Bird Fact Friday: the Baltimore Oriole (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Baltimore Oriole, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • This bird is melodious, canopy-dwelling, and strikingly plumaged.
  • They are often heard in the spring in Eastern parks and backyards, or high in deciduous trees in open woodlands and edges.
  • They are medium-sized songbirds, ranging from yellow-orange to a brilliant deep orange, with gray or black heads and backs, wing bars, and long curved bills.
  • These acrobatic feeders prefer fruit, flowers, and insects. They also may be attracted to feeders with cut oranges and bananas.
  • Baltimore Orioles live in sock-like hanging nests, which are woven over a period of a week or two by the female, often in an American Elm, maple, or cottonwood tree.
  • They have a lifespan of up to 12 years.
  • Population: 12 million and declining.

Have you seen (or heard) a Baltimore Oriole?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Insect of the Week: Pipiza

Adapted from page 308 of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America:

Pipiza are small black syrphids that vary from having all black abdomens to having paired yellow spots on tergite 2 and sometimes also tergite 3. They can be mistaken for Heringia and Trichopsomyia and so should be checked for a bare anterior anepisternum and katepimeron. Th ere are 52 world species; 11 in the Nearctic and seven from the northeast.

A recent revision in Europe (Vujić et al. 2013) turned much of the original taxonomy on its head and illustrated how difficult this group is. Despite recent work by Coovert (1996) in the Nearctic, taxonomic concepts need to be reevaluated incorporating genetic data. Many problems with current concepts exist but cannot be solved without complete revision. We thus follow Coovert here with the caveat that changes are needed.

Pipiza species are often found flying through herbaceous vegetation or around shrubs. Known larvae are predators of aphids and phylloxera (mostly gall-making or leaf-rolling aphids that create waxy secretions). Characters illustrated below generally work, but male genitalia should be checked for confirmation.

Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America
By Jeffrey H. Skevington, Michelle M. Locke, Andrew D. Young, Kevin Moran, William J. Crins, and Stephen A. Marshall

This is the first comprehensive field guide to the flower flies (also known as hover flies) of northeastern North America. Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified. This handy and informative guide teaches you how.

With more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, this guide covers all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more.

Summarizing the current scientific understanding of our flower fly fauna, this is an indispensable resource for anyone, amateur naturalist or scientist, interested in discovering the beauty of these insect.

Should We Celebrate Mother’s Day Every Week?

Doepke, Zilibotti, Love, Money, and Parenting book coverThe modern Mother’s Day holiday in the United States was first celebrated in 1908 in a time of strictly separated gender roles. While some single women were working for pay, married women were usually out of the labor force. Indeed, so called “marriage bars” formally prohibited the employment of married women in many occupations. With much of paid work reserved for married men, married women had to shoulder most of the burden of unpaid work, including caring for children, on their own.

No wonder, then, that there was a perceived need at a time for an occasion to specifically celebrate mothers. When mothers were working without pay and little other formal or informal recognition, a dedicated holiday provided at least an occasional opportunity to honor mothers’ profound contributions to their families and society at large.

But gender roles have evolved a long way since 1908. Bars against women’s employment in the labor market were gradually lifted, and after World War II many married women, including mothers, joined the labor force. Today, a large majority of mothers combines raising children with working for pay.

Conversely, fathers have become more involved in childcare. Until the 1970s, men’s participation in child-rearing was minimal, but today fathers take an increasingly active role in caring for their children. Fathers now spend considerably more time with their children and are less likely to be found in the bar or on the golf course compared to earlier generations.

These changes might suggest that today, there is less need for a mothers-only holiday. In the interest of gender equality, might it be time to abandon the gender-specific celebrations of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of the single, inclusive “Parents’ Day”?

A closer look at the numbers suggests that, in fact, we need just the opposite – namely a Mother’s Day every week.

While differences in gender roles have become smaller over time, women continue to do a lot more childcare than men, not just in the United States, but across all economically advanced economies. Data from the OECD (a club of mostly rich countries) shows that women still do on average two-thirds of unpaid work in the economy, of which childcare is a major component. Gender equality in this dimension is almost in reach in Sweden, where women do 56 percent of unpaid work, compared to 63 percent in the United States. East Asian countries have the longest way to go: in Japan and Korea women still do more than 80 percent of unpaid work.

While some of these differences reflect that men spend more time working for pay, that is only part of the story. Women do the majority of housework and childcare even among couples where both spouses are working full time. As a result, women end up with less free time: across all OECD countries, women enjoy less leisure than men do.

