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).
BOBWHITE CONCERNS, BOBWHITE MEETING
IMBD FUTURE THEMES IDEAS
BOOK NOTES: IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD
UTAH’S FIRST MODERN NESTING CALIFORNIA CONDOR
ACCESS MATTERS: OFFICIAL THANK-YOU
TRICOLORED BLACKBIRDS CONTINUE TO BE IN TROUBLE
REMOTE PACIFIC MONUMENT/SANCTUARY ANNOUNCED
ANOTHER BUDGET CONCERN: NAWCA
FIRST INTERNATIONAL BIRD OBSERVATORY CONFERENCE
NEW DIRECTOR FOR CMBO
TIP OF THE MONTH: SUN PROTECTION
There were some wonderful rarities in Alaska last month (e.g., Common Greenshank, Temminck’s Stint, Common Cuckoo, Oriental Cuckoo, Common House-Martin, and Common Rosefinch), however most of them were at remote locations, like Adak, Gambell, and St. Paul. These are locations where birders could not readily catch up with the birds to see them.
With this in mind, we chose Berylline Hummingbird as our rarity pick of the month.
This species is a rare or casual summer visitor to southeastern Arizona (and very rarely to western Texas and New Mexico). There are about three dozen U.S. records of this Mexican species since it was first reported in the mid-1960s. Most U.S. records occur between June and August in mountain canyons, and often at feeders, in Arizona.
Last month’s Berylline Hummingbird was at The Nature Conservancy’s famed Ramsey Canyon Preserve. It was first reported in the preserve log book on 19 June, and was later photographed on 22 June when it was actively defending a pair of feeders about 400 feet upstream from the preserve headquarters. The bird was very aggressive and managed to chase off everything that came by, including even much larger Magnificent Hummingbirds.
In between bouts, it would sit in a maple tree immediately behind and slightly upstream from the feeders.
The rare hummingbird continued at least through 26 June, and although the preserve was officially closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, accommodations were made so that visiting birders wishing to see this hummingbird on those days were able to gain access.
For a short report on the bird and photos by Steve Lima, see here:
You never know what you’re going to find when you are doing a bird survey or working on a breeding bird atlas, covering assigned geographic blocks and recording evidence of breeding or possibly-breeding bird species.
Such was the case last month on 19 June when Nancy Price and Jane Wiewora were surveying localities in Palm Beach County as part of the effort for the second Breeding Bird Atlas (BBAII) for Florida.
While searching the north side of coastal Juno Dunes Natural Area, they encountered an unfamiliar small bird along a power line. It turns out that the bird was a Bananaquit, a species that is resident practically throughout the Caribbean region (with the exception of Cuba) and from central Veracruz, Mexico, southward to northeastern Argentina.
There are about 50 reports of Bananaquits for south Florida for, mostly between January and March. Almost all the Florida records are presumed to be of the race originating from the Bahamas.
“At the time we had no idea how rare a bird we were seeing,” wrote Nancy Price. “We did think it looked young just by how unsteady it was on the wire.”
Unfortunately, the bird was not relocated during subsequent days. Fortunately, Nancy Price photographed the Bananaquit and confirmed that it was an immature individual.
This raises a question: Given the late date of this observation (previous Florida records for Bananaquits are extremely rare after mid-May) and the fact that this bird was an immature, could this individual have been hatched and raised in Florida? However unlikely the possibility, it is an interesting question.
BOBWHITE CONCERNS, BOBWHITE MEETING
The current status of Northern Bobwhite in the U.S. is less than ideal. Once a common and prolific breeder in pastures, grassy roadsides, and farmlands across the eastern half of the country, the species has experienced a severe decline over a number of decades.
With this in mind, Northern Bobwhite experts from around the country will meet in West Des Moines, Iowa, at the end of this month for the 2014 meeting of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC). The NBTC – comprised of representatives of state wildlife agencies, academic research institutions, and private conservation organizations – is the technical group guiding the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI).
Headquartered at the University of Tennessee, NBCI is intended to elevate Northern Bobwhite recovery from an individual state-by-state proposition to a range-wide, policy-level leadership endeavor. The NBCI goal is to restore wild populations of Northern Bobwhites in this country to levels comparable to those of 1980
Expected to be a central topic at the West Des Moines meeting is the new NBCI Coordinated Implementation Program, a plan that can be viewed here:
This plan was adopted in March by the NBCI Management Board – a group comprised of state wildlife agency directors, -The group laid out a specific, step-by-step roadmap for identifying and developing NBCI Bobwhite Focal Areas, along with identifying measures of success on a landscape scale.
