Monday, 25 May 2015

Reflections on Moraine Lake, Valley of the Ten Peaks

Moraine Lake is a glacially-fed lake in Banff National Park, 14 kilometres  outside the Village of Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. It is situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, at an elevation of approximately 1,885 m. The lake has a surface area of .5 square kilometres (0.19 sq mi). The lake, being glacially fed, does not reach its crest until mid to late June. When it is full, it reflects a distinct shade of blue. The colour is due to the refraction of light off the rock flour deposited in the lake on a continual basis.

The world of sandy Beach

The beach is a product of weathering rock and the seas drift. Countless molluscs and worms live inside the sand, while animals on its surface range from tiny sand hoppers to bird sand seals. Sand consists of tiny particles of rock and shell, and is the result of years of erosion and weathering by the sea. The erosion begins with the sea gnawing away at cliffs and breaking off rocks and stones. These are carried away by the sea and waves batter them against rocky foreshores, breaking them and their attached shells into ever smaller pieces. Thus the sea produces the raw materials for a sandy beach. So, the next stage in the creation of a sandy beach takes place once the particles of rock and shell are small enough to be suspended in the water, when they are carried along the coast by a process known as “longshore drift”. The direction from which waves approach a stretch of coast is determined by the direction of the prevailing wind, since the waves are created by winds out at sea. As the waves hit the shore they run up the beach, usually obliquely (depending on the wind direction), carrying their cargo of sand with them. This is called swash. The water returns the back wash by the line of least resistance, which is straight down the beach. By this to-and-fro action, waves after wave, the sand is shifted along, guided by the direction of the prevailing wind. This is longshore drift. If the swash is more powerful than the back wash then the sand gradually builds up to form a beach. If the backwash is dominant the sand moves on along the coasts, round the head land, and perhaps the next until it comes across a bay in which the conditions are right for the formation of a beach.

Beneath the surface, like all habitats dominated by the tides, sandy beaches have their favorable and unfavorable periods for the creatures that live there. The water brings a fresh source of food on each tide but when it retreats the inhabitants invertebrates such as worms, crustaceans and molluscs have to seek shelter against the sun, the wind and predators. For this reason the great majority live beneath the surface of the sand. One of the most obvious inhabitants is the common lugworm, which advertises its presence with the familiar coiled worm casts. This worm loves permanently in a U-shaped burrow, where it swallows sand to extract the organic content, after which the sandy waste is ejected as the coast. A few inches away from the cast a shallow round depression in the sand marks the entrance to the worm’s burrow. 

Where the feeding activities of the head end are causing the sand to sink the only way you can see the worm itself is to dig for it as anglers do for bait or hope to see it being dragged out by an oystercatcher or a gull feeding at low water. The damp sand of the inter-tidal region contains several different marine worms besides the lugworms. The tube building worms are particularly satisfying to find because they build beautiful shelters against the difficult environment. The sand mason, for example, secretes of sticky mucus from its body, to which sand grains adhere. This sandy tube extends down into the sand and also pokes above the surface. When the tide is out the worm withdraws, leaving only the top of the tube open. As the tide comes in the worm extends itself up the tube to collect tiny food particles drifting past its waving tentacles. The tube provides the worm with a fixed home in the unstable medium of sand and allows the worm easy movement up and down in response to the changing rhythm of the tide. 

