... but apparently I am looming over Mexico:
John is a Category 3 hurricane, packing sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph) and stronger gusts.We are getting one of our own soon, as well.
... but apparently I am looming over Mexico:
John is a Category 3 hurricane, packing sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph) and stronger gusts.We are getting one of our own soon, as well.
As a followup to my post on the environmental damage Katrina wrought last summer, I have found some more news from Louisiana. As I noted on Monday, one of the major challenges in rebuilding New Orleans and other damaged communities on the Gulf Coast is that the coastal wetlands that protect those cities have been disappearing. There are a variety of reasons for this phenonmenon. Subsidence from lack of sediment replenishment, erosion from tides from tides and storms, and death of freshwater plants due to saltwater intrusion are a few of the major causes. This article explains the problems nicely.
As early as the mid-1960s, the US Army Corps of Engineers tested the notion that wetlands could provide a buffer against storm surges. It concluded that a storm surge would shrink one foot for every 2.75 miles of wetlands it crossed. The number represented an average taken from several storms. But over the years, it took on a life of its own as the expected return on investments in wetlands, researchers say.The Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a series of measures that they believe will protect the cities better than the current reliance on levees. Rebuilding these vital coastal wetlands is one stage of the project. The goal of such restoration would be encouraging natural replenishment as much as possible to reduce the need for human intervention. Other measures include rebuilding barrier islands and building tall (30-60 ft) armored levees.
After hurricanes Katrina and Rita plowed into the region, LSU researchers Hassan Mashriqui and G. Paul Kemp took a new set of measurements and used them in modeling experiments. They found that when a surge encountered coastal wetlands at least 100 miles long and 25 miles deep, the surge indeed dropped one foot for each three miles inland it traveled. Where dredged channels were present, however, the storm surge traveled up to six miles before it dropped a foot. They also found that when the surge encountered a 100-yard-long phalanx of trees, the waves riding atop the surge lost 95 percent of their energy.
This week, I and the Bird comes a day early! Go to migrateblog, where Mariya has summarized each submission in haiku form. Even though we are now up to #31, I still keep finding submissions from blogs that I have not seen before. It makes for some fine reading, and it is good to see the circle of bird bloggers continuing to expand.
Carnival of the Vanities #206 has also been posted today.
Late summer is a time of change for birds. By now, the breeding season has ended for most species, and the young birds are out of the nest. Fledglings are rapidly maturing. Adults are molting their old feathers for fresh ones. Many species have already begun their journey south to their wintering grounds, such as the yellowlegs I covered last week. All this poses special challenges for birdwatchers. In some ways, this may be the most challenging times of the year.
Fledgling plumage may or may not be covered by field guides. Even the big Sibley Guide, for example, shows the fledgling plumage for American Robins, but it illustrates fledgling plumage less frequently for less common species. Fledgling robins themselves are sometimes a cause of confusion because of their spots. Adult robins do not have spots, but sport a solid orange breast. Fledglings, on the other hand, do have spotted breasts, much like other members of the thrush family. See below for an example.
On August 29, 2005, Katrina struck New Orleans and the U.S. Gulf Coast. The result was an unbelievable - though foreseeable - disaster for the humans living there, with a death toll over 1700 and tens of thousands of refugees. The images of protracted human suffering were unforgettable. The storm was also a disaster for the environment. How bad was it, and what is the likely road ahead? This post looks at some of the problems.
The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina came in two forms: the wind and tidal action of the hurricane itself, and the flooding of New Orleans and its suburbs when levees failed along the city's canals. When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, it was a Category 3 hurricane; it had been as high as Category 5 as it moved through the Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane was also massive, which meant that these intense winds were spread over a wide area.
Initial news reports described the waters that engulfed New Orleans as a "toxic gumbo" because of the mix of toxic waste released into the waters in the wake of the hurricane. Since petroleum is one of the main industries of the Gulf Coast, it should be no surprise that petroleum spills were a major contributor. At least 44 spills have been recorded. The largest spill released 3.78 million gallons, and another released 1.05 million gallons. The rest were smaller but significant enough for the total to surpass 7 million gallons.
Besides petroleum, other toxic chemicals were released into the waters and sediments in and around New Orleans. Chemicals in the waters included lead, arsenic, chromium, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene. (For more on these hazards, see ToxTown.) Reuters reported at the time that over 500 sewage facilities were disrupted by the storm, so that raw sewage was spilled into the mix as well. People who returned to their homes after the storm found them infested with toxic mold. The waters laden with chemicals were pumped into Lake Pontchartrain after the storm.