In the United States, the change in gender roles actually has slowed in recent decades. Women’s labor force participation rose quickly from the 1970s to the 1990s but has stalled since, and is now lower than in many European countries.

The nature of motherhood has also been affected by a transformation in the nature of parenting in recent decades. We describe in our book Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids how sharply rising inequality has raised the stakes in parenting starting in the 1980s. While in the 1960s and 1970s obtaining a high-school degree came with the expectation of a secure future as members of the middle class, after decades of stagnation in median earnings in the economy by now only a college degree can provide the same level of security.

American parents responded to this changed environment by adopting more time-intensive parenting styles geared at helping their children succeed in a harsh economic climate. Typical couples now spend twice as much time on caring for their children than what was typical in the 1970s. Activities aimed at supporting children’s educational achievement, such as helping them with homework, rose the fastest.

This trend towards intensive parenting has contributed to a persistent gap in the parenting engagement of mothers and fathers. As parenting became more intense, fathers’ contribution went from very little to substantial. But in absolute terms, mothers increased their time spent on parenting even faster. As a result, mothers now have a full five hours less of leisure time per week compared to the 1970s.

Given these numbers, there are good reasons to use this Mother’s Day not just for thanking mothers for everything they do for their children and their families, but also to consider what can be done for the long-run trend toward more gender equality to resume. American women already get more education and are substantially more likely to graduate from college than men. But women will not be able to make full use of these skills in the labor market and have equal career opportunities until fathers carry a fair share of the load of parenting.

What would help, therefore, is a Mother’s Day every week –  reshuffling one-seventh of mothers’ weekly childcare duties to fathers would still fall well short of equality, but it would be a good start toward closing the gap.

Matthias Doepke is professor of economics at Northwestern University. Fabrizio Zilibotti is the Tuntex Professor of International and Development Economics at Yale University. They are the coauthors of Love, Money, and Parenting.

Bird Fact Friday – the Indigo Bunting (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Indigo Bunting, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • This bird is vocal, edge-dwelling and active
  • They are common in summer in the East and the Southwest in brushy edges and fields
  • They are small, short-tailed, and sturdy.
  • Recognizable by their stout conical bill; males are bright blue, females brown.
  • These birds eat insects, seeds, and berries.
  • They are frequently found in concealed nest sites close to the ground.
  • They remain solitary in breeding season but may flock in migration.
  • They have a lifespan of up to 8 years.
  • Population: 28 million and decreasing.

Have you seen (or heard) a Barred Owl?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Celebrating Europe Day and our European Office

“Europe Day is commemorated on May 9th by the European Union in recognition of the peace and prosperity it has brought to the region since its inception.

This offers a perfect opportunity to celebrate our European Office, opened just outside Oxford twenty years ago.  Starting with three people in an attic office above a dancewear shop, we quickly outgrew the space.  Since then we have gone from strength to strength and there are now eighteen in our current more spacious offices, though we are threatening to outgrow this too, very soon.  The team includes commissioning editors in the humanities, sciences and social sciences, publicity, marketing, international rights, and most recently the publisher for PUP Audio.

We are a key part of PUP’s global reach, offering the ability to achieve excellent publicity coverage throughout Europe, acquiring editors who can capitalise on our location to build up their European networks and a superb international translation rights team. On May 9th we wish the European office a happy twentieth birthday. Here’s to the next twenty years.”—Caroline Priday

 

Insect of the Week: Palpadas

Adapted from pages 120-121 of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America

Palpadas are a distinctive New World genus of flies, generally resembling Eristalis, but with a characteristic color pattern consistent throughout most of the species in the genus. The larvae are filter feeders in aquatic environments. There are 83 valid species, only four of which make it into our area.

The Palpada vinetorum is typically 10-13.5mm in length, with a pollinose face and a yellow medial stripe. Their wings are partly microtrichose apically. These flies are fairly common, with flight times in early June through mid-October. Like other Palpada species in our area, this species may be migratory. Flowers visited include Baccharis, Gymnosperma, Lobularia, Miconia, Serjania, and Solidago.

Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America
By Jeffrey H. Skevington, Michelle M. Locke, Andrew D. Young, Kevin Moran, William J. Crins, and Stephen A. Marshall

This is the first comprehensive field guide to the flower flies (also known as hover flies) of northeastern North America. Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified. This handy and informative guide teaches you how.

With more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, this guide covers all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more.

Summarizing the current scientific understanding of our flower fly fauna, this is an indispensable resource for anyone, amateur naturalist or scientist, interested in discovering the beauty of these insect.

