The Birding Community E-bulletin is 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): http://refugeassociation.org/news/birding-bulletin/
In January there was no stand-out, stay-in-place, mega-rarity to attract continent-wide attention, but there was a continuing rarity development that deserves revisiting.
This development involves Barnacle Geese.
For a number of years, there have been increasingly convincing records of Barnacle Geese from Atlantic Canada and the northeastern U.S. We actually reported on this trend as long ago as February 2005. The fact that this species nests in Greenland, of course, makes vagrancy to NE North America a realistic possibility. While many reports in the past were dismissed due to questionable provenance, the concern over doubtful origin has significantly lessened in recent years, largely because of the increasing number and pattern of records.
While sightings are still relatively few, they are increasing nonetheless. Correspondingly, more state bird record committees are accepting Barnacle Goose observations without resorting to historic “origin unknown” qualifiers.
As convincing records of Barnacle Geese from Atlantic Canada and the northeastern U.S. accumulate, fewer of these birds are deemed controversial. Still, Barnacle Geese can be quite commonplace in captivity.
Field reports appear most frequently in winter, often as early as November and as late as April, but not at other times of the year. This would certainly lend credence to the theory of wintering birds occasionally visiting NE North America in winter. This pattern has been obvious in the last month or so. Virtually all Barnacle Goose sightings are in the company of Canada Geese.
Listed below are a few examples from January 2014:
A Bergen County, New Jersey, Barnacle Goose found in early December remained at several different area locations until at least 20 January.
A Barnacle Goose at Belmont Lake State Park in Suffolk County, New York, remained from 7-10 January.
Another individual was at Middleton, Rhode Island, from 9-13 January.
A Barnacle Goose, first reported on the morning of January 4 in Westport, Connecticut, stayed in the general area through the end of the month.
Another Barnacle Goose found on the morning of 25 January at Randall’s Island Park in Manhattan was still present at the end of the month.
In addition there were apparently other individuals in December in Maryland, Nova Scotia, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Interested birders should be on the lookout for more of these potential visitors, at least through March.
EASTERN WHOOPING CRANES AT RISK
Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that two adult Whooping Cranes had been shot in November in Hopkins County, Kentucky. (The USFWS delayed its formal announcement until the cause of death was ascertained.) This was a mated pair: a six-year-old male and a four-year-old female. They had nested unsuccessfully in central Wisconsin for the last three years, and for the last two winters, they remained in Hopkins County.
This incident occurred only a couple weeks before Kentucky’s controversial Sandhill Crane hunting season opened.
The cranes were shot by a rifle, and the shooter “wasn’t a hunter,” said Joe Duff, founder of Operation Migration, dedicated to the establishment of an eastern Whooping Crane population. It was a “wanton waste,” he continued. Bullet fragments from a .22-caliber rifle were found in the female. An out-of-season crane hunter still would have been armed with a shotgun, wildlife officials added.
Fortunately the pair that was shot was not a pair accompanied with a juvenile that migrated to Kentucky in November. -That pair is spending the winter elsewhere in western Kentucky.
These latest deaths among the experimentally raised Whooping Cranes bring to 15 or 16 the total known to have been shot in the East since 2009. To see information on all losses sustained by Whooping Crane over the years, see here:
There is a USFWS Reward Fund for the November shootings. Operation Migration is accepting donations for the fund, an amount which is now over $15,000. Details on contributing to this fund are posted on the Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes site:
Donations will be held in a reward fund for the Kentucky incident until such a time as they need to be paid. If these Kentucky deaths are unresolved, the money will be used as a reward for any other Whooping Crane incidents that may occur in the future. If after five years, when the statute of limitations ends for prosecution in Kentucky, and no rewards have been used, the total fund can be applied to Operation Migration education and outreach efforts on behalf of Whooping Cranes.
IBA NEWS: PANAMA BAY DECISION
The struggle to preserve Panama Bay as an Important Bird Area (IBA) has previously appeared in the E-bulletin in January 2013
and May 2013
Last month, the Panama Supreme Court issued a long-awaited final decision on protection for the Bay of Panama. The court formally reinstated the protected status for the Bay of Panama wetlands, officially removing the temporary suspension it had placed on the protected area in April 2012. That 2012 move was viewed as a decision driven by pressure for urban and resort developments.
The Bay of Panama is used every year by over a million shorebirds on their way south after breeding in the North American Arctic. Consequently, the bay is a crucial stopover and wintering area for the Americas, with the habitat being used by more than 30 percent of the global population of Western Sandpipers and 22 percent of the global population of Whimbrels.
