Today the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program added more than a dozen fisheries, including the U.S. American lobster fishery, to its “Red List” of seafood because they currently pose risks to the survival of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Seafood Watch provides recommendations for seafood buyers based on sustainability criteria. … [Currently] more than 25,000 restaurants, stores, and distributors — including Whole Foods, Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Cheesecake Factory, Compass Group, and ARAMARK — have committed to using Seafood Watch ratings to guide purchasing and menu choices and to avoid red-listed seafood.
Since at least 2001 NOAA Fisheries, which sets rules to protect fisheries and marine wildlife, has known that the second leading human cause of right whale deaths is from entanglement in vertical-hanging fishing gear including gillnets and the ropes of fish and lobster traps.
The ropes and lines become embedded in the skin. The gear snags more gear and prevents the whale from diving or surfacing completely. The whale dies.
Whenever possible rescuers from the Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife sail out to cut the lines from entangled right whales (photos at top in 2014 and below in 2004) but a portion of rope usually remains with the whale because it’s embedded in a wound.
I hope the impasse ends soon, though it doesn’t affect me personally. My husband is a Fish Frowner — no “fishy” smells at home — so I’ve rarely eaten seafood for 40+ years and, given the choice, I prefer shrimp to lobster. So glad the shrimp red list got solved.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons and via Flickr Creative Commons licensing; click on the captions to see the originals)
During fall migration bird numbers are at their highest as the adult population is joined by their recent young. I look forward to the variety of fall warblers and large flocks of chimney swifts, but this year — again — there are fewer migrants than I remember. My mood is dampened by solastalgia for birds.
Solastalgia is a new concept developed to give greater meaning and clarity to environmentally induced distress. As opposed to nostalgia–the melancholia or homesickness experienced by individuals when separated from a loved home–solastalgia is the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment.
Fourteen years ago I noticed a decline in common nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) that used to migrate in flocks of 10-20 over my old neighborhood during the 20th century. In 2008 their numbers dropped precipitously. Nowadays I am lucky to see a single bird.
Chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica) were my consolation but now they prompt solastalgia. Two years ago I counted more than 2,200 swifts roosting at Cathedral Mansions chimney during fall migration, but just last year their numbers declined sharply. My highest count in 2021 was only 100. Fifty is my highest count so far this year.
The world was a very different place during the Oligocene 35 million years ago. For one thing there was a big gap between Australia and Asia and songbirds’ ancestors could not leave Australia.
Then about 25 million years ago a land bridge formed when tectonic activity forced a patch of islands called Wallacea to the ocean’s surface. Wallacea, now part of Indonesia, bridged the gap and was the first step on the songbirds’ journey. (Ancient Wallacea in yellow below.)
They made the journey in flying steps, reaching the Western Hemisphere before Eurasia:
Australia (label C below)
Wallacea, an island group in Indonesia (label D)
Southeast Asia and India (label E)
Sub-Saharan Africa (label F)
The Americas (label G)
Some songbirds were so successful that their DNA is found at each stop in living species across the world. Corvids are one such group.
Others, like waxwings (Bombycillidae), have few DNA traces to show the path they took. Waxwings’ living DNA relatives are found only in Wallacea, North America and northern Eurasia.
Learn more about songbirds’ amazing journey in these articles:
Scientists from the University of Reading, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and the University of Birmingham found that there were up to 70% fewer pollinators, up to 90% fewer flower visits and an overall pollination reduction of up to 31% in test plants when common ground-level air pollutants, including diesel exhaust pollutants and ozone, were present.
Have you ever seen the Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming?
I had no idea it existed until Allison Cusick displayed a photo and jokingly described it as the world’s largest petrified tree during his presentation on Botanical Superlatives. I’ve never been there but I was hooked.
The origins of this gigantic “tree stump” are as amazing as its appearance.
The Devils Tower is important to Native American culture and was established as the first National Monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It is one of the few monuments that allows rock climbing.
Sometime this summer the Department of Public Works placed a large sandstone rock at the base of the stairs behind the Schenley Park Visitors’ Center. The prominent fossil facing the stairs tells a story about life in Pittsburgh 300 to 330 million years ago.
The sand became sandstone and in the early 21st century the rock separated from its fellows thereby exposing the fossil. This rock many have fallen at the Bridle Trail rockslide.
I have never seen Lepidodendron’s closest living relative, Lycopodium, in Schenley Park …
… but I’ll look for it now that I’ve seen its fossil ancestor.
Thank you to Public Works for placing this fossil rock on display in Schenley Park.
p.s. If this Lepidodendron had fallen in a swamp instead of on a sandy beach, it would have become coal. Read about similar fossils at Ferncliff Peninsula in Ohiopyle State Park in this vintage article: Fossils at Ferncliff
(photos by Kate St. John, illustrations from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Birds move around on their own but some of our most common species came from a different continent or a different habitat and were introduced here by humans. Now you can see both native and exotic ranges in eBird after they made changes this month to the species maps.
House sparrows and pigeons, both introduced from Europe, are a case in point. In the eBird maps below native range is purple, exotic range is orange.
Captured house finches were illegally transported from California to New York City in the 1940s to be sold as “Hollywood finches” in the pet trade. Just before the law caught up to them, the vendors released the birds on Long Island. The “exotic” house finch population has now spread across the continent. eBird shows it on the map below. Click here and scroll down to see how they spread through the decades.
The northern bobwhite does not do well in urban and suburban habitats but as a game bird it is raised in captivity and released for hunting in gamelands, agricultural fields and open woods. Have you seen a bobwhite in your backyard? It is an escapee within its “exotic” range.
Mid to late summer is a good time to be a bird in Pennsylvania. Fruit is ripe, seeds are plentiful, insect food is everywhere and for raptors there are plenty of naive young animals to capture. With so much natural food available and with songbirds’ preference for insects in summer, birds are not dependent on backyard feeders in July.
You can safely bring in your bird feeders now. In fact, if you cannot clean your feeders every week, they are unsafe for birds. Highly pathogenic avian flu has ebbed this summer but there is apprehension that it will return during fall migration. And it’s not the only disease that kills birds.
Yesterday I encountered three dead or dying birds in my neighborhood within half a mile of each other: a house finch that fell over unless it propped itself on open wings, a dead fledgling robin standing in the street (below), and a fluffed house sparrow that could not walk.
I have no idea what was killing them. It could have been a different reason for each species. I do know that if it was contagious, finches and sparrows would have spread it at bird feeders.
Solar-powered GPS tracking devices for birds can be so accurate that researchers can tell the bird’s location to within 100 meters. The devices keep transmitting even if they fall off, so when a beachcomber collected a discarded tag on a beach in Orkney it tracked him too.
Last winter researchers at University of Exeter attached GPS tracking devices to 32 Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) in County Dublin, Ireland to find out how the birds use the public lands. This spring one of the oystercatchers migrated to its breeding grounds on Sanday, Orkney Islands, Scotland. Its tag fell off on the beach on 7 April. The tracker kept transmitting.
At the end of May the tracker started moving again. It visited a campsite and a pizza shop, flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow and came to rest on a residential street in Ealing, London. Stuart Bearhop, Professor of Animal Ecology at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology & Conservation, tweeted this plea for the tag’s return.
Twitter can you please help? We have a tag that has fallen off one of @mindtheTrapp‘s oystercatchers. Someone visiting Orkney in the last few days seems to have found it and taken it to London. Can you please RT and/or get in touch if you think you can help us get it back! pic.twitter.com/a2IoXzI02h
“The tags are worth around £1,000 each, so pretty pricey!” said PhD student Steph Trapp who is carrying out the research. “Any we can get back will be really valuable for increasing our sample size and the amount of data we can collect.”