Our monthly “Rarity Focus” is intended to highlight one – or, rarely, two – of those rare wonder-birds that might have appeared somewhere in continental North America in the previous month, and were birds that birders were able to see and enjoy over multiple days.
While there were spectacular North American rarities seen last month, very few were “chaseable.”
At this season there always seem to be great birds found along the “outer edges” of Alaska, and May was no exception, with species like Tundra Bean-Goose, Long-toed Stint, Eyebrowed Thrush, Olive-backed Pipit, Hawfinch, Common Rosefinch, and Rustic Bunting appearing at locations like the Pribilof Islands and Adak. But if you weren’t already on-site, it was unlikely that you could have caught up to those birds.
There was one particularly delicious rarity found in Arizona, an individual that was a one-day-wonder, frustrating follow-up birders. This was a Gray-collared Becard photographed up South Fork in Cave Creek, in Portal, Arizona, on the morning of 23 May. It appears this is only the second ABA record, and you can find a photo of the bird taken by Tom Forwood, Jr. here:
Gray-collared Becard is normally a bird of arid temperate and tropical zones of Mexico and Guatemala. It was unknown in the U.S. until a single bird was confirmed in southeast Arizona – also at Cave Creek -in early June 2009. That bird was also a one-day wonder!
That leaves as our “official” bird of the month a wonderful Crescent-chested Warbler reported by Todd Easterla along the Pinnacles Trail at Big Bend National Park, Texas, on 14 May. The warbler was photographed the next day and re-found at least into the morning of 18 May.
This species is a resident warbler from northern Mexico (southern Chihuahua and northeastern Nuevo León) to northern Nicaragua. It is casual in southeast Arizona, with about 17 records since the first one in 1983. There may only be one previous report – without a photo - of this species in Texas, also from Big Bend, from the early 1990s.
Here’s a lovely photo, taken 17 May by Sandra Peterson, of last months’ Crescent-chested Warbler in Texas:
ACCESS MATTERS: RESTRICTIONS IN ONE TEXAS LOCALITY
While we are on the subject of rarities in Texas, here is an observation that highlights the importance of basic access for birders.
Early last month, birders were informed that a private landowner had photos of an apparent and astounding Yellow-headed Caracara on property in Burnet County, on the Edwards Plateau in Texas. What is important here is not only the identity of the bird but that the landowner made it clear that the location was in a restricted access area.
Yellow-headed Caracara will normally range southward from southern Central America and the southernmost Caribbean into every South American country except Chile. This widespread and relatively nomadic raptor is common where it normally ranges and has been slowly expanding northward. Still, the presence of Yellow-headed Caracara in the U.S. has been based on a few unverified or wishful reports (e.g., California, North Carolina, and, just this January, Florida).
In the meantime, birders have expressed frustration over the closed entry at the Burnet County location. See here, for example:
Of course, circumstances like this, on private property, have been resolved multiple times in the past, often with a degree of “controlled access” for observation opportunities, sometimes including modest payment to the landowner. (Regular readers may even remember our recent coverage of access to Brown Jays in Texas, circumstances where everyone seemed to benefit. See here from our April E-bulletin: https://conta.cc/40hCt0e)
Managed access is the preferable alternative to the options of simply opening the doors to all comers versus a total shutdown. It circumvents the “all or nothing” choice. Here is another opportunity for concerned birders to consider – in advance – what to do and what access to negotiate when that mega-rarity appears on touchy or sensitive property.
IBA NEWS: NEW CHILEAN WHSRN SITE
In the spirit of overlapping Important Bird Areas (IBAs) with those locations that are part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN), we report on a new WHSRN site in Chile. The inclusion of Isla de los Reyes Rocuant Beach, means that there are now eight WHSRN sites in Chile. This particular gem covers an area of 128 acres and is made up of a variety of beaches, inlets, dunes, and basins. The site is influenced by daily tides and has been designated as a site of Regional Importance.
For example, almost 2% of the subspecific population of the “hudsonicus” Whimbrel – about 1,500 individuals – have been recorded there. The site is also used as a resting and feeding site for resident Nearctic and austral migratory birds, including priority species like the Hudsonian Godwit and Rufous-chested Dotterel (Charadrius modestus).
The Isla de los Reyes Rocuant Beach is already part of the Chilean-recognized Rocuant-Andalién Marsh Wetland IBA, and its responsibility also includes the authority of the Dirección General del Territorio Marítimo y de Marina Mercante.
