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Blog Birding #328

Monday, July 17, 2017 5:43
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We usually focus on blogs here, but occasionally a bird-related story passes through the traditional media and is so good that it needs to be shared here. Nick Neely’s fascinating deep dive into the new Cassia Crossbill, published in High Country Times, is well worth your time.

Little wonder that crossbills settled in the South Hills. But when Benkman first arrived, he noticed that the lodgepole pine cones were again enormous, elephantine compared to other places, and right away he suspected that only coevolution with crossbills could explain it. Since the birds pry open the tip of a cone, rather than bite scales off from the base, the cones’ upper scales had become thicker and larger, like ramparts on a turret. Over time, the birds’ bill had followed suit, though it is less a battering ram than an exquisite, sickled crowbar.

Birders might have heard about the trial and sentencing of a group of Hawaii teens who killed a number of albatrosses on a camping trip. Laura Erickson offers a considered take on an awful story.

I don’t know what the wisest, most effective way is to deal with adolescent boys who have committed such an atrocity. Imagine if an urban gang caused $200,000 damage and theft of over $3,000 of property belonging to some corporation. Leave out the violent criminal attacks on and mutilation of living creatures. There is no way on this green earth any of them would get a mere 45 days in jail and $1,000 fine.

Coastal marsh species have the most to lose to sea-level rise, and a new study summarized at The AOU-COS Publications Blog takes a look at Seaside Sparrow, one of North America’s most coast-dependent species.

Sea-level rise may be a big problem for salt marsh birds, but so is predation, and birds sometimes find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place: They can place their nests lower in the vegetation to avoid predators, putting them at greater risk of flooding, or move them up to keep them dry but risk getting eaten. A new study from The Condor: Ornithological Applications finds that greater pressure from predators increases the risk of flooding for Seaside Sparrow nests—but the upside is that protecting them from predators could also mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Dickcissels are turning up far beyond their normal range this year, and Canadian birders are taking note. Josh Vandermuelen of Ontario Birds and Herps has seen more than his fair share.

Dickcissels are known for temporarily colonizing areas at the periphery of their range, usually during years when drought occurs in a portion of their core range. Here in Ontario we are right at the boundary of where Dickcissels can normally be found and in a typical year there are only a few breeding locations, usually located in the extreme southwest of the province such as Essex County, Lambton County and the Municipality of Chatham-Kent. Using eBird, below is a screenshot of a typical year for Dickcissel sightings in Ontario; in this case, I used 2014 as the example. I have limited sightings to the months of June and July when Dickcissels would be breeding, to eliminate sightings of migrants/vagrants from other times of the year.

Bruce MacTavish of Newfoundland Birding Blog breaks down what makes a Common Ringed Plover, recently seen in the province, so special.

The orbital ring colour is an important distinction between the two cousin plovers.  Scope views of eye were microscopic at up to 50X.  There was a dim white-ish colour to the orbital ring on the lower side of the eye but nothing on the upper side of the orbital ring. I think this still sits inside the Common Ringed Plover comfort zone as some adult males in high breeding plumage have a complete narrow yellow orbital ring. Usually the area around the eye looked dark even in the bright light while the yellow orbital of the half dozen Semipalmated Plovers were clearly outlined in yellow.

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