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Bay Area Bird Blog » 2008» January

Archive for January, 2008

January
31st 2008
Birds can determine longitude

Posted under birds (general) & science

A study by researchers at an institute in Russia, reported in a Reuters article, says “Eurasian reed warblers captured during migration and then dumped 1,000 km (620 miles) off course were able to find their way back to their original route, according to a study suggesting some birds can truly navigate.” And later: “We have experimentally shown beyond reasonable doubt that long-distance, intercontinental avian migrants can correct for east-west displacements during their return migration in spring,” Chernetsov wrote. “This means that they can determine geographic longitude, even though we do not currently know how they do it.”

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January
30th 2008
Flyway Festival starts Friday!

Posted under local birds & local wildlife

The 12th annual San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival runs Feb. 1-10.   Lots of really great events: boat tours, slide shows, bird walks, and so on.  

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January
30th 2008
How does an Anna’s Hummingbird chirp?

Posted under bird behavior & science

One of life’s little mysteries has been solved: the distinctive high-pitched “chirp” that a male Anna’s hummingbird can make is generated by the tail feathers, it’s not a vocal sound at all! BBC News has an article about it, with a link to the sound (worth hearing) and a poor-quality, far-away soundless video preceded by an ad (not worth watching).  By the way, this is not the chip-chip-chip sound, which is indeed a vocalization, it’s a special CHEEP that the hummingbird makes only at the bottom of a steep dive. 

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January
30th 2008
Some details about the low salmon counts

Posted under local wildlife

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an entry about low salmon counts in the Bay Area this year.  A sobering article in the S.F. Chronicle has more details about the bad news, such as:

 At its peak, the fall run has numbered hundreds of thousands of fish, exceeding 800,000 in some years. But this year the preliminary count has put the number at 90,000 adults returning to spawn in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries. During the past decade, the number of returning fish has never fallen below 250,000.

There’s a fair amount of squabbling about the causes of this big decline: is it the low water releases from the dams on rivers where salmon spawn? Is it the diversions of water around the Delta through giant pumps, which kill some young salmon and move others to areas where they’re more vulnerable?  Is it pollution in the Bay? Pollution in the ocean?  Etc., etc.  Hey, how’s this for an idea: it’s all of the above!  10% here, 20% there, pretty soon you’re talking about a 70% decline.  There doesn’t have to be a single cause.  

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January
30th 2008
Companies Behaving Badly: continuing problems at Altamont

Posted under activism & endangered species & local birds

The Altamont Pass wind farm, just east of Livermore, has over 4500 turbines (a.k.a. windmills) and was, at one time, the largest and highest-power-producing wind farm in the world.  Unfortunately, the specific location and design of some of its turbines also makes it a blender for birds, and over the past 20 years it has probably killed over 20,000 birds, including hundreds of golden eagles and thousands of hawks.  As part of a lawsuit settlement a couple of years ago, the wind farm operators agreed to make some changes to greatly reduce the bird kill: they would shut down some of the turbines during the winter (when kills are highest and power production is lowest), and would remove some of the less efficient turbines and replace them with larger, more efficient models that have been found to kill fewer birds.  Sounds OK, but here’s the thing: they aren’t doing it!  The San Franciso Chronicle had an article about this a few weeks ago.  Oooh, it just burns me up.

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January
29th 2008
The remarkable migration of Bar-Headed Geese

Posted under birds (general) & science

The New York Times has a short article (free registration required) about the migration of Bar-Headed Geese between Mongolia and southern India, a distance of 3000 miles.  That’s not remotely close to the distance record for a migration, but there is still something special about this particular migration: according to the article, “bar-headed geese hold the altitude record for birds,” [a researcher] said. “They migrate over the Himalayas, at 30,000 feet. That’s the height of jumbo jets.”  

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January
29th 2008
Alameda County and Contra Costa County Big Year!

Posted under local birds

A “Big Year,” in birding parlance, is an attempt to see as many bird species as possible in a year. Expanding on the concept a bit, this year there are efforts in Alameda County and Contra Costa county for groups of birders to see as many birds in the county as possible.  If you see something rare in these counties, you should definitely report it!  The relevant links are here, along with some other contacts.  As mentioned in a previous post, there is also an even bigger stretch of the Big Year concept, an effort to get visitors to Golden Gate National Recreation area to see as many endangered species as possible (not just birds), a great idea, check it out.

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January
28th 2008
Peregrine Falcon “delisted” from Oregon Endangered Species List!

Posted under birds (general) & endangered species

This is actually old news (from April last year) but what can I say, nobody tells me nuthin’: “On Friday, April 13, 2007, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to delist the American peregrine falcon from the Oregon Threatened and Endangered Species List. This decision signifies that the peregrine falcon is now considered to be “recovered” in the State of Oregon.  Audubon Society of Portland fully supports this decision.”  The article on the Oregon Audubon website goes on to say that in 1970 there were no Peregrine falcons known to be nesting in Oregon; now, there are over 130 known nests (I guess that means more than 260 birds?).  It’s nice to have the occasional success amidst the bad news. 

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