A Northwoods Almanac for January 22 – February 4, 2016
|ermine photo by Margo Perkins|
Maple Syrup Is Medicine – I Knew It!!
I have to lead off with this because of my personal addiction to pure maple syrup. Scientists say they have found potential medicinal properties in a maple syrup molecule, which they have chosen to call “quebecol” (do you think the study was conducted in Quebec?).
The studies indicate that quebecol might have potential as an anti-cancer drug. One study noted that it displays some similarity to tamoxifen, an antiestrogen drug often used to treat breast cancer.
Another study at Quebec City’s Université Laval found that quebecol stops inflammation before it even starts. The same was true for synthetic quebecol-like chemicals.
Interestingly, quebecol is only found in maple syrup, not sap, which suggests that the compound is a product of the processing stages.
The research team published its findings in “Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters” (January 2016). As quoted in the press release, chemist and co-author Normand Voyer said, "This paves the way for a whole new class of anti-inflammatory agents, inspired by quebecol, that could compensate for the low efficacy of certain treatments while reducing the risk of side effects.”
It also paves the way for yet greater consumption of maple syrup – all, of course, purely in the interests of greater health and medical breakthroughs. I am honored to be such a willing servant of the medical community.
Snowy Owl Reappears After Nearly Two Year Absence
You may recall my writing about Project SNOWstorm, a research project begun in 2013-14 during the historic snowy owl irruption. As part of the study, researchers were able to tag 22 snowy owls from Minnesota to Massachusetts, including 4 in Wisconsin, with GPS/GSM transmitters. The transmitters use cellphone technology to transmit data. When the bird is out of range of a cell tower, the transmitters can store up to 100,000 locations, then transmit that information — even years later — when the bird flies within cell coverage. The technology now is so advanced that transmitters have enough storage capacity for more than 12 years worth of data.
One of the snowy owls was trapped and fitted with a cellular tracking device on 12/23/2013 on the Buena Vista Marsh south of Wisconsin Rapids. He was a juvenile male then, and remained in a roughly one-square-mile area all winter, when he was last detected on 3/31/2014. Then he wasn’t heard from all last winter and into this winter.
But at the beginning of December 2015, the owl connected to a cell tower just south of Lake Manitoba, about 70 miles north of the North Dakota border. So, some of his data was finally transmitted! He was last in Wisconsin on 3/31/14, after which there’s a gap of almost a month until April 30 when he was 664 miles northwest of the Buena Vista grasslands, near the town of Gypsumville in southern Manitoba. From there, he flew 1,106 miles farther north to the edge of the Beaufort Sea in northern Nunavut, moving out onto the ice, then angling back southeast about 100 miles into the barrens near Bromley Lake where musk-oxen and caribou live. The last transmission date was June 7, 2014. He’d been out of touch for 20 months! Due to poor cellular coverage only a small sample of points from his transmitter were received, so all the researchers have is a look at his first early summer. And now he’s flown off again out of cellular range.
Go to www.projectsnowstorm.org for more information.
Great Backyard Bird Count
Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time. Since then, more than 100,000 people have joined the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. In 2015, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in more than 100 countries counted 5,090 species of birds on more than 147,000 checklists (BirdLife International recognizes a total of 10,426 bird species worldwide, of which 13% are threatened with extinction).
Anyone can participate. All you’re asked to do is tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, which runs from February 12-15, 2016. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world – you don’t have to be at your home.
If you’re new to the count, you have to register online, then enter your checklist. During the count, you can explore what others are seeing in your area or around the world. See http://gbbc.birdcount.org for more information.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
The crackpots in cowboy hats currently occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNHR) in Harney County, southeastern Oregon, have my dander up on many fronts, but I’ll just focus on the most obvious – this is a national wildlife refuge for a reason.
A brief history of the MNWR: In the late 1880’s, plume hunters were decimating North American bird populations in the name of fashion – women were wearing part or all of a bird on their hats. Shorebirds and colonial nesting birds suffered the most as hunters targeted large flocks. An ounce of breeding feathers was worth more than an ounce of gold, so plume hunters focused their sights on Malheur Lake and the “white herons” (later renamed great egrets) that bred there by the thousands.
By 1898, most of the egrets had been killed, and by 1908, the population still had not recovered. In stepped President Theodore Roosevelt, a renowned hunter himself, but a hunter who couldn’t abide by seeing indiscriminate slaughter of wildlife. He established by executive order the Lake Malheur Reservation on August 18, 1908, setting aside unclaimed government lands encompassed by Malheur, Mud and Harney Lakes “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.” The Lake Malheur Reservation was the 19th of 51 wildlife refuges created by Roosevelt during his tenure as president. At the time, Malheur was the third refuge in Oregon and one of only six refuges west of the Mississippi.
The refuge encompasses an oasis of water in the high desert of southeast Oregon. Historic bird counts show that the Refuge, as well as the Silvies River floodplain north of the Refuge, supports anywhere between 5 and 66 percent of the Pacific Flyway’s migrating waterfowl populations. The Refuge also supports over 20 percent of the Oregon population of breeding greater sandhill cranes, while most colonial waterbirds (egrets, herons) have easily exceeded 10 percent of the regional population at their peak, even reaching up to 77 percent of the Great Basin population for certain species. Migratorial shorebird numbers have been documented at levels high enough to qualify the Refuge as a Regional Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve. The Refuge also supports very high densities of certain nesting riparian passerines and the largest local population of bobolinks in the western U.S. Plus, the refuge hosts over 58 species of mammals, including mule deer, pronghorn antelope and the occasional Rocky Mountain elk.
The annual Harney County Migratory Bird Festival began in 1981 as a Kiwanis sponsored event, and is held the second weekend of April during the height of the spring sandhill crane, waterfowl and shorebird migrations along the Pacific Flyway. Birders from all over the country ought to attend, “occupying” the refuge for the purpose in which it was created.
So, would the highest use of this land by our government be to graze cattle on it, or to continue its use as a wildlife refuge?
Bird Mortality and Communication Towers
Scientists estimate that almost 7 million birds, most of which are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, collide with communications towers in the U.S. every year. Research, however, has determined that birds are not attracted to the flashing lights of towers but are attracted to the non-flashing, “L-810” lights.
Last month the FAA released a new Advisory Circular for the marking and lighting of obstructions, including communications towers. This change allows tower owners to extinguish the non-flashing, L-810 side-marker lights on towers higher than 350 feet, an easy process that doesn’t require climbing the tower, and it saves tower owners construction costs, maintenance costs, and energy costs.
Most importantly, extinguishing non-flashing lights reduces migratory bird collisions with towers by as much as 70%.
It’s a win-win, and a good example of why we do scientific research.
Full moon on 1/23. On 1/27, look in the early evening for Jupiter 1.4 degrees to the north of the waning gibbous moon. 2/4 marks the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox.
The Mecca Ski Trail’s annual candlelight ski event takes place on 1/30 in Mercer. North Lakeland Elementary School’s Annual Candlelight event is on 2/19. Both are a great way to see stars while enjoying a unique, often magical opportunity to ski at night.
Bill and Margo Perkins sent me a fine photo of an ermine (weasel) peeking out from under their back porch. Debbie and Randy Augustinak in Land O'Lakes also sent a photo of several pine grosbeaks visiting their feeders, a rare sighting so far this winter.
|pine grosbeak photo by Debbie Augustinak|