Friday, July 31, 2020

Loose Feathers #760

American Goldfinch / Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS
Birds and birding news
  • For the sixth year in a row, there has been a mass die-off of seabirds in Alaskan waters, this time near Nome. Most have been murres or Horned Puffins, and many are emaciated; it is unclear if this is due to disease or an inability to find food.
  • Swifts make vesper flights twice a day, which they use to orient themselves.
  • Artificial lighting disrupts birds' sleep at night, and the lack of sleep may affect their ability to forage during the day.
  • The timing and route of Rufous Hummingbirds during migration varies by age and sex.
  • The EU has threatened to fine France if it does not end the practice of hunting birds with glue sticks.
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, July 24, 2020

Loose Feathers #759

Greater Sage-Grouse / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics
  • This week, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which funds infrastructure repair in national parks and other public lands and guarantees that the Land and Water Conservation Fund will spend all its annual revenue. The downsides are that it maintains the tie between public lands and fossil fuel production and that it does little to protect wildlife affected by the increasing number of visitors on public lands.
  • Climate scientists narrowed the potential range of global temperature rise to 2.6°C-3.9°C if current emissions rates continue. This rules out the most optimistic scenarios without mitigation.
  • While transportation emissions fell because of the pandemic, methane emissions from agriculture and fossil fuel extraction hit a record high.
  • Plastic waste reaching the ocean is expected to triple in the next two decades, and current regulations only remove a small amount of the volume.
  • Climate change is already driving migration out of places that are becoming inhospitable, and the scale of migration will increase over the next century.
  • Border wall construction is drying up Quitobaquito Springs, one of the few reliable oases in Arizona's Sonoran Desert.
  • The Sierra Club is owning up to its involvement with white supremacy, including the racism of its founder, John Muir.
  • National parks and other public lands have been overloaded with visitors, leaving trash and potentially spreading the coronavirus to remote communities.
  • New Jersey's new environmental justice law will require permit applications for proposed industrial facilities to assess their cumulative effects on overburdened communities. The bill does not regulate existing sources of pollution.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Loose Feathers #758

American Robin on nest / Photo by Mara Koenig/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
  • A viral disease killed 90% of Australia's Bellinger River Snapping Turtles, and the few that remain may be displaced by another turtle species.
  • Last winter British Columbia culled 463 wolves to protect caribou, but the paper the cull was based on has problems
  • A newly-discovered Sumatran frog species, Micryletta sumatrana, is threatened by the expansion of palm oil plantations.
  • This week dam removal started on the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River in Washington to provide more habitat for spawning salmon. 
  • On the other side of the country, fish have already migrated upstream following the removal of a dam last year on the Patapsco River in Maryland.
  • Despite their bad reputation, sharks are necessary for healthy ocean ecosystems, and many of them are threatened with extinction.
Climate change and environmental politics
  • The Trump administration finalized a set of regulatory changes to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, the cornerstone of environmental law in the US. The changes would limit public comment, shorten the timeline for the environmental review process, and eliminate consideration of climate change. The changes are intended primarily for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry and would probably damage the health of communities that already suffer a disproportionate level of pollution.
  • Joe Biden announced a climate change plan that borrows extensively from Green New Deal proposals, combining emissions reductions with infrastructure spending to support the transition.
  • "Net zero" emissions does not necessarily mean the same as 100% renewable energy, as the former would maintain some use of fossil fuels. As a result "net zero" has become the preferred slogan for fossil fuel companies and their supporters.
  • One problem is to figure out how to replace natural gas for things like home heating and cooking.
  • Abandoned oil and gas drilling sites emit large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, and the problem is likely to get worse as fossil fuels become less profitable.
  • The Trump administration is appealing the order to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline. Regardless of what happens with DAPL, the cost of pipelines is going up because of organized opposition from activists that combine public protests with lawsuits.
  • A tanker off the coast of Yemen is deteriorating and threatens to spill its 1.1 million barrels of oil.
  • Construction of the border wall will close access to part of the Arizona Trail in Coronado National Memorial.
  • Paul Fireman, who wanted to expand his golf course into Liberty State Park, announced that he is giving up on the project, and his announcement included a diatribe against the activists who fought to preserve the park.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Loose Feathers #757

Brewer's Blackbird / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS
Birds and birding news
  • In response to calls to drop objectionable honorific bird names, the American Ornithological Society announced that they are drafting a proposal to change the McCown's Longspur's name and will consider proposals for changing other names.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for the Elfin-woods Warbler, which is endemic to Puerto Rico.
  • California Condors were recorded in Sequoia National Park for the first time in 50 years, a sign of their increasing population.
  • All birds are at risk of hitting buildings, but glass walls are most dangerous for insect-eating and forest birds. The Bird-Safe Buildings Act could help reduce the number of window collisions.
  • A breeding colony of endangered New Zealand Shore Plovers disappeared, and it is unclear whether they were killed or returned to the mainland.
  • During Australia's COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year, the use of a birding app increased ten times over the same period last year.
  • While eBird provides good data within the U.S., global coverage is still too limited to establish population trends. In particular, traveling birders seek out rarities, which makes them appear more common than they really are in eBird's data.
  • A new project is trying to determine whether Australia's Little Penguins can switch prey when their preferred food is scarce. 
  • A Piping Plover nest enclosure was destroyed and at least one chick killed in Maine. 
  • A couple in Trinidad turned their garden into a haven for hummingbirds.
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
  • A federal judge reinstated endangered species protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region because the administration failed to consider how delisting the Yellowstone grizzlies would affect the overall grizzly population in the Lower 48.
  • The amount of roadkill has dropped since the beginning of the pandemic, and the reduction could improve the outlook for some wildlife populations.
  • A group of scientists is attempting to reconcile the many taxonomic frameworks into a single tree of life. A unified taxonomy could improve conservation by clarifying which populations are unique and in need of protection.
  • Last year's bushfires in Australia melted camera traps meant for a frog study, but the memory cards still worked and showed how the landscape changed during the fires and subsequent floods.
  • The "nature is healing" meme has lived on during the coronavirus shutdowns even though many of the early posts were faked.
  • The effects of the pandemic on citizen science have been mixed: public events like bioblitzes have been canceled, but there is increased participation in projects that can be done close to home or online.
  • Restrictions on fishing off New England may be necessary to save the North Atlantic Right Whale.
  • Earlier this year, scientists released 200 Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetles at Sandy Hook to re-establish a population of this threatened species.
  • Conservationists are petitioning California to add the Quino Checkerspot to its list of endangered species.
  • Entomologists created a new key for identifying gall wasps.
Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, July 03, 2020

Loose Feathers #756

Western Tanager / Photo by Kari Cieszkiewicz/USFWS
Birds and birding news
Science and nature blogging
Biodiversity and conservation
Climate change and environmental politics