September 7, 2013

Outdoors notes: Warbler has Sunflower State connections

Deep within the hair-thick Filipino jungles, a small, mostly brown bird scurries with two important ties to Kansas.

Deep within the hair-thick Filipino jungles, a small, mostly brown bird scurries with two important ties to Kansas.

The bird, a Sierra Madre ground warbler, was recently discovered by researchers from the University of Kansas.

Its scientific name, Robsonius thompsoni, is in honor of one of Kansas’ top ornithological experts and educators, Max Thompson of Winfield. Thompson is a retired professor of biology at Southwestern College, but his career took him to many other places and he helped at many schools.

“Max has had this long-term commitment to KU, starting as a graduate student (in about 1960) and it’s continued,” said Mark Robbins of KU’s Biodiversity Institute. “He’s been on many expeditions with us, and has been an ambassador for us. He’s made some major contributions to documenting the biodiversity of the planet.… Plus, we all just really like him.”

Robbins, who manages the school’s ornithological collection, rated as one of the best in the world, said KU benefited greatly when Thompson contributed his collection of about 10,000 specimens about a decade ago. Through the decades Thompson has completed biological projects and studies on most continents.

Thompson couldn’t be reached for comment. Robbins said he’s due back from Peru this weekend, where he was pursuing a variety of outdoors-related endeavors.

The Sierra Madre ground warbler is one of four new species of birds KU researchers have identified within the past year. Pete Hosner, a KU graduate student who has helped with the research, said the other species were found in Cambodia, Peru and Mexico.

Hosner said finding and identifying the bird named after Thompson was difficult because of the thickness of the jungle and because the bird’s call is so high pitched that the source of the sounds are usually difficult to locate. The birds could also could easily be confused with other species of ground warblers in the Philippine jungles.

More zebra mussels — Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism officials have announced zebra mussels have recently been found in Glen Elder Reservoir, near Beloit, and Waubaunsee Lake, west of Topeka. A few weeks ago they were also discovered in Lake Shawnee, also near Topeka.

Zebra mussels came to the Great Lakes region in the ballasts of ships from Europe and Asia about 25 years ago, and have since spread down many connecting rivers and streams. Usually smaller than a dime, zebra mussels can also be transported within water of boats, motors, bait buckets and/or attached directly to boats or trailers.

They were first found in Kansas in 2003 at El Dorado Reservoir, and have since been found to be living in 21 bodies of water in Kansas, including Cheney Reservoir.

Zebra mussels are highly prolific and are known to cause millions of dollars of damage when the clog water-intake structures at places like utility plants.

They also can out-compete native mollusks and fish for nutrients in the water. The sharp shells of zebra mussels also makes them a hazard to swimmers and fishermen.

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