Archive for Birds
It's been exactly 1,000 days since the BP-operated oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, gushing millions of barrels of crude oil into a body of water that supports countless ecosystems and economies.
Below is a timeline of major events that have occurred in the last 1,000 days.
- Restorethegulf.org, "First oiled bird is recovered."
- Restorethegulf.org, "NOAA Expands Fishing Closed Area in Gulf of Mexico."
- The New York Times, "Effects of Spill Spread as Tar Balls Are Found."
- TIME, "100 Days of the BP Spill: A Timeline."
- The White House, "Executive Order 13554–Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force."
- Bloomberg, "BP Oil Still Ashore One Year After End of Gulf Spill."
- PNAS, "Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep-water coral community in the Gulf of Mexico."
- University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, "Study confirms oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster entered food chain in the Gulf of Mexico."
- The Times-Picayune, "About 565,000 pounds of oiled material from Deepwater Horizon stirred up by Hurricane Isaac."
- The New York Times, "BP Will Plead Guilty and Pay Over $4 Billion."
- Georgia Tech Biology, "Gulf of Mexico Clean-Up Makes 2010 Spill 52-Times More Toxic."
- University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, "UMiami scientists partner with NOAA, Stanford and U of N Texas to study post spill fish toxicology."
- NOAA Fisheries Service, "2010-2013 Cetacean Unusual Mortality Event in Northern Gulf of Mexico."
- The Times-Picayune, "Transocean to pay $1.4 billion to settle pollution, safety violations in Gulf oil spill."
Conservationists in the Mississippi River Delta region have announced local details about this year’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count: the longest-running citizen science wildlife survey in the world. There are numerous opportunities for Louisianans to participate in this celebrated international tradition. Running December 14 – January 5, the count spans the Arctic to the Andes and is now in its 113th year.
“Christmas Bird Count participants experience seasonal gifts of unforgettable sightings,” said Erik Johnson, director of bird conservation at Audubon Louisiana. “Nearly half of North America’s bird species, and about 40% of its waterfowl, spend at least part of their lives in the Mississippi Flyway,” Johnson added. “With many species residing or migrating through our region, abundant observation opportunities can be enjoyed in the field and in our own backyards.”
This year, scientists and citizen participants can look for some unusual occurrences among interesting species. Grosbeaks, finches and nuthatches are irrupting as lack of food in Canadian forests sends these seed-eaters to New England and across the Great Lakes to Minnesota (map) and in some cases, all the way to the Gulf Coast. Audubon experts are seeing species well outside their normal range and in unusual numbers: Red-breasted Nuthatches have been reported in coastal Mississippi by the Pascagoula Audubon Center; Evening Grosbeaks are drifting farther south and could move as far south as the Carolinas and Georgia.
The data that citizen scientists provide to the science and conservation communities while conducting Christmas Bird Counts are irreplaceable for understanding bird species distributions and population trends at continental scales. In the Mississippi River Delta region, data from the Christmas Bird Count have enabled scientists to understand bird population trends along the Gulf Coast and to track birds’ responses to climate change. In a region where land loss, severe storms and changing water levels impact communities, businesses, and birds alike, scientific understanding of changing trends and ecosystems is invaluable.
This year, there are new reasons for Christmas Bird Count participants to get excited: fees to participate will be dropped to encourage greater participation. The annual published report, American Birds, will go digital in 2013, saving paper and broadening access. Christmas Bird Count information will be available online in Spanish for the first time.
Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold celebrated the annual tradition in a press statement: “The Audubon Christmas Bird Count harnesses volunteer power to gather knowledge that shapes conservation policy at enormous scales in this country. I couldn’t be prouder of the 60,000-plus volunteers who contribute each year: This is the largest, longest-running animal census on the planet, and we’re all proud to be a part of the CBC. And with the elimination of fees, we're looking forward to even more people having a role in this adventure.”
