteristics of the new species and how it was identified in “The Conversation.” Meanwhile, several conservation groups continue their efforts to save the last orangutans from extinction.

Orangutans are considered great apes — although eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos are more closely related to humans.

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Atlantic forest tree

Dinizia jueirana-facao

Brazilian tree // Photo: Gwilym P. Lewis

More than 10 years ago, the biodiversity manager at a forest reserve in Brazil sent taxonomic researchers samples from a large tree that he believed was different from other trees in the region. After much work, the tree was revealed to be a new species of the genus Dinizia, which until last year had been represented by only one species, D. excels.

The new species, Dinizia jueirana-facao, grows up to 130 feet tall and rises majestically above the surrounding canopy of semi-deciduous, riparian trees in Atlantic Forest. The new species is smaller than its closest relative and has been found only in and near to the forest reserve, Reserva Natural Vale in northern Espirito Santo, Brazil. So far, only about 25 individual trees have been found, with about half in the protected area.

Like the large parent tree, its woody fruits are impressive, reaching about 18 inches long.

More than 2,000 species of vertebrate animals live in the Atlantic Forest, including almost 200 endemic species of birds. This forest is home to more than half of the threatened animal species in Brazil. The critical habitat has been severely reduced and fragmented, leaving perhaps 15 percent of what had once been a connected ecosystem of more than 330 million acres.

Read about the discovery and the scientific description of the new tree in Kew Bulletin via Springer.

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Protist: Aquarium to enigma

Ancoracysta twista

Protist // Photo: Denis V. Tiknonenkov

Discovered on brain coral in a tropical aquarium in San Diego, a single-celled protist has challenged scientists to determine its nearest relatives. It does not fit neatly within any known group of organisms, and nobody knows where it may have come from.

Early lineage has been linked to the domain Eukaryota, the highest taxonomic rank, and this new species features a rich mitochondrial genome. Eukaryotes are organisms with cells that have their genetic material bound within a nuclear membrane. Prokaryotes, found in the domains of bacteria and archaea, lack such an organized nucleus.

Eukaryotes include single-celled protists as well as a vast array multi-celled organisms, including animals, plants and fungi.

The new species, named Ancoracysta twista, is a predatory flagellate that uses its whip-like flagella to propel itself through the water. Its harpoon-like organelles, called ancoracysts, can immobilize other protists on which it feeds.

Researchers say the unusually large number of genes in its mitochondrial genome opens a window into the early evolution of eukaryotic organisms. A search for close relatives will be an ongoing challenge following the discovery of this new species at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

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Amphipod: Hunchback creature

Epimeria Quasimodo

Amphipod
Photo: Cédric d’Udekem d’Acoz, ©Royal Belgian Institute

An amphipod, about 2 inches long, has been named Epimeria Quasimodo, after Victor Hugo’s character, Quasimodo the hunchback. Featuring a somewhat humped back, the new species is among 26 new species of amphipods of the genus Epimeria that have been identified in the Southern Ocean.

With incredible spines and vivid colors, the genus Epimeria includes both free-swimming predators and sessile filter feeders, and it has taken on an iconic status among biologists studying the creatures. The genus is abundant in the glacial waters circulating south of the Polar Front, and their crested adornments are reminiscent of mythological dragons, they say.

When a treatment of the genus was published in 2007, many researchers assumed that the species were rather completely known. But, by studying the morphology and DNA evidence, two Belgian investigators demonstrated just how little is known of these spectacular invertebrates.

See Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

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Baffling Beetle: Camouflaged hitchhiker

Nymphister kronaueri

Hitchhiking beetle // Photo: ©C. von Beeren

A tiny beetle in Costa Rica, newly named Nymphister kronaueri, survives among ants by pretending to be a piece of the ant’s body.

At just 1.5 millimeters, the beetle goes for long travels with army ants, Eciton mexicanum, which never builds permanent nests but instead spends two or three weeks on the move as they capture prey, then lay up in one location for the next two or three weeks.

The hitchhiking beetle can move about and feed while the host colony is stationary, but it must be ready to catch a ride when the ants take off on their next trip.

The beetle’s body is the precise size, shape and color of the abdomen of a worker ant. The beetle uses its mouthparts to grab the skinny portion of the host abdomen and hang on, appearing as a second abdomen. In addition to their appearance, they use chemical signals and other adaptations to avoid becoming prey themselves, but exactly how they fool the ants remains a subject of investigation.

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Heterotrophic Flower: Magnificent moocher

Sciaphila sugimotoi

Symbiotic plant // Photo: Takaomi Sugimoto

Most plants are autotrophic, meaning they feed themselves by capturing solar energy through photosynthesis. A few, like the newly discovered S. sugimotoi, are heterotrophic, meaning they cannot produce their own food and must depend on other organisms.

