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).
GENOMIC SEQUENCING BREAKTHROUGH
IBA NEWS: NEXT TO THE NIAGARA RIVER CORRIDOR
BOOK NOTES: BEYOND BELLROSE
USFWS DECISION ON RED KNOT
SPECIES OF SPECIAL CONCERN IN CANADA
ACCESS MATTERS: PATON CENTER CELEBRATION
TIP OF THE MONTH: MAXIMIZE THE “SHRIMPY EFFECT”
BIRD STAMP BILL PASSED AND SIGNED
JUST A COUPLE OF “CROMNIBUS” PROBLEMS
PASSENGER PIGEON RESOLUTION PASSED THE SENATE
There was an amazingly unusual Rustic Bunting found in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on 7 December. This particular bird – presumably from northeast Asia – would have normally been our rarity-of-the-month, but another set of Siberian rarities found well east of their regular range – in Texas and New Mexico – will receive top honors this month.
It all began on 18 November, when Justin Bosler reported a Common Crane at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge in Bailey County, Texas. Muleshoe NWR is located just southwest of the Texas Panhandle, not far from the New Mexico border. The bird was accompanying Sandhill Cranes, as is often the case whenever this rarity appears in North America.
Many birders came to see the Common Crane at Muleshoe Refuge, although it ranged in the area both on and off the refuge. On 22 November, it was determined that there were actually two Common Cranes in the area when Martin Reid practically accidentally photographed two birds together at this location!
Thereafter for November, and reliably to 13 December, one or the other of the Common Cranes continued to be seen in area. It was reported infrequently through the end of December, south into nearby Lamb County. Admittedly, weekday reports were particularly spotty from this remote part of Texas.
Not insignificantly, on 30 November another (?) Common Crane was found in agricultural fields with about 2,500 wintering Sandhill Cranes near Roswell, New Mexico. This individual moved around a lot, but was usually found within a two-mile radius of its original location. Toward the end of the month, it seemed to settle in at nearby Bitter Lake NWR. The bird remained throughout December, with many birders – including many out-of-staters – coming to see it.
Since 1957, there have been about 20 previous reports of Common Crane in North America. Most records are from Nebraska, but other records from the West and near-West include Alaska, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Kansas. There are even documented sightings from locations as far east as Indiana and Quebec. Because cranes are so long-lived, it is possible that some of these reports represent multiple sightings of the same individuals.
Most reports have occurred in March-April or September-October. Recently there have been a fair number of sightings of Common Cranes in March and April from the Platte River area in Nebraska. We actually covered several of these sightings in our April issues of 2008, 2009, and 2010, as well as March 2012. Some of these Common Cranes probably become “attached” to Sandhill Cranes in Siberia, then follow them east and southward through western Canada and into the lower-48 during migration.
It has been assumed that some of these individuals likely wintered in Texas, eastern New Mexico, or northeastern Mexico, mixed with large flocks of Sandhill Cranes, but there has never been any documentation to support this theory.
Now we are closer to confirming this hypothesis.
The Texas and New Mexico Common Cranes have clearly been wintering with their cousins, and these recently reported individuals have been in place longer than any other Common Cranes ever reported in North America. This reason alone justifies our highlighting them as this month’s Rarity Focus.
To see some photos of the Common Crane among Sandhill Cranes just north of Muleshoe NWR, taken by Nancy Hetrick on 22 November, see:
And for a short broadcast from Albuquerque’s KOB-TV from 23 December on the Roswell-area Common Crane, see:
GENOMIC SEQUENCING BREAKTHROUGH
Last month, a remarkable consortium of more than 200 scientists from 20 countries released the results of an enormous cooperative research endeavor – the mapping of an expansive avian family tree that demonstrates how birds evolved their amazingly colorful feathers, lost their teeth, learned to sing, and how their brain circuitry functions.
Members of the project, named the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium, published their family-tree findings in eight different papers in the journal Science, and also in more than 20 other scientific journals. No one had ever before used so much genome data from so many species to determine evolutionary relationships.
This project has re-arranged what we know about birds and has revealed unexpectedly close family relationships. For example the study clearly established that falcons are more closely related to parrots than to eagles or vultures (neither Old World nor New World vultures), and that flamingoes are actually evolutionarily and genetically closer to pigeons than they are to pelicans!
“It’s mind-blowing,” said Per Ericson, an evolutionary biologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.
According to an article by Ian Sample in The Guardian, an analysis of the genomes indicated that the common ancestor of living birds lost its teeth more than 100 million years ago. But the significant rise of the birds began about 65 million years ago. A mass extinction – probably caused by an asteroid collision – extinguished most of the larger-bodied dinosaurs, but left a few feathered creatures. The loss of so many other species freed up significant ecological niches, giving these feathered animals a unique chance to diversify.
