You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2010.

When I first heard about it a few months ago, I couldn’t believe it. There are people who will take a pair of finches, put them in the same cage to fight, and place bets on who will win. We’ve all heard of dog-fighting, and cockfighting. The sports channels broadcast fights between humans in cages. But finches? Now I know they can be a little aggressive around the feeder, but who isn’t? I mean, it’s generally not a good idea to get between me and my morning coffee. And finches aren’t as bad as, say, house sparrows, who come to my feeders by the flockful and crowd out everyone else. And finches aren’t as ill-tempered as blue jays, who scold pretty much anybody, and even attack their own reflection in a window. But finches? Those delicate little things that flutter and twitter around my yard?

The first incident was in Connecticut. The latest one took place last week in Ashland, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, where authorities raided a house and found 20 saffron finches, along with 20 illegal immigrants from Brazil, where this activity (I’m not going to call it a sport) originated. I should add that finch-fighting is also illegal in Brazil, but that hasn’t stopped the activity.

Apparently the male saffron finches are particularly aggressive, especially when aroused by a female.

According to a news report, a female is kept in a separate compartment. The males get riled up, and then they are released into the same cage, where they’ll attack each other, pecking each other’s legs off.

Whoever survives wins?

Finch fights are high stakes gambling, with a good fighter going for $1,000 or more. The birds are bred for aggressiveness, and owners will sharpen their beaks. Authorities say it’s gaining in popularity.

How can this be? What does it say about us?


The silence of winter is over, broken by a lusty chirping that breaks out just as the first light starts to show on the horizon. Winter is never completely silent, of course. Crows will caw as they fly overhead. A jay will scream out a warning. And if you take the time to sit still in a quiet place, you’ll hear a variety of chips and chirps.

But none of these are songs. There’s nothing musical about them, not like the singing that’s starting up now. I’ve been trying to think of something that would express the feeling they convey. Happy? Hopeful? Optimistic? Forget it. Those are too trite, not to mention inadequate.

There is a tradition that birds begin to sing on St. Valentine’s Day to mark the start of the mating season. Even if it’s not strictly true, the singing certainly does begin around the middle of February.

It never fails to give me a lift, along with a list of things I keep meaning to do. Some years ago, I bought a set of tapes to help me to identify birds by their song. Once again, I’ve started listening, resolved to get better at it.

And then there’s my bird list. I’ve started one every year, at just about this time, for the past 20 years or so. I do pretty well for a couple of months. Then things come up. I get involved with something else. Pretty soon the year is up, and I have to start over.

I’m looking at the stack of them now. I’ve never been able put a hundred species on a single year’s list. My record seems to be 63 from 1998. That’s sort of embarassing. A lot of that’s record-keeping … I’ll see something, but then forget to record it. And then of course, I haven’t really been trying… I’ve got dozens of excuses.

That does it.

We’re on winter vacation this week. I’ve got my list for 2010 all set to go. Binoculars at the ready. Field guide permanently stored in my pack. My earlier tapes have been replaced by bird song identification CDs.

One Hundred or Bust for 2010!

I’ve been following the developments at Vermont Yankee with some interest, and I’m having a hard time figuring out just what’s happening. It hasn’t received much coverage in the mainstream media – none as far as I know, but I might have missed it. Here are the basics:

A month ago, some monitoring wells near the plant registered the presence of radioactive tritium in the groundwater. Company officials denied they had anything to do with it. Keep in mind this plant is in rural Vermont, surrounded by a few cows and bucolic countryside. Tritium doesn’t grow on trees.

The first theory was that possibly some of the radioactive stuff got into discharge pipes. The company denied (under oath, no less) that no such pipes existed.

OOPS! A week later they discovered that such pipes did exist, but still denied it could have come from there, and, in fact, some tests showed that maybe it didn’t come from those pipes after all.

More tests, and this time they showed the radioactivity registered to nine times the level they had registered the first time.

The numbers are a little esoteric, but bear with me.

In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences said that any exposure to stuff like tritium has the potential to cause cancer. The state of California set a limit of 400 picocuries per liter as a safety limit. Apparently not wanting to inconvenience the nuclear industry, the Environmental Protection Agency set their limit at 20,000 picocuries per liter.

The tests at Vermont Yankee this week came in at 775,000 picocuries per liter!

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s response?

Not to worry! There’s plenty of cushion built into those numbers. Those levels, according to one of their spokespeople, pose no threat to public health or the environment.

I’m glad they cleared that up, because now I feel a whole lot better.