This new species of plant is symbiotic with a fungus, which provides nutrition, and neither species is harmed during the process. It turns out that this new plant is part of a family, Triuridaceae, made up of individuals that all derive their nutrients from symbiotic fungi, thus they are called mycoheterotrophs.

The new plant, which features a beautiful flower, was discovered on Ishigaki Island in Japan, which has added to its acclaim, since most plants found in Japan have been well documented over a long period of time.

The delicate S. sugimotoi, which grows to just under 4 inches, appears during short flowering times in September and October, producing small blossoms. The species is considered critically endangered, as it has been identified in only two locations on the island where about 50 plants were found growing in an evergreen broadleaf forest. Like other fungal symbionts, the species depends on a stable ecosystem for survival.

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Volcanic Bacterium: Emergent with volcano

Thiolava veneris

Colonizing bacteria
Photo: Miquel Canals, U. of Barcelona, Spain

When the submarine volcano Tagoro erupted off the coast of El Hierro in the Canary Islands in 2011, it abruptly increased the water temperature, decreased the oxygen level and released massive quantities of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, wiping out much of the existing marine ecosystem.

Three years later, scientists found the first living colonizers in this newly deposited area, including a new species of proteobacteria that produces long, hairlike structures composed of bacterial cells within a sheath.

The bacteria formed a massive white mat extending nearly half an acre around the summit of the newly formed Tagoro volcanic cone at depths of about 430 feet. Scientists who studied the bacteria concluded that unique metabolic characteristics allow the bacteria grow under such stark conditions. Early colonies of this newly discovered bacteria could pave the way for successional development of plant and animal communities. The researchers dubbed the filamentous bacterial mat “Venus’ hair” and named the bacteria Thiolava veneris.

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Marsupial Lion: Ferocious fossil

Wakaleo schouteni

Marsupial lion // Illustration: Peter Schouten

About 25 million years ago, a marsupial lion, newly named Wakaleo schouteni, roamed Australia’s open forest habitat in northwestern Queensland.

Scientists from the University of New South Wales recovered fossils in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in Queensland that came to be associated with a previously unknown marsupial lion.

Weighing about 50 pounds — more or less the size of a Siberian husky dog — this predator spent part of its time in trees. Its teeth suggest that it was not completely reliant on meat but was, rather, an omnivore.

Two species of marsupial lions may have been present during the later Oligocene epoch, which ended with the Miocene 23 million years ago. The other, Wakaleo pitikantensis, was slightly smaller and was identified from teeth and limb bones discovered near Lake Pitikanta in South Australia in 1961.

Evolution of the Australian creatures seemed to follow Cope’s rule — named after American paleontologist Edward Cope — that suggests an increasing body size over time, perhaps because of the ability to eat larger prey and go longer between meals as the climate grew drier and cooler and the plants underwent major changes.

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Cave Beetle: Changes in the dark

Xuedytes bellus

Cave beetle // Photo: Sunbin Huang and Mingyi Tian

A variety of beetles that become adapted to life in the permanent darkness of caves often resemble one another in a suite of characteristics: compact body; elongated, spider-like appendages; and loss of flight wings, eyes and pigmentation. A newly discovered species of beetle in China seems to have taken such changes to an extreme.

These cave-dwelling beetles provide an example of convergent evolution, as unrelated species take on similar characteristics over evolutionary time as they become better adapted to extreme conditions. The new species of ground beetle, less than half an inch long, features a dramatic elongation of its head and prothorax — the body segment immediately behind the head to which the first pair of legs attach.

Xuedytes bellus was discovered in a cave in Du’an, Guangxi Province, China, known for its large number of caves that have become home to the world’s most diverse collection of cave-dwelling ground beetles found in the subfamily Trichinae, family Carabidae. To date, more than 130 species, representing nearly 50 genera, have been described from China.

See research article in ZooKeys

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Amusing Monday: Duck paintings help support wetland conservation

Artists possess the creative power to portray a simple bird — say a male mallard duck — in a multitude of ways, something I never really appreciated until I reviewed hundreds of duck portraits in the Federal Duck Stamp Contest.

The acrylic painting of mallard ducks by Bob Hautman of Delano, Minn., took first place in the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. // Photo: USFWS

Judges in the annual contest seem to prefer a super-realistic style. Each year, the winning entry is used to create a federal duck stamp, which are the stamps that waterfowl hunters must carry while hunting. They are also purchased by many people who care about conservation.

Details in the duck portraits are important, but it is also interesting to observe the landscapes that the artists place in the backgrounds and foregrounds of their pictures. Take a look at the Flickr page where 215 entries are shown in the latest contest sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Eligible species for this year’s contest were the mallard, gadwall, cinnamon teal, blue-winged teal and harlequin duck.

The acrylic painting of a cinnamon teal by Greg Alexander of Ashland, Wis., took second place in the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. // Photo: USFWS

The winning entry for this year’s duck stamp was submitted by Bob Hautman of Delano, Minn., whose acrylic painting shows a pair of mallards in flight. This is Bob’s third winning entry, after two previous paintings were turned into stamps in 1997 and 2001.

Hautman comes from an artist family. His brothers, Jim and Joe, have each won the same contest five times.

“Congratulations to Bob Hautman on his win today,” said Greg Sheehan, deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service when the winners were announced last fall. “He is part of a collection of talented wildlife artists whose work has helped conserve habitat not just for waterfowl, but for a vast diversity of wildlife.”

The oil painting of a blue-winged teal by Christine Clayton of Sidney, Ohio, took third place in the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. // Photo: USFWS

The Federal Duck Stamp, which will go on sale later this month, sells for $25. Proceeds, which total about $40 million a year, go for protecting wetland habitats in national wildlife refuges across the country.

Second place was an acrylic painting of a cinnamon teal by Greg Alexander of Ashland, Wis., and third place was an oil painting of a blue-winged teal by Christine Clayton of Sidney, Ohio.

By the way, Christine was the third-place winner of the National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest in 2000, when at age 17 she entered a painting of a northern pintail.

The acrylic painting of an emperor goose by Rayen Kang of Johns Creek, Ga., took first place in the Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest. // Photo: USFWS

The winner of this year’s junior contest is Rayen Kang of Johns Creek, Ga., who submitted an acrylic painting of an emperor goose. Second place went to Daniel Billings, 17, of Gallatin, Mo., who painted a redhead in oil. Third place went to Larissa Weber, 17, of Anderson, Ind., who painted trumpeter swans in acrylic.

The Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program encourages students from kindergarten through high school to explore their natural world, learning about biology and wildlife management. A $5 Junior Duck Stamp is purchased by collectors, with revenue going to support environmental education.

Amusing Monday: Wildlife cameras keep advancing in technology

There’s nothing like spending some relaxing time in a natural environment. It does a body good — mentally and physically — to go into new or familiar surroundings while basking in the full-bodied sights and sounds of a forest, a stream or a marine shoreline.

We are fortunate in the Puget Sound region to have easy and free (or low-cost) access to all sorts of natural places. If we are lucky, we may catch a glimpse of wildlife and incorporate the sighting into our memory of that place.

What we don’t normally see, however, are the natural behaviors of wildlife away from people, because the presence of humans often changes what they are doing — nor would we want to impose on their lives any more than we already do.

The best nature photographers learn how to stay out of the way, often spending hours, days or weeks waiting quietly to capture an amazing image of an animal or group of animals worthy of sharing with the rest of us.

I’m taking a long-winded approach to make a point about live wildlife videos, brought to a wide Internet audience by placing cameras in strategic locations — often before the animals arrive. All sorts of creatures are left to do their own things as the cameras spy on their activities. While you might not experience the smell of a great blue heron nest by sitting in front of your computer, it is great to know that you can watch all day long without disturbing the animals.

I sometimes wonder what the animals would do if they knew they were being watched. Would they put on a show, mug for the camera or just go and hide somewhere else? For the sake of the viewer and the wildlife, it is better for us to stay out of sight.

The technology for live video cameras has gotten better and better. The images sent over the Internet are generally crisper than ever before, and many places use microphones to pick up the sounds. Meanwhile, the number of live feeds has expanded to more places all over the world, not just in zoos and aquariums. A few cameras have been shut down for lack of money to maintain them.

Explore.org, a division of the Annenberg Foundation, has become the go-to website for connecting people with animals via live webcams. As I write this, the number of live video feeds listed on the website totals 161, although the number changes frequently as a result of shifts in animal activity as well as technical issues. Scroll down below the video player for text messaging related to each camera as well as notes from video operators and online observers. Those who maintain and sponsor the specific camera networks are recognized.

The Explore.org website has a fairly consistent format from one camera to the next. Functions allow viewers to take and save snapshots of an interesting scene. Instructions on that feature and many other features are provided in a 30-page “Website Handbook” (PDF 7.2 mb).

The first video on this page shows a bald eagle nest near a trout hatchery in Decorah, Iowa. The young eagles are now nine weeks old and have grown to the size of their mother, who is often gone from the nest, but she brings back plenty of food, according to observers.

The second video is mounted in an ideal location to watch marine mammals in Blackney Pass in British Columbia. The site is the headquarters of OrcaLab, managed by Paul Spong and Helena Symonds on Hanson Island. This is one of the primary travel routes for Northern Resident killer whales as they make their way through Johnstone Strait. When night approaches, this location provides a view of some spectacular sunsets.

