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How To Avoid Cyber Attacks: 5 Best Practices From SEC And FINRA

Regulators agree that cybersecurity threats pose significant risks to financial firms, investors and the markets. As a result, cybersecurity practices are a key focus for regulatory examinations this year for both the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

At the recent 2017 FINRA Annual Conference, David Kelley, Surveillance Director, Kansas City District Office, FINRA, moderated a panel of Richard Hannibal, Assistant Director, Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Stephanie Mumford, Chief Compliance Officer and Senior Legal Counsel, T. Rowe Price Investment Services, Inc., and Andy Zolper, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer, Raymond James Financial, Inc. to provide guidance on cybersecurity practices for the financial services industry.

What Cybersecurity Lapses Are Regulators Finding During Exams?

“Cybersecurity is a huge priority for the SEC” said Hannibal. About one third of examined firms had client losses that were cyber-related, but fortunately, they were not large amounts. The SEC is also seeing problems with third-party wires where employees fail to properly authenticate customers’ requests. The majority of the firms examined by the SEC had unauthorized external distributions of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as deliveries of information to the wrong customer, or to the wrong persons within the firm. As of exams conducted through May, the SEC had not identified ransomware as a problem, but that could change at any time. The SEC has also has seen issues with phish emails and spear phishing. They also have heard that firms’ employees are clicking on problematic attachments in more than 20 percent of time. “There is work to be done to better protect firms” concluded Hannibal.

Best Practices

Mitigate the risk of cyber-attacks at your firm through these five best practices:

1. Governance

“Our first job was educating the Board and different committees about cyber on what can happen and identifying all the risks associated with it” said Mumford. Zolper agreed, “We have tightly integrated our cybersecurity risk with our overall risk management. We don’t want to add a different language and a different process and different reporting channel for cyber-related risks.” He said that depending on your cybersecurity maturity, your firm may need to place extra focus to level-set the risk. However, your goal is the Board embraces cyber as another risk that needs to be managed.

FINRA has found that Boards are actively engaged around cybersecurity . In fact, some are trying to increase their expertise in this area by attracting new Board members, particularly for Boards that don’t have anybody with background in the IT space. They recognize the need, said Kelley. However, FINRA saw that two-thirds of firms had deficiencies or weakness in their policies and procedures during their exams. Some policies weren’t specific. Other failed to articulate the procedures for implementing some of the policies. “There’s still more work to be done” said Kelley.

2. Risk Assessment

Risk assessment should be an ongoing process as opposed to a single point in time. Firms should gather and evaluate indicators of potential risks on a monthly, quarterly and annually basis. Firms should also look to what’s happening at other firms and other industries said Zolper. “I’m a huge advocate of collaborating with other firms” he continued. In fact, he said that FINRA has been helpful bringing CISOs together to talk about cybersecurity and other issues. Zolper also suggested tapping Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC) for daily strategic threat intelligence on what’s going around in cyber. Real-time communication between firms “turns the tide on attackers” because they can tune their defenses accordingly, concluded Zolper. In addition to belonging to FS-ISAC, FINRA has also seen firms get together with other firms, not just broker dealers, to talk about the issues that they’re seeing. “ The more you can learn about what’s going on, the better ” Kelley added.

3. Cybersecurity Training

“Employees are the biggest risk for firms” Hannibal said. Based on what the SEC is seeing during exams, he provided some tips. Training needs to be conducted regularly, not just once a year. It also needs to be varied, both in method (such as in-person, email, blogs) and with different topics (such as passwords or visitor access) to engage your employees. Tailor the training by staff role, and include both registered and non-registered persons. Make training practical and relevant. Use prior mistakes as examples. Show employees what good cyber hygiene looks like so they may bring those practices home with them to protect their families and home systems. Training also needs to be engaging and interactive. Some firms have interactive approaches to help employees really understand. Don’t just say “don’t click on a suspicious email”. Everybody nods their head, but that doesn’t mean they get it. You need to provide a whole lot more detail to educate employees. Some firms test their employees by sending phishing emails to see if they will click on links. The employees who click are then required to take additional training. If they don’t change their behavior, their supervisor may need to sit down with them at some point to explain the importance of cybersecurity said Hannibal.

