Thursday, February 25, 2010

Young Birder's Event at the Cornell Lab [Gatherings]

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is excited to host The Cornell Lab Young Birders Event, which will be held August 12‐15, 2010 in Ithaca, New York. The Young Birders’ Event aims to bring together teenagers with a passion for birds and interested in pursing a career in the field. You’ll meet people who have successful careers that involve birds in a variety of ways from ornithological researchers to tour leaders, to audio specialists and computer scientists. High school aged young birders are invited to fill out our application form and return it for review by April 15th 2010. Ten young birders will be selected and notified in late April.

The Young Birder’s Event will feature:
    • two days of field trips
    • presentations by Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff including professors, researchers,
    and students who will share various ways to incorporate birds into a career
    • eBird and field notes workshop
    • specimen preparation workshop
    • sound recording workshop
    • tour of Cornell Lab including the Macaulay Library and Museum of Vertebrates
    • dinner with Cornell Lab Directors and Staff
Read more about this year's event, and check out a recap of last year's inaugural event. Be sure to spread the news, especially if you know or work with young birders!


Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Dog is a What? [Survey Says!]

Today is a significant milestone. Barron, among the best friends I've had in my lifetime, turns fifteen years old today - Happy Birthday, good buddy!

I recently gave an overview of his personality where I wondered about his lineage. I didn't know his parents, so I've only been able to wonder what breeds co-mingled to create such a mild-mannered but energetic, mellow but attentive, focused but aware, loyal but social companion.

Recently we sent a vial of blood to the Wisdom Panel lab for a DNA test. And now the results are in.

The picture below shows the breeds detected in Barron. The relative size of the breed image shows the amount of each breed detected in our analysis. There are also signals from other breeds which are not strong enough to identify with confidence. How can these faint signals occur? There are two possibilities. First, your dog could have mixed-breed ancestors beyond three generations back. A second reason is that our test may not yet cover one of the breeds in your dog’s ancestry.

When reading your report, keep in mind that all physical traits of the breeds found may not always be apparent in your dog. Why? Because a mixed-breed dog’s appearance varies depending on the overall mix of breeds found. When dominant and recessive genes combine from the different breeds across the generations, unique and unpredictable combinations can occur. This is a big reason why your dog may not exhibit the physical traits of each breed we found.

  • Significant Breed - At least 50% of your dog’s DNA comes from this breed, so you are likely to see some physical and behavioral traits from this breed represented unless some of the genes are recessive.
  • Intermediate Breed - At least 25% of your dog’s DNA comes from this breed, so you may see some physical and behavioral traits represented in your dog.
  • Minor Breed - At least 12.5% of your dog’s DNA comes from this breed, so it is unlikely that this breed’s physical traits are visually represented unless some of the genes are dominant.

The vast majority of folks trying to identify him by phenotype alone picked Chow Chow, and if you guessed Chow, pat yourself on the back! He's got blue-black pigment on his mostly-pink tongue, he's got the lion-like ruff of fur, he's got the very straight rear legs and the stilted gait of a Chow. But, clearly, he's not pure Chow. The real guessing game began with German Shepard Dog or another of the Chow-like spitz types, Akita, Elkhound, and Keeshond, topping the list.

Those guesses were obviously (in the 20/20 hindsight kind of way) wrong, wrong, and wrong. No one ever, ever, suspected a representative from the mountain dog group. Let alone one called a . . . a what? Entlebucher Mountain Dog? Turns out, if you're not from Switzerland you have no chance of saying that properly.

Regarding the classification into "Significant Breed" and "Intermediate Breed," I simplify it this way: one of Bear's parents was a Chow Chow, descended from Chow Chows. The other parent was a mix, the offspring of an Entlebucher Mountain Dog and another that was either a mix itself, or a breed not yet entered in Wisdom Panel's database. I hope they kept some blood on ice for a retest in a few years.

Chows are fairly well known. The report gives a brief summary that reads,

The Chow Chow is a venerable breed dating back at least two thousand years. Many believe that the breed originated in China, but there is some evidence that indicates the Chow Chow actually migrated to China from Mongolia and Manchuria. While no one can say for sure from which breeds the Chow Chow has descended, it is believed that the breed has Tibetan mastiff and Samoyed in its bloodline. The Chow Chow served a dual purpose in China. Some were used for hunting while others were used to guard the sacred temples from evil entities. The East Indian Company brought the Chow Chow to England in 1781 and Queen Victoria received Chow Chows as a gift in 1865. During the 1880’s, the numbers of Chow Chows imported increased drastically. The Chow Chow is one of the oldest known breeds, recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1903.

