Sunday, October 04, 2009

Jamie, Claire, and Roger the Sandhill Cranes, Red-tail Update, and Feathered Fossils

The family of Sandhill Cranes, Grus canadensis, which comes to forage at Thresherman's Park late in the day.

I discovered earlier this week that the Cranes had been named from The Outlander series of books by one of the members of the Thresheree. From left to right- Mom is Claire. Dad is Jamie. And young Roger, their youngster from this year, is on the right.

Note that Roger still has some left over brownish immature feathers on the top of his head. And he has yet to get the red crown of a mature bird, a field mark for the species. One of the other field marks is the tufted tail.

The other day I took a hundred plus pictures of them and have been attempting to figure out exactly what they were doing. Unfortunately all that figuring meant that I wasn't doing a daily post. Sooooo...once I figure it out I'll you know to scroll down to find it. Each segment posts on the day it was started not on the day it publishes.

In the meantime we have some catching up to do...

Steam the Red-tailed Hawk has been being mobbed by the five resident Crows on a daily basis. Why in particular it is happening now as the resident Crows have yet to be joined by other over wintering Crows I don't know. Crows in a murder often throw their weight around. This is a little early in the progression of the cycle for Red-tails to get the full Crow onslaught.

News of fascinating fossils from long time contributor Robin of Illinois--
(This is the second third of a previous blog that somehow didn't publish fully.)

The discovery of five remarkable new fossils has confirmed that birds evolved from dinosaurs, Chinese scientists said last night.

Because the fossils, unearthed in north-eastern China, are older than previous discoveries of similar creatures, the find adds weight to the theory that birds descended from predatory dinosaurs.

The fossils all have feathers or feather-like structures. The clearest and most striking of the specimens can be seen to have four wings, extensive plumage and profusely feathered feet.

One of the scientists who made the discovery, Xu Xing, will reveal details of his find in Bristol at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology.

"These exceptional fossils provide us with evidence that has been missing until now," Xu said. "Now it all fits neatly into place and we have tied up some of the loose ends."

The finds date back to between 151m and 164m years ago, which suggest they are older than archaeopteryx, previously thought to be the oldest undisputed bird.

Xu, who is based in Beijing, said: "The fossils provide confirmation that the bird-dinosaur hypothesis is correct, and supports the idea that birds descended from theropod dinosaurs (the group of predatory dinosaurs that includes allosaurus and velociraptor)."

The fossils were found in Liaoning province. Xu told the Guardian he was shocked when he first saw the best of the specimens. "This was really unexpected. One thing that would shock you is that this is covered with feathers everywhere except the beak and the claw," he said. "It is the first feathered species known so far; the earliest known feathered species."

There have been fakes before. A creature that came to be known as archaeoraptor, with the body of the bird and the tail of a dinosaur, sent the world of palaeontology into a flutter after apparently being found in China. It was later proved a fake, not unearthed by scientists, but bought at a rock show in the US. China is an increasingly important centre for palaeontology because so much of the country's rocks remain unexplored. A sizeable contingent from China is attending the conference in Bristol, one of the largest gatherings of palaeontologists ever.

Xu said: "The first question we wanted to know was is it fake or real? We checked in detail and convinced ourselves there was no problem. We are 100% sure we are looking at a real species, not a fake one. It's one of the most important for understanding the origin of birds."

Feathers cover the arms and tail, but also the feet, suggesting that a four-winged stage may have existed in the transition to birds. The fossils will also help scientists work out the mechanics of how early birds flew. The specimens have been identified as types of Anchiornis huxleyi. The details of the find will also be announced in Nature.

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