February
2nd 2011
Clever crows

Posted under bird behavior & science

There’s a great article in the NY Times about tool-making by crows. It includes a link to a really interesting short video. Pretty remarkable what these birds can do with a small brain.  And it’s not instinctive, either — I mean, we all know tiny-brained birds can make amazing nests by just following some rules.  But these crows actually figure stuff out.  I’ve blogged about this before, if you want to search the archives.

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January
21st 2011
Climate change bad news for birds and others

Posted under endangered species

Long time, no post.  Without a steady audience of readers, it seemed like a pain to keep the blog going.  But I’m going to try to post here every now and then anyway.  Every now and then someone still finds the blog through a search engine, and finds something useful on it, so why not?

Today’s post is prompted by a New York Times article entitled “Climate Threatens Species at Every Altitude.”  It opens with a photo of the long-tailed willow bird, which it says was once far more common but is now threatened.  Without looking into it, I’m guessing that the usual suspects like invasive species and human development are more to blame than climate change so far…but climate change is just getting started and is going to get much, much worse.  From the article:” “It’s a really simple story that at some point you can’t go further north or higher up, so there’s no doubt that species will go extinct,” said Walter Jetz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale…”

Not far from here, in the Sierra, we’re already seeing substantial effects from climate change: “Last year, new research in the journal Ecological Applications and elsewhere showed that the pika, a thick-furred, rabbitlike animal that takes refuge from the sun in piles of stones, was moving upslope at about 160 yards a decade and that in the past decade it had experienced a fivefold rise in local extinctions, the term used when a local population forever disappears.”

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October
24th 2010
Better to wipe out a species than to play football on Saturdays?

Posted under endangered species

I recall an article about this several months ago.  The New York Times has an article about some high school football in Hawaii being switched to Saturday during the day instead of Friday nights as has been usual, in order to reduce deaths of Newell’s shearwater.  ”The birds take their first flight a few months after hatching from ground nests in Kauai’s wet mountain forests. These fledglings, some still with down feathers, are prone to mistaking the bright lights at sports fields, hotels, parking lots and other places for the moon and stars, leading them to repeatedly fly around in circles. They become exhausted and eventually drop to the ground, where they are often attacked by cats or hit by cars unless they are rescued by volunteers.”  The government threatened big fines if the bird deaths continued.  The school district is going to put in specially shielded lights, but until they do (a year or two) the kids have to play football on Saturdays instead of Fridays.  Doesn’t sound all that bad, right?

Sadly, but all too predictably, lots of people don’t like the new policy. “They have been showing up to games wearing T-shirts that disparage the policy, and occasionally voicing their displeasure from the stands.”

Here’s a quote that really gets me: “They chose the bird over our keiki,” [parent Rich Rapozo] said after a Saturday game, using the Hawaiian word for children.  Hey, listen Rich: nobody chose to kill your children instead of killing birds, OK?

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October
15th 2010
Bird deaths from collisions: shocking numbers

Posted under birds (general) & science

Golden Gate Audubon Society just put up an information page about how many birds are killed in collisions. The uncertainties are pretty high, but even the low-end estimates are huge: at least 100 million birds per year killed in collisions with windows, for example.  A lot of these happen one collision at a time — a bird gets hit by a car, or runs into a window that it doesn’t realize is there.  But sometimes there are horrific mass-kill incidents, when huge flocks of birds get confused by radio tower lights and fly in circles around them, with birds running into the guy wires at every circuit and falling to the ground with wings broken.  There are known things that can be done to reduce all of these causes of mortality, if we can get people to care.

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October
12th 2010
Army Corps of Engineers goes to war against habitat

Posted under government & wildlife (general)

The Chronicle has a story about the recent order to clear all vegetation — everything but grasses — from every levee in the country. It’s absurd.  It’s also a huge, huge waste.  After some big floods on the Sacramento River in 1986, there was a study about what parts of the levee system did better or worse than others.  The sections with trees did a lot better: the trees protected them from erosion. They did better than sections that were reinforced by rock, in fact.  And there have also been studies about animals burrowing into levee banks (which weakens the levees), and the levees that only have grasses have more burrows (mostly from ground squirrels).  Basically the Corps is implementing a hugely expensive system to make the levees weaker.  Of course it will also be absolutely devastating to riparian habitat—huge, huge swaths of it mown down.  What a terrible, terrible thing.  As the Chronicle article describes, some state agencies are trying to avoid complying.  Good for them!  But if the Feds want it done, it’s hard to fight.

You know, I’m used to the idea of one side losing and the other side winning, and all too often it’s the environment that is on the losing side. In this case it’s even worse, both sides lose.  The Army Corps of Engineers really needs to reverse this decision.

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September
24th 2010
Miscellaneous news, September 2010

Posted under local birds

  • The Nature Conservancy photo contest (mentioned a couple of posts ago) ends soon.  Hurry up and get in your entry!
  • The former Alameda Naval Air Station is the home of the world’s most successful breeding colony of California Least Terns, an endangered species!  (Golden Gate Audubon has a great program out there, monitoring the site and keeping it safe.)   The Navy has been a good partner.  Unfortunately, they want to transfer the land to the Veteran’s Administration, which intends to build a clinic and columbarium (for storing cremated remains).  I think we can all agree that a VA clinic and columbarium are praiseworthy…but do they really have to go at this specific location?  No, of course they don’t.  But politicians don’t want to be seen “voting against veterans,” which is seen as a lot worse than “voting against birds.”  And of course the VA claims, against all evidence, that they won’t actually hurt the birds.
  • Our friends at MartinezBeavers.org have been posting some interesting things recently, including a fascinating but disturbing story about a city that removed a beaver dam, thereby killing a large fraction of all of the remaining watercress darters in the world. (The watercress darter is a lovely little fish).

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    August
    17th 2010
    Name That Bird quiz

    Posted under birds (general)

    I just did a post about the Nature Conservancy, but here’s another: a very short quiz.  See how many of these species you can identify.  I got four out of six.

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    August
    16th 2010
    Nature Conservancy photo contest!

    Posted under Uncategorized

    The Nature Conservancy is holding its 5th Annual Digital Photo Competition and invites all nature-loving shutterbugs to enter their favorite shots! This year, 35 photos will be selected as honorable mentions and finalists. The winner will be selected by public vote and featured on the cover of The Nature Conservancy’s 2012 calendar, which reaches over 2 million households. Enter at http://www.flickr.com/groups/thenatureconservancy/ before October 4, see http://my.nature.org/photography/ for more information.  I’m definitely going to look through my favorite photos and see if I have anything worth submitting.

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