Although the primary target is the Northern Bobwhite, the program’s impacts extend beyond bobwhites to include a suite of declining grassland songbirds, pollinators, and other species. Some of the other birds considered include Greater Prairie-Chicken, Henslow’s Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, and Dickcissel. The NBCI conservation approach to species other than bobwhites is summarized here:
For more information on the NBCI, see here:
IMBD FUTURE THEMES IDEAS
We have written about International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) in the past.
The IMBD’s annual conservation theme is, of course, critical to the program’s success. The official theme tends to drive the messages that people generally hear about birds, bird education, and bird conservation. Most importantly, the annual theme helps point to ways in which the public can participate in bird conservation activities. For 2015 and 2016, there are a number of widely differing suggested themes, including focusing on backyard habitats, invasive species, citizen science projects, and the mysteries of migration.
You can help direct the course of IMBD by making your opinion known.
The official ‘ballot’ for choosing a possible future theme should take under two minutes to complete. You can find the ballot here:
BOOK NOTES: IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD
Douglas Tallamy’s breakthrough Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007) brought the value of native plants and insects to masses of readers and practitioners. Now, with Rick Darke, Tallamy has written a sequel, titled The Living Landscape (Timber Press, 2014), which takes readers to the next level.
This is a book about how native plants play important roles in gardens designed for multiple purposes, and about creating landscapes which support life without discarding traditional aesthetics. It is not simply about the “why” of reconciliation ecology, but rather the “how” of it all. While the book emphasizes the plants and insects that interact in the creative garden, the birds are also central to the design, both as indicators of successful landscape management and as beneficiaries of the entire process.
The book is sumptuously illustrated, and the last 80 pages of the 392-page book provide essential regional plant-charts to help organize the functionally balanced backyard. This is not just a “pretty book” about your backyard; it is a practical volume of how to create a successful and balanced landscape, and one that might prove to be exceedingly attractive at the same time.
If there is anything critical to say about this book, it is that the examples appear to favor the Mid-Atlantic States. Regardless, the background lessons are universal.
UTAH’S FIRST MODERN NESTING CALIFORNIA CONDOR
Wildlife conservation organizations and public land management agencies excitedly and optimistically reported in early June that a California Condor has apparently hatched in the wild in the state of Utah. This is a first for Utah since an experimental population of condors was released in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in northern Arizona in 1996. While captive-bred condors have successfully nested in northern Arizona, the birds have been spending more time in Utah each succeeding year.
“It was only a matter of time before birds started nesting in Utah”, said Chris Parish, Condor Field Project Supervisor with The Peregrine Fund. “There is great habitat in Utah and the condors did not take long to find it.”
Recently observed parenting behaviors by the adult California Condors have been encouraging. But Parish reports that researchers are still waiting to visually confirm the existence of a condor chick. This would only happen when the young condor approaches the edge of the cave where it is being raised.
The Utah California Condor pair self-selected a nesting cavity in a remote canyon within Zion National Park, and the pair has been under observation by researchers since they began exhibiting courtship behavior this past winter. The nest cave, 1,000 feet above the canyon floor, was actually discovered by following radio and GPS signals from transmitters mounted on both parent birds. Earlier this year, the birds displayed behavior suggesting that they were incubating an egg, and they now exhibit signs that they are tending a chick. Usually, one adult will stay in the nest cave caring for the egg or chick while the other forages widely. They will trade these roles every 2-3 days.
“This is a significant milestone in the process of restoring a species to its historical habitat,” reported Keith Day, Wildlife Biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “It proves that Utah still has suitable habitat for these magnificent birds and that the selection of the Arizona-Utah region for establishing a population was a valid choice.”
Currently, lead poisoning is the most significant obstacle to successful condor recovery in Arizona and Utah. Condors will ingest lead when feeding on the remains of animals shot with lead-based ammunition. Utah and Arizona both are working with hunters to reduce condor exposure to lead ammunition. “Our hunters have been very supportive of our lead ammunition reduction efforts,” said Day. “They have readily and voluntarily joined in our program.”
“The California Condors have become a very charismatic species and have been captured in many vacation photos in our area’s national parks,” adds Fred Armstrong, Chief of Resource Management and Research at Zion National Park. “Repeat visitors come to recognize them by their wing tag numbers and routinely ask about them.”
The presence of California Condors in what is today Utah is known through remains dating back to the Pleistocene, but there is only a smattering of old Utah reports from the 19th century for the species.
For more information on the California Condor recovery program, visit this site:
ACCESS MATTERS: OFFICIAL THANK-YOU
This “Access Matters” feature of the monthly Birding Community E-bulletin regularly showcases examples of birder access issues, usually positive but sometimes negative. Some of the positive stories offer unique circumstances where special access was made possible, if only because of some rare bird appearing, or in conjunction with some special event (e.g., a birding festival).
