Saturday, September 6, 2014

This week in birds - #124

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


Greater Roadrunners are certainly present in our area of Southeast Texas, but I see them only rarely here.  This is one that I photographed on an autumn trip to Big Bend National Park, where they are much more common. They are very comfortable in rocky desert habitats.
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A federal judge ruled this week that BP was guilty of "willful misconduct" and "gross negligence" in regard to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 in which 11 people died and enormous damage was done to the environment. The company could face fines of up to $18 billion.

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The big news (pun intended) in the world of Nature this week was the discovery of the fossil of a previously unknown and incredibly large species of dinosaur in Argentina. Called Dreadnoughtus schrani by its discoverers, the beast was 85-feet-long and still growing when it died.

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A new study by a team of Korean and American scientists makes the connection between the series of polar vortexes experienced by North America last winter and global climate change. Furthermore, indications are that we may not have seen the last of such phenomena.

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Happy World Shorebirds Day! This is the day set aside for the appreciation of some of the world's most extreme migrants that travel thousands of miles in spring and again in autumn. Coincidentally, this is also International Vulture Appreciation Day, so while you are admiring the flights of the shorebirds, spare a little love for these under-appreciated but essential members of the avian family.

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On September 1, 1914, between noon and 1:00 p.m., in the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Martha the Passenger Pigeon died, the last of her race on Earth. A species whose numbers only a few years before had darkened the skies for miles in their flight was no more. The extinction of this beautiful bird is a cautionary tale for us and several writers have taken the occasion of this centennial to publish books on the history of the bird and its demise.

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The Guardian contrasts two new football stadiums being built - one in San Francisco and the other in Minneapolis. The one in San Francisco is an environmentalist's dream. The one in Minneapolis would be among that environmentalist's worst nightmares. The Minnesota Vikings' new stadium is a deathtrap for migratory birds traversing the Mississippi Flyway, i.e., millions of birds. How did this monstrosity ever get approved in its present design? Conservationists continue the fight to try to make it more environmentally-friendly, or at least not so deadly. San Francisco has shown that it can be done.

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Citizen science has become an important adjunct to professional science in many fields. This is nowhere more true than in climate science. The reports of amateur observers, particularly those regarding birds' nesting and migratory activities, are providing invaluable information for scientists.

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And speaking of migration, where are my Chimney Swifts? It has been weeks now since I saw or heard one. This is very unusual. Normally, the little birds can be depended on to hang around my yard until October at least, and there have been years where they've been present right into November. Not this year. They all seem to have abandoned me by the middle of August. But right across the continent now, the swift migration - Vaux in the west and Chimney Swifts in the east - is in full swing.

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It was fifty years ago this week that President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 into law. The legislation promised a solution to the problem of saving the country's most beautiful wild areas from industrial development and other intrusive human activities. Today about 5 percent of the United States is designated wilderness area. The passage of this act was a bipartisan effort. In today's Congress, it would never pass.

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A graphic shows how the drought situation in California went from normal to dire in only three years. If it can happen in California, it can happen elsewhere - and probably will.

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"Beetles in the Bush" features the interesting swamp milkweed leaf beetle.

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In the spring, migratory birds are on a mission to get to their nesting grounds as soon as possible. Migration in the fall is a much more leisurely activity for them. They take things easy and may linger a while along the way as they head toward their winter homes.

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Around the backyard:

I had an unusual birding treat this week. Friday morning, I was up early, right around 6:00, and I heard a bird calling from among the dense leaves of the red oak tree in my front yard. But it wasn't a robin or a cardinal or a Eurasian Collared-dove which are usually my early morning serenaders. No, this was a bird of a different feather altogether. It was a Great Horned Owl!

It's not the first Great Horned Owl I've heard calling from that tree in the early morning but, generally, I hear them in the winter so it was a bit of a surprise to hear one in late summer. A very nice surprise. It started my day off with a bang.

Of course, Great Horned Owls are permanent residents all over the continent and there are plenty of them. They are not endangered or threatened. They are, in fact, a very successful species because they are a very adaptable species. But just because they live all over the place doesn't mean that there's one to be found on every square acre of land, so I was very gratified to have evidence that they do flourish on my little acre - or half-acre.

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