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.
And by NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, publishers of a complete line of birding books for beginners and experts, available wherever books are sold. To purchase online and get updates on books, authors, events, and contests, like us on Facebook.com/NatGeoBooks or purchase at www.shopng.com/birdbooks.
You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA).
On 12 September, Deb Vogt of Las Vegas, Nevada, photographed a Piratic Flycatcher at Rattlesnake Springs, in New Mexico. This isolated site is a well-known migrant trap about 26 miles south of Carlsbad and not far north of the Texas border. It is a desert oasis comprised of cottonwoods that surround a spring and stream; a one-half mile wetland and small stream where sedges, rushes and cattails flourish.
Vogt first thought the bird was a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, but photos later confirmed that it was a much rarer Piratic Flycatcher. The bird was found feeding around a large pond, not far beyond the Rattlesnake Springs picnic area.
Rattlesnake Springs is a detached unit of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a place where the National Park Service maintains an adjacent picnic area with running water, picnic tables and restrooms.
The Piratic Flycatcher was observed almost every morning – and sometimes in the afternoons – through the afternoon of 25 September by many happy birders who made the journey to see it.
You can view photos by Deb Vogt here:
This Neotropical flycatcher breeds from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to northern Argentina. There are fewer than 10 records for the U.S., mostly all from Texas. Remarkably, a previous Piratic Flycatcher record in 1996 was at Rattlesnake Springs and also in September!
After almost two years of internal discussions, external inquiry, budget modeling, and the weighing of options, the National Audubon Society has made two major changes for their popular Christmas Bird Count (CBC) program, starting with the upcoming 113th Count this December.
First, the CBC will now be a free program for counter-participants. For the first time since 1955, NAS will waive the $5 participant fee and replace it with a voluntary donation and sponsorship model.
Second, the annual hardcopy summary of CBC results, AMERICAN BIRDS, will no longer be printed and mailed to all CBC participants. Instead, the summary will appear online and with expanded features. The last print version, covering last winter’s CBC, is scheduled to be mailed this month.
Part of the decision to make these changes was made through a broad survey of recent participants which indicated that the fee was a major obstacle to the program. By dropping the fee more people can be involved with the CBC, more counts can be included in the CBC database, and more accurate effort data can be collected without the fee as an obstacle.
Furthermore, a new interactive web presence – including photos, summaries, and features – can be presented online as CBC data is compiled and submitted.
In the words of Gary Langham, NAS VP and Chief Scientist, “These changes give us all a new opportunity to talk about the tradition and value of participating in the CBC and the importance of the data to the body of bird conservation knowledge.”
In preparing for the upcoming season’s CBC, birders may want to review their familiarity with “winter finch” field marks.
Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists has once again presented an annual Winter Finch Forecast. Cooperation on the part of the staff of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and the observations of regional birders allow Pittaway to make annual predictions about the seasonal abundance of winter finches. We have discussed these helpful annual predictions in previous E-bulletins going back as far as October 2007.
Although the focus of Pittaway’s forecasts is Ontario, they have implications for a much broader region. Pittaway writes, “This winter’s theme is that a fair number of species – especially Red and White-winged Crossbills, redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, and Evening Grosbeaks – are likely to be on the move this year due to widespread crop failure of fruiting and cone-bearing trees in Canada.”
His forecasts also include species such as Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, Blue Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Bohemian Waxwing.
The Cornell Lab’s eBird program has posted Pittaway’s forecast, and you can read it in its entirety at:
The Conservation Plan for Lesser Yellowlegs was released last month. This 60-page, peer-reviewed status and action plan is the 18th species-specific plan to be published by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) and the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. You can view or download the Conservation Plan for Lesser Yellowlegs along with any of the other 18 species plans already published and being implemented at this WHSRN page:
In the past few years, North Dakota has emerged as one of the nation’s largest oil producers, a reality that is changing the face of large parts of our northern prairie region. The booming oil and gas industries have been putting roads, tanks, warehouses, and related development in many previously untouched areas, including extensive tracts of bird-rich, 10,000-year-old, native prairie.