You can find more on this genome story here:
IBA NEWS: NEXT TO THE NIAGARA RIVER CORRIDOR
The northeastern end of Lake Erie is an important congregating area for migrating waterfowl, gulls, raptors, and passerines. Many birds migrating north in spring accumulate along the shore of Lake Erie and then seek to pass around its northeastern corner. Fall migration is also significant. At those times, birders come to this region from across the continent to observe the flights that funnel through this restricted area. At other times, birders regularly come to witness waterfowl flights and wintering gulls.
Unfortunately the last and best open area at that end of the lake before the urban Buffalo shoreline is facing serious development. Currently an area of about two square miles within Buffalo’s city limits is still open land that offers prime real estate development potential. Fortunately it also has the potential to be preserved as public parkland.
Significantly, this area, called the Outer Harbor, is next to the international (US-Canada) IBA: the Niagara River Corridor:
Recently, local preservation groups, including the Western New York Environmental Alliance, have outlined principles to guide preservation of this property, with public access as a core element. This proposal makes provision for wildlife and for people, including picnic areas, public beaches, buildings for supporting appropriate activities, and boat launching sites along with wooded and marshland areas that support wildlife. What preservationists and conservationists are trying to avoid is yet another gaudy waterfront strip and multiple private condos for the Outer Harbor waterfront.
In mid-October, Gerry Rising wrote a Buffalo News column that provides further information about the situation and included a link to an important public petition. As the time for a decision on the fate of the Outer Harbor draws near, the column is gaining a new life and serious attention. For more information see:
For additional information about IBA programs around the world, including those in the U.S., check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at:
BOOK NOTES: BEYOND BELLROSE
In 1942 a time honored classic, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America was authored by Canadian outdoorsman, Francis H. Kortright. Over two decades of research and waterfowl conservation followed before Frank Bellrose took on the task of writing a second edition. The Bellrose classic came out in 1976, with a second minor revision in 1978, and more substantial changes in 1980. “Bellrose,” as it was popularly known, clearly stood the test of time, but it was clear that another edition would be inevitable.
Once again, under the auspices of the Wildlife Management Institute, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America needed revising, and in 2008 Guy Baldassarre was chosen to take on this monumental task. It would be daunting, given the surge in waterfowl research and conservation that has taken place since the mid-1970s.
Fortunately, the results in this newly revised and updated Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America (Johns Hopkins University Press) are nothing less than remarkable. Baldassarre, in his own words, aimed to become the “privileged synthesizer” for this newest edition, but he went beyond merely bringing together the work of many other waterfowl enthusiasts. For example, his essential 11-page introductory section, “Basis for the Book,” is so jam-packed with information that it should be read and appreciated not once, but twice, by anyone with a serious interest in waterfowl.
This fully revised and significantly updated edition is now a hefty two-volume set (adding up to 1,027 pages), providing exacting information on 46 species of waterfowl known to nest in North America. Each thorough species account contains sections on identification, distribution, migration, behavior, habitat, population status, breeding biology, rearing of young, recruitment and survival, food habits and feeding ecology, molts and plumages, conservation, and management. There are also maps of both winter and breeding ranges, along with color photographs and the original color artwork by the famed artist Bob Hines that appeared in the Bellrose edition of 1980. What more could you ask for?
Guy Baldassarre, who passed away at the age of 59 in August, 2012, did more than simply fill the shoes of his esteemed predecessors, Kortright and Bellrose. Indeed, he did much more. He has given Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America a new life and has taken it to a higher and more profound level, a work to be appreciated by any outdoor enthusiast carrying binoculars, a camera, or a shotgun.
USFWS DECISION ON RED KNOT
Since 2005, four formal requests to list the Red Knot (race rufa) under the Endangered Species Act have been submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Citing a lack of resources and other priorities, the USFWS chose not to list the bird but placed it on the long candidate list in 2006. Since then, Red Knot numbers have continued to fall.
Finally, in early December, the USFWS decided to list the rapidly declining and highly diminished race rufa Red Knot as Threatened under the ESA.
A Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act is one likely to become Endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A Threatened designation requires that the species be protected from adverse effects of federal activities; provides restrictions on taking, transporting or selling a species; provides authority for recovery plans as well as the protection of important habitat; and provides for aid to wildlife agencies with cooperative federal agreements.
Surveys of wintering knots along the coasts of southern Chile and Argentina and in Delaware Bay on the East Coast of the U.S. during spring migration indicate that the species experienced a serious population decline in the 2000s. For example, a 2011 count of the main wintering population of the bird in South America found a decline from the previous winter of at least 5,000 birds – approximately one-third of the remaining population.