The waters may have been less toxic than originally feared. The levels of most harmful chemicals and bacteria, while high, turned out to be on par with those in normal stormwater runoff. Tests conducted by the EPA indicate that the sediments left in their wake are generally not harmful. Even so it suggests caution in handling them.
Local and federal officials have insisted that New Orleans is safe, but there remains widespread skepticism in the public. Partly this is because independent organizations, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, have come to different conclusions than government agencies about the human health risks present in New Orleans's battered neighborhoods. Other groups found high levels of heavy metals in the neighborhoods around the Murphy's Oil spill. In addition, while the levels of toxins may not be harmful to humans, they are harmful to fish in Liake Pontchartrain.
Wetland and Habitat Destruction
The same forces that wrecked New Orleans damaged or destroyed wetlands along the Gulf Coast. Barrier islands took the brunt of the damage. For example, large chunks of the Chandeleur Islands were obliterated. Wetlands suffered less from wind damage than from flood waters that dumped salt water, trash, and toxic chemicals into the fragile ecosystems. When salt water is introduced into a fresh water refuge it kills the vegetation. Sabine NWR took a heavy hit from Hurricane Rita, which dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic waste into the refuge. Bayou Sauvage NWR (pictured at right) received tons of trash.
The destruction of wetlands and coastal habitat occurred in a sensitive area for birds. The northern Gulf Coast is a stopping point for birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico in migration; it also serves as nesting ground for many species of terns and other waterbirds. Damage to the barrier islands was particularly bad for the nesting species; nests this year are way down for several species. Threatened birds in the area include a rare Sandhill Crane subspecies. Twelve Important Bird Areas lay in Katrina's path: 2 in Florida and 10 on the northern Gulf Coast. The hardest hit were Breton NWR and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Dauphin Island, a spring migrant trap, moved northward after the repeated blows of Ivan and Katrina. Other significant areas were also heavily damaged. A full accounting of the effects of the storm on birds will probably not be known until results from this year and next year's Breeding Bird Surveys and Christmas Bird Counts are tabulated.
Solutions to the problem of land loss are difficult. Coastal Louisiana faces two causes of land loss: erosion and subsidence. Erosion causes the state to lose about 25-30 square miles of land per year, enough for over 1,500 square miles to have been lost since 1930. Katrina and Rita subtracted an extra 100 square miles in successive blows. (LACoast.gov has highly detailed images of erosion damage in the affected areas. Do not use that site unless you have a fast connection and a fast computer.) Subsidence is a natural process aggravated by the flood control projects of the early twentieth century. The system of levees and floodgates forces the Mississippi River to bypass the delta and dump its sediments into the Gulf of Mexico. Without levees, these waters would spread across the delta and distribute their sediments to build up the land. The image below (via Restore or Retreat) shows the effects of these two factors over the past 150 years.
Coastal erosion and subsidence are not simply aesthetic problems, and wetland damage does not only harm wildlife. Coastal wetlands serve as buffer zones that absorb much of the energy and flooding associated with hurricanes and other large storms. They protect inland cities like New Orleans from the worst effects. Removal of this buffer allows high winds and flooding to penetrate farther inland towards population centers. Thus any rebuilding project for New Orleans must involve some answer to the land loss problem.
Restoration of the wetlands will require substantial investment from the government. The cost may total $14 billion over 20 years. While some funding has been directed to restore existing refuges, the sum does not approach what it would take to do a thorough rebuilding of the coastal marshes. In addition to being expensive, it is also an extraordinarily complex process requiring trial and error because of the many variables at work in any given wetland.
The situation in Louisiana is a good illustration of a point that often is lost in reporting about environmental issues. Such reporting, especially about endangered species, pits human interests against conservation. However, humans are part of the environment, and are just as affected by natural forces as wildlife. In this case, restoration of wetlands and cleanup of toxic wastes will serve both interests. What is good for the animals is necessary for the people, too.
For more links to news articles about Hurricane Katrina from last fall, see the roundup at Birderblog. For more blog commentary about the storm, see the links at Shakespeare's Sister.
News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.
