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):
While conducting a survey at Manchester Beach State Park in Mendocino County, California,
Alison Cebula digiscoped a shrike that she assumed was an immature Northern Shrike. Review of the image, however, pointed to a different identification: Brown Shrike.
There are about a dozen Brown Shrike North American records, with about half of them from Alaska. This species breeds mainly from central Siberia east to Kamchatka and south to eastern China and Japan, wintering mostly from the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, and the Philippines. The species has been previously found four times in northern California, with two of them on the Farallon Islands.
Many birders traveled to Manchester Beach State Park and were thrilled to see this rarity. But then along came a surprise.
The bird gradually began to grow its tail feathers which turned out to be dark brown or black with pale tips, colors which Brown Shrikes are not supposed to have! The bird was re-identified as a Red-backed Shrike, a long-range migrant that breeds in Europe and western Asia and winters in tropical Africa. This species has never before been identified in North America. You can access a description and photos by Joe Morlan, here:
The shrike remained in the area near Alder Creek for the entire month of March. Here is a photo taken by Steve Stump, on 13 March:
So, which species is it? All sorts of possibilities are being considered, including Isabelline Shrike, or even a hybrid of some sort. Many, many photos are being taken and studied carefully. If the bird remains into mid-April, to complete molt, then there may be a satisfying resolution to this mystery!
SAN JOSE ADOPTING BIRD-SAFE BUILDING GUIDELINES
Since this month’s rarity focus was from California, we decided to review another story from the Golden State.
Birds may soon fly through San José, California, a little more safely because the city has become the fourth in the state to enact bird-safe building standards which address the bird-collisions issue. Ordinances have already been adopted by San Francisco (2011) and Oakland (2013), and guidelines were adopted by Sunnyvale (2014).
This issue has long been a concern of conservationists statewide, and last July, Shani Kleinhaus, the Environmental Advocate for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, had an opinion letter published in the San José Mercury News titled, “Birds and glass: San José can prevent needless deaths of birds with building rules.”
The implementation of new Bird-Safe Building Design Standards in San José actually concludes several months of research led by the San José Environmental Services Department (ESD) along with collaborative work with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS) and the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club. The guidelines are based on those promoted by the American Bird Conservancy and will be applied city-wide on a voluntary basis.
“Implementation of Bird-Friendly Building Guidelines constitutes a giant step forward in better protecting our birds and wildlife. Anything we can do to reduce the hazards our environment poses for local and migratory birds is the right thing to do,” said Mike Ferreira, Conservation Chair for the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The city’s ESD staff has developed a factsheet and checklist to provide information on bird-safe design and which outlines voluntary bird-safe building measures. The recommendations include:
* Reducing large areas of transparent or reflective glass.
* Avoiding transparent glass skyways, walkways, and entryways, as well as free-standing glass walls and transparent building corners.
* Avoiding the funneling of open space toward a building façade.
* Strategically locating vegetation to reduce reflection and views of foliage through glass.
* Reducing or eliminating up-lighting and spotlights on buildings.
* Turning off non-emergency lighting at night, especially during bird migration season (February-May and August-November).
Reducing bird strikes at new buildings can be achieved by simple and cost-effective means, said Kleinhaus. For example, fritting – the placing of ceramic lines or dots on glass – is frequently used to reduce air conditioning costs by lowering heat gain in windows. When fritting is applied in patterns that birds can see, it reduces the likelihood of collisions and also allows people to enjoy natural light and see out clearly while inside the building.
In Silicon Valley, companies such as Facebook and Intuit are now applying bird-friendly frit to glass windows and facades in their new facilities.
You can find out more about these citywide guidelines and the activity of the partners here:
CRANE NEWS: LOUISIANA RELEASES
Releases of Whooping Cranes in Louisiana continue. Whooping Cranes were once native to Louisiana, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) would like to see them reestablished with a sustainable population. LDWF is actively working with the USFWS, the USGS, the International Crane Foundation, and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit to bring the Whooping Crane back to the state. The goal is for Louisiana to have 25-30 productive pairs, or about 130 cranes (breeding and non-breeding) in the state.
