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July Birding Community E-bulletin
On the morning of 4 June, a Black-tailed Godwit was found by Ron Weeks at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. It was accompanied by two Hudsonian Godwits. For a number of days it was found on a pond on the west side of County Road 227 entering the refuge. Then it was located on the east side of the road, but on some days it was missing entirely. The Black-tailed Godwit was present in the area through June.
This species is a wanderer from the Old World which naturally occurs from Iceland to Russia. It is rare but regular in western Alaska and is casual on the Atlantic coast. Not surprisingly the Asian subspecies is the race expected to occur in western Alaska, and the Icelandic subspecies is the one most likely to appear along the Atlantic coast. Curiously, the Texas bird was said to be of the European “limosa” subspecies. Regardless of the subspecies, this was the first time a Black-tailed Godwit has been found in Texas.
You can view some photos by Martin Reid here:
You can also see a news report from Houston’s KHOU 11 News here:
On Saturday, 23 June, a singing male Cuban Grassquit was found at Matheson Hammock County Park just south of Coral Gables, Florida. Because the Cuban Grassquit is endemic to Cuba, this discovery was potentially very significant.
There are two possible problems with the sighting, however: 1) this species is said to be a fairly common cage bird in the Miami area and 2) the location is also not sufficiently close to Cuba to readily account for its accidental occurrence in Miami. (Finding a Cuban Grassquit in the Florida Keys might be more convincing.)
In any case, the discoverers of the bird, Bill and Nancy LaFramboise, obtained a photograph of this individual:
There was a similar case in late October and early November last year of a Cuban Bullfinch discovered in South Miami. Observed for a number of days in the company of warblers and Indigo Buntings, the bird was deemed an escape by many birders. Cuban Bullfinch is said to be found in the pet bird trade in Miami, sometimes selling for as much as $250.
As for Cuban Grassquits, Larry Manfredi reported to us that he has seen these birds for sale in the Miami area for $50 and more. Such importation and sales are, of course, illegal.
How will birders ever know when a “real” Cuban Grassquit or Cuban Bullfinch arrives in South Florida? That’s a good question!
On 17 June, Jeff Swagel found a Fork-tailed Flycatcher on his property just outside of Algoma, Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, – about 30 miles east of Green Bay. A casual birder, Swagel first thought the bird was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, but it didn’t seem quite right. He saw it on four different occasions between 10am and 7:15pm.
The bird spent most of its time flycatching among some birches and along a power line on the east end of his five-acre property. After consulting with his two out-of-town avid-birder brothers and some other birders in Wisconsin, Swegel decided to allow birders to come on to his property to look for the flycatcher. His only request was that visitors stay on the road traversing his land.
Fork-tailed Flycatchers are austral migrants, notorious for often being seen for only one or two days in any one location when they appear in North America. Alas, such was the case this time. The bird was not seen after the evening of 17 June. (There was at least one other Fork-tailed Flycatcher report last month, a bird in Brunswick, Maine, on 22 June that was also a one-day wonder.)
The point of this story is that birders were welcomed on to the Swegel property, and many came. Although they left empty-handed, they were nonetheless provided gracious access. Said Swagel, “It wasn’t a difficult decision; birders are such nice people.”
Fortunately, Swagel took some photos of the Fork-tailed Flycatcher and also got video footage of the bird, only the fourth record of the species for Wisconsin. You can view two of his photos here:
Even though the bird was not re-found, access mattered, with many birders being afforded the opportunity to visit and search. Such gestures are always much appreciated by birders.
For over a decade, parties concerned with bird collisions with communications towers (for wire or radio communications) have been engaged in vital discussions to resolve differences and to come up with constructive solutions for a number of problems. Through cooperative dialogue among industry, government, and NGO parties, a big step forward was taken last month.
In mid-June, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) announced a notice of a final launching an environmental review process for new or substantially modified communications towers. The rule addresses impacts to migratory birds. For the first time, applicants are required to provide local and national notice for such towers. The public is provided 30 days from the notice to comment and explain why the proposed construction may have a significant impact on the environment, including on migratory birds. The FCC will review the comments and may then require an environmental assessment (EA) for the proposed tower. Furthermore, for the first time, operators of all proposed new towers over 450 feet must submit an EA for approval along with the application. This environmental review process must take place before any application is considered complete. If no objections are received at the end of 30 days, the FCC may then grant construction permission.
For insight into the new process of filing a request for environmental review, the FCC has revised its website with links to short articles. For example, see here:
Such a process is long overdue, especially since many consider such structures as posing potential hazards to birds when related to siting, support, and lighting.