North Dakota is at the very center of North America’s “duck factory.” It is also home to Yellow Rails, Sprague’s Pipits, Baird’s, Nelsons, and LeConte’s Sparrows, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, among other iconic bird species.
Concerned citizens in North Dakota, attempting to mitigate some of recent development trends, proposed an innovative state constitutional amendment – a Clean Water, Lands & Outdoor Heritage Amendment – on the November ballot that would take a small portion (5%) of all the revenues collected from oil and gas and invest it in water, land, and wildlife conservation. Many organizations in the state backed this proposal, including The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, National Audubon, and Pheasants Forever. With an estimated $50-$88 million a year possibly being made available for these efforts, the potential for birds and bird conservation could be tremendous.
The petition drive began in January to get 27,000 signatures; volunteers went door-to-door and to shopping centers, and the advance polling showed widespread support among state voters. A total of 37,785 signatures were submitted to the North Dakota secretary of state, with the surplus representing a potential cushion for any signatures ruled invalid.
Everything looked great, at least until the state’s Attorney General announced that a number of names – mostly submitted by folks in and around the North Dakota State University football team (the Bison) – were lifted from phone books and similar sources. The NDSU individuals had been hired by an Iowa company contracted to assist in obtaining petition signatures. Twelve of the 15 individuals charged are present or former members of the NDSU football team; all face a court appearance in Fargo in the first week of October.
The conservation initiative was removed from the November ballot, and the expectations for wildlife and habitat conservation in the state have suffered a major setback. The very best that the broad conservation coalition can do is to initiate another petition in January for placement on a June 2014 statewide ballot.
This surprise conservation defeat is well explained in an article from the STAR TRIBUNE (Minneapolis):
For information on how such a conservation amendment in North Dakota could work, see here:
Canadian author, Fred Bodsworth, passed away on Saturday, September 15. Bodsworth, born in 1918, started his writing career in journalism, but ultimately his calling became freelance writing and editing. His most successful novel was LAST OF THE CURLEWS (1955, Dodd Mead).
This beautifully-written classic follows a lone Eskimo Curlew’s 9,000-mile journey from nesting grounds inside the Arctic Circle to the end of South America and back again. The story is an emblematic narrative that blends the wonders of migration, the threat of extinction, and the excesses of man’s role on the environment. The sole surviving Eskimo Curlew in the story comes to embody all that is endangered in nature.
For many, this short and easy-to-read story written in the 1950s was an early and popular introduction to the cause of an environmental movement that had yet to arise. LAST OF THE CURLEWS sold over three million copies, was translated into a dozen languages, and was even adapted into an animated film by Hanna-Barbera Productions that first aired on the American Broadcasting Corporation’s After School Special on October 4, 1972. It won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children’s Programming in 1973.
Fred Bodsworth was a Director and former President (1965-1967) of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (now Ontario Nature), an Honorary Director (since 1970) of the Long Point Bird Observatory and Bird Studies Canada, and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund for Ornithology (1975-1989). He was also a long-time and active member of many bird/naturalist clubs, including the Brodie Club (since 1953), the Toronto Ornithological Club (since 1949), and the Ontario Field Ornithologists (since 1983).
To the many individuals who were touched by his writing skills and his gentle and unassuming personality, he will be sadly missed.
The Mendocino Coast Important Bird Area (IBA) covers a number of distinct habitats in Mendocino County, California, along a 20-mile stretch of coast from the mouth of Ten Mile River south through Ft. Bragg to the Mendocino Headlands. You can read about it here:
In late August, scientists surveying rocky islands in the California Coastal Monument (off the Mendocino County coast) found several breeding sites for the Ashy Storm-Petrel. These sites lie just south of the Mendocino Coast IBA.
Ashy Storm-Petrels have not been found nesting in this area since 1926, and their global population may be as low as 5,500. Recently the species’ primary nesting sites farther south in the Channel and Farallon Islands have been suffering, with the numbers of Ashy Storm-Petrels breeding there declining. As a result, the Ashy Storm-Petrel is a candidate for federal endangered protection. The government is expected to decide on the species’ formal status in the next year.
