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 (the Refuge Association).
Surprise Shorebird and a Lesson
Book Noted: The Santa Ana Story
IBA News: Saving Piping Plovers
Limited Lead Shot Ban Proposed in Minnesota
Access Matters: Magee Boardwalk Again
Hog Island Registration
Tip of the Month: More on Footgear
Yes, LWCF Expiration
This Month’s Sage Grouse News
There were some striking rarities last month in the U.S. and Canada, and we might have chosen to profile any one of them here. For example, there was a Dusky Warbler from East Asia that appeared at the Golden Gate National Recreation area at Muir Beach, California, from 15 to 20 October. There was also a Variegated Flycatcher from South America that was discovered at the Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a bird that remained there between 25 to 31 October.
But we chose another bird from an area less likely to draw a mega-rarity.
On Saturday, Oct. 3, an immature Brown Booby was reported as a fly-by past Jekyll Island, Georgia. A few days later however, on Oct. 6, Tim Keys reported and photographed an immature Red-footed Booby perched on nearby St. Simons Island Pier.
Same bird? Possibly. The good news was that the Red-footed Booby remained in the general area through Oct. 13where many observers had a chance to see it. The booby was last seen that day perched on a shrimp boat leaving the harbor.
Red-footed Booby is a species that ranges and breeds widely throughout tropical oceans, but occurs only very marginally in U.S. waters. It is rare, but regular, at the Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida, mainly from March to October. The species is casual elsewhere in Florida and accidental north to South Carolina and in the western Gulf of Mexico. The species is also very rare from late spring to late fall onshore and offshore in southern and central California. In fact, in September, the Redondo Beach Animal Control in California found a Red- footed Booby at the Redondo Beach fishing pier that was emaciated, molting with poor feather quality, and with some mild eye trauma. The bird was taken in for recovery, and was said to have done well.
Fortuitously the Georgia bird was observed by many delighted birders and photographers. Some photos by Robert Sattelmeyer from the first day at the St. Simons Island Pier can be seen here: flickr.com/photos/24024265@N05/
A Surprise Shorebird and a Lesson
Eurasian Dotterel is a plover that, reflective of its name, breeds across northern Eurasia, from Scotland, across northern Scandinavia, and eastward across northern Russia to Chukotka. The species’ breeding in northwestern Alaska is also interesting, if not conjectural. In Alaska in fall, it is very rare in the northern Bering Sea mainland area and in the Aleutians. The species normally winters from North Africa to the Middle East.
South of Alaska, the species has occurred only a handful of times in California, four times in Washington, and once in British Columbia. These West Coast records are mostly in fall from late August to late November, with an April British Columbia record as an exception. Almost all these records pertain to first-year birds.
This is a rare bird anywhere in North America, even in the West. Therefore, when one appears somewhere in the East it is truly extraordinary.
Well, it happened.
On Saturday morning, Oct. 3, Michael Butler came upon an interesting plover in Bruce County, Ontario. Specifically, it was in Oliphant, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Huron, on mudflats near the T-intersection of Spry Lake Road and Shoreline Avenue. It was “somewhat smaller and more pot-bellied than nearby Black-bellied Plovers” with “pale supercilia converging at the back of the neck, yellow-green legs, pale ring on breast, and buffy underparts.” Nearby were other shorebirds, including Greater Yellowlegs, Hudsonian Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, and White-rumped Sandpiper.
This is not only a first record for Ontario, but a first for eastern North America as well.
Where did this juvenile come from? Was it from Europe, perhaps Norway? Or could it have arrived from another direction, possibly Siberia?
It’s all speculation.
Fortunately, Butler photographed the bird, because despite diligent searches by many birders over the next few days, the Eurasian Dotterel was never relocated.
Check out the original report and photos of the bird.
There are two important lessons that emerged from this rare sighting:
Lesson #1: Be prepared for anything. Remember that when you are birding, almost anything is possible. Some fairly recent and extraordinary northeastern-U.S. sightings – without comment on their provenance – include Gray-tailed Tattler in Massachusetts; Bahama Woodstar in Pennsylvania; Hooded Crow and Gray-hooded Gull in New York; Southern Lapwing in Maryland, and Whiskered Tern in New Jersey. And that’s just for one section of the country.
Lesson #2: It is a good idea to have a decent camera at hand!
