Changes in the 23rd edition—2017 (downloadable at right)
Four species ADDED in 2016 to Checklist of Alaska Birds (in taxonomic order)
Calliope Hummingbird Selasphorus calliope: Hatching-year male, 3-5 Sep 2016, Auke Bay, photos by Gus B. van Vliet and Patty Rose. Casual, because of its long, enigmatic, unsubstantiated past in se Alaska. Its history in Alaska began with Willett’s 1921 statement (in Bird notes from southeastern Alaska. Condor 23:156-159): “According to [local resident F. H.] Gray, quite common at Wrangell in spring and fall during some years; other years apparently absent.” In the absence of any pre-1921 published mention of this species in Alaska, however, Willett’s explicit intention (op. cit.:156) “to include only species regarding which some fact or facts have come to light that add to previously published matter regarding them” would seem to make his 1921 report enigmatic. Four+ (silent) decades later, there were six (unsubstantiated) reports from the late 1960s through the 1980s (male, [no date] May 1967, Juneau, Richard J. Gordon; female, 6 May 1968, Juneau, RJG; at least one, summer 1968, Juneau, fide RJG; one, 27 Jul 1974, Juneau, Evelyn S. Dunn; male, 14 Aug 1975, Little Port Walter, Baranof Island, Alex C. Wertheimer; and female, 18 Jun 1988, Mitkof Island, Peter J. Walsh). Insert in Family Trochilidae following Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus.
Our lab members prepared a fun video about how to wash a duck (and finish its preparation as a research study specimen):
Sometimes Yellow-billed Loons are accidentally caught and drown in fishing nets. And occasionally the specimen gets sent to us for preparation. They are a strikingly large loon. Beautiful birds. And, wow, are their eyes big!
Rebecca Cheek demonstrates just how large a Yellow-billed Loon eyeball is.
Every animal dies. Starvation, predation, disease, old age—whatever the means, eventually the end comes. We humans have a heightened morality about death, and this is good. But at times this morality is not well directed. Uproars over individual animal deaths often overlook larger and more important issues. Recently it was an eruption over a kingfisher killed in the Solomon Islands. Last year it was about a spider. Both animals were euthanized by scientists to preserve the bodies as scientific specimens to be added to research collections (which I facetiously call the ranks of the dead in the title). And in both cases there were international outcries because a scientist had killed an animal.
When you walk the basement halls of a museum, you are likely to encounter weird stuff.
We were pleased to host Jason Froggatt last month for some intensive work in the bird lab. Jason is Collections Manager in Natural Sciences at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland, New Zealand. He took the opportunity to come up here to learn some of the tricks of the trade that have served us so well in developing our modern and relatively heavily used bird collection. Jason spent every day, hands-on, with our processes, learning how we work with skins, skeletons, tissues, and stomach contents to preserve a diversity of samples and how we handle the associated data. He also had many keen observations from his own experiences that he gladly shared with us. We had a great time and look forward to future interactions with Jason and the Auckland War Memorial Museum!
Jason Froggatt prepares a bird specimen
Costumed volunteers came out in force to put on a great show for hundreds of visitors! There is nothing more exciting than preparing bird specimens…
Increasing the scientific bang for every research dollar spent is important, especially in museums, where funding levels are perennially low. When we do get into the field and get our hands on a bird, it costs about the same to bring it home with us as it would to return with just a few drops of blood or a couple of feathers. While there is little difference in the initial cost, there is a huge difference in the scientific potential of the effort’s product: many more scientists can do a lot more things with a whole bird preserved as a specimen than with only a tiny sample likely to be quickly depleted. And the vast majority of bird populations can easily withstand the relatively small amounts of scientific collecting that are done these days.
A recent opinion paper in Science by a group of authors more concerned with human ethics than with science and biodiversity used a rather broad brush to paint scientific collecting in a negative light. Perhaps through their lack of intimate familiarity with biodiversity science, they made a number of errors in their effort to urge field biologists to stop collecting voucher specimens. Setting aside the issue of why a prestigious journal like Science would publish what is a rather weak contribution, the appearance of this piece does provide an opportunity to again help people understand why scientific collecting is important, why it does not pose a threat to populations of wild organisms, and why in a time of global change adding specimens to collections is now more important than ever. There is a substantial body of peer-reviewed literature on this topic; I will just summarize some of the main points here.
Our longtime friend and research associate Kevin McCracken has left the University of Alaska Fairbanks for a new position at the University of Miami. Before he left, his last specimen deposit into the UAM Bird Collection was a cryptic box of pickled bird parts. It was a duck dick dropoff.
Duck intromittent organ specimens