4. Access Management

Regulators are interested in how people gain access to data, systems and facilities . The SEC is seeing that firms are conducting reviews of access rights periodically, said Hannibal. But probably half the firms did not follow policies and procedures for terminating access rights or they inadvertently provided unauthorized system access to users contrary to firm policy. He also said that a surprising number of firms were working on multifactor authentication (“something you know and something that you have”) but had not addressed that fully. FINRA also sees firms, large and small, struggle with access management, said Kelley. When FINRA conducts exams, firms are asked how people get granted access to systems and data. How is that being monitored on an ongoing basis?  When employees change jobs, how quickly is their access changed? What are the processes? Firms are asked about whether they are using multifactor authentication from outside, or even internally. “The absolute best practice is any remote access to your core network should be protected by two-factor authentication” said Zolper. Also, educate people about personal protections. Train them to turn on two-factor authentication everywhere they can, including personal email, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Although it works on those platforms, very few people use it, in spite of anxiety around cyber security, said Zolper.

5. Vendor Management

FINRA sees that firms have policies regarding vendor selection and oversight, but probably half do not have policies that address security training for vendors that are authorized to access their network. Although most vendors provide risk management and performance reports, small firms report that they lack the necessary power to negotiate with bigger players, said Kelley. Risk from vendors needs to be addressed and constantly vetted and assessed said Mumford. She said that pre-set standards can be applied at different stages that vendors go through: planning, due diligence, selection, contract negotiations, ongoing relationships, and termination. Zolper added that one idea is to require the business to obtain permission before bringing on any new vendor that handles, touches, or stores data. To make it easier, create a list of pre-approved vendors. As a firm, you’re constantly looking for ways to make those vendor management polices more mature and effective concluded Zolper.

To better understand cyber trends across the financial services industry and how you can better protect your firm, here are some resources for your review: Verizon 2017 Data Breach Investigations, SEC Cybersecurity, FINRACybersecurity and FS-IAISC

Follow Joanna on Twitter @Belbey


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Did Jennifer Lawrence Say Hurricanes Are ‘Nature’s Wrath’ Against Trump?

Right-wing web sites misrepresented Lawrence’s assertion that climate change is caused by human activity.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence blamed recent hurricanes in the U.S. on President Trump.

In September 2017, right-wing websites accused actress Jennifer Lawrence of blaming President Trump for the deadly hurricanes that recently ravaged several Caribbean nations along with Texas and Florida.

Newsbusters, for example, reported that Lawrence said “‘Mother Nature’s Rage’ Directed at U.S. Because of Trump.” Two days later, Fox News host Tucker Carlson dedicated a segment to Lawrence’s purported comments with an accompanying online article headline that reads, “Tucker Slams ‘Out of Touch’ Jennifer Lawrence for Linking Hurricanes to Trump.” In the segment, Carlson and his guest poke fun at Lawrence for suffering from what they call “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

The false rumor is a twisted version of comments that Lawrence made during an interview on British television to promote her new movie Mother!, a psychological thriller that uses climate change as a central metaphor.

During the interview, Lawrence said science has demonstrated that climate change is the result of human activity. When prompted by the interviewer, she added that she was troubled by the 2016 presidential election results. She never mentioned President Trump by name in that interview, but within hours various publications were sensationalizing it with commentary claiming the actress blamed him for hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck southeast Texas and Florida in late August and early September.

It didn’t take long for the rumor to spread to more traditionally mainstreampublications like the New York Daily News and celebrity site Us Weekly, which put the false claim in their headlines. The British publication The Independent further took liberties with the actress’s comments by reporting, inaccurately:

Jennifer Lawrence has suggested that it is difficult not to feel as though the devastating hurricanes in Texas and approaching Florida are signs of “Mother Nature’s rage and wrath” at America for electing Donald Trump.

The Independent story has an even more misleading headline if one sees it in a Google search result:

Here is a transcript of the actual exchange:

Long: When the director was asked about the film, why it was so dark, he said, “It’s a mad time to be alive.” And there’s certainly a sort of end-of-days feeling about it. For many people in America who would say perhaps it’s true there at the moment than anywhere else. I mean what are your thoughts about the changes that have happened in your own country over the last year or so?

Lawrence: It’s scary, you know, it’s this new language that’s forming. I don’t even recognize it. It’s also scary to know — it’s been proven through science that human activity — that climate change is due to human activity and we continue to ignore it and the only voice that we really have is through voting. Um, so —

Long: And you have voted —

Lawrence: And we voted, and it was really startling. You know, you’re watching these hurricanes now, and it’s really — it’s hard, especially while promoting this movie not to feel Mother Nature’s rage, or wrath.

