Friday, March 3, 2017

This week in birds - #246

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

Snowy Egret watching the water for a fish. You can see why these egrets are said to wear "golden slippers."

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This year's Great Backyard Bird Count was the biggest one yet. You can view a summary of this year's count, along with a list of the top ten states, top ten Canadian provinces, and top ten countries reporting. The country reporting the most species was Colombia with an amazing 955. India was second with 801, and Mexico was third with 774.

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The new administration has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that would reduce the agency’s staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. As proposed, the EPA’s staff would be slashed from its current level of 15,000 to 12,000. Grants to states, as well as its air and water programs, would be cut by 30 percent.

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Ryan Zinke was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior this week and his first act in office was to revoke the rule against use of lead ammunition in national wildlife refuges. Lead poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition is a major cause of death for many species, including the critically endangered California Condor

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It isn't only the National Park System that is endangered by right wing politics. State parks, particularly in states where Republicans are in charge, struggle for funding. A prime example of this is Wisconsin where the State Legislature agreed to Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to cut all tax-generated funding to state parks. One has to wonder whether there will be any state parks in our future.

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Record-breaking warm weather in the eastern U.S. has caused salamanders and frogs to begin their spring migration to their breeding areas earlier than usual. In some areas, roads are closed during these mass migrations in order to protect the critters. 

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The Obama administration attempted to define which isolated wetlands, or intermittent streams, are regulated under the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972. The current president is instructing the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to re-do the rule and it is expected that small streams and waterways will no longer be protected.

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After thousands of snow geese died in the toxic water of a former open-pit mine in Montana last fall, the companies responsible for the pit are bringing out the big guns. Montana Resources and BP-owned Atlantic Richfield Co. are proposing to use four noise-making propane cannons on tripods that would be triggered by long-range motion sensors as an additional measure to scare birds away from the Berkeley Pit, part of the nation's largest Superfund site. Also in the plan are radars, air and water drones, and strategically positioned lasers that would create a "net" across the pit and deter the birds from landing in the metal-laden water.

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Spring is arriving ever earlier in the northern hemisphere. One sedge species in Greenland is springing to growth 26 days earlier than it did a decade ago. And spring arrived 22 days early this year in Washington DC. The early spring is creating problems for the natural cycle of plants and wildlife.

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U.S. Bank Stadium, the new home of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, is killing birds at an astounding rateThe stadium, with its 200,000 square feet of clear and reflective glass, is so indistinguishable to birds that the creatures crash into it like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Conservation groups are documenting the deaths and demanding that the glass either be replaced with a less reflective substitute or be coated with something that will make it visible to the birds.

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The Greater Prairie-Chicken population in Illinois can only survive with human intervention. There are so few left in the population that genetic diversity is compromised and inbreeding could eventually cause them to die out. Periodic additions of birds from other states are helping to keep the species viable.  

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Every continent except Antarctica is ringed by vast stretches of seagrass, underwater prairies that together cover an area roughly equal to California. Seagrass meadows, among the most endangered ecosystems on Earth, play an outsize role in the health of the oceans. They shelter important fish species, filter pollutants from seawater, and lock up huge amounts of atmosphere-warming carbon. Seagrasses can also purge pathogens from the ocean that threaten humans and coral reefs alike. The fact that they are disappearing is therefore a huge problem for the environment.

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"Bug Eric" writes about the Big Bug Hunt. It's another citizen science project in which you can participate.

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Greenhouse gas emissions reduction programs often focus on the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities that lead to tropical deforestation. However, according to a new study published last week, policy makers have failed to address the significant levels of carbon dioxide emissions caused by rainforest degradation, which amount to one-third of the emissions arising from deforestation and are five times greater than total emissions from the global aviation sector.

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For thousands of years, parts of northwest Europe have enjoyed a climate several degrees warmer than many other regions at the same latitude. But new scientific analysis suggests that that could change much sooner and much faster than thought possible. Climatologists now say there is an almost 50% chance that a key area of the North Atlantic could cool suddenly and rapidly, within the space of a decade, before the end of this century, creating a colder and less hospitable climate in northwest Europe.

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In a week of very bad environmental news, perhaps the worst is this: Five wildlife rangers and three other men working in wildlife protection have lost their lives in four separate countries in the past month, highlighting the numerous hazards rangers and their colleagues face in protecting the world’s wild lands and species. Wildlife protectors in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and India have have died while on duty during this period, killed by poachers or by other dangers of the profession.

8 comments:

  1. Whoa. A lot of bad news here. I am not counting on our government for any good thing at this time. I liked the golden slippers though.

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    1. Yes, it was a real downer of a week. I really couldn't find any bright spots except the GBBC, and I'm afraid that's the way it will be for the foreseeable future.

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  2. It does seem to go from bad to worse..

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  3. Unfortunately, I think things are going to get worse for birds, the environment and nature in general under this administration. And I completely missed the GBBC this year!

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    1. Things do not look promising when the fate of the environment is in the hands of men (and they are ALL men, of course) who only think in terms of dollar signs.

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  4. Replies
    1. It has been a particularly bad news week.

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