Saturday, November 1, 2014

This week in birds - #132

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

A Cooper's Hawk sitting in my next-door neighbor's pine tree. I see Cooper's Hawks in the neighborhood throughout the year. Sometimes in fall and winter, they are joined by their cousins, Sharp-shinned Hawks.  At least one sharpie has already showed up in my yard this autumn.

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Why do we feed the birds in our garden and is it good for the birds or detrimental to their welfare? People sometimes worry that bird feeders will make the birds dependent on us. I don't really find that to be true. (More on that later.) Studies done on the practice of feeding the birds clearly indicate that the main motivation is that it gives us pleasure. That is certainly true in my case.

And speaking of feeding birds, Project FeederWatch begins again on November 8. This is the citizen science project that helps track the movement of our backyard birds during the winter months. If you haven't already signed up to participate this season, there is still time. It is one of the best ways that I know of becoming familiar with the birds in your yard.

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A new species of leopard frog, the Atlantic Coast leopard frog, has been discovered in New York and New Jersey. It is a close relative and looks very similar to the Southern leopard frogs that live in my goldfish pond.

In other amphibian news, a total of seven - count 'em, seven! - new frog species have been discovered in Asia. Among them is an inner-city dwelling frog found in the city of Kochi in India.

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In what must be the most surprisingly optimistic environmental news I've heard all week comes word that the former border between East and West called the Iron Curtain is being transformed into a European Green Belt, a protected natural corridor for wild things and wild processes.

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And here's another bit of optimistic environmental news: A gray wolf has been sighted on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, the first of its kind to be seen in that area since the 1940s.

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"The Digiscoper" gives us a look at some beautiful late October sparrows, found in Wisconsin.

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A new report on the decline of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta says that development over the last 160 years has drastically changed how the state's largest wetland area functions. In effect, the Sacramento Delta no longer functions as a delta.

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The Southern pine beetle that has devastated so many areas of pine forests in the South has now extended its range right up the Atlantic Coast all the way to Long Island. Scientists say that as winters become ever warmer due to climate change, the destructive pest is likely to continue moving even farther north.

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Important survival skills for chimpanzees include good memories and flexible brains that help them to recall where the best trees for fruit are. The early chimp gets the fig. 

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Extracting the DNA from bones that are thousands of years old is helping scientists to gain a clearer picture of the history of Europe from the time that humankind first arrived there from Africa.

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Much of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 was unaccounted for. As much as 2 million barrels stayed trapped in the deep ocean and some 31 percent of that is still resting on the ocean floor.

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Noisy environments create difficulties for nesting birds and for their offspring because they depend heavily upon being able to communicate with each other but the noise interferes with that.

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The Columbia Glacier in Alaska, like many glaciers throughout the world, is retreating much faster than had been expected.

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A proposal for a wind turbine project to be placed on the north slope of the San Bernardino Mountains in California has been withdrawn in part because of the threat which it posed to raptors.

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Finally, our environment will be changing beginning tomorrow morning. The sun will be rising earlier and setting earlier. Yes, Daylight Saving Time ends at 2:00 A.M. on Sunday. You finally get to catch up that hour of sleep that you lost when DST began back in the spring!

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Around the backyard:

It happens every year around this time. One day I look up and there are no cardinals in my yard. And it's not just the Northern Cardinals, although they are the most obvious. Blue Jays, White-winged DovesTufted Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and several other birds that are ubiquitous presences around the feeders throughout most of the year are suddenly absent. It used to worry me because I was afraid there was disease and that there had been a population crash, but then, toward Thanksgiving, the birds would all start returning and were joined by many of the winter birds that we look forward to every year. I've come to the conclusion that this time of year is a time of plenty in the wild. The foods that many of these birds prefer are easily available in the autumn which means that they don't feel the need to visit my feeders. Still, I keep the feeders stocked because the Carolina Wrens and the Carolina Chickadees never desert them.  

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I've not seen any Ruby-throated Hummingbirds for several days now. I believe they have all moved on as the weather has turned cooler this week. The only hummers I've seen recently are Rufous and I expect that some of them will be staying with me throughout the winter once again. 

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I was sitting on my patio chatting with my husband and daughter and enjoying our beautiful autumn weather yesterday when a kerfuffle arose in my backyard. There had been a group of House Sparrows around the feeders and I was gazing in that direction and yet I never saw the attack. The first clue I had was when I heard a distress call from one of the sparrows. I looked at where the sound came from and there was a Sharp-shinned Hawk with one of the sparrows in his talons. As I watched, he mantled the sparrow for several minutes and then finally flew away with it clutched in a talon.

The incident would have been more stressful for me if it had involved one of my more desirable backyard birds, but to tell the truth, my yard is overrun by the sparrows and they are pests in many ways and so it doesn't worry me so much if the hawks manage to dine on one occasionally. After all, hawks have to eat, too, and, on the whole, I would prefer that they eat House Sparrows.



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