Why beekeeping in L.A. is a good thing, according to Noah Wilson-Rich

The BeeAccording to Noah Wilson-Rich, author of The Bee: A Natural History, bees exert an overwhelmingly positive influence, despite their bad rap as stinging pests. In his recent op ed in the Los Angeles Times, bees are efficient entities that produce “tangible benefits.” Wilson-Rich draws attention to the peculiar and outmoded 1879 ban on urban beekeeping in L.A.– a ban that has now been reversed– declaring that urban beekeeping in single-family residential zones is legal, and for good reason. He argues:

Bees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy annually in their role as pollinators of more than 100 fruit and vegetable crops. That number balloons to $100 billion globally. I won’t pretend that bees will put a dent in L.A.’s unemployment rate or add significantly to the state’s gross domestic product. But legal beekeeping would spur job creation, allowing skilled professionals to make a living by installing and maintaining beehives for residences, companies and schools.

According to Wilson-Rich, urban beehives are actually more productive than their rural counterpart. Urban beekeeping is already legal in numerous cities, including Washington D.C., Paris and New York, and he questions why Los Angeles, a city where allegedly ten bee colonies exist every square mile, fails to keep up with the valuable and safe practice or urban beekeeping.

Read the full piece in the Los Angeles Times here.

Noah Wilson-Rich is the founder and chief scientific officer of The Best Bees Company, a Boston-based beekeeping service and research organization. He is the author of The Bee: A Natural History.

Bird Fact Friday – Wise Old Birds

From page 6 of The Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife:

There are two main ways to determine longevity in birds with precision. One way is by recording the life span of birds that are born and die in captivity. It tells you the bird’s potential life span, or the greatest age it can achieve under ideal circumstances. The longest reliably recorded avian life was that of a male Andean Condor named Kuzya, which took up residence in the Moscow Zoo as an adult in captivity in 1892 and died 72 years later. An Eagle Owl lived in captivity for 68 years, and a Siberian Crane for 62.

The Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife
Christopher W. Leahy
Illustrations by Gordon Morrison

The quintessential A-Z guide, this is a book that anyone interested in birds will want to have close at hand. First published more than twenty years ago, this highly respected reference volume has been fully revised and updated. It captures the fundamental details as well as the immense fascination of North American bird life in a style that is authoritative, yet fresh, witty, and eminently readable.

Both a practical handbook for amateurs and a handy reference for seasoned birders, it provides accounts of the basic elements of birdlife, as well as a wealth of easy-to-access information on such subjects as bird physiology and anatomy, terms and jargon, name definitions and etymology, and ornithological groupings.

Readers will discover everything from the color of a dipper’s eggs (glossy, white, and unmarked) to the number of species of woodpeckers in the world (216). They will also find more than one hundred of the best-known and most colorful colloquial names for birds, alphabetized and briefly defined. Collective nouns relating to birdlife–for example, “an exaltation of larks”–are included in the “Nouns of Assemblage” section. Biographical sketches of persons responsible for describing or naming a significant number of North American species are also included, as well as handsome and accurate illustrations by Gordon Morrison. And for those who want to go beyond reading about their favorite birds and take to the great outdoors, the book offers still more useful information: descriptive entries on a selection of the best-known birdwatching spots of North America.

Bird Fact Friday – Where do penguins live?

From page 16 of Penguins:

A popular misconception is that all penguins live around the poles. Penguins are actually constrained to the southern hemisphere, but only four species of 18 (or 19, depending on the taxonomy used) form colonies along parts of the Antarctic coastline, remaining at least 1200 km (745 miles) from the South Pole. The entire ‘crested dynasty’ (seven species), live in slightly milder climates, mostly north of the Polar Front, nesting on subantarctic islands. Still others make their homes in Australia, New Zealand, and the Galapagos Islands. Many penguins live in areas so remote that they are rarely observed or photographed.

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide
Tui De Roy, Mark Jones & Julie Cornthwaite

PenguinsPenguins are perhaps the most beloved birds. On land, their behavior appears so humorous and expressive that we can be excused for attributing to them moods and foibles similar to our own. Few realize how complex and mysterious their private lives truly are, as most of their existence takes place far from our prying eyes, hidden beneath the ocean waves. This stunningly illustrated book provides a unique look at these extraordinary creatures and the cutting-edge science that is helping us to better understand them. Featuring more than 400 breathtaking photos, this is the ultimate guide to all 18 species of penguins, including those with retiring personalities or nocturnal habits that tend to be overlooked and rarely photographed.

