This week in birds - #334

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


A colorful little Pine Warbler visiting the bird feeder system in my backyard. Along with Yellow-rumped Warblers, these are the most numerous of our three winter warblers. The lovely little Orange-crowned Warblers are less frequently seen.

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Usually, people are happy to have newly discovered species named for them. I'm not sure about this one. A newly discovered blind amphibian that buries itself in the sand is being officially named Dermophis donaldtrumpiin recognition of the US president’s climate change denial. The small legless creature was found in Panama and it was remarked that its ability to bury its head in the ground matched Donald Trump’s approach to global warming.

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The Interior Department on Thursday took a key step toward allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Arctic Alaska, putting forth proposals it said would protect the animals there but that would end decades of environmental protections. After a 45-day public comment period, the bureau is expected to select one of the alternatives and approve a final report early next summer. If the process survives expected court challenges by environmental and conservation groups, as well as efforts by the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to slow it down, lease sales for rights to drill for oil and gas could be held before the end of 2019. So, not quite a done deal - yet.

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And in more news from the Arctic, as temperatures there continue to heat up, ground-nesting birds can no longer count on the area as a safe haven for raising their young. Incidents of predation have already increased by threefold, according to a new analysis.

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Birds continue to try to make adjustments in order to deal with climate change. We've already seen that insect-eating birds are breeding earlier in order to have a supply of insects for raising their young, but now there is evidence that seed-eaters also are adjusting their schedule to better take advantage of the peak seed season. 

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In Puerto Rico, about 30 million trees have died or are dying as a result of Hurricane Maria. A research group from Columbia University is attempting to document the changes that have taken and are taking place in the forests there. 

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High levels of plastic contamination have been found in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, emphasizing just how pervasive such pollution has become. Meanwhile, a plan to clean up some of that trash is not working as plannedA giant floating barrier launched off the coast of San Francisco as part of a $20m project to clean up a swirling island of rubbish between California and Hawaii, is failing to collect plastic. The plastic is leaking back through the barrier. Scientists are working on a fix for the project.

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When did feathers evolve? That's long been a source of disagreement among scientists, but recent discoveries have pushed the date of the origin of feathers back by about 70 million years. It is hoped that more specimens can be found to confirm that earlier origin. 

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This year has been the third warmest on record in the Gulf of Maine and it has been disastrous for puffins, turtles, and kelp.

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The Christmas Bird Count is continuing but there is also another annual bird-related citizen science project going on now and continuing through early April. It is Project FeederWatch, an effort to document the birds that visit our feeders, or otherwise feed in our yards, during the cold weather months. Anyone can participate. You just have to sign up and pay a small fee. 

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First Nations communities in Canada are leading the effort to try to save that country's last caribou herds. The herds have been devastated by logging and oil drilling activities.

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Scarlet Macaws are spectacular birds and that makes them prime candidates for exploitation by wildlife traffickers. The traffickers stalk and capture this already at-risk species in Guatemala.

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There is an ongoing effort to save the endangered Miami Blue butterfly by returning captive-raised butterflies to the areas formerly inhabited by the creature.

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This famous photograph of Earthrise as seen from the moon was taken by astronauts fifty years ago this week. It struck a chord with humans reminding us, "This is where we live. In space. On a marble fortified against bottomless blackness by a shell of air and color, fragile and miraculous as a soap bubble." It helped to spur an environmental awakening, inspiring many to make efforts to protect and conserve this blessed planet.

But what have humans done for that planet lately? And would it be such a bad thing for the planet if the human race became extinct? A philosophy professor from Clemson University discusses that question.

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And on that cheery note, let me wish you a happy holiday season and thank you for visiting and reading my thoughts here this year. Blogging will be sparse from now through the end of the year, but I'll be around and hoping to bring you happier news in 2019.

Comments

  1. Happy Christmas Dorothy.
    Thank you so much for this report, I read it every week. Better news in 2019 would be much welcomed although I’m not holding my breath. Those on the front line are feeling the effects of climate change ever more significantly, like here in Australia. We are perhaps more sheltered from it in the UK. Nobody can afford to be complacent however, and most especially those with the power to make lasting change.

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    1. Thank you, rd. I have greatly enjoyed your stories and all your beautiful pictures from Australia.

      It is appalling that so many in power in this country completely deny that the planet is in any kind of peril or that any action is needed. We can only hope that the populace (voters) will take action to return sanity to the government when the opportunity arises.

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  2. Mostly bad stuff this week. Let's hope for a better 2019, shall we? Merry Christmas to you and yours, Dorothy! I'm glad to count you among my blogger friends. I wish you a happy and prosperous 2019. I'll be still blogging between now and the end of the year. I have quite a few movies to review yet. I hope you still visit and comment whenever you can. :-)

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    1. I appreciate you very much, Carmen, as among my most faithful commenters. It's always good to know that SOMEBODY out there has read what I've entered on my internet machine! And, of course, I'll be visiting you and commenting as usual. I always look forward to your reviews. Have a wonderful holiday season and a healthy and happy 2019.

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  3. The Blind Amphibian speaks with forked tongue. We shall be a merry as we can. We will gird our loins for another year as we sing our swan songs. I know I am richer for having you and your blog in my life, Dorothy.

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    1. You are very kind, Judy, and I can only return the compliment. I always look forward to reading your very insightful thoughts about the books you read. I hope your holiday season is everything you could wish for.

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