This week in birds - #331

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


Our winter visitors continue to trickle in. This week the American Goldfinches showed up. Here's one in his drab winter dress sitting on a crape myrtle limb. The goldfinches love crape myrtle seeds and they generally feed on them when they first arrive here. There are plenty of the seeds available just now.



A small flock of Cedar Waxwings also put in an appearance this week. The flocks generally grow as the season advances and by next spring there might be 200 - 300 birds wandering through my neighborhood, but for now, I estimate there are about 30 in the flock.

Both the goldfinches and the waxwings have arrived earlier than usual. I generally see my first goldfinch the first week in December and the waxwings show up in mid- to late December, but most of the birds seem to be appearing early this year.

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The wildfires in California have now been contained but on the other side of the world they are raging. More than 100 wildfires were burning in Queensland in eastern Australia as a sweltering heat wave intensified conditions. Schools were closed and there were scattered reports of property damage but no deaths. 

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Our current administration in Washington has announced that it will allow companies to use seismic blasting in the search for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast. Such blasting could harm hundreds of sea mammals such as dolphins and whales in the area. The endangered North Atlantic right whale is of particular concern. Environmental groups will be fighting this new initiative.

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A young Bald Eagle that had been poisoned by rat poison was unable to stand when she was found in Oregon in July. After four months of treatment and rehab, she is now healthy enough to be returned to the wild. She was released on Wednesday.

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Here's something I bet you've never thought about: whale earwax! Well, funnily enough that humble substance can tell us a lot about the history of the oceans. Since whales are long-lived, they accumulate a lot of earwax in their lifetimes. The plugs can be ten inches long in large whales. An analysis of it can reveal a lot of information not only about the whale but about the environment in which it swims.

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Back on dry land, the bad news is that carbon emissions are rising once again after four years of stability.

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With the help of data from a discontinued European satellite, scientists have discovered that East Antarctica is a graveyard of continental remnants. They have created stunning 3-D maps of the southernmost continent’s tectonic underworld and found that the thick sheet of ice there has been concealing wreckage of an ancient supercontinent’s spectacular destruction.

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We think of mammals as the only creatures that produce milk from their bodies for their young but now scientists in Taiwan have discovered a spider that produces a milk-like substance for their spiderlings. Moreover, they continue to care for their offspring until they are almost adults. The spider is a species of jumping spider that mimics the appearance of ants.

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In recent years, the removal of dams in the Northeast has allowed fish to once again migrate from coastal rivers out to the sea and back again.

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Global temperatures have continued to rise during the last ten months and 2018 is expected to be the fourth warmest year on record. The past four years have been the hottest on record and the 20 warmest have occurred during the last 22 years.

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More than 140 pilot whales died in a mass stranding on a remote New Zealand beach on November 24. Such mass strandings are a phenomenon which is poorly understood by scientists. 

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There is a 75-80% chance of a climate-warming El Niño event by February, according to the latest analysis from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. The last El Niño event ended in 2016 and helped make that year the hottest ever recorded by adding to the heating caused by humanity’s carbon emissions. The 2019 event is not currently forecast to be as strong as in 2016.

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Despite dire warnings regarding the effects of climate change, our now ironically-named Environmental Protection Agency is planning to roll back protections of the water supply, further exacerbating some climate-related problems.

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Meanwhile, energy speculators are jumping on the chance to lease our public lands for oil and gas exploration paying bargain-basement prices for the privilege. They are able to do this with the current administration's encouragement because of a loophole in federal rules - a loophole that will surely not be plugged while this administration is in power.

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Honduran indigenous environmentalist Berta Isabel Cáceres was shot dead late at night on March 2, 2016 after a long battle to stop construction of an internationally financed hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque river, which the Lenca people consider sacred. This week, seven men were found guilty of her murder. An eighth man was cleared and freed on Thursday.

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Groundbreaking wildlife corridors over, under, or around human highways are saving animal lives by reducing roadkill. They are a notable innovation of recent years and they are being increasingly instituted around the country. 

Comments

  1. Waxwings and earwax. Scarier news even than usual this week. Although that discovery in Antarctica put some perspective on it.

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  2. I recognized the Cedar Waxwings! ;-) I never would have thought of whales producing earwax, though it makes sense; hopefully a lot of information will be stored in those plugs. The pod of beached pilot whales broke my heart. The ones that hadn't died upon discovery had to be euthanized due to their poor state. :-( And the temperatures keep climbing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Congratulations on recognizing the waxwings. We'll make you a bird watcher yet!

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    2. I love cedar waxwings! They used to come en mass to our pyracantha berries each fall in CA. My father and I would call out, "The cedar waxwings are here!" One year he let me sit on the roof to watch them. I'm in Oregon now, where they are supposed to be common, and I have cedars, but haven't seen a single one.

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    3. Waxwings do wander, often erratically, so don't give up hope, Lisa. Perhaps they will make an appearance there sometime soon.

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