Friday, March 23, 2018

This week in birds - #296

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



This was a life bird for me - the Phainopepla, photographed here at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute and Nature Center near Fort Davis in West Texas. In previous visits to the area, I had always managed to miss seeing this bird, even though it is not particularly uncommon, but this time I got good views of it on several occasions and finally was able to take its picture at this water feature in the Nature Center. Beautiful bird! Those glossy black feathers are almost iridescent and I love the brilliant red eyes.

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The impact of the effects of global climate change on various bird species is still unknown, but it seems very likely that national parks will be hosts to even more of them in the future and that they will be increasingly important in the efforts to protect the birds. And that is a very good reason to protect the parks themselves from exploitation and development.

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The Tongass in Alaska is the world's largest intact temperate rainforest. It has trees that are more than 1,000 years old, but there are those who would cut them all in the name of "progress." Many politicians, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, are pushing for more old-growth loggingIf their efforts are successful, the country stands at risk of losing some of its last remaining coniferous old growth in order to sustain south-east Alaska’s last industrial-scale sawmill.

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Eagle cams that give us a view of the activities at eagle nests around the country are very popular internet viewing sites. On St. Patrick's Day, the camera trained on the nest above the Metropolitan Police Department Training Academy in Washington, D.C., recorded the hatching of the first Bald Eagle chick at that nest. 

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A group of present and former Environmental Protection Agency employees is organizing to try to save and protect the agency from the efforts at its destruction at the hands of Scott Pruitt, the present administrator of EPA.

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Dozens of species of birds of the French countryside have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by as much as two-thirds, as a result of the use of pesticides which destroy the insects which they would normally feed upon. 

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Seventy-nine thousand tons of plastic debris, in the form of 1.8 trillion pieces, now occupy an area three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, a scientific team reported on Thursday. The amount of plastic found in this area, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is “increasing exponentially,” according to the surveyors, who used two planes and 18 boats to assess the ocean pollution.

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Scientists in Australia have enlisted the help of the public in finding and tracking the movements of Australian birds. Banding has been less than successful and so the scientists are asking citizens to pick up feathers which they find in their area and mail them in for identification and tabulation. So far, the response has been heartening and the data base is growing.

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The National Park Service announced plans this week to move forward with its proposal to put 20 to 30 wolves on Isle Royale in Lake Superior over the next three years in order to bolster the nearly extinct wolf population on the island and control the growing herd of moose.

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Sadly, the last male northern white rhinoceros in the wild died this week. That leaves only two females, his daughter and granddaughter, and thus the species is, for all intents and purposes, extinct. However, conservationists have some small hope of keeping the species alive with the use of in vitro fertilization.

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More than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand, and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilizational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.

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In Iceland's Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Arctic foxes are thriving and offering hope that the species will be able to adapt to a warming climate. They are also giving scientists a chance to observe first hand how the species evolves or modifies behavior in order to adjust to the changing climate.

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Wyoming is proposing to allow the hunting of grizzly bears. It would be the first such hunt allowed in the 48 contiguous states since the bear was put on the endangered species list in 1975. The current administration in Washington has removed that protection, opening the way for the possible hunt. The proposal is now open for public comment before it can be implemented. A final decision is expected by May.

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Aerial surveys of the wintering Red Knot population in Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America revealed a new low total of 9,840 birds. As recently as the year 2000, 50,000 Red Knots were counted in the winter survey there.

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According to new research, the quality of the insect diet of birds has declined dramatically over the past century. This conclusion was reached through the study of museum specimens from that earlier period.

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Mia McPherson's On the Wing Photography has a series of pictures of Greater Sage-Grouse displaying on their leks.

4 comments:

  1. I love that Phainopepia! He looks like he comes straight out of a fantasy novel. Yesterday I had a small owl on my garden wall. I have never seen an owl so close, usually only at the tops of trees. Was it an omen? Or a lost baby owl? It flew away.

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    1. I consider the presence of owls as an omen that something is right with Nature! My yard frequently gets visits from Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and even the occasional Screech Owl.

      I was just so delighted to finally be able to see the Phainopepla and to get his picture. It made my whole trip worthwhile!

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  2. What a beautiful pic you got of that bird! :-) It must have been exciting watching live the hatching from that eagles' nest in DC. Too bad about the Great Garbage Patch in the ocean; the bad news is that plastics are so ubiquitous...How do we substitute a material so essential to mankind?! It's encouraging the citizenry participation in the science undertaking of collecting birds feathers in Australia for classification and tabulation. :-) And too bad for the white rhino, and our loss, I guess. The problem with IVF from the material of extinct animal species is that genetic diversity is lost, which is almost as bad as the extinction itself.

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    1. Yes, I think IVF is problematic for many reasons. Obviously, the conservationists involved have an argument for it, but it is really hard for me to see how it could have a positive outcome for a species. As you point out, genetic diversity is extremely important and a key to long-term survival.

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