Saturday, May 20, 2017

This week in birds - #257

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


Five fledgling Barn Swallows wait for their parents to bring them a meal. Picture taken at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

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The Global Seed Vaultdesigned as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever, is buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle. It was thought that the permafrost would protect it, but now it has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel. No seeds have been lost, but scientists are rethinking the strategy and endeavoring to come up with alternative solutions to protect the seed bank. 

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Does Nature evolve toward beauty or is it all utilitarian function? Ornithologist Richard Prum argues that esthetics are also a feature of evolution. He has written a book called The Evolution of Beauty that uses the examples of dancing birds, duck sex, and human orgasm to argue his point.

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Henderson Island in the South Pacific is an isolated and uninhabited island that is far away from anywhere. No ship ever goes there unless it is on some specific mission. And yet this island "paradise" is covered in plastic, the detritus of human activity.


This is what we have done to our beautiful planet.

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The current resident of the White House has plans to cut the Energy Department's budget for its renewable energy and energy efficiency program by seventy percent, according to the draft 2018 budget proposal.

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Whooping Cranes have slowly edged away from the brink of extinction with the help of protective laws made by concerned humans, but now here come climate change which threatens to finally undo all those efforts and wipe the species from the face of Earth. The cranes depend on wetlands as their nesting ground, but the warming climate threatens to dry those places out.

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The National Weather Service is predicting a warmer than usual June, July, and August for much of the United States. And in news of other effects of long-term weather patterns, i.e., climate, scientists and conservationists are beginning to plan how to deal with sea level rise as a result of the planet heating up.

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We think of Antarctica as a pristine white landscape, but, in fact, Antarctica is turning green. The quantity and rate of plant growth has increased dramatically on the continent over the past 50 years because of climate change and that has serious implications for changes in the ecosystem. 

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The Kokako is bird that is endemic to New Zealand and one of many that have become endangered mainly as a result of depredation by introduced species on the island nation. A program has been underway to reduce or eradicate those non-native species and that has resulted in a modest rise in the Kokako's population. Now the bird will be reintroduced to some areas where it had been extirpated.

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A new paper published in the journal Atmospheric Environment makes the argument that hedges are just as important in cities as trees. Trees help to remove pollution in the air in open areas, but hedges between the streets and human habitations can be very effective in helping to protect residents from the effects of pollution. Hedges of native shrubs are always the best choice.

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Chlorpyrifos is a highly toxic pesticide that was on course to be banned by the Obama Administration because of its threat to human health as well as the environment; then the election happened and the new administration reversed that ban. Now at least 50 farm workers in California have been sickened apparently by exposure to that chemical. Although the farm where they worked did not use the pesticide, it was carried on the wind from other farms that did. 

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Migrating birds must time their arrival to their breeding grounds accurately in order to have the best chance to successfully raise their young, but, in some cases, the climate is changing so rapidly that birds have not been able to adjust their timing and they are arriving at nesting sites late. This has dire implications for the success of those nesters.  

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Common Terns have not been all that common around New York Harbor for a while, but now they are back, nesting and feeding there. Conservationists are continuing their restoration and preservation efforts for the bird, hoping to make it common once again.

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Migrating birds use their built-in magnetic compass to help them find their way, but what about non-migrating birds? A study of non-migrating Zebra Finches showed that they, too, use those compasses to help orient themselves.

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I've watched various songbirds take dust baths over the years. They really seem to be enjoying rolling in the dirt. Something about it must feel very good to them and it may be helpful in removing parasites from the feathers. Bigger birds also engage in the activity. Egyptian Vultures, for example. They actually engage in mud bathing in the red soil of the Canary Islands, dying their naturally light colored feathers red in the process. 

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An article in the new environmental news website The Revelator asks how we can keep from being overwhelmed by all the bad news about the environment. It's a question that I ask myself every week as I collect the news for this roundup. Their article offers some practical advice on the subject from some who are engaged in the fight to protect what remains. 

4 comments:

  1. So many bad news of ice decreasing on both Poles, of bids nesting later than usual, of sickened farmers due to environmental factors...It's so depressing to read environmental news lately. :-(

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    1. It is very hard not to be overwhelmed by it all, and yet we must persist and do all that we can as individuals to defend our planet.

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  2. I admire you for keeping up on all the environmental news, disheartening as it is. I read an apocalyptic novel about, among other things, the seed bank: The Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. My review: http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2010/08/windup-girl.html

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    1. The seed bank is an important innovation and insurance against worldwide catastrophe. Sad to think that it, too, might be imperiled by that worldwide catastrophe.

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