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Over the Memorial Day weekend, Dave Stejskal and his wife were camping with some non-birding friends at remote Aliso Springs in the northeast corner of the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, Arizona. It was there that he found an interesting Empidonax flycatcher at the campground, a bird giving a soft ‘whip’ note. He initially thought it might be a late-migrating Dusky Flycatcher, but his photos and sound recording did not seem quite right.
Once he got home he investigated further, then made another visit to the site with birding colleagues to see if the bird could possibly be the first Pine Flycatcher ever found in the U.S. And, indeed, it was!
The Pine Flycatcher is in the genus Empidonax and is normally found in the montane tropical and subtropical coniferous forests and associated clearings from northeast Mexico through southwestern Guatemala. The species has long been anticipated as a potential vagrant that could occur in the U.S. in the right habitat anywhere along the border from Texas through Arizona. A major difficulty in discovering this bird in the U.S. is differentiating it from other Empidonax flycatchers.
In this instance, an added difficulty for interested birders hoping to see the flycatcher was getting to remote Aliso Springs, a high-clearance vehicle with four-wheel drive being a necessity and involving about a ten-mile rough, and sometimes steep, drive from well-known Gardner Canyon Road.
For those intrepid birders willing and able to make the trip, the Pine Flycatcher remained through June. The bird even built a nest, and was regularly seen sitting on it by visiting birders. You can see Dave Stejskal’s original eBird submission with his photos and a sound recording here:
APLOMADO FALCON DOING WELL IN TEXAS
While on the subject of Mexican-based birds occurring in the U.S., this is a good time to revisit a success story pertaining to the Texas-Mexico border. It is the successful reestablishment of the Aplomado Falcon.
Once a nesting species in grassland habitat along the border, the Aplomado Falcon was considered extirpated in the U.S. by the late 1950s. Raptor experts at The Peregrine Fund began experimental releases of these stunning falcons on Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Los Fresnos, Texas, starting in 1985.Since then more than 1,500 young Aplomado Falcons have been released in South Texas. There have also been experimental releases in New Mexico.
According to Peregrine Fund biologists Paul Juergens and Brian Mutch, the 2016 nesting season has produced some of the highest number of territorial pairs and individual falcons to date along the South Texas coastal landscape. A total of 37 territorial pairs and 93 individual falcons were documented this year. This is approaching the target of 60 self-sustaining pairs, the goal needed to down list the species from Endangered to Threatened.
Wind farms and local development may become new threats, but it is comforting to realize that this lovely falcon has essentially been restored to its former South Texas range.
You can read a short summary on the bird’s current status from the USFWS here:
NENE AND FERAL CATS
A new study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases has documented evidence of “widespread contamination of habitat” in Hawaii caused by feral cats. This latest research has important implications for the endangered Hawaiian Goose (Nene) and other animals found throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
The peer-reviewed study evaluated the prevalence of infection with Toxoplasma gondii in the Nene population. T. gondii, a protozoan parasite that causes toxoplasmosis in humans and wildlife, is the “most-commonly encountered infectious disease” in Nene geese, the study reports. T. gondii relies on cats to complete its life cycle and is excreted into the environment through cat feces. A single cat may excrete hundreds of millions of infectious eggs (called “oocysts”) in its feces.
The study found that between 21 and 48 percent of Nene tested positive for past infection, depending on the island population examined. “Recent studies also suggest that animals and humans are more prone to trauma when infected with T. gondii. Trauma is the chief cause of death for Nene, and infections with T. gondii may be making them more vulnerable, however confirming this will require additional studies,” said Dr. Thierry Work, the study’s lead author.
Besides Nene, other birds, such as the Endangered Hawaiian Crow, and mammals, such as the Endangered Hawaiian monk seals, are also susceptible and have died from associated infections.
For more details, see the summary from the American Bird Conservancy:
ACCESS MATTERS: BEAUMONT CATTAIL MARSH PROGRESS
Birder access at well-managed and bird-attractive wastewater-treatment facilities is an ongoing development. For many years there have been premier treatment facilities that have attracted both birds and birders in states such as Florida, Nevada, Arizona, California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, to name just a few.
Many of the most creative models are jointly run by regional water authorities with the cooperation of local park or wildlife agencies. Convention and visitor bureaus have even been engaged in promoting these efforts, since the results can help to bring curious ecotourists to the sites.
One of the latest examples involves the enhancement of an existing water treatment facility in Beaumont, Texas. Since the wetland system of the city of Beaumont’s Cattail Marsh went into operation in 1993, with artificial and natural wetlands occupying about 900 acres, the site has been variously used for birding, jogging, hiking, biking, and even horseback riding.
A new boardwalk and a pair of viewing platforms, providing access for wildlife and bird viewing and photography was initiated in May. Plans for the boardwalk have been in the works for several years, and the expected opening is scheduled with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on 9 August.
While the 520-foot boardwalk isn’t that lengthy, the implications are significant. This project represents another fine example of community outreach, ecotourism connections, partnership development, and improved birder access. It is a model for others to consider.
You can get more details on the expectations for the project here:
IBA NEWS: CONNECTICUT SITES INCREASE
Last month, Audubon Connecticut announced five new Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the Nutmeg State, three held by municipalities and two by land conservation organizations. According to Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, Audubon Connecticut’s IBA Coordinator, “These areas are important to bird species of conservation concern. They are also places where the municipality or land conservation organization is actively managing or working to improve habitat for birds.”
The three municipal properties are New Haven’s West River Memorial and Edgewood Parks, the District of Willimantic, and Redding’s Couch Hill Preserve. The New Haven parks are important to migrating songbirds and regularly host Rusty Blackbirds in the winter. In the District of Willimantic, large chimneys, including that of the Windham Town Hall, are used by upwards of 250 roosting Chimney Swifts in the summer, and many more birds make use of the chimneys as nocturnal roosts during migration. Couch Hill Preserve is a crucial nesting sites for nesting Bobolinks in Fairfield County.
Aton Forest Inc. in Norfolk, Connecticut, and Naromi Land Trust’s Wimisink Marsh in Sherman are the other two new IBAs. Aton Forest supports a wide diversity and high numbers of woodland nesting birds, and has also seen quite a bit of recent activity by Sandhill Cranes. Wimisink Marsh is a fine example of a healthy freshwater wetland and hosts several species restricted to this habitat type (e.g., American Bittern).
For more details on these sites, including how the chimneys were protected for the swifts and how a mowing regime employed by the Town of Redding to maintain Couch Hill gives Bobolinks adequate time to nest, 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: CONSIDER YOUR HERBICIDE USE
It’s time to consider taking control of your use of herbicides. This is the season when people are making decisions about how to use chemicals in their yard, and also making decisions about how herbicides are used in their communities at public parks, offices, and schools. We urge you to evaluate the consequences.
High herbicide concentrations in freshwater systems have been shown to alter the structure and function of these ecosystems. Downstream aquatic plants can be killed when they come into contact with high concentrations of herbicides, and urban and suburban runoff can also make surrounding natural areas vulnerable. These factors can impact birds and what they eat.
Consider also the possible negative outcomes of errors due to over-application and over-dosage. Fortunately, alternatives for controlling unwanted weeds are possible for smaller property owners. You can consider such alternatives as using mulch, vinegar application, mechanical control (pulling weeds!), flower/seed removal, using clove oil or corn gluten meal, more selective plant spacing, and simple acceptance of having a few weeds in your yard.
For a good summary of the risks and alternatives, see this material from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “YardMap Network”:
NEW STAMP RELEASED
The new Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp was released at the end of June. The artwork on the 2015-2016 Stamp shows a pair of flying Trumpeter Swans painted by Joseph Hautman, of Plymouth, Minnesota. This is the fifth time that Joe Hautman’s artwork has graced the Federal Duck Stamp
Almost all the revenue for the sales of this Stamp – adding up to an estimated $40 million for the year – goes into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF). The MBCF receipts come mainly from the sales of the Stamp and from import duties collected on arms and ammunition. This dedicated funding will secure vital breeding, stopover, and wintering habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, and other bird species across the National Wildlife Refuge System.
For more on this federal stamp, which costs $25 and also provides you free access to all National Wildlife Refuges that charge for entry, see here:
SELL-OFF/TRANSFER SUPPORTED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE
The efforts to sell off federal lands have increased since the 41-day armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. And they are currently proceeding through significant legislative efforts.
The latest move took place in mid-June when two pieces of federal draft legislation advanced through the House Natural Resources Committee. The Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act (H.R. 2316), sponsored by Congressman Raul Labrador (R-ID) and the State National Forest Management Act of 2015 (H.R. 3650), sponsored by Congressman Don Young (R-AK) would legislate the transfer of millions of acres of public lands and threaten the basis of America’s national forest system, fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, and public access to quality outdoor recreation, including birding.
For example, H.R. 3650 would specifically allow each state to buy and manage up to two million acres of national forest land to be used for timber production. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that states would need to increase timber harvests, mineral, and other resource development well beyond any sustainable levels to afford the management of these lands.
“Make no mistake, these are the first votes on legislation that would legitimize the wholesale transfer or sale of America’s public lands” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in a media release.
Following last month’s committee vote, the bills need to receive consideration by the full House of Representatives.
A NATURAL PAY-OFF
There is also some encouraging news.
Just two days after the House committee action on H.R. 2316 and H.R. 3650, the U.S. Department of the Interior released its Economic Report for Fiscal Year 2015.
The report announced that National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, National Monuments, and other public lands managed by Interior hosted an estimated 443 million recreational visits in 2015 – up from 423 million in 2014 – and that these visits alone supported $45 billion in economic output and about 396,000 jobs nationwide. (Note: National Forests, lands discussed in the previous news item, are not under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior Department, but are managed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)
Of course, the report also included a “portfolio” that included extractive and grazing features, including billions of fossil fuel dollars. Still, with the release of the report, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, noted that many of Interior’s activities – such as scientific research and conservation of parks, wetlands and wildlife habitat – have economic values that are not easily calculated, and are not included in the report’s totals.
You can access more details on the report here:
NEW HOPE FOR SPIX’S MACAW
If you haven’t heard already, last month a Spix’s Macaw was observed flying in the wild past Curacá, a small town of about 30,000 in Bahia, Brazil. While there are about 130 Spix’s Macaws in captivity, the species has not been observed in the wild since 2000. This single macaw was first spotted on 18 June by local farmer, Nauto Sergio de Oliveira. On the next day, his neighbor Lourdes Oliveira and her daughter, 16-year-old Damilys, woke up before dawn to search for the macaw. They found it, and Damilys recorded it on her mobile phone!
Efforts are now underway to investigate increased conservation opportunities at the site.
See here to read the full story and to view the unique video:
ARCHIVES AND MORE
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Wayne R. Petersen
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Great Birding Projects
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