Saturday, January 30, 2016

This week in birds - #191

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


Kinglets are cute and very active little birds. They are really tiny, not much bigger than our most common hummingbirds. There are two species that are endemic to North America. We don't have either of them here in Southeast Texas as a permanent resident, but we always look forward to the return of at least one of them in the fall. It's one of my favorite winter residents.

And here it is - the little Ruby-crowned Kinglet. He's traveling incognito, keeping his ruby crown hidden, as he usually does unless he's disturbed or displaying it for a potential mate. Note the white eye ring and wing bars. 

This is his cousin, the Golden-crowned Kinglet, which I photographed (not very well, I admit) at Big Bend National Park in West Texas. Note the prominent white eye stripe. They are known to wander throughout much of the eastern United States in winter, but I've never personally seen one in this area.
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Birders and other lovers of our national parks and wildlife refuge system are rejoicing that the armed occupation of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon appears to be almost over. The leaders of the uprising have been arrested, with, unfortunately, the death of one of their misguided crew. Those under arrest will be denied bail until all of their followers have vacated the refuge. Their leader has appealed to them to pack up and go, but some are still occupying the refuge's visitor center. The refuge is considered a crime scene and will continue to be closed until the investigation is wrapped up and evidence gathered. Then the cleanup can begin, damage can be repaired, and the refuge can be made ready for its spring visitors - both feathered and human. 

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I have reported here at various times over the years on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's project of using ultralight aircraft to lead young human-reared Whooping Cranes from Wisconsin on their fall migration to Florida. The idea was to establish an eastern flock of the endangered birds to guard against the species being wiped out by some catastrophe with the Canada/Texas wild flock. The project started in 2001 and has had very limited success. It is expensive and the FWS has decided that it can no longer support it after the most recent flight. If the project is to continue, it will have to be financed privately.

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Northern Bobwhites are one of the prairie species that have been declining precipitously in recent years. Conservation efforts have focused on trying to reestablish them in their former habitats and some of those efforts are bearing fruit. It was reported this week that the birds that have been reintroduced in New Jersey are surviving and, indeed, thriving, offering hope for the bird's future. 

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A new comprehensive bipartisan(!) energy bill is being debated in the Senate. It is meant to update the nation’s power grid and oil and gas transportation systems to address major changes in the ways that power is now produced in the United States. It's probably just as well that Ted Cruz is otherwise occupied and not around to filibuster it.

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Solar and wind energy have enormous up sides, but their down side is that they can cause harm to some animals, especially those that fly. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has to decide just how much harm is permitted before the energy entity must pay a fine and/or make adjustments in the way it is operating. The FWS had planned to issue 30-year permits for such companies, establishing how many Bald and Golden Eagles they could kill before facing penalties. Conservationists went to court on behalf of the eagles to stop that permitting system and this week the eagles and the conservationists won. The FWS will have to come up with another plan.

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The genome of the 'Alalā (Hawaiian Crow) has been successfully sequenced, which will aid conservationists as they attempt to reintroduce the bird to the wild.

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Who knew that New Jersey has a diamondback terrapin hunting season? In fact, they do, but it has been cut back because of fears that it was too severely impacting the population of the animal.

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One might imagine that green spaces in metropolitan areas are not that important to wildlife populations, but one would be wrong. In fact, such spaces contribute quite substantially to wildlife diversity and the ability of wildlife to survive and thrive among us.

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A genetically unique pod of Alaskan orcas seems headed for extinction because it has not been able to reproduce since the Exxon Valdez oil spill more than two decades ago.

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White Storks are opportunistic birds that have learned to take advantage of what humans provide. Many of the birds are now overwintering at garbage dumps or fish farms instead of migrating to their traditional wintering grounds.

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A banded Lesser Black-backed Gull photographed last January at Daytona Beach, Florida, has been photographed there once again this week.

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A U.S. Appeals Court has ruled that Snowy Owls near Kennedy Airport in New York can be killed if they are deemed to pose a threat to human air travel.

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Winter, it seems, is not coming. In fact, winter may be dying. Warm Arctic storms are unfreezing the North Pole with temperatures 55 degrees (F) above normal for January.

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More than 20 years ago, the San Francisco Estuary Institute, a nonprofit scientific advisory group, began an ambitious effort to guide the restoration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But the scientists there soon ran into a huge, unanticipated question: What should the restored terrain look like, and how should its natural systems function? The ecology of the place had been so compromised that it was virtually impossible to answer that question. They have had to resort to historical documents and pictures to try to determine what their steps should be in restoring the place.

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Environmental change is just one more challenge that birds must face and overcome in order to survive. Those birds with diverse migration strategies appear to have an advantage in coping with those changes.

6 comments:

  1. Enjoyed this thank you for sharing

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Some of the news was actually good this week!

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  2. It's just a pity the thaw in the Arctic. I just wonder what those animals will do to survive in the not so distant future.

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    1. It will be a challenge for sure. Some of them probably will not make it.

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  3. The other night I heard owls calling as Sunday's rain storm moved in. I like those kinglets. Don't know if I would recognize them but we had all many of small birds in the yard last week and even a Monarch butterfly!

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    1. It's always exciting - to me, at least - to hear owls calling. You need a field guide so you can get busy learning to identify those birds!

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