Shared posts

01 Apr 23:16

Scientists long suspected that Blackpoll Warblers made their Fall migration stra...

by Rocky Point Bird Observatory
Scientists long suspected that Blackpoll Warblers made their Fall migration straight across open ocean, and it has been confirmed in a recent study through the use of tiny geolocators attached to these tiny migrants (the same type used in our Fox Sparrow migration study). One individual even flew directly from Nova Scotia to Haiti which is nearly 3000km to the South. Amazing!

Backpacking birds prove long-shot theory
Scientists have finally solved the mystery of how a 15-gram bird can fly to South America every fall
22 Jan 15:54

The Purplepole Warbler

by Seagull Steve
Look at this. Do you see? This is from a bird book. I really don't want to associate Blackpoll Warblers with such graphic imagery...that's just fucked. How is this a published thing? Do you not see what I'm talking about?  Here, let me show you.

Yeah. That's a big, raging, (apparently circumcised) purple boner, complete with arrows that demonstrate migration...the migration of HUMAN SPERM. Just look at this thing. I'm surprised they didn't draw some big veins in there too. I knew there was something odd about this bird guide....and that something is a big...gnarly...weiner.

There are a limited number of situations that can explain how this thing came to be published for an audience of one of the most sexless subcultures in the world...either it is a perfectly crafted inside joke by whoever did the maps (if so, good on ya), or no one involved with getting this book out had the ability to recognize the most glaring phallus possible. Knowing birders, I reckon the latter situation is more likely.

So...any publishing companies want me to review a book? It's been a while.

A fall Blackpoll Warbler is a good thing. A pure thing. I really like them, despite the fact they are barely a rare bird here in autumn. I do not want my mental image of them to be polluted by massive, discolored erections. The only DICK I am excited about seeing in a field guide is a Dickcissel, know what I'm saying? Zing! Thanks to Natarie for providing the bird porn for this post.

09 Jan 03:57

Klein and the Anti-Technicians

by Michael Johnston

Written by John Kennerdell

KleinFrom Life is Good & Good for You in New York by William Klein, 1955. Klein once described the book, one suspects not without pride, as "a crash course in what was not to be done in photography."

You might have seen him had you been walking the streets of New York City exactly 60 years ago this winter. Although trained as a painter, he was carrying a camera. And while he lived in Paris, he moved through the city of New York and photographed its people with the ease of a native son. His name was William Klein and he was 26 years old.

When Klein tried to find a publisher for his New York photos before returning to Europe the next year, 1955, the reaction could hardly have been less encouraging. He made the city look like a slum. His framing was random and incoherent. Technique? Fugeddaboutit. As Popular Photography described it on first sight of his work, "meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness." Whatever his game might be, mid-century America clearly wasn’t ready.

Van_der_elskenChet Baker, from Jazz by Ed van der Elsken. Dutchman van der Elsken's career ran in parallel to Klein's but increasingly fell under its influence, as seen in this superb 1959 photobook.

Back in France, Klein managed to put out a small volume of 120 of the photos, titled, with Beat irony, Life is Good & Good for You in New York. "I wanted to do [it] as a tabloid gone berserk," he later said, "gross, grainy, over-inked, with a brutal layout, bullhorn headlines." While the European establishment didn’t quite know what to make of it, young, avant-garde photographers loved its raw, anything-goes energy. It was largely through those young photographers, whose names included Ed van der Elsken and Mario Carrieri, that the style if not necessarily the substance of Klein's photography began to ripple out to the world at large.

Nowhere did this new sense of photographic freedom find richer ground than in Japan, a nation still grappling with the ravages of war and the search for a new identity. Restless young Japanese photographers immediately saw in Klein a visual language that they could apply to their own ends. Collectively, five of them became known as the Provoke group, after a short-lived magazine of the time, and described their aesthetic as "Are, bure, bokeh" ("Rough, blurred, and out of focus"). But individually they very much went their own ways. Shomei Tomatsu, the photojournalist of the group, took what he called a "subjective documentary" approach to social and cultural issues. By contrast, Takuma Nakahira's dark urban abstractions felt like equal parts sumi-e and radioactive nightmare. And then, somewhere between those two, Daido Moriyama, the most directly influenced by Klein and soon to become the best known of the group in the West. To this day he roams the back alleys of Shinjuku with a little digicam and wide-angle lens, a street photographer to the last.

TomatsuFrom Chewing Gum and Chocolate by Shomei Tomatsu, 1959. The postwar Japan photographer par excellence, Tomatsu admitted to being "obsessed" with the U.S. Occupation and the cultural impact of the West on Japan.

And Klein? He still lives in Paris and seems to savor the role of eternal rebel. Fully 40 years passed before his Life is Good photos were put out in book form in the U.S. The expanded collection, titled William Klein, New York, 1954–1955, more powerfully than ever shows us a young man working at white-hot intensity, following his instincts as an artist rather than a trained photographer. Had his original book been published in the U.S. rather than Europe it's hard to imagine it would have had any less impact than Robert Frank's The Americans, which appeared two years later.

But in the end the point is moot, so ubiquitous has Klein's influence become. Whether in fashion, advertising, or documentary photography—never mind motion pictures—nothing has ever been quite the same since William Klein and that winter on the streets of New York six decades ago.


John Kennerdell writes two articles a year for TOP.

Original contents copyright 2015 by John Kennerdell. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:

Chris Y.: "John Kennerdell should write a lot more for TOP. This was gold as far as I'm concerned. Thank you."

Mike replies: Yeah, but I don't look a gift horse. If ya follow.

Julian Love: "Tate Modern held a large Klein/Moriyama retrospective a couple of years ago. While the photographs themselves were wonderful to look at, full of visual interest, it was the large collection of first edition books that really stood out (most of them loaned by Martin Parr, who seems to own several copies of each). The dramatic layouts combined grainy full-bleed images covered in bold text and graphic shapes. The results were both chaotic and mesmerising."

