Monday, October 21, 2013

Lest we forget the tragedy of BP's Deepwater Horizon Spill ....

           I no longer rely on our national news networks to provide real news in their daily broadcasts.   More and more, I find the need to turn to the internet to learn about what is going on in the world particularly on environmental concerns.  This is logical when you consider, after all, the source of their revenues.  Who is advertising on these networks? -- the fossil fuel companies.  We, as energy consumers need to be vigilant of the dangers of fossil-fuel based energy sources and wary of under-reporting by the national media outlets.  My goal in this post is to summarize some of what I have learned from internet sources lately about the BP trial and the historic and continuing impact of this spill on the environment.  This post will include some short and long videos and numerous links to a variety of articles.  As such, this post will not be a quick read but hopefully,  the links and videos chosen will be informative and provocative.  

           About 12 days ago, I received in my inbox an e-mail newsletter from Audubon which included the powerful, disturbing video below.  I learned also that it was broadcast for 2 days (September 30 and October 1) on a continuous loop on a 16-foot, high definition LED billboard  in New Orleans outside the courthouse this year as Phase 2 of the BP Oil Spill trial began inside.  This video, a product of the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, reminds us of the need to restore the Gulf coastline and to hold BP accountable for its negligence.

          Seeing this video reminded me again how unreliable the national news networks were for reporting important issues.  Why would Phase 2 of this trial not be a top story on all of the  national news networks?  I am not sure that I heard many reports on Phase 1.  What happened then?  Some sleuthing provided some answers which I can now share with you. 

          This Times-Picayune of Greater New Orleans newspaper article from February 22, 2013 details the goals of the two Phases of the trial, the defendants and the plaintiffs.  This New York Times article from September 29, 2013 discusses the outcome of Phase One and provides more information as to the position of the plaintiffs and the defendants in Phase Two.  The goal of Phase Two is to determine just how much oil was spilled as BP is responsible for a fine per barrel under the Clean Water Act.  Of course, BP, the plaintiff, is claiming that less was spilled than the government, one of the plaintiffs.  This NPR Morning Edition story from October 8, 2013, along with comments, provides additional perspectives on Phase Two.  For truly detailed information on testimony in Phase Two of the trial, you can read this Times-Picayune article from October 8, 2013.  Testimony concluded in Phase Two  2 days ago, Friday, October 18 and now the judge will be setting a schedule for the the penalty phase (Phase Three?).  To read more of what is to come next, this Times-Picayune article from October 18, 2013 provides the most detail on this complicated effort for justice.  Additionally, this latest Times-Picayune article leads out with a slide show of disturbing images of the history and impact of this massive and unprecedented spill on the environment, the economy, the people of the Gulf Coast states.  For a briefer summary of the wrap-up of Phase Two, you can read this article from the Associated Press from October 18, 2013.

         With the passing of the federal law, the RESTORE ACT, eighty percent of the fines collected will go to the Gulf coast States for restoration.  Personally, I hope that the maximum penalty is set as these coastal habitats and communities need these funds.  Furthermore, a strong message that negligence and then duplicitous cover-ups will not be tolerated needs to be delivered to the fossil-fuel industry.

          We do not yet fully understand the impacts of this gargantuan spill on the environment.  For example, multiple reports continue of distressed and dying bottle-nosed dolphin and of sea turtles and of massive mats of oil washing ashore.  From the beginning, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has worked to document and report on the effects of this oil spill and the need for restoration of the diverse and protective habitats of the Mississippi delta.  The following haunting and visually disturbing  video produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology one year after the spill documents its effects at that time.  The video however ends on a hopeful note as John Fitzpatrick, director of the lab, comments that by learning how birds respond to the stressors that we humans have added to their natural environment, we can make changes to help these systems to rebound and to improve the landscapes. 


           So what do we need to do with the RESTORE ACT funds?  In order for us to better understand what needs to be accomplished in restoring the coastal areas of the Mississippi Delta, we need to fully comprehend the historic and current geology of the area.  A naturally-formed delta maintains itself.   But the Mississippi River has been so grossly modified over the years for flood control and navigation, that the natural protective elements of these landscapes have diminished significantly.  The amount of marsh and land lost each year due to these modifications is astonishing and frightening.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also produced the following 24 minute video to show how the delta was formed, how it has been modified and to discuss how we can implement practices to sustainably restore the area so that the delta is again growing land.


