Friday, April 03, 2020

Loose Feathers #743

Masked Booby / USFWS Photo
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, March 27, 2020

Loose Feathers #742

American Robin / my photo
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, March 20, 2020

Loose Feathers #741

Brown-headed Cowbirds / my photo
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
  • The Forest Service is finishing work on removing 81 dams from watersheds within Cleveland National Forest in California to reopen the streams for spawning fish. Most of the dams are small and date to the mid-20th century. Like small dams removed elsewhere, many had become safety hazards.
  • Like other marine animals, sea turtles may eat plastic because it smells like food. The odor is probably caused by algae or other microbes growing on the plastic.
  • Lack of experience with nature leads some people to fear it and hampers conservation efforts
  • At least some toads can heal themselves of a chytrid infection by basking in the open and raising their body temperatures to a point that kills the fungus.
  • Tracking data from seabirds and marine mammals is being used to find biodiversity hotspots in the Southern Ocean.
  • Seattle is redesigning its seawall along Elliott Bay to make it more hospitable to marine life.
  • Monarch migration to Mexico dropped by 53%.
Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, March 13, 2020

Loose Feathers #740

Black-capped Chickadee / Photo by David Ellis/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, March 06, 2020

Loose Feathers #739

American Robin / my photo
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, February 28, 2020

Loose Feathers #738

Mallard / my photo
Birds and birding news
  • Three native honeycreeper species on Kauai are starting to sound like each other because their populations have declined so much. The loss of distinctive songs could make it harder for them to find mates and worsen their chances for survival.
  • A recent article describes three new tapaculo species from Peru.
  • Industrial krill fishing off the Antarctic Peninsula makes life harder for penguins
  • The Saltmarsh Sparrow is the only bird species unique to East Coast saltmarshes, and its survival is threatened because sea level rise is steadily turning the high marsh where it nests into low marsh.
  • Black-throated Blue Warblers are migrating about five days earlier than they did in the 1960s.
  • Raptors that eat from higher levels of the food web accumulate more mercury in their bodies. 
  • Sea lions in Chile suddenly started preying on the largest breeding colony of Black-necked Swans, raising questions about whether this would affect the swans' population and if the predation could be stopped.
  • Harriet Tubman used bird calls (especially Barred Owl) as a signal to people she was helping to escape from slavery.
  • A new report on the state of India's birds found that 50% of species had declined over the past two decades and 79% had declined within the past five years.
  • Toxic chemicals can build up in the bodies of seabirds that have eaten plastic.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service is attempting to eradicate house mice from the South Farallon Islands to protect a breeding colony of Ashy Storm-Petrels.
  • A viral story about a poodle being carried off by a hawk is probably false
  • Electrocution has become one of the top threats to Bald Eagles and other raptor species in New Jersey.
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
  • Conservationists are worried about the potential for extinctions if a chytrid fungus spreads among the many salamander species in Appalachia.
  • Bolivia and Paraguay are developing a joint conservation plan for wild guanacos.
  • Delaware has a plan to remove or modify the ten remaining dams on its section of Brandywine Creek to restore fish migration. 
  • The number of Monarchs that winter in California remained critically low for the second straight year.
  • Planting native plants can help reverse insect declines.
Climate change and environmental politics
  • The Supreme Court heard arguments this week over whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could cross the Appalachian Trail without Congressional approval. (The land is within a national forest, but the trail is administered by the National Park Service.) The case could set a precedent for trails elsewhere in the country.
  • Meanwhile, a pipeline developer cancelled plans to build a natural gas pipeline through the Catskill Mountains, and a proposed tar sands mining development in Alberta collapsed because investors were concerned it might not be profitable. The cancellation of the latter project saved thousands of acres of boreal forest.
  • Unusually warm summers in coastal Alaska caused major changes in the distribution of marine life. 
  • Climate change is also making shellfish toxic for indigenous Alaskans.
  • The EPA is asking the public (including polluters) which regulations to get rid of.
  • The Trump administration abruptly shut down a study of potential storm surge solutions for New York Harbor and Raritan Bay. Environmentalists opposed the centerpiece of the study, a six-mile barrier across the mouth of the bay because it would concentrate pollutants and sediment in the estuary and possibly harm marine life.
  • This year California's new groundwater regulations will begin to go into effect. Wells will still be allowed, but pumping will be limited to sustainable levels.
  • This winter is on track to being one of the least snowy winters in New Jersey on record. 
  • A fire burned through part of Worthington State Forest in the Delaware Water Gap this week.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Loose Feathers #737

Blue Jay / Photo by J. Meyers/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics
  • Winters have been warming faster than summers (much like colder places are warming faster than hotter places) and warmer winters have a host of cascading effects, from reducing the snowpack in the West to increasing the number of disease-carrying and invasive insects in the East.
  • The Trump administration's weakening of federal protections for waterways will have the worst effects in states without strong local protections. The rule also has the potential to undo progress in the Chesapeake region, where some states have made more of an effort than others to clean up the watershed.
  • The Trump administration is pushing ahead with weakening standards for mercury emissions despite opposition from the electric industry. Coal companies want the rollback, however.
  • A new study suggests that methane emissions from fossil fuel operations are much higher than previous estimates.
  • Because of the prevailing winds, coal-fired power plants in the Midwest contribute to air pollution on the East Coast, and the EPA seems disinclined to take action.
  • Indigenous activists have been fighting the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline across their territory in British Columbia. 
  • Climate change has been rising as a priority for voters, but there is still a large divide between Republican and Democratic voters on the issue.
  • Here is a primer on why single-use plastics are a problem and how to reduce their usage. 
  • A federal study is assessing pollution from the Diamond Alkali Superfund site to inform cleanup of the site and the Passaic River.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Loose Feathers #736

Great Horned Owl / Photo by Bill Moses/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics
  • Oil released in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 covered a much larger area than estimated at the time because some of the oil was not visible on satellite imagery. Safety regulations intended to prevent a similar disaster have since been removed by the Trump administration.
  • The Trump administration's changes to enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act would eliminate the fines that BP received for killing birds with the Deepwater Horizon spill.
  • Last month was the hottest January on record worldwide, and this month looks likely to continue that trend.
  • Officials in Alberta have no idea how to clean up the toxic tailings ponds that result from tar sands mining. Meanwhile, the ponds are a death trap for waterbirds and contribute to air and groundwater pollution.
  • A climate change plan for South Florida involves building miles of massive sea walls and tidal barriers.
  • The person running the Bureau of Land Management has devoted his life to privatizing public land, even if that means collaborating with dangerous conspiracy theorists.
  • Border wall construction is blasting through Native American burial grounds and other sites of historical and ecological importance.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Loose Feathers #735

Northern Pintail / Photo by K. Chelius/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics
  • The Trump administration announced plans to open contested parts of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments to mining and drilling.
  • A second environmentalist who worked to protect Monarchs at the El Rosario sanctuary in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve has been murdered. Habitat for the butterflies is threatened by illegal logging.
  • Early models of how carbon emissions might affect the climate are surprisingly accurate.
  • London police want to expand the public nuisance law to restrict Extinction Rebellion protests. This is part of a trend of governments clamping down and spying on environmental activists rather than taking action on climate change.
  • Contractors for the border wall are blasting through Monument Hill in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, part of a trail of destruction left by wall construction. 
  • In many places, the border wall will need floodgates to be left open for months to prevent flood damage during monsoon season. 
  • While a lot of campaign reporting has focused on whether platforms have a realistic chance of getting passed, a climate reporter argues that only the plans put forward by Sanders and Warren have a realistic chance of dealing with climate change.
  • A road through grizzly bear habitat along the Canadian border is being reopened for the benefit of the border patrol. 
  • The rate of sea level rise is increasing at 25 of the 32 measuring stations along the U.S. coastline. The highest rate is in Louisiana, where sea level rise is exacerbated by land subsidence.
  • The Antarctic Peninsula set a new temperature record for continental Antarctica.
  • Spain ended its subsidies for coal mining last year and eliminated most of its use of coal for electricity generation. The reforms were meant to comply with EU regulations.
  • Japan, on the other, plans to build more coal-fired power plants, a result of the reaction against nuclear energy following the Fukushima disaster.
  • Biodiversity hotspots that were considered refuges from climate change are going to be stressed by global heating.
  • New Jersey had record warmth this January.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Loose Feathers #734

