Hundreds of migrating songbirds crash into NYC skyscrapers

This photo provided by Melissa Breyer shows some of the dead birds collected in the vicinity of New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 14, 2021. (Melissa Breyer via AP)
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Updated 17 September 2021

Hundreds of migrating songbirds crash into NYC skyscrapers

  • Stormy weather Monday night into Tuesday contributed to the deaths, said Kaitlyn Parkins of NYC Audubon group
  • But bird strikes on Manhattan skyscrapers are a persistent problem for years, says NYC Audubon

NEW YORK: Hundreds of birds migrating through New York City this week died after crashing into the city’s glass towers, a mass casualty event spotlighted by a New York City Audubon volunteer’s tweets showing the World Trade Center littered with bird carcasses.
This week’s avian death toll was particularly high, but bird strikes on Manhattan skyscrapers are a persistent problem that NYC Audubon has documented for years, said Kaitlyn Parkins, the group’s associate director of conservation and science.
Stormy weather Monday night into Tuesday contributed to the deaths, she said.
“We had a big storm and sort of weird weather and lots of birds, and that’s sort of the perfect combination that can lead to bird-window collisions,” Parkins said.
“It seems that the storm might have brought the birds in lower than they would have otherwise have been, or just disoriented them,” Parkins added. “The effects of nocturnal light on birds is also quite strong, especially when it’s a cloudy night.”
Volunteers with NYC Audubon document bird deaths at high-risk spots during the spring and fall migrations.
Melissa Breyer, the volunteer who tweeted about finding nearly 300 birds on sidewalks surrounding the new World Trade Center towers, said the experience was “overwhelming.”
“As soon as I got to the buildings, the birds were everywhere on the sidewalk,” Breyer said. “Looking north, covered, south, covered, west, covered, the sidewalks were literally covered with birds.”
NYC Audubon wants the owners of the World Trade Center towers and other buildings to help reduce the number of bird strikes by dimming the lights at night and by treating glass to make it more visible to birds.
“Make it so that they can see it and recognize that it’s a solid barrier that they cannot fly through,” Parkins said.
Jordan Barowitz, a spokesperson for the Durst Organization, co-developer of One World Trade Center, said in an email, “The first 200 feet of One WTC are encased in glass fins that are non-reflective. This design was chosen because it greatly reduces bird strikes which mostly occur below 200 feet and are frequently caused by reflective glass.”
Dara McQuillan, a spokesperson for Silverstein Properties, the developer of three other trade center skyscrapers, said, “We care deeply for wild birds and protecting their habitat in the five boroughs. Understanding that artificial night-time lighting in general can attract and disorient migrating birds, we are actively encouraging our office tenants to turn off their lights at night and lower their blinds wherever possible, especially during the migratory season.”
It wasn’t the last flight for all the birds that crashed. Some survived.
A total of 77 birds were taken to the Wild Bird Fund’s rehab facility on the Upper West Side on Tuesday, the majority of them from the trade center area, director Ritamary McMahon said.
“We knew it was going to be a large migration coming in. They could tell from the radar,” said McMahon, who scheduled extra staff to care for an expected influx of injured birds.
The Wild Bird Fund staff members gave the birds food, fluids and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling.
Thirty birds recovered and were released in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Wednesday, McMahon said.
“One of our staff took an Uber down to Prospect Park to release them so they wouldn’t face any more tall buildings on their travels,” she said.


Endangered orangutan in New Orleans expecting twins

Updated 21 October 2021

Endangered orangutan in New Orleans expecting twins

  • “We are very excited about this pregnancy,” Bob MacLean, senior veterinarian at the Audubon Zoo, said
  • The births in December or January will be the first for Menari, 12, but the third and fourth sired by Jambi

