On 10 August, a Little Stint was reported on the south end of Morris Island just north of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts. The shorebird, found by Sue Finnegan and John Pratt, remained in place at least until 21 August, a somewhat lengthy stay for this rare species. The bird was quite cooperative throughout its visit.
For photos of this Little Stint, taken by Frank Mantlik and Sue Finnegan, see here:
Little Stints breed across Arctic northern Eurasia, and winter from the Mediterranean region and Africa to India. The species is casual but fairly widespread in North America, with more than 90 reports since the first North American observation over 40 years ago.About half of these reports come from Alaska, with the remaining sightings split nearly equally between the Atlantic Coast and the Pacific Coast of Canada and-lower-48 United States. There are also a generous handful of inland reports. On the East Coast, most records are from Delaware northward between mid-July through late August. The Little Stint at Monomoy fits this pattern perfectly.
Little Stints may actually be more regular vagrants in North America than the existing records might suggest. Many individuals may be passing through in migration undetected among large flocks of other peeps (i.e., Semipalmated, Least, and Western Sandpipers).
TIP OF THE MONTH: SPARE BINOCULARS
There was a rarity last month that almost made our top billing (above), but unfortunately it only remained for about 48 hours, not much time for birders to take advantage of its presence. It was a Jabiru, an impressive Neotropical stork for which there are only about 15 Texas records. There are also three Jabiru records for Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana. These big storks have occurred almost exclusively in late summer or fall and have generally been associated with post-breeding dispersal during a dry season.
Last month's Jabiru was virtually discovered by accident on 1 August. David and Jan Hansen were out collecting wild flower seeds and just happened to see a flock of Wood Storks along with a mixed flock of egrets at an old crawfish pond in Chambers County, Texas, just west of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Sometimes, the big bird was observed on the ground at a great distance, and at other times it was observed soaring high in the air with Wood Storks. It was observed off and on through noontime on 3 August, when it was last seen gliding high out of view.
The hint we offer here stems from the fact that neither David nor Jan had binoculars or a scope with them when they originally found the bird. Fortunately however, they had Jan's camera with them and were thus able to obtain photo documentation of the Jabiru. You can see their original photos here:
The moral of this story is that it is probably a good idea to always have a spare pair of binoculars in your car. Keep an old or inexpensive pair in the trunk or glove-compartment (along with a field guide, of course) because you never know what you're going to see when you may not have "planned" to go birding!
SANTA ANA NWR UPDATE
The threat to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and nearby important habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) of Texas continues. As reported last month, the proposed "border wall" is the cause of much dismay:
The entire LRGV is known for birds that are "South Texas specialties" - species that are basically Mexican in character that barely range any farther into the United States than extreme southern Texas. As such, the LRGV is a real hotspot for bird watching. In the last month, the concerns - and the opposition - from this bio-diverse area have increased dramatically. Local objections, especially from communities that will be particularly impacted by the wall up and down the LRGV, have included petitions, demonstrations, and media editorials.
In fact, elected officials from the cities of McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, Palmview, and Sullivan City have been unanimous in their decisions to record their opposition in formal resolutions. They now join a growing list of communities in the LRGV passing similar resolutions, including: Brownsville, Mission, La Joya, and Weslaco.
Why is Santa Ana NWR the center of concern? Santa Ana NWR is viewed as a relatively convenient location to fulfill the Trump Administration's promise to build "a wall." Santa Ana NWR is one of the few federally owned properties immediately along the Texas border. (Ninety-five percent of the land abutting the Mexico border in Texas is privately owned.) By initiating the new border wall at Santa Ana NWR, the administration is hoping to avoid the logistical nightmare of negotiating with private landowners - and even state and county authorities - to build a wall through their own backyards.
At Santa Ana NWR, the issue of public access itself is still unresolved. We do not know if public access will continue to be allowed if this intrusive wall is built, or what kind of restrictions would be placed on future NWR visitation. The proposed 18-foot tall wall and corresponding land clearing would surely discourage visitors from experiencing the refuge. Naturally any reduction in visitation at the refuge and other wildlife habitats in the LRGV would have significant economic impacts to the local communities.
A draft letter of concern to send to Congress is available on the website for the National Wildlife Refuge Association. You can easily add your own details and concerns:
ACCESS MATTERS: PLAN WELL AHEAD
On 30 August, a very rare Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was found by Matt Hafner at the Swan Creek/Cox Creek industrial site and mitigation project at the upper Chesapeake Bay. The active dredge-site, not far from Baltimore, Maryland, regularly draws birders from Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties, especially for shorebird-watching at this season. The sandpiper, a first for the state, drew a heavy crowd of birders, many from well beyond the immediate local environs.
