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).
WHAT ABOUT COMMON SHELDUCK?
POSSIBLE EAGLE AVOIDANCE AT WIND FARMS
SOLAR-POWER BIRD REPORT AT IVANPAH
IBA NEWS: DELAWARE BAY NETWORK
BOOK NOTES: CALIFORNIA RARITIES
ACCESS MATTERS: VISITORS’ LOGL
LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN LISTED AS THREATENED
TIP OF THE MONTH: SPARE PAIR, SHARE PAIR
SCOTTS GETS OUT OF BIRDSEED
ANOTHER BUDGET CONCERN: SWG
OWLS AND SLOB PHOTOGRAPHERS
MOUNTAIN BIRD FESTIVAL ATTENDEES TO GET “DUCK STAMPS”
DUST-BOWL-ERA REFUGES LOOK BACK ON 75 YEARS
OSPREY-CAM WITH A TWIST
In the early evening of Wednesday, 9 April, a Marsh Sandpiper was found by Roger Muskat on South Liberty Island Road, about 45 miles south of Sacramento in Solano County, California.
The Marsh Sandpiper is an extremely rare bird anywhere in North America. This slim shorebird breeds in Eurasia and winters from Africa to Australasia. There are only about half a dozen previous records from Alaska, all in the fall and all from the Aleutian or Pribilof Islands. The only previous record in the lower 48 United States was in late October 2013 when a Marsh Sandpiper was found and photographed by the north end of the Salton Sea in California. Curiously, there is also one other fall West Coast record from Mexico, in October 2011 when a bird found in Baja California.
The South Liberty Island Road Marsh Sandpiper was observed by many delighted birders. The last observation was on the morning Saturday, 12 April.
Here are photos by taken by John Sterling:
WHAT ABOUT COMMON SHELDUCK?
Common Shelducks breed from northwestern Europe eastward into China. Although this species is common in many locations in Eurasia – breeding along seashores and the shores of rivers where it forages in shallow waters, grassy shores, and fields –it it is certainly not common in North America.
Indeed, most Common Shelducks observed in North America have been presumed to be escapees from captivity, either from zoos or private waterfowl collections where the species is quite popular. Nonetheless the possibility exists that perhaps some of these handsome ducks have made it to this side of the Atlantic on their own. For example, a first-year female Common Shelduck seen in November 2009 St. John’s, Newfoundland, may have been a legitimate vagrant. Interestingly, the following month, December 2009, another candidate appeared in Essex County, Massachusetts. While there are several additional reports from New England and Ontario, that could also suggest a wild origin, the evidence is still sufficiently moot that bird records committees are reluctant to say with certainty that the reports positively pertain to wild birds.
The most recent possibility came to light last month when a Common Shelduck was photographed at Renews Harbor in Newfoundland, about 60 miles south of St. John’s, on 2 April. Based on the location and habitat where it was found, the wariness of the bird, the timing of its arrival, and the weather patterns preceding the sighting all raise significant questions. Unfortunately, the bird in question was not found again.
To see photographs of this bird taken by Tony Dunne, see:
Common Shelducks, boldly-patterned as they are, are easily spotted in the field They should not automatically be dismissed. Relatively shy birds seen in winter and early spring, especially if seen in tidal mudflats and estuaries located between Atlantic Canada and Virginia, all deserve serious consideration!
POSSIBLE EAGLE AVOIDANCE AT WIND FARMS
A trio of researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia observed a total of 1,134 Golden Eagles over three fall migration seasons at the location of a new wind farm, both before and after the construction of the site. The first year was pre-construction followed by two years of post-construction data-gathering.
In the first year, there were 60 flights, with 20 flights through the future “risk zone” (the position where a blade strike could occur, if there were one). In the next two years, only nine of 148 flights across the ridge-top flew through the “risk zone,” which represented a significant drop. Moreover, Golden Eagles seemed to avoid the danger zone even more when the wind was up, thus offering plenty of clearance for turbine blades to spin. Following construction, only three of nine risky trips happened when the wind speed was sufficiently high. In general, the eagles flew high enough to clear the blade-sweep when wind conditions were significant.
In general, these Golden Eagles seemed to show a degree of detection and avoidance of turbine-blade zones during migration.
Of course, these results do not absolve wind power entirely when it comes to threats to bird strikes. The British Columbia study only pertains to circumstances involving one location and one diurnal migrant species – Golden Eagle. These results do suggest however that the siting of wind farms in certain pathways may have less of an impact than might otherwise be expected. The researchers were quick to point out that wind farms placed where birds are more likely to remain for extended periods (e.g., breeding and wintering areas) might still present real problems.
