Friday, January 11, 2019

This week in birds - #336

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




Over the past week, I've had a small flock of 15-20 Purple Finches feeding at my front yard bird feeder. (I've not been able to get a usable picture of them so I stole this one from the internet.) Most of my birds have been adult females or immature birds and they look like the bird on the left. There have also been a couple of the colorful males, like the one on the right. Purple Finches are uncommon visitors to my yard. In most winters, they likely do not get this far south, so it is a real treat when they do show up and I'm going to keep trying to get some good pictures to mark the occasion.

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The strange high-pitched sounds that American diplomats in Cuba have complained about have turned out to be made by crickets, most likely the Indies short-tailed cricket, according to an analysis of a recording of the sounds. This, of course, still does not necessarily explain the range of symptoms including headaches and nausea that were experienced by the diplomats. 

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The latest census of western Monarch butterflies conducted by the Xerces Society indicates that the California population of the butterfly has dropped by some 86% and is at a new low.

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The lack of staff on duty at our national parks because of the government shutdown is causing all kinds of problems but this one is particularly distressing: Vandalism at Joshua Tree National Park has resulted in the destruction of some of the iconic trees. Moreover, the fragile desert landscape is being damaged by unsupervised visitors. Now, honestly, what kind of a person goes to a national park with the intent of vandalizing it? It makes one ashamed to be a part of the human species.

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Records from weather radar stations and from eBird reports have allowed ornithologists to calculate that about 2.1 billion birds cross over the length of the Gulf of Mexico in migration in the spring and make landfall on the shores of North America. That number has remained fairly consistent over the last twenty years, in spite of climate change and other challenges facing the birds.

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The "10,000 Birds" blog reports on the status of Puerto Rico's birds after the two disastrous hurricanes of 2017.

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Record rainfall in the region last year has increased the pollution of Chesapeake Bay. The heavy rains increased runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus that flowed into the bay.

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At least 40 distressed and hungry seals have come ashore and been stranded in Roddickton-Bide Arm, Newfoundland. Concerned residents in the little town are wondering how to help the confused animals.

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The American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week is the Stresemann's Bristlefront. There is literally only one of these birds known to exist which certainly qualifies it as critically endangered. There may be others in the wild but this is the only one found so far. Its habitat is the humid lowland forest of northeastern Brazil. 

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A fourteen-year-old Hawaiian snail named George died on New Year's Day. He was the last of his species so his death marked its extinction. Other species of Hawaii's unique snails are also endangered and conservationists are trying to prevent their following George's kind into extinction. 

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Global warming has heated Earth's oceans by the equivalent of one atomic bomb explosion per second for the past 150 years, according to analysis of new research. More than 90% of the heat trapped by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions has been absorbed by the seas, with just a few per cent heating the air, land and ice caps respectively. The vast amount of energy being added to the oceans drives sea level rise and enables hurricanes and typhoons to become more intense.

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Those Einsteins of the bird world, the New Caledonian Crows are able to judge the weight of objects by how they are moved by the wind, according to findings in a new research project.

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I do love cats, but abandoned cats who have gone feral do inestimable damage to birds and other wildlife. In Australia, the Mandurah estuary colony of protected bird species was forced to move on after one feral cat is believed to have single-handedly killed 40 Fairy Tern chicks and five adults in December. The cat, of course, was simply being a cat and trying to survive. The real villains are humans who turn these predators out into a habitat unprepared to defend against them.

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The current administration in Washington authorized a twelve- mile road through the heart of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Their justification for the project was for transportation of medical supplies. What the road is actually being used for is transporting seafood for sale.

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Wildlife corridors that allow critters to cross safely over or under busy highways save both human and wildlife lives. A new animal overpass over Highway 90 in Washington state is already serving that purpose even though the project is still incomplete.

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The migratory habits of Monarchs and other butterflies are justifiably famous, but new research shows that dragonflies can give those fliers a run for their money with their own migrations.

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Here's an amazing fact for you: An underground parasitic mold in Michigan has been found, by genetic analysis, to be about 2,500 years old and it is estimated that it weighs as much as a blue whale! Now that is some mushroom.

10 comments:

  1. I've been trying to attract purple finches to our garden for years, Dorothy, with no luck -- Look forward to seeing your pictures. The snippets of news are fascinating, as always, although many tend to be depressing. Hope your new year is happy! P x

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    1. When they do show up here it is always a wonderful surprise. These are visiting my feeder along with American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Chipping Sparrows, and the other usual suspects. It's been a very entertaining week for birdwatching!

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  2. That purple finch is a sight to see. I always thought Michigan was kind of moldy. Do you remember that review I wrote where I realized that a revolution is not an overnight phenomenon, or something like that? (I think it was for The Revolution of Marina M.) Reading your post today I got the same feeling about an apocalypse. And that it has begun.

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    1. A great many scientists would agree with you. There's substantial evidence that we are already well into the "sixth extinction" that Earth has experienced. One gets the feeling that the end of that event could well be our own extinction as a species.

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  3. Thanks for your updates, I look forward to any environmental news I missed. It's boggling to imagine people going out of their way to vandalize just because no one is there to stop them.
    I love cats too. I also love the birds. That's why my two cats are indoor only.

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    1. Yes, that's where our cats belong. Safer for them and the environment.

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  4. Several extinctions or near in this week's news, stranded animals, hot oceans... but also some good news, such as the amount of birds migrating between both Americas and that the dragonflies give butterflies a run for their money, migration-wise.

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    1. Dragonflies are fascinating critters. They deserve to be more widely known and appreciated by the public.

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    2. I had a co-worker that loved to photograph dragonflies. His pics were amazingly beautiful (and subjects of my envy :-) ).

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    3. Anyone who can photograph dragonflies well has my envy.

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