NEW ORLEANS: A critically endangered Sumatran orangutan in New Orleans is pregnant with twins, the zoo in New Orleans announced Thursday.
“We are very excited about this pregnancy,” Bob MacLean, senior veterinarian at the Audubon Zoo, said in a news release. “Twinning is extremely rare in orangutans — there is only about a 1 percent chance of this happening.”
The births in December or January will be the first for Menari, 12, but the third and fourth sired by Jambi, a male brought to New Orleans in late 2018 from a zoo in Germany.
It may be six years or more before the group’s next babies.
Sumatran orangutans wean their offspring at about 7 years old and have the longest period between births of any mammals — 8.2 to 9.3 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The great apes named for their long red hair have been decimated by hunting as well as the destruction of the forests and peat swamps where they spend nearly all their time up in trees.
About 13,500 are believed to exist in sustainable wild populations, and “overall numbers continue to decline dramatically,” according to the IUCN.
Watching matriarch Feliz and Reese, who came to New Orleans in 2018 from ABQ BioPark in Albuquerque, give birth to and bring up their daughters has helped prepare hand-raised Menari for motherhood, officials said.
Bulan was born in July 2019 to Feliz, who also is Menari’s mother. Reese’s daughter Madu was born in February.
The zoo said keepers and veterinarians are giving Menari daily training and enrichment sessions to prepare her for motherhood and the possibility that she might need help raising one or both.
If all goes well, the orangutan twins will be the second pair born at Audubon.
Bon Temps and Lagniappe, nicknamed Bonnie and Lana, were hand-raised after their birth in 1985 to an orangutan named Sarah. Bonnie died in 2016 at Zoo Miami; Lana, 36, is in Greenville Zoo in South Carolina.


Canadian wins 18th Chopin international piano competition

Updated 21 October 2021

Canadian wins 18th Chopin international piano competition

  • Japan’s Kyohei Sorita came joint-second with Italian-Slovenian Alexander Gadjiev. Spain’s Martin Garcia Garcia came third

WARSAW, Poland: Canadian pianist Bruce Xiaoyu Liu was awarded first prize in the Chopin piano competition in Warsaw on Thursday, clinching one of the world’s most prestigious music awards.
“Being able to play Chopin in Warsaw is one of the best things you can imagine,” 24-year-old Liu said as the jury announced their decision at the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall.

The first prize in the 18th Frederic Chopin international piano competition comes with a 40,000-euro ($45,000) award.

Japan’s Kyohei Sorita, 27, came joint-second with 26-year-old Italian-Slovenian Alexander Gadjiev.
Spain’s Martin Garcia Garcia, 24, came third.

The winner will receive a gold medal and the financial prize funded by the office of Poland’s president, as well as prestigious recording and concert contracts.
The second prize is worth 30,000 euros ($35,000,) third prize is 20,000 euros ($23,000,) and the fourth is 15,000 euros ($17,000.) There are also prizes for the fifth, sixth and seventh place as well as other awards for the finalists, funded by Poland’s government, music institutions and by private donors.
Held every five years since 1927, the Chopin competition would normally have been held last year, but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic — a first since World War II.
“It was challenging to get all the competitors into Poland,” Artur Szklener, director of the National Institute of Frederic Chopin, which organizes the competition, had told AFP.
But one of the 17 jury members, Argentinian concert pianist Nelson Goerner, said that pandemic-related lockdowns helped raise the standard of this year’s competition.
“The level this year is remarkable,” Goerner told AFP earlier in the competition.
“The pianists have had more time to prepare and I think the pandemic has awakened in all of us a desire to go further, to surpass ourselves,” he said.
“You can hear it in how these young pianists are playing.”

Born in Paris, Liu graduated from Montreal Conservatoire.
He has performed with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and has been on two tours in China.
“The pandemic actually made this kind of meeting for me more special,” Liu said after his victory.
Liu said he had to be “really careful all the time” during the coronavirus crisis, so as to be able to keep up his competition and concert schedule, and as a result had “not met many people” in the past two years.
He also said he hoped the competition would be “just a start” in his musical journey.
“It’s hard to keep the freshness, to continuously find new ideas so I hope this is not the last point,” he told reporters.
He added that he was looking forward “to be finally able to sleep and party.”
This year’s event drew 87 pianists from across the globe, including 22 from China, 16 from Poland and 14 from Japan.
Broadcast live on YouTube and via a bespoke mobile app, the contest attracted record online interest.
Some 70,000 people watched the result streamed online.
Among previous winners are Maurizio Pollini of Italy, Argentina’s Martha Argerich, Garrick Ohlsson from the United States, Poland’s Krystian Zimerman and Artur Blechacz, and Seong-Jin Cho of South Korea.
Chopin, Poland’s best known and beloved classical music composer and pianist, was born in 1810 in Zelazowa Wola near Warsaw to a Polish mother and a French father. He left Poland at 19 to broaden his musical education in Vienna and then in Paris, where he settled, composing, giving concerts and teaching the piano. He died on Oct. 17, 1849, in Paris and is buried at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. His heart is at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw.
The auditions can be followed live on the Chopin Institute YouTube channel and on Polish state radio.

 

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US train riders held up phones as woman was raped, police say

Updated 19 October 2021

US train riders held up phones as woman was raped, police say

  • Police say the people who recorded the attack and failed to intervene could possibly be charged
  • Arrest records show Fiston Ngoy, 35, was charged with rape and related offenses

PHILADELPHIA: A man charged with raping a woman on a commuter train just outside of Philadelphia harassed her for more than 40 minutes while multiple people held up their phones to seemingly record the assault without intervening, authorities said.
More than two dozen train stops passed as the man harassed, groped and eventually raped the woman, the police chief for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority said at a news conference Monday.
Police do not believe a single witness on the train dialed 911. They are investigating whether some bystanders filmed the assault.
Both the man and woman got on the train at the same stop Wednesday night in North Philadelphia. Officers pulled the man off of the woman at the last stop. They responded within about three minutes of a 911 call from a transportation authority employee, authorities said.
“What we want is everyone to be angry and disgusted and to be resolute about making the system safer,” SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III said at the news conference.
Arrest records show Fiston Ngoy, 35, was charged with rape and related offenses.
The affidavit of arrest for Ngoy detailed times of the assault, including that during those 40 minutes the woman appears to repeatedly push Ngoy away.
Nestel would not give an approximate number of witnesses and it was unclear from the affidavit how many passengers were present for those 40 minutes. Authorities have not released the surveillance video.
“I can tell you that people were holding their phone up in the direction of this woman being attacked,” he said.
Elizabeth Jeglic, a psychology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, researches sexual violence prevention. She said if people feel uncomfortable physically intervening, there are other options like calling the police.
“When we have multiple people, people don’t necessarily intervene,” she said. “However, more recent research actually suggests that looking at video footage of more extreme circumstances that up to 90 percent of cases we do see people intervening. So it was actually somewhat of an aberration in this case that somebody did not step forward to help this individual.”
Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt, of the Upper Darby Police Department, has said surveillance footage showed other riders were on the train and someone “should have done something.” Messages for Bernhardt were left Monday.
The New York Times reported that Bernhardt said that people who recorded the attack and failed to intervene could possibly be charged, but that would be up to the Delaware County District Attorney’s office to determine.
There were no calls made to 911 in Philadelphia. Nestel said police were still waiting for Delaware County 911, which covers the last two train stops, to determine if it received any calls.
Investigators said in the affidavit that Ngoy sat down next to the woman about a minute after he boarded the train car, shortly after 9:15 p.m. The video shows her pushing him away multiple times until he is seen ripping her pants down at about 9:52 p.m.
Bernhardt said officers arrived at the 69th Street terminal on the Market-Frankford Line, the busiest route on SEPTA, around 10 p.m.
A SEPTA employee who was in the vicinity as the train went past called police to report that “something wasn’t right” with a woman aboard the train, Bernhardt said.
SEPTA police waiting at the next stop found the woman and arrested Ngoy, who they had pulled off of the woman. She was taken to a hospital.
According to the court documents, the woman told police that Ngoy ignored her pleas to go away.
Ngoy claimed in his statement to police that he knew the victim, but couldn’t remember her name and said the encounter was consensual.
Ngoy, who listed his last address as a homeless shelter, remained in custody on $180,000 bail. His initial court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 25. Court records show he had not requested a public defender as of Monday.
SEPTA issued a statement calling it a “horrendous criminal act” and urged anyone witnessing such a thing to report it to authorities by calling 911, pressing an emergency button on every train car or using the authorities emergency safety app.
“There were other people on the train who witnessed this horrific act, and it may have been stopped sooner if a rider called 911,” the authority said.


Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space

Updated 17 October 2021

Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space

  • The filmmakers blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month

MOSCOW: A Russian actress and a film director returned to Earth Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS) shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit.
Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko landed as scheduled on Kazakhstan’s steppe at 0436 GMT, according to footage broadcast live by the Russian space agency.
They were ferried back to terra firma by cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who had been on the space station for the past six months.
“The descent vehicle of the crewed spacecraft Soyuz MS-18 is standing upright and is secure. The crew are feeling good!” Russian space agency Roscosmos tweeted.
The filmmakers had blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month, traveling to the ISS with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to film scenes for “The Challenge.”
If the project stays on track, the Russian crew will beat a Hollywood project announced last year by “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The movie’s plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, centers around a surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.
Shkaplerov, 49, along with the two Russian cosmonauts who were already aboard the ISS are said to have cameo roles in the film.
The mission was not without small hitches.
As the film crew docked at the ISS earlier this month, Shkaplerov had to switch to manual control.
And when Russian flight controllers on Friday conducted a test on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft the ship’s thruster fired unexpectedly and destabilized the ISS for 30 minutes, a NASA spokesman told the Russian news agency TASS.
But the spokesman confirmed their departure would go ahead as scheduled.
Their landing, which was documented by a film crew, will also feature in the movie, Konstantin Ernst, the head of the Kremlin-friendly Channel One TV network and a co-producer of “The Challenge,” said.
The mission will add to a long list of firsts for Russia’s space industry.
The Soviets launched the first satellite Sputnik, and sent into orbit the first animal, a dog named Laika, the first man, Yuri Gagarin and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova.
But compared with the Soviet era, modern Russia has struggled to innovate and its space industry is fighting to secure state funding with the Kremlin prioritising military spending.
Its space agency is still reliant on Soviet-designed technology and has faced a number of setbacks, including corruption scandals and botched launches.
Russia is also falling behind in the global space race, facing tough competition from the United States and China, with Beijing showing growing ambitions in the industry.
Russia’s Roscosmos was also dealt a blow after SpaceX last year successfully delivered astronauts to the ISS, ending Moscow’s monopoly for journeys to the orbital station.
In a bid to spruce up its image and diversify its revenue, Russia’s space program revealed this year that it will be reviving its tourism plan to ferry fee-paying adventurers to the ISS.
After a decade-long pause, Russia will send two Japanese tourists — including billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — to the ISS in December, capping a year that has been a milestone for amateur space travel.


German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home

Updated 15 October 2021

German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home

  • Doelz, 66, and Rehm, 49, who are from Germany, had been trying to sell the boat to save money
  • "Luckily we still had the boat. ... And since then we have been living on this boat," said Doelz

LA PALMA: Juergen Doelz and his girlfriend Jacqueline Rehm were in the process of selling their small sailboat on the Spanish island of La Palma when the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted, forcing them to flee their dream home and move to the boat.
Doelz, 66, and Rehm, 49, who are from Germany, had been trying to sell the boat to save money after she lost her job at a car rental company due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sept. 19, when the volcano starting spewing red-hot lava just 4 km (2-1/2 miles) from their home in Todoque, the couple had just returned from a trip with a potential buyer. But the sale fell through as the yacht was “not sporty enough,” Doelz told Reuters on the boat, moored in Tazacorte port.
A few hours later, they were ordered to evacuate their rented house with its vineyard and terrace with a sea view and had to leave behind most of their belongings.
“Luckily we still had the boat. ... And since then we have been living on this boat. It’s small, but it’s OK,” said Doelz, who is retired.
A new vent spewed gas at the southeastern side of the main vent on Friday, said the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute.
“What the volcano is leaving behind is a desolate scene for many families, for the island in general because it has a very direct impact on the island’s economy. If strong action is not taken people will have a bad time,” Civil Guard officer Raul Campillo told Reuters.
Streams of lava have laid waste to more than 600 hectares (1,480 acres) of land and destroyed about 1,600 buildings on La Palma. About 6,000 people have been evacuated from their homes on the island, which has about 83,000 inhabitants.
“We moved here (La Palma) two and a half years ago and after half a year we found our dream house. ... To lose that after two years, it’s hard,” Doelz said.
Although the lava has not yet engulfed their home they believe it’s just a matter of time after the flow destroyed their Swiss neighbors’ place and as the eruption is showing no signs of abating.
“We’ll stay on the boat as long as we don’t know what to do next. Shall we stay here or shall we maybe go to another island, like Tenerife? No idea, I don’t know. It’s written in the stars,” Rehm explained.