We previously reported on this effort in the E-bulletin, most recently in March of last year:
Last November, an injured Whooping Crane was found in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, with an apparent bullet wound in her upper left leg. Due to the seriousness of the injury, the crane had to be euthanized. The crane represented the sixth Whooping Crane found shot since the birds began to be released in Louisiana.
The crane shot last November was hatched at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland and released as part of the fourth cohort of juvenile Whooping Cranes released in Louisiana in January 2014.
Up to $10,000 has been offered by various groups for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the illegal killing of this Whooping Crane.
To read more details from LDWF, click here:
On a more positive note, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) received a fifth cohort of 14 juvenile Whooping Cranes in early December. With the release of this cohort just before New Year’s Day, the Louisiana Whooping Crane population now numbers 40 individuals. Over time, the earlier crane cohorts have dispersed to locations that include east Texas, as well as settling in the Louisiana parishes of Acadia, Avoyelles, Rapides, Vermilion, Jefferson Davis, Calcasieu, and Cameron.
A pair of four-year-old birds is now nesting on a private farm in the region. This represents their second attempt at nesting. (Last year their eggs were infertile.) If the current nesting is successful, something that should be determined in early April, LDWF will celebrate and begin observing and monitoring parent/chick behavior and interactions. There are three additional established pairs that could still nest this spring; two of the pairs are 4-years-old and the remaining pair is comprised of 3-year-olds.
Finally, LDWF has a Whooping Crane public awareness television message featuring Louisiana singer-songwriter and environmentalist Zachary Richard. Underwritten by Chevron, the TV message can be viewed here:
IBA NEWS: COVERING THE BOREAL ZONE
Usually we profile a monthly Important Bird Area (IBA) site in the E-bulletin, but this story covers scores of IBAs together, specifically focusing on the entire boreal zone in North America, including all of boreal Canada and Alaska.
Last May, the Boreal Songbird Initiative and Ducks Unlimited released a publication, “Boreal Birds Need Half: Maintaining North America’s Bird Nursery and Why it Matters.” See here to access the report (in both English and French):
In mid-March, both organizations launched a related and parallel campaign, backed by leading bird and conservation groups across Canada and including Alaska. This effort, for the first time, describes the conservation benchmarks necessary to ensure that the boreal forest continues to be an important North American bird nursery.
The campaign advances the idea that at least half of the boreal forest region must be protected and remain free of large-scale industrial disturbance. That level of protection is necessary to maintain healthy populations of the full spectrum of bird species and other wildlife inhabiting the North American boreal forest. Moreover, that area of the boreal that is developed should be carried out with the highest global sustainability standards, with special emphasis on maintaining healthy and pristine wetlands and waterways. Additionally, both protected areas and industrial activities should proceed only with the free, prior, and informed consent of affected native communities.
The press release, a media backgrounder, expert contact information, and supporting photos, maps, and graphics can all be found here:
The main campaign website is here, along with the original report from last year. It also allows individuals, groups and businesses to add their endorsement.
For additional information about IBA programs worldwide, including those across the U.S., check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at:
BLACKPOLL WARBLER PROOF
A vigorous debate emerged in the 1960s over the exact autumn migration route of the Blackpoll Warbler. Did these boreal nesters head to the southeastern US and proceed southward through Florida, or did they collect in the northeast and proceed to South America over the vast Atlantic?
Supporting evidence for the latter theory gradually accumulated, and eventually it became the accepted explanation, remarkable as it was, given the length of migration over the ocean that would have to be undertaken by such a tiny bird.
Now, for the first time, a team of biologists report “irrefutable evidence” that these birds do, indeed, complete a nonstop flight ranging from about 1,410 to 1,721 miles in just two to three days. The tiny warblers leave the northeastern US and Canada and make landfall somewhere in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Greater Antilles, and from there go on to northern Venezuela and Columbia. Details of their study, which used solar-registering geolocators, appear in the current issue of Biology Letters.
Lead author, Bill DeLuca from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, commented, “We’re really excited to report that this is one of the longest nonstop overwater flights ever recorded for a songbird, and finally confirms what has long been believed to be one of the most extraordinary migratory feats on the planet.”
Miniaturized geolocators, about the size of a dime and weighing only 0.5g, attached to the birds’ lower backs made this finding possible. By retrieving these tiny geolocators when the Blackpoll Warblers returned to Canada and Vermont the following spring, DeLuca and colleagues could trace their migration routes.
