On the morning of Saturday, 9 December, Peter Gadd noted a strange bird by a mountain ash tree in his yard in Miramichi, New Brunswick. "I saw a bird and thought, 'OK, that's a little different,'" said Gadd. He and his wife, Deana, active birders for more than four years, couldn't quite figure it out. Nothing seemed to match in several of their North American bird books.
So, Peter sent images to regional bird experts, who quickly recognized the bird as a Mistle Thrush, a bird never before seen in Canada, or even in North America! A robin-sized thrush and in the same genus, the Mistle Thrush is a bird of Western Europe, is resident in Britain and Ireland and with at least a handful of records for Iceland. The New Brunswick Mistle Thrush was possibly brought to Canada by strong winds from the east.
The Miramichi thrush was habituated to eating mountain ash berries most mornings, and beginning on 22 December, it began visiting an alternate mountain ash location in the neighborhood.
Because this is the first verified Mistle Thrush for North America, birding visitors have gone in large numbers to look for this rarity in northern New Brunswick. By the end of December, when the bird was still present, almost 350 visitors had been recorded by the Gadds, from 6 provinces and 19 states.
For a delightful video of the bird, see here:
ACCESS MATTERS: THAT SAME RARE THRUSH
With Mistle Thrush as our rarity of the month, we are prompted to offer yet another reminder of the importance of birder access. Without the patience and generosity of rare-bird hosts like Peter and Deana Gadd, bird watchers would simply not have the opportunity to enjoy fascinating rarities such as the Mistle Thrush.
Sometimes rarity hosts, especially those who are also birders, go above and beyond to accommodate visitors. Asked what might happen if the berries on the mountain ash were significantly depleted, Peter Gadd said that he even had raspberries, blueberries, and plums on hand as a backup system.
And Deana Gadd even brought out hand warmers for those birders standing outside for prolonged periods of time.
Visitors coming to see the rare thrush were gently reminded that they should be respectful of the neighborhood, Peter added. Specifically, visitors were encouraged to park somewhere close to the location, walk quietly to the address, and stay on the road, rather than lingering onto the property. Peter and Deana Gadd have posted signs on the road with basic information, as well as a log-book for visitors to sign. Peter Gadd added that "people have seemed really concerned about not being any trouble... We were warned that it might be an imposition. It hasn't been. People have been very polite, respectful, and appreciative."
What more could one say? This is a perfect example of how important birding access can be.
IBA NEWS: SW JAMES BAY
Since our first two updates come from Canada, why not a third?
In mid-November, a new Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) was announced by Canadian partners: southwestern James Bay. This new location combines seven former IBAs and includes an additional 716 square kilometers. This reconfiguration is intended to better reflect bird habitat use and species movements within this unique area.
The new IBA features large congregations of waterbirds, and it serves as an important stopover point for shorebirds and a staging area for waterfowl part way between the Arctic and the Atlantic Coast. More than 25 species of shorebirds depend on James Bay on their way south in late summer and fall, including juvenile birds making their first migration. In spring and fall, many waterfowl species gather offshore from the James Bay coast, and some like the Black Scoter undergo flight feather molt in this region.
The Moose Cree First Nation (MCFN), whose traditional territory completely encompasses this new IBA, played a major role in defining the new site by contributing local knowledge of birds, habitats, and land use.
You can find out more on the new Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, including details on the staggering number of shorebirds that use this location, 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:
SARA LIST GROWS IN CANADA
So, while we are on Canadian subjects, here's a fourth!
The Canadian federal government recently announced its long-awaited decision to legally designate eight more bird species under Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA). The additional eight bird species brings the total number of birds given special protection under SARA to 72. Three other species that had previously been assessed also underwent scheduled 10-year reviews: Cerulean Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Hooded Warbler. While the last species mentioned, Hooded Warbler, has seen a hopeful and dramatic increase since it was last assessed in 2000, most of the other news from SARA is less encouraging
SARA is not unlike the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) only with somewhat different qualifications. The whole process, from start to finish, can take upwards of 10 years (e.g. the newly SARA-listed Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, and Barn Swallow). The small number of government staff who are charged with overseeing Canada's species at risk process now have approximately 760 species of plants and animals to evaluate.
The eight bird species recently designated include the following:
- Western Grebe
- Eastern Wood Pewee
- Bank Swallow
- Barn Swallow
- Wood Thrush
- Grasshopper Sparrow (eastern subspecies)
- Eastern Meadowlark
For more on the SARA process and species in question, see here;
SANTA ANA NWR UPDATE
Things are not getting any better in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge "Wall" controversy. For more background can see our previous reports from August, 2017at
and September, 2017
The Department of Homeland Security has recently announced that the first new section of the proposed border wall at the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) in South Texas will be at the refuge, specifically built on the well-known levee by the north end of the refuge.
The proposed 2.9-mile section of wall at Santa Ana NWR would be constructed in a 10-mile gap in the existing barrier. The new wall would be a 30-foot tall concrete base with an additional 18 feet of steel bollard fence atop it. Additionally, there would be a 150-foot "enforcement zone" stripped of vegetation next to and south of the wall. This zone would include a road and surveillance towers with floodlighting.