First signed in 1986 between the U.S. and Canada (with Mexico joining in 1994), the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) has long been a leading model for international bird conservation plans. In late May, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed the 2012 Revision of NAWMP. This ambitious revised plan sets forth three overarching goals for waterfowl conservation: 1) maintain abundant and resilient waterfowl populations to support hunting and other uses without imperiling habitat; 2) support wetlands and related habitats sufficient to sustain waterfowl populations at desired levels, while providing places to recreate and ecological services that benefit society; and 3) increase the number of North American citizens who enjoy and actively support waterfowl and wetlands conservation. The first two goals have always been part of the NAWMP. The third goal is new and underscores the importance of people to the success of waterfowl and wetlands conservation.
Find details in the plan here:
The first-ever State of Canada’s Birds report is now available. The report draws on 40 years of data to create a reliable picture of the current health of Canada’s birds. The report underscores the strong influence that human activity has had – both positive and negative – on Canada’s bird populations. Although many bird species are declining, observers have learned that where conservation efforts have been applied, they are often successful. For example, some important raptor and waterfowl population increases in Canada are a direct result of specific management and conservation programs.
To view and download an electronic copy of the report, visit the State of Canada’s Birds website.
Typically our coverage under “Book Notes” contains a mini-review or our thoughts about the release of some recent publication. The NAWMP and the State of Canada’s Birds reports will have to suffice this month when it comes to recommended reading material.
Instead, this month we’ll stray a bit from our usual fare in order to mention a new video, “Epic Journeys,” a documentary produced by Shawn Carey and Jim Grady of Migration Productions. Since the video deals with shorebirds, and since shorebirds will soon be migrating southward in significant numbers, and since your two editors are shorebird aficionados, we felt that such a break from our usual practice might be tolerated.
“Epic Journeys” is a 30-minute look into the amazing migration and challenges undertaken by three shorebird species – Red Knot, Piping Plover and Semipalmated Sandpiper. The amazing footage and corresponding interviews pertaining to these species were shot at the Delaware Bay Shore in New Jersey (for the Red Knot), Plymouth Beach and South Beach in Massachusetts (for the Piping Plover), and the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick (for the Semipalmated Sandpiper).
The DVD will soon be commercially available, but you can view a two-minute teaser here:
And you can find more details here:
We have previously written about Black-capped Petrels, most recently in March, specifically about their status on Hispaniola (i.e., Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and at sea. See here for our most recent coverage:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in late June that it is conducting a review of the species to determine whether this petrel warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Currently, there are only about a dozen known breeding colonies and an estimated 600 to 2,000 known breeding pairs, all located on the island of Hispaniola, but possibly also on Dominica and Martinique. The non-breeding range of the Black-capped Petrel includes the Gulf Stream waters between North Carolina and Florida, a fact well known by many pelagic birders.
Based on the 90-day status review, the USFWS will make one of three possible determinations:
(1) ESA listing is not warranted and no further action will be taken.
(2) ESA listing as Threatened or Endangered is warranted, in which case the USFWS will solicit and consider further input before a final decision is made.
(3) ESA listing is warranted but precluded by other, higher priority activities and species. (This third category has become a virtual biological limbo for many a species.)
For more details on the petrel and the process, including how to leave comments, see here:
Last month we reported on efforts to finalize a Transportation Bill that both the House and the Senate could pass. We described the importance of retaining the Senate provisions for a large and meaningful Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and also a RESTORE Act (to address ecosystem restoration after the Deepwater Horizon blowout):
On the evening of 27 June, the House/Senate committee finished a compromise package which, practically at the last minute dropped the inclusion of a two-year LWCF guarantee for $700 million for each of the next two years. Despite a letter of support from 32 House Republicans, 146 House Democrats, and an appeal from over 1,000 organizations, the LWCF ended on the cutting-room floor. The passage of this LWCF proposal would have represented a significant success for bird conservation, but it was not to be.
Regardless of the outcome, those 1,000+ organizations should serve as an “honor roll” for perseverance. Their arguments and their complete roster can be found at:
There were other elements of the Transportation Bill that passed Congress before the 4th of July recess that deserve mention:
Unfortunately, the compromised Transportation Bill also cut funding for greenways, trails, and historic preservation, along with making it easier for states to shift some of the Transportation Enhancement (TE) funds to road projects.
On the positive side was that the Keystone XL pipeline provisions and the attempt to ban the EPA from regulating coal ash were dropped. Another major positive element was the inclusion of the RESTORE Act, a move to send 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties coming out of the Deepwater Horizon blowout to the Gulf region for long-term ecological restoration and economic development.
