This week in birds - #459

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

A young Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in flight. He hasn't yet developed the long iconic tail feathers of his species but you can see the beginning of the "scissor."

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Reservoir levels throughout the West are dropping drastically as the prolonged drought continues unabated. Many are at historically low levels already. The unprecedented heat is further stressing the water supply and the surrounding landscape. 

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The UN has drafted an ambitious plan to halt biodiversity loss and cut the extinction rate by a factor of ten. The plan involves eliminating plastic pollution, reducing pesticide use, halving the rate of invasive species, and eliminating $500 billion of harmful government subsidies. The goal is to help halt and reverse the ecological destruction of Earth by the end of the decade.

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An aggressive male Mute Swan, a nonnative species, was set to be euthanized in Brick Township, New Jersey, but an unusual twist to his story appears to have given him a reprieve.

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This is troubling news. Scientists have confirmed that the Amazon rainforest, sometimes referred to as Earth's lungs, is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it is able to absorb. 

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Scientists warn that there could be an increase in flooding in the next decade due to a double whammy from climate change and a "wobble" by the moon as it changes its angle relative to the equator over time. It is something that coastal communities need to be aware of and prepare for.

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But we don't need to wait for the next decade to see the devastating effects of floods. Raging floods in Western Europe this week have left scores dead and hundreds missing and still unaccounted for.

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I find it amazing and alarming that there have been no limits set for PFAS "forever chemicals" in Americans' drinking water, but now the Environmental Protection Action is considering placing such limits. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

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Is this carved deer bone, found in a cave in Germany, an example of Neanderthal art? Neanderthals have long been underestimated in their technological and cultural achievements because so few of their artifacts have been found, but the more we learn about them the more we see that they used sophisticated tools, buried their dead, and, of course, they mated with Homo sapiens. Modern humans of European ancestry generally have one to two percent Neanderthal DNA.

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People who get tired of their pet goldfish and decide to dump them in a local waterway are creating an invasive species problem. Those goldfish can grow to football size and they can degrade the environment in which they live rendering it uninhabitable for native species.  

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Swarms of fireflies have the ability to synchronize the light flashes from their abdomens. Apparently, the key is for the swarm to reach a particular density, known only to the fireflies, and then their flashes become synchronous.

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Scientists have discovered that sea otters have metabolisms that work at a rate three times what might be expected for a creature of their size. They use much of that energy to generate heat and thus they are able to keep themselves warm and toasty even in the frigid waters of the Arctic.

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Froghoppers are amazing little insects that have such strong suction capability that if they were sitting at the top of the Statue of Liberty they would be able to drink from a glass of water on the ground if they had a straw long enough.

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As we become more sensitized to the effects that words can have, even the names we have given to some creatures are being reevaluated and changed. The latest example of this is "gypsy moths" or "gypsy ants." The name gypsy is deemed to be derogatory toward the Romani people and the Entomological Society of America will no longer use it. 

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This beautiful bird of prey is a Swallow-tailed Kite. Loss of or degradation of habitat has been a problem for these birds in recent years, but now a coalition of organizations has come together to try to maintain and improve habitat conditions for the kites and other forest birds.

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Have you ever seen a snail with a computer? Well, you might if you go to the wilds of Tahiti. A project there has fitted rosy wolf snails with tiny computers in order to investigate the reasons for the extinction of some snail species there and the survival of others.

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The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has declared the Marbled Murrelet as endangered under the state's Endangered Species Act. The state joins California and Washington in giving such protection to the little "forest seabird."

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The wildfires tearing through the American West are endangering Native American tribal lands in some areas adding even more challenges to people who are struggling to save water.

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Japanese beetles are back. The attractive little insects can be extremely destructive to over 300 plant species that they feed on in North America. So how do you fight them? There are actually some strategies that can help.

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Bird conservation groups have filed suit in New York to improve renewable energy regulation there. One of the issues they want to be addressed is minimizing avoidable impacts to birds by wind turbines.

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Last year pandemic precautions virtually halted all work on raising endangered Whooping Cranes for release into the wild. With the easing of those precautions, the efforts are back on track and fourteen little crane chicks are being raised in facilities from New Orleans to Calgary for release later this year.

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How to make houses safe in a changing climate is only one of the challenges we now face but experts say that climate-resilient houses are an actual possibility even in the present.

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Goats are one weapon that New Yorkers are using to fight against invasive plant species in their parks. The goats have been used in parks in the past but last year was skipped. Now they are back in Riverside Park and New Yorkers are delighted. They will even be able to use their new ranked-choice voting system to choose their favorite goat!

Comments

  1. Thank you for the roundup, Dorothy. As always there is a litany of dire warnings about what we are doing to the planet, tempered with a few good news items that we all need from time to time. If the wildfires and drought in North America, and the catastrophic floods of Europe, don't convince climate skeptics of the error of their ways, I don't know what will. Maybe when Miami starts to disappear that will be the wakeup call!

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    1. There are some people who nothing would convince. Even as the waters rise around them or they are encircled by the flames of wildfires they will continue to deny that anything unusual is happening.

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  2. Great articles. Goats would be helpful in National Forests as well--much better than raking. The other night, my husband and I were discussing the changes necessary to building new homes that are designed to accommodate climate change. We are facing challenges that have been ignored for far too long. From birds and bees, to housing and landscaping, to the tendency to take the convenience of single use products that contribute to landfills and become part of our own bodies--new rules, ideas, and contingencies need to be considered.

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    1. Goats have been used around the country to eradicate invasive plants. I'm not sure if they've been used in the national forests but it would certainly be a good idea. It would take a lot of goats though!

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  3. I did not know that I might have 1-2% Neanderthal DNA! That's actually pretty cool. And I think the art is actually pretty in its own way!

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    1. The chevron pattern is obviously very deliberate but what was its meaning in the Neanderthal's culture? We'll probably never know but it is intriguing.

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  4. startling fact about fireflies! possibly mother nature is really trying to tell us something!

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    1. I think Mother Nature is always trying to tell us things but we so rarely listen.

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  5. Oh thanks for the Goats! They brightened my week just knowing about them. The wildfire smoke has arrived here in Calgary turning the sky grey .... some of it is from fires in British Columbia and northern Alberta .... also Idaho & Montana seem to be burning as well. We are surrounded. Cross your fingers for rain .... so far none in sight.

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    1. I'm delighted to see the use of the goats. In the South they have often been used to clear out the kudzu vine that has blanketed many areas. They are very useful and utterly charming animals.

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  6. Wouldn't it be lovely if research and government and businesses all began to focus on revamping how we do everything in order to make the world a significantly better place for nature?

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  7. Dorothy-I always enjoy your posts. Thank you for making others aware of what is happening with our climate and wildlife. It is important for all to know just how fragile this planet is and to make efforts to save our precious ecosystem.

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    1. We each must do whatever is in our power to spread the word. This is what is within my power.

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