To find a count near you, visit: http://birds.audubon.org/get-involved-christmas-bird-count-find-count-near-you
To learn more from Erik Johnson, director of bird conservation at Audubon Louisiana, visit his blog.
Louisiana Christmas Bird Count Dates:
December 14: Lacassine NWR-Thornwell
December 15: Shreveport; Sabine NWR; D’Arbonne
December 16: Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie NWR
December 20: Claiborne; Grand Isle
December 21: Pine Prairie; New Iberia
December 22: Natchitoches; New Orleans; Natchez
December 26: Lafayette
December 27: White Lake
December 28: St. Tammany Parish; Catahoula NWR
December 29: Cheneyville-LeCompte; Venice; Johnson’s Bayou
December 30: Northshore-Slidell; Reserve-Bonnet Carre Spillway
January 2: Creole
January 3: Crowley
January 5: Baton Rouge
January 5: Bossier-Caddo-Bienville
During the months of October and November, staff from the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign will be making stops along the Mississippi River, talking with people about the importance of the Mississippi River Delta to birds migrating along the flyway this fall. In today’s post, National Audubon Society’s Sean Saville tells readers about attending the Breakfast with the Birds event in St. Louis, why the delta is important to birders there, and his vision for restoration.
By Sean Saville, National Field Director, National Audubon Society
Standing near St. Louis at the confluence of the two largest rivers in America, the Mississippi and the Missouri, I'm reminded just how important and special this particular place is. Not only is it a major hub of shipping and river industry for the whole river system, but it is an incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem comprised of marsh, bottomland forest, wetland and prairie that is home to a stunning array of wildlife, especially birds.
We had the pleasure of witnessing the spectacle of fall migration at this special place, and the group that had gathered with us Saturday morning at the Audubon Center at Riverlands was all too aware of the significance of what they were viewing. We saw a pair of Northern Harrier, many Blue-winged teal, Shovelers, American white pelican, a Franklin's gull and a few Red-winged blackbirds, to name a few. The birds knew this is a special place, too, and had stopped in to take advantage of the food and resources here on their way south along the Mississippi Flyway to their wintering grounds.
The folks that had gotten up early to be here had also come to hear about what they could do to help advocate for restoration of the Mississippi River Delta, because people who live this close to the river know that the whole system is connected. As someone in the group said: “We all live downstream, and what we do here affects everyone else further down the river.” This mentality and appreciation of the interconnectedness of communities up and down the river is refreshing, and a great example for the rest of the country.
I bid farewell to this special place and to my gracious hosts with a sense that if we could just get everyone to come and see a place like this and feel a part of something greater, then our work to protect the vitality of the Mississippi River Delta and flyway would be a lot simpler.
To learn more about future Fall Migration Tour events, please visit: http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/take-action/fall-2012-migration-tour/No Comments
By Kevin Chandler, Communications Coordinator, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
Last week, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign’s Fall Flyway Migration Tour touched down in coastal Alabama for the 9th Annual John L. Borom Coastal BirdFest. On October 4 and 5, we tabled at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, the second largest delta in the United States. The 5 Rivers Center sits at the point where the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee and Blakeley rivers meet to flow into Mobile Bay. On Saturday, October 6, we shared a tent with the Pascagoula River Audubon Center at the BirdFest expo on the campus of Faulkner State Community College in beautiful Fairhope, Ala., on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.
The festival is a great opportunity for birders throughout the United States and abroad to take expertly guided trips along the Alabama Coastal Birding trail, one of the most important migratory stopovers in the United States. Though many participants were already very familiar with the problems the Mississippi River Delta faces, we were able to connect some visitors with the region for the first time. And because those who love the outdoors are intimately connected with the health of ecosystems, we had no trouble recruiting signers to our petition to BP demanding that they accept responsibility in the gulf.
