Saturday, August 13, 2016

This week in birds - #219

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

Black Skimmer in flight over Galveston Bay.

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Did you hear about the 400-year-old shark? A new method of determining age in vertebrate animals has allowed scientists to determine that a female Greenland shark has reached that great age. Grey, plump and growing to lengths of around five meters, the Greenland shark is one of the world’s largest carnivores. With a reported growth rate of less than one centimeter a year, they were already thought to be long-lived creatures, but just how long-lived was something of a mystery until now.

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Another ancient species, now critically endangered, is facing yet another challenge. California Condors that feed on the dead carcasses of Pacific sea mammals may become poisoned by the mercury and other contaminants that have accumulated in the bodies of those mammals. Those contaminants can make it difficult if not impossible for the condors to reproduce. For a species whose reproduction is already a dicey thing, it's one more hurdle that they just don't need. 

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According to a study led by University of California, Irvine ecologists, the once-flourishing wild blue mussels that live along the Gulf of Maine coastline have virtually disappearedThat coastline, historically home to one of the richest shellfish populations in the U.S., is undergoing a dramatic change, and scientists are attempting to discover how this affects the shellfish populations and why it seems to have particularly devastated the mussels.

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One of the dirty little secrets of birding is that it is mostly an avocation of white people - at least in this country. For whatever reason, people of color have not taken to it with the same enthusiasm. Now ecology professor Drew Lanham, who is himself a birder who happens to be black, has drawn up "9 Rules for the Black Bird Watcher." It is accompanied by a satirical video which has now gone viral.


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In the long term, global climate change is a severe challenge for the planet's biodiversity, but, in the short term, the ravages of guns (overhunting), nets (overfishing), and bulldozers (development and habitat destruction) are the primary drivers of species loss.

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Coyotes have a bad, mostly undeserved, reputation which has led to much senseless killing. They are actually an important part of a thriving, healthy ecosystem. 

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Recent research shows that the ice age corridor between Siberia and Alaska would have been too inhospitable a route for the migration of humans, contradicting longstanding theory. This means that the very first pre-Columbian settlement of America, perhaps by people known to archaeologists as the Clovis culture, must have been either by sea, or by hugging the Pacific shoreline, long before the ice sheets retreated and the ocean closed in to flood the Bering Strait and separate the Old World from the New. This research also pushes the arrival of humans in the New World back to about 16,000 years ago, not the 12,000 - 13,000 previously believed.

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If you know what trees a particular species of bird favors, then you will know where to look for that bird

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Wildlife officials in Alaska fear that the Denali wolf pack, which is one of the longest studied wolf packs on the continent, may have been completely wiped out by years of aggressive hunting.

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August 3 marked the two year anniversary of the worst environmental mining disaster in Canadian history. The mining operation at Mount Polley was profitable prior to the disaster and the controlling enterprise is still profitable, but the public, rather than the company, is on the hook for much of the cost of the cleanup.

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Some of what we thought we knew about birds' migratory flyways is being upended by research using geolocators. The routes are being recalculated and, with that knowledge, there are changes to what we need to do to protect birds in migration. 

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Changes in land management practices have caused western junipers to invade ecosystems where they were formally absent, causing problems for other native species.

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A large beetle called the "burying beetle" is an important part of Nature's cleanup crew. The beetle buries carcasses or pieces of carcasses to serve as food for its larvae, thus removing potential sources of disease and pollution from the landscape.

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Snails are going extinct. You may not think that matters very much, but John Platt of Scientific American explains why you would be wrong in that belief.

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And, finally, here's some good news: A species of island fox that is unique to California islands has been removed from the endangered species list after the fastest recovery ever of a mammal that had been put on the list. The fox, which is one of the world's smallest canids, was on the list for only twelve years.

Photo by Chuck Graham/AP

They are happy to be off that list!



4 comments:

  1. A 400 year old shark...Wow!
    And I'm glad those foxes recovered enough to be taken out of the endangered species list.

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    1. That is very good news about the little foxes. The ESA does work.

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  2. This weekend I began a campaign to save a tree in my yard. It is an old gnarly, misshapen pine tree, due to who knows what ravages, but this year it is looking particularly bad due to the drought. My tree man instructed: clear out the red apple ground cover around the trunk (I had my lawn man do that), get a 25 ft soaker hose, lay it around the trunk about 4 ft out, run for 24 hours once a week. I am just about to go out with my trowel and see how deep the water went after the first 24 hour soak. It feels good to save a tree. I hope it works.

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    1. Good luck with it, Judy. We lost so many pine trees in the terrible two year-plus drought we had here a few years ago. It was very sad to see all those dead trees standing in the woods wherever we went.

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