Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Birders asked to report migrating Whooping Cranes

This winter proved harsh for the big endangered birds that spend the colder months at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, Texas. Tom Stehn, whooping crane coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the last wild flock of whooping cranes lost 21 birds - six adults and 15 chicks.

Wildlife officials ask that birders share sightings of the birds by calling toll-free 800-792-1112, extension 4644, or emailing leeann.linam@tpwd.state.tx.us.

Photo courtesy of Earl Nottingham/Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

From the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department news release:

When added to 34 birds that left Texas in spring 2008 and failed to return in 2009, Stehn said 20 percent of the flock was lost during the last 12 months. The upshot is that only 249 birds will make the trip north this year. After an encouraging multi-year comeback in which flock numbers have grown each year, this marks the first year bird numbers have declined since 2001.

Stehn attributes the winter losses to poor habitat conditions in wintering grounds on the middle Texas coast. Low rainfall in 2008 resulted in saltier bays and fewer blue crabs, the primary food source for wintering whoopers. In addition, according to Stehn, whoopers are further stressed when cranes must leave the bays to fly inland seeking fresh water. Several emaciated whooping crane carcasses were found, and refuge staff even took the unusual step of providing supplemental feeding over the winter in addition to burning upland areas to make acorns more available.

Occasional set-backs aren’t new to the whooping crane recovery story, a species that numbered only 49 as recently as 1975, according to Lee Ann Linam, biologist in the Wildlife Diversity Program at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

"Although whooping crane numbers have experienced an amazing upward climb since conservation efforts began in the 1930s, over the course of their recovery we have occasionally seen short-term dips in the population," Linam said. "The losses this winter do emphasize the important role Texas has in maintaining the health of its bays and estuaries, especially in safeguarding stream-flow during low rainfall periods."

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Texas birding hotspot appears in Los Angeles Times

Sunday's print edition of The Los Angeles Times and the website highlighted Texas' High Island as a travel destination.

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In the Times' article, Hugo Martin writes:
This mound of trees and shrubs, only a mile in diameter, has a reputation as one of the country's top birding sites. As an occasional bird watcher, I was drawn here by this reputation. But I was rooting for a storm because, according to bird aficionados, the best bird watching on High Island takes place during, or just after, a storm front with strong northerly winds. Migrating birds -- warblers, orioles, thrushes and others -- struggle against the gusts as they fly north from the Yucatán Peninsula, 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico.

When the exhausted birds reach the shore and spy the hospitable habitat, they sometimes fall from the sky. High Island is geographically suited for this phenomenon -- known as a fallout. From the air, High Island looks like a protrusion of trees, surrounded by flat, salty marshlands, an ideal resting spot for migrant birds.

After a storm, the wind-battered birds are so exhausted by the trans-gulf flight that they become almost oblivious to bird watchers. Enthusiasts who have seen a fallout told me that you can almost pick up and pet the exhausted birds. I felt guilty for wishing such conditions on these innocent creatures. But it's a centuries-old natural event, so why not take advantage of an opportunity to see some rare neotropical birds up close?

My visit to High Island in early March, however, taught me that Texas' unpredictable weather makes it difficult to plan to see a fallout.
The online version also offers a photo gallery and an If You Go sidebar.

Have you visited High Island? What is your favorite memory from your visit(s)?


Friday, March 27, 2009

Earth Hour -- seriously?

March 28 marks the arrival of Earth Hour, an international project that involves turning off all lights from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. local time. The website says,

"For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming."
Seriously? Will this produce quantifiable productive results, or is it an attempt to make people feel better amid their fear about global warming?


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

new! Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Forum

Rainforest Alliance recently announced the bilingual Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Forum, created "to provide migratory bird conservation organizations, government agencies and researchers with a bilingual platform to facilitate collaboration and cooperation across geographic and language barriers."

“All of the countries in the Western Hemisphere share a common heritage — our migratory species,” said Melissa Normann, Neotropics communications manager at Rainforest Alliance. “Because the ranges of these species span national borders, well-coordinated international cooperation is necessary to ensure their conservation.”
The forum's eight categories include news/event information, bird-friendly agriculture, climate change, ecosystem restoration, environmental education, monitoring/inventories, shorebird/waterbird conservation and Southern Wings.

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Bird photo wins Nature Conservancy contest

A female Northern Cardinal recently landed in first place in The Nature Conservancy's 2008 Nature Photo Contest. The bird, captured in flight by Howard Cheek of Kempner, Texas, won the most votes amid more than 14,000 submissions.

Posted on the conservancy's website, "Waterhole Landing" garnered the most attention from 19,000 voters. Cheek created the image after "birdscaping" his 6-acre property in the Hill Country. Flower beds, fruit trees, forage grasses and a small pond bring resident and migratory animals to his camera.

