Saturday, August 6, 2016

This week in birds - #218

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

It's August and the fall migration of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is under way and, just on schedule, the Hamelia patens, or "hummingbird bush," is in full bloom.

 
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I like to think of the Perseid meteor shower as my own personal fireworks show; the heavens celebrating the time of my birth. Nah, I'm not really that egotistical, but I do take a special interest in Perseid since the show occurs around the time of my birthday, August 9, each year. Astronomers say that this year's display will be especially spectacular, although it will be occurring around the time of the full moon which may reduce its visibility.  For those who are interested in trying to view it, here is a website which will give you the best times for viewing at your particular location.

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Snowy Egrets, like other egrets and herons, grow special magnificent feathers during the breeding season to make them attractive to potential mates. These feathers were almost the cause of their being hunted to extinction around the turn of the twentieth century when they became all the rage as fashion accessories on women's hats. Through tireless work by conservationists, some of whom gave their lives in the effort, the Snowy and its cousin herons and egrets were saved and they grace our lakes, rivers, and wetlands today as elegant predators.

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In the latter half of the 20th century, the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula was among the fastest warming places on Earth. But since the late 1990s, this fast-paced warming has been tempered by extreme natural forces, according to new research, to the point that, now, some parts of the peninsula have switched to cooling. These results have been anticipated by climate scientists who know that natural forces may from time to time counteract the effects of greenhouse gas-induced warming in specific localities, but the overall trend of a warming Earth is not affected.

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Archaeologists have recently uncovered a major find in Belize. It is a Mayan royal tomb, possibly the largest found in more than a century of work in Belize. The tomb was unearthed at the ruins of Xunantunich, a city on the Mopan river in western Belize that served as a ceremonial center in the final centuries of Maya dominance around 600 to 800 C.E. Along with hieroglyphic panels and other artifacts, it contains the remains of an adult male between the ages of 20 and 30 years.

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It's well known that sunflowers, as well as many other flowers, track the path of the sun each day, turning always to face it. It's not love. It's heliotropism and new research explains how it works.

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Echidnas are those funny little, extremely improbable egg-laying mammals from Australia. It turns out that as well as being unique in appearance and physiology, they also have their own unique mating behavior.  

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An inhabitant of the New York botanical garden in the Bronx is raising a major stink and drawing visitors from far and near. It is a corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum, one of the largest and smelliest flowers on Earth and it is just about to bloom. I remember a few years ago when the Houston Museum of Natural Science butterfly center had one of the plants which we went to see bloom. It was quite spectacular. And smelly.   

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Hellbenders are the largest salamanders in North America and their continued survival is threatened. Next week, 255 of the strange creatures that have been captive-bred and raised will be released into streams in Ohio in hopes of restoring the threatened populations.

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In Antarctica, a scientific team from the University of Texas at Austin is doing some extreme fossil hunting, risking life and limb to find the frozen ancestors of birds.

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More bad news for those of us who must constantly fight the battle of the bulge: Scientists say that the brains of overweight people look ten years older than those of their lean counterparts of the same age. The good news is that it does not appear to affect cognitive performance.

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Scientists are studying birds' superpower to try to see how it works. That superpower is the ability to utilize ultraviolet vision.

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A newly-identified ancient species of toothed whales is providing evidence that ultrasonic hearing and the use of that navigational technique for echolocation goes back millions of years earlier in whales than was previously known.

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Here's a bit of good news for the critically endangered ground-dwelling New Zealand parrot, the Kakapo: It is having a record breeding year as well as the conservation groups working for its survival having received a spike in donations. It all adds up to a fantastic 2016 for the flightless bird.

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The battle against the Zika virus continues even without our AWOL Congress, which failed to appropriate funds for it before taking a long vacation. In Florida, the US Food and Drug Administration has cleared the state to release genetically modified mosquitoes to try to contain the population of the virus-carrying mosquitoes. 

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Scientists have been puzzling over a mysterious purple orb discovered about 5000 feet below sea surface off Santa Barbara, California. They have concluded that it is a possibly hitherto unknown variety of sea slug. Enjoy the video of its discovery.

  

4 comments:

  1. Hummingbirds, meteor showers, and the discovery that I have another Leo friend. (My birthday is August 18 and I am surrounded by Leos in my life, a thing that brings me happiness for some reason.) Happy Birthday Dorothy!

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    1. Thank you. And enjoy your own personal Leonine/Perseid fireworks display this week.

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  2. So the Heavens celebrate your birthday in style...That's awesome, Dorothy! ;-)

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    1. Yes, it is! Awesome in the truest sense of the word.

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