Bird kill reported in Arkansas, 1 January 2012. Image Source: AP via THV.
Early this morning, someone on Twitter said, "I can remember 2011 like it was yesterday." Here is another reminder of last year, this one inauspicious: 2011 began with the mass deaths of birds and fish (see here, here and here). New reports are coming out of Arkansas today of a repeat case of dead birds:
Thousands of dead blackbirds rained down on a town in central Arkansas last New Year's Eve after revelers set off fireworks that spooked them from their roost, and officials were reporting a similar occurrence Saturday as 2012 approached.
Police in Beebe said dozens of blackbirds had fallen dead, prompting officers to ban residents from shooting fireworks Saturday night. It wasn't immediately clear if fireworks were again to blame, but authorities weren't taking a chance.
Officer John Weeks said the first reports of "birds on the streets" came around 7 p.m. as residents celebrated the year's end with fireworks in their neighborhoods.
"We started shutting down fireworks," he said. "We're working on cleaning up the birds now."
He said police were working with animal control workers and others to remove the birds and determine a death count.
"We're not sure if they're going to continue to fall throughout the night. I can't tell you," Weeks said.
Scientists say the loud cracks and booms from celebratory fireworks likely sent the birds into such a tizzy that they crashed into homes, cars and each other before plummeting to their deaths last New Year's Eve. The birds landed on roofs, sidewalks, streets and fields. One struck a woman walking her dog. Another hit a police cruiser.
The blackbird die-off, coupled with tens of thousands of dead drum fish that washed up on the shores of the Arkansas River, flung the state into the national headlines and drew conspiracy theorists and filmmakers to the town about 30 miles northeast of Little Rock that shares Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe's last name.
Some people speculated that the birds had been poisoned; others said their deaths marked the beginning of the apocalypse.
"Mystery death: One of the hundreds of blackbirds that fell out of the sky on New Year's Eve in Arkansas." Image Source: Reuters via Daily Mail.
I meant to write a post about a week ago on the unrelated weird behaviour of Canada Geese, which still had not migrated from the Ottawa region around December 23 and 24, which is unheard of (they normally have cleared out of here by the first or second week of November). It was likely attributable to an unnaturally long fall; but all through the autumn, the geese also seemed disoriented. They kept flying north instead of south, and flying around in circles. This was commented on by local people, who haven't seen anything like it in at least the past three decades, and a cartoon lampooning their behaviour appeared last week in the local newspaper. Similar effects of warm weather on bird migrations were observed at the end of 2011 in Europe (see here):
If the unusually warm weather has left outdoor skiiers and ice skaters out of luck, it has been a boon for bird watchers. According to Birdlife Finland many bird species have postponed their flight south until colder weather arrives. A total of 160 bird species have been observed in Finland, and a couple of them have never even been seen in the country before. The rarest bird species observed in December - the Isabelline Shrike and Hume's Warbler - have not previously been observed during winter months in Finland.
ADDENDUM (24 February 2017): A possibly related report in Discover Magazine: the US began incinerating its stocks of deadly nerve agent VX, disposing of the final batches in 2012. This disposal of chemical weapons took place following the Chemical Weapons Convention. The full text of the Convention is here.