30 Oct 03:03

Ph D student

I seek a PhD student whose research will advance our understanding of the mechanisms that maintain a stable genetic polymorphism in mating strategy and morphology among 3 types of male ruff sandpipers: agonistic territorials, cooperative associates, and female mimics. The principle research tool available is a pedigreed captive breeding population held at Simon Fraser University. Behavioural and physiological studies with this flock will complement concurrent collaborative genomic work identifying the exact loci controlling developmental differences between morphs. While fieldwork with wild populations would be possible if a clearly achievable goal were possible. Recent directions with the captive flock include: possible differential fitness effects of the morph alleles in males and females (intralocus conflict), sex allocation as a function of paternal morph, and mating with respect to genetic relatedness. Further background information and details on this project can be found from my webpage I will be happy to discuss specific potential projects with those applying for NSERC graduate awards.(Deadline: 2/28/2015 12:00:00 AM)
30 Mar 14:49

Rise of the Herpetons

by randomtruth
Appears the gong for herp season has been banged.

Get it on, bang a gong, get it on...

- T. Rex, 1971

Including the Sierra newts, I've already seen 21 native species/subs this year: 8 snakes, 4 lizards, 8 sallys and a frog.

Here are some of the notables...

So far, a Rubber Boa has stolen the seasonal show. The first I've found in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a real charmer. He even gave me an excellent pose in defensive posture, with his naturally stubbed "fake head" held high.

fake head held high
Rubber Boa, Charina bottae, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA

Since they spend a lot of time underground and nosing around, rubbers have tiny, tight scales. And their eyes are small and set flat, so they tend to turn and look at you broadside, like a whale.

rubber boa goodness

But they are definitely constrictors, as this one showed by giving my finger a few wraps.

I do, I do!
Does this mean we're engaged?

Another constrictor this week proved just as charming - a California Kingsnake. When I pulled her from the grass and put her down on the trail, she brought out the entire bag of tricks to amuse us - rearing up and striking like a cobra, while vibrating her tail like a rattler.

king snake or king cobra?
California Kingsnake, Lampropeltis californiae, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA

But they're all bluster unless you're a rodent, bird, lizard or snake. Especially when they can fit in your hand. Note the distinctive repeating pattern of white 1/2 bands.

cal kingsnake

And, much like the rubber boa, she was also a bit of a finger strangler.

also a finger strangler
"Give up yet?"

Next up are 2 even smaller slithers - a Ring-necked Snake and a Sharp-tailed Snake. Both are typically shorter than 2 drinking straws set end-to-end, and can often slip through one. This ringneck was the largest I've ever seen, in fact, and may be an older snake. The ring on its neck was quite faded, and the belly and back very dark, yet freshly shed.

Ring-necked Snake, Diadophis punctatus amabilis, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA

The sharp-tail was obviously a good bit slimmer. Both generally live in grasslands and forest edges in burrows and leaf litter, and under rocks and logs, and hunt mini-prey (and their eggs), including slugs, grubs, slender salamanders, and small lizards and skinks. They pop up in spring after the rains, and then go to ground again once it gets hot and dry.

sharp-tail snake
Sharp-tailed Snake, Contia tenuis, Sierra Nevada Mountains, CA

Speaking of hot and dry - here's another small snake I saw that needs little introduction, and is one that I definitely don't recommend holding in the palm of your hand.

break up
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA

I've also seen 2 Ensatina salamander subspecies this spring - the Yellowed Eyed Ensatina of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the Sierra Ensatina of the mid Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Unlike the newts, Ensatinas don't go to water to breed, and instead mate and lay their eggs on land in moist places, under logs and rocks, and in burrows and woodrat nests.

Yellow-eyed Ensatina, Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA

The Yellow-eyed was a bit pissy - giving me the arched back of their defensive posture, while also oozing neurotoxic milk out of her skin.

But the Sierran was much more relaxed and paparazzi-friendly. But with those striking black eyes, purple skin and orange splotches, she's so photogenic that she probably has to be.

sierra nevada ensatina
Sierra Ensatina, Ensatina eschscholtzii platensis, Sierra Nevada Mountains, CA

Last for this early season list - an alligator. Or at least a California wannabe.

gator attack!
California Alligator Lizard, Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA

For those curious - "herpeton" is ancient Greek for "crawling thing," and is even in the New Testament, in the Epistle to the Romans. And is thus the root of the terms herps and herpetofauna and Herpetology - the study of amphibians and reptiles.

18 Jan 19:59

Stainless: Hypnotizing Slow-Motion Footage from Trains Pulling into Stations

by Christopher Jobson

Stainless: Hypnotizing Slow Motion Footage from Trains Pulling into Stations trains slow motion New York Japan black and white

These videos by Adam Magyar are one of those things that are difficult to explain verbally, but as soon as you see it, you realize how completely amazing it is. Filmed in Tokyo, New York and Berlin, Magyar positioned himself on trains as they pulled into subway stops, filming the waiting crowds at 50 frames per second using a high speed camera. The resulting footage creates an uncanny feeling as the train is clearly moving quickly through the station, but the people seem to remain motionless. Any of these scenes wouldn’t seem out of place in a Ron Fricke film. To learn more about how Magyar filmed them, head on over to PetaPixel. (via The Fox is Black)

Update: There’s another great piece about Magyar’s work over on Medium.

07 Jan 15:30

Dog Vs. Wild Pt. II

by Batt Marnes
18 Dec 14:33

Quality engineering

05 Dec 19:36

Let There Be Lions

by randomtruth
I was recently catching up with a friend who, like me, spends a lot of time haunting parks and preserves in the Santa Cruz Mountains. While chatting, he mentioned he'd read that local biologists estimate there are 70-80 cougars living in the mountains.

He thought that number high. "I never see them, and I see everything - deer, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, skunks, raccoons..." "And people I talk to never see them, and you have remote cam traps up there and never post photos of them."

"Yah, but..." I do get them.

