Friday, November 14, 2014

This week in birds - #134

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

A Dark-eyed Junco of the Oregon subspecies searches for food on a parking lot bounded by an 18-inch snow in Estes Park, Colorado. The picture wasn't taken this week. It was actually taken a couple of years ago, but it's a scene that could occur in much of the country this week as cold weather has descended.
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The big news for the environment of the entire planet this week was the announcement of the agreement between our country and China to begin working on controlling and reducing greenhouse gases. It doesn't really get us to where we need to be, but it is a start and one that is extremely important. Any significant steps to correct human-caused global warming must involve both the United States and China, the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters. No doubt the global warming deniers in Congress will do everything they can to gum up the works of the agreement, but, fortunately, it is not in the form of a treaty and does not require congressional approval.

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The most exciting other worldly environment news this week was the announcement by European Space Agency that they had landed a spacecraft on a comet hurtling through space, truly a most remarkable achievement.

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It turns out that junk food isn't even good for gulls! The birds that have it as a large part of their diet do not always get the nutrition they need to be healthy.

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The Swainson's Warbler, a secretive and rarely seen songbird of the southeastern United States, may become a bit more accessible in the future. It has found a new type of habitat that it likes and appears to be expanding into and breeding in that habitat. What is the habitat? Pine plantations - a human created environment.

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Overfishing and habitat degradation have threatened a river Goliath in Brazil - the pirarucu, a fish that can grow as long as seven feet and weigh as much as 400 pounds. Local fishermen, riverbank dwellers and biologists are working together to try to save the species and they are seeing good results from their efforts.

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The online citizen science bird tracking system eBird has created a new tool called "eBird Targets" which is designed to help birders locate the birds they are eager to see. It gives a prioritized list of birds that can be expected to be found in a particular area.

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Jumping spiders search out prey, stalk it, and then pounce - not unlike a cat. They are able to accomplish all this with a brain the size of a poppy seed and a complex vision system that is comprised of two large eyes and six smaller ones.

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Another heretofore unrecognized consequence of a warming planet is the likelihood of an increase in lightning strikes.

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A new study suggests that the flightless Moa of New Zealand was wiped out while the population of humans on that island was still of very low density, perhaps no more than 2500 individuals.

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A study of ants in New York City has found an amazing diversity of species, including a number of non-native, exotic species.

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A previously unknown highly camouflaged nocturnal gecko (Paroedura hordiesi) has been discovered in Madagascar. Madagascar is home to many species of gecko, but this one is in an area where the habitat is being destroyed. Those who wrote the paper announcing its discovery state that the creature should be considered critically endangered.

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The giant Condors of the Andes, like their California counterparts, have been decimated in recent years, but Colombia is pursuing a program of repopulating the birds in its area. The program is now getting a technology upgrade with a cell phone-based system that utilizes implanted beeper chips that transmit GPS data.

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Around the backyard:

We got our first really cold spell of the season this week and it seems to have swept my yard clean of hummingbirds. I haven't seen hummers of any kind around the yard for a few days now. I had expected that we would again have Rufous Hummingbirds staying for the winter as they have in recent years, but they seem to have absconded right along with their Ruby-throated cousins.

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