Via BINAC, there is a poll on people's opinions of the ivory-billed woodpecker evidence. It seeks answers only from people who have seen the Luneau video and the video stills offered at the Fishcrow website. Offer your opinion if you have one. I have to say, as I mentioned at the BINAC site, that I found the questions about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster rather irrelevant. With the ivory-billed woodpecker, the question is whether a species that definitely once existed still persists in southern bottomland swamps. The other creatures are mythical beasts.
Speaking of ivory-billed woodpeckers, there seem to be some interesting rumors floating around the blogosphere, but until definite information is actually released, I am not going to speculate about their accuracy.
Also, Notes from Soggy Bottom has some thoughts on the Luneau video in a series of interlinked posts.
More people seem to be aware of the problem of climate change these days. Via RealClimate, I found a poll from Zogby showing that the vast majority of Americans are aware of the problem and believe that global warming is real. The numbers are quite striking:
Nearly three of every four – 74% – are more convinced today that global warming is a reality than they were two years ago, the survey shows. Dramatically, it is a sentiment shared by a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and political independents. While many more Democrats believe in global warming (87%), 56% of Republicans concur. Among independents, 82% think we are experiencing the effects of global warming. These numbers indicate a shift in the momentum of global warming believers.Whether this will transfer into action at the ballot box and action in Congress remains to be seen. Many other issues, particularly the war in Iraq, will come into play. However, there does seem to be a consensus in favor of requiring action from industries to clean up emissions. 72% of likely voters wanted to see such action, including 61% of Republicans.
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority has been cited and fined by the EPA for the dangerously high lead levels found in residences two years ago. The unsafe levels violated the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In the administrative complaint announced today, EPA seeks a $27,500 penalty for WASA’s noncompliance with data management and reporting requirements of the 2004 consent order. WASA’s noncompliance delayed EPA’s ability to confirm WASA’s report that the district’s drinking water was below EPA’s action level for lead. EPA is filing the administrative complaint to ensure the integrity of the reporting and data management for future compliance reports.The EPA has more on the lead situation here. The most recent testing period cited on that page (July to December 2005) showed that water in the District again met federal standards for safety.
The 2004 order required WASA to sample drinking water from 100 homes that are at higher risk of lead-contaminated drinking water due to lead service lines or pipes with lead solder. According to EPA, for the July to December 2005 monitoring period, 12 of the 103 drinking water samples submitted were not taken from high-risk residences. These 12 samples were either taken from homes that never had lead service lines or homes where the lead service lines had already been replaced. Today’s penalty order notes that WASA submitted these samples despite having additional information that indicated these were not high risk residences. The order also notes other occasions when WASA reported inconsistent information to EPA regarding lead service line replacements.
EPA invalidated the 12 samples, and required WASA to obtain replacement samples. Most recent sampling data continues to show that lead levels in tap water have declined to a level at or below the EPA’s action level for lead (15 parts per billion).
World birders will be happy to hear about this:
More than 10,000 birds are described in Birds of the World, a new book by Frank Gill and Minturn Wright, both trustees of The Academy of Natural Sciences. This 272-page book provides the first standardized English-language nomenclature for all living birds of the world. Previous checklists, including those by Sibley and Monroe, Clements, and Howard and Moore, were primarily taxonomic works that used different names for the same species. Birds of the World recommends one universal English-language name for each species based on the rules and principles developed by leading ornithologists worldwide and endorsed by members of the preeminent International Ornithological Congress....This should help sort out some of the confusion. Of course, it will only help if people adopt the recommended names. I suspect that there will continue to be at least some degree of variability in the general birding public. In the meantime, Avibase still helps sort out some of the nomenclature issues.
Birds of the World, published by Princeton University Press, starts with a discussion of the authors' rationale for naming conventions. A list of more than 10,000 names follows, in taxonomic order, with relevant scientific names and a brief description of the birds' breeding range. An accompanying CD contains full text and additional information on species distribution.
News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.
Lest anyone get the wrong idea from my post last week, I am putting up a list of reasons why I enjoy birding. Every birder is driven by different motivations, but usually several themes repeat themselves. I am sure some of the following will be familiar to other birders.
The 41st Carnival of the Green is up at Frugal for Life. Carnival of the Green is a weekly roundup of posts that report on ways to reduce individual and societal impact on the environment. My post on the Economics of Climate Change was included. Welcome to readers coming from that link.