Book Notes the Santa Ana Story
To make clear, M. J. Morgan’s book Border Sanctuary (2015, Texas A & M University Press) is not about birds. It is about one of the “birdiest” places in North America however, the borderlands in the Santa Ana region of Texas. In fact, the book has as its explanatory subtitle, the “Conservation Legacy of the Santa Ana Land Grant.”
Central to this location is the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge that was established in 1943. It was because of the case made by Hidalgo County birders and naturalists belonging to the Rio Grande Nature Club that the area was acquired in the early 1940s by USFWS and preserved for future generations. The book touches on some of the main characters during that period, including Irby and Anna May Davis.
The book is a history of the land grant going back centuries, the Mexican and Tejano families who lived on, worked, and ultimately helped preserve the area, and the northern immigrants and investors who sought to make a living off the land from crops and livestock.
The book follows the use and abuse of three habitats running northward from the lower Rio Grande area: the dense forest directly along the river, the brush country serving as a transition zone, and the nutritious grasses that extended beyond the floodplain. Morgan’s work is admirable, as she follows the pulse of floods from the Rio Grande, the sequence of agricultural efforts by cycles of inhabitants, and most importantly, the fate of the remnant forest that was preserved along the Rio Grande.
The core forest area–whose heart is at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge–would not have been saved were it not for the management of past generations prior to the 20th century, the impact of the Depression which actually prevented clear-cutting, and the passion of the Rio Grande Valley Nature Club.
This is not a naturalist’s page-turner, but if you have an intimate connection with this region, and with Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in particular, you will want this book. Otherwise, it is simply good to know that this sort of source book exists, reminding us of the deep connection between both the region’s human and natural history.
IBA News Saving Piping Plovers
The Joulter Cays in the Bahamas host about 10% of the wintering population of Piping Plovers that breed along the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. and Canada. This was discovered in 2012, when surveys were conducted of these mangrove-covered cays connected with miles of sand flats on the edge of the Bahama Bank in the northwest of the Bahamas.
The Joulter Cays are also important for other shorebird and at-risk species, such as Red Knot, Semipalmated Plover, and Short-billed Dowitcher, and for wading birds like the Reddish Egret.
Since these initial shorebird discoveries, the Joulter Cays and their surrounding areas have been identified as globally significant Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas by BirdLife International. At the end of August, the Bahamas National Trust and the Bahamian government announced that the site would be designated as a national park. This designation will hopefully protect this critical area from development and ecologically damaging activities like sand mining.
Later this month, researchers will again travel to the Joulter Cays to survey birds and map crucial roosting sites.
Find more information on this Important Bird Area (IBA).
For additional information about worldwide IBA programs, including those in the U.S., check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at: audubon.org/bird/iba/
Limited Lead Ban Shot Proposed in Minnesota
If you are interested in the ongoing debate about the toxicity of lead in the environment, you will be interested in knowing that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed a limited restriction in mid-October that would require hunters to use nontoxic shot on state Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in Minnesota’s farmland zone.
This would not impact hunting on WMAs in the forest region or private land, state forest, and county forest land. Yet, it would cover about 46% of the state’s 1.3+ million acres of WMAs. If approved, the lead-shot ban will begin in 2018.
The rule would mostly impact the state’s 70,000 pheasant hunters using shotguns with shot, many of whom hunt on WMAs in southern Minnesota. The lead shot restriction also would affect those who hunt Wild Turkeys, Ruffed Grouse, American Woodcock, and small game, such as rabbits, on these state wildlife areas.
Lead shot has been federally banned for waterfowl hunting since the early 1990s. And since 1999, it also has been banned for upland hunters, on federal hunting lands in Minnesota, including waterfowl production areas (WPAs), some of which abut state WMAs.
“Reducing lead in the environment is a good thing,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said: “It seems like it’s time to make the switch.”
The Minnesota DNR has considered restricting the use of lead shot since 2006, but legislative support was not forthcoming. The DNR will now attempt to ban lead shot by applying a rule-making process.
Access Matters: Magee Boardwalk Again
Birders familiar with well-known Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in northwestern Ohio know that the very core of the site is its famous “boardwalk,” extending over 3,000 feet through the site’s moist woodland in an area which is a veritable migrant magnet on the edge of Lake Erie. Frankly, without the boardwalk, there would be no easy access to the migrant-loving woodlot, so access really matters here.
There has been an ongoing campaign to repair large parts of the boardwalk in order to facilitate access to this outstanding birding area. We even mentioned this issue last December.
The third phase of the effort was completed last summer.
