Here's a fraction of what I've heard here in Portland over the last few days:
During a symposium on free-ranging cats and bird conservation on Tuesday, Bob Sallinger, director of Audubon Society of Portland, described his organization's alliance with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon in a campaign to reduce the number of free-roaming cats in the Portland metro area. Since bird groups and cat groups usually go at each other like, well, cats and dogs, the alliance is unlikely, to say the least, but it's also promising.
Instead of framing the problem as birds vs. cats, Bob emphasizes protecting birds and cats -- that is, reducing the number of free-roaming pet cats in order to address predation on native birds and to reduce inflow of new cats into feral cat populations. A win-win.
In her plenary lecture yesterday, Helen Grant reminded us all that neither environments nor species are static entities. Both change constantly. To preserve species, Grant said, we must preserve their capacity to change. Rising to ask a question after she finished, John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, called her lecture one of the most exciting and inspiring talks he'd ever heard. We all agreed.
Yesterday afternoon, Marcy Heacker described how a laboratory you may never have heard of before -- the Feather Identification Lab at the Smithsonian Institution -- does something you might not know anyone does: It analyzes the feathers, blood, and yuck (she called it "snarge") that remains after a bird-aircraft collision and identifies exactly which species was involved.
Members of the aviation industry use the results to increase flight and human safety and to provide baseline data that can be used in management, permitting issues, and aircraft design. And the lab's methods -- whole-feather analysis, microstructure analysis by microscope, and DNA analysis -- have had applications in anthropological investigations, law enforcement, research, and other areas. Very cool.
Terry Root, senior fellow in the Center for Environmental Science and Policy Institute for International Studies at Stanford, delivered Thursday's plenary -- on climate change. "Not only is the world getting warmer," she said, "it's getting warmer faster."
At one point, while she was talking and I was looking down at my notebook, I heard her gasp the way all public speakers do when their PowerPoint fails them. Curious, I looked up and saw why -- the screen behind her was blank. I saw a big, white screen full of nothing. Early in her lecture, Root had confessed that people tell her all the time that she needs to be more upbeat. Now, looking to the screen, she deadpanned: "This is my slide for hope."
We all laughed. Then we caught ourselves.
Later on, I sat in on a symposium on the biogeography of birds in a part of the world I often dream about visiting -- the southeastern Himalayas. John Rappole of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park described ornithological explorations of the southeastern sub-Himalayan region of Myanmar in 2001. Swen Renner, also of the National Zoo, described Pamela Rasmussen's work mist-netting and surveying birds in Putao District, northern Myanmar, in June-July 2006. And Jack Dumbacher of the California Academy of Sciences summarized the results of five ornithological expeditions to the little-explored Gaoligongshan Mountains, a rainy, mountain-slide-prone UNESCO World Heritage Site in western China.
How I would love to have been with them.
Tomorrow morning, Peter Arcese will discuss rapid evolution and demographic decline in response to cowbird invasion. -- C.H.