Chesapeake Conservancy operates several wildlife cameras, including the Osprey Cam featured in the third video. Observers have been following the activities of the nesting pair, Tom and Audrey, who have been at the site on Maryland’s eastern shore since 2009. Audrey laid three eggs this year. One was not viable, but the other two chicks hatched about a week apart in late May.

For a bird of a different character, check out the Puffin Cam at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Maine, shown in the fourth video within a burrow. Audubon’s Project Puffin operates a field station on the island where the puffins on the island were wiped out by hunting in 1887. The birds were reintroduced by bringing puffins from Newfoundland and now more than 50 pairs nest on the island. Four live videos are set up to show the puffins.

Always great to watch are the brown bears at Brooks Falls in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve, shown in the last video on this page. The bears come down to the falls to catch salmon trying to make their way upstream. The bears’ fishing activity reaches its peak in July or August. Observers say they occasionally catch sight of a wolf or a moose.

Other great wildlife cams:

Amusing Monday: Young artists inspired by endangered species

I’m hoping you will enjoy another dose of kids’ art, this time related to endangered species. An art contest was recently completed in concert with the 13th annual Endangered Species Day, which was this past Friday.

“Hawksbill Sea Turtle” by grand prize winner Brandon Xie, a fourth-grader in Lexington, Mass.
Image: Endangered Species Coalition

More than 1,500 students from around the United States entered this year’s “Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest,” according to organizers. The goal of the contest is to encourage public appreciation for imperiled wildlife and to increase support for saving endangered species.

“The artwork created by this generation of young people is clearly demonstrating how they think deeply about the plight of endangered species,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, which sponsors the contest. “It is clear that they recognize not just our role in impacting wildlife and plants, but also our opportunities to bring them back from the brink of extinction. Each work of art is an inspiration to all of us to do more, to save more,” she said in a statement.

“Humpback Whale” by first-place winner Erin Dong, a ninth grader from Santa Clara, Calif.
Image: Endangered Species Coalition

The grand prize winner is Brandon Xie, a fourth-grader in Lexington, Mass. He received his award last week in Washington, D.C., during a reception of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. His prize will include art supplies and a lesson from a professional wildlife artist.

The first-place winner in the art contest is Erin Dong, a ninth grader from Santa Clara, Calif. Top winners in the various grade categories:

  • Kindergarten-second grade: Sean Lam, a first-grader in Great Neck, N.Y.
  • Grades 3-5: : Kyle Xu, a third-grader in East Brunswick, N.J.
  • Grades 6-8: Maggie Wu, a sixth-grader in Great Neck, N.Y.
  • Grades 9-12: Colin Phillips, an 11th-grader in Ikemos, Mich.

See all the winners on the Endangered Species Coalition website.

“Blue-tailed Skink” by kindergarten-second grade winner Sean Lam, a first-grader in Great Neck, N.Y.
Image: Endangered Species Coalition

Contest winners were selected by a panel of prestigious artists, photographers and conservationists, who first narrowed down the entries to 40 semi-finalists (10 for each category). The artwork can be viewed by following links on the Endangered Species Coalition website.

Judges included Wyland, a renowned marine life artist; Jack Hanna, host of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild; David Littschwager, a freelance photographer and contributor to National Geographic Magazine; Susan Middletown, a photographer whose work has been published in four books; and Alice Tangerini, botanical illustrator for the Smithsonian Institution.

The Endangered Species Coalition recently celebrated the successful recovery of 12 listed species. The 12 species and their descriptions can be found on the ESC blog:

  • Bald eagle
  • American alligator
  • Green sea turtle
  • Piping plover
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Channel Island fox
  • Humpback whale
  • Puerto Rican parrot
  • Robbins’ Cinquefoil
  • Whooping crane
  • Brown pelican
  • California condor

Amazing stories of place are retold at Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

The Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference opened in Seattle yesterday with a reflection on people’s intimate, personal relationships with nature. The mood was heightened by an elaborate welcoming ceremony from Native American leaders who live on the shores of Puget Sound.

I would like to share an idea I had, but first let me report that Gov. Jay Inslee and former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell offered their own personal experiences at the beginning of the conference. Please check out the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

The conference this year has attracted more than 1,300 scientists, policymakers and other interested people. About 700 presentations are scheduled.

The welcoming ceremony yesterday began with an Indian song accompanied by drumming. Tribal leaders continued the ceremony by presenting Indian blankets to “witnesses” who have played important roles in protecting the Salish Sea.

Personal stories told by members of the local tribes have a special significance. For native people, telling stories is part of an oral tradition that goes back thousands of years. Their strong “connection to place” reaches back well beyond anyone’s own memory.

Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, said he is pleased to work with scientists and various officials on the problems facing the Salish Sea. Chief Seattle, a member of the Suquamish Tribe, was a boy when Capt. George Vancouver first explored Puget Sound in 1792. Vancouver anchored his ship for several days near the south end of Bainbridge Island. His crew was hungry for fresh meat, having been limited to dried rations during the long journey, Leonard said.

The Suquamish people brought the English men a deer to feast on, he said. Chief Seattle carried that experience of sharing with white settlers throughout his life until he led his people to sign over their lands in exchange for a promise that hunting and fishing would go on.

“We’re still fighting to get the government to honor that promise,” Leonard said. Still, much has been accomplished the past few years as portions of the Salish Sea ecosystem have undergone restoration, he added.

The land and water have spiritual significance, Leonard said. “Our ancestors are with us here. We have a covenant with the land and water.”

At the end of his talk, Leonard noted that he had a few minutes left on the schedule, so he asked Bardow Lewis, vice chairman of his tribe, to speak three minutes — no more. Bardow asked if people would rather have a speech or a story. Many people shouted, “story.”

Bardow began a condensed version of his tale by describing Doe Kag Wats, a near-pristine estuarine marsh near Indianola in the northern part of the Kitsap Peninsula. The name means “place of deer.” To tribal members, it remains a “spiritual place,” he said, just as it has been since ancient times.

One evening as the sun was going down, Bardow said he was digging clams with his daughter, who he could observe by watching her long shadow without having to look up. He kept his head down, focusing on the clams buried in the beach at Doe Kag Wats.

Out of the corner of his eye, Bardow saw a deer approaching, but he kept his head down to keep from frightening the animal away.

The deer kept approaching until she was standing right next to him, he said. She nudged him with her head, which alarmed him, but he kept digging until she nudged him again, practically pushing him over. Bardow got up, and when the deer started walking away, he followed her. She led him to the stream that feeds the estuary. There, stuck in the mud, was a baby deer.

Bardow said he was able to free the fawn from the mud, and a wonderful feeling came over him. “I cried — in a joyful way,” he said. “I learned more that day than I did in my lifetime.”

The event has opened his eyes to the possibility of other experiences, Bardow said., But his three-minute time limit was up before he could share another story.

“I think I might have been a deer in a previous life,” he said. “We have to keep these beautiful places and spread that out to all places where you live.”

While I may never enjoy such a profound experience, I would like to think that I would be open to that. Still, I would think that everyone who has spent meaningful time on or around the Salish Sea probably has had at least one experience to share.

One of my own favorite stories was from a dark night in 1997, when I was out in a boat on Dyes Inlet with whale researcher Jodi Smith. I was watching the lights of Silverdale when we were suddenly immersed in the sound of orcas speaking to us over a hydrophone. You can read the story as I originally wrote it on the Kitsap Sun website, and you can listen to the recording that Jodi made that night (below).

      1. whale

I know that many researchers presenting their work at the Salish Sea conference have exciting findings to convey, and I listen with keen interest, even though the talks are sometimes dry. I also know that the speakers feel a bit rushed to explain everything in 12 to 15 minutes. But wouldn’t it be nice if they could find a way to reduce their discussion about scientific methods — such as how they control for variables — and tell us a brief story?

I don’t think we lose our scientific or journalistic credibility if we allow ourselves to be captivated by a special moment that we have experienced in the Salish Sea.

Amusing Monday: Bainbridge baker designs cakes with imagination

Baker Christine Chapman of Bainbridge Island creates fanciful as well as fancy cakes in her home kitchen, the headquarters for a one-person business known as Crumbs Cakery.

“Becoming Aquatic” // Source: Christine Chapman

A few photos of her sculptured cakes designed on water themes are shown on this page.

A native of Austria, Christine was trained as a construction engineer and spent the early part of her career working for architectural firms in Austria and Germany. She jokes that some of her more elaborate cakes, such as a 2.5-foot Lego Batman cake, require a bit of structural design.

Christine’s life changed course when she met her future husband, an investor, at a wedding in Austria. They eventually moved to California for a short time before deciding to raise their family on Bainbridge Island, moving there in 2001.

“Swim Olivia” // Source: Christine Chapman

Her early cake-baking projects were done for her children, who loved cakes that looked like real objects, sometimes telling a story.

“The first cake I ever made was an airplane cake,” Christine told me. “It was very simple.”

For the most part, she is a self-taught baker. In 2012, Washington’s new Cottage Foods Law went into effect, allowing people to sell products made in home kitchens — provided the sales were direct to consumers.

“I thought this would work, so in 2014 I started my official business with a website, and I started to get some cakes out there,” she said.

Since then, she has made about 200 cakes — from collections of cupcakes to large wedding cakes to a variety of sculpted cakes. Through the years, she has studied cookbooks and taken a few classes, some online and some in person.

