Saturday, February 6, 2016

This week in birds - #192

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

Savannah Sparrows are one of the very common sparrows in this area, especially in winter. They are often found in small flocks, sometimes of mixed species, along roadsides as this one is.

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A classic man-made environmental disaster is the lead-poisoned water of Flint, Michigan. The state and local governments there made one mistake after another in the name of saving money, public health be damned. But Flint isn't the only place in the country with a lead problem. There are areas throughout the nation where lead is present in the soil and where ancient pipes that carry water may be leaching lead. It is an infrastructure problem that demands a massive response. 

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The takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge by the Bundy gang is now winding down with sixteen of the miscreants having been indicted on various charges this week and four dead-enders still hanging on to the refuge visitor center and demanding that they not be arrested if they come out. The whole incident has shone a spotlight on the kind of threats and intimidation which federal land managers in the West face on a daily basis. The Bundy gang is not unique. It is a part of a much larger problem.

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In the area where the American Revolution started, the American symbol is thriving. A census of birds reported 51 territorial breeding Bald Eagle pairs in Massachusetts last year.

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Between 40 and 85 million years ago, there were delicate creatures flying around that looked a lot like butterflies - except they weren't. They were kalligrammatid lacewings, and they were doing the things that butterflies do before butterflies even existed. Their resemblance is a coincidence, an extraordinary example of convergent evolution, the process where two groups turn up to life’s party accidentally wearing the same outfits.

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Here's another birder who had a very Big Year in 2015; Shashank Dalvi spent the year traveling throughout India to see birds. He recorded seeing 1128 species, a record for India.

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Sexual mutations in fish can be a clue to excessive pollution of a waterway. Recently, such examples were found in two waterways in New Jersey, suggesting that they are contaminated by chemicals which play havoc with the fishes' hormone systems.

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Corvids (jays and crows) help spread the seeds of the trees upon which they feed and they may play an important role in the ability of those trees to cope with climate change. 

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Barn Owls are one of the most widespread avian species, living throughout the world where they find appropriate habitats. But, like so many other species, they are declining in many areas where they previously flourished.

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The practice of building corridors for wildlife to cross over busy highways is one of the more hopeful events in recent wildlife conservation. Such corridors do work, as conservationists in Singapore have documented with endangered pangolins making use of such a pathway.

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Costa Rica is hummingbird heaven. There are about 50 species of the little birds that live there. Here are some pictures of several of them. 

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About five hundred years ago, Little Blue Penguins from Australia colonized New Zealand. They filled a gap that was left in the ecosystem there when humans arrived and wiped out native penguin populations.

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California Condors, once on the very brink of extinction, have staged a bit of a comeback with the help and protection of humans. They are nowhere near out of the woods though and will require that help and protection for the foreseeable future. 

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The protection from logging of British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest has been assured by an agreement forged, after a decade of complex negotiations, between the province, First Nations and industry.

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Scientists studying them believe that the winter singing of songbirds is not about defending territory but is just practice for the real business of attracting a mate and breeding that comes a bit later. 

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Attacks by large carnivores on human beings are often triggered by stupid behavior from the human being. Trying to hand-feed a wild bear, for example. In almost all instances, carnivores avoid humans unless they feel cornered or unless the human engages in risky behavior that makes him/her seem like prey. 

8 comments:

  1. Interesting post, as always. I especially liked the tidbit about the predecessors of the butterflies.

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    1. I found that bit really interesting, also, especially the part about convergent evolution.

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  2. I am reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. My first time reading it. Heavy reading!

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    1. It is a somber thought-provoking work, unfortunately still relevant today more than 50 years after publication.

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  3. Interesting news, Dorothy, there is usually so much sad environmental news. I wish the world could be regressed in time to when the ecosystems had not been so messed up, it must have been marvelous. It's hard to imagine the US without all the imported weed plants, birds, and animals we have learned to accept. It would be great to be able to think and also act in a pinch as though a bear or cougar would not think of me as food.

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    1. In a world where travel between countries and continents has become an ordinary occurrence, humans have become the vector for introducing alien species into areas where they never would have normally lived, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. But even when the species are relatively benevolent, they have an impact on the ecosystem, and you are absolutely right - it has become almost impossible to imagine a pristine world without such interlopers.

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