This Birding Community E-bulletin is being 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 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, publishers of acclaimed birding books and field guides, available wherever books are sold or visit:
You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
December Birding Community E-bulletin
There were some spectacular rarities in November, many of which were worthy of showcasing this month. Among these were Redwing in Alaska (see the story of this one in this month’s E-bulletin), Golden-crowned Warbler, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Blue Bunting, and Black-vented Oriole all in Texas, Black-tailed Gull in Ohio, and Brambling in Oregon. There were also Pink-footed Geese in Nova Scotia, New York, and Pennsylvania and at least one Barnacle Goose in Massachusetts. However, it was a goose in Quebec that probably deserves our rarity profile this month.
On 14 November, Raymond Belhumeur and Gilles Ethier encountered a wild-looking Graylag Goose at Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, not far from Montreal. The goose was observed with about 2,000 Canada Geese on the southeast edge of the Chambly Basin.
As is so often the case, the provenance of such a goose is always open to question.
Graylag Geese breed abundantly in Iceland and across n. Europe and they winter south to n. Africa, Asia Minor, India, and n. Indochina. The Graylag Goose population of Iceland has recently colonized southeast Greenland, and there have been some recent, convincing reports from Atlantic Canada, including a photographed bird on a drill ship about120 miles southeast of St. Johns, Newfoundland in the spring of 2005 and a bird that was in Nova Scotia last November-December (actually joined in the region with also a very rare Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese). In 2009, a bird in Connecticut (February-March) was perhaps also a good candidate for a wild bird, and accordingly prompted a great deal of debate.
It is not the identity of these birds that is in question; it is their provenance.
Domesticated forms of Graylag Goose are common in farmyards and also occur as ornamental waterfowl in parks and estates, but no breeding population in North America is known to be established. The barnyard variety is usually plainer looking, and typically has a deep, pot-bellied appearance..
If you are unfamiliar with this species, check any European field guide, or see the latest National Geographic guide (6th edition pp. 48 and 530).
The Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu goose might have had a wild origin. It appeared to be a first-winter individual from the “anser” subspecies, the race which breeds in Iceland. Perhaps not coincidentally, in the past decade the Chambly basin and the upper St. Lawrence Valley have hosted Canada Geese banded in Greenland, as well as “flavirostris” race Greater White-fronted Geese (breeding in western Greenland), Pink-footed Geese, and at least one Barnacle Goose.
Perhaps like other geese in the Northeast that were considered mega-rarities a decade or so ago (e.g., Pink-footed Goose and Barnacle Goose) but are now being seen almost annually, these Graylag Geese could be pioneers for a pattern yet to be established.
We’ll have to wait and see.
In any case, the Graylag Goose at the Chambly basin appeared almost daily until Sunday, 20 November, entertaining many birders who came to see it.
You can examine photos of this bird taken by Raymond Belhumeur (15 November) here:
and by Pierre Bamon (16 November) here:
As mentioned above, there was another great rarity in November that could also have deserved our top-billing. This was a Redwing discovered on 15 November on the beachfront of Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska.
Not to be confused with a Red-winged Blackbird, the Redwing is an Old World thrush that breeds in Iceland and Scotland and from Scandinavia and the Baltic states to the Russian Far East. The species normally winters in Europe and North Africa, the Middle East, Caucasus, and the southern Caspian region.
There are almost two dozen Redwing records for North America, with about half of them from Newfoundland. The species is a frequent vagrant to Greenland (mostly from October May and sometimes in large numbers) and a small population has bred in western Greenland since the late 1970s.
The Seward bird is a first Alaska record, and is only the second-ever record in western North America. This Redwing enjoyed the Mountain Ash berries on the Seward beachfront, and it would also forage by flipping seaweed on the beach looking for other treats. Some birders even collected Mountain Ash berries and tossed them along the thrush’s fence-line feeding-range. Many Alaska birders from outside Seward (e.g., Fairbanks, Anchorage, Homer, Soldotna, and Kenai) were assisted by thoughtful local birders to see the Redwing. Fewer birders from out of state were able to travel to see this thrush, but those who arrived in time were well rewarded.
The Redwing remained through 26 November.
The Short-tailed Albatross couple that began nesting last year at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and successfully raised a chick there, returned again last month. Some of our previous coverage summarizing that nesting, may be found at:
Both adults, first the male, then the female, appeared at the site, then began preening activity, and ultimately the female laid an egg on 9 November. Like last year, the current nest is in a plot studded with model Short-tailed Albatross decoys designed to attract the species.
Here’s the note and photo from the USFWS describing this event:
Last month, we described the San Francisco bird-safe building standards, which were approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in August and signed by Mayor Edwin Lee in September:
This month, we draw your attention to a new and highly informative free downloadable publication available from the American Bird Conservancy’s Collisions Program on “Bird-Friendly Building Design.”
The 58-page publication examines the mirror effect of windows, glass transparency, the passage effect caused by dark glass, and the dramatic effects of external and internal building lighting, all of which contribute to bird collisions. The publication also addresses building design, bird movements, and habitat and landscape designs which can either prevent or increase the collision problem.