“Otter” // Source: Christine Chapman

“I’m still learning with every single cake,” she said, adding that she loves working with customers and leaning on her creativity to turn their ideas and color schemes into works of art. One or more sketches usually precedes the baking itself.

The first cake shown on this page combines a book with a variety of sea creatures. The cake was created for a young woman graduating from a creative-writing school, according to Christine. For her final thesis, the woman wrote about her relationship to marine life and tide pools. She titled the paper “Becoming Aquatic,” and that became the title for the cake.

“Great Blue Heron” // Source: Christine Chapman

The second cake, “Swim Olivia,” was a birthday cake for a swimmer name Olivia who was involved in a swim team. Christine started with a photo of the person diving into the water.

The otter cake is one of many similar cakes that Christine made through the years for fundraisers at Ordway Elementary School, which her children attended. The great blue heron cake was made for a fundraiser for West Sound Wildlife Center.

Christine says she is still having a lot of fun baking the cakes and intends to stay busy with the work. Other cakes she has made can be seen on her Gallery webpage, and she can be reached through her contact page.

Previous blog posts on Water Ways about water-related cakes:

Puget Sound report tells the environmental story that took place in 2016

The year 2016 may be regarded as a transition year for Puget Sound, coming between the extreme warm-water conditions of 2014 and 2015 and the more normal conditions observed over the past year, according to the latest Puget Sound Marine Waters report.

Click on image to view report
Photo: Todd Sandell, WDFW

The report on the 2016 conditions was released this past week by the Marine Waters Workgroup, which oversees the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP). The report includes data collected in 2016 and analyzed over the past year.

Some findings from the report:

  • Water temperatures were well above normal, though not as extreme as in 2015.
  • A warm spring in 2016 caused rapid melting of mountain snowpack and lower streamflows in late spring and summer.
  • Dissolved oxygen levels were lower than average in South Puget Sound, Central Puget Sound and Hood Canal, with the most intense oxygen problems in southern Hood Canal, although no fish kills were reported.
  • It was a year for the growth of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacteria responsible for 46 laboratory-confirmed illnesses, including intestinal upset, among people who ate oysters in Washington during 2016.
  • Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) and domoic acid (DA) resulted in shellfish closures in 18 commercial and 38 recreational growing areas. But no illness were reported in 2016.
  • DSP was detected at 250 micrograms per 100 grams in blue mussel tissues sampled from Budd Inlet near Olympia last year. That is the highest level of DSP ever detected in Washington state.
  • Overall, zooplankton populations were high in 2016 compared to 2014, but generally not as high as in 2015.

Conditions, known or unknown, were responsible for various effects on fish and wildlife in 2016:

  • It was the worst year on record for the Cherry Point herring stock, which has been decline for years along with more recent declines in South and Central Puget Sound. Five local stocks had no spawn that could be found in 2016. Herring were smaller than average in size.
  • The overall abundance and diversity of marine bird species in 2015-16 were similar to 2014-15.
  • Rhinoceros auklets, however, were reported to have serious problems, which experts speculated could be related to a low abundance and size of herring. On Protection Island, breeding season started out normal, but fledgling success was only 49 percent, compared to 71 percent in 2015. Auklet parents were seen to feed their chicks fewer and smaller fish than usual.
  • Including the Washington Coast, more than 1,000 carcasses of rhinocerous auklets were found by volunteers. The primary cause of death was identified as severe bacterial infections.

If you are an average person concerned about environmental conditions in and around Puget Sound, the two-page summary and four-page highlights section near the beginning of the report will leave you better informed. To dig deeper, peruse the pages that follow.

The report is designed to be easily compared with previous years:

Amusing Monday: Stunning photos shared from around the world

More than 25,000 photographs taken throughout the world were submitted for judging in this year’s prestigious National Wildlife Photo Contest.

Second-place in category Baby Animals: This leatherback sea turtle was seen at Sunset in Trinidad.
Photographer: Sean Crane, Scarsdale, N.Y.

Subjects ranged from an elephant trudging across a barren plain to a green sweat bee perched on a blue flower. Without exception, the winning images were stunning, to say the least.

The annual contest is sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation and “National Wildlife” magazine.

First- and second-place winners were named in seven categories: Baby Animals, Backyard Habitats, Birds, Landscapes and Plants, Mammals, Other Wildlife and People in Nature. In addition, a grand-prize winner was selected from among all the best entries. Images on this page can be enlarged by clicking on the photo.

First place in category Landscapes and Plants: Thunderstorms billow across a Kansas plain.
Photographer: Donald Caffrey, Goddard, Kans.

One of my favorite pictures shows a newly hatched leatherback sea turtle facing his future in the wide-open ocean. The image was shot at sunset in Trinidad by Sean Crane of Scarsdale, N.Y., who helped other volunteers protect three nests of hatchlings from circling vultures. The picture took a second-place award in the category “Baby Animals.”