A book that no bird enthusiast or armchair naturalist should do without, Penguins includes discussions of penguin conservation, informative species profiles, fascinating penguin facts, and tips on where to see penguins in the wild.

• Covers all 18 species of the world’s penguins
• Features more than 400 photos
• Explores the latest science on penguins and their conservation
• Includes informative species profiles and fascinating penguin facts

An interview with Paul Wignall: How life on earth survived mass extinctions

Wignall jacketAs scientists ponder NASA’s recent announcement about the likelihood of water and the possibility of life, or extinct life on Mars, Paul Wignall, professor of palaeoenvironments at the University of Leeds, explores a calamitous period of environmental crisis in Earth’s own history. Wignall has been investigating mass extinctions for more than twenty-five years, a scientific quest that has taken him to dozens of countries around the world. Recently he took the time to answer some questions about his new book, The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions.

So why was this the worst of times and what died?

PW: For 80 million years, there was a whole series of mass extinctions; it was the most intense period of catastrophes the world has ever known. These extinctions included the end-Permian mass extinction, the worst disaster of all time. All life on earth was affected, from plankton in the oceans to forests on land. Coral reefs were repeatedly decimated, and land animals, dominated by primitive reptiles and amphibians, lost huge numbers of species.

What was responsible for all of these catastrophes?

PW: There is a giant smoking gun for every one of these mass extinctions: vast fields of lava called flood basalts. The problem is how to link their eruption to extinction. The key is understanding the role of volcanic gas emissions. Some of these gases, such as carbon dioxide, are very familiar to us today, and their climatic effects, especially global warming, seem to have been severe.

Why did these catastrophes stop happening?

PW: This is the $64,000 dollar question at the core of The Worst of Times. It seems to be because of a supercontinent. For 80 million years, all continents were united into a single entity called Pangea. This world was extremely bad at coping with rapid global warming because the usual feedbacks involved in removing gases from the atmosphere were not functioning very well. Since then, Pangea has broken up into the familiar multi-continent world of today, and flood basalt eruptions have not triggered any more mass extinctions.

What were the survivors like?

PW: Very tough and often very successful. It takes a lot to survive the world’s worst disasters, and many of the common plants and animals of today can trace their origin back to this time. For example, mollusks such as clams and snails were around before this worst of times, and their survival marks the start of their dominance in today’s oceans.

Are there any lessons we can apply to modern day environmental worries?

PW: Yes and no. Rapid global warming features in all of the mass extinctions of the past, which should obviously give us cause for concern. On the plus side, we no longer live in a supercontinent world. Flood basalt eruptions of the recent geological past have triggered short-lived phases of warming, but they have not tipped the world over the brink.

Paul Wignall at Otto Fiord at Cape St Andrew.

Paul Wignall conducting field research at Otto Fiord at Cape St Andrew.

Does this have anything to do with the dinosaurs?

PW: Sort of. Dinosaurs first appear towards the end of this series of calamities and to a great extent they owed their success to the elimination of their competitors, which allowed them to flourish and dominate the land for 140 million years. As we know, their reign was brought to an abrupt halt by a giant meteorite strike – a very different catastrophe to the earlier ones.

What would you say to those who want to know how you can claim knowledge of what happened so long ago?

PW: Geologists have a lot of ways to interpret past worlds. The clues lie in rocks, so mass extinction research first requires finding rocks of the right age. Then, once samples have been collected, analysis of fossils tells us the level where the extinctions happened. This level can then be analyzed to find out what the conditions were like. It’s like taking a sample of mud from the bottom of the ocean and then using it reconstruct environmental conditions. However, not everything gets “fossilized” in ocean sediments. For example, it is very hard to work out what past temperatures were like, and ocean acidity levels are even harder to determine. This leaves plenty of scope for debate, and The Worst of Times looks at some of these on-going scientific clashes.

Read chapter 1 here.

Bird Fact Friday – When is the best time to go bird watching in Botswana?

From page 17 of Birds of Botswana:

The best time to bird watch in Botswana is during the wet summer months. In addition to the 595 bird species currently on record, numerous migrants boost the population. Many of these birds breed during the summer and are conspicuous in their nuptial finery. A birder’s paradise!

