Fun Fact Friday: All’s Fair in Love and Chemical Warfare

Happy Friday, folks! This week’s fun fact from Arthur V. Evans’s Beetles of Eastern North America explores the astounding chemical defenses employed by Coleoptera against their enemies.

Galerita_small

This colorful little insect is called Galerita bicolor. It spends most of its life hiding under tree bark, but if it’s disturbed, it sprays a noxious stream of formic acid out of its rear-end. Yikes!

bombardier_small

And this little guy’s got an even nastier trick up his sleeve. The Narrow-necked Little Bombardier Beetle (Brachinus tenuicollis) releases a boiling mixture of hydrogen peroxide gas, hydroquines, and various enzymes. The cocktail makes an audible popping sound as it exits the insect, and can be sprayed at a predator with great accuracy. An aptly named bug if there ever was one!

Other beetles, such as lady and blister beetles, are even able to make themselves bleed in order to protect themselves. This behavior, called reflex bleeding, occurs when the startled insect exudes bright yellow or orange hemolymph (beetle blood) from the joints of their legs. The hemolymph is laced with toxic chemicals, making them unappetizing to predators.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Fun Fact Friday, and learned one of nature’s most important lessons: think before you touch!


 

Arthur V. Evans is the author of:

Evans_Beetles Beetles of Eastern North America by Arthur V. Evans
Paperback | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691133041 | 560 pp. | 8 x 10 | 1,500+ color illus. 31 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851829 | Reviews  Table of Contents  Preface [PDF]  Sample Entry [PDF]

Birds of New Guinea sneak peek (#BirdsofNewGuinea)

You’re entering the “summer is almost over” doldrums, when what should happen? Someone drops a copy of the 2nd edition of The Birds of New Guinea, fresh from the printer, one of only two of its kind in America, on your desk. This book has been hugely anticipated in the birding community for well over a decade and the final product is worth every second of that wait. These photos won’t do the book justice, but they give you an idea of what you’re in for when the books arrive in our warehouse and begin to ship later this fall.

We’ll sample some more plates in the coming weeks.

photo

photo 1

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This is a photo of the original gouache painting of the birds of paradise plate in the book above. Hopefully this photo gives you some sense of what it’s like in person.


bookjacket Birds of New Guinea:
Second Edition
Thane K. Pratt & Bruce M. Beehler
Illustrated by John C. Anderton & Szabolcs Kókay

What Good are Bees?

Wilson-Rich_theBeeMany of us are all too familiar with bees and their painful sting. They are pesky, sometimes deadly, and can manage to put a damper on a beautiful summer day.

What many of us do not realize, however, is the enormous value bees carry in various aspects of modern life including agriculture, scientific research, and even the economy.  As Noah Wilson-Rich illustrates in his comprehensive and engaging new book, The Bee: A Natural History, bees have had and will continue to have a significant impact on us extending far beyond their ability to make honey.

Economy:

According to Wilson-Rich, “In the year 2000, honey bees alone were estimated to contribute $14.6 billion to the US economy, and the worldwide figure is something like 153 billion pounds ($207 billion).” This is largely due to bees’ pollinating capabilities, especially considering that upwards of 130 fruit and vegetable crops are reliant on pollination by way of insects. Both honey and wax are valuable resources on a global stage, where wax has a variety of applications in “lubricants and polishes, in crayons and encaustic art…and in electronics.”

Bees Swarm Beemaster Beekeeper Beekeeping Ladder Protective clothing Box Catching Fruit tree InsectsFood Production/Agriculture:

Due in part to their staggering numbers–with up to 80,000 individual bees per colony–bees help drive our agricultural system. In California where over a million bee colonies reside, bees play a major role in producing almonds that are exported throughout the nation and beyond. Bees also play a role in producing animal fodder by pollinating plants like clover and alfalfa, both nutritious aspects of farm animals’ diets. In this way, bees help us to produce other dietary staples like meat and milk.

