Thick-billed Vireo is a resident species in the Caribbean, occurring as close to Florida as the Bahamas and Cuba, including some of the small Bahamian islands only 60 miles east of Florida. There are approximately 16 previous Florida records, all since 1989 and mostly in Southeast Florida and the Florida Keys. These Florida occurrences may be linked to the prevailing easterly winds off the Florida coast. Although common and widespread in the Bahamas, this species has is considered "critically endangered" in Cuba.
With this background in mind, it was not huge surprise when a Thick-billed Vireo appeared at Key Biscayne's Crandon Park, Miami-Dade Co., Florida. The bird was discovered on 3 February near the entrance to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, but it was eclipsed as our rarity-of-the-month when a Dark-billed Cuckoo was photographed at the West Delray Regional Park in Palm Beach County, Florida in early February.
What was surprising, however, was how long this Thick-billed Vireo stayed at Key Biscayne. It was observed almost daily throughout the period, perhaps through 26 March. This may have been the longest a Thick-billed Vireo has ever remained in one location in Florida. Its reliability was appreciated by the many observers who traveled to Key Biscayne to see during its protracted stay.
ACCESS MATTERS: LWCF IMPLICATIONS
Regular readers may remember that last month we reported on the February passage by both houses of Congress the Natural Resources Management Act. The "Public Lands Package" as it was also known, constituted one of the largest congressional conservation packages of the last decade. The centerpiece of the package was the agreement to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), using royalties from off-shore oil and gas drilling for land-acquisition and outdoor recreation programs. LWCF, as attentive bird conservationists know well, can be essential to the acquisition and access of all sorts of federal, state, and local lands to outdoor recreation, including birding.
The Natural Resources Management Act is not perfect however. Indeed, while Congress reauthorized LWCF in perpetuity, it did not make its annual spending mandatory. Nonetheless most conservationists were still pleased when, on 12 March, President Donald J. Trump signed the bill into law. It was also heartening that the legislation itself was renamed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act in honor of the late congressional conservation champion who passed away in February.
As is often the case however, what one hand gives, the other can take away. The President's Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2020 which was released the very same week as the signing, recommended slashing land purchase through the LWCF, leaving a pittance of what is needed to provide public access and protect our natural resources.
The request would reduce the federal portion of LWCF from $156 million down to a mere $7.6 million.
Taking full advantage of the LWCF portions of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act may have to depend upon a concerned and informed House and Senate... and perhaps the next President.
TIP OF THE MONTH: PLANNING FOR FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
If you haven't already planned to attend one or more birding festivals, conferences, or ornithological meetings this year - especially this summer - now is the time to catch up and review some of the available opportunities. Your two editors get regular requests to announce some of these wonderful events in the Birding Community E-bulletin, and while we have either attended or even spoken at some of these fabulous festivals and conferences, unfortunately we simply don't have the room to announce them in the E-bulletin.
We will however offer a useful tip on a good way to survey many of the possibilities you might consider for the rest of 2019. A great place for "one stop shopping" is to check out the roster of "Birding Festivals and Events" presented in the "All About Birds" pages of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website. The selections are easy to follow and very informative:
One event that we want to specifically mention this summer however is the 22nd International BirdsCaribbean Conference scheduled to be held in Guadeloupe, French West Indies on 25-29 July. Attendees and participants at BirdsCaribbean meetings are typically involved in a fine mix of ornithology, conservation, education, and birding from across the Caribbean. At these Conferences which are only held during odd-number years, participants can mingle and network with participants from over 30 countries and share in the latest research and information dealing with all aspects of Caribbean bird study. The Guadeloupe conference also offers a number of creative field trip opportunities. Full details are available here:
WHOOPING CRANE EASTERN POPULATION HITS MILESTONE
The reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes that nests in Wisconsin and winters mainly in Florida has reached an estimated population milestone of 100 birds. This includes 45 females, 52 males, and 3 cranes of undetermined sex. Since spring migration has already started, many of these cranes have been sighted along the migration route; by early March these included 13 in Illinois, 36 in Indiana, 9 in Kentucky, 3 in Tennessee, 14 in Alabama, 3 in Georgia, and 5 that are still in Florida.
By the time you read this, some of these cranes will have reached Wisconsin for the summer. Given past history, some individuals of this crane population may wander to neighboring states this summer. Since Whooping Cranes do not begin nesting until three or four years-old, and since non-breeding sub-adults are known to wander before they reach nesting age, such wandering is expected.
To see the report on the stopover sites and the reported locations of these migrating individuals, you can refer to:
ARMONDO, THE PIGEON, GOES FOR $1.4 MILLION
Racing pigeons is not a particularly fast-growing sport, even in former strongholds in northern Europe and the U.S., but interest in the ancient pastime has recently grown in Asia, particularly in China.
