Sunday, November 30, 2008

new literary bird journal

The LBJ: Avian Life, Literary Arts is a new journal aimed at readers interested in good writing and birds. If you enjoy fine creative writing as well as articles, art, and poetry about birds, you'll find much that you'll admire in these pages. The first issue, Fall 2008, Volume 1, Number 1, is just now finally available. In this first outing, there are six nonfiction offerings, by Mike Freeman, Maureen Scott Harris, David Gessner, Julian Hoffman, Colette LaBouff Atkinson, and Douglass Bourne. Two pieces of fiction, twenty-two poems, artwork by Barry Kent McKay, and a set of excellent book reviews round out the selections here.

These writers are adept at focusing on the details of the natural world, and spreading light on those topics birders are already curious about. Folks for whom birding is not already a passion (or maybe an obsession?) will also find a deep well of images and ideas worth savoring.

See a pdf of the current issue's Table of Contents here, and the journal's website, here.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

conservation news

Latest headlines from the American Bird Conservancy can be found at their website.

News from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center is here.


Bad news for North Atlantic seabirds..."Analysis of this year's seabird breeding data on RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) coastal reserves shows that Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea and Parasitic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus – more commonly known as Arctic Skua - have had a terrible season, with virtually no chicks reared to fledging in the far north of the UK. " Read more at the BirdLife website.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How Redpoll Numbers Fluctuate - 40 Years


A reflection on past winters came up today on the Wisconsin BirdNet. Jerry DeBoer recalled the years when redpolls and some other winter birds seemed to him to be more numerous in southern Wisconsin. This graph shows how Common Redpoll numbers have fluctuated in Wisconsin over the past 40 years. Remember the vertical axis shows "birds-per-party-hour" - this is an excellent way to visualize these data. The numbers across the horizontal axis are count years (as they are identified by N. Audubon - thus, count 107 is the 2006-7 CBC). It's been a reasonably-true (at least much of the time) statement that redpoll numbers show a two-year cycle -- higher one year, lower the next year --but this does not always hold. The gradual difference in amplitude of these changes does seem to indicate that numbers on Wisconsin CBCs are generally lower than they were, four decades ago. Or were several of the late 1960s just banner years for this species?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

continuing decline in Evening Grosbeak population

In a new paper published in The Condor, entitled WINTER SURVEY DATA REVEAL RANGEWIDE DECLINE IN EVENING GROSBEAK POPULATIONS, coauthors David N. Bonter and Michael G. Harvey detail the ongoing decline of this species. For many decades a common species in winter in the northern third of Wisconsin, this species has declined considerably in numbers here and across the northern United States and southern Canada. Explanations range from diseases, habitat alteration, fewer infestations of spruce budworm in the boreal forest region, coupled with the possible effects of climate change. The folks at Cornell who work on this have a webpage on this, too, and it points toward the same conclusions; see it here. Very worrisome; this is a much-beloved bird species. There is evidence to suggest that the larger populations we've noted here in the past 50-70 years may have only been a recent phenomenon, and that they were formerly less common in the Great Lakes states and New England anyway. Winter in Wisconsin is not the same without these colorful, big-billed sunflower seed gluttons. Of course things are always changing with bird populations, and anthropogenic effects often seem to greatly accelerate the changes that might occur in any case.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Carbon Dioxide Already in Danger Zone

Carbon Dioxide Levels Already In Danger Zone, Revised Theory Shows
Citation: Open Atmospheric Science Journal, Volume 2, 217-231 (2008)

ScienceDaily (Nov. 9, 2008) — If climate disasters are to be averted, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) must be reduced below the levels that already exist today, according to a study published in Open Atmospheric Science Journal by a group of 10 scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

The authors, who include two Yale scientists, assert that to maintain a planet similar to that on which civilization developed, an optimum CO2 level would be less than 350 ppm — a dramatic change from most previous studies, which suggested a danger level for CO2 is likely to be 450 ppm or higher. Atmospheric CO2 is currently 385 parts per million (ppm) and is increasing by about 2 ppm each year from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) and from the burning of forests.

"This work and other recent publications suggest that we have reached CO2 levels that compromise the stability of the polar ice sheets," said author Mark Pagani, Yale professor of geology and geophysics. "How fast ice sheets and sea level will respond are still poorly understood, but given the potential size of the disaster, I think it's best not to learn this lesson firsthand."

The statement is based on improved data on the Earth's climate history and ongoing observations of change, especially in the polar regions. The authors use evidence of how the Earth responded to past changes of CO2 along with more recent patterns of climate changes to show that atmospheric CO2 has already entered a danger zone.

