Saturday, July 26, 2014

This week in birds - #118

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

It's that time of the year when some of our backyard birds begin looking decidedly strange. If you don't know what's going on, you might think they are sick, but no, it's all part of a natural process called the molt.  Summer through early fall, the adult birds, now mostly finished with their family-raising duties, begin to lose their old worn-out feathers and to put on fresh new ones for the winter.  By the time of late fall, all the transformations will be complete and the birds will be dressed in their pristine feathers for the new season. The Northern Mockingbird pictured above is getting an early start on the process.

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When will architects and city planners ever begin to take the needs of migrating birds into consideration? Probably only when laws make them do so, and considering the current state of our law-making body of government, which essentially doesn't believe it should make any laws, that isn't going to happen. And so, we have structures like the new Minnesota Vikings football stadium going up. The stadium is expected to have 200,000 square feet of glass that could lure thousands of birds to their death every year. Up to 988 million birds a year die needlessly in this country through collisions with buildings, mostly glass windows, and this stadium, as it is planned, would only add to that total. Conservationists are fighting to have the design modified to make it safer for birds, but it is unclear if they will be able to succeed.

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I remember very well when I saw the very first Eurasian Collared-dove in my yard. It was in February 2005 and for the next couple of years, they were the most numerous doves in my yard. Then the White-winged Doves arrived and most of the Collared-doves moved on. Since then, the Collared-doves have shown up and made themselves at home in most of the contiguous 48 states, and now, they've finally made it to New York City! In June, one was sighted by a birder in Manhattan. If they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

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The "Big Year" is a popular activity (sport? competition?) for obsessive listers of birds and last year was a very Big Year for birder Neil Hayward. He set out to see as many birds in North America as he could in a year, hoping to break the record of 748. By December 31, he had recorded 750 species of birds. Three of his sightings are considered "provisional" by the ABA and have not yet been certified, but Hayward thinks it might be possible to log up to 760 birds on the continent. But that birder would have to be extremely lucky.

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And speaking of Big Years, a birder named Dorian Anderson is biking and birding across the country this year to raise money for conservation. His bird total as of today stands at 508. He blogs about it at Biking for Birds.

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Peter Gleick writes about how California's response to the severe drought wracking the state has been complicated by its water system itself with its diverse sources of water and water rights, regulations, and demands.

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A few years ago, we had a pair of Monk Parakeets resident in our neighborhood. (I should say we had two parakeets in the neighborhood - I'm not sure they were a pair because they never nested.) After about three years of entertaining us, they disappeared and we've not seen any of their species here again. But these birds are becoming numerous in many parts of the country and they are right at home on city streets.

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Western states and energy companies are cooperating to try to make the world safe for the Greater Sage Grouse. Their aim is to try to keep the bird off the Endangered Species list which would give it much greater protection and impose more onerous regulations on the energy companies.

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Researchers tracking migrating Wood Thrushes with the use of GPS "backpacks" have discovered that the birds that migrate farthest north in the spring also migrate farthest south in the fall, giving them overall the longest migration route in the species.

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There is some good news for a change from the world of endangered species this week. A pair of wild California Condors in Utah have successfully hatched a chick in a nest there for the first time since the species was released back into that area in 1996. And farther south, a litter of five Mexican wolves were born to parents that were released into the Sierra Madre Mountains there about eight months ago.

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Colombia has actually made significant strides in recent years in protecting areas for the preservation of wildlife. Now, conservation groups there have established a new protected area in the cloud forest of the mountains, an overlooked habitat. The preserve is only 750 hectares but it is a bird paradise and is home to many threatened and endemic species.

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eBird reports that sea ducks have been unusually numerous this summer on the Atlantic Coast all the way from the Carolinas down to Georgia.

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The United States has fallen sadly behind in the production of renewable energy like solar or wind power, mostly because of the obstructionist tactics of elected representatives who are beholden to oil, gas, and coal companies. But in some areas, the gap is being closed. California is about to break ground on another big desert solar project and additional solar power plants will be built within Los Angeles city limits.

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Around the backyard:

"I tawt I taw..." 

Is it possible? Sitting in my backyard late one afternoon this week, I was gazing in the direction of a Hamelia patens ("hummingbird bush") when I became aware that the shrub was being visited by a hummer. But just as I noticed it, another hummer flashed in and chased the first one away. I sat and looked for quite some time, hoping he would return so that I could get a better look but he never did; however, in that instant that I saw him, his back appeared rusty-colored like a male Rufous Hummingbird. The other hummer was definitely a male Ruby-throat because he flashed his gorget at me.

It seems very early for a Rufous hummer to be here, but it certainly looked like one. I'm still on the lookout for him whenever I'm outside.

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