Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oil Spill Updates

A US Fish and Wildlife officer tries to rescue an oiled bird 

BP plans to try a static kill of the broken well on Tuesday.
Wells described the static kill as a multi-step process that will start with what he called an "injectivity test" to determine the speed at which technicians will force heavy drilling mud into the well in hopes of driving the crude oil in the well back into the reservoir. Once the optimal speed is determined, technicians would pump mud in until pressure in the well has dropped to zero, indicating that the well has been contained.

At that point, technicians will dump cement into the well to permanently close it.

Wells didn't say how long the static kill would take. He said engineers believe the wellbore holds about 2,000 barrels of oil, or about 84,000 gallons. BP has 12,000 barrels of drilling mud standing by for the procedure, he said.

The goal is to force all of the oil back into the reservoir 13,000 feet below the sea floor in what is known as a "bullhead kill." Each gallon of drilling mud weighs 13.2 pounds. A gallon of oil weighs about seven pounds.
If the static kill works, BP will still complete its relief well to seal the well bore from the bottom as well. The relief well is almost complete, and a bottom kill process will probably start in mid-August.

A longer term question is what will happen to the marshes that have been coated with oil.
The oil physically smothers the surface plants, then penetrates deeply into the marsh soil. Plants may die, but the roots can still hold the soil together. If those are damaged too, erosion occurs.

When the roots wash away, the marshes turn to open water, said Mark LaSalle, executive director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.

Once a marsh is coated, officials have several options, he said. They can burn the plants, use low-pressure flushing, cut back vegetation or use biomedical remediation. He's not a fan of any of those options because they can do more damage than the oil.

Doing nothing, he said, may actually be the best solution. "Any kind of physical action in marshes is ill advised," he said.
The future state of the marshes is not just an aesthetic concern since they provide a breeding ground for birds and other animals and protect inland areas from the worst effects of storms.



Friday, July 30, 2010

Loose Feathers #249

Tree Swallow in Box / Photo by Donna Dewhurst (USFWS)

Birds and birding news
Birds in the blogosphere
Oil Spill
Environment and biodiversity

Thursday, July 29, 2010

NOAA Reports on the State of the Climate in 2009

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association released its first State of the Climate report yesterday. The report uses data through 2009 and looks at key climate indicators. The data for those indicators is consistent with a warming climate.
Based on comprehensive data from multiple sources, the report defines 10 measurable planet-wide features used to gauge global temperature changes. The relative movement of each of these indicators proves consistent with a warming world. Seven indicators are rising: air temperature over land, sea-surface temperature, air temperature over oceans, sea level, ocean heat, humidity and tropospheric temperature in the “active-weather” layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface. Three indicators are declining: Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere....

The report emphasizes that human society has developed for thousands of years under one climatic state, and now a new set of climatic conditions are taking shape. These conditions are consistently warmer, and some areas are likely to see more extreme events like severe drought, torrential rain and violent storms....

While year-to-year changes in temperature often reflect natural climatic variations such as El Niño/La Niña events, changes in average temperature from decade-to-decade reveal long-term trends such as global warming. Each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the decade before. At the time, the 1980s was the hottest decade on record. In the 1990s, every year was warmer than the average of the previous decade. The 2000s were warmer still.

“The temperature increase of one degree Fahrenheit over the past 50 years may seem small, but it has already altered our planet,” said Deke Arndt, co-editor of the report and chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “Glaciers and sea ice are melting, heavy rainfall is intensifying and heat waves are more common. And, as the new report tells us, there is now evidence that over 90 percent of warming over the past 50 years has gone into our ocean.”
According to the report, the years 2000-2009 stand as the warmest decade on record. The full State of the Climate in 2009 report is available as a pdf and is accompanied by a site where you can examine the data behind the report.

