Visualizing Golden-winged Warbler Migration

GWWAMigration Migration is one of the most amazing behaviors in the animal world. Birds, mammals, insects, and fish are all noted for moving incredible distances every year. The science of monitoring these movements (Migratology? Future Oxford English Dictionary researchers – if you’re looking for the origin of this term, it’s right here!) is still in its infancy, but researchers are inventing all sorts of fun tools to monitor the movements of animals across the planet. We can now know, in real time, the location of medium-sized animals to within a few kilometers (Common Loons or American Woodcock) and the location of large animals to with a few meters (Polar Bears) with equipment like GPS and satellite transmitters.

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Golden-winged Warbler with a Geolocator. Photo: Gunnar Kramer

For smaller animals, however, tracking migration is still difficult. Geolocators can estimate the location of a bird to within a hundred kilometers or so but require that you recapture the individual to download the data. While difficult, an unexpected benefit of using this technique is that you get to invent new and creative curse words when a bird you’ve been desperately trying to capture flies away from your net for the billionth time! Another method of tracking migration is by using people. We created the map above using observations of Golden-winged Warblers reported to eBird. It shows the location of bird sightings throughout the year as they fly thousands of miles from Central America to the northeastern United States and back. They make this ~3,700 km trans-continental trip every year of their lives, hopefully this map captures a tiny bit of what an epic journey migration actually is.

What birds are singing on the Voyager Spacecraft?

The Voyager Spacecraft are a kind of mythical entity. Other programs have flung probes into the far reaches of the solar system, (most notably Pioneer 9 and 10), but they never had the pop culture appeal. The Pioneer probes never became the focal point of a Star Trek movie or episodes of the X-Files and Dr. Who like Voyager did. One of the things that gave Voyagers 1 and 2 their appeal was the fabled Golden Record. As described by Carl Sagan, (the man who devised the Golden Record and one of my heroes,) it was meant to be a message in a bottle afloat in the universe. It includes what are meant to be the sounds of planet Earth along with directions back to our home. It was sent out into the expanses of space just in case something might find it. It is an attempt to try to introduce ourselves to the universe. Whether this gesture is symbolic or in earnest is hard to decide. Either way, I love it for its hopefulness and the boldness of trying to make a near-impossible connection with other beings in the galaxy. I love it because it is one of the early moments where NASA admits their goals are sometimes poetic more than they are practical. I firmly believe that learning about the universe simply for the sake of finding out is a largely a philosophical pursuit, and that is much of what the space program does. (However, stay tuned for future blog posts about some of NASA’s very tangible, direct benefits economically, environmentally, and to human wellbeing overall that people do not appreciate.) Continue reading

From the Brink: The Return of the Canada Goose

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Average number of Canada Geese per Breeding Bird Survey route in each U.S. state over four year intervals (map made in QGIS).

On April 1, 1963, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a press release with the title, “GIANT CANADA GOOSE, LONG BELIEVED EXTINCT, REDISCOVERED IN MINNESOTA”. It was not an April Fools joke. Due to hunting pressure and loss of habitat, the subspecies of the Canada Goose that lived in the eastern United States had been nearly wiped off the face of the planet.

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From the Brink: The Return of the Canada Goose

CANG

Average number of Canada Geese per Breeding Bird Survey route in each U.S. state over four year intervals (map made in QGIS).

On April 1, 1963, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a press release with the title, “GIANT CANADA GOOSE, LONG BELIEVED EXTINCT, REDISCOVERED IN MINNESOTA”. It was not an April Fools joke. Due to hunting pressure and loss of habitat, the subspecies of the Canada Goose that lived in the eastern United States had been nearly wiped off the face of the planet.

Continue reading