Saturday, October 4, 2014

This week in birds - #128

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

The Ruddy Turnstone, one of our most beautiful shorebirds in my opinion, is a great wanderer, nesting on high Arctic tundra on the northernmost reaches of North America and Eurasia and wintering on the coastlines of six continents. In migration, it can be seen mainly along the coast, though some stop at favorite spots on the inland, such as along the Great Lakes. Lucky us - we get to see them in migration and some linger with us through the winter. I photographed this one in the waters around Rockport in the early spring this year.

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One of the big stories in the world of the environment this week was the gathering of some 35,000 walruses on an island in Alaska. The walruses would normally be hauling out on sea ice, their preferred habitat, but the sea ice is melting and becoming more and more scarce and the walruses are having to find other places to come ashore. Their gathering on land, of course, has implications for the animals that live there and for people who inhabit the places that they choose.

This gathering was so spectacular that it even caught the attention of Gail Collins, who wrote a very perceptive column using it as a theme.

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Another victim of the melting sea ice is the polar bear and, in a ripple effect, the Snow Goose. Losing the sea ice is forcing the big bears to hunt in different areas for different prey and they are learning to snack on the nesting Snow Geese. Scientists are trying to ascertain what long-term effect this might have on the geese.

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Well-trained sheepdogs such as Great Pyrenees protect the predators as well as the sheep. The wolves or coyotes cannot get past the sheepdogs to attack the sheep and so they do not come into conflict with humans - a conflict they are bound to lose. When sheepdogs are on the job, everyone wins.

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The American Birding Association has once again updated its rules regarding when a bird can be legitimately counted or listed. "The Birdist" has a summary of the changes.

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There are a lot of myths about cheetahs, many passed along by television shows about Nature, that make them out to be fragile animals, living on the knife's edge of survival. In fact, most of that is bunkum. They are in fact fairly robust and, left to their own devices, fully capable of surviving and thriving in the wild a new study shows.

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The Ivanpah solar facility in California continues to evince major concern because of the harm that it does to migrating birds, as well as to flying mammals. Another similar facility that was to be built in the California desert has been scrapped because of those concerns.  

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Climate scientists, contrary to what you will hear on talk radio and in the halls of Congress, are actually quite conservative in their modeling of the climate. They are universally reluctant to attribute specific weather events to the warming climate, but it seems clear that the blocking pattern that has kept the West Coast in a two-year long drought now is a result of human-caused climate change. Moreover, extreme record-breaking heat experienced by Australia during their last summer, scientists have concluded, would have been virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused warming.

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The western population of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (the beloved "rain crow" of my youth) will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This is the culmination of a 15 year campaign by conservationists. The protection extends only to birds in the West. In the East, they are more numerous and are not yet considered to be imperiled. However, I have not seen or heard a single one in my neighborhood this year.

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It had been thought that the invasive Asian long-horned beetle had been eradicated in New Jersey and, for the most part, in New York, but it has been recently discovered to be present once again and the battle is on.

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"The Prairie Ecologist" considers how areas recover from wildfires.

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Scientists continue to discover new contaminants that are polluting our waterways and affecting the habitats that exist within them and around them.

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The U.S. Forest Service is preparing to auction off logging rights to a section of the Tongass National Forest's virgin woodlands in Alaska. Conservationists are feeling betrayed because the Obama administration had agreed to phase out logging of those lands and they are going to court to try to stop the plan.

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A new study in the journal Tropical Conservation Science details how the study of common birds can aid in saving rare species from extinction.

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An interesting piece in National Geographic's "Phenomena" blog shows how dinosaurs evolved into birds and how the dinosaurs set the table for the explosion of avian life on Earth.

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