You can find more information on Isla de los Reyes Rocuant Beach and its birds 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:
SUPREME COURT SACKETT RULING
Last month’s Supreme Court’s ruling in Sackett v EPA will not be good for wetland environments or for birds. The ruling limits the scope of the Clean Water Act to wetlands that “adjoin” a water body by a “continuous surface connection.” (The ruling does not answer whether the Clean Water Act applies to intermittent streams, which flow steadily but only for parts of the year. The implications are substantial, particularly in the Southwest, where most streams are ephemeral or intermittent.)
In realitythe wetlands impacted by the Sackett ruling serve a vital role for hundreds of species of birds as breeding sites, migration stopovers locations, and wintering sites. The court decision should be evidence enough that it is well past time for Congress to specifically address perceived ambiguity of the issue by clearly defining the scope of the Clean Water Act in a way that clarifies and strengthens wildlife environmental protections.
One short summary of the situation and options can be found from the American Bird Conservancy:
MORE AVIAN FLU WARNINGS – BALD EAGLES
Last month we reported on multiple California Condors found dead in Arizona, having died from highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1), commonly known as “bird flu.” At that time, about 20 California Condors had died of avian flu over the previous couple of months, and wildlife officials were preparing for the virus’ spread among more birds. See here:
Now we are getting reports that Bald Eagles are not fledging as many chicks as in the past, reportedly due to avian flu. Newly released research from the University of Georgia showed that that just under half of Bald Eagle nests along coastal Georgia successfully fledged at least one eaglet in 2022. That's 30% below average for the region.
That is on top of the findings that H5N1 is killing off high numbers of mating pairs of the eagles. In one Florida county, nesting success rates were also halved. The researchers said that living in coastal areas puts the eagles at greater risk of catching the virus since the virus can persist in the water for more than a year. Some of the researchers in the Southeast U.S. have concluded that Bald Eagles become infected through consumption of infected waterfowl.
While investigations continue, you can find more information here:
RESIDENTIAL WINDOW COSTS
In the March issue of the Birding Community E-bulletin, we reported on the study from the Acopian Center for Ornithology at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania revealing that installing “bird-safe glass” is a low-cost option when constructing new commercial-type buildings:
But now the Center has a parallel report, prepared a few months ago but only released recently, on residential windows, emphasizing that bird-safe glass should be used wherever possible. The study shows that bird-safe glass is not “too expensive” and not a barrier in the two largest residential glass markets – new homes and replacement windows. (Both new homes and replacement windows are usually financed, so the addition in the monthly payment may be what matters most to homeowners.)
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the cost of windows and doors, including the garage door, is only 4% of the cost of a home. When the cost of the garage door and the non-glass costs are factored out, adding bird-safe windows to a new home will cost about 8/10ths of 1%. This might only increase a monthly mortgage payment by $2.00-$6.00 dollars.
You can access the informative residential report here:
Meanwhile, the Ornithology Center is seeking home-builder partners to work with to develop the model for bird-safe windows in new residential developments.
Regular readers will remember that the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act - often referred to as RAWA - almost made it through the last Congress. This legislation is intended to provide about $1.4 billion a year for broad wildlife conservation through the states, territories, and tribes.
It had passed the House of Representative in mid-June of last year – with a vote of 231 to 190 – and had considerable support in the Senate. But “almost making it through Congress” doesn’t cut it.
It was not until the final hours of the complicated Omnibus negotiations in December with the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House that the bill’s inclusion dropped out due to disagreements on how, precisely, to pay for it. This was all covered in our January issue:
To nobody’s surprise, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has been reintroduced in the 118th Congress. And last month, there was an online “birder rally for RAWA” run by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and cohosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Bird Conservancy, and National Audubon Society. You can find a record of that hour-long event here:
You might also wish to check out and share these “action alerts” from three of the engaged organizations:
FREE “FEEDERWATCH” FOR CLASSROOMS
As regular readers know, Project FeederWatch, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada, can help engage children in the enjoying and studying birds. When connected to the classroom, it can be part of careful observation, note-taking, asking questions, encouraging independent study, and providing opportunities for meaningful internet use and exploration.
During the next seasonal period for Project FeederWatch – the 2023-2024 season - 50 school classes in the U.S. will be able to participate in Project FeederWatch free of charge. Thanks to a gift from the family of FeederWatch participant John Waud, in honor of his late wife Doris Waud, these 50 schools will be able to participate in Project FeederWatch without a participation fee. Doris, a long-time public-school teacher, was actively involved in the creation of Classroom FeederWatch at the Cornell Lab.
