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:
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In 2005, the British Ornithologists’ Union split what we call Black Scoter into two species: the Common Scoter (Europe) and the Black Scoter (North America). In 2010, the American Ornithologists’ Union echoed this decision. The males of the two species can be differentiated by the color and shape of their bills – the Black possessing a large yellow knob on its black bill, the Common displaying only a small saddle of yellow on its straighter and longer gray-black bill. The Common Scoter breeds across northern Eurasia, from northeast Iceland, the northern British Isles, Norway, and eastward into Siberia.
For years, eager birders in Atlantic Canada and the northeastern U.S. have picked through flocks of scoters hoping to discover North America’s first record of Common Scoter. Accordingly it was a real surprise when on 25 January California birder, Bill Bouton, photographed what he thought was a strange-looking Black Scoter in the boat basin of Crescent City, in far northwestern California. Five days after Bouton and his friends returned home, he went through his photos and was perplexed with the scoter shots. Imagine his surprise when he concluded that the bird was a Common Scoter!
How a seaduck normally found on the other side of the Atlantic found its way to Crescent City is a mystery. Could it be possible that shrinking Arctic sea ice made it possible for such a bird to find an “open” passage to this part of the Pacific? Right now, it’s anybody’s guess.
News of this rarity’s presence spread quickly, and birders gathered at the marina for days to see the rare duck. The Common Scoter spent much of its time eating barnacles attached to the pontoons supporting the docks in the town’s newly rebuilt boat basin. Locals, were especially appreciative of the tourism business at a normally slow time of year. In particular, a few of the motels just across the way from the harbor benefitted directly from this “Shrimpy Effect.” For details on the “Shrimpy Effect” see this previous E-bulletin:
Unfortunately, the scoter left just before the popular Valentine’s-Day/President’s Day weekend, disappointing birders who came from afar that weekend to see the bird.
An article on the bird was featured on the front page of the local daily, The Del Norte Triplicate, on 3 February:
SPRING MIGRATION BLITZ FOR RUSTY BLACKBIRDS
Rusty Blackbirds have experienced long-term population declines across their extensive range. And while much has been learned about this bird’s breeding and wintering grounds, much has yet to be discovered over its migratory range, from the southern U.S., through the Midwest and along the East Coast, up to Canada and into Alaska.
Last year, the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group and its partners – eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies – sought to resolve some of the unanswered questions and initiated a three-year Spring Migration Blitz. This project encouraged bird watchers to search for Rusty Blackbirds during this species’ northward migration.
Last’s year’s initial effort was a real success, with 4,750 participants submitting 13,400 checklists containing Rusty Blackbird observations.
Starting this month, participants will be seeking Rusty Blackbirds in migration. You can find out more – including how to contribute data to the Spring Migration Blitz – here:
And you can review the prime “areas of interest” for this year, here:
SEEKING A CANADIAN NATIONAL BIRD
Many Americans are surprised to learn that Canada does not have an official national bird. How is it that such decent and civilized people can be without a national bird?
Canadian Geographic wants to change the situation through their “National Bird Project.” Forty candidate species for the title of national bird have been presented online. (No, Bald Eagle is not an option!) The public is invited to vote for a favorite, submit an essay in support of their choice, or suggest an additional species for inclusion on the list.
The current top contenders, in order, in this survey are: Common Loon, Snowy Owl, Gray Jay (aka Canada Jay), Canada Goose, and Black-capped Chickadee. The results will be announced in the Canadian Geographic annual wildlife issue at the end of this year. This should be in plenty of time to promote the choice for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebration, on 1 July 2017.
You can find more details and learn about the choices here:
Although there is nothing on the site to prevent a non-Canadian from suggesting an option; one would think that Canadians should be allowed to make their own decision!
BOOK NOTES: SUBIRDIA
Are urban and near-urban regions simply dead-ends for birdlife? John H. Marzluff takes on a healthy contrary view in his new book Welcome to Subirdia (2014, Yale University Press) that assesses the significance of these inevitable and long-lasting habitats. The book reviews mostly U.S. cities and suburbs, but also borrows constructive examples from Europe, Asia, and Australia. From these perspectives Marzluff measures the adaptability of bird species to human urbanization.
He deftly places many of our species’ responses to the growth of cities and suburbs into three general categories: avoiders (those sensitive species which leave the altered areas), exploiters (those species which arrive or thrive as soon as changes begin to occur), and adapters (those species which accommodate to the spread of subdivisions). A well-written book, Welcome to Subirdia takes a refreshing look at such issues as feeding, backyard management, cats, creative architecture, night light, golf courses, schoolyards, derelict land, urban redesign, and our conservation ethic in a urban age.