Scientific Research:

Bees can actually be trained, and some researchers are working on training bees to approach a target flower for increased pollination efficiency. Bees are also used in research pertaining to age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease because of their short life span (a few weeks to a few months), and their unique social behavior makes them valuable research subjects in areas like communication and sociology.

USDA-d2487-3Religion/Symbolic value:

Wilson-Rich outlines several ways in which the bee holds religious or symbolic significance in cultures throughout the world. For instance, there are actually several patron saints of beekeeping and saints who are symbolized by bees.  Even St. Valentine is a patron saint of beekeepers in addition to being a saint of love; it is speculated that he is connected to bees because “the sweetness of honey is metaphorically related to the sweetness of love.” In Islam, bee imagery is used to represent principles such as hard work, loyalty, and devotion whereas bees are associated with obedience and seeking guidance from a leader in the Jewish tradition. Another little known fact: the name Deborah, which comes from the Judaic name, Devorah, actually means bee in Hebrew and is linked to a prophetess who led the Jewish people from 2654 to 2694 in the Jewish calendar.

Mark your calendars, July 8th is the beekeepers’ holiday in Bulgaria. In the tradition of this celebration, a bee ceremony is performed in which six women stand around a centered “Mother Queen” and sing a song to the bees, where the six women are meant to represent the six vertices of a hexagonal beehive cell.

To learn more fascinating facts about bees and their connection to us, look for our recently published book, The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson Rich.

 

Fun Fact Friday: Thanatosis and Batesian Mimicry (Don’t Worry, We’ll Explain)

Happy Friday, everybody! It’s time for our next installment of Fun Fact Friday, with Arthur V. Evans’s latest book, Beetles of Eastern North America.

This week’s post is dedicated to (drumroll, please)…the art of playing dead.

8-13 Beetles

Did you know?

Thanatosis, or death feigning, is a behavioral strategy “employed by hide beetles (Trogidae), certain fungus-feeding darkling beetles (tenebrionidae), zopherids (Zopheridae), weevils (Curculionidae), and many others” to avoid becoming a predator’s dinner. When these beetles sense danger, they pull their legs and antennae up tightly against their bodies so that they look dead and lifeless to their enemies. These small predators lose interest in the hard, small, and unflinching beetles, and move on to their next target. Pretty cool, huh?

Batesian Mimicry is another tactic to keep from being eaten. In this case, beetles “mimic the appearance or behavior of stinging or distasteful insects,” as in the case of the flower-visiting Acmaeodera (Buprestidae), scarabs (Scarabaeidae), and longhorns (Cerambycidae). They all sport fuzzy bodies, bold colors and patterns, and behaviors to make them believable mimics of bees and wasps, and make quick and jerky movements to complete the staging. And believe you, me, neither animals nor humans want to be stung by bees – and so the predators retreat.

We hope you feel informed, and we’ll see you next Friday for another great Fun Fact!
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Arthur V. Evans is the author of:

Evans_Beetles Beetles of Eastern North America by Arthur V. Evans
Paperback | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691133041 | 560 pp. | 8 x 10 | 1,500+ color illus. 31 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851829 | Reviews  Table of Contents  Preface[PDF]  Sample Entry[PDF]

Voice of America features Steve and Tony Palumbi and Extreme Life of the Sea during #SharkWeek

Shark week is well underway and the celebrations and glamorizations of the most famous of ocean predators continues unabated. However, as the creators of Un-Shark Week and co-authors of The Extreme Life of the Sea, Steve and Tony Palumbi know there are other fascinating marine animals that are equally deserving of your attention. In this fantastic interview with Voice of America News, they highlight some cool facts about sharks as well as other extreme creatures that have adapted to survive and thrive in the harshest environments of the ocean.

 

bookjacket The Extreme Life of the Sea
Stephen R. Palumbi & Anthony R. Palumbi
Available as an ebook and an enhanced ebook.
Explore this title:

Reviews | Table of Contents | Prologue[PDF]

Fun Fact Friday: Making Sense of Mandibles

Today’s fun fact for Beetles of Eastern North America by Arthur V. Evans takes an inside look at the stag beetle’s best accessory: his mandibles. Why do they have them? What do they use them for? Hold tight to find out!