For this work the scientists fitted geolocator packs on 20 birds in Vermont and 20 more in Nova Scotia. They were able to recapture three birds from the Vermont group and two from the Nova Scotia group for analyses.
Chris Rimmer, a team member from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies notes, “We’ve only sampled this tiny part of their breeding range [20 birds in Vermont and 20 more in Nova Scotia]. We don’t know what birds from Alaska do, for example. This may be one of the most abundant warblers in North America, but little is known about its distribution or ecology on the wintering grounds in Venezuela and the Amazon. However, there is no longer any doubt that the blackpoll undertakes one of the most audacious migrations of any bird on earth.”
You can find out more here, from The Boston Globe:
and from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies:
ACCESS MATTERS: FLORIDA FLAMINGOS
American Flamingos are rare birds in the U.S. and whenever they appear “in the wild” in Florida or elsewhere, there is often doubt over their origin. Could they have come from a zoo, some gaudy tourist trap, or a private collection? A number of American Flamingos, however, have visited the restricted-access Stormwater Treatment Area 2 in western Palm Beach County, Florida, for almost a decade. Exact details were kept under wraps, but when 147 of them appeared there last year, the doubts about their origins disappeared and interest in access increased.
Stormwater Treatment Area 2 is one of the sites intended to keep clean water going into the Everglades. Water District biologist, Brian Garrett, explains, “We’ve recreated sort of an artificial habitat with these Stormwater Treatment Areas, which the flamingos have found they can utilize for (finding) food.”
Nobody is quite sure where the birds come from, but the general opinion is that they arrive from the east, from somewhere in the Bahamas. Their general pattern in the past has been a visitation to the STA for much of March and April.
This year, the Audubon Society of the Everglades has entered an agreement with the Water District to offer car-pool birding access trips to view the flamingos. “The demand is unprecedented,” said Audubon vice-president, Susan McKemy, who has been organizing the weekend trips. At this point all trips for April are full, and there are waiting lists. While not all trips have found the flamingo flock, the efforts continue.
This sort of initiative by the Audubon Society of the Everglades makes access possible, and at the same time, the public gets to appreciate a vital aspect of clean-water management and habitat maintenance provided by the South Florida Water Management District.
For more on this example of how access matters, see the website of the Audubon Society of the Everglades:
and more on the SFWMD birding tours and access, see here:
CLASSIC BIRDS OF AMERICA ONLINE
When the National Audubon Society launched its redesigned website in February, it included impressive high-resolution images of the 435 plates from John J. Audubon’s masterpiece, The Birds of America. Available for free download and online navigation into all their details, the images are accompanied by Audubon’s original text and link into a creative bird guide with details on the species’ current habitats and accompanying bird-sound audio.
You can view the pages here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: REMINDER FOR TAXES
If you are just now filing your state and federal taxes, this tip may be coming in time.
Many states have a non-game, endangered/threatened, or related wildlife check-off feature connected to the state annual tax returns. They go by different names, such as “Give Wildlife a Chance” in Georgia, “Chickadee Checkoff” in Maine, “Return a Gift to Wildlife” in New York, “Wildlife Conservation Fund” in Nebraska, and “Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Fund” in Colorado, which also happens to be the first state to create such a tax check-off in 1977.
These efforts – about three dozen across the U.S. – are intended to help the state wildlife agencies manage all the species they are mandated to protect. The funds from hunting and fishing licenses are never enough to cover all species.
Moreover, despite efforts to launch nationwide nongame wildlife funding over the past 30 years, adequate and consistent federal funding has failed to be enacted. State-level initiatives are under pressure to come up with wildlife dollars, and these check-offs help greatly.
Of course, as check-off options grow, with multiple deserving causes requesting voluntary funding, the wildlife portion almost always shrinks. It’s hard to compete with breast cancer prevention, volunteer firefighting and EMS, missing and exploited children, or food-bank support.
So, if you have such an option in your state, please give the wildlife option the consideration it deserves.
ARCHIVES AND MORE
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Wayne R. Petersen
Director, Massachusetts Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program
Paul J. Baicich
Great Birding Projects