Saturday, August 1, 2015

This week in birds - #167

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

A Common Gallinule, formerly known as Common Moorhen, preens among the aquatic weeds at Brazos Bend State Park. These birds are indeed common here in wetland environments especially at this time of year. Visiting any such area will generally give you an opportunity to see one, or, more likely, several.

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Feral cats and pets that are allowed to roam freely are a huge problem for wildlife because cats are efficient and highly successful hunters. They take an enormous toll on wildlife each year, but study after study has found that cat owners are generally in denial about the outdoor activities of their pets. A new study published recently in the journal Ecology and Evolution confirms this once again. Owners of cats who roam do not believe their animals pose great harm to wildlife and they are resistant to the idea of keeping cats indoors to protect wildlife. As a cat owner and lover, as well as a habitat gardener, I know that the safest place for cats is indoors and keeping cats indoors also protects the habitat. If you own cats, please have them spayed or neutered and keep them indoors. They, you, and the wildlife in your neighborhood will be much happier.  

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One of the strongest El Nino events of the last sixty years is building in the Pacific and will be affecting North America's weather in coming months. The good news is that there is likely to be some relief for the drought-stricken West in this weather - likely but not certain. The outlook for the area where I live, along the Gulf Coast, is rainy and cool. That would be a change from our present daily 100+ degrees Fahrenheit and no rain in sight. 

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North American bumblebees are in serious trouble. Analysis of the latest reports from citizen scientists across the continent indicate that of the 46 recognized species of bumblebees fully one-quarter of them are facing extinction.

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Australia is implementing its first threatened species strategy which conservationists there hope will be sufficient to save the continent's most critically endangered bird, the ground-dwelling Plains Wanderer.

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Each year, Earth's forests absorb about one-quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted by human beings, thus helping to slow the speed and severity of global warming. But in a study of the impact of drought on trees, it was found that these excessively dry conditions make it harder for trees to take up the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As droughts increase around the planet, this is very bad news for a world where carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase.  

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We've long known of the deadly effects of fungal outbreaks on frogs and toads. Perhaps we should not be surprised to learn that the effects are just as deadly on salamanders. The problem is made worse by the import of certain salamanders in the pet trade. The animals often wind up being released into the wild and spread the fungus to wild populations.  

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A large comparative genomic study of the olfactory genes tied to a bird's sense of smell has revealed important differences that correlate with their ecological niches and specific behaviors. In a nutshell, the study says that the ability of the bird to smell things is related to the ecological niche it fills; if it is important for a bird to be able to smell in order to survive, then it will have a stronger olfactory sense. Vultures, for example, generally have a more well-developed sense of smell than sparrows.

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Abruptly warming climate events between 12,000 and 60,000 years ago triggered a revolution in the development of megabeasts like woolly mammoths. Some went extinct while others managed to evolve to cope with the changing climate.

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The Wilson's Storm-Petrel is one of the most abundant birds in the world and you will probably never see one. The pelagic bird is almost never seen on land. It lives its life in the air over the world's oceans.   

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When I was a child, I was fascinated by the story of the Chincoteague ponies of Assateague Island National Seashore. On the last Wednesday and Thursday in July, the Saltwater Cowboys of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department wrangle up the herd of feral ponies on the island and send them on a 4-minute swim across the Chincoteague Channel into Virginia where they are auctioned off. This is their method of population control; otherwise, the ponies would overrun and overgraze the island. (Off course, on the Maryland side of the island, they just give the ponies birth control pills!)

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In areas where mosquitoes pose a significant health problem, local governments often spray with pesticides in order to control the bloodsuckers. The problem with this strategy, of course, is that the pesticides don't only affect the mosquitoes. In Florida, government entities are attempting to adjust their spraying policies so that they will cause less harm to other insects, particularly butterflies and pollinators, and to the environment in general.

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Regent Honeyeaters are another endangered Australian bird. Only about 400 of them still exist in the wild. Conservationists there are calling for help from the public to protect and preserve the species. 

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In other news of an endangered species, eight captive-reared Mangrove Finches fledglings, one of the famous "Darwin's finches," were recently released on Isabela Island in the Galapagos in an attempt to increase the population of the species there. 

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Another of the few Northern white rhinos left on the planet has died of natural causes. This leaves only four of the animals in the world.

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The final version of President Obama’s signature climate change policy is expected to extend an earlier timeline for states to significantly cut planet-warming pollution from power plants. The plan will be announced in this coming week.


4 comments:

  1. I wonder if we will get the tail-end of any of this year’s hurricanes? We got the left-overs of Gonzales last year and it made havoc in London and surrounding area for 2 days – but gave us some welcome rain.

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    1. The hurricane forecasts for the season that I have seen speak of a fairly average year, so it's certainly possible that you could see some effects. If so, I hope they are only of the helpful kind.

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  2. Birth control pills for ponies?! :-)

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    1. Well, chemical birth control in their feed anyway.

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