Saturday, February 25, 2017

This week in birds - # 245

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

American Goldfinch in my redbud tree this week. The goldfinches appear to be leaving our area early this year. Last week, they were all over my feeders, but by the weekend when I was doing my Great Backyard Bird Count, there were very few left to count and by late this week, I was only seeing single birds like this one present in my yard. In previous years, they remained in the area through March.

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It's not exactly news of OUR environment, unless you count our astronomical environment, but the big news in science this week was the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a small, faint star named Trappist-1 in the constellation of Aquarius. The star and its planets are 39 light years away, making the system a prime candidate for the search for extraterrestrial life. Scientists and geeks everywhere are very excited about this!

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Meanwhile, in discoveries here on our planet, you can add four new species of frogs to the list of known life on Earth. The miniature amphibians were discovered in the Western Ghat mountains in western India. They had apparently been overlooked in the past because of their diminutive size, measuring from 12 to 16 millimeters, end to end.

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Texas' very own Senator John Cornyn introduced two bills this week that would essentially gut the Endangered Species Act. His proposed legislation would give local governments, Big Oil, Big Agriculture, and other industries the right to veto settlement agreements requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make decisions about the protection of endangered species. In other words, Big Oil and Big Agriculture would be making those decisions. Hmm...I wonder if they would choose to protect vulnerable species if it interferes with their profits?

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A new report shows just how successful the Endangered Species Act has been in protecting those vulnerable speciesOverall, 70 percent of all listed U.S. birds are stable, on the road to recovery, or already delisted, while only 21 percent are in decline.


The Brown Pelican, just one of the ESA's success stories.

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The newly confirmed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, had his emails made public this week by order of the court. The documents revealed that, as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt had closely followed oil lobbyists' instructions in challenging environmental regulations and he more than once put the AG's letterhead to oil firm complaints.

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The Oregon Silverspot butterfly is seriously endangered, but a team of scientists and land managers are working hard to pull the fragile creature back from the brink. They are hand-rearing butterflies to be returned to the wild in order to increase the population.

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There was an interesting story from France this week about how the French are using the ancient art of falconry in the fight against terrorism. Terrorists are building drones to be used in their attacks, and now the French are training Golden Eagles to take down the drones.

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Mallard Ducks are helping to connect isolated wetlands merely by going about their usual activities. The wintering ducks visit their favorite feeding sites at night and share a common roost during the day. They connect the wetlands by dispersing seeds through their excrement.

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We tend to think of owls are being denizens of the deep, dark woods, but, in fact, many owls live quite successfully in urban areas because they find plenty of food there. 

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Many Utah politicians, most prominently Rep. Jason Chaffetz, have been very vocal about selling off public lands to the highest bidder. Now, Utah is beginning to see some of the results of that opposition to the protection of public lands. The outdoor recreation industry is very big business there and it is in full revolt against the state. Outdoor Retailer, a twice-yearly trade show that pumps an estimated $45 million a year into the state’s economy, has announced plans to move from Salt Lake City, which has hosted the convention for the past 20 years. 

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Viburnum, common name arrowwood, is a beautiful and useful native shrub, which, in the past, has had few, if any, pests. Now, however, it is under attack by the larvae of the viburnum leaf beetle, an introduced Old World pest, yet another example of the damage that can be done by invasive species.

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The warming climate is impacting the migration of birds. A climate-controlled study indicates that as the climate continues to heat up some species, such as the White-throated Sparrow, may give up migration altogether.

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The Bald Eagles that, in recent years, have nested at the National Arboretum in Washington are nesting there once again and have produced their first egg. You can watch their nest live on the DC Eagle Cam.

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Penguins are uniquely vulnerable to climate change and scientists who study them are concluding that the best way to protect them may be to safeguard more of the habitat where they do their foraging.

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A new study finds that up to 16% of hydraulically fractured (fracked) oil and gas wells have significant spills every year. This is much higher than had previously been reported. 

6 comments:

  1. big oil, big agriculture and a Texas senator. What an unholy trinity.

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    1. It's the unholy trinity that holds sway over so much of our lives here in Texas,

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  2. A beautiful picture of the American goldfinch, Dorothy, and a some very interesting (and some disturbing) snippets of information. The best is that the French are training Golden Eagles to take down drones. P x

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    1. I found that very interesting, too - using an ancient art in the fight against terrorism.

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  3. Golden Eagles and Falcons to bring down terrorists drones sounds like yet another suicide mission.

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    1. I notice they are fashioning kevlar mittens to protect the birds' talons. I'm not sure about the degree of danger to the birds. I suppose it would depend on how the drone was made.

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