NOAA also created a portal for the government's climate data,

Besides the climate report, there is an interesting post at RealClimate about the paper that first used the term "global warming." That journal article, "Are we on the brink of a pronounced global warming?" by Wally Broecker, will be 35 years old as of August 8. At the time, the climate was near the end of a 30-year cooling trend that had canceled the effect of carbon dioxide emissions. Broecker foresaw that increasing emissions of carbon dioxide would reverse this trend and cause rapid warming. He predicted a 0.8°C temperature rise over the 20th century, which is fairly close to what happened. RealClimate explains what led him to those conclusions.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pollution Regulations Could Reduce Greenhouse Gases

By now you are probably aware that there will not be a comprehensive climate bill this year. There might be a smaller bill, but in the meantime, climate action will be up to the EPA. There has already been some movement on regulating greenhouse gas emissions from major sources. In addition to that initiative, mercury regulations have potential to reduce greenhouse gases indirectly.

That is because scientists say mercury from coal accumulates in many fish. Children and babies exposed to the metal, through mother's milk or eating contaminated fish, are at risk of learning and developmental problems. Adults who eat too many of the fish also face risks....

When combined with the EPA's other current and coming rules on "criteria" pollutants, like ones that cause acid rain and smog, the mercury measure would force utilities to invest tens of millions of dollars on technologies to remove the substances....

Francois Broquin, a co-author of reports on coal by Bernstein Research, said the combined rules could push as much as 20 percent of U.S. coal-fired electric generation capacity to retire by 2015. "Obviously that will have an impact," he said.

Frank O'Donnell, the president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch, said that if a large chunk of the coal-fired power fleet went into retirement it could help the country exceed Obama's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020....

Utilities would likely build plants to burn natural gas, which emits half the carbon that coal does, as the main alternative. Alternative energy like wind and solar power, which provided the most new U.S. electricity capacity last year, could also become more attractive to utilities.
A reduction of 17% (or somewhat less than that) by 2020 is well below what is needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change. However, it is better than nothing and could build some momentum for better climate change policy. Perhaps in future years the political climate will be more favorable to passing a climate change law with deeper cuts.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review: Molt in North American Birds

Molt, the annual cycle of feather growth, is vital to a bird's survival. Without strong flight feathers, a bird could not fly well enough to forage, escape predators, or migrate. Body feathers must be replaced regularly because a bird with worn feathers would risk hypothermia and would not be able to fly as efficiently. Since molt is such an important part of a bird's life history, it is useful for birders and ornithologists to understand how the molt cycle works. A new guide in the Peterson series, Molt in North American Birds, by Steve N.G. Howell, explains the process in a text accessible for non-specialists.

The book is divided into two major parts: an introduction on the purpose and types of molt and a guide to how molt works in individual families. The introduction begins with feather biology, and then moves to molt patterns. Most bird species follow one of four fundamental molt strategies: simple basic strategy, complex basic strategy, simple alternate strategy, or complex alternate strategy. A bird follows a basic strategy if it has one full molt per year; a bird following an alternate strategy has one full molt (into basic plumage) and a second partial molt of head and body feathers (into alternate plumage). Birds using an alternate strategy will often molt into a colorful alternate plumage before the breeding season and a drab basic plumage once the breeding season ends. A strategy is simple if a juvenile molts directly into adult basic plumage; a complex strategy involves at least one immature or formative plumage before a bird attains its adult appearance. Which strategy a species adopts depends on environmental and behavioral factors in its life history, such as whether it migrates long distances.

The introduction describes how each of these strategies work in the real world, using examples of bird species from many different families. High quality photographs show the progression of plumages in various stages of molt. Some photographs are overlaid with text that identifies particular feather tracts or generations of feathers. Exceptionally large birds may take longer to replace their flight feathers, so that one feather generation may still be growing in when the next generation starts to replace it.

Following the introduction, Molt has a series of family accounts. The accounts describe what molt strategies each family uses and how those strategies suit the family's life history. The needs of a species or family may prompt variations on the four fundamental molt strategies. Ducks, for example, are unusual in having a colorful basic plumage and a drab alternate plumage (with a few exceptions) since they form pair bonds during the winter and early spring. They also molt all of their flight feathers at once to take advantage of abundant food supplies and cover during the late summer, whereas most birds replace flight feathers gradually. As with the introduction, the family accounts are illustrated with photographs showing examples of plumage types within a family. Some of the photos in this section are amazing, such as a Great Shearwater touching a glassy sea just enough for its wingtip to leave a small trail in the water.

