Saturday, August 29, 2015

This week in birds - #171

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

Fall migration is picking up steam. Colorful warblers like this Black-throated Green are passing through my backyard.

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This week the nation marked the tenth anniversary of the storm called Katrina and the human and ecological disaster that ensued from its passing. The lives of thousands of people were brutally disrupted and many of them were ended, but the damage to the ecosystem was enormous also. Ten years later, Nature still has not entirely healed itself.  

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Wind turbines have such promise as a means of producing renewable and sustainable energy without destroying the Earth in the process, but it has to be acknowledged that they present a potentially deadly hazard to birds and flying mammals. Eagles seem to be particular victims of wind farms in the West. Researchers are continuing their work to try to find ways to ensure that Golden Eagles, as well as other birds, can coexist with the energy-producing turbines.

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Pollinator populations of all kinds are in serious trouble for a number of reasons related to habitat loss, pesticides, diseases, as well as other factors. One way to save them, or at least to help them, says "The Prairie Ecologist," is to save the thistle, the spiny pink/purple-flowered plants that wildlife loves and humans often hate. 

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Cities are "urban heat islands" with all their concrete and impervious barriers that interrupt natural processes. In fact, research shows that they have average summer temperatures that are 1.9 degrees C. higher than surrounding rural areas. 

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Which is all the more reason to plant more trees in urban areas. Trees make everything better!

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It is estimated that as many as 25 million birds are killed around the Mediterranean during spring and fall migrations, in spite of the fact that there are, theoretically, strong laws in place to protect the birds. Killing them has long been part of the culture of the region and it is difficult for laws to overcome that. The most affected species is the Eurasian Chaffinch, of which 2.9 million are killed each year.

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Newly found fossil penguin skulls are revealing more about the evolution of the brains of penguins. Adaptations in the brain have allowed the formerly land-bound bird to make the transition to life in the water.

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Although the drought in California gets most of the press, maybe because it is the biggest state, it is, in fact, affecting other western states as well, with devastating effects in some instances.

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A hydroelectric project in India is a major threat to the winter habitat of the vulnerable Tibetan (Black-necked) Crane. Interestingly, local Buddhists consider this crane to be an incarnation of the sixth Dalai Lama.

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Old World vultures are in serious trouble virtually throughout their range but most especially in Africa. All too often, much of that trouble is manmade. People poison them. But their decline is having a deadly domino effect. The incidence of rabies is increasing because there aren't enough vultures to clean up the carcasses of diseased animals and ensure that other mammals do not contract and spread it.

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Melting sea ice in the Arctic has once again forced thousands of walruses that normally live on that ice to come ashore in Alaska, threatening their survival. The winter may not offer much relief. Sea ice cover in the winter months this year fell to a new low because of global warming and abnormal weather patterns. 

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Evidence shows that New Caledonian Crows, a very smart corvid, have at least some ability to transmit knowledge to each other. Their capacity for social learning is being studied further.

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A researcher who studies birds from around the world has documented that tropical birds have fewer offspring than birds in other regions but their offspring have a higher probability of survival.

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New Zealand's iconic bird, the Kiwi, is threatened with extinction, but a paltry one million dollars more per year could potentially make the difference in its fight for survival.

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Ash trees in North America are being destroyed by the invasive emerald ash borer, but in the insect's native region of East Asia, it causes little trouble because the trees there have developed defenses against it. Given time, North American trees would likely also develop such defenses, but they may not have that time. Research is concentrating on ways to slow the insect's progress and provide more time for the trees.  

3 comments:

  1. We have been philosophizing at home about the passing of time and how destructive Katrina was. Sandy was bigger and certainly destructive, but Katrina took a very gloomy cake.

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    1. Had the levies been upgraded using available technology as applied by the Netherlands, the destruction caused by Katrina would have been much less. And if the wetlands and barrier islands had not been so degraded, the storm would have been slowed and weakened. Everything that could go wrong did - including incompetence by the federal and local governments. I wonder if we have learned any lessons from all this. Time will tell, I guess.

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    2. I agree completely, but it takes a lessons as hard as that one to wake people up, both in local communities and at government level.

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