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Photo: David Tipling/Getty Images
The nightingale’s song has been inspiring writers for more than a thousand years, but today most people have only recordings.

I’m reading one of the Narnia books to my younger grandson (The Horse and His Boy), and naturally some of the cultural references are to author CS Lewis’s England. We turned to our North American bird book when a nightingale was mentioned, and no nightingale was there. I’ll be showing him this story.

Patrick Barkham reports at the Guardian, “The nightingale has virtually disappeared from Britain over the past 50 years, its population plummeting by 93% to fewer than 5,500 pairs. But now a chorus of nightingale events are being arranged by artists, musicians and filmmakers to raise awareness of the plight of one of the country’s most celebrated but endangered birds.

“Birdsong was played on phones [in April] as the street artist ATM spent the day painting a nightingale in a gallery on the square, and more than 750 people attended a concert [of musicians performing] with amplified nightingale song.

Let Nature Sing, a track of pure birdsong including the nightingale, has been released by the RSPB to highlight the loss of more than 40 million birds from the UK in 50 years. …

“Its song was played in Berkeley Square as ATM painted a nightingale on the tailplane of a Wellington bomber at an event organised by the makers of a new documentary, The Last Song of the Nightingale.

“In 1924, the BBC’s first live-to-radio broadcast featured the cellist Beatrice Harrison playing a duet with a nightingale recorded in her garden in Surrey. The BBC continued this annual tradition until 1942, when the broadcast was famously abandoned when microphones picked up the sound of Wellington and Lancaster bombers en route to attack Germany, and the radio engineers realised the sounds could forewarn Hitler. …

“[Folksinger Sam] Lee said the nightingale was the most inspiring of musicians.

“ ‘For me it’s pure song,’ he said. ‘It’s an animal that is so utterly at one with music and the environment and using all the tropes and articulation and emotional capacity of a human musician, in the shape of a tiny brown feathered being.’ …

“Lee will rework the classic song ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ at a free Extinction Rebellion event in the square, after which the audience will be encouraged to disperse through the streets of London with the nightingales’ song playing on their phones.

“Lee said … ‘At this rate we’re going to lose our nightingales, and so many species are in massive decline. We have to start celebrating these species and the arts are a very important way of brokering awareness and creating an agency for change.’ …

“ATM said he was convinced that nightingales did once sing in Berkeley Square. ‘It’s all about whether there was dense scrub in the square and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one singing here 150 years ago.

“ ‘I lived in Berlin and the nightingale’s song was a common sound. Unfortunately the modern ethos of park-keeping is lawns and open spaces. People are frightened of the impenetrable places the nightingale needs.’ ”

More.

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Photo: Clark Mischler
Hanging salmon at a fish camp near Kwethluk, Alaska, in the Yup’ik region, which has extensive coastline on the Bering Sea. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is tapping the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities as it works toward more-sustainable fishery management.

I was listening to the radio in the car when the United Nations’ dire warning about biodiversity came out. Called the “Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services,” it predicts one million species could be pushed to extinction in the next few years by such things as overbuilding and loss of habitat, global warming, and pesticides and herbicides. (The scientists who did the research provided their services for free. The naysayers are being paid. Ask yourself: Paid by whom?)

One commentator suggested that a road map for preventing loss of species is right under our noses in indigenous communities.

For a window on one way government agencies are starting to collaborate with indigenous communities, consider this Pew Trusts report on the salmon fishery in Alaska.

“The indigenous communities of the Bering Strait region have a vast knowledge of salmon runs, ocean currents, marine mammal behavior, and other ecosystem dynamics — information gathered over millennia and passed down from generation to generation. Now federal fishery managers will use that Traditional Knowledge to help guide management for the Bering Sea.

“The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted at its December meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, to adopt a new Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan that lays the groundwork for meaningful incorporation of Traditional Knowledge into decision-making. Social scientists Julie and Brenden Raymond-Yakoubian, a married couple who have worked on the issue for years, say this is a groundbreaking action by the council.

“ ‘Indigenous communities have been living on — and with — the Bering Sea for generations,’ says Julie Raymond-Yakoubian, who is social science program director for Kawerak Inc., the Alaska Native nonprofit tribal consortium for the Bering Strait region. ‘They can see components of the ecosystem, including interconnections and relationships, that fishery managers might miss.’

“ ‘Incorporating indigenous perspectives is crucial for overcoming management challenges,’ adds Brenden Raymond-Yakoubian, who runs Sandhill.Culture.Craft, a social science consulting firm based in Girdwood, Alaska. …

Here are a couple of the nitty gritty matters addressed in the Pew interview.

