Since the mid-1990s, Little Egrets have become almost annual in the Northeast, both in Atlantic Canada and in New England. We focused on this phenomenon in August 2015, when reporting on an occurrence of this species in Maine.
The Little Egret is an Eastern Hemisphere species that ranges from Western Europe, Africa, and southern Asia and Japan south to Australia. This species was first seen in North America in Newfoundland in the spring of 1954, but it was not until the 1980s that a few more were reported in Atlantic Canada, and by 1989 and the 1990s multiple birds were reported in New England. Most Little Egrets have appeared in spring and summer, including birds south of New England in Delaware and Virginia, including about a dozen records possibly involving returning individuals for multiple years. Little Egrets have also occurred on several Caribbean islands, most notably Barbados, where the species has actually established a breeding toehold. A May 2000 record was also established for the western Aleutian Islands.
This season's Little Egret showed up in late June at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth, Maine. This represents the fourth record of this species in Maine, all since 2011 and the second to be found at Gilsland. The record almost certainly pertains to a returning individual.
Similar to last year, the egret was found moving around the Presumpscot River area of Casco Bay. There have been periods however when the bird has gone for days without being seen or reported. The bird remained through the end of July.
REAT SCOTT, GREAT KNOT!
And speaking of rarities in Maine, here is a mega-rarity that would have taken top billing this month had it appeared at an accessible location and been seen over multiple days.
On 23 July, a Great Knot was photographed by puffin researcher Keenan Yakola on 65-acre Seal Island in Knox County, Maine. While conducting bird surveys, he initially came across an unfamiliar stocky shorebird with a stout bill. A further search with colleagues resulted in relocating this bird along with a few Ruddy Turnstones on the western part of the island.
Landing on the island is not allowed. Seal Island is part of the five-refuge and 55-island Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Seal Island was used as a Navy bombing range from the 1940s to the 1960s, and unexploded ordinance is still present, making it unsafe for visitors to land. The island is perhaps most famous today as one of the sites of a successful initiative to reintroduce Atlantic Puffins to the coast of Maine.
Great Knots breed in montane tundra in northeastern Russia eastward to Chukotka, and spend the winter from India eastward to Australia. This is a species for which there are only about 20 North American records, almost all from Alaska. There is however an extraordinary additional eastern record of a bird in August 2007, in western West Virginia!
Despite follow-up searches on the following days, the bird was never relocated on the island.
You can view an original image by Keenan Yakola here:
AND IT THAT WERE NOT ENOUGH...
An apparent immature male Amethyst-throated Hummingbird (Lampornis amethystinus) was photographed in the Saguenay region of Quebec on 30 and 31 July. It was visiting a cottage feeder.
This is a species that has never been seen north of Mexico!
You can find more details and a photo here:
ACCESS MATTERS: ORDNANCE
How much unexploded ordnance (UXO) restricts access to birding areas? Plenty, it seems, with the Great Knot story above as just one example.
Among National Wildlife Refuges alone, the problem is not uncommon. This is because a number of NWRs have been carved out of former military lands, and the presence of unexploded ordnance, which of course makes public recreation and access unsafe.
In Indiana, the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, established in June 2000 as an "overlay" NWR through a 25-year real estate permit from the U.S. Army, is an example. As an overlay refuge, the Army retains ownership but the Service manages the property. It is laden with unexploded ordnance, a vestige of four decades of use as the Jefferson Proving Ground (JPG), where the U.S. Army test-fired a variety of bombs, grenades and shells. In fact, between 1984 and 1994, the Army even shot rounds of depleted uranium into a 2,000-acre target zone at the proving ground. Much of this uranium remains embedded in the soil. Curiously, Big Oaks is also a center for Henslow's Sparrow nesting, and a globally Important Bird Area (IBA).
There are many other examples of restricted refuge entry, ranging from parts of Cabeza Prieta NWR in southern Arizona to a number of refuges in Alaska. At least 900 acres of Vieques NWR in Puerto Rico, which in the past served as a live impact area, is officially designated as a "wilderness preserve" and blocked from public access. Even Patuxent Research Refuge, located between Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland, has areas with unexploded ordnance that date back to when the Army used the land as a weapons-training area.
In many of these cases (e.g., Patuxent) visitors must sign a waiver before entering at least parts of the premises, with one copy of the waiver remaining with the visitor and the other staying in the visitor's vehicle. All visitors at Big Oak NWR are required to attend a safety briefing, sign an acknowledgement of danger agreement, and obtain an annual or daily access permit before entering the refuge.
There should seemingly be other ways around this problem, but most solutions must rely on adequate funding to clean up the sites. The funds are not often appropriated by Congress to the Interior or Refuge budgets, and even the usually flush Defense budget does not currently get sufficient funding dedicated to such clean-ups.
Access to these areas will not expand until such funding is made available by Congress.
IBA NEWS: MONOMOY BOUNDARIES
Jutting off the elbow of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge provides fragile wildlife, and especially shorebird, coastal habitat. Among other things, the NWR, established in 1944 to conserve migratory birds, is a place that species like the Red Knot use as a stopover site. It is also a site where knots and other shorebirds can feast on horseshoe crab eggs, and the island is the largest haul-out site for grey seals on the Atlantic coast of the U.S. The refuge is an Important Bird Area (IBA), and the refuge's barrier beach and other habitats support breeding populations and staging areas for the federally listed Piping Plover and Roseate Tern, and the state-listed Northern Harrier, Common Tern, and Least Tern all breed on the refuge.