You can access the researchers’ full paper from PLoS One here:
SOLAR-POWER BIRD REPORT AT IVANPAH
Since we are on the subject of the implications of clean energy on birds, it’s time to revisit a story we covered previously. In March, we wrote about a problem with birds being roasted as they fly through the Ivanpah solar-power facility in San Bernardino County, California:
There was news of further developments in early April from a confidential report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory. (The report was made public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, filed in February.) Among other activities, butterflies and other winged insects fly into the bright zone, followed by insect-eating-birds, and those in turn are being followed by falcons and other raptors. Unfortunately, all of them become susceptible to roasting by the heat of the facility.
Remains of birds found at the facility include Cinnamon Teal, Peregrine Falcon, Greater Roadrunner, Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers, and House Finch.
So far, tracking the problem has been difficult. According to the report, small birds may be completely incinerated, severely injured birds may be dying off-site, and those that fall to the ground may get carried away by scavengers.
See here for more information:
Clearly, reports like this indicate that there need to be more and better options and more serious monitoring of projects like this which purport to provide new or improved forms of otherwise desirable energy. Accordingly, the 28-page USFWS report recommended that Ivanpah suspend operations during peak migration times for certain species.
IBA NEWS: DELAWARE BAY NETWORK
One of the most important needs for an Important Bird Area (IBA) is building a public support-base for every IBA. Sometimes it is a public group, sometimes a “Friends” group, that serves as the “fan club” for the IBA, regardless of whether the group is supporting a park, a National Wildlife Refuge, a river corridor, a bay, a watershed, a nesting island, or a seashore.
Delaware Bay is one example. In this case, there are many organizations, communities, and individuals within the Delaware Bay region all with existing projects, opportunities for taking action, or with untapped ideas. Improving communication among the interested parties and creating a stakeholder dialogue is the intent of the Celebrate Delaware Bay Network. The Network’s goals go beyond communication and recruiting more stakeholders; they also include cooperating over education and stewardship activities.
The bay, spanning the states of New Jersey and Delaware, is a not only an IBA, it is also a WHSRN (Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network) Site of Hemispheric Importance. The very first meeting that launched the Celebrate Delaware Bay Network took place in early January. Since then, several working groups have formed to keep momentum going on actions identified. The Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences will serve as the coordinator of the Network and its working groups, develop and manage a website, social media, and other outreach materials, and implement several action-oriented projects with partners.
With peak shorebird migration fast approaching this month, the network members are focused on further developing the network, communicating with each other, and sharing and expanding critical projects like horseshoe crab rescue, beach stewardship, student involvement, and leadership engagement.
This effort may end up serving as an example for IBA support over an extensive area, making it a project that other IBA stewards beyond Delaware Bay might want to watch.
For a summary of the Delaware IBA from “both sides” (Delaware and New Jersey) see here:
Interested parties can get more details on the Network’s plans 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:
BOOK NOTES: CALIFORNIA RARITIES
Rare Birds of California, a wonderful book published in 2007, is out of print. But that may be alright because interested people can now access all the excellent information that book contains in a free, online version. The online version includes all the information found in the original.
Even better: the Western Field Ornithologists and the California Rare Birds Committee have also allowed the reader to easily access all the records of rare birds found since the publication of the book.
Indeed, when we reviewed the book in these pages in January 2008, we recommended just such an e-solution for a book that loses its shelf-life practically as soon as it is printed. See:
You can see for yourself, here:
ACCESS MATTERS: VISITORS’ LOG
For this month’s “Access Matters” feature, consider the vital list. No, consider that other vital list.
When a special bird or a special bird-oriented event takes place, a list of observers should be collected.
Take, for example a western Calliope Hummingbird appearing at a residential feeder in the East, a Curlew Sandpiper visiting a local wastewater treatment plant, a Brown Thrasher visiting a backyard feeding station in Oregon, a Boreal Owl spending the winter in a few pine trees at an old church cemetery, a Kelp Gull hanging out behind a popular seafood restaurant, a Northern Lapwing in a local farm-field, or maybe a cooperative pair of nesting Peregrine Falcons that can be seen from the twelfth floor of a city office building.
In each of these cases, access to the location and the bird is probably limited or else is provided only through the good graces of a homeowner, plant manager, church pastor, restaurant owner, farmer, or building manager.
Starting a visitor-list from the very beginning of when a rare or remarkable bird is discovered is a good idea. Don’t wait until the fourth day… or the fourth week. Knowing who is showing up, where they are from, and how many folks have come is important and useful information. In fact, in some cases it may be crucial in influencing others, especially policy makers, when the need arises to make a case for why birding access may be good for the community, for the local economy, and for birding itself.
One can only say that “600 people from eight states came to see the Curlew Sandpiper at the otherwise closed Smithville Wastewater Treatment Plant over two weeks” if a log of visitors was actually maintained and kept!
The visitors’ log can help open the door and facilitate access the next time, so missing the opportunity to maintain a log can actually be a handicap when trying to build better community relations.
LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN LISTED AS THREATENED
In late March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed the Lesser Prairie-chicken as a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This final listing decision in response to the species’ rapid and severe decline was accompanied by a special rule meant to limit regulatory impacts on landowners. This special rule is intended to create assurances for landowners and oil and gas companies that voluntarily enrolled in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Range-wide Conservation Plan for the species – an approach we highlighted in the March issue of the Birding Community E-bulletin:
See here for a summary of the USFWS announcement:
In the May 2012 E-bulletin, we suggested that you keep a spare pair of binoculars in your car. This way, you will always have binoculars at hand, ready to use in your go-to-work drives, your shopping errands, and your spare time between driving chores:
We suggested that these binoculars don’t have to be as good as your regular binoculars, but they should be reliable, and more importantly, they should be available.
This month we take this suggestion a step further. These binoculars can become your “share pair” as well as being your “spare pair.”
These are binoculars you can share with your aunt Louise, your neighbor Fred, the local pastor, the inquisitive teacher, or the new postal worker delivering your mail. The binoculars are what you can use to show off the nesting Northern Mockingbirds, the raptor overhead, the waterfowl by the local pond. These are binoculars that you store in the car but can take along on a walk at a moment’s notice to help a new aspiring birder. And sometimes, just sometimes, your spare pair is much better than the binoculars the other person may actually own. Your friend or neighbor may decide to upgrade!
In 2012, Scotts Miracle-Gro, based in Marysville, Ohio, agreed to plead guilty to federal court charges and agreed to pay fines in connection with distributing 73 million units of birdseed coated with the insecticides Storcide II and/or Actellic 5E between November 2005 and March 2008. These insecticides were used to keep insects from eating the seed during storage but they have been determined to be toxic to birds. Scotts is the world’s largest marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products. This story appeared in the March and October 2012 E-bulletin:
In late March of this year, Global Harvest Foods acquired the Scotts Miracle-Gro U.S. wild bird food business. The acquisition transfers to Global Harvest Foods some of Scotts’ familiar name brands: Songbird Selection, Morning Song, and Country Pride. The deal includes the Scotts birdseed manufacturing plant in Reynolds, Indiana.
You can find more information here:
Last month, we profiled the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) as a vital bird-funding mechanism that deserved special appreciation and special concern this year:
This month, we take a look at the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants (SWG), a successful and struggling part of the federally-funded bird-and-wildlife mix for over a dozen years. SWG is the primary funding source available for state wildlife agencies to restore and manage non-game birds and wildlife species at risk.
State and regional conservation work on such species as Black Oystercatcher, Mountain Plover, Golden-winged Warbler, Tricolored Blackbird, Bobolink, Dickcissel, and Bachman’s and Henslow’s Sparrows have all been funded through SWG. This funding source remains the only federal program with the explicit goal of trying to prevent Endangered Species listings, even though state wildlife agencies have to return every year, practically with hat-in-hand, to ask for funding.
You can find more background here on SWG since 2001:
As we mentioned last month, the President’s proposed FY 2015 budget made a request for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants of only $50 million, a disappointing drop, from $58.7 million. This proposed 15 percent cut may be an indication that the Administration’s support for SWG is wavering. If so, it would be tragic; it would put the funding back to its original 2001 level, at $50 million.
In the past, the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant funding has fluctuated considerably (e.g., $65 million in FY03, $75 million in FY09, $90 million in FY10, $61.4 million in FY12). Unfortunately, this funding is not dedicated, or guaranteed on a yearly basis.
Had the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) passed the Senate in 2000, after having overwhelmingly passed the House that spring, these wildlife grants to the states would have been guaranteed at $350 million annually, a far cry from the comparatively impoverished SWG. By now, the total for the states would have surpassed $4.2 billion. Instead, over the last dozen years not quite a quarter of that has gone to the states for wildlife sustainability.
If the proposed 15 percent cut to SWG stands, bird conservation in the U.S. will be dealt a serious setback.
Next month, we’ll review the funding situation for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
In the January 2012 E-bulletin, we described a SLOB as a Selfish, Lazy, Obnoxious, Birder:
A SLOB rarely gives help to others in a birding group, is convinced that “Keep Out” signs are not to be taken seriously, and through other clueless or irresponsible activities is an embarrassment to other birders.
Unfortunately, we have this sort of activity among some rogue bird photographers, too.
Last winter’s invasion of Snowy Owls brought out some of the worst in this category, with both birders and bird photographers approaching far too close to the owls, and on occasion, using “bait” (e.g., live or not-so-live rodents) to draw the owls even closer. Some Snowy Owls got so used to this activity that they would actually approach observers, landing at their feet and begging for food, whether or not mouse-bait was being used! Clearly, this activity puts the owls at risk.
