Saturday, December 19, 2015

This week in birds - #186

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


"Snow birds" is what we called them when I was growing up because they usually showed up with the first snow of winter. They are Dark-eyed Juncos, a very pretty member of the sparrow family. No snow and no juncos so far here in the subtropical South, but I photographed this one a few years ago on an autumn visit to Rocky Mountain National Park.
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The Christmas Bird Count is underway. It started on December 14 and runs through January 5. The is the 116th consecutive year that it will have been conducted, making it perhaps the oldest of the Citizen Science projects that are now so popular. It is the forerunner of projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count and Project FeederWatch.

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2015 has been a memorable year in the world of science. Here is a list of some of the most significant scientific events of the year.

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One important scientific study of 2015 has uncovered the origins of modern birds. The DNA-based work found that birds emerged in what is now South America some 90 million years ago and radiated extensively around the time of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event that killed off the non-avian dinosaurs.

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Last month was the warmest November on record worldwide since records have been kept. It seems a near certainty that 2015 will be the warmest year on record.

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One important way that birds and mammals adapt to heat and cold is through size, but there are other tools in the animals' repertoire that they are able to utilize. 

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Here are some stunningly beautiful pictures of the Painted Bunting that has been hanging out in Prospect Park in Brooklyn this fall.

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Hawaii's endemic birds are facing so many challenges, not least of which is climate change, that one despairs as to whether any of them will long survive.

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The Tricolored Blackbird, once the most common songbird in California, is being considered for protection under the state's Endangered Species Act because of its rapidly diminishing numbers.

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The Red-breasted Nuthatch is one of the winter migrants that we always hope to get here as a visitor for the season. I haven't seen or heard any this year but hope springs eternal. "Union Bay Watch" blog has an appreciation of the wonderful little bird.

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One of the marks of intelligence in an animal is its ability to use tools. Well, birds are no slackers in this regard. A recently discovered example is the Greater Vasa Parrot which uses pebbles to get food.

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Darwin's Medium Ground-Finch in the Galapagos Islands is being threatened by an invasive parasitic fly.

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Hummingbirds generate a lot of heat with their constant activity. A new infrared video shows how they are able to dissipate that heat.

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In addition to the fact that it has been a mass murderer of birds and flying mammals, the Ivanpah Solar Project in the Mojave Desert has not been able to generate enough power to meet the terms of its contracts with Pacific Gas and Electric. It now risks default.

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Argentina is setting up additional protected areas for its native Magellanic Penguins.

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The only effects that we in this area have seen so far from this season's much-vaunted El Niño is a very wet autumn, but the effects are expected to intensify over the next three months. Who knows? We may yet get some frost!

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Around the backyard:

Things continue to be unusually quiet around the backyard feeders. American Goldfinches are present in good numbers but not visiting the feeders yet. They continue feeding on crape myrtle seeds. News reached me recently that there are Pine Siskins in the area! This is quite unexpected. I'm hoping some of them will reach my yard before the winter is over.


Pine Siskins at one of my feeders on their last visit here in the winter of 2013. 


4 comments:

  1. I always loved the bird name Junco. We had a generous rain yesterday. I think CA is having an unusually cold though dry December, but CA always likes to go its own way.

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  2. In CT the late fall has been unusually warm, temperatures ranging between 50s-60s which is out of whack for this time of the year. I only remember a late fall like that and the winter was unusually wet (snowy) afterwards.

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    1. I can't say that our warm autumn has been that unusual, although in most years, we would have had some frost by now. Not this year!

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