Also, this week's Best of Me Symphony is available.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has posted a video on its website of a possible female Bachman's Warbler that was found in Cuba in January 2002. The video was shot by Manfred Sievert, and the identification was made with field guides afterwards. After reviewing the video, Cornell's ornithologists decided that the evidence was inclusive but intriguing enough to post on their website. They are asking for comments from observers with experience in Cuba. Go take a look for yourself. (Be warned, though, that the video files take time to download.)
Since I do not know Cuban birds at all, it is hard for me to say whether this is really a Bachman's Warbler. The quality of the video makes some field marks, such as the decurved bill, difficult to make out. However, I do not see anything that would contradict that claim. Overall, wings and tail are solid gray, the head and back are olive, and the breast and belly are yellow. There appears to be a darker area around the base of the neck, which is one Bachman's field mark. There also may be a lighter area around the front of the forehead, though this may be a video artifact. The overall drabness of this bird means that it could be other species as well. Without a clearer look at the bird I would not try to call the species myself.
Bachman's Warblers were once common through the Southeast United States but gradually diminished due to habitat destruction. They nested in dense bamboo canebrakes in bottomland swamps, many of which were destroyed through the clear-cutting of forests and draining of swamps. According to Warblers of the Americas: An Identification Guide, the last report of a Bachman's Warbler in the U.S. was in 1988 in Louisiana; Dunn and Garrett's Warblers cites 1962 as the last confirmed sighting. Because of the lack of sightings, this species has been considered extinct.
For more on the status of this species, see BirdLife and the USFWS. For images of the species, see the paintings by Audubon (pictured above) and Louis Agassiz Fuentes, and this stock photo of a museum specimen.
A Bachman's Warbler was featured in Doonesbury in 1986 when the birdwatcher Dick Davenport died after finally seeing one.
(Hat tip to BINAC.)
Last Sunday I wrote a post about DC Audubon's field trip to Bombay Hook on the previous Saturday. Trips to Bombay Hook that include stops at Port Mahon Road, like our trip in the spring, always recall for me Peter Cashwell's description of the site in The Verb "To Bird": Sightings of an Avid Birdwatcher. When I first read that book, I had not yet visited the Delaware coast, so I was unaware of how apt the description is.
In Bombay Hook, nature had been treasured and carefully set aside; near Port Mahon, nature had been invaded, found unprofitable, and left to its own devices. The marsh grass was high enough to mask a lot of the area, but the road itself tangibly displayed neglect by whacking us on the backside every few seconds. Potholes were plentiful enough to make the defacto level of the road a good six inches lower than it pretended to be. Tom eventually piloted us to the end of the marsh road and brought us to the edge of the Delaware River itself, where we were treated to the sight of human endeavor being all but abandoned. Broken pilings jutted from the water at irregular intervals. Near the beach stood unpainted and mysterious wooden buildings which listed dangerously toward the waves, while across the road a few off-kilter telephone poles struggled pointlessly to hold aloft their lines. I rolled down the car window to take in this scene of decay and laughed heartily....The beach at Port Mahon Road is not quite as bad now as what Cashwell described. The road seems to have been improved to allow passage by cars hauling boats to a launch at the end of the road. However, the road still gives the same sense of precariousness, as if it could wash into the bay at any time. And the bay itself is littered with corroded pilings and chunks of concrete. It is a strange place to look for birds, but since horseshoe crabs can spawn there, the birds will be there also.
Tom eventually moved upwind and joined me in an examination of the beach, which was narrow, rocky, and brushed by waves whose heavy foam was about the same color as the tailpipe of a '71 Volkswagon Beetle. In places there was a corrugated iron seawall, but in others it was either seriously bent or entirely absent. What beach there was, however, gave us a lesson in appreciating nature's handiwork, even when that handiwork seems silly at first.
Last year's active hurricane season, which included several very powerful storms, provided a vivid foretaste of what a significantly warmer world could look like: flooded cities, high death tolls, and massive property destruction. Just as last year's active season encouraged much talk of global warming causing hurricanes, this year's relatively quiet season (so far) has brought out the skeptics. This morning's Washington Post looks at the connection between global warming and hurricane formation, and some areas of disagreement.
