Saturday, May 31, 2014

This week in birds - #111

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Wild Turkeys photographed at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast.
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The Ivanpah Solar facility in California continues to be a death trap for migrating birds, as well as flying mammals. April was one of the deadliest months yet with 97 birds being found dead or mortally injured around the plant between April 1 and April 29.

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We tend to think of invasive species as being all bad, but sometimes these invaders become an integral part of the environmental system and are utilized by native species. This has been found to be the case with the invasive cordgrass called Spartina alterniflora in California. The endangered California Clapper Rail nests in the stuff which makes eradicating it a particularly prickly proposition.

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We hear quite a lot about the problems of Monarch butterflies and honeybees, but, in fact, many native North American bees and butterflies are in trouble and most are not extensively tracked. 

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Hummingbirds are known to be efficient pollinators of plants, but 47 million years ago the earliest known bird pollinator lived in Germany. Its fossilized remains have recently been found. The Pumiliornis tessellatus was about three inches long, or about the size of many of our modern hummingbirds.

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A strange phenomenon has been reported regarding crickets on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It seems they have become mute. At first it was thought they were disappearing, but researchers have found that they are in fact thriving. They just don't "sing" anymore because the organs which would make their sounds have become malformed. 

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Superb Fairy-Wrens are often victimized by cuckoos, brood parasites that lay their eggs in the nests of other birds causing them to raise the cuckoos' offspring. But the Superb Fairy-wrens have developed a strategy to outwit their enemies. They name their chicks. Each chick is taught a call - essentially a "name" - to give when it wants to be fed. If a chick doesn't give the appropriate call, it doesn't get fed and it starves. The cuckoo chicks don't know the magic password, so they are out of luck.

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Monarch Watch, one of the organizations attempting to save the Monarch butterfly from extinction, has large flats of milkweed (butterfly weed) for sale. They have many different varieties of milkweed that will grow and thrive in all the different states. 

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A Red Knot, which is a small shorebird, was banded in 1995. It was recently spotted on a beach in New Jersey, so it is now at least 19 years old and is believed to be the longest surviving bird of its species. These shorebirds migrate from South America to the north of Canada in the spring and then do the reverse trip in the fall, flying thousands of miles every year.  
 
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Clarion Island is a small hunk of rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico. Scientists have long thought that they had cataloged and described all the species on the island, but now a species of snake that had not been thought to exist has been found there. It is a species called Beebe's nightsnake. 

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The Los Angeles River has long been concretized, supposedly for flood control. But now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a plan to restore a portion of the river to its natural state. 

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It is expected that President Obama will soon announce an executive initiative to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants by up to 20 percent. This is further expected to spur the creation of cap-and-trade programs in the individual states, forcing industry to pay for the carbon pollution it creates. Since the legislative branch refuses to act, perhaps this is a viable path to actually doing something about human-caused global warming.

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Around the backyard:

Sitting on my patio this morning, I was charmed by a Tufted Titmouse family. The parents with four fledglings in tow were hopping around the patio furniture, seemingly oblivious to my presence. "My" titmice are always very confiding little birds that seem totally unafraid of me, but I was a bit surprised that they would allow their babies to come in such close proximity to a big scary human.

In other backyard bird news, the Eastern Bluebirds were so successful with their first family, they've decided to do it again! The nest is built and the eggs are being laid. With a bit of luck, my backyard will be bluer still in a few weeks.   

2 comments:

  1. How clever are those Fairy Wrens. That's really made me smile this morning!

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    1. Birds of all kinds have an intelligence that we don't always appreciate. They are experts at survival. No birdbrains they!

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