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Interesting things began to happen in the Florida Keys on Saturday afternoon, 25 October, when Bill and Nancy Framboise reported a Bahama Swallow at Long Key State Park. Birders in the area were soon put on the alert, and the next day hawkwatchers at Curry Hammock State Park, 11 miles southwest of Long Key, were also rewarded. At least three Bahama Swallows were observed from the hawkwatch deck that afternoon, where the birds were seen accompanying other swallow species, including Barn, Northern Rough-winged, and Cliff Swallows. The Bahama Swallows foraged in the vicinity of the hawkwatch site for at least two hours. On the same day, still another Bahama Swallow was observed and photographed at Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne, near Miami.
The Bahama Swallow is endemic to the Bahamas, especially on Andros, Abaco, and Grand Bahama. (Some Bahama Swallows may also winter in eastern Cuba.) The species is considered a very rare visitor to South Florida, with less than 10 documented records prior to these observations last month. All previous records occurred before 1993. The experience last month may have been associated with a tropical depression brewing in the Gulf of Mexico from 20-24 October.
No more South Florida Bahama Swallows were observed on subsequent days. While we usually don’t include rarities that fail to appear multiple days at the same location, this month’s “Rarity Focus” is an exception, if only because multiple birds of the same species occurred on two consecutive days in situations where many birders in the region were checking flocks of swallows.
Besides, all the hawkwatchers, a number of visitors (including a group from University of Miami) got excellent looks at Bahama Swallows foraging over the platform at Curry Hammock on 26 October.
You can access a fine report on the swallows by Rafael Galvez, including excellent photos taken by others at the hawkwatch, at:
BOOK NOTES: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PLUS
National Geographic just published a fully revised and updated version of one of its most popular bird books: Complete Birds of North America (second edition). If you’re unfamiliar with this book, it’s like the very popular National Geographic Guide to the Birds of North America, but on steroids. Actually, it’s more like a double-dose of steroids.
Edited by author and artist Jonathan Alderfer, this hefty volume is a comprehensive and easy-to-use reference covering every bird species found in North America, plus a variety of exotic species that are established or regularly observed in this region.
If you have a first edition of “Complete,” there are still very good reasons to obtain this new update. The first edition covered 962 species; this one covers over 1,000. The splendid artwork from the National Geographic field guide is enhanced, and this art accompanies in-depth information on identification, similar species, geographic variation, taxonomy, behavior, voice, status, and population size. It also has 180 color photographs (up from 150) and hundreds of fully updated range and migration maps.
The book is billed as a “companion” to the popular and familiar National Geographic bird guide, but it’s really much more than that.
If there is any minor complaint to voice, it’s that the sections on status and distribution and on population size might have had more detail, although these sections within the species accounts are more than adequate.
WILL WE SEE A WINTER FINCH IRRUPTION?
Once again, we share winter-finch predictions from the astute Ontario observer, Ron Pittaway. His assessment applies mainly to Ontario and adjacent provinces and states, and it attempts to predict bird movements in relation to tree seed-crops, especially those of spruces, birches, and mountain-ash. The historical accuracy of Pittaway’s previous predictions on “winter finch movements” has been quite high.
This winter’s theme is not uniform across that board. For example, species such as Purple Finch will go south, while others like White-winged Crossbill will likely stay in the boreal forest in widely separated areas where spruces are laden with cones. Similarly, Pine Grosbeak numbers may not move far this winter, since mountain-ash crops are good to excellent in most places in the north. Common Redpolls are predicted to exhibit moderate-to-good flights, moving into southern Canada and the northern states because birch seed crops are thin to average across the north this fall.
Pittaway also assesses the situation for three additional species: Blue Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Bohemian Waxwing. The first two should show some significant southern movement this fall and winter.
Feeder hosts should especially be on the lookout for a number of these species this fall and winter, particularly those birds that like to feast on nyjer (e.g., Pine Siskin) and black-oil sunflower (e.g., Purple Finch and Red-breasted Nuthatch).
You can access the 2014-15 winter finch forecast here:
ACCESS MATTERS: A RESTORATION/ACCESS COMBO
Laguna Grande Park lies just off Highway 1 along the border of Monterey and Seaside, California. The park, with its multi-use functions, including riparian habitat and waterways for nature enthusiasts, and playgrounds, running/walking paths, and picnic areas for other recreational users, has a reputation as a top birding site on the Monterey Peninsula.
Limited-access public trails run through the park, but as many as 10 acres of the 11 acre land is inaccessible, unmonitored, and unmanaged. Along with the impacts of invasive species, the park has had extensive illegal camping that has resulted in substantial environmental damage, including dumped garbage, pollutants entering waterways, and crime. The result is a park with degrading habitat, limited recreational use, and questionable safety.
The Monterey Audubon Society has reached out to the cities of Monterey and Seaside and has offered suggestions on how to rehabilitate the park in ways that will retain native habitat while also addressing other concerns. The Audubon chapter’s proposal is modeled after the experiences in some other parks with similar problems. The objectives are to maintain prime habitat while reducing problems by increasing quality public access. This could be done at Laguna Grande Park by utilizing the existing illegal trails and turning them into true public access trails, providing welcoming sitting and picnic areas, increased educational signage, better vegetative management, and ongoing law enforcement
The Monterey Audubon chapter also recognizes the resource constraints of both cities and wishes to help them with rehabilitation planning and associated fundraising.
You can find more details here:
and review a report from the local CBS affiliate, KION, here:
IBA NEWS: VOYAGEURS NATIONAL PARK AND MORE
Located in northern Minnesota along the border with Canada, the Voyageurs Kabetogama Important Bird Area (IBA) is a significant area for a number of birds. This site deserves special recognition, since it is a relatively recent addition to the locations in Minnesota designated as IBAs.
The area is huge – over 300,000 acres, including much of the Voyageurs National Park, and serves as a site of special interest for waterbirds (e.g., Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, and Great Blue Heron). Raptor breeding at this IBA is important, including Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and , Merlins, which occur here in significantly high numbers. Earlier this year, 67 bald eagle nests were counted within the park boundary, although not all are used every year. Within this IBA, 238 bird species have been observed, 68 of which are Species of Greatest Conservation Need or Species of Conservation Concern. Twenty-four of the 29 species of warblers found in Minnesota have been documented here in the summer, and all are presumed to be breeding.
For more information on the Voyageurs Kabetogama 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:
TIP OF THE MONTH: REPAY YOUR SPARK BIRD
Most of us can recall our own “spark bird,” that bird that captured our attention enough to have us decide to spend some serious time learning about or watching birds. In fact, the discussion of one’s spark bird is a common question among birders: “What was your spark bird?”
It may have been a Scarlet Tanager, a Hooded Merganser, a Mountain Bluebird, a Bald Eagle, an American Oystercatcher, a Golden-winged Warbler, or an Osprey.
Whatever the species, it’s wonderful to share the experience, along with the wonder of it all.
But here’s another question: “What have you ever done for your spark bird?”
Perhaps we should “repay” our spark-bird species in some way? At minimum, all birds need appropriate habitat throughout their life cycle, food, water, and a safe place to nest. Are there ways to “give” your Prothonotary Warbler “spark-bird” a nesting site? And how about building a series of Wood Duck boxes? Can you help support efforts to secure breeding habitat for your much-appreciated Cerulean Warbler? And maybe help to preserve stopover habitat for that “spark-bird” Long-billed Curlew?
There are at least two ways to approach this issue. One way to give-back might be through hands-on involvement in an individual project. Another effort might simply mean making a financial contribution to a special species-centered conservation project, be it in North America or in Latin America and the Caribbean.
If you thoughtfully look around, there are a number of ways to follow through on both approaches to “giving back” to your individual “spark bird.” Seriously consider pursuing them.
THERE WAS NO BIRD WORLD SERIES
For years baseball fans in the New York City area have diligently followed the curious phenomenon of “a subway series,” where the competing teams in the World Series are based in the Big Apple, and the alternating games are accessible via the New York City Subway system. Depending on the years and teams, these could have involved the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the New York Mets. (The most recent was the 2000 World Series when the Yankees defeated the Mets.)
Why bring this up? The San Francisco Giants won the World Series, beating the Kansas City Royals, right? And what’s the bird connection?
Well, this year we almost, just almost, witnessed the first “Bird Series.” Indeed, the St. Louis Cardinals (National League) and the Baltimore Orioles (American League) came within a tertial feather of facing each other in the World Series. They were both stopped at their respective League Championships, however. Never in the history of Major League Baseball have two “bird” teams faced each other – and this includes the Brooklyn Robins and the Toronto Blue Jays.
No, a Cardinals vs. Orioles World Series this year was not to be. Nonetheless, in the words of the long-suffering fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers who could have their seasonal excitement end in crushing disappointment: “Wait ’til next year!”
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