The discovery this summer of these new nesting sites for this species is good news; although not good enough to declare that the Ashy Storm-Petrel is safe for the long term. The discovery, however, is probably enough to justify extending the Mendocino Coast IBA to encompass these recently discovered nesting sites.
For a news report from the UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL on this nesting discovery, see 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:
In early September, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) met in Washington, DC and approved the addition of more than 10,000 acres in fee-title (direct purchase) and easements (or leases) to seven units of the National Wildlife Refuge System:
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (MT – 810 acres fee and 5,834 acres lease)
San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge (TX – 1,441 acres fee)
Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge (TX, 200 acres fee)
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (NY – 625 acres fee)
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (OR – 24 acres fee)
Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge (SC – 1,543 acres fee)
Tulare Basin Wildlife Management Area (CA – 164 acres easement).
An advance approval for up to 18,581 acres in easements at the Tulare Basin was also favorably received and discussed by the Commission, but a decision was deferred until the March 2013 MBCC meeting.
All properties, of course, depend upon willing sellers, and the money for these acquisitions comes from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, commonly understood as the account where Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp funds are deposited.
Everyone who bought a stamp last year actually contributed to securing these valuable properties. You may now pat yourself on your back!
For more on the MBCC decisions, see here:
And on a related subject… on 29 September, a panel of five judges reviewed 192 waterfowl art submissions to choose the one that would appear on the 2013-14 “Duck Stamp.” The art contest took place at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. A rendition of Common Goldeneye was chosen, painted by Robert Steiner. You can view his winning artwork here:
Bird conservationists are very aware of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, or NAWCA. Many active field birders, however, may be less familiar with this important piece of legislation. Since 1989, NAWCA has provided significant matching grants to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico- all for the benefit of wetlands-associated migratory birds and other wildlife.
Through the end of last year, over 4,500 partners involving almost 2,100 projects have received more than $1.1 billion in grants. As of2011, they contributed another $2.32 billion in matching funds that impacted over 26.5 million acres of habitat and over $1.2 billion in nonmatching funds to cover almost 250,000 acres of wetland and grassland habitat.
The NAWCA experience is brought up here mainly because not all NAWCA-funded projects are accessible to the public. Nor should they always be! The major concern here is conserving habitat, not public access.
Still, the NAWCA program’s evaluation and scoring process now actually gives additional “points” in scoring to projects that make accommodation for public access. This decision was made in early August and will appear in next year’s grant application forms.
The NAWCA’s funding- proposal instructions asks for a description of the “benefits of the proposal to the public (hiking, hunting, birding, education, water quality, etc.)” and also asks if any of the grant/match tracts would allow public access, and if so, what type of access.
Most finalists among the proposals have point scores in the 60-range, and the access issue will account for up to two points. If the proposal accommodates hunting it will be worth two points; if it covers other outdoor recreational activity it will be worth one point.
This move raises three issues:
1. All access – hunting, birding, wildlife photography, hiking, whatever – should be equal and worthy of the same score.
2. One or two points are so low as to have little impact on the total score.
3. In either case, the inclusion of an access issue is a positive first step and one that deserves further exploration as NAWCA continues to evolve.
It’s all important because, basically, access matters.
In March, we reported on the news that Scotts Miracle-Gro agreed to plead guilty to federal court charges and pay significant fines in connection with bird-seed incidents dating back a number of years ago. See our report here:
Scotts is the world’s largest marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products. This case deals in part with the recall of seed for wild birds that had been coated with pesticides that were toxic to birds.
After a plea-hearing on 7 September in Ohio federal court, the Scotts Miracle- Gro Company will pay $12.5 million in criminal fines and civil penalties for violating federal pesticide laws. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a press release that this was the largest criminal penalty and the largest civil settlement ever under FIFRA, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. This final figure includes $4 million in fines, $6 million in penalties, and $2 million on environmental projects to resolve additional civil pesticide violations.
Part of the fine imposed on Scotts – $500,000 – will be split equally among five groups and agencies to fund efforts to protect birds, mostly based in Ohio: Audubon Ohio (for the IBA program), the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (Urban Forestry Program), Columbus Metro Parks (Bird Habitat Enhancement Program), the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and The Nature Conservancy of Ohio.
We might have reminded you about this in the September issue, but it’s certainly not too late.
For much of North America, September, October, and November are prime hawk-watching months. Even if you missed some peak flights in September (e.g., for Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, and Broad-winged Hawk, depending on location), there are still plenty of great opportunities this month and next to partake of some fine viewing of migrating hawks.
This is also the time of year when many bird clubs organize specific hawk-watching field trips. Over the past few decades, many key hawk migration sites have been established throughout North America, and the public is almost always welcome at most of these.
Looking for a hawk-watching site near you? Try here:
If you visit a hawk-watching site in the next month, you’ll undoubtedly have an enjoyable trip along with gaining an added respect for raptors.
To help you enjoy your experience, the second edition of HAWKS IN FLIGHT (Pete Dunne, David Sibley and Clay Sutton) has just been released (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). We’ll review it in the next few months, but you may want to grab a copy before your next hawk-site visit.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association has announced its 2012 Wildlife Refuge Photo contest, an event dedicated to showcasing the National Wildlife Refuge System’s rich diversity of wildlife and habitat. Your photos can help promote the 150-million-acre federal lands system, a centerpiece of conservation in America.
Photographers can submit up to five digital photos to the NWRA website between 7 September and the end of National Wildlife Refuge Week on 12 October of images captured at any National Wildlife Refuge within the last three years.
Southwest Airlines – the Official Airline of the NWRA – is donating $2,000 and four free round- trip tickets to the top prize winner. Other prizes include products and offers from each of the contest sponsors. Results will be announced in late October 2012. You can find contest details here:
A treasury of “science, know-how, beauty, and lore” is how this new book, BIRD WATCHER’S BIBLE, is described. Just published by National Geographic, it is the latest in a growing library of informative books and field guides advanced by National Geographic. The book is edited by Jonathan Alderfer, accomplished artist and birding consultant for National Geographic books, along with the able assistance of Kimball Garrett, Catherine Herbert Howell, and Scott Weidensaul. The team does an admirable job stuffing all sorts of bird and birding information into approximately 400 pages.
At 8×10 inches, this lovely book is both hefty and luscious, and is filled with fine essay-chapters, enhanced with fascinating avian factoids scattered throughout the text. Sections include such entries as, “The birds in your world,” “The anatomy of a bird,” “Birds through the ages,” “Science discovers the bird,” “To be a birder,” “Flight and migration,” and “Bringing the birds back home.”
Readers expect fine photography and stunning illustrations in anything put out by National Geographic, and the new “bible” hardly disappoints. If anything, there may be an oversupply of photographs and illustrations, with a few seemingly disconnected from the text. But no matter; it is better to have an overload of illustrations than a dearth.
This is a fine book and, clearly, there is something in this birding bible for everyone. This book would make a colorful addition anyone’s list of possible holiday gift options – either on the giving or receiving end!
We are delighted to reintroduce our quick-and-easy quiz where E-bulletin readers have a chance to win a fine National Geographic birding publication. For more on NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC bird books, see:
For the next three months, the quiz question will relate to a factoid revealed in the BIRD WATCHER’S BIBLE, reviewed above. You don’t have to have this book to find the answer, but it might help!
This 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.
The prize for October will be a copy of the BIRD WATCHER’S BIBLE, edited by Jonathan Alderfer. You can find additional details about this book here:
Our quiz for October is the following: Native Americans historically had either good or bad omen perspectives on owls. (Apaches associated owls with death; Inuit looked to them for guidance.) Which Native American people saw the Burrowing Owl as the keeper of the underworld, helping souls navigate death?
Please send your answer by 15 October 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.
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