Red Knot survival is especially tied to management practices associated with a key food source for the bird during migration: horseshoe crab populations along the shores of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. And the decline of Red Knots and other shorebird species (e.g. Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and Semipalmated Sandpipers) has been linked to a diminishing supply of horseshoe crabs due to overharvesting them for bait and other purposes.
Despite growing evidence of over-exploitation of the horseshoe crab population, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has not reduced the harvest significantly in the last six years. The recent decision to list the rufa Red Knot as Endangered is likely to prompt serious changes in the way horseshoe crabs are managed.
SPECIES OF SPECIAL CONCERN IN CANADA
At its fall meeting held in Ottawa in late November, the Committee of the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) made some important decisions on three bird species of Special Concern in Canada.
Population declines over the last four decades, in combination with a variety of threats, led COSEWIC to assess the status of Red-necked Phalarope, Cassin’s Auklet, and Ancient Murrelet.
Red-necked Phalarope populations have declined precipitously during migration at several traditional staging areas, including Deer Island, New Brunswick, where an estimated two million Red-necked Phalaropes regularly staged for autumn migration in the 1970s and early 1980s. Breeding-ground habitat degradation, and susceptibility to pollutants and oil exposure at sea are suspected to be potential sources of this otherwise somewhat mysterious population decline.
The Cassin’s Auklet, and Ancient Murrelet are colonial seabirds that nest in burrows on islands in British Columbia. Their ground-nesting habit exposes adults, eggs, and nestlings to intense levels of predation from predators like rats and raccoons. While predator control has been exercised successfully on some islands, further surveillance and control are needed. The two seabird species are also susceptible to oil contamination and oceanic temperature changes.
For more on these status assessments, as well as those for the 33 other species of flora and fauna that were assessed at the COSEWIC meeting see: http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/rpts/sct7_3_24_e.pdf
ACCESS MATTERS: PATON CENTER CELEBRATION
The effort to secure the Paton property, that famous hummingbird haven in Patagonia, Arizona, has appeared multiple times in the Birding Community E-bulletin, most recently and successfully summarized last March:
Early last month, a celebration took place at the site which included the major institutional players involved in the acquisition: Tucson Audubon Society, American Bird Conservancy, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. But more importantly, the event showcased the efforts of countless birders and conservationists who contributed to secure the treasured property that for more than 35 years had been sustained by the late Wally and Marion Paton. Generously opened to the public, it developed into a premier hummingbird-watching site.
The celebration last month for Tucson Audubon’s “Paton Center for Hummingbirds” also dedicated the “Richard Grand Memorial Meadow” – an area that is being totally reclaimed and re-vegetated at the front of the property.
Much work still needs to be done at the Paton Center, but we can rest assured that this beloved spot for hummingbirds – and for bird watching – will now be secure for generations to come.
You can find more information here:
Since the “Access Matters” feature this month deals with the Paton Center for Hummingbirds at Patagonia, Arizona, we felt that revisiting another historic phenomenon from there might be worthwhile.
Back in March 2011, we described how you can watch out for the “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect” at a birding locale near you, specifically how finding a rarity at one site can engender increased birding which will result in the discovery of more rare or uncommon birds at that very same place. You can find those details here:
This month, we will touch on another phenomenon and phrase, far less used than the Patagonia Pick Table Effect. That’s the “Shrimpy Effect.” For seven winters, from February 1999 to April 2005, birders came to St. Mary’s County in Maryland to look for a Kelp Gull that took up seasonal residence behind the Sea Breeze Crab House and Restaurant. (The Kelp Gull is a species that is largely a resident in the Southern Hemisphere and is expanding its range. It is casual or very rare in the U.S., with now over two dozen reports.)
Once the St. Mary’s County Kelp Gull was identified, a steady stream of birders made a pilgrimage to see it. The gull created a booming business for the Sea Breeze Crab House and Restaurant. When the restaurant staff began regularly feeding jumbo shrimp to the gull, it was given the appropriate nickname, “Shrimpy.” Eventually Shrimpy was credited with bringing avitourists to the restaurant. The number of birders was large, the response by the restaurant proprietors was significant, and the benefits were symbiotic.
This birder-attraction-promoting-a-business-response phenomenon (a.k.a. the “Shrimpy Effect”) has occurred many times at a number of other places. Another famous example was the arrival of a Red-footed Falcon at Martha’s Vineyard in August 2004 that created a booming business for a local restaurant, Whoosie’s, at Katama Airpark. In fact, there have been a number of motels, Dairy Queens, and snack-shacks that have flourished by their close proximity to rarity birds through the years.
Movie fans might even remember Rare Birds (2001, with William Hurt and Molly Parker), where the “discovery” of a rare duck – faked, actually – in a dying Newfoundland town revived the fortunes of a local restaurant. And this was via Hollywood!
