Deadly Pesticide May Yet Be Outlawed

Deadly Pesticide May Yet Be Outlawed

American Bird Conservancy 25 July 2017

We applaud the U.S. Senators who today introduced a bill to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide that has been killing birds and poisoning the environment for the past half-century: Tom Udall (D-NM)Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA). We’re also grateful to Representatives Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), who have offered a companion bill in the House.

The “Protect Children, Farmers & Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act” would prohibit all chlorpyrifos use by amending the U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that oversees food safety.

Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate related to sarin nerve gas, is used in production of common crops such as strawberries, apples, citrus, and broccoli. In addition to the pesticide’s well-known threats to human health, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is concerned about the pesticide’s effects on birds, including to declining species like the Mountain Plover (shown). A recent draft biological evaluation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that chlorpyrifos is likely to adversely affect 97 percent of all wildlife, including more than 100 listed bird species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

ABC has been calling for a ban on the use of chlorpyrifos for years. EPA scientists agreed and were on course to ban the pesticide from use on all crops. In March 2017, however, the EPA administrator reversedw the recommendation of the agency’s own scientists and extended chlorpyrifos’ registration for another five years.

“It’s high time to outlaw the use of chlorpyrifos. It’s well known that this pesticide is lethal to birds, other wildlife, and people,” said Cynthia Palmer, ABC’s Pesticide Program Director. “We’re encouraged by the leadership shown today in Congress.”

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Scientists Rediscover Venezuelan Bird Not Seen in 60 Years

(American Bird Conservancy 25 July 2017)

Feared Extinct, the Táchira Antpitta Has Been Found in Remote Andean Region

An international team of researchers has solved one of South America’s great bird mysteries. Working deep in the mountainous forests of western Venezuela, they have rediscovered the Táchira Antpitta, a plump brown bird species not seen since it was first recorded in the 1950s.

The 7.5-inch-long Táchira (TAH-chee-rah) Antpitta had not been spotted since 1955-56, when ornithologists first recorded and described it. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as Critically Endangered, and many feared it was lost for good.

Last year, scientists of the Red Siskin Initiative (RSI) — a conservation partnership between the Smithsonian and several scientific organizations in Venezuela — organized a team to go in search of the antpitta. The team was led by Jhonathan Miranda of RSI and Provita, and included colleagues Alejandro Nagy, Peter Bichier of the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Miguel Lentino and Miguel Matta of the Colección Ornitólogica Phelps (COP). American Bird Conservancy (ABC) provided financial support through a William Belton Conservation Fund grant as part of its ongoing Search for Lost Birds.

The team set out in June 2016, knowing that several factors were likely to make the antpitta especially challenging to find, if in fact it still existed. The species inhabits dense undergrowth at altitudes of 5,000 to 7,000 feet in a rugged and hard-to-reach region of the Andes. Difficult to identify visually, the bird differs in coloration in subtle ways from related species.

Antpittas are also easier to hear than to see. But without sound recordings, nobody knew what to listen for.

The researchers had an advantage: They knew where to look.  “We followed the route described in the earlier expedition’s field notebooks to locate the original site of the discovery,” Miranda said.

To reach the remote location, part of what is now El Tamá National Park, the team traveled by foot on steep and narrow Andean trails, with a mule train to carry their gear. From their campsite, the team hiked two hours in the dark to reach appropriate habitat at dawn, the best time to hear the birds sing.

The first day there, Miranda and Nagy detected the distinctive song of an antpitta they had not heard before. “We were thrilled to re-find the Táchira Antpitta during our first day in the field,” said Miranda, “and we think they persist in more places we have not yet searched.”

Over the next week, the team was able to confirm the mysterious song as that of the long-lost Táchira Antpitta, obtaining the first photographs and sound recordings ever made of the living bird.

“The rediscovery provides hope and inspiration that we still have a chance to conserve this species,” said Daniel Lebbin, ABC’s Vice President of International Programs. “We hope this rediscovery will lead to improved management of and attention for protected areas like El Tamá National Park.”

“El Tamá National Park is an important part of Venezuela’s natural heritage and recognized by the Alliance for Zero Extinction as a critical site to protect for the Táchira Antpitta and other biodiversity,” said Jon Paul Rodriguez of Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC, the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research), Provita, and the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

“Jhonathan Miranda and his RSI colleagues have resolved one of South America’s great bird mysteries, and we hope their findings will contribute to a renewed effort to conserve this species,” said Lebbin.

In the coming months, the team plans to publish the full details of their findings in a scientific journal, including how the Táchira Antpitta’s voice and visual characteristics distinguish it from other similar species. Additional field work is necessary to learn more about this mysterious bird. Similar habitat can be found nearby in Colombia, and the species might also occur there. Better knowledge of the species’ vocalizations and the visual identification gathered in this study will help researchers determine the species’ full range, ecology and habitat requirements, and how best to ensure its conservation.

