On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Even as the season changes, locals continue to head outdoors. And local birders will have their eyes pinned to the sky, looking out for the tens of millions of birds migrating through the D.C. area. What else can the growing number of amateur birders expect to see this fall?
And many birds depend on bugs as part of their diet. But with warming temperatures, are these ecosystems at risk? We’ll dive into the wild world of birds and bugs with two experts.
The Kojo Nnamdi Show is providing special coverage on climate issues this week as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of 400 news outlets designed to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
Produced by Inés Rénique
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast local naturalist Melanie Choukas and WAMU reporter Margaret Barthel join us to discuss the many ways to get outside in the Washington region. That's Melanie Choukas-Bradley, of course. But first, this week we've been discussing the impact of rising temperatures, part of a media collaboration focused on climate change, but we don't need to go far to understand the negative effects of climate change on wildlife.
KOJO NNAMDIToday we're discussing what local birds and bugs are telling us about climate change and inviting your calls. Joining us now is Michael Raupp, otherwise known as "Bug Guy." He's a professor of Entomology at the University of Maryland. Mike Raupp, thank you for joining us.
MICHAEL RAUPPSo great to be back with you today, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlways a pleasure, Mike. Mike, tell us a bit about your work with bugs and how climate change plays into it.
RAUPPWell, you know, gardening is a very important recreational activity here in the DMV. And there's kind of this inexorable link between temperature and development in insects. In a warming world, this has several very important implications. First what we've seen is basically a shift in the distribution of insects. This has been a progression of southern pass into our more northern landscapes and gardens. What this means for us is that pests that were once confined to southern locations, things like harlequin bugs that are going to pillage your cabbages and radishes, they simply in the mild winters are able to penetrate and occupy our gardens for many years until we get a cold snap that basically puts a beat down on them and forces them back down into the warmer regions of the south.
RAUPPThis is also important for some of our agricultural pests. For our farmers things like kudzu bugs will also make inroads during these very very mild winters. I've even found fire ants. Anybody that's been in the Carolinas or Florida knows all about fire ants. They can give you one memorable sting. This is a southern pest basically I found surviving successfully in landscapes here right here in Columbia, Maryland where they were transplanted in the Autumn with plants from the Carolinas. So fundamentally we see a shift in a pattern or the distribution, a push northward of pests that were once constrained by cold to more southern locations.
NNAMDISo what does this greater activity among our six and eight legged friends mean for what we're seeing in our basements, backyards and in nature?
RAUPPWell, that's a great question. It simply means that we're going -- they're going to start earlier. And they're going to go later. And this is very important for some of our very important garden pests. Things like aphids and scale insects, spider mites and even mosquitos, these particular insects have many generations each year. We call them multiple voltine pests, many generations. And with warmer temperatures they simply are going to be able to complete more generations every year.
RAUPPNow, for example, we have spider mites. I hate those things. They're on my tomatoes. They're on my cucumbers. Basically at about 50 degrees in spring time it's going to take them 36 days to complete a generation. But, hey, once the temperatures hit 90 in the summer time, they're going to complete a generation in only about seven days. That means they're going to be five times as many generations in the same unit time. This is why we see things like spider mites explode during the summer months.
RAUPPSame thing for mosquitos. The Culex mosquito, the vector of the important West Nile virus, at 70 degrees it takes about two weeks to go from egg to adult. But at 90, hey, that's going to reduce down to one week. This is part of the reason we get bitten so much here as populations explode during the warm months of June, July and August.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number you have to call if you'd like to join the conversation. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. Of course, birds rely on bugs to eat. Their ecosystems are closely intertwined. So we're inviting to join the conversation Orietta Estrada who is a local writer and birder. Orietta, thank you for joining us.
ORIETTA ESTRADA-CHACONASThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou describe yourself as a birdcentric writer. Tell us a little bit about your work.
ESTRADA-CHACONASWell, my work has been featured in Bird Watching magazine, Birding magazine, Sierra Club and the Week among other publications both in print and digital. And I write about my experiences birding mostly in Maryland.
NNAMDIWell, the pandemic has given rise to many amateur local birdwatchers. You call yourselves birders, of course. What has this meant to experienced birders like you?
ESTRADA-CHACONASI think it's wonderful. I can speak for myself and the group of experienced birders that I run with. We think it's wonderful. We want to provide an equal experience for beginner birders and experienced birders and everybody in between. And we want to partner and provide those experiences for beginner birders.