The report asks, "Do you recognize any of these Chow Chow traits in Barron?"

  • Reputation as a loyal family dog. -- Most definitely.
  • Independent spirit, but responds to reward-based obedience training. -- Not really. I wouldn't call him an independent spirit, but he certainly responds to reward-based obedience training.
  • Reserved and wary with strangers. -- Nope, not even close.
  • May require socialization to reduce defensive aggressive tendencies. There have been reported incidents of Chow Chows being aggressive with other pets or people. -- Nope, friendly with anyone/everyone, though he snaps at the cats once in a while. When they're too close to his food.

And what about an Entlebucher Mountain Dog? (Gallery of images)

The Entlebucher Mountain dog, also known as the Entlebucher Sennenhund or Entlebucher Cattle dog, is the smallest of the four Swiss Mountain dogs. It is a dog native to the Entlebuch district in Switzerland, near the city of Lucerne. The breed originated from the large Molosser breed that was introduced into Switzerland by the Romans during the 1st century BC. The Entlebucher was first recognized as a separate breed in 1869 and the first breed club was founded in 1926. The Entlebucher Mountain Dog is extremely popular in Switzerland but is rarely seen in other countries. At one point, they were in danger of becoming extinct. The first Entlebuchers were kept for their herding and guarding skills. However, nowadays they are kept as family dogs. The breed has been a member of the American Kennel Club’s Foundation stock service since 2000.

These are the traits typical of Entlebuchers:

  • Requires regular physical activity and training, excelling in competitive sports. It is intelligent and responds well to obedience training using a reward based system. -- Definitely intelligent and food-motivated as a reward system. He never minded physical activity and training, though panosteitis, arthritis, and hip dysplasia limited what we did.
  • Large, active, gentle, loyal, working dogs. -- Most definitely.
  • This breed is loyal and protective of its family and property. -- Loyal, for sure. Protective, not really. I always thought if someone broke in our home, rather than chase them off he'd help them carry stuff out to the van.
  • Requires early socialization with other dogs and people. -- I don't know about this, but if he required it, he must have had it.
  • May be wary of strangers. -- Again with the wariness? Nope. And the Entlebucher Sennenhund WWW site claims the opposite: "Friendly, with pleasant personalities, Entlebuchers enjoy being around people, and other dogs." I suppose this is where he gets his, "I never met a stranger" attitude.

Now, having read up on Entlebucher Mountain Dogs, I see him differently. Some things he does we just look and say, "What an Entlebucher!" And physically we can see some mountain dog features, from his coloring to his muscular build. But many features appear to be intermediate between Chow and Mountain Dogs, such as his muzzle, which is shorter than the Entlebucher but not as short as a Chow. His ears are longer than a Chow but shorter than a Entlebucher, and his tail is fuzzy and set high like a Chow, but not held close to the back. It's longer and carried higher than a Chow, I presume like an Entlebucher.

Though I wonder what the "Intermediate Breed" might be and how that is expressed in his physical traits and behavior, I am excited to have a mostly complete picture of his ancestry and watch him in that context.

Barron, it's great to re-meet you!

More images in my previous post.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Counting Crows . . . and Jays and Chickadees [Fun & Games]

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count is on, let the games begin! Every day there are thousands of people watching birds across North America. Over the next four days (Friday, February 12th through 15th) there will be thousands of people watching and counting birds across North America, some for the first time, all to create a snapshot of where the birds are spending their winter. It's simple: observe birds; track a few necessary details (like when, where, and who); and upload your list on the easy-to-use web site.

Well, check out this video, it's worth a thousand-word blog post all on its own. You'll learn the whats, wherefores, and how tos. But also explore the web site to learn about birds, to see how your submissions are used by scientists, to see photos from past counts, and especially to get ideas on how to involve beginning birders and kids - from past experience I can tell you, it's great for kids!

The GBBC is a great excuse, if you need one,
to get your kids involved with nature.

Granted, watching birds is the best part. But it's a real trip to watch the map as it regularly updates throughout the weekend in near-real time with the most recent submissions, to track how many checklists come in from your town, and to see what birds are being seen where.

So, if nothing else, try and get out and collect a few checklists. Even better, attend a bird walk or workshop at a local nature center, or just get a few others out with you and introduce them to nature and citizen science. I'll be covering where I can in my county, will you do the same?


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Let the (Re)counting Begin! [Fun & Games]

A couple of days ago I wrote that I was off to compete in the Superbowl of Birding with five BINMIPs.* Now, here in the balmy Southern Tier of New York where the highs are hovering at the 30*F mark, I've thawed enough so I can start typing about the last couple of days. "Balmy" may not be a word that comes to mind when describing anywhere in New York in winter, but it fits when compared to this past weekend in Essex County, Massachusetts.

Our goal for the weekend: have wicked-fun, in Massachusetts parlance, finding birds while hanging out with other bloggers. Couched within that prime directive was to participate, if not win, the Superbowl. Christopher, our host and captain, assembled a team he thought would mesh well, and he did an admirable job. He was like the Joe Jackson to the Jackson Five, only without the violence and emotional cruelty. Maybe more the Lou Perlman of Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC infamy? The creators of Spice Girls?

The point is, with respect to compatibility and birding prowess, Chris hand-picked a excellent group. In no particular order**, your 2010 Bloggerhead Kingbirds were:

The 2010 Bloggerhead Kingbirds: Christopher, Nathan,
Corey, Andrew, and John (unfortunately, cut off on the rocks).

Christopher of the Picus Blog. Not only was Chris was the mastermind in putting together the right people, as the only local he put the team on the right path. He scouted the area in the weeks (or at least days) before the Big Day, tracked sightings of hard-to-find and/or rare birds, mapped the route, and ultimately kept us all on schedule. Above it all, he actively tried to find birds that most interested the team - particularly those that would be lifers.

Christopher and John "shooting" waterfowl and gulls in Gloucester Harbor.

John of A DC Birding Blog. If you've read John's blog, which you really should if you're not a subscriber already, you know he is careful, methodical and thorough, with an attentive eye to detail as he scrutinizes a situation, whether it's researching a blog post or watching birds in the field. Those traits are especially valuable in observing and identifying birds, particularly during a competition. We could confidently leave each location knowing all things feathered had been found and given the once over before moving on.

Nate, the Drinking Bird. On his blog, Nate combines the all-too-rare ability of balancing serious topics with the right amount humor, even during a well-constructed rant. In person, Nate also combines the all-too-rare ability of balancing serious efforts with the right amount humor. Our dealings with frozen extremities, a near-painful lack of sleep, uncooperative birds, frustrating heat shimmers, and Massachusetts drivers were barely noticeable through the laughter. A few Dunkin' Donuts stops helped.

Yours Truly. I'm horrible with self-exploration, so as Forrest Gump would say, that's all I've got to say about that.

Andrew scans for waterfowl, gulls, and anything else of interest.

Andrew, the
Birding Dude. We maintained an enviable pace throughout the day, running in high gear well past the final buzzer, primarily due to Andrew's contagious enthusiasm. Andrew came closer to actually twitching with excitement while birding than anyone I've birded with before. Not physically, of course (maybe a little, due to the cold), but mentally his mind was resonating with the task of bird finding. In addition, Andrew kept us focused with periodic promptings about our species count, the point total, what species we needed, and where we could still find those birds. A few Dunkin' Donuts stops helped here, too. Finally, if past posts are any indication, the photos that will appear on his blog will be stunning.

Corey from 10000Birds takes a break from digiscoping.

Corey of 10000Birds. Corey reinforced all of the pieces I mentioned already - enthusiasm, humor, patience while scoping distant waterfowl. Hell, really, he initiated most of them. Corey brought - and I'm not sure it's the right word, but I think it fits - attitude. Most apparent through his driving skills in an area where even the locals don't know where they're going or how to get there, but also through frequent adrenaline-like shots of confidence as we scored some good birds and missed some expected ones. Dunkin' Donuts had nothing to do with this.

What goes without saying is each member's birding skills are stellar, a trait perhaps second only to our commitment to have a good time. As Chris affirmed before and during the event, we were serious contenders - we had the talent, we had the strategy, we just needed a little cooperation from the birds.

There's the line up, and a little behind-the-scenes look at the chemistry of the weekend. I will leave it to you to figure out who was the shy one, who was the funny one, who was the "bad boy," who was the sensitive one, etc etc ad nauseum.

The Bloggerhead Kingbirds scope the calm,
morning waters for a King Eider.

* What's a BINMIP? My cool, new acronym for "Birdbloggers I've Never Met In Person." Hope it catches on! And, with a bit more traveling, I'll need to use it less and less.

** OK, there is a particular order, but only the Bloggerhead Kingbirds will be able to figure it out.

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