Events like this remind us that the Mississippi River Flyway is highly interconnected, and just as the delta’s land loss affects birds throughout the flyway, it also affects the birders and outdoorsmen who are dedicated to enjoying and protecting the wildlife along its migratory path. We are incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to connect with so many engaged conservationists throughout the three day event. As the Migration Tour continues, we look forward to more opportunities to help spread the word that the delta’s crisis is a national issue. The delta’s loss is your loss.No Comments
By Ryan Rastegar, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign Coordinator
The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign is organizing a fall migration tour! Throughout the months of October and November, our staff will be organizing events up and down the Mississippi River to highlight the important role the delta plays in maintaining a healthy Mississippi Flyway.
The Mississippi Flyway is a bird migration route that our winged friends generally follow along the Mississippi River when migrating south in the fall and north in the spring. Birds typically use this route because there are no mountains to block their path, making the trip easier and more direct. This route also provides easy access to water and food. About 40 percent of all North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds use the Mississippi Flyway, which accounts for the higher number of bird species found in those areas!
The Mississippi River Delta itself supports more than 400 species of birds, providing critical breeding, wintering, and migratory stopover habitat for 100 million individual birds each year, including approximately 5 million ducks and geese.
Unfortunately, after decades of abuse and mismanagement, the delta is disappearing rapidly, sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. The collapse of the delta has the potential to disrupt this migration path, thereby decreasing not only the number of birds in the delta, but also along the entire Mississippi Flyway. We can restore the delta by connecting the Mississippi River to its wetlands, but we must act now before it is too late.
We’ll be planning tour events over the course of the next month to raise awareness of this issue all across the flyway and recruit activists who are ready to join the fight to restore the Mississippi River Delta. Our first event is this week at the John Borom Birdfest in Fairhope, Ala. Check back here to find out where we’re going and register for an event near you! And be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more updates!No Comments
This story was originally published by the National Wildlife Federation.
By Craig Guillot, National Wildlife Federation
When Hurricane Isaac struck Louisiana on the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, its winds and tidal surge caused four deaths and at least $1.5 billion in insured damages. For many residents around the Mississippi River Delta, Isaac brought back memories of two recent disasters to hit the coast — Katrina and the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Before the storm even hit land, residents in some coastal communities noticed a rise in the number of tar balls washing ashore. Officials later discovered moderate amounts of tar balls and weathered oil in coastal Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Experts say scenes like this could be normal for decades to come and that Louisiana’s coast will require constant monitoring and a long-term plan for restoration. Despite advertising campaigns to the contrary, the region is still reeling from the Gulf oil disaster more than two years after the blow out of BP’s Macondo well.
Tar balls and oil reappears in the Mississippi River Delta
Even before Hurricane Isaac hit the coast, residents in communities from Grand Isle, La., to as far east as Gulf Shores, Ala., started to report an increase in tar balls washing ashore as the Gulf began to churn. Tar balls, sheen and various remnants of weathered oil were found following the storm in many of those areas including the pristine shorelines of Ship Island in Mississippi.
A National Wildlife Federation (NWF) team surveyed the waters and beaches near Port Fourchon, Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle on September 6 to survey the waters and beaches. While they did not find any evidence of significant oiling, they did find moderate amounts of tar balls on the beaches in Grand Isle. Tar balls have been a reality on Louisiana's coast for decades but Grand Isle residents say what was left on the beaches after Isaac was "a lot more than normal."
NWF Staff Scientist Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., said a number of tropical storms and weather events have washed up tar balls since the start of the 2010 disaster.
“They continue to wash up because there’s a lot of weathered oil still out there, either just offshore or just beneath the surface of the sand,” Renfro said.
NWF also made a trip out to Myrtle Grove, La., on September 7 to survey the damage that Isaac inflicted on the marsh. The eye of the storm first made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River and passed over some of the state's most fragile marshes before making a second landfall near Port Fourchon.
David Muth, Louisiana state director for NWF, said the team found evidence of localized marsh destruction. On his survey, Muth noticed hundreds of large chunks of marsh that had broken away and been deposited in open water.