Did you know? Photo Credit: Arthur V. Evans, Beetles of Eastern North America

The common name “stag beetle” refers to the large antlerlike mandibles found in some males, such as the giant stag beetle Lucanus elaphus (See middle frame at right). Mandible size within a species is “directly proportionate to the size of the body and regulated by genetic and environmental factors.”

Why do they have them?
Males use these oversized mouthparts to fight with rival males over who gets to take the lady beetle to dinner. You can find these beetles in moist habitats where there are plenty of things dying, like  a swamp. An area with decomposing wood is the ideal hideaway for these critters, since they drink tree sap and flower nectar, and munch on decaying deciduous and coniferous wood. But that’s good new for us: no home damagers here!

Bonus Fact:
The Family Lucanidae supposedly got its name when Pliny the Elder noted that Nigidius (a scholar of the Late Roman Republic and a friend of Cicero) called the stag beetle lucanus after the Italian region of Lucania, where they were turned into amulets for children. The scientific name of Lucanus cervus is the former word, plus cervus, deer.

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Arthur V. Evans is the author of:

Evans_Beetles Beetles of Eastern North America by Arthur V. Evans
Paperback | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691133041 | 560 pp. | 8 x 10 | 1,500+ color illus. 31 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851829 | Reviews  Table of Contents  Preface[PDF]  Sample Entry[PDF]

Fun Facts about Caribbean Wildlife

Raffaele_WildlifeCaribbeanS14Did you know…

  • Residents of colonial Cuba could be punished for insulting the Cuban Trogon, a red-breasted bird whose plumage was seen as representing the red sash worn by Spanish kings.
  • Ackee with salt fish is Jamaica’s national dish, but the fruit can be highly poisonous if harvested or cooked incorrectly
  • The earliest attempt to import breadfruit into the Caribbean was thwarted by a famous mutiny — the one on the H.M.S. Bounty, which was carrying the seedlings among its cargo.
  • You can tell which way the wind blows on a given island by looking at the coconut palm trees, which often leans in the direction of the prevailing breeze.
  • The Caribbean is home to dozens of species of bats, about half of which are endemic to the islands.
  • The Red Junglefowl found in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Grenadines is actually the feral offspring of formerly domesticated roosters and chickens.
  • Crocodiles are native to Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.
  • Barracudas have been known to attack divers wearing sparkly clothing, which they can mistake for prey.
  • The black grouper can grow to four feet long and change its sex from female to male.
  • The Caribbean spiny lobster can swim backwards by flipping its tail.

Whether you are traveling to the Caribbean by plane or by cruise ship, make sure you pack a copy of Wildlife of the Caribbean by Herbert A. Raffaele and James W. Wiley so you can learn more about the birds, fish, mammals, and plants you might see.

 

Credit — these fun facts were included in About.com Caribbean Travel’s review of Wildlife of the Caribbean.

Fun Fact Friday: Bizarre Mating Rituals of the Male Beetle

Ah, Friday. Do you hear that? It’s the sound of abundant spare time, rife with the possibility of reading, gardening, eating, and…listening to mating calls?

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In this week’s edition of Fun Fact Friday, we bring you the mating rituals of the male beetle, particularly those of the Family Ptinidae.

Did you know?

In his forthcoming book, Beetles of Eastern North America, Arthur V. Evans enlightens us to the truly absurd habits of death-watch beetles, who bang their heads against the walls of their wooden galleries to lure females into their tunnels. They’re in a class of their own, however; most beetles produce sound by rubbing together two ridged or roughened surfaces in a process known as stridulation. Stridulation generally transpires “during courtship, confrontations with other beetles, or in response to other stressful situations, such as an attack by a predator.”

For the most part, beetles don’t partake in fancy wooing practices; there are no flowers or free meals to speak of. But it seems there’s some soft music and chivalry involved, after all. So now you know!

