Thousands of birds falling from the sky in American Southwest


Allison Salas/New Mexico State University

Thousands of migrating birds have inexplicably died in south-western US in what ornithologists have described as a national tragedy that is likely to be related to the climate crisis.

Flycatchers, swallows and warblers are among the species “falling out of the sky” as part of a mass die-off across New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and farther north into Nebraska, with growing concerns there could be hundreds of thousands dead already, said Martha Desmond, a professor in the biology department at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Many carcasses have little remaining fat reserves or muscle mass, with some appearing to have nose-dived into the ground mid-flight…

Historic wildfires across the western states of the US could mean they had to re-route their migration away from resource-rich coastal areas and move inland over the Chihuahuan desert, where food and water are scarce, essentially meaning they starved to death. “They’re literally just feathers and bones,” Allison Salas, a graduate student at NMSU who has been collecting carcasses, wrote in a Twitter thread about the die-off. “Almost as if they have been flying until they just couldn’t fly any more.”

Folks here in New Mexico been talking about this for days. At first, we thought it was just something local. We figured on climate change. Waterways are turning bad as much as trees and vegetation are dying off. It’s just more widespread than we ever imagined.

Revisiting the Marshmallow Test


Josie Garner

When kids “pass” the marshmallow test, are they simply better at self-control or is something else going on? A new UC San Diego study revisits the classic psychology experiment and reports that part of what may be at work is that children care more deeply than previously known what authority figures think of them.

In the marshmallow test, young children are given one marshmallow and told they can eat it right away or, if they wait a while, while nobody is watching, they can have two marshmallows instead. The half-century-old test is quite well-known. It’s entered everyday speech, and you may have chuckled at an online video or two in which children struggle adorably on hidden camera with the temptation of an immediate treat…

But the real reason the test is famous (and infamous) is because researchers have shown that the ability to wait – to delay gratification in order to get a bigger reward later – is associated with a range of positive life outcomes far down the line, including better stress tolerance and higher SAT scores…”Our new research suggests that in addition to measuring self-control, the task may also be measuring another important skill: awareness of what other people value.”

Interesting read. Understanding children and their changing values is useful stuff.

I guess.

Strange happening on Mars [explained]

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

The moons of Mars are not quite like our Earth’s Moon. Phobos, the larger of the two, is much closer to its planet; compared to the Moon’s 27-day orbit, Phobos swings around Mars in line with the planet’s equator thrice every Martian day (sol).

Solar eclipses, therefore, are much more frequent than those here on Earth. Phobos passes in front of – but never entirely covers – the Sun for an annular or partial eclipse somewhere on Mars most sols. Because Phobos is moving so fast, it never transits for more than 30 seconds…

To the surprise of Mars scientists, during Phobos eclipses, the lander’s seismometer – the instrument that records ground motions to monitor possible quake activity – tilts, just an infinitesimal little bit, towards one side.

Take a guess at why this occurs. Then, RTFA, and get the real scoop. [Cripes…I almost said “nitty-gritty”. How’s that for dating myself?]

Convert coal-fired power plants to zero-emissions “Lego” blocks


New jobs for old coal-fired generating stations

…A new energy storage technology invented in Australia could enable coal-fired power stations to run entirely emissions-free.

The novel material, called miscibility gap alloy (MGA), stores energy in the form of heat. MGA is housed in small blocks of blended metals, which receive energy generated by renewables such as solar and wind…

The energy can then be used as an alternative to coal to run steam turbines at coal-fired power stations, without producing emissions. Stackable like Lego, MGA blocks can be added or removed, scaling electricity generation up or down to meet demand.

MGA blocks are a fraction of the cost of a rival energy storage technology, lithium-ion batteries.

If our electricity grid is to become emissions-free, we need an energy storage option that’s both affordable and versatile enough to be rolled out at massive scale – providing six to eight hours of dispatchable power every night.

MGAs store energy for a day to a week. This fills a “middle” time frame between batteries and hydro-power, and allows intermittent renewable energy to be dispatched when needed.

RTFA for the operational details. Cost of conversion and operational lifetime for these blocks are a couple of serious advantages the system offers. Looking forward to the pilot plant tests…starting the second half of 2021.

Thanks, Honeyman

Dust devil…on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover spotted this dust devil with one of its Navigation Cameras on Aug. 9, 2020…Taken from the “Mary Anning” drill site, this dust devil appears to be passing through small hills just above Curiosity’s present location on Mount Sharp. The dust devil is approximately one-third to a half-mile away and estimated to be about 16 feet wide. The dust plume disappears past the top of the frame, so an exact height can’t be known, but it’s estimated to be at least 164 feet tall.

As we explore this tiny corner of our solar system, sometimes we discover new, sometimes we find same or similar. As someone with a basic understanding of what should be high school-level science…would know.

Help children respond to the pandemic affecting their lives

For parents, helping children cope during the COVID-19 pandemic may be as simple as listening, Steven Marans argues.

Children are struggling with difficult issues, says Marans, a child and adult psychoanalyst at Yale University Medicine and chief of the Trauma Section at the Child Study Center…

In a year marked by COVID-19, discussions around racial justice, a crashing economy, and a divisive presidential election, he says parents need to first acknowledge their own emotions and stress reactions in order to be most attentive to their child’s responses to recent events.

“Then, if children are having ‘big feelings’—or showing signs of their distress—it’s an opportunity to hit the pause button and help them recognize and reflect on those feelings,” Marans says.

Not solutions to everything; but, a lot to offer about individual questions children will be asking themselves and the adults important to their lives.

Mapping drone sent to a watery grave by a Bald Eagle

An Upper Peninsula bald eagle launched an airborne attack on a drone operated by a Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) pilot last month, tearing off a propeller and sending the aircraft to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

The brazen eagle vs. EGLE onslaught took place near Escanaba in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on July 21 when EGLE environmental quality analyst and drone pilot Hunter King was mapping shoreline erosion for use in the agency’s efforts to document and help communities cope with high water levels.

King was watching his video screen as the drone beelined for home, but suddenly it began twirling furiously. “It was like a really bad rollercoaster ride,” said King. When he looked up, the drone was gone, and an eagle was flying away. A nearby couple, whose pastimes include watching the local eagles attack seagulls and other birds, later confirmed they saw the eagle strike something but were surprised to learn it was a drone. Both King and the couple said the eagle appeared uninjured as it flew from the scene of the crime.

The eagle was fine. Rescue expeditions failed to find the EGLE.

Big win for bunkers!

Yeah, I know the video says menhaden. That’s the correct name. But, my sister and I grew up subsistence fishing with our father on the southern New England coast. We saw bunkers cram into our harbors and inlets, every now and then, trying to get away from the big guys who wanted them for a meal in a mouthful.

I will remember to my dying day the one time a killer whale followed a school of bunkers into our favorite harborside spot, early morning on a pier jutting out a quarter-mile from shore. Woo-hoo! Biggest fin I ever saw sticking up through little harbor waves. And when he left after his snack, we just packed up and went home. Even if there were stragglers of any species left, they were too scared to come out and try to eat anything.

NPR Special: “Save The Whales. Save The Tigers. Save The Tapeworms?”

They’re wiggly and slimy and live inside the flesh of other animals. Now, scientists are making a new case for why they should be saved.

Parasites play crucial roles in ecosystems around the world, making up around 40% of animal species. As wildlife faces the growing threats of climate change and habitat loss, scientists warn that parasites are equally vulnerable.

That’s why a team of scientists has released a “global parasite conservation plan.”

“Parasites have a major public relations problem,” says Chelsea Wood, assistant professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “Most people don’t really like thinking about them, but the fact is they’re really important in ecosystems.”

And that’s the good news!