I just finished up a week in Montana and Wyoming with a group of ninth graders, studying the history of wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone, learning a bit more about the wildlife while we were here. We booked part of our program with the Yellowstone Association, the education arm of the park, and I would highly recommend them for educational groups or for any visitors looking for informative and helpful guides. They were like classroom/field trip teachers for three days; they got to know our students, and they really knew their stuff when it came to natural history, archaeology, geology, and ecology of the region. They also provided transportation in short tour vans, binoculars, and spotting scopes. As our students had been studying wolf reintroduction, the Association arranged for us to meet with two ranchers up in the Gardiner Valley, Martin Davis and Bruce Malcolm. The conversations with these gentlemen helped us all to gain some perspective on the complexity of the issues surrounding wolves, hunting, ranching, ecology, and economics; the students and teachers alike were moved by their equanimity, common sense, and insight. The ranching life is not one that too many of our students are familiar with, and it was eye opening for them (and me).
The week started out snowy and in the 20s, but got a bit warmer and sunnier each day. It is April in Northern Wyoming!
It was a pretty incredible trip.
My friend Nick posted this short video the other day on facebook, about his friend, photographer David McLain. Nick wrote, “Proud to work with David and call him a friend. If I post next week about quitting my job and taking more pictures, this is why.”
I repost it here for a few reasons, but mainly because I think it gets right to the essence of why McLain travels and why he’s a photographer, working, “trying to leave something beautiful.” It’s beautifully shot, and it also makes me want to take a trip back to Vietnam, soon.
When we teach, do we ever light a spark that ends up kindling some kind of desire to see the world, to capture images, to create, to follow passions, to tell stories? I hope so.
I just found this video/tutorial series from bozemanbiology as I was looking for a visual way to introduce cells, other than looking at the diagrams in the book (or using CellsAlive, which I also find incredibly useful). So we watched this video today in class with both my biology sections. Now, Andersen FLIES through this stuff, faster than kids can take notes on, but I think his explanations are really clear (and students can always watch the video again. That could be useful for them after they’ve learned more about organelles, as a way to tie it all together for review). I also love the podcast style and how he uses graphics and “smart pen” notes on the screen. It’s like listening to and watching Alton Brown explain animal cell structures. I’d like to make some of these tutorials myself, or have the kids make them to show what they know for assessments.
Paul Andersen is a high school biology teacher in Bozeman, MT, and he’s got a few hundred videos on his YouTube channel, most on topics on biology, but some in physics, chemistry, and scientific method. It’s like Khan Academy with more visual aids.
So, there IS a new David Quammen book! This one deals with the crossover of infectious disease into humans; a fascinating, terrifying, and all-too-common process called zoonosis. Diseases such as bubonic plague, swine flu, HIV, and Ebola fall into this category. It’s important to note that transmission by an organism doesn’t make a disease zoonotic; rather, zoonoses involve a “jump” of a species-specific pathogen to a new species (in this case humans). Swine flu is a good example. Normally, we don’t catch the flu that pigs catch — the virus is great at infecting pig cells, not ours. But when that influenza virus mutates (which it does often), some of those mutated versions may be able to infect us (note: some of those mutations might also be harmless to us; some mutations will render the virus ineffective entirely — but we don’t hear about those versions. This is natural selection, of course.). This situation can be especially problematic because that recently mutated virus, in addition to being “new” to the world, is also totally “new” to our immune systems (advantage: virus). Throw in the fact that we’re putting ourselves in contact with more and more potential “new” pathogens all over the world (travel, exploration, destruction of rain forests, etc.) and we end up with a lot more potential diseases to combat. My seventh graders do a project on infectious diseases after studying bacteria and viruses, and the subject of this book ties in nicely with that project. So, in addition to new books this fall from Chabon, Helprin, McEwan, Ruhlman, and Kean, now I’m looking forward to finding some time to read Quammen’s “Spillover.”
Here’s the trailer for the book from the publisher, W. W. Norton:
Well, just about ready. In this fairly non-scientific estimation (not actually counting days since hatching, nor counting pin feathers), I think these 4 little Carolina Wren chicks nesting on our back porch garden shelf are about ready to leave the nest.
This is the second time wrens have built a nest here on our porch. They seem to have become desensitized to the opening and closing of our screen door. A clutch of chicks fledged in 2010; they took last summer off (started a nest and then abandoned it), and they’re back. Curious to know if it’s the same pair.
Some interesting bits about Carolina Wrens from the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior:
- Most wren species are monogamous. They defend all-purpose territories, and they usually pair for life.
- Male Carolina Wrens sing an individual song over and over, in bouts of anywhere from five to 250 repetitions, before switching to another. (I can attest to that.) They average about 32 songs per male, which is not quite as many as the Marsh Wren who clocks in around 50 songs.
- Winter and Carolina Wrens are perhaps the most catholic of wrens in their nesting preferences, placing their cup nests in crevices, low vegetation, or even on the ground [or on porch shelves].
- Wrens in N. America lay an average of 4 to 6 eggs (subelliptical to oval; white, cream, or pink with brownish mottling); the female incubates the eggs from 12 to 15 days.
- The altricial young have natal down when they hatch, primarily on the head and back. They are usually fed by both parents until feldging, which occurs at 10 – 17 days in the small-bodied species… Both parents continue to feed the young for about two weeks after fledging, unless the female begins another clutch, in which case the male often takes sole responsibility for the brood.
We finished the field component of the predator-prey ecology class this week in the Daly Creek drainage, Montana, Yellowstone National Park. We worked to collect information on how elk browsing habits related to physical barriers in aspen stands affects recruitment of aspen saplings. Here’s a bit of what we saw.