Rare birds flock to British shores in record numbers


Hurricanes and global warming bring unusual visitors as digital cameras and social networking encourage new enthusiasts

The Observer, Sunday 30 October 2011

A Siberian rubythroat. Photograph: David Tipling/Alamy
Britain's avian immigration figures are set to soar to a record level this year. Birdwatchers say hurricanes and severe weather in north America and Asia have caused major disruptions to bird migrations across the globe and swept an unprecedented number of species towards the British Isles.
Birds winging their way to their breeding grounds on the other side of the Atlantic or in the Pacific have been left stranded in Britain and Ireland, adding their numbers to native species.
Twitchers, as the most fanatical birdwatching enthusiasts are termed, have already observed a total of 442 species in the British Isles this year. The highest number ever spotted in one year is 445, in 2008.
"We only need three more and we will have equalled our record – and given that November is often the best month of the year for spotting rare birds here, I'm very confident we are going to see the record broken before the end of the year," said Lee Evans, who runs the British Birding Association.
Last month a Siberian rubythroat – a tiny brown bird with a scarlet chest – was spotted outside Lerwick in Shetland. A native of east Asia, it is extremely rare in Britain, but has now spent the past two weeks at the very northern edge of the nation, caught by the cameras of twitchers who have flocked to the island.
Similarly, a bufflehead – a small duck with a distinctive bulbous head – was spotted in a farm pond on the Lizard in Cornwall. "It was absolutely knackered when it arrived," said Evans. "It had been migrating south from Canada to southern United States when it was swept out into the Atlantic by a storm. It had probably travelled more than 3,000 miles, which explains why it was knackered." The bufflehead has since flown on, probably to Portugal, he added.
Evans said that global warming over the past decade was playing a key role in transforming bird movements across the globe. Climate changewas transforming weather patterns, causing a dramatic rise in hurricanes and storms, particularly over the Atlantic. "In the 1990s the average total for numbers of bird species spotted every year was 412," he added. "Now that figure is around 440. That is a very significant change and global warming lies at the root of it."
In addition, melting Arctic sea ice may be involved. Ornithologists have suggested that the disappearance of ice cover is opening up migration routes over the north pole, making it easier for birds from the Pacific to reach Britain – such as the slaty-backed gull, a native of the north Pacific, which appeared in the Thames estuary on the Rainham landfill site this year.
The expectation that 2011 would be a record year for bird species numbers in the British Isles was backed by Grahame Madge of the RSPB: "There are different ways to count species, but I think whatever system is used we should expect that records will be broken this year.
"Climate change is certainly implicated, but there are other factors. Access to the internet and improvements in digital cameras are also involved. A tufted puffin from the north Pacific, a medium-sized black seabird with distinctive white facial markings, was recently seen in the UK, though only a handful of spotters were involved and they only got a brief glimpse. Crucially, however, one of them was able to take a few photos. He posted these on the internet where they were confirmed as being images of a tufted puffin. That kind of technology makes it possible to pinpoint more and more species," he said.
In addition, birdwatching is becoming an increasingly popular hobby among all age groups, added Madge. "A fifth of RSPB members are under the age of 18. This is a round-the-year hobby that you can enjoy from the kitchen window or from a car. More and more people are birdwatching, and as a result more and more unexpected species are being spotted in the British Isles."
As to the species that have yet to appear but which could do so in the next few weeks, turning 2011 into a record year of activity for twitchers, there are three likely candidates, added Evans. "There is the eyebrowed thrush, from Siberia, the American purple gallinule, from the southern states of the US, and the black-throated thrush, also from Siberia. They have all been seen over here before, but we haven't had a sighting of any of them so far this year."
The jump in bird species numbers in the British Isles is good news for twitchers, who obsessively follow news of sightings in order to add rare species to their lists – though the increase does pose financial problems for the birdwatching community. "It is an incredibly expensive hobby to keep up," said Evans. "Most of the rare visitors arrive in the Scillies, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney or Shetland – all at the fringes of the British Isles. Flights can cost £600 to get there.
"The alternative is to drive, then take the ferry. Every year I run up about 70,000 miles on my car doing this. That means spending thousands of pounds just on petrol. Essentially, I go through a car a year to spot these birds. And now we are getting more and more of them."