Equally notable is the fact that an impressive 86% of Monomoy NWR's lands is comprised of wilderness designated by Congress in 1970.Monomoy is the only officially designated Wilderness Area found anywhere in highly developed southern New England. Nearly half of the refuge's 7,921 acres is subtidal or open water. However, the western boundary of the refuge is now at risk because of an effort to redefine that boundary at the "man low water line."
If the western boundary of the refuge were set at the low water mark, it would potentially open that portion of the refuge to horseshoe crab harvesting. This harvest could take place just below mean low water, said Libby Herland, project manager at the Eastern Massachusetts Wildlife Refuge Complex. "That's a huge concern that we have."
In response to calls from local town and state officials, Congressman William Keating (D) is submitting legislation to redefine Monomoy's boundaries, essentially giving away a huge chunk of the refuge. Efforts are afoot, however, to stop this action.
For information on the IBA status of Monomoy, see here:
If you wish more information on the boundary proposal, and to take action on this issue, you may want to refer to details from the National Wildlife Refuge Association:
Also see the following article in the Boston Globe:
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:
NORTHERN BOBWHITE IN NEW JERSEY
The 14,000+ acres owned by the Pine Island Cranberry Company in Burlington County, New Jersey, is not an IBA, but perhaps it should be. It is surrounded by four IBAs: Northern Pine Barrens, Wharton State Forest, Bass River Marsh, and Franklin Parker Preserve.
Most importantly, it is the site for a creative Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative in New Jersey and is supported by a number of partners. The project involves translocating wild Northern Bobwhites from Georgia to New Jersey in order to re-establish the species in the state.
Nationally, the Northern Bobwhite is believed to have suffered a decline of over 80%, especially in the last half century. And in New Jersey, the Northern Bobwhite is thought to be functionally extinct, but with the possibility of a few birds still holding on in southwestern parts of the state. The decline of the Northern Bobwhite, not just in New Jersey but across its entire range, is attributed to the shortage of quality habitat.
The New Jersey initiative which has been running for two years, may be one to watch. About 80 quail per year have been released, and next year's 80 birds will represent the final release-cluster. The released birds are evenly split between males and females. Last year's birds successfully produced at least 15 discovered nests, and this year's cohort has resulted in at least nine nests.
Cooperators include NJ Audubon, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, and especially the critical Pine Island Cranberry Company. Pine Island Cranberry has provided a forest to meet management requirements, including thinning and controlled burns to keep leaf litter down to minimize the danger of forest fire, and to keep insects like the pine beetle in check. The farm has 1,400 acres in cultivation and about 14,000 in managed forest, making the site ideal for this initiative.
For more details, see this 24 July article from The Press of Atlantic City:
For more NJ Audubon's efforts, see their quail webpage.
And to read about the work among 25 state conservation agencies through the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) to restore wild populations of Norther Bobwhite in the U.S. to levels comparable to 1980, see here:
BOOK NOTES: LISTENING WITH DON KROODSMA
Donald Kroodsma's latest book, Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific, recounts a ten-week, ten-state bicycle journey as the author travels with his son, David, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, lingering, listening, and describing birdsong along the way.
The book features QR codes that link to audio birdsong - an interesting feature that takes advantage of relatively recent technology in an innovative way. (Curiously, Kroodsma's previous book, Birdsong by the Seasons, published in 2009, was accompanied by two CDs of birdsongs. How quickly technology changes!)
This most recent contribution from Kroodsma's already rich legacy as one of the country's finest interpreters of avian birdsong is a delightful blend of travelogue, a personal bonding between father and son, and a gentle introduction and useful compendium of information about the singing life of birds.
Attractively illustrated with small, black-and-white drawings in the margins, this book is a recommended read for anyone with an interest in birdsong blended with a heart-warming narrative that is certain to leave the reader the better for having read it.
TWO AUGUST CENTENNIALS
This month marks two actual centennials.
The first is the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty. On 16 August 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the treaty with Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) for the protection of the "many species of birds which in their annual migration traverse certain parts of the United States and Canada." After the passage of the Lacey Act of 1900, this treaty became the most important federal action taken to save birds in North America. Officially called the "Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds," it was later ratified by Congress in 1918.
You can find more information, here:
The second centennial concerns the creation of the National Park Service. Many presidents had a part in building the National Park System, but President Woodrow Wilson was the one who signed the bill which created the National Park Service. On 25 August 1916, he signed the act creating the National Park Service, a new bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established.
Today, the system of our National Parks comprises more than 400 areas covering more than 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.
You can find more information on the NPS centennial celebration here:
Both centennials showcase the achievements of the past 100 years, but they are really about the future, and for many people that means birds to manage, protect, and appreciate, and wonderful places to visit today and tomorrow.
TIP OF THE MONTH: SHOREBIRDS AGAIN
We have made this recommendation before at this time of year (e.g., August 2010), but the fact that the Monomoy story and the Great Knot occurrence are at the front end of this E-bulletin only reinforce the importance of presenting this tip once again.
One of the best things about the last part of the summer is that it marks the time when most migratory shorebirds are winging their way toward what will become their "wintering" quarters. They can be seen in large numbers and in great variety at this time of year. If you live within ready driving distance of most any coastal shoreline or large body of water, this is often the best time of year to work on your shorebird ID skills. And there is always the possibility of finding a surprise!
Don't let this opportunity pass you by, and don't be discouraged from experiencing what you might consider to be a confusing groups of birds. Shorebirds are wonderful birds, even if you can't necessarily put a name on every one that you see!