On Monday, 23 October, Sam Galick and Virginia Rettig identified an adult Common Greenshankon the wildlife drive at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, When found at lunchtime, the bird was at "the dogleg" where the road jogs on the wildlife drive, a familiar feature along the northern side of this popular wildlife drive. The greenshank flew off with Greater Yellowlegs around 3:30pm, but in the interim, it was observed by a number of birders who were fortunate enough to manage a quick visit.
The next day there was stormy weather, and despite thorough searches by many, the Common Greenshank was not to be found. However, on Wednesday, 25 October, it was again seen in the morning by at least a couple of birders who found it near the bird's original location. And again, it was observed with yellowlegs.
On Thursday, it was seen again in the morning consorting with yellowlegs, where it provided fortunate birders good views. After flying away by itself early in the afternoon, it was not seen again until Friday morning and Saturday morning.
Forsythe NWR is not a long drive from birding centers in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and even Washington DC. Accordingly, it was no surprise that over the last weekend of the month, the wildlife drive was crowded by eager and happy observers, searching for - and finding - this rarity.
The Common Greenshank is a large Eurasian shorebird which breeds mainly across the taiga zone from northern Scandinavia to Kamchatka; it winters in sub-Sahara Africa, southern Asia, and Australia. Common Greenshanks are uncommon in westernmost Alaska in spring, particularly the Aleutians, and rare in fall. There are one or two previously confirmed California records, and a few in the Canadian Atlantic provinces. The Forsythe bird was a first for New Jersey and the eastern U.S.
For some interesting photos by Tom Johnson from the first day at Forsythe, see this eBird report:
ACCESS MATTERS: HOSTING A MEGA-RARITY
If a real rare bird should appear in your backyard, you potentially have several things to consider. If you are a casual bird watcher or someone who really values privacy, you may not want to invite strangers to your home, possibly at odd hours (!), to view the bird. You may have children or pets using the yard, or various other good reasons why you would prefer to keep the rarity under wraps. On the other hand, you may be the kind of birder who will want to tell everyone you know!
Rarity-hosting, especially on private-property, can sometimes entail delicate negotiations and a willingness to possibly indulge crowds of people. And depending upon the rarity of the bird, there may even be a need to set up some "ground rules," including a willingness to respond to queries by phone and the Internet. These moves can all help facilitate access to birders wishing to see the unusual bird.
Coincidentally, several of these options came into play when Vernon Buckle, a resident of Forteau, Labrador, discovered a Yellow-breasted Bunting feeding in his backyard on 16 October. The rarity was accompanied by a Dickcissel, which would have been rare enough by itself in Labrador!
Though Yellow-breasted Buntings are a fairly widespread species, breeding across much of Russia and wintering in Southeast Asia and southern China, they are under great pressure in their wintering areas, where massive songbird trapping regularly takes place. In those areas the species is in serious decline.
There are only a few previous confirmed records of this species in North America, all from western Alaska. In fact the Forteau bird is the first for Canada and the first for eastern North America.
Fortunately Vernon Buckle is a dedicated birder who was gracious enough to let as many people as possible know about the bird, and he generously fielded many phone calls and e-mail inquiries about the bird. The difficulty with seeing the bird was due to the fact that Forteau is no easy place to reach! The town, with a population of under 500, is remote. In the words of one intrepid birder, "You can take a flight to Goose Bay, Newfoundland, and drive about eight hours south, or fly to Blanc-Sablon, Quebec, and make the short drive across into Labrador and nearby Forteau. Alternately, there is ferry service from St. Barbe in northern Newfoundland to Blanc-Sablon. Driving is also possible, but from Quebec City, it might easily take 29 hours. Good luck!"
The Yellow-breasted Bunting stayed through 19 October, just long enough for about half a dozen birders, reportedly all Canadians, to make the pilgrimage. Vernon kept careful tabs on the bird - along with other rarities visiting his backyard, including the aforementioned Dickcissel, Clay-colored Sparrow, and a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Fortunately, all but one of the birders who made the journey got to see the bird before it departed e. If the bird had stayed longer, more birders would no doubt have arrived, but regardless, Vernon was the perfect host, making access available to all who traveled to see the rare visitor.
