Saturday, May 30, 2015

This week in birds - #159

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

American Bittern making itself invisible by "freezing" among the weeds.

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When oaks begin to leaf out in spring, the population of leaf-eating caterpillars explodes. It's a time of plenty for birds that enjoy dining on them and those canny birds have learned that this is a good time to raise their families that typically need lots and lots of those tiny caterpillars to grow into adulthood. They are able to time their egg-laying so that the chicks hatch during this time of plenty.

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The overrunning of Palmyra by the Islamic State has many serious political and cultural implications, including the potential destruction of some of the most important archeological sites in that part of the world. Somewhat overlooked in the concerns about human structures is the potential harm that can be done to the natural environment. Among these concerns is a small breeding colony of the endangered Northern Bald Ibis that nests near the city. If these birds are destroyed, it would be a serious blow to continued ability of the species to survive.

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This week the EPA announced new rules for protecting streams and wetlands from pollution. The rules aim at safeguarding drinking water for one in three Americans, about 117 million people.

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Poor Greater Sage Grouse. It has become such a political football between the federal government and the states, between conservationists and business and ranching interests. This week the Department of the Interior announced its plans for protecting the imperiled bird. Predictably, the plans pleased no one.

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Botany is a field of study that has fallen upon hard times in the nation's colleges. Apparently, it isn't sexy enough to attract today's students, and since fewer students are choosing it, many of the college plant collections are closing since there is insufficient interest in keeping them going.

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You know how when someone in a group yawns it can start everyone else yawning? Well, it turns out that this phenomenon of copying yawns works for Budgerigars, too. So, not only do they mimic sounds, they mimic actions as well.

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Hesperornithiforms were an ancient order of birds that had teeth and that pioneered the diving lifestyle between 113 and 66 million years ago. We see echoes of these ancient birds in today's grebes and loons.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing new rules that would make it harder for citizens to petition for the protection of a species under the Endangered Species Act. It seems to be just another slow chipping away of the edifice that has done so much to protect and defend at least a portion of what remains of Nature in this country.

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Pollinators affect the evolution of the species that they pollinate as those plants strive to make themselves more available and attractive to their pollinators. It happens with insects. It also happens with birds. South African and Australian scientists have observed this particularly in the study of members of the Proteaeceae family.

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Even drought-tolerant trees like redwoods are being stressed to the breaking point by the ongoing drought in California. Many trees have already died.

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Native oak trees, including live oaks, are among those species that are considered drought tolerant. Now there is a movement underway to bring the oaks back to Oakland. The aim is to make the city live up to its name once again by planting oak saplings throughout.

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A new study by Trinity University indicates that the development of sexual dimorphism (meaning males and females look different) in songbirds may have been triggered primarily by the stresses of migration.

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Birds are very adaptable creatures. It's why they are still with us when most of their dinosaur cousins are nothing but piles of bones. They make adjustments as they are presented with new challenges, and, generally speaking, if the challenge is not too abrupt, they will be able to make the necessary changes. Birds these days are attempting to adapt to the changing climate. Many of them are breeding earlier in the year. This is true of the Yellow-crowned Night Herons of the Tidewater region of Virginia. Records show that they are nesting on average more than 20 days earlier than they did fifty years ago. 

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Around the backyard:

The very, very wet spring that we have experienced does not appear to have hampered the nesting season of my backyard birds in any appreciable way. Young birds of all the kinds that inhabit my yard are seen everywhere these days. Moreover, there should be plenty for them to eat with the explosive growth of the plants and the insects that feed on them. It's been a very prolific spring. Just ask the frogs.

Little green tree frog.

Southern leopard frog.



2 comments:

  1. Cute pictures, Dorothy. I can't understand why some people are afraid of those tiny frogs.
    I'm glad birds are able to adapt because the climate is getting wackier with each passing year.

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    Replies
    1. I'm a big fan of frogs and of reptiles and amphibians of all kinds. I welcome them in my garden.

      All of us may need to take our cue from the birds and learn to adapt. Here in Southeast Texas, we may need to learn to breathe under water!

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