April 2018    

  
The Birding Community E-bulletin is 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):
                                    http://refugeassociation.org/news/birding-bulletin/

RARITY FOCUS
 
The first Tufted Flycatcher ever seen in the U.S. was a bird found at Rio Grande Village at Big Bend National Park in Brewster County, Texas, in 1991. That individual remained from early November into mid-January 1992. The first Arizona record for this species was in 2005. By 2012 there were about four additional U.S. records of this Mexican species in in these states - remarkable for a species commonly found only in the highlands and foothills of Mexico (from central Sonora and south Tamaulipas) to Central America.
 
Since then, however, there have been a number of these little buff-colored flycatchers seen in the U.S., mostly in southeast Arizona. In fact, in the summer of 2015 a pair engaged in nesting behavior about two miles from the famous Ramsey Canyon Preserve in the Huachuca Mountains.
 
Nonetheless, it was still a surprise on the morning of 8 March when Stuart Healy and Brad Sulentric who were birding in Carr Canyon in the Huachucas, came across not one, but two Tufted Flycatchers at the Reef Townsite campground. This high-mountain group campground is located on a site that was once occupied by the old mining town of Reef, so the site is fairly easy to access.

The next day, in nearby Ramsey Canyon, about a two-mile hike up the canyon, Theresa Lawson found yet another Tufted Flycatcher.
 
Most birders wishing to see Tufted Flycatcher drove to the original and more accessible Reef Townsite campground, where they were rewarded with regular sightings of the two birds almost every day through the end of March.
 
The Ramsey Canyon bird was also reported on 22 March, and it's likely that this less-accessible individual may also have been present throughout the period.
 
Amazingly, yet another Tufted Flycatcher was reported on 26 March at Madera Canyon in the Sant Rita Mountains, along the trail just below the Madera Picnic Area.
 
So last month, there were four Tufted Flycatchers reported in southeast Arizona! Just five years ago, the species was considered very rare in the area, and now it is being found practically with regularity. A related question now arises: How many more Tufted Flycatchers are there in the mountain "sky islands" in southeast Arizona?
 
To view Tufted Flycatcher photos taken by Barry McKenzie at the Reef Township site on 9 March see:
 
 
ANOTHER RARITY: AN ASTOUNDING COINCIDENCE
 
Fieldfare is a large thrush that normally breeds across Eurasia, including Iceland and since the late 1970s, southwest Greenland, to eastern Russia. It normally winters in Europe and the Middle East. It is, however, occasionally a very rare late-fall-to-winter vagrant to Atlantic Canada, and sometimes even New England. There have also been late spring records of this handsome robin-sized gray-and-brown thrush in Alaska, and there are even odd records for Minnesota, Ontario, and other North American localities.
 
But as this issue of the Birding Community E-bulletin was being put together, your editors received a fascinating report of a Fieldfare on 30 March. This record ultimately may rank as the oddest of all the Fieldfare records for North America. Harvey and Brenda Schmidt first identified, photographed, and videoed this Fieldfare in their yard in Creighton, Saskatchewan. Creighton is a fairly remote town in the province of Saskatchewan that has a population of about 1,500 inhabitants. It lies just on the Saskatchewan side of the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, adjacent to Flin Flon, Manitoba. 
 
So, with all due respect to the town and its inhabitants, this little community practically ranks as the "middle of nowhere."
 
Harvey Schmidt initially reported how he watched this hefty thrush "fly back and forth between a spruce tree and then out to grab a few berries off a mountain ash tree." By the last day of March, locals came by to see the rarity, and Harvey also had reports of birders from Winnipeg and Saskatoon driving up to Creighton. Winnipeg is easily eight hours away by car, and Saskatoon is at least six hours to the southwest.
 
At last report, the Fieldfare was still happily inhabiting the yard.
 
If you think the odd location of this bird was the reason for focusing on this rarity, you would only be partly right.
 
This same back yard - seemingly in the middle of nowhere (apologies again) - was also host to an even rarer Rustic Bunting feasting at the Schmidt feeders in the winter of 2009-2010.! The Rustic Bunting, a Eurasian species, would normally be expected to be spending the winter in eastern China!
 
For images of this Fieldfare, check out Brenda Schmidt's Facebook:

 
IBA NEWS: FIRST VENEZUELAN WHSRN SITE
 
Venezuela supports over 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and five Ramsar sites, but it has never had a site that qualifies as part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). This changed last month when the Salina Solar Los Olivitos was designated as a WHSRN Site of International Importance. Last month, the WHSRN Hemispheric Council voted unanimously to approve the nomination. With this designation, Salina Solar Los Olivitos also became the first WHSRN site on the Caribbean coast of South America.
 
The Salina Solar Los Olivitos represents almost 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) of private property, owned by the salt production company Productora de Sal, C.A. (PRODUSAL). Curiously, the new shorebird reserve is an artificial wetland made up of salt concentration and extraction ponds that are owned and maintained by the salt company. These ponds are actually adjacent to the CiƩnaga de Los Olivitos Wildlife Refuge, which is also a Ramsar Site.
 
Located in the municipality of Miranda in Zulia state, Salina Solar Los Olivitos hosts more than 100,000 shorebirds annually. The 27 different species that have been found there include significant numbers of Semipalmated Sandpipers, Western Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Wilson's Phalaropes, Greater Yellowlegs, and Lesser Yellowlegs.
 
These shorebirds include more than 20 species that breed in the Arctic and the boreal forest of North America, highlighting the vital role that this site plays in the conservation of shorebirds on a hemispheric scale.
 
For more on the Salina Solar Los Olivitos, see here:
 
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:
 
 
ACCESS MATTERS: FARM BILL OPPORTUNITY
 
Last month, we mentioned a potential rice-centered Farm-bill program that would truly benefit wetland birds:
 
This month we revisit the Farm Bill, which passed Congress in 2014 and which expires at the end of this September. There are indications that Congress would like to pass a new Farm Bill to replace the current bill, and not simply extend the bill. Related House and Senate Committees are expected to take up drafts of the bill later this spring.
 
One feature for potential discussion is the existing Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP). Created in 2008 as the "Open Fields Initiative," VPA-HIP has been a very positive feature of the Farm Bill over the last decade. It has opened millions of acres of private working landscapes within a program of competitive grants for public access to private lands for wildlife-dependent recreation, such as wildlife watching, hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, and hiking. For more information about this feature of the Farm Bill, see here:
 
Unfortunately, VPA-HIP has no funding at this stage of the Farm Bill debate. Moreover, it has the potential to simply be dropped off the final version of the Farm Bill. A number of conservation advocates are requesting that $150 million be set in place over five years to keep these lands open and accessible to the general public. This would help birders and bird photographers, since access is an absolutely essential part of our pastime.
 
 
MBTA CHANGES: A FOOT IN THE DOOR?
 
In February, we described some disturbing reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by the Trump Administration:
 
The Department of the Interior had indicated that it would reinterpret the enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA) as "covering only the intentional taking of a bird." In other words, this new interpretation would claim that "incidental take" is not covered under the Act. This means that the US Fish and Wildlife Service would no longer have jurisdiction to prosecute individuals or entities (e.g., logging efforts, energy companies, or related developers) that "take" migratory birds as part of their operations.
 
The implications are beginning to filter down to such cases as interstate gas pipeline projects, whose construction schedules can be impacted by seasonal tree-and-brush-clearing restrictions.
 
For example, at least two companies in the East, DTE Midstream Appalachia and Dominion Energy, have been given allowances for projects in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina to extend vegetative-clearing to mid- or late April, as opposed to the previous 31 March deadline.
 
Is this relatively harmless, or is it an indication of more MBTA concessions in the wings?

Are two-week or four-week extensions in early spring really that significant when it comes to bird protection? These concessions may be important when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in one of these cases makes it clear that 1) MBTA prohibitions do not apply, 2) thanks the developer for "voluntary conservation of migratory birds in your project planning," and 3) expresses agreement with the company's plans to increase its own "site-specific surveillance." These may also be important when the Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Advocates claim that the time-extensions would result in vegetative clearing "well into the periods when tree felling has been restricted in order to protect migratory birds and threatened or endangered bats."
 
