Feb 18

Do you live in the US or Canada? Are you a budding birdwatcher or a fully-fledged birding expert? Perhaps you’re just someone who likes to get outdoors and take stock of the wildlife living right on your doorstep? You may even be someone who just fancies doing something a little different this weekend…

The Great Backyard Bird Count is for you! Taking place in the United States and Canada from Friday, February 18 through Monday, February 21, the Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event aimed at bird watchers of all ages.

Photo of American robin on winterberry fruits

A staggering 1.8 million American robins were recorded in last year’s GBBC.

Why count birds?

Scientists use the counts, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to help them build up a comprehensive picture of winter birds in the US and Canada. The data collected helps scientists and experts to answer many questions:

  • How will this winter’s snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?
  • Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
  • How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
  • Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?

Photo of black-legged kittiwake adults and chick

Last year, birders in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, were treated to numerous rare sightings of a black-legged Kittiwake.

How do I get involved?

Anyone can help by tallying birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count. At www.birdcount.org, you can enter the highest number of each species seen at any one time and watch as the tallies grow across the continent.

Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see. A selection of images are posted on the online photo gallery. 

For more information, including bird-ID tips, instructions and past results, visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website. The count also includes a photo contest and a prize draw for participants who enter their bird checklists online.

Photo of female tree swallow returning to nestbox

The number of states reporting tree swallows was down from 25 in 2009 to 20 in 2010, but the number of individuals reported increased nearly four-fold, from 22,431 to 84,585.

What might I see?

More than 600 bird species live in the US and Canada. Last year’s participants reported more than 1.8 million American robins, as well as rarities such as the first red-billed tropicbird in the count’s 13-year history.

The Canada goose was the second most commonly observed bird in last year’s count, while the snow goose, American Crow, and European starling all came in with about 500,000 individuals each.

Photo of Canada goose

With 748,356 reported sightings last year, the Canada goose was the second most seen bird.

Northern birds, often called “irruptives,” tend to show wild swings in their abundance from year to year. Species like red and white-winged crossbills, common and hoary redpolls, pine siskin, and evening and pine grosbeak may be common one year and entirely absent the next.

Last year, Texas, with its size, habitat diversity, and dedicated birders, was the species diversity hotspot, with 347 species counted.

The 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count had a record number of participants, with bird watchers across the continent and Hawaii submitting more then 97,200 checklists. 

Are you taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count in the US or Canada? Let us know what you see!

Help spread the word by asking your friends and family to participate! Easy instructions can be found at www.birdcount.org.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada.

Explore birds of the USA and Canada on ARKive

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 17

Spring is nearly upon us here in the northern hemisphere, so to get you in the mood for the looming annual animal baby boom, here are some pictures of what some mothers have in store for them!  

Get me some moisturiser!

Photo of a three day old hedgehog

Your favourite garden visitor, the hedgehog. However, at 3 days old it looks like it’s in desperate need of a facelift!

Check out those diggers!

Photo of young European moles in nest

It’s probably a good thing moles spend most of their lives underground, with wrinkly babies like these! They have large, spade-like forepaws, well adapted for excavating their tunnels.

Practicing for a ‘Thriller’ performance?

Photo of a turkey vulture chick

Unfortunately for this turkey vulture chick, it’s not going to get any more handsome than this. It can look forward to a diet of rotting meat, and the possibility of growing a number of whitish warts on its bright pink head. Lucky thing!

You are what you eat

Photo of naked mole rat queen with young suckling

A renowned beauty, the young naked mole rat, after weaning, dines on a delicious meal of faeces. They live in colonies where a single queen is the only member allowed to breed, and is the only one to suckle the young.

An alternative to a rubber ducky?

Photo of cormorant chicks in nest

In the first few days of life, cormorant chicks feed on liquid regurgitated by the parents, later taking solid food from the parent’s throats. Let’s hope some feathers appear soon!

Kangaroo kindergarten

Photo of three week old red kangaroo in pouch, attached to teat

It’s hard to believe that this tiny alien-like critter will grow into the world’s largest marsupial, the red kangaroo. At birth, the newborn weighs a mere 0.75 grams, and takes about three minutes to make its way, unaided, through the female’s fur and into the pouch, where it attaches to a teat for the next 70 days.

Snuggled puggle 

Photo of a young short-beaked echidna, or puggle, in burrow

This curled up short-beaked echidna, is one of the few egg laying mammals, otherwise known as the monotremes. The young of this species is also known by the rather adorable name of ‘puggle’ –  if only it was as cute as its name suggests! 

Blood-thirsty babies!

Black widow spiderling photo

This black widow spiderling is definitely not a sweet baby. On average out of the 100 or so young that hatch, only 1-12 survive due to cannibalism by siblings. It will grow into one of the most venomous spiders in the world, so no cooing over this baby!

A bit exposed!

Photo of young chacoan naked-tailed armadillo

This nudist newborn, known as the Chacoan naked-tailed armadillo, will luckily develop thick bony plates over its head, body and limbs. At least it won’t be starkers for long!

Aye-aye phone home…

Photo of young aye-aye

At number 10 and our personal favourite – the aye-aye. With its extended middle finger, this baby is reminiscent of a furry ET. However it does have its uses, such as tapping on branches to find insects, and then scooping out the prey.

Can you spot any other ugly babies on ARKive? Let us know!

Rebecca Sennett and Rebecca Taylor, ARKive Media Research Assistants

Feb 17

A five-month project taking over 100 scientists to 21 countries to search for 100 amphibians has ended with few successes. Researchers found only 4 of their target species, although 11 others were unexpectedly rediscovered. 

The ‘Search for the Lost Frogs’ campaign was launched in August by Conservation International and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group, with support from Global Wildlife Conservation. Its aim was to establish whether rare amphibians have survived increasing pressures, such as habitat loss, climate change and disease, and to help scientists better understand what is behind the amphibian crisis.

Photo of ventriloqual frog on leaf

Ventriloqual frog

Most threatened group of vertebrates 

Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, with over 30% of amphibian species threatened with extinction, primarily due to habitat loss and a fungus that causes chytridomycosis.

“Searching for lost species is among the most important conservation activities we can do as scientists. If we’re going to save them, we first have to find them,” said Dr. Don Church, President of Global Wildlife Conservation.

However, five months of expeditions have led to disappointing findings that conservationists say should sound an urgent wake-up call and prompt coordinated efforts to prevent further declines.

Photo of male golden toad

Male golden toad

Glimmers of hope 

One major disappointment was the failure to find the golden toad of Costa Rica, which was the #1 species on their ‘top 10’ list. However, the Critically Endangered Rio Pescado stubfoot toad was one exciting rediscovery. Found only in Ecuador, it was only recorded at one site, suggesting that this represents the last population of this species. 

The cave splayfoot salamander – last seen in 1941 – the Mount Nimba reed frog –  last seen in 1967  – and the Omaniundu Reed Frog – last seen in 1979, where the other 3 major rediscoveries. 

Researchers describe these species as “glimmers of hope” in a group of animals severely threatened by changing land use, disease, pollution and climate change.

Photo of Rio Pescado stubfoot toad sitting on a leaf

Rio Pescado stubfoot toad

In Haiti, searches in the country’s diminishing forests yielded six surprising rediscoveries of species that were not on the scientists’ initial list, but that had not been seen in two decades – including the ventriloqual frog and Mozart’s frog.

Photo of Mozart's frog

Mozart's frog

No species were rediscovered in Colombia, but three species potentially brand new to science were documented. These included a possible new type of beaked toad, now known as the ‘Simpsons toad’ due to its startling resemblance to the villainous character Mr. Burns from the television series. 

Photo of Rhinella sp. nov. held by researcher

An unknown species of beaked toad

Other rediscoveries were made in India, where scientists launched their own campaign to focus on rediscovering local amphibian species. The effort resulted in five ‘missing’ amphibians being rediscovered, including one that was last seen in 1874 and another which was found by pure chance in a rubbish bin. 

