Saturday, August 5, 2017

This week in birds - #267

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



Black-crowned Night Heron fishing from a log at Brazos Bend State Park. These birds are fairly common in wetlands around Southeast Texas, but this year they were recorded breeding in the UK for the first time. Conservationists believe they have been pushed northward by climate change, but also they may have been attracted by the successful restoration of wetlands. 

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The annual State of the Birds report focuses on the benefits to birds from the Farm Bill. While providing a crucial safety net for farmers and ranchers, the bill also secures important habitat for more than 100 bird species and is the largest source for funding of conservation on private lands.

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What did the first flower on Earth look like? A study suggests that all living flowers ultimately descended from one single ancestor that lived about 140 million years ago. And what did that flower look like? Well, perhaps it was something like this:


3D model of ancestral flower.


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A company called Cadiz Inc. has plans to pump groundwater from the Mojave Desert and sell it to Southern California cities. Conservation groups, as well as the Los Angeles water utility board, oppose the plans on grounds of potential damage to the environment.

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Scott Egan, a Rice University biology expert, decries plans for a contiguous wall along the border with Mexico. He says it would put area wildlife at risk, including more than 100 endangered species. This is already happening at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas. Without notifying anyone of their presence or intentions, a work crew contracted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection entered the private property of the center and began cutting and clearing trees. The land serves as habitat for more than 400 endemic and migratory butterflies, land that could now be lost to accommodate the obnoxious and unnecessary wall.

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There has been a rash of at least ten deaths of North Atlantic right whales off the coast of Canada this summer. This is an unprecedented number of deaths that represents 2.5% of the population of this endangered species. Necropsies are being performed to determine the cause of the deaths to see if there is any common denominator.

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Foxes and other predators of small animals may be a first line of defense against the ticks that carry Lyme disease. They kill the animals that are hosts to the ticks and germs that spread the disease.

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From completely unsurprising research, we learn that animals that rely on camouflage are experts at finding the best places to conceal themselves based on their individual appearance. For example, can you find the Nightjar in this picture? (Hint: It's a bird and it is smack dab in the middle.)

  

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The Kingsland Landfill in the Meadowlands in New Jersey, like many landfills, produces an invisible methane flame that can injure or kill birds that fly through it. But now officials are doing something about it with simple technology that could be a blueprint for other such sites. They are building a giant 75 feet tall cage around the flame that will keep most birds out.

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Buried in the recently proposed congressional budget for 2018 is approval for oil and gas drilling in one of North America’s last truly wild environments: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If passed, the budget would allow the House Natural Resources Committee to permit fossil fuel development in an untamed, 20-million-acre wildlife sanctuary that’s historically been off limits to human activity. Conservationists say this would be a serious threat to the biodiversity of the region.

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A federal appeals court has ruled against the Interior Department's decision to delist the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act. The delisting covered Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, as well as parts of North and South Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. A bipartisan group in Congress is working to undo the court's decision.

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The Great Salt Lake is only about one-half of its natural size, which reduces the amount of important habitat for migrating shorebirds. The Audubon Society is working to ensure that the lake gets sufficient water to return it to its normal size.

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Everyone knows that bats use echolocation as a means of finding their way around, but did you know that there is a bird that uses the same highly developed sense? The Oilbird excels in having keen all-around senses, but echolocation in one that they rely on.

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The Whooping Crane restoration project at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, which raised captive bred chicks to be released in the wild, will be terminated according to the proposed budget of the current administration in Washington. 

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Parrots along the clay cliffs of Southeastern Peru's Tambopata River are known to consume clay from those cliffs. Why do they do that? There are two main theories: One, that clay soils help protect the birds from food toxins when ideal food sources are scarce, and, two, that clay soils provide necessary minerals not available in the parrots' regular diet. The latest research gives credence to theory number two, noting that most consumption of soil occurs during the birds' breeding season.

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It is expected that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will this week announce the largest ever recorded dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. It is expected to be larger than the nearly 8,200 square-mile area that was forecast for July – an expanse of water roughly the size of New Jersey. Toxins from manure and fertilizer pouring into waterways are exacerbating huge, harmful algal blooms that create oxygen-deprived stretches of the gulf.

4 comments:

  1. I'm not in favor of drilling for oil in the Arctic; that expanse of land should be kept pristine. God knows there are already plenty of environmental disasters in the planet as it is.

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  2. Once again I got way behind on reading yours and others blogs. That news about the guy planning to drill for water in the Mojave desert and sell it to So Cal cities reminded me of The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. Did you ever read it? I don't have a review on my blog because I was taking a blog break when I read it, but it was gritty and great as well as based on some current actual political situations concerning water distribution.

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    1. I have not read it, but perhaps I should.

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