Siberian rubythroat (Luscinia calliope)
A member of the thrush family which is distinguished by its olive-brown upper parts, bright red throat and white stripes above and below the eyes. It is a migratory, insectivorous species, breeding mainly in forests in Siberia. The rubythroat winters in India and Indonesia and is normally rare in western Europe.
Northern waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis)
A migratory bird, found predominantly in North America, with a throat lightly streaked brown to black. The species winters in Central America, including the West Indies, Florida, Colombia and Ecuador. Waterthrushes are terrestrial feeders with a diet consisting mainly of insects, molluscs and crustaceans.
American purple gallinule (Porphyrio martinica)
A medium-sized bird with purple-blue plumage, it inhabits swamps, lagoons, flooded fields and ponds. Breeding takes place in the southern states of the United States. Purple gallinules are omnivores feeding on anything they come across: vegetables, animal matter, fruit and all types of seeds.
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
The bufflehead is a small diving duck that forages underwater, eating primarily aquatic plants and fish eggs. Adult males are black and white with iridescent green and purple heads. Females are a grey tone with light undersides and similar white behind the eye. The term bufflehead refers to the bird's strangely bulbous head shape. They are migratory birds, wintering in the northern and southern US.
Slaty-backed gull (Larus schistisagus)
Also known as the Pacific gull, the slaty-backed is grey-black in colour with dark upper wings and is a coastal species of northern Asia and the Bering Sea. The bird breeds on the western coast of Alaska. Like most gulls, it is a scavenger.
Jess Loxley-Stuart

Las nevadas se adelantan en la costa este de Estados Unidos


Medios locales señalan que unos dos millones de personas se han quedado sin electricidad por la tormenta en el noreste caída en el noreste del país

Las calles de Nueva York se han cubierto de nieve más pronto de lo habitual. / EMMANUEL DUNAND (AFP)

Una temprana tormenta de nieve a finales de octubre ha golpeado el noreste de Estados Unidos, una de las zonas del país con mayor densidad de población, dejando a medio millón de personas sin electricidad, retrasando vuelos y dejando más de 30 centímetros de nieve en algunas zonas. La nieve cayó desde la céntrica Pensilvania hasta Nueva York, dejando paisajes blanquecinos también en Connecticut, Virgina y Maryland.
Más de dos millones y medio de personas, según señalan medios locales, se han quedado sin suministro eléctrico en la zona como consecuencia de la tormenta, que ha golpeado áreas de Pensilvania, Maryland, Connecticut y Virginia Occidental. Más de 93.000 personas no tienen luz en Pensilvania, Maryland y el oeste del Estado de Virgina, según ha confirmado la compañía Allegheny Power. Penelec, otra empresa, calcula de 30.000 de sus clientes están sin electricidad en Pensilvania y Nueva Jersey. El gobernador de Nueva Jersey, Chris Christie, uno de los damnificados por el corte eléctrico, ha declarado el estado de emergencia en el estado debido al temporal. Los cortes en el suministro eléctrico podrían extenderse aún más a medida que se desarrolle la tormenta a lo largo del sábado.
La primera nevada del año también ha causado retrasos en el aeropuerto de Filadelfi. En El John F. Kennedy (el principal aeropuerto de Nueva York), algunas llegadas se han llegado a retrasar más de cuatro horas. La nieve ha causado también problemas de tráfico terrestre. El servicio ferroviario que conecta Washington con Nueva York y Boston también se vio afectado por la tormenta, con cancelaciones y retrasos.
Según el canal meteorológico estadounidense, en Boston normalmente empieza a nevar a finales de noviembre, mientras Nueva York y Filadelfia ven caer los primeros copos a mitades de diciembre. Manhattan ha batido un nuevo récord: se registraron tres centímetros de nieve en Central Park, una cantidad que nunca se había alcanzado en octubre. Según el servicio meteorológico nacional, en los últimos 135 años sólo ha caído una cantidad significativa de nieve en octubre en el centro de Nueva York en tres ocasiones, la mayor de ellas en 1925, cuando se acumularon dos centímetros.
La tormenta deja por ahora tres víctimas. Según indicaron las autoridades locales, en el estado de Massachusetts ha muerto electrocutado un hombre al pisar unos cables eléctricos derribados por el peso de la nieve, en Connecticut una persona murió en un accidente de tráfico atribuido a las malas condiciones de la carretera por el temporal de nieve, mientras que en Pensilvania un hombre de 84 años falleció al caer un árbol sobre su casa.



Sole, Meteo e Cambiamenti Climatici

La corrente atlantica, più comunemente detta corrente del golfo,parte dalle coste dell’Africa occidentale,per raggiungere i Caraibi e il golfo del Messico. Dal golfo del Messico a sua volta arriva a lambire le coste dell’Inghilterra, Irlanda, Norvegia ed Islanda. Il clima dell’Europa nord occidentale è dipendente dalla corrente del golfo: infatti a latitudini altissime e cioè oltre il 60°parallelo, grazie proprio alla CDG abbiamo climi tipici delle medie latitudini corrispondenti più o meno al 40° parallelo sull’opposta sponda atlantica. L’acqua calda che parte dal golfo del Messico essendo più leggera si posiziona in superficie, cedendo il suo calore all’aria e alle circostanti terre emerse, per poi appesantirsi raffreddandosi e tornando quindi indietro in profondità, non raffreddando quindi l’aria e le terre emerse circostanti. Cosa sta’ succedendo ora: LA CORRENTE DEL GOLFO HA RALLENTATO LA SUA CORSA.
La causa e’ la differenza di salinità nelle acque atlantiche.
Lo scioglimento eccessivo dei ghiacci artici degli ultimi anni, ha provocato una maggiore immissione di acqua dolce, acqua che a sua volta essendo dolce e più leggera sovrasta quella più pesante e salata della CDG senza mescolarsi. Questo processo inabissa le acque miti della CDG, impedendole di fatto di raggiungere le coste europee. Ed e’ proprio ciò che sta accadendo da 2 anni a questa parte.
Già dalla fine del 2009 la CDC cominciava a dare i primi segnali di rallentamento, per poi bloccarsi definitivamente all’inizio del 2010. Come tutti possiamo immaginare senza l’energia della CDG il clima europeo ne risentirà pesantemente,ne abbiamo avuto prova già in questi 2 ultimi inverni con le isole britanniche completamente coperte dal manto nevoso. Ma siamo solo all’inizio,se la corrente non riuscirà a raggiungere l’Europa, nei prossimi inverni la copertura nevosa del nostro continente raggiungerà livelli record.
Vi riporto di quì di seguito le immagini relative all’andamento della corrente del golfo che si registrava nel 2009 e nel 2010. L’ultima immagine si riferisce invece alla situazione attuale:
1 settembre 2009:

14 gennaio 2010:

24 luglio 2011:

Le immagini sono più eloquenti di tante inutili parole: la corrente del golfo da quasi 2 anni non raggiunge più l’Europa. A voi i commenti….
Giorgio Malavolta



Monday October 10,2011

By Laura Caroe

BRITAIN is set to suffer a mini ice age that could last for decades and bring with it a series of bitterly cold winters.
And it could all begin within weeks as experts said last night that the mercury may soon plunge below the record -20C endured last year.
Scientists say the anticipated cold blast will be due to the return of a disruptive weather pattern called La Nina. Latest evidence shows La Nina, linked to extreme winter weather in America and with a knock-on effect on Britain, is in force and will gradually strengthen as the year ends.
The climate phenomenon, characterised by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Pacific, was linked to our icy winter last year – one of the coldest on record.
And it coincides with research from the Met Office indicating the nation could be facing a repeat of the “little ice age” that gripped the country 300 years ago, causing decades of harsh winters

Britain is set to suffer a mini ice age that could last for decades
The prediction, to be published in Nature magazine, is based on observations of a slight fall in the sun’s emissions of ultraviolet radiation, which may, over a long period, trigger Arctic conditions for many years.
Although a connection between La Nina and conditions in Europe is scientifically uncertain, ministers have warned transport organisations and emergency services not to take any chances. Forecasts suggest the country could be shivering in a big freeze as severe and sustained as last winter from as early as the end of this month.
La Nina, which occurs every three to five years, has a powerful effect on weather thousands of miles away by influencing an intense upper air current that helps create low pressure fronts.
Another factor that can affect Europe is the amount of ice in the Arctic and sea temperatures closer to home.
Ian Currie, of the Meterological Society, said: “All the world’s weather systems are connected. What is going on now in the Pacific can have repercussions later around the world.”
Parts of the country already saw the first snowfalls of the winter last week, dumping two inches on the Cairngorms in Scotland. And forecaster James Madden, from Exacta Weather, warned we are facing a “severely cold and snowy winter”.
Councils say they are fully prepared having stockpiled thousands of tons of extra grit. And the Local Government Association says it had more salt available at the beginning of this month than the total used last winter.
But the mountain of salt could be dug into very soon amid widespread heavy snow as early as the start of next month. Last winter, the Met Office was heavily criticised after predicting a mild winter, only to see the country grind to a halt amid hazardous driving conditions in temperatures as low as -20C.
Peter Box, the Local Government Association’s economy and transport spokesman, said: “Local authorities have been hard at work making preparations for this winter and keeping the roads open will be our number one priority.”
The National Grid will this week release its forecast for winter energy use based on long-range weather forecasts.
Such forecasting is, however, notoriously difficult, especially for the UK, which is subject to a wide range of competing climatic forces.
A Met Office spokesman said that although La Nina was recurring, the temperatures in the equatorial Pacific were so far only 1C below normal, compared with a drop of 2C at the same time last year.
Research by America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that in 2010-11 La Nina contributed to record winter snowfalls, spring flooding and drought across the world.
Jonathan Powell, of Positive Weather Solutions, said: “The end of the month and November are looking colder than average with severe frosts and the chance of snow.”
However, some balmy autumnal sunshine was forecast for this week.


Los inviernos más fríos y con nieve por venir en Europa, Asia oriental y del este de América del Norte

Tormenta de nieve en Washington, DC. (Crédito: iStockphoto / Robin O'Connell)

ScienceDaily (11 de junio de 2010) 
Un cálido clima del Ártico está influyendo en la presión del aire en el Polo Norte y los patrones cambiantes del viento sobre nuestro planeta. Podemos esperar que los inviernos más fríos y con nieve en Europa, Asia oriental y del este de Norteamérica.

"Los inviernos fríos y nevados serán la regla, no la excepción", dice el doctor James Overland, del Laboratorio de NOAA / Pacific Marine Environmental en los Estados Unidos. Dr. Overland se encuentra en el Año Polar Internacional Oslo Science Conference (API-OSC) para presidir una sesión de retroalimentación sobre el clima polar, la amplificación y las teleconexiones, incluyendo los impactos sobre las latitudes medias.
La pérdida de hielo marino provoca el cambio climático principales
La continua pérdida rápida del hielo marino será un importante motor de cambio importante en el sistema climático mundial en los próximos años.
"Si bien el impacto emergente de gases de efecto invernadero es un factor importante en el cambio del Ártico, lo que no fue plenamente reconocido hasta ahora es que una combinación de un período de inusual calor debido a la variabilidad natural, la pérdida de reflectividad del hielo marino, el almacenamiento de calor del océano y el viento cambiante las pautas de trabajo conjunto ha alterado la memoria y la estabilidad del sistema climático en el Ártico, lo que resulta en la pérdida de hielo mayor que a principios de los modelos climáticos predijeron, "dice el Dr. Overland.
"El invierno frío y nieve excepcional de 2009-2010 en Europa, Asia oriental y el este de América del Norte está conectado con los procesos físicos únicos en el Ártico", dice.
Cambio irreversible
El Ártico se está calentando dos veces más rápido que el resto del planeta. Esto se conoce como amplificación ártica - un fenómeno muy debatido en el Año Polar Internacional-OSC, en 2400 los científicos polares han reunido para discutir la enorme cantidad de investigación y nuevos hallazgos que son el resultado directo del Año Polar Internacional.
Los cambios están ocurriendo mucho más rápido que la comunidad científica espera. Teniendo en cuenta la reciente reducción de la superficie de hielo marino de varios años y reducir el grosor del hielo, es poco probable que el Ártico puede volver a su estado anterior.
"Los cambios son irreversibles", dice el Dr. Overland.
Un hito histórico
"El Año Polar Internacional La Conferencia de Oslo La ciencia es un hito en nuestro conocimiento del clima del Ártico", dice el Dr. Overland, que preside una de las sesiones sobre el clima en la conferencia. Más de 80 trabajos científicos se han presentado discutir la amplificación ártica y sus impactos.



Mission Critical is a debate hosted by Earthwatch to decide on the most important environmental priority for the next 40 years. Photograph: Ho/Reuters


Experts speakers argue their cases ahead of an Earthwatch debate in London this week

Education and population  Sir Crispin Tickell

Our society faces a rich complex of problems. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution some 250 years ago, our animal species has changed the character of the Earth's land surface, seas and atmosphere: hence the increasing use among geologists of the termAnthropocene to follow the Holocene epoch.
Of all the interconnected problems we face, perhaps the most serious is the proliferation of our own species. Our numbers rose from around one million 12,000 years ago to around one billion 250 years ago. Since then there has been an extraordinary acceleration from 2 billion in 1930 to 6 billion at the end of the century and now approaching 7 billion.
In seeking to cope with this problem, the role of education, and in particularly that of women, is critical. Where women have achieved broadly equal status with men, when there is provision for their old age, when they can use contraceptive devices, and most important when they are educated as full citizens, human fertility has dropped: in many industrial countries below replacement rate and elsewhere by a substantial margin. At the same time people are living longer, itself creating problems, and the introduction of new technologies risks increasing unemployment. More than half our species now lives in cities, well described recently as nests for a super-organism out of control. We have now to confront these problems in all their scope and complexity.

With every breath we take and drop of water we drink we are connected to the ocean. Seventy two percent of our planet is ocean. The ocean drives global weather systems, absorbs the heat generated from our addiction to burning fossil fuels and provides the main source of protein for over a quarter of the world's population.
We live on a blue planet. The ocean breathes for the planet, with most photosynthesis occurring on the sea surface more than anywhere else. The health of future generations is dependent on the health of our ocean. However, silently and out of sight, the deep blue is suffering from our take-take relationship. We are getting dangerously close to the sea reaching its capacity to act as the planet's largest carbon sink. Depletion of the oceans fisheries, toxic contamination of the sea by industrial runoff and plastic pollution and acidification pose great threats to the health of the world's population.
The oceans are clearly of critical importance in providing energy, foodand economical security and drinking water. The blue planet teaches us about love, beauty, respect, sensuality and mystery. The ocean fuels our curiosity, imagination, well being and gives us a sense of clarity, meaning and purpose – the liquid planet is the greatest teacher. Would we get the same feeling of peace looking across a lifeless ocean?

Water - Daniel Yeo

We can all relate to water - and any traveller can tell you about bad water and poor sanitation, including the English Commonwealth Games team and even in developed countries. Having the runs may make for a few embarrassing anecdotes, but it's no joke thatdiarrhoea is the biggest killer of children in sub-Saharan Africa. Preventable diarrhoea associated with dirty water and poor sanitation kills more children than Aids, malaria and TB combined.
And it's not just kids - water is fundamentally a gender issue. Women and girls bear the biggest burden - walking long distances in rural areas, queuing in line for hours in urban slums.
Poor water, sanitation and hygiene undermines maternal and child health and nutrition.
Education - 443m school days are lost to water related diseases. Girls are more likely to stay in schools with separate female toilets.
These failings in human development put a cost on the economy, through lost lives, school days, work days and burden on health systems. The World Health Organisation estimates that every $1 invested in water generates $8 in wider economic benefits.
And that's just water for drinking and health - water is also an economic resource - vital for food (70% of globally available freshwater is used for agriculture) - and livelihoods. It is a critical ingredient for industry - almost every manufacturing process needs water. Finally, it's intertwined with energy – and not just through hydropower. Thermal power stations need water for cooling and for the steam needed to turn turbines.
Without water we have nothing.

Energy – Mike Mason

What makes humans different from the animals is that we are the only species to harness energy from things we don't eat.
Using external energy is fundamental to being a human. And using more energy has through all history been the key to getting a better quality of life - more food, better transport, warmer (or cooler) homes and offices.
Our success as a species has led to runaway numbers of people, and runaway per capita use of energy. Multiply the two together and you hit the buffers.
Energy is the most difficult problem to deal with simply because it is the only one on the table that is intrinsic to the very concept of humanity.
Climate change driven by our urge to burn things is an existential threat - albeit a slow burning one. Thus solving the energy crisis is clearly critical to us as humans as much as energy use is critical. The race therefore is on - between our evolutionary heritage that will surely destroy us if left unconfined, and our ability to innovate our way out of the old ways, and into a new energy paradigm that is sustainable without asking us to go back to the cave - because that is the one outcome we can guarantee no population will willingly accept.

The food challenge ahead is awesome. After a 20th century which celebrated the "success" of producing more food than ever in history, we now know human activity has undermined what has been done. A fearsome new complex of difficulties must be resolved: an oil-reliant food system (fertilisers, machines, transport); an environment under stress (climate change, water and soil); biodiversity loss (the plants and life on which we rely); land use competition (food vs fuel vs biodiversity vs ecosystems support).
Our voracious consumption is part of the problem. We eat feast-day food everyday, yet to eat like the US or UK requires multiple planets.
The now dominant analysis is that we need to feed 9 billion people by 2050 (up from nearly 7bn today) on less land in a time of ecosystem stress. New technical fixes, technologies, management, controls are urged on politicians. 70% more food is needed by 2050, they cry! Fund another heave to raise production, they say, downplaying how half of all grains grown on the planet are fed to animals.
Our system is hugely wasteful. Some 30-40% of what is bought fit to eat is thrown away. Our way of eating panders to an "eat what you like" consumerist culture. Actually there is plenty of food to go around today.
We need to think not just about whether there is food but what sort of diets, too. Simply, the future requires sustainable diets fed by sustainable food supply chains. We currently have neither.
Mission Critical: The number one environmental challenge of the next 40 years is taking place on Thursday 13 October at 7pm, at the Royal Geographical Society, London. Admission is free, but guests will be asked for a voluntary donation on the door. For tickets and further information visit or call 01865 318 294.