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Arthur V. Evans is the author of:

7-24 Beetles2 Beetles of Eastern North America by Arthur V. Evans
Paperback | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691133041
560 pp. | 8 x 10 | 1,500+ color illus. 31 line illus.| eBook | ISBN: 9781400851829 | Reviews   Table of Contents  Preface[PDF] Sample Entry[PDF]

Celebrate National Honey Bee Day with Noah Wilson-Rich!

Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D., author of the upcoming The Bee: A Natural History, will be speaking at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History for National Honey Bee Day on August 16.

noah_wilson_rich_CALENDAR

Wilson-Rich has been keeping bees on Cape Cod since 2010 and maintains two apiaries in Truro, where he conducts research on experimental vaccines that could potentially improve the health of honey bees. His talk at the museum will focus on this research, as well as the role of bees on Cape Cod and the importance of honey bees in sustainable gardening. He will also discuss his business, the Best Bees Company, a service based in Boston’s South End that installs and manages hives for honey bees for businesses and residents of eastern Massachusetts.

 thebeewilson-rich  The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich

Fun Fact Friday: When Beetles Go Rogue

To celebrate the recent publication of Beetles of Eastern North America, Arthur V. Evans’s tremendously beautiful and comprehensive guide to all creatures coleopteral, we’ll be posting a new “fun fact” about beetles each week. These anecdotes won’t be limited to your standard beetle biology; they’ll surprise you, make you laugh, and wish that you’d bought the book sooner!

Did you know? 

7-24 BeetleIn this week’s edition, we’re bringing you a story all the way from Los Angeles’s Griffith Park. In a rare twist of irony, it seems that the pine tree planted to honor the memory of former Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison has been overrun and subsequently destroyed by beetles of the family Curculionidae.

7-24 HarrisonTree

While the specific type of bark beetle that bested the tree isn’t included in the Eastern edition, we won’t have to wait very long to solve this entomological enigma; Arthur V. Evans is already hard at work on part two, aptly titled Beetles of Western North America

So, now you know: if you’re looking for a self-sustaining weed-wacker, look no further than the beetles in your backyard!

Photo credit: Breakingnews.ie

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Arthur V. Evans is the author of:

7-24 Beetles2 Beetles of Eastern North America
Paperback | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691133041
560 pp. | 8 x 10 | 1,500+ color illus. 31 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851829 | Reviews  Table of Contents  Preface[PDF]  Sample Entry[PDF]

A Look at De-Extinction on TED Radio Hour

What if you could bring an extinct animal back to life? This week on the TED Radio Hour, Guy Raz interviews Stewart Brand, an environmentalist and founder of The WELL and the Global Business Network. Brand says that we now have technology that is advanced enough to bring back extinct creatures like the passenger pigeon, a bird that became extinct when the last member, Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. This year marks the centennial anniversary of Martha’s death and the extinction of her species.

This NPR segment, entitled “The Hackers” takes us to visit Martha in her resting place at the Smithsonian Institute. Brand discusses how DNA taken from Martha’s remains can be inserted into the DNA sequence of a related species, the band-tailed pigeon. More from Brand in his TED Talk below.

Check out Brand’s section of this week’s TED Radio Hour as well as the full broadcast.

Curious to know more about Martha? PUP author Errol Fuller discusses the extinction of her species in his new book, THE PASSENGER PIGEON. This stunningly illustrated book also tells the astonishing story of North America’s passenger pigeon, a bird species that–like the Mammoth and the Dodo–has become one of the great icons of extinction.

For a look at another extinct species that Brand mentions, the tylacine, take a look at photos from LOST ANIMALS, another book by Errol Fuller. The New York Times ran a photo slideshow here of rare photos of extinct animals.

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Birding in the Unknown: Tips and Tales from Birds of Peru Author Tom Schulenberg

[Note: Those of you who regularly read Princeton University Press's blog will have noticed that we have only featured posts by our colleagues and/or authors, however, when someone has the opportunity to travel to Peru, to meet with Tom Schulenberg (the lead author of Birds of Peru), and to see and talk about the birds of Peru at great length--you take them up on the offer of a guest post. We are pleased to present this guest article from Hugh Powell, a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We welcome your feedback on this type of article -- should we do more of this?]