Congratulations to Cheek! Very nice to see a bird photo win a nature photography contest.

Want to see more awesome bird photos? Peruse the 2008 winners of WildBird's annual photo contest.

WildBird's contest is going on now! The 16 prizes include a Canon EOS 50D, and participants can submit two entries for each of the five categories. The rules, entry form and prizes appear in the March/April and May/June issues (not online). The entry deadline is May 15.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Roundup: "The State of the Birds -- The 2009 Report"

On Thurs., March 19, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released "The State of the Birds -- The 2009 Report," the first-ever comprehensive evaluation of the nation's bird populations. The report used data and expertise from North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee; American Bird Conservancy; Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Klamath Bird Observatory; National Audubon Society; The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and U.S. Geological Survey.

From the report's homepage:
Birds are a priceless part of America’s heritage. They are beautiful, they are economically important—and they reflect the health of our environment. This State of the Birds report reveals troubling declines of bird populations during the past 40 years—a warning signal of the failing health of our ecosystems.

At the same time, we see heartening evidence that strategic land management and conservation action can reverse declines of birds. This report calls attention to the collective efforts needed to protect nature’s resources for the benefit of people and wildlife.
You can watch Secretary Salazar's comments in this 4:20 video.

Birders were not the only ones who noticed the report's release and data. Mainstream media covered "The State of the Birds," too -- a welcome observation.

Granted, many appear to have used a newswire article, but they still devoted space to the report (and I like noting how they did or didn't add photos, audio, video or a link to the report). Does that coverage signal an increased interest in wildlife conservation among the general public?

"Nationally, many bird species fluttering" Baltimore Sun
"US birds in 'widespread decline'" BBC News
"One third of US bird species are in peril" Christian Science Monitor
"Many bird populations in trouble, report says" CNN.com
"Report Warns Many Bird Species Declining In U.S." NPR
"The state of birds in the U.S." San Francisco Chronicle
"One-Third of U.S. Bird Species Endangered, Survey Finds" The New York Times
"Report showing threats to birds spurs call for conservation" Greenwire/The New York Times
"Nearly One-Third of U.S. Bird Species Seen at Risk" The Wall Street Journal
"Major Decline Found In Some Bird Groups" The Washington Post

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Bird Phenology Program seeks birders to transcribe data

The U.S. Geological Survey needs birders to help with historical notecards of bird observations dating back 100 years. Do you want to peek into your favorite species' history?

As part of the USGS North American Bird Phenology Program, birders can add data from more than 6 million cards to a national database and provide "an unprecedented amount of information describing bird distributions, migration timing, and migration pathways and how they are changing," said Jessica Zelt, coordinator of the North American Bird Phenology Program at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

The millions of hand-scribbled cards sit in row upon row of federal green filing cabinets of ancient vintage in a modest and fittingly old office dating from before WWII. The cards contain almost all of what was known of bird distribution and natural history from the Second World War back to the later part of the 19th century, said USGS senior scientist Chan Robbins, who kept track of the cards' whereabouts in attics and basements during the intervening years.

"When I go through the files, it is just amazing some of the stories that are recorded there," said Jessica Zelt, who is an avid birder herself. "For example, one of our online participants recently wrote to tell me she had transcribed a migration card on purple martins by American ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice from 1926. It is exciting to see people today being linked to a piece of birding history."

Participants recorded their name, locality and year, along with arrival and departure dates, date of abundance, and whether it was a species common in that area. Personal observations on the cards often caught the enthusiastic joy of a birder sighting a rare bird.

The collection, said Zelt, includes information on about 900 species, including some sightings of rare, extinct, or nearly extinct birds, such as the giant albatross, ivory-billed woodpecker and Carolina parakeet [right], birds whose very names make the hearts of avid birders go pitter-patter.
You can participate in history by volunteering your time, and you needn't live near the NABPP office in the Baltimore-Washington area. Become a participant here.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Birders can visit Galveston Island State Park now

As of Saturday, March 21, Galveston Island State Park will be open to the public again. When Hurricane Ike struck Texas on Sept. 13, it damaged the 2,000-acre park extensively and closed the property for six months.

Birders can visit the bay side of the park between sunrise and sunset for free, but the beach side will remain closed due to debris and damaged facilities. Volunteers converted the nature center into a welcome center, which will be open on weekends between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

More details appear at the link above, and information is available by calling 409- 737-1222.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

International Earth Day: March 20

According to this site, International Earth Day falls on the spring equinox, which is tomorrow. It even specifies a time: 7:44 AM EDT (Eastern Daylight Time).

John McConnell founded Earth Day in 1970 and says here:

When I first conceived of Earth Day, a global holiday to celebrate the wonder of life on our planet, I thought long and hard about the day on which it should fall. It must be meaningful. One that might be accepted universally for all of humankind.

