Friday, December 06, 2019

Loose Feathers #726

Ash-throated Flycatcher / my photo
Birds and birding news
  • New genetic research using museum specimens finds that the extinction of the Great Auk was a result of overhunting and not due to environmental change or inbreeding.
  • This week a Ross's Gull, extremely rare in the Lower 48, was seen by birders in Seattle, but a Bald Eagle caught and ate it. Photos and details about the gull, including its final moments, are in this checklist and this checklist (and several others) on eBird. 
  • A study using specimens of 52 bird species that struck buildings in Chicago from 1978 to 2016 found that body size decreased in all 52 species and wing length increased in 40 species, which is consistent with warming temperatures.
  • Higher temperatures have increased the daily water intake of birds in the Mojave Desert, which could reduce their populations if climate change worsens.
  • The availability of cheap recording devices and data storage is making it easier to monitor wildlife sounds in places where it would be expensive or time-consuming to conduct on-the-ground surveys. Birds especially can be studied this way, but it can also be used for frogs and toads, whales, some insects, and other groups. Some software can already identify vocalizations on the recordings to species.
  • More frequent wildfires may threaten Northern Goshawks in the Sierra Nevadas since the hawks avoid nesting in areas with severe burns. 
  • A report finds that Australia's threatened birds declined by an average of 59% over the past 30 years, with some groups faring worse. Migratory shorebirds, for example, declined by 72%. 
  • A captive-breeding program is starting to return Alagoas Curassows to Brazil's Atlantic Forest, with three pairs released this fall.
  • Chinstrap Penguins have a harder time adapting to environmental changes than Gentoo Penguins because of their more specialized diet.
  • Wild Turkeys come in a variety of color morphs.
  • Feral Monk Parakeets have continued to thrive in Bergen County after escaping from captivity 30 years ago.
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
  • Forest fragmentation puts wildlife in danger, especially in places where animals are used to having stable habitats.
  • The IUCN is creating a Green List that will evaluate how well threatened species have recovered. Some species, like the American Bison, are no longer in danger of extinction but are nowhere near their historical population levels.
  • LED lights on gillnets may reduce bycatch of sea turtles and dolphins.
  • For now at least, it seems New Jersey has avoided the spread of invasive pond mussels via a fish farm in Hunterdon County. The mussels can get very large, but their larvae can ride in the gills of invasive carp.
Climate change and environmental politics
  • This year's Emissions Gap Report from the UN finds that global emissions have risen by 1.5% per year over the past decade and that nations must increase their emissions cuts because the cuts pledged under the Paris Agreement would result in a temperature increase of 3.2°C. 
  • Countries with the biggest emissions increases are all in Asia, but a disproportionately large share still comes from the United States, which accounts for 14.5% of global carbon emissions.
  • Early climate change models were impressively accurate according to a new paper.
  • The National Butterfly Center won an injunction against a private group trying to building a wall along the Rio Grande.
  • California set a moratorium on dropping insurance coverage in fire-prone areas, which is a window into the problems insurance companies are having with adapting to climate change.
  • The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2019 advanced out of committee in the House of Representatives. The bill would provide money to states, territories, and DC to implement their wildlife conservation plans.
  • The federal government recently released a report on Superfund sites that might be threatened by climate change, and 24 are in the Lower Raritan Watershed.
  • New Jersey may finally pass broad restrictions on disposable plastic items after the legislation sat in limbo for months.
  • California's plastics law reduced plastic bag use by 80%, but many stores still offer slightly thicker plastic bags.
  • The Surfrider Foundation gave New Jersey a D- in its evaluation of how coastal communities are handling climate change adaptation. While the report praised the Blue Acres program, it found permitting and building standards were too lenient in flood-prone areas and too much emphasis was put on beach replenishment and seawalls.