           As I have watched these videos by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,  I have noted all the same species that they have occur along our North and South Carolina coastal areas -- only we lack, thankfully, the industrial backdrop of oil platforms.  Yet, many of our politicians would like to bring drilling for natural gas to our coasts.  They argue that the ugly rigs would be so far off shore that they would not affect tourism as the views from our beaches would be preserved.  They do not address, or if they do, they gloss over the danger of oil spills arguing that the industry has the appropriate safeguards in place.  I would argue that these same politicians who would risk damaging our fragile coastal environment, food supply and tourism-based economy should take a look at the government's own figures on oil spills in the US since 1986.  Under-reporting on national news networks of disastrous fossil fuel spills has continued for quite a while.  Check out this time-lapsed graphic of pipeline spills from 1986 to the present created by the Center for Biological Diversity from data provided by the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. 

             Certainly, we have not been informed by our national news outlets of all of these events.  As an energy-consuming public, we also need to be cognizant of the dangers that a fossil fuel energy sourced system brings.  We ourselves need to consider our energy consumption choices and push the energy producing industries and our government to invest in the development of truly clean and sustainable energy sources.  In short, we need to stop relying on fossil fuels as a primary source of energy.  Enough is enough.  It is time for a new energy future and for a different set of choices -- lest we forget the tragedy of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf. 

             I will close this post with one more beautiful video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology which depicts the birds of the Mississippi Delta and their habitats much like our bird species and habitats on our coasts.  This is what we need to work to protect.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Sweet Scent of Birds

          Those of you who have visited a heron rookery or who have cleaned a bird cage are probably thinking that I have lost it as you read the above title.  I have engaged in both of those activities, and indeed, birds can be rather stinky at times.  Until last Sunday, I would never have suspected that one might actually be sweet-smelling  when I spent the morning helping out at the Kiawah Island Banding Station (KIBS).

          To learn more about bird-banding and the KIBS site in particular, you can check out these 2 previous posts from Pluff Mud Perspectives, Birding Up Close and Personal -- Bird-Banding 101 -- Part 1 and Part 2.

Aaron Given, wildlife biologist for Kiawah Island, examining the tail feathers of an American Redstart -- October 15, 2011

           I always learn a great deal when I help at KIBS.  My education continued Sunday at the mist nets with Aaron Given, wildlife biologist for the town of Kiawah Island when I learned about some sweet-smelling birds!  I must say, that even though birds occasionally poop on you when you handle them, I myself had never noticed any particularly strong odor -- stinky or sweet.  But apparently, the KIBS team had noticed a sweet, fruity scent with one particular species.  I suppose that when you examine birds' tail feathers so closely to determine molt limits, you may notice when a certain species has a particular odor.  I did not know that at the time, so imagine my surprise when I saw Aaron remove a bird from the net and hold it up to his nose to take in a long draft!  Huh!?  My quizzical look prompted him to explain that he and his team had noted that this particular species gave off this rather sweet smell.   He wanted to know if this individual bird was sweet-smelling like others in its family.  The KIBS team was hoping to figure out what in its diet might be the cause.   This time, as luck would have it, 2 red berries (one half crushed and one whole) were on the ground under the net where Aaron had extracted the bird.  He picked them up and smelled the crushed berry and confirmed that this was the same smell as that emanating from this species.  This bird had been carrying this fruit when it landed in the net.  I also smelled the berry -- yum!  It smelled much like bubblegum!  Now, we had to identify the plant that produced this fruit.  We are sort of smart so we were able to connect the dots and form a hypothesis rather quickly.  The Red-eyed Vireo was the sweet-smelling species in question.

The sweet-smelling Red-eyed Vireo -- KIBS -- October 14, 2013 -- Photo by Aaron Given
The bright red, bean-shaped berries were about the same size, shape and color of Magnolia fruit.  Due to my observations (as reported in this blog post) of this species chowing down on berries from our backyard Magnolia in the fall, we hypothesized that these berries were indeed Magnolia fruit!  All we needed now was to confirm it.  But there are no Magnolias in this shrubby dune line habitat close to KIBS.  The bird must have flown those berries in from across the river.  I told Aaron that I would collect some berries from the Magnolia tree at home and compare the scents.
The Cone of the Southern Magnolia -- Parc Perlière -- October 13, 2013

When I arrived at home, I did just that.  The berries from our Magnolia had the same sweet, fruity bubblegum scent as the berries and the bird from KIBS.  Ta DA!  Thus, our hypothesis was confirmed, the Red-Eyed Vireo was one sweet-smelling bird due to its fall diet of Magnolia "berries!"