“Q: What are the greatest challenges to ensuring that Traditional Knowledge informs decision-making?
“Brenden: One is getting recognition for Traditional Knowledge and ensuring there is a desire for it to inform policy and science. Another is getting natural scientists — those working in fisheries or oceanography, for example — to work with social scientists and Traditional Knowledge holders.

“Julie: There are five council meetings a year that each last about 10 days and are held in different places. Gaining a good understanding of how to work within the council’s process can be a full-time job. Most tribes don’t have the resources to do this. But if we want to include Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Knowledge holders in fisheries management, then these issues must be addressed.

“Q: How can Traditional Knowledge help address conflicts between federal fishery management and the subsistence way of life that Bering Sea communities have lived for millennia?
“Brenden: There are many ways. For example, management could include a broader understanding of the impact of commercial fishing on subsistence communities and of millennia-old practices and principles that have connected those communities to fish and the sea and sustained that relationship with the environment.

“Julie: Incorporating Traditional Knowledge will also help federal fishery managers better meet their existing obligations, such as the requirements to use the best scientific information available and consider social and ecological factors in management. It will also help them better implement ecosystem-based fishery management, which calls for managing fisheries at the ecosystem level rather than single-species level. Traditional Knowledge can also help federal fishery management become more adaptive, for example, by providing managers access to information about ecosystem changes they may not otherwise be aware of. This should help fishery managers adjust their policies to adapt to climate change, which would hopefully occur in a manner which ensured the sustainability of fishery resources for subsistence communities into a climate-uncertain future.”

More here.

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Recently, my husband pointed out an amazing story in the Audubon magazine about birds that were extinct in Central Europe. Today they are being reintroduced and learning where to fly by following a human-powered light aircraft.

Esther Horvath wrote, “Anne-Gabriela Schmalstieg and Corinna Esterer aren’t your typical foster mothers. For starters, the youngsters they care for aren’t humans — they’re captive-bred Northern Bald Ibises, a species that went extinct in Central Europe more than three centuries ago.

“For six months each year the two 20-somethings dedicate their lives to the birds, living onsite in campers at the Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria, and looking after the ibises from sunrise to sunset seven days a week. The entire first month the women must abstain from coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes because they have to spit in the birds’ food to make it easier to digest. The chicks eat as many as 15 times a day, dining on a mash of rat, mouse, and chicken, as well as fresh grasshoppers.

“When the ibises aren’t eating or resting, the foster moms spend as much time as possible bonding with them. …

“From day one, they call over and over: ‘Komm, komm, Waldies, komm, komm’ (‘Come, come, ibis, come, come’). When the chicks are three months old, their caretakers move them from the zoo to an aviary in Seekirchen, where they slowly become accustomed to a microlight aircraft and learn to follow it during training exercises, the women calling all the while. …

“The birds journey between the same breeding grounds their ancestors did centuries ago and a suitable overwintering site. Unlike back then, humans now watch them every flap of the way thanks to GPS tags attached to each bird. (To follow their annual trek, download the Animal Tracker app.)

‘For us it is very emotional,’ Schmalstieg says. ‘The birds follow the aircraft because we are sitting in it.’

If you get the Audubon magazine, you can see the actual craft with the birds following it high in the air. Read the online version here.

Photo: Wikimedia
Adult Northern Bald Ibis

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Art: Albrecht Dürer
“Virgin and Child With Pear,” at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  Heritage fruit archaeologist Isabella Dalla Ragione says it’s not a pear.

I loved reading about this side effect of an Italian woman’s work to preserve heritage fruits: she discovered that a fruit in a famous painting was mislabeled.

Elisabetta Povoledo writes at the NY Times, “On her farm, Isabella Dalla Ragione pursues a personal mission — saving ancient fruit trees from extinction — with a strong sense of urgency. Rescuing vanishing varieties is a race, she says, ‘and lots of times we arrived late.’ …

“To find and collect their forgotten varieties, for decades she and her father chatted up farmers and motley locals in the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside. They gathered branches, and with them the traditions and chronicles tied to the fruits. …

“But because fruit was not always described in detail in written records, she also began to examine the works of Renaissance and Baroque painters working in Umbria and Tuscany at a time when ‘artists had close relations to agriculture’ and were sensitive to the seasons and local varieties, she said. …

“A closer look at Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Virgin and Child With Pear,’ at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, for example, reveals a clear misnomer, Ms. Dalla Ragione said.

“ ‘If it were a pear, it would show a stalk on top,’ she said. ‘Mary is clearly holding a muso di bue apple.’ …

“Ms. Dalla Ragione created a nonprofit foundation, the Arboreal Archaeology Foundation, in 2014 ‘because it made it easier to give a future to all this,’ she said.”

Read more about her quixotic but intriguing work here.

Photo: Francesco Lastrucci for The New York Times
Isabella Dalla Ragione picking apples on her farmstead in San Lorenzo di Lerchi, Italy.

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If the five unexpected salmon are a sign of a comeback in the Connecticut River, this could be really exciting.

Nate Schweber writes at Al Jazeera America, “By the fall of 2015, the salmon of the Connecticut River were supposed to be doomed. The silvery fish … went extinct because of dams and industrial pollution in the 1700s that turned the river deadly. In the late 1800s a nascent salmon stocking program failed. Then in 2012, despite nearly a half-century of work and an investment of $25 million, the federal government and three New England states pulled the plug on another attempt to resurrect the prized fish.

“But five Atlantic salmon didn’t get the memo. In November, fisheries biologists found something in the waters of the Farmington River — which pours into the Connecticut River — that historians say had not appeared since the Revolutionary War: three salmon nests full of eggs.

“ ‘It’s a great story,’ said John Burrows, of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a conservation group, ‘whether it’s the beginning of something great or the beginning of the end.’ …

“The streamlined wild Atlantic salmon, genetically different from their fattened domesticated counterparts, which are mass-produced for human consumption, are so rare that anglers spend small fortunes chasing them across Canada, Iceland and Russia. …

“The stocked salmon continued to die off through the early 1970s. Gradually, scientists began to learn the importance of different strains of salmon and their close relatives, trout. In 1976 the program was able to acquire Atlantic salmon eggs from the Penobscot River in Maine, the closest surviving population both physically and genetically. This strain was still different from the lost native strain of the Connecticut River, but less so than their Canadian cousins, previously stocked there. In 1978, 90 fish from the Maine strain managed to make the two-year, 6,000-mile migration out to the food-rich Labrador Sea off of Greenland and then return to the Connecticut River. …

“As only 54 salmon returned to the Connecticut River in 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pulled out of the restoration program. New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts followed. Connecticut opted to continue stocking a small number of salmon …

“Then in the fall of 2015, biologists found five adult Atlantic salmon swimming past the Rainbow Dam on the lower Farmington River. On a hunch, they searched likely upstream spawning habitat and there found the three nests full of eggs.

In the spring of 2016 they will hatch the first wild salmon into that river in two centuries.”

More here.

Photo: Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
In North America, Atlantic salmon migrate up rivers and streams to reach spawning grounds in New England and Canada.

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I’ve written several posts on the threat to languages that have few speakers — and on the linguistic preservationists racing against time. (Here, for example.)

Why does language extinction matter, you ask? Because language embodies so much about culture. We are poorer in being ignorant of how different people live and in having a chance to learn taken away from us.

Now the last speaker of a rare Scots dialect is gone. Writes the Associated Press, “In a remote fishing town on the tip of Scotland’s Black Isle, the last native speaker of the Cromarty dialect has passed away, taking with him a little fragment of the English linguistic mosaic.

“Academics said [October 3] that Bobby Hogg, who was 92 when he died … was the last person fluent in the dialect once common to the seaside town of Cromarty, 175 miles (280 kilometers) north of Edinburgh.

“ ‘I think that’s a terrible thing,’ said Robert Millar, a linguist at the University of Aberdeen in northern Scotland. ‘The more diversity in terms of nature we have, the healthier we are. It’s the same with language.’ …

“It’s part of a relentless trend toward standardization which has driven many regional dialects and local languages into oblivion. Linguists often debate how to define and differentiate the world’s many dialects, but most agree that urbanization, compulsory education and mass media have conspired to iron out many of the kinks that make rural speech unique.” More.

Photograph: Am Baile-High Life Highland/Associated Press.
Bobby Hogg, who recently passed away aged 92.

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I’ve been reading Jason Elliot’s book Mirrors of the Unseen, which is about time he spent in Iran (not long before the green revolution of June 20, 2009, was trampled).

He’s a lovely writer if a bit overwhelming with his ability to compress centuries of history. I liked his earlier book, too, on Afghanistan, An Unexpected Light.

In the car on Sunday I read aloud a section of Mirrors that describes Elliot’s extended stay with Louise Firouz, an American who married an Iranian in the 1960s and has lived in Iran ever since — despite stints in prison and twice having all her family’s property confiscated.

The part I read aloud was about how she had researched, rediscovered, and bred a small horse thought to be extinct, one that turned out to have an ancestor going farther back than the Arabian horse. It’s the little Caspian, which was finally found, in pitiful shape, near the Caspian Sea and in Turkmenistan.

Nowadays you can find lots of videos of these horses on YouTube. I thought I would include this video, which is from a Caspian stud farm in Sweden.

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