According to the study, coal is the largest source of atmospheric CO2 and the one that would be most practical to eliminate. Oil resources already may be about half depleted, depending upon the magnitude of undiscovered reserves, and it is still not practical to capture CO2 emerging from vehicle tailpipes, the way it can be with coal-burning facilities, note the scientists. Coal, on the other hand, has larger reserves, and the authors conclude that "the only realistic way to sharply curtail CO2 emissions is phase out coal use except where CO2 is captured and sequestered."

In their model, with coal emissions phased out between 2010 and 2030, atmospheric CO2 would peak at 400-425 ppm and then slowly decline. The authors maintain that the peak CO2 level reached would depend on the accuracy of oil and gas reserve estimates and whether the most difficult to extract oil and gas is left in the ground.

The authors suggest that reforestation of degraded land and improved agricultural practices that retain soil carbon could lower atmospheric CO2 by as much as 50 ppm. They also dismiss the notion of "geo-engineering" solutions, noting that the price of artificially removing 50 ppm of CO2 from the air would be about $20 trillion.

While they note the task of moving toward an era beyond fossil fuels is Herculean, the authors conclude that it is feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II and that "the greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable."

"There is a bright side to this conclusion" said lead author James Hansen of Columbia University, "Following a path that leads to a lower CO2 amount, we can alleviate a number of problems that had begun to seem inevitable, such as increased storm intensities, expanded desertification, loss of coral reefs, and loss of mountain glaciers that supply fresh water to hundreds of millions of people."

In addition to Hansen and Pagani, authors of the paper are Robert Berner from Yale University; Makiko Sato and Pushker Kharecha from the NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute; David Beerling from the University of Sheffield, UK; Valerie Masson-Delmotte from CEA-CNRS-Universite de Versaille, France Maureen Raymo from Boston University; Dana Royer from Wesleyan University and James C. Zachos from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Citation: Open Atmospheric Science Journal, Volume 2, 217-231 (2008)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

my favorite book of this year: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

This book is absolutely wonderful. Barbara Kingsolver is first and foremost a very skillful writer. But that's not the whole reason this book is extraordinary. Beyond her skill is the intimate link to a very immediate and real story of her family, their relatedness to the land, and the choices she and her family made about how they would live for an entire year, eating only local foods, especially those foods that they could grow or raise on their Appalachian farm. Every page is a revelation, even for those of us who may have been aware of some of these facts for years. If you read this book because I recommended it, I will know that I have passed along a rich gift to you. I could not recommend another recent book that is as truly a "joy" as this. Reading, here, is like eating something very good for you - but it is that and much more.

the last weeks of autumn

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Maybe one can be healed by what one sees. Can I save these images in a place where they act like the wind I felt on my skin? And what about the peregrine and the flock of snow buntings that flew close enough to see without optics? Can those images be saved there, too?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

new book - how to manage your land to help birds

If you have land that you'd like to manage to help birds, a new manual is available that will help you learn effective ways to do exactly that. "How to Manage Your Land to Help Birds", by Vicki Piaskowski, Kari Williams, Gil Boese, and Paula Brookmire, is the product of a decade of hard work by Birds Beyond Borders-Aves Sin Fronteras, a long-term project of the Foundation for Wildlife Conservation, Inc. and the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. How do you get a copy? There are two ways: the entire book is downloadable, or you can make a point of attending one of Vicki's talks around the state, where she gives them away. Production and publication of this book was funded by a grant, making it possible to give copies away. Learn more about the book, and about Birds Beyond Borders, by going to the website, here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

father and daughter in the new prairie

Just recently my daughter and I spent part of a day broadcasting seeds in the prairie on the family farm. My good friend Joel collected these seeds (compass plant, other prairie forbs) from his own prairie plantings. The best part of prairie restorations is that one sees results in only a few years. What this means, of course, is that Hannah will see what she planted, in only a year or two.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

in praise of a veteran Wisconsin ornithologist: Charles Kemper, M.D.

If you've been around Wisconsin birding and birders a pretty long time, you probably know this guy. If you're relatively new to birds and birding, maybe you don't. Charles Kemper, M.D. has been an ornithological guiding light and mainstay in western Wisconsin for more than a half-century. He's a retired country doctor who along the way has also been editor of the Passenger Pigeon (quarterly journal of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology), a former president of the Inland Bird Banding Association, and the long-time investigator of TV tower kills of migrant birds. If you received a copy of the just-published Christmas Bird Count issue of American Birds, look on page 32 for a great article by Charlie, summarizing 55 years of memories on the counts he has organized, participated in and compiled. It's fine reading. Three cheers for you, Charlie Kemper; here's hoping that there are many years of birding yet to come for you!