Intermediate and advanced birders will benefit the most from the book as it helps to have some basic familiarity with how plumage changes through the seasons. However, anyone interested in birds could learn something from Molt. Replacing feathers changes a bird's appearance, so the timing and types of molt can be used to establish a bird's age. Knowing how to age birds based on molt and plumage patterns can be useful for sorting out tricky identifications. Being aware of plumage details and molt can also be used to establish how many individuals of a species are present in a location or what times the age groups of a species are migrating. All of these things deepen our understanding of birds.

Molt in North American Birds is the second advanced guide to appear in the Peterson Reference Guide series. Like its predecessor in the series, Gulls of the Americas, this book will work best as a reference for study at home. I am pleased to see that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is producing advanced reference guides to supplement the field guide series, and I hope that the reference guide series continues to grow.

Steve N.G. Howell, Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. $35.00 hardcover.

This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Alarm Systems Switched Off on the Deepwater Horizon Rig

According to testimony given during the Congressional investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the drilling rig's alarm systems had been switched off on the day the rig exploded:

Williams told the hearing today that no alarms went off on the day of the explosion because they had been "inhibited". Sensors monitoring conditions on the rig and in the Macondo oil well beneath it were still working, but the computer had been instructed not to trigger any alarms in case of adverse readings.

Both visual and sound alarms should have gone off in the case of sensors detecting fire or dangerous levels of combustible or toxic gases.

The evidence of deliberate dilution of the rig's safety mechanisms is likely to have wide ramifications for BP and Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling company. It switches the spotlight of blame away from BP and towards the subcontractor which took the decisions. Of the 126 crew on board the rig on 20 April, seven worked for BP and 79 for Transocean.

Williams said he discovered that the physical alarm system had been disabled a full year before the disaster. When he asked why, he said he was told that the view from even the most senior Transocean official on the rig had been that "they did not want people woken up at three o'clock in the morning due to false alarms".
In a third significant disclosure, Williams also revealed that a computer system used to monitor the drill shack was constantly freezing up, and on one occasion even produced wrong information. The system failed to indicate that a vital valve inside the blowout preventer, the device designed to shut down the well in case of problems, had been damaged.
It is likely that fewer crew members would have died if the alarms had been working. Whether the alarms would have prevented the explosion and subsequent spill remains unclear (to me, anyway). I hope that future hearings will explore that point in more detail.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lepidoptera at Negri-Nepote Preserve

I was at Negri-Nepote Grasslands Preserve yesterday. It was another blisteringly hot day, one of too many this summer. The sky was a gorgeous blue (click image at right for a larger version), and a variety of insects were buzzing. Some birds were active, but most of the singing has stopped at this point. I saw more Eastern Bluebirds than I usually do, including a few juveniles. I think that a Field Sparrow and an Eastern Kingbird that I saw may also have been juveniles. American Kestrels were active in the main field.

One question on my mind was what had become of the dead Glossy Ibis, which was found under suspicious circumstances. I did not see any sign of a dead ibis at the pond, but the blind that overlooks the pond was still full of plastic pellets. (You can see a small portion of them in the photo at left.) I hope this means that a state wildlife official took the bird. I did see some shorebirds at the pond, including Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Least Sandpiper. There was also a Green Heron; according to eBird it was the first time I have seen one in Somerset County.

There were a variety of butterfly species active, including the ubiquitous Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Clouded Sulphurs, as well as a lady species that I did not see long enough to identify. The butterfly above is a new species for me, Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta). It is new for me mainly because I did not know to look for it until recently; I had always assumed these were a summer population of Spring Azures (Celastrina ladon). You can read more about the identification and taxonomy azures at BugGuide and about the Summer Azure species at Butterflies and Moths of North America.

Another common summer blue is the Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas), notable for the small tails on the hindwings. Though they are common, these butterflies are small and move quickly, so that it is difficult to approach closely to study or photograph them.

This moth is a new species for me, Obtuse Yellow (Azenia obtusa). It is a very small member of the Noctuidae. I flushed this moth from the grass as I walked.