It's the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Running from San Fran to Gilroy, it's 75 miles long and 1,400 miles square of rural and remote oak woodlands and redwood forests, chaparral, rolling hills,  riparian corridors, lakes, ponds, and rocky ridges with 2,000-4,000-foot peaks.

And there are deer. LOTS of deer.

So, of course there are lions. They're out there doing their job - roaming their huge home ranges, keeping the deer on the move, whacking the weak, and avoiding us at all costs. You have to love an apex predator with those values.

I just generally don't write about them because I worry they'll get too sensationalized. But perhaps it's better if they are seen more often. Maybe it'll help people understand that they really are around, and they really aren't a threat.

So, in that vein, here's a Santa Cruz Mountains lion story for you. It's about a cougar mom and her cub that I've been sporadically catching on cams for about 8 months.

One of the earliest photo series was a bit in your face, as the mom decided to give the cam trap a serious up-close inspection:

cougar mom

Great "what the heck?" look, huh? She obviously wasn't expecting the camera to wake up. The surprise is probably more from the "whirring" noise than the ensuing flash.

Note the nose dots, ear notches, whisker pattern, high cheekbones and skinny tail. All are features we use to ID the mom and differentiate other lions. In the full high-res, of course.

cougar mom

cougar mom

As mom was checking the cam, her cub was hanging back, even lying down to wait before following. You can see the shine of the cub's eyes in the photos above and below. The trailing distance might be to facilitate hunting. Allows mom to slink well ahead of inexperienced youngins.

cougar cub

cougar cub

cougar cub

Such paws. And still somewhat spotty and fluffy. Taken 6 months ago, I think the cub is about 10 months old in these photos.

You may have noticed the mom looked a bit bony, with hollow cheeks. We're pretty sure from other photos that she originally had 2 cubs, and lost one about this time. Potentially a young mother, the toll of raising 2 cubs may have been tough on her health-wise. Once cubs get to size, it can take a deer kill every few days to support them.

We don't know what happened to the other cub, though. Perhaps hit by a car, or killed by a territorial male. But it's not likely the mom harmed the cub. Not their style once cubs reach such an age. Too much invested.

Round 2

A couple months later, in summer, the cougar mom and cub passed another cam:


cougar mom

cougar cub

The mom was looking much healthier by then. And the cub bigger and almost spotless.

At this location there were actually 2 remote cams side-by-side, with one set to record video. And while it only grabbed 10 seconds, and didn't last long enough to fully get the cub, it's fun to see how smoothly the mom slinks by. And is completely unfazed when the other cam flashes and catches the above still photo of her squinting. :)

Round 3

Just a few weeks ago, the mom and cub spent some more quality time in front of a camera. This time my super-fast Reconyx, leaving a total of 83 images of interesting behavior.

On the first visit only the mom passed the camera:

cougar mom

cougar mom

Then 9 days later, at 2 in the afternoon, the mom plopped down and watched, looked and listened for several minutes before leaving:

cougar mom

cougar mom

cougar mom

cougar mom

cougar mom

And this time the cub showed up and followed 10 minutes later:

cougar cub

Note those fully golden eyes. That's a major sign of maturity.

2 nights after that, the cub came and hung out in front of the camera for a full 40 photos.


cougar cub


cougar cub

Looking around...

cougar cub

cougar cub

Then leaving:

cougar cub

Sure doesn't seem very cubby any more, huh?

Check out that amazing tail. It's one of the best ways to recognize cougars at a distance. Just nothing else like it on the other wild animals around.

The mom wasn't caught again by the cam until the next night, and without the cub:

cougar mom


Here's a faux video made using all 83 photos of these 5 recent visits by the mom and cub:

I think the cub is about 16 months old now. Which makes me wonder if we aren't seeing the kick-off of dispersal, when the cub has to go find a territory of its own. With some cubs the mom has to give them a hint by avoiding them, or even chasing them away.

And dispersal is a high-risk time for young cougars. They have to wander off into unknown areas to find unclaimed land. Which is generally when they run into problems with humans and get stuck up in trees in backyards with barking dogs and Warden's rifles in their faces.

But a new law in CA, SB 132, has been passed to try and help out some of these lost lions. It creates leeway for CDFW to try and capture and save cougars when possible. But it is a tough problem, because relocation can become yet another risky dispersal event for the lion.

And not all lions are good citizens. Just like humans, lions are both a species and individuals. And sometimes individuals become problems and have to be removed from circulation. But again, just like humans, when an individual does something stupid, we shouldn't damn the whole lot.

I.e., let's not fear the beasts. Let's understand, respect and protect them. They have a role to play and we can live together just fine.

Because they really are 99.9% beauties.


Some Fear-reducing Factoids to remember about lions that make it much easier to suppress worry when wandering where they range:

- they have huge home ranges - 10,000+ acres - that can take them weeks to circuit, so the chances one is near where you are, are slim.

- there are only a few ranging any given area - typically a territorial male, and a female or two with any cubs they may have during that time.

- they don't want anything to do with us, and the stats really do tell that tale - on average, a cougar-human attack occurs less than once a year in all of CA. Compare that to all the other risks, such as deer-car accidents, of which there are over a million a year in the US that kill well over a hundred people. Mostly in the east, where there are no lions to hunt deer.

23 Nov 22:48

Tumblr | eb8.jpg

08 Nov 19:47

To The Coast: Hwy 34 to Cerro Lodge

by Seagull Steve

After birding Talari Mountain Lodge, we headed toward our next planned destination, El Cerro Lodge near Tarcoles, on the west coast. The drive took us from San Isidro west to Hwy 34, which we took north all the way to Tarcoles. The climate reached new levels of heat and humidity, even though it was the dry season on the Pacific Slope. This was virgin birding territory, and we all ran high fevers...we were sick with birdlust. Of course, it was very difficult to not bird on the way, and we couldn't help but pull over a few times. A random roadside stop to look at some Scissor-tailed Flycatchers south of Manuel San Antonio led to a whole glut of birds, including Mangrove Cuckoos!