On 10 September 2017, Lawrence herself responded to the controversy on her official Facebook page, writing:

My remarks were taken grossly out of context. Obviously I never claimed that President Trump was responsible for these tragic hurricanes. That is a silly and preposterous headline that is unfortunate, because it detracts from the millions of lives that are being impacted by these devastating storms and the recent earthquake. What is really important is focusing on the ways we can help. My heart is with everyone affected and the brave first responders who are working to keep us all safe. Please join me in donating to:
United Way of Houston
Save The Children

During the interview, Lawrence did express sadness in the failure to adequately address climate change and environmental degradation and said that the power to do so comes from Americans’ ability to vote for their elected leaders.

President Trump has been on the record denying climate change and has selected fellow climate change deniers to head key agencies like the EPA and NASA. However, although Lawrence has made it no secret she is not a supporter of the president, she didn’t blame him for the recent hurricanes.


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Illegal Forever? I’m tired of the bull. I need to research this myself.

OK, I have heard enough hearsay and fake news. I want to know.


What is the actual process for someone who entered the country illegally, 25 years ago.  If they worked their asses of and did everything right, by the book, could they now be legal citizens?

If  you have been watching FOX news or CNN you have been getting a spin.  Half of what I hear tells me that if you entered the country you are illegal forever and must get the hell out of here no matter what you have done right your entire life.  Another half, tells me that if you are still illegal you (or your parents) have been lazy and have not taken advantage of the plethora of opportunities that have come  and gone over those 25 years.

So what is the story?  Is it different in different states?  Different in Texas than California?

Were there naturalization opportunities that no longer exist?

Were the people who didn’t take advantage of these opportunities lazy, or scared to death?

Was that fear real or imagined, or a bit of both?

Are there different opportunities for engineers than gardeners?

If DACA goes away are we going to be deporting your dental assistant?

For Goodness sake, are our vegetables in danger of rotting in the fields?

Will Trump have to start mowing his own lawn?


Who knows the laws and the history?  What is real and what is spin?



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Desperate dog needed shelter from the storm — and ended up finding a real home

Abandoned dog standing on Florida doorstep

The dog may have been wandering for a month before showing up in a Florida suburb. (Photo: amiawifeorasword/Imgur)

Some dogs wander by mistake. Other dogs are dumped in an unknown neighborhood ahead of one of the biggest natural disasters America has ever seen.

Such was the case with this dog, who found herself in central Florida just days before Hurricane Irma rampaged through the state.

If ever a stranger needed shelter from a storm, it was this crumpled castaway. Fortunately, a user on Imgur who goes by “Amiawifeorasword” left a light on to lead the way.

“While I was out prepping our yard for big Irma badness here in central Florida I saw this sweetie across the street,” she writes in a post. “I called to her like I would any dog and she cautiously walked over. Even looked both ways before crossing the street. She’s a smart cookie.”

Smart enough, it seems, to find just the right person at just the right time.

The dog, guessed to be under a year old, turned out to be ferociously hungry. “She went through three bowls of food and two cups of water before taking a breath.”

Dog eating food on front porchThe dog ate three full bowls of food right away. (Photo: amiawifeorasword/Imgur)

And she wore her suffering on her sleeve — literally. Her skin was scuffed, her paws bleeding, her fur painfully matted. There was tar stuck to her backside.

Whatever the dog had gone through had left her with a healthy distrust of strangers. Still, she trotted through the open front door — and showed every sign of wanting to open her heart.

“She got pretty snuggly after being fed,” the woman recalls. “As far as even putting her paw on my arm and dragging it back to her chest whenever I paused for a moment.”

Then came the very necessary bath. (Noooo, bawled the strange dog!)

And the clippers. (Noooo!)

But, little by little, the woman put the newcomer at ease.

“Once she realized we were helping not hurting she stopped fighting us,” she notes. “It must have felt so good to have those matts released from her pulling her skin.”

Dog laying on couch with another smaller dogIt took a couple of tries to coax the dog into the bath tub. (Photo: amiawifeorasword/Imgur)

But aside from that cavernous belly, there was another big emptiness in this dog. Where did she come from? Did she have a home? A family?

According to her post, the woman took to social media and, after spreading word far and wide, she thought she had found the dog’s original owners.

Apparently, they didn’t want the dog any more. In fact, the dog appeared to have gone through several families before unceremoniously getting spit out along the side of the road. To fend for herself. In an entirely different city. A month ago.