“Marsh break-up occurred in areas that have a history of rapid marsh loss in Louisiana, near Myrtle Grove. Healthier marshes to the south showed no signs of break-up. The findings illustrate the importance of quickly building the authorized Myrtle Grove Sediment Diversion, which will build new marsh in this vital area.”
The NWF team also found three oiled pelicans near Myrtle Grove. A number of media outlets reported oiled birds and wildlife following the storm. While there is no connection between these findings and the Macondo disaster, Muth said, “This is further evidence that we have not yet completely learned the lessons of the Gulf oil disaster.
"Oil could be here for decades."
Even 23 years after the Exxon-Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, oil can still be found beneath the surface. Biologists say that "sub-lethal" effects to fisheries could linger in the Gulf of Mexico for years to come.
"It will probably be an issue for a long time, especially as many people conjecture that there are still tar mats laying on the bottom that you can't easily clean up," Muth said.
In April 2012, two years after oil started pouring into the Gulf, an NWF team found heavy oil still sitting just beneath the surface on small islands in Barataria Bay and Bay Jimmy. On one island, the oil was so abundant that it oozed to the surface under each foot step. Renfro said while oil may remain below the surface during the winter, it can emerge in the spring and summer when the heat softens it up and liquefies it. Many biologists believe that reappearing oil could be an annual occurrence in the summer months.
If there’s any good news, it’s that when oil comes to the surface, sunlight and weathering can help further break it down.
“Photo-oxidation from the sunlight helps break down that material even more. It also helps reveal it so that cleanup crews can get it. Hopefully we’ll have less and less over time,” Renfro said.
Last week, Louisiana State University ran lab tests for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and determined that the oil found on Grand Isle and Elmer's Island matched the footprint for the oil spilled from BP's Macondo well. BP later confirmed that the oil was from the well and that they would dispatch workers to clean it up.
Ed Overton, Ph.D., professor emeritus with the Department of Environmental Sciences at Louisiana State University, said that while oil is still out there, it is hard to tell exactly how much. Overton did say that storms can serve as “Mother Nature’s hurricane” in helping break down the oil. He believes that oil will degrade faster on the Gulf Coast than it did in Prince William Sound because of the geography of the shore.
“Our shoreline erodes and moves around more quickly. The problem with sandy beaches is that once it gets buried, you just don’t know where it is. We’ll likely see it for years but not at the level we saw in 2010,” Overton said.
Mississippi River Delta wetlands remain in a precarious state
Biologists and coastal restoration advocates say while the oil is an issue, it is only one part of a number of problems eating away at Louisiana’s wetlands. Oil has attacked the roots of plants and contributed to the death of marsh grass and mangroves but the encasement of the Mississippi River and saltwater intrusion has had a destructive impact for decades. In some areas of the marsh, the oil appears to have been the final straw.
Renfro also surveyed the Mississippi River by air on September 7 and saw heavily damaged patches of marsh between Belle Chase and Point a la Hache. She and Muth said there were clear differences in how untouched marshes fared compared to those that were heavily oiled during the summer of 2010.
“Pelican Island doesn’t look good at all. The mangrove has just been all brown and dead. It saw heavy oiling in 2010,” Muth said.
While marshes have always endured the winds and surges of hurricanes, Muth said he’s seen clear differences in how a healthy marsh can recover quickly. Further south in “healthier” areas of marsh, Muth said some parts looked almost invigorated by the storm where natural processes can deposit new layers of clay and sediment.
Renfro said the Wax Lake Delta is a clear example of how a thriving marsh can recover from a storm. After Hurricane Rita struck the area in 2005, damage to these wetlands was observed in the aftermath of the storm, but there was not a significant lasting impact. The Wax Lake Delta has been a rare success story in coastal restoration because it is fed sediment by the Atchafalaya River.
“The steady supply of mineral-rich sediments from the river help make these wetlands more resilient and allow them to recover quickly when damaged,” Renfro said.
