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):
For the third month in a row, a remarkable seabird species is our rarity of the month.
This time it is Brown Booby. This tropical and subtropical seabird is rare but regular in southern North American waters. It’s most often seen in Florida (e.g., near the Dry Tortugas) and California (e.g. southern part of the state, including the Salton Sea), often perching on buoys, ship rigging, and breakwaters.
Last month there was at least one surprising report of a Brown Booby at Lake Havasu on the California/Nevada border. It was present for at least the last half of October. Also, there were other reports, for example, from the Texas and Louisiana coast.
Over the past few years the species has also appeared farther north than Florida on the Atlantic Coast (e.g., New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts). This year there was even a Newfoundland record (a juvenile) on 4 September 300km SE of Newfoundland, as well as an August sighting in New Brunswick.
Most remarkable, however, was a fairly cooperative Brown Booby that appeared in early October at the New York-Ontario border. In the early afternoon of 7 October, Jim Pawlicki discovered an adult female Brown Booby in Buffalo Harbor off the Erie Basin Marina. The bird spent most of its time on the United States side of the Niagara River with daily flights into Ontario waters whenever it flew out into Lake Erie to feed. Its favorite resting area was Donnelly’s Breakwater only a short distance off the U.S. shoreline. The booby was also observed each night roosting with Double-crested Cormorants on nearby Reef Lighthouse in the middle of the Niagara River. Both of these locations are just south of the famous Peace Bridge.
For two weeks, it delighted groups of birders in both Canada and the United States. Every day it would spend most of the day on the New York side of the border where New York birders could view the resting bird on Donnelly’s Breakwater from the tower at the Erie Basin Marina. The bird has also made occasional flights north over the Peace Bridge to roost on the nearby railway bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo. Because of distance, Ontario birders at Fort Erie needed scopes to observe the bird when it was resting on the breakwater or at roost on the lighthouse. Some Ontario birders were fortunate to observe the booby when it flew into Lake Erie to feed.
The booby was present until at least mid-day on 22 October.
You can access a good map of early occurrences by Mike Burrell here:
You can also view some fine photos of the booby taken by Jim Pawlicki. His initial images were taken from the tower at the Erie Basin Marina. His excellent close-up pictures were taken during a boat ride around Donnelly’s Breakwater.
Here is a 10 October story from THE BUFFALO NEWS, complete with photos and video:
ACCESS MATTERS: THE PATON RESULTS
Two months ago, we drew attention to the ongoing project to continue birder access at the “Paton’s Birder Haven” – a famous hummingbird location in southeast Arizona. The property had been up for sale, and the Tucson Audubon Society, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, and the American Bird Conservancy were working with the Paton family heirs to raise the needed $300,000 to acquire this property and maintain it as a hummingbird sanctuary. For details on our coverage of this effort, see:
The fund raising deadline was 15 October, and the funding goal was reached. The American Bird Conservancy is in the process of calling in the final pledges. With the help of hundreds of contributors, the property can now be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds – an appropriate tribute to Wally and Marion Paton’s legendary generosity. You can view a listing of the current campaign contributors here:
Additional funds will be accepted by Tucson Audubon for repairs to the building (including reroofing and rewiring) and the associated property (including much-needed landscaping with native vegetation). To make a contribution for this particular important work, see here:
The parties are now scheduled to close on the property in early 2014. Once acquired, the Tucson Audubon Society will assume ownership and management responsibilities, affirming, once again, that for birders access matters.
TEXAS WHOOPING CRANE WATCHERS NEEDED
This is the time of year when Endangered Whooping Cranes start appearing at their wintering area at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast. On occasion, stray Whooping Cranes have also spent the winter elsewhere in Texas or even in Oklahoma.
This wintering behavior of Whooping Cranes has changed somewhat over the past couple of years. In fact, in April of last year, we reported on this phenomenon, when at least 16 cranes from the regular Aransas-Wood Buffalo National Park population spent at least part of the winter outside their typical coastal areas:
The Texas scene even has an additional twist: some of the Whooping Cranes from an experimental flock in Louisiana spent most of the summer months in Texas.
