Wednesday, June 26, 2013

eBird: Citizen Science at its Best

Do you like looking at birds? Do you already keep bird logs on what species you see on your hikes/walks/kayaking/driving adventures (nerd)? Interested in a way to easily keep records of bird species you see without dealing with excel formating nightmares and hardware crashes? Want to know what bird species are in your area at a specific time of year? Want to get updates on when rare species are seen in your area? Want interactive tools to look at recent sightings of birds in your area? Does the sound of tracking which species you have seen over time give you chills down your spin? Want to help out ornithologists (bird scientists!) study migration patterns, biodiversity, vagrant species, conservation of threatened species, and so much more?

If any of those ring a 'yes' from your mouth... why haven't you checked out eBird yet? If you have, I commend you on your service.

Developed in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, eBird in a free, online, interactive tool that allows you to record the birds you see around the globe, keep track of you many, many bird lists, explore dynamic maps and graphs, share your sightings and contribute to science and conservation all in one place.
You are able to explore interactive maps and charts to look at real-time recent sightings, what birds to expect at certain times of year, and range maps based on actual sitings people like you and I (O.K. and scientists) submit.
Range graphs allow you to input a desired species and zoom in and out on a "google-map" style interface. The darker the purple, the more sightings in that area.
As you zoom in, you can also view checklists of individual sites where the species was seen. Many sites are pre-determined "birding hotspots" but you can also create custom sites for your individual use. Red means recent sightings; blue means sitings in the past.
Bar graphs allow you to see which bird species (and the frequency!) are sited in your area throughout the year. Have a camping trip to California and have no freaking clue what you might see? Check out eBird before you go and study up on your west coast birds!
Another great feature is it tracks your sited species and checklists. No more having to keep hard copies or crazy excel files for your sitings, eBird does it all for you. 

The best part of it all is what you see and report actually makes a difference.  To quote the website directly,
... it is amassing one of the largest and fastest growing biodiversity data resources in existence... in March 2012... more than 3.1 million bird observations across North America!... eBird then shares these observations with a global community of educators, land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists. In time these data will become the foundation for a better understanding of bird distribtuion across the western hemisphere and beyond.
So go check out eBird my fellow bird nerds. Can't get much better than this!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

NOAA Map Showing Earth's "Greenness"

There is a new video and map developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showing how "greenness" of our earth changes over the course of the year.

I highly suggest watching... it is so cool!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Geoformation of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon: so named on account of its steep and narrow body which makes it difficult for sunlight to penetrate to the very bowels of this magnificent 48-mile long geologic structure. The resulting shadows make the rocky walls appear pitch black and you often can't see the bottom. With an average drop of 34 feet per mile, the ancient Gunnison carves through the tough 1.7 billion year old Precambrian gneiss at a dismal <1-inch every 100 years.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
What was that? You asked if the Precambrian gneiss is so tough to erode, why didn't the Gunnison River find softer rock to carve? I mean, that is the basic concept of watershed hydrology; water goes where it is resisted the least. Well, you see, the mighty Gunnison River, which is 15 million years old itself, was trapped.

Sit back, relax, have some wine (a lot of wine?) and let me tell you an 'old as stone' story about how the historic Black Canyon was created... 

Canyon Formation
Between 40 and 70 million years ago, 1.7 billion year old Precambrian metamorphic gneiss that formed during the Precambrian era went through a massive uplift (known as the Gunnison Uplift) during the Laramide orogeny. What is the Laramide orogeny you ask? Well, without getting into too much crazy plate tectonic and geology talk, it is what made the early version of the Rocky Mountains. After this massive upheaval of tough metamorphic rock... lots of volcanos went off. When I say lots, I mean a lot a lot. All of the West Elk Mountains, La Sal Mountains, Henry Mountains and Abajo Mountains contributed to burying the newly risen gneiss in several thousand feet of volcanic ash and debris.

Looking down into the beast
*Disclaimer... I should say I use the term "newly risen" loosely, since technically the volcanic eruptions happened more than 5 million years after the Gunnison Uplift.

Anyways... that's a lot of volcanic shit! Er... debris. If you don't know your geology, volcanic debris is soft in the way rocks go. In water erosion terms, it is easy carving. When the Gunnison River was formed 15 million years ago as a mere run-off from the La Sal and West Elk Mountains, it started carving through that 'soft' volcanic rock with ease.

