THE BIRDING COMMUNITY E-BULLETIN
This Birding Community E-bulletin is being distributed to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats.
This issue is sponsored by the producers of superb quality birding binoculars and scopes, Carl Zeiss Sport Optics:
You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA):
There were some wonderful rarities seen last month, including a trio of cooperative Northern Lapwings present for much of January in Ocean County, New Jersey, and a Siberian Accentor at Seward, Alaska. Despite these goodies, however, our choice for the month goes to a bird delighting many birders in British Columbia.
On 13 January, Colin McKenzie observed an odd songbird in Queen’s Park, New Westminster, in the Metro Vancouver area of British Columbia. It was a species unfamiliar to Colin and one which he could not immediately identify. Fortunately, because of the sketches and field notes he took, the bird was soon identified as a Red-flanked Bluetail.
This is a very rare bird in North America. Red-flanked Bluetails breed sparingly in eastern Finland and northwestern Russia, and from western Siberia to Sakhalin Island, the Kamchatka Peninsula, and south to Japan. The species winters in the Indian Subcontinent, the Himalayas, Taiwan, and northern Indochina. That’s a far cry from British Columbia! As for North America, the species is casual in western Alaska, primarily in the western Aleutians. This was the first time this little Asian flycatcher has occurred in Canada, and it is only the second record for mainland North America.
Once the bird was identified, the influx of local and visiting birders began immediately. The Red-flanked Bluetail, identified as a 1st-year individual, remained through January.
Curiously, this bird’s discovery fits into a pattern of other fascinating Asian strays in British Columbia this winter. It began with Citrine Wagtail (a bird we profiled in December), a one-day Baikal Teal observed on the Fraser Delta, and multiple Bramblings at feeders in southern BC.
For an article on the Red-flanked Bluetail (plus links to some photos of the bird) see this article from the VANCOUVER SUN:
On New Year’s Day, Ron Payne and Ian Worley observed and photographed a curious diving duck on Lake Champlain at the Champlain Bridge in Addison, Vermont. The duck, first thought to be a Redhead, was later identified as a Common Pochard.
A diving duck distributed across Eurasia, the Common Pochard is a rare migrant in the western Aleutians and the Pribilof Islands, with a handful of other North American records in the western United States, and only a single record – a bird in Quebec in early May 2008 – in the East.
Here are photos of this amazing bird on Lake Champlain, taken by Larry Master:
The bird was observed on both sides of the Champlain Bridge, in both Vermont and New York waters, and many birders from afar came to see the rarity.
But then something extraordinary happened.
Larry Master and others took photographs of the duck which showed a metal band on its leg. Others observed the band when the bird had its right leg out of the water. You can see one photo here:
This was an event that nobody hoped would happen. Any bird raised or held in captivity is issued a band as evidence that it wasn’t illegally imported. The presence of a leg band meant that the bird most likely escaped from an aviculture collection, thus disqualifying it as a legitimate wild bird.
Despite opinions that the Common Pochard might have been banded in Europe, those hopes were eventually dashed.
A noted aviculturist in New England surmised that the duck was most probably an escapee, probably from a collection near Albany, New York.. There are very few Common Pochards in waterfowl collections, and even fewer using a type of seamless thin metal band like the one captured in the photos. Thanks to this band it wasn’t all that difficult to track down the information concerning the errant Common Pochard from a waterfowl collection.
There are several lessons here:
1. There is the utility of digital photography, with almost instant results. This applies to both the original identification of the bird and the image of the metal band.
2. There were lessons pertaining to the value of different band types, including European usage and those applied by collectors.
3. There was the immediate response of birders who will chase a rare bird – in this case, those throughout New England and beyond.
4. And, most importantly, there was the lesson of considering all the options having to do with the provenance of rare birds, especially when it comes to waterfowl.
A GOOD NAWMP SUMMARY
And speaking of waterfowl… In July we brought your attention to the new and important revision of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP):
The latest revision of this document addresses contemporary concerns, including accelerating habitat loss, competition for land in light of record high commodity prices, and an eroding base of support for conservation programs.
An article on the history and significance of the NAWMP by Jim Ringelman that recently appeared in the latest DUCKS UNLIMITED magazine (Jan-Feb 2013), is worthy of a close read for more information.
A significant shift in this version of the NAWMP is an appeal to more people – not just waterfowl hunters – who are interested in wildlife, wetlands, and waterfowl. It’s a call to broaden the base of support for the plan as well as for wetland and grassland conservation. This represents a meaningful tilt in our direction as birders.
GBBC FOR 2013
Over a mid-month four-day weekend (15 February to 18 February), the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will take place. Tens of thousands of volunteers participate in the family-friendly GBBC, counting birds in backyards, local parks, refuges, and wherever birds happen to be. Participating citizen-scientists will be able to put their observations on the GBBC website
The GBBC is also a fine way for more experienced birders to introduce friends, family, and others, young and old, to the wonderful world of birding. And in a new twist this year, GBBC checklists will be accepted from all over the world.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology along with Canadian partner, Bird Studies Canada. You can get all the details you need here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: KIDS
The enthusiasm for the Great Backyard Bird Count provides a fine segue to introducing people to birds and birding. GBBC is an especially good way to bring youngsters and families to birds. Indeed, a few of the broader more meaningful efforts deserve mention here.
One of these efforts is a recent activity initiated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Black Swamp Bird Observatory called the “Young Birders Network”:
The American Birding Association is also making progress in this area, too:
And in Canada, the 2013 Young Ornithologists’ Workshop will be held at Long Point Bird Observatory near Port Rowan, Ontario, from Saturday, 3 August to Sunday, 11 August:
Increasingly, there are more and more state, provincial, and local efforts to draw youngsters to birds and birding. Don’t wait for “the big boys” to do all the heavy lifting. After all, the “big” efforts will only be able to reach a limited number of youth. It’s the popular, local efforts that are especially valuable. These efforts are often self-organized, but each such effort learns from another – a feature that is emphasized by the Young Birders Network mentioned above.
Another youth-directed project is the CBC 4 Kids that has recently finished its holiday cycle of activities and is locally-based:
Young Birder Clubs – known by one name or another – are popping up in many areas. Unfortunately there are simply not enough of these efforts in motion! Any and all of these youth birding efforts deserve as much support as can be afforded or offered.
And this is where our “Tip of the Month” comes into play: See what you can do to help these efforts in your area. It can make an enormous difference.
BALD EAGLE PROTECTION AND ONTARIO REMOVAL
Last month a pair of Bald Eagles had their nest removed from a wind power site near Fisherville, Ontario. The nest was at the Summerhaven Wind Project site, a location ultimately projected to support 56 wind turbines and be operated by NextEra Energy Canada. (NextEra Energy, based in Juno, Florida, is the largest North American producer of wind and solar power. The group also owns Florida Power and Light.)
The eagle nest was in close proximity to an area designated to support a set of wind-power facilities, including an access road, three industrial wind turbines, and a meteorological tower. The road and one proposed turbine site were within 100 meters of the nest, and two other turbines were to be located within 500 meters. Previously, Ontario’s Natural Resources Ministry had recommended a “minimum setback of 800 meters from a renewable energy project component to a Bald Eagle nest.” Despite this recommendation, on 4 January the MNR issued a permit for the removal of the nest and a large part of the nest tree. These were removed by NextEra the very next day.
The company stated that since Bald Eagles typically start looking for nests in early winter and are known to use more than one nest, removing the nest in the first days of January would have allowed the eagles time to seek an alternative nest location and would “avoid disturbing them during their critical nesting period.”
The company’s simplistic assertions did not quell the outrage of many observers. Moreover, one cannot know if the eagle pair will be able to build an alternate nest in time to nest this season.
If nothing else, this case illustrates some of the complications and countervailing arguments swirling around the desire for green energy, issues related to the appropriate siting of wind power turbines, legal/environmental protection, public input, and the crucial issue of wind turbine location, and potential habitat loss.