Rachel McCleary and Robert Barro on The Wealth of Religions: The Political Economy of Believing and Belonging

mcclearyWhich countries grow faster economically—those with strong beliefs in heaven and hell or those with weak beliefs in them? Does religious participation matter? Why do some countries experience secularization while others are religiously vibrant? In The Wealth of Religions, Rachel McCleary and Robert Barro draw on their long record of pioneering research to examine these and many other aspects of the economics of religion. Places with firm beliefs in heaven and hell measured relative to the time spent in religious activities tend to be more productive and experience faster growth. Going further, there are two directions of causation: religiosity influences economic performance and economic development affects religiosity. Dimensions of economic development—such as urbanization, education, health, and fertility—matter too, interacting differently with religiosity. State regulation and subsidization of religion also play a role. Timely and incisive, The Wealth of Religions provides fresh insights into the vital interplay between religion, markets, and economic development.

How did you come to write the book?

Robert is an economist and Rachel is a moral philosopher. In thinking about religion, we took as our starting point the work of Adam Smith, the founder of economics, who believed that moral values and organized religion were key forces in political economy and society. Nevertheless, social scientists—particularly economists and political scientists—have tended to underestimate the importance of religion, particularly the role of beliefs and values. We think that Adam Smith was right. Beliefs and religiosity are central determinants of which societies prosper and which deteriorate.

What does your book bring to the conversation on the economics of religion that hasn’t been discussed before?

Another contribution to the study of religion is bringing together the ideas of Adam Smith with those of the German sociologist Max Weber. Religious beliefs and values motivate people to behave in certain ways. This view, as we discuss in our book, is integral to forms of Protestantism with its emphasis on unmediated, individual responsibility for one’s salvation. We bring a quantitative approach to the relationship between beliefs, values, and economic behavior. In so doing, we examine the role of religious beliefs across world religions and countries. Our research has an international perspective with a focus on believing and belonging in the major religions of the world.

We focus on the role of religious beliefs and belonging to organized religions in the economic, political, and social development of nations and individuals. We are filling an important gap in the literature on religion by providing an international perspective. Much of the work in the sociology of religion is focused on local or regional patterns of religiosity. The sociology of religion has a strong focus on the United States, centering research around assumptions about religious patterns and organizations in the United States. In our research, we apply economic analysis to world religions and across countries.

How does religion fit into the story of developing nations? Does religious fervor help or hinder efforts to increase economic development?

To better understand the relationship between religion and economic growth, we need to look at a two-way causation. Religiosity has a two-way interaction with political economy. With religion viewed as the dependent variable, a central question is how economic development and political institutions affect religious participation and beliefs. There is a clear overall pattern whereby economic development associates with decreasing religiosity. However, there is no evidence that greater education diminishes religious beliefs.

Looking at the other direction of causation with religion as the independent variable, we study the effects of religion on economic, social, and political behavior. A key issue is how religiousness affects individual traits such as diligence, honesty, thrift, and integrity, thereby influencing productivity and economic performance. Another channel involves religion’s effects on literacy and education (human capital) more broadly. For example, there is evidence that Protestantism is more favorable than Catholicism as an influence on education and work ethic.

We find that social capital and cultural aspects of religion—communal services, rituals, religious schools—are significant mainly to the extent that they influence beliefs and, hence, behavior. For given beliefs, more time spent on communal activities would tend to be an economic drag for the believer as well as the entire community. Moreover, the costs of formal religion include the time spent by adherents and religious officials on religious activities. In addition, time and money are expended on buildings, sacred objects, and so on. Our general view, based on empirical evidence, is that believing relative to belonging (attending) is the main channel through which religion matters for economic and other social outcomes.

Can religion help to explain why some nations develop faster than others?

We found evidence that economic growth was stimulated when religious beliefs were high compared to religious participation. This pattern applied, for example, to Japan and parts of Western Europe. An overall expansion of religiousness—greater beliefs accompanied by the typically associated attendance at formal religious services—was not strongly related to growth. Religiously sponsored laws and regulations hindered economic growth in some places, notably in Muslim countries, which typically did not have favorable institutions with respect to corporations, credit markets and insurance, and inheritance.

How did the conflict between Protestantism and the Catholic Church affect economic development in early modern Europe? Do we still see the impact of that today?

As Max Weber argued, the rise of Protestantism beginning with the Reformation in the 1500s enhanced work ethic and the accumulation of human capital and, thereby, contributed to the industrial revolution. We found evidence that this mechanism still operated in Western Europe in the modern era.

