On 30 October, Raul Delgado photographed an Amazon Kingfisher at Zacate Creek in Laredo, Texas. Readers with a good memory may remember that the first North American record of Amazon Kingfisher was in 2010, also in Laredo. That female kingfisher stayed just over a week before disappearing in early February. It was the rarity of the month at the time:
Interestingly, the Amazon Kingfisher found at the end of October was at the same exact spot on Zacate Creek. Could she be the very same bird? Perhaps, if not most likely.
In any case, this year's Amazon Kingfisher remained for the entire month of November, mostly frequenting a stretch of the creek between the local dam and a water-treatment facility, delighting many observers throughout its prolonged stay. In fact, there were so many visitors that the City of Laredo erected a yellow-tape boundary barrier to keep bird watchers out of the immediate creek area.
Amazon Kingfishers normally ranges from Mexico (no closer than southern Tamaulipas) to Argentina and Uruguay. The Amazon Kingfisher is the largest "green" kingfisher in the Americas.
For a photo of the bird taken by Raul Delgado and to gain further details, see here:
On the subject of the possibility of repeat appearances by rare birds, there was also a male Common Scoter found and photographed at Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Lincoln County, Oregon, on 13 November. Later in the day, the bird moved to the Schooner Creek overlook in Taft in southern Lincoln City. For the rest of the month, the local Mo's Restaurant, the Siletz Bay mouth, and a nearby bridge became the best landmarks from which to locate this Old World rarity.
We mention this bird for two reasons. First, it was a major contender for our E-Bulletin rarity of the month, since it is only the second Common Scoter to ever be found in North America. And second, it was found only about 250 miles up the coast from where the first Common Scoter was found in 2015. See here for details on that original Crescent City, California, bird:
On the other side of the country, in Rivière Brochu, Gallix, Quebec, located on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, an immature Common Shelduck was photographed on 25 November and refound in the area on 30 November. This species' status has long been confounded by the possibility of escapes from collections, but like some other Eurasian waterfowl (e.g., Pink-footed, Barnacle, and Graylag Geese), Common Shelduck is increasing in Europe, including Iceland. Recent early-winter records for eastern Canada and New England increasingly suggest a need for careful evaluation.
And finally, at Scituate Reservoir in Scituate, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, an unusual-looking dabbling duck was found on 23 November. It remained a few days, and it exhibited many characteristics of an Eastern Spot-billed Duck, including a strong facial pattern and a yellow-tipped dark bill. It was also paler in color than nearby female Mallards and it had white undertail coverts, which unfortunately pointed away from Eastern Spot-billed Duck.
The fact that Eastern Spot-billed Duck has only been seen in North America in Alaska, mainly in the Aleutians, added to the improbability of this species occurring in eastern North America. Of course, strange things have happened with waterfowl - note the story on Common Scoter, above - and the provenance of such birds should always be carefully considered.
The mystery duck had no apparent collection-band on its leg. Still, a quick search online showed that the closely related Indian Spot-billed Duck is sold to wildfowl collectors (with at least one supplier in New York). Perhaps an escape with some interbreeding with Mallard cannot be discounted.
One of the lessons here is that there are plenty of "odd ducks" out there still to be found, including hybrids and bona fide rarities. This is also and ideal season to discover them, so keep your eyes open and keep looking!
IS CANADA CLOSER TO A NATIONAL BIRD?
In October, we discussed the debate in Canada over designating an official Canadian bird:
Over the past two years, nearly 50,000 Canadians voted for their favorite species in the National Bird Project, an effort by Canadian Geographic, in partnership with Bird Studies Canada, to help select an appropriate avian emblem for Canada.
Once the voting results and thousands of comments were considered, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society made its official recommendation at its College of Fellows Annual Dinner on 16 November. A feature story about the national bird recommendation also appeared in the December 2016 issue of Canadian Geographic, and the final choice of Gray Jay appears on the cover of the magazine:
The Canadian Parliament might eventually address national-bird designation of Gray Jay, with an official bird for Canada being selected in 2017, Canada's sesquicentennial year.
BOOK NOTES: THOSE PARK ROADS
If you simply glance at National Park Roads: A Legacy in the American Landscape by Timothy Davis (University of Virginia Press, 2016), you might think it's just another "coffee-table book" full of impressive photos of the scenic roads through our National Parks. While it is certainly a collection of beautiful historic photos, it is also much more.
Beyond the classic size, the pretty cover, and the assortment of captivating photos, this book offers a deep look into the surprising and unique quality and history of National Park roads, roads targeted at bringing the public to scenic and wonderful locations, but at the same time challenged by the obligation to preserve the character of these very same places.