Forefront of an extinction wave 

While the ‘Search for the Lost Frogs’ has come to an end, the Indian project is set to continue, as is a parallel mission in Colombia. 

Dr. Moore added, “Rediscoveries provide reason for hope for these species, but the flip side of the coin is that the vast majority of species that teams were looking for were not found. This is a reminder that we are in the midst of what is being called the Sixth Great Extinction with species disappearing at 100 to 1000 times the historic rate – and amphibians are really at the forefront of this extinction wave.”

View images and films of amphibians on ARKive. 

Read the Conservation International press release.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 16

The Cambodian government has granted approval to the United Khmer Group for a 20,400 hectare mining concession in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains.

The decision to approve the mine threatens to devastate one of the last pristine areas of what Conservation International (CI) recently dubbed ‘the world’s most threatened forest’.

Considered a biodiversity hotspot, Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains support an incredible array of wildlife. The arrival of the mine will threaten one of the last remaining elephant corridors in Asia and put more than 70 endangered and vulnerable species at risk, as well as degrade one of the world’s largest remaining carbon sink reserves. Conservationists say the mine could particularly imperil freshwater species through pollution, such as the Critically Endangered Siamese crocodile.

Photo of Siamese-crocodile basking

One of the most endangered crocodiles in the wild, the Siamese crocodile is a small, freshwater species that feeds mainly on fish.

Local opposition

Villages throughout the region are reliant on a burgeoning ecotourism trade, and residents are concerned that the presence of the mine will pollute rivers and drive away tourists, as well as impact on agricultural initiatives, forests, and vital elephant habitat.

Photo of Indian elephant bull

The population of Asian elephants has been decimated by habitat loss, and it is now considered Endangered.

Wildlife Alliance, a non-profit organisation based in Washington and Cambodia, has worked extensively with local communities in the Cardamom Mountains for nearly a decade to establish ecotourism. They are now leading the fight against the approval of the mine, representing the views of local communities.

Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO of Wildlife Alliance said in a press release, “We recognize that development is essential to Cambodia’s future, but that development must be conducted in a coordinated matter that respects conservation initiatives.”

“This is Cambodia’s natural heritage, its national heritage, and it could all be eliminated by 20,400 hectares of strip mining.”

Minimising damage

With the mine approved by Cambodia’s prime minister, Wildlife Alliance is calling on the United Khmer Group to work closely with the Forestry Administration, conservation groups, and local communities to ensure that it mitigates the environmental impacts of its mining efforts.

“We ask that all industrial developers work closely with conservation partners in the southern Cardamom Mountains to minimize environmental damages associated with economic development. Together we can find solutions to maximize the earning potential of local people while diminishing the harm to wildlife and habitats, local rivers, and downstream fisheries” say Wildlife Alliance in their press release.

Photo of Malayan sun bear

The Malayan sun bear is just one of the species that may be affected by the new mining concession in the Cardamom Mountains.

However, Wildlife Alliance also continues to question how profitable the mine is likely to be. The United Khmer Group has projected revenues of $1.3 billion dollars a year, although it appears that these projections are based on titanium prices that are far above the current market rate. In addition, the group has yet to carry out a comprehensive study to determine the size and concentration levels of the titanium ore deposit in the Cardamom Mountain region.

“Without scientific research to prove the economic viability of the proposed mine, bulldozing the rainforest is simply destructive and does not even make good business sense,” Gauntlett says in a press release.

Visit the Wildlife Alliance website.

Explore the species of Cambodia on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 16

As Valentines Day is over for another year it is time to draw our Love Species Campaign to a close and the ARKive team would like to thank all of you who helped to spread the love via Twitter and shared your favourite species with us.

As we know here at ARKive, every species is special but there are always a few who really steal your heart. The ARKive team had their chance to speak about which species they love the most and why (and we hope you enjoyed our Love Species blogs) so we thought that now it was only fair for us to take a look at some of your favourite species too.