Examples of such cases include birders gaining special access to closed power plants, landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and golf courses. Other common examples may entail gaining access to a backyard feeder where a rare bird has been visiting. Some of these access examples sometimes overlap with the collection of a visitors’ log, a situation that was covered last month.
To review just such a situation, visit:
But what happens after the bird is gone, the event is over, and the birders have all returned home?
Will the feeder-host, the business owner, the landfill manager have good feelings about the visitors? Would such people invite birder-strangers back again?
One way to maximize positive birder relations is to make sure that the host, the owner, or the manager gets an official thank-you note, or even an official recognition certificate from the local birders’ or similar organization.
Some clubs or state ornithological societies have this response ready to go, with an official-looking framed certificate of thanks and/or framed photo of the rarity or event to present to the host. Indeed, this is “good standard birding practice” under these kinds of circumstances.
In a survey released last month, Tricolored Blackbirds in California were reported to have declined 44 percent since 2011. This year’s survey was completed with the help of more than 140 volunteers at 801 sites across 41 counties. The survey was led by UC Davis, in partnership with Audubon California, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. There were 145,000 Tricolored Blackbirds counted; a figure that is down from 260,000 in 2011.
Tricolored Blackbirds, which once numbered in the millions, live almost entirely in California. The species has been of concern to conservationists for some time, with habitat loss and breeding colony disruption considered to be the main causes for the birds’ decline. The recent drought in California only served to worsen the situation.
We have previously written about this in 2006, and more recently in 2011:
Tricolored Blackbirds historically nested in vast wetlands of California’s Central Valley, but for decades the birds have established large nesting colonies in triticale, a plant that dairymen feed their cows. Unfortunately, the harvest season also coincides with the birds’ nesting season. When these fields are harvested before young birds have fledged, thousands of eggs and nestlings are lost.
The survey confirmed that Tricolored Blackbirds continue to live primarily in the southern portion of the Central Valley but their numbers are rapidly decreasing. The population also plummeted in Kern and Merced Counties. Only six birds were found in Fresno County, and none were observed in Kings, Santa Clara or Sonoma Counties. Still, relatively greater percentages of the birds were seen in Amador, El Dorado, and Sacramento Counties than in recent surveys.
“It’s California’s blackbird,” said UC Davis staff researcher Robert Meese, who led this year’s survey. “If we as Californians don’t care about the species, we can’t rely on any other state to come in and bail us out. It’s our responsibility, because it’s our bird.”
Some recent agreements have been struck with local dairy farmers to delay harvests, allowing young birds to fledge. These agreements have saved many thousands of blackbirds and may reveal an important way to address the problem.
REMOTE PACIFIC MONUMENT/SANCTUARY ANNOUNCED
Last month, President Obama announced his intent to protect a huge swath of the Central Pacific Ocean essentially off-limits to commercial fishing, energy exploration, and other expansive activities. After a stated comment period, this could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary. This is a breathtaking proposal.
Actually, it is President George W. Bush who holds the record for creating U.S. marine monuments, four during his second term, including the one which President Obama intends to expand. We first reported on the trend for Pacific monuments in our July 2006 E-bulletin:
Last month’s proposal would expand the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles. The area is adjacent to seven islands and atolls, all controlled by the U.S. The islands are all uninhabited, and the area is one the few pristine regions of marine environment in the world, home to thousands of migratory seabirds, fish, and mammals.
This Administration’s plan envisions extending monument protection from the existing limit of 50 nautical miles around the islands to 200 miles; it could more than double the area of ocean protected by the U.S.
Seabird nesting areas, of course, are protected by the existing monument jurisdiction, but by expanding the limit of ocean protection around the island zones, vital feeding areas for the birds also become more secure.
Significantly, this effort does not require congressional approval. But that does not mean that Congress is out of the picture. Objections are being raised, and the public comment period over the summer is open.
For now, we will simply repeat what we wrote when George W. Bush, created such a wonderful Pacific monument:
We have little to add to this story, except to offer the following three observations:
- In this single move, millions of seabirds, including albatrosses, frigatebirds, terns, petrels, and a variety of other species will receive special protection.
- Congress ought to follow up the President’s initiative with a commitment of funds for the purpose of providing oversight and maintenance of this unique marine monument.
- This move is a reminder of a host of other possibilities, even in difficult times.
Last month we profiled the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) as an important bird-funding mechanism that needs special attention this year:
This month, we focus on the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and its importance in supporting on-the-ground bird conservation.
NAWCA was enacted in 1989 and provides federal cost-share funding to support the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. NAWCA’s success is driven by partnerships involving federal, state, and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and community groups. Every federal dollar provided through NAWCA must be matched by at least one dollar from non-federal sources. Because the program is so effective, NAWCA funds are usually tripled or quadrupled on the local level. The effort may be waterfowl-based, but it goes beyond that to secure wetlands and other closely associated habitats (e.g., grasslands and riparian wooded bottomlands) that favor other kinds of birds and a variety of other wildlife.
Over $1 billion in federal grants has been allocated for NAWCA projects, efforts that have leveraged an additional $3 billion from matching and non-matching funds. Since its start, more than 2,000 NAWCA projects have contributed to the conservation of almost 27 million acres of habitat across North America.
It’s a premier practical, bird-funding, and habitat-securing mechanism. It is no wonder that both Houses of Congress unanimously reauthorized NAWCA in September 2006. The appropriation authorization for NAWCA at the time was increased to $75 million for FY 2007 through FY 2012.
But just because Congress “authorizes” $75 million doesn’t mean that it “appropriates” anything close to that amount. Actual funding between 2007 through 2012 fluctuated from as high as $47.6 million to as low as $35.5 million.
And just because reauthorization sailed through Congress in September 2006 doesn’t mean that it will have such support today. Indeed, NAWCA program funding formally expired in September 2012, jeopardizing its very future. While funding miraculously continues, it is at much lower amounts, somewhere in the vicinity of $33-$34 million.
Despite its fine reputation and its successes, NAWCA is not faring as well as it should be in Congress. Ideally, it should be reauthorized at its previous amount $75 million, but with the current Congress, that’s not likely.
At the first International Ornithological Congress, held in Vienna, Austria, in 1884, there was a call to start bird observatories across the world to investigate migratory bird movements. Many bird observatories were subsequently created, especially during the first half of the 20th century and especially in Europe.
In North America, this began later, with the first, Long Point Bird Observatory, established in Ontario in 1960. Others soon followed (e.g., Point Reyes Bird Observatory, Manomet Bird Observatory, Cape May Bird Observatory) to the point where today there are about 50 such observatories in the U.S. and Canada, depending on how strictly you define “bird observatory.”
Now, the very first International Bird Observatory Conference (IBOC) will be held in Falsterbo, Sweden, from August 29 to September 1. Presentations and discussions will highlight the roles of bird observatories in research; environmental monitoring, conservation projects, and providing information and service to the public.
You can find out more about this effort here:
NEW DIRECTOR FOR CMBO
And while we are on the subject of bird observatories across the world, here is news from closer to home than Sweden.
Early last month, New Jersey Audubon announced that David La Puma will be joining the organization as the new director of the Cape May Bird Observatory (CMBO). David La Puma will bring more than a decade of experience in ecological research to the observatory – research that has focused on endangered species and the identification of important stopover habitats for migrating birds.
“We are very excited to have David join CMBO. His experience in bird conservation and research, educational skills, and leadership in the birding community will allow us to grow and promote CMBO; maintain its excellent reputation; and further establish it as a top bird observatory in North America,” said Eric Stiles, NJA President and CEO.
La Puma moves in as CMBO Director as Cape May’s Pete Dunne transitions from Chief Communication Officer and Director of the observatory into a new role as New Jersey Audubon: Birding Ambassador At-Large.
For more information, see here:
Summer has officially begun, and it’s the season when sunscreens and sunblocks regularly appear. Of course, it’s not just summertime when these products should be used, but it’s the season when the discussion most often comes up.
The two products are different: sunscreen is a cream or lotion with an “SPF rating” that reacts with the skin to creating an invisible barrier against the sun; sunblock is usually a thick cream, often with zinc oxide, that protects the body from all UV rays.
Application is best when made 20 minutes before heading out.
The SPF number estimates how long one can stay in the sun when the product is applied compared to going out with bare skin. The system is imperfect, but a smart approach is to go outside with a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. (That rating blocks about 97% of the harsh rays that cause serious damage; a rating of SPF 45 may sound much better, but it only improves the protection about 1%.)
Some of the ingredients used for SPF can cause eye irritation or even skin irritation, depending on one’s sensitivity or responsiveness to an allergic reaction. It’s best to inquire and investigate before using these products.
It’s also a good idea to wash sunscreen off your palms and fingers before handing your optics. The elements in the mix might just interact with the synthetic rubber of the armor. In the odd chance that the interaction might be damaging, it doesn’t hurt to clean your binoculars after use, especially the eyecups if you use a lotion on your face. In any case, the lotion should have no effect on your optical surfaces or coatings.
And while you’re at it, also wear a hat!
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