Friday, August 10, 2018

This week in birds - #315

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


Eastern Kingbird photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast.

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The Weather Channel has a series running about the effects of climate change and the potential for conflict and the migration of people as a result of water shortages caused by those effects, particularly in places like the Middle East.

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The current administration in Washington has rescinded an Obama-era ban on the use of pesticides linked to declining bee populations. Environmentalists, who had sued to bring about the two-year-old ban, said on Friday that lifting the restriction poses a grave threat to pollinating insects and other sensitive creatures relying on toxic-free habitats.

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Climate change is responsible for many new and difficult conditions for both man and beast, but wind is one of the most overlooked of those elements. An increase in the force of spring winds is not yet the stuff of earnest discussion among the majority of folks in North America, but in some places it is having a deleterious effect on the efforts of birds to nest.

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The New York City EcoFlora project is an effort using citizen scientists to document the plant life around the city. It was started last year by scientists at the New York Botanical Garden and it has turned up a few surprises along the way.

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We've heard that the loss of habitat is a serious problem that is contributing to the decline in population of many grassland birds, but the fragmentation of habitats may be just as problematic.

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A federal appeals court on Thursday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos, which former administrator Scott Pruitt had refused to do last year, despite mounting concerns about its risks to human health. The court said that federal law requires that the EPA ban the use of a pesticide on food if it finds any harm from exposure to it, saying that there was “no justification” for Pruitt’s decision to allow farmers to continue to use chlorpyrifos “in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children.”

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Birds of the Mojave Desert have suffered a major population decline over the last century because of the changing climate.

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In a bit of potential good news for birds and other at-risk species, there is a bipartisan bill before Congress called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act which would provide $1.3 billion a year for at-risk species and offer significant benefits for the country’s approach to conservation. If it becomes law, it could protect many more species of birds. 

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Over the last 50 million years, whales and dolphins lost a gene called PON1. For most of their existence, that gene was not necessary, but in a changing world, it appears that its lack is something that will make the creatures more vulnerable to pesticides and could, in fact, doom them to extinction.  

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Least Terns nesting on Sand Island off the coast of Alabama were safe from predators but not from humans playing volleyball on their nesting grounds. The thoughtless humans decimated many of the nests and destroyed eggs. The Audubon Society of Birmingham managed to save some.

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Bird Conservancy of the Rockies has confirmed that a rare bird, the Baird’s Sparrow, has been found actively breeding at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, the first time the species has been documented reproducing in the State of Colorado. 

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Wild rice is a food staple of Ojibwe communities across the Upper Midwest where it is also used in their traditional ceremonies. But the production of the rice depends upon the weather and that is being threatened by climate change.

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“Partial migration”—where some individuals within a population migrate and some don’t—is common among birds and is speculated to be a step on the evolutionary path to complete, long-distance migration, but scientists know very little about how it actually works. A new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances tracks where American Crows go during the winter and shows that, while individuals are consistent in whether they migrate or stay put, partial migration might give them enough flexibility to adapt to changing environmental conditions. The study found that most crows in both the eastern and western parts of the country do migrate some distance to breed.

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Saving the endangered steelhead trout could be a key to helping to heal some of California's regional water woes.  A coalition of private and public entities hopes to re-invigorate vital watersheds in California’s most densely populated region thus creating a friendlier habitat for the trout as well as providing more water for other needs.

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This is one of the most hopeful stories I have read this week: Scientists are working to create a material that could replace plastic and that would self-destruct or break down for reuse. They are, in effect, designing the death of plastic. Considering the huge problem that plastic is for the environment, we can only wish them well in their effort and hope that they will succeed very soon.



4 comments:

  1. There's a mix of good news among the bad this week. Good. A substitute for plastic would be most welcome.

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  2. There is a special place in hell for those of the current administration who continue to worsen the environment through their actions or failures to act. But that is REALLY good new about the material that could replace plastic!

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