The final three chapters of the book – Beyond Birds, Good Neighbors, and Nature’s Tenth Commandment (i.e., “Enjoy and bond with nature where you live, work, and play!”) – are, perhaps, the most constructive, challenging, and uplifting sections of this thought-provoking new publication..
For a taste of Marzluff’s book, specifically how we should make life better for birds in Subirdia, see this summary from The Nature Conservancy’s most recent magazine:
STUNNING NEWS FROM CUBA: RARE ZAPATA RAIL RELOCATED
First described by Thomas Barbour and James Lee Peters in 1927 from the Zapata Swamp in Cuba, only a handful of subsequent discoveries of the rare and elusive Zapata Rail have been made since then, and little is known about the species’ behavior or ecology. Then last November, Andrew Mitchell and colleagues from the Cuban Museum of Natural History studying the rail successfully obtained observations of the species after cutting thin strips (“rides”) into the rail’s sawgrass habitat to hopefully expose the secretive birds as they moved through the wetland.
As a result of these recent observations renewed conservation efforts will target the wetland, already an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area covering 530,695 hectares of wetland in southern Matanzas province, in which the rails were located. Part of this effort will produce a new project management plan to assess the species’ current population size, distribution, and status.
For more information see this summary from the BBC:
IBA NEWS: FROM THE BAY OF PANAMA
We have reported on the importance of the Bay of Panama to migrating shorebirds in the past, most recently in August of last year:
The Upper Bay of Panama, an Important Bird Area (IBA) and a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) Site of Hemispheric Importance, which supports more than 1.3 million shorebirds annually, including very large concentrations of Western Sandpipers, which is perhaps 30 percent of the world’s population. Since 2003, the site has also been designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention.
The ongoing effort to secure the protection of the area was resolved in early February when Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela signed a bill to protect the wetlands outside Panama City from a major construction boom. Construction is now banned in an 85,000-hectare-stretch (210,000 acres) of the Bay of Panama. The law also bans logging, the removal of soil, and any other activity which could affect the mangroves adjacent to the bay.
Prior to Varela taking office, his predecessor, Ricardo Martinelli, had actively encouraged projects in sensitive areas by seriously reducing environmental fines, including projects to lure mega-hotels and golf-course development to the area..
Last year, the Panama Audubon Society, together with legal support and fellow conservation advocates, went on a national TV and radio campaign to raise public awareness concerning the threats to the Bay of Panama. Previous governmental decisions, they claimed, had accelerated the destruction of Panama’s mangrove forests, 55 percent of which were lost between 1969 and 2007, according to United Nations figures.
You can find more on the recent decision to protect the Bay of Panama from this BBC News report:
and from an encouraging report from BirdLife International:
For additional information about IBA programs around the world, including those in the U.S., check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at:
ACCESS MATTERS: MUSKEGON CO. WASTEWATER RECOGNIZED
In western Michigan, the 11,000-acre Muskegon County Wastewater Management System (MCWMS) is large enough with its imposing aeration and settling basins, storage lagoons, and irrigated croplands to be identified by orbiting NASA astronauts. It is also one of the best spots in western Michigan for birds and birding.
We neglected last year to point out that MCWMS had been recognized by the Wildlife Habitat Council’s “Rookie of the Year” award at its annual symposium in November. The award is presented annually to a newly certified “Wildlife at Work” program which is designed to highlight work on creating, conserving, and restoring wildlife habitats on corporate lands. You can find the news on last November’s award, here:
The Muskegon County Wastewater Management System is impressive enough that it has already been designated s an Important Bird Area (IBA). See details here:
The location of the MCWMS makes it especially attractive during migration to waterfowl, long-legged waders, and shorebirds. The concentrations of Semipalmated Sandpipers can be particularly notable. The raptors regularly recorded at MCWMS can include Rough-legged Hawks, Golden Eagles, Short-eared Owls, and, in winter, Snowy Owls.
MCWMS not only protects and enhances habitat for birds and other wildlife, but it also allows welcoming access to birders. In fact, birders have had a good working relationship with MCWMS management for years. Visitors need only stop by the MCWMS office to pick up an entry permit, good for two years, to display on their vehicle’s dashboard.
This is another fine example of a wastewater facility where birder access, and public access, can mean a great deal… and is a benefit to all parties. Last year’s award to MCWMS is living proof.
MBHI ASSESSMENT AFTER DEEPWATER HORIZON
A new study by Mississippi State University explains how the Department of Agriculture (through its Natural Resources Conservation Services – NRCS) worked successfully to create significant habitat after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blow-out. According to the study, this creative project effectively sheltered and fed huge numbers of migratory birds.
Called the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI), this project created 470,000 acres of alternate wetland habitat for ducks, geese, shorebirds, and species. This habitat was in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. The intent was to create bird-friendly areas inland for, and away from, oil-spill impacted areas along the Gulf Coast. The plan was to create habitat that could attract migratory birds before they reached the contaminated areas.
We first reported on this in September 2010, here:
Under the Farm Bill conservation program authority, MBHI provided $40 million in cost-share assistance to private landowners in eight states to manage habitats through 1- to 3-year contracts.
The study shows that over seven times more migrating shorebirds and almost three times more dabbling ducks were observed on shallow flooded wetlands (mostly catfish ponds and rice fields) enrolled in MBHI than on non-managed wetland habitats in the same area. These ponds and flooded wetlands were more diverse, housing and feeding up to 40 different species of waterfowl, shorebirds, waders, and other waterbirds. And, significantly, the MBHI was quick, efficient, and effective.
For more details and to download the report, see here:
RICELAND BIRD CONSERVATION
On the related subject of rice farming, the Rice Foundation and Ducks Unlimited have recently released a new report on the contributions that U.S. rice habitats make in supporting waterfowl populations. With a focus on three areas – California’s Central Valley, the Lower Mississippi Valley, and the Gulf Coast – the study examines how rice production holds current and potential conservation importance for wetland-dependent birds.
The study, titled “Estimating the Biological and Economic Contributions that Rice Habitats Make in Support of North American Waterfowl Populations,” focuses mainly on waterfowl, but the implications for shorebirds, long-legged waders, rails, larids, and other waterbirds are also obvious.
For the full report, visit here:
For a shorter executive summary – titled “Evaluating Contributions to North American Waterfowl from U.S. Ricelands” – see here:
SOUTH FLORIDA WADING BIRDS DECLINE
The 20th annual survey of wading birds in south Florida was released last month by the South Florida Water Management District. Most wading birds declined during the 2014 nesting season. Small herons experienced the most serious decline over a nine-year average, with Little Blue Heron down 91 percent, Tricolored Heron down 53 percent, and Snowy Egret down 57 percent.
Roseate Spoonbill numbers, especially in Florida Bay, similarly experienced reduced nesting, down a third over a 30-year average. Great Egret and White Ibis nesting numbers were also reduced, but to a lesser extent, only down 6 percent and 10 percent respectively.
While these wading bird numbers were down overall, the Wood Stork, a Threatened species under the ESA, made an encouraging comeback. Almost 2,800 nests were recorded, a 26 percent improvement over the nine-year average. Most notably t these numbers included the return of Wood Storks to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, where 270 nests were located. This species historically nested at this famous sanctuary in large numbers, but had not done so in six of the last seven years.
Habitat decline is occurring across the region, the report concludes, which of course decreases the probability for recovery. If conditions continue to degrade, current nesting target numbers may become unattainable.
For access to the full report, see here:
NEW YORK STATE BUILDINGS BECOMING MORE BIRD-FRIENDLY
New York State passed a law in late December which will reduce light pollution from state-owned buildings. The new law will require the use of shielded lights on the exterior of state buildings, specifically directing lighting downward onto streets, walkways, and public spaces. State Senator Carl Marcellino says his bill, co-authored by State Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, will reduce sky glow, something that obscures night-sky views, creates road glare, and contributes to millions of bird fatalities.
This new law is among a growing set of state, county, and city efforts to reduce light pollution, darken the night sky, produce energy savings, and protect migrating birds.
You can find out more on the New York law, which goes into effect later this year, here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: WATCH OVER YOUR PETS
Spring is almost around the corner, and it is not too early to consider ways to effectively manage your pets in the outdoors. Below are some thoughts specifically targeted at dogs and cats.
During nesting season – usually ranging from April to September, depending on location and species – unleashed dogs can have a real impact on ground-nesting colonial birds such as terns, gulls, and skimmers. An unleashed dog can destroy a colony of these birds in minutes. That also goes for other birds such as plovers, oystercatchers and Willets. When people or dogs, leashed or unleashed, venture too close to a nesting site, the parent birds can flush, putting themselves between their eggs or chicks and what they perceive as a threat from a predator. That’s when actual predators (e.g., crows) can swoop in and predate the eggs or chicks.
Migrating shorebirds (e.g., Red Knots) at stopover spots are also at risk when their valuable “refueling time” is taken up avoiding free-running dogs on the shore.
Of course, there will always be cats – at any season, if they are let outdoors – as they both endanger birds and put at risk their own wellbeing. The American Bird Conservancy is working to launch a new public service (PSA) campaign this spring on the issue of keeping cats indoors. The message: “Protect your cats like you protect your kids.” For a look at the PSA and an opportunity to spread the word, see here:
RULES FOR THE BLACK BIRDWATCHER
In late February, the fine folks at BirdNote posted an insightful video titled, “The Rules for the Black Birdwatcher.” It features Dr. Drew Lanham. It’s worth a laugh… and some serious thinking:
The video is also a take-off of an article originally written by Lanham for Orion Magazine in 2013:
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