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Bay Area Bird Blog » 2008» February

Archive for February, 2008

February
29th 2008
Light Brown Apple Moth damage in New Zealand

Posted under science & wildlife (general)

I don’t have much information about people who visit this blog — mostly I just know that somebody came — but if they click on a specific story or on a “read more of this entry” link, then I know that.  So I know that much of my modest traffic recently has been reading my recent entry about the Light Brown Apple Moth.  In that entry (I suggest you read it before continuing with this one) I mention that I don’t trust either the pro-spraying or anti-spraying sides, since neither seems to be trying to present an objective view.  I still feel that way, and I still don’t know how I feel about spraying; I’m inclined against it (it does seem potentially dangerous, and it seems unlikely to eliminate the moths) but I freely admit that my assessment, based on the few facts at my disposal, could be wrong.  So I’ve been trying to find more information that I trust, that would allow me to weigh the potential damage from the moth against the potential damage from the anti-moth spraying.  When I say “damage from the moth” I don’t just mean a dollar cost from agricultural losses, but also damage to the ecosystem at large; similarly, when I say “damage from the spraying” I don’t mean a dollar cost, I mean health impacts and ecosystem impacts.

I’m a long way from having answers to these, but I have turned up some reports that I think are trustworthy about one small aspect of the issue, which is the amount of agricultural damage in New Zealand caused by the moth.  It’s worth pointing out that the experience in California would be different from New Zealand: there are different predators, different parasites, different climate zones, different agricultural mix, etc.  I don’t know if the damage in California (or in the rest of the U.S., to which the moth will eventually spread) will be relatively better or worse than New Zealand, and I don’t think anyone else knows this either, so this is only a small part of the puzzle. Continue Reading »

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February
29th 2008
Got anything to say about the Berkeley Hills turkeys?

Posted under Uncategorized

A while ago, I blogged about the flock of turkeys that has invaded my workplace. This prompted a recent email from a student who wants to do a podcast about them; they want to talk with people who have had interactions with them.  I said I’d pass this along:

Hello,My name is Demetri Malevitsis. A few other students and I from Expressions college for the digital arts are making a podcast about the Berkeley turkeys. We think it is a fascinating story and would like to get in touch with people who work at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs who have been in contact with the turkeys for interviews.The podcast will be both informative about the history of the turkeys and safety precautions and research going on today. We would like to talk to the workers who seemed most affected by the turkeys presence.  

If you have a story to tell, email these guys at: marandawrites -at- gmail com
[I’m writing the email address like this to try to save them from getting spam. This blog gets spammed about 12 times a day, which is about 16 times more often than a real person makes a comment.]

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February
28th 2008
A new bird for our yard: An orange-crowned warbler!

Posted under local birds

As I’ve previously mentioned, my wife and I have tried, quite successfully, to make our Berkeley backyard attractive to birds.  Every year, we see some species we haven’t seen there before; sometimes we start seeing them a lot (as with some Townsends warblers that showed up a few years ago, that are now regulars), and sometimes we only see them once (some band-tailed pigeons, for instance).  Well, my wife just called me, excitedly, to report the first new species of 2008: an orange-crowned warbler, feeding on nectar from our Ribes and other plants.  Hooray for biodiversity. 

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February
28th 2008
Pollutants’ effect on birds: yes, pollution really is bad.

Posted under bird behavior & science

Science Daily reports on research (by S. Markman et al.) that looks at birds that forage near a sewage treatment plant.  These birds are exposed to significant amounts of “estrogen mimics” and other pollutants; the Science Daily story doesn’t say, but I would guess that these are chemicals (like medications) that end up in the sewage and don’t get destroyed by treatment.  At any rate, here’s what they found: 

 birds dosed with the complete spectrum of endocrine disrupting chemicals found in the invertebrates spent longer singing, sang more often and produced more complex songs, a sexually selected trait important in attracting females for reproduction even though birds dosed at these ecologically relevant levels also showed reduced immune function. 

Of course, reduced immune function and a more complicated song might not be the only effects, but they’re ones that were obvious to the researchers.  I’m sure this has wide-ranging implications about pollutants in general, the potential implications of exposure to other species (including humans), and so on.  But my immediate thoughts are about the very specific issue of sewage.  Lots of stuff that goes down the toilet doesn’t get removed by processing.  Researchers can quantify the amount of cocaine used in a city by measuring chemical byproducts downriver from the city; many medications go right through the sewage treatment (whether they were flushed directly down the toilet, or passed through someone’s body first); flushing cat waste kills sea otters, because some parasites survive sewage treatment and infect otters.  I guess it’s worth mentioning that some chemicals in the wastewater of one city end up in the drinking water of the next city downstream, too!  

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February
27th 2008
Golden Gate Audubon: birds need your help!

Posted under activism & endangered species & local birds & volunteer

The next meeting of Golden Gate Audubon’s East Bay Conservation Committee will be Tuesday, March 4, at 6:30 PM, at the Golden Gate Audubon offices (2530 San Pablo Avenue, Suite G, Berkeley, California 94702).  One of the items on the agenda is a freight terminal now under construction next to Oakland’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, a great spot for birds including the endangered Clapper Rail.  The freight terminal project is very bad for birds; the developer is intransigent so far; and Audubon is the only organization making a real effort (they have sued!) although other organizations are supportive.  There is a chance of convincing the developer to make some changes, but only if Audubon is able to get some motivated people to put in some work.  Come to the meeting and help out!

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February
27th 2008
Tigers are even more endangered than we thought

Posted under endangered species & science

Science Magazine reports:

 The use of new sampling techniques has cut by half the estimated number of wild tigers in India. A new report this week from the Indian government puts the number at 1411, compared with 3642 in 2002. Experts say the decline reflects more than just a change in methodology: Poaching, human encroachment, and habitat loss take a heavy toll.

 I’ve never seen a tiger in the wild. I plan to go to India sometime within the next few years, and if I do I will definitely go to a tiger reserve and hope to see one.  

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February
26th 2008
Light Brown Apple Moth: what (if anything) to do?

Posted under activism & government & local birds & local wildlife & science

If you live in the Bay Area, you’ve probably heard of the major controversy about spraying to control the Light Brown Apple Moth, a potentially damaging non-native species that has recently been found in California.  The state says the moth has the potential to cause over $100 million annually in agricultural damage, mostly to fruit trees and grapes, and plans to immediately spray pheromones encapsulated in degradable plastic to disrupt the moths’ reproduction.  Many concerned citizens, including politicians, say the spraying is dangerous to human health and potentially to ecosystem health, and should not be allowed.  Spraying has already happened in some parts of the state, but it seems very likely that it will not happen anytime soon in the East Bay or on the San Francisco peninsula.

Part of my job includes performing health-related risk analyses, so you’d think I would have a clear opinion on this, but I don’t. I just don’t have enough information, and I don’t trust either side in the debate enough to take their word for their risk assessment. For example, some spraying opponents argue that the moth does not cause a lot of damage in New Zealand (where it is also an invasive non-native) and that there is no reason to believe it would be a big deal here either. But this appears not to be true: the head of the New Zealand Plant Protection Society says the moth is “a major pest for pretty much all the commercial horticultural crops we have,” and that it also “affects trees such as the pine and is highly undesirable.”  On the other hand, this person also happens to be employed by a company (controlled by the New Zealand government) that is getting a big chunk of change to do experimental spraying to control the moth in New Zealand, so can we trust her not to exaggerate the risks?  It’s hard to know.  (See here for a story about experimental spraying in New Zealand).

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report says that “In the absence of insecticides, the percentage of damage to fruits in Australia and New Zealand ranges from 5 to 30% and 12-70% respectively (Wearing et al., 1991).” (The reference is to a chapter in the book “Tortricid pests, their biology, natural enemies and control.”)  There’s a big range there — 12% to 70% — but even the low numbers are big enough to be serious, especially for organic farmers, and the high ones would be pretty disastrous.  Conventional farmers will presumably just use pesticides, as they already do, so I wouldn’t expect much damage to conventional crops.   At any rate, this sure seems like it could be a big deal for organic farmers!

And nobody seems to talk about the moth’s effects on the ecosystem at large — is that because the effect isn’t likely to be significant, or because all people care about is economic damage and that will be mostly due to agricultural damage?
Continue Reading »

1 Comment »

February
25th 2008
The Internet Bird Collection!

Posted under birds (general)

Honestly, nobody tells me anything!  I just discovered the Internet Bird Collection, which is sort of a YouTube of bird videos.  Try the Hermit Thrush, for example, and select from four videos.  Great for confirming an identification or for getting an idea of what you’re looking for if you’re looking for a specific bird.   The site could use improvements in how you search it, but it’s a great start.   

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