News round-up, August 9

Click on any of the placemarks above for a news story 

• In a joint op-ed, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy take a look at the declining acreage of grassland conservation in the farm bill’s Conservation Reserve Program — an initiative that historically has contributed to a 30% increase in waterfowl breeding in the Prairie Pothole Region of the upper Midwest, as well as improved Sage Grouse numbers out west. Failure to pass a farm bill this year would halt new enrollments into the CRP program, the authors write. [Washington Post]

• At Ocean Beach in San Francisco, a seabird feeding frenzy. [Ocean Beach Bulletin; Photo: Tom Prete/Ocean Beach Bulletin] 1-IMAG2669

• One of our favorite articles of the summer: A remarkable and extensive look at the wonders of bird vision by ornithologist Tim Birkhead. Bonus points on the great murre story lede: Birkhead visits a murre colony at Skomer Island in South Wales. [Audubon Magazine]

• Wildlife groups are investigating why dozens of blackbirds fell to the ground in Winnipeg on Wednesday. [UPI]

• Mutual Publishing releases a new pocket guide to the birds of Hawaii. []

• Power lines and poisoning (both intentional and unintentional) have decimated the Wattled Crane population in South Africa, where an estimated240px-Wattled_Crane_1400 80 breeding pairs remain. Earlier this year, the South African government designated the Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve with special protected status to aid conservation efforts for the cranes, which can grow taller than five feet. [All Africa; photo via Wikipedia]

• Bird hunters are “emptying the Afghan skies,” BBC reports, with such critically endangered species as the Siberian Crane in the crosshairs. “With the Afghan economy in tatters, hunting and trading in birds offers a welcome source of income for many struggling Afghans,” Bilal Sarwary writes. “Markets selling birds of all shapes and sizes – dead or alive – are fairly common in remote areas like Syed Khel and Kohistan. ‘This is how I make a living,’ says one hunter in a bird bazaar in Kohistan, pointing to a sack full of dead sparrows. ‘There is no work here. What else can I do?’” [BBC News]

• In case you missed it: A Horned Puffin in care at International Bird Rescue. [Walnut Creek Patch]

• The New York Times takes a look at a wave of manatee, dolphin and pelican deaths in estuary waters on the Florida coast — and whether explosive coastal development in the state over the past several decades may be to blame.

About 280 manatees have died in the past year, as have hundreds of pelicans:

“We may have reached a tipping point,” said Troy Rice, who directs the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, a federal, state and local government partnership at the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Mr. Rice’s fear, widely shared, is that an ecosystem that supports more than 4,300 species of wildlife — and commercial fisheries, tourism and other businesses generating nearly $4 billion annually — is buckling under the strain of decades of pollution generated by coastal Florida’s explosive development. [NYT]