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):
During a quest for screech-owls on 28 April, Radd Icenoggle came across a real surprise not far from Missoula, Montana. He had driven out to the Blue Mountain area, and while birding along the Maclay Irrigation Canal, just south of the Maclay Recreation Area, he spotted a male Baikal Teal. He was able to photograph the bird before it flushed with some Wood Ducks to settle a few hundred yards away in a small flooded gravel pit.
This species breeds in Siberia and the Russian Far East and normally winters in eastern China, Korea, and Japan. There are almost three dozen of these birds historically reported from Alaska, with about half of them from the western Aleutians during the fall. Over many decades, about a dozen records have also been verified along the Pacific Coast south of Alaska.
Away from the Pacific Coast – e.g., from Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and North Carolina – reports of Baikal Teal have been questioned due to uncertain provenance. And this possibility is always a problem.
While this magnificent dabbling species suffered drastic population declines in the past in Asia, with an estimated population of only 20,000 – 40,000 birds during the 1980s, recovery since has been impressive. The world population may now be closer to 500,000 -700,000 birds. This population rebound in Asia may account for a recent increase in reports in North America.
The Montana bird remained in the vicinity of the canal for a couple of weeks, sometimes accompanied by Wood Ducks. Many birders who checked out the area were rewarded with good looks at the teal, with the last confirmed sighting on 14 May.
See here for Rad Icenoggle’s photos:
You can view an article on this Baikal Teal from THE MISSOULIAN here:
STEP ASIDE, ARCHAEOPTERYX
A fossil found last year resting at a museum in Yizhou, China, may represent the ancient contender for the title of the “world’s oldest bird.” Not everyone agrees, but “Aurornis” may displace “Archaeopteryx” for the title.
This fossil has been deemed to have been a bird, not a dinosaur. “Aurornis” lived during the Middle Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago. It was probably about 19 inches long, from beak tip to tail tip. This beast probably couldn’t fly, but could have used its wings to glide between trees. The fossil’s feathers are not well-preserved, but some of the bones and other features suggest that it was a relative of modern birds.
Details are contained in the 30 May issue of the journal NATURE, and are summarized here:
ACCESS MATTERS: FORSYTHE REPAIRS
It has been over seven months since Hurricane Sandy slammed into the northeast, with winds up to 90 mph pushing massive surges onto beaches and shorelines, devastating homes, roads, and entire communities. The hurricane’s eye actually went over Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.
The storm left two different categories of disturbance at Forsythe NWR: ecological and public access. Ecological disturbance included the need to remove over 150 boats, fuel oil tanks, chemical drums, and other hazardous items, and also dozens of docks and debris originating from nearby devastated homes. Ecological changes – both positive and negative – also included shifting dunes, saline waters moving into freshwater impoundments (e.g., the west pool), and alterations impacting salt marshes. The costs for these ongoing repairs have been upwards of $20 million.
In the important realm public access, Forsythe’s eight-mile long wildlife drive was breached or washed away in multiple locations. The drive has regularly provided birding access for over 100,000 visitors annually, and the refuge has been a particularly significant shorebird and waterfowl hotspot for many decades. Repairs which cost $1.4 million were recently completed, with the drive reopening on 21 April. While these repairs were being made, the drive was actually improved, creating wider access and better visibility for birders and other visitors.
At a time of system-wide funding stress, a balance of ecological repair and public access always needs to be considered, with different roles to be played by various partners, including the Friends of Forsythe, the Federal Highway Administration, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Find a more detailed report on the situation at Forsythe NWR by Don Freiday here:
IBA NEWS: BLACK-CAPPED PETREL FOLLOW-UP
We’ve reported a number of times on the status of nesting Black-capped Petrels on Hispaniola, most recently in April on the situation in southeast Haiti:
Fortunately, the problem of hazardous cell phone towers cited in April is being addressed, specifically on Tet Kay Jak in Haiti.
There are two large communication towers at this site, one which has guy wires and the other of which has a very bright un-hooded spotlight. Together, the situation creates a deadly mix for the Black-capped Petrels that are active in the area.
