Regular readers may remember the Eurasian thrush, the Redwing, that we mentioned in January as an example of the CBC bonus factor. It was a bird found in Victoria, British Columbia:
The Redwing is a real rarity anywhere in North America, and one that is occasionally discovered on "either side" of the continent. In the West, there are records from Alaska, Washington, in addition to British Columbia. In the East, there are about two dozen records mainly from the Maritime Provinces, but even south to New York and Pennsylvania. These birds in the East may have come from Iceland or Greenland where the species is regular and has also been known to breed.
Still, it was a real surprise when, on the morning of 13 March, a Redwing was observed and photographed by Chris McPherson on the baseball field at Hollis High School in Brookline, New Hampshire., The bird remained in the general area of the baseball and track fields and adjacent thickets through 16 March, where it was often seen among the many American Robins gathered there. Many birders - at least a hundred of them - who made the trip before the bird disappeared were rewarded with views of the bird, although finding it sometimes took hours.
You can view photographs from the day of discovery here:
ACCESS MATTERS: LET THE COPS KNOW
The aforementioned Redwing in Hollis, New Hampshire, provided a good lesson in access protocols. With the Redwing found on a Sunday, it was practically certain that "strange folks with binoculars" would be roaming the neighborhood and school environs as students and school buses arrived over the following days.
The Hollis Police were told what to expect, given the potential for a crowd, and the officers did not have many concerns, as long as visitors kept the roads passable and did not park in the school parking lots or look for the bird too close to the school. It was also recommended that birders avoid driving down one dead-end street in the area.
While the police did receive some complaints from neighbors about parking, the officers were understanding and, as far as we know, did not give out any tickets. At times every parking space along some of the available roadways was taken, so birders had to circle the area multiple times to find a parking space!
In any case, this is a fine example of why it is advisable to inform the police when a rarity phenomenon like this occurs so that everyone knows how best to behave in the area and so birder access can be smoothly maintained.
BOOK NOTES: BOB WHITE DOES IT AGAIN
Birders of a certain age might remember The Case of the Hook-billed Kites by J.S. Borthwick (pen-name of Jean Scott Creighton), a murder-mystery that took place in South Texas (St.Martin's Paperpacks, 1991). It was full of birding activities mixed set within a classic mystery situation.
Now, we have Jan Dunlop's latest entry in the genre of birding mystery stories centered on the same region of the country, The Kiskadee of Death, a birder-murder mystery featuring her fictional hero, Bob White (no joke!). This mystery (North Star Press, 2015) is a quick and easy read, full of Lower Rio Grande Valley birds and locales (e.g., Estero Llano Grande, Fat Daddy's, Valley Nature Center, and the Alamo Inn).
In each of Dunlop's mysteries White stumbles on a dead body and The Kiskadee of Death is no exception. When White discovers the body of a birder at Estero Llano Grande, the suspects, and references to valley scenes and valley birds fly thick and fast. Indeed, the suspect list ebbs and flows as much as the cutesy banter between Bob White and his wife, Luce.
At 200 pages, the book is a light read for a long airline flight or even for an evening's dedication. This who-done-it moves quickly, and it is certain to produce at least a few smiles and chuckles. Regular fans of Dunlop should be pleased.
IBA NEWS: WILL THE WEST POND REVIVE?
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in New York City is a designated Imported Bird Area (IBA) which for decades has been a fabulous site for waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, gulls and terns, and migrant landbirds. After the city's Central Park, JBWR may be the most famous bird watching location in the Big Apple.
Unfortunately, the fate of the location's West Pond has been in doubt for some time. The pond was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, and it has been in disrepair since. The land-barrier between the freshwater West Pond and the saltwater of the nearby bay was breached by the storm, and the entire ecosystem has been altered.
We described this situation two years ago - April 2014:
The National Park Service has been working on new management approaches to the metropolitan area's Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes the famous Jamaica Bay birding hotspot. (Note: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is not a "national wildlife refuge" under the jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Service; it is actually under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.)
A large coalition of birders and conservationists has continually been expressing concerns that some of the best known birding spots and IBAs in the Northeast are under severe threats. Some observers have been particularly disappointed with the amount of time it was taking for the NPS to address the West Pond concerns, especially in contrast to the time it took for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to act on similar damages to its own refuges, especially those damaged by Sandy (e.g., Forsythe NWR in New Jersey).
Last month, Superintendent Jennifer Nersesian announced the next step in completing the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge West Pond Trail Breach Repair: a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Preferred Alternative signed by the NPS Northeast Regional Director. It is now available online here:
The NPS has opted for an alternative which includes repairing the embankment at the breach and installing a water control structure and a groundwater well. These moves will hopefully allow the NPS to return West Pond to freshwater conditions and provide a greater diversity of habitats for birds and wildlife, extremely unusual in any urban area. More details on the plans can be viewed 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:
DEADLY PIPES ADDRESSED
Open pipes, such as uncapped PVC pipes used to mark mining claims, function as death traps for hundreds of thousands of birds each year. These birds become trapped inside the pipes and are unable to escape, ultimately starving to death or dying of dehydration. More than 3,000,000 mining claims use these sorts of pipes in the U.S. as boundary or claim markers.
We described this problem in the Birding Community E-bulletin as early as December 2011:
Fortunately, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently took action to reduce this serious threat to birds. A memorandum to BLM field offices across the nation called for staff to identify all vertical pipes on BLM-managed lands and to cap, close, remove, or screen them to prevent wildlife from becoming trapped. In addition, vertical pipes on future facilities must have permanent caps or screens to prevent harm to wildlife. Mine-claim holders are also being encouraged to voluntarily remove PVC pipes used as mine markers and to replace them with wildlife-safe markers.
