Friday, November 24, 2017

This week in birds - #282

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



I heard a small flock of these wonderful birds flying over my yard earlier this week. They were so high up that I could only barely see them with the naked eye but their distinctive calls identified them. They were Sandhill Cranes in migration. Many of them spend their winters along the Texas Gulf Coast. I photographed these two at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico a few years ago.

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TransCanada’s $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline got the go-ahead from the Nebraska Public Service Commission on Monday, clearing the last regulatory hurdle in a nine-year effort to build a line to carry thick crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands region to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. However, the five-member commission rejected TransCanada’s preferred route and voted to approve an alternative plan that would move the pipeline further east. The route of the new pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels a day of crude, would circumvent more of the state’s ecologically delicate Sandhills region.

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Meanwhile, in South Dakota, the spill from the Keystone pipeline there could be much more damaging to the environment than has so far been acknowledged.

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The family of birds called rails (proper name Rallidae) almost always have the adjective "secretive" in front of their name. And because of that little adjective they are perhaps not as well known or as appreciated as they should be.


The American Coot is one member of the Rallidae family, probably the most commonly seen member in our area.

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A population of finches on the Galapagos Islands has been discovered in the process of becoming a new species. This is the first example of speciation that scientists have been able to observe directly in the field. The new species has been created by mating between two separate species of finches. This new finch population is sufficiently divergent in form and habits from the native birds to be differentiated as a new species, and individuals from the altered populations don't interbreed.

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Wildlife photographers always risk bringing harm to the creatures whose images they are trying to capture. The best way for them to protect their subjects is to imagine themselves in the place of those subjects; to learn empathy by thinking like the animal and imagining the feelings of those animals. It's a matter of learning to practice ethical behavior through empathy.

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An important migration stopover site in China for the rare and endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper is at risk of being developed. The loss of the wild site would be a severe blow to the prospects for the continued survival of the species. 

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In this Thanksgiving week, "Bug Eric" is thankful for bugs because life on Earth as we know it would be virtually impossible without insects. 

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California and ten other states are going to court to try to stop the current administration in Washington from more than doubling the entrance fees to popular national parks. They argue that the fee increases would limit public access to the parks for low-income people, making the parks not truly "public" any more.

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Analyzing the DNA found in bird poop is opening up a whole new field of research for scientists. This new method is able to tell the scientists much about the ecosystem in which the bird lives. One surprising thing learned so far is that albatrosses eat jellyfish. This had not been known before because the jellyfish is digested quickly and so does not show up when the scientists examine stomach contents. But the full story is revealed in the poop!  

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Rehabilitating injured wildlife offers a view into the harm that humans do to the environment. Many, probably most, of the creatures brought to rehab centers have been injured through contact with humans.

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The Northern Harrier of North America is doing relatively well and is not considered to be threatened or endangered; however, the related Hen Harrier in the UK is still persecuted there and has completely disappeared from some areas of the country. 

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A new study co-authored by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) addresses concerns over the many Arctic shorebird populations in precipitous decline. Evident from the study is that monitoring and protection of habitat where the birds breed, winter, and stopover is critical to their survival and to that of the global migration phenomenon. Six species were studied at different sites in Alaska and the findings of the study will offer a baseline for analyses in the future.

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Migration is an important survival technique for birds. A study of Eurasian Blackbirds found that birds that migrated to the south for the winter were more likely to survive long-term than other members of the species that stayed put farther north. 

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The Wild Turkey of North America is an impressive bird but its colors are mostly brown, gray, and black, not calculated to astonish the eye. The Ocellated Turkey of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, northern Belize and northern Guatemala, however, is a technicolor bird with iridescent feathers, not likely to be overlooked.

Stock photo of Ocellated Turkey from the internet.

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The delta plain of the Mississippi River is disappearing. The lobe-shaped arc of coastal land from the Chandeleur Islands in eastern Louisiana to the Sabine River loses a football field’s worth of land every hour. Though land losses are widely distributed across the 300 kilometer (200 mile) wide coastal plain of Louisiana, Atchafalaya Bay stands as a notable exception. In fact, new land is forming at the mouths of the Wax Lake Outlet and the Atchafalaya River. 

4 comments:

  1. Ah, the things that are done in the name of science, like studying bird poop, for example. :-)

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    1. Apparently, it's a very effective method of studying a bird's ecosystem. After all, everything shows up there sooner or later!

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  2. The Occelated Turkey puts the Peacock to shame!
    On our way to Petaluma for Thanksgiving we drove through some wetlands by taking a back road. We saw so much wildlife it was amazing. Cranes, ducks, and many other species. It was magical and it is a protected area because I live in California!

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    1. Wetlands are among the ecosystems most amicable to wildlife. I feel fortunate to live in a place that is dotted with such sites every few miles, and you are right - they are magical.

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