This week in birds - #456

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

A Common Nighthawk with eyes closed rests on a post at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast. This area is often a rest stop on their flight from their winter to summer homes.

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Once again we are seeing unexplained deaths of birds over several states of the South and Midwest. The victims suffer from crusty eyes, swollen faces, and an inability to fly. Scientists have so far not been able to identify the illness or determine its source. 

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We are in the midst of Pollinator Week, June 21-27, and the Pollinator Partnership has several recommendations for assisting these vital partners in our existence on this planet.

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California is on the front line of suffering from the effects of climate change, and as such a large and diverse state, it has an outsized ability to affect and help shape worldwide diversity policy. 

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We tend to think of dinosaurs as wandering over dry savannahs and munching tropical leaves, but recent finds indicate that this is not a full picture of their time on the planet. Baby dinosaur "microfossils" discovered in Alaska show that at least some of the critters were able to survive in colder and less salubrious climates.

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According to campaigners and conservationists who are trying to stop it, a massive new oilfield planned for one of Africa's great wilderness areas would devastate regional ecosystems and wildlife as well as local communities. The oilfield would stretch across Namibia and Botswana and would be yet another threat to the population of elephants in the area that have already suffered from a series of mysterious deaths in the past year. 

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After a forest burns, the resulting erosion can contaminate supplies of drinking water for up to a decade, creating a potentially large and long-term problem for hundreds of thousands of people who may live far from the site of the actual fire.

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As sea levels rise, the Florida Keys are faced with an unthinkable reality: They will be slowly overwhelmed by the water and not everything or every house can be saved. Hard, almost unimaginable decisions will have to be made. 

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A heretofore unknown branch of the human family tree has been discovered in China. A superbly preserved fossil head that had been wrapped and hidden in a well for 85 years is said to be from a previously unknown group that is more closely related to modern humans than Neanderthals. The species has been named Homo longi by researchers and given the nickname "Dragon Man." However, not all scientists are convinced about the designation.

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A disagreement has arisen between the U.N. and Australia in regard to the condition of the Great Barrier Reef. The U.N. through UNESCO says that the reef is in great danger and it has called upon the government of Australia to mitigate the effects of climate change on the natural wonder. Australia argues that it is already doing enough to protect one of its great tourist attractions.

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The herd of Asian elephants that have been trekking across the province of Yunnan in China for the past year has captured the attention of the internet and they have become stars in China where people eagerly follow videos of their escapades. Their adventurous migration has been a welcome relief to the drudgery of the workaday world.

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The Limetree Bay oil refinery in St. Croix is apparently absconding from the island after facing millions of unpaid bills and lawsuits resulting from catastrophic errors that have caused pollution and raised fears of homeowners that their water is laced with toxic chemicals. The refinery has announced a cessation of operations.

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Deveaux Island is a small spit of land off the coast of South Carolina. It covers about 250 acres and is a haven and rest stop for tens of thousands of birds, particularly shorebirds. Most of the 57 coastal water species that the state has designated as of "greatest conservation need" are found on the island. And, of course, the island itself is threatened by human activity. 

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A basic tenet of global warming has been that the warming would increase humidity since hotter air holds more water. But it doesn't seem to be working that way in the Southwest. The area is actually getting drier and that is not good news for the fire season.

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You can add this one to that bulging file labeled "Unintended Consequences." Tasmanian devils are an endangered species, and they were introduced to Maria Island east of Tasmania to safeguard their numbers. But now the devils are decimating the population of Little Penguins as well as other birdlife native to the island.

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Salamanders are moisture-loving animals that you might expect would have trouble adapting to a world that is heating up, but you might be wrong. It seems that at least some salamanders are able to make the transition to a drier world by changing from a creature that lives in or near water to one that is comfortable on dry land. 

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The buffy-headed marmosets of Brazil are facing challenges to their continued existence from many fronts. They are threatened by disease, invasive species, and loss of habitat, but we still have an opportunity to save them

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Moray eels have a secret weapon. They have a second set of jaws in their throats that help them to grasp and swallow prey. They can even move at least partway out of the water in order to grab a tasty morsel. 

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We are all probably familiar with the rock from outer space that smashed into Earth off the coast of Yucatan about 65 million years ago creating the Chinxulub crater and putting paid to most species of dinosaurs on Earth with the notable exceptions of those they grew feathers and became birds. But there is another lesser-known crater in Ukraine called Boltysh that came some 650,000 years later and also had a tremendous effect on the tumultuous climate changes of that period.

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Migratory straw-colored fruit bats are key to seed dispersal across Africa. But Zambia's Kasanka national park to which ten million of the bats migrate each October is now being threatened by a plan to create a huge commercial farming operation next to it. Conservationists warn that it could have a catastrophic effect on the wildlife of the area including the fruit bats.

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Our oldest and one of our most popular national parks, Yellowstone, is seriously threatened by the changing climate. A new report reveals the extent to which it could be changed. Temperatures in the park that are already the highest they have been in 20,000 years could rise another 10 degrees F by 2100.

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Kudos to Maine! It has become the first U.S. state to enact a law to require public funds divestment from fossil fuels. The governor this week signed an order for all public funds to jettison investments in coal, petroleum, natural gas, and related products.

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Margaret Renkl says if we can save the pollinators, maybe we can save ourselves.







Comments

  1. Thank you for the roundup, Dorothy, depressing though it is. For Australia to claim that it is doing enough to save the Great Barrier Reef would be laughable if it were not so discouraging. Not a single one of my naturalist friends in Australia would endorse that claim. The government there lives in the same kind of fantasy world, climate-denying state the Trump years saw in the US. How do we elect these morons - over and over again.

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    1. It's a mystery to me, too, David and it is thoroughly depressing.

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  2. i hadn't heard about Boltysh: a significant event in geologic history, it seems...

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    1. I had not heard of it either. It's interesting that it seems to be little known even by geologists.

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  3. Nice photo of the Nighthawk ... so peaceful. I too liked Ukraine crater story, which I had not heard of either.

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    1. I love nighthawks. I enjoy sitting in my backyard in the late afternoon watching and listening to them as they swoop after flying insects.

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  4. Great set of links, Dorothy, discouraging as some of them turned out to be. The unexplained bird deaths are really troubling, and I hope they get that situation figured out without having once again to slaughter our domesticated birds in the process of controlling the problem.

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    1. It is troubling and still quite a mystery at this point. The best advice for those in the areas where the deaths are occurring is to stop feeding the birds because it is likely that whatever it is could be spread as the birds gather at the feeders.

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  5. I hope thy figure out what's killing these poor birds fast so they can stop it!

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    1. Yes, fingers crossed that the mystery will soon be solved.

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  6. Nature certainly keeps our attention! Your nighthawk is gorgeous :)

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    1. That's an extremely kind compliment coming from such an accomplished photographer as yourself.

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  7. I always love seeing your nature roundup, Dorothy, though this week I'm coming late to the table. I hadn't heard about the finding of the human-ish fossil head nor had I heard about the asteroid that hit the Ukraine.

    Beautiful photo of a nighthawk.

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    1. Early or late, I'm always happy to see you here.

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