Saturday, August 30, 2014

This week in birds - #123

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

A Black-crowned Night Heron searches for food among duckweed covering the water. The Black-crowned is less frequently seen here than its Yellow-crowned cousin, so it is always a treat to be able to capture one with the camera.

*~*~*~*

We know that our bodies are host to any number of tiny organisms with whom we share a mostly symbiotic relationship. From the perspective of these organisms, we are a distinct universe.

Among the tiny creatures that live with us are two species of facial mites and it seems that almost everyone has them. They are probably crawling around your eyebrows as you read this - and among mine as I type it. They are not very attractive creatures but they are benevolent. A case could be made that they are our best friends!

*~*~*~*

Organisms that are distinctly not benevolent cause problems for some species of birds - specifically finches. Conjunctivitis is a plague among some populations of House Finches. Surprisingly, research has shown that most species do not get sick from this disease, but the House Finch is extremely susceptible to it for some reason. In some places it is simply referred to as "House Finch disease."

*~*~*~*

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently announced a new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act which will limit its reach and make it more complicated for species to receive the protection provided by the Act. One is tempted to wonder just whose side the FWS is on.

*~*~*~*

A new study shows that golden orb-weaving spiders that live in urban areas grow bigger and produce more offspring than their country cousins.

*~*~*~*

Birds can travel a long way on migration and, depending on where they stop, can evolve into distinct species or populations within species. A study of the beautiful little Wilson's Warbler, a frequent visitor to my backyard during migration, revealed that there are six distinct populations of the bird present in North America.

*~*~*~*

Another very interesting study shows that birds' songs and their feather colors can be changed by the birds' exposure to mercury contamination. These birds can be important environmental barometers revealing the health of the biosphere.

*~*~*~*

Three conservation groups and a leading lepidopterist have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to give the Monarch butterfly "threatened" status under the Endangered Species Act so that it can be given additional protection. Many scientists and ordinary observers (like myself) have become alarmed at the drastic decline in population of these butterflies in recent years and at the threats they face from pesticides and from the farming practices prevalent in the Midwest. Many believe the only hope for the beautiful insect is for the FWS to step in and provide protection.

*~*~*~*

The U.S. Forest Service has issued a tentative ruling that salvage logging may proceed in the area of 2013's Rim Fire near Yosemite. This is causing consternation among conservation groups because of the presence of Northern Spotted Owls in the area. It is likely that the groups will sue to stop the plan.

*~*~*~*

Iceland's seabird colonies are vanishing, with massive die-offs of chicks this breeding season. The cause seems to be a warming climate and ocean which has changed the nature of the food available to the birds. A similar phenomenon has occurred along the North Atlantic coasts of North America.

*~*~*~*

One of the biggest problems for conservation today is that it ignores some 95% of known species on Earth. Most of these species are invertebrates or micro-organisms and so are easily overlooked, but they are the backbone of all the biosphere.

*~*~*~*

A court in North Carolina has upheld protections given to breeding colonies of shorebirds at Cape Hatteras. The decision essentially prevents off-road vehicles from riding roughshod over the nests and nestlings.

*~*~*~*

The Egyptian Goose has been officially added to the American Birding Association's checklist of birds. The exotic geese have established a breeding colony in Florida.

*~*~*~*

The Common Raven, like many birds, is expanding and changing its range in response to a changing climate. It is now seen in New York City and may be nesting there.

*~*~*~*

Coastal Louisiana is drowning. It is losing the equivalent of about a football field of coastline every hour. That's sixteen square miles a year. This is due to a combination of the topography of the region and human activity which has decimated the barrier islands and other natural obstructions that protected the land from the sea. Most of the damage is being done by the activities of petroleum companies and since the government of Louisiana is in thrall to those companies, it is doubtful that anything effective can be done anytime soon to stop the erosion. And soon enough it will be too late.




2 comments:

  1. The extent of erosion in Louisiana is truly staggering. Presumably it makes inland areas more vulnerable to the effects of hurricanes too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly right. An eroding coastline eventually affects us all. And yet we still dither and delay about protecting our environment and doing what we can to ameliorate climate change.

      Delete