This week in birds - # 440

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

A Purple Finch and Pine Siskin feed on black-oil sunflower seeds scattered on the ground. My winter bird watching has been greatly enhanced by the irruption of Purple Finches to this area. At times I've witnessed a dozen or more at one of my feeders. In most winters I'm lucky to see one or two.

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Anthropocentric as we are, we have mostly focused on the suffering of our own species in regard to our recent experience with the polar vortex, but it has been a disaster for some wildlife as well. Some more endangered species may be pushed to the brink of extinction because of it.

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In other bad news related to that weather event, oil refineries, chemical manufacturers, and other industrial plants in Texas reported releasing around 3.5 million pounds of extra pollutants into the air during last week’s freezing temperatures. The Houston region accounted for one-fifth of excess emissions of toxic chemicals.

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Representative Deb Haaland if confirmed as Secretary of the Interior (and it appears she will be) will not only be the first Native American to hold that post that is so important to the independence and welfare of Native American communities, she would be a notable improvement over the people who have had that position in recent years. Among other things, they have been deniers of climate change and refused to take any steps that might ameliorate it. 

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There is no time like the present to become a birder. In fact, there are some advantages to birding in winter. For one thing, leaves don't obstruct your view of the birds in trees - at least in deciduous trees. And if you have a bird feeder, you are most likely to attract birds to it when food is more scarce, making them easier to view. 

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Mammals in general, including our own species, are actually colonies of many species living together more or less in harmony. The latest confirmation of this comes from manatees that were found to have as many as half a million microscopic hitchhikers on their skin.

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In sadder news concerning manatees, more than 300 of the animals have died in Florida waters during the first six weeks of 2021, an unprecedented toll.

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A growing body of evidence suggests that a massive change is underway in the sensitive circulation system of the Atlantic Ocean, a group of scientists reported this week. The Atlantic Meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), a system of currents that includes the Florida Current and the Gulf Stream, is now “in its weakest state in over a millennium,” these experts say. This has implications for everything from the climate of Europe to the rates of sea-level rise along the U.S. East Coast.

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New data now reveal where flood damage could be an existential threat. It is a looming disaster for coastal communities.

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The Kazakh people of the Altai Mountains have spent centuries developing and nurturing a special bond with Golden Eagles. Even today they hunt on horseback with the eagles.

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Being a conservationist in a world that does not appreciate conservationists can be a very dangerous thing. This was proved once again in January when conservationist Gonzalo Cardona of Colombia was murdered after wrapping up a census of the Yellow-eared Parrot, an endangered bird that he had helped to save from extinction.  

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A group of 28 pilot whales that had become stranded on a New Zealand beach notorious for such strandings was successfully refloated and swam back out to sea this week.

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Beavers are considered to be nuisance animals by some people but they can play an important role in helping to maintain a healthy environment. They have their champions in the Tulalip Tribes of Washington's western corner who are trapping and relocating the animals to their lands.

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Lead shot poisoning can be deadly to wildlife and that is why lead shot is outlawed in many places. Unfortunately, hunters do not always abide by these laws. That is the case in Greece where dozens of Flamingos in a northern Greek lagoon have died recently from lead shot illegally used by hunters in the area.

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Monarch butterfly visiting almond verbena blooms before the freeze.

The number of Monarch butterflies that reached their winter resting grounds in central Mexico decreased by about 26% this year, and four times as many trees were lost to illegal logging, drought, and other causes, making 2020 a very bad year for the butterflies.

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From the better late than never department, Facebook announced on Thursday that it will add a new section to its platform to debunk common climate change myths as it expands its nascent battle against disinformation. The social media giant said that it is expanding its climate change information hub to include a section that will feature facts that rebut the common fallacies.

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Who knew that mayonnaise could be a miracle cure for turtles that have been oiled and have ingested tar? Well, Israeli conservationists treating endangered green sea turtles have made that discovery. Feeding the turtles mayonnaise helps to clean out their digestive tracts after the tar has been removed from their tracheas.

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Hudsonian Godwits migrate from Alaska to Chile in the fall to escape cold winter weather. They take refuge in the coastal wetlands there. They find plenty of food there and a place to rest before it is time to make that long flight back to Alaska in the spring.

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In another remarkable migration story, this Iceland Gull was recorded by the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation in their annual Florida Winter Shorebird Survey. Iceland Gulls typically nest in Canada, and it is rare for one to be found as far south as Florida in winter.  

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Freshwater fish are under threat, with as many as a third of global populations in danger of extinction, according to a recent assessment. Populations of migratory freshwater fish have plummeted by 76% since 1970, and large fish – those weighing more than 66 pounds – have been all but wiped out in most rivers. The global population of megafish is down by 94% and 16 freshwater fish species were declared extinct last year.

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The Black-browed Babbler, shown here, had not been seen in Borneo for 180 years until last October when one was found in Indonesia's South Kalimantan province. Prior to that, the only evidence that the species had ever existed was found in a stuffed specimen. More than 1,700 bird species live across the archipelago of Indonesia, with many remote islands not well surveyed by scientists despite the region’s riches that inspired Alfred Russel Wallace’s theories of evolution 170 years ago.

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Happily, a new survey of the critically endangered Bahama Oriole has shown that the number of the birds that exist is much greater than was previously thought. It is believed that the overall population of the birds may be in the thousands rather than fewer than 300 as had been shown in a previous census.  





Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing all these interesting news, I hope it incites all of us to act with more care toward our planet, animals and, basically, ourselves :/

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    1. That is my hope in providing these weekly roundups. Thank you for stopping by and taking time to comment.

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  2. Thank you for the roundup, Dorothy. It is always sobering to read of the continuing damage we are causing to the planet, but there are signs that a little progress is being made here and there, and good news is therapeutic. It is good news indeed that a native American with historic and cultural links to the land will be at the helm of environmental stewardship for the next four. I hope that she will be tough in the face of the onslaught of opposition she will be facing from industry, Republicans and the new and resurgent Trump cult. The whole world wishes her well.

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    1. She is a tough woman and I feel sure she is up to the challenge. I am excited to see her on the job.

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  3. A lot of bad news here. We were already wondering about monarchs and your freeze in Texas, among other birds that over winter in the South. What a disaster.

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    1. It has been an event of historical proportions, but Nature is strong and will revive. It may look different but there are always winners and losers and no doubt there will be this time.

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  4. This might be a good time to reread The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson. The Gulf Stream situation is so worrisome. What if, instead of only having Earth Day once a year we had an Animal Day, a Bird Day, a Fish Day, an Insect Day and so on, one for every month of the year.

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  5. Gonzalo Cardona's murder was a terrible tragedy. Hopefully the perpetrators will be brought to justice.


    Thankfully we will not just have a new Secretary of the interior but a lot of new people coming in after the scourge of Trumpism.

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    1. There have been so many murders like Cardona's. The courage of these people who put their lives on the line for what they believe in never ceases to amaze and inspire me. And, yes, I agree that it is such a relief to finally have people in these government positions who are actually qualified for their positions and who believe in the responsibilities of government.

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  6. I was very worried about the large numbers of goldfinches who have been at my feeders this winter. Right after the freeze, they appeared to be gone or almost gone. But they have come back this weekend.

    I've seen lots of purple finches this year, too.

    I wish our leaders here in Texas would take more action to protect Texas citizens. It's disturbing to me to see the excess emissions in Houston. They don't take action to protect vulnerable people during the pandemic. And they didn't prepare our electrical grid for a freeze. Frustrating.

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    1. I think that is a sign that we need different leaders.

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  7. I am sad to hear about the manatees ... so many in a short time. Seems like a crisis in Florida.

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    1. It is very troubling. Let us hope that the trend does not continue.

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