There would be no wall at either end of this construction. At least for the time-being, this new section of wall would simply be a barrier to walk around!
The Santa Ana wall section is estimated to cost $45 million - approximately $15 million per mile - and is slated to be completed by July 2019, according to Army Corps of Engineers records published in the Texas Observer and described in a highly revealing and recommended investigative article by Melissa del Bosque:
It is still uncertain what this construction would mean for access to the refuge once the barrier is completed.
Santa Ana NWR has been long been a regular "Mecca" for birders and a place where unique "South Texas specialties" are regularly found. Santa Ana was created in 1943 to protect migratory birds, and 94.9% of its property was acquired through Duck-Stamp/MBCF dollars. Some 400 bird species have been observed at Santa Ana, and many other wildlife species including rare mammals, herps, and butterflies call the area home.
Elsewhere in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the National Butterfly Center, a non-profit sanctuary and wildlife center, recently filed a lawsuit in Washington D.C. against the Department of Homeland Security demanding that the Trump administration conduct federally required environmental assessments and follow the constitution and legal due process before attempting to build a border wall through their 100-acre private nature and wildlife sanctuary.
According to the documents recently obtained, the wall would cut through other valuable nearby habitats and properties, such as the much-beloved Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
Local communities in the LRGV continue to line up in opposition to the wall. Fortunately, there is still time to halt this monstrosity, including other ways to set up smart and more wildlife-friendly fences, replete with technologically advanced sensing (e.g., listening and viewing) devices. Congress can act, as long as members hear from their constituents. Readers concerned about this situation can access a model letter provided last summer by the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) and re-write sections with their own words to reflect the current situation:
ANOTHER BOBWHITE/NPS AGREEMENT ON MANAGEMENT
In early December, the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in south-central Oklahoma became the third National Park Service (NPS) unit to join forces with the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) to help restore grassland and related ecosystems to help Northern Bobwhite, grassland songbirds, and pollinators.
The intent is to cooperate in identifying and restoring native grasslands habitats on suitable park properties, including specific park units serving as formal "Bobwhite focal areas." Pea Ridge National Military Park in Arkansas and Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia were the first two NPS units to join this effort.
The 10,000-acre Chickasaw National Recreation Area already harbors some Northern Bobwhites. The bobwhite focal area will cover 5,000 acres at Chickasaw. Unfortunately, eastern red cedar trees have invaded the prairie areas at Chickasaw, but the park launched reclamation efforts two years ago, eliminating 1,000 acres of invasive cedar trees and conducting annual prescribed burns to maintain control and allow natural prairie regeneration. Another 1,000 acres of cedars have recently been targeted for removal. The park has also partnered with the Oaks & Prairies Joint Venture and hopes to interest a local university to assist with habitat assessment and bird surveys.
You can find more details here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: OPTICS CLEANLINESS
There was an instructive short article in the New-England-oriented magazine, Bird Observer, in their December 2017 issue. It was about lens and general cleanliness for optics, with a special emphasis on saltwater surroundings. The short piece was by Gail Fisher, a technician with a quarter century of experience in the repair department of Swarovski Optik in the U.S.
Since salt water causes intense degradation of metal parts, she recommended a number of practical steps. First, clean the lenses in a standard way, including blowing off particles and then wiping off the surface with a moist lens-cleaning cloth. What comes next is specifically related to optics and saltwater environments: rinse the waterproof equipment at the end of the day; use Simple Green, a mild all-purpose cleaner (mixed with water), and a toothbrush to clear away dirt. After that, use a cloth or paper towel to dry the surface of the armor.
You can access more on Bird Observer and the issue in question here:
ALASKA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE ISSUES
When Congress passed and the President signed the recent tax bill, it included opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. The Republican-led Congress failed to have the votes to pass a stand-alone Arctic Refuge drilling bill, so they attached it to the tax plan as a way to pass the legislation by a simple majority.
The refuge is home to an incredible array of biodiversity. The mix of species includes more than 200 species of birds - especially waterfowl and shorebirds. Even if you haven't visited this wonderous refuge, odds are good that you have seen one of these migratory birds that breeds there in your region. In fact, birds that breed in the refuge migrate from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to practically every state in the U.S., and some even venture to other continents. This remote corner of Alaska is truly connected to all ends of the Earth.
The move to open up the refuge is an "unprecedented attack on one of the only untouched, pristine wildlife areas left in the world," said Geoffrey Haskett, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been called America's last frontier. It has remained untouched for millennia yet pro-drilling special interests would despoil this iconic place forever - at a time when this country has a surplus of oil.
For more details from the Refuge Association, see here:
The next shoe to drop among Alaska refuges could very well be the construction of a road at another refuge, Izembek NWR. The possible construction of this road has been highly contentious, insofar as it would be going through a federally designated Wilderness Area, potentially risking countless "Pacific" Brant, Emperor Geese, swans, and other migratory birds and wildlife that rely on this refuge. Izembek is also an Important Bird Area (IBA). We covered the issue - concerning the gravel road of about 12 miles - previously in our October 2015 issue:
Here's further background on the concerns, from the National Wildlife Refuge Association:
And there was a summary of the issues that appeared in mid-October in The Washington Post: