Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Posts about Bird conservation

Climate as viewed by writers of fiction

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 16, 2014 - 11:35 AM

The news a few days ago about a possible solution to the potential bird-collision problem at the new Vikings’ stadium is encouraging. Perhaps the predicted thousand bird deaths per year can be avoided.

What about those birds and the millions of other birds in the world on a long-term basis?

That — and the fate of my grandchildren — drives my interest in the carbon dioxide content of our atmosphere. It’s too bad that carbon dioxide doesn’t have a bright color or a bad odor so awareness might be higher. co2 is the engine that is driving changes to the earth. It fascinates me, macabre perhaps, but I do love birds and I do love my grandchildren.

With that in mind I searched the Internet for reported daily co2 levels. I found what I was looking for on the web site of the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association. You can find this information on many Web sites. I was pleased to download one from a bird-related organization. If those turkey hunters have an interest in atmospheric co2 levels, that suits me just fine as a birder. I share their concern.

Studies of climate are always underway. The one I read during this search is dated Oct. 29, 2014, and was posted by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego (www.scripps.ucsd.edu).
Using ice cores from the Antarctic, scientists determined that previous climate changes, three in the past 16,000 years, did not occur gradually but arrived in abrupt pulses of co2 increase.

The change from the last ice age to complete deglaciation of the world was driven by an increase of 80 parts per million over a period of 10,000 years. Eighty ppm in 10,000 years.

We were at 315 ppm in 1958. The average monthly reading for 2014 was 401 ppm. We have exceeded the critical gain of 80 ppm, and we did it in 56 years instead of 10,000.

Perhaps we are talking about the wrong thing when we discuss solutions to co2 input. Perhaps we should be talking about survival in a vastly different world that seems more and more likely. It’s going to raise hell with the descendants of the birds that might not collide with stadium glass, and it won’t do our grandchildren much good either.

There has been no shortage recently of pithy comment on our plight. The HBO series “The Newsroom” on Nov. 23 presented a truly scary scenario of an interview (fictional, of course; this is a tv series) by a news anchor with an administrator from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The latter is being interviewed about a report showing atmospheric co2 levels hitting the 400 mark, regarded as a point of no return. (Timely, no?)

A few minutes into the interview, the anchor says, “You’re saying the situation is dire.”

The EPA man answers, “Not exactly. If your house is burning to the ground the situation is dire. If your house has already burned to the ground the situation is over.”

What can we do to reverse this, the anchor asks. The answer, the EPA man says, is nothing.

Fiction, yes. But the numbers are real. 

If this catches your interest, read the book “The Collapse of Western Civilization” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (Columbia University Press, a short 89 pages). Here, two scientists in the 23rd century look back 200 years to what is our present time. They are living in a world vastly changed from ours. They want to know why we let this happen. We had the knowledge. We failed to act on it. Why? 

I liked this point those fictional scientists make: We, citizens of the 21st century, did not pay sufficient attention to what was happening to us until our pets began to die of the heat. Fido and Fluffy fall over dead, and now we are worried.

An essay by Jason Mark in the Dec. 9 “New York Times” the author discusses climate fiction fantasy as seen in movies. He mentions titles from “Waterworld,” Kevin Kostner’s bomb, to the more recent “Snowpiercer.” What’s fictional, he writes, is not so much the situation depicted. The fiction is endings suggesting we will survive.

“Times” movie critic A. O. Scott wrote recently about the responsibility of artists to tell the truth. “Much as I respect the efforts of scientists and social scientists to explain the world, and the intermittent efforts of politicians to change it,” he writes, “I trust artists and writers more … through the integrity and discipline they bring to making something new, to tell the truth.”

Our Congressmen, the ones who take campaign money to ignore the climate problem, perhaps should see more movies. Or keep more pets.

co2 level for Dec. 15 was 399.26

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 16, 2014 - 11:25 AM

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on Dec. 15 was 399.26 parts per million (ppm). The level for Dec. 14 was 398.09.

One year ago = 396.30.

1958 = 318

800,000 years ago = 260

In April, May, and June of 2014 the level exceeded 400 ppm, highest in almost one million years. 

Readings are taken daily at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Go to https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

CO2 level for Dec. 9, 2014, was 398.48

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 12, 2014 - 4:33 PM

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on Dec. 9 was 398.48 parts per million (ppm).

One year ago = 395.80 ppm

1958 = 318 ppm (the year records began to be kept)

800,000 years ago = 260 ppm

In April, May, and June of this year the level exceeded 400 ppm, highest in almost one million years.

Readings are taken daily at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Go to https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

Not so common anymore

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 1, 2014 - 5:11 PM

Common birds in Europe are less so now than 40 years ago. A study published in the European journal “Ecology Letters” reported what is termed an “alarming” decrease in the populations of 140 European bird species that have been recognized as common. The species include birds that are common even here: House Sparrows and European Starlings. The decrease has been pegged at 420 million birds, down to 1.6 billion from 2 billion in the early ‘80s. The study covered 25 European countries. Ninety percent of the decline is attributed to 36 species. Included are rhe two mentioned above, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Skylark, and Willow Warbler. The cause is given as environmental degradation caused by humans. What and who else? Some species less common, like Marsh Harrier and White Stork, strangely were found to be increasing.

This was reported Sunday, Nov. 16 in the StarTribune’s science section, an excellent weekly collection of short articles on many areas of investigation and research.

Hummingbird gets free ride to Texas

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 24, 2014 - 12:56 PM

That Rufous Hummingbird that found itself trapped by weather at a St. Paul feeder earlier this month is flying free in Texas.

It was released near Austin yesterday (Sunday) after a free ride on a corporate jet. The donor asked to be anonymous. 

The bird was captured Nov. 11, and taken to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota. It was discovered by Terri Walls as it fed at a nectar feeder she keeps in her front yard. Capture was all that was going to save the bird’s life.

It was stuck here because once it left that St. Paul feeder the chance of it finding other food sources was nil.

The bird wandered from its breeding range in the Northwest. At the time of its capture it should have been in Mexico.

Many birders came the Walls’ yard see it, Rufous Hummingbirds highly uncommon here. This was the 16th time that species has been reported in Minnesota.

While at the rehab center the hummingbird was fed a special diet, and gained significant weight, from three grams to four. It was undernourished because the sugar water it was eating in St. Paul, a common formula for feeder nectar, lacks protein and other diet essentials. 

Feeder nectar is good when the birds can feed naturally, using feeders as supplemental. It won’t put pre-migration fat on the bird.

Staff at the rehab center, guided by executive director Phil Jenni, worked hard to ensure that the bird received proper care here, and would have a safe trip to wherever. Discussions were held with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas wildlife officials, and other rehabbers. 

Eventually, the offer of a free trip was received. The jet was going to Austin anyway, and had room for the bird.

A wildlife rehabber in Austin received delivery of the bird, then released it.

If you had been inclined to pay for the bird’s trip to Austin, via a small hired jet — not that anyone was likely to do that — your bill would have been between $18,000 and $22,000. 

The free ride was a good deal.

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