This week in birds - #272

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



A male Wood Duck is right at home swimming among the grasses in a marsh.

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Among all the other problems caused by Hurricane Irma in Florida was the massive overflow of raw sewage, highlighting the dangers of an aging infrastructure amid the increased flooding caused by the effects of climate change. The sewage has created a public health issue as well as potential damage it does to the greater ecosystem.

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Meanwhile, back in Houston, testing organized by The New York Times found that floodwaters there are contaminated with bacteria and toxins that can make people sick. One would think that such testing would be organized and warnings to the public given by the EPA or even by our state environmental quality agency. Apparently, you would be wrong. It is indeed a new world that we live in.

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Of course, it wasn't just humans and animals who live on land whose lives were disrupted by the hurricanes. On a Texas City beach on the Texas coast after the storm passed, this strange creature was found after having been washed ashore.


After a lot of speculation and wild guesses, it was identified as a fangtooth snake-eel (Aplatophis chauliodus), an animal that lives quietly in burrows on the bottom of the sea and darts out occasionally to feed. So there it was, placidly living out its life somewhere in the Gulf, and then along came Harvey.

Incidentally, when I first heard about this and saw the picture, I was reading The Essex Serpent, so the picture will always be my image of the "serpent". 

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The National Audubon Society is keeping track of how the hurricanes have affected birds and birding sites. They are on the ground in Texas where they have found that in spite of the damage done, coastal ecosystems are tough and resilient. In Florida and the other states affected by Irma, as well as in the Caribbean, Audubon is also present and recording and analyzing the damage done.

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City life is tough on fledgling birds. A lower percentage of birds hatched there manage to make it through their first year. But if they do, they are tougher and more impervious to the effects of stress and more likely to survive into the future. 

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The International Union for Conservation of Nature has released its annual "red list" of endangered species. Some once-common species like North American ash trees are now on the list. The ash trees are there because of the depredations of the emerald ash borer beetle, an invasive insect.

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There's good news for another endangered species. In Australia, another population of the Night Parrot has been located, leading to hopes that there may yet be other pockets of population of the elusive bird that have not yet been discovered. 

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Heliotropism is the tendency of a plant to seek to sun, to grow in the direction of the sun. This can be observed especially in flowers such as the sunflower that tend to track the sun through the sky each day. How all of this happens is an interesting phenomenon for the study of scientists.

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De-extinction of species that have long been extinct, or even of those recently extinct, continues to be a hotly debated issue. Although it is theoretically possible to bring species back, the real question is, should they be brought back?

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An experiment involving the playback of birds' songs has found evidence of as many of 21 tropical avian species that have been previously unknown.

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We know that plastic that winds up in our oceans is a huge environmental problem that does untold damage. Here is visual proof of the disruption the Nature of such refuse.


California-based Nature photographer Justin Hofman recently captured this image of a tiny seahorse gripping a Q-tip in the waters off Indonesia. A newborn seahorse would normally latch onto a blade of grass. This one has been fooled into mistaking a manmade plastic implement for its natural perch.

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More hurricane related news: The ABA blog has information about some very unusual sightings of birds, particularly seabirds like Sooty Terns that were blown inland by Hurricane Irma.

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A volunteer-run study of Cooper's Hawks in Seattle has been going since 2003 and finds that the birds are doing well there. This year they have documented 40 nests in the city. 

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts surveys to track and analyze the outdoor activities engaged in by Americans. Their latest survey shows that 86 million people engaged in watching wildlife in 2016, an increase of 20 percent over 2011. Meantime, the number who engage in hunting animals continues to decline.

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To close on a positive note, there is very good news concerning the black-footed ferret, an animal that was once thought to be extinct. Several years ago, a few of the animals were found living and they have now been introduced into some of the areas where they previously existed. This year, wildlife biologists in Wyoming have spotted the first wild-born black-footed ferrets in 35 years on a ranch outside of Meeteetse, where they were reintroduced just last year. This is a heartening indication for the future survival of the species.


Black-footed ferret photo by USFWS. Live long and prosper, little guy. 

Comments

  1. Thank you for the hurricane update. It was one of the more interesting ones I have read. As far as that strange creature goes, I had the same thought about The Essex Serpent as you did, the minute I saw the pic. The baby seahorse on a Q-tip: priceless!

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    Replies
    1. That "serpent" looks exactly like I was imagining the creature in the book!

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  2. Those pics of animals stranded by hurricanes Irma and Harvey are good education for the general public since those natural phenomena disrupt people's lives as well as animals'. The fangtooth creature looks awfully strange, as do most bottom feeders and dwellers; I definitely can see why you chose it as a model of the creature you were reading about.

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  3. And hoorah for the black-footed ferrets! ;-)

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