The final species is a Maple Looper Moth (Parallelia bistriaris) that I flushed from the trail through the woods. I was able to watch where it landed and find it; luckily it sat long enough for a series of photos, none of which is very good. The one above shows most of the key markings.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Crambid Moths at My Door

Moths in the family Crambidae are usually tiny. Their long, projecting mouth parts give the appearance of a snout, so members of the family are sometimes called "snout moths." While resting, they roll their wings around their body so that their bodies appear angular. This makes them inconspicuous when they rest on stems or leaves. The Crambid moths in this post came to the back door the last time I left the porchlight on for them.

The two photos above are both of the same moth, which I think is a Bluegrass Webworm Moth (Parapediasia teterrella). The smoothly curving subterminal line and toothed post median line are distinctive. These moths are found in grasses; you may flush them (or their close relatives) as you walk through a grassy field or lawn. According to BugGuide, the larvae feed mainly on bluegrass and tall fescue.

The next moth is a Lucerne Moth (Nomophila nearctica). This is a common species that I have posted here before. This individual is more darkly marked than the one I found at Davidson Mill Pond Park.

The next moth is a Changeable Grass-veneer (Fissicrambus mutabilis). These moths are found in lawns and other grassy places; their larvae feed on grasses. Above you can get a close look at the mouthparts (palps) that form its snout.

This is the same moth perched on the side of an empty film container that I use for collecting specimens. I refrigerate any that I capture and then release them once I have photographed them. This angle gives a better view of the key markings, the post median and subterminal lines. The photo also shows a characteristic posture of grass-veneer moths; often they sit with their heads angled down and the tips of their wings angled up. I am not sure if this provides better camouflage or if it helps the moth take flight faster.

I think that this last moth may also be a Changeable Grass-veneer, though it lacks evidence of a subterminal line. The other related species do not fit quite as well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Loose Feathers #248

Yellow-crowned Night Heron / Photo by Eugene F. Hester (USFWS)

Birds and birding news
Birds in the blogosphere
Oil Spill
Environment and biodiversity
Finally, if you have not read it yet, you should see Bora Zivkovic's Farewell to Scienceblogs, a long essay on the development of science and nature  blogging and problems at

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I and the Bird

I and the Bird #130 is online at Count your chicken! We're taking over!

My own contribution to this collection was my post on color-marked Piping Plovers. If you have not read it yet, you should.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Skippers on Flowers

Compared to large and colorful butterflies like swallowtails and Monarchs, skippers are usually difficult to identify. Even so, they are easier than most of the moths that I find, but they are still tricky. Consider the skipper pictured above. It is small, brown, and has almost no distinctive markings. I think that makes it a Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris), but it is difficult to be sure with such a plain butterfly.

This one looks easier to identify, but that did not stop me from misidentifying it at first.When I first looked through my butterfly guide, I thought it was a Sachem because none of the others seemed like good matches. Thanks to some of my Flickr contacts, I found out that it is actually a Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator). What threw me was that my guide's images seemed to show a much brighter and more contrasting streak down the middle of the hindwing. Apparently the hindwing can look plainer, as this one does.

I liked this view of a Broad-winged Skipper feeding on phlox.

Luckily not all skippers are quite as difficult. The one above was a new species for me but fairly easy to find in the guide. This is a Peck's Skipper (Polites peckius). This one was tiny, even for a skipper. You can see how small it is if you compare its size relative to the flowers to the Broad-winged Skippers above.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Rest of the Moths from Davidson Mill Pond Park

As I mentioned in my post on the Imperial Moth, I saw at least eight species of moths in Davidson Mill Pond Park last Thursday evening. This post will cover the rest of them. The first one I saw was a Snowberry Clearwing, a species similar to the Hummingbird Clearwing I posted yesterday. I will try to get a better photo of one this summer so I can post one here.

The moth at top is a Green Cloverworm Moth (Hypena scabra), a very common species. This individual is more lightly marked than many of the reference photos I have seen, but the basic pattern is still evident. I have already seen one of these this year. As the name suggests, larvae feed on clover, as well as raspberries, strawberries, and other meadow plants.

The second moth is my favorite one of this group, but also the most difficult to identify. The problem is that many of the scales have worn off the upperside of the wings, and a lot of the markings have disappeared with them. With that caveat, I think this may be an example of Hesperumia latipennis. If you think this is something else, feel free to suggest an alternate identification in the comments.

Like the moth above, the third moth is a tricky Geometer. I think this one is a Gray Spring Moth (Lomographa glomeraria). All three of the first three moths (along with the Imperial Moth) were attracted to the flood lights around the park's education building. Many other insects, including a few tiny micromoths, were attracted to the lights as well. This made me wonder if the lights produced light in the UV spectrum or if the insects were drawn simply because the lights were so bright.

I saw the rest of the moths earlier in the evening when there was still daylight. This is a Garden Webworm Moth (Achyra rantalis), a member of the Crambidae family. This is a common moth around vegetable gardens, where their larvae can feed on low plants. I saw two individuals within a short distance of each other that night.

The next is a Lucerne Moth (Nomophila nearctica), a species I have seen before. Like the previous moth, this is a Crambid. This is a very lightly marked individual, but it still shows the characteristic dark splotches along the leading edges of the forewings.

The last moth for this post is a Common Idia (Idia aemula). This species certainly lives up to its common name in my area. I have already seen multiple examples of it this season. This individual seems more lightly marked than some of the other Idias, like this one.

Seeing so many moths in such a short period made me wonder what one could find with a sheet and mercury vapor lamp at that location. It would be interesting to find out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

If you look carefully in flower gardens and meadows, you might find one of these large insects. Easily mistaken for a bee or hummingbird, it is actually a moth. This is a Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), one of several clearwing moth species. I found several of these moths working the same patch of Monarda at Willowwood Arboretum on Saturday.

Clearwing moths are members of the family Sphingidae, made up of hawk and sphinx moths. Adult clearwings hover like hummingbirds as they sip nectar from flowers. Unlike most moth species, clearwings are active during the day and are easily seen.

One other clearwing species is common in my area – Snowberry Clearwing. The two species can be distinguished by their wing patterns. Hummingbird Clearwings have a partial dark crossband running through the clear area of their wings, and the border between the clear and dark area on the trailing edge of the wings looks more jagged. Snowberry Clearwings lack the crossband and have a smooth border between light and dark areas.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Imperial Moth

On Thursday evening I was at Davidson Mill Pond Park for a short nature walk and meeting. Before and after the meeting I photographed at least eight different species of moth and saw a few more moths that I was not able to photograph (mainly because they were too fast or small for the equipment I had with me). I will probably post a few more of them once I get them identified, but there is one in particular that deserves its own post.

During the last of the presentations, a large moth started flying against one of the earth center's windows. Once the meeting was done, I went outside and found this Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis) on the ground underneath the window. I picked it up and showed it to some of the other attendees, and then I put it back outside in a place where I could photograph it more easily and where it would only have to fly a short distance to find cover.

Imperial Moths belong to the family Saturniidae, a group of large and colorful moths that are easily identified if spotted. Many adult Saturniids, or silkmoths, lack mouthparts and do not feed; that is the case for this species. Imperial Moth larvae feed on a variety of host plants, including both conifers and deciduous trees. Like other silkmoths, the body of the Imperial Moth has a furry appearance. This individual was shedding hairs, some of which you can see on the leaf in the detail above.

One of the most charming aspects of this moth was the face, shown in the image above. I believe this individual is a female.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

SkyWatch: Swallowtails

Since the start of summer I have been seeing more large butterflies, especially Monarchs and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. So far I have mostly seen male swallowtails, such as this one nectaring at a neighbor's butterfly bush, but presumably some females are around or about to emerge.

This swallowtail looks worse for wear. It must have had a narrow escape from a bird while its wings were folded, as large chunks are missing from both hindwings.

Photos links to larger images on Flickr.

Color-marked Plovers Moving South

You may remember that last winter, I wrote about a research program studying the Piping Plover population that winters in the Bahamas. Bird banders caught 57 plovers and marked their legs with colored plastic bands so that the individual birds could be identified by sight – with spotting scopes, possibly binoculars, or cameras with telephoto lenses. This makes it easier birders and refuge staff to report the locations of the banded plovers as they migrate and breed.

Now that the plover breeding season is winding down and birds are starting to leave their breeding grounds, we can review the findings so far. During the breeding season, 38 of the 57 plovers were seen on their breeding grounds. Of those, 14 bred in Massachusetts; 10 in New York; 3 in Rhode Island; 2 each in New Jersey, Virgina, and New Brunswick; and 1 each in North Carolina, Maine, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Connecticut. One of the New Jersey plovers was first spotted in Montauk, Long Island, before it moved to Sandy Hook to breed. An additional plover was spotted in Florida but not resighted on its breeding grounds; this brings the total number of resighted birds to 39.

Shorebirds, including Piping Plovers, are already starting to make their way south. One of the Bahamas plovers was resighted at Portsmouth Island in North Carolina on July 13. This individual, a female, had been observed as it bred in Rhode Island and fledged four chicks, so she had a very successful breeding season. Others could turn up at any beach along the Atlantic coast, so all birders should watch for them.

If you happen to see any of these plovers, please report them to Cheri Gratto-Trevor,! Here is a reminder of what to look for:
What do color bands of The Bahamas plovers look like? ... All have a black flag on the upper left leg. Each have a single white band on one of the lower legs, right or left. Each have two color bands (neither of which is a white band) on the lower leg opposite the leg with the single white band. Colors used were: red, orange, yellow, white, light green, dark green, dark blue, and black. No metal bands were placed on any of The Bahamas birds; nor were color bands placed on the upper right legs of the birds.

How should the color markers be reported? When you see a marked Piping Plover, immediately write down a detailed description of the bands and their location on the bird's legs (always using the bird's right and left). Make a note if you are unsure of the color or location of any of the bands or if you did not see all bands clearly. Please report incomplete sighting.
You can read more about the program and see an example of how to describe marked plovers at the link.

The two photos in this post were taken by David Jones in Massachusetts. You can find more of his Piping Plover photos and other work at his PBase website. Thanks also to Peter Doherty for forwarding updates about the project.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Loose Feathers #247

Black Oystercatcher / Photo by Lee Karney (USFWS)

Birds and birding news
Birds in the blogosphere
Oil spill
Environment and biodiversity

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Canada Goose Cull in Prospect Park

Ever since US Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of geese in 2009, aviation officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have sought to reduce and harass New York City's Canada Goose population. Flocks of geese have been chased away from the city's airports, and some resident geese have been culled. Last week, the control effort became very noticeable to residents when all of the 400 Canada Geese in Brooklyn's Prospect Park disappeared overnight.

On Monday, the answer emerged. Wildlife biologists and technicians had descended on the park Thursday morning and herded the birds into a fenced area. The biologists, working with the federal Agriculture Department, then packed the geese two or three to a crate and took them to a nearby building where they were gassed with lethal doses of carbon dioxide, Carol A. Bannerman, a spokeswoman, said.
This was one of the largest culls so far; last summer 1,235 geese were killed. The culls are timed to catch the geese when they have molted their flight feathers and temporarily cannot fly. A summer cull traps mostly resident breeding geese, not the migratory geese that arrive in the fall and depart in the spring.
Most of the geese at the park were probably year-round residents, said Paul D. Curtis, an associate professor of wildlife sciences at Cornell University. Dr. Curtis said there were two types of Canada geese in the region: those that migrate north to nest during the summer and those that stay close to the city. Even to biologists, Dr. Curtis said, they are nearly indistinguishable.

In the early 1900s, Canada geese were nearly extinct. In an effort to rebuild the population, they were brought to New York from the Midwest. In the 1930s, geese were added to be hunted.

Agriculture Department specialists started removing geese this year in mid-June. They expect to complete their schedule of roundups by the end of the week, Ms. Bannerman said.

Elsewhere in the country, nuisance wildlife birds are usually chased away by border collies or firecrackers. But in New York, Ms. Bannerman said, there is no relocation program for the geese, and they must be euthanized. Another method for controlling the birds is coating their eggs with corn oil, to prevent them from hatching.

The carcasses of the Prospect Park geese will be double-bagged and dumped in a landfill. Other states use different methods, like turning the geese into food or animal feed. This year, the Agriculture Department donated 900 pounds of goose breast to food pantries in Pennsylvania.
Many residents are upset about the disappearance of the geese. Some are venting in Corey's thread about the cull on 10,000 Birds. That the cull targets resident geese raises my eyebrows a bit. Forensic tests in the wake of the Flight 1549 incident showed that the geese involved were migratory, most likely from Labrador. Given that knowledge, I wonder whether a cull of resident geese is really necessary. Now there may be good reason for culling resident geese, but it seems wasteful without a direct link to air safety. It also seems wasteful that the dead geese are just being dumped in a landfill.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Carrier Pigeons

I have mentioned previously on this blog that I enjoy following many of the institutions that post photos in Flickr's Commons, which showcases images from public libraries and archives. Most of the photos are in the public domain or have no copyright claims; many show historic events or people. Occasionally there will be something bird or nature-related, such as the photos of Jamaica Bay in the 1970s that I posted here a few months ago.

Recently, the National Library of Scotland, a newcomer to the Commons, uploaded a series of images of World War I. The photographs mostly show activity behind the front lines, such as soldiers resting or supply trucks being loaded. One series of photographs shows carrier pigeons. During World War I, this proved to be a more reliable way of transmitting information from advance units than telegraphs or other methods. According to the text on this photo of a French pigeon trainer, "On September 11, 1914, the French gave 15 pigeons to the British Intelligence Service. By 1918 there were some 20,000 birds and 380 expert pigeon trainers in the British Army alone."

Rock Pigeons (Columba livia) were prized for their ability to find their way back to a home location, even if they were released far away from there. Army units could carry pigeons with them and then tie a message to a bird's leg and release it to carry the message back to the bird's home base, where someone would receive the message. The first photo on this post shows a soldier tying a note to a pigeon's leg.

Pigeons were housed and bred behind the front lines. Some injured pigeons, like the ones above, were kept as breeders. Two of those three pigeons lost legs while in flight.

The last photo shows pigeon chicks.

Photos link through to the original images.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New Cap to Close BP's Leaking Oil Well

Last night BP placed a tighter cap over the leaking wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico. If all goes well, this cap could shut off the flow of oil out of the well until a successful relief well is complete and the wellbore is blocked. (A relief well is still the only means for permanently stopping the leak.) There will be tests over the next two days to determine whether the new cap was successful.

Here is some more about the new cap and pressure tests.
If the tests on the well show the pressure rising and holding — an indication that the well is intact, with no significant damage to the casing pipe that runs the length of the well bore to 13,000 feet below the seafloor — BP, working with government scientists, could decide to leave the valves closed, effectively shutting off the well like a cap on a soda bottle.

“The best-case scenario is that pressures rise to the point we anticipate they would,” Mr. Suttles said at a briefing. “We’d likely be able to keep the well shut in.”

On the other hand, the tests could show pressures that are lower than expected, Mr. Suttles said, an indication that the well is damaged. That could mean that oil and gas are leaking into the surrounding rock.

In that case, keeping the cap closed could damage the well further. The valves would have to be reopened, he said, and oil would start escaping from the well again, although much of it, and perhaps eventually all, would be funneled through pipes to surface ships.

A technician with knowledge of the operation said that it was unlikely that the well would be left shut beyond the test period, given the risk that the pressure could eventually cause problems within the well and given that with the new cap BP should soon be able to collect all the oil.
See also this diagram for a better idea of how the system is supposed to work.

If the valves need to be reopened, there are ships on standby to resume collecting some of the leaking oil. BP was already collecting about 25,000 barrels per day from the well and has additional ships ready to bring that total up to 60,000 barrels. (Oddly, The New York Times refers to this figure as "the current high-end estimate" for the oil flowing from the well even though there are credible estimates a good deal higher than that, probably reported in past Times articles.) Given the way past operations have proceeded, I am not optimistic that BP will be able to keep those valves closed for long beyond the test period.