Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Part 2 of the Bird v Cat article

Yet for all their indefatigable stalking, cats will rarely take on the most cursed vermin in our midst. “The myth has been propagated that urban roaming cats do a lot to control the rat population,” Mr. Schroeder said. “But science has shown that cats don’t predate on rats, especially not the rather large variety seen in our cities.”

Cats’ toll on birds is a less mythical matter. In one famous study reported in the journal Nature, Kevin R. Crooks of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Michael E. SoulĂ© of the Wildlands Project in Colorado looked at the population dynamics among cats, coyotes and scrub birds in 28 “urban habitat fragments” of Southern California. In the developments to which coyotes had access, free-ranging cats were rare and avian diversity high. The coyotes ate cats but rarely bothered with birds. Where coyotes were excluded, cats ranged free and bird diversity dropped.

Very likely, the cats got the young. As it happens, many temperate-zone birds go through a dangerous time early in life, when they are too big for the nest but still poor at flying. The fledglings spend their time on the ground, hiding in bushes and waiting for their parents to come feed them. People come upon the baby birds and think, poor dear, it’s fallen from its nest, but no, this is the system. “They’re incredibly vulnerable,” Dr. Marra said, “and in high-cat densities, the fledglings get nailed.”

In a newly completed study, Dr. Marra and his students used radio transmitters to track fledgling survival in two Washington suburbs: Bethesda and my own Takoma Park. The towns are similar socioeconomically and demographically, but while much of Takoma Park is crawling with outdoor cats, many streetscapes in Bethesda are, for reasons that remain unclear, largely cat-free. At least partly as a result of this discrepancy, Dr. Marra said, fledgling survivorship among Bethesda birds is about 55 percent, similar to what you would see in a natural population. But for birds that happen to be born in my tree-lined paradisiacal hamlet, only 10 percent last long enough to take wing.

There are ways to keep a cat happy inside. Becky Robinson, the founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, who has taken in five strays, recommends any number of the increasingly popular “exclosures,” plastic pods that you pop into your window for the cat to enter and watch the world, or snaky mesh cages that you can even take camping.

I’m relieved to report that our new cat, Manny Jr., is content with our screened-in porch and the many hunting opportunities our home affords. Sorry, but the crickets are fair game.

Save the Birds!

This excellent article was in the NY Times a few weeks ago, and states very well one of my biggest "pet peeves." (pun fully intended) As a conservationist and avid bird-watcher, I am a huge proponent of people keeping their cats indoors.

Give Birds a Break. Lock Up the Cat.

Published: September 28, 2009

The other day I looked out the window and saw a strange black cat sauntering through our yard. It was a beautiful animal, with bright penny eyes and fur that gleamed like a newly polished shoe, but still the sight turned me ghoulish. So I ran outside, hollered, stamped my feet and finally managed to chase the little witch’s sidekick away.

I am not superstitious. I have always been a cat lover. Yet if there is one thing I don’t want crossing my path right now, it’s another bored, carnivorous tourist, another recreational hunter on the prowl. Our yard is already a magnet for half a dozen neighborhood cats, all of whom I know to be pets with perfectly good homes of their own. But they are free to roam, while we, between our burbling bird fountain out front and our well-stocked bird feeders in back, just happen to look like a felid Six Flags — now more than usual with the busy fall migrations under way.

I would like to complain to the cats’ owners, demand that they come claw their property from mine, but I don’t. I’m a coward, complaining is unneighborly, and I’m all too aware that I could be accused of hypocrisy, of the pot calling the kitty black. Until she died two autumns ago, our cat Cleo was a notorious free ranger, yowling outside neighbors’ windows, climbing on top of their roofs. We tried to make her a housecat, but when she retaliated by using our living room as a giant cat box, we cravenly sighed and flung open the door.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have held my ground, plugged my nose, and kept Cleo inside. Experts disagree sharply these days over how to manage our multitudes of stray and feral cats, with some saying off to the pound, others preaching a policy of catch, neuter and release, and everybody wishing there were other options to click. Yet when it comes to pet policy, and the question of whether it’s O.K. to let your beloved Cleo, Zydeco or Cocoa wander at will and have their Hobbesian fun, the authorities on both sides of the alley emphatically say, No. There are enough full-time strays; don’t add in your chipper. It is not fair to the songbirds and other animals that domestic cats kill by the billions each year. New research shows that neighborhoods like mine are particularly treacherous, Bermuda Triangles for baby birds.

