President’s Day: Early (Humming) Birds

Hummers and ice fishing • Antler sizes shrink • Monsanto seed case goes to Supreme Court Tuesday • Keystone protests continue

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Hummingbirds are on the move.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are migrating to North America way earlier than in past decades. The birds appear to be reacting to higher temperatures in their winter homes.

That means birders need to start filling up their feeders. The tiny birds will be flying into territory that could have less food at nesting time.

A group of scientists have studied the migration of the hummers, which fly across the Gulf of Mexico from Central America. The research compared their first arrival times from 1890 through 1969 with arrival times in the last decade or so.

The scientists found that the birds are arriving up to 18 days earlier than in the past.

The scientists wonder how this early arrival could get things out of whack, both for the birds and for those who depend on hummers to pollinate their plants. 

“With any bird that migrates over long distances, it’s good to show up at the nesting grounds at a good time when you can set up a territory and build your nest and when the young come along there will be a lot of food available,” said Ron Johnson, a Clemson University scientist and one of the study’s authors. “You want to be there ideally right when the food becomes available at its peak so the young ones will have enough food.” 

Keystone Protests Continue — A crowd of as many as 35,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., urging President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. 

The pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Environmentalists say the tar sands oil would speed global warming; ranchers in Nebraska have opposed the pipeline because they say spills could endanger the Ogallala Aquifer. The U.S. State Department must grant a permit for the pipeline to cross the border.

Luxury Beef — Beef prices are expected to rise by as much as 10 percent by summer, leading beef producers to worry that their product will become a luxury, a dry land lobster. 

Prices for cattle have risen up to 25 percent in the last two years as the nation’s cattle herd has dropped to its lowest level in six decades.

Seed Case and Supreme Court — The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday from Vernon Bowman, the Indiana farmer who is challenging Monsanto’s control over seed genetics. Chris Clayton has a good summary of the case here

Bowman had a contract with Monsanto and used the company’s seed in his first planting of soybeans. For a riskier second planting, however, Bowman simply bought harvested soybeans from local elevators. He started doing this in 1999. Bowman argues that a buyer of a patented product should be allowed to use that product without restriction.

“I saved seed for five or seven years before Monsanto got a hold of me,” he said. “I was determined that I wouldn’t let them run over me. Farmers have always been allowed to go to the elevator and purchase grain and turn it into seed.”

Monsanto argues that if Bowman is allowed to continue, the company would have no way to limit reproduction of Roundup Ready soybeans. The Obama administration has agreed with Monsanto.

The New York Times wrote about the case here

Art and Development — Lexington, Missouri, will receive “two years of help from University of Missouri faculty and students to launch an art-driven revitalization effort,” the Kansas City Star reports

The notion is to use the arts as a vehicle for economic and community development. The town, only 50 miles from Kansas City, was hurt first by the closing of an apparel plant, the county’s largest employer, and then by the recession. 

Big Game Antler Size Declines — A survey has found that “horn and antler sizes on big-game trophy animals have grown slightly smaller over the past 100 years, with evidence pointing to the selective harvest of males as a possible cause.” 

Rich get richer? — Education advocates in Pennsylvania say the governor’s plan to increase public education funding will short-change rural schools.

Gov. Tom Corbett is asking legislators to add $90 million to the state’s basic education program. But only eight of the state’s 57 rural school districts will receive an increase in funding under the plan. The Education Law Center in Philadelphia says the program will favor rich, suburban schools. Others say the proposed increases won’t go to rural schools because those districts are already highly subsidized by state funds.

More on Walton School — The Walton, Kansas, school district continues to receive attention for its agricultural-themed Walton Rural Life Center. The center is a kindergarten through fourth grade charter school that uses agriculture to teach students academic subjects and personal responsibility.  Reuters had a story about the school over the weekend. The school previously received coverage in the Wichita Eagle

 

 

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