Friday, April 16, 2021

Loose Feathers #797

Bald Eagle / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

Climate change and environmental politics

  • A new study finds that the overuse of DDT has had consequences over multiple generations, as the granddaughters of women exposed to DDT are more likely to have an array of medical conditions associated with the pesticide.
  • DDT has also been in the news in California after a survey discovered hundreds of thousands of barrels dumped off the coast of Long Beach.
  • Conservationists are trying to find ways to reduce the damage from border wall construction, potentially removing some barriers like the one blocking the San Pedro River. Tracking studies show animal movements being stopped by the wall in both the US and Mexico.
  • Theoretically all new cars sold in the US could be electric by 2035.
  • Abandoned, unplugged oil and gas wells emit greenhouse gases and threaten local groundwater, but it is difficult to get companies to take responsibility for fixing them.
  • The American Jobs Plan can be more sustainable by following these suggestions, which include keeping new development within the existing footprint of the built environment and adding things like wildlife corridors and bird-safe glass to new or repaired infrastructure.
  • Republican governors are already working to prevent any progress on climate change with delay tactics coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
  • Pledges of "net-zero" emissions from fossil fuel companies are another delay tactic.
  • Since greenhouse gases persist in the atmosphere, it could take several decades to see improvements from cutting emissions.
  • The Southwest is likely to face a severe drought this year after a record-setting fire season last year.
  • Microplastics can remain airborne long enough to be blown around the globe, even into the remotest areas.
  • A new agreement seeks to reduce the massive carbon footprint of cryptocurrencies.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Loose Feathers #796

Blue-winged Teal / Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

Climate change and environmental politics

  • The Mauna Loa Observatory recorded carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at more than 420 parts per million for the first time ever. The new record means that the Earth is halfway to doubling pre-industrial carbon levels, which would cause a global temperature rise between 2.3 and 4.5°C.
  • Politicians have largely avoided the subject of how to manage the retreat from the coastlines made necessary by sea level rise, and some places are still developing vulnerable coastal real estate. 
  • Because the national monument designation was stripped from most of Bears Ears early in the Trump administration, the site has had a boom in visitation without the resources to manage it.
  • Hurricane Zeta nearly wrecked Transocean Deepwater Asgard, a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which would have caused a spill larger than the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
  • Japan has set a more ambitious goal under the Paris treaty of a 40% cut in carbon emissions by 2030 and being carbon neutral by 2050.
  • One third of Antarctica's ice shelves could collapse if there is 4°C of warming.
  • Beach Sweeps coordinated by Clean Ocean Action have been finding lots of discarded PPE in addition to the trash that they normally collect. Plastic makes up 72% of trash collected during cleanups.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Loose Feathers #795

Greater Sage-Grouse / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

  • A new report named tropical forests like those in Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and Colombia as the most likely to host the 80% of species that have not been described.
  • Native oaks are the best trees for supporting wildlife, from insects to birds to mammals, so people should plant more of them instead of ornamental trees.
  • Kelp forests are collapsing off the coast of California since they have been hit by a combination of marine heat waves and a boom in purple sea urchins that make it impossible for the forest to regenerate.
  • Loss of forests continued at a high level in 2020. The loss of 4.2 million hectares of primary tropical forests is especially concerning since it released 2.64 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Fireflies are in decline, and many species have been studied so little that their status is unknown. Major causes include light pollution, loss of habitat, and poor water quality.
  • Grizzly Bears often appear on hiking trails because they prefer a gradient and pace similar to those of humans.
  • The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned BLM to protect the last remaining habitat for Tiehm’s Buckwheat from a proposed lithium mine.
  • An interview with the person who runs the @PicPedant account describes how to spot fake or misleading wildlife images (some of which may involve animal abuse).
  • Here are some tips on how to identify and kill invasive Spotted Lanternflies.

Climate change and environmental politics

  • Pledges of net-zero emissions may not be that effective when calculating and offsetting emissions are voluntary and if there is not enough capacity to meet the demand for offsets. 
  • Offset programs like the Trillion Trees initiative are also problematic when rainforests are turning into savannas in response to climate change.
  • This year Kyoto had its earliest peak cherry bloom on record on March 26. Even though the previous record was set in 1409, the peak bloom date had been relatively stable until the past hundred years when they have steadily gotten earlier.
  • The oil industry has a long history of supporting white supremacy, from segregating workplaces to racist violence. The discriminatory models from the US were then replicated in other countries.
  • The Biden administration is planning a major expansion of offshore wind energy along the Atlantic Coast.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Loose Feathers #794