Having missed them on previous Florida trips, I was more than happy to get these exceedingly cooperative birds as lifers. Oddly, we were neither next to mangroves or water, although we were probably pretty close to the coast.

While looking at Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Mangrove Cuckoos, multiple flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets noisily cruised by.

While trying (and failing) to take in all the new birds popping up left and right, I saw something that looked vaguely like a blotchy white pigeon flying towards us....of course it wasn't a pigeon, it was a fucking PEARL KITE! It was tiny! And on top of that, it was carrying a Chestnut-sided Warbler that it had just slain!

The kite sat above us for a while, contentedly ripping chunks of feather's out of the warblers neck.

Eventually it took flight, warbler still in talons.

As you can see, the kite isn't much larger than a Tropical Kingbird, and really does look sort of like a pigeon.

After wracking up a bunch of unanticipated lifers, we attempted to do a quick stop at Manuel Antonio National Park...I cannot understate what a huge mistake this was. Talk about a clusterfuck! So many people! So many Europeans! None of us were quite prepared for it.  We did get a few trip birds...the sandy spit behind us in Quepos was covered with Franklin's Gulls, which unexpectedly greatly outnumbered the Laughing Gulls there. Anyways, here is Frank, Stilt, Dipper Dan and Seagull Steve looking rad/shitty.

Under cover of darkness, eventually we left the crowds behind and figured out how to get to Cerro Lodge, where we would be spending the next several nights. Along the entrance road were a number of Parauques.

Our muchacho "Mancho" let us through the security gate and set us up for the night. He was difficult to communicate with, and seemed to mumble a lot...but after a little while lurking in the darkness of the parking lot, he asked if we wanted to see a bujo...and holy shit, what a look! I guess the lodge is well-known for its pair of Black-and-white Owls that seem to have no fear of people whatsoever, thus the brutal crush you see above.

I think its safe to say that whenever you are staying at a birder-friendly lodge in CR, it's worth asking if they have any owls that live on the grounds that are easy to see...I believe Cerro has some confiding Pacific Screech-Owls as well, but we didn't luck out on them, although we later had Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (from the pool!).

As you can guess, we were pretty stoked to wake up and bird the grounds the next morning. At daybreak I was already lifering new hummingbirds, and it felt great. The fruit feeders next to the veranda had a flock of Fiery-billed Aracaris ravaging shit.

What a crippler.

The birder's guide we were using claimed all of the Melanerpes woodpeckers in the area are hybrids, but I'm not sure if that is entirely substantiated or here is a bird that looks like a Hoffman's Woodpecker but may or may not have some Red-crowned Woodpecker genes (it does look like there is some pink in that nape).

I think I'll leave off here...stay tuned for more from Cerro Lodge and Carara National Park, where the great birds never stop.
03 Nov 13:48

Reef doctors and dentists

by lindgren

Parasitism is a form of symbiosis where the parasite benefits at the expense of the host organism. Most organisms have some kind of parasite associated with them, and reef animals are no different. When we have a problem, we go to the dentist or medical doctor (or some people prefer non-traditional healers), but what do reef animals do? For most of them, there is no real solution, but for fish there is. There is a group of organisms that have become specialized on cleaning parasites off fish, and this blog will introduce you to those present in the UNBC Reef Tank.

Cleaner shrimp showing prominent, contrasting colours and long white antennae used to advertise cleaning services.

There are two cleaner organisms in the UNBC Reef Tank, a cleaner shrimp, Lysmata amboinensis (De Man) (Decapoda: Hippolytidae), which has a number of common names (northern cleaner shrimp, scarlet cleaner shrimp, skunk cleaner shrimp, Pacific cleaner shrimp), but is usually simply referred to as cleaner shrimp in the reef tank trade. There are two specimens in the tank, and this is the result of an apparently hard-wired tendency that leads to only a monogamous pair of shrimp remaining at any one cleaning station (Wong and Michiels 2011). I purchased three, but the third shrimp vanished in short order after introduction. You can find them behind the anemones at the right hand side of the tank. Incidentally, this seems to be a dangerous place as the shrimp are not immune to the sting of the anemone. If their antennae touch an anemone tentacles, they have to pull to free it – watch if one comes out and you may be able to see this. At feeding time, they will venture out from behind the anemone rocks to catch whatever morsels they can find, because they are really scavengers, i.e., their cleaning habit is facultative. If you look carefully, you may see that each individual frequently carries 20 or so large, greenish eggs under her abdomen, so they must be females. Yes, but both of them are also male, because they are protandrous simultaneous hermaphrodites (Bauer 2000). This means that all are born male, but develop female reproductive organs as they mature, although some specimens apparently remain male only (Lin and Zhang 2001). To make matters even more complicated, they can serve as males at any time, even when brooding eggs, but can only serve as females shortly after a molt!

In nature, or in the presence of larger fish, they normally position themselves in a cave or under an overhang. They have bright, contrasting white and red colours, and long white antennae, which advertises their presence to passing fish. Fish will come in to these stations to get cleaned, i.e., parasites and food remnants removed from their mouth, and this is where it gets interesting. Even fish that eat other types of shrimp, will not eat the cleaner shrimp. Instead they will keep their mouth open, and the shrimp will enter and pick off the offending items. They will also pick items off the skin of the fish, gaining food whereas the fish will get rid of parasites or food remnants.

There are a number of species of so-called cleaner shrimps in several families. A previous occupant of the UNBC Reef Tank was the banded coral shrimp, Stenopus hispidus , (Decapoda: Stenopodidae), which is really a small lobster rather than a shrimp, and consequently armed with some fairly impressive pincers.

Sharknose cleaner goby at a station under a plate Montipora coral.

