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:
On 2 August, Dan Jones, a Lower Rio Grande Valley birder, visited the Hargill Playa in Hidalgo County, Texas, located a few miles north-northeast of Edinburg. The idea was to scope out sandpipers and other birds, a few which might be significant for Hidalgo County. Jones was surprised to find what at first appeared to be a Wilson’s Plover, except that it looked odd: the bill seemed too narrow, it had a white forehead, and a black band ran across the head, extending from eye to eye. He had suspicions that the bird might be something else, took some photos, and then returned home to compare them with online photos.
His suspicions were correct. The bird was a Collared Plover, a shorebird which normally ranges from southern San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas, Mexico, to Argentina. This individual would be only the second record for the U.S. The only other record for this species was one seen at the Uvalde National Fish Hatchery in Texas, 9-12 May 1992. Since the 1990s, birders have been expecting another Collared Plover to appear in the United States, and birders,particularly on the Texas coast, have been on the alert.
However, the Hargill bird was found inland, as was the first Uvalde bird, about 90 miles southwest of San Antonio. Since the species does appear at elevations up to 5,000 feet in interior Mexico, these inland sightings are not totally surprising.
The Collared Plover at Hargill Playa remained through the early evening of 17 August. Through that period, it was found almost daily despite the fact that it was tough to locate in midday under the hot Texas sun.
For a few days, the favored access point for the site was restricted because a local farmer needed to reach nearby cotton fields for spraying. Birders were kindly asked to park on nearby pavement and walk in on a one-lane dirt road a few hundred yards to the preferred viewing site.
Many birders, from elsewhere in Texas and beyond came to view this rare plover.
For a description of the bird’s discovery and some of the original photos taken by Dan Jones, see here:
WHAT WOULD MARTHA DO
Yes, WWMD…. An op-ed appeared in The New York Times on the last weekend of August, an op-ed written by John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The title was “Saving our Birds,” and Fitzpatrick asked readers to imagine what “Martha,” the last of the Passenger Pigeons, might ask of us: “Have you learned anything from my passing?”
Emphasizing the argument that timely conservation really does work, that it pays off, Fitzpatrick covered recent bird-conservation successes, current threats, the value of the Endangered Species Act, and the message that Martha may import: redoubling efforts in protecting what remains of nature’s abundance.
You can read the thoughtful article here:
BOOK NOTES: SIBLEY REVISITED
By now, one might think that everything has already been said concerning the second edition of The Sibley Guide to Birds (2014, Knopf). Since it’s been months since the book’s release, recounting the oft-mentioned kudos and potential criticisms of the book would simply be repetitive at this date.
Nonetheless, there are a few things that warrant highlighting about David Sibley’s latest contribution.
For example, the book includes about 600 new illustrations including about100 new and much-appreciated illustrations of rarities that were not included in the first edition. There is also a nice assortment of illustrations of exotic species, too. The total number of illustrations comes to 930 species. Additionally the illustrations are 15-20% larger than they were in the first edition. This increase in size is most welcome. Anyone thumbing through this beautiful book will undoubtedly have favorites, and there will probably be many of them.
Having touched on the subject of book size, on the positive side of the ledger it’s good to know that the page-count for this edition is only 80 pages greater than in the first edition, a surprisingly economic increase, given the material packed between the covers. So, if you didn’t have a problem with the size and heft of the first edition, the new edition won’t weigh you down. The actual weight difference is only about 5 ounces. On the negative side, the print in the new edition is painfully small and fine, especially for some readers with older eyes.
This is unfortunate, because one of the biggest improvements in the new Sibley book has to do with the text. While readers have come to expect excellent artwork from this talented artist, in this case the text improvements have increased significantly. There is considerably more useful text pertaining to ID elements, similar species, abundance, and habitat. An expended introduction in this edition will also be appreciated. And even the improvements in the informative sidebars are noteworthy. It’s just a shame that the font size and shade of the type isn’t a little darker!
Oh, yes, and if you’re interested, there’s a handy six-page checklist at the end of the book. In short, if you haven’t already rushed to get this book, you have time to catch up now.
TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD: STILL TROUBLED
The situation concerning population losses for Tricolored Blackbirds in California was covered in the July E-bulletin:
Drought in California has exacerbated these population concerns, and California must now address a possible emergency listing of the Tricolored Blackbird on its own state endangered species list.
Under the California Endangered Species Act, the California Fish and Game Commission can list a species when it is an imminent danger, or there is an emergency. If approved, such a species listing would apply for six months, after which time the listing could be renewed for another six months if necessary.
At its 6 August meeting, the commission decided not to take emergency action; however, the issue will almost surely come up for consideration again
SURPRISE PUERTO RICAN PARROTS HATCHED IN THE WILD
Two endangered Puerto Rican parrots were recently hatched for the first time in 144 years in a natural nest found outside El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. A number of these rare parrots hatched in the wild in western Puerto Rico, reaching a high this year of 16 birds, with two of those at the natural nest and the remainder in artificial nests placed in the wild. In addition, there were 46 parrots born in captivity this year at the Rio Abajo Nature Preserve compared with 51 last year.
Perhaps more than a million Puerto Rican parrots were once thought to exist in the 1800s, but the population plummeted to a paltry 13 birds in the wild by 1975. This followed decades of forest clearing to plant citrus, coffee, and sugar cane. Fortunately, parrot numbers have since rebounded, with 409 parrots existing in captivity and an estimated 75 to 142 now living in the wild.
According to the island’s Natural Resources Secretary, Carmen Guerrero, “scientists discovered the [recent] nest in May near the Rio Abajo Nature Preserve in western Puerto Rico and monitored it with cameras until they saw the parrots take flight in late July.”
Puerto Rican authorities are now working alongside U.S. officials to build a third breeding center in the western Puerto Rican town of Maricao, with plans to release 20 to 25 parrots by December 2015. Cynthia Doher, with the USFWS, said that “the aim is to have a self-sufficient parrot population that does not require human intervention.”
More details from an AP story can be found here:
ACCESS MATTERS: SIMPLE PARKING
Parking while one is birding should be relatively simple. Obey the posted regulations and stick to the recommended procedures when visiting a heavily birded site.
Attempting to view a rarity visiting a backyard feeder is a case in point. In a heavily-trafficked area, birders may be asked to park a few blocks away, avoid blocking a driveway, park on one side of the road only, or park only in a designated zone. These are common sense courtesies.
But in the story about the Collared Plover in South Texas described above the birding area was not suburban; it was rural.
Birders were asked to park their vehicles “on the pavement” at the closest intersection to the Hargill Playa, and only accessible by a one-lane dirt road. It was about a 300-yard walk to the viewing site, and the narrow dirt road leading to the playa had to be kept open for access to nearby cotton fields by farm trucks and field equipment.
Most birders at Hargill were very good about following the directions. But unfortunately a few birders – often visiting at odd hours or when other birders were not around – somehow felt the access instructions did not apply to them, or else they misunderstood. These birders simply drove down the dirt road and parked immediately next to the access site. This was not a good idea. Admittedly some birders may not have received word of the visiting protocol at that site, but in future such situations every effort should be made to adhere to whatever guidelines have been established to regulate birder crowd control.
Regardless, the next time a rarity shows up at a site where birders openly flout parking directions, local residents may not be at all welcoming, and may ultimately make access very difficult. This is a serious issue to consider, since birding access really matters to all of us.
IBA NEWS: HATTERAS REPRIEVE
The battle over off-road vehicle (ORV) use at Hatteras National Seashore (National Park Service) has gone on for years. The issue has to do with the potential risks to nesting birds and sea turtles along 67 miles of ocean beach. We previously covered this issue in the January 2010 E-bulletin:
In February 2012, the National Park Service implemented a hotly contested new plan limiting ORV access at certain locations and at certain times. This plan was challenged by a group of ORV enthusiasts hoping to recover their beach use. The issue was in court for two years. Currently the regulations limiting ORV access to the beach will remain in place, following a June ruling by the Eastern District Court of North Carolina.
ORV access at Hatteras often changes frequently during the breeding season of protected birds and sea turtles. But as we indicated in 2010, “this is not a matter of being ‘anti-ORV use,’ but rather ‘appropriate-ORV use.'”
To view a summary of the seashore options, the permit process, and an accompanying map here:
The area in question is a “globally significant” Important Bird Area (IBA), particularly for nesting Piping Plovers, Least Terns, and American Oystercatchers, as well as other shorebirds and waterbirds.
Although this year’s nesting season is over, off-road vehicle advocates have stated that they will continue to fight the ruling. Audubon North Carolina has previously estimated that only two percent of the seashore’s many visitors drive ORVs, so meaningful public support for this position may not be an issue.
For information on the Cape Hatteras IBA, see 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:
NEONICS AND NWRs
By January 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency will ban the use of neonicotinoids, often called “neonics,” at National Wildlife Refuges across the country. Neonics are widely used nerve insecticides that an increasing number of scientific studies have shown are harmful to bees, but also to birds, mammals, and fish. Most often, agricultural seeds are coated with the neonics, which spread the toxins throughout the plant as the plant grows. More importantly, recent studies have raised concerns over the impact of neonics on birds and on aquatic systems.
Neonicotinoids currently account for 40 percent of the global pesticide market and are used to treat most of the corn and soybean crops in the U.S. Ironically, these nicotine-like chemicals were introduced in the 1990s in response to health concerns linked to older pesticides.
In the announcement concerning the phase-out of neonics on refuges, the chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Jim Kurth, wrote, “We have determined that prophylactic use, such as a seed treatment, of the neonicotinoid pesticides that can distribute systemically in a plant and can affect a broad spectrum of non-target species is not consistent with Service policy.”
In the same USFWS memo by Kurth, the Service announced that it will also begin to phase out the use of genetically modified crops to feed wildlife on refuges.
You can read the full memo here:
And access a summary here at the National Wildlife Refuge Association:
EAGLE “TAKE” PERMIT COULD START A TREND
Until 31 July, an eagle “take” permit had never been issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to a project in any industry. But after the nearly five years since “take” permits went into effect, to allow for the accidental harm or killing of eagles in the process of regular business, a permit was issued to a wind-power project in northern California.
Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, eagle take permits can have a maximum term of five years, but in late 2013 the USFWS extended the maximum term to 30 years, which, corresponds to the operational life of most wind projects. This 30-year extension which supports a wind industry desiring a degree of certainty for its investments, not surprisingly generated opposition from several organizations, some which had even supported the five-year term.
With the previous rule, adopted in 2009, the USFWS had defended the five-year permitting process, stating at the time that a permit of any longer duration “would be incompatible with the preservation of the Bald or Golden Eagle.” Accordingly, the increase to 30 years did not appear to be supported by any newly available information and came as a surprise to many.
The American Bird Conservancy has even filed suit in federal court in June, claiming that the 30-year policy is in violation with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. You can find details here:
Among the arguments made in defense of a shorter permitting period is the one that many factors impacting eagles and their populations (e.g., habitat loss, prey abundance, wildfires, and climate change) will surely change over a 30-year period, and the ability to plan for such changes will now become potentially more limited.
Defenders of the 30-year extension say that these newly revised permits will still require a review of the projects every five years, and that the projects may be required to undertake additional conservation measures.
Still, there is no legal mandate to comply with the eagle guidance, and not all wind-power projects will need to obtain an eagle-take permit. Realistically however, the USFWS will likely start to issue more eagle take permits for proposed and operating wind-power projects, and an increasing number of applications will also likely be submitted in the future.
The question arises: Can wind, solar, bio-fuel, and other renewable energy sources be encouraged without putting birds, bats, and related habitats at risk? The answer should be yes, but the ways to reach those goals – including the eagle issue – are fraught with many detours and pitfalls. Given the pending review and legal challenges, it is unclear how the eagle permitting process may evolve over the next few years, and how much-needed comprehensive “smart energy” approaches will result.
Finally, for those interested, the public comment period for the issue of 30-year take permits is open through 22 September:
TIP OF THE MONTH: PERSONALIZE YOUR FIELD GUIDE
In this month’s “Book Notes,” we mentioned that the second edition of the new Sibley guide has a multi-page bird-species checklist in the back of the book. This is a nice feature that harkens back at least to the early Roger Tory Peterson guides. This element gives the owner/user the opportunity to check off new species when they are seen.
There are other novel ways to personalize bird field guides, regardless of the title. Some field guide users color-highlight the species they have seen, others slip in a date or location, and still others underline or otherwise emphasize one or another field mark in the text. Individually drawn arrows have also been used to enhance the illustrations.
Stickers, Duck Stamps, and, most importantly perhaps, the owner’s name, phone number, and e-mail address is often inserted into the front inside cover of a field guide – a smart move should the valued personalized guide ever be lost in the field.
The opportunities to personalize your field guide are practically endless. Remember, a field guide is for use “in the field,” and is not intended to be kept in a pristine, pure, and unaltered state. If you want to have a field guide in that ideal condition, buy a duplicate copy just for home use!
LWCF IS 50 THIS MONTH
In April, we reviewed the significance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and its importance to birds, bird habitat, and Important Bird Areas (IBAs):
This month marks the 50 anniversary of the LWCF, passed by Congress with vigorous bipartisan support and signed by Lyndon Johnson in early September, 1964. Now is a good time to remember that the LWCF is based on a simple and sound concept: to use the revenues from the depletion of one natural resource – offshore oil and gas – to support the conservation of another precious resource – land and water.
Congress put a $900 million annual cap on the fund, designed to be distributed to state as well as federal agencies to support projects for wildlife habitat conservation. As summarized by a blog by Bob Marshall for Field & Stream in late July, the LWCF celebrates turning 50 by being underfunded for the 48th time:
In the process of Congress shamelessly underfunding wildlife, birds, and wild places for 48 of the last 50 years, the “stateside” portion of LWCF has been practically forgotten – or else been abused – with very little funding whatsoever coming its way, year after year. (There is now a total of over $18 billion of unmet needs accumulated at the stateside level.)
Moreover, the LWCF expires in exactly one year, September 2015. It must be renewed to be continued.
You can find out more about the past 50 years of LWCF accomplishments – and corresponding unmet needs – here:
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