You can view images of the bird here:
Local management at the active facility was very accommodating, probably an outgrowth of long-term relations with birders and others who visit the site. Access to the site, only open Monday through Friday between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., worked out well during this rush of birders. Visitors cooperated in signing in at the trailer-office and were on their best behavior in keeping to permitted areas and obeying all signage.
Had birders in the past not worked so hard to arrange for regular birding access through the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and Maryland Environmental Service (MES), the ease of access would likely have been very difficult, if not impossible.
Planning well ahead and negotiating for regular birder access at similar facilities can pay off, especially when increased demand for access becomes inevitable for whenever "that special bird" happens to turn up.
LATEST "STATE OF THE BIRDS"
In early August, The State of the Birds 2017: Farm Bill Special Report, was released by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI). This year's report focuses on the many benefits the Farm Bill - the country's single largest source of conservation funding for private lands - has delivered for birds, as well as for farmers, and rural communities.
The Farm Bill provides important easement support for multiple bird habitats: grasslands, wetlands, and forests. For decades, the Farm Bill has been a crucial tool for wildlife conservation, sustaining essential habitat for more than 100 bird species. The Farm Bill has also provided a needed safety net to keep working lands from being otherwise developed. "For more than twenty years, the Farm Bill has provided widespread conservation benefits for our nation's farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and all who enjoy clean drinking water, flood protection and healthy wildlife populations," said Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist, Tom Moorman. "Millions of acres of working lands are conserved through Farm Bill conservation programs that ensure long-term sustainability and productivity of the land that supports waterfowl and many other species of fish and wildlife."
State of the Birds is a regular report published by NABCI's US Committee, a coalition of 28 state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships. Scientists, government agencies, and bird conservation groups use the State of the Birds as a resource in decision-making about conservation research, policies, and programs.
You can download this year's report here:
NEW PLAN FOR GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER
While on subject of long-term conservation planning for birds, there was a new five-year strategy for Golden-winged Warbler released last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The plan is designed to improve habitat in the Appalachian Mountains for this declining species, outlining how the Natural Resources Conservation Service and many partners can work with landowners to improve habitat on thousands of acres of privately owned forests. These efforts are centered on increasing young forest habitat and shrublands, the nesting habitat preferred by this seriously at-risk warbler.
The approach identifies new priority areas for conservation using data assembled from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, and other partners. Strategic conservation efforts will be specifically directed to those priority areas.
"Many of our nation's forests have fallen into poor health, and we have a tremendous opportunity in Appalachia to make a difference both for landowners and for wildlife," NRCS Acting Chief, Leonard Jordan, said. "Our effort is to diversify the age classes of trees in forests, creating patches of forests of different ages, and for the Golden-winged Warbler, we're focusing on those younger forests within landscapes dominated by mature forests."
You can get more details here, and download the strategy:
ENDEMIC CROSSBILL AND IDAHO AVITOURISM
There are some bird species in North America that are so local, so uniquely identified with a state or relatively small region, that if you want to add those species to your North American life list, you simply have to go where the birds are! There are few alternatives. Consider, if you will, a few California species: Island Scrub-Jay (a resident of Santa Cruz Island), California Gnatcatcher (coastal sage scrub), and Yellow-billed Magpie (mostly Central Valley). Or the Kirtland's Warbler (mostly nesting in a few counties in central Michigan, although found nesting in a couple of other locales, and rarely seen on migration). Other examples include the Florida Scrub-Jay in its namesake state, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse (restricted in range mainly to southwestern Colorado and, less-so, to extreme southeastern Utah), and the introduced Himalayan Snowcock (found in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada). There are also a number of "South Texas Specialties" that cling almost exclusively to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (see story above).
You get the picture? Each of these species almost represents an invisible dollar-sign. The restricted ranges of these birds bring birders to the regions where these birds occur. Often motels, car-rental agencies, and restaurants can point to the connections between their customers and the desired bird species that have brought birders to their region. It translates to avitourism dollars!
So, consider the recent decision of the American Ornithological Society to give full species status to the Cassia Crossbill (Loxia sinesciurus). This recent "split" from the Red Crossbill now means that this "new" species is an endemic Idaho species. In fact, the full known range of this new species is limited to Cassia County, Idaho. That's less than 30 square miles of forest range in the South Hills and Albion Mountains, mostly Forest Service lands, populated by possibly only 6,000 of these birds. Moreover, the Cassia Crossbill is a resident species, living in the region year-round. This sedentary species is field-identified only by its call, not by other reliable field marks!
The backstory on this species' development is fascinating, and is related to the absence of red squirrels in the region and the resulting thickness of the far-end scales of lodgepole pine cones. The "coevolutionary arms race" between crossbills and pines in Cassia County has resulted in the evolution of this crossbill.
Will nearby Burley, Oakley, or Albion experience a bustle of visiting birders? How about Bostetter Campground for camping-oriented birders? Will the local Chamber of Commerce quickly take notice? Who knows?