The second member of the cleaning crew in the UNBC Reef Tank is the sharknose cleaner goby, Elacatinus evelynae (Böhlke & Robins) (Family Gobiidae), also represented by two specimens. These small fish are from the Caribbean, where they live in pairs at cleaning stations. The relationship with their host fish appears to depend on the parasite load in the area, so that when load is low, the gobies cheat by feeding on host fish tissue (Cheney and Côté 2005). In the UNBC Reef Tank, the gobies take food when other fish are being fed, but they also appear to take advantage of the mayhem to clean the other fish at that point. Generally they seem to approach other fish from the side – I have never seen them at the business end( the mouth) of another fish. Their pectoral fins are modified so they function like suction cups, allowing these fish to hang upside down under a coral or on the glass of the aquarium.

There are a number of other species of cleaner gobies, and many are available in the reef aquarium trade. More familiar to the general public is the bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus (Valenciennes) (Labridae), which also is available in the trade from time to time. This species has a reputation as being difficult to keep alive, however, but like the cleaner goby, it is a facultative cleaner that also cheats by feeding on host tissues, as well as taking other food items (Grutter 1997). Unlike the gobies, cleaner wrasses perform an elaborate dance in front of hosts, which then will remain still with their mouth and gill covers wide open if they accept the cleaner.

Cleaner stations are often occupied by several species of cleaners, working together on hosts arriving for service. But why are the diminutive cleaners not eaten by their often predatory guests? It appears that certain colour patterns and size signal to potential customers what is a cleaner and what isn’t (Stummer et al. 2004). There are several models, but certain stripes and colours appear to be convergent factors.


Bauer, RT. 2000. Simultaneous hermaphroditism in caridean shrimps: a unique and puzzling sexual system in the Decapoda. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 20(Special Number 2): 110-128

Cheney, KL, and IM Côté. 2005. Mutualism or parasitism? The variable outcome of cleaning symbioses. Biology Letters, 1: 162-165

Grutter, AS. 1997. Size-selective predation by the cleaner fish Labroides dimidiatus. Journal of Fish Biology 50: 1303–1308

Lin, J, and D Zhang. 2001. Reproduction in a simultaneous hermaphroditic shrimp, Lysmata wurdemanni: any two will do? Marine Biology, 139: 1155-1158

Stummer, LE, JA Weller, ML Johnson, and IM Côté. 2004. Size and stripes: how fish clients recognize cleaners. Animal Behaviour, 68: 145–150

Wong, JWY, and NK Michiels. 2011. Control of social monogamy through aggression in a hermaphroditic shrimp. Frontiers in Zoology, 8:30.

29 Oct 02:56


26 Oct 15:05

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris

by Christopher Jobson

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Albertus

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Valerius in Weyarn

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
Hand of St. Valentin

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Benedictus

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
Skull of St. Getreu in Ursberg

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
St. Valentinus in Waldsassen

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones
Relic of St. Deodatus in Rheinau

The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris history death bones

In 1578 word spread of the discovery in Rome of a network of underground tombs containing the remains of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many skeletons of these supposed saints were soon removed from their resting place and sent to Catholic churches in Europe to replace holy relics that were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Once in place the skeletons were then carefully reassembled and enshrined in costumes, wigs, jewels, crowns, gold lace, and armor as a physical reminder of the heavenly treasures that awaited in the afterlife.

Over the past few years photographer Paul Koudounaris who specializes in the photography of skeletal reliquaries, mummies and other aspects of death, managed to gain unprecendented access to various religious institutions to photograph many of these beautifully macabre shrines for the first time in history. The photos have been collected into a book titled Heavenly Bodies released by Thames & Hudson early next month. (via Hyperallergic)

10 Oct 13:14

Shadow & Rainbow Head South

by Bill Schmoker

I am continually impressed with the information gathered from tracking devices on birds- remember the study that documented GPS-equipped Bar-tailed Godwits flying nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand?  Or how about the more recent discovery of Black Swift wintering territory in NW Brazil using light-level geolocators?

Currently, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory is tracking two Osprey on their travels from the mountains of Colorado to warmer climes this fall.  From Jason Beason, RMBO’s Special Monitoring Projects Coordinator:


On June 19th, 2013 biologists from the National Park Service and Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory placed satellite transmitters on two female Osprey near Grand Lake, Colorado. We have been receiving data ever since from Argos (the company that owns the satellites) showing their locations. We named the Osprey “Rainbow” and “Shadow” because they nested at Rainbow Bay on Lake Granby and at Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Shadow began to migrate on September 15th and Rainbow on September 21st. If you are interested in seeing the migration of these two Colorado Osprey please click on the links below:

Click link to view Rainbow’s map:

Click link to view Shadow’s map:

Jason Beason
Special Monitoring Projects Coordinator
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory

Check it out if you want to do a little armchair migration monitoring.  And if you have a link to another cool migration tracking site leave it in the comments!


09 Oct 20:55

Monshrooms Part Deux

by (VermPhoto)

I was originally going to call this post We Are the Champignons, but discovered that champignon isn't simply French for mushroom but more specifically refers to Agaricus campestris, an edible type of mushroom.  None of the mushrooms pictured in this post are edible to my knowledge so don't chow on these (in fact I handled them with gloves in case they were poisonous).  The last post celebrated the amazing monster 'shrooms we got with the huge 2013 monsoon season in Flagstaff.  This post shows off fancy fungus found on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in September 2013.  Without further ado:



and for those who prefer their fungus in color...


(addendum 10/14/2013 - The little red 'shroom is likely the toxic Witch's Hat.)



12 Sep 13:37

snake friend rescued from a sticky situation at work today.

by Webstagram


snake friend rescued from a sticky situation at work today.



05 Sep 14:46

jennilee: Wonderful work by Andrew Querner.


Wonderful work by Andrew Querner.

01 Sep 14:35

From A to Zapus

by randomtruth
As mentioned, the Long-tailed Vole was first out of the Aplo hole. In all, 10 species - 6 mammals and 4 birds - were caught hanging around Boomer's burrow.

Showing why Aplodontia, much like the stick-house-building dusky-footed woodrat, is a keystone species. Their burrowing, tunnels and terraforming generate habitat, homes and food sources for dozens and dozens of other animals. Many amazingly documented by Codger and class.