The Bay of Panama’s extensive mangrove forests also play a vital role in supporting fisheries, filtering pollutants in urban and agricultural runoff, and protecting Panama City from floods.
Besides its status as an IBA, the bay was also declared a Ramsar site (Wetland of International Importance) in 2003, and it was included in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) in 2005. In 2009, over 80,000 hectares of the Panama Bay Wetland had become a National Protected Area.
“Good use of environmental law and scientific studies, and the help of our local and international partners have influenced the final decision of the court”, said Rosabel Miro, Executive Director of Panama Audubon Society.
You can find more details from BirdLife International here: ,:
For additional information about worldwide IBA programs, including those in the U.S., check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at:
TIP OF THE MONTH: GULLS IN SEASON
In January, 2011, we pointed out that some birders can be “intimidated or frustrated by gulls and their highly variable seasonal and sub-adult plumages, but winter is often the very best time of year to work on your gull ID skills, since gulls at this time of year often allow long and detailed studies, frequently at close range.”
We stress that gull-watching at this season is wholly appropriate. Winter offers an ideal time to study up on the field marks of gulls in your field guide before you ever leave home. We further encourage you to begin by first learning the ID specifics of the gull species common to your area.
So bone up ahead of time, get together with some equally curious friends, and go look for gulls wintering in your area this next month. You may be surprised at what you find!
ACCESS MATTERS: GULLS IN SEASON
Yes, we are presenting the same gull-theme under this month’s “access matters” category!
You cannot identify the odd gull among the “regulars” – be it Black-headed, Little, Glaucous, Iceland, Slaty-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Ivory, or another – unless you have access to places where gulls routinely congregate.
At this time of year, these places usually include dams, power plant outflows, landfills, and piers. These are, alas, places where access is often limited and where decent viewing vantage-points are often few.
This is where tactful negotiation often comes into play. If access to a gull-favored site was made possible during a recent Christmas Bird Count (CBC) or a local birding festival, it may be time to revive those contacts to see if more regular accommodations can be continued. The intervention of a local bird club can be essential. Unlimited and wide-open access may never be possible, but a modest compromise might be arranged: perhaps two Saturday afternoons a month during a three-month period, for example.
If you don’t ask, it is unlikely to happen. And if access isn’t gained, birders won’t get to see the birds!
SAVE EFFORT AT JIADING WETLANDS
Our geographic orientation in the E-bulletin is usually North America. However, we regularly also mention developments in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially when they relate to “our” migrants. (See, for example the Panama Bay IBA story elsewhere in this issue.)
From time to time however we touch on birding and bird conservation developments elsewhere.
Such is the case where certain Asian coastal issues are concerned, especially those in Korea and China that relate to migrant waterfowl, shorebirds, and other waterbirds.
Colleagues at SAVE (Spoonbill Action Voluntary Echo) based in the U.S. in Berkeley, California and working on wetland conservation with the iconic Black-Faced Spoonbill , represent one such effort. See here to find out more about. SAVE:
Recently, SAVE has been addressing the issue of trying to expand a sustainable Black-faced Spoonbill wintering population in Taiwan. As spoonbill numbers increase, these long-legged waders colonize new territories outside the boundaries of Taiwan’s regularly protected scenic areas and parks.
Last winter, 154 Black-faced Spoonbills took up residence in the Jiading Wetlands, a 420-acre wetland in southwestern Taiwan. Just a few weeks ago, the population count was released for this year, with 145 of the endangered birds tallied. There are also other bird species of concern in the area. You can view a 14-minute film of Black-faced Spoonbills and many other birds in the Jiading Wetlands taken just last month:
Two roads (designated as 1-1 and 1-6) have already fragmented the wetlands into smaller, but still viable, parcels. A third road (designated 104), however, is proposed that would run through the middle of a large remaining wetland segment, thus presenting a significant impact.
Finding a solution may be tricky, as many community and development interests are lobbying for the construction of this road.
The road is also supported by Mayor Chen Chu who promised to build it during her re-election campaign. But this was before the spoonbills began using the site. The mayor, however, has been known to champion environmental and social causes, such as providing funds for several wetland parks in Kaohsiung. SAVE indicates that she needs to be convinced of the value of this particular wetland.
Finally and fortunately, the national legislature recently passed, after a 10-year debate, a strong Taiwan Wetland Law. Starting this month, roads proposed through wetlands, such as Road 1-4, will be subject to national standards.
Local supporters of the wetlands and the spoonbills believe that the regional government will pay attention to international concerns, and SAVE is pursuing that option.