To track this potential trend, Texas Whooper Watch has been launched. This volunteer monitoring program is a part of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Texas Nature Trackers program. The program was developed to help the agency learn more about Whooping Cranes and their winter habits in Texas. The program seeks the help of citizen scientists in identifying Whooping Crane migration stopover sites and non-traditional wintering areas. Observers can help by reporting sightings of the cranes and by preventing their disturbance when they remain overnight at roosting and feeding locations.
You can review the materials and participate in activities through this site:
and Whooping Crane sightings may be reported here:
RED KNOT PROPOSED AS A FEDERALLY THREATENED SPECIES
A little over a month ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the Red Knot – “rufa” subspecies – as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The adoption of Threatened status would provide additional protection measures for the species along with increased funding dedicated to the recovery of Red Knot populations.
This important step marks at least a decade-long effort of warning and focused advocacy on behalf of the Red Knot. Since 2005, there have been four formal requests to list the Red Knot under the Endangered Species Act. Citing a lack of resources and other priorities, the USFWS opted not to list the species but, instead, placed it in the functional limbo of “candidate species” in 2006.
The USFWS noted that a primary factor in the recent decline of Red Knots has been reduced food supply in Delaware Bay resulting from an over harvesting of horseshoe crabs. The ability of Red Knots and other shorebirds to refuel and fatten up on horseshoe crab eggs during migratory stopovers during their journey from South America to their Arctic breeding grounds is critical to their survival.
The knot’s population decline has been most dramatic since 2000. Scientists speculate that the species’ breeding grounds in the Arctic have warmed, feeding areas on Delaware Bay, Cape Cod, and elsewhere have been impacted by rising sea levels and ocean acidification, and increasing temperatures have interfered with their lifecycles. For example, horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay may be laying their eggs earlier than usual, thus leaving the migratory shorebirds with a shortfall when they reach this critical stopover site.
Although Threatened status is different from Endangered status, such a move could require states to adopt better regulatory mechanisms to limit horseshoe crab harvest, or the Service could additionally designate critical protected habitat for the shorebird, such as sand dunes for roosting or habitat areas which support prey.
The USFWS is currently accepting comments regarding the proposed Threatened listing until 29 November. You can find more information here:
IBA NEWS: A COFFEE CONNECTION IN PUERTO RICO
In August, the Puerto Rican Ornithological Society (Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña, Inc. or SOPI) signed an agreement with Cafiesencia, a local NGO, to collaborate in promoting economic sustainability and biodiversity conservation through the production of “Ecological Shade-grown Coffee” in the Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) of Maricao and Susua in Puerto Rico.
The Maricao and Susua IBA is home to the Puerto Rican Nightjar and Elfin-woods Warbler. It also supports populations of many Neotropical migratory birds, and 18 restricted-range species including the Puerto Rican Tody, the species being featured on the branding of coffee produced by participating farmers.
Cafiesencia has invited SOPI to participate in a set of educational and training exercises, including the establishment of bird monitoring plots. Both organizations will work with coffee farming communities to implement practices that best benefit birds, forests, and people. SOPI is assisting in the marketing of the shade-grown coffee since it represents an important way to conserve birds and secure a premium price, thereby improving the livelihoods of the farmers.
In the words of Lisette Fas, the Executive Director of Cafiescencia, “It is important to maintain agriculture and conservation in harmony as they will both benefit each other in the long-term”
For more on the agreement, see here:
And for more information about SOPI’s conservation work, 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:
RUSSELL GREENBERG: RIP
Sadly, Russell Greenberg (b. 1953), Director of the Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo’s Conservation Biology Institute, passed away in late October.
Among other things, Russ Greenberg pioneered the idea of promoting shade-grown coffee as a bird-friendly product and applying research on birds in Neotropical ecosystems to the marketplace.
He helped profoundly change the terms of discussion in the coffee industry by developing science-based criteria, along with standards based on how shade-grown coffee benefits both birds and broader biodiversity. The “bird-friendly” approach continues to be a pioneering way to link economics and bird conservation.
Greenberg was an early leader in the field of addressing Neotropical bird declines, was instrumental in launching International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), authored over 110 papers and chapters on migratory birds, and was a champion of the much-neglected Rusty Blackbird.
In August, he was awarded the prestigious Elliott Coues Award from the American Ornithologists’ Union. The award recognizes outstanding and innovative contributions to ornithological research.
WILSON’S PLOVER PLAN
The Wilson’s Plover is a smart-looking shorebird of barrier islands, tidal mudflats, and sandy beaches. It is also uncommon and declining.
Late last month, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) announced the release of the “Conservation Plan for the Wilson’s Plover.” This is the 21st such shorebird plan released by WHSRN.
The 170-page plan summarizes what is known about Wilson’s Plover, its ecology, status, updated population estimates, habitat needs, threats, and important sites throughout the Western Hemisphere. It also identifies and prioritizes conservation actions needed in the short term to recover the species population for the long term. This plan will be particularly relevant for the highly stressed Gulf Coast, an area which supports 75 percent of the U.S. breeding population of Wilson’s Plovers.
You can read about the plan here:
To download the plan (in English or Spanish) visit:
“JUST” A JUNCO?
How many times have you heard that it’s “just another junco”? Here’s a common bird – the “snowbird” for many feeder-watchers – we often take for granted.
From a team of biologists at Indiana University led by Drs. Ellen Ketterson and Jonathan Atwell, and film student Steve Burns, there is now a new video about this common bird titled, ORDINARY EXTRAORDINARY JUNCO. Although it was actually released in late May, now it is receiving broader distribution.
The video was produced in hopes that it might educate and inspire citizens and students of all ages and backgrounds to appreciate science, research, birds, and natural resources.
The video covers many key topics in biology including evolution, behavior, physiology, and genetics, along with highlighting how biologists study birds in both the wild and in controlled environments. It even delves into the question, “How many juncos are there, anyhow?”
The film is made up of eight (3-to-20-minute) chapters that can be watched independently or as a whole, in total a feature-length 88-minute film. The film is accessible at no charge.
One of the key themes in the video is the evolution of the amazing diversity seen within the genus Junco, both across evolutionary time and in terms of contemporary adaptation.
Once you watch this video, you will probably never say that what you’ve observed in the field – or in your backyard – is “just another junco.”
You can find details and view the video from this site:
SAGE GROUSE AND CONIFER IMPLICATIONS
In mid-September, in a study published in the scientific journal BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION, a team of researchers validated efforts to limit the encroachment of juniper and other conifers in sagebrush habitat as an important way to maintain sage-grouse populations. The key finding stipulated that sage-grouse “are unable to make a living once encroaching trees occupy more than 4% of their habitat,” said Dr. Sharon Baruch-Mordo, lead author and scientist with The Nature Conservancy.
No active sage-grouse leks were found within two-thirds of a mile of locations where these conifers exceeded 4 percent of the habitat. In the absence of fire, these confers greatly expand into sage-grouse habitat. In fact, in the Great Basin, conifers have expanded by 600 percent and now cover about 14 million acres. These trees use more water and out-compete bunchgrass, forbs, and sagebrush, and they also provide roosting sites for avian predators.
“Early tree removal is highly effective and less costly than a delay-and-repair approach that tries to turn a forest back into a sagebrush ecosystem again,” explained Dr. Dave Naugle, co-author of the report from the University of Montana.
You can access the paper here:
The issue is also well-summarized by the Wildlife Management Institute here:
A five-minute video developed by the Sage Grouse Initiative explains the tree removal program, including the advantages to landowners:
ARE MORE GREBE/GROUND COLLISIONS INEVITABLE?
You may remember the story from December 2011about the thousands of Eared Grebes that crash-landed on a snow-covered Wal-Mart parking lot, football fields, roads, and highway – all sites mistaken for bodies of water at nighttime – in southern Utah. It was all over the media, and we wrote about it in January 2012:
This year, in April, there was an even larger ground-collision – involving over 12,000 birds – in Utah. It occurred in spring, a spring that was unusual insofar as snow was still present at the time of northward grebe migration:
The unfortunate thing is that when grebes land anywhere but in water, they can’t re-launch themselves unless they are floating. This is why these nighttime reflected-light ground-collisions are particularly deadly to grebes.
Fortunately, it is now known that under certain circumstances – migration-time, weather/snow conditions, and specific light-reflections – the results are highly predictable. They are also unnecessary.
We know rather precisely when the birds are migrating, and we can identify the weather conditions that are likely to get the migrants into trouble.
By simply turning off lights after 11pm along their migration route – especially in fall, but also in spring – it may be possible to save thousands of birds from grounding themselves. Of course, accidents do happen… but they can also be reduced.
This would be a variation of “Lights Out” efforts in various cities having tall lighted buildings or the “Dark Skies” efforts among astronomers/sky-watchers and others. It’s certainly not too much to consider.
If such a grebe-crash happens again – and it could happen this month or next in Utah or elsewhere in the West – we shouldn’t accept that it’s just “inevitable.”
TIP OF THE MONTH: OPTICS SECURITY
Have you ever left your binoculars at a restaurant, nature center, or friend’s car while you’ve been in the field? Yes, it happens. Believe it or not, we’ve even known birders who have left behind their scope and tripod, fully extended, on a NWR auto-tour route! You can make it easier to recover your valuable optics with a few precautions.
Mark your optics clearly with your name and contact information (cell phone number and e-mail address often helps). Try, for example, a small id tag on your binocular strap. Keep a record of your individual optics serial numbers. Almost all optics costing over $250 will have a serial number. This is often found near the eyepiece or focusing knob or under the hinge, depending on the brand and model. And store your optics – and their telltale cases – out of sight in a parked car.
Of course, having your optics included in an insurance policy is essential in the event that recovery becomes impossible.
GOVERNOR BROWN SIGNS THE ANTI-LEAD BILL
On October 11, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed a law banning the use of lead ammunition (bullets and shot) by hunters in California. That state now becomes the first to make such a broad ban. We wrote about this issue last month:
The ban on lead bullets and shot was proposed by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) because lead is toxic and can harm people and animals that may eat animals shot with lead ammunition.
“We are thrilled that Governor Brown has made AB 711 the law of the land,” said Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, who proposed the legislation. “There is simply no reason to continue using lead ammunition in hunting when it poses a significant risk to human health and the environment.”
Specific regulations are due by July 2015, with the California Fish and Game Commission to certify acceptable non-lead ammunition. The ban goes into effect in July 2019.
This will expand an earlier ban on lead hunting ammunition in extensive California Condor habitat. The new law covers all wildlife, including “game mammals, game birds, nongame birds, and nongame mammals” such as coyotes.
“The risks to California’s incredibly diverse wildlife are many,” Governor Brown commented. “We must manage our state’s wildlife for the use and enjoyment of all Californians. It is time to begin this transition and provide hunters with ammunition that will allow them to continue the conservation heritage of California.”
This lead ban was in a package of gun-control bills before the Governor. He signed 11 gun control bills, but vetoed another seven measures restricting firearms.
KIRTLAND’S WARBLER NUMBERS AT A COMFORTABLE HIGH
The numbers from the last breeding season are officially in, and Kirtland’s Warblers remain near an all-time high.
The Kirtland’s Warbler survey is annually conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Michigan DNR, Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Michigan Audubon Society, and numerous citizen volunteers. Kirtland’s Warblers nest on the ground in central Michigan, and they typically select nesting sites in stands of jack pine between four and 20 years old.. Surveyors seek out singing males on territory.
Biologists, researchers and volunteers observed 2,004 singing males in Michigan during the official 2013 nesting survey period. An additional 21 singing males were found outside Michigan, in Wisconsin (18) and in Ontario (3).
In 2012, there were 2,063 singing males counted in Michigan. These numbers are in stark contrast to those of 1974 and 1987, when only 167 singing males were found – the lowest survey numbers ever recorded.
The current revival has been so impressive that removing the species from the federal Endangered Species list is a possibility, perhaps some time in the near future.
“Two thousand pairs of birds is still a pretty low number,” warned Philip Huber, a U.S. Forest Service biologist working on the project. Because Kirtland’s Warblers are so uniquely adapted to a sandy-soil jack-pine habitat, they now depend heavily on human intervention for survival (e.g., cowbird removal, pine-plantings, and fire-management).
“Our success is allowing managers to work with additional partners to transition from a mode of recovery to one of long-term sustainability,” said Dan Kennedy, Michigan’s DNR endangered species coordinator.
For more information about this rare bird, visit the Michigan DNR’s Kirtland’s Warbler web page:
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