The Aplo digs the tunnels for far-ranging above-ground veg foraging, and quite cleverly does so under and along downed logs to prevent cave-ins and dig-outs by bears, foxes, and coyotes. The networks both cross-connect and radiate out a hundred feet or more from a central Aplo denning chamber, like spokes from a hub. Or subways from a grand central station.

And within the hundreds of linear feet of tunnels, there are more than enough nooks, crannies and side chambers for a few live-ins. Such as fuzzy wuzzy voles, also often called meadow mice.

long-tailed vole

long-tailed vole

long-tailed vole

Along with the vole, a truly long-tailed rodent, a Western Jumping Mouse, Zapus princeps, was also living in this Aplodontia burrow. And not only does the Zapus have a tail to make voles blush, but also check out that too-cool-for-school racing stripe:

western jumping mouse

western jumping mouse

western jumping mouse

Kind of looks like the rodent equivalent of a fauxhawk.

Boomer's throw piles of dirt and debris also drew a variety of species.

Aka, Dumpster Divers.

What we think is a Wood Peewee, Contopus sordidulus, was the first bird to show:


Followed soon after by a stunning male Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus, whose formal wear makes him nice and easy to identify:

evening grosbeak

Always a facemelter, as Seagull Steve would say.

A Short-tailed Weasel, Mustela erminea, was next to pop up. And a major league lifer for me. Weasels are sooooo tough to get on cam traps - they never hold still.

The weasel is less of a dumpster diver and more of tunnel terror, and is likely looking for the jumping mice and voles and any other small prey it can surprise.

short-tailed weasel

short-tailed weasel

In fur trapper's parlance, I believe the above would be officially called a Stoat. But when the little cutey takes on its winter white fur, the value multiplies, and they get a new name: Ermine. Understandable, of course. "Stoat coat" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

After Boomer did some more tunnel churn, a second vicious predator showed up - a shrew. Not sure if the little monster is living in the tunnels, or just feasting on the various millipedes and like coming out of it each night.


Appears to be a Vagrant Shrew, Sorex vagrans, but there are 4 species in the area and shrews are notoriously tricksy to ID.

The next mammal to show was a Long-eared Chipmunk, Neotamias quadrimaculatus, that really dove in deep...



A male Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana, poked about as well.

western tanager

And after the tanager, the grosbeak nicely returned to give some beauty shots sans flash:

evening grosbeak

evening grosbeak

But ole grosbeak better watch out - or else he might catch a weasel in the face.

short-tailed weasel

Or, should that be "stoat in the snout"?

22 Aug 19:46

International Street Photographers Day

by Michael Johnston

...Is today, H.C.-B.'s birthday.

Harrison-2The Loading, Main Market, Old Quarter, Hanoi, Viet Nam.
Photo by Francis Harrison.

Quote o' the Day:

Without [photographers], our society doesn't have a face. Because of this law, we run the risk of losing our memory. [...] Just to think that Cartier-Bresson or Josef Koudelka would have been prevented from doing their work is unbearable.

Aurélie Filippetti, France’s new minister of culture, promising she would look into revoking France's notorious Article 9, which severely limits photographing individuals in public.

Quoted in Polka magazine (the word apparently means "hammer" in French), and repeated on the New York Times Lens Blog, where I found it thanks to reader "cb."

(Thanks to Francis and cb)

Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

TOP's links!

(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:

Rob Smith: "Literally just picked up a Bessa R2, a Zeiss 35mm ƒ/2 lens, and some B&W film. Today is my first day of shooting film properly, can't wait to get developing and printing too. Bye bye digital, for at least a year. And thanks for the inspiration Mike, it's not a Leica but I'm still going to learn so much."

22 Aug 13:24

sexpigeon: "Great. Now it’s snowing. We’re going to die out...


"Great. Now it’s snowing. We’re going to die out here, Rodd."

21 Aug 22:01

You Show Me Small Holes, I Show You Goshawks

by Seagull Steve

This is some spectacular footage...people usually think of falcons as being the aerial masters in the raptor world, but watch what this goshawk can do! So worth three minutes of your time. I wonder what Doctor Briefer would have to say about this.

And you thought octopi could fit through tight spaces...
13 Aug 13:15

Are You Tasty to a Mosquito?

by The Center for Wilderness Safety

Whether you’re one of those people who gets eaten alive by mosquitoes depends on some pretty tangible factors, and Smithsonian Magazine runs down the reasons that make an estimated 20% of us especially delectable to those buzzing little bloodsuckers.

Photo: Henrik Larsson, Getty Images

So without ado…

How much booze you drink: Turns out beer goggles aren’t just for humans. According to one study, just one bottle of beer can increase your appeal in the insect world. The scientific reasons aren’t exactly clear, so we’re sticking with beer goggles.

How pregnant you are: It’s just one more discomfort for moms-to-be, but pregnant women get about twice as many bites as other people. That’s probably because they’re about a degree warmer, and exhale 21% more carbon dioxide.

What blood type you are: Type O? You get bitten about twice as much as Type A, and Type B is somewhere in the middleground.

How much you exercise: Working out builds up lactic acid in your sweat and body heat, making you all the more tasty.

What you’re wearing: Skeeters are also looking for you, so wearing eye-catching colors such as black, navy, or red make you stand out, according to one entomologist.

Tagged: insects, Mosquitos, outdoor safety
13 Aug 01:56

Lyme Disease in Virginia Grows

by The Center for Wilderness Safety

In Virginia the most common tick bite comes from the Lone Star tick. “You’ll pick up 50 to 100 Lone Stars for every one black-legged tick,” said David Gaines, state entomologist. Yet Lyme Disease, carried exclusively by the immature black-legged, or deer tick, is the most common tick-borne disease in the state, with more than 1,100 cases last year, according to Health Department statistics. Of those, the local region recorded only about two dozen.

