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):
In the September Birding Community E-bulletin, we explained how our regular rarity focus usually does not usually consider a seabird species, if only because such a bird – usually observed off the coast – is virtually impossible to “revisit” by subsequent visitors. See here:
Little did we know that after highlighting a South Polar Skua in Oklahoma in our September issue that we would have another seabird species to focus on in our October issue!
The species is Blue-footed Booby, and what happened in September was a total surprise. Starting in the second week in September, multiple observers began reporting immature and sub-adult Blue-footed Boobies up and down the California coast!
Blue-footed Boobies breed as close to the U.S. as the Gulf of California. They are generally rare and irregular in late summer and early fall to the Salton Sea, with occasional irruptions to the California coast. Although influxes occurred in 1969 (c. 32 birds) and 1972 (45+ birds), most years lack records altogether. Given this pattern of observations, the birds involved have probably been post-breeding-season wanderers. There has been speculation that an abundance of anchovies off the California Coast may also have contributed to the northward spread of the boobies last month.
This year’s event has been off the charts, with easily over 120 birds recorded, and the numbers are still being tabulated.
There were boobies at La Jolla, Ventura, Pt. Pinos, Santa Monica, San Francisco, Pt. Reyes, and other coastal locations, and birds were observed both flying by and also roosting on breakwaters. Inland lakes also hosted Blue-footed Boobies. Not only were the birds found in numbers at the “expected” location of the Salton Sea – some days 13, 25 or more birds – but they were also found at locations such as Lake Skinner in Riverside County – with up to five birds seen from 13 September through the end of the month. Blue-footed Boobies were photographed on the California-Arizona border, on Lake Havasu, and one individual was even reported as far north as Stubbs Island, British Columbia.
For a look at some representative photos taken by Chris Taylor at Playa del Rey, California on 14 September, see here:
For an excellent summary along with accompanying map of this remarkable event, see this from eBird:
BIRD-AND-WILDLIFE CONSERVATION LETTER SENT TO CONGRESS
A significant sign-on letter in response to the ongoing Congressional threat to bird and wildlife conservation was sent to members of both houses of Congress in mid-September. You may remember our coverage of these vital conservation funding threats described in the August E-bulletin:
The letter, signed by almost 850 groups (or about 1,600 individuals, if you tabulate coalitional signatories), focused on the following five crucial funding sources:
• State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Program
• North American Wetland Conservation Fund (NAWCA)
• Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund
• Forest Legacy Program
• Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
Spending in bird, wildlife, and natural resource conservation and associated outdoor recreation totals less than one percent of all discretionary federal spending. However, over the last several years, these programs have been continually reduced to a distressing level.
You can find background information on the letter to Congress here:
And, you can find the text of the letter and view the signatories here:
IBA NEWS: EXPANSION AT NESTUCCA BAY NWR
This next news item could just as easily been placed in our “Access Matters” category as in “IBA News,” but the story from the Oregon Coast about an IBA that is receiving further protection, and where birder access will hopefully follow.
A coveted piece of land on Nestucca Bay on Oregon’s north coast, has been privately held and essentially off-limits to the birding and recreational public for 75 years.
Last month, however, this small forested peninsula and shoreline – a former Jesuit retreat – became public land.
After five years of negotiation and competition from private developers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the 103-acre property for $1,072,500. This land is now part of Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which brings this gem of a refuge up to 1,203 acres in total extent.
Coastal waterfowl, loons, and grebes can be appreciated from the shore. Raptors nest and visit the forest and forest edges, and songbirds fill the woods.
“I’m still in a bit of disbelief in acquiring the Jesuits tract. We were certain we had lost it and probably would have in a robust economy,” said Roy Lowe, project leader for the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Refuge staff had been working with The Nature Conservancy to secure the land since 2008, when the Jesuits indicated that they wanted to sell the property. Developed in the late 1930s as a place of study and reflection for novitiates, the property has been vacant for about five years.
When the land was appraised, the different parties involved were about $400,000 apart. Also, there were other potential buyers who initially considered developing the land in different ways, including the possibility of creating family, conference, or entertainment centers. Over two dozen groups and individuals of potential buyers actually toured the property, which currently includes a rustic, two-story wood lodge, a dilapidated dormitory, and four shabby cabins.
None of the other parties bought it, however, so the Jesuits returned to The Nature Conservancy.
The final funding to buy the property came to The Nature Conservancy from a National Scenic Byways grant through the Federal Highway Administration and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
That opportunity came just in the nick of time, since the National Scenic Byways program has been defunded by the current Congress in the MAP-21 Transportation Bill. The funding for this deal was actually held over from the 2009 budget.
Eventually, the property will be opened, and the Fish and Wildlife Service expects to improve the ready-made trails through the property. Once funds become available, the FWS might be able to remodel the old main lodge for housing and offices, bringing the structure up to federal standards.
For more on IBAs in Oregon see here:
And see here for details on the Nustecca Bay IBA:
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:
ACCESS MATTERS: CHESAPEAKE ACCESS
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the lower-48states and it is packed with both birdlife and marine life. The bay is about 200 miles long, but actually boasts thousands of miles of shoreline due to its configuration. Unfortunately, only about two percent of the shoreline is open to the public. The rest is either privately owned or publicly owned but with severe restrictions on use.
Nonetheless, there have been efforts by regional outdoor enthusiasts – supported by a Presidential order in 2009 – to create more access and viewing locations along the Chesapeake shoreline. This is important to birders, especially since the Chesapeake area is famous for its waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, and shoreline songbirds.
Access through state parks and some refuge areas is usually approachable, but other properties under different public jurisdictions – e.g., military, county, or town – are more difficult to navigate.
One creative call for improving access, an effort that other areas might consider adopting, concerns bridges over waterways. Most of the hundreds of bridges in the Chesapeake area are designed and built in ways that limit access rather than enable it. They lack pull-off and parking areas, yet recreational and viewing access could be created relatively quickly, at modest cost – combined with construction or repair – and could provide benefits to the economy and to public safety.
Access advocates across the Chesapeake have called for a goal of 300 new access points in the next dozen years.
TIP OF THE MONTH: eBIRD DURING REFUGE WEEK
Birders are getting more involved these days with eBird as a way to combine increasing knowledge, data collection, and mere listing. If you haven’t taken the eBird plunge, you can start here:
Whether or not you currently use eBird, a particular October opportunity might be a nice way to begin. Birders inside and outside the Fish and Wildlife Service have come up with a unique way to promote eBird and the Refuge System. It’s as simple and as creative as encouraging birders to go out to a National Wildlife Refuge during National Wildlife Refuge Week – 13-19 October – and create an eBird checklist or two.
And if you’re not currently eBird-skilled, this is an opportunity to go birding with someone who is, someone who can coach you on how to submit your data during Refuge Week.
The effort started on a Facebook page, initiated by interested birders. (This is a public page, so don’t worry if you are not on Facebook, you can still read the posts and information.):
Of course, if the government shut-down goes into Refuge Week, all bets are off. In this case, you simply won’t be able to enter any refuge!
So our hint of the month is the following: Consider participating in this eBird/Refuge combo during Refuge Week if possible. At the same time take a moment to also think about the unique access opportunities we often take for granted when we visit a National Wildlife Refuge, National Park, National Forest, or other special federal facility where we watch birds and other wildlife.
SOCORRO DOVE CLOSER TO GETTING ANOTHER CHANCE
The Socorro Dove (Zenaida graysoni) was a species endemic to Socorro Island in the Revillagigedo Archipelago off western Mexico. The last record of the species in its natural habitat dates back to 1972. Introduced mammals – particularly cats – drove the dove to extinction in the wild through predation. Habitat destruction, coincidental with human settlement in the 1950s, accelerated the process.
The good news is that viable breeding populations exist in aviaries. For nearly 100 years, breeders from many parts of the world have worked to ensure that the dove would continue to exist in aviaries and breeding centers.
Since the late 1980s, the Socorro Dove Project seriously planned to reintroduce the dove to the island. By 2004 a breeding station was built on the island, but the next year an outbreak of avian influenza prevented a direct return of the doves to Mexico. Instead, the Socorro Doves bred by zoos cooperating in the effort were sent to the Albuquerque Biological Park in 2008.
This past spring, six Socorro Doves were moved from Albuquerque to the African Safari zoo southeast of Mexico City. And on 5 September, once the doves had settled in, an official ceremony took place at the African Safari zoo to celebrate the return of the Socorro Dove to Mexico. This Socorro Dove Project represents the dedication of many institutions – including the Mexican Navy – working for a common goal. This represents one more step toward hopefully reintroducing the Socorro Dove to its native Socorro Island in the near future.
For more on the story of the Socorro Dove’s return to Mexico, if not yet Socorro Island, see here:
And for background on the dove and the species’ future possibilities, see here:
CLOSER TO A LEAD BAN IN CALIFORNIA
Last month we wrote about the U.S. Army’s continuing its pursuit of non-lead ammunition and some of its implications on the market:
On a related subject, the California Senate passed legislation on 9 September to require the use of non-lead ammunition for all hunting in the state by 1 July 2019. This is an attempt to protect the state’s California Condors, eagles, hawks, waterfowl, loons, doves, and other wildlife from lead poisoning in the wild. (A nationwide ban on lead shot in waterfowl hunting, begun in 1991, has been highly effective in reducing avian mortality due to ingestion of lead shot while still maintaining projectile efficacy in waterfowl hunting.) The legislation passed the California Senate by a vote of 23-15 after previously passing the state Assembly in May.
The bill enjoyed wide support from a diverse coalition of more than 80 public health, environmental, bird, and animal protection organizations as well as many California hunters, veterinarians, and concerned citizens.
Opponents pointed to the availability and price of non-lead bullets on the market today, and also insisted that this legislation was anti-hunting, not simply anti-lead.
It is uncertain what Governor Jerry Brown will do with the bill. If he does not act by Oct. 13, it becomes law without his signature. If the bill becomes law, California will be the first state in the country to require the use of nontoxic bullets and shot for all types of hunting.
This is not California’s first attempt to eradicate lead-based shots and bullets from outdoor use. The Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act was enacted in 2008 to prohibit the use of lead projectiles in parts of central and Southern California to protect endangered California Condors. This topic was covered in the Birding Community E-bulletin in November 2007:
PARKS CANADA CLEARING RATS
In past Birding Community E-bulletins, we have highlighted numerous efforts to rid islands of rats and ranging from Alaska to the South Pacific. For example, in April, we wrote about ridding Anacapa Island, one of the Channel Islands off California, of rats:
Recently, Parks Canada has been clearing invasive rats from two important seabird breeding islands in the north of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site on the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, a dense chain of islands in the Pacific off the coast of British Columbia.
Rodenticide has been dropped on the islands by helicopter, a technique first developed in New Zealand to restore seabird breeding islands in the South Pacific.
This effort is being undertaken because a quarter of the world’s population of Ancient Murrelets, a species in decline, breed on the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. The rats, inadvertently brought by ships in the 18th and 19th centuries, eat eggs and chicks, and also attack adult murrelets nesting on the ground and in holes on the island.
Parks Canada is carrying out this eradication work in cooperation with the Haida Nation.
You can read more details here:
MORE ON SHOREBIRDS IN THE CARIBBEAN
Last month we reported on the changing situation on the island of Barbados, with some encouraging improvements in the area of shorebird conservation:
Now from elsewhere in the Caribbean, specifically the French West Indies (Guadeloupe, Martinique), there is more good shorebird news. Last month, in a decision from Paris, the Ministry of Environment moved to protect the Red Knot from hunting pressure on these islands. Stiff penalties will be applied if a hunter on either of the islands shoots a Red Knot.
Although Red Knots are scarce in the region, this is still an important additional step in terms of shorebird conservation in the Caribbean.
BOOK NOTES: EASTERN SEAWATCHING
As our West Coast colleagues were gazing seaward for Blue-footed Boobies, a new book was released in the “Peterson Series” for East Coast seawatchers. This new book is called the REFERENCE GUIDE TO SEAWATCHING, subtitled “Eastern Waterbirds in Flight.”
This handsome and comprehensive book by Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox is the latest addition in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s suite of comprehensive bird references. The book features a stunning collection of species-by-species flight photos and informative accompanying text. Whether you want to study flying waterfowl, alcids, tubenoses, jaegers, gulls, terns, or more, this is a must-have reference.
One specific idea in the book deserves special mention.
Whereas there are dozens of regularly operated hawkwatches across North America where migrant diurnal raptors can be counted and monitored, no such parallel network exists for waterbirds. Only Cape May (NJ) and Whitefish Point (MI), administered by their respective bird observatories, serve that function. Just as hawkwatch data is especially useful when it is analyzed from a number of sites, so too might there be value in analyzing data from coordinated seawatches. How much could be learned about loons, seaducks, alcids, if a system of such counts were coordinated?
The book does not answer this question. But that’s not purpose of the book. What the REFERENCE GUIDE TO SEAWATCHING does provide is much essential information that would hopefully someday bring such a seawatch network closer to reality.
DECOYS, PELAGIC BIRDING, AND HOPE
We began with a seabird rarity, and we end with another seabird rarity. For the past several years, going back to 2006, a wayward Red-billed Tropicbird has been reported around the area of Seal Island, Maine. This individual is a good example, by the way, of what we mentioned last month, rare birds returning to the same site in multiple years:
It’s gotten so that with a little bit of planning in advance, birders can visit the area around Seal Island in summer to see this beautiful seabird, a species normally found in tropical waters.
Keith Mueller, of Killingworth, Connecticut, did just that in the summer of 2012.
Keith is a birder, but also a creative artist, sculptor, and decoy carver. In the summer of 2012 he and his wife, Jen, went to Seal Island and traveled with John Drury, who runs seabird cruises in the area. The trip also affords a fine opportunity to look for Razorbills, Atlantic Puffins, Arctic Terns, Black Guillemots, and much more. In 2012, Keith Mueller actually attracted the area’s star to John Drury’s boat, the Red-billed Tropicbird, by using a tropicbird decoy that he had carved.
As a thank-you to John Drury, Keith carefully carved another Red-billed Tropicbird, made of Eastern White Pine from Maine, and sent it to John. The Red-billed Tropicbird had already departed the area of Seal Island last year, but this past July John floated the decoy … with fantastic results.
This past summer, Keith received a message and photos from John. Not only was the Red-billed Tropicbird attracted to the lovely decoy, it “defended” her from possible rivals… and attempted to mate with the wooden gal. See the whole amazing story here:
This is clearly almost an example of “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”
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