"This is a small change that will make a big difference," said BLM Director Neil Kornze. "Too often birds, bats, lizards, snakes, and small mammals find themselves unable to escape from pipes and vents."
In June of last year, more than 100 organizations, led by the American Bird Conservancy, sent a joint letter to the BLM and the USDA Forest Service, asking the two agencies to address this longstanding threat to birds.
We wrote about this joint letter in July 2015:
A BLUE RIBBON PANEL RECOMMENDATION
In early March, a "Blue Ribbon Panel" of 28 members from wildlife conservation, industry, and government, released recommendations to "evaluate and recommend a more sustainable funding approach to avert a fish and wildlife conservation crisis." The panel called upon Congress to dedicate $1.3 billion annually in existing revenue from the development of energy and mineral resources on federal lands and waters to be directed to state-based fish and wildlife conservation.
And a good summary is available here from the Field and Stream blog:
Many of the arguments surrounding this funding concern date back to earlier efforts, such as Teaming With Wildlife (TWW), which most clearly addressed the problem and solutions, especially between 1988 and 2000.
The proposed funding source for this state-based fish and wildlife conservation is smart - onshore and offshore oil and gas revenue - and is similar in part to the successor to TWW, the Conservation and Restoration Act (CARA), which called for $3 billion annually in funding for nongame species, LWCF, coral reefs, coastal restoration and other essential conservation needs. That more ambitions CARA passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May 2000, but never got a vote in the U.S. Senate.
Last month, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) released a list of 10 of the worst-sited or proposed commercial wind energy projects in the country from the perspective of bird conservation. As the rush for alternative energy grows, new wind energy projects are increasingly being planned and built, often with little regard for the risks they may pose to birds and other wildlife.
The list of 10 worst-sited projects was chosen by ABC to illustrate a range of threats to birds in various regions and habitats - threats that are far too common in the wind industry.
"ABC supports 'Bird-Smart wind,' and it is not our intention to criticize the concept of renewable wind development in general or the developers of the specific projects included in the list," said Mike Parr, ABC Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer. "Rather, this list is intended to demonstrate that, under the present voluntary guidelines, there is an inadequate system of checks and balances to protect American native birds from poorly planned wind development on a large scale.
The listed projects - five already built or approved and five proposed - are located throughout the United States, in California, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Some of these projects, like the Summit Repowering Project in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in northern California, have a long history of causing bird deaths. Kaheawa on Maui, Hawaii, is considered a top killer of endangered birds, in spite of having conducted a pre-construction environmental risk assessment and implemented a Habitat Conservation Plan. Another project, the proposed Cape Wind, in Nantucket Sound, may already be dead in the water. Regardless, the 10 listed projects are ABC's examples of insufficient consideration provided to birds during project planning and siting, in locations both on and offshore.
All of the listed projects illustrate the problems of poor siting and the limitations of current mitigation strategies, many of which are still untested for their efficacy. Surely, alternative energy is not 'green' if it is killing thousands or millions of birds annually. You can view the list of "10 Worst-sited Wind Energy Projects for Birds" here:
While the listing is helpful and instructive, one would hope that the "flip-side" of such a list would be developed soon, a listing of the most bird-friendly and bird-compatible wind-power sites or projects in the country, ones that set an example for truly green and bird-smart energy.
NOT JUST ANOTHER EAGLE-CAM
Can you remember when eagle-cams were a novelty?
They may not be new, but they still draw millions of viewers. Yes, millions. By now, the Decorah, Iowa, eagle-cam has had over 334.5 million hits. See here for the site:
A new eagle-cam came on line recently, and its viewing numbers have similarly soared. It's in Washington DC. In 2014, a pair of eagles chose to nest high in a tulip poplar by the Azalea Collection at the U.S. National Arboretum, operated by the United States Department of Agriculture. This is the first Bald Eagle pair to nest in this location since 1947. After the pair - "Mr. President" and "The First Lady" - raised one eaglet successfully in 2015, the American Eagle Foundation partnered with the National Arboretum to install and stream two high definition video cameras from the site.
With two fuzzy eaglets hatched last month, the nest-site has become perhaps the most patriotic nest cam in the U.S. Viewed 24 hours a day, the nest has been the subject of newspaper, radio, and TV stories, and the site continues to receive millions upon millions of hits all the time.
This site may never reach the number of visits as the Decorah site, but the National Arboretum's nest popularity is a testament to the attention eagles routinely draw, and the potential benefits engendered by people engaging with nature, even if it is via their computers.
Visit the National Arboretum eagle-cam here:
A list of 25 popular eagle-cams can be found here, as an added attraction for "eagleholics" everywhere:
TIP OF THE MONTH: PAUSE AT THE EAGLES
The best thing to do after watching an eagle-cam is to view Bald Eagles outside, in the wild. While millions of folks can "relate" to nature on their screens - like the screen you are looking at right now - there is nothing like seeing those wonders naturally.
The presence of nesting Bald Eagles has become so "common" in many areas that the opportunity to share the experience with others is almost as easy these days. So, next time you see a Bald Eagle in the field, especially at a nest, join in the sighting with someone near you. Anyone! Every American needs to witness the wonder and to be aware of this conservation success story. Yes, "share" the next eagle observation you make. It may amaze and inspire that stranger standing next to you.
But of course, if there aren't Bald Eagles near you, an eagle-cam may very well be the next best thing.