Almost unknown in Virginia 10 years ago, Lyme Disease has spread steadily southward to include all of Virginia. “It’s here and it’s in any location,” affirmed Gaines. “It’s a troublesome disease. There’s a lot of politics, anger and frustration around it — some of it justified. If you don’t treat it in the early stages, then symptoms can last for years.”

That’s where the problem lies. By the time a blood test can verify Lyme Disease, then the symptoms shared by all tick-borne diseases in the early stages — fever, chills, muscle pain, headache, fatigue and possibly confusion, nausea and vomiting — have advanced to become difficult to treat. There’s also the Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, STARI, caused by the bite of a Lone Star tick, which has a rash that mimics Lyme’s.

Unlike other tick-borne diseases, such as Anaplasma, Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis, untreated Lyme Disease can take hold and cause serious, years-long complications including neurological deficits and severe arthritis. Twenty years ago, Gloucester resident Trish Gurley, now 75, was misdiagnosed for several years and suffered joint swelling, short-term memory loss, hearing loss and intense pain, before she received intense antibiotic treatment that eased her symptoms, but left lasting deficits.

With the uncertainty surrounding its diagnosis, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation this year requiring doctors to give literature to patients tested for Lyme Disease advising them about testing, notifying them that a negative test is not conclusive, and advising them to contact their physician with any questions about the disease. It is the only disease screening that carries this mandate in Virginia; it takes effect July 1.

Confusion is not confined to Lyme Disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, carried by infected American Dog ticks, routinely shows up as the second most common tick-borne disease in the state, according to Gaines. He believes it’s a misrepresentation, citing 460 cases of Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis in the state last year, of which only one was identified as Rocky Mountain. (Tidewater Spotted Fever, discovered in Hampton Roads a decade ago, falls into the same rickettsiosis class.) If Rocky Mountain were really a big issue, there would be a lot of fatalities, he said, describing it as “a horrendous disease.”

The immune response cannot be distinguished by a blood test, Gaines explained, and because of extensive exposure to the ubiquitous Lone Star tick, up to 20 percent of the healthy population test positive for the rickettsial organism, including himself. “I suspect that many had Ehrlichiosis, which only started being identified in the literature in the late 1990s, and doctors don’t know about it,” he said.

Beyond the difficulty in making a definitive diagnosis, the treatment is the same for all tick-borne diseases, with early intervention with antibiotics being the recommended course. “Anyone who’s had a tick bite longer than 24 hours we treat with antibiotics. It’s worth it,” said Mark Hippenstiel, a family doctor with Patient First in Chesapeake, who saw a dozen confirmed cases last summer.

Avid outdoorswoman Mary Hyde Berg, a 74-year-old Gloucester resident, who owns a nature preserve, has been treated for Lyme Disease twice this year and five times since about 1990. “They’re like little pieces of pepper, from fine-ground to coarse,” she said, describing the deer tick. “They’re not like the ticks we’ve always had here.” The first time she observed the rash on her foot, she went to the dermatologist. Now she knows what to look for and to seek treatment quickly. “The antibiotics are very effective if taken properly,” she said. “Not all deer ticks carry the bacteria. If you get them out within 24 hours there’s supposedly no danger.” She rejects the blood test as being inconclusive, so no longer bothers with it.

After a camping trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains last month, Smithfield resident Diana McFarland, 52, took herself to a doctor immediately. “I had at least six tick bites,” she said, identifying them as Lone Star, “the large ones.” She had no rash, but she threw up and felt as if she had the flu really badly. Blood tests came back negative for Lyme’s, but her doctor prescribed antibiotics for 10 days and advised her to return for retesting later.

“I don’t want to get sick again,” McFarland said. “It was way worse than I’d ever had them. If you get off the beaten path, they latch on immediately wherever they can.”

Ticks flourish in shady, wooded areas, leaf litter, walls and long grass and not in open fields, contrary to popular myth, said Gaines. “They’re forest dwellers,” he said. The Department of Health advises wearing long, light-colored (so you can see the ticks) clothing, tucked in, and spraying clothes with Permethrin to deter them. Exposed parts of the body can be sprayed with repellent containing DEET, but it should be used sparingly, particularly with children, and never applied under clothing.

If a tick attaches to your skin, the recommended method of removal is to grasp the tick’s head — not body — with pointed tweezers held as close as possible to the skin and pulled straight out. A tick has to be attached for several hours before it can transmit infection. To ensure that ticks attached to clothing are killed, launder in hot water and dry on high heat, recommends the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

Learn more at

Tagged: Doxycycline, erytha migrans, lone star tick, Lyme disease, rash, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, STARI, ticks, Virginia
09 Aug 23:43

In a Family Way

by randomtruth
The first 2 nights just one kit fox was caught on camera.

A handsome adult, coming and going, from and to, the Carrizo Plain burrow complex the cam trap was set near.

sj kit fox

But on night 3, and thereafter, a second and third started popping up, proving that the timing of our CDFW bio-bud Craig couldn't have been better.

sj kit foxes

sj kit fox

A pup, with Mom in hot pursuit.

But only 1 pup. No more ever emerged from the den, if there had been any.

Which shows how tough a year it has been on the Carrizo Plain and southern San Joaquin Valley. An area that Twisselmann perfectly described in his Flora:

"...the climate of the region can be summarized as very dry, with fog and rather concentrated winter rainfall preventing the formation of a true desert."

And this past winter there weren't any concentrated rainfalls.

As you can see from this photo of the burrow mounds 'n surrounds taken on March 21st, when we set the cams for this study:

march 21st

A true desert.

A concept well proven by the excellent work of David J. Germano of California State University Bakersfield (along with friends) in the paper "The San Joaquin Desert of California: Ecologically Misunderstood and Overlooked."

But deserts are also the true native habitat of the kit fox - a species deeply tied to the arid, open lands of the southwest, and their loose sandy soils and prolific Rodentia.