NWF’s Greater New Orleans Program Manager Amanda Moore said it all underlines why the Gulf Coast needs a long-term comprehensive strategy for coastal restoration. NWF was instrumental in helping create and push for the passage of the RESTORE Act, a bill that ensures 80 percent of the fines and penalties from the Gulf oil disaster will be dedicated to Gulf Coast restoration.
Moore said its passage has been a monumental victory for the coast and that funding in the near future should help move along big coastal restoration projects. Ongoing monitoring of the impacts of the Gulf oil disaster will be needed to ensure a sound recovery.
“We knew that when the disaster happened, we'd be dealing with this for years to come. We need to keep vigilant and watching it because we could be dealing with this for a long time,” Moore said.No Comments
By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund
In the wake of Hurricane Isaac, 12 miles of Louisiana coastline have been closed because of newly washed up tar balls. Though the oil still must be analyzed, many – including BP – say that these tar balls could be leftovers from the 2010 BP oil disaster. (Update: Tests taken today confirm that the oil is from the 2010 BP spill)
At the same time, the Department of Justice has filed a memo blasting BP and underscoring the federal case that BP may be held grossly negligent in its handling of the Macondo well — a designation that could have tremendous impact on the amount of RESTORE Act dollars that flow back to the gulf.
How many more stories do we need to read about oil washing ashore before BP steps up to the plate and makes things right? How many more beaches need to be closed before BP stops stalling and makes the gulf whole again?
BP must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law for their carelessness. The Gulf Coast’s ecosystems and economies depend on it. BP also needs to reach a settlement as soon as possible. The sooner a settlement happens, the sooner restoration can begin.
Despite what BP might want you to believe in its advertisements, the Gulf Coast is still hurting. The gulf environment and the people and businesses that depend on it are still reeling from the effects of the spill. And while it will take years to understand the full extent of the spill’s damage, we do know that the oil continues to show up on beaches in the form of tar balls and mats, has severely impacted bird nesting habitat, has negatively affected endangered sea turtles, is probably at least partly responsible for a spate of dolphin deaths, sped marsh erosion in heavily impacted areas and that dispersants used to break up the oil have harmed plankton – a key link in the ocean’s food web.
The communities, businesses and wildlife of the Gulf Coast depend on a healthy environment for survival. Environmental restoration also provides economic restoration. By creating jobs and adding value throughout coastal economies, the same wetlands that protect coastal communities can also sustain them. The sooner a settlement can be reached, the sooner restoration funds can be made available and the sooner businesses and communities can get back on their feet and start recovering.
BP’s job in the gulf is not finished. It is time for BP to stop stalling and make the gulf whole again. For a region that has suffered so much, it’s the right thing to do.
By Miles Grant, National Wildlife Federation
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) this week led a boat trip to Louisiana marshes hit hard by the Gulf oil disaster. The trip made depressingly clear that while national attention has moved on and Congress still hasn’t passed legislation to restore the Gulf, much BP oil remains, it’s easy to find and it’s never far from the Gulf’s wildlife.
The trip out of Myrtle Grove Marina with Captain Dave Marino was led by David Muth, state director of NWF’s Mississippi River Delta campaign, David White, director of NWF’s Gulf of Mexico Restoration campaign and Alisha Renfro, NWF coastal scientist.
“As they headed south to the corner of Barataria Bay called Bay Jimmy, the tide was high and winds were blowing strong at 20 miles an hour out of the southeast,” said NWF’s David White. “That drove water high up into the marsh, obscuring the oiled edges denuded of vegetation. With such a high water line, it was hard to determine exactly how much oil might remain.”
After finding a safe place to land, it became clear that despite BP’s efforts to mop and scrape marshes, oil remains in various stages of weathering and decomposition. On the surface, it’s now weathered into tar — some small clumps and other large mats — and it’s there for the long term.
