It turned out that they were right, and this bird became the first Lesser Sand-Plover ever seen in Arizona.
The Lesser Sand-Plover, previously known as the Mongolian Plover, breeds above the tree line in the Himalayas and discontinuously across bare coastal plains in north-eastern Siberia. It is a rare but regular visitor to northwestern and western Alaska, where it has also rarely nested. There are a score of records on the West Coast of North America from British Columbia to California, mostly in the fall. In fact, there was a Lesser Sand-Plover reported south of Abbott's Lagoon in Marin County, California, on 18 October, where it remained for the rest of the month. There are also a few records in the eastern United States.
The Round Cedar Lake Lesser Sand-Plover favored the small channels of water coming out of the main basin of the lake rather than the basin itself. Even though the bird was fairly cooperative, sometimes it would go missing for half a day. Still, Chuck LaRue said that the bird had probably drawn 500 visitors. The Lesser Sand-Plover was last seen in the late afternoon of 11 October.
You can view some of the original photos of the bird here:
Last month, we wrote that "Dusky Warbler may not be as rare in California as many birders previously thought a decade or so ago. Accordingly, it pays to be on the alert!"
Then, coincidentally, on the morning of 8 October a Dusky Warbler was observed and photographed at Central Park in Huntington Beach, California. It was on Talbert Lake, a dry lake bed north of the local library. The bird was seen a few times that day, but ultimately turned out to be a one-day-wonder.
ACCESS MATTERS: NAVAJO LAND
As previously noted in the rarity feature highlighting the Lesser Sand-Plover in Arizona, the bird appeared just inside Navajo Nation land. As such, outside visitors could have been construed as trespassers. All areas on the Navajo Nation are closed to non-natives for activities such as camping, hiking, research, commercial photography, or any related activity unless a permit is issued by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department, Cultural Affairs office, or other duly delegated tribal authority.
Fortunately, some common sense, good manners, and previous connections prevailed. In fact, when Navajo funeral activity was scheduled by the lake site on Wednesday, 5 October, the sand-plover finders, Chuck LaRue and Jason Wilder, spread the word. LaRue, who has lived on and near the Navajo Nation for 50 years, said that out of respect for the Navajo people and culture and for the friends, family, and loved ones attending the funeral, birders should stay away from the area on that day.
According to Jason Wilder, the response was very positive, "Word was disseminated effectively regarding the local requests for birders to take the day off when the funeral occurred. Chuck and I worked very hard to transmit this information to every available outlet. To my knowledge, there was 100% compliance with the request to avoid the area, and the entire interaction was handled well."
Since the locals were originally quite gracious about letting birders drive in and see the Lesser Sand-plover, and since the birders complied with the funeral request, the issue of access was appropriately addressed, and everyone left with a positive experience. This is another example of how handling access for birders can actually work.
EXPANDED NABCI WEBSITE/INFORMATION
The new website for the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) is now up and running. This new site provides information on the US NABCI Committee, as well as directs members of the bird conservation community to information about national-level bird conservation partnerships and resources. As part of the transition to a more streamlined and user-friendly online presence for the US NABCI Committee, the All-Bird Bulletin, formerly a biannual PDF publication, will now appear as a bi-monthly blog. This blog series, also called the All-Bird Bulletin, will continue to focus on three or four themes per year, but it will now provide more frequent highlights for conservation partners concerning topics of interest.
If you were subscribed to the All-Bird Bulletin, you will continue to receive NABCI blogs. If you were not already signed up, and would like to receive blogs notices, you can subscribe here:
This is an important milestone for NABCI, and we encourage interested birders and bird conservationists to share the link to NABCI's website:
BOOK NOTES: NORTHERN CENTRAL AMERICA
If you are looking for a helpful book on the birds of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and/or El Salvador, you'll want a copy of the new Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America by Jesse Fagan and Oliver Komar (2016 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
It's a "traditional-sized" field guide in the family of the Peterson series, admirably compact with 438 pages of essential information. This guide is more complete than previous books covering the same areas, with over 800 species accounts, full-color range maps, and 1,000 instructive illustrations. The text is tight and exceedingly helpful, including behavioral vignettes and vocalization descriptions. It's an excellent field guide.
The only thing that is unfortunately missing is having each species name also in Spanish, along with the English common names and the scientific names. The space was surely available. Why should folks in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala who are learning their birds have to learn the birds using English-language and scientific names but not also have Spanish-language names?
