Sunday, October 23, 2005

Odds and Ends

"Odds and Ends" is my irregular series of links to news that impacts birds and the environment.

  • The reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park has changed the composition of the plant and animal communities in the park considerably. By preying on elk herds - among the largest in North America - wolves have reduced their numbers and driven them to move around more. With less grazing by the elk, previously dormant plant communities such as aspen and willow have returned, and "songbirds like the yellow warbler and Lincoln sparrow have increased where new vegetation stands are thriving."
  • While introducing wolves in the east may not be politically or ecologically feasible, the results in Yellowstone should encourage greater efforts to control the population of white-tailed deer. The deer population has boomed, devastating farms and forests alike, and creating increasing hazards on roads. At the moment, increased hunting - especially of does - seems like the most efficient solution, but this has run into opposition from hunters.
  • As winter approaches, many bird watchers are preparing to provide backyard feeding stations for wintering birds. Here is a list of recommendations for feeding birds safely and efficiently.
  • If you have a hummingbird feeder, you might want to consider maintaining it through the fall and winter; hummingbirds from the west - especially rufous hummingbirds - have been wintering along the east coast with increasing regularity. (See also this excellent post on how hummingbirds use torpor to survive cold nights.)
  • A silhouette image of a peregrine falcon chasing a flock of starlings has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. The photograph is truly impressive.
  • Brown creepers are exceptionally hard to see, not because they are particularly rare but because they are very well camoutflaged. An article in the Booth Bay Register explains how they do it, and how to find them.
  • A wildlife biologist working for the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland is tracking nocturnal bird migration through the Appalachian Mountains with the use of digital sound recorders placed in 30 locations. The point of the research is to establish migration routes for greater understanding of migration and to provide data to help locate wind farms in areas where they will cause the least death toll among migratory birds.
  • With the fears about the spread of avian influenza, there has been a rush to blame the spread of H5N1 on migratory birds, with proposals to cull wild birds or drain wetlands. Environmental groups are cautioning against a rush to judgment here, since such actions may be counterproductive, and most cases of H5N1 have been among populations of domestic poultry. (Charlie's Bird Blog, among others, has been attacking the migratory bird hypothesis and media hype for several months.) The use of the word "pandemic" strikes me as a bit premature; if H5N1 jumps to humans it may become a pandemic, but 65 human deaths around the world - while tragic - do not amount to a pandemic. The 1918 flu was a pandemic; AIDS in Africa is a pandemic; the current poultry flu is not, so far at least. (Our governments do need to take precautions such as monitoring the disease and ordering more vaccines.) Cornell has additional information on the subject.
  • Finally, Cornell recently posted a new set of reviews of binoculars for birders from various price ranges.