This baiting practice has also been observed with Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk-Owls.
After a series of these incidents in Minnesota, the state legislature is now considering a proposed wildlife regulation, supported by a number of Minnesota legislators. In part it reads: “A person may not intentionally lure or feed an owl in the wild with any animate or inanimate object, food, or animal… For the purposes of this section, ‘lure’ means to purposefully attract a wild owl in an attempt to cause it to move from one location to another and ‘feed’ means to put in place, in the presence of a wild owl, any living or frozen animal or facsimile.”
Exceptions are made for scientific research, bird banding, or for rescue. The proposed regulation is restricted to visual luring, and an amendment is being considered to clarify that the use of audio recordings will not become illegal.
You can read the original wording of the proposed regulation here (without reference to audio recording):
The Yurok, Native Americans who live in northwestern California, traditionally regard the California Condor as sacred. Last month, after five years of negotiations, the tribe received permission to release captive-bred California Condors into the Redwood Coast, where the species hasn’t soared for more than a century.
The memorandum of understanding on the project includes state and federal agencies and the Ventana Wildlife Society, allowing for test releases. Meetings will begin in two month to establish protocols and select an appropriate release site. The first releases, which would be California’s northernmost releases, could come in the next one to three years.
More details here from a Los Angeles Times story:
There are so many wonderful birding festivals in the U.S. and Canada that we simply can’t write all of them up in the Birding Community E-bulletin. Only if there is something unique or groundbreaking about a festival are we likely to mention it in the E-bulletin.
The Klamath Bird Observatory has come up with just such a unique feature for its new Mountain Bird Festival. The inaugural Mountain Bird Festival in southern Oregon, an event starting on the last day of this month, will be providing every registered attendee with a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp.
As far as we can tell, this is a first. Yes, many festivals have promoted the stamp, but none has provided every participant with one. You can find more on the festival here:
In the 1930s, the Dustbowl brought widespread ruin across the Great Plains, but in North Dakota, the ecological disaster had at least one good outcome: the establishment of a large number of National Wildlife Refuges.
Biologist, J. Clark Salyer, hired at the age of 32 in 1934 to manage the Division of Wildlife Refuges, actually handpicked many of North Dakota’s Dustbowl-era refuges. Salyer crisscrossed the drought-parched state in his Oldsmobile station wagon, sometimes driving 600 miles a day, to find distressed farmlands and buy those that he could. In spring 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive orders establishing 29 of these new purchases as wildlife refuges.
The wetlands and grasslands secured at that time continue to provide vital breeding habitat for a remarkable number of dabbling and diving waterfowl plus a home for such regional specialties as Yellow Rail, Marbled Godwit, Franklin’s Gull, Black Tern, Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur and a group of special sparrows including Baird’s, LeConte’s, and Nelson’s.
In May and June of this year, 29 of these refuges will mark their 75th anniversaries while facing a new ecological crisis: the rapid conversion of surrounding prairie grasslands and wetlands to spreading agriculture, oil and gas development, and other uses. Will Meeks, Assistant Regional Director for Refuges for the USFWS Mountain-Prairie region recently remarked, “As our native prairie lands vanish, the refuges are becoming more vital than ever as natural oases.”
Osprey-cams, eagle-cams, peregrine-cams, and heron-cams are no longer novelties, although they are still wonderful and still attract lots of adoring Internet fans.
But instead of installing a camera where the birds are nesting, what happens when the birds are attracted to a site where there is already an installed camera?
This is what happened in mid-April at the western side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on its span to the DelMarVa Peninsula. On Friday, 18 April, an Osprey began building a nest with sticks in front of a traffic camera on an over-the-road gantry. Since the nest-building was interfering with camera use, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) removed the sticks. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the nest could be removed as long as there were no eggs.
For the next few days, this pattern continued multiple times: Osprey building, human stick-removal. Meanwhile the media in the Washington DC area (including nearby Annapolis) was following the show, with many citizens publicly volunteering solutions to the Osprey vs. MdTA battle. Concerns included bird-and-car safety with the nest being constructed right over the busy road, and the assertion from MdTA that relocating the camera away from the nest would have been too complicated.
By Wednesday, 21 April, the scene had shifted. The Ospreys had returned, this time in front of a different camera on the opposite, westbound, side of the road!
By the next day, a solution was finally in place to please all sides. MdTA workers constructed and installed a 4-by-4-foot square wooden platform with a safety trim. It was placed on the gantry within 10 feet of the Osprey?s new nest-site.
It worked, with the sticks accumulating anew on the box-like platform. Moreover, one of the traffic cameras will be turned toward the nest once a day from noon to 12:15p.m. from Monday through Thursday, traffic conditions permitting. The public can look at the BayBridge website and go to “Gantry N1”:
You can read more information on the story here from the Capital Gazette (Annapolis, 25 April):
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