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.
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June Birding Community E-bulletin
For a number of days in mid-April, a curious mockingbird was seen at Sabine Woods, a Texas Ornithological Society bird sanctuary, south of Port Arthur and west of Sabine Pass. Photos of the bird were shared, and by 20 April the bird was identified as a Tropical Mockingbird. Here is a photo by Terry Ferguson:
Tropical Mockingbird is normally a resident of southern Mexico (including the Yucatan), much of Central America, and south into northeastern South America. The species appears similar to a Northern Mockingbird, but lacks white wing patches and much of the white in the outer tail-feathers, though still having a white-tipped tail.
While we might have included this as our rarity of the month in the May E-bulletin, the mockingbird was eclipsed by the rare Elaenia found in Chicago in April. There were also some initial concerns about the mocker. Some fraying in the tail of the Sabine Woods bird raised questions about whether the mockingbird might be an escapee. It is a popular cage-bird in Mexico. How a Tropical Mockingbird from southern Mexico or Central America was dutifully carried all the way to the Upper Texas Coast was never addressed, however.
The Tropical Mockingbird at Sabine Woods was observed almost daily throughout May, often just east of the site entrance. Sometimes it was seen loosely associating with Northern Mockingbirds. It also was observed being chased/wooed by a Northern Mockingbird and even engaged in what appeared to be nest-building activity.
Interestingly, there are records of hybrid Northern x Tropical Mockingbirds in southern Mexico, and some authorities regard the two birds to be conspecific.
Regardless, the bird delighted many birders who traveled to Sabine Woods to see it, and, if accepted, this will constitute the first record of Tropical Mockingbird north of Mexico.
Kirtland’s Warbler is an Endangered species that can readily be observed on its nesting territory in central Michigan, especially with the help of U.S. Forest Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel. Finding one of these rare warblers on migration, however, is another matter.
Nonetheless, finding a migrant Kirtland’s Warbler in northern Ohio is possible, and this is exactly what happened this spring on Saturday, 12 May, on International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD).
On the morning of 12 May, three Amish birding youths found a female Kirtland’s Warbler part of the way down a newly opened trail at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge – the “Crane Creek Estuary Trail.” The trail begins near the famous Magee Marsh boardwalk trail, but it is mostly on Ottawa NWR property. The Kirtland’s Warbler stayed near the trail all day – at least until 7:30pm – during which time hundreds – perhaps thousands – of well-behaved birders got to see the rare visitor. Photographers in particular were thrilled.
The new trail had been opened about a week before, just in time for the May rush of birders expected in NW Ohio and just before the popular “Biggest Week in American Birding.” The refuge staff wanted to make sure that visiting birders had a new place to go birding during May.
The important thing about this story is that if the trail had not been created and opened to the public, hundreds and hundreds of birders probably would not have seen the rare warbler. No access, no viewed bird! The female Kirtland’s Warbler would have passed quietly through the NWR property, unobserved and undocumented. We could think of no better example for May of how birding access really mattered for birders.
The U.S. House and Senate are currently in conference working through two versions of a daunting Transportation Bill with the goal of finding agreement on a final Transportation package. The Senate’s version of the Transportation Bill (S. 1813) contains a crucial provision that was added during floor consideration of the bill back in March. This provision provides a remarkable $700 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in each the next two years and was passed with an overwhelming 76-22 bipartisan vote. We wrote about this in the April E-bulletin:
This achievement will only be a victory for conservation if the LWCF component remains in the final Transportation Bill that the House and Senate are currently negotiating.
You can find more details in the “Outdoor News Bulletin” (WMI):
Of course, there are parts of the Transportation Bill (especially those proposed by the House) that are far less desirable. There are other elements, however, like Transportation Enhancements (TE) the Recreational Trails Program, Safe Routes to School, and roads for federal lands that are very desirable and should be maintained. But that’s what the conference process is all about: maintaining some elements while eliminating others. The LWCF portion is clearly one that hopefully will survive the conference process.
This LWCF option represents a huge and timely opportunity – perhaps the best real opportunity Congress will have in 2012 – to ensure the protection and conservation of critical land and water across our country.
We have covered the issue of Teshekpuk Lake in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) in the E-bulletin several times in the past. This month, we focus on not only the large, designated “Special Area” of Teshepuk Lake, which is an Important Bird Area (IBA) of global significance, but the entire, 23.5-million acre National Petroleum Reserve. For readers not fully aware, the NPR-A is mostly on the North Slope of Alaska and is an area nearly the size of Indiana.
