Saturday, March 3, 2018

This week in birds - #295

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



The redbud in my backyard is just beginning to bloom and that means that this Pine Siskin and its friends, along with the American Goldfinches, will soon be flying north to their breeding grounds. 

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And in Washington, D.C., the famous cherry trees began popping out blooms in mid-February. For the second year in a row, spring is coming about twenty days ahead of schedule. This is all a consequence of the warming climate and while spring is welcome to humans after a nasty winter, its early arrival has consequences in Nature that may not be positive.

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In November, Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming introduced her legislation to protect energy companies from having to take responsibility for killing birds during their operations. The Audubon Society calls it "the Bird-Killer Amendment." It was attached to HR 4239 which is still making its way through the House, but is being vigorously opposed by conservation organizations. 

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Ecotourism can mean big money in undeveloped areas where wildlife thrives, but it works best where the local human population is directly compensated for the wildlife observed by tourists. This gives them a stake in the operation and a reason to protect the wildlife with whom they share the area.

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The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered creatures on Earth. At last count, the total population was only 458 animals and last year 17 of them died. So it is extremely worrying that at this season when the whales would normally be giving birth, there have been no signs of newborns so far. 

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It is axiomatic that birds spread seeds. They eat the fruit that they like and then later poop out the seed in a new location. This has been shown to be especially true of birds and chili peppers. The birds really like the chilis and, at least in the Mariana Islands, have been very instrumental in spreading the seeds in the wild.  

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Native wildflowers are well-adapted to the areas where they evolved and have strategies for coping with the harsh conditions that Nature sometimes sends. For example, wildflowers in drought areas like California have an ability to store their seeds well underground where they can wait for sufficient moisture.

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When there is a heat wave in the Arctic, it can cause blizzards in the northern hemisphere. That is, in simple terms, what happened in our recent winter.  There were record high temperatures in the Arctic in February and scientists are worried that that is eroding the polar vortex, the powerful winds that once helped to insulate the frozen north and keep the extreme cold from making its way farther south. 

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American Kestrels, the smallest of our falcons, feed on insects and some small reptiles or mammals. They can be an important controlling factor for insect pests and can decrease the need for gardeners or farmers to use pesticides. 

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High road density leads to low grizzly bear density in bear country. Scientists at the University of Alberta say the way to put the threatened grizzly bear on the road to recovery is to close routes that drive through their habitats. Their recent study was the first to make strong links between low grizzly bear populations in areas of high road density.

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Blacktip sharks that journey down the Florida coast have declined in number so sharply that researchers warn one of the largest migrations in U.S. waters could grind to a halt because of the rapidly warming ocean. Where there are usually as many as 15,000 of the sharks on any given day in February and March as the animals forge southwards from the Carolinas region in search of agreeably warm waters in winter, last year aerial surveys of the migration found this number had slumped by around two-thirds, to 4,000 sharks. 

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Climate change and overfishing are pushing the King Penguin to the brink of extinction and scientists fear that the species could disappear by the end of the century.

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Yellow-billed Oxpeckers make their living by cleaning parasites from the skins of large African animals such as giraffes, water buffalo, and elands. And where do the birds go at night? Photographs now reveal that they stay with their host animals. They roost on the giraffes - or the water buffalo or elands - at night. Means they don't have to fly far for breakfast! 

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At a conference in Costa Rica, Latin American countries are set to agree to the world's first legally binding convention to protect environmental defenders. This comes after record numbers of land activists and indigenous people were killed on the continent last year, with an average of two Nature protectors being murdered every week.

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Spicebush ( Lindera benzoin) is a widespread shrub that is native to North America and is the textbook specimen of how native plants support our wildlife in ways that are impossible for the exotic non-natives plants that are introduced everyday in our home landscapes. The shrub supports many forms of wildlife but it is particularly important to the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.


It lays its eggs on the leaves and its caterpillars develop by feeding on the plant. 


And eventually that caterpillar morphs into another beautiful Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks. I have been on an apocalyptic reading jag. Don't know quite how that happened but it did: The Book of Joan and The Road were two of them.

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    1. I'm presently reading the last of Jemisin's "Broken Earth" series. It seems to fit the times.

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  2. Just recovering from the horrendous nor'easter, Riley, here. Caused by a heat wave in the Arctic? Nothing would surprise me anymore. Love your (early) signs of spring. Can't wait. P. x

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    1. Maybe Riley was the last gasp of winter and spring will be coming soon. Here's hoping!

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  3. Nature never stops to amaze. I didn't know that birds liked chili peppers. :-) It's not good news those of the whales apparent lack of reproduction and the dwindling-in-numbers migration of the Atlantic sharks. :-o

    The entirety of February has been odd in the Northeast. We had almost two weeks of 50s to 60F temps lately. That used to be unheard of in February. Yesterday we had that big storm, though in my area it was mostly rain and winds...But what gusts!

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    1. Birds do like chili peppers. In fact there is a native chili - chili pequin - that grows in the area and is a great favorite of birds.

      Weird weather seems to be becoming the norm rather than the exception.

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