The publication can be viewed and downloaded here:
Every five years, the Farm Bills renewal is revisited by Congress. A 2012 minibus conference report, unveiled on 14 November by U.S. House and Senate appropriators would completely defund an important Farm Bill program, the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), also known as “Open Fields.”
This program, created in the 2008 Farm Bill, promotes private land management practices and public access for outdoor activities. (Open Fields accounted for a mere $50 million over the life of the 2008 Farm Bill to create or enhance voluntary access programs on private lands.) We have written about Open Fields numerous times, most recently in September:
Mainly advocated by the hunting and fishing communities, the actual benefits of Open Fields are not limited to those activities. All sorts of wildlife-associated recreational opportunities may be facilitated through the program, including birding, wildlife photography, and hiking.
One might think that such a thoughtful, practical, and simple proposal for the Farm Bill would have vigorous and broad support. These days, however, watching thoughtful, practical, and simple proposals in Washington D.C. is often painful. There have not yet been enough strong supporters for Open Fields among either Congressional Democrats or Republicans preserve this part of the Farm Bill despite the fact that Open Fields is not an issue simply for the fishing and hunting communities. For all of us, access matters.
Plastic PVC pipes have been used as mining claim markers for some time. Claim-holders used these popular 4-inch diameter white-colored plastic pipes because they are light, inexpensive, and easy to see. If uncapped, they are also bird-killers.
Small birds, mostly cavity-nesters, frequently investigate these pipe-openings, often after first perching on top. Once they enter a pipe, the birds become trapped; the width doesn’t allow for wing-opening, and the sides are far too smooth to allow climbing out. The pipe becomes a deadly trap.
For example, two inspections in Nevada of 1,177 pipes in 2008 and 2009 revealed 957 dead birds. And again last month, 854 pipes inspected revealed 879 dead birds. Ash-throated Flycatchers and Mountain Bluebirds dominated the mortalities, but other victims included woodpeckers, shrikes, wrens, sparrows, Green-tailed Towhees, and even Western Screech-Owls.
The Nevada practice of using open pipes was made illegal in 1993, but the law apparently wasn’t effective. The passage of a subsequent measure in 2009 required removal of the pipes, with a two-year grace-period. That grace period ended early last month. Open-ended pipe-markers could no longer be used, even though the claim itself might still be valid.
Agencies and volunteers quickly began pulling out the pipes, often in an organized fashion. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NVDOW) started extracting the pipes along with the Nevada Conservation Corps (an AmeriCorps program). The Las Vegas-based Red Rock Audubon Society has even sponsored volunteer pole-pulls. Their slogan: “Pull, baby, pull!”
There is no way of knowing how many pipes are out there. According to Christy Klinger of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the number is probably in the hundreds of thousands. The BLM issued more than a million mining claims across the state since 1976, and nearly 200,000 remain active today. “There may be problems in California, Utah, Idaho, and elsewhere in the West, but Nevada could be the worst,” adds Klinger.
There are almost 3.4 million mining claims on BLM lands in eleven western states and Alaska.
Three months ago, a free bird-oriented app was released, geared to Iberian avitourism. The app, Iberian Birds, enables users of Apples iPhones and iPads to find nearby birding areas in Spain and Portugal based on their geo-locations (GPS), along with learning what birds can be expected at each site.
This effort has been funded by the Iberaves project and is the outcome of a joint effort between BirdLife International, SEO/BirdLife (i.e., BirdLife in Spain), and SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal).
Iberaves is a European Union-funded project that provides training for hotels, travel companies, transport professionals, and tour guides to help them meet the needs of bird-watching tourists at Natura 2000 sites, Europe’s system of protected areas. Many of Spain’s and Portugal’s 479 IBA sites are also Natura 2000 sites.
Surely, this could be an ideal model for IBAs and sustainable tourism elsewhere.
Executive Director of SEO/BirdLife, Asuncion Ruiz, commented, “The Iberaves project is based on the belief that birdwatching tourism is an ideal way of bringing sustainable development to Natura 2000 areas, maximizing the benefits to local people and biodiversity, while minimizing the negative impacts that tourism sometimes provides.”
For more information on this effort and for download links, visit:
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:
The most important recommendation on using your binoculars in the field is to wear your binoculars around your neck! Carrying them around without using a neck-strap is just asking for trouble. Besides, when they are hung around your neck you always know where they are!
It used to be that binoculars would come with thin, shiny, plastic straps. They were terrible. Today most binoculars come with straps that are fairly wide. These are generally better, but not always much better.
Investing in a good strap for your binoculars is highly recommended. Comfort is essential. Some models come with neoprene segments that can spread out the weight of the binoculars that helps relieve neck and back strain. This is especially true for the popular binocular harnesses, those straps with criss-crossed shoulder straps.
Another suggestion is not to wear your binoculars hung too low. They should ride fairly high on your chest, as opposed to bouncing off your stomach. This helps to reduce the danger and discomfort of swinging binoculars and also keeps them close at hand.
Finally, remember that your straps don’t last forever. Revisit them regularly and look into replacing them as they get worn. If you have to tape your binocular strap, it’s time for a replacement!
Since being launched by Arcadia Publishing in 1993, the “Images of America” series has showcased the history of hundreds of individual communities throughout the country. Each title records a city or town’s unique story through more than two hundred historic images in one modestly-sized book. You’ve probably seen these thin, but attractive, paperbacks with a representational sepia-toned photograph on the cover at a local bookstore.
Not only can you find Butte, Montana, and Tampa, Florida, among the titles, you can also find much smaller Oxon Hill, Maryland, and Hanson, Massachusetts, in the mix.
The recent inclusion of J. N. “DING” DARLING NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE (published 2011) in the series constitutes a new twist, however. Not many birding spots are included in the collection but some that are include Big Bend and Rocky Mountain National Parks.
Assembled and written by Charles LeBuff, someone who put nearly 31 years of service as an employee at Ding Darling Refuge, the book is simply fun to explore. Its 128 pages are packed with photos of the growth and development of the refuge, the storms that battered it, the efforts to manage it, and the people who protected it. Perfect it’s not. (One might have wished for more scenes of visitation, for example.) But the total product is admirable. One would hope that more refuges, parks, and forests are profiled in this creative series.
Last year we reported on the proposal to reintroduce non-migratory Whooping Cranes in Louisiana:
The ambitious multi-partner effort began in earnest this year in February with the first 10 Whooping Cranes delivered to the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area. Prior to this introduction, the last time a Whooping Crane was seen in Louisiana was in 1950. Over the next few months, four of these newly-introduced cranes died from various causes.
In mid-October, the remaining six were reduced by another two birds when two teenagers allegedly shot chicks L8 and L10 from their truck along a Louisiana back road. The story behind the killing of these two cranes can be found here:
Increasing the number of separate and self-sustaining populations of Whooping Cranes is thought to be the wisest defense against a catastrophic collapse of the existing wild and migrating population resulting from disease, weather conditions, pollution spill, or other natural disaster.
Up to 16 additional cranes are expected to be released in the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Louisiana this month.
A good summary of the situation, with an emphasis on the Louisiana project and international interest can be found here:
“Ghosts of Gone Birds” is a multimedia exhibition that opened in May and had a fine showing last month in London. It is an exhibition intended to breathe artistic life back into extinct bird species. Ceri Levy and Chris Aldhous have led the concept.
Over 120 artists, writers, and musicians have contributed their works to the project, each of them choosing a different extinct species and producing a new piece of art inspired by the bird. The works celebrate the diversity of the birds through paintings, sculpture, talks, poetry, installations, live music, and even yarn.
In the last category, acclaimed Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, contributed a knitted portrait of a Great Auk for the recent exhibition in London last month. You can find details here:
A unique event, Ghosts of Gone Birds is further evidence that there are many varied ways to raise attention to the plight of birds and the finality of extinction. Reportedly, the organizers have even had a tattooist on board ready to create body-art on behalf of bird conservation.
This exhibition may at some point leave the UK, possibly visiting other English-speaking countries such as Canada, Australia, and the U.S.
Our occasional quiz questions will either relate to one of our previous news items, or will pertain to an event or experience that is scheduled to occur during the current or coming month.
We will give away five books to E-bulletin readers whose names are picked at random from among those submitting correct answers. Due to shipping constraints, only folks residing in the U.S. or Canada are eligible to win.
For details on NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, publishers of acclaimed birding books and field guides available wherever books are sold, visit:
Last month’s question was: What was the very last “year bird” that the characters Stu Preissler and Brad Harris saw together in the movie “The Big Year”?
The answer: Pink-footed Goose. (We even gave a hint that it was one of our monthly rarity species within the last year. Actually, that was in April of this year:
Last month’s five winners of the sixth edition of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA were Marcia E. Balestri (Frederick, MD), Helen Hartman (Madison, WI), Jennie MacFarland (Tucson AZ), E. Rock (Oak Harbor, OH), and Pat Valdata (Elkton, MD).
This month’s question is about Short-tailed Albatrosses: What is the name of the island in the Pacific where the overwhelming majority of these albatrosses nest?
The prize for this month will be a copy of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BACKYARD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA by Jonathan Alderfer and Paul Hess (2011).
We reviewed the book in April:
We can think of no better holiday gift to introduce a friend to birds. A full description of the backyard book can be found here:
Please send your answer by 15 December to:
Make the subject line “QUIZ!” and please include your full name and mailing address along with your answer so that we can mail you a book should you be a fortunate winner. We will also provide the correct answer next month.
And there is another fine offer from National Geographic this month, available for those of you on Facebook.
Watch Jonathan Alderfer, lead illustrator and co-editor of the National Geographic field guide, create a lovely watercolor of two Harlequin Ducks in a fascinating time-lapse video. You can win this original signed, framed watercolor bird illustration by the artist, and you also have a chance at winning a number of bird books from National Geographic. (The last day to enter is 31 December.) Find all the details here:
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