Burrowing Bivalves This kind of movement up and down in the sands in response to the tide is also performed by several different molluscs. The molluscs of the sand are mostly bivalves, in contgrast to those of rocky shores which are mainly creatures such as limpets and winkles, which seal their single shells to the rock surface to keep in moisture and maintain an anchorage during the hazardous period of exposure. The bivalves have a different strategy to survive this dangerous period they burrow, using a powerful foot muscle to drag themselves out of sight into the damp sand. A good example of a burrowing bivalve is the common cockle. Moreover, when the tide is in the cockle lies half buried at the surface with its two shells slightly apart to allow its siphons to extend into the water for feeding and respiration. One siphon draws in water, along with its complement of plankton food, while the other siphon ejects the sieved water as waste. When the ebbing tide signals the end of the cockle’s feeding time it tightly clamps its two shells, sealing itself in until the next flood tide, and hides itself just below the surface of the sands.
Hidden predators sand also harbors some active hunters, such as the masked crab and the burrowing starfish. When the tide is in the masked crab digs and scoops its way into the sand with its powerful hind legs. Once hidden it breathes by drawing water down through long, tubed antennae and waits for the tide to go out so it can begin hunting. It is active only at night along the lower shore and shallow water, walking without the sideways scuttle typical of most crabs. The burrowing starfish adopts a different strategy. It hides just below the surface of the sand and seizes whole molluscs or worms, swallowing them into tis central stomach. A bivalve may seem indigestible, but the starfish has a way of dealing with it. It succeeds in prising open the molluscs shell inserting its own stomach. The starfish’s digestive juices then reduce the meat inside to a ready meal. In due course the empty shell is rejected on to the surface of the sand. 
Birds on the beach are on the lookout for molluscs, and they have some highly successful methods of extracting the meat from within the shells. Even the tough shell of a cockle is no protection against the powerful bill of an oystercatcher. Hunting in the shallows just before the cockle runs out of feeding time on a falling tide, or before the incoming tide renders the water too deep for the bird to wade, the oystercatcher looks for an open gaping shell. When it sees one it strikes the molluscs adductor muscle, after which the molluscs is unable to close its shell in self-defense. Even if the shell does manage to close round the beak, the strong red bill can easily force it open again. Alternatively the oystercatcher can smash its way into the shell by using its beak like a hammer. Gulls also use brute force when feeding on molluscs, but a certain amount of cunning as well. Herring gulls sometimes force cockles to the surface by paddling their feet up and down on the surface of the sand. They have also learned to pick up cockles from soft sand, fly with them until they are above a hard surface such as a rock or even a promenade and then drop them so that they smash open below. 

Sandy beaches do not exist in isolation but are flanked by rocky headlands or shallow rocky foreshores. In sheltered parts of the beach, where the water currents are slack, the sea often carries a large cargo of debris from these neighboring habitats, and from further out at sea itself; seaweed, dead animals and shells, for instance. At the high water mark much of this organic material piles up to form the familiar strandline with its own wildlife of scavenging sand hoppers, kelp flies, turnstones, crows rats and foxes. The same strandline also supports most of the few plants found on the lower reaches of a sandy beach. Here you may find plants such as saltwort, sea rocket and orache. Further inland, above the high tide, level, the most obvious sign of plant life is often sand dunes. These are an extension of the sandy beach, formed when onshore winds carry the sand inland. Once there maritime plants notably marram grass stabilize the sand to form semi-permanent dunes. 

Going in the other direction, away from the land, low tides sometimes create temporary offshore islands which because of their isolation are excellent habitats for seals. Common seals often give birth to pups on such islands, even though the pups must be able to swim before the next tide comes in to engulf them. Once in water the baby swims with its mother and then both return suckling on the sand bank or in the shallows when the island reveals itself again. Common seal spend a lot of time out of the water humping on to the sand in large social gathering as well as to drop pups. Their passage along the sand is marked by the characteristic tracks created by their bodies and flippers. As the tide drops the seals move with it towards the water. From the seals point of view, one stretch of sand is as good as another for their purposes their preference for offshore banks is a direct response to human disturbances, for on land people are their only major enemies, and people flock to beaches in their thousands for the recreation they offer so well.  Source: Charismatic Planet

Saturday, 23 May 2015

One of the scariest Himalayan trails you'll ever see

One of the scariest Himalayan trails you'll ever see :D
Posted by Chris Oliver on Saturday, April 4, 2015

Friday, 8 May 2015

Banff National Park

This park is known for its rugged mountain scenery, glacier-fed turquoise lakes and miles of untouched forests. Perfect for hiking in summer and skiing in winter. Thrill seekers will find no shortage of activities, from white water rafting to mountain biking. The park’s lakes are a gorgeous aqua-blue color in summer and their surfaces reflect the surrounding mountains. Hike the hills above Peyto Lake and Moraine Lake for two of the most photographed scenes in Canada. Lake Minnewanka isn’t fed by glaciers, but it’s one of only two lakes in the area that allows boats on the water.