Not only are there other cases of the Shrimpy Effect, there are actually ways to seek out and promote the Shrimpy Effect as special birds are found and visitors begin to gather.
For the penultimate example of this phenomenon, remember what took place about a decade ago in Arkansas following the possible discovery of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
Legislation to update the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp passed the U.S. House of Representatives in mid-November and the Senate on 2 December. It was signed by President Obama on 18 December. The Federal Duck Stamp Act of 2014 will increase the price of the stamp from $15 to $25, with the increased $10 dedicated to providing easements to enhance the National Wildlife Refuge System. It has been estimated that this increase could result in an additional $16 million per year for perpetual easements.
The means to increase refuge acquisition funding is an important first step. What should follow ought to be an increased appreciation of the need to save wetland and grassland habitats, an understanding of the role of easements at this time, and a campaign to increase the sale of the stamps, especially among those Americans not currently required to buy them.
See here for more specifics:
JUST A COUPLE OF “CROMNIBUS” PROBLEMS
Congress passed its $1.01 trillion spending bill last month, a 1,603-page piece of legislation that will fund the government through September 2015. The bill – dubbed the “Cromnibus” for “continuing resolution plus omnibus” – allowed the government to avoid a partial shutdown. It was packed with last-minute riders, both benign and toxic. Here are two bird-related issues that are particularly troublesome.
First, the Cromnibus will block any federal funds going toward determining whether the Gunnison Sage-Grouse or Greater Sage-Grouse may be eligible for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Gunnison Sage-Grouse has been the subject of conservation and contention for decades, and it was listed as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November. You can see our coverage from last month here:
The USFWS originally had until next September to consider a listing for the broad-ranging Greater Sage-Grouse. Under the Cromnibus, the agency would have to wait until after September 2015 to determine the Greater Sage-Grouse’s status.
It’s not all a disaster for sage-grouse. The mega-bill does include $15 million for the Bureau of Land Management for sage-grouse habitat conservation. The Cromnibus also continues funding for the US Department of Agriculture to conserve sagebrush habitat and to sustain ongoing collaboration happening across 11 Western states. Despite the obstructionist rider, the USFWS will still continue to collect data and conduct analysis on the species and its habitat.
But according to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, “It’s disappointing that some members of Congress are more interested in political posturing than finding solutions to conserve the sagebrush landscape and the Western way of life. Rather than helping the communities they profess to benefit, these members will only create uncertainty, encourage conflict, and undermine the unprecedented progress that is happening throughout the West.”
Second, the Cromnibus bill also includes a provision prohibiting federal funds going toward regulation of lead in ammunition and fishing. It prevents the EPA from considering whether the costs of potential regulations outweigh the benefits, even though the EPA has already asserted that it has no jurisdiction over lead in ammunition and fishing equipment under the Toxic Control Substance Act.
Of course, the use of lead shot in waterfowl hunting was banned in 1991, and California decided to ban all lead for big-game hunting in 2013 – to be phased in by 1 July 2019 – to better protect California Condors and other wildlife. Last month we touched on efforts in parts of two western states, Arizona and Utah, to move toward voluntary use of non-lead ammunition:
Viable ammunition alternatives exist (e.g., there have been excellent findings concerning copper bullets), and a reasonable mix of solutions – including phase-in, regional emphasis, and even serious subsidies – could be pursued.
But in the case of sage-grouse, instead of taking actions that will make ESA status unnecessary, Congress makes sage-grouse conservation more difficult.
And in the case of lead in ammunition, instead of facilitating alternatives to lead use, Congress stands in the way of resolving the problem.
Just before wrapping up business last month on 16 December, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution by unanimous consent, calling attention to the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the last known Passenger Pigeon. The resolution was pioneered by Ohio’s two Senators, Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R). Ohio, not coincidentally was where the last known Passenger Pigeon, “Martha,” died – at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.
“The extinction of plants and animals from our planet should serve as a wakeup call,” Senator Brown said.
Senator Portman added, “The loss of this species is one of the greatest examples of what can happen if we are not committed to conserving our wildlife. We must learn from their example, and I am proud that this Resolution brings light to this important issue.”
The reasoning for the resolution and its exact wording can be found on this original release:
– – – – – – – – –
You can access all the past E-bulletins on the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) website: http://refugeassociation.org/news/birding-bulletin/
If you wish to distribute or reproduce all or parts of any of the monthly Birding Community E-bulletins, we simply request that you mention the source of any material used. (Include a URL for the E-bulletin archives, if possible.)
If you have any friends or co-workers who want to get onto the monthly E-bulletin mailing list, have them contact either:
Wayne R. Petersen, Director
Massachusetts Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program
Paul J. Baicich
Great Birding Projects
We never lend or sell our E-bulletin recipient list.