Bird Note: The Bar-tailed Godwit - An Epic Journey!
During fall migration, this Bar-tailed Godwit will fly over the Pacific Ocean, making a non-stop flight of 7,000 miles from Alaska to New Zealand. These amazing birds can achieve their epic journeys only after fattening up – along the coast of Alaska in fall, or along the Yellow Sea during spring. However, the food-rich tidal mudflats of the Yellow Sea are disappearing rapidly. Using satellite tags, Nils Warnock of Audubon Alaska studies the godwits’ migration routes – and notes the critical importance of the Yellow Sea.
Why We Can Blame A Warm Arctic For This Winter’s Icy Chill
Arctic amplification is affecting the jet stream and letting weather systems persist longer, atmospheric scientist says
by Sarah Zielinski
Warm weather thousands of miles away would seem an unlikely cause of the United Kingdom’s freakishly wet winter or the bone-deep chill experienced this year by the eastern United States. But a warming Arctic can be blamed for both, said Rutgers University atmospheric scientist Jennifer Francis at the recent AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.
“It’s because the pattern this winter has been basically stuck in once place ever since early December,” Francis said. And the pattern—which has included cold, cold temperatures in the eastern United States, for instance—has been stuck because of the Arctic.
Back in 1896, the Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius first calculated [pdf] how pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would warm the planet through the greenhouse effect. That warming, he wrote, would be most pronounced in the Arctic regions, a phenomenon known as Arctic (or polar) amplification. And it is now able to be seen above the noise of the world’s weather—below is a NASA animation of temperature differences compared to averages, from 1950 through 2013…
Way out in the Bering Sea, the world’s Spectacled Eiders (Somateria fischeri) huddle together in the limited open water amongst sea ice for the winter… and search for the eider of their dreams. The birds pair up here before departing for nesting grounds in a few months. They only nest in the Arctic coast of Russia and Alaska and the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta in western Alaska. Hmm, is she giving him the eye?
Tundra and steppe turning to less-nutritious grasses may have contributed to extinction of ancient Arctic beasts.
by Dan Vergano
Grasslands suddenly spreading across the Arctic about 10,000 years ago helped killed off the woolly mammoth and other prehistoric mammals, suggests a study of ancient Arctic vegetation.
Climate warming after the Ice Age, prehistoric hunters, and even a comet impact have been proposed as reasons for the extinction of the mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, and other oversized “megafauna” that once inhabited Siberia and North America’s far northern plains.
The new DNA analysis of Arctic vegetation over the past 50,000 years, published in Nature by a team led by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, offers a new wrinkle on the climate-warming theory: The great beasts vanished because they weren’t getting enough of the right food…
This has been possibly a record winter for Snowy Owls.
The birds have been irrupting farther south and in greater numbers than they have in a couple of decades, with some individuals being spotted as far south as Florida - way beyond their normal winter range.
The reason for this event is not a population crash of their primary food source, lemmings, but in fact the opposite - it was a bumper year for lemmings, and so a bumper year for the owls.
A large majority of the birds being seen are heavily marked with black; young birds are typically much darker than older birds of the same sex (though females are also darker than males, so older females and young males can often have a similar amount of black).
Several dozen researchers have rapidly organized Project SNOWstorm this winter in response to the unusual numbers of owls.
They are collaborating to study the behavior and movement of the owls in order to get a better understanding of their winter requirements. A few owls have also been outfitted with solar-powered GPS trackers that record the birds’ movements and report them using the cell tower network. When out of cell tower range, the trackers will store the locations until the bird next returns to cell range.
Because the units are solar-powered and can potentially operate for two or three years, we have the unique opportunity to observe where these owls go and how they move on their breeding grounds in the Arctic, too.
For more on Project SNOWstorm, including movement maps of some of the tagged owls, visit here:
RECORD BREAKER: This Red Necked Phalarope just broke the migrating record for Europe! It migrated 16000 miles, across two oceans (Atlantic then Caribbean), and finally wintered in a third (Pacific). It flew from Shetland Island in Scotland to Peru. Then back again. Flabbergasted.
Here’s the idea: a superabundance of lemmings occurring in summer 2013 during the owls’ nesting season resulted in high nesting success. No baby owls went hungry and a superabundance of owls fledged.
Seeking to space themselves out, many of these young, well-fed owls are now invading unusually southern latitudes throughout North America.
At this point, we can’t be sure what has brought all of these owls south, but we do know that lemmings play a critical role in influencing snowy owl breeding distribution and nesting success. Beyond their role in the lives of owls, lemmings influence almost all aspects of arctic ecosystems…
A series of papers recently published by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History suggests that polar bears in the warming Arctic are turning to alternate food sources. As Arctic sea ice melts earlier and freezes later each year, polar bears have a limited amount of time to hunt their historically preferred prey—ringed seal pups—and must spend more time on land….
In the first paper, published in spring 2013 in the journal Polar Ecology, the researchers provide, for the first time, data and video of polar bears pursuing, catching, and eating adult and juvenile lesser snow geese during mid-to-late summer, when the geese are replacing their primary flight feathers…