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).
In our November 2012 issue, we mentioned four separate Northern Lapwings found in Massachusetts and Maine in October. These original four European shorebirds soon became the vanguard of a significant trend in the East.
More of these birds were to be found, often associating with Killdeer, in the weeks to follow. First there was a one-day bird with a group of Killdeer at Allentown, New Jersey in early November. Then a duo was found in New York, near Montauk Point, Long Island, on 10 November, which remained a few days. On 11 November, a Northern Lapwing appeared in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, and remained through November. There were two more Northern Lapwings in mid-November in Massachusetts, one at Cumberland Farms, in Middleboro, Massachusetts, and another discovered nearby in Bridgewater. And there was another one-day-wonder in Virginia, at Back Bay NWR on 20 November. On the first day of December, another Northern Lapwing, or, perhaps, two were reported in Nova Scotia.
By the end of the first week in December, about a dozen of these glorious birds had been found in the East.
The trend continued, and it’s about time that we showcased this grand species as our official rarity of the month. That’s because that through February even more Northern Lapwings were sprinkled quite broadly in the East. There were long-term visitors both in Massachusetts (an original pair in place since October at Nantucket) and in New Jersey (a remarkable trio present since mid-January in New Egypt, Ocean County). For the New Jersey birds, see photos here by Rob Fergus: www.flickr.com/photos/90105208@N07/8383740779/in/photostream
February also produced two Northern Lapwings in Rhode Island, a pair that remained for about a week early in the month in Little Compton. And there was a two-day bird in Maryland in Talbot County. See here for photos by Jared Fisher of the Maryland bird: www.flickr.com/photos/69746634@N02/8446538174/in/photostream
And then two remarkable southern observations came in. There was a bird in Georgia on the morning of 6 February found by Lauren Deaner, while leading an ornithology class. It was in Bulloch County. It remained in the area through 24 Febuary, enough time to delight many regional birders.
Another Northern Lapwing appeared on 24 February in North Carolina. Marty Wall found and photographed it in Person County, and the bird remained through the end of the month. Here are some of his photos: www.flickr.com/photos/54116357@N08/8503446239/
And, oh yes, that pair of Northern Lapwings on Nantucket? They were joined by a third individual on 27 February.
Were some of these Northern Lapwings the same individuals found in different places? Perhaps, but only perhaps. Still, this impressive cluster of Northern Lapwings for this season has surpassed all previous seasonal occurrences in recent memory for eastern North America, probably back to 1966. Still, there was one old invasion for the record books. It occurred when a remarkable trans-Atlantic storm in December 1927 deposited an estimated 500 to 1,000 Northern Lapwings to Newfoundland and also a few on our northeastern U.S. shores.
Last month, we wrote about a situation where Bald Eagles had their nest removed from a wind power site near Fisherville, Ontario. While this conflict seemed to be fast-tracked to the disadvantage of the eagle, we stated that in the U.S., even after the Bald Eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List, the Bald and Golden Eagle Act still covered active and inactive nests, although removal permits were available. See here: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=7314#bald
In a related development which shows that eagles are at continued risk at wind energy projects, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed providing wind companies with extended and generous 30-year permits for the “programmatic take” of eagles.
Currently, the federal government allows these companies to get permits to avoid prosecution for the loss of a limited numbers of eagles as part of their normal operations (e.g., through wind turbines and power lines). The companies can get this permission if they also promise to offset the damage. Until now, these permits must be renewed every five years, which gives the public regular opportunity to assess a company’s site operations. Apparently, however, at the request of wind energy interests and in accordance with a recent rule change, the federal government is about to make the permits valid for a full 30 years. That means 30 years without the possibility for public review of the permit.
Curiously, in 2009, when reviewing the five-year standard, the government concluded that it should not grant permits for longer than the five years “because factors may change over a longer period of time such that a take authorized much earlier would later be incompatible with the preservation of the bald eagle or the golden eagle.
If 30-year take-permits were ill-advised in 2009, they are still probably a very bad idea. There is no way to foretell accurately the status of eagles over the course of the next 30 years. Such a permit policy is considered far too lenient by many conservationists.
There have been requests for the revised rule to be shelved until Sally Jewell, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Interior, has had time to fully review the proposal and evaluate its potential impact on eagle populations. You can read about such a request from the American Bird Conservancy here: www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/releases/130219a.html
On 2 February, World Wetlands Day, the San Francisco Bay/Estuary was officially designated by the International Convention on Wetlands (aka RAMSAR) as the most recent “Wetland site of International Importance.” The area includes a number of individually recognized Important Bird Areas (IBAs).
“This designation should be a point of pride for anyone living in the larger San Francisco Bay Area,” said Beth Huning, Coordinator of the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture. “Despite intense urban pressures, San Francisco Bay nonetheless endures as one of our country’s great natural treasures.”
The RAMSAR designation is the result of almost four years of work on the part of member organizations of the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, which coordinates a number of public and non-profit agencies, landowners, and businesses to protect and restore wetlands for migratory birds and other wildlife.
The RAMSAR site includes wetlands and waters for almost 400,000 acres, touching valuable habitat for many species of waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, gulls, terns, raptors, songbirds, and other birds. The area is well known as harboring a huge population of migrating West Coast waterfowl and for hosting more wintering shorebirds than any other estuary along the U.S. Pacific Coast south of Alaska. It is also recognized as a site of Hemispheric Importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN).
For an announcement on the RAMSAR designation, see here: www.sfbayjv.org/sfbjv_wetland_news_documents/press%20release%20on%20JV%20letterhead%20for%20website.pdf
And you can find more information about RAMSAR, and read their own official announcement here: www.ramsar.org/cda/en/ramsar-news-archives-2013-usa-35/main/ramsar/1-26-45-590%5E26050_4000_0__
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/
Buildings with highly reflective windows are extremely dangerous for birds. In particular, migratory birds can be confused by the illusion of safe havens – like sky and trees – reflected during the day in windows, and they can also be disoriented to the point of impact by nighttime reflections on these dazzling glass-rich buildings.
There have recently been two significant legal decisions, both in Canada, dealing with glass and bird-safe buildings. The first case was covered in our December issue, concerning the Toronto-area Consilium Place/Menkes property. It was a mixed decision, with the judge dismissing the three charges, but management working to retrofit the building to prevent excessive bird deaths: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=6732/#glass
The second case was decided differently, a case concerning the Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited, the management company of the Yonge Corporate Centre (YCC) and its three office buildings in Toronto.
Last month, in the ruling for this case, Judge Melvyn Green of the Ontario Court of Justice found that hundreds of birds, including threatened species, had been injured and killed at the buildings during the 2010 spring and fall migrations. But he concluded that the company would not be held liable for the deaths of migrating birds at the buildings since the company was on its way to addressing the problem.
Judge Melvyn, however, rejected Cadillac Fairview’s argument that the laws do not apply to protect migratory birds from reflected light. Instead, he ruled that reflected light from building windows could be prohibited under s. 14(1) of the provincial Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and s. 32(1) of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). Therefore, both the EPA and SARA could be properly interpreted to prohibit the emission (intentional or unintentional) of reflected light where that reflection causes the death or injury of birds. Therefore, the light reflected from the building’s glass windows was responsible for luring the birds to their injury and death.
But the company was acquitted of all charges – including possible hefty fines – because it met the requirement for due diligence. Steps were being taken by the company owners to address the problem – such as installing window films on the most deadly lethal part of the complex at a cost of over $100,000 – and the judge concluded that the owners were acting reasonably under the circumstances.
The ruling marks the first time that the EPA and SARA have been found by a court to apply in the case of window strikes that kill birds. This legal precedent in Canada might have ripple effects felt elsewhere. “This is a significant development in an increasingly serious issue that is gaining more attention worldwide – the impact of man-made structures on wildlife, especially birds, and the need to modify existing buildings, as well as incorporating bird-friendly design into new construction,” said Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Manager for American Bird Conservancy.
According to the Toronto-based Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), at least one million birds are annually killed in building/glass/reflection collisions in the Toronto area, and this figure could conceivably be much higher. Since 1993, FLAP has recovered over 59,000 birds from 165 species within the Greater Toronto Area alone, all victims of collisions with buildings. “It is unsettling to add that 20 of these species are ‘At Risk’ in Canada,” said Michael Mesure, FLAP’s Executive Director, “making it all the more imperative for action to be taken to mitigate this cause of death.”
Last month we looked at the problems arising from a backyard-visiting Black-throated Gray Warbler in Massachusetts and the issue of dealing with a limited-access situation. You can review last month’s access discussion here: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=7314#access
This month, we return to the Bay State to look at how to handle a much-desired Gyrfalcon in west-central Massachusetts. Apparently, this bird was in the Hadley, Massachusetts, area for about three months, but its routine, especially its almost-regular late-afternoon roost, only became known in mid-February.
Marshall Iliff, project leader from Team eBird, tracked down this immature Gyr’s late-afternoon roost on a cliff face viewed best with a scope from a parking lot on private property.
Then, Marshall had the problem of how to share that information with others and without going overboard, either putting the bird’s safety in question (e.g., falconry or even over-eager photographers) or raising the ire of the property owner, dealing with possible crowd-control issues.
After getting permission from the property owner and after consulting with concerned friends and scouts, a creative plan was found. Those interested in seeing this Gyrfalcon would fill out a request for information on a Google on-line spreadsheet form, a request that would indicate the day/afternoon when the observer would want to go to see the Gyr. Directions and viewing-rules would be sent to a set number of these birders on a daily basis, so as to avoid over-crowding and other problems. While the solution wasn’t flawless – other people would probably find out and perhaps arrive unannounced – it was a way to control the situation and not spoil it for the birding community.
By the end of February, the plan seemed to be working, and the birders were respectfully operating by these rules. This is an interesting solution for similar situations, perhaps, a method that can be added to the mix for access consideration by birders elsewhere.