Peter P. Marra, a research scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo, pointed out that cats were the only domesticated animal permitted to roam. “Pigs have to stay in pens, chickens have to stay in pens,” he said. “Why are cats allowed to run around and do what their instincts tell them to do, which is rampage?”

It isn’t fair to the cat. Regular stints outdoors are estimated to knock three or more years off a pet cat’s life. “No parent would let a toddler outside the house to run free in traffic,” said Darin Schroeder, vice president for conservation advocacy at the American Bird Conservancy in Washington. “A responsible owner shouldn’t do it with a pet.”

In the view of many wildlife researchers, a pet cat on a lap may be a piece of self-cleaning perfection, but a pet cat on the loose is like a snakefish or English ivy: an invasive species. Although domestic cats have been in this country since the colonial era, they are thought to be the descendants of a Middle Eastern species of wild cat, and there is nothing quite like them native to North America. As a result, many local prey species are poorly equipped to parry a domestic cat’s stealth approach. “People fool themselves into believing that by simply putting a bell on a cat they could prevent mortality to birds,” Mr. Schroeder said. “But a bell ringing means nothing to a bird.”

Moreover, free-ranging domestic cats are considered subsidized predators. They eat cat food at home, and then hunt just for sport, a strategy that allows them to exist at densities far greater than carnivores achieve in nature. “It’s estimated that there are 117 million to 150 million free-ranging cats” in the United States, Dr. Marra said. “They’re the most abundant carnivore in North America today.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sea Dragon

Sea Dragons are certainly one of the strangest and most interesting creatures in the ocean. Here is a video that shows their unique courtship and hatching of their eggs.

Sea Dragons

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Are you a Twitcher?

You may be.....if you live in Great Britain and are a bird-watcher. That was the first thing I learned from this article.

Rare bird sighting draws hundreds

Eastern Crowned Warbler
The bird is usually found in the Far East. Pic. Dougie Holden
Hundreds of birdwatchers have flocked to a South Tyneside quarry after a bird usually found in the forests of Asia was spotted there.
Twitchers from all over the country have descended on Trow Quarry in South Shields after the sighting of an eastern crowned warbler.
News quickly spread on internet message boards after a photo of the bird was posted on Thursday night.
The last reported European sighting of the bird was in Holland in 2007.
It is believed the bird landed in the quarry after becoming disorientated for some reason.
Significant sighting
Birdwatcher Paul Cook, from Whitburn, near South Shields, told the BBC: "There has been nothing like this in Britain before. This is massive.
"Within minutes of the discovery last night pagers were going into overdrive and my phone has never stopped since.
"I would say about 300 people have been there already and I would imagine the numbers will run into the thousands come the end of the weekend."
The most recent sightings of the bird in the last four years have been in Holland and Finland but it is normally a native of the Far East.
Lee Evans, of the British Birding Association, said the sighting was "significant" and was on his way to South Tyneside from the organisation's base in Buckinghamshire.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Neat Nature Images

Here is an article about outdoor photographers that has some amazing images, including these (that tiger is downright frightening): Creative Images

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cute Overload

OK, I want a pygmy rabbit now. (Link here)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thoroughbred News

I previously posted about the amazing ladies of Thoroughbred racing, Zenyatta and Racheal Alexandra here. Well, they continue to impress. Zenyatta remains undefeated (13 straight wins) going into yet another big stakes races this weekend at Santa Anita. She is the heavy favorite to win the $300,000 Lady's Secret Stakes which she also won last year. Here's to hoping her winning ways continue! What an amazing mare! Link to story

In other Thoroughbred news, anyone interested in owning a quality racing Thoroughbred can do so comparatively cheaply due to the economy. Keeneland recently hosted their fall sale of Thoroughbreds, and average prices were much lower than they have been in years past. Owners seem to be looking toward the future as the fillies for sale seemed to be the most popular. Here are some stories regarding the sale: Fillies Rule at Keeneland Keeneland sales down 33% 'Bargain' Storm Cat colt Too bad I don't have $500,000 lying around. ;)

Thursday, October 8, 2009


With Rio being chosen as the site for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, preparations are already under way for the equestrian competition. What is especially nice is that Brazil hosted the PanAm Games in 2007, so they already have the facilities built and in-use. The only major thing they need to do is add some more stabling.