Sure, some dogs do wander by mistake. But it seemed that there was a grand, if painful, design for this dog. The woman who finally found her knew that there would be no more wandering, scavenging, day-to-day scrounging for this dog.

She decided to keep her.

Named Amaterasu, or Amy for short, the dog with the “one floppy ear” has a permanent spot on the couch — as well as a paw, that seems just as permanently attached to her rescuer.

Dog snuggling woman on couchNamed Amaterasu — Amy for short — the dog seems to want to be in physical contact with her rescuer at all times. (Photo: amiawifeorasword/Imgur)

“She has to be touching me even in her sleep,” the woman notes.

And no hurricane shall come between them.

“So here we sit,” the woman adds. “Waiting out the storm and thanking the doggo gods for bringing us yet another source of happiness.”

Dog on couch.All cleaned up, Amy found a forever refuge with her new family. (Photo: amiawifeorasword/Imgur)


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REMINDER: Why Social Security Cuts Are Still In GOP Agenda

 Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Despite what President-elect Trump says, Social Security cuts are still very much on the table. His Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services — Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia) — filed legislation last year to trim the program’s benefits. And I suspect it’s still on his radar screen.

Price’s strategy was to bury Social Security “reform” inside of a massive budget bill, so the issue wouldn’t necessary receive a separate hearing in Congress. Price was chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee in the last Congress.

The conservative Georgia doctor has long been a proponent of major cutbacks to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare. In a speech before the conservative group Heritage Action for America on January 12, 2015, Price told the group about his plans for Social Security:

“This is a program that right now on its current course will not be able to provide 75 or 80 percent of the benefits that individuals have paid into in a relatively short period of time. That’s not a responsible position to say, ‘You don’t need to do anything to do it.’

So all the kinds of things you know about – whether it’s means testing, whether it’s increasing the age of eligibility. The kind of choices — whether it’s providing much greater choices for individuals to voluntarily select the kind of manner in which they believe they ought to be able to invest their working dollars as they go through their lifetime. All those things ought to be on the table and discussed.”


Recommended by Forbes

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How do hurricanes affect birds?

New research project tracks how storms modify birds’ migrations.

Birds flying in storm clouds

Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have changed the landscape along birds’ migration path from breeding grounds in North America to their winter home in the tropics. (Photo: Toa55/Shutterstock)

Birds and hurricanes have always co-existed in an annual life-and-death struggle. Survival has never come easy for birds, be they migratory land birds, shorebirds or birds that spend most of their time over open water. But 2017 will be especially treacherous, especially for migratory land birds on their journey from breeding grounds in North America to winter homes in the tropics. That’s because two of the most powerful and devastating storms ever recorded have impacted the birds’ eastern flyway, the path that takes them through Florida, and their central flyway through Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

The effects of these hurricanes on current migration patterns are being watched closely by a group of researchers who have launched a project to understand how migratory land birds use stopover habitat on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a way for researchers to assess where migratory land birds are stopping en route to the tropics and how the most recent storms are modifying birds’ migratory movements — and they may even be able to do that in real time with Irma.

“We might be able to say something about the impact of Irma as it moves through Florida,” says Jeff Buler, an associate professor of wildlife ecology in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. New Doppler weather radar technology gives them that capability because it distinguishes what he calls bioscatter, animals that the radar detects and distinguishes from precipitation. Even with this advanced technology, though, they won’t be able to determine how many birds might have been killed by the force of the winds or were carried out to sea and drowned. That sort of information, Buler says, would require telemetry tags on specific populations of birds.

With the substantial information they’ve been able to accumulate on both storms, though, as well as data from previous hurricanes such as Katrina and Super Storm Sandy, here is their assessment of how Irma and Harvey will impact the 2017 fall migration.

Impacts of Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma's wind bends palm treesHurricane Irma’s winds are so strong that birds face the possibility of being carried off-course by the storm, perhaps even back to the starting point of their migration. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Songbirds affected by Hurricane Irma are traveling the Eastern flyway on a route that takes them through Florida and then across the Caribbean and into Central and South America. “These birds are very generally thrushes, warblers, flycatchers and sparrows,” says Buler. This route takes advantage of westerly fall winds for these species. Other groups of birds also migrate along this flyway, including raptors, waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds, Buler says. The migration is called a loop migration because it’s a route that will bring the birds back to the United States in the spring across the Gulf on the central flyway zone and into Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. ( In this paper, Frank La Sorte, a macroecologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, offers a more complete explanation of loop and other migrations. And for an up-to-date look at what birds are moving through this flyway as well as other flyways, visit the regional forecasts site provided by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.)