Competition increases the quality of services provided by different religions. The introduction of Protestantism into Western Europe challenged the monopolistic status of the Roman Catholic Church, pressuring that organization to respond in two ways. First, by lowering the nature and pricing of religious goods, the Catholic Church sought to retain believers. Second, the Catholic Church promoted those aspects of its theology that distinguished it from other religions.

We discuss in our book how the beatification of saints is a unique mechanism of the Catholic Church. With the rise of Evangelical faiths, religious competition became particularly strong in Latin America, vernacularly referred to as “The Catholic continent,” where Catholicism had enjoyed a monopoly since the region was colonized by Spain in the 1400s. Today, in regions of the world where competition with types of Protestantism is increasing, the beatification of local saints revives religious fervor and deters adherents from converting to types of Protestantism.

Is religious fervor impacted by fluctuations in the economy? If so, how?

There is evidence that adverse economic shocks and natural disasters tend to increase the demand for religion. This pattern has been observed, for example, for earthquakes in Italy, flood-related declines in agricultural harvests in Egypt, declines in incomes during the Asian Financial crisis, and adverse effects from a poorly designed land reform in Indonesia. In the other direction, increased economic development—particularly movements away from agriculture and toward urbanization—tend to lower the demand for religion. However, it is wrong to conclude that sustained economic growth causes religion to disappear.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?

We hope our readers will appreciate the possibilities of interdisciplinary research on a variety of religion topics. The application of economic ideas to religion broadens our understanding of ways in which beliefs and practices influence individual and group behavior.

We find that social capital and cultural aspects of religion—communal services, rituals, religious schools—are significant mainly to the extent that they influence beliefs and, hence, behavior. For given beliefs, more time spent on communal activities tend to be an economic drag for the believer as well as the entire community. The costs of formal religion include the time spent by adherents and religious officials on religious activities and the time and money expended on buildings, sacred objects, and so on. Our general view, based on empirical evidence, is that believing relative to belonging (attending) is the main channel through which religion matters for economic and other social outcomes.

Rachel M. McCleary is lecturer in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. Her books include The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of ReligionRobert J. Barro is the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard. His books include Education Matters: Global Schooling Gains from the 19th to the 21st Century and Economic Growth. They both live in Massachusetts.

Further Reading on Biodiversity & Extinction

This morning, the UN published an extensive report on the decline of biodiversity around the globe, and how this will impact humanity. The report, which was prepared by thousands of experts and included information from thousands of scientific studies, found that native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. 

We’ve put together a reading list for anyone interested in better understanding biodiversity, extinction, and what needs to be done down to bring our planet back from the brink: 

The Last Butterflies: A Scientist’s Quest to Save a Rare and Vanishing Creature
By Nick Haddad

A first-hand account of studying and striving to save the world’s rarest butterflies that details how global changes threaten their existence, and how we can begin to bring them back from near-extinction. 

 

The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild
By Thomas D. Seeley

A manifesto for studying the lives of wild honey bees as a means of saving one of the natural world’s most important pollinators. 

The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters
By Sean Carroll

How does nature produce the right numbers of zebras and lions on the African savanna, or fish in the ocean? In The Serengeti Rules, Sean B. Carroll shows how answers to questions like these matter for our health and the health of the planet on which we depend.

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction
By Beth Shapiro

In How to Clone a Mammoth, evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro investigates the technical, ethical, and ecological challenges in bringing extinct species back, and how advances in these areas will redefine conservation. 

 

The New Ecology: Rethinking a Science for the Anthropocene
By Oswald J. Schmitz

Our species is single-handedly transforming the entire planet to suit its own needs. Because of this, ecologists have begun to think differently about the interdependence of humans and the natural world. This concise and accessible book provides the best available introduction to what this new ecology is really all about. 

 

Ecological Forecasting 
By Michael C. Dietze 

In Ecological Forecasting, Michael C. Dietze presents a new way of doing ecology that uses a closer connection between data and models to help project our current understanding of ecological processes into new places and times. 

 

Bird Fact Friday: the Barred Owl (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Barred Owl, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • This owl is large, sedentary, and dark-eyed. It is also loudly vocal.
  • Originally an Eastern bird, this owl has spread to the Pacific Northwest, sometimes competing with Spotted Owls.
  • They are mottled brown, without ear tufts, and have short, rounded tails.
  • Barred Owls are often found perched in large trees in mature mixed forests, often near water. These areas are more likely to have cavities for nesting and a diverse range of prey, especially small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates.
  • Pairs likely mate for life, and use largely unmodified cavities for nesting.
  • They are sometimes predated by Great-horned Owls
  • They have a lifespan of up to 24 years.
  • Population: 3 million and increasing.