BUDGET MAKES SOME CONSERVATION ACCOMMODATIONS
Last month, Congress passed and the President signed, an omnibus-spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2014 – funding the government from 1 October 2013 to 30 September 2014. (The government had been operating under a Continuing Resolution – a CR – since the government shut down in October.) This spending bill combined all 12 appropriations bills (funding for the entire government) into one gigantic package.
Some bird-and-conservation issues of interest in the omnibus-bill deserve mention.
State Wildlife Grants Program, which helps states keep species from becoming endangered, will be funded at $58.7 million.
Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation grants that assist in conservation of migratory bird species will be funded at $3.66 million.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants for partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects will be funded at $34.1 million.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the land acquisition fund derived from offshore oil and gas revenue, will get $306 million.
Among LWCF projects are $35 million for the following in the National Wildlife Refuge System:
Crown of the Continent, Montana – $11.94 million
Dakota Grasslands Conservation Area, North and South Dakota – $8.65 million
Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area, Florida – $5 million
Longleaf Pine-Okefenokee NWR, Georgia; St. Marks NWR, Florida; Cape Romain and Waccamaw NWRs, South Carolina – $9.481 million
Included in the Interior Appropriations bill portion is a desperately needed four percent increase for the Refuge System’s Operations & Maintenance accounts, taking the System from $454 million to $472 million.
All this is good, but it falls short of what is needed and far below recently authorized (i.e. allowed) funding levels:
The State Wildlife Grant program ($58.7 million) has had funding up to $90 million previously (2010).
The Neotrop Act ($3.66 million) has been authorized at $6 million (2009).
NAWCA ($34.1 million) has been authorized at $75 million (2012).
LWCF ($306 million) has been consistently authorized at $900 million (back to 1977).
While the four percent increase for the Refuge System is a success, it won’t bring the System back to where it was just a few short years ago.
Similarly, the National Park Service is only back to the levels of FY12, prior to the damaging sequester.
And the crucial LWCF is only providing $42 million to the stateside assistance grants, well short of its intended proportion.
We will cover LWCF issues in an upcoming E-bulletin this year, but it’s simply important to know while that these funding levels could have been worse, they are still below what it is needed to simply stand still when it comes to bird, wildlife, and land conservation.
A FARM BILL AT LAST
In late January, House and Senate negotiators released a long-awaited Farm Bill agreement designed to extend agriculture programs for the next half decade. While the general media concentrated on the issues of agricultural subsidies and slashes in food stamps, all very important concerns, there was considerably less interest in the conservation issues in the Farm Bill.
The legislation is projected to cost about $950 billion over the next decade, with an estimated $60 billion covering core conservation programs.
To many, the Farm Bill had for the past few years represented an example of the dysfunction that is now Washington DC, but what emerged from negotiators offered some optimism for conservation issues, including bird concerns.
A few programs and approaches deserve description here, including conservation compliance, sodsaver, and CRP-related programs.
Conservation compliance will require farmers and ranchers to abide by essential conservation measures in exchange for any federal subsidies for crop insurance on highly erodible land and wetlands. This provision was removed from the Farm Bill 18 years ago, and it is significant that it was re-attached. Landowners can basically do much of what they want on their own lands, but now they can’t always ask for federal assistance!
The Farm Bill also included sodsaver, a provision limiting crop insurance subsidies for the first few years in areas where land is newly converted to cropland. This is meant to discourage farmers from tilling 10,000-year-old native grasslands.
Although conservation groups wanted to have the program apply across the nation, the Farm Bill would limit sodsaver to six Northern Great Plains states: Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. The previous Farm Bill had a sodsaver provision that was optional, with state governors having the choice to opt-in. Not one did. This time there is no option. The results should be significant for waterfowl, certain upland gamebirds, and a suite of grassland songbirds that are in serious trouble.
Any expansion of sodsaver to the rest of the country will have to await the next Farm Bill.
Finally for us, other conservation programs – 23 in all – are consolidating into 13 programs, also cutting $6 billion over the next decade. For example, the well-known Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is reduced from 32 million acres to 24 million acres by FY18. Other similar conservation programs – like WHIP, GRP, and WRP – are part of consolidation, all the while generally honoring the traditions of the efforts and targeted outcomes.
The results aren’t perfect, but they are better than many conservationists had expected. “It was worth the wait to get a Farm Bill that will help protect our nation’s land, water, and wildlife,” said Julie Sibbing, senior director of agriculture and forestry programs for the National Wildlife Federation.
The Farm Bill compromise passed the House of Representatives last month, while awaiting a quick positive vote in the Senate and almost immediate Presidential signing.
ANOTHER TRY IN NORTH DAKOTA
In 2012, we wrote about North Dakota’s “Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Campaign,” designed to dedicate small portion of North Dakota’s existing oil and gas extraction taxes to protect the state’s wildlife and habitats for the future.
We also described it as a mini-LWCF, not unlike the Federal formula to “recycle” offshore oil and gas revenue to conservation needs. The North Dakota effort was derailed in 2012, but presented a creative solution to conservation funding issues:
This year there is a new opportunity to get the proposal on the North Dakota state ballot in November. The Clean Water, Lands & Outdoor Heritage Amendment could take a small portion (five percent) of the extraction revenues collected from oil and gas in North Dakota and invest it in water, land, and wildlife conservation. Many organizations in the state are backing this proposal, including The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, National Audubon, National Wildlife Federation, and Pheasants Forever. With an estimated $60-$70 million a year possibly being made available for these efforts, the potential for birds and bird conservation could be tremendous.
To qualify for this November’s ballot, at least 28,000 valid signatures are needed on the petition, and 40,000 signatures would be preferred, with a comfortable cushion.
For more on this effort, see here:
BINATIONAL MONITORING: GREAT LAKES MARSHES
Volunteers are being sought to monitor marsh birds (and frogs!) this spring throughout the Great Lakes basin of Ontario and the United States. Participants in the Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program provide long-term information about these wildlife populations. The results are also used to assess the state of the Great Lakes and their marshes
Marsh-bird surveys will range from mid-May to early July, depending on location on the Great Lakes, and will have a special emphasis on species missed by other surveys (e.g., rails and bitterns).
Bird Studies Canada launched the program throughout the Great Lakes basin in 1995. The project is delivered by Bird Studies Canada with support from Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Government of Ontario, and TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. Materials should be sent to over 500 already-committed volunteers toward the end of this month.
For a map of sites, see here:
And for more details and volunteer information, see here:
BOOK NOTES: PASSENGER PIGEON
The story of the extinction of a species that was probably the most populous bird in North American is a story studded with sadness. No one seemed to know or even care that the Passenger Pigeon was doomed until it was too late to do anything about it. Fueled by historic events at the time, a slaughter of epic proportions went virtually unheeded, with triple technological feats of the 19th century – the telegraph, the spread of railroads, and, specifically, the invention of the refrigerated railroad car in the 1870s -accelerating the demise of this species. In four decades (c.1860-1900) the species shrunk from “bewilderingly vast… to virtually gone.”
Joel Greenberg chronicles this story in A Feathered River Across the Sky (2014, Bloomsbury), a story that otherwise might simply be depressing without some of the lessons Greenberg cites.
An absence of awareness concerning the species’ biology, an ease in harvesting the birds for growing food needs, a rapid advance of technology, and a lag-time between unbridled harvesting and law-enforced wildlife management in America all combined to make the “impossible” happen – the extinction of the species.
Greenberg asks us to reflect on the enormity of the consequences of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon as part of a year-long effort in 2014. His recounting of this cautionary tale occurs during this centenary year, marking the death of “Martha,” the last Passenger Pigeon to ever inhabit the earth.
We would be wise to consider the lessons.
In the meantime, you can listen to an interview with Joel Greenberg on the nationally syndicated Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio from last month:
NW OHIO WIND-POWER DECISION
One of a number of wind turbine projects planned for the shores of Lake Erie in northwest Ohio was halted in late January following submission of a letter of intent to sue from the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO). The two groups had vigorously opposed the project due to potential high risk to birds.
The two groups charged that efforts in connection with the wind project at Camp Perry Air National Guard Station outside of Port Clinton, Ohio, were in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other federal conservation and environmental laws.
Significantly, in correspondence to Camp Perry officials, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had already concluded that the wind-power construction would likely threaten federally protected birds. The USFWS called for a formal Endangered Species Act consultation, but the request was ignored by Camp Perry officials.
You can find more details here, from the Toledo Blade:
PETE DUNNE RECOGNIZED BY ZEISS
Last month, Carl Zeiss Sports Optics named Pete Dunne, the Chief Communications Officer of the New Jersey Audubon Society and the outgoing Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, as the winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award for his body of work in outdoor writing and in the fields of birding, education, and wildlife habitat conservation. The award was presented on 13 January at Zeiss’ Annual Writers’ Party in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can find details here:
ARCHIVES AND MORE
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