Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Kinglet for Furlough Friday

A Kinglet, Ruby-crowned!

I caught (in pixels) this Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Lost Lake Park just north of Fresno last weekend, when we spent an afternoon there with visiting friends (including the biology colloquium speaker last week). Kinglets (Regulus spp.) are among my favorite warblers in north America, revealing my Old World bias – for they are the closest relatives on these shores to the Phylloscopus Leaf Warblers I spent almost a decade chasing during graduate school. Indeed, Regulus were classified as within the same family, Sylvidae, as the Phylloscopus, but now have their own family Regulidae. I first encountered the Kinglets’ Asian congener cousins, the Rubycrest and Goldcrest among the forests of the Himalaya where I strove to catch a glimpse of their “crests” and learnt to listen to them to tell them apart from so many other little green jobs flitting about restlessly among the dense foliage often high up in the canopy! That was over 20 years ago, and I’m still fascinated by the lives of these wee creatures (although I haven’t studied them formally for a while – maybe its time to resume?). For wee they may be, indeed (weighing a mere 6 grams or so!), but they are quite capable of long-distance flight! Like so many of their Sylviid cousins, these Ruby-crowned Kinglets are also migratory, breeding all they way up north from Alaska to Newfoundland, and down into the conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada in California, and wintering at southern latitudes and lower elevations across north America. Around here in the San Joaquin Valley, they just showed up a couple of weeks ago and will hang around until April or so, in all kinds of tree-filled habitat, ranging from the “natural” riverine forests to urban parks to backyards, and even parking lots (see image below!).

I like having them around, and thought I’d share the above and a few more images below the fold with you on this friday when I’m off campus on furlough for the day!

A ruby-crowned kinglet caught in flight!

Caught in flight at Lost Lake Park

A shy Kinglet!

A shy Kinglet – this is how you glimpse them most often!

Fighting reflections in a human-dominated world

But not too shy of taking on a challenge! Although this one is unfortunately boxing at shadows we throw up in our strange habitats! I found this bird in a parking lot in Los Banos a few years ago.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet on SUV mirror

Finally at rest atop the conquered foe!

Message from our backyard for’s International Day of Climate Action

350 in fallen leaves

350 in fallen leaves

This image and the two below represent a small scale contribution from our daughters to’s International Day of Climate Action from our little backyard in the central valley of California. In a region with limited opportunities for community action (only one event on the day in Fresno which we couldn’t make it to), and considerable cynicism from a largely conservative population, our daughters helped stage this visual message in our own backyard using autumn’s fallen leaves. The two older girls (9 and 4) are my daughters, and the youngest (1 yo) belongs to friends visiting us for the weekend, including the speaker for the seminar in the Biology colloquium last friday.

Does my future lie under this?

Does my future lie under this?

Don't pass the buck on climate change!

Don’t pass the buck on climate change!

A more complete gallery is available on Flickr. And a whole lot more images from around the world may be seen at, and in their growing Flickr photoset, which includes the above pictures from our action! I haven’t seen any report from the Fresno State event yet, but will post a link here when that is available.

350 Climate Action in Fresno Today

This just came from the organizers of the International Climate Action Day event on the Fresno State campus:

Hello everyone,

As you know the 350 Action is taking place tomorrow, October 24. There are now over 5000 actions taking place in 181 countries! We are going to have a very exciting day tomorrow! Here is the basic schedule for tomorrow:

1. We will be meeting at the Peace Garden next to the Henry Madden Library at Fresno State at 11 am. (There is relaxed parking at Fresno State on weekends.)

2. At 11:30, we will be leaving for the walk along Shaw (3.5 miles round trip) and the bike ride to Christmas Tree Lane and back (7 miles total). Please wear blue, the color of 350, and print out signs from this website to pin to your shirt or tape to your bike or whatever. Be creative! We want to make ourselves as visible as possible.

3. We will return to the Peace Garden by 1:00 PM and then move to the Peters Building where we will take a group photo to post to this website.

We look forward to meeting all of you tomorrow!