If you are visiting this section of Central America, or if you would like to plan such a trip, you should obtain a copy of this book.
SAGE-GROUSE MEDDLING AGAIN
It has been five months since we have written about the "sage-grouse wars", but we knew that a lack of coverage would not last very long.
Last month marked a year since the USFWS decided that the Greater Sage-Grouse did not require protection under the Endangered Species Act, as long as strong and effective conservation plans were implemented on federal and state lands. On that one-year anniversary, federal agencies released a report detailing accomplishments to date, and the Sage- Grouse Initiative also summed up its contributions. Another $360 million has been committed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS - USDA) and other agencies toward sage-grouse conservation through 2018, implementing memos have been released, mitigation policies are beginning to be formulated, and the proposed mineral withdrawal Draft EIS is expected out in early 2017. Parties are sincerely and effectively pursuing common conservation goals.
Yet, even as these serious steps are being taken, some lawmakers are moving to meddle with success.
Some voices in Congress want to force federal agencies to use only state-developed plans by attaching legislation to the only things seemingly moving through Washington - national defense funding and key spending bills. This can scuttle the entire conservation process. Part of the problem is that individual state plans cannot stand alone to address the plight facing sage-grouse, and many of the plans are based on voluntary efforts, with weak assurances that they will be fully implemented.
If allowed to be enacted, this potential Congressional meddling could reverse years of land management policies and would undo years of negotiated cooperation, squandering millions of taxpayer dollars already invested in these efforts. Any such action would also delay conservation and management efforts that are currently needed without bringing sage-grouse any closer to a secure future.
One would hope that Congress - and especially a lame-duck Congress - would respect the tremendous conservation efforts already taken and give them a chance to succeed.
At the same time, there are also parallel conservation efforts afoot to resist other anti-ESA/wildlife riders attached to legislation through the upcoming lame-duck Congress.
IBA NEWS: GWWA TIME-LAG
In the September issue of the Birding Community E-bulletin, we looked into the discussion over appropriate Golden-winged Warbler (GWWA) conservation efforts at the Sparta Mountain Important Bird Area (IBA) in New Jersey:
The concern for GWWA habitat management across the species' range raises a core issue over the very identification of IBAs. Simply put, the identification of sites as IBAs often lags behind the identification and creation of appropriate Golden-winged Warbler (GWWA) habitat.
Efforts to create and/or restore young forest habitat for Golden-winged Warblers takes time. The process is based on forward-looking forestry management that mimics natural disturbances, aiming to improve the quality of existing breeding habitat and establish new high-quality habitats.
The process also benefits over 30 other species that need similar early-successional habitat (e.g., Wild Turkey, American Woodcock, and Prairie Warbler). Ultimately, it's vital to appreciate that young forests have to start somewhere!
With this in mind, it may be good to look at a report released last summer by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). It is titled, "Sustainably Managing Forests Creates Golden-winged Warbler Breeding Habitat." The report highlights proven conservation strategies for the species, citing research in which scientists monitored Golden-winged Warbler response to targeted habitat management. Scientists observed more Golden-winged Warblers when patches of early successional habitats were clumped close to each other, and when some large trees are left scattered across a timber harvest. You can find more on the report 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:
MALHEUR JURY DECISION
On 27 October, a federal jury in Portland, Oregon, found seven leading armed occupiers who took over and seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to be not guilty of conspiring to impede federal workers from doing their jobs during 41 days in January and February. We could have reported on this important story in the usual "Access Matters" or "IBA News" features above. Indeed, we did that in February when we initially wrote on the armed antigovernment activity:
When considering access, Malheur NWR is a spectacular place for birding. When birders - along with wildlife photographers, hunters, anglers, environmental educators, and others - insist that access matters, it means real access to enjoy, appreciate, and conserve well-managed resources for birds, other wildlife, and people. Attempts to seize any refuge like Malheur are attempts to take valued property away from the American people.
When considering Important Bird Areas, Malheur NWR ranks as absolutely crucial, whether it be for waterfowl, raptors, ibises, shorebirds, or songbirds.
Dan Ashe, USFWS director, said in a statement, "We are profoundly disappointed in the outcome of the trial," and are "committed to the security, healing, and comfort of refuge employees."
Did the federal prosecutors overplay their hand? Was the "conspiracy" issue poorly handled? Did the issue of "protest" get priority over the issue of armed activity? In any case, the defendants' courtroom victory may very well further challenge federal control of public lands and embolden those who wish to open more federal land to increased grazing, logging, mining, and associated development. The decision may increase the threat of further seizures and armed confrontations elsewhere.
