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 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):
August Birding Community E-bulletin
This month we have two closely related species to consider that appeared in multiple North American localities in July. Collectively these birds tell us something about astute birding, about the possibility of discovering a rarity almost anywhere, about the importance of photo documentation, and about the ephemeral nature of some birding discoveries. This last point is especially significant, because in several cases the individual birds in question didn’t linger long.
Our two rare species are stints, the European name applied to several small “Calidrid” shorebirds and analogous to the term “Peeps” in North America. The specific stints in question are Red-necked Stint and Little Stint. Both are Eurasian species, although the Red-necked Stint is actually also a very rare breeder in the northwestern limits of Alaska. Though very rare, both of these stints can occasionally be found in large gatherings of North American Peeps (e.g., Western, Semipalmated, and Least Sandpipers). Both species are pictured in most modern North American field guides.
The July run on stints began on 1 July, when Barry Jones and Mary Pat Haddicon found an adult plumaged Red-necked Stint at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in central Kansas. Not only was this a first record for Kansas, it represented a remarkable interior-continental record. A number of Kansas birders were on hand the next day to see the bird, and thanks to the Internet, regional birders and those simply passing through Kansas were also able to rush to Quivira, including birders from New York, North Carolina, Illinois, and Minnesota. Unfortunately, the stint was unable to be relocated after the evening of 2 July. Here are some photos of the Red-necked Stint taken by David Seibel:
Next was a Little Stint found and photographed by Carlos Pedro on 4 July at the Charlestown Breachway Tidal Flats in Rhode Island for a first state record.
Although it could not be found on 5 July, it was last seen on 6 July.
Although northwestern Alaska sightings of Red-necked Stint are not remarkable, a report from Juneau was certainly notable. This discovery was made on 8 July by Paul Suchanek, who photographed the bird:
This individual continued at least until the next day.
On 18 July another Red-necked Stint was reported in British Columbia, on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
Then on 21 July Blair Nikula photographed a Little Stint at South Beach in Chatham, Massachusetts. This bird was an adult in bright plumage found roosting among thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers:
The bird was observed at least into the afternoon of 24 July.
On 23 July 23 another Red-necked Stint was found a photographed at the crab dock flats in Florence, Oregon. . The bird was consorting with a few Western Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plovers. It was not seen after that day, but here is a photo captured by Alan Contreras:
Early in the afternoon of 24 July, Keith Slauson reported an adult Little Stint at the Elk River Mouth in Eureka, California. Unfortunately, later searches for the bird were unsuccessful.
And, finally on 27 July, Kevin Louth reported an adult Red-necked Stint at the foot of 96th Street, in the Boundary Bay area of Vancouver. This stint was only seen once with a flock of peeps on a rising tide, but it was never able to be relocated.
There is no reason why more reports of Red-necked and Little Stints might not occur this month as well. Birders should constantly be aware of the possibilities… and the importance of documenting their sightings with photographs whenever possible.
EVEN MORE TOWER POWER
Last month, we wrote about long-overdue advances in the area of lighting standards on communication towers under the purview of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in order to decrease bird mortality. The public has now been given specific input and review opportunities for new FCC tower applications. See last month’s story here:
This month, we report on somewhat parallel, but different, advances concerning FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) jurisdiction. Research has shown that flashing lights on towers are safer for night-migrating songbirds than steady-burning lights. But until recently, the FAA actually required steady-burning lights on some towers (specifically on the sides of towers). These steady-burning lights are particularly deadly to birds, so the FAA was asked to investigate.
Fortunately, the FAA agreed to pursue the issue and determined that while steady burning side-marker lights needed to remain for smaller towers (up to 350 feet), they could safely be eliminated on taller towers, as long as quick-flashing lights on the tower tops were working. The FAA found that these “rapid discharge” lights were more attention-getting to aircraft pilots than traditional incandescent lights.
Based on these studies, the FAA is now proposing to make changes to its “Operational Lighting Standards,” including the cessation of the use of red/steady-burning lights. Although studies have suggested that green lights might further reduce avian impacts, the FAA has not gone that far. Nonetheless, this new FAA standard might require nothing more than allowing existing red/steady-burning lights to burn out, or allow new towers to be built without the damaging lights.
This shift in policy will allow tower operators to change their lighting systems in order to minimize bird collisions and save energy and maintenance costs.
The persistent bird conservationists who have been working on these lighting issues, as well as government and industry people, are owed a debt of gratitude for their efforts. Every step toward increasing bird safety adds up to make a real difference.
In late July, a group of enthusiastic young birders gathered at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, to participate in the Lab’s special Young Birder Event. This year, the event was sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics.
This series of events began in the summer of 2009, and it has since become an ideal way to connect and inspire promising teenage birders. Ten high-school-aged young people are chosen to participate, and for a weekend packed with activities they are exposed to a variety of creative and diverse ways to hone their birding skills. They learn from professional ornithologists as well as Cornell University graduate and undergraduate students about careers that center on birds. They try making sound and video recordings of birds, along with learning something about Neotropical birds, taxonomy, nocturnal flight calls of migrants, field sketching, taking field notes, and much more.
“These young birders will be the next generation of leaders in ornithology and conservation,” says the Cornell Lab’s Jessie Barry, one of the hosts of the event.
Already, plans are underway for the 2013 session, including a search for promising young birders in grades 9 through 12. For more on this year’s Young Birder Event at Cornell see here:
In July of last year, we drew your attention to what was then to be an upcoming event: “America’s Grasslands Conference: Status, Threats, and Opportunities”
Since America’s grasslands and the grassland birds that depend on them are declining at alarming rates, far exceeding any other group of birds, we thought this event was worthy of your attention.
The conference was held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, last August. This landmark event brought together more than 250 biologists, policy experts, ranchers, federal and state agency staff, representatives of elected officials, and conservationists to discuss the status, threats and opportunities related to North American grasslands. It was intended to raise the national profile of this endangered ecosystem and inform those interested in developing a roadmap for grassland conservation.
“Grasslands are immensely important, not just because of the diversity of wildlife they support, but also because of the multiple benefits that they produce – from nutrient cycling, water retention, aquifer recharge and storage of substantial amounts of atmospheric carbon to improving water filtration and the quality of runoff water, ” said Julie Sibbing, director of Agriculture and Forestry at the National Wildlife Federation and Co-Chair of the event. “Significant opportunities exist to protect and restore our remaining grasslands,” Sibbing added.
You can now download the proceedings of this first Biennial Conference on the Conservation of America’s Grasslands. Birds and bird conservation run throughout the proceedings, including studies as varied as the fate of wintering grassland birds, to cattle impacts on grasslands, and energy development relationships to bison-and-bird connections. The full conference proceedings can be found online at:
You can also find out more about America’s Grasslands Conference at:
There is no telling where the current Farm Bill debate will end up, and no telling how conservation elements will ultimately be treated by this Congress. The huge Farm Bill is reauthorized by Congress every five years, and the current bill will expire – and revert to an archaic 1949 version – on 30 September unless there is Congressional action.
Last month we described some of the vital conservation elements included in the Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill, elements that are crucial for birds:
But despite the Senate-passed version and a version passed by the House Agriculture Committee, no resolution seems in sight. At the same time, a broad conservation coalition, representing diverse groups, has disapproved any proposed Farm Bill extension and any actions that do not move a functional new Farm Bill forward:
The current impasse means there will be no action until after Congress’s Labor-Day recess, with the stakes very high in the short time remaining.
In April, we wrote about Whooping Cranes in Texas, their status and the challenges that they face:
The Blackjack Peninsula of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and serves as the core wintering ground for the only naturally migrating and breeding population of Whooping Crane in the world.
Last winter, some of the cranes moved outside their traditional wintering areas, beyond Aransas NWR. The ongoing drought only exacerbated the situation, with both fresh water and blue crabs – a favorite Whooping Crane delicacy – at a premium. Fortunately, for the past number of months there have been some positive developments that begin to address this situation.
These efforts aim to increase the amount of secure habitat and related buffer zone for these significant crane wintering grounds, especially since the carrying capacity of the habitat for the cranes is in question. A recent study by Texas A&M and The Crane Trust suggested that the goal of reaching 1,000 cranes on the Texas Coast by 2035 may hit a proverbial brick wall at 700 birds unless some serious measures are taken.
A number of partnerships involving the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, the Texas Parks and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, the Whooping Crane Conservation Association, the USFWS, and others have recently secured multiple fee-title and easement properties near the refuge. These include all or parts of Falcon Point Ranch, Big Tree Ranch, areas near Holiday Beach, and several other parcels.
Lorne Scott of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association said that the wintering habitat is more confined and threatened than the Canadian breeding grounds, and added, “The wintering habitat is so scarce and so unavailable, anything that does come up and has potential, we try to secure it.”
You can find more 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:
Since the mid-1970s the Paton residence in Patagonia, Arizona, has served as a must-stop location for birders, wildlife-photographers, and the generally nature-curious traveling or living in southeast Arizona.
The late Marion and Wally Paton put this location on the map by managing their property for birds and inviting the public to join them. The Patons planted bushes and flowers in their Patagonia backyard to attract birds, and they set up a variety of bird feeders, especially hummingbird feeders.
Adjacent to The Nature Conservancy’s well-known Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, the Paton property has been well-suited to welcome guests. And welcome they did! A canopy tent was provided in the backyard and benches and chairs were set up for visiting viewers. Even a chalkboard for recording daily sightings was made available. For over three decades, the Patons continued to feed and attract rare birds, including the first Cinnamon Hummingbird for the U.S., Plain-Capped Starthroats on several occasions, and enough Violet-crowned Hummingbirds that their yard became perhaps the most reliable spot in the U.S. to see this species.
The “Paton Birder Haven” has been featured on TV, in magazine articles, and in travel/birding guides across North America and around the world. Visitors to the Paton backyard have been estimated at 20,000- 30,000 annually, and the only charge to the public has been a tin can on their gate for voluntary donations to defray the cost of sugar for their hummingbird feeders.