Scientists who doubt a link with global warming say this year's average Atlantic hurricane season simply shows how variable weather can be. Christopher Landsea, who works in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division, published an opinion piece in the journal Science late last month in which he argued that data indicating that recent hurricanes have been more intense than those in the 1970s and '80s may be based on flawed information. Measurement technologies were less sophisticated then and may have underestimated the strength of earlier storms, he said.The Post notes that the Pacific is more active than normal this year, unlike the Atlantic. The focus on Atlantic cycles is understandable since that affects us the most, but limited in the information it provides about global change.
Studies supporting a link between global warming and storm intensity keep coming. The latest will be published this week by Florida State University geography professor James B. Elsner in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Elsner found that average air temperatures during hurricane season predict the Atlantic Ocean's surface temperatures, not vice versa, which he said means it is "much more likely the atmosphere is warming the ocean" and helping create more severe storms.There probably will be disagreement about how to interpret these data for quite some time. The hurricane question involves both short term cycles and long term trends. The first is important for forecasting, but the latter is important for the question of what role global warming has to play. The idea of global warming causing individual storms or events, in particular, is at best unprovable, and at worst distorts the real problems we face. Activists would be best served not to go far out on a limb in the meantime; making claims that current research cannot support adequately may end up undermining serious efforts in the long run.
And Judith A. Curry, of Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, who co-authored a paper last year suggesting that rising sea temperatures have been accompanied by more intense hurricanes, has challenged Landsea's critique. She said Landsea and like-minded researchers have not "done the hard work" to reanalyze the entire historic hurricane database to determine whether it really is skewed. She does not go as far as Elsner, however, saying his paper identifies "an interesting statistical relationship" but does not physically explain how warmer air might be heating the Atlantic.
Curry's work, in turn, has been challenged by Phil Klotzbach, a research associate at Colorado State University, who published a paper in May suggesting that, since 1986, there has been no global trend in hurricane intensity. Klotzbach's paper, in Geophysical Research Letters, looked at a 20-year period rather than the 35-year period Curry and others examined, which explains how he reached different conclusions.
If you look down at my site meter, you will see that A DC Birding Blog had its 25,000th visitor early this morning. Hello to Sweden! In honor of the occasion I decided to do a word cloud for my site.
If you are looking for hacks to improve your Blogger template, one repository of such things is the Bloggerhacks wiki. There you can find information about various tagging and social bookmarking methods, how to implement categories, and so forth. Some of the material may be made irrelevant with the new Blogger upgrade, but a lot will still be usable once the new HTML editor is put in place.
Since I am involved with a group blog at Blue Ridge Gazette, I still have not seen the upgrade that happened last week. (Blogger is allowing upgrades incrementally, and group bloggers are being saved for last.) I am looking forward to seeing what the new system can do. Having a real, native categories system should be a major improvement.
Finally, I have been making a number of template changes over the past few days. One is the addition of a new search box in the left sidebar, which can be restricted to this site. If you notice specific elements causing problems, please let me know.
This morning I did a bird walk at the National Arboretum as it had been a few weeks since my last walk there. Though the forecast was for a warm and sunny day, the sky was overcast and the temperature was mild. It was a relief, but at times the birds were hard to see as a result.
Blue grosbeaks are relatively uncommon in DC because of habitat considerations. But I have already seen several around the city this year, including twice at the Arboretum. The blue grosbeaks I saw this morning appeared to be hatch-year birds, because their breasts were a really rich cinnamon, as one might expect from fresh plumage. These two birds were in a pine behind the Capitol columns.
The busiest area of activity this morning was the stretch before and after the river trail gate closest to the golf course. The hemlocks held a northern parula that was still singing; admittedly the song was a weak one, but it was clearly a parula. Just past the gate, there was a flurry of flycatchers. Three species were represented here: acadian flycatcher, eastern phoebe, and eastern wood-pewee. (Later I saw a very yellow juvenile eastern phoebe in the hemlocks.)
In the same area I finally got a look at one of the bald cardinals that I have been reading about lately. Its head was almost completely bare except for a tuft of red feathers on the forehead. It is pretty funny to see.
An American kestrel flew in and perched on a snag right outside the gate. The heavy streaking on its breast indicated that it was probably a female. Unfortunately the light and angle made it difficult to see the normally bright orange of the back and tail. Kestrels are easy to tell in flight because they have the standard falcon shape but are smaller and more delicate. Like blue grosbeaks, kestrels are fairly unusual to see in the District.