When the Vernal Equinox dawned on me, I immediately knew it was right. The Earth tremor that shook our California dwelling at that moment seemed an omen of confirmation. What could be more appropriate than the first moment of Spring, when day and night are equal around the world and hearts and minds can join together with thoughts of harmony and Earth's rejuvenation. Just as a single prayer can be siginificant, how much more so when hundreds, thousands, millions of people throughout the world join in peaceful thoughts and prayers to nurture neighbor and nature.
As birders, we often "celebrate the wonder of life on our planet." Do you plan to do anything special on Friday?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Horseshoe crabs and endangered birds, +1

On Tuesday, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced its recommendation for a new horseshoe crab harvest ratio. Birders concerned about Red Knots and their dependence on horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay likely will cheer the new recommendation.

To provide further protection to the Atlantic coast population of horseshoe crabs and increase the availability of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay to hemispheric migratory shorebird populations, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is implementing a 2:1 male to female horseshoe crab harvest ratio, effective April 1st. There is currently no sex ratio limit.

The State of Maryland has long taken a leadership role in the management of Atlantic coast populations of horseshoe crabs. In 1998, Maryland implemented actions to reduce its horseshoe crab landings by 72%. This leadership action led to the development of a coastwide horseshoe crab management plan through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 1999. After 10 years, the Delaware Bay population of horseshoe crabs is showing signs of recovery. Unfortunately, similar signs of recovery of migratory shorebird populations are not evident and there is increasing risk of extinction to some species.

DNR is implementing this harvest ratio limit after conducting a technical analysis and reviewing public input on a range of management options, including closure of the female horseshoe crab fishery. This action will immediately increase the availability of horseshoe crab eggs to migratory shorebirds in Delaware Bay this May and June. Maryland watermen, both horseshoe crab harvesters and conch and eel fishermen who use horseshoe crabs as bait, will be impacted by this action but will retain their current harvest quota.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Birding + business travel = good

From a New York Times article, "On Business, but Checking Out the Local Airborne Fauna" by Liz Galst:

Day trips like Mr. Rosen’s — either on company time or, as is probably more usual, on weekends before or after scheduled work travel — are common among bird-watching business travelers. In fact, business travel, reviled by many forced to endure it, is frequently a boon for the nation’s 20 million birders, and their employers as well.

To begin with, bird watchers are often more eager to hit the road than their nonbirding colleagues. Cyndi Lubecke, a birder from Prospect Heights, Ill., said she had to travel 46 weeks one year for her work as a leadership training consultant. “I looked at it as an opportunity to see a lot of birds.” Some of her nonbirding co-workers, by contrast, balked.
Do you share Lubecke's perspective on business travel? I definitely do.

I have to wonder about the 20 million birders cited by the reporter. Where did that number come from? It differs from the 41.8 million bird observers cited on page 39 of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 2006 survey. Granted, both numbers raise eyebrows within the birding industry.

I also have to chuckle at this comic's reticence to admit to birding. He's certainly not alone.

And some say the practice may also help them become more proficient at what they do for a living. “It has made me more observant,” said Bob Smith, a stand-up comic and novelist from New York who describes himself as an openly gay comic but a closeted bird watcher. (“Bird watching has a real nerdy image,” he said.)

“To really see something is a great thing for an artist, and bird watching teaches you that,” Mr. Smith said. “That focus has translated into everything I do, including into writing more interesting jokes.”
I admit to expecting birders to observe better, to really see details. When birders say or do something oblivious, I sigh internally. Do you expect birders to watch the world more closely?


Monday, March 16, 2009

5 endangered Hawaiian birds up for review

The Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing 103 species in Hawaii with federal protection via the Endangered Species Act. More than 40 birds appear on the list of endangered species in the Pacific Islands.

Five endangered birds appear on the current list of review species:
* Nihoa Finch (Telespyza ultima) on Nihoa Island, northwest of Kaua‘i
* Hawaiian Goose or Nene (Branta sandvicensis) on Hawai‘i (also known as the Big Island), Maui and Kaua‘i
* Crested Honeycreeper (Palmeria dolei) on Maui, shown right courtesy of Jack Jeffrey
* Maui Parrotbill (Pseudonestor xanthophrys) on Maui
* dark-rumped Hawaiian Petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis) on Hawai‘i, Maui, Lana‘i and Kaua‘i

From the U.S. FWS website:
To assist in its reviews, the Service is opening a 60-day public comment period for the submission of scientific and commercial information relevant to their listing status under the Act. The public, government agencies, tribes, industry and the scientific and conservation communities are asked to submit information by May 15, 2009.

