07 April 2019

Salt Creek Desert Pupfish

Last week I spent a few days camping in the desert regions east of the Sierra Nevada, down to Death Valley. One of the highlights was viewing the endangered Salt Creek Desert Pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius). There are only a few populations left - remnants from the Pleistocene era Lake Manly.
Lake Manly was a giant lake covering what is today Death Valley, to depths of 600 feet. A few thousand years later, it is gone, and all that remains are salt flats an ephemeral streams. Somehow these fish managed to adapt to the extreme temperatures, high salinity (3x that of the ocean) and seasonal nature of the waters.
The pupfish are only a couple inches long, and defend small territories (a square meter or two) in the shallow creek. In fact, one of my pictures is a territorial squabble by two males. They only have a few months to mate and lay eggs before they perish. And the cycle starts again next spring when the eggs hatch and new generation repeats the task.
The only thing keeping this group of pupfish from being Critically Endangered is that there are two disconnected populations. Note that until recently, all desert pupfish were thought to be a single species with different sub-species that had slightly different life strategies. Recent DNA evidence has resulted in them being split into three distinct species.
That said, it was discouraging to see people walking in and along the creek, despite signage saying not to. Thankfully it is only early April - in another few weeks each step they were taking would likely crush dozens of pupfish eggs.
Male Pupfish

Male Pupfish

Male and Female Pupfish

Two Males Fighting Over Territory

06 March 2019

Satin Bowerbird

This week I was told of a fascinating Radiolab podcast - titled "The Beauty Puzzle". The podcast looks natural selection through a very interesting lens. I don't want to spoil the episode by recounting it here, but I will say that they spend several minutes discussing the Satin Bowerbird.

These amazing birds create an elaborate display, called a bower. There are many species of bowerbird, each constructing a bower with a different architecture. This one creates an avenue bower, consisting of sticks that basically form two walls, creating a pathway. The bird creates an expansive floor (called a platform) with sticks as well, and then decorates the scene with blue items.

Above you can see the bird at work, with the bower behind it and to the right.

Historically, the bird would have to work hard to find blue items in nature - perhaps flower petals or berries. These days, human trash, mainly in the form of plastic bottlecaps and straws, has filled the niche. But there are a couple blue/purple feathers in the mix as well.

Look closely and you'll see some yellow items. These are Sulphur-crested Cockatoo crest feathers. There were at least a dozen in the bower - it makes you wonder if it raids Cockatoo nest areas, or just has a keen ability to find these scattered about the wild?

When at the site, the bowerbird maintains a tidy bower. Sticks and leaves that fall or blow in are quickly removed. And time is spent putting any misplaced blue items back in their original spot.

Hard at work...

This is the entire scene of the bower. It's hard to tell, but some of the low branches have bark that was torn off and fluttered in the wind. It was as if the bird had created little flags to further enhance the bower.
This bower was located in New South Wales in a Eucalypt forest edge - typical habitat for the Satin Bowerbird. The bowerbird is a large bird - somewhere between the size of a typical american Jay and an American Crow.

Like many birds, there are sub-species as well, and these sub species sometimes decorate differently, lining the platform with moss, or picking other colored objects.

I'm Back

Hi Again! I've been wanting to post for quite awhile, but have been waiting for a time when I can be consistent with it. I think that time has finally come!

Over the next few months I plan to recap my two weeks backpacking in Arizona from last year, give a closer look at some wonderfully unique animal species I've encountered, and sprinkle in a few fun wildlife photos here and there.

At the same time, I'm performing a slow, steady makeover of the design and layout of this blog, Nature's Archive Photography, and my Facebook and Instagram presence. Please follow along - and please provide your feedback, thoughts, and questions!

As a hint of what's to come, here's an Anna's Hummingbird from a recent excursion.