Pine Grosbeak / USFWS Photo
Birds and birding news
  • Albatrosses equipped with radar detectors are being used to track illegal fishing that might otherwise go undetected. Out of 353 ships that albatrosses detected, only 253 had the required transponders turned on.
  • A study looked at the relationship between parasites and nestling size in Tree Swallows.
  • New technologies and building materials could save billions of birds from fatal window strikes.
  • Snow Buntings are widespread through the northern U.S. in winter. Here is a guide to finding and identifying them.
  • Wildfires burned through over 50% of the habitat for the northern and central populations of Superb Lyrebird. Albert's Lyrebird and some owl species also lost significant portions of their habitats.
  • Volunteers conducted the North and South Abaco CBCs this winter for the first time since Hurricane Dorian devastated the island. Birds fared better on the south end of the island, but both counts were lower than usual.
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
  • Orchids are among the most difficult plants to protect because of their popularity among collectors as well as the difficulty of raising them for reintroduction. Now 32 orchid species are feared extinct in Bangladesh alone. 
  • Insects and other invertebrates may be among the hardest-hit animals in the Australian wildfires because of the way that complete habitats were burned.
  • One invertebrate that did survive is the bright pink Mount Kaputar Slug.
  • Australian conservationists are encouraging people to document the plants and wildlife they see in burned areas using iNaturalist.
  • Rising acidity in the Pacific is causing the shells of Dungeness crabs to dissolve.
  • Here is a review of the current state of the Everglades, which is threatened by rising sea levels, development, and invasive species.
  • Cape Town is trying to manage conflicts between its residents and the baboons that enter the city from the nearby Table Mountain National Park.
  • Brazilian entomologists discovered a new, brilliantly-colored species of sharpshooter, a type of planthopper, in southeastern Brazil.
  • Bolivian Cochran Frogs have been rediscovered after not being seen for 18 years.
  • Iridescence may be a counterintuitive form of camouflage. Even though the elytra of jewel beetles are shiny, birds seem to have trouble picking them out.
  • Dragonflies and damselflies have similar neural wiring that makes them effective predators but attack prey in different ways. Damselflies attack prey in front of them, while dragonflies seize prey from below.
  • Purple coneflowers are among the many plants that flourish in the aftermath of fires. In their case it seems to be that they get more attention from pollinators after fires.
Climate change and environmental politics
  • The Trump administration is seeking to codify its weakened enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This would essentially legalize all sorts of "incidental" bird killing, from hunters shooting endangered Whooping Cranes to large flocks of waterbirds landing in toxic retention ponds.
  • A Mexican conservationist, Homero Gómez González, was found dead after being missing for two weeks. The cause of death is unclear, but it is likely to be related to his work protecting wintering Monarchs from illegal logging. 
  • Scientists measured extremely warm water temperatures beneath the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, which is already melting and contributing to sea level rise.
  • Communities in Pennsylvania have been dealing with contaminated water since a spill related to the Mariner East pipeline, which carries natural gas from fracking sites.
  • A federal appeals court upheld the designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

  • A newly-installed portion of the border wall fell over due to high winds.
  • Colombian environmentalists are unhappy with their government over a variety of issues, from continuing deforestation to fracking and extractive industries to violence against environmental and social leaders.
  • Murphy signed an executive order committing New Jersey to a goal of 100% clean energy by 2050 as well as updating land-use regulations to account for sea level rise. Most of the details still have to be filled in, however. 
  • There is a proposal to make either the endangered Little Brown Bat or the Big Brown Bat the official state mammal of Washington, DC.