Birds using fire as a tool?

10 01 2018

Reports have built up over millennia, in the oral history of aboriginal people and more recently too, that Australian birds of prey exploit the way that bush fires flush out prey, by deliberately spreading it!

These incredible accounts have now been collated and analysed in the Journal of Ethnobiology  Here is a write up in National Geographic, and here’s a video by New Scientist.


First paper of the year!

10 01 2018


An experiment I was involved in as one of Michelle Hunniford’s committee members is now in press! The aim was to see if hens’ preferences for different nesting surfaces could be outweighed by whether or not the area was enclosed (a known preference), in a kind of titration. But the hens did not understand what we were trying to do. For a start they didn’t have stable surface preferences: their favourite surface varied according to whether nests were open or closed – very strange. Then when formerly unenclosed laying areas became enclosed or vice versa, they just followed the enclosure: it over-rode everything in a fairly simple way.

Screenshot 2018-01-09 22.24.59

The whole publication process happened in record-quick time too.

Screenshot 2018-01-09 22.22.34

2018: an even better year for women?

8 01 2018

This week begins with Carrie Gracie resigning from the BBC, and (nearly all) women wearing black at the Golden Globes.   2017 was a big year for women’s issues with the phenomenal ‘Me Too‘ campaign (and the sillier, but hey why not? ‘womanspreading’ one), along with giant strides for women in Saudi Arabia.

For me it’s easier now I’m older (and in a field that’s now firmly female-dominated), but a regular feature of my PhD and post-doc days was navigating around unwanted passes: nothing frightening ever, but still, I would have to make sure I was wearing a large boob-hiding sweater if I needed to talk to the Cambridge Zoology dept.’s male departmental administrator, and the number of senior colleagues I’d meet to talk about research with and then having to end up dodging unwanted kisses from was just ridiculous (and then you can’t ask them about work any more, which is just annoying; social embarassment definitely contributes to the glass ceiling!). So, from my admittedly safe and privileged vantage point, I’ve been loving all this.

Fishing with otters in Bangladesh

6 01 2018

Very sweet item on the BBC World Service the other week about fishermen who train otters to fish for them: (at about 35 mins in). Reminds me a bit of people who hunt with mink (though rather more crucial to their livelihood).


Belated congratulations to Aileen

6 01 2018

New MSc student Aileen MacLellan was picked for one of UoG’s two ‘welfare judging’ teams, and went off to compete in the US in November. They didn’t win, but they were placed. And she really enjoyed the experience too, so here she is, beaming:


Out with the old

6 01 2018

As another semester looms, it’s time to reflect on the last one. This was grim, in a word. I taught three courses: the undergraduate 4th year one (which I’m bored of — though I hope the students can’t tell — and was made even less enjoyable this time by a dingy room and TA trouble that had me redoing a load of grading), plus two new graduate seminar/professional development courses that will be good the next time around (I’m repeating both this coming semester) but were very much being ‘beta tested’ this time.

Together these meant not a single day off between early Oct and early December, which is obviously plain unhealthy (though a bit of me’s always dispassionately interested in my cumulative reactions to chronic mild stress: first I get grumpy, goes the trajectory [poor Jonathan], a manifestation of judgment bias; then I become dour and anhedonic; and then finally, immunosuppressed [revealed this time by three colds over the semester]).

So, it’s been lovely over the Christmas break doing normal things again like a normal person (sleeping, shopping, seeing friends), and feeling my cheerfulness and resilience return. And it definitely was not all bad. It’s been great having Sam, Aileen and Basma join the lab. The undergraduates always entertain, with both their typos and their sweetness (nice finds from Andrea below, one on the final exam rivalling the nice sketch I was given from Holland a few years back).


It’s also been great getting to know more of the department’s graduate students, and the departmental atmosphere also continues to get better and better: the Christmas Party was SO FUN (especially as one nice aspect of being Grad Coordinator is giving out prizes: see below). So, next semester starts for real on Monday, and I think I’m officially ready and optimistic!





Play paper published with no-one getting hurt

22 12 2017

The curse seems to be over, and the paper I think came out well in the end.

Screenshot 2017-12-22 08.45.56