Saturday, October 14, 2017

This week in birds - #276

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



An American Kestrel, surely the prettiest of small falcons, keeps an eye out for a meal while perched on a bare limb on a brilliant fall day on the Katy Prairie.

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The devastating wildfires in northern California continue and the long-term effects they will have on the ecosystem there are difficult to calculate. As of this writing, the death toll of humans stands at 35 and damage to the biological community beyond the human communities is incalculable. There are 9,000 firefighters battling as many as 17 separate fires and 90,000 people have been forced from their homes. At least 5,700 of those homes have been destroyed. The destructive force of the wildfires has been enhanced by human activities in the region.

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The administrator of the EPA and his overlord are in the process of taking a wrecking ball to the Clean Power Plan, as well as every other effort by the Obama Administration and previous administrations to improve the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

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There has been a negotiated settlement of the long simmering civil war in Colombia and now the country is hoping to cash in on the birding world's hunger to see new species. The country has more than 1,900 bird species and 443 of them are considered rare and are particularly desired by birders. A new study has identified 67 communities that have a high potential for expanded ecotourism which could bring much-needed income to the country.

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Researchers have been surprised to learn that mountain lions, who are normally solitary animals, are apparently more social than previously believed. In Wyoming, the big cats have been filmed sharing an elk carcass over several days. This has happened repeatedly through the time of the research.

Another study of the lions, also called pumas, in urban areas found that they were more active at night and expended more energy each day which may affect their overall health. The researchers studied pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains of central California.

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The supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park, one of several around the world, last erupted 631,000 years ago. When a supervolcano erupts, it is a planet-changing event and that has happened roughly every 100,000 years or so. Recent research seems to indicate that the build-up to these eruptions can occur much more rapidly that volcanologists previously thought.

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Canada Geese have shifted their winter range northward in recent years and are now found in many northern urban settings throughout the winter. A new study suggests that the driving force behind this shift is not food but safety. The birds congregate in areas where they can avoid hunters and where they are buffered from the severest effects of weather.

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2017 is on course to be the deadliest year on record for environmental activists and others who defend their community's resources and wildlife. So far, more than 150 of these protectors have been killed.

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Grasshopper Sparrow wearing a radio transmitter. Image from The Auk website.

The little Grasshopper Sparrow is always on the lookout for a new house in a better neighborhood, even in the midst of its breeding season. It seems, for Grasshopper Sparrows, the grass really is greener on the other side!

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After the Obama administration helped broker a deal last year to tear down four dams straddling the California-Oregon border, practically everyone involved assumed the current occupant of the White House would undermine it. Apparently those assumptions were wrong. The administration has said that the plan can continue.

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Some dirty old birds are helping scientists understand one of the more puzzling aspects of climate change. The bird specimens, collected in the first and second decades of the twentieth century, had feathers that were much darker than birds of the same species collected 20 to 30 years later. Research showed that the feathers had been darkened by an accumulation of soot, also called black carbon. This substance traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to the warming of the planet.

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TransCanada has dropped plans for two pipelines to transport dirty tar sands oil eastward but is still going ahead with the plan for the Keystone XL pipeline across the United States.

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It seems that good neighbors are important in the bird world as well. According to new research from the University of East Anglia, birds who live next door to family members or to other birds they know well are physically healthier and age more slowly.

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Deer's preference for native plants may be helping to spread non-native plants and promote their invasiveness. As the animals crop down the native plants, it clears the way for the invasion of the non-natives.

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A colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica has suffered a “catastrophic breeding event” – all but two chicks have died of starvation this year. It is the second time in just four years that such devastation – not previously seen in more than 50 years of observation – has been wrought on the population. The finding has prompted urgent calls for the establishment of a marine protected area for the birds in East Antarctica.

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A wildlife photographer has captured stunning images of budgerigars in a murmuration (a large flock) of up to 10,000 birds near a water hole outside Alice Springs in Australia. It was a rare and relatively short display, but here are more budgie murmurations in Australia for your enjoyment!




4 comments:

  1. It's such a pity about the penguin colony dying in Antarctic. :-(

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    1. It is very sad. We can only hope that they will be able to establish more protection for the colony and perhaps help it to survive the challenges of climate change.

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  2. In the past weeks I have enjoyed an unusual variety of birds in my yard, ones I don't usually see. Migration?

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