In any case, locals will soon feel an economic birding blip, if not a bump.
For an informative and short summary on the evolution of Cassia Crossbill, ID-call details, and several recommended areas to find the birds in Cassia County, see here:
LEASING FARMFIELDS FOR NESTING BIRDS
Previous news items in the Birding Community E-bulletin have described efforts to lease farmlands - often hayfields - to protect nesting birds. Such circumstances, for example, were covered in the case of imperiled Tricolored Blackbirds in California and Bobolinks across their ranges in July 2006:
and, again, with the ongoing and encouraging efforts for Tricolored Blackbirds in July 2014.
Another example is the multi-state Bobolink project run by Mass Audubon, but also involving partners in Vermont and Connecticut, where just such farmer-agreements have been crafted:
In virtually all these occasions, agreements have been struck with local dairy and other farmers to delay harvests of hay in June and July, allowing young grassland birds to fledge in field-habitats. These efforts have proven successful.
Recently, yet another example came to our attention, this time from Maryland. There had been only two previous records of nesting Dickcissels in the last 55 years in Howard County, Maryland, a county located between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. When several Dickcissels were suspected of nesting in a farmer's field
along Underwood Road in Howard County this past nesting season, the Howard County Bird Club sprang into action.
The club's board of directors approached the property owner to explore options for maintaining the vegetated site long enough to allow the birds to breed successfully. Since the farm-field was planned for a summer crop of soybeans, the club offered compensation for the lost revenue in exchange for not planting. The club generously used designated savings from its Habitat Preservation Fund in addition to soliciting additional funds to compensate the farmer and to benefit the Dickcissels and other field-nesting birds in the area.
We knew about this story more than two months ago, but at the request of involved parties, we limited reporting until the very close of the nesting season (dual clutches and juveniles were reported). In any case, this is an excellent example of engaging local farmers for the benefit of grassland birds. For more on this case - including the issue of limited access to observe the birds - see here:
Most importantly for birders and bird conservationists across the country, it is another example that can be copied in many locations, and it represents circumstances where everyone benefits, but especially the birds.
THE BIRDING EXPO
The American Birding Expo being held later this month is billed as a
one-stop experience that could be viewed as "the world of birding in one place." It's a combined trade-show and fair that will showcase birding gear, backyard products, tours, destinations, and other opportunities - with more than 100 total exhibitors from all over the world - focused on the connection between the trade network and the community of birders in North America.
The American Birding Expo is hosted and managed by Bird Watcher's Digest magazine in association with the American Birding Association and Audubon Pennsylvania. It will be held from 29 September to 1 October at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania, which is about 30 minutes northwest of downtown Philadelphia.
Among the event's offerings are presentations on how to get started in birding and bird feeding, morning bird walks, and a section geared specifically for those who are brand new to the bird-watching scene. Sunday at the Expo will be Family Day, with kids' activities and live birds from the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove.
Information on the Expo's entry fee, hours, special programs, and bird walks can be found here:
IBA NEWS: SAVING PLUM ISLAND (NEW YORK)
Since we try to finish off each Birding Community E-bulletin with some possible legislative news, we present here developments concerning Plum Island, an Important Bird Area (IBA) in New York.
We reported on Plum Island, New York (not the well-birded Plum Island, Massachusetts) under our IBA news back in July 2010:
For years the future of this federally-owned, 840-acre, pork-chop-shaped island off the north fork of Long Island, New York has been of great interest. For many decades, it was the site of U.S. Army Chemical Corps research, and later USDA animal disease research. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security assumed formal jurisdiction of the area and eventually sought to sell the island. In 2008, federal legislation was passed to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder.
Since then there has been a virtual tug of war over this issue.
This July, the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring the Government Accountability Office to study how best to conserve the island and to consider alternatives to the outright sale of the island. The bill also suspends any sales activity of the island until the study is completed.
But a Senate version introduced in early August goes one step further to repeal the original language seeking to sell Plum Island. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy of Connecticut and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York introduced this new legislation. The proposed Plum Island Conservation Act (S. 1737) would facilitate the normal transfer process for federal land when an agency no longer wishes to maintain ownership. This could pave the way for conservation agencies or state and local entities to acquire and protect the land at no cost.
The island is part of a larger IBA, significant for such species as Piping Plover, and Common, Roseate, and Least Terns. You can read more about its IBA status here:
Just because Plum Island is a designated IBA, of course, does not mean it has automatic protection. Many groups want to preserve the site, calling for potential status as some sort of preserve, sanctuary, park, or National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, complicating the future status of the island for any activity are large amounts of waste and contaminants on the island. Congress currently has a real opportunity to act on this proposed legislation to save this piece of important wildlife property.
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: