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):
On Friday, 12 September a Whiskered Tern was found at Bunker Pond in Cape May, New Jersey. The tern was initially associating with a Black Tern, and was first reported by Louise Zemaitis and Alec Humann. Bunker Pond is a body of water at Cape May Point State Park that the famous hawk-watch platform overlooks.
The Whiskered Tern is a widespread Old World species. In North America however, there are only two previous records, both on the NE Atlantic Coast and, surprisingly, both with Cape May connections. One of the previous records involved a bird that was at Cape May for a few days in July, 1993, before it moved to Little Creek, Delaware, where it stayed for over a month. The other Whiskered Tern occurrence was a bird at Cape May for a few days in August, 1998.
Last month’s Whiskered Tern at Cape May often moved back and forth between Bunker Pond and the nearby beach, where it often roosted with Common Terns, Forster’s Terns, and Laughing Gulls. After the first weekend of observations, it also began to be seen near the Coral Avenue jetty and the jetty behind the St. Mary by-the-Sea Retreat Center.
Hundreds of birders came to see the tern through 20 September, which was the final day that the Whiskered Tern was observed.
For a good report from the Atlantic City press, see here:
And for a unique video by Andy McGann, see here:
THE PROBLEM OF LUCISTIC SANDHILL CRANES
In July of last year, researchers with the Wisconsin-based International Crane Foundation (ICF) found a dead radio-tagged Whooping Crane in a Waupaca County wheat field. The bird had been shot. Matthew Kent Larsen, 28, of New London pleaded guilty in federal court in Green Bay for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by killing a protected species. Larsen told authorities he shot the crane because he thought it was an albino Sandhill Crane. Of course, Whooping Cranes are white and Sandhill Cranes are normally gray or reddish brown. Neither bird is legal to be hunted in Wisconsin. You can read more about this issue from the USFWS, a summary of which was released this past summer here:
While rare, white Sandhill Cranes have been described by several observers. Birds with non-eumelanin schizochorism, a genetic pigmentation condition producing a leucistic (i.e., pale or white appearance), have been described from Saskatchewan, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, and elsewhere. Some such cranes are almost totally white with a red forehead and brown wings, while others are white with only a scattering of gray feathers on their wings and back. Still other cranes have only the wings and back white.
While researchers in the past have speculated that one of these leucistic Sandhill Cranes could be mistaken for a Whooping Crane, it is also possible that a Whooping Crane could be mistaken for a leucistic Sandhill Crane.
In a reminder in the most recent Eastern Crane Bulletin, fall migration for cranes has begun, and the experimental and legal Sandhill Crane hunting seasons in Kentucky and Tennessee will take place at the end of the this year. It is important to know the differences between Whooping Cranes and normal and leucistic Sandhill Cranes. With the ongoing effort to establish a migratory population of Whooping Cranes in the eastern U.S. between Wisconsin and Florida now at almost 100 birds, the issue becomes even more important.
In the meantime, people can learn the difference between endangered Whooping Cranes and normal Sandhill Cranes from a chart developed by the International Crane Foundation called “Large Water Birds: An Identification Guide”:
ANOTHER CHANCE IN NORTH DAKOTA
Two years ago, we reported on how the effort to respond to North Dakota’s oil and gas boom by dedicating a portion of the state extraction tax revenue to conservation had failed:
Now, North Dakota voters have a second chance to vote on this proposal. Last month, North Dakota’s Secretary of State announced that an attempt to place the issue on the November ballot had qualified, with more than 41,000 voters signing the initiative petition.
The North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife & Parks measure – known as “Measure 5” on the ballot – is intended dedicate five percent of the state’s oil and gas extraction tax revenue to protect North Dakota’s clean water and lands through a voluntary grant program administered by a citizen advisory board and the Governor, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.
Potential projects would include protecting clean water in rivers, lakes, and streams; preserving critical habitat for fish and wildlife; creating and improving parks and other areas for recreation, hunting, and fishing; protecting communities and private property from flooding with natural flood controls; and providing more opportunities and places to learn about and to enjoy the outdoors.
The proposal is supported by a coalition of concerned citizens, including teachers, family farmers and members of the health community, conservation organizations, hunters, anglers, and small business owners from across the state.
Because North Dakota is at the very center of North America’s “duck factory,” and is also home to Yellow Rails, Sprague’s Pipits, Baird’s, Nelsons, and LeConte’s Sparrows, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, this is potentially a very important ballot initiative.
For more on Measure 5, see here:
ACCESS MATTERS: LOOKING AT YELLOW RAILS
Having just mentioned the importance of nesting areas for Yellow Rails, it may be appropriate to consider access issues in the species’ wintering areas. This is especially true along the Gulf Coast in fresh, brackish, or salt marshes, as well as in dry fields or rice fields.
Although birders can sometimes find secretive Yellow Rails at certain coastal National Wildlife Refuges, it is far easier to encounter these elusive birds in rice fields, especially during the fall harvest season.
Rice farmers, however, are sometimes reluctant to allow access to their fields, citing liability issues, if not the inconvenience of hosting visiting birders.
One happy alternative is found through the Yellow Rails and Rice Festival (YRARF) in southwest Louisiana in late October. There, accommodating farmers, organized birders and researchers, and Louisiana state law combine to make seeing Yellow Rails a pleasant reality. Not only are birders given access to specific rice fields, but they also are afforded the opportunity to ride rice-combines as the machines harvest a fall – or “ratoon” – rice crop and flush rails from the moist fields at the same time.
The third crucial ingredient in this opportunity is Louisiana’s “Agritourism Limited Liability Law” (R.S. 9:2795.4) which helps legally protect the farmers and “agricultural professionals” for injuries that might occur during the activity – in this case, birding. Passed in 2008, the law instructs the organizers to maintain a sign or signs containing a warning notice at the entrance of the location and at the site of the activity.
While there is no absolute freedom from liability, the posting of such signs and making participants aware of the inherent risks; explaining safe ways of participating; stopping unsafe participation; correcting, eliminating, isolating, or warning of risky conditions; and having regard for the safety of participants can protect those involved from liability under the Agritourism Law.
Participants at YRARF are usually asked to sign a release related to the law before participating in activities. Everyone wins, and the process facilitates increased access to Yellow Rails and other birds on these private properties.
You can find out more about the festival and the agritourism protections on the festival website. (And, by the way, there are still openings for participants this month):
You can access information on the Agritourism Limited Liability Law here:
NEW MIGRATORY BIRD STAMP ART CHOSEN
On 20 September, a panel of five judges chose new artwork to grace the 2015-2016 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp. After judging 186 pieces of artwork, there was a three-way tie in the voting. This was a first in the history of the contest. Extra rounds of judging had to be run to select the final top three pieces.
The winning artwork was of a pair of lovely Ruddy Ducks painted in acrylic by Jennifer Miller of Olean, New York. Describing her outdoor as well as artistic interests, Miller said, “I am mostly self-taught, with no formal art education, and studied under the guidance of the natural world… I go out of my way daily to study, observe, and learn about my interests. I am equally happy examining a wild bird through binoculars as I am examining bits of moss growing across a fallen tree.”
Miller is only the third woman to win this prestigious contest. You can find out more about Miller and her work on her website:
For more on the contest and the program see the website for the Federal Duck Stamp Office:
SEASONAL CANADIAN LAKES LOON SURVEY
Last year, in our June 2013 issue, we drew attention to the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, an effort initiated in Ontario in 1981 by Bird Studies Canada (back then, Long Point Bird Observatory) and expanded nationally in 1989:
The 34th season of the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey ended in mid-September, with more than 700 citizen scientists across Canada monitoring loons and their reproductive success. While final results for this year are being tabulated, you can read a summary of the 1981-2012 findings here:
And you can review survey background and resources here:
BOOK NOTES: MORE PENGUINS
Yes, it’s another penguin book. But there never seems to be enough for penguin aficionados! Still, Penguins: the Ultimate Guide (Princeton) by Tui De Roy, Mark Jones, and Julie Cornthwaite might just fulfill the promise of its subtitle.
The book is modeled on Albatross – Their World, Their Ways (2008) in which Tui De Roy and Mark Jones teamed up with Julian Fitter to describe how that pelagic bird family is wonderfully adapted for life at sea. Now, De Roy and Jones approach the penguin family and have brought in Julie Cornwaite to make up the creative trio.
Penguins: the Ultimate Guide is part coffee-table book, part informative essays, and part species profiles for each of the 18 species. Moreover, the 400+ photos are gorgeous.
Actually, there are three sections of the book, each commandeered by a co-author. The first, by Tui De Roy, covers the different penguin genera and reviews a typical penguin year, explaining the differences among species. The second section is led by Mark Jones, where aspects of penguin science and conservation are reviewed. In this, he is assisted by a team of 16 authors. Finally, Julie Cornwaite takes the reader through all 18 species of penguins in excellent species accounts.
Indeed, until further notice, this may be “the ultimate guide” to penguins and their lives.
STATE OF THE BIRDS: MIXED MESSAGE
Previous editions of the national “State of the Birds” report have had specific themes (e.g., public lands and waters, climate change, and birds on private lands). This year, the fifth report from the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), a 23-member partnership, is a little different.
This year’s report, released last month, offers a comprehensive review of long-term trend data for U.S. birds. The report draws attention to a “Watch List” of 228 high-concern species as well as 33 common bird species in steep decline and in need of immediate conservation assistance.
At the same time, the report reveals that in areas where a strong conservation investment has been made, bird populations do recover which suggests that investments in monitoring, research, and smart land-management will pay for themselves.
The report and other information on this State of the Birds can be accessed from this page:
You may also wish to listen to a short and informative report from National Public Radio (9 September) on the report here:
THAT PACIFIC MARINE RESERVE
President Obama signed a proclamation in late September designating the largest marine reserve in the world, and one that is completely off limits to commercial resource extraction including commercial fishing. The proclamation expands the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, created by President George W. Bush, to six times its current size, resulting in 370,000 square nautical miles (490,000 square miles) of protected area around a series of tropical islands and atolls in the south-central Pacific Ocean.
The designation is a scaled-back version of a more ambitious plan the administration had originally floated in June, and a plan we reported on in the July E-bulletin:
Last month’s decision will allow for fishing around roughly half the area’s islands and atolls, thereby aiming to limit economic impact on the U.S. fishing interests.
Besides the treasure of under-sea life in the monument, the area is also home to millions of seabirds that regularly forage over hundreds of miles and bring food back to their young on nesting sites on the monument’s islands and atolls.
The expanded monument will continue to be managed by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration respectively.
You can view a map with the old and new Monument boundaries here:
IBA NEWS: 90TH WHSRN SITE
In early September, at the cusp of the very first, and very successful World Shorebirds’ Day, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve (WHSRN) hemispheric-wide council announced the addition of the 90th site to join WHSRN. The Sistema Tóbari is a Mexican Important Bird Area (IBA) site known to support large numbers of American Avocets, Marbled Godwits, Northern Pintails, and Lesser Scaups.
The bay of Tobari (or Bahía de Tóbari), is located in the Gulf of California in the state of Sonora. It consists of over 40,000 acres of shorebird habitat: grasses, mangroves, mudflats, and sandy areas, as well as Isla Huivuilai, a barrier island in the center of the bay. The site is already part of the “Gulf of California Islands” Protected Area for Flora and Fauna (APFF is the Spanish acronym), owned and managed by the National Commission on Protected Natural Areas (CONANP, another Spanish acronym).
The bay qualified as a WHSRN Site of International Importance for hosting more than 10% of the biogeographic population of the frazari subspecies of American Oystercatcher, and federally listed in Mexico as being “in danger of extinction.”
At least 44,000 shorebirds representing 17 species were recently recorded at Bahía de Tóbari, including 2.3% of the biogeographic population of American Avocets, 1.2% of Willets, and 3.0% of Marbled Godwits.
To date, there are WHSRN sites in 13 countries across the hemisphere, comprising more than 32 million acres of shorebird habitats.
More details on the Bahía de Tóbari may be found 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: DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT
You’ll never know when you’ll need a field guide once you’ve gone out to watch birds. No matter how familiar you are with the birds of the area and their occurrence, there are times when you will confront something unfamiliar.
And if you don’t have your guide with you, you may end up totally flummoxed.
Perhaps it’s a plumage that’s strange to you, or perhaps it’s a matter of range or distribution. If your guide is at home, it can’t help solve your problem.
Regardless of whether your guide is a printed book or a handheld device, simply be prepared.
Additionally, if you’re about to go out specifically for a day of shorebirding or hawk-watching (both popular at this season), then don’t neglect to bring along a specific field guide to that family group either.
It may pay off!
ARCHIVES AND MORE
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Great Birding Projects
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