Saturday, November 7, 2015

This week in birds - #181

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

American Goldfinch in winter dress with a seed head of crape myrtle. Crape myrtle seeds are a favorite food of the birds as they return to our area for winter. This is one of last winter's birds but they should be arriving here soon.

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After seven years, the Obama Administration has made its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project, and the decision is that it is not in the best interests of the United States to have it completed. Thus, Transcanada's pipeline request is rejected. Just a few days before the decision was announced, Transcanada had requested a suspension of its application process, hoping to delay a decision until after next year's presidential election. It's almost as if they had been tipped off that this decision was coming this week.

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The area around and over the Gulf of Mexico is one of the major flyways for migrating songbirds. Scientists are studying the risks the birds undertake in these flights and how they make their decisions to take a particular route.

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Most of the "coyotes" in the eastern United States are actually mixed species animals. They may be part coyote, part wolf, part domestic dog. Relatively few are actually full-blooded coyotes.

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Exposure to heavy metals may be toxic to birds to the extent of affecting their ability to breed and their physiology. This may show itself in duller colors of the feathers, according to findings in a study of England's Great Tit.

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Some states, like Florida, are ignoring the possible effects of climate change on their shorelines. Indeed, officially, they may even deny that climate change is happening and make laws forbidding its mention in governmental actions. In New York, they are taking a different approach. They are planning ways to ameliorate the effects of up to a six feet rise in sea level. 

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A recent study by the University of Texas finds that the wing shape of birds may be more dependent upon the ancestry of those birds rather than an adaptation to the type of flight in which the bird engages.

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And speaking of wing shape, there is a subtle difference in structure between the wings of a male Monarch butterfly and a female of the species. A study has found that the slight difference makes the female the more efficient flyer.

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West Nile Virus has had a devastating effect on many bird species in North America. Field studies have confirmed that several of those species have been very slow to recover their population numbers.

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Scientists at the University of California have found that shipping in domesticated honeybees or bumblebees to areas where pollinators have been reduced in number may not be the best way to proceed. Indeed, those domesticated bees often spread disease to the native population. 

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Migrating songbirds often depend on berries to fuel their flight. They frequently consume berries that would be unpalatable or even toxic to humans.

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New York's attorney general is investigating Exxon Mobil for promulgating lies about climate change when they had evidence from their own studies that contradicted those lies.

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Gulls are resourceful and omnivorous diners. They will follow ducks to steal their food that they have dredged up from the bottom of the lake or sea where the gulls themselves cannot go.

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The authorities in California are advising people to avoid consumption of crabs contaminated by a natural toxin that has spread throughout the marine ecosystem off the West Coast, killing sea mammals and poisoning various other species. There has been an explosion in production of the toxin because of record high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.

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Vultures are being threatened right around the world but nowhere more so than in Africa. There is a general lack of understanding of the importance of these birds to the environment and, ultimately, to the health of humans.

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There is evidence that mountain lions (or cougars or pumas, if you prefer) are recolonizing areas of their former eastern range in North America. This should be good news for the continued health of the environment.

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Around the backyard:

It's the quiet season for backyard birders. Fewer birds than usual come to the feeders and fall migration is winding down so there is less chance of seeing an unusual bird passing through. I am still seeing a few hummingbirds. This week I had a female Ruby-throated Hummer. I have not seen any Rufous Hummers recently. Could it be that we won't have any wintering with us this year? That would be disappointing.


4 comments:

  1. I like your collection here. This past month on the northern side of Los Angeles, I have seen numerous butterflies, hummingbirds, and heard bird calls I don't normally hear. The unusual bird calls I realize from reading your post, must come from migrating birds. For a chilling take on rising shore lines, The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham has one of the best renditions I have read.

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    1. Yes, fall migration has been in full swing for a while. It's always a treat to see different birds and butterflies passing through. I will check out the book that you recommend.

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  2. Nice pic, Dorothy.
    Just wondering, if Obama was going to say no to the Keystone Pipeline, why did he take seven years to reach that decision?!

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    1. I think the President would say that he had to let the process play out. I'm sure politics had nothing to do with it!

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