“There were a few patches in the marsh that were completely devoid of vegetation. They smelled like asphalt,” said NWF’s Alisha Renfro. “Because it’s so thick, natural processes like sunlight and bacteria have a hard time breaking down the hydrocarbons. It ends up serving like a cap on the marsh surface — a hardened seal that blocks light and gas exchange, diminishes growth and creates a dead zone with little new life. However, baby fiddler crabs and other marsh invertebrates could be seen scuttling across the dead surface.”
In the tar-covered marshes, NWF staff found a dead and decomposed American White Pelican. Liquid oil was visible on its wing feathers, its origin mysterious, until the staff made a new discovery.
“Wherever we stood in the marshes, liquid oil would squeeze out of the sediment. I probed the ground a little and didn’t see the oil right at the surface, so it was probably coming from several centimeters down,” said NWF’s Alisha Renfro. “During the winter, with cooler temperatures, this oil would be thicker and harder to see since it’s not at the surface, but as it has gotten warmer the oil is far less viscous and can seep back to the marsh surface.”
It’s impossible to know when the oil got on the pelican or contributed to its death. “A large flock of pelicans nearby had settled on another marshy shoreline that had been similarly oiled. They appeared healthy with no signs of oiling from a distance,” said NWF’s David Muth. “But the dead bird provided a stark reminder that nearly two years into the Gulf oil disaster, the BP oil remains a daily fact of life for the Gulf’s wildlife.”
As you can see in additional photos from the trip at NWF’s Flickr page, marshes continue to show signs of degradation and retreat. That follows the trend NWF staff have witnessed in recent trips, like the collapse of Cat Island’s mangrove trees from a thriving rookery for Brown Pelicans and other birds in 2010 to a patch of brown lifeless sticks in 2011.
The trip was a reminder that Mississippi River Delta restoration is needed now more than ever. While the Senate passed the RESTORE Act as part of its transportation bill, the House has yet to act.No Comments
Thanks to all who have been participating in our RESTORE Act social media week of action! Our work is not done. There is a good chance the RESTORE Act could come to a vote in the Senate this week. That's why it's important for us to keep the pressure on and continue sending messages to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), asking them to take a position on the RESTORE Act and pass it NOW!
Just click on one of these messages!
#RESTOREAct could pass this week! @SenatorReid @McConnellPress Send BP #oilspill fines to the #gulf! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta
Background on the RESTORE Act:
The BP oil disaster dumped nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, damaging the wildlife, ecosystems and economy of the Gulf Coast.
The RESTORE Act seeks to ensure that at least 80% of the penalties paid by BP are returned to the gulf to be used for restoring the region’s communities, economies and environments.
However unless Congress acts quickly, these penalties could go toward unrelated federal spending. We must act now if we want to ensure that this money goes back to where the damage was done!
Just click on one of these messages to tell Congress to pass the RESTORE Act NOW!
#RESTOREAct could pass this week! @SenatorReid @McConnellPress Send BP #oilspill fines to the #gulf! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta
Below is an excerpt from an account of the Grand Isle Christmas Bird Count, which took place Dec. 21, 2011. Audubon's Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen science effort of its kind in the world. Nearly 30 counts occur in Louisiana each season. Read the full account on the Audubon magazine blog.
"Grand Isle: the only inhabited barrier island in Louisiana. A narrow wisp of sand marking the gulf-most extent of an old and withered Mississippi River Delta lobe. The setting for some of Kate Chopin's most memorable scenes, the site of many horrors during BP's oil disaster, and a stage for all the life in between. And today, the hub of the Grand Isle Christmas Bird Count. …
"We picked seven Red Knots out of the crowd. Red Knots are extraordinary animals, able to undertake some of the longest migratory journeys in the avian world, yet teetering on the brink of disappearance due to a whole range of human activities.
"Not unlike, in fact, the land on which we were standing, there on the fringe of the Mississippi River Delta, which – thanks to human shortsightedness – is one of the fastest disappearing landmasses on the planet. And if that weren't enough, oil had coated this very beach only months before and still lurks beneath the surface in places."No Comments