Nature Blog Network


RSS The Ecocryptic

  • Maine DEP update July 31, 2013
    Maine Department of Environmental Protection has reversed itself and will schedule a public hearing on proposed changes to the state's clean air standards. No date has been set.Environmental groups, legislators, and the general public were outraged when the Portland Press Herald reported yesterday that the state agency had tried to sneak through the cha […]
  • At Maine’s DEP, it’s the fox guarding the henhouse July 30, 2013
    What happens when you put an industry lobbyist in charge of environmental protection? Just take a look at what’s going on in Maine. According to an article in today’s Portland Press-Herald, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection wants to weaken the state’s clean-air regulations, and they don’t want anyone to know about it.No public hearings have […]
  • Northern Pass Rears Its Ugly Head (Again) July 15, 2013
    Despite massive public opposition, significantly over-budget, and three years behind schedule,  the CEO of the Northern Pass Project vows the controversial high voltage transmission line will be built.The project is a 180-mile power line that would bring power from Canada to New England. It first came to the attention of environmentalists and others when the […]
  • Stung by Criticism, Utilities Go on Tree-Cutting Rampage August 11, 2012
    Here in the northeast, we’ve been hit by a succession of “weather events” – ice storms, wind-storms, hurricanes, early snowfall, late snowfall. Each one offered the utility companies serving this area to demonstrate once again that they were completely unprepared. In each case, customers in the most advanced country in the world were left without power for w […]
  • Victory for the Blackstone: Court backs EPA, Worcester must stop dumping sewage into river August 7, 2012
    Score one for the Blackstone River, and all the people who care about it. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted a stay of enforcement of an EPA order that will force upgrades at the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement district sewage treatment plant, according to an article in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.The problem is a simple o […]
  • NH Senate Denies Eminent Domain for Northern Pass – Or Does It? January 30, 2012
    Under intense public scrutiny, the New Hampshire Senate last week approved a bill that supposedly sets limits on the use of eminent domain to seize property for public projects and excludes using it for privately-funded projects. That would seem to exclude the controversial Northern Pass project, a proposed 180-mile transmission line that would bring hydroel […]
  • Northern Pass Developers Pushing State To Take Land By Force January 24, 2012
    Ever since the controversy began over the construction of a new transmission line to bring power from Canada into New Hampshire slicing through some of that state’s most scenic landscape, the backers of the project have been quietly lobbying for eminent domain powers to force reluctant landowners along the proposed route to sell.The issue gets its first real […]
  • The Balsams Landscape Has Been Saved! January 15, 2012
    Every once in a while the good guys win one.The Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests has reached its goal of raising $850,000 to buy a 5,800-acre parcel of land near the famous Balsams Grand Hotel in Dixville Notch, NH. They made the announcement in a statement yesterday on their website.The land was considered a key piece on the proposed ro […]
  • Worcester officials cite city parks to defend continued pollution of Blackstone River December 29, 2011
    I was trying to find a short, pithy way of describing the gist of an article that appeared in today’s Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette.Here’s the story.The Blackstone River has its source in Worcester and flows through Rhode Island into Narragansett Bay. Since colonial times, residents and businesses have regarded it as their personal sewage system. […]
  • Slick media campaign hides the dark side of Northern Pass October 23, 2011
    The campaign to approve the billion-dollar plan to bring hydroelectric power from Canada to New England is in full swing. The home page for the project features pictures of all the things we like about New Hampshire, things like pristine lakes and woods. What it doesn’t show are the 140 miles of transmission lines criss-crossing the White Mountains, with 135 […]

RSS Martin Laine – Digital Journal

  • Giant tortoise species brought back from brink of extinction
    A species of Galapagos giant tortoises that numbered just 15 individuals 50 years ago, now has a healthy breeding population numbering over a thousand. The news is a rare bright spot at a time when the outlook for many species is increasingly bleak.
  • Stockholm’s backseat therapists to help battle ‘winter blues’
    As the months of extended darkness loom in the northern latitudes, so does the lethargy and depression known as “winter blues.” One Stockholm taxicab company is offering to have a therapist talk with their passengers during their ride.
  • New home colon cancer test goes on the market today
    Beginning today, a new home test for colorectal cancer will be available by prescription. The hope is that the millions of Americans who have been avoiding the unpleasant alternative testing methods will take advantage of it.
  • Heart transplant breakthrough could make more hearts available
    Surgeons in Australia have successfully transplanted hearts that had stopped beating, a major breakthrough in the process that had usually used only beating hearts. This could significantly increase the number of hearts available for transplantation.
  • Denmark rolls out the welcome mat for returning Jihadists
    While officials in many western countries are wringing their hands over what to do about those citizens who want to return after fighting with one of the extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, Denmark welcomes its returning Jihadists with open arms.
  • 'Let me survive this' says fugitive cop-killer lookalike
    Pity James Tully who has the misfortune of resembling Eric Frein, the object of a massive manhunt following the ambush shooting of two police officers six weeks ago, and who lives in Canadensis, Pa., the epicenter of the search.
  • Nine in Conn. ordered quarantined, monitored for Ebola
    Nine people, including a family of six, have been ordered to stay in their homes for the next three weeks while public health officials check for signs that they have contracted the Ebola virus. None of them have shown any signs of the illness so far.
  • Mass. stool bank offers donors $40 a poop
    Ever since the discovery that healthy human stool bacteria could be used to cure such debilitating diseases as colitis, the medical profession has struggled with two problems — collecting a sufficient supply and finding a way to get it into a patient.
  • Chinese officials scramble to find Putin’s tiger before poachers
    Kuzya, a 23-month-old orphaned Siberian tiger that Russian President Vladimir Putin helped release back into the wild in May, has crossed into China. The last thing Chinese officials want is for Kuzya to fall victim to poachers.
  • Trial raises questions over Navy's order for silencers
    What started out as an investigation into an alleged contract fraud scheme by a U.S. Navy directorate involving untraceable rifle silencers has raised questions about whether they were part of a secret mission or rogue operation.