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Sun, 28 Feb 2021
The World for People who Think


Magic Wand

Bird believed extinct for 170 years spotted in Borneo - researchers were looking in the wrong place

© BirdingASIA
Black-browed babbler
A team of researchers from Indonesia and Singapore has found evidence of the continued existence of a bird long thought extinct. In their paper published in the journal BirdingASIA, the team describes the history of the bird, why it was thought to be extinct and how it was found in Borneo.

Back sometime between 1843 and 1848 a bird now called the black-browed babbler was captured by naturalist Carl A.L.M. Schwaner. Records of the find are sketchy, but it appeared the bird had been captured on the island of Java. That finding was the one and only piece of evidence of the bird's existence — it is currently labeled as "data deficient" in ornithology texts. The bird was put into storage, and for the next 170 years, there were no further reports of its existence. Over time, the bird and its history became known as "the biggest enigma in Indonesian ornithology." Most in the field assumed it had gone extinct. Then, last year, a pair of researchers, Muhammad Rizky Fauzan and Muhammad Suranto captured a bird that they could not identify on the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo. They took pictures of it and sent them to colleagues, then released the bird.

Comment: It seems something has gone awry with science because the list of creatures and plants declared extinct, which then later reappear, is growing:


Body of dead humpback whale on Maryland beach being removed

Crews are working to remove the body of a humpback whale that was stranded along the Maryland coast last week.

The whale, which the state's Department of Natural Resources said was a Gulf of Maine humpback whale named Pivot, was found stranded Thursday night.

Officials are still working to determine what led to Pivot's death, adding Tuesday the whale's body was being removed from the surf.

In a Facebook post, the Assateague Island National Seashore urged people not to go near it, adding whales can spread diseases to humans and pets.


Dead humpback whale calf washes ashore in West Cork, Ireland

The male whale measured 10 metres in length and the IDWG said it was not an individual previously documented in Irish waters.
© IDWG via Robbie Shelly and Helen Tilson of SchullSea Safari
The male whale measured 10 metres in length and the IDWG said it was not an individual previously documented in Irish waters.
A young dead whale has washed up and been stranded off the West Cork coast.

The humpback whale came ashore off Coney Island, west Roaringwater Bay yesterday afternoon.

While humpback sightings are rare, they have been increasing in recent years.

Humpback strandings are very rare, however. According to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) only eight have been recorded in Ireland since 1893.

This is only the second such stranding of a humpback ever recorded in Cork.


Population of Mexico's monarch butterflies falls 26%, conservationists find

The population of monarch butterflies that arrived in Mexico's forests to hibernate this winter fell 26% from a year earlier, the country's Commission for National Protected Areas and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said on Thursday.

Millions of orange and black monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico on a 2,000-mile (3,220-km) journey each year from Canada across North America.

But the butterflies occupied only 2.1 hectares in December 2020, compared with 2.8 hectares the previous winter season, the conservationist group WWF said in a statement.

Comment: Monarch butterfly population getting closer to extinction - less than 2,000 of western population counted wintering in California


Signs and Portents: Mutant two-headed calf worshipped as 'lucky' after owner wins the lottery in Thailand

The dead hermaphrodite baby cow born with two heads in Thailand

The dead hermaphrodite baby cow born with two heads in Thailand was worshipped by villagers as lucky.
If you finally hit it big on the lottery, what would you ascribe your winnings to? Perhaps it was the fickle finger of fate that plucked you from the masses. Or, alternatively, perhaps you came into ownership of some kind of lucky talisman.

A villager in Thailand appears to believe the latter as he credits his £480 win on the local lottery from luck inherited after the birth of a malformed calf with two heads.

The poor creature was born with two sets of reproductive organs and an extra ear poking out in the middle of its two heads. Because of its deformities, it couldn't breathe properly and became too weak to eat. It died half an hour after being born.

(Video here)


Ancient Egyptian art reveals extinct goose

Ancient Geese
© C.K. Wilkinson.
‘Meidum Geese’, Chapel of Itet, mastaba of Nefermaat and Itet (Dynasty 4), Meidum, Egypt.
As a University of Queensland researcher examined a 4600-year-old Egyptian painting last year, a speckled goose caught his eye.