“This species was originally described by William H. Phelps, Jr. of the COP and Alexander Wetmore, former Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution,” said Michael Braun of the RSI and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “It is fitting that the Red Siskin Initiative, in which COP and the Smithsonian are key collaborators, has been instrumental in the rediscovery. We invite those interested in helping us learn more about this species to join us.”

The Venezuela search team owes its success to a number of individuals and institutions. Logistical support came from ABC, RSI, IVIC, COP, Provita, INPARQUES, Ascanio Birding Tours, the Smithsonian Institution, and the following individuals: Carolina Afan, Miguel Angel Arvelo, David Ascanio, Michael Braun, Felix Briceño, Brian Coyle, Dan Lebbin, Cipriano Ochoa, Tomás Odenall, Jorge Perez Eman, Jon Paul Rodriguez, Kathryn Rodriguez-Clark, and Bibiana Sucre.

Prairie-Chicken Nests Appear Unaffected by Wind Energy Facility

CONDOR-17-51 L Powell

(AOS 9 August; Photo: L. Powell)

Wind energy development in the Great Plains is increasing, spurring concern about its potential effects on grassland birds, the most rapidly declining avian group in North America. However, a new study from The Condor: Ornithological Applications suggests that for one grassland bird species of concern—the Greater Prairie-Chicken—wind energy infrastructure has little to no effect on nesting. Instead, roads and livestock grazing remain the most significant threats to its successful reproduction.

Prairie-chickens are thought to avoid tall structures such as wind turbines because they provide a perch from which raptors can hunt. To learn more, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Jocelyn Olney Harrison and her colleagues gathered data on the effects of an existing small wind energy facility (36 turbines) in Nebraska. They captured 78 female prairie-chickens at breeding sites, or leks, ranging from less than a kilometer from the wind energy facility to more than twenty kilometers away, and fitted the birds with transmitters to track them to their nests. Monitoring their nesting success and collecting data on the habitat characteristics of each nest site, they found little evidence that the wind energy facility affected nest site selection or a nest’s chances of survival. Instead, vegetation characteristics, driven by land use practices such as grazing, had the greatest influence on prairie-chicken nests. Birds also avoided nesting near roads.

“When comparing previousw studies to our own, it appears that the effects of wind energy facilities on prairie grouse are often site- and species-specific,” says Harrison. “Therefore, it’s important to consider the results of our study in the context of the size and location of the wind energy facility, as well as the prairie grouse species investigated. We suggest that livestock grazing and other grassland management practices still have the most important regional effects on Greater Prairie-Chickens, but we caution future planners to account for potential negative effects of roads on nest site placement.”

Private landowners were key to completing the study, Harrison adds. “Our radio- and satellite-tagged Greater Prairie-Chickens made larger than expected movements while we were tracking them, which led us to require permission from new land owners on almost a weekly basis during our field seasons. Landowners throughout our field study area were always extremely welcoming and helpful, and genuinely interested in our work. Our project was a success due to more than 50 landowners who granted us access to their private lands.”

Penguin forensics: Tracking the winter whereabouts of penguins by analyzing tail feathers

Penguin forensics
( Louisiana State University, Physorg 8 >August 2017; Photo M. Polito)

While a postdoctoral researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Polito and his colleagues conducted high-resolution forensic analyses of the chemical composition of the feathers using a technique called compound-specific stable isotope analysis of amino acids.

The scientists were able to identify the unique chemical signatures of penguin’s wintering areas in the ocean based on the coordinates from the tags and the data from the feather analyses. From this understanding, they were able to deduce where the other penguins that had not been tagged went over the winter based solely on the analyses of their tail feathers.

“This novel approach could be applied to different tissues from a wide variety of marine animals that migrate over long distances including seabirds, sea turtles, seals and whales,” Polito said. “Using stable isotope forensics to increase the size and scope of animal tracking studies will help us to better understand these charismatic species and ultimately aid in their conservation.”

Knowing where and how Antarctic penguins, and other seabirds and marine predators, migrate is critical for conservation efforts. Although electronic tracking devices have helped scientists track marine animals’ migration patterns, the devices can be expensive, invasive for the animal and challenging to retrieve. Scientists have discovered a new and potentially better way to track where penguins go over the winter using forensics.

“You can say, penguins ‘are where they eat,’ because a geochemical signature of their wintering area is imprinted into their feathers,” said LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences Assistant Professor Michael Polito, the lead author of this study that will be published Aug. 9 in Biology Letters.