Which the cat-size foxes don't seem to have a hard time finding, even in drought years.

kit fox w krat

But I expect that's because the bold little seed storing kangaroo rats are all over the place - even hopping around the den complex of the kit fox family:

giant k-rat

giant k-rat

Small (baby?) desert cottontails are also on the menu, but jackrabbits are not commonly chased unless they can be ambushed, or other fare is rare. About 6lbs in weight, an adult bt jack is pretty much the same size as an adult kit fox, making them a risky treat.

sj kit foxes

sj kit foxes

But k-rats are by far the most common prey. And, in this case, not just any ole species, either.

These are Giant Kangaroo Rats.

kit fox w krat

Meaning that what we have here is an ESA two-fer. The Giant Kangaroo Rat, Dipodomys ingens, and San Joaquin Kit Fox, Vulpes macrotis mutica, are both Federally listed Endangered Species.

But the dependence on the giant k-rat by the SJ kit fox is one reason it's listed, so the kit fox has the proper "collection" permit. :)

kit fox w krat

So if there are all these k-rats still around on a drought year, why only 1 pup?

Kit foxes typically have 2-5. And this wasn't an isolated case. Most of the kit fox families under study had 0-2 pups this season.

sj kit foxes

It's a good question. And one without full answers. But there are solid theories. And Mom's lactation may play a role. Lactation levels needed to support 2-5 pups might require forage other than just k-rats. Forage in poor supply in drought years. Or, perhaps, other nutritional triggers "predict" the season earlier in the year and limit lactation as a way to thin litter size. Hmmmm...

sj kit foxes

Along with food, another parental role is protection. Which for kit foxes, means choosing a safe location and always staying vigilant for intruders, such as coyotes.

sj kit foxes

Having both parents around really helps with that as well.

They team up, share roles.

One sleeps, while the other acts as lookout.

sj kit fox

Or one hunts, while the other pupsits.

sj kit foxes

sj kit foxes

sj kit foxes

sj kit foxes

sj kit foxes

So, let's see how we're doing so far...

Shelter: check

Food: check

Security: check

And week 1 done of the pup above ground.

What's next for our fine kit fox family?

sj kit foxes

Stay tuned.

  • The Wasmann Journal of Biology, Vol 14, 1956 - Ernest C. Twisselmann - A Flora of the Temblor Range and the Neighboring Part of the San Joaquin Valley
  • Natural Areas Journal, Vol 31, 2011 - David J. Germano, Department of Biology, California State University Bakersfield  - The San Joaquin Desert of California: Ecologically Misunderstood and Overlooked
  • CSU Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program - San Joaquin Kit Fox
  • CSU Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program - Recovery Plan for San Joaquin Kit Fox
  • CSU Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program - Giant Kangaroo Rat
09 Aug 23:41

Creature Comfort

by Camera Trap Codger

Bear sleeping in puddle.

Bears take a beating in hot weather.

They huff and puff and seek water where they can cool off.

They wallow and tank up at any time of day or night, but during really hot weather they may visit the same pool several times a day.

"Shedding thermal energy" is biological techno-jargon for the various ways animals cool off.

I learned that from a "physiological ecologist".

It's hard to shed thermal energy if you are big and fat like a bear, because of the large surface-to-volume ratio.

Anyway, I've learned a few things from viewing hundreds of 30 second video clips of bears visiting water holes here in Butte County.

You'll notice that I've also moved the camera closer to center stage.

This video introduces "Tank", and one of these days I'll post a video of the full cast of Bruins here.

Meanwhile, enjoy.
31 Jul 20:57


27 Jul 05:08

The Tooth Fairy Strikes Hard

by (VermPhoto)

When is going to the dentist an awesome deal?  When the dentist finds a decayed spot in the molar you tear off bottle caps with and says you need come back first thing the next morning to get a filling.  Well when life gives you limes, make a Vermarita I say.  So I had to put my Grand Canyon plans on hold and instead went to nearby Watson Lake to scout out photo ops.  I was in the van, yacking with DKish on the phone, when I saw a prominent "V" cutting across the lake surface about 100 yards away.  A cormorant surfaced nearby, giving some scale to the object making the wake.  Whatever it was, it was small; too small to ID through my binos.  Guessing turtle, I grabbed my D600 with 80-400mm attached and went to the lakeshore.  I found a sparsely vegetated spot where I could get to the water's edge, then very obligingly the critter, which turned out to be a gartersnake, decides to check me out and swims straight towards me. 


"Make sure you get my good side."  Gartersnake approaching camera, Watson Lake, Prescott, Arizona.


The dude even stops offshore right at the minimum focusing distance of my lens.  Nevertheless, his head is no bigger than my thumb, so I'll get to be my happy cropoholic self later.


Bold bug comes in for a pass.  1/1250, f/5.6, 80-400 @400mm, ISO 320, Nikon D600


Next a damselfly starts buzzing him.  Rad.  This could only get better if...


No way!  It's an Enallagma civile. (Familiar Bluet to you laypeople).


And then the Money Shot.


You want Happy Ending?  The snake did not eat the damselfly (saving his appetite for a frog later), but rather just slowly submerged and the bluet flew away.





17 Jul 04:23

Owl Babies

by Jerry Liguori
A friend called a few weeks ago concerned about a baby owl that was in the fairway of the 6th hole at a local golf course. He asked if there was anything he could do to help it, or if he should leave it alone. What should we do with baby birds that appear helpless or stranded this time of year? Often fledgling birds appear abandoned but their parents are nearby and aware of their young, other times birds actually do need our help. In the case of the Screech Owl, it is common sense that a nocturnal bird that lives in trees should not be out in the open in the daytime. My suggestion was to put it in a nearby tree where it likely fell out, hoping the bird was not injured or sick. My friend did just that, and has seen it several times since, along with the other fledglings and parents. Thanks Seth, and thanks for the photo!
 Adult Screech Owl at its nest cavity.
 Baby Screech Owl
Baby Long-eared Owl
03 Jun 02:52

by Logcabineer