UQ scientist Dr Anthony Romilio said the strange but beautiful bird was quite unlike modern red-breasted geese (Branta ruficollis), with distinct, bold colours and patterns on its body, face, breast, wings and legs.

"The painting,Meidum Geese, has been admired since its discovery in the 1800s and described as 'Egypt's Mona Lisa'," he said.

"Apparently no-one realised it depicted an unknown species.

"Artistic licence could account for the differences with modern geese, but artworks from this site have extremely realistic depictions of other birds and mammals."

Dr Romilio said no bones from modern red-breasted geese (Branta ruficollis) had been found on any Egyptian archaeological site.

"Curiously, bones of a similar but not identical bird have been found on Crete," he said.

"From a zoological perspective, the Egyptian artwork is the only documentation of this distinctively patterned goose, which appears now to be globally extinct."

Ice Cube

See you later alligator? 'Frozen' gators stick noses through ice to survive in Oklahoma

© David Arbour
Alligators in Oklahoma went into a deep freeze as frigid, icy temperatures plagued much of the central and eastern United States.

Wildlife photographer David Arbour captured stunning photos of several alligators poking their snouts through the ice to breathe at the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area this week.

While the alligators may appear to be dead, scientists say they're not. It's a survival technique alligators use when the water starts to freeze.

Comment: Back in 2019: American alligators freeze in place to survive arctic blast in North Carolina


Freshwater fish in "catastrophic" decline, one-third face extinction

Thousands of fish species are facing "catastrophic" decline — threatening the health, food security and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world. New research shows that one-third of all freshwater fish now face extinction.

According to a report published Tuesday by 16 global conservation groups, 18,075 species of freshwater fish inhabit our oceans, accounting for over half of the world's total fish species and a quarter of all vertebrates on Earth. This biodiversity is critical to maintaining not only the health of the planet, but the economic prosperity of communities worldwide.

About 200 million people across Asia, Africa and South America rely on freshwater fishers for their main source of protein, researchers said in "The World's Forgotten Fishes" report. About one-third of those people also rely on them for their jobs and livelihoods.

Despite their importance, freshwater fishes are "undervalued and overlooked," researchers said — and now freshwater biodiversity is declining at twice the rate of that in oceans and forests.

Eighty freshwater species have already been declared extinct — 16 of them in 2020 alone.


About 100 dolphins found dead on Mozambique beach - 3rd mass stranding of cetaceans globally within 5 days

The cause of death is still unknown
The cause of death is still unknown
The bodies of about 100 dead dolphins have been found on an island off the coast of Mozambique.

Eighty-six more carcasses were found on Bazaruto Island, north of the capital Maputo, on Tuesday, after a first group was washed ashore on Sunday.

The cause of the deaths is still unknown, the country's environment ministry said, and more experts are heading to the site.

One possible experts are investigating is if a cyclone may have contributed.

Comment: This incident happened amid similar recent mass strandings of cetaceans in other regions of the world, see: Recommended reading:


Kangaroo painting is now Australia's oldest known rock art

17300 year old painting
© Damien Finch / Pauline Heaney
A montage of 39 photographs of the 17,300 year old kangaroo with an accompanying illustration.
An image of a kangaroo has been identified as Australia's oldest known rock painting, dated to over 17,000 years old.

The two-metre-long kangaroo is painted on the ceiling of a rock shelter on the Unghango clan estate, in Balanggarra country in the north-eastern Kimberley region, WA.

A research team led by Damien Finch from the University of Melbourne used radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of mud-wasp nests below and above the painting.

"In these old paintings, the ochre pigment used is an iron oxide," says Finch. "It cannot be dated with any of the current scientific dating techniques. The alternative is to date any suitable material found directly under or on top of the painting. In our work we date mud-wasp nests that are commonly found in rock shelters in northern Australia."

The team found nests below the painting were 17,500 years old, while nests above it were 17,100 years old. This means the painting is in between these two date ranges, "most likely 17,300 years old", according to Finch.

There is older evidence of rock painting in Australia, but not "in-situ" - that is, still on a cave or rock wall. "Two very old fragments of rock with ochre or charcoal lines have been discovered in archaeological excavations in northern Australia," says Finch.