While checking out the weedy agricultural fields and puddles in the West Kendall area of Miami-Dade County on the early afternoon of 8 July, Alex Lamoreaux found a Zenaida Dove among the many Mourning Doves in the area. The exact locality was at the very end of SW 120th Street.
Zenaida Doves resemble Mourning Doves, but are chubbier, with a shorter and slightly rounded, not pointed, tail, and wings with white trailing edges to the secondaries. This white mark shows as a small white rectangular patch on the inner secondaries on a perched or standing bird.
The discovery came as a big surprise, since Zenaida Doves are largely residents of the West Indies and Yucatán Peninsula. During Audubon's day, the species may also have been a resident in the Florida Keys, but nobody knows this for certain. Today, the species is considered an accidental visitor in the U.S., with only a few previous records for the Florida Keys (and one possible record for Georgia). The bird in West Kendall was the first on to be found in Florida away from the Keys. Because the species is a strong flyer, this individual could have originated from either the Bahamas or Cuba.
The West Kendall dove remained throughout the month, available for the many birders who came to see it. Sometimes a wait of a couple of hours was required, with the dove often slipping into the nearby grass or flying a short distance away. The Zenaida Dove was clearly a male, and would often approach a female Mourning Dove, cooing and courting with amorous intent. In fact, this could be what kept the dove around for so many weeks.
Here is an eBird report with photos by Brian Rapoza from the first afternoon it was found:
BEYOND SANTA ANA NWR
As we reported previously, when the 2,232-page omnibus spending bill was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in March, it contained a short sentence referencing ongoing border-wall construction: "None of the funds provided in this or any other Act shall be obligated for construction of a border barrier in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge." Thus, the immediate threat of a wall at Santa Ana NWR, a prime birding destination for anyone looking for "South Texas Specialties," was lessened.
But as we suggested in April, "the threat still looms for other Lower Rio Grande Valley locations like the National Butterfly Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, La Lomita chapel, and home-and-farm properties owned by individuals along the Rio Grande."
With the current plan for new border wall construction, there will be a segment of approximately 25 miles of obtrusive levee walls, bollard walls, 150-foot enforcement zones, and surveillance cameras. It is expected that once the wall is finished, all of Hidalgo County could be walled off from the Rio Grande River, with the exception of 3.3 miles through Santa Ana NWR.
The situation may be more dire in the case of Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park. In the original deed of conveyance for the land from the Bentsen family to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1944, various "Use Restriction(s)" were stipulated whereby any breach of "public park purposes," including if it "is not so maintained, designated and operated . . . for the use and benefit of the public, then the title to such land shall revert" back to the "Grantors," in this case the Bentsen family.
There are also many parcels of property of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR, established in 1979 and sister-refuge to Santa Ana NWR,that are close to the river and could be "locked away." Most of these individual refuge properties are not accessible to the public at this time. Nonetheless, building the wall would certainly bring an end to their potential opening, and also limit effective management of wildlife.
The integrity of other properties, such as the National Butterfly Center, is also clearly at risk.
For more information about some of these ominous possibilities, see:
IBA NEWS: ANOTHER WHSRN SITE
This month we highlight another Important Bird Area (IBA) that has just received additional status as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site. The site is Owens Lake (Inyo County) in southern California which was named last month as the 104th WHSRN site, and the 50th located in the U.S.
The lake is a 100-square-mile terminal alkali playa situated at a 3,600' elevation at the southern end of the Owens Valley. Formerly a large shallow saline lake spanning 70,400 acres at its zenith, by 1926 the lake was left virtually dry following the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
Starting in 2000, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power shallow-flooded or ponded about 25 square miles of the lakebed in order to control massive dust pollution. This was intended to fulfill the requirements of the Clean Air Act. This action has created valuable wetland habitat on Owens Lake, now a major stop-over site for shorebirds and waterfowl in the interior of southern California.
Owens Lake now annually supports more than 100,000 shorebirds, thus qualifying it as a WHSRN site of International Importance. This large concentration of shorebirds, seasonally includes more than 1% of the global populations of American Avocet and Least Sandpiper, and 1% of the Interior/Gulf coast population of Snowy Plover.
Here are more details on the Owens Lake WHSRN designation last month:
and the Owens Lake IBA description:
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:
MARYLAND EXPERIMENT ON WINDOW GLASS
As most of our readers know, bird collisions with windows may claim a billion of our birds per year. In the course of reporting on bird-friendly glass projects in the Birding Community E-bulletin, we have previously described where city and state governments - e.g., in New York, Minnesota, and San Francisco - have enacted laws to collision-proof their owned and leased buildings, or required such bird-proofing on new buildings.
One creative effort was begun in earnest last month in Maryland. While Maryland doesn't yet have a birds-and-glass law on the books, this experiment may help with that eventuality.
The state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) building in Annapolis - the four-story Tawes Building - was a conspicuous bird-killer, especially with nine glass-framed breezeways producing regular collisions witnessed or documented by concerned employees. Warblers, orioles, tanagers, finches, kinglets, cuckoos, and larger birds, including Red-shouldered Hawks, have met their end at the Tawes Building.
Safe Skies Maryland (an effort of the Maryland Ornithological Society), the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland State Parks, the Maryland Conservation Job Corps, and others joined forces, raised the funds, and recruited the labor to install weighted paracords - elastic and durable parachute cords - four inches apart, down the lengths of three of the four stories of the deadly breezeways. It is expected that this technique - the Acopian Bird Saver - will cause the bird mortalities to drop considerably, starting with this fall's migration.
The next phase of the project will include the use of several types of film to prevent collisions at other areas of the building and may be completed in the fall as well.
As an added bonus, the Tawes Building experience can service as a showcase for lawmakers in Annapolis who failed to pass legislation on the issue during the last legislative session but have since requested more information before considering related collision legislation. The proximity of the Tawes building in Annapolis might be exactly what is needed to move things along.
For more details, see:
BOOK NOTES: CHIRPS, QUIRKS, AND STORIES
If you don't have BirdNote broadcast from a public radio show near you, you are missing a real treat. The broadcasts are two-minute vignettes that incorporate intriguing stories about birds and their sounds, along with key elements that illustrate how their lives interact with ours. BirdNote began in 2004 as a project under the auspices of Seattle Audubon and was launched on the air in February 2005. Now the shows can be heard daily and via podcast. They can be found in more than 200 markets across the country, reaching an estimated audience of 1.3 million. You can find more information on the effort here:
Transforming a collection of these tightly-packed two-minute audio-shows into a book of 100 entertaining and informative short essays was probably an inevitable outcome of the project. And it seems to have worked! BirdNote: Chirps, Quirks, and Stories of 100 Birds (2018, Sasquatch Books) has been edited by Ellen Blackstone, serving as team writer, photo and web editor, and associate producer, with illustrations by Emily Poole. While the short essays have been written by many of BirdNote's creative staffers, they are not provided full credits in the book. You have to follow a link printed at the end of the collection, on page 201, to discover who, exactly, wrote what.
Each of these brief essays reveals some aspect of the life, habits, or vocalizations of a particular species. Some of the essays titles alone are compelling:
- A Crossbill's Beak Does the Job
- Why Birds Stand on One Leg
- Leaping Sandhill Cranes
- Stork and Babies
- Earthworm, a Superfood in Cold Storage
- Cattle Egret - You've Got a Friend in Me
- Why is Bird Poop White?
- Eurasian Collared-Doves' Sense of Direction
- Everybody Knows a Mallard
- Carrier Pigeons go to War
With such a book, such a project, the question always arises: Who is the audience? The answer seems simple - almost anyone! The stories are interesting enough to cross otherwise important age, gender, region, and education barriers. Anyone with curiosity about birds will probably enjoy the contents. In that sense alone, the book is a success.
Still, some of the fun of listening to the birds on the original broadcasts is lost in the transformation to text. Predictably, those broadcast segments that depended heavily on the sounds of the highlighted bird species - sounds provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology - did not make it into the book.
At heart, the book inspires the reader to care about the natural world and the lives of birds, helping the reader to appreciate and protect these wonderful creatures.
And if you are looking for more evidence of the broad interest in our birdlife, you need go no further than the recent interest in "Mama Merganser."
Amateur wildlife photographer, Brent Cizek, recently captured an extraordinary scene on Minnesota's Lake Bemidji. It was a female Common Merganser being followed by more than 50 ducklings. On his second trip to the lake, Cizek counted 76 youngsters in the flotilla. In the interim, the image - and story - went viral: Facebook posts, blogs, newsletters, and the traditional printed media from coast to coast picked up the unique image and opined about the role of the female with her youngsters.
Since female Common Mergansers normally lay between 9 and 12 eggs per clutch, even with "egg-dumping" by other females, this hen could not have successfully hatched a brood of this size. After all, a waterfowl's brood patch is only so large.
Instead, she appeared to be the head of a "creche," essentially a ducky day-care strategy. This kind of brood amalgamation has been reported in Common Mergansers, but it is not that well studied as it is in some other ducks (e.g., Common Eiders and White-winged Scoters). Indeed, the female merganser in Cizek's picture probably picked up several dozen young that somehow got separated from their mothers.
For further explanation and Cizek's original photos, see this article from the StarTribune:
HOUSE AND SENATE FARM BILLS
Last month, we predicted that House and Senate squabbling over the Farm Bill would continue through the summer, without resolution by the time the current Farm Bill, enacted in 2014, expires in late September:
And although the House and Senate passed their own versions in late June, meetings to negotiate a compromise bill in a conference committee are not happening. And considering the summer Congressional recess, the first public meeting of the conference committee would not take place until September at the earliest.
The House bill would remove $795 million over 10 years from conservation funding. It also strays further away from food and agricultural policy and engages in attacks on the environment by potentially removing protections in the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.
The Senate bill by comparison would keep conservation spending at about current levels. For example, the Senate version caps the very bird-friendly Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) at 25 million acres - an increase of 1 million acres, but it reduces the land rates to 85.5% of the average county rental rates. The House version caps CRP at 29 million acres at 80% of the average rental rates.
This predictable Farm-Bill wrangling serves as a regular reminder that the Farm Bill, packed with billions of dollars for national commodity programs, trade, rural development, farm credit, agricultural research, and nutrition programs, also contains important bird-and-wildlife provisions - protecting wetlands and grasslands in particular.
In any case, if Congress cannot reach an agreement by late September, a one-year extension of the current Farm Bill is certainly a possibility.
ESA: "UNLESS IT'S TOO EXPENSIVE"
These days there are many proposals to alter the Endangered Species Act (ESA) or remove some of its protections. Between 1996 and 2010, Congress averaged about five such proposals a year. But proposed legislation and departmental "rule changes" concerning the ESA are dramatically increasing. For example, since January 2017, Congress has seen at least 75 bills seeking to remove federal protections from specific species or weaken the ESA overall.
One of the more egregious proposed rule changes was released last month. Under the ESA, scientific assessment of whether extinction is at risk is all that is required. But a proposed rule change would take economic and business factors into consideration. The rule change proposes to remove the phrase "without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination."
Supporters say the change is necessary to spur development and jobs and to "reduce the regulatory burden on the American people," according to administration-appointed Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan. Critics, however, say it's just a way to give oil, timber, and ranching industries more business. Other critics insist that it's almost like saying: "Enforce the law, unless it's too expensive."
The ESA makes clear that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, two agencies that implement the Act, cannot take economic considerations into account when deciding whether to protect a species. This has made the ESA strong, driven by the best available science. But these new changes are proposing to alter that standard and make every listing into a veritable negotiation. The economic impact of ESA decision may soon be part of the mix for decision makers to apply.
This and other suggested rule changes conveniently align with proposed legislation that emerged recently from a House committee overseen by a lawmaker who said he "would love to invalidate" the Endangered Species Act. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chair of the Natural Resources Committee, supports five bills that would force the federal government to consider the economic impact of saving a species rather than making a decision based solely on science, according to the current rules.
If we want to protect Whooping Crane, Piping Plover, Red-cockaded Woodpecker and more endangered species, we will have to make sure they are not threatened by these sorts of attacks on the ESA.
SAGE-GROUSE DODGE THE BULLET
Some good news!
Readers may remember our coverage of the military spending bill in the June issue, with the supposed controversy over sage-grouse and the military readiness:
In the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act which set annual policy priorities and funding levels for America's military forces, some lawmakers attempted to include a rider preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the Greater Sage-Grouse as endangered species for at least 10 years.
In previous years, conservationists relied on Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who insisted on limiting the NDAA to topics "germane" to the military. The Senator's current health concerns, however, prevented him from managing this year's NDAA.
The House and Senate passed separate versions of the NDAA earlier this summer, setting up a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two bills - including the sage-grouse language. Fortunately, after months of public outcry from conservationists, and a lot of behind-the-scenes debate, the conference committee released its final report - and it did not contain the anti-sage-grouse rider.