NNAMDIDid you recently take up bird watching? Have you started noticing local wildlife during the pandemic? Give us a call 800-433-8850. Or are you a birdwatcher and you're like to join the conversation? 800-433-8850. Orietta, birding can often feel like an exclusive club to those outside of it. Intimidating for the uninitiated. What is about birdwatching and how it's been practiced that can make it seem that way?
ESTRADA-CHACONASWell, birders in my experience -- I've been birding for 10 years in the Maryland area. Some birders really like to hold on and gate keep birds that they find. They like to keep other birders away or less experienced birders away. And for that reason two other people that I work with, with the Idea Birders of Maryland and D.C. Facebook group, myself, Lynn Parks and Danny Sloane recreated a rare bird alert. And a rare bird alert is a text messaging group that birders utilize to help each other to find rare birds.
ESTRADA-CHACONASSo, for example, if a snowy owl and a snowy owl is a large beautiful owl that is snowy white were to land in my driveway, I would do four things. I would jump for joy. I would grab my camera. I would put a message out on the RBA and I would record what I found to ebird.
ESTRADA-CHACONASEbird is a community science based initiative by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in which birders enter the types of birds they see. And scientists utilize that data for their research. So, anyway, going back to the RBA, many of us have been -- I don't know how to say this, because it's pretty sad. We've been denied access to this rare bird alert text messaging group. We've been turned away. We've been told there's too many people on the list. We've been told you have to participate in a specific event. And it's an event, which is not friendly to people with small children, people with disabilities or people who lack consistent access to transportation.
ESTRADA-CHACONASSo we were tired of waiting for our invitations and we were tired of being told "No." And we are not alone. So we made our own rare bird alert list for Maryland. You know, and this is just one of the examples of changes that we want for everyone in the birding community. We want equal access for all. And we wanted it and it wasn't being given to us.
NNAMDISo I can understand that you're a Latina birder and you've been working to open up birdwatching. We just hear one example of that. But you've been working to open it up to a wider group of enthusiasts. So you're making it more inclusive. And you recently launched a scholarship for Black and LatinX birders. Why? And tell us about it.
ESTRADA-CHACONASWell, our country unfortunately continues to value whiteness over all else. And white supremacy continues to pervade Black people's lives. Whether a Black person is going for some exercise, birding in their neighborhood or asleep in their own bed. And white supremacy does also impact the LatinX community as well, although, it does so differently. Forming the scholarship committee, which I co-chair alongside with Tykee James, the Government Affairs Coordinator for Audubon Society and a founder of Black Birders week was the absolute least that could happen in our region and the least that could happen for Black, LatinX and Afro LatinX birders.
ESTRADA-CHACONASAs a Latina born to a Cuban refugee and a Venezuelan immigrant, I wouldn't be here without civil rights activists, immigrant rights activists. And I recognize the privilege that I've been afforded in my life, because of the movements formed mostly by Black communities. And I feel strongly that as a Latina it's my responsibility to seek equity for underrepresented and marginalized people in whatever it is I do. And what I do is I bird.
NNAMDIOrietta, what's your advice to someone who's interested in taking up birdwatching?
ESTRADA-CHACONASDive in. Just walk out your front door and just start observing the nature right in front of your home. If you want to delve a little bit deeper, you can hop onto Facebook and join Idea Birders of Maryland and D.C. Also audubon.org is a wonderful resource for birds of the world. And marylandbirds.org is a wonderful resource for birds in the region.
NNAMDIHere now is Stella in Washington D.C. Stella, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STELLAHi, Kojo. Thank you for this really interesting show. I loved the first half and I know I'm going go to love the second half. I wanted to say that I've been practicing citizen science through eye naturalists, which I'm sure your guests will know a little bit about. It's a free app founded by scientist. And I've been observing for the last three years in my neighborhood. And I can say that I've definitely seen patters just in those three years. I frequent an old historic alley in my neighborhood. And I observed the mosses and the lichen and the ferns that grow in the stonewalls. And that I also observe the pollinator life in the pollinator gardens in my neighborhood. We have a lot of enthusiastic gardeners and many of them are planting things for the butterflies, you know, for the bumblebees.
STELLAAnd I've seen in particular a shift since last year. And I've very interested in what your guests will say. I've seen a real drop in native bee populations especially bumblebees and many of the butterflies that would frequent pollinator gardens such as at Bancroft School. And I've seen maybe more local -- more honeybees. And so I'm curious what your guests will say.
NNAMDIOkay, I'll have Mike Raupp respond. Mike, we only have about a minute left in this segment. But go ahead, please.
RAUPPSure. Last year, frankly was a spectacular year, Stella, for butterflies. I had more in my pollinator gardens than perhaps I've seen in a long time. This year unfortunately especially our big charismatic butterflies, the swallowtails, there were was very late spring frosts. And we think part of the reason we've had fewer of that large pollinators, the butterflies, for example, was that they simply got caught in frost regime, cold weather regime on the first generation. And this significantly reduced their numbers. So this is part of the reason perhaps that we've had fewer of the large pollinators this year.
RAUPPFrankly, this year in my garden has been a good year for bumblebees. I'm not sure what might be going on down in the DMV, down in the District, for example, that could be reducing your bumblebee abundance. But they depend on many things not only pollination sources, nectar sources, pollen sources, but also nesting sites. So if there's been more erosion or loss of nesting sites for bumblebees this would be part of the reason as well.
NNAMDIOkay. Got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. But you can still join it by calling 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about how climate change might be affecting the birds and the bugs in the region. We're talking with Mike Raupp, otherwise knowns as "Bug Guy." He's a Professor of Entomology at the University of Maryland. And Orietta Estrada is a local writer and birder. Orietta, have you faced backlash from birders or some who say, birding is not a political or social justice issue.
ESTRADA-CHACONASWell, let me be clear. I reject that notion that wanting equity in social justice in the space that I occupy, which is the birding world in the U.S. is political. Each time I walk out of my house, I'm engaging in an unspoken contract of trust with the world around me. We all are. But for a specific group of people that trust is routinely broken and it's not political, it's a life and death situation that impacts Black and Afro LatinX birders everywhere in this country.
ESTRADA-CHACONASIf I have stories about experiencing racism while out birding, being on edge, because the area I am in is predominantly white, you know, that Black and Afro LatinX birders have them too. That's not politics. That's people being impacted for just existing in a primarily white occupied space. I assume that those gripping about politics and birding probably have a hard time saying, "Black lives matter." Well, I can tell you that saying, "Black lives matter" is not a political statement. It's a fact. And it needs to be said over and over, because there are people out there who clearly need to be reminded.
NNAMDIMike, you're an entomologist. But presumably birds and the rest of the natural world are part your field of study given their interdependence. Can you talk a little bit about that?
RAUPPSure. Absolutely. Yeah. I think the just joy and wonder as, you know, Orietta has said of being able to get outdoors and it's been critically important during these COVID days for people to go outdoors, enjoy nature. I've seen more people on the hiking trails, the biking trails, the paths around my community, the state parks and the national parks than perhaps I've ever seen.
RAUPPAnd this is a prime opportunity to immerse yourself in nature, discover the joys, the mysterious, the fun of observing not only birds, but the insect world, which is ubiquitous. Hey, out in my front yard I've seen more than 100 different species of insects on my pollinator plants this year. So it's a fantastic opportunity to learn all about nature and immerse yourself. And I think this has been one of the good things about COVID to see families outdoors observing nature, enjoying themselves.
NNAMDIDell in Montgomery County, Maryland. Dell, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DELLHi. Let's take it off speaker. I have a horse farm in Western Montgomery County. And a close observer of insects as you might imagine. And this year is by far the lightest insect year we've ever had. I mean, the horses aren't complaining, but we have just a very brief spell of yellow heads. I probably only killed less than 10 of the huge ones. I haven't heard anybody else talk about it. But considering what a large percentage of the biomass is insects, a dramatic drop off like that concerns me a little bit.
RAUPPAnd, well, it should. You know, insects have been -- they got off to a late start this year. We kind of had a dreary April and May if you recall. Temperatures were below normal. This is a critical launching point for insects here in the DMV. And when we have these cold, coolish rainy springs as I said, things like the butterflies get off to a slow start. I've also heard others reflect your same concerns, Dell, about low numbers of insects. Don't really have a good explanation.
RAUPPI said some of the pollinators, the bumblebees in my yard have been really good this year. I had a wonderful display of lightning bugs probably the best display of fireflies I've seen in several years. So I think it's maybe a little bit of dependency on where you're located. But some of the guys that like the cooler, wetter temperatures, these things that spend part of their life in the soil like the fireflies and ground beetles, they're not seeming to have such a bad year.