Growing up in Kansas until age 17, I’ve seen plenty of thunderstorms, including a few funnel clouds. But I have never seen a blue refracted light in the clouds, such as revealed in an image by photographer Donald Caffrey of Goddard, Kans. The details captured in the billowing clouds stand in stark contrast to the simple landscape that goes on for miles. The photo captured first place in the category “Landscapes and Plants.”

First place in category Mammals: A mother lion rests nose-to-nose with her young offspring in Kenya.
Photographer: Majed Ali, Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Who can resist the emotional connection between a mother and her offspring? A photo of a lion and her cubs exudes a feeling of comfort, whether or not this arises out of our human perspective. Photographer Majed Ali of Kuwait City, Kuwait, spotted the eye of the mother lion through some brush in Kenya’s Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Majed recalled this moment when he wrote, “This photo attracts me because of the tenderness of the family. There is love in the frame.” The photo took first place in category “Mammals.”

All the winning entries can be seen on the National Wildlife Federation page “Eye of the Beholder.”

Next year’s contest will be open for submissions on Jan. 8. For details, check out the photo contest page of NWF.

Plan to drill for oil is one step closer for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

A 40-year tug of war between oil wells and caribou in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could soon end with active drilling in one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, argues that the focus should be on climate change, not more oil.
Photo: Congressional video

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources endorsed legislation yesterday that would require the federal government to sell leases for at least 800,000 acres of land over the next decade. The measure, which divided Republicans and Democrats in the committee, could pass the full Senate with a 50-percent vote as part of a budget bill.

The committee discussion, shown in the video on this page, was quite revealing, as Democrats offered amendments to the Republican legislation. The hearing begins 24:05 minutes into the video.

The committee chairwoman, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, said developing oil wells in the northern part of ANWR was always the intent of the 1980 law that expanded the wildlife refuge. The drilling could generate more than $1 billion in federal revenues over the first 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Murkowski said oil development will create thousands of good jobs, keep energy affordable, reduce foreign oil imports and ensure national security. Drilling is supported by Alaskans of all political persuasions, including most public officials, she said.

Murkowski insisted again and again that the environment would be protected during any future oil production. No environmental laws would be waived, she said, and new oil-drilling technology will allow a much smaller footprint of development than in previous drilling projects in Alaska.

Democrats, led by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the committee, voiced indignation over the language in the legislation as well as the idea of drilling in a wildlife refuge.

Even though the legislation leaves the door open for environmental reviews — including an assessment of harm to endangered species — it clearly mandates drilling, regardless of the damage to any species or their habitats, the Democrats maintained. Attorneys for the committee concurred in that assessment.

In fact, the new legislation would the alter the original law that created the wildlife refuge by adding a new purpose: oil production in the 1.5-million-acre northern region, known as the 1002 Area. Leased areas would essentially become a petroleum preserve, governed by the National Petroleum Reserve Act.

“The purpose of the refuge was to protect the wildlife that live there,” Cantwell said. “You are taking a wildlife refuge and turning it on its ear.”

If approved, the legislation would remove lands to be developed from the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and put them under the Bureau of Land Management.

Cantwell mentioned a letter signed by 37 scientists familiar with ANWR who objected to oil exploration and development in the refuge. They raised concerns for the wildlife that occupy the coastal plain where drilling is proposed.

“Decades of biological study and scientific research within the Arctic Refuge have confirmed that the coastal plain specifically is vital to the biological diversity of the entire refuge,” the letter says. “In fact, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arctic Refuge coastal plain contains the greatest wildlife diversity of any protected area above the Arctic Circle.”

Included in that diversity, the letter says, are “polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, caribou, muskoxen, Dolly Varden char, Arctic grayling, and many species of migratory birds.”

Cantwell also discussed a letter written by primate expert Jane Goodall that was sent to every U.S senator. The letter begs the senators to “demonstrate your commitment to the natural world and to future generations and stand with me to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

Other Democratic and Independent senators on the committee also spoke out forcefully against the measure.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, raised the issue of climate change and the hundreds of billions of dollars that the U.S. must spend because of more intense storms and hurricanes. In that context, the $1 billion to be raised from ANWR is insignificant, he said.

“I think that our children and our grandchildren are going to look back on meetings and markups like this, and they are really going to be shaking their heads and asking, ‘What world was the United States Senate living in when … responsible people were talking about more exploration for fossil fuels and not addressing the planetary crisis of climate change?’

“What this committee should be doing, working with people all over the world, is saying, ‘How do we transform our energy system away from fossil fuels, away from coal, oil and gas to sustainable energy?’” he added.

Sanders’ comments come at 2:02:38 in the video.