Birds of Botswana
Peter Hancock & Ingrid Weiersbye
Sample Entry

BotswanaHere is the ultimate field guide to Botswana’s stunningly diverse birdlife. Covering all 597 species recorded to date, Birds of Botswana features more than 1,200 superb color illustrations, detailed species accounts, seasonality and breeding bars, and a color distribution map for each species. Drawing on the latest regional and national data, the book highlights the best birding areas in Botswana, provides helpful tips on where and when to see key species, and depicts special races and morphs specific to Botswana. This is the first birding guide written by a Botswana-based ornithologist and the only one dedicated specifically to Botswana.

Portable and easy to use, Birds of Botswana is the essential travel companion for anyone visiting this remarkable country.

Bird Fact Friday – Falcons’ need for speed

From page 85 of Hawks from Every Angle:

While in direct pursuit of small birds, their main prey, falcons may reach speeds of more than 80 miles per hour. The Peregrine Falcon can exceed 200 miles per hour in a steep dive!

Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight
Jerry Liguori
Foreword by David A. Sibley

FalconIdentifying hawks in flight is a tricky business. Across North America, tens of thousands of people gather every spring and fall at more than one thousand known hawk migration sites–from New Jersey’s Cape May to California’s Golden Gate. Yet, as many discover, a standard field guide, with its emphasis on plumage, is often of little help in identifying those raptors soaring, gliding, or flapping far, far away.

Hawks from Every Angle takes hawk identification to new heights. It offers a fresh approach that literally looks at the birds from every angle, compares and contrasts deceptively similar species, and provides the pictures (and words) needed for identification in the field. Jerry Liguori pinpoints innovative, field-tested identification traits for each species from the various angles that they are seen.

Featuring 339 striking color photos on 68 color plates and 32 black & white photos, Hawks from Every Angle is unique in presenting a host of meticulously crafted pictures for each of the 19 species it covers in detail–the species most common to migration sites throughout the United States and Canada. All aspects of raptor identification are discussed, including plumage, shape, and flight style traits.

For all birders who follow hawk migration and have found themselves wondering if the raptor in the sky matches the one in the guide, Hawks from Every Angle—distilling an expert’s years of experience for the first time into a comprehensive array of truly useful photos and other pointers for each species–is quite simply a must.

Key Features:

• The essential new approach to identifying hawks in flight
• Innovative, accurate, and field-tested identification traits for each species
• 339 color photos on 68 color plates, 32 black & white photos
• Compares and contrasts species easily confused with one another, and provides the pictures (and words) needed for identification in the field
• Covers in detail 19 species common to migration sites throughout the North America
• Discusses light conditions, how molt can alter the shape of a bird, aberrant plumages, and migration seasons and sites
• User-friendly format

Bird Fact Friday – Why you shouldn’t mess with a tern

From page 98 of The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds:

Terns breed on rocky islands or beaches close to fishing grounds. If you get too close to a nest, they will dive bomb you, occasionally drawing blood. Many beaches have roped off areas to protect terns, but they’re also protecting humans and other animals!

The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds
Richard Crossley
Q&A with Author

Crossley ID GuideThis stunningly illustrated book from acclaimed birder and photographer Richard Crossley revolutionizes field guide design by providing the first real-life approach to identification. Whether you are a beginner, expert, or anywhere in between, The Crossley ID Guide will vastly improve your ability to identify birds.

Unlike other guides, which provide isolated individual photographs or illustrations, this is the first book to feature large, lifelike scenes for each species. These scenes–640 in all–are composed from more than 10,000 of the author’s images showing birds in a wide range of views–near and far, from different angles, in various plumages and behaviors, including flight, and in the habitat in which they live. These beautiful compositions show how a bird’s appearance changes with distance, and give equal emphasis to characteristics experts use to identify birds: size, structure and shape, behavior, probability, and color. This is the first book to convey all of these features visually–in a single image–and to reinforce them with accurate, concise text. Each scene provides a wealth of detailed visual information that invites and rewards careful study, but the most important identification features can be grasped instantly by anyone.

By making identification easier, more accurate, and more fun than ever before, The Crossley ID Guide will completely redefine how its users look at birds. Essential for all birders, it also promises to make new birders of many people who have despaired of using traditional guides.

  • This book changes field guide design to make you a better birder
  • A picture says a thousand words. The most comprehensive guide: 640 stunning scenes created from 10,000 of the author’s photographs
  • Reality birding. Lifelike in-focus scenes show birds in their habitats, from near and far, and in all plumages and behaviors
  • Teaching and reference. The first book to accurately portray all the key identification characteristics: size, shape, behavior, probability, and color
  • Practice makes perfect. An interactive learning experience to sharpen and test field identification skills
  • Bird like the experts. The first book to simplify birding and help you understand how to bird like the best
  • An interactive website–www.crossleybirds.com–includes expanded captions for the plates and species updates

Bird Fact Friday – How are Magpie Geese egalitarian?