Song Sparrow / by me

Birds and birding news

  • A Ring-billed Gull in Cleveland turned out to be the oldest Ring-billed Gull ever recorded after a partial band number was determined from photographs. It was 28 years old and had been banded at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto.
  • A new species of mihirung, Dromornis stirtoni, was found in Australia. The new species is the largest member of the extinct family Dromornithidae, which is related to modern waterfowl or gamebirds.
  • Atlantic Puffins are in decline because of a lack of prey, which causes chicks to starve.
  • Ornithologists split two new species, the Xingu Screech-Owl and Alagoas Screech-Owl, out of the Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl complex in Brazil. Both have small ranges and are threatened by fires and forest fragmentation.
  • The Bald Eagle population in the Lower 48 states has quadrupled since 2009, with 316,700 individuals and 71,400 nesting pairs as of 2019.
  • However, some Bald Eagles have been dying of a neurodegenerative disease caused by cyanobacteria growing on invasive Hydrilla. Herbicides used to control Hydrilla may contribute to the problem if they contain bromide.
  • Three species were added to the ABA Checklist recently: Hooded Crane, Northern Giant-Petrel, and Mitred Parakeet.
  • Irregular water releases from upstream dams along the Mekong River threaten birds that nest along the river, especially ground-nesting birds.
  • The Iberá Seedeater does not interbreed with closely related species even though they share most of their neighbors' genomes and live in the same area.

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

  • An update to the IUCN Red List classifies the African Forest Elephant as critically endangered and the African Savanna Elephant as endangered. Both had previously been considered vulnerable in the previous update. The ivory trade is a major threat to both species.
  • Patagonia is one of the most important breeding grounds for Blue Whales, but the whales there have to dodge numerous boats that tend the area's salmon industry.
  • A survey in Hawaii found 13 new moth species as well as one that had been considered extinct.
  • A pair of dolphins was filmed swimming in the East River in New York City.
  • Every invasive tree in North America was introduced as an ornamental and many harm insects and the wildlife that depend on them.
  • The history of whaling restrictions shows how empathy can be a motivating force for conservation even when it is seen as extreme or at odds with scientific standards.

Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, March 19, 2021

Loose Feathers #793

Wood Duck / Photo by T. Kersten/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

  • According to a new study using whaling records, Sperm Whales learned how to evade whalers and communicated the information with each other.
  • At this time of year, many amphibians need to cross roads to find vernal pools for breeding, so volunteers try to keep them from getting crushed by cars.
  • Researchers identified parts of central Arizona and New Mexico that could support up to 150 Jaguars. The area is not currently designated as critical habitat because the species has only been recorded south of I-10.
  • A Sri Lankan tree species was considered extinct until one was discovered in 2019. Now that individual tree is threatened by a road project. Three of the five "extinct" plants on Sri Lanka's 2012 red list have since been rediscovered, but another 177 plant species are still threatened or possibly extinct.
  • Saint Patrick did not drive the snakes out of Ireland. Instead they were eliminated in the last Ice Age and never made it back.
  • Sea-level rise is killing forests along the Atlantic coast.

Climate change and environmental politics

  • The Biden administration is considering a carbon tariff on goods coming from countries that are not doing enough to reduce carbon emissions.
  • To be effective, the EPA needs to be restaffed and end arrangements that allow states and industry to block enforcement.
  • Property owners in the Hamptons are fighting an offshore wind farm because the cable connecting it to a substation would pass through their town. Long Island is also the focus of a fight over flood insurance, which needs to be adjusted to account for sea-level rise.
  • Bottom trawling releases a gigaton of carbon from the seabed each year, which is roughly equivalent to global aviation. The amount could be reduced by protecting more of the ocean.
  • North America was the only continent whose air quality declined in 2020 due to western wildfires.
  • One of the challenges in switching to carbon-free energy is obtaining necessary elements like lithium without causing additional environmental damage. One proposed lithium mine in Nevada would pollute local groundwater and disturb vulnerable species, while another would destroy 70% of a rare plant's range.
  • Biofuels should not be part of a carbon-free transportation system because they are inefficient and stall the replacement of internal combustion with electric vehicles.
  • Researchers found microplastics in 53 waterways that flow into the Delaware Estuary. Among the main contributors are plastic fibers from synthetic clothing.
  • Deb Haaland was finally confirmed and sworn in as Interior secretary. She is the first Native American cabinet secretary and supports the 30x30 plan for biodiversity conservation.
  • The Keystone XL pipeline might be dead, but activists are still trying to stop another cross-border pipeline known as Line 3.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Loose Feathers #792

Bufflehead / USFWS Photo

Birds and birding news

  • Whooping Cranes avoid stopover sites near wind farms, so approval for new wind farms should take that into account when selecting sites.
  • Bird watchers in California are urged to take down and clean their bird feeders to stop an outbreak of salmonellosis. The feeders should stay down for at least a month.
  • Wing tags are often used to make individual banded birds easier to observe, but in the case of Cape Vultures, wing tags make it harder for them to fly.
  • Tropical forest bird populations in Tanzania are declining as the climate warms. Many tropical birds disperse only short distances after leaving the nest, which makes it harder for them to move to places with an ideal climate.
  • Researchers found the genetic basis for plumage variations in White Wagtails.
  • A study of 23 bird species found that species with cooperative breeding live longer than other birds.
  • An Irish photographer recorded a starling murmuration.
  • Used PPE needs to be disposed properly so that birds and other wildlife do not get entangled in it. The pandemic has revived the use of single-use plastics, which activists had tried to phase out.
  • A threatened Red-backed Button-quail recently showed up in an Australian coastal town, which is a sign of the bird's recent population boom.
  • From April 1 to May 31, lights will be turned off on major buildings in Philadelphia's Center City to protect migrating birds, which can be disoriented by artificial light. The Bird Safe Philly initiative was spurred by an incident last fall when 1,000 to 1,500 birds struck buildings on a single night.

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, March 05, 2021

Loose Feathers #791

Common Grackle / Photo by Diana Cosby/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, February 26, 2021

Loose Feathers #790

Ferruginous Hawk / Photo by Rick Bohn/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and climate change

Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, February 19, 2021

Loose Feathers #789

Greater Sage-Grouse / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

  • The Fishing Cat is vulnerable to habitat loss, but a new conservation project is raising awareness and working to protect them.
  • The discovery of an extinct spruce in Louisiana suggests that there may be more extinct plants than scientists know about and that plants are more vulnerable to climate change then currently predicted.
  • Research on the invasive Spotted Lanternfly predicts a large potential range and possible host plants.
  • The South Padre Island Convention Center has been home to over 3,500 sea turtles that were rescued from unusually cold waters this week. The turtles will be released once the water warms sufficiently.

Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, February 12, 2021

Loose Feathers #788

Red-winged Blackbird / Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

Climate change and environmental politics

  • Social media companies have gotten better at removing misinformation about COVID-19 and the 2020 election but need to apply the same standards to misinformation about climate change.
  • The Biden administration will need to decide what to do about the border wall. Recently the flood gates at the San Pedro River were found to be welded shut.
  • A Republican congressman from Idaho suggested breaching four dams on the Lower Snake River as part of a program to restore salmon runs and boost ecotourism.
  • Younger activists are using the term "intersectional environmentalism" in place of "environental justice," but the practical differences are unclear.
  • Water affordability and quality is also a part of the environmental justice agenda.
  • A glacier collapse in India started a landslide that broke a dam and caused flash flooding. Over 200 people were missing in its aftermath. The incident raises questions about the safety and sustainability of hydropower.
  • The pandemic caused a drop in the demand for energy from coal, and that drop could be maintained if more coal plants are retired.
  • Climate change is reducing yields from wild rice grown by the Ojibwe in Minnesota.
  • Half of a wetland in Staten Island is going to be paved over for a shopping mall even though the wetland protected the nearby neighborhood from Sandy.
  • The Trillion Trees Act would plant trees on public lands to absorb carbon emissions. The downsides are that the plantations would probably be monocultures and would be logged regularly which would reduce the benefit of carbon sequestration.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Loose Feathers #787

Bald Eagle / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Birds and birding news

  • Neoptropical songbirds molt rapidly prior to migration and replace multiple feather tracts simultaneously.
  • Animals that burrow fare better than birds in hotter and drier conditions in the Mojave Desert. The study compared current populations to data collected by Joseph Grinnell and his assistants. Many desert birds will likely disappear as the climate warms.
  • Birders are no more likely to find additional rarities where a rare bird has been reported than by looking in other area, which suggests that the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect does not exist as a general rule.
  • Extermination of invasive rodents on Lord Howe Island is helping endemic species like the Lord Howe Rail bounce back.
  • Here are rules for antiracist birding.
  • The Biden administration is delaying implementation of a rule change meant to weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The rule is one of many from the Trump administration that attack environmental laws.

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

  • A quarter of known bee species have not been seen since 1990 despite increasing interest in wild pollinators and citizen science efforts. Some families like the Melittidae have declined more than others. 
  • One way to help pollinators (in this case wasps) is to plant native plants.
  • The bee study adds to the evidence that many insect populations are crashing as they face multiple threats, including habitat loss, overuse of insecticides, and climate change.
  • Half of the world's vertebrate species have been reported to iNaturalist, including 90% of the world's birds. Fish and sharks have the lowest percentages.
  • A new baleen whale species discovered in the Gulf of Mexico has a population under 100 individuals.
  • Barnegat Light is getting habitat restoration work this winter.
  • Here is a piece on animals that thrive in cities. Among other things, urban coyotes prey on rodents and Canada Goose nests.

Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, January 29, 2021

Loose Feathers #786

Rough-legged Hawk / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

  • Many shark and ray populations have crashed over the past 50 years, mainly due to overfishing and bycatch.
  • Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, the world's rarest turtle, may still escape extinction since a female survives in captivity and more of the species may exist in the wild.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service is failing to protect Florida panther habitat from development even though habitat protection is necessary for the panther's survival. This is an example of a larger problem of the agency letting politics and money guide its decisions.
  • Here is a sample of species that were declared extinct in 2020.

Climate change and environmental politics