 

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Tom Schulenberg, center, and Dennis Osorio, left, search for an elusive subspecies of Rufous Antpitta in the Cajamarca highlands, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

It’s not often a bird watcher gets the chance to tour a new country accompanied not just by a good field guide but by the field guide’s author. That’s what happened to me in May 2014, when I joined Tom Schulenberg on the World Birding Rally in northern Peru. Schulenberg, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is the lead author of Birds of Peru.

Schulenberg_BirdsPeruSchulenberg describes his role in the book as almost accidental—he began visiting Peru in the late 1970s as a graduate student, and his original role with the book was just to help with maps. The true architects of the book, Schulenberg says, were John O’Neill (“the person who more than anyone else in the modern era put Peru on the ornithological map,” according to Schulenberg), and Ted Parker, the now-legendary field ornithologist whose career was cut tragically short in a plane crash in Ecuador in 1993. In the mid-1990s, Schulenberg took up the mantle of the book, recruiting ornithologists Doug Stotz (Field Museum of Natural History) and Dan Lane (Louisiana State University) as additional coauthors.

The field guide was a major undertaking—Peru is home to 1,800 species of birds, more than any country in the world except Colombia. The book was eventually published in 2007, nearly 35 years after O’Neill and Parker first envisioned it.

In late May, at the close of the 8-day rally (during which our group found nearly 800 bird species), I sat down with Schulenberg to learn more about the genesis of the book and the joys of birding in Peru—or, as he put it, “the fun of being completely overwhelmed by what you see.”

Why Peru? Was it just happenstance that you went there instead of somewhere else in the world?

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Tom Schulenberg plays the song of a unique subspecies of Rufous Antpitta using his phone. Photo by Flor Ruiz.

It wasn’t happenstance. I joined the AOU when I was in my early teens, and one of the first issues [of the Auk] I received was the issue in which John O’Neill and George Lowery described the Elusive Antpitta from this indigenous village called Balta near the Brazilian border. There was this color frontispiece of an antpitta, and the introduction of the paper talks about how even after years of work, within a few square miles you can still be encountering species you didn’t know were in the area, and sometimes they might even be new to science. I was just totally blown away. I had no idea that people were still discovering new species of birds, and I was completely entranced by this idea of an avifauna so complex that you could be there for years and still be learning new things about it.

So you went to graduate school at Louisiana State University with O’Neill as your mentor. And pretty soon his prediction about finding new birds actually came true for you?

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Cloud forest beneath a blanket of cloud at Alto Mayo, San Martin, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

It’s not like I went to Peru really expecting to find new species—I was just trying to work on my life list. But the possibility always was there. And on my [second] trip to Peru we found several species that were undescribed or recently described. We found Cinnamon Screech-Owl, Megascops petersoni [like many tropical ornithologists, Schulenberg reflexively refers to birds by their scientific names in conversation]; Hemitriccus cinnamomeipectus, the Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant; Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher, Poecilotriccus luluae; which actually had been collected in the 1960s by Ned Johnson from Berkeley, but at that time Ned had not yet gotten around to describing it. Grallaricula ochraceifrons, Ochre-fronted Antpitta, we caught two in a single night in adjacent nets. [But all those were in the process of being described by other scientists, and] “all” we got out of it was the Pale-billed Antpitta. It was a fantastic trip though—I’m not complaining.

What field guide did you use before Birds of Peru?

Now remember that when some of the greats first started going down, people like John Terborgh and John O’Neill, there was literally nothing except the primary literature. But in 1970 an ornithologist [named] Meyer de Schauensee published a one-volume guide to the birds of South America, and it had some illustrations, but the illustrations were not great, and there was basically no attempt to illustrate every species. Instead what you had was about a paragraph on each species.

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Chestnut-eared Aracari at Lago Lindo, Peru. Photo by Niall Perrins.

It definitely was difficult to use, and we disparagingly and no doubt unfairly started referring to it as “Meyer de Schloppensee.” But you know, that was our bible from ‘77 until 1986 when Hilty and Brown published the really revolutionary Colombia field guide.

Why did you publish the book with Princeton?

In 1986 Princeton published the Colombia guide by Hilty and Brown, and it was just a total bombshell all across northern South America—it was very good. It was the size of a Manhattan telephone directory. Some birders would even buy copies and rip out the plates, which now that the book is out of print and copies sell for hundreds of dollars, you could cry over that. Anyway the Colombia book was one of the things that made us very comfortable with working with Princeton, because it was so good and set a very high bar.

The modern format of Birds of Peru—text facing illustrations on every page—left little room for text about each species. How did you handle that?

The shorter species accounts were a challenge in many ways. We had only 110 words per species, on average, so there’s no character development that’s for sure. We had to leave out a lot of words.

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Tom Schulenberg, right, and Thomas Valqui, are experts on Peruvian birds and served as judges during the 2014 World Birding Rally. Photo by Hugh Powell

Because the illustrations were opposite the text, we rarely describe what the bird looks like, and that saves a lot of space. Instead we focused on things like aspects of its behavior, or its habitat associations, its vocalizations. We tried to point out what you really need to focus on to ID the species. And we got that information from a lot of very knowledgeable people. If you look in the book, I think we have the longest acknowledgments section on record.

Where are the best places to go birding in Peru?

Well the nice thing about watching birds is you can never be bored, and that’s certainly true in Peru. Wherever you end up, you’ll be seeing interesting species about which not much is known. Certainly there are some places that get a lot of attention. The altiplano, though it might not have the most species, has very remarkable things like the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. And then down in the Amazonian lowlands, those are the most species-rich places, and it’s both challenging and very rewarding to bird there. There’s the dry deciduous forest in the northwest, where we were [during the World Birding Rally], it’s got lower diversity but incredibly high numbers of individuals. I’m always amazed to go into those forests and see the sheer number of birds that are in that habitat. And there are the foothills, the places where the Andean habitats mix with Amazonia, and there are lots of species occurring in these narrow elevational bands. Pretty much anywhere you are in Peru, there’s lots there.

What do you look forward to when you go birding in Peru?

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Rufous-crested Coquette near Moyobamba, Peru. Photo by Alfredo Fernandez.

Part of the fun of going down there is the experience of being overwhelmed by what you see. Especially in humid forest on the eastern slope, where you start to get the Amazonian influence. You’ll run into a tanager flock, and just the sight of all these birds running around in the treetops, it’s challenging and exciting at the same time.

But if you pay attention to that flock, and if you can get beyond the gaudiness of the Saffron-crowned Tanagers and the Golden Tanagers, there are all these other dull-colored birds. Don’t pass them over too quickly. There’s this whole other set of birds that, as you gain experience, you may find are more interesting. You know, What’s this foliage-gleaner? What’s this antwren? And you’ll start to get sucked into the whole depth of birds Peru has to offer.

People go gaga over Paradise Tanagers, but I’m more likely to get excited by something like a Gray-mantled Wren. That’s a bird that’s at relatively low density, it has a narrow elevational range, so you have to pay attention. But when you see it, it’s sort of a sign that I’m in a really nice spot here, and there are probably other things here that are worth looking for.

Do you have any practical tips for people traveling to Peru?

Well, first is, you should do it.

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Looking down the valley of the Utcubamba River near Chachapoyas, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

Then, let’s see: Study your field guide. Look at the range maps. There’s information in those maps, so don’t ignore it. Use eBird—it has become a great supplement to anyone traveling in Peru to find out what’s been seen where. Keep your binoculars clean, and have a great time.

Is there a best season?

Peru is so large and so variable, you can’t go wrong. It’s a little more rainy during our northern winter, especially in the southeast of the country, in Amazonia. You can get into more trouble there with roads that time of year. But it doesn’t really matter what season you go.

And how long a trip should a bird watcher plan to take?

I think something like three years is a good time frame to shoot for.

For the record, he was laughing. But at the same time, he also seemed perfectly serious.


Hugh Powell is a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


Read more about the World Birding Rally on the Cornell Lab blog, the ABA blog, Nature Travel Network, and 10,000 Birds.