“This isn’t BLM land,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, offering an amendment to protect wildlife. “This is a national wildlife refuge. … Does wildlife come first? You would think so from the name. But if we don’t make this change to the legislation, what we are saying is that oil and gas development comes first. That is a very, very dangerous precedent to make.”

Heinrich’s comments come at 2:17:30 in the video.

Information about the legislation can be found on the website of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Amusing Monday: BirdNote to expand while keeping short radio format

BirdNote, the radio program, has been bringing us the amusing sounds and stories of birds for more than a dozen years. Now, a new managing producer, Jason Saul, is working to expand the horizons of the daily two-minute show that can be heard on more than 200 public radio stations across the country.

Jason chose Bremerton as his personal base of operations. He can work out of his home and head to Seattle for meetings and recording sessions as needed. Jason, who moved from New Orleans, says Kitsap County has everything he needs, and he enjoys the local low-key atmosphere of this area. Read on for more about that later.

BirdNote began as a project of Seattle Audobon, which created a team of writers, scientists and sound artists to portray accurate and intriguing stories of birds. The program went on the air in February 2005, when it was launched by KPLU-FM, an NPR affiliate that now goes by the call letters KNKX.

BirdNote became its own separate nonprofit organization in 2006, funded mainly by donors who love the show. Today, it can be heard in big and small markets across the country, as well as well as in podcast format whenever people choose to listen.

Jason Saul

The two-minute radio show will continue as always, but Jason tells me that he is pushing to expand the storytelling beyond the traditional bird-of-the-day into stories of people as they relate to birds. The Port Orchard Seagull Calling Contest is proposed as a feature story, currently scheduled for October.

Because the two-minute program is already available on numerous podcast websites, BirdNote has begun to offer expanded podcasts for people who can’t get enough. These won’t be heard on the radio, at least for now.

To launch the expanded format, the program commissioned a new theme song, based on the short jingle that introduces each BirdNote segment. The songwriter, Ben Mirin (a.k.a. DJ Ecotone), has a rare love of natural sounds, which he brings back to the studio and adds his own voice to create an amusing beatbox flavor.

“The music is intended to be a statement from BirdNote,” Jason said. “We are trying to say that we are doing things in different ways.”

Here’s the song that DJ Ecotone came up with. Can you identify 12 different bird calls?

      1. DJ-ECOTONE-BIRDNOTE-mash-up

Jason thought it would be nice to introduce the new theme song and longer format by interviewing Mr. Ecotone. I have to admit that I found the interview intriguing, as Ben describes his passion for nature and music. The interview can be heard in the box below.

As for Jason, he, too, has a passion for the environment, and he has embraced the unique style of BirdNote’s storytelling. His goal is to keep the program fresh as people absorb information in new ways.

“I want to maintain the highest journalistic standards,” he told me. “But there’s a sense of change. People are accessing information in different ways.”

Getting people into the stories about birds — such as a narrative report on an organized club of teenage birders in San Bernardino, Calif. — should broaden the interest, he said.

“We don’t want to get away from stories about birds,” Jason said, “but we are not telling stories to birds. We are telling stories to people. The narrative structure of how to tell a story involves people’s voices. I am hoping for an evolution of sound into a place where different stories can be told.”

Transcripts of the podcasts are available for those who would rather read than listen to the stories, Jason noted. People can keep up with the new features and photos on Facebook, Twitter and more, or enjoy the archived programs that were missed the first time around. Extra tidbits can be found on BirdNote blog.

While individual donations are the mainstay of BirdNote’s budget, the organization has begun to accept donations from corporate sponsors compatible with the mission of bringing the wonders of birds to the public.

Jason started his media career in New York and moved in 2003 to New Orleans, where he reported on regional stories, such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. From 2006 to 2011, he served as a researcher and production associate for “American Routes,” a popular radio show featuring Nick Spitzer. Before moving to Bremerton, Jason was director of digital services and corporate development for WWNO, the New Orleans public radio station.

Jason, who lives off Burwell Street in West Bremerton, maintains production equipment in a corner of his house, so he can do much of his work at home. BirdNote is based in Seattle, with offices in one location and a sound studio in another, but Jason always chooses to live in places somewhat removed from the cosmopolitan atmosphere.

“I love working from home,” he told me. “I used to work in a cubicle. The people in Bremerton and Kitsap County are wonderful … so warm and welcoming.”

For an area described by some as a “backwater,” Jason said he finds Kitsap County to be anything but that. “Everybody is on top of everything.”

The public library system is as good as that in New Orleans, he said. The buses run on time, and it is easy to get around.

“The natural beauty is amazing,” he said, adding that Olympic National Park is a true wonder.

Jason said he is open to suggestions, story ideas and general involvement from people who enjoy BirdNote. “The more people involved the better.”