Have you seen (or heard) a Barred Owl?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Daniel Kennefick on No Shadow of a Doubt

In 1919, British scientists led extraordinary expeditions to Brazil and Africa to test Albert Einstein’s revolutionary new theory of general relativity in what became the century’s most celebrated scientific experiment. The result ushered in a new era and made Einstein a global celebrity by confirming his dramatic prediction that the path of light rays would be bent by gravity. Today, Einstein’s theory is scientific fact. Yet the effort to “weigh light” by measuring the gravitational deflection of starlight during the May 29, 1919, solar eclipse has become clouded by myth and skepticism. In No Shadow of a Doubt, Daniel Kennefick provides definitive answers by offering the most comprehensive and authoritative account of how expedition scientists overcame war, bad weather, and equipment problems to make the experiment a triumphant success.

What compelled you to write this book?

The story of the 1919 eclipse is one of the most dramatic and significant in the history of science, and one that I’ve always found fascinating. What compelled me to research it closely was my puzzlement about the criticisms of Eddington which I heard repeated more and more, especially while working on volume 9 the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, which covered Einstein’s life during the year 1919. I found the complaints about Eddington’s supposed bias in favor of Einstein unconvincing, especially the claim that Eddington’s pacifism was responsible for his desire to prove Einstein right. I thought that it was time someone looked closely at the actual data analysis decisions, using original documents preserved in the archives. I decided to write the book because I found the complete story of the eclipse which I put together to be fascinating and the centenary seemed like a perfect occasion to tell that story. I also felt that there was a danger that important work on the 1919 eclipse was being overlooked. As part of my research I learned that a re-analysis of the photographic plates taken in 1919 was conducted in 1978 by English astronomers at the Royal Greenwich Observatory using modern plate-measuring equipment and computers. They completely vindicated the work of the original team, and yet their re-analysis had gone totally unrecognized and unread. It was even misrepresented in the one book which did allude to it, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. So I felt it was important to restore some balance to the story of what happened in 1919.

You say that the 1919 solar eclipse is perhaps one of the most important eclipses in history, but there are critics who contend that Arthur Eddington placed too much emphasis on the eclipse proving Einstein’s theory of relativity. Why do you think that’s a weak counter-argument?

The problem here is that the modern critics distort the story by their focus on just one participant, the famous astrophysicist Eddington. Incidentally, he was known to his family by his middle name Stanley; he never went by Arthur. Since Eddington was only involved in this one test of general relativity, it is easy to make it seem that there has been too much emphasis on the 1919 eclipse test. But Eddington himself never regarded confirmation of the theory as depending upon this one test. It’s just that modern commentary rarely talks about anything beyond Eddington’s role, which doesn’t even tell the complete story of this one test. There were two expeditions in 1919, and Eddington was only involved in one of them. The other one, organized by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich to Sobral in Brazil, obtained the most important data.

Having said all that, there is a sense in which the 1919 test was of very special importance. There were only three tests of Einstein’s new theory of gravity that were possible to do a century ago. One of these—the explanation of the perihelion shift of Mercury—was impressive, but since Einstein knew the result his theory had to “predict” it didn’t count as a prediction in the usual sense. The other test was the solar redshift measurements, but this confirms only the principle of equivalence and is not strictly speaking a test of general relativity as such. The prediction that light is deflected when it passes through the gravitational field of the Sun was a test of the complete theory that Einstein could not know the answer to beforehand. The 1919 expeditions were the first time that this observation had ever been successfully made. The agreement achieved was very dramatic and the fact that the experiment could not be repeated until the next suitable eclipse, in 1922, added even more drama to the occasion. So the truth is that the 1919 expedition was a special occasion in the history of science.

Can you talk a bit about the circumstances surrounding the Principe and Brazil expeditions that made this experiment so significant?

There were three circumstances that made this eclipse extraordinary. The first is that the eclipse took place on a day, May 29th, when the Sun is in the star field of the Hyades cluster. This is the closest star cluster to the Earth and there is no other place on the ecliptic (the Sun’s path through the sky) with so many bright stars so close together. Thus, an eclipse taking place on that day is perfectly suited to performing this experiment. Such an eclipse will next occur in 2310, so the expedition planners realized that it was especially important to try the experiment in 1919. Unfortunately, as late as November 1918, it looked unlikely that ships could be found to carry the teams to their preferred stations on the island of Principe and in northeastern Brazil. The reason for the suspension of shipping was World War I which fortunately ended abruptly later that same month. Had the war lasted any longer, it is unlikely that the expeditions could have departed. Even as it was a civil war broke out in Portugal, a key stop on their route, before their departure, and Eddington had no idea which ship would take him to Principe when he left England in March 1919.