The issue of legal protection for Bald Eagles in Canada is not clear to your editors, but protection continues to be strong in the U.S., even after the Bald Eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List. The Bald and Golden Eagle Act still covers active and inactive nests, although removal permits can now be secured under 50 CFR 22.27, explained here:
You can read an article about the Summerhaven site and the removal of the eagle nest in the LONDON (Ontario) FREE PRESS:
THE ARRIVAL OF SORA 2
Last month, the new and upgraded Searchable Ornithological Research Archive (SORA) was launched and announced. Through this site, the University of New Mexico Libraries has made available a treasure-trove of open-access ornithological literature. SORA has existed for years, but this latest version has improved the archives and the searching process.
Through SORA, anyone can search and download thousands of ornithological articles from 15 journals – most of them with a North American emphasis. There is a new user account feature on the archives site, but registration is totally optional. SORA continues to be a free and open-access scientific repository.
You should know that the journals in the selection are not all up-to-date. This is on purpose, with the last few years missing in most cases. But they are added on the site on a rolling basis.
You can find more information and access to SORA here:
FARM BILL EXTENSION AND BIRD CONSERVATION
As you may have noticed, the “fiscal cliff” legislation passed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on New Year’s Day included an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill for nine more months (to 30 September). This is in addition to the funding for programs with authorizations beyond the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill that was provided last October through a Continuing Resolution (CR).
So what might this mean for conservation elements in the Farm Bill that could affect bird conservation?
Basically, the enrollment authority for three vital conservation programs that help birds – the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Grassland Reserve Program – has been restored through September up to the existing caps. The extension, however, does not apply to other conservation programs whose authorizations had previously been extended by Congress through 2014 (e.g., the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program).
The issue is complicated by expiration of the Continuing Resolution this spring, which will require Congressional action before the end of March.
In any case, with the new 113th Congress, the House and Senate Agriculture committees will have to start over on a full 5-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Not surprisingly, there will be a steep learning curve to consider with a number of brand new members on the Agriculture Committees.
This could be a challenging process, and concern for bird conservation through the Farm Bill is well-founded, especially as a much lower baseline funding figure for the entire Farm Bill is expected from the Congressional Budget Office this spring.
ACCESS MATTERS: A FEEDER PROBLEM IN MASSACHUSETTS
Last month we described a case of two rare Bramblings at feeders in British Columbia and Washington and the access afforded to birders wishing to see these birds:
But what can happen when access to a feeder bird is limited by the homeowners? How is small-group visitation handled?
Just such a situation arose last month when a Black-throated Gray Warbler appeared at a feeder in Taunton, Massachusetts. There are only about 25 previous records of this western warbler for Massachusetts, most of them in the fall or early winter. Accordingly, it’s easy to understand why for many birders this was a much desired bird to observe in Massachusetts.
Unfortunately the warbler was not visible from the street, preferring instead to visit a feeder behind the house in a quiet neighborhood cul-de-sac. The homeowner – a non-birder, by the way – was generously willing to allow small groups of birders to visit (one group per day) in the mornings. Barbara Volkle, moderator of MassBird, the Massachusetts birding listserve, took on the responsibility of letting folks know about the bird and coordinated crowd control.
With crucial help from others, Barbara privately contacted key local birders. She invited them to let her know about fellow birders who really wanted to see the warbler, reached out to those local to the area, and young birders for whom this was a new bird. She further concentrated on people with flexible schedules, and specifically contacted others who wanted to see the bird for their state lists. Several birders graciously declined their place in line to allow others to see the warbler.
By this method, the Black-throated Gray Warbler became accessible for almost two weeks. About 100 people got to see the bird before it disappeared on 24 January, concurrent with a cold snap that hit the region at that time.
Not surprisingly, not everyone was happy, especially those who did not find out about the bird until after it disappeared.
Clearly there was no easy solution in this situation. However, Barbara Volkle judiciously stated that the concern in this case was “to find a balance between keeping disturbance in the neighborhood to a minimum, allowing the homeowners their privacy, and providing limited access.” In an attempt to launch a discussion on the issue, she added, “Are there better ways to handle a situation like this? If so, now is the time to share! We will encounter these situations again and again, so let’s think about how we deal with identifying rarities on private property and limited access situations [in the future].”
Needless to say, situations like this one are not unique to Massachusetts. Clearly, the desires of homeowners and property owners should be paramount in each situation. Various recommendations have been made for how to solve these concerns, ranging from having a first-come-first-serve reservation list, or creating a lottery system for visitation, to launching a bird club “access committee” to specifically address these situations when they arise.
This recurring access problem will not go away, but it’s nice to learn that “best practices” are being pursued.
MORE ON THE SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER
We have previously written about the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, that amazing small shorebird with a one-of-a-kind spatulate bill. This species is an extremely rare tundra-breeder from far northeastern Siberia, and a species which winters in isolated locations in Southeast Asia. There may be fewer than 200 of these shorebirds left on Earth.
If you have any interest in shorebirds, and especially rare shorebirds in need of conservation protection, you will certainly appreciate what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has provided to raise interest in this bird.
The Lab has recently released some fascinating materials on the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, including an article by Gerrit Vyn in the Lab’s LIVING BIRD quarterly magazine:
There is also an informative resource page on the Spoon-billed Sandpiper that is packed with information including a set of extraordinary videos featuring this rare shorebird, all available here:
BOOK NOTES: HAWKS REDUX
In October of last year we mentioned the availability of the second edition of HAWKS IN FLIGHT by Pete Dunne, David Sibley, and Clay Sutton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012), and we promised a short review. Well, here it is.
If you never saw the first edition which came out in 1988 and has long been out of print you missed an excellent book. With the release of this new edition, you have an even greater opportunity!
This HAWKS IN FLIGHT includes a superb gallery of color photographs, photographs unavailable in the days before quality digital photography, along with more of David Sibley’s excellent black-and-white drawings/sketches. The new edition contains over 100 more pages than the first edition, and the text has been carefully reworked.
The trio of Dunne, Sibley, and Sutton has done newer birders as well as deeply committed raptorphiles a great service with this book, using the wealth of their collective experience and skill to provide new insights and useful new features for the identification of raptors in the field.
MALCOLM COULTER: RIP
Well-known seabird and wading bird specialist, Malcolm C. Coulter, who served as the ICUN Co-Chair of the Specialist Group on Storks, Ibises, and Spoonbills, died at his New Hampshire home on 1 January. He was 65.
Coulter earned his MSc in 1973 from Oxford University and a PhD in 1977 from the University of Pennsylvania. He carried out research on the Farallon Islands, California, on Western Gulls, storm-petrels, and other birds as well as on plants. He later moved to the Darwin Research Center, on the Galapagos, where he established a long-term conservation effort for the Galapagos Petrel. He also studied Blue-footed Boobies, Flightless Cormorants, and Galapagos Penguins.
In 1984, he was invited to direct the American Wood Stork program at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. While directing this program for a decade, he became increasingly involved with the conservation of storks, ibises, and spoonbills around the world.
He was instrumental in the activities of SAVE (Spoonbill Action Voluntary Echo) International, and the organization’s creative efforts to rescue the Black-faced Spoonbill, a rarity with the most restrictive distribution of all the world’s spoonbills. (The work of SAVE International has appeared in this E-bulletin multiple times, especially its emphasis on alternative economic development plans based on green industry and ecotourism.)
Malcolm was an elective member of the American Ornithologists’ Union and received awards from SAVE International, Waterbird Conservation for the Americas, and the Waterbird Society. Most appropriately, Malcolm Coulter will posthumously be granted the Pacific Seabird Group’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the PSG’s annual meeting later this month in Portland, Oregon. Fortunately, he had been informed in October that he was to be so honored.
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