This fall, though, the birds face a dual threat during the height of the fall migration in September from the brunt force of Irma’s winds, Buler says. One threat is the loss of food resources, like insects or fruiting fall flowers that have been stripped of vegetation. The other is the possibility of birds being carried off course by the storm, perhaps even back to the starting point of their migration! And on the heels of Irma, birds migrating over the Atlantic are facing another threat in Hurricane Jose.

One way birds can be carried off course is through a phenomenon that Buler calls being entrained in the eye of the hurricane. That happens when seabirds such as sooty terns, gannets, frigatebirds and petrels get trapped in the eye of the hurricane while it’s over water.

While a hurricane is at sea, ocean-dwelling birds will seek shelter in the eye and just keep flying inside the eye until the storm passes over the coast where they will take refuge on land. This phenomenon is why birders flock to areas struck by hurricanes. The storms afford them the opportunity to spot species of birds in places where they are not supposed to be.

Charlotte Wainwright, who lives in England, was one of the birders who followed Irma’s impact on seabirds as the storm crossed the Atlantic. She did that from her home in the United Kingdom by following radar that was detecting birds over the ocean at 1.6 kilometers up in the air and then tweeting out her findings.

 is now close enough to the San Juan radar that we’re starting to sample birds in the eye at ~1.6 km high (see low CC in pic)

Another possible impact of Irma that Buler and his fellow researcher Wylie Barrow, a wildlife biologist with the U. S. Geological Survey in the Wetland and Aquatic Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, will be monitoring is which birds get trapped in the bands of the storm and where the winds take them. “Those bands are like a riptide that carries you away,” Buler says. Just as a swimmer can’t fight the current of the riptide, the birds that get caught in the bands can’t easily get out of them. As a result, they can be carried 100 miles or more off their intended course.

“This happened in Super Storm Sandy,” says Buler. “We have evidence that some land birds that were migrating through Florida during Sandy may have gotten swept up and then deposited back up in Newfoundland and Maine.” Cornell Lab’s BirdCast project intensively covered Super Storm Sandy’s impact on birds and collaborated with Buler on analyzing some of the data on bird movements resulting from the hurricane. Here’s a report on some of the findings.

The BirdCast is also tracking Irma’s impact on migratory birds, seabirds and shorebirds. “I think that understanding the ways that animals respond to extreme situations is a valuable area of research, especially given the current path of humanity in terms of our rapidly changing climate,” says Andrew Farnsworth, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Hurricanes, while devastating from an economic and humanitarian perspective, do provide a unique chance for us to monitor how birds in particular respond to such extremes. We are still in the infancy of understanding both the mechanisms and the means by which such storms and transport of birds by them operate, but every storm that passes provides the opportunity to learn a bit more.”

For the migratory land birds on the eastern flyway that survive Irma’s winds and rains in Florida and continue their migration to the Caribbean and beyond, their problems are far from over. Numerous islands in the northern Caribbean were reduced to rubble when the hurricane, a Category 5 at the time, barreled over them. “Several migrants will use the Caribbean islands as a stepping stone stopover on their way to northern South America,” says Barrow. But he adds, “Many other land bird migrants stop and winter in the Caribbean islands. They are going to be hit with reduced food resources during their fall migration in Florida and then again when they get to their wintering grounds.”

Impacts of Hurricane Harvey

Toppled trees in Texas after Hurricane HarveyThe force of Hurricane Harvey’s winds stripped foliage and food resources — fruit and insects — from trees like these in Bayside, Texas. (Photo: Daniel Kramer/AFP/Getty Images)

As with Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey affected migratory land birds in two ways. The force of Harvey’s winds stripped foliage and food resources — fruit and insects — from trees. But because Harvey was a slow-moving storm and doubled back over storm-ravaged areas, it produced extensive flooding that covered leaf litter used by foraging birds.

“We know from our previous studies that most migrants, about 55 percent of the 70 or so migrant songbird species that we studied, a little over half of their primary foraging substrate is live foliage,” says Barrow. “So, with the wind stripping away the foliage, epiphytes and vine tangles where they are searching for invertebrate food, there is going to be less food.

“But for about 20 percent of these migrants, their primary foraging location is in the leaf litter on the forest floor,” he adds. “If you think of the broad landscape that was covered with water from Harvey — which some are saying was as big as one of the Great Lakes — you’ve lost a lot of foraging substrate for those species of migrants that require leaf litter.”

