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).
Last month, we highlighted the amazing appearance of a Critine Wagtail in British Columbia; this month we have a closely-related species that appeared in coastal southern California. The December rarity is a White Wagtail, a fundamentally Eurasian species that is a very rare nester in extreme western Alaska in North America, mostly in the vicinity of the Bering Straits. In this region, it may sometimes be found nesting in and around remote villages, often frequenting beaches, rocky breakwaters, rusting detritus, and old buildings.
The White Wagtail in California was a surprise find on the morning of 8 December, when Bernardo Alps was leading a bird walk for whalewatch naturalists at Outer Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, California. The White Wagtail was observed flying back and forth along much of the length of the beach. The bird was seen in the same sort of habitat where it is found in Alaska, except it was in far southern Los Angeles County! It hung around the base of a low bluff with rocks and kelp, and also visited the sandy beach.
Remember, this is a bird that may normally be found wintering in Southeast Asia!
There are slightly more than two dozen records for California since the early 1970s. Other West Coast records – outside Alaska – include about four in British Columbia, three in Washington, and three in Oregon.
Many birders visited Cabrillo Beach last month to see this bird, which cruised the area until it was last reported on the morning of 18 December.
To see photos by Dinuk Magammana from the day of discovery, check: www.flickr.com/photos/nature_and_animals/8255220723/in/photostream/ or you can watch a short video by Chris Taylor from 10 December (note the coastal riprap): http://vimeo.com/55318655
Exactly a year ago, we highlighted as our rarity of the month, a stunning Falcated Duck that appeared at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, about an hour drive north of Sacramento, California. For details see our January 2012 E-bulletin: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=4687#rarity
This bird remained near the observation deck at Colusa NWR through 10 February 2012.
Last month, on 2 December, Mike Peters, Colusa NWR manager once again observed a Falcated Duck in front of the observation deck at the same exact wetland.
The world population of the Falcated Duck is estimated at about 35,000 birds, most of which winter in Japan, the Koreas, and southeast China. Remarkably this male returned to precisely the same site in the Central Valley, probably with some of the same American Wigeons and Northern Pintails that were its neighbors last winter.
Falcated Ducks have previously done this on the West Coast, including in Oregon and elsewhere in California. It’s possible that the Colusa bird could stay in the area a while – it was still there through 19 December and was seen at Sacramento NWR (10-15 miles north) on 30 December. Who knows? It might even return to the area for another winter!
The Minnesota Vikings are planning a new stadium, one that may take three years to build and could cost up to $975 million. Construction is scheduled to start this coming fall.
In an effort to make environmental recommendations for the plans, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has urged project designers to make the stadium “bird-friendly.” If the new stadium is to have prominent glass features, the designers should consider using angled glass or “fritted glass,” which can provide visual cues to birds to prevent collisions, said Melissa Doperalski, the DNR regional environmental assessment ecologist. Other ways to make the stadium collision-proof could include using window films, internal shades and blinds, and visible external markings
For more details on this construction story, see here: http://bit.ly/Zcjp1L
In July 2012, we mentioned the possible importation of Cuban Bullfinches, in a story that questioned the status of a Cuban Grassquit in the Miami area.
Last fall, a Miami man actually attempted to smuggle 16 Cuban Bullfinches into the U.S. He was searched at the Miami airport after getting off a flight from Havana. On October 20, authorities from Customs and Border Protection found 16 “Negritos de Cuba” – Cuban Bullfinches – in 76-year-old Alberto Diaz Gonzalez’s pants. The man had concealed the birds in hidden pockets in plastic containers stuffed in his trousers.
When confronted by customs officers, Diaz Gonzales admitted to plans of selling the bullfinches in the U.S., probably within the greater Miami area.
On 6 December, Diaz Gonzales pleaded guilty to violating the federal anti-smuggling statute by attempting to import undeclared wildlife. Sentencing is scheduled for February, when Diaz Gonzales faces a possible maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison, to be followed by up to 3 years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. It’s unlikely that the authorities will throw the proverbial book at Diaz Gonzales, but clearly the letter of the law can be tough.
For birders, however, the issue goes beyond the inappropriate importation of wildlife; it also involves the possibilities of encountering Cuban Bullfinches “in the wild” in Florida. With fairly common black-market exchanges of these birds in south Florida, the provenance of such exotic species is likely to always be in doubt.
For more details on this most recent case, see the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida: www.justice.gov/usao/fls/PressReleases/121206-04.html
On 30 November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started a 90-day process to consider whether the Lesser Prairie-Chicken should be recognized as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This is clearly a bird in trouble. Once found in abundant numbers across large parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, the bird’s native grassland habitat has been reduced by an estimated 84 percent.