In 1976, Congress transferred the area’s jurisdiction from the U.S. Navy to the Department of the Interior, directing the Interior Secretary to balance oil development and conservation in the NPR-A to protect significant “surface values” (e.g., subsistence, recreational, fish/wildlife, historic, and scenic resources). Shortly thereafter, in 1980, Congress further directed the Secretary to “take every precaution to avoid unnecessary surface damage and to minimize ecological disturbance throughout the reserve.”
Currently, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is asking for comments on its new Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) to give direction to land management decisions throughout the NPR-A.
Four alternatives are being considered:
A would have no changes, with 57 percent of NPR-A subsurface available for gas and oil leasing, and maintaining the four current Special Areas;
B would substantially increase the Special Areas and would designate extensive areas around Teshekpuk Lake and the SW part of NPR-A that would be closed for leasing;
C would provide for smaller additions to Special Areas, make very remote areas unavailable for leasing, and would allow for some leasing around Teshekpuk Lake, and
D would allow the entire NPRA to be open for oil and gas development.
Most wildlife, conservation, and environmental organizations are supporting Alternative B as the best option for meeting the requirements of the current law to provide a balance between future opportunities for development while assuring maximum protection for vital surface values.
Teshekpuk alone supports significantly high densities of nesting shorebirds, especially Semipalmated Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Red Phalaropes, Red-necked Phalaropes, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Dunlins. It also has enormous waterfowl value, with up to 25 percent of the Pacific coast’s Brant population (an average of 13 percent annually) present during the molting season. Significant numbers of other species, such as Spectacled, Steller’s and King Eiders, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Tundra Swans, use the Teshekpuk area. Yellow-billed Loons are also present in substantial numbers.
Here is a conservation opportunity in an area where very little seemed possible just a few short years ago. The public can weigh in until 15 June. You can find details here:
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:
On occasion, we like to take the opportunity to link our readers to a spectacular bird video related to one of our stories and obtained by Gerrit Vyn of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The future of the National Petroleum Reserve- Alaska is extremely important. Accordingly, we are pleased to bring to your attention a video that may help make a connection to NPR-A.
Among the species that are particularly special at NPR-A is the Yellow-billed Loon. This area is estimated to hold about 80 percent of the nesting Yellow-billed Loons in the U.S.
To view a short and wonderful video of this stunning Holarctic (i.e., found in both Eurasia and North America) diver, we invite you to watch Gerrit Vyn’s footage taken last year in northern Chukotka in the Russian Far East:
Bird baths may not be essential, but they are helpful. Bird baths could have originated with the Greeks, Romans, and even the Egyptians. Indeed, the ubiquitous “bowl on a pedestal” design, popular well over a hundred years ago and still being sold today, is a classic.
But the baths need not be simply ornamental; they can be very useful, especially in hot or dry climates or during droughts. Summertime is the season when they are most often used, but bird baths are useful at all times of year.
Baths may be as simple or as elaborate as you wish, but three elements are essential: cleanliness, depth, and safety. This means using clean, fresh, water. It means having a shallow, sloping design of about a half inch to up to three inches, often with a roughened bottom. And it means protecting the bath from skulking predators.
Other considerations include offering moving or dripping water and the use of small water heaters in winter. In arid areas, freezing water is not the problem, but the opposite is. In hot and dry areas, it is the retention and replenishment of clear water that is at issue.
Some birders scoff at bird baths, but at times bird baths may actually be far more helpful to birds than bird feeders, assuming that the baths are used at the right time and place.
Bill Thompson, III wrote a fine book which we reviewed in April 2008. It was the YOUNG BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA (Houghton Mifflin). It was a user-friendly and enjoyable book, good for anyone with a beginning interest in birds and not just for youngsters.
Thompson has recently upped the stakes with his YOUNG BIRDER’S GUIDE TO BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA. This new guide is not limited to birds of the East. The photos in the book are good, the illustrations by Julie Zickefoose and Michael DiGiorgio are very helpful; the maps are fine; the hints and the nifty facts mixed into the species accounts are often delightful.
This new title by BT3 has all the creative features of the Eastern book, with a lot more in the way of increased species and geographic range. Instead of 256 pages for 200 species, the new guide contains 364 pages and covers more than 300 species.
Are those 300+ species enough for this sort of book? Indeed, they are. Once the user has a need for something bigger and more complex, a fine foundation in birding will have been reached.
It seems that as long as we have been writing and distributing the Birding Community E-bulletin, there have been reports on the status of, threats to, and conservation of sage-grouse. We end this month’s E-bulletin with yet another reference, a unique one, on potential sage-grouse management and conservation.
This reference from the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) emphasizes efforts to make ranching compatible with the birds:
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