The important LWCF effort now shifts to the regular appropriations process, but the House is only asking for appropriations of $68 million, a paltry figure not seen since the late 1960s. No doubt those 1,000+ organizations will soon be asked to once again make the case for a substantial LWCF.
The Sacramento Valley Wetlands Important Bird Area (IBA) is made up of several National Wildlife Refuges, State Wildlife Management Areas, and private sanctuaries that together anchor one of the most significant areas of wetland habitats in California, if not in the nation. Additionally, many thousands of acres of expansive and vital rice fields and smaller private duck clubs in the area contribute substantially to the habitat within this significant IBA.
The Sacramento Valley has also been designated as a site of Hemispheric Importance to shorebirds by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.
Significantly, more than 165 California rice growers recently signed up for an innovative program to enhance wetland bird habitat on their lands. The Sacramento Valley farmers from six counties recently enrolled in a new Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program that offers almost $3 million in incentives to the growers to manage their properties in ways to benefit wetland birds.
The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership – consisting of Audubon California, PRBO Conservation Science, and The Nature Conservancy – is helping to facilitate this project in collaboration with NRCS. You can find more information on this partnership here:
Alan Forkey, Assistant State Conservationist with NRCS has stressed that “working lands are truly the frontier for the future of protecting this state’s wildlife.” This is surely the case here, since rice represents almost 80 percent of flooded habitat used by migratory wetland birds in the Sacramento Valley. It has been estimated that over 100 species of ducks, geese, shorebirds, long-legged waders, other marsh-birds, and wetland associated songbirds depend upon rice fields for part of their life cycle and survival.
You can find more information on this effort 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:
The U.S. Senate passed its version of the 2012 U.S. Farm Bill on 21 June. Since the Farm Bill is the single largest source of funding for conservation on private lands in the U.S., it is one of the most important tools for land conservation that we have. The impact on birds is significant, and for years bird conservationists have backed important elements such as the conservation land easements under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP).
Under hard economic times, some important Farm Bill conservation segments took a hit in this Senate bill. For example, while efforts to entirely eliminate CRP were defeated, the CRP was reduced from 32 million acres to 25 million acres.
WRP was changed to a Wetland Easement Program (WEP) which will shift measurement from acre-based to dollar-based. Other amendments were particularly encouraging, including an important measure re-linking conservation compliance and taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance. This had been removed the Farm Bill in 1996. It was included last month by a close 52-47 Senate vote. (Now, not only will direct farmer subsidies be tied to conservation requirements, but so will taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance.) Another amendment would prohibit the use of rural development loans to drain, dredge, or fill wetlands.
Very encouraging was the inclusion of a Sodsaver component to the Senate Farm Bill. The previous 2008 Farm Bill contained a provision regarding the destruction of native grassland (i.e,. sodsaver provision), but it was left to the respective Northern Great Plains Governors to individually implement. This meant that the provision was toothless. Now, however, Sodsaver would substantially reduce the taxpayer subsidized portion of the farmer’s crop insurance on those converted acres for four years. According to some, this might save taxpayers nearly $200 million over 10 years, as well as simply being a great land conservation benefit. Such a Sodsaver provision is crucial for grassland bird conservation in the middle of the country.
The next move is up to the House of Representatives. The House Agriculture Committee will work on its own bill beginning the middle of this month. It is not clear when the Farm Bill will come to the floor of the full House. The two versions of the bill will then be reconciled to arrive at a compromise that will require approval of the full Congress and the signature of the President. It’s a long process, but it’s important for bird advocates to watch!
Yes, it’s summer, it’s hot and it’s time to make some field adjustments. These suggestions may seem obvious, but they nonetheless warrant repeating.
Make sure your birding wardrobe includes a hat with a brim. It helps keep the sun off and more importantly protects your skin. Also, a wide-brimmed hat shades your eyes, helps you see colors better, and reduces eyestrain. And speaking of eyestrain, use sunglasses whenever possible. This is important especially where there is strong glare (e.g., shorebirding and seabirding). If you have prescription glasses, consider transitional lenses which quickly adjust and adapt in changing light, help protect you from the sun’s rays, and enhance your vision all at the same time.
Sunburn is a birding hazard, so use sunblock. And don’t neglect getting lip balm with sun block.
Water, water, water! Don’t forget it, and use a refillable bottle. It’s simply a smart thing to do. Of course, it’s time for insect repellent, too.
By following these simple reminders you’ll have a better and safer time in the field this summer.
And now that it’s July, it’s time to buy your new Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp. As you may know, the lion’s share of the funds collected from Stamp sales go to secure wetland and grassland habitat in the Refuge System, and the Stamp also serves as a pass for all NWRs that charge for entry. You may want to check out the new website from the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp:
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