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Saturday, December 22, 2012

This week in birds - #49

A roundup of this week's news of birds and the environment:

Male Red-winged Blackbird at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. They should begin showing up at my feeders soon.


Did you hear about the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that showed up on a Travis County Christmas Bird Count? The bird was recorded near McKinney Falls State Park and since reports of its visit have been circulated, birders have been coming from all over the country to see it. The bird is native to Central and South America and only rarely shows up in Texas. However, as the climate changes, it may increase its presence here.


Another wandering bird is making news in the UK. An American species, the American Pipit which the English call the Buff-bellied Pipit, is exciting birders, or "twitchers" as they are called there. It is thought that the tiny vagrant bird, smaller than a robin, flew across the Atlantic in two days. When we were in Big Bend National Park at the end of October, I saw and photographed one of the birds there. Here is my bird.


It's mistletoe time! It is a tradition in many places to go into the forest at this time of year and cut the mistletoe to bring home for Christmas decorations which encourage kissing, but, as far as trees are concerned, it has been thought to be nothing but a pernicious parasite. Now, however, an Australian study paints a different picture of the plant, one that indicates that mistletoe might actually be beneficial in expanding diversity in the forests where it lives.


Wood Storks, once in imminent danger of extinction, have made such strides in recovery of their population that the Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to change the bird's status from "endangered" to "threatened." This represents another significant victory for the Endangered Species Act.


A World War II Carrier Pigeon whose body was found in a chimney in Surrey, UK, with its coded message still attached to its leg has excited interest among cryptographers. Now it seems that one of their number in Canada may have cracked the code.


Eelgrass is an aquatic plant that plays an important role in many watery ecosystems, but it has been declining in some places. A new study shows how many animals distribute seeds of the plant to new areas. Ducks such as the Lesser Scaup are particularly important to its dispersal.


A new analysis of the DNA and skull of a strange whale which washed ashore in New Zealand in 2002 has shown that it was, in fact, a pygmy right whale, an animal that had been thought to be long extinct.


Anyone who has ever heard the squawk of a male Peacock in the throes of passion can testify that it is a resounding call, one that can be heard over a great distance. It seems that there may be an evolutionary value in that. The bird that is able to attract mates from a considerable distance enhances his chance of mating and of producing more offspring.


As the climate warms up and bird species push their ranges ever farther north, they may come into competition with the boreal forest species that are already there. This could well prove detrimental to those boreal species, scientists fear.


A recent study suggests that the construction of housing developments may have just as negative an effect on the survival of many bird species as will global warming. Unfortunately, birds must deal with both challenges. A double whammy.


Around the backyard:

Traffic at the feeders has picked up considerably this week.

I counted eight Northern Cardinals at one of my feeders in the late afternoon one day this week. Today this one was feeding on sunflower seed hearts when a Carolina Chickadee decided to fly in and join him.

Pine Warblers are regular visitors at the feeders now.

There are still at least two Rufous Hummingbirds in the yard. This is the female.

Downy Woodpeckers are frequent visitors to the suet feeders.

The American Goldfinches are more and more evident, but still no Pine Siskins.

A Downy Woodpecker visits the suet feeder as an American Goldfinch admires her style.

 There are more Yellow-rumped Warblers than I have ever seen in my yard this season.

Among other birds that I saw at the feeders today but did not manage to get a picture of were the Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Of course, the ever present House Sparrow was there, too.

I hope the holiday season is a bright one for you and your loved ones and, at some point during it, I hope you will be able to stop and enjoy the gift of birds.

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