From page 26 of Birds & Animals of Australia’s Top End:

Magpie Geese are most common around Darwin and on the floodplains of Kakadu NP. They are very social, usually seen in groups from just a few birds up to flocks of thousands grazing around the margins of billabongs and lagoons. After the wet-season the geese breed, usually in family groups of three birds with one male and two females. The three birds share the responsibilities of building the nest, incubating the eggs, and raising the chicks equally.

Birds & Animals of Australia’s Top End
Nick Leseberg & Iain Campbell
Sample Entry

Birds & Animals of Australia's Top EndOne of the most amazing and accessible wildlife-watching destinations on earth, the “Top End” of Australia’s Northern Territory is home to incredible birds and animals—from gaudy Red-collared Lorikeets to sinister Estuarine Crocodiles and raucous Black Flying-foxes. With this lavishly illustrated photographic field guide, you will be able to identify the most common creatures and learn about their fascinating biology—from how Agile Wallaby mothers can pause their pregnancies to why Giant Frogs spend half the year buried underground in waterproof cocoons.

The Top End stretches from the tropical city of Darwin in the north, to the savannas of Mataranka in the south, and southwest across the vast Victoria River escarpments to the Western Australian border. The region includes some of Australia’s most popular and impressive tourist destinations, such as Kakadu, Litchfield, Nitmiluk, and Gregory national parks, and is visited by more than two hundred thousand tourists every year.

An essential field guide for anyone visiting the Top End, this book will vastly enhance your appreciation of the region’s remarkable wildlife.

  • Features hundreds of stunning color photographs
  • Includes concise information on identification and preferred habitat for each species
  • Provides a summary of each species’ life history, including interesting habits, and suggestions on where to see it
  • Offers valuable tips on searching for wildlife in the Top End
  • An essential guide for visitors to the Top End, from Darwin south to Katherine and Kununurra, including Kakadu, Litchfield, Nitmiluk and Gregory national parks


Bird Fact Friday – Rose-Crowned Fruit Dove

From the Pigeons and Doves section of Birds of Australia:

Rose Crowned Fruit Dove

© Birds of Australia, Pg. 69

The Rose-crowned Fruit Dove can be found in tropical areas, particularly within monsoon vine forests. It spends its time in the canopy of fruiting trees where it makes soft cooing calls. Despite it’s beautiful plumage, it’s hard to spot because of it’s size, it’s ability to blend in, and the fact that it tends to stay in one place for long stretches of time.

Birds of Australia: A Photographic Guide
Iain Campbell, Sam Woods & Nick Leseberg
Photography by Geoff Jones
Sample Entry

k10338Australia is home to a spectacular diversity of birdlife, from parrots and penguins to emus and vibrant passerines. Birds of Australia covers all 714 species of resident birds and regularly occurring migrants and features more than 1,100 stunning color photographs, including many photos of subspecies and plumage variations never before seen in a field guide. Detailed facing-page species accounts describe key identification features such as size, plumage, distribution, behavior, and voice. This one-of-a-kind guide also provides extensive habitat descriptions with a large number of accompanying photos. The text relies on the very latest IOC taxonomy and the distribution maps incorporate the most current mapping data, making this the most up-to-date guide to Australian birds.
• Covers all 714 species of resident birds and regularly occurring migrants
• Features more than 1,100 stunning color photos
• Includes facing-page species accounts, habitat descriptions, and distribution maps
• The ideal photographic guide for beginners and seasoned birders alike

Weekly Wanderlust: Africa

photo 4Africa has long been an object of fascination for travelers. When Herodotus wrote his Histories, the Pyramids and burial complex at Giza were already ancient, extraordinary monuments to the power and engineering capabilities of Egypt in the age of the Pharaohs. The natural wonders of the continent are no less impressive: thousands travel every year to attempt the challenging ascent of snow-capped, volcanic Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, at nearly 6000 meters in elevation the highest in Africa. Separating Zambia and Zimbabwe, the magnificent Victoria Falls are the largest in the world, more than double the height of Niagara, and over a mile in width. But perhaps the greatest natural wonder of Africa is its wildlife, which includes many rare and endangered species. The name Africa conjures visions of lions, giraffes, gorillas, rhinoceros, elephants and countless other beautiful animals known to most only through the world’s zoos. For many, a safari through the Serengeti in Tanzania is the vacation of their dreams.

