Friday, November 10, 2017

This week in birds - #280

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



Another winter bird has been heard from. The Eastern Phoebes are back.

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Syria announced during United Nations climate talks on Tuesday that it would sign the Paris agreement on climate change. The move, which comes on the heels of Nicaragua signing the accord last month, will leave the United States as the only country in the world that has rejected the global pact.

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The Republican majority in the Congress has been accused of deliberately obstructing research on global warming after it emerged that a critically important technique for investigating sea-ice cover at the poles has been blocked by them. A key polar satellite broke down a few days ago, leaving none to replace it because last year Congress ordered a backup sea-ice probe dismantled because they did not want to provide funds to store it. Scientists say there is no chance a new one can now be launched until 2023 or later. None of the current satellites will still be in operation then.

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Wind farms offer a source of renewable energy but they can be a threat to some birds. In particular, it seems that they may be a threat to one bird of the prairies - the already stressed Lesser Prairie-Chicken.

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Based on temperatures so far, 2017 is set to be the third-warmest year on record. That would mean that the last three years - 2015, 2016, and 2017 - would be the three warmest years on record since 1880. Last year was the hottest year on record so far.  

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Whooping Cranes had a very good summer in Canada, with a record hatch of young birds. Now, more than 400 of the big birds are on their way or have already arrived at their wintering grounds on the coast of Texas. Meanwhile, birds in the eastern migratory flock are making their way from Wisconsin to Florida. Here are the migration routes of the two flocks. 




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The seasonal long-distance migration of all kinds of animals – from whales to dragonflies to amphibians to birds – is as astonishing a feat as it is mysterious and this is an especially exciting time to study migratory animals. In the past 20 years, rapidly advancing technologies mean that it’s now possible to follow many animals throughout the year and solve some of the mysteries of migration. One of the important things now being studied is migratory connectivity, the connections of migratory individuals and populations between seasons.

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During October, weak La NiƱa conditions emerged as reflected by below-average sea surface temperatures across most of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. These conditions are now predicted to continue (~65-75% chance) at least through the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2017-18.

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Most birds form monogamous pairs for mating, but some, the Greater Prairie-Chicken for example, have developed a different breeding strategy

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There are only around 30 vaquitas, a type of porpoise, left alive in the world, but scientists' attempts to help them by trapping individuals for captive breeding have proved disastrous. Those that have been captured have become extremely distressed and have died, possibly of cardiac arrest.

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The House Committee on Natural Resources has approved language introduced by Congresswoman Liz Cheney that would target the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and weaken its protection of birds. The Audubon Society refers to it as the "bird-killer amendment."

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A team of researchers has discovered that  in farmland have 3 ½ times more Monarch butterfly eggs than milkweed growing in urban gardens, natural areas and roadsides. They also found that Monarchs prefer small patches of the plant to larger ones.

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The Corncrake is a wide-ranging Eurasian bird from the rail family that occasionally turns up in unexpected places during migration. This week one was observed feeding along the shoulder of a highway on Long Island in New York.  

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The U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council has taken issue with Canada’s commitment to leadership in fighting global warming with a new report that says that the country is largely failing to measure and report carbon emissions from clear-cutting in the boreal forest with potentially huge global ramifications.

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The Climate Law Blog of Columbia Law School has a post up that argues that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's attack on scientists serving on advisory boards is illegal, that it runs counter to existing conflict-of-interests law, and is on its face arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

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A study of Goffin Cockatoos and their use of tools, requiring the birds to move objects in relation to a surface, found that the parrots were not only able to select the correct key but also required fewer placement attempts to align simple shapes than primates in a similar study. Clever birds!

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Finally, happy Veterans Day to my own favorite veteran, seen here with the mountains of Big Bend National Park in the background.




4 comments:

  1. As our country continues to march backwards, I revel in the picture of your favorite veteran-:)

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    1. Well, he's always a day-brightener for me.

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  2. It's amazing how some animal species seem to thrive in captivity, while others just die (e.g., those cow porpoises you mentioned, and great white sharks).

    Happy Veteran Day to your favorite vet, Dorothy! ;-)

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    1. The needs of some species simply will not allow them to tolerate captivity, which is why we need to concentrate on saving habitats so that they can thrive there.

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