After the passing of Wally Paton, and more recently the passing of Marion Paton three years ago, the children of these thoughtful hosts have continued to keep the feeders filled and continued to welcome birders to the privately owned Paton property.
“Honoring our parents’ dedication and 30 years of feeding and attracting birds to their backyard has been an incredible living legacy for the birding community,” said Bonnie Paton Moon.
However, recently the family trust announced the intent to put the property on the market. This decision was reached after more than two years of endeavoring to sell the property to local non-profit birding interests.
The ultimate fate of the “Paton Birder Haven” is unknown. Regardless, it should serve as an access-lesson for all of us.
Just because a wonderful private birding location is made available by gracious hosts doesn’t mean that it will always remain that way. If access is given, it can also be taken away… or simply lost over time. The next owners of the Paton property may be as welcoming as the Paton family, but there are certainly no guarantees. Access matters, but the opportunities are not always permanent, especially when it comes to non-public venues.
Early next month, there will be an unprecedented auction of paintings, drawings, and photographs by Roger Tory Peterson (1908-1996). This auction will be conducted on 8 September at New York City’s prestigious Arader Gallery. Hundreds of these pieces will be available, and the public preview is Friday, 7 September. Some of the offerings are particularly interesting. For example, two hundred individual works created for Peterson’s field guides consist of from six to sixteen detailed images of birds. These were reduced to fit the RTP guide pages, but the far larger originals are truly magnificent. Serious bidders will actually be able to participate in the event on line:
To view the full announcement and details visit:
A number of times in the E-bulletin we have encouraged others to take out a new birder as a real opportunity to spread the word and share the wonders of the birding experience. For instance, we have made this suggestion in May 2009:
In January 2010, we suggested that you consider making a New Year’s resolution to “share the excitement of birds and nature with others, regardless of whether they are old non-birding friends, new acquaintances, young children, or even your city councilman!” See here:
Regardless of how positive a suggestion we might make, an organized campaign is even better.
Enter “Pledge to Fledge.”
The Pledge to Fledge (P2F) effort challenges birders of every interest and skill level to share their passion for birds with others. The idea is to bring non-birding friends and acquaintances, neighbors and their families, outdoors to see and enjoy birds, perhaps for the first time. And the idea is to do it together. P2F has identified the weekend of 24-26 August as an ideal time to introduce newcomers to birds.
On this weekend, non-birding friends should get a taste of the bird watching pastime, be nurtured into becoming casual birders, and then, perhaps, become citizens concerned about bird conservation and the environment.
Ultimately, the idea is to run P2F twice a year. (The second event is currently projected to be in late April.) You can read more about this August launch, access tools, share photos, and sign on to the related P2F pledge here:
Sharing nature and sharing birds must be preceded by discovering nature and discovering birds. If anyone can be identified with what is lost with the absence of that discovery it is Richard Louv. His LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS, subtitled, “saving our children from nature-deficit disorder” shook up the environmental- and children’s-education communities in 2005. It began a debate that spawned national and international efforts to reconnect kids with nature.
Louv’s recent book, on a parallel theme, appeared last year. THE NATURE PRINCIPLE is Louv’s attempt to go further, a call to action for the rest of us. In his own words, Louv wrote that it is “about living in nature – not with it, but in it.” Citing innovative research, anecdotal evidence, and personal stories, Louv makes a case to show how meaningful exposure into the natural world can boost mental acuity, promote health and wellbeing, build smarter institutions and communities, and even strengthen interpersonal relationships. And, yes, even birds and birding make appearances in this volume.
Louv makes a good case, but not necessarily a great case. Unfortunately THE NATURE PRINCIPLE has not drawn nearly as much attention as LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS. Perhaps it’s because the general public is more interested in changing children – the focus of his previous book – than changing themselves and larger institutions. Perhaps it is because this larger picture is simply far too big and needs to be broken down into smaller and more digestible pieces.
This is too bad, because somewhere between E.O. Wilson’s “biophilia” and Richar Louv’s “nature deficit disorder” there really is something serious and meaningful to it. Indeed, this reality impacts all of us, young and old. Ultimately, there deserves to be a broader and deeper discussion on the subject, a discussion which is still waiting to occur.
It’s hard to believe, but this is the 100th issue of the monthly “Birding Community E-bulletin.” When we started this, it was simply an effort to keep some of our colleagues informed on issues pertaining to birds, birding, and bird conservation. And then it began to grow! All the while, we tried to keep it simple: no bells and whistles, no flashy gadgets, no color, no photos, just a balance between entertaining items of birding interest and current conservation concerns presented in an easy-to-read, easy-to-access format.
We are pleased that we have never had to charge for the E-bulletin. And we are grateful to the National Wildlife Refuge Association for their long-standing willingness to archive all of our back issues. You can access these archives on the NWRA website:
Will we get to do another hundred? We hope so. In any case, we always appreciate your feedback.
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