There were many butterflies around the gardens this morning. Most seemed to be either eastern tiger swallowtails or monarchs. If other species were around, I must have missed them. A few photographs are presented below (click to enlarge). I find that monarchs tend to feed with their wings closed so that spread wing pictures are hard to capture, or at least harder than with the swallowtails. The last photograph is a wasp that joined me on the bench while I was waiting for the X6 bus.
BIRD SPECIES SEEN: 31
BUTTERFLY SPECIES SEEN: 3
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
In an opinion piece in today's Washington Post, Cass Sunstein poses the question of why industrial nations have failed to act despite the compelling evidence for global warming. Her answer is that the biggest polluters, the United States and China, have little incentive to do so. Together the U.S. and China account for about 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and their contribution is increasing rapidly. Under most projections, the two countries would suffer far less from climate change than those nearer to the equator.
By contrast, the biggest losers from greenhouse gas pollution are likely to be India and Africa. Some of the most detailed, careful and influential projections have been made by Yale University's William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyer. Nordhaus and Boyer show that in terms of human health and agricultural loss, India and Africa are by far the most vulnerable regions on Earth. Because of an anticipated increase in malaria, Africa will probably be hit especially hard, and India is expected to suffer a large increase in premature deaths as well....Her solution to the problem boils down to a form of moral persuasion.
[The United States and China] are expected to suffer some losses in terms of human health, but compared with projections for other countries those losses will be disproportionately small. A key reason is that the United States and China are not expected to be highly vulnerable to increases in malaria and other climate-related diseases.
In terms of percentage reductions in gross domestic product, India and Africa together are expected to lose about 10 times more from climate change than the United States -- and about 20 times more than China.
First, they might find a way to convince the United States and China that they have a moral obligation to protect the planet's most vulnerable people. The United States has long benefited from technologies that, while promoting its economic growth, are imposing serious risks on disadvantaged people in India, Africa and elsewhere.Unfortunately moral persuasion has not worked well in the past when it comes to encouraging action from our business and political leaders. Major change in the United States is not likely to happen without a substantial groundswell from the electorate. Even with one, there are still political obstacles, particularly key committee chairs who deny the evidence for climate change projections. (I suppose these are not among Sunstein's "sensible people.")
Second, the world's nations might try to convince these two countries that emissions reductions are less expensive, and more beneficial for their own citizens, than the recent projections suggest. Environmentally friendly innovations have often turned out to be far less costly than anticipated. (And if persuasive evidence is found that indicates greater losses for both nations from global warming, there will be a stronger incentive to try to innovate.)
On my walk around the neighborhood this morning, I came across some birds gathered around some bread that someone had left behind. I do not know if this was left specifically for the birds, or whether they had pulled it from a nearby trash can.
This flock was mostly rock pigeons.
The pictures of individual birds do not give a sense of what a scrum this was. Here is a larger portion of the flock of pigeons gathered around. There were several slices of bread, though it was hard for all the birds to get to it at once. The picture below shows a few examples of rock pigeon plumages.
A few house sparrows tried to get in on the action, too. They had a harder time because the larger-bodied pigeons were able to push them around. But the sparrows still got an occasional nibble.
For more birds and other critters, see the Friday Ark, which turns 100 today.
I and the Bird turns 30 today. A new I and the Bird is ready for reading at Burning Silo. There are plenty of good essays linked, so take some time to read through them all.
The next edition will be in two weeks at migrateblog.
This week, Darren Rowse has been running one of his group writing projects; this time the subject is list posts. After I saw Mike's list of 12 reasons to become a bird watcher, I decided to add a list of my own. Just to be contrarian, I tried to come up with a few reasons not to start birding.
There are some new blog carnivals out this week. Here are a few that featured my posts, with the most recent first.
BP's 22 miles of transit pipelines carried 8 percent of the nation's crude oil, but they were not subject to the same Transportation Department requirements as other pipelines, experts say. Those requirements exempt pipelines that operate at low pressure in rural areas and far from commercially navigable waters.There is talk of making low-pressure lines subject to the same regulations as the high-pressure lines. Let's hope the government will do that, and enforce the regulations.
Although BP has admitted that it let as much as 14 years lapse without using cleaning and diagnostic devices known as "pigs" in key transit pipelines, it is not clear that the company violated any federal regulations.
That has not mollified Thomas Barrett, head of the Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. In an interview yesterday, he said that the maintenance of the BP pipelines was "well below the standard of care I would expect from a company like BP -- regulations or not." He said his agency would soon propose new rules to cover low-pressure lines like these near sensitive areas.