Despite state, regional, NGO, and private-landowner efforts to address this population decline, the overall downward trend for the species has not changed. According to Dan Ashe, Director of the Service, “We are encouraged by current multi-state efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat, but more work needs to be done to reverse its decline.”
You can view the USFWS statement on the public comment period here: http://tinyurl.com/prairiech
At the same time, major oil and gas interests, a number of Western lawmakers, and many nervous ranchers eye the move with exaggerated alarm. One such report of the line-up of concerns was summarized here by NBC: http://tinyurl.com/NBCpc
And now for a look at a pair of species in trouble in eastern Canada…
In late November, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) met in Ottawa. In response to population declines for two bird species, COSEWIC assessed Wood Thrush as Threatened in Canada, while Eastern Wood-Pewee was assessed as a Special Concern species. Wood Thrush populations in eastern Canada have plummeted by as much as 83% since 1970. Eastern Wood-Pewee has not done much better, with populations having dropped by about 70%.
This decision brings into question the actual status of forest songbird species in eastern Canada, species which have been previously considered to be both common and widespread.
California birder extraordinaire, Rich Stallcup, passed away on 15 December of complications from Leukemia. He was a one-man powerhouse in California field ornithology, a major force in bird protection and bird education, and simple birding fun.
Rich was merely a teen when he shared a vision of establishing the first bird observatory in the U.S. at his beloved Point Reyes, California. That would eventually become PRBO. Among his many accomplishments he was a founder of the observatory and served on its Board of Directors, was president of the Western Field Ornithologists (1975-78), was a Regional Editor for AMERICAN BIRDS (11 seasons), was a co-owner and tour leader for the tour company WINGS (1976-88), was a member of the California Rare Bird Records Committee (eight years), and wrote and published many articles and four books about birds, nature, and the joy of discovery.
Over the decades he led more than 1,000 PRBO trips, bird walks, and open ocean nature tours.
Rich Stallcup spent his life getting outdoors, appreciating birds and nature, and sharing the wonder of it all with others. As he was fond of saying, he “brought nature to humans.”
To view a collection of comments on Rich’s life and contributions, see this page on the PRBO website: http://data.prbo.org/tools/guestbook/RichStallcup.html
Well over a million shorebirds of multiple species use the upper Bay of Panama on their way south after breeding, thus making the area a vital stopover site for migrating shorebirds. The shorebirds require the bay’s rich feeding grounds to store up sufficient energy to continue their migration southward. It is estimated that perhaps 30 percent of the world’s entire population of Western Sandpipers use the bay as a stopover migration site. Not accidentally, the area is a Panamanian Important Bird Area (IBA).
The bay was also declared a Ramsar site (Wetland of International Importance) in 2003, and was included in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) in 2005. In 2009, over 80,000 hectares of the Panama Bay Wetland became a National Protected Area. Its status is nicely summarized in its profile as a WHSRN site: www.whsrn.org/site-profile/upper-bay-panama
Last spring, however, legal protected status in Panama was withdrawn because of pressure from significant urban and resort developers, including the involvement of hotels and golf courses. The risk to shorebirds is grave. “If these wetlands are lost, you break the chain of wetlands shorebirds need for successful migrations,” says Rosabel Miro, Panama Audubon’s executive director.
Actions are being taken to save the bay and restore its protected status by working with local communities that are dependent on the wetland and mangrove system as a nursery for fish and shellfish. You can find more details on these actions here: www.birdlife.org/community/2012/12/panama-bay-developers-threaten-to-break-the-chain-of-shorebird-stopover-sites/
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: http://web4.audubon.org/bird/iba/
Brambling, a Eurasian finch that is now seen almost annually in Alaska, is much rarer farther south in Canada and the northern U.S. states. It is increasingly expected in the Pacific Northwest, however. Almost each winter, birders can count on at least one being found somewhere in the region, but the bird remains rare enough to usually draw the attention of active birders.
Last month was a case in point when at least three Bramblings were found in British Columbia and Washington. Two of them were at feeders.
The first was found during a local Christmas Bird Count on 16 December at the home of Tom Lowery and Robyn de Young in Summerland, British Columbia. . The Brambling was coming to feeders on the street side of the house, and could be seen from the road. The welcoming homeowners suggested that visiting birders avoid coming between 8 and 9am, since the home was across from an elementary school that was busy in the morning. Eager birders complied and enjoyed seeing the Brambling during its stay until 18 December without disturbing the neighborhood.
