Saturday, April 2, 2016

This week in birds - #200

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

Speaking of "Garden blues," there's nothing that is much bluer than this - a male Indigo Bunting. I actually took this picture a couple of years ago in April. I haven't seen any of the beauties in my yard so far this year, but this is the time that they generally make their appearance so I'm keeping an eye out for them. 
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Three months into the new year, 2016 is looking like it will be another record-breaker for hot temperatures on the planet. The blogger at "Skeptical Science" explains.

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We think of unicorns as mythical creatures, but in one of the more interesting stories to cross my desk this week, I learned that in fact there once was such a creature, although it didn't look much like our image of a unicorn. Elasmotherium sibricum, or Siberian unicorn, actually survived much longer than scientists previously thought and may have existed alongside humans.

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Scientists have established that birds of the same species can develop regional accents that distinguish them. For example, a Carolina Chickadee from Ohio might have a different cadence to its call than one from Southeast Texas. Scientists are studying whether the same thing happens with our pets. Do our cats pick up and emulate our accents? In other words, "Cat got your tongue?" 

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The West Antarctic ice sheet is larger than Mexico. It is a remnant of the last ice age. If it breaks up and disintegrates, it could raise ocean levels around the world as much as 12 feet. Scientists have long believed that the effects of global warming could take hundreds or even thousands of years to cause its disintegration, but a new model predicts that this catastrophe could instead happen within decades. 

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How do bird feathers get their color? Turns out there is not one simple answer. Some get the color from the foods they eat; some from pigment or from the structure of the feather.

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The Blackfeet Native American tribe in Montana has plans to reestablish a bison herd on their reservation lands. Animals from Canada will be used to get the herd started. 

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Birds in both Europe and the Americas are responding to climate change in similar ways, mainly by moving their ranges farther north and, in some instances, adjusting their nesting time. 

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Human-caused earthquakes are becoming more common in areas of heavy fracking. (Just ask the citizens in North Texas and Oklahoma.) Scientists in Canada have established that fracking is to blame for an increase in earthquakes in Western Canada.

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Supergenes are clusters of physically linked, co-evolving genes that often control complex traits. A new study clarifies the origin and possible fate of a fascinating supergene that determines the coloration and mating behavior of a widespread North American bird, the lovely little White-throated Sparrow.

A winter visitor to my yard, the White-throated Sparrow.

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A new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York traces the evolutionary path of dinosaurs to birds. It is aptly called "Dinosaurs Among Us." 

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The American Ornithologists' Union, never an organization to let well-enough alone, is out with a new proposal for revising the checklist of North and Middle American birds, based on new scientific and taxonomic information. 

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Fewer than 50 red wolves remain in the wilds of North Carolina but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed what would essentially be a suspension of the effort to save them and bring them back from the brink of extinction. The Center for Biological Diversity is suing to stop the suspension and keep the program in place.

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The recent murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres Flores in Honduras is a chilling reminder that Latin American environmental crusaders are routinely victims of beatings, threats and intimidation, and murder.

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The American chestnut tree was once a mainstay of North American forests until a blight wiped them out. But scientists are working to bring them back. They've found it difficult though because of problems getting roots of the engineered trees to establish themselves.

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Some shorebirds can be difficult to identify, especially in their winter feathers. Not so the Oystercatcher! This unique bird could not be mistaken for any other at any season.

The easily identifiable Oystercatcher.
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Around the backyard:

I'm still seeing winter visitors like Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches (now in their bright yellow and black feathers), and Chipping Sparrows passing through and stopping at my feeders to fill up before moving on. Many of our permanent residents like Eastern Bluebirds, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, and Carolina Chickadees are busy brooding eggs or feeding new chicks. The number of Chimney Swifts has increased. I saw a dozen of them circling over the yard yesterday. But still no Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Where are they?

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This is a milestone of sorts for the blog - the 200th entry of "This week in birds." I started the feature in my old blog, Backyard Birder, and continued it when I folded that into this blog. The first one on December 2, 2011 was just a roundup of news from around my yard and the neighborhood, but the next one on December 16, 2011 established the format and the method which I still follow. And for that I have to give a shoutout to John Beetham of A DC Birding Blog from whom I stole the original idea. He does a weekly feature on Friday that he calls "Loose Feathers" in which he shares a compendium of information about recent environmental news, with an emphasis on news of birds. I freely admit that I still steal some of my topics from him. 

I also have to give a shoutout to you, my faithful readers. Thank you for visiting each week. You make it all worthwhile. 

10 comments:

  1. Good write thank you for sharing

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    1. And thank you for being one of my faithful readers!

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  2. Congratulations Dorothy. I read every week and find it fascinating!

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  3. Congrats on 200 This Week in Birds posts! The Indigo Bunting is my favorite bird of all, because of its color of course. I have seen some blue birds in LA but am not sure it is exactly that one. Finally, I like thinking of some Siberian dreamer painting a picture of the gone Siberian unicorn and turning it into a mythical creature.

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    1. Indigo Buntings would be rare but not unheard of in LA. Anyway, as frequently noted here, birds are expanding their ranges in response to climate change, so, who knows? They may be common there in future.

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  4. I welcome these news every week. Congrats on your 200th weekly post! Cheers to many more to come.

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    1. Thank you, Carmen. I hope to continue the feature indefinitely.

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  5. Lots of interesting news as usual, Dorothy, I wish I could see an Indigo Bunting, such a pretty blue. But I do have the raucous Steller's Jays. Congratulations on your 200th bird news post. I wish the environmental news were better.

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    1. The news certainly can be depressing at times, but it is a call to action for all of us to do better. Each of us can make a difference with our actions in our own personal ecosystem.

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