Saturday, March 25, 2017

This week in birds - #249

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


It's spring and there is new life everywhere, like this fuzzy young American Bittern, hidden among the weeds and waiting for its parent to return with a meal.

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On Friday, the State Department granted the pipeline giant TransCanada a permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a reversal of Obama administration policy. When President Barack Obama rejected the project in late 2015, he said it would undermine American leadership in curbing reliance on carbon fuels. 

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January listed the rusty-patched bumblebee as endangered, citing population declines caused by the loss of habitat, disease, pesticide use, and climate change. But before the protections took effect, the listing was frozen by the new administration in Washington. This week, stung by a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the administration reversed course and listed the bee as an endangered species.

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A virtual earthquake occurred in the world of the dinosaur family tree this week. A graduate student at the University of Cambridge has rewritten the family tree, moving some species from one branch to another, as a part of his project to attain his Ph.D. His theory is supported by his supervisors and co-authors and by a prodigious database he constructed of dinosaur anatomical features. Of course, many scientists disagree with him and the debate is on!

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The Night Parrot is an Australian species that was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in Queensland four years ago. Now, adding another twist to the mysterious history of the species, a Night Parrot has been photographed in arid Western Australia. It's the first verified sighting of the bird in that area in 100 years.

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A little-known branch of the federal government charged with getting rid of unwanted and invasive pests killed 2.7 million animals in 2016, the agency's annual report shows. The Wildlife Services wing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is called on to kill species considered a threat or nuisance to people or their livelihoods, including trapping wolves in northern Minnesota in areas where livestock or pets have been attacked. The kill list includes Red-winged Blackbirds, bobcats, Northern Cardinals(!!!), coyotes, feral chickens, raccoons, Rock Doves, and feral pigs among its many species. Personally, I fail to see how cardinals, or indeed many of these species, could ever be considered such pests that they require killing.

 
"Pest? Who, me?"

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The author of the very first bird field guide I ever owned, The Golden Guide to Birds, died this week. That guide was one of the least of Chandler Robbins' achievements. He was an eminent ornithologist with a heartfelt love of birds and his research played a pivotal role in our understanding of birds' life cycles.

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Of course, ornithologists are always looking for ways to better understand birds, and a new paper suggests a change to a very basic stratagem for studying them; namely, how we count how many birds are actually out there. 

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"The Web of Life" blog discusses some of the unexpected relationships that introduced species can develop.

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A tree census in San Francisco has discovered that the city has 20,000 more trees than was previously thought.

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Keas are a New Zealand parrot species with a playful nature. It turns out that they have a particular call which invites other Keas to play. 

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The "Arctic Sea Ice" blog reports that the maximum sea ice extent for the season was reached two weeks ago and it is the lowest maximum on record.

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In spite of late winter snowfalls, fourteen of New Jersey's counties remain under a drought warning and four others are under a drought watch.

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Birds benefit from flocking together, even when they are not the same species. Many eyes looking out for predators and for food provide significant benefits. It is not surprising, then, that China's endangered Crested Ibises flock together with more numerous species like egrets.

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Congress has overturned a regulation implemented by President Obama near the end of his term. That regulation prevented big game hunting in Alaskan national wildlife refuges. Overturning it means that hunters will now be able to bait, trap, and shoot from the air such animals as wolves and grizzly bears. 

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For migratory birds, breeding grounds are where the action is, but a new study by University of Guelph biologists is among the first to suggest that the number of songbirds breeding during spring and summer depends mostly on what happens at their wintering grounds. Not surprisingly, a successful winter often leads to a successful spring and summer. 




4 comments:

  1. If Northern Cardinals are pests, they must be the most beautiful I've ever seen. I would like to have such pest nearby all year long.

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    1. So would most people. They are the most popular backyard bird. I can't imagine a situation in which they would be considered a pest, but apparently somebody did.

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  2. Thanks once more for keeping us abreast of environmental news. A big thumbs down on the Keystone XL Pipeline ruling. We know who is behind that! Regarding the authorized killing of invasive species, I am sure you have read Barbara Kingsolver's take on that: Prodigal Summer, but if not I highly recommend it.

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    1. I haven't read Prodigal Summer but it, along with all the other Kingsolver books that I haven't yet read, is on my list. I love her work.

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