The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals book jacket The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals is the essential companion for anyone going on safari or interested in African mammals—no other field guide covers the whole continent in a portable format. Now fully revised and updated, it covers all known species of African land mammals and features 780 stunning color illustrations. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, distribution, habitat, food, behavior, adaptations, and conservation status. This new edition includes many newly recognized species, and classification has been fully updated.
Birds of Botswana book jacket Covering all 597 species recorded to date, Birds of Botswana features more than 1,200 superb color illustrations, detailed species accounts, seasonality and breeding bars, and a color distribution map for each species. Drawing on the latest regional and national data, the book highlights the best birding areas in Botswana, provides helpful tips on where and when to see key species, and depicts special races and morphs specific to Botswana. This is the first birding guide written by a Botswana-based ornithologist and the only one dedicated specifically to Botswana.
Animals of the Serengeti book jacket Containing 146 stunning color photos, Animals of the Serengeti is a remarkable look at the mammals and reptiles most likely to be encountered in the world-famous Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. With an eye-catching layout, accessible text, and easy-to-use format, this detailed photographic guide includes 89 species of mammal and reptile. Useful “Top Tips”—shared by local Tanzanian guides that work in the region—provide visitors with insights into behavioral habits and how to locate specific animals. Filled with vivid anecdotes, Animals of the Serengeti will enable any safari traveler to identify the area’s wildlife with ease.

Bird Fact Friday – Passenger Pigeons

From the appendix of The Passenger Pigeon:

The Passenger Pigeon had a typical high-speed wing, a feature shared with other fast-flying birds such as the Peregrine Falcon, in which the wings are long and narrow. The Passenger Pigeon was one of the fastest-flying birds.

The Passenger Pigeon
Errol Fuller

k10337At the start of the nineteenth century, Passenger Pigeons were perhaps the most abundant birds on the planet, numbering literally in the billions. The flocks were so large and so dense that they blackened the skies, even blotting out the sun for days at a stretch. Yet by the end of the century, the most common bird in North America had vanished from the wild. In 1914, the last known representative of her species, Martha, died in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo.

This stunningly illustrated book tells the astonishing story of North America’s Passenger Pigeon, a bird species that—like the Tyrannosaur, the Mammoth, and the Dodo—has become one of the great icons of extinction. Errol Fuller describes how these fast, agile, and handsomely plumaged birds were immortalized by the ornithologist and painter John James Audubon, and captured the imagination of writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, and Mark Twain. He shows how widespread deforestation, the demand for cheap and plentiful pigeon meat, and the indiscriminate killing of Passenger Pigeons for sport led to their catastrophic decline. Fuller provides an evocative memorial to a bird species that was once so important to the ecology of North America, and reminds us of just how fragile the natural world can be.

Published in the centennial year of Martha’s death, The Passenger Pigeon features rare archival images as well as haunting photos of live birds.

Happy Birthday to Nikola Tesla

j9941Nikola Tesla was born on this day in 1856. Here are 10 facts from Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson:

1. Tesla has two meanings in Serbian: it can refer to a small ax called an adze or to a person with protruding teeth, a common characteristic of people in Nikola Tesla’s family.

2. The night Tesla was born there was a severe thunderstorm. The fearful midwife said, “He’ll be a child of the storm.” His mother responded, “No, of light.”

3. Initially Tesla wanted to be a teacher, but he switched to engineering in his second year at Joanneum Polytechnic School in order to work on building a spark-free motor.

4. One of his favorite hobbies was card-playing and gambling. “To sit down to a game of cards, was for me the quintessence of pleasure.”

5. When Tesla came to New York for the first time after living in Prague, Budapest, and Paris, he was shocked by the crudeness and vulgarity of Americans.

6. In 1886, Tesla was abandoned by his business partners and could not find work—he took a job digging ditches to get by. A patent he filed that year for thermomagnetic motor helped him get back on his feet.

7. In April of 1887, he formed the Tesla Electric Company with his two business partners, Alfred S. Brown and Charles F. Peck. His first lab was located in New York’s financial district.

8. Mark Twain was a good friend of Tesla’s.

9. Tesla suffered from periodic bouts of depression. He treated it by administering electroshock therapy to himself.

10. Tesla told a reporter that he did not want to marry because he thought it would compromise his work. He did not have any known relationships with women.

If you would like to learn more, you can preview the introduction of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age.