The second Brambling was discovered on Christmas Eve at a feeder in Birch Bay Village, Washington. The situation was more complicated here: the homeowners, Robert and Virginia Small, lived in a gated community, and birders needed to contact them in advance of their visit so security would let the birders through the gate. Though this Brambling only stayed until 26 December, Mrs. Small said that birders were very well behaved and “the people were wonderful, cooperative and sharing.” There were as many as 100 happy visitors on 26 December alone.
Lessons here involve willing homeowners, visiting standards, and cooperative birders. In both cases, the homeowners had no obligation whatsoever to announce the rarity or make access opportunities possible, yet they chose positively to do so in both cases. Best of all, everyone had a good experience. Lessons were learned and birders left happy.
It’s the season to pay special attention to your feeders. There are plenty of fine visitors to backyard feeders this season – Evening Grosbeaks, crossbills, Common Redpolls, among others – in both southern Canada and the northern tier of the United States. Other regions are hosting their own regular and special visitors. So, don’t let your feeders go empty.
The Christmas Bird Count season is wrapping up, and many counters who scoured their sector assignments and found empty feeders in once busy feeder-yards were no doubt disappointed. Admittedly, some of the problem this winter is that in this economy, for some birders birdseed is deemed a luxury. Since next month is National Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count, the time is now to get the neighborhood birds acclimated to your selection of feeders. Don’t forget to offer fresh water with a bath-warmer if you’re in northern climes, and an accompanying brush pile for birds to use for a quick escape from predators.
Bird-feeding is still relatively cheap entertainment, especially compared to a night out at the movies followed by dinner at a restaurant, so bird-feeding has benefits to both birds and those who feed them.
Finally, bird-feeding is a fine opportunity to introduce others to birds and birding, specifically your neighbors and friends. And, in line with the two Bramblings mentioned above, it’s frequently the opportunity to share the experience with strangers if you’re fortunate enough to have an extra-special bird show up at your feeder!
It got close to the finish-line, but it never got across. That’s the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 (S. 3525), a package of outdoor sporting-and-conservation issues that grew from about 15 separate bills in September to a mega-package of over 20 bills three months later.
It was a coalitional and compromise effort, a consensus-oriented package. The mix included Making Public Lands Public (dedicating a percentage of the Land and Water Conservation Fund for hunting, fishing and other recreational access), Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support, creating an electronic Duck Stamp and the ability to raise the stamp price through the Department of the Interior in consultation with the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, and the official authorization of Migratory Bird Joint Ventures. The package would also reauthorize critical conservation programs, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, Nutria eradication and control programs, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) reauthorization. Toward the end of package-building last month, an important Sodsaver provision was added to protect ancient native prairie.
A very broad coalition of groups backed the effort. Among others, they included the following: American Fisheries Society, Boone and Crockett Club, Conservation Fund, Delta Waterfowl Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Isaac Walton League, the Nature Conservancy, National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Wildlife Refuge Association, National Wildlife Federation, North American Grouse Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trust for Public Land, Wilderness Society, and Wildlife Management Institute.
Despite good support on the Hill and an extraordinary breadth of outside groups backing the package, the mega-bill was in the hands of the least-productive Congress in memory. And unfortunately Congress was up to its justly-acquired reputation.
First, there was resistance to Duck Stamp changes, hinging on Republican Senators’ accusations of budget violations. (Some observers opined that the bill’s provisions would put the Stamp price on the table every three years, and, at the same time, take the power of the purse away from Congress.) Once the Stamp issue was effectively resolved, two Democratic Senators raised questions about the inclusion of language barring the EPA from regulating lead in ammunition or fishing gear. (Odious as that inclusion appears, it would have codified what the EPA itself had already and unfortunately declared in the case of ammunition: that it does not have jurisdiction.)
Clearly, not everything in the huge package was perfect, but the clock had run out for further compromise or meaningful discussion. There would be no Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 passed by the 112th Congress. It will have to wait for 2013 and the new 113th Congress. One can hope that it gets a timely and fair hearing.
Joy M. Kiser has unearthed a remarkable story of 19th-century ornithology intertwined with a look into a true labor of love in AMERICA’S OTHER AUDUBON (2012, Princeton Architectural Press). In this beautiful book, readers will discover that Kiser has brought to light an almost forgotten work.
Genevieve “Gennie” Jones was a brilliant, young, and self-taught student of birds. In an effort to lift her spirits following a doomed romantic relationship, in 1876 she was encouraged by her family to produce a book that had been considered for years. This was to be a book illustrating the nests and eggs of some 320 species of American birds.
