Sea Ice Hunting Gone Walrus Refugees Haul Out On Beaches

Like human refugees fleeing bad conditions around the world north Pacific walrus are going anywhere they can get, over crowded, over stressed and under fed.

Climate WalrusHaulOut

“With the sea ice they depend on for hunting and habitat disappearing at the end of the Arctic melt season, thousands of walruses have once again hauled out onto the northwestern Alaskan shoreline near Point Lay, Alaska.”  from Mashable

Seven out of the last nine years, this has happened.  In 2014 some 35,000 were estimated.

President Obama is due to make an historic visit to Alaska and the Arctic on August 31, with hopes by some that visuals from the great melt will finally end the ginned up debate and get action plans in place.

“The Arctic is unraveling,” said Rafe Pomerance, a member of the Polar Research Board and chair of Arctic 21, a coalition of groups lobbying for action on climate change and other Arctic matters.

… On land, melting permafrost is allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gases to seep into the atmosphere. At sea, there is increased access for shipping, natural resource drilling and military activities.

In the Fairbanks area there is a phenomenon known as “drunken forests” and “drunken homes”, where trees and buildings are leaning at odd angles because the previously frozen soil they rested in is softening up as average temperatures climb.

Humans Overwhelming the Homestead

Grassland butterflies plummet across Europe

Europe is facing huge losses in biodiversity as its grassland butterflies have declined by over 70% in the last 20 years. Data collected by professionals and volunteers on more than 3000 sites in 15 countries show, that the populations of 17 butterfly species specialized to grassland habitat suffer from severe declines.

Christmas Beetles Disappearing in Australia

… kids growing up in the city today may never know the sound of christmas beetles beating against the screen door in the run up to the festive season – and scientists believe it is man who is to blame.

In and around Sydney, the beetles’ numbers are falling as the city’s expansion demolishes their feeding grounds.

Mistletoe in England Likely to Vanish

Conservationists warn today that mistletoe, favourite plant both of pagans and stealers ofChristmas kisses, could vanish from the nation’s halls and doorways within 20 years.

The National Trust fears that the decline of traditional apple orchards, where mistletoe thrives, may lead to the parasitic plant disappearing – or becoming much harder to obtain.

Three articles collected by Earthwatch reminding us of the effects of human habitation on the home.

Grassland butterflies plummet across Europe

Europe is facing huge losses in biodiversity as its grassland butterflies have declined by over 70% in the last 20 years. Data collected by professionals and volunteers on more than 3000 sites in 15 countries show, that the populations of 17 butterfly species specialized to grassland habitat suffer from severe declines.

Eagles make comeback at Hawk Mountain

As an amateur birder who waited in vain at Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania one late autumn afternoon to see anything of note this is welcome news.

Once near extinction, the American bald eagle is making a major comeback.

Bird-watchers at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Albany Township counted a record number of eagles during this year’s migratory season raptor count, which began Aug.15 and ended Wednesday.

Spotters counted 406 bald eagles, demolishing the former record of 255 in 2008.

Dogs Protect Penguins

In what is believed to be a world first, a Maremma Guardian dog has been successfully used to protect Little Penguin and Shearwater colonies from fox and dog predation on Middle Island in Warrnambool.

Middle Island is part of the Thunder Point Coastal Reserve and is managed by the Warrnambool City Council (WCC) with much support from local community. The Island has a history of foxes and dogs preying upon the Little Penguin and Short-tailed Shearwaters colonies that inhabit the Island.

The Little Penguin population has been decimated from estimates of more than 600 in the year 2000 to fewer than 10 in 2005. For several years, the WCC has implemented a fox control strategy which included shooting, fumigation and trapping. While showing some minor successes, it failed to sustain the Little Penguin population. Along came the idea of ‘Oddball’, a Maremma Guardian dog who could live on Middle Island and protect the seabird colonies from predation in their critical time of breeding.

Fish Stock Plummeting

We’ll all be vegans with no choice about it….

…walleye pollack, which accounts for a third of the total US fish catch, is … in danger.