 
SANTA ANA REPRIEVE?
 
Birders, refuge Friends, and conservationists of all stripes have been watching developments at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge for almost a year, concerned that plans for construction of a huge border-wall would be accelerated, possibly isolating or destroying valuable habitat in the Refuge System in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. We summarized much of the dire concern in the February issue:
 
Last month, when the 2,232-page omnibus spending bill was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump, it contained a particular short sentence in reference to The Wall: "None of the funds provided in this or any other Act shall be obligated for construction of a border barrier in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge."
 
Thus, the long, contentious, and unexpected struggle over The Wall at bird-rich Santa Ana seems to have come to a close. The spending bill includes $1.6 billion for border barriers and technology, with restrictions on the kind of construction that can be done to only existing fencing, but Santa Ana NWR is essentially exempt. "The bill is very explicit in keeping any new border walls from going up in Santa Ana," said Scott Nicol, co-chairman of the Sierra Club Borderlands. "I think we were successful in making walling off Santa Ana politically toxic."
 
Originally, the Santa Ana border wall was looking like a pilot project for other sections of the wall, if only because the land was federally owned and a place where a wall might be easily built. In addition, the Administration had issued bidding guidelines that drew on elements of eight prototypes that were each about 30 feet (9.1 meters) high, much higher than existing barriers.
 
But the reprieve may be temporary. "This bill stated that there wasn't going to be any funding allotted for this year, but that doesn't mean that, that may not happen next year," said RGV No Border Wall organizer Melinda Melo.
 
Moreover, the threat still looms for other Lower Rio Grande Valley locations like the National Butterfly Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, La Lomita chapel, and home-and-farm properties owned by individuals along the Rio Grande.
 
The border-wall battles over habitat in the LRGV will surely continue.
 
 
BOOK NOTES: TWELVE STEPS
 
There have been many fine efforts to introduce new birders to the varied skills of our pastime, but there have been few contributions that the newcomer as well as the experienced birder can profit from in some fashion. This new book in the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt "Peterson Field Guide" series might very well fit into this unique category however.
 
Bird Identification in 12 Steps by Steve N.G. Howell and Brian Sullivan presents a dozen ways in which every birder can learn something about becoming better skilled. The dozen categories are taxonomy, location, habitat, season, lighting, distance, behavior, sound, structure, plumage, variation, and note-taking.
 
This book is friendly, non-intimidating, and even humorous. New birders can acquire some basics from this handy little book, and experienced birders can pick up some vital pointers, especially useful when helping the uninitiated. The last point cannot be trivialized. There are many skilled birders who simply fail at being able to explain the essentials, and the Howell and Sullivan little gem looks at learning these elements through fresh eyes.
 
Even the photos in the book present some real opportunities for learning experiences, revealing some wise advice and lurking traps.
 
Basically, there is something in this short book for every birder, and the 152 pages present many opportunities for all birders to pick out and explore what that "something" may be.
 
 
TIP OF THE MONTH: NATIONAL PARKS, TOO!
 
Last month, we ended the Birding Community E-bulletin with a recognition of National Wildlife Refuge Week and the historic role of NWRs in conservation history:
 
This month, we end with a tip in recognition of our colleagues at the National Park System (NPS). For one week every April, the NPS joins with the National Park Foundation to celebrate our park system. The week of celebration extends from 21 April through 29 April. National Parks across the country will host special programs and events, including for:
   April 21: National Junior Ranger Day and Volunteer Day (a free-admission day)
   April 22: Earth Day
   April 28: Military & Veteran Recognition Day
   April 29: National Park Rx Day
 
Find more details here:

ARCHIVES AND MORE
 
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            Wayne R. Petersen
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            Mass Audubon
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             wpetersen@massaudubon.org
                        or
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            Great Birding Projects           
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