Helmcken Falls,British Columbia

Helmcken Falls is a 141 m (463 ft) waterfall on the Murtle River within Wells Gray Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada. The protection of Helmcken Falls was one of the reasons for the creation of Wells Gray Provincial Park in 1939. Helmcken Falls is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada, measured by total straight drop without a break.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Weird “dinobat” Discovered in China

A strange new dinosaur with bat-like wings has been discovered by a farmer in China and is now helping to shed new light on the evolution of flight. Paleontologists in China say the impeccably preserved fossil belongs to a small dinosaur thought to have lived 160 million years ago. The bizarre looking creature had slight stiff feathers on its body and long finger-like bones extending from each wrist that were covered in a membrane like a bat’s wing. Further, Dinosaur with wings like a BAT may reveal clues about the origin of flight, it’s named Yi qi is thought to have lived 160 million years ago during the late Jurassic. 

The dinosaur has an unusual bone sticking out of its wrist and had a membrane that covered it to form a wing much like that of a modern bat. Researchers say it is unlike any other dinosaur, which evolved into birds, and may have glided or even been able to fly by flapping over short distances. Therefore, the fossil was discovered by a local farmer in Qinglong County in north China. Researchers say the dinosaur, which would have weighted just 13 ounces and was 33cm long with wings that spanned 60cm, may have been an early evolutionary research with flight. Yi qi belong to the group of carnivorous dinosaurs recognized as the therapods which includes Tyranosaurus rex and velociraptor. Therefore, these dinosaurs are thought to have been the ancestors of modern birds. But unlike modern birds, Yi qi was found to have a strange extra bone extending backwards from its wrist, rather like an entirely separate group of animals that learned to fly the bats. Professor Xing Xu, one of the world’s foremost prolific paleontologists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and who led this work, said: This is actually something for me and it is the most unexpected discovery I ever made.

Moreover, birds are descended from dinosaurs, but how accurately the transition occurred is not really clear. This fresh discovery is a new species of these birds like dinosaurs. This dinosaur is completely different, and it has completely different wings from all other birds and their close relatives. Furthermore, close to the origin of birds there are numerous lineages trying to get into the air but there was only one group that succeeded. It’d have said this example shows how much experimentation close to this transition. The discovery comes in the same week as researchers announced the discovery of a bizarre vegetarian relative of the T-Rex. 

The Yi qi fossil was discovered by a local farmer in Mutoudeng, in Qinglong County, Hebei Province in China. The fossil has preserved stiff filamentous features on the forelimb and hind-limb, along with patches of the membrane that once stretched across its wings. However, it was the strange wrists and long rod-like bones that extended from them that baffled the attention of the paleontologists. There are three main groups of flying vertebrates - the birds, which evolved from dinosaurs, pterosaurs that were flying reptiles that existed alongside the dinosaurs, and the bats, which are mammals that evolved after the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Most winged avian dinosaurs to be discovered so far all have wing structures that are similar to those of modern birds. However, Yi qi, which is pronounced “ee chee”, appears to be a strange hybrid between a dinosaur and a bat. This has also suggests that at the time numerous different types of winged dinosaurs evolved wings in an attempt to fly.  This has analysis by Professor Xu and his coworkers, which is published in the journal Nature, proposes that it is likely that, the dinosaur glided, perhaps like modern flying squirrels. The dinosaur lacked the strong muscle attachments to the forelimb bones and its bone structure would have interfered with the flapping and rotating movements needed during powered flight. Instead it may have launched itself from elevated perches and glided to the ground. If it did flap its wings it would probably have only been able to fly over short distances.  

But Professor Xu said: “We thought giving this animal a name meaning "strange wing" was appropriate, because no other bird or dinosaur has a wing of the same kind. We don’t know if Yi qi was flapping, or gliding, or both, but it definitely evolved a wing that is unique in the context of the transition from dinosaurs to birds. It is likely that the conclusions will be controversial with other evolutionary biologists, but it could prove hugely valuable in unravelling how birds evolved from their dinosaur ancestors. Professor Zheng Xiaoting, from Linyi University in Shandong who also took part in the study, said: Yi qi lived in the Jurassic, so it was a pioneer in the evolution of flight on the line to birds. Thus, it reminds us that the early history of flight was full of innovations, not all of which survived.

Dr Kevin Padian, a paleontologist at the University of California Berkeley, warned that the animal may not have been able to fly at all. The fossil of Yi qi was discovered by a farmer working his fields in Mutoudeng in Qinglong County in China, He also said: As for gliding, if Yi qi’s styli-form element helped to support a membranous aero-foil, it can be used to rebuild the planform of the wing, as Xu and colleagues have done. But in a gliding animal, the center of lift of the aero-foil should be fairly congruent with the center of gravity of the body if the bulk of the animal’s weight falls too far behind the center of lift, the back end will sag and the animal will stall. 

That is clearly the case in the authors’ reconstruction of Yi qi, but an aero-foil that was swept back more, if anatomically possible, might have mitigated this problem. Still, we’re left in a quandary; an animal with a bizarre structure that looks as if it could have been used in flight, borne by an animal that otherwise shows no such tendencies. And so far, there’s no other plausible explanation for the function of this structure.Source: Dailymail

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Sabbaday Falls,

Sabbaday Falls, White Mountains, New Hampshire. Sabbaday Falls is a three tiered waterfall just off the Kancamagus Highway in Waterville and is one of the most popular waterfalls in New Hampshire. by pedro lastra

The Mysterious Libyan Desert Glass

The Mysterious Libyan Desert Glass can be found between the borders of Egypt and Libya. It is called Great Sand Sea, which is a massive sandy desert that is spread more than 650 kilometers from north to south and around 300 km from east to west, covering an area of even the size of Ireland. Therefore predominant winds have organized this great sand mass into enormous longitudinal crested dunes rising 100 meters high at places and stretching uninterrupted for hundreds of kilometers. It is separated by flat corridors about a kilometer or two wide.

In these stretched narrow gaps are areas where the underlying bedrock is visible. In these visible surfaces an inquisitive natural glass is found.  Therefore the so called Libyan Desert Glass is the cleanest natural silica glass ever found on planet earth. The captivating glass is usually yellow in color. Though, it can be very clear or it can be a milky, and even comprise minute bubbles, white wisps, and inky black swirls. Thus, more than thousand tons of these glasses are strewn across hundreds of kilometers of bleak desert. Most of these are the size of pebbles polished smooth by the abrasive action of the blowing sand. However others are chunks of substantial size and weight. So far, the biggest piece ever found weighed about 26 kg.

Well, the natural glass, such as “Libyan Desert Glass”, can be molded either by lightning strike, or volcanic activity or meteorites striking the earth. The Libyan desert glass has been dated as having formed about 26 million years ago, which made researchers assume that the glass here was formed when a meteorite struck earth around this time, but the absence of an impact crater create problems for this theory. As a result in 2007, a circular feature was discovered using satellite pictures but proof of it being an impact crater is slim to none. 
Furthermore another theory recommend an exploding comet near the surface heating up the sand beneath it to an intense temperatures resulting in the formation of a gigantic amount of silica glass. The first scientific discovery of “Libyan Desert Glass” was prepared by an Englishman named “Patrick A. Clayton” in 1932, who brought the first glass samples back to Europe for research. Nevertheless, the existence of the glass was well-known to man long before that. The local natives in the Neolithic period made tools out of the glass, and later the Egyptians used it in making jewel. A large piece of carved stone on the breastplate of the famed Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun was identified as none other than Libyan Desert Glass.

The Striking Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher is Only Regular “Long-Tailed Kingbird”.

The striking scissor-tailed flycatcher is our only regular “long-tailed kingbird.” But it is not only elegant and attractive, but also common and easy to observe.  The splendid scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus), also recognized as the Texas bird-of-paradise and swallow-tailed flycatcher, is a long-tailed bird of the genus Tyrannus, whose members are collectively referred to as kingbirds. Well, the kingbirds are a group of large insectivorous (means insect-eating) birds in the tyrant flycatcher (Tyrannidae) family. The scissor-tailed flycatcher can be found in North and Central America. This bird was also famous with its former Latin name “Muscivora forficate”. The former genus word, “Muscivora” actually derives from the Latin word for "fly" (musca) and "to devour" (vorare), while the species name forficata derives from the Latin word for "scissors" (forfex). The long scissortail bird is now considered to be a member of the Tyrannus, or "tyrant-like" genus. This genus earned its name because quite a few of its species are exceptionally aggressive on their breeding territories, where they will feel no hesitation to attack on larger birds such as crows, hawks and owls.

Moreover, adult birds have pale gray heads and their upper parts, light underparts, salmon-pink flanks and under tail coverts, and dark gray wings. Axillars and patch on underwing coverts are red. The bird’s species extremely long, forked tails, which are usually black on top and white on the underside, are characteristic and unique. At maturity, the male may be up to 15 inches in length, though the female's tail is up to 30 percent shorter. The wingspan is 15 cm and the weight is up to 43 g. Further, Lmmature birds are duller in color and have shorter tails, whereas a lot of these birds have been reported to be more than 40 cm.  The male and female travel together throughout their territory in search of a nest place in open prairie, mesquite prairie, parks, gardens, pastures, croplands, roadsides or saltmarsh edges. When they discover a potential nest site in an isolated tree or shrub, they both hop around and test out diverse spots by pressing themselves against the branches. They normally select an open site that’s sheltered from the prevailing wind and often shaded by some foliage. These birds build a cup nest in isolated trees or shrubs, sometimes using artificial sites such as telephone poles near towns. The male bird performs a huge aerial display during courtship with his long tail forks streaming out behind him. Both species feed the young bird and like other kingbirds, they’re extremely aggressive in defending their nest. Normally these birds’ clutches contain 3 to 6 eggs.

In the summer season, scissor-tailed flycatchers feed mostly on insects i.e., grasshoppers, robber-flies, and dragonflies, which they may catch by waiting on a perch and then flying out to catch them in flight. If they need extra food in the winter season, they’ll also eat some berries. The bird breeding habitat normally in open shrubby country with scattered trees in the south-central states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas; western portions of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri; far eastern New Mexico; and northeastern Mexico. It is reported sightings record occasional stray visitors as far north as southern Canada and as far east as Florida and Georgia. The birds migrate through Texas and eastern Mexico to their winter non-breeding range, from southern Mexico to Panama. Moreover, pre-migratory roosts and flocks flying south may comprise as many as 1000 birds. The lovely scissor-tailed flycatcher is the state bird of Oklahoma, and is displayed in flight with tail feathers spread on the reverse of the Oklahoma Commemorative Quarter. The Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers have the habits of having several human products in its nest, such as string, cloth, paper, carpet fuzz, and cigarette filters. Well, this beautiful Scissor-tailed Flycatcher numbers are a small decline between 1966 and 2010, however, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. A decline was noted in the mid-1970s, which was offset by an increase in numbers during the 1980s. Moreover partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 9.5 million with 92 % breeding in the United States., and 50 % spending some part of the year in Mexico.