Fisheries scientists met last week in Seattle and recommended that next year’s catch in the eastern Bering Sea, the main walleye pollack-fishing region for US boats, be cut by 18% to 815,000 tonnes. See the report (pdf format).

A series of cuts in recent years have seen the quota drop from almost 1,500,000 tonnes in 2005.
In addition there is tuna:

The collapse of north Atlantic cod populations could provide an important lesson for preventing tuna from suffering a similar fate worldwide, researchers say.

Over-fishing caused Canada’s cod industry to plummet in value from $1.4 billion in 1968 to just $10 million in 2004. Now researchers warn that tuna fisheries worldwide are on the brink of a similar collapse.


And see Andrew Revkin’s The (Tuna) Tragedy of the Commons

CA Oil Spill Update

“About 2,150 birds have been found dead or have died at the bird rescue center since Nov. 7, the day the Cosco Busan crashed into the Bay Bridge and spilled 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel oil.

Bird experts figure that for every bird found dead or alive, about five to 10 others go unreported because they sink at sea, get eaten by predators or fly elsewhere. That would put the fatality number at up to 21,500 birds.”

Birds Still Dying

Science by Citizen

The Audubon Society released a report today that has gotten some press attention: the severe decline in many bird species over the past 40 years.

Greater Scaup The Greater Scaup can be seen in SF Bay Area waters, but in the US it has declined by 75% since 1967. Other species have declined as much, or more: the Northern Pintail, a beautiful water fowl, by 77%; the Northern Bobwhite by 82%.

What most of the articles don’t mention is that the findings have come through citizen science. Every Christmas Audubon holds a Christmas Bird count. As the Christians replaced pagan mid-winter celebrations with their birth of the Child days, so Audubon related conservationists in the early 1900s replaced the traditional Christmas “Side Hunt” [the side with the most feathers wins] with a bird count. The Christmas Bird Count has become a big deal in the US and elsewhere with some 50,000 participants.

The numbers of birds in each species, at particular sites, on the same day are submitted to a central database and published. It is from these data as well as more from the Breeding Bird Survey –another volunteer effort– that the report is compiled.

For a list of the top twenty declines see here.

Much of the decline is due to development and change of habitat and radical industrial agricultural policies. There are of course climactic changes taking place further affecting birds, as well as bird-watchers, which will be dealt with in a forthcoming report from Audubon. ScienceBlogs, meanwhile, has a report of bird survival projected in several mathematical models.

Iraq: Birding

A friend has offered to set up a trip to see the birds of the Garden of Eden. Since the offer is contingent on my translating from Arabic the new Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq we may be too old to actually make the trip. Ever. It is rather stunning that in the midst of what we are hearing and seeing that anyone has time or concentration for field guides, birding or even looking at the sky….

The release of the ‘Birds of Iraq’ field-guide adds weight to the conservation movement that has started to emerge in the country. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003, the Mesopotamian Marshes – thought to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden and home to 28 of Iraq’s Important Bird Areas – have been the focus of a major international programme to help restore their ecological and social-cultural heritage.

Birding Iraq

[thx Bob Whitson]

Bird Die Off

Just one more indicator of the handbasket taking us all to hell.

Nearly half of the world’s waterbird species are in decline, mostly due to rapid economic development and the effects of climate change, according to a global survey released Tuesday.

Waterbirds in Decline

Birds and many species can rebound spectacularly under normal conditions. In the drought of 1977 in the Galapagos on the island of Daphne Major the population of finches fell from 1,400 to 300. When the rains returned in December of 1977, after several breeding seasons, the population returned to pre-drought size, though with variations in beak-size as the breeders tired to compensate for the change in food supply.

What is worrisome about the world-wide decrease in water fowl population is that it is not due to random or transient causes — a drought that will be replaced by rain. Human development and loss of habitat — the prime reasons for the decline — are not going to be reversed soon. Though it is instructive that in parts of Europe and North America, where knowledge is being applied, habitats are being set aside, and restored and bird populations have stabilized in recent years.