After the Gunnison carved itself a nice canyon of least resistance, Mother Earth decided to literally shake things up a bit. Another uplift occurred roughly 2 to 3 million years ago and literally trapped the Gunnison in its present course. With no where to turn and no softer rock to escape through, the river started the slow erosion of the gneiss from the Gunnison Uplift at a rate of 1-inch every 100 years.

Vertical cliffs of Black Canyon
Present Day
The current Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the most spectacular sites one could see in Colorado, yet it is relatively under visited due to its remoteness. The river course is practically the same as it was 2 to 3 million years ago thanks to that tough metamorphic gneiss. The raging waters of the river are only a whisper from the rim. Since the river is now damed, the flow is much slower than the 12,000 cubic feet per second, 275 horse power it once was, causing an even slower erosion.

Some interesting tid-bits:
  • At its narrowest point, the black canyon is only 40 feet wide.
  • There is a 2-mile section of the canyon that drops 480 feet in elevation.
  • The Black Canyon drops more in elevation over its 48 miles than the entire 1,500 miles of the Mississippi River.
  • While the Black Canyon averages a drop of 34 feet per mile in elevation, the Grand Canyon only drops roughly 7.5 feet per mile

Oh... and it has some killer sunsets...


Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located approximately 250 miles from Denver, CO, 15 miles east of Montrose, CO, and 60 miles west of Gunnison, CO.

Want to know more? Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park's website to learn about camping, rock climbing, fishing, wild life viewing and other opportunities.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

American Robin

The last snow on the ground is finally melted away. It is early spring. The first hints of warmth are beating down from the sun. Life, for as long as you can remember... has it been 6 weeks? No, maybe 2 months... longer? Who knows how long it has been since you've seen green grass, but it is a glorious site. The bright green of new growth is surrounding you. You finally get a chance to sit out on your back deck with a nice cocktail after work when all of a sudden you hear a "whinney" from a tree in your side yard... you know this sound. It means spring is officially here. And as if it knew you were thinking of it, a flash of orange descends onto your yard on a mission for a tasty treat.

American robin searching for a morning snack
The American robin, Turdus migratorius, for many in northern North America, is the first sign of spring. Though its range stretches into areas where it can be viewed year around, it is typically one of the earliest birds to lay its eggs during the breeding season. These resourceful buggers make their nest out of anything from paper to twigs. It smears mud to hold the nest all together and often will make a soft lining out of grass. A protected and safe nesting site can sometimes produce up to 3 broods in one year.

With a sleet gray to brown back and head, and a bright orange chest and belly, there isn't any other bird in North America that can really be mistaken for an American robin. When in flight, a white patch under the tail and lower belly can be noticed. There isn't much sexual dimorphism within this species, however, the female does tend to have a paler head.

American robin surveying the area
This large member of the thrush family's typical habitat can be classified as grassy open spaces (i.e., lawns, tundras, parks, etc), as well as deciduous and evergreen woodlands. They are often found hopping along or standing erect on a lawn searching for invertebrates, such as earthworms or grubs, but can also also seen in bushes and trees feeding on caterpillars, fruits and berries. Typically, a robin's diet changes throughout the day, with more yummy earthworms in the morning and more delectable berries in the afternoon. During the late fall and winter months, they often gather in large flocks (sometimes numbering close to 250,000 individuals!) to eat persistant berries and roots. Often, when winter flocks feed exclusively on honeysuckle berries, they can become intoxicated! Go home robin, you're drunk!

Being an impressive songster and among the first birds to sing at dawn (often before... making a many camper grumpy with the early wake-up call), its song is a loud, repeated musical whistle the ascends and descends through a series of notes. They have a variety of calls ranging from an alarm 'yeep chuck' to a loud (and I think quite obnoxious) 'whinney.' To hear their songs and calls, or to learn some more cool facts about American Robins, visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

I wonder what a honeysuckle intoxicated robin's song sounds like...

Some interesting tid-bits:
  • Only 40% of nest produce offspring
  • Only 25% of young Robins survive the first year
  • The average lifespan is 2 year; longest known is 14 years
  • State bird of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin
  • Was featured on the Canadian $2 bill, which is now withdrawn