The original assessment for the boardwalk repair, however, was made in February 2014 when the site was piled with snow. The original cost estimate was off, and a serious recalculation was recently made. The remaining 60% of the boardwalk still needs renovation, thus adding an additional $294,000 to the original estimate.
Hog Island Registration
Since 1936, the famous Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine has offered environmental education programs for adults, teens, families and conservation leaders in the Muscongus Bay region of Maine. The facilities are situated on a 330-acre spruce-covered island in the mid-coast area of Maine.
The registration for next summer’s program (beginning in late May and ending in early September) just opened a few weeks ago. The selection includes the following:
- Maine Seabird Biology and Conservation
- Breaking into Birding
- Joy of Birding
- Field Ornithology
- Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens
- Hands-on Bird Science
- Arts and Birding
- Raptor Rapture
- Sharing Nature: An Educator’s Week
- Family Camp (ages 8-12 years old)
It’s not too early to look into the full schedule and the array of fine instructors for Hog Island. Indeed, now is a fine time to consider next-year’s warm-weather options.
Tip of the Month: More on Footgear
Last month, under “tip of the month,” we suggested that you toss extra shoes and socks in your car when you’re out for a day’s birding.
That’s fine for a back-up, but what about your basic birding footgear, equipment that should match the time and place of your field trip, as well as your own personal needs?
Here we cover hints on hiking shoes, hiking boots, and backpacking boots for birding use.
First, hiking shoes are usually lighter and more flexible than hiking boots. Think about a hiking shoe if you will be:
- Staying on well-defined trails and shorter hikes
- Not carrying a lot of weight
- Or if you’re carrying some weight or going on a longer hike but have already built up strength in your feet and legs, relying less on your footgear for a lot of support
Among hiking shoes, you’ll find footgear that is usually made of textile with leather, suede, or synthetic reinforcements, providing support and abrasion-resistance. Some hiking shoes will look a lot like trail running shoes, while others appear to be low-cut versions of more traditional hiking boots. The former tend to be lighter and more flexible, which allows you to move quickly, but you’ll be sacrificing some support and protection.
Consider the weather. For summer use or in dry, warm weather, think about a well-ventilated, lightweight shoe with a lot of mesh in the upper, allowing your foot to breathe. In damp or cold weather, waterproof hiking shoes could be better. Better in rain, snow, or mud, there will be a slight tradeoff in the way of weight and breathability in warmer temperatures.
On the other hand, go for hiking boots, with more support and protection than hiking shoes, if you are considering:
- Taking longer hikes over rougher terrain
- Bringing a moderately heavy load
- Your needs as an occasional hiker who needs more support to help out less-developed muscles, or who is prone to rolled ankles
Sometimes hiking boots are simply higher-cut versions of hiking shoes, and sometimes they feature slightly stiffer construction, both of which will offer more support. The tradeoff, of course, is that they’re going to be heavier than shoes.
Most hiking boots are also composed of the same materials as hiking shoes. More hiking boots are waterproofed as well, useful if you are out for a long time.
The final category is in the area of backpacking boots, taller and stiffer than hiking boots, also offering more support and surer footing with thicker, more aggressive outsoles and more protection all around. These are heavy-duty and heavier, and these backpacking boots usually require a break-in period. Frankly, you really don’t need them unless you’re involved in long or multi-day trips, carrying heavy loads.
Yes, LWCF Expiration
In the September issue we warned about the impending expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
In a consistent behavior of inaction (if not dysfunction!) Congress let the LWCF expire after 50 years of remarkable achievement.
The Wildlife Management Institute’s most recent Outdoor News Bulletin summarizes the issues soberly and quite well: wildlifemanagementinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=853:conservation-briefs-oct-2015&catid=34:ONB%20Articles&Itemid=54#story10-15-2 and the LWCF consequences are also covered in E&E News: eenews.net/stories/1060025654
This Month’s Sage Grouse News
There is always news from the sage-grouse scene, and this month is no exception. Last month we mentioned the continuing threat of Congressional interference in this conservation effort, despite the achievement of the efforts to save these birds.
Some members of Congress had aimed to stop sage- grouse conservation by including an amendment – or rider – to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have stopped crucially important plans from being implemented.
Thanks to the concerns of bird conservationists across the country, the harmful rider has been dropped from the Defense Bill.
You can access all the past E-bulletins on the National Wildlife Refuge Association (Refuge Association) website: refugeassociation.org/news/birding-bulletin/
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