Chinstrap and Adélie penguins are part of the family of “brush-tailed” penguins named after their approximately 15-inch long, stiff tail feathers. These birds shed all of their feathers after each breeding season and before they migrate to their oceanic wintering grounds. However, their long tail feathers continue to grow well into the winter when penguins are at sea.

Polito and his collaborators from NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Oxford University and the Instituto Antártico Argentino attached tags to 52 adult Chinstrap and Adélie penguins at their breeding colonies and retrieved the tags the following breeding season to determine where the birds went over the winter. When they retrieved these tags, the researchers also took a tail feather grown over the winter from each tracked penguin and from 60 other penguins that had not been tagged.

How camouflaged birds decide where to blend in

How camouflaged birds decide where to blend in
(University of Exeter, Physorg 31 July 2017; Photo: Project Nightjar)

Animals that rely on camouflage can choose the best places to conceal themselves based on their individual appearance, new research shows.

The camouflage and concealment strategies of various animal species have been widely studied, but scientists from Exeter and Cambridge universities have discovered that individual wild birds adjust their choices of where to nest based on their specific patterns and colours.

The study looked at nine remarkably hard-to-see ground-nesting bird species (nightjars, plovers and coursers).

“Each individual bird looks a little bit different, and we have shown that they can act individually,” said project co-leader Professor Martin Stevens, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“This is not a species-level choice.

“Individual birds consistently sit in places that enhance their own unique markings, both within a habitat, and at a fine scale with regards to specific background sites.”

The study, carried out in Zambia, showed that individual birds chose backgrounds that enhanced their camouflage to the visual systems of their main predators – being better matched to their chosen backgrounds than to other places nearby.

New paper explores why Peru’s parrots eat clay

New paper explores why Peru’s parrots eat clay
(Jenna Marshall 4 August 2017; Photo Donald Brightsmith)

For more than 16 years, researchers and volunteers have been observing wildlife along the clay cliffs of Southeastern Peru’s Tambopata River. They’ve gathered data every day, logging more than 20,000 hours and building one of the most extensive datasets on tropical parrots in the world.

In a new paper published in Ibis, Elizabeth Hobson, a postdoctoral fellow with the Arizona State University-Santa Fe Institute Center for Biosocial Complex Systems, and Donald J. Brightsmith, a professor in the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and director of the Tambopata Macaw Project, begin to analyze the data from this long-term study.

In particular, the team explores the potential drivers behind geophagy—or intentional soil consumption—they’ve regularly observed in 14 different parrot species there.

This region of the Tambopata River in Southeast Peru is an ideal spot to study the nearly two-dozen parrot species that live nearby in the Amazon rainforest. In the thick foliage of the jungle, the birds are difficult to see, but when they emerge to gather up beakfuls of the sodium-rich clay soil, “it’s a crazy, screaming kaleidoscope of color,” Hobson said.

“They’re all quiet when they take flight, but in a few seconds, they all begin to scream, and some drop bits of the clay from their mouths,” said Brightsmith, who has led the Tambopata Macaw Project since 1999. “It’s an incredible experience.”

But geophagy is a somewhat confounding behavior—clay soil is basically inert.

“It doesn’t have proteins, carbohydrates, or really anything that you’d need,” Brightsmith said. “If we can understand why it’s so important to these parrots, we can learn more about the ecosystem and how it affects the other insects, birds, and mammals who also eat this soil.”

Geophagy occurs around the world and in many types of animals, and scientists have proposed many explanations for the behavior. In their paper, Hobson and Brightsmith explore the two leading theories for these Amazonian parrots—that clay soils help protect the birds from food toxins when ideal food sources are scarce and that clay soils provide necessary minerals not available in the parrots’ regular diet.

Like previous studies, their analysis suggests that toxin-protection is not a driver. But parrot geophagy there is highly correlated with breeding season, suggesting the increased nutritional demands are likely behind the soil consumption. This study also joins a large body of research suggesting that hunger for sodium, specifically, is that driver.

“There’s lots of evidence that’s pointing in that direction,” Hobson said. “Sodium in the rainforest is really rare, and the place on these clay licks most preferred by the birds also has the highest sodium content.”

Understanding how nutritional needs are—and are not—being met during breeding season becomes even more important in light of climate change, according to Brightsmith. Some of the larger macaws are already breeding right before a seasonal crash in the food supply, requiring parents take their fledgling young on long flights to find food.

“If climate change starts messing with the macaw’s food supply, it could disrupt their ability to breed,” he said.

Uaktuelt med oljeboring utenfor Lofoten, Vesterålen og Senja

Norsk Ornitologisk Forening og Naturvernforbundet 1 augusti 2017; Foto Håvard Eggen)

Forslaget om oljeutvinning i Lofoten, Vesterålen og Senja vil medføre at olje- og gassindustrien rykker nærmere globalt viktige områder for sjøfugler. Oljeutslipp her vil være en katastrofe. I likhet med faglige instanser anerkjenner vi at risiko for utslipp er lav, men mener at naturverdiene er så store at området bør skjermes.

I fjor ble vi kjent med sjøfuglene på Hornøya i Finnmark gjennom NRKs direktesendte fjernsynssatsing, der vi kunne følge livet i fuglefjellet minutt for minutt. Mange ble kjent med fugler som alke, lunde og krykkje. Ingen andre steder i landet ligger sjøfuglområdene så tett som utenfor Lofoten og Vesterålen, til tross for et stadig vanskeligere liv for de fjærkledde. Det er de fantastisk produktive havområdene som har gjort det mulig for sjøfuglene å leve her. Og som perler på en snor ligger de enorme sjøfuglforekomstene på Røst, Værøy, Nykvåg, Anda og Bleik, områder som er pekt ut som fem av de viktigste for sjøfugler i Norge.

For nær store fugleforekomster

15 kilometer fra de antatte olje- og gassforekomstene utenfor Lofoten finner vi de største sjøfuglkoloniene på Røst. Historien til sjøfuglene våre er dessverre trist. Siden vi begynte å overvåke sjøfuglene på Røst i 1979 har tilbakegangen vært stor. Nå er kun en femtedel av lundebestanden igjen, mens antall ærfugler på Røst er redusert med 70 prosent siden 1988. Dette er en utvikling som vi ser for flere av våre sjøfugler langs norskekysten.

En av truslene mot sjøfuglene våre er klimaendringene. Når temperaturen i verdenshavene stiger, endrer også vandringsmønstrene for enkelte av fiskebestandene seg. De 300 000 lundeparene på Røst er avhengige av nær tilgang på småfisk som sild og tobis i hekketida. Det er paradoksalt når politikere er villig til å øke risikoen for sjøfuglene våre, og det dobbelt opp. Dersom området utenfor Lofoten blir åpnet for oljevirksomhet, vil vi utforske nye grenser for å produsere et produkt som skaper klimaendringer som truer sjøfuglene. I tillegg er sjøfuglene svært utsatt for eventuelle oljesøl.

Havområdene rundt Røst er også viktige overvintringsområder for tusenvis av ender som ærfugl, praktærfugl og havelle. Disse finner man i tette flokker. Selv små oljesøl vil ramme mange fugler. En situasjon med oljesøl i dårlig vær med høye bølger i de værharde områdene, vil være en håpløs oppgave å takle for norsk oljevernberedskap. Selv små mengder olje i fjærdrakten kan bety en sikker død. Ifølge en rapport fra Det Norske Veritas fra 2012 vil en oljeulykke i dette området kunne få katastrofale konsekvenser for sjøfuglene. Det kan ta mer enn 10 år før bestanden blir restituert, om den noen gang blir det.

Nå ser vi at flere av sjøfuglbestandene våre er i tilbakegang. Men det finnes fortsatt håp. Bestandene kan ta seg opp igjen når forholdene bedrer seg. Truede arter krever spesiell ivaretakelse. Betydningen av hvert individ øker i takt med hvor truet arten er, sett i et bestandsperspektiv. Ved Røst finner vi noen av de mest truede sjøfuglartene våre. Risikoen ved oljeutvinning nært sjøfuglforekomstene er altfor stor.

Færre trusler, ikke flere

Rundt 35 prosent av sjøfuglene våre har forsvunnet siden 2005. Det gir all grunn til å være bekymret. Da blir det så vanvittig at flere parter ønsker å gi disse utrydningstruede fugleartene nye trusler, i stedet for vern. NOF er klart imot å åpne Lofoten for petroleumsaktivitet, også utenfor Røst. Det gir oljeindustrien akkurat det de har mast om. Det gir ikke noe vern til de viktige fiskefeltene utenfor Røst. Det gir ikke noe vern til det området hvor våre viktigste kommersielle fiskearter gyter. Det gir ikke noe vern til verdens største kaldtvannskorallrev. Og sjøfuglene våre lever stadig farligere.

I løpet av det siste året har stadig flere støttet et oljefritt Lofoten, Vesterålen og Senja, både i meningsmålingene og ikke minst i kommunene i Lofoten. I 2011 var det kun én kommune som sa nei til oljevirksomhet i dette området, i dag er det ingen kommuner i Lofoten som sier ja til åpning. Utsiktene for lundene og de andre naboene i fuglefjellene ser kanskje ikke så lyse ut. Men de skal slippe å ha oljeindustrien enda nærmere fiskeområder og boplasser. For fisken og for sjøfuglenes del bør havområdene utenfor Lofoten og Vesterålen sikres varig vern fra petroleumsaktivitet.