The book’s original scope was reduced to 130 species, all of which nested in Ohio, where the Jones family resided. Gennie’s work, the “Illustrations of Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio” was to be a pioneer work and a resource, the likes of which were simply unknown at the time. A total of only 100 copies was originally planned, and the arduous task of producing them was assumed by Gennie, her closest friend, Eliza Schulze, Gennie’s parents(Nelson and Virginia), and her brother, Howard. Disaster struck when Gennie, at the age of 32, died from typhoid in August 1879, leaving the task of completing the book to her grieving family. The obstacles to her family members, including illnesses (e.g., heart damage from bouts of typhoid and temporary blindness), learning art and printing skills, and financial strain did not deter them from finishing the project. The book was finished in 1886, at the time filling a major gap in ornithological literature. With 94 copies ultimately completed, Gennie’s brother Howard spent the rest of his life selling them.
Kiser opens the book by recounting the entire story of Genevieve Jones and her family. The rest of the volume consists of over 140 pages of glorious illustrations and accompanying text from the original volume. While the prints are reproduced only a bit smaller than the original book, they are nonetheless large, colorful, and beautifully presented. The artwork by Gennie Jones and her mother, Virginia, is detailed and memorable. The paintings of the eggs by Howard Jones are slightly less dramatic, often appearing somewhat flat – a frequent difficulty when attempting to reproduce images of eggs.
The back-story to the book is touching, dramatic, and unique, and the functional rerelease of the original book should be an enduring contribution to our history of ornithology and to art.
For more on the story and a wonderful exhibition on the subject at Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon, see here: http://kymry.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/nest-eggs-heartbreak-beauty-exhibition/
Last month’s National Geographic quiz question concerned Mao Zedong’s “Four Pests Campaign” of the late 1950s in China targeted supposed pests, including the mosquito, fly, rat, and a sparrow: What sparrow species was the main target of this campaign?
And the correct answer was: Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Last month’s five winners of the BIRDS OF PARADISE, by Tim Laman and Edwin Scholes were: Robert A. Askins (New London, Connecticut), Julie Marie Evans (Mount Airy, Maryland),
Lois Goldfrank (Santa Cruz, California), Barbara Johnson (Annapolis, Maryland), and Peter G. Saenger (Allentown, Pennsylvania).
You can find a short review we did on this book in November here: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=6635#book
Since we traditionally start each issue with a highlighted rarity for the previous month, we thought it might also be appropriate to end this first E-bulletin of 2013 by briefly mentioning some of the rarities of 2012 that, for one reason or another, we did not profile.
Some were not mentioned because they were ephemeral, documented but not necessarily observed by many. Some were in very remote locations (e.g., Alaska localities). Other rarities just got second standing in our judgment, compared to others seen in the previous month. In any case, here are a few (in roughly chronological order):
Dusky Thrush – Anchorage, Alaska
Rufous-backed Robin – multiple individuals in Arizona, also Nevada, California
Slaty-backed Gull – a fascinating spread involving multiple individuals in California, Illinois, Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts, Newfoundland, Ontario, and Saskatchewan
Pink-footed Goose – another sprinkling of intriguing individuals in the Northeast, including geese in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Maine
La Sagra’s Flycatcher –multiple individuals in south Florida
Crimson-collared Grosbeak – multiple individuals in the lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas
McKay’s Bunting – Damon Point, Washington
An outstanding collection of spring and fall birds at Gambell, Alaska, including the following – Terek Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, Yellow-browed Warbler, Dusky Warbler, and Siberian Blue Robin
Another collection of Eurasian rarities on St. Paul Island, Alaska, including the following – Pin-tailed Snipe, Dark-sided Flycatcher, Eurasian Bullfinch, Hawfinch, and Pine Bunting
Gray-tailed Tattler – Nantucket, Massachusetts
Pelagic rarities are a special case, since they cannot reasonably be refound by new observers. Still, some favorites of ours include the following 10:
Black-browed Albatross – North Carolina
Mottled Petrel – British Columbia
Short-tailed Albatross – Western Aleutians, Alaska and Fort Bragg, California
Hawaiian Petrel – off Santa Cruz County
Cook’s Petrel – off Humbolt County and San Diego County
Murphy’s Petrel – off San Diego County
Red-tailed Tropicbird – off San Mateo County
Fea’s Petrel – off Long Island, New York and off South Carolina
Herald Petrel – off Maryland
White-faced Storm Petrel – off Maryland, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia
Note: Most of these rarities were gleaned from the fine folks who keep the North American Rare Bird Alert – NARBA – going. You may want to give their website a look: www.narba.org/. And we always recommend the journal of record that keeps tabs on these ongoing trends and developments, NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. You might want to look here for more on that journal: www.aba.org/nab/
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