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.