This fact was verified last month when Armondo, a Belgian pigeon racing star, was bought in an online auction for 1.25 million euros (about $1.4 million)! While Armondo was expected to break the previous top price of 376,000 euros (about $425,000) held by a pigeon named Nadine, nobody expected the final price to be as high as it was. The typical price of a good racing pigeon goes for about $2,700. But Armondo, at five years old, may be the best racing pigeon of all time.
It was an anonymous Chinese buyer who will likely use his new acquisition to breed other champions racing pigeons. Indeed, Armondo will probably remain grounded in his new home, settled into stud-pigeon retirement, but hopefully passing his genes onto the next generation of eager flyers.
Whether Armondo will live up to his genetic expectations has yet to be determined, and of course he could fail miserably. Nonetheless, Armondo could encourage us to re-examine our relationship with these often-maligned birds - something to think about the next time you walk by a huddled and neglected crowd of pigeons on an urban sidewalk setting.
You can find more on the sale of Armondo here:
RAT POISON AND PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL
Some readers may remember the charming 2003 documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, which chronicles the relationship between Mark Bittner, an unemployed musician living in San Francisco, and the flock of feral parrots - mostly Red-masked Parakeets - that he regularly interacts with.
A recent study, published in mid-March in PLOS ONE, described the details of the ailments of 15 parrots from this urban flock from 2013-2017, along with a more thorough investigation of an additional four birds in 2018. In these last four parrots, signs of bromethalin, a non-anticoagulant rodenticide, was detected in brain and liver samples from the birds.
The study capped a multi-year effort to determine the cause of sickness and disease which had been observed in parrots from this flock since at least 1999. The findings indicate it is likely that bromethalin contributed to the morbidity and mortality of these birds, although the source of bromethalin remains unclear.
"It is only because the poisoned birds were feral parrots that the condition was so thoroughly investigated," said the study's first author, Fern Van Sant, whose San Jose, California clinic, For the Birds, provided care for many of the affected parrots.
More details here:
BOOK NOTES: KENN KAUFMAN'S LATEST
In his latest book, A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019), well-known author and bird enthusiast, Kenn Kaufman, introduces readers to an equally well-known birding locality in northwestern Ohio, and the magic and wonder of bird migration.
In each chapter, the author in a deliberate and thoughtful manner introduces readers to birds, a place, and the phenomenon of bird migration. Whether it be information about waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, or warblers, or avian research techniques such as bird-banding, radar studies, and the contributions of waterfowl hunters, the reader is guided carefully into an understanding and appreciation of them all.
Central to Kaufman's narrative are key birding locations and prominent ornithological players, many in the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area or at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and the growing community of birders that increasingly visits northwestern Ohio during spring migration every year. Additionally, the subject of wind-power and the continuing debate over appropriate siting of energy-producing wind towers frequently appears in the narrative, along with other reminders to birders that it is insufficient to simply enjoy or even enthusiastically share birds if we hope to save them in perpetuity. Saving them must be a central part of the greater picture.
In this book, Kenn Kaufmann elegantly presents his subjects, and in the end leaves his readers with both an enjoyable and a thoughtful read.
On 25 March, Bill Thompson III (aka, BT3) tragically passed away at his home in Whittle, Ohio, at the age of 57 years young. Probably best known as the co-publisher and editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, Bill was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer in late 2018.
In addition to his work with the magazine - a family business started by his parents, Bill Thompson Jr. and Elsa Thompson - BT3 was also the author of Bird Watching for Dummies (IDG books, 1997), lead author for Identify Yourself: The 50 Most Common Birding Identification Challenges (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), The New Birder's Guide to Birds of North America (Houghton Mifflin, 2014) and more than a dozen other popular titles. Bill was an accomplished musician who traveled extensively, speaking, leading field trips, and consulting on ecotourism for birding festivals and nature events around the world.
In 2008 Bill was awarded a Service Citizen Award from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for his contributions in making the National Wildlife Refuge System more bird and birder-friendly. He was also awarded the Robert Ridgway Award for Excellence in Ornithological Publications from the American Birding Association. In 2009 he was nominated for a "Heart of Green" award for his work in fighting "Nature Deficit Disorder" by helping introduce young people to bird watching.
For Bill, bird watching was a cause, and he skillfully balanced his business interests with the mission of popularizing and spreading an appreciation of birds and bird study wherever he went. In addition, Bill possessed a joyous sense of humor. He will be deeply missed by all with whom he came in contact.