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Blogging on animals, peace and war, science, social justice, women's issues, arts, and much more

Great tits look for food


This 18 February 2017 video is about great tits looking for insect food among fallen leaves in the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen in the Netherlands.

Pine siskins at Canadian feeders


This video from Canada says about itself:

Pine Siskins Make an Uncommon Visit to Ontario FeederWatch Cam – Feb. 22, 2017

Two or Three Pine Siskins spent some time on the feeder tray of the Ontario FeederWatch Cam this afternoon. These small, brown, streaky finches have subtle yellow edgings on wings and tails. Pine Siskins can be easily confused with the Common Redpolls on cam, but they have a slender, more sharply pointed bill and are much streakier on the breast. They also lack the red forehead spot of the Common Redpolls.

Thanks to our eagle-eyed cam host for the spot!

Thanks to Perky-Pet for helping to make the Ontario FeederWatch Cam possible!

The FeederWatch cam is located in a residential neighborhood in Manitouwadge, Ontario.

Featuring pine grosbeaks as well.

British barn owls still in trouble


This video from England says about itself:

20 March 2015

Barn Owls, Tyto alba. In slow motion.

Near Hundred End Lancashire, March 2015.

With a Panasonic Lumix GH4

From BirdLife:

22 Feb 2017

British Barn Owls still struggling to adapt to modern life

The most recent nest site survey indicates that the factors that wiped out 70% of Barn Owls in the 20th century still impact the beloved species today

By Alex Dale

One of the most widespread birds of prey in the world, the Common Barn Owl Tyto alba has proven so successful at adapting to life alongside humans that even its very name reflects the symbiotic relationship that has been shared by farmers and this charismatic bird over the course of thousands of years.

Common Barn Owls prefer to roost and nest in sheltered areas that protect them from the elements, and when settlers first began building on Britain’s countryside, crafty barn owls quickly swooped on the opportunity, swapping rock crevices and holes in trees for comfy crevices in the attics of barns and churches. In return, Barn Owls would repay their unwitting landlords by preying on the mice and voles that ventured onto their land.

However by the mid-20th Century, changes to the dynamic of this human-bird relationship rapidly sent British Barn Owl numbers into a tailspin. According to the Barn Owl Trust – a UK-based charity who works to protect the species – Barn Owls in the country declined by as much as 70% between 1932 and 1985.

The Barn Owl declined by 70% during the 20th Century, as intensive farming practices took their toll on the much-loved countryside bird

These declines are largely the result of improvements in the way farmers cultivate their land. The rise of the combine harvester, which is extremely efficient at harvesting grain, and the development of sealed grain silos, means grain is no longer stored in enclosures on farmland, meaning less food for rodents during the long, cold winters, and subsequently less prey for owls.

Today’s farmers are also able to cultivate land that was previously beyond their tools’ means, allowing them to plough right to the edges, resulting in the loss of the Barn Owl’s favoured hunting habitat: rough grassland verges.

The 20th Century has also brought with it other dangers that have taken their toll: road fatalities, potent rat poisons and the loss of nesting spots as traditional barns are pulled down and replaced with less inviting buildings.

There is evidence that numbers of barn owls in the UK have stabilised since the mid-1990s, but clearly these factors are still impacting the species today. While numbers of the UK population of this reclusive, nocturnal species are poorly understood, we can determine the health of the country’s Barn Owl population through the Barn Owl Trust’s annual nest site survey, in which 32 independent local groups from across the country – from Cornwall to Norfolk to Northern Island – pool together to visit nest sites and record the brood size of successful breeding pairs.

The results tell the story of another poor year overall for the Barn Owl – the number of nesting pairs in 2016 was down 6% on the all-year average, and the number of young in the nest was down 7%. While disappointing, the numbers are at least an improvement on 2013 and 2015, two exceptionally poor years where cold weather saw nesting occupancies down 70% and 25% against the all-year average.

Low productivity is clearly becoming a trend, which the Barn Owl Trust attributes to a lack of available prey, and an overall low population density exacerbated by a lack of juvenile barn owls to replace the adults.

The report, which can be read here, recommends several measures to help sustain Barn Owl numbers, including habitat improvement, the installation of low-flight prevention screens around trunk roads to avoid collisions, and replacing existing nest boxes to reduce chick mortality by ensuring the replacements are no less than 460mm deep.

Trump’s anti-education DeVos and United States teachers


This satiric video from the USA says about itself:

10 February 2017

Jimmy [Fallon] speaks with new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about her plans for America’s public schools, including getting rid of textbooks.

By Nancy Hanover in the USA:

“If you don’t have an education, you don’t have a life”

Teachers speak out on the schools crisis and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

23 February 2017

New US Education Secretary billionaire Betsy DeVos has lost no time in making known her ideological opposition to public education, contempt for educators and hostility to democratic rights.

Her installation has evoked strong opposition to teachers, who rightly see DeVos as the spearhead of a ramped up attack at all levels on public education.

Following her narrow Cabinet confirmation, DeVos’ first appearance was a brief visit to a public school, Washington DC’s Jefferson Middle School Academy, on February 10. Her arrival was greeted with protests by parents and teachers, temporarily preventing her from entering into the school.

Speaking to the press after the visit, DeVos insulted the teachers, haughtily characterized them as in “receive mode” … “waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child.” She has routinely referred to public schools as a “dead end”.

In a subsequent interview with the right-wing news site Townhall, DeVos alleged the protests were “not genuine”. “We’ve seen enough written that they want to make my life a living hell”, she added. …

DeVos has now made the highly unusual and expensive demand that she be accompanied by US federal marshals for the foreseeable future. No Cabinet-level secretary has requested a similar level of protection since at least 2009.

The secretary is not just fearful of protesting teachers, she also issued a not-so-veiled threat that any Education Department employees who try to “subvert the mission” (her pro-privatization agenda) would be attended to “swiftly and surely”, according to Townhall.

For his part, President Trump reiterated his support for privatization at a White House “listening session” with a handpicked group of parents on February 14. Trump, with DeVos at his side, described charter schools as “fantastic”, “amazing” and “unbelievable”. He has pledged $20 billion of federal dollars for school vouchers through block grants to the states or a federally funded scholarship tax credit program written into the tax code.

In an interview with Axios published February 17, DeVos stated that she would “be fine” with the abolition of the Department of Education and predicted the flowering of all types of schools except public ones. “I expect there will be more public charter schools. I expect there will be more private schools. I expect there will be more virtual schools. I expect there will be more schools of any kind that haven’t even been invented yet.”

Teachers spoke to the WSWS describing their reactions to the Trump administration’s privatization policies, DeVos, the threat to close nearly half of Detroit’s public schools, the failure of the teachers’ unions to stand up for educators and the broader political issues involved in defending democratic rights and public education. …

In the city of Detroit, the DeVos family’s policies have resulted in a wide battery of pro-privatization legislation and the control of 80 percent of charters by for-profit businesses. The growth of charter schools and edubusinesses in DeVos’ home state of Michigan, as elsewhere, proliferated under the Obama administration’s Race to the Top.

A young first-year teacher in a Detroit public schools said, “I am not originally from Michigan so I didn’t know much about Betsy DeVos before now. Working in Detroit schools and talking with other educators, I see the effects of her policies already.

“They are trying to shut between 8-10 of the Education Achievement Authority schools and dozens of Detroit Public School Community District schools, some this year and some next.

“From what I heard, the charter districts are already looking to buy these schools. That’s how underhanded things are already. Charters have had a terrible effect on Detroit. With DeVos in office, what I’ve seen will happen all around the nation.

“In my district, the neighborhood is the worst of the worst. The homes are abandoned; there are fires everywhere. These are ‘forgotten’ neighborhoods, those in poverty.

“We’re got seven-year-olds at pre-K reading levels. Seeing children two years behind is common. Our school is severely underfunded with computers. My children get no time with computers, but they need to because the tests are all online. The computer testing starts in kindergarten.

“Then bonuses are paid to the teachers based on the test scores and if there has been ‘student growth’. Attendance is a big problem. Often kids are gone for six or seven days, then in school for two. It’s really hard to make gains like that.”

The elementary teacher added her strong opposition to the administration’s attacks on immigrants. “As an undergraduate, I studied Spanish and my parents suggested I become an ICE officer. I wouldn’t because I didn’t want to send anyone back. It’s so deplorable. No one is a native here, unless you are Native American, and we see how they are treated.

“The claims that immigrants are taking jobs are just used to fuel the fire. They want to use this hot button issue to change what people are focusing on, like cutting the EPA, women’s rights or the national parks. Deporting people goes against basic fundamental human rights and even how our country was founded. I can’t even believe this is happening in 2017.”

Beverly, a Detroit Community Public Schools District teacher, said: “I am in one of the priority schools but it’s not on the list for closure. I try to speak out and be positive.

“What a lot of people fail to understand about the school closures is that it is not just academics which can put a school on the list, but also attendance. If the children don’t come to school for whatever reason—their transportation breaks down, their parent has to go to work—the school can be put on the list and the school be closed.

“A school can have most of the children improving, say 90 percent, but if that other 10 percent falls, this will pull the scores down. That can be another reason the school is judged not to meet Annual Yearly Progress.

“If there is no education and people don’t have financial means, a sociological change takes place. They can turn to stealing to find food. I try to be positive, but the powers-that-be, the political people in charge, are more concerned with their riches.

How endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatchers survive in California, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

25 April 2016

We need your help to defeat an effort by developers and others to remove protected status for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Please visit audubon.org/takeaction to speak up for this great bird.

From The Condor, magazine of the American Ornithological Society, in February 2017:

Female-biased sex ratio, polygyny, and persistence in the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus)

Barbara E. Kus*, Scarlett L. Howell, and Dustin A. Wood

ABSTRACT

Demographic changes in populations, such as skewed sex ratios, are of concern to conservationists, especially in small populations in which stochastic and other events can produce declines leading to extirpation. We documented a decline in one of the few remaining populations of Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) in southern California, USA, which dropped from 40 to 5 adults between 2000 and 2015. Declines were unequal between sexes (94% for males, 82% for females). Adult sex ratios were female-biased in 10 of 16 yr.

The proportion of paired males that were polygynous ranged from 0% to 100%, depending on the ratio of females to males in the adult population. Some males paired with up to 5 females simultaneously.

We investigated the role of nestling sex ratio in the female-biased adult sex ratio by using genetic techniques to determine sex from blood samples collected from 162 nestlings in 72 nests from 2002 to 2009. Both population-level and within-brood nestling sex ratios were female-biased, and were not influenced by nest order (first or subsequent), parental mating type (monogamous or polygynous), or year. Disproportionately more females than males were recruited into the breeding population, mirroring nestling and fledgling sex ratios. It thus appears that a skewed nestling sex ratio has contributed to a female-biased adult population, which in turn has influenced mating behavior.

We propose that the capacity for polygyny, which generally occurs at low levels in Southwestern Willow Flycatchers, has allowed this population to persist through a decline that might otherwise have resulted in extinction.