Some of the ground foragers and those that rely on vegetation in the lower understory thickets affected by the flooding include the ovenbird, Swainson’s warbler, Kentucky warbler and some of the thrushes. The Kentucky warbler is on the State of North America’s Birds 2016 watch list, and it and Swainson’s warbler are on the National Audubon Society’s 2007 watch list.

Kentucky warblerThe Kentucky warbler is one of the ground foragers that relies on vegetation in the lower understory thickets affected by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: Ed Schneider/Shutterstock)

These migrants are very adaptive, Barrow says, pointing out that on their long-distance migration, they encounter different habitats all the time. “In fact, adds Farnsworth, “the very reason migration exists is because birds are adapting to changing environments and atmosphere over many time scales, including the evolutionary time scale.”

“Most species are pretty flexible in their foraging strategies and in their abilities to forage and find food in different locations because they do that all of the time during these movements,” Barrow continues. “Typically, if a migrant is in a stopover site that doesn’t have adequate resources, it will move to a stopover site that has better resources. This will be hard at the western part of the Gulf for them to do.”

Weeks after Harvey, researchers still have not been able to fully assess how migratory land birds stopping over in the Houston area have responded to the hurricane’s devastation there. But they do know that birds outside of the city will have less-than-ideal nutrition choices. To the east and north of Houston, for example, are not-so-desirable piney woods. To the west beyond the Colorado river there is less forest cover.

“I am mostly curious about those species that specialize by foraging in the leaf litter of the forest floor regarding the large area that has been flooded,” says Barrow. “Millions of trees were toppled in the river bottoms by Katrina, and those that were not felled were stripped of their foliage. Harvey is more of a broad-scale flooding event, so migrants depending on canopy foliage for searching for insects may not be affected that much by Harvey, at least in the greater Houston area.”

While a lot of these migrants are insectivorous, many species shift their diet to fruitbefore heading out across the Gulf because the fruit is higher in lipid content that insects and helps them better replenish their fat. Some fruits the birds typically rely on have dark purple colors that have antioxidant properties and help with oxidative stresses incurred during migration. “So, there is a loss there in terms of nutrition,” Barrow adds.

Nutrition is important for the flight across the open Gulf, called the trans-Gulf migration, because it can be long. Depending on the route the birds take, their flights can cover as much as 500 to 600 miles and take 18 to 24 hours, says Buler. “There was a study done several years ago tracking gray catbirds and indigo buntings, and they tried to track hummingbirds and some other species,” Buler adds. “A gray catbird took nine hours. That was the fastest that one of the birds flew from Alabama to the Yucatan Peninsula in the fall.”

No one knows for sure what will happen if the birds can’t fatten up due to a lack of food resources. Will they stay in the northern Gulf region for the winter or continue their journey in a weakened state? Barrow suspects they will continue their migration to their wintering grounds to the extent they can. “But they will do that in a condition that is probably less than optimal.”

But humans can help

A thrush eats berries on a treePeople who live along the path taken by migratory birds can help them by adding plants that produce fruit in the autumn to gardens and landscapes. (Photo: Bachkova Natalia/Shutterstock)

In the short term, Barrow says he and Buler know there will be some mortality from Harvey and Irma as well as harm caused by food reductions that may affect breeding next year. But what they really fear with these increasingly intense storms is a shift in the habitat the birds have to adjust to over time.

But Barrow wants homeowners to know there’s a way they can impact that shifting habitat, and he has a suggestion for that: Landscape with migrants in mind.

“From the 1900s, we have had an incredible recruitment of invasive species in wild and urban spaces,” says Barrow, citing a proliferation of the Chinese tallow tree on the western Gulf and non-native species that have proliferated in Florida. Many of these invasive species do not supply the food base that natives do, either because they’re new, the insects haven’t found them or for other reasons. In addition, invasive species like these disturb habitats.

“We have seen just in the last 15 years a shift on the Louisiana coast from native plants to invasive dominated species because of the disturbance of these storms.

“But because we know from radar observations that these birds are using urban areas in parks, residential green spaces and gardens along the coast, the people who live there can contribute to the birds’ journey by using native plants in their gardens and landscape,” Barrow says. “It would be especially helpful to the birds for homeowners to choose plants that produce fruits in the autumn or ones with flowers that attract a lot of insects in the spring.”


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