Thanks to the efforts of Jim Goetz, Societe Audubon Haiti, Fondation Seguin, and Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), the owners of the towers, Digicel and NatCom, have been contacted about the situation. Recommendations were made to the companies, based on recent literature regarding bird strikes at towers in North America.
Digicel was responsive, and the bright spot lights on their tower were turned off and remain off. Since the lights were turned off, there have been a few visits to the tower site at night and no additional birds were heard striking the guy wires or were found on the ground.
These bird conservationists have opened a productive channel of communication with the Digicel communication company. They have voiced additional concerns regarding other tower locations where Black-capped Petrels are likely present.
So what, actually, is the IBA connection? Well, it turns out that most of the known or potential breeding locations for Black-capped Petrels have been designated as Important Bird Areas. In the case of the known breeding locations near the Haitian-Dominican border (and potential locations in Cuba) the presence of the petrels is what has triggered IBA designation.
For more information on EPICs activities on Black-capped Petrel, see here:
For additional information about IBA programs worldwide, including those across the U.S., check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at:
MORE ON HAWAII, LIGHTS, AND SEABIRDS
And now for a related seabird/collision report, this one from Hawaii.
In June and November 2010, we described a “shearwater gauntlet” impacting Newell’s Shearwater, generally considered a subspecies of Townsend Shearwater, dealing with bright lights on Kauai in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands:
This was a new twist on the usual “lights out” effort to save birds, and it appeared to lead to adequate resolution.
Now, however, there is a larger Hawaiian lights-and-collision issue at stake.
As revealed by Environment Hawaii, the Federal Government has warned the state of Hawaii that it should either enter a plea agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) or face criminal prosecution related to the deaths of large numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and other wildlife caused by the continued use of certain street lights that are attracting the wildlife and ultimately causing their deaths. (This also involved turtle and moth species protected under the Endangered Species Act, the ESA.).
A number of months ago, the DOJ notified the Hawaii Department of Transportation (DOT) of a multi-year investigation of DOT lights that are said to be causing the problem.
While the DOJ has stated that the investigation is statewide, the focus is clearly on Oahu where a considerable number of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters have been reportedly killed or injured by street lights. About 100 dead and injured birds are found along one 10-mile stretch of local road on southeast Oahu each November and December.
According to media reports, since 2007 the DOT has required all new lighting projects to use full cutoff lens fixtures, which are supposed to help reduce light pollution. The DOT maintains that these shielded lights should protect certain seabirds that can become disoriented when flying.
The state has installed roughly 1,800 of these lights along roads and highways, but there are approximately 11,000 lights under DOT jurisdiction. “Fixing the lights is so easy,” says David Hyrenbach, Assistant Professor of Oceanography at Hawaii Pacific University. But it also is expensive.
Regardless, if there are negotiations – for a plea bargain or for another resolution – all governmental parties are currently close-mouthed.
Watch for more information in upcoming issues of the E-bulletin.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) of the Farm Bill has a long history of financial incentives to encourage farmers to idle their croplands and plant vegetative cover. This is something which in turn benefits the environment and also provides commodity price-support by reducing surplus production.
But corn policy makes that curbing of production ineffective. The economic incentive to grow corn, even on marginal lands, far exceeds the average amount of $57 paid per acre through CRP. Quite frankly, CRP simply can’t compete.
Farmers are once again planting fencerow-to-fencerow fields to cash in on high commodity prices. Nationwide, about 27 million acres are enrolled in CRP, a reduction of 9.7 million acres in about five years. At the same time, CRP support in Congress is fading.
That’s the situation as the first general CRP sign-up in a year began on 20 May (to close on 14 June).
The loss of CRP acreage underscores shrinking wildlife habitat, habitat especially crucial for grassland birds that are under severe duress. “The long-term trends are very, very sobering,” said Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasant Forever. To cite one particularly disturbing example, he said, “We’re turning the eastern Dakotas into northern Iowa every day. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime.”
One unanswered question is whether CRP will pay enough to entice landowners to enroll in the program at all. One recent report suggested that this year’s corn harvest could be 30 percent above last year’s, a situation which might drive corn prices down sharply, prompting some landowners to enroll in CRP.
In any case, there has been little discussion over the impacts on the loss of so much land, water protection, and bird-and-wildlife habitat.
So far, the current Farm Bill versions in the Senate and House call for a capping of CRP at 24 million to 25 million acres. This is a far cry from the almost 38 million acres enrolled five or six years ago.
One positive sign is that last month a Senate committee approved a new five-year Farm Bill which would include a requirement that farmers who buy crop insurance also comply with conservation measures to protect highly erodible lands and sensitive wetlands. But this isn’t new; the policy was in place before 1996, highlighting the difficulties in promoting land, water, and bird conservation these days.
We will keep you informed as these CRP bird-conservation issues unfold.
TIP OF THE MONTH: DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Before you visit a birding hotspot, do some homework. Basically, you should get to know what to expect.
And it isn’t only the birdlife of foreign locations that deserve prior study. Sure, if you’re going to Panama, or Kenya, or Thailand, you’ll want to study the relevant field guides, but it’s also the locations just half-way across the country that deserve your brushing up on the birds.
Don’t always depend on your local knowledge to carry you through. Don’t simply depend on a local friendly fellow birder to hold your hand.
If you’re going to a location that’s well known for raptors, or shorebirds, or warblers, go over those particular pages in your favorite field guides. Review the vocalizations. And study up on the regional abundance or the sequence of migration for that particular region or locale.
If you know what to expect, you’ll be much better off. You’ll save time and even reduce a sense of field anxiety. The whole experience should be more pleasurable. And you’ll simply remember – and learn – that much more.
BOOK NOTES: ANOTHER BIRD GUIDE FOR KIDS
Sometimes when it rains, it pours. This time, it’s a shower of bird books for youngsters.
The latest entry is the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS BIRD GUIDE of NORTH AMERICA by Jonathan Alderfer (National Geographic, 2013). This is an introduction to 100 fascinating birds of North America, organized by region – e.g., eastern, western, southern – and by habitat – e.g., back-yard, city, farm, beach, swamp, river, desert.
Given the limited length of the book – 176 pages – the organization is well done. And the individual species profiles not only have the requisite categories of description, voice, food, habitat, and range (with maps), but also clever factoids on everything from diet, to history, to nesting, display, and preservation.
If the organization is well done, the presentation is less so. The pages are loud, busy, and ultra-bright, with background colors – e.g. yellow, orange, and red – that almost scream. How can the subtleties of some bird colors compete when the background is so bold? Photos of Bushtit, California Towhee, and American Dipper almost get lost.
This is not the author’s fault, however. This design is the pattern for just about all the National Geographic Kids books, be they little volumes on “Weird but True,” “National Parks,” “That’s Gross,” “Big Cats,” or “Myths Busted.”
If you – and your favorite kids – can get beyond the design/colors, you may still get to appreciate other fine parts of the book, including sections on building a bird-feeder or bird-bath, how to draw a bird, and six things you can do to help birds.
GOING LOONEY IN TIME FOR A SURVEY
The 2013 Canadian Lakes Loon Survey (CLLS) season has arrived. Volunteers are needed across Canada for consecutive lake surveys: June, July, and August. Volunteers will record the number of Common Loon pairs, and track the number of chicks each pair raises to adult size. Survey volunteers in Canada receive packages with instructions and forms. Once complete, forms are returned to Bird Studies Canada or the information can be entered online. The results are analyzed to help assess loon and lake health.
This is a long-term, citizen-science study. It was initiated in Ontario in 1981 by Bird Studies Canada and expanded nationally in 1989.
Find details on CLLS here:
A CBS SUNDAY MORNING BIRDING PROFILE
Finally, on 26 May, the popular “CBS Sunday Morning” TV show profiled springtime birding, mostly in Ohio and Indiana. This TV show is the #1 Sunday morning news program on television, with almost 5.6 million viewers. The birding segment on 26 May was seven-and-a half minutes of excellent coverage, and you may want to view it:
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