We’ve written before on “Sodsaver,” a proposed provision in the Farm Bill to protect ancient native grassland. Sodsaver has almost made it into law before. The 2008 Farm Bill included a provision regarding the conversion of native sod (i.e., 10,000-year-old prairie), but it was left to the respective governors of the states in the northern Great Plains to approve its implementation. Suffice to say, this approach was simply toothless, and it went nowhere.
Now, Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) have re-introduced legislation to encourage good land stewardship practices and preserve habitats for wildlife on these lands that have not been farmed in the past. They have done this with the introduction of H. R. 686, the “Protect our Prairies (POP) Act.”
Essentially, this legislation would reduce federally-guaranteed crop insurance assistance for the first four years for crops grown on native sod and certain grasslands converted to cropland. Actually, grasslands that have never been tilled have significantly less yield potential for the first several years, in contrast to land that has been cropped for years. The proposed legislation would reduce crop insurance assistance so that it would be proportionate with the production capability of the land, rather than insuring it at the same rate as land that has been farmed for years. Therefore, the insurance would not subsidize the ripping up of valuable native grasslands.
It could save bird habitat and also save money.
Native prairie represents crucial habitat for grassland birds, and there would be little extraincentive to transform this priceless habitat into cropland. Unfortunately, more than 95 percent of the native grasslands of the U.S. have already been lost.
Furthermore, Sodsaver could actually save taxpayers about $200 million over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate from a study done during the 112th Congress.
Will Sodsaver pass? Will it be incorporated into a larger Farm Bill? It almost did before, and this bill is virtually a place-holder for ongoing discussion, if not for actual implementation.
BirdNote is a daily two-minute radio show that combines bird-rich sounds with engaging stories, to illustrate the amazing lives of birds and give listeners a real break from the news of the day. While BirdNote has an expansive radio reach, there are many cities and regions where it is not broadcast.
In March, some of the expected daily stories to be broadcast will include those on Lewis’s Woodpeckers (13 March), sage-grouse leks (16 March), eagles rebounding (19 March), Red-winged Blackbird harems (22 March), and heron nests (28 March).
You can also review the archive of close to 1,200 of their stories here: http://birdnote.org/archive
And if you have an organization or blog that would be a suitable site for a BirdNote widget, here’s a link to the widget designs and instructions: http://birdnote.org/widget
Last month, we encouraged readers to consider the ways to introduce youth to birds.
Now, we suggest that you plan now to set aside an activity in late April to bring new people – young and old – to birds and the outdoors through Pledge to Fledge (P2F).
On 25-29 April, bird enthusiasts across six continents will aim to inspire a broader public awareness for birds by bringing friends and acquaintances outdoor to experience birds, perhaps for the very first time. These birders will be able to share their efforts with the other like-minded bird-supporters through photos, videos, and stories on the Pledge to Fledge website and social media channels.
Participants are being asked to take a pledge to take out newcomers to discover birds, specifically between 25 and 29 April, and, among many other important things, “to be friendly, patient, helpful, and welcoming when approached by ‘non-birders’ or asked about birds by acquaintances.”
You can plan to help at a P2F event or take this time to organize your own. It does not have to be large; small is good too! But it should be reaching out to the uninitiated, the curious, the people whose interest in birds and their future may require some guidance, some help.
Find more P2F details here: www.globalbirdinginitiative.org/pledge-2-fledge/
If you know anyone who has a developing talent for drawing birds, whether that person is young or old, THE LAWS GUIDE TO DRAWING BIRDS by John Muir “Jack” Laws (2012, Heyday) is the book to have.
This unique guide will assist those who have already picked up the pencil to get into the world of drawing birds, those who want to go deeper and learn much more. Moreover, the book has a powerful sub-theme, one which calls for a closer, more intimate, more involved look at the image and the life of birds. The book is a call to make drawing itself a vehicle for seeing. In the words of Laws, “Drawing helps us to look, again and again until we discover new subtlety and wonder in the familiar.”
It is a lovely book, one which gets you to think about the marvel of bird art, closer observations, and creativity. It gets you to think about position, skeletal structure, anatomy.
A book on drawing, however, can also be a real mystery to some readers, some potential users. These people can appreciate the results, the finished product, but they can’t necessarily get a grip on the process. Some folks will simply never get beyond the drawings on page 7.
This is not unique to art. Reading books about music can be similar. The final product may really be enjoyed, but explaining the methods to get there may be daunting, if not almost incomprehensible.
We question whether this book will help those people who believe that they cannot draw. But it will probably thrill those who can!
If you didn’t already hear, “Wisdom,” the female Laysan Albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, a bird who is at least 62 years old, is a mother again. Early on Sunday morning, 3 February, Wisdom’s most recent chick was observed in the nest, pecking its way out of the egg.
We’ve written about Wisdom and her chicks before. She was first banded in 1956, when she was incubating an egg in the same area of the refuge. She was at least five years old at the time.
For more on the blessed event, see here: www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3504
And here is a good interview from NPR’s “All Things Considered” for 6 February: www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/02/06/171290097/oh-mama-worlds-oldest-bird-has-another-chick
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