State regulators failed to fill the oversight gap that's existed until now. Kurt Fredriksson, commissioner of Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation, said that his agency knew that BP had not used the pigs on its 30- to 34-inch transit lines since 1992 in one case and 1998 in another, but that it accepted the company's reasoning about why that was not necessary and why the company could rely on more narrow ultrasound examinations.
Fall migration is already upon us. In fact, it has been upon us for about a month now. Like spring migration, fall migration proceeds in a series of stages, with certain species or families dominating each stage. In contrast to spring migration, fall migration is less compressed, occurring over a period of about five months, as opposed to the three months of spring migration.
August is the time for shorebirds to move through the Mid-Atlantic region. The best way to experience shorebird migration is to visit one of the many large refuges along the Atlantic coast, as I did on Saturday. If you are stuck inland, there are still opportunities to see shorebirds as they pass through the area. (See, for example, this list of Maryland shorebird sites.) While species diversity is more limited, inland sites often provide an opportunity to study birds up close, without the need for a spotting scope. Shorebirds that commonly occur inland include the subjects of today's essay, greater and lesser yellowlegs.
Yellowlegs are the graceful counterparts to the many squat or chunky members of the sandpiper family. Unlike most other shorebirds, they have long yellow legs and elegantly-shaped head and neck. Their long legs allow them to wade out into deeper water where other shorebirds cannot go. There they hunt for insects and crustaceans, as well as an occasional small fish.
Since low tide was early this morning, I headed over to Kenilworth to check for shorebirds. I got there when it opened, and very few other people were around aside from the garden staff. The aquatic plants are still in bloom, but most lotuses have already lost their petals.
The best perspective on the marsh for shorebirding is from the end of the river trail. For whatever reason, shorebirds seem to prefer the mudflats over there to the ones near the boardwalk trail. This morning I saw greater and lesser yellowlegs, spotted sandpipers, and lots of killdeer. That is not bad for D.C., but I had been hoping to spot another species or two.
There were many green herons in the gardens this morning. Most seemed to be hatch year birds. They gave a higher-pitched call than the adults when they flushed. As I walked through the impoundments, at least five flew up into the trees. Even more were out in the marsh.
SPECIES SEEN: 36
Great Blue Heron
Here is some good news.
The five robbers who frightened and assaulted tourists on the Mall in recent months were a group of young neighborhood friends who rode the Metro to a site they thought was a "sweet spot," officials said yesterday.I would not advise walking on the Mall alone at night now, but it is good to know that this particular group is off the streets.
U.S. Park Police have charged the District residents, ages 16 to 22, with crimes related to five incidents on the Mall in which 12 tourists were attacked, some of them viciously, in May and July. Officials said the suspects were traced through credit cards and a stolen cellphone.
Because of the lack of action from the Bush administration and Congress on environmental issues, many cities and states are taking the initiative on matters of global warming and energy consumption. As my last post noted, Chicago is one of these cities. The initiatives include requiring development of alternative energy sources and cutbacks in carbon dioxide emissions.
Recently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have set standards demanding that utilities generate a specific amount of energy -- in some cases, as high as 33 percent -- from renewable sources by 2020. And 11 states have set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.Such moves are necessary in the light of increasing evidence that our planet is about to undergo radical changes in climate. (And some changes appear to be underway already.) Unfortunately there is much grumbling.
California also has passed legislation mandating that automakers reduce their vehicles' carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2016, and 10 other states have committed to adopt the same standards if the law survives a court challenge.
In addition, as many as 10 states in the Northeast are working to establish state-by-state ceilings for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and allow industries such as power plants to trade pollution credits for carbon emissions while cutting greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2019. California, Oregon and Washington are negotiating a similar pact.
Margo Thorning, senior vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation, said this array of state regulations could harm the U.S. economy.In a sense this is correct; state and local regulations can only accomplish so much in the face of a nationwide problem. The trouble is that industry lobbyists who complain about patchwork policies are likely the same who have stood in the way of a national comprehensive plan to address global warming for years now.
"I don't think it's terribly helpful to have the industry wondering what are the car standards in California vis-a-vis the standards in Arizona," said Thorning, whose think tank is funded in part by Exxon Mobil Corp. "It adds a lot of uncertainty and slows the kind of investment we'd like to see in the U.S."