You can access a photo taken by Vernon Buckle of the Yellow-breasted Bunting along with a Clay-colored Sparrow and a Dickcissel:
IBA NEWS: NEBRASKA CRANE COUNTRY
Largely because of the lack of submitted data, there are only four globally Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Nebraska. This situation was at least somewhat improved last month with the announcement that after negotiations with the National Audubon Society, the Crane Trust was certified as a globally Important Bird Area (IBA). This designation was approved because of the huge abundance of Sandhill Cranes that visit the Trust properties along the Platte River every year, and because of the regular migratory visitations of Whooping Cranes there. The land ownership and associated easements through the Crane Trust permanently protect 31 miles of the Platte River channel that will never be further developed. In September, the United States IBA Committee confirmed that the appearance of 208,300 Sandhill Cranes and 8 Whooping Cranes in one day in March meant that the Crane Trust clearly qualified for IBA status.
Most of the lands under the Trust's oversight are on the north side of the river. Without the Crane Trust's protection, these might very well be developed into homes, gravel pits, or any number of other developments. A key piece of the conservation mix is still missing however. The largest crane roost in the world contains five miles of river channel currently unprotected on the south side of the river.
For information on this encouraging new IBA development in Nebraska, 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:
REPORT ON PUERTO RICAN PARROTS
Anyone following the news since two recent hurricanes passed through the Caribbean knows that some of the islands may take a very long time to recover. The damage to Puerto Rico has been especially devastating. Bird enthusiasts also know that birds have likely been terribly impacted in many places. On the island of Puerto Rico for example, the unknown fate of the iconic Puerto Rican Parrot is indicative of what the long road to wildlife recovery may hold for a number of species.
While there were probably tens of thousands of these parrots on the island in pre-Columbian times, the population dropped to little more than a dozen by 1975. This was the result of deforestation, hunting, and possibly species competition. Once major conservation efforts and captive breeding began, the situation improved. By 2012, the estimated population of Puerto Rican Parrots was approximately 60-80 birds in the wild and over 300 individuals in captivity. Before Hurricane Maria, the captive and wild population together numbered over 500 individuals.
The Puerto Rican Parrot is a Federally Endangered species that lives in the 28,000-acre El Yunque National Forest and the Río Abajo State Forest. Following the hurricane, at least seven parrots died in captivity because of the stress induced by the storm and high temperatures created by the lack of a canopy. As a result, more parrots may have to be brought into captivity. Because known nesting and roosting trees were destroyed, real concerns for the species' future have been raised. Indeed, the worst hit areas of El Yunque forest "might take a century to recover," claimed Grizelle Gonzalez, a project leader at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, which is part of the US Department of Agriculture. Much of that forest is completely defoliated.
Searchers going through the forest, at least the accessible parts in the eastern part of El Yunque, have had poor results locating parrots, and access to the western part of El Yunque has been very limited. Still, locals have reported seeing several "cotorras," (i.e., parrots), carrying radio collars and leg bands from ongoing studies. A few radio-tagged parrots even returned on their own to the aviary. And the significant parrot population in the Río Abajo State Forest - more than 80 parrots - have been confirmed.
Lack of adequate communication has made cross-checking among conservation partners very difficult. It is also clear that those researchers working to preserve the parrots have been having to deal with the same difficult day-to-day living experiences as other Puerto Ricans elsewhere on the island. In fact, even before Hurricane Maria, there was pushback over scarce resources being put into reestablishing the parrots while the island was facing serious financial crises.
As we mentioned in last month's E-bulletin, most of the devoted bird-educators, bird conservationists, and bird researchers who live and labor across the Caribbean work or volunteer with non-profit organizations, or small government departments. Their resources are typically limited to begin with. Many are dedicated to their work, even taking time to help birds when they themselves may have lost their homes or offices. Our colleagues at BirdsCaribbean have been helping many of these people get back on their feet so that they can begin vital restoration efforts for the birds and habitats that suffered the destruction of Irma and Maria. BirdsCaribbean continues to aid and provide support for a Caribbean-wide network of partner organizations so that people can return to critical post-hurricane bird-conservation work. Thanks to recent contributions, over 2,000 nectar feeders (for hummingbirds and Bananaquits) and over 10,000 pounds of birdseed have been delivered to 14 islands/countries in the region, places impacted by Irma and Maria. (Some 800 feeders and 2,000 pounds of seed alone have been delivered to Puerto Rico.) You can find more details, make a personal contribution, and/or leave comments here:
9/11 NYC LIGHTS AND BIRDS
A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents convincing evidence that night lights causes serious altered behavior among nighttime-migrating birds.
Scientists from the University of Oxford, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and New York City Audubon examined migrating bird behavior over seven years at a special location, the "Tribute in Light" in New York City. The tribute is held to commemorate the 11 September 2001, terrorist attack on the twin towers. Two strong beams of light, each with 44 xenon bulbs of 7,000 watts, pierce the night sky, replicating a light-image of the twin towers of the World Trade Center where nearly 3,000 lives were lost.
"We found that migrating birds gather in large numbers because they're attracted to the light," says Benjamin Van Doren of Oxford University, a lead author of the study. "They slow down, start circling, and call more frequently. They end up burning energy without making any progress and risk colliding with nearby buildings or being caught by predators."
The New York City study has been a rare opportunity to witness the impact of powerful ground-based lights on nocturnally migrating birds, according to co-lead author Kyle Horton, now with the Cornell Lab, but working at the University of Oklahoma during the study. "This analysis would not have been possible without the help of tribute organizers."
Early on, New York City Audubon reached out to the original tribute organizers, the Municipal Art Society, to inform them over the impacts of artificial light on migratory birds. In 2002, the two organizations developed a protocol to address the issue. The powerful tribute lights are turned off for approximately 20 minutes whenever more than 1,000 birds are seen circling in the beams or flying dangerously low with frequent calling. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which took over as tribute organizers in 2012, has continued this practice.
With full illumination, the study's authors found that densities of birds over lower Manhattan could reach 60 to 150 times the number that would typically be found in the immediate sky at that time. The concentrating effects of the intense light on the birds reached as high as 2.5 miles. The experience was consistent even on clear nights. Fortunately, when the light beams were turned off, the birds dispersed within minutes to continue their migrations.
The implications are broad even for areas around our homes, as well as other brightly illuminated locations at night, such as large buildings, sports stadia, construction sites, and offshore oil rigs.
For more details including video clips of birds over lower Manhattan at night, see this report from the Cornell Lab:
BOOK NOTES: MORE WORLD BIRDING
Readers have been treated to some interesting world-birding and world-big-year narratives in recent years, both as articles and as books, but the newest entry into this market, Birding Without Borders by Noah Stryker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is clearly one worth mentioning. This well-written, informative, and highly entertaining volume recounts a journey made two years ago by a young man focused on seeing as many birds as possible in one year. In the course of his quest, Noah Stryker visited seven continents and 41 countries and tallied 6,042 bird species, fully half the birds in the world in one year. Stryker's is by far the biggest birding year on record.
The author's carefully-planned trip was marked by meticulous planning, generously aided by modern technology and communications, thoughtful networking, and the assistance of a great number of friends and oftentimes total strangers. Stryker's epic journey features colorful descriptions of people, often exotic places, and always about birds all woven together to produce a most entertaining read. We definitely recommend this birding epic for the coming holiday season!
TIP OF THE MONTH: START SCOUTING OUT YOUR CBC
November is not too early to consider scouting out your assigned Christmas Bird Count (CBC) zone. Give some careful thought to covering whatever area you plan to cover later this month, perhaps as early as around Thanksgiving-time. This should not simply be to find birds, but also as an opportunity to assess the condition of the habitat and the availability of individual sites. Literally give thought to the best internal route to follow, the best stops to make, where the best views can be obtained, and the best time of day to be at these places.
While it's true that things will look different at CBC time a few weeks later, , but at least you'll have a better feel for your area, especially if it's an area that you might not have visited since last year's CBC.
We'll try to end this month's Birding Community E-bulletin with a good laugh, and not necessarily with what has become our more traditional legislative note.
The residents of Snellville, Gwinnett County, Georgia, were recently the victims of a series of petty crimes. Specifically, there was a pattern of smashed side-view car mirrors in the community. When more than two dozen people around the Nob Hill section of Snellville reported the same kind of broken glass mirrors on their cars, the police were sent out and were determined to find the culprits. The hypothesis was that the damage was likely being caused by young boys with BB guns, or possible vandals running around with hammers smashing the mirrors.
But according to local Channel 2 Action News out of metro-Atlanta, the culprit was a Pileated Woodpecker, defending territory against "rival" birds! See the TV news segment here (and ignore the reporter's inability to pronounce "pileated"):
At the end of the day, local police reported that the case was solved.