Red-Eyed Vireo -- Parc Perlière -- September 8, 2013
            I never know what I am going to experience when at KIBS.  This time, I sniffed the sweet-smelling Red-Eyed Vireo.  Yes, I sniffed the bird, too.  I will say that I am not sure that I would want to know what these birds smell like when they are feeding largely on insects in the Spring.  Yet, it is nice to know that they can be so pleasant-smelling when you handle them for bird-banding in the Fall! 

           I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to Aaron and the team for helping me to learn while at the nets and the bird-banding table and a very special thank you to Claire Stuyck for posing for the illustrative photo below for this blog post!  You rock Claire! 

Claire Stuyck, bird-banding assistant with sweet-smelling Red-Eyed Vireo -- KIBS -- October 14, 2013 -- Photo by Aaron Given

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Lessons From Nature -- Be Like A Duck!

Mallard -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC -- May 3, 2009

        I am confessing right now from the get-go -- this post is not purely a nature post.  Some may even conclude that it is not a nature post at all.  It is more about a song and music video that I stumbled across when researching information on Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge.  The song was used as a background music to a slide show posted to YouTube called Mattamuskeet Tribute.  I liked the song immediately.  Since I knew that Carl might want to use it sometime as a background to one of his videos, I researched it further and found the original music video -- which is simply fabulous.  It is one of those songs and videos that just make you HAPPY!  So, the question becomes: can I justify posting this music video to my nature blog ..... hmmm .... let's see!

        In no particular order, I present my justifications for this being a valid topic for the Pluff Mud Perspectives Nature Blog:

Justification no. 1:  As already stated, I was researching information on Lake Mattamuskeet when I stumbled onto the song.

Justification no. 2:  Related to no. 3 below -- "Be like a duck!" has been a personal mantra of mine when dealing with stress.  As such, I frequently advise my students (and myself) when frustrated by events beyond their (my) control to "be like a duck and let the water roll off of your back" and get on with life.

Justification no. 3:  The video and song describe and demonstrate Duck behaviors that we admire and could/should emulate!

Justification no. 4:  Related to no. 3 above:  Nature inspires art and, duck behaviors, in particular,  inspired the song and the well-known dictum in no. 2 above!

Justification no. 5:  As Carl pointed out to me -- I like the song and the music video.  It makes me smile and it is my blog.  So I am posting it! So THERE!

And without further ado ... or justifications:  Here is the music video by Sandra Boynton -- performed by her adult children and others -- "Be Like A Duck" -- whose song track was originally written and produced by Boynton and Michael Ford for the Grammy-nominated album/songbook PHILADELPHIA CHICKENS

           Now doesn't that just make you happy?!  My forays into nature do that for me also.  They serve as my antidote to the stresses of indoor life and the work week.  Heaven knows, I particularly love watching ducks as they are so entertaining.  Like me, they truly relish splashing in or simply floating on the water.  Yes, you can learn from a duck!  Thus, I thank Sandra Boynton and her creative team for producing this song and video and I salute the ducks who inspired it!

Young Wood Ducks -- Magnolia Gardens -- Charleston, SC -- May 21, 2011

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Parc Perlière: New Life Bird for the Yard! -- September 30, 2013

Northern Waterthrush -- Patriots Point -- Charleston, SC -- September 19, 2010
During the work week, my observations of backyard wildlife come only at odd moments in the morning and in the late afternoon.  Late yesterday, as I was scanning the Magnolia Tree for the the Red-eyed Vireos (for more on that story, see this previous post from 2 days ago), I noted a tail-bobbing warbler.  My first thought was Palm Warbler.  But my bins revealed the stripey sides of a  Northern Waterthrush!  I wondered momentarily if this could be a new life bird for the yard and quickly dismissed the idea.  You see, lately, I have been checking the Parc Perlière Life List to see if thus-and-such species was a new life bird only to be disappointed to find -- oh yeah, we had one of those in 2008, or 2010, or 2009.  And no, I do not have this list memorized -- not anymore!  I figured this species was already there.  Thus, I did not even mention the bird to Carl who was sitting right behind me in the living room.  Sorry Carl, the bird disappeared right after I identified it so you would not have seen it anyway.  This morning though, as an afterthought, I decided that I had better verify what I believed to be true.  Turns out, I was wrong!  Northern Waterthrush is indeed Life Bird no. 109 for Parc Perlière (our backyard wildlife habitat)! 

I am sorry to say that I missed on photographing the bird yesterday.  The photo above is my best Northern Waterthrush photo from Patriot's Point about three years ago.   

PS:  Yes, the Red-Eyed Vireos are still feeding in the Magnolias!