This second circumstance, that of a war torn world, very nearly scuppered the planning for the expeditions, but undoubtedly helped make the team so famous when they returned successfully. The triumph of science over the tribulations of history really caught the public imagination. Certainly an aspect of this public response was that the expedition was mounted from England in order to test, and confirm, the theory of a German scientist, Albert Einstein, so it had an additional aura of reconciliation about it, at a time when postwar feelings were very bitter.

A third favorable circumstance was the relevant expertise of the expeditions’ personnel, especially the director of the Greenwich Observatory, Frank Watson Dyson. Einstein’s prediction was that the presence of the Sun near stars would cause tiny shifts in their positions, because the Sun’s gravity would deflect the starlight on its way to the Earth. Dyson and Eddington, but especially Dyson, were experts in this kind of differential astrometry, the measurement of small shifts in star positions. They had spent years (decades, in Dyson’s case) measuring the proper motion and the parallax of stars, which depends on the measurement of similar small star shifts. Thus by good fortune this special opportunity to test Einstein’s opportunity was undertaken by the ideal team who were able to overcome all obstacles, including bad weather and difficulties with instrumentation.

Will we ever see a solar eclipse quite like this in our lifetime?

No, we won’t. Obviously an eclipse with this special star field won’t occur again for nearly two centuries. But in addition, the advance of technology means that there are few important scientific tasks which require an eclipse. Radio telescopes do not require a solar eclipse to test Einstein’s light deflection prediction. These instruments can do the test far more accurately than can be done with optical telescopes at an eclipse. But in another sense, replicating the drama of 1919 is open to anyone. Experiments at the recent 2017 eclipse have shown that a modern amateur astronomer can do the experiment alone to an accuracy better than what was achievable in 1919. Another total solar eclipse will cross America in 2024 and we can hope that other enthusiasts will study the eclipse then. If enough people do the experiment and are able to pool their data, they could achieve a result far more accurate than any ever achieved by professional astronomers at an eclipse. We are living at a moment in history in which the means to do this experiment are within the reach of many people.

What do you hope that readers will take away from this book?

What first made me skeptical of Eddington’s modern critics was their claim that the expedition’s work was influenced by Eddington’s bias in favor of General Relativity as well as his militant pacifism. I found these arguments unpersuasive because I knew that Eddington’s views were highly unusual. Other astronomers of the period were highly skeptical of, or even hostile towards, general relativity. War resisters like Eddington (and Einstein) were a despised minority during World War I. It didn’t make sense that this man could have single-handedly persuaded everyone involved to share his peculiar biases. Sure enough, careful reading of the documents in the archives, including letters and data analysis notes, made it clear that the decisions which were being criticized today weren’t even taken by Eddington but by others in the expedition, especially Dyson. Both Eddington and Dyson made it clear in their letters that Dyson was skeptical of Einstein’s theory to begin with. As I puzzled through Dyson’s notes, I began to unravel the reasoning behind his decision, and I found that it made a lot more sense than did the arguments of some of the modern critics. Furthermore, his reasoning is completely vindicated by the results of the 1978 re-analysis. But I also came to realize that Dyson’s decision depended heavily on input from his assistant, Charles Davidson, and that the success of the expedition was made possible by the multinational Astrographic project, which Dyson worked on and which two of the telescope lenses they used were constructed for. I realized I needed to learn about the man who made those lenses, a fellow Irishman called Howard Grubb, and about the institutional framework which was used to organize the expeditions at a very difficult time. The minutes of the meetings of that Joint Permanent Eclipse Committee and the letters written home to his mother and sister by Eddington made the expeditions come alive for me, and I wanted to share that with other readers. I hope they come away, as I did, with a conviction that the history of science cannot be told fully without understanding the role of all the scientists involved, rather than just one or two famous names. Part of the charm of the story is the different characters who contributed to doing something extraordinarily challenging under impossibly difficult circumstances.

Daniel Kennefick is associate professor of physics at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He is the author of Traveling at the Speed of Thought: Einstein and the Quest for Gravitational Waves and a coauthor of An Einstein Encyclopedia (both Princeton).