RAUPPSo I think it's kind of taxon or species dependent as to what you see.
NNAMDIOrietta, we heard from Mike about what warming temperatures mean. There are more insects and the seasons are longer. What are you seeing when it comes to birds?
ESTRADA-CHACONASWell, one example of how climate change impacts bird is the Salt Marsh Sparrow. As its name suggests it lives in the salt marches. And it lives in the salt marches of the largest estuary in the United States and maybe the third largest estuary in the world and that is our Chesapeake Bay. The Salt Marsh Sparrow is an exceptionally beautiful sparrow. It's brown as most sparrows are. But it has these fiery, orange facial markings, which presents such an impressive contrast. So it's really a stunning bird.
ESTRADA-CHACONASSo not only are these tidal marshes where this bird nests and lives are being cleared for development, which impacts their habitat, because they need a specific habitat to live. These marshes are being flooded more frequently. And that's due to sea level rise. So sea level rise is happening, because the earth is heating up so we're having these massive glacial melts and the water is getting warmer.
ESTRADA-CHACONASNow what happens is when water warms, the molecules expand. Therefore, water takes up more volume. It takes up more space. So in the past this species could, you know, weather high tides with no problem. But the high tides that are happening now are higher. So what happens is is that the nests -- because these birds nest less than three feet off the ground in the salt marshes. What happens is that these nests flood and either the eggs are destroyed or the young drown. And this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the species. And when we talk about species pressure, we're talking about how difficult it is for a species to survive. And this species is in real danger of extinction.
ESTRADA-CHACONASGoing to what Mike had talked to about bugs shifting their ranges, another bird that we're seeing being impacted by climate change is our Baltimore Oriole not named for the way it looks. But it's a stunning bird. It's black and bright orange. But what's happening gradually is that the bird is shifting its breeding range. So it's breeding farther north now because the vegetation is shifting northward, because of the climate is getting hotter. And therefore the vegetation and the bugs that follow the vegetation and the birds that follow the bugs are shifting northward to where the habitat is more habitable.
NNAMDIMike, I couldn't get Edward on the phone. But I know his question is, "How does one get rid of spider mites? They're killing my plants."
RAUPPWell, the old school way, Kojo, is to simply get out there with a garden hose and hose those things down. Once they've been dislodged from the plant the predators on the ground are going to gobble them up. You can also go kind of an organic route and use something like a neem oil or a horticultural oil to basically treat those spider mites. But in the hot weather we're going to see more spider mites. So yeah, let's cool it off guys. Let's cut down on some of that greenhouse gas and get this place cooler. We're going to see a lot of those problems take a backseat.
NNAMDIHere is Sue in Columbia, Maryland. Sue, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUEYes, I'd like to ask the young lady about how does one get into birding, number one. And if you've never -- I mean, I go for walks all the time now and hear birds and see birds. But I'd like to know how to get into the actual action of knowing what birds I'm seeing and the songs that they're singing. I know a crow. But I don't know any of the other bird songs. So two questions. How to get into it and how to recognize the bird songs?
ESTRADA-CHACONASSo there are a lot of really great resources online. There are also a lot of really great apps. There's the Merlin ID app, which helps beginner birders id birds by using AI to identify birds from photos that birders take with their iPhone. It's very interesting and very cool technology. The other app that I love is the Sibley Bird's app. There are also Sibley Bird guides that anybody can buy. It's also worth investing a little bit of money into binoculars.
NNAMDIOkay. Sue, thank you for your call. We have less than a minute left, Orietta. But Steph called, but couldn't stay on the line saying, "Some people don't understand that there are rare birds that are very sensitive to being seen. If you get too close they don't eat and we stress them out. We need to be sensitive to shy birds." Orietta, we only have about 30 seconds left, but go ahead.
ESTRADA-CHACONASYeah. We need to be respectful of birds. First and foremost we need to respect property owners and their wishes for people visiting, but, yeah, I mean, birds are wildlife. Birds don't belong to us. We are just observers of them. So she's right. We have to respect birds.
NNAMDIOrietta Estrada is a local writer and birder. Mike Raupp, otherwise known as "Bug Guy" is a Professor of Entomology at the University of Maryland. Thank you both for joining us. Short break, when we come back, we'll discuss the many ways to get outside in the Washington region. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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