An especially interesting note: the summer games will take place there during Rio's winter since it is in the southern hemisphere! It should be lovely for equine and human athletes alike since average high temps are expected to be in the mid-70s.

Here is a link to the Rio bid video. I'm pretty sure the promise of a private beach swayed a lot of votes. ;)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Supreme Court Hearing

Thanks again to my brother for keeping me up-to-date on this topic! Here is a very entertaining account of how the Supreme Court handled this one:

The Supreme Court mauls the law banning animal-cruelty videos

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Animal Case before Supreme Court

My brother brought my attention to this issue being brought before the Supreme Court. This is an analysis of the issue at hand, and what precedent it may set for animal cruelty cases.

"Congress’ attempt ten years ago to ban animal cruelty, by banning video and other depictions of it, had its first constitutional test in the Supreme Court Tuesday, and appeared to have failed. Despite efforts by an Obama Administration lawyer to show that Congress wrote carefully and narrowly, most of the Justices strongly implied that the law probably goes too far — or at least was so vague that no one can know just what is illegal. Only one Justice, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., seemed tempted to support the law as is.

The case of U.S. v. Stevens (08-769) tests the constitutionality of the 1999 law that made it a federal crime to make and sell commercially “any visual or auditory depiction” of killing or seriously abusing a living animal, if the conduct is illegal under either federal or a state’s law. [Disclosure: Akin Gump represents respondent Robert Stevens in the case, and blog contributor Patricia Millett argued on behalf of Mr. Stevens today. However, the author of this post operates independently of Akin Gump and is not involved in the firm's litigation.] The Justices, loosing a series of hypotheticals on what kind of conduct could not be depicted legally under the law – from bull-fighting to using geese to make foie gras, suggested that the statute likely would reach far beyond what Congress was actually seeking to ban.

Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal, asking the Court to reinstate the law that had been nullified by the Third Circuit Court, said Congress intended to shut down “a robust market” for so-called “crush videos,” images of small animals being stomped to death. It was, he said, a “narrowly targeted restriction.”

But he was only a few words into his opening when Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether Congress had any evidence that there was “such a robust market” for videos of dog-fighting or even of hunting. Katyal countered by stressing anew that the law was limited in scope, did not apply to hunting, and was a challenge only to the commercial market. That simply prompted Justice Antonin Scalia to say that applying it only to a “commercial market” was not to limit it, since that would embrace “anything sold.”

From then on, Scalia continued to assail the sweep of the law, and other Justices joined in the challenge. Scalia was so relentless that, when Patricia A. Millett, the lawyer speaking against the law, seemed to be leaving some opening for Congress to pass laws in this area, the Justice gave her a mini-lecture on “it is not up to the government to decide what our worst instincts are.” Millett had the most difficulty fending off questions from Justice Alito about whether Congress could write a law that would ban a TV channel devoted to “human sacrifice.”

In contrast to Katyal’s argument (seemingly one that made no discernible headway with the Court) that the law was a strictly limited one, Millett suggested that it would apply so widely that courts simply could not salvage it by trying to spell out what it did not cover. “You would have to excise so many things, I don’t know what you would have left,” she said.

Katyal had been challenged rigorously throughout his argument, but Millett did not encounter any serious pressure, until Justice Alito opted to join actively in the questioning.

Alito suggested that the law may have accomplished, over its decade on the books, just what Congress had in mind: it had dried up the market for “crush videos,” while not causing a decrease in videos or TV shows about hunting. He told Millett she should be addressing “what’s going on in the real world,” and not focus on hypotheticals like producing foie gras with geese. She replied that, if Congress were to write laws in the First Amendment area, it had to “write with a scalpel and not with a buzz saw.”

But she seemed less sure of her argument when Alito moved on to questions about Congress’ authority, hypothetically, to try to stop human sacrifice by banning its depiction on videos and in other media. She at first said that such a law might be valid if it were “properly drawn” and “narrowly tailored.” As other members of the Court showed some interest in the human sacrifice hypothetical, Millett made further concessions even while not answering directly. First Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and then Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., insisted on a direct response to Alito’s hypothetical. She answered that Congress could legislate in this area, unless it sought to ban the content of such depictions “just because it did not like it.”

A final decision in the case is not expected for at least several weeks."

Here is a link to the article at SCOTUSBLOG