Interested teachers are encouraged to file an application by 16 June:
CANADIAN NIGHTJAR SURVEY
The Canadian Nightjar Survey is designed to enhance a better understanding of the three species breeding in Canada: Common Nighthawk, Common Poorwill, and Eastern Whip-poor-will. This volunteer survey will collect information on distribution, abundance, habitat associations, and population trends. What we know so far, is that there a significant decline for these species, probably linked to decreases in flying insect populations and habitat loss. Each volunteer can conduct a simple roadside survey at dusk, once per location between June 15 and July 15.
See Birds Canada here for more volunteer details:
BOOK NOTES: ANOTHER BIG YEAR
Here is another book about the pursuit of a “big year record,” this one a global quest. It’s the story of one passionate birder’s record-breaking journey touching 40 countries on six continents - in one year - to finish seeing 6,852 bird species, common and rare.
In The (Big) Year That Flew By (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2023), Arjan Dwarshuis skillfully assembles a story on the wonder of birds, the attention paid to them, and the complex logistics of associated non-stop travel. In the process, the reader can consider the roller-coaster highs of seeing a much-desired “target bird,” regularly contrasted with the lows of absolute fatigue and exhaustion, one reoccurring theme in any single-minded birder’s big-year narrative.
The geographic planning alone – running against the calendar and the clock - is a wonder to follow.
In fact, this is more than a book about birds and about birding; it is also a book about overcoming physical and mental challenges, the competition involved, and engaging with others in the process. There are also good sections on saving the species that Dwarshuis had trouble finding – almost always with dedicated local guides – and the habitat and development issues threatening far too many of these species.
The story he weaves is very smartly organized, not by chapters, but by chronological mini-narratives on the birds, the locations, and the individual quests. These are interspersed with encapsuled recollections of previous experiences of a parallel nature. Some of these are creative flashbacks to his teen years of bird discovery in the Netherlands; others are the more recent pre-big-year experiences with birds at exotic locations.
All the while, we get glimpses of his family, birding buddies, and his ever-patient birding girlfriend from the Netherlands, Camilla.
Whatever the emphasis on the wonderful birds, there is always part of the adventure describing bumpy rides, inhospitable weather, voracious insects, pelagic vomiting, as well as lost sleep, and lost sleep, and lost sleep.
If you’re not a big fan of mega-listing – especially of a global nature – this may not be the book for you to order immediately. But if you can relate to the excitement of the chase, you will probably enjoy the book immensely. In either category, you might appreciate the creative flashbacks that Arjan Dwarshuis employs to enhance his unique story.
There is only one thing we can add: “Bird on!”
PALE MALE: GOODBYE?
Pale Male, the Red-tailed Hawk that lived in and near New York City's Central Park in the 1990s, and took up residence on the ledge of a plush Manhattan apartment building at 927 Fifth Avenue, across the street from the park, has died.
On the afternoon of 15 May, a park employee found a sick Red-tailed Hawk on the ground in Central Park, near East 79th Street and Fifth Avenue. Bobby Horvath, a wildlife rehabilitation expert specializing in raptor care took the hawk home and gave him antibiotics, some meat, and fluids. But to no avail. The bird was pronounced dead on Tuesday evening 16 May.
This bird, the subject of at least hundreds of newspaper articles, three books, and an award-winning documentary film, was known for establishing a dynasty of urban-dwelling Red-tails and was one of the first of his kind to have nested on a building rather than in a tree.
At the age of 32 Pale Male was one of the oldest known Red-tailed Hawks on record.
But almost immediately, a number of New York City’s birders and Pale Male fans began to ask: “Was it really the same hawk - after all those years?”
It was suggested that Pale Male might have died sometime over the years and had been replaced without birdwatchers noticing. Another male, with similar coloring, might have taken its place.
Still, no solid evidence has been provided for this scenario, but you can read all about it here:
THE SEA-EAGLE CONTINUES
The Steller's Sea-Eagle that has been tracked since August 2020 across North America – and especially through its New England and Atlantic Canada journeys – was once again resighted after a long hiatus. We last reported on this roving raptor, summarizing its travels, in March:
Apparently, the bird was initially re-sighted at the end of April, but official reports and photos had not confirmed the bird’s identity until early May at Port Union, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. The bird was also seen nearby in Melrose, Newfoundland.
Who knows where it will appear next? Southward, again, into northern New England?
Finally, if you have any friends or co-workers who wish to receive the free monthly Birding Community E-bulletin, you can simply refer them to sign up via this link: