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.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Loose Feathers #733

Golden Eagle / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, January 17, 2020

Loose Feathers #732

American Robin / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Conservation and biodiversity
Climate change and environmental politics
  • Last year was the second-hottest year on record, behind only 2016, when temperatures were influenced by El Niño. The past decade was also the warmest decade on record. 
  • Last year also set a record for ocean temperatures. High ocean temperatures are harmful for marine life and also affect weather on land.
  • The Trump administration has been dismantling the management of the National Park Service and undermining the regulations that protect them.
  • Most of the political appointees in charge of enforcing federal environmental laws have a background in the fossil fuel or agricultural industries or worked to undermine regulations in a state government.
  • New Jersey legislators failed to pass the single-use plastic ban or a bill to protect Liberty State Park from development before the end of the last session. (The latter passed the state senate but died in the assembly.) The process for both will need to be restarted.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Loose Feathers #731

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, January 03, 2020

Loose Feathers #730

Red-headed Woodpecker on New Year's Day / by me
Birds and birding news
  • The number of Gurney's Pittas has declined rapidly since surveys in 2003. Major threats include the wildlife trade (pittas get caught in traps for pangolins) and deforestation (primarily for palm oil plantations).
  • The most colorful coot chicks tend to be the most vulnerable, and the bright colors can get adult coots to feed them more.
  • Hooded Grebes are threatened by introduced American Mink and Rainbow Trout as well as increasing predation from Kelp Gulls.A conservation program includes guardians to watch over the nesting colonies.
  • As the climate warms and more people provide feeders, increasing numbers of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are overwintering in the Carolinas.
  • Two Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks have hatched in England as part of a captive-breeding program. So far the program has not successfully fledged any chicks.
  • A zoo in India is raising endangered Greater Adjutant chicks as part of a captive-breeding program.
  • About 5,000 Golden Eagles winter east of the Mississippi according to new estimates.
  • Vultures in Zululand, South Africa, suffered their four mass poisonings in 2019.
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
  • A survey last summer found an increase in the number of endangered Seabeach Amaranth plants on New Jersey's beaches. Protection zones at Island Beach State Park and elsewhere have allowed the plants to thrive and also benefit beach-nesting birds.
  • The Natural History Museum in Britain announced that their scientists named 412 new species in 2019
  • Conifers rely on their existing root systems during times of drought rather than growing new, deeper roots.
Climate change and environmental politics