Saturday, June 24, 2017

This week in birds - #261

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


Eastern Kingbird photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

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June 19-25 is designated as National Pollinator Week, in honor of those hard-working animals that pollinate over 75% of flowering plants and nearly 75% of our crops. Pollinators include hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has lots of good information about invertebrate pollinators and how members of the public, and gardeners in particular, can help them.

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In the absence of leadership from Washington, many states and cities are doing their part to try to pick up the slack in the fight to slow and control human-caused climate change. Four cities are at the forefront: New York City, Houston, Miami, and San Francisco. You'll note that all of these cities are on a coast and must deal with the reality of rising sea waters.

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A new study examines the impact of agricultural expansion on the habitats of migratory shorebirds in Indonesia. Mangrove swamps are extremely important to these birds but mangrove cover has declined by some 85% in the last fourteen years. The authors of the study are asking the government to protect these areas and the shorebirds specifically.

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Parks Canada photograph
The woodland caribou of Val d'Or in Quebec are one of only seven remaining woodland caribou herds in the province and this herd has now dwindled to only fifteen animals primarily because of logging and industrial activities in their boreal habitat. The government is now considering a plan to round the herd up and send them to a zoo as a conservation measure. Protecting the habitat would, of course, be a better solution, but perhaps the government believes itself unable to do that.

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A Chilean expedition into the Atacama Desert has discovered the first known breeding site of an elusive seabird, the Ringed Storm-Petrel. This petrel is endemic to the western coast of South America. The size of its population is undetermined.

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Without strong action to stop it, global warming is expected to spread days of extreme heat of 95 degrees Fahrenheit and higher right around the world in coming decades. This will cause significant shifts in many cities and create new challenges for them.

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The current president's administration is considering a proposal that could essentially let some plants and animals go extinct so that cash-strapped agencies can use available funds to help other more viable ones. (Of course, the reason those agencies are cash-strapped is because the Republican-controlled Congress refuses to adequately fund them. It's not like the money isn't available; it's just being thrown at building more planes and ships and guns and financing our permanent worldwide wars.)  

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And speaking of deliberately throwing a monkey wrench into the wheels of government, a new report details the paranoia and stifled work that exists in today's EPA. The administrator Scott Pruitt is busily hamstringing his own agency's law enforcement and regional offices; he has banned employees from taking pen and paper into meetings out of fear of information being leaked; and his office suppressed plans for an agency Earth Day picnic because it seemed too combative(!). 

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Another traditional name for the Bobolink is Ricebird and a new study of the isotopes in the bird's feathers shows just how accurate that name is. Throughout much of the year, the birds eat grass seeds of many kinds, but as they prepare to migrate northward, they fill up on rice. Unfortunately, this puts them at greater risk for poisoning by pesticide. The Bobolink's population is declining, probably at least partly due to the effects of pesticides. 

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It seems that the United States is not the only country with an environmental minister who is more interested in protecting industrial interests than the environment. In Poland, the environment minister, Jan Szyszko, whom green activists have criticized for allowing large-scale logging in the ancient Białowieża forest, has called for the woodland to be stripped of the protection of UNESCO’s natural heritage statusBiałowieża, which straddles Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago. It also boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.

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The warming of Antarctica is creating an insect and plant invasion. Scientists say that as temperatures soar in the polar region, invading plants and insects, including the common house fly, pose a major conservation threat. 

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After 42 years on the endangered species list, the Yellowstone grizzly bear — whose numbers have grown to more than 700 from fewer than 150 — will lose its protected status, the Interior Department announced on Thursday.

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The nutrient-rich feces from more than a million gulls feeding at landfills in North America may threaten the health of nearby waters, fertilizing algae and weeds and contributing to algal blooms, which creates additional costs for local governments that have to clean up after them.  

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The government of Costa Rica has announced the designation of the Área Marina de Manejo Cabo Blanco (Cabo Blanco Marine Management Area), as a new marine protected area (MPA)The MPA is on the Nicoya peninsula of the country's Pacific coast and has been established to safeguard the livelihoods of hundreds of fishermen and their families, as well as the rich  in Cabo Blanco National Park which includes humpback whales and four species of sea turtle (including the critically endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle).
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When we think of eggs, most likely we envision a chicken egg, but, in fact, eggs come in many different shapes and there is a reason (science) for that. The Atlantic gives us an "eggsplainer".


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