Saturday, October 18, 2014

This week in birds - #130

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

This is why they call it "hummingbird bush." This little Rufous female in particular loves this Hamelia patens shrub and considers it her personal territory. She chases other hummers who try to feed there. 

But it is not just hummers who love it. Butterflies love it, too, especially the little yellow sulphurs of autumn. This is a Dog Face Sulphur enjoying a sip from the blossoms.

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Capturing carbon that is emitted into the air is one way of helping to reduce greenhouse gases and ultimately reduce global warming, and a Texas company is preparing to do just that. For profit, of course. The Skyonic Corporation of Austin will open a factory next week at a cement plant near San Antonio that will make industrial chemicals. In order to make the chemicals, the plant will capture the carbon emitted from making cement and reuse it. This technique holds promise for being a practical and profitable solution to a thorny problem.

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The Northern Bobwhite is in trouble. Its numbers have plummeted in recent years and it is close to extinction in some parts of its range. There is an effort under way in New Jersey to increase its numbers there and to reintroduce it to some areas of its former range where it has all but disappeared.

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Another animal that is in trouble is the wolverine. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently made the decision not to list it as a threatened species, but many conservation groups disagree and are suing to have that decision reconsidered. The main threat to the wolverine is a warming planet that is reducing the heavy snowpack in the mountains that it needs for its breeding dens.

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Skinks are interesting little reptiles that do not seem to be in any trouble judging by the numbers that I observe slithering quickly away from me when I work in my garden. In fact they are one of the most successful groups of lizards, accounting for about 25% of the species in that family. "Tetrapod Zoology" has more information about the little critters.

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Plants manage to survive and thrive in a world where they are tops on the menu for many, many two-legged, four-legged, and six-legged creatures. How do they do it? It's called "evolution." Over time, they develop formidable defenses against those that would devour them. This may include toxins in the leaves and stems, tough leathery leaves, and thorns. Thorns are a popular innovation. Studies have determined that plants are able to respond when threats from herbivores are reduced. They become less thorny.

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Conservation groups are alarmed at the steep decline in population experienced by the Tri-colored Blackbird of California. They are asking the state to list it as endangered and to take emergency action to prohibit plowing and harvesting on fields where the birds are breeding.

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Okay, I admit it. I love spiders. They are fascinating creatures and they do their part to help keep us from being knee-deep in insects. When I accidentally walked through a web earlier this week in my garden and destroyed all the poor spider's hard work, I felt very guilty. Africa Gomez of "BugBlog" would probably have the same reaction. She's a spider admirer, too.

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Pound for pound, methane is 20 times more effective at trapping the sun's heat than carbon dioxide, and so it becomes particularly vital that we control the emission of methane into the atmosphere if we hope to have a positive impact on global warming. A new study has found a surprising methane hotspot: New Mexico's San Juan Basin. It is thought that this may be an indication of oil and gas deposits there similar to the Bakken formation in North Dakota. Fracking to extract these deposits releases methane, so this is now a new concern for environmentalists and climate scientists.

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Brazilian scientists have discovered a near-intact fossilized bird egg -- the country’s first -- in Sao Paulo State. Compared to the abundance of eggs from non-avian dinosaurs, finds of complete eggs from Mezosoic birds are relatively scarce.

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Texas, along with several other states, will experience the emergence of a brood of seventeen-year cicadas next year. Several states in the southeast and midwest will also have thirteen-year cicadas emerging and a few of these states will overlap with the seventeen-years. That should present quite a chorus!

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In our solar system, the smaller planets like Mercury and Venus tend to orbit closer to the sun while larger ones such as Jupiter and Saturn are farther away, but not all solar systems behave like this, scientists have discovered. Each seems to have its own set of rules.

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Birds are magnificent fliers. After all, it is their strategy for life. They have developed many techniques for handling different air currents. One of those techniques is collapsible wings in response to extreme turbulence. The birds simply fold their wings and ride the turbulence.



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