One opinion piece which summarized some of the issues at stake was written by Scott Martelle in the Los Angeles Times:
Here is a statement from the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) on the outcome of the case:
The National Wildlife Refuge Association also responded in a concerted effort to pressure Congress to "immediately provide the Refuge System with the number of Federal Wildlife Officers needed to keep staff and visitors safe. Congress must ensure that all Americans can freely enjoy our public lands without the danger of encountering armed occupiers claiming the authority to restrict public access":
The not-guilty verdict on the Malheur seizure was particularly ironic, since it came on the 158th birthday of President Theodore Roosevelt, the man who designated the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903 and who launched what has become the world's largest network of protected habitats for wildlife. One wonders what TR would think today.
TIP OF THE MONTH: HEARING CHECK-UP
Are you failing to hear Blackpoll Warbler's high-pitched "tsit, tsit, tsit, tsit, tsit, tsit" while your field colleagues are picking up that sound? Are you hearing only "pieces" of some birdsongs?
This should be a signal to you that it's time to get your hearing checked.
Hearing loss can develop so gradually, that you may not even realize that it's happening. A hearing-care specialist such as an audiologist or hearing instrument provider can perform an in-depth assessment to determine the treatment that is best for you. And you should seek an audiologist who appreciates that for you at least, hearing birds is very important.
The good news is that hearing aids have progressed so well over the past decade that some folks have come to regard them as prosthetic ears. These are not your mother's or grandfather's hearing aids. Today's devices are much smaller - virtually invisible - with a microcomputer that is significantly more sophisticated in responding to sounds in the environment than their early predecessors.
In any case, it's a good idea to have an annual hearing examination to measure the level of your auditory capacity, especially if you've been exposed to repeated loud noises, or if you are over 50 years of age.
RICE STEWARDSHIP REPORT
Ducks Unlimited (DU) and USARice released a report in September outlining accomplishments through their USDA-supported Regional Conservation Partnership (RCPP) projects on how rice agriculture not only produces food, but also can improve the efficiency of water-use y, water quality, and wetland habitat for birds and other wildlife. This report covers efforts in all six rice-growing states.
Their first annual Rice Stewardship annual report specifically covers projects addressing major problems (e.g., efforts to increase rice on the landscape in Texas, drought in California, and nutrient management) and wise management, especially for millions of waterfowl and other wetland-loving birds that use American ricelands. This only helps affirm that rice is the most bird-compatible mass-produced crop in the U.S.
You can access more details and download a copy of the report here:
STRENGTHENING THE MBTA
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty, a crucial agreement that has helped protect, recover, and maintain populations for migratory birds. In light of this centennial, it is good to know that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering new standards to keep migratory birds from being trapped in oil pits, electrocuted by powerlines, and dying from other preventable causes.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), unlike the Endangered Species Act or the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, currently has no provision for any "incidental take permit" for migratory birds. Creating a parallel provision to protect migratory birds would enable managers, businesses, farmers, and communities to apply best management practices to reduce mortality and mitigation measures.
The USFWS has announced its intention to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) to evaluate the effects of creating a permitting system to reduce and mitigate for preventable sources of mortality. A draft EIS may be available as early as the end of this year.
The official "Notice of Intent" includes potential options to establish incidental take authority permitting for sectors and projects that have known impacts to migratory birds such as wind power development, oil and gas drilling, communications towers, power lines, and tall towers.
This will be important development to watch.
HOG ISLAND ANNOUNCEMENTS FOR 2017
As a final quick note, and as we have mentioned in previous years, Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine has a rich history in American bird study, education, and ornithology starting with its first bird instructor, Roger Tory Peterson, in the 1930s.
The revival and well-being of the camp depends on a team of dedicated staff, volunteers, and instructors. The initial 2017 schedule was released in late October, and the events are now open for registration. They include the following:
- Joy of Birding June 4-9
- Field Ornithology June 18-23
- Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens June 11-16; June 18-23
- Marine Natural History for Teens July 9-14
- Sharing Nature: An Educator's Week July 16-21
- Family Camp August 6-11; August 13-18
- Maine Seabird Biology & Conservation September 3-8
- Fall Migration and Monhegan Island September 3-8; Sept. 10-15
See here for more details: