Saturday, May 13, 2017

This week in birds - #256

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


A male House Finch sings his melodic song from a bare branch, proclaiming that this territory is his.

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In one single deadly night in Galveston on Wednesday, 398 birds, mostly migrating warblers, crashed into a high rise building there; 395 of the birds died and three survived. Countless birds are killed each year by crashing into such buildings right across the continent. You see, songbirds migrate mostly at night when their predators are sleeping, and the city lights left burning in tall buildings confuse the birds and cause them to become disoriented with disastrous results.

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The Dakota Access Pipeline is not operational yet and already it is leaking, outraging the indigenous groups and their supporters who have long warned that it is a threat to the environment.

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Glacier National Park may have to be renamed. It is losing its glaciers. The warming climate makes it inevitable that the contiguous United States will lose all of its glaciers within a matter of decades, according to scientists. Of the 150 glaciers that existed in the park in the late 19th century, only 26 remain.

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has eviscerated the agency's board of scientific advisors by removing half of them. He plans to replace the scientists with people from industry. One assumes they will be white, rich, male (of course!), and knee-deep in the oil industry.

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In news from the ancient environment of about 335,000 to 236,000 years ago, hominid fossils found in South Africa seem to have been present in the area at the same time as Homo sapiens but they are a different species dubbed Homo naledi. They are somewhat more primitive, with smaller brains, than Homo sapiens.

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The Greater Sage Grouse is an icon of the American West, but its habitat has long been disappearing and there is debate about how to protect the bird in an increasingly urbanized landscape. A new study by University of Washington, state and federal researchers analyzed  in Eastern Washington and showed a surprisingly large benefit from a federal program that subsidizes farmers to plant year-round grasses and native shrubs instead of crops. Encouraging plants that are endemic to the habitat a bird prefers helps the bird! Who would have guessed? 

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Few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, Monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs, but few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. Of the scant records that do exist, many come from amateur naturalists, whether butterfly collectors or bird watchers. Now, a new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect populations at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s and what the data show are a drastic decline in the abundance of those insects.

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In recent years, there have been growing concerns about technology invading national parks, with drones and other noisy gadgets disrupting wilderness areas, wildlife habitats and other recreational areas. There has also been a rising number of reports of social media use leading hikers to snap inappropriate and dangerous selfies, threatening wildlife and the environment in the process. Is technology killing the joy of national parks? If you visit a park, for Nature's sake, shut down that phone and just enjoy your surroundings!

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The Western Snowy Plover abandoned the playground beaches of Los Angeles County some seven decades ago, but now the bird is returning. But will the sunbathers, surfers, and developers give the bird the room and the peace and quiet it needs to nest and raise its young?

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According to the Gates Foundation, mosquitoes pose the greatest threat to human life outside of humans themselves. In 2015, for example, they are believed to have been responsible for more than 200 million cases of malaria and an estimated 429,000 malaria-related deaths. Mosquitoes have many natural enemies, of course, that work to keep their population in check. One of them is itself a mosquito; a mosquito that hunts mosquitoes.  

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In a dry, wormless spring in Britain, a Common Blackbird was observed capturing newts to feed to its chicks

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Climate change is already having an effect on the health of farm workers around the world. It is causing or exacerbating diseases, including a fatal chronic kidney disease. 

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Banding birds and then having observers report sightings of those birds later is one of the ways that scientists track birds' movements and determine their natural ranges. Sometimes it reveals surprising results; like the Common Redpoll, banded at Hilliarton Marsh near Lake Liskeard, Ontario in 2016, that was observed 2700 miles away in Alaska, the first documented flight of a Common Redpoll from Ontario to Alaska.

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"Urban Hawks" has pictures of an Eastern Whippoorwill that created a fuss among Blue Jays in Central Park in New York recently. Those who know Blue Jays know that it doesn't take much to stir them up.

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Canada's temperate rainforests, found on British Columbia's Pacific coast, contain some of the largest trees in the world - after California's redwoods and sequoias. The oldest of those trees are located in the southwest of the province where prodigious rainfall and mild winters allow relentless growth. But more than a century of unrelenting commercial logging has placed primeval old-growth forests and the delicate ecosystems that thrive within them on the brink of extinction. Only a handful of the largest trees remain on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland areas of British Columbia. Now, conservationists are fighting to save the last of these trees


4 comments:

  1. Bad news seems to be the trend lately.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed. It is hard to put a positive spin on such negative news.

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  2. At least the Common Blackbird was able to adapt!

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    Replies
    1. Exactly. The race often goes not to the swift but to the adaptable - at least the evolutionary race.

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