Saturday, December 20, 2014

This week in birds - #138

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

The Cedar Waxwings are back! Just in time for the holidays and what a gift they are. A small flock of the nattily dressed birds have been making their way around the yard, renewing acquaintances with all their favorite trees, this week.

I always look forward to seeing that first waxwing in the fall. I know I say this about all my backyard birds, but they really are one of my favorites.

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Drought continues to be the big environmental news in the Southwest, even though the recent storms in California have offered some relief to that parched state. Some of the southwestern states have taken steps to reduce the amount of water that they draw from the Colorado River in order to keep from exacerbating the reduced water available to the river system.

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A recent study showed that Golden-winged Warblers abandoned their breeding grounds in the mountains of eastern Tennessee in April 2014 just ahead of a devastating system of tornadoes that struck the area. Scientists believe that the birds sensed the coming storms through infrasound and they fled to avoid them. That would not be too surprising. Migrating birds' lives depend on their ability to sense changes in the weather.

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One of the arguments of climate change deniers is that even if more carbon is being added to the atmosphere that's a good thing. After all, plants breathe carbon dioxide, don't they? We'll be able to breed races of super-trees! Well, not so fast, the scientists say. It seems that increased carbon only works to spur growth up to a point. Then the trees and other plants max out on their consumption of the greenhouse gas. Those darned scientists! Always throwing cold water on our pet theories with their stubborn facts!   

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A study in the U.K. indicates that seabirds are able to avoid those offshore wind turbines that are springing up along the coasts of many countries trying to produce more clean and renewable energy. Gannets in the study avoided the area of the turbines altogether, and even though gulls flew there, they avoided the big blades. 

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The "Tetrapod Zoology" blog on Scientific American has an interesting post about one of the most common mammals that we are likely to encounter in the wilds on this continent as well as Eurasia. It explores confrontational behavior in the animals and their bipedal ability. 

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A birder who had been kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist group in the Philippines two years ago was recently released. One of the first things he did on gaining his freedom was to post about a critically endangered bird he had seen - the Sulu Hornbill. He included a picture he had taken of the bird before he was captured and warned others to steer clear of the area which is controlled by the terrorists.  

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President Obama has had a very busy month, but he found time in it to protect the environmentally important Bristol Bay in Alaska. The Presidential Memorandum withdraws the pristine waters of the bay from which 40% of the nation's wild-caught seafood is harvested from any future oil or gas drilling.

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The "Prairie Ecologist" discusses contrasting approaches to prairie management with references to A Sand Count Almanac, Aldo Leopold's seminal work in the field of conservation. 

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Oil spilling from a wrecked tanker in Bangladesh is endangering a unique mangrove forest and the rare animals that live there.

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Pictures record an encounter between an Oriental Pied Hornbill and two Changeable Lizards. Spoiler Alert: Things did not turn out well for one of the lizards. 

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The Arctic is being baked by global warming. It appears that the effects of global climate change are most pronounced there.

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Meanwhile, a new report details that few Americans have given much thought to the present or future health effects of a drastic change in the world's climate.

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The story of the evolution of modern penguins is written in the bones that show the development from the fossil bird Hesperornis to the current day Chinstraps, Adelies, Emperors, and others. 

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We just keep learning more and being amazed by the reasoning abilities of crows. A new study utilizing a pattern-matching game has revealed that they are able to make analogies and recognize repeated actions. Indeed, corvids do seem to be the brainiacs of the bird world.


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