A mixture of enthusiasm and apprehension has always been part of the reception of automobiles in National Parks, and this book carefully addresses this dichotomy. Instead of arguing for the primacy of a particular view, the book shows how road development responded to practical concerns, evolving technology, social practice, wilderness advocates, and cultural demands. Readers may also want to pay special attention to the "Golden Age" of National Park road-building, the period that stretched between the two World Wars, and uniquely punctuated by the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.
As we witness the closing of the National Park Service's centennial, this lovely book provides a healthy discussion about spreading the benefits of the outdoors in order to embrace a diverse American public. The book should serve as an important resource for years to come.
Although National Park Roads barely mentions birds, it is nonetheless a book full of important lessons for all Americans. Indeed, a read of this work is a verification of the old adage that you can't tell a book by its cover.
ACCESS MATTERS: ROAD LESSONS
Our usual "Access Matters" feature this month consists of a simple suggestion: Re-read the "Book Note" above in light of the larger question of balancing preservation and access in natural areas! By that, we mean not only focusing on the National Parks featured in the Davis book, but also on National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, BLM lands, and state and county parks and wildlife properties and their connection to providing quality outdoor experiences to an increasingly preoccupied American public.
Tim Davis posits this issue very well at the beginning of his book, and his comments can be expanded to consider access beyond the world of National Parks: "For many people, what they see from the road is the national park experience... but for some people, simply knowing roads are present compromises parks' ability to function as escapes from modern civilization."
Indeed, access matters, and how to deliver that access in a welcoming and instructive manner is an issue that should concern and involve anyone with an interest and a concern for our beautiful country and its many outdoor resources.
IBA NEWS: THE SMOKIES
Since the previous two news items are related to roads in National Parks, it is appropriate to mention one such park that is an Important Bird Area (IBA) of continental significance. This park was actually highlighted in distressing national news toward the end of November.
The most-visited of our national parks is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, attracting more than 10 million visitors annually - about twice the number of the second most popular park. Most visitors see the park from its famous scenic highway, although many also hike on the 800 miles of park trails extending across the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The park covers over 800 square miles and is divided almost equally between these two states.
Parts of the Tennessee section of the park were subject to wildfires starting in late November. More than 17,000 people had to flee as the wildfires blazed through and around the park. The fires are said to have damaged or destroyed more than 1,600 homes and businesses, mostly around Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The tragic loss of human life went over a dozen, with more than 130 people injured. Over 11,300 acres in the park itself were burned in this, the most-visited national park in the country.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern U.S., and approximately a fifth of the park comprises old-growth forest and represents the largest tract of old-growth forest in the southern Appalachians. The park supports 230 species of birds, with 110 species breeding in the park. This IBA supports among the highest diversity of breeding Neotropical migratory birds of any area in the U.S. It also likely holds the largest concentration of Northern Saw-whet Owls in the southeast, and the majority of the Black-capped Chickadees residing in the Blue Ridge. It is also one of the best sites in the southern Appalachians for Olive-sided Flycatchers. In short, the park holds substantial populations of listedWatchlist species and species of concern.
For more information on this IBA that s is located in both Tennessee and North Carolina, see the two web pages which describe the IBA in both states, respectively:
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:
WATCHING THE COP
During the first two weeks of December, the 13th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP) will be meeting in Cancun, Mexico. The COP was signed in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit - The UN Conference on Environment and Development. Today the COP has 196 Parties, ostensibly committed to the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the sharing of the related benefits. The U.S. is not a signatory, however.
The COP actions are focused on 20 targets, with goals developed for the member countries, including most of the other countries in the Western Hemisphere. This information is contained in a 2010 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020).
To date, and with only four years remaining, participant nations have been far from successful in fulfilling their biological commitments. As spokespersons from BirdLife International have reminded us, agriculture in too many countries continues to poison habitats with heavy loads of pollutants, to contaminate rivers, and to kill insects that literally pollinate national culture; offshore fisheries are annually killing dozens of thousands of seabirds; and governments are spending millions of dollars in subsidies for unsustainable productions that destroy nature. It is no accident that a global conservation community feels less than encouraged by so many past promises that lack corresponding effective actions.
At the same time, the COP meeting will provide opportunities to discuss successes in the areas of bird-favorable production in such sectors as energy production, cattle breeding, fisheries, and sustainable agriculture. Fortunately, some participants are seriously working on less conversation and a lot more action.
You can read a summary of what is at stake from BirdLife International:
TIP OF THE MONTH: HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS
Yes, it's that time of year, and if you have not yet bought all your holiday gifts, it's a good time to consider some that are bird-and-nature oriented. With that in mind we have a few suggestions.
First, we suggest you consider any of the books mentioned in the past year in the E-bulletin under our "Book Notes" features. There should be something and a price for everyone:
Ecology and Conservation of North American Sea Ducks
- a heavy-duty treatment edited by five experts
- friendly skill-building by George L. Armistead and Brian L. Sullivan
- informative and ultra-cute by Julie Zickefoose,
The Kiskadee of Death
- a birder-murder mystery by Jan Dunlop
Bird Families of the World: A Guide to the Spectacular Diversity of Birds
- an elegant compendium by David Winkler, Shawn Billerman, and Irby Lovette
Woodpeckers of North
America - a handsome reference by Stephen A. Shunk
Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific - a ten-week bicycle journey by Don Kroodsma
- investigating a cuddly killer by Peter Marra and Chris Santella
Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America
- a tight and informative guide by Jesse Fagan and Oliver Komar
National Park Roads
- much more than a coffee-table book by Tim Davis
You might also consider buying a bird-feeder (along with accompanying quality seed) for that relative or neighbor just getting interested in birds.
Think about binoculars for some youngster in your life. We are suggesting a quality pair, not just compact binoculars, which have smaller objective lenses, and which are often dimmer and difficult to use when trying to locate a bird in the binoculars. And remember, you also don't have to break the bank to find good binoculars for youngsters these days.
Think about giving bags of bird-friendly coffee as gifts. Look around for triple-labeled brands, combining shade-grown, organic, and fair-traded features. The coffee tastes great, and it can start up great conversations about impacting bird conservation through regular shopping.
Consider a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp - a "Duck Stamp" - to help build the Refuge System and to serve as a free pass for all NWRs that may charge for entry through June.
And, finally, in light of our next story.... Give an organizational gift membership, one dedicated to saving and appreciating America's wild birds, wildlife, and wild places. The list of such organizations is long enough for us to refrain from making particular suggestions. Readers should seek out the ones that match the message you wish to deliver.
WAITING FOR THOSE NEXT SHOES
Don't think you will get to finish reading the Birding Community E-bulletin without some reference to last month's Presidential election. No such luck!
After an extended and even brutal campaign, Donald Trump will soon become our 45th President of the United States. Ever since Election Day, the media has followed every Trump Twitter, every important visitation to the Trump Tower, and every piece of speculation about divisions in the internal Trump camp.
Top of the list, perhaps, has been the expected appointments for the incoming Administration. As of this writing, we have reports of intended cabinet and other related appointments for Treasury Secretary, Transportation Secretary, Health and Human Services Secretary, Commerce Secretary, Education Secretary, U.N. Ambassador, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Defense Secretary, CIA Director, Attorney General, National Security Advisor, White House Chief of Staff, and Chief Strategist.
Needless to say, these are very important posts for the country and for the incoming Administration. Regrettably the cabinet selections for positions that may be of particular significance and interest to readers of the Birding Community E-bulletin have yet to be released. These include the Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator.
Not surprisingly leaders from conservation and environmental arenas are anxiously waiting for these selected appointments to be made, essentially waiting for "the other shoes to drop."
The Secretary of the Interior is responsible for the protection of much of the nation's federal lands and waters (e.g., Refuges, National Parks, Monuments, and BLM), as well as the conservation of wildlife and plant species. Among other things, our next Secretary of the Interior could decide the fate of Obama-era rules that stop public land development; curb the exploration of oil, coal, and gas; and promote wind and solar power on public lands.
The Secretary of Agriculture oversees America's farming industry, inspects food quality, and provides income-based food assistance. The department helps develop vital land-oriented conservation on private farmlands, including long-term easements. Agriculture also has jurisdiction over our valued National Forests.
The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is responsible for issuing and overseeing environmental regulations, especially concerning clean air and water, a difficult job for any Administrator with an incoming President who has tentatively vowed to dismantle the agency "in almost every form."
These three key positions, of course require Senate confirmation, and everyone anticipates close scrutiny of individuals appointed to these posts.
Nature has the potential to bring the American people together, something desperately needed during these difficult days. There was a time when most environmental issues were not particularly divisive. In fact, they were not simply bi-partisan; they were almost non-partisan.
Fortunately, during his campaign, Mr. Trump at least stated that he would not support the larger GOP platform to sell off public lands, and that itself is hopeful. Moreover, if President-elect Trump is sincerely committed to bringing our nation together, as he stated in his election victory speech, then quality appointments to these particular positions will go a long way to achieving that desired unifying effect.