Intrusion Costs Louisiana on Many Levels

May 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

Nearly 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt walked amongst the thousands of shorebirds nesting and roosting in the rookeries along the United States’ coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Due to his conservation efforts, and those of the conservationists of his time, Breton Island and the Chandeleur Islands, barrier islands off of the Louisiana coast, became protected habitats for shorebirds. The Breton National Wildlife Refuge was established during the presidential administration of Roosevelt, in 1904, and was subsequently visited by him in 1915.

Eroded and battered by hurricanes and other forces of nature, these islands, today, face another obstacle to survival. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers, and injuring many more. The rig, 50 miles off the shore of Venice, Louisiana (the southeast “toe of the boot” of Louisiana’s geographical imprint), eventually sank and started spewing crude oil from the bottom of the Gulf – over 200,000 gallons a day, by some estimates. There is never a good time for a disaster such as this – but this happens to be the approach of the peak migratory and nesting season for many species of indigenous shorebirds.

British Petroleum, the holder of the contract for exploration and production at the site, has been reluctant to estimate the amount of oil being released, but has worked feverishly to minimize damage to the environment. Still, efforts by BP and the United States Coast Guard have not been enough to hold back the tide of crude creeping toward the shores of these protected jewels.

One would assume that everything that can be done is being done, for now – but what about thinking ahead to the future? There have been reports of cautionary flags raised hours before this catastrophe. Only time will tell if there were any signs of things to come, and, if there were, how warnings were heeded or disregarded.

It seems that the benefits of prevention would far outweigh the temporary profits realized from ignoring a dangerous situation; unfortunately, too often, it takes a disaster to bring thought and common sense into operations. In the end, it’s not the disaster that really matters, but the costs involved to remediate the damage done as a result of bad decisions.

Costs in cleanup will be tallied, lawsuits will be filed, and court cases will be settled. In the end, there will be a substantial monetary price to be paid. Ultimately, though, there will be the reality that not every cost can be covered by any amount of financial reparation.

There will be lingering effects on the environment and on the humans and wildlife dependent on that environment for survival. Human lives have been lost; ecosystems are being damaged; and wildlife is being killed. We will never have an accurate tally on the true costs of this disaster; but, hopefully, the pecuniary calculations that will take place might make decision makers cognizant of the consequences of their actions, or their lack thereof.

Article contributed by Cory Turner

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are widely distributed through North America, and are the most common hummingbirds in eastern North America. They embark on a most difficult migration of 18 to 20 hours non-stop across the Gulf. A truly beautiful bird, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are frequent garden visitors and quickly become accustomed to human presence.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird averages a length of 3.5 inches or 8.9 cm with a mass of 3.1 g. Adult males have an emerald green back with a ruby-red iridescent throat. The flanks are gray and his tail is forked. The larger female Ruby-throated Hummingbird also has an emerald green back, but has a white breast and throat. Her tail is rounded and tipped with white. Juvenile offspring resemble the female, the males developing the red gorget over time. Interestingly, as with other hummingbirds, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s wings beat extremely fast averaging 52 beats per second. Everything about these birds is fast, respiration is at 250 per minute and the heart rate reaches 1 200 beats a minute when feeding. Under normal conditions they fly at a speed of 48 km/h. In a dive they reach 101 km/h. The fast beating of the little wings of the hummingbird make a distinctive humming sound whilst they emit rapid chipping calls. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird has very short legs and has to shuffle across the item it is perching on.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feed only on nectar and insects (moths, butterflies and bees), using their long bills to reach inside flowers. They are easily drawn to garden bird feeders specially designed for their feeding habits. Males will even become very territorial over their feeder and guard it aggressively. Following an almost non-existent courtship the female will lay 2 tiny eggs in the minute nest built of bud scales. The nest is intricately designed with spider silk attaching it to a tree branch and lichen on the outside as camouflage. The inside of the nest is carefully lined with thistle down, cattail or dandelion. Incubation by the female lasts for about 60 to 80 days. Normally young ones will stay in the nest for 18 to 23 days, though this can vary greatly according to circumstances. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are fascinating birds, a wonder to the eye, so why not purchase a nectar feeder and draw them to your garden.

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Scarlet tanager, Piranga olivacea, is unusual in comparison to the other 230 species of the Neotropical Tanager family. The Scarlet Tanager differs in that its plumage changes seasonally, in fact only one other member of the family does this and that is the Tanager that comes from the South American species. Every fall the male bird changes his striking red and black plumage to olive green for a more nondescript look. The small bird is about 6.25 inches long and has a fairly stout bill. The scarlet tanager can mainly be found in treetops.

The adult male tanager is a spectacular looking bird with his vibrant scarlet red plumage set against his shiny black wings and tail. This colouring stays with the male between the spring and summer months.

The adult female has none of the famous red coloring that her counterpart has but has a more yellow plumage. The female has olive back-grey wings and tail with greenish edges at the end of the feathers, and yellow under parts. The juvenile plumage is similar to the female tanager but the males will have blacker tails and wings.

The male scarlet Tanager is very easy to identify because of its striking red coloring. The male summer and Hepatic Tanagers, on the other hand, are entirely red. The female scarlet Tanager is also easily identified as the female summer Tanager is a plain yellow and not just orangey-yellow on its under parts. The female Western Tanager has wing bars and the female Hepatic Tanager has a darker cheek and her under parts are more orangey.

During the winter the Scarlet Tanager will occupy the canopy of the South American tropical forest and then later start their nocturnal migration north with the change of season. First they migrate through Central America and then they head across to the Gulf of Mexico. Upon arrival the male bird will start singing short phrases, alternating between a low and a high pitch, similar to that of the American Robin. He will then move to the lower branches of the trees and start performing his courtship display by drooping his wings slightly away from the body, elongating his neck to show off his scarlet back, as the female takes a look from above. Once the courtship is complete and a mate has been found the male will go further up into the trees and start singing again. The female Scarlet Tanager also sings but has a softer voice then her male companion. Together they will go out and look for food and raise their young.