The wait is finally over and we can now reveal some of the most popular species as voted for by you. Drum roll please……..

Blue whale

A popular choice was the magnificent blue whale and it’s not hard to understand why. This colossal species is the largest animal to have ever lived, even larger than the biggest dinosaurs and nearly as big as a Boeing 737. Despite their giant size they feed mainly on small shrimp-like krill, which are filtered through the baleen plates.

Photo of a blue whale breaching

Leaf cutter ant

Representing invertebrates were the fascinating leaf cutter ants, undoubtedly the most famous gardeners in the animal kingdom. The ants, which rely on fungus for food, cut and transport leaf fragments back to the nest where they are used to create a mulch to cultivate their own fungus garden, impressive stuff!

Photo of leaf-cutter ants carrying leaves back to the nest

Bee hummingbird

The smallest living bird in the world, the bee hummingbird has also proven to be one of the most popular with our Twitter followers. In the breeding season the male sports a particularly colourful iridescent plumage, making it a real eye-catcher! And not only does it have the looks, it has the moves too and boasts an unbelievable 200 wing beats per second during its intricate courtship display.

Photo of a male bee hummingbird

Giant anteater

The unusual (and I think rather adorable) giant anteater was another favourite, and quite rightly so! What’s not to love about a creature with a 50cm long tongue? Once the giant anteater has ripped open an anthill it ‘drinks’ in the prey by creating a vacuum in its throat, sucking the insects in, aided by its long sticky tongue. Using this method the giant anteater can consume up to 30,000 ants in a single day!

Photo of a female giant anteater carrying young

African giant toad

The amphibian which came out on top was without doubt the African giant toad, a large and colourful species found mainly in Central Africa. Little is known about the biology of this species but it was once heavily exploited for the pet trade. Thankfully all international trade is now prohibited.

Photo of an African giant toad

Gibbons

Gibbons were the most popular of the primates and it didn’t seem fair to narrow it down to a single species so we thought we’d give a mention to the whole of the Hylobatidae family. These beautiful primates never fail to impress with their speed and agility when it comes to swinging from tree to tree, a form of locomotion known as brachiation. They truly are the kings of the canopy!

White-handed gibbon photo

Coconut crab

The land dwelling coconut crab is one of the most unusual crustaceans. As its name suggests, this crab feeds on coconuts and is even able to climb coconut palms, where it is thought to pinch off coconuts with its powerful claws if they are not readily available on the ground. Living on a tropical island and feeding on coconuts sounds like a pretty idyllic life to me and it’s easy to see why this species has struck a chord with our Twitter followers too!

Coconut crab photo

Orca

The orca, also known as the killer whale, seemed to be a sure bet for the top ten being the most striking cetacean and the largest predator of marine mammals. The intelligent orca has a versatile range of hunting techniques and some individuals from a population in Argentina have even learnt to intentionally strand themselves on beaches to reach seals and sea lions on the shore.

Photo of orca pair underwater

Café marron

Having last been seen in the 1940s, the café marron was thought to be extinct until a pupil on the island of Rodrigues brought a fresh cutting to his teacher after being sent out to explore the island for rare and interesting plants in 1980! With an incredible re-discovery story like this it’s not hard to understand why the café marron is a favourite of many, including our friends at Kew Gardens.

Café marron photo

Tiger

And last but not least, what list of favourite species would be complete without a mention of our best loved big cat, the tiger. Its size and stunning coat make the tiger an instantly recognisable species, admired by many all over the world. Unlike other species of cats, tigers are competent swimmers and will readily enter the water. They can even be found lying half-submerged in streams and lakes in the mid-day heat.

Tiger photo

So folks, that’s our round up of your favourite species complete! But fear not, you can keep up to date with the campaign by heading to our Love Species page where you can also check out the results of our courtship displays poll, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter too.

Thanks again for helping us to spread the love for species and remember to keep up the good work!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

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