Periodic status reviews of all listed species are required by the ESA at least once every 5 years to determine whether a species’ classification as threatened or endangered is still appropriate. If the best scientific and commercial data produced since the time of listing are not consistent with the current classification of any species, the Service will recommend a change in the species’ federal classification. A species could be recommended for reclassification from endangered to threatened (downlisting), from threatened to endangered (uplisting), or for removal from the federal list of threatened and endangered species (delisting).
The Pacific Islands office says, "Hawai‘i has the highest number of listed threatened and endangered species in the nation. There are 394 threatened and endangered species in the State of Hawai‘i, of which 294 are plants."

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

New birding platforms at Stone Harbor Point

Stone Harbor, N.J., recently announced the completion of two viewing platforms that received approval by an esteemed guest, a Snowy Owl, to the south Jersey shore.

The platforms at Stone Harbor Point -- located about 15 miles north of Cape May -- were built with funds from a grant obtained from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (for which WildBird's Conservation Corner columnist, Peter Stangel, works). The NFWF grant also allowed for a stewardship program conducted by Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey; during nesting and shorebird stopover seasons, monitors will manage and conserve the area. New Jersey Audubon Society will help with educational signs at the platforms.

One last look at that beautiful owl on the new platform:


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Better birding near Las Vegas

Not many birders think of Lost Wages as a birding destination, but those of us who visit Sin City can enjoy better birding at the Bird Viewing Preserve in nearby Henderson before the end of this year.

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From the Las Vegas Sun:
Since its creation in 1998, access to the preserve has been through a gate shared with the neighboring Water Treatment Facility, which requires a secure entrance. Visitors to the preserve had to buzz in at the gate, explain that they wanted to visit the preserve and wait for security to open the gate.

But in a package of improvements the Henderson City Council unanimously authorized for bids Tuesday night, the bird preserve will be getting its own access road and a number of other additions built with bird enthusiasts in mind.

"(The gate) makes it kind of difficult because, for security reasons, we have to buzz people in and it's very inconvenient," Henderson Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Kim Becker said.

In addition to the new access road, which will enter the preserve near the Henderson Animal Shelter on Galleria Drive, Becker said, the city also plans improvements, including walkways, seating and bird blinds, that will make it easier for visitors to watch birds.


Work on the preserve is expected to begin in the coming weeks and be completed by November, Becker said.

Becker said the project is partially in response to surveys in which residents have expressed strong interest in additional outdoor recreation facilities and programs.

"What we're seeing is that more and more people are going to facilities like the bird preserve or the Acacia Demonstration Gardens to get that feeling of being out in nature and away from the city," Becker said.

Friday, March 06, 2009

I and the Bird #95

Did you miss yesterday's birding carnival, I and the Bird #95? Consider taking time this weekend to peruse the international and varied entries from almost 30 bloggers, compiled by Connie Kogler. Thanks for hosting the carnival, Connie!

IATB #96 will appear on Thurs., March 19, so submissions are due before Tuesday the 17th. Send your links and synopses to Rob Fergus at birdchaser AT hotmail DOT com, and enjoy the worldwide attention to your photos and text!

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Toothy seabird fossil

The National History Museum in Lima, Peru, now contains the cranium of a pelagornithid, thought to have become extinct close to 3 million years ago. The head of vertebrate paleontology at the museum, Rodolfo Salas, said the fossil is the best-preserved cranium ever found of that species.

Researchers found the skull, which measures 16 inches long, on Peru's dry southern coast. According to Wikipedia, Pelagornithidae looked like albatrosses and had 20-foot wingspans.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Birds and U2

Wild birds make a quick appearance in a CNN.com interview with Irish band U2 -- consisting of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen -- about the creation of the new album, "No Line on the Horizon," in Morocco:

Bono: Fez is beautiful little city. It's the religious capital of Morocco, and they have a religious music festival there -- you know, Sufi singers and Bango drummers from all over the world. I was invited to speak there, and I asked the band -- would they be interested in coming along? And surprisingly, they agreed. We set up in a little hotel -- they call them riads -- and it's a hotel around a courtyard. We set up the band in the courtyard with the square sky over our heads and birds flying in used to come [and] s*** on Larry Mullen's drum kit. He wasn't happy with that.
Birds treat everyone equally, don't they?

("No Line on the Horizon" album cover above)


Grab a bird book and a child!

Today marks Read Across America, sponsored by the National Education Association and held on or near March 2 -- the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Even Google commemorates Dr. Seuss' birthday:

Which books related to birds and nature do you consider good to give to and read with children? Please share your suggestions.

I like "Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song" for young children; the drawings and recorded songs might grab and hold their attention. For pre-teens, "Woods Walk: Peepers, Porcupines, and Exploding Puff Balls!" could galvanize their curiosity about the outdoors.