In solidarity,

350 Fresno

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Acting locally to pull our global atmospheric CO2 level back below 350ppm

This Saturday, October 24, 2009, is another day for global action on climate change. And unlike the recent Blog Action Day, this is one where you get to actually go out into the real world, rub shoulders with fellow human beings, perhaps get your boots muddy, and participate in an action in your community to bring the world’s attention to a specific climate goal: bringing our atmospheric CO2 levels below 350ppm, a benchmark deemed relatively “safe” based on our current knowledge of the climate. Where are we right now? Around 387ppm! So we’ve already overshot the safety limit, and have to act fast to pull back into the comfort zone if we are to avoid further problems. And don’t tell me that global warming/climate change isn’t real, or that you don’t think we have problems already: tell that to the Maldivian’s whose president last week held an underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the fact that their entire country is set to sink below rising ocean levels if we in the rest of the world don’t do something to reverse ongoing global warming! Indeed, leaders of the world are meeting in Copenhagen this December for the UN’s 15th Climate Change Conference to make a deal on what they(we) will do about climate change!

So what can we, as individuals do, to get our governments to act?

The environmentalist writer Bill McKibben (interviewed here on PBS’ NOW program) would like us all to join in a global day of action, the International Day of Climate Action, being coordinated by an organization he set up called Here’s a video from the site to explain what the action, and the number 350 are all about:


Want to find a specific action in your neighborhood that you can participate in? Here’s a map:

View Actions at

For folks in my local community, Fresno: you might want to join in this event of bike rides and walks being planned on our campus. Here’s the invitation from the organizer, who also had a table at yesterday’s Campus Sustainability Day event:

24 October 2009 – 11:00am – 4:00pm

Hi guys!!

Thank you very much for your interest in Fresno State Climate Action Day. So far we haven’t defined the action, but we do have several ideas that we want to share with you. This is because we want everyone of the participants to be comfortable with the action.

This is what we are going to do:

  1. A 2×3.50mi bike ride from Fresno State to the Chrismas tree lane and come back. We calculate that it will take around 1.5 hours because I guess we are not gona go that fast (that distance usually takes me 40min). I think the timing will be good to take the picture at 2pm.
  2. The other option for those who doesn’t have a bike, we will make a walk along Shaw Ave. from fresno state to Fresno street (its a 3.50mi round walk).
  3. We will meet at fresno state (peace garden next to the library) at 11:30am, so we have enough time to organize everyone; do the bike ride and walk; do a speech; and then organize everyone for the picture.
  4. We will have a table this wednesday in sustainability day on campus. Please come and visit us!

Please RSVP for the action so I can keep you posted with news about the event.

Thanks in advance.


Now get out there and do something meaningful!

Scientia Pro Publica #14 is here…

… and it even includes, among some much better essays on a variety of topics, my recent post on climate change for Blog Action Day! Go check out the excellent compilation put together by Luke Jostins at Genetic Inference.

One of these days, I better host this carnival here, don’t you think? Not in the middle of a semester though – that would be too much of a procrastination tool! 🙂

Will “The Cove” succeed in stopping the slaughter of Dolphins?

I sure hope it has some real impact – the film looks very powerful and the reviews are good as well. But its another film apparently not likely to appear in the Fresno area, so I’ll have to seek it elsewhere or wait for the DVD release in December! Meanwhile, you can find out more, including show dates and locations, on the film’s website. Here’s an excerpt the synopsis:

The Cove begins in Taiji, Japan, where former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry has come to set things right after a long search for redemption. In the 1960s, it was O’Barry who captured and trained the 5 dolphins who played the title character in the international television sensation “Flipper.”

But his close relationship with those dolphins – the very dolphins who sparked a global fascination with trained sea mammals that continues to this day — led O’Barry to a radical change of heart. One fateful day, a heartbroken Barry came to realize that these deeply sensitive, highly intelligent and self-aware creatures so beautifully adapted to life in the open ocean must never be subjected to human captivity again. This mission has brought him to Taiji, a town that appears to be devoted to the wonders and mysteries of the sleek, playful dolphins and whales that swim off their coast.

But in a remote, glistening cove, surrounded by barbed wire and “Keep Out” signs, lies a dark reality. It is here, under cover of night, that the fishermen of Taiji, driven by a multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry and an underhanded market for mercury-tainted dolphin meat, engage in an unseen hunt. The nature of what they do is so chilling — and the consequences are so dangerous to human health — they will go to great lengths to halt anyone from seeing it.

Undeterred, O’Barry joins forces with filmmaker Louis Psihoyos and the Oceanic Preservation Society to get to the truth of what’s really going on in the cove and why it matters to everyone in the world. With the local Chief of Police hot on their trail and strong-arm fishermen keeping tabs on them, they will recruit an “Ocean’s Eleven”-style team of underwater sound and camera experts, special effects artists, marine explorers, adrenaline junkies and world-class free divers who will carry out an undercover operation to photograph the off-limits cove, while playing a cloak-and-dagger game with those who would have them jailed. The result is a provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure and arresting imagery that adds up to an urgent plea for hope.

Darwin’s Brave New World – Extended Trailer

Does this look exciting, or what? That trailer sure sucked me in much more energetically than either of the trailers for Creation or Darwin’s Darkest Hour. Hopefully the whole thing delivers on what the trailer promises. Too bad, therefore, not to see any US air dates at the end there, although our neighbors to the north will get to see it, having helped produce it. I hope it does get here eventually. PBS, are you paying attention?

Sustainability Day at Fresno State campus tomorrow, Oct 21, 2009

Many campuses across the US are celebrating tomorrow, Oct 21, 2009 as Campus Sustainability Day. There is even a webcast you can join in via the Society for College and University Planning. If you prefer more direct human contact, and happen to be in the Fresno State vicinity tomorrow, why not check out our campus’ First Annual Sustainability Day event – see full announcement below the fold. You might even to win a cool bicycle! I’m glad our campus is finally joining this event in its 7th year – better late than never, eh?




10:00 A.M. TO 2:00 P.M.


Don’t forget to come out this Wednesday and learn about how your fellow Bulldogs are “Going Green”. Various departments and student groups from the university, as well as businesses, organizations and programs in the surrounding communities of Fresno and Clovis will be there. Featured participants include:

  • Fresno State Recycling Club
  • City of Fresno Department of Waste & Recycling
  • The Green Issue (Fresno State)
  • Department of Risk Management & Sustainability (Fresno State)
  • Center of Irrigation Technology
  • Fresno State Organic Farm
  • Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District
  • Fresno Council of Governments
  • Bulldog Pantry
  • GRID Alternatives
  • …and more!

There will be a raffle for a brand new bike available to those who attend!

In the evening, Director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation and Fresno State Alum Mary-Ann Warmerdam will be guest lecturing at Alice Peters Auditorium at 7:00 p.m. A reception will be held at 6:00 p.m. in the Alice Peters lobby. Enjoy the free food made from produce provided by the Fresno State Farm Market. The lecture is free of charge and open to all students, faculty, and members of the general public! Please encourage your students and colleagues to attend. A sign-up sheet will be at the lecture for any students needing to show proof of attendance!

Alaia Howell

Risk Management & Sustainability

California State University Fresno


Fresno State: Powering the New California
   — Please save a tree: Don’t print this message —

A black bear heads for the beer cooler (like the Indian tiger?)

It seems, according to an official brochure from the Forest Department at India’s Sariska Tiger Reserve, that “The Tiger prefers to hunt large deer specially sambar, chital, nilgai and omnivore COLD BEER.” Really, I’m not making this up:

Could be why the tigers went extinct from Sariska several years ago – maybe they were too drunk to avoid the poachers – and had to be reintroduced! Well, one hopes the replacements stay off the brew and put on their best tigerish behavior this week when environment ministers from SAARC nations come to visit them.

Meanwhile, over in Hayward, Wisconsin, a young black bear (apparently unaware of or undeterred by the tigers’ misadventures) just wandered into a grocery store, and headed straight for the beer cooler in the liquor department:

The sad part is that the bear apparently didn’t even get a drink after all that effort – although it did get the tranquilizers! Was it just cooling off after a long hot walk through suburbia? Looking for a cool place to hibernate? Well, at least this bear didn’t become drunk and disorderly, unlike its cousins, the Indian Sloth Bears, which are well known for their predilection for alcohol from fermenting flowers of the mahua trees in central India!

Eloquent communicators: human and avian

I’m often looking for videos on the web to enhance my lectures (or merely to jolt students out of the slumber my soothing voice may put them into from time to time), especially when teaching about animal behavior. Its always more impressive to see an animal carry out some astonishingly bizarre behavior than to read about it or have it be described in class by someone who may never have seen the behavior either! Places like Youtube are therefore quite the boon for the modern professor of ethology, and a casual perusal of this blog will show you how much I fall into that happy camp. The exciting thing is that lately, competition has been heating up among the online video portals, bringing us access to all kinds of video treasures. I stumbled upon one such treasure today when I discovered that youtube now has, in its growing Nature channel, Sir David Attenborough‘s entire series on The Life of Birds!

Since we have been exploring acoustic signals in my Animal Communication class in recent weeks, with birds (of course) starring as prime examples, this is a perfect time to share this episode where one of humanity’s most eloquent communicators takes us on a wonderful exploration of some of nature’s most Eloquent Communicators: