On the morning of 7 November, a Corn Crake was reported feeding on the north shoulder of the Ocean Parkway east of the Cedar Beach marina on Long Island, New York. The word went out immediately from the original observers, Ken and Sue Feustel, Shai Mitra, and Pat Lindsay. Regional birders who could get away quickly gathered at the site. The bird was observed moving in and out of the parkway shrubline throughout the rest of the day, until dark.
The Corn Crake is a fairly small, short-billed Eurasian rail that normally ranges from the Faeroes, Scandinavia, and Eurasia to central Siberia, and winters mainly in East Africa.
Corn Crakes have been recorded in North America approximately 20 times, almost always in the fall and almost always at coastal locations. Half of these records were established in the 1800s. European populations seriously declined in the 20th century, a decline attributed to the loss of damp grass fields and croplands. Today, the species is considered "vulnerable" in Europe. However, given some recent surveys in Scotland there may be an increase in some populations,
It is not surprising, therefore, that there have only been a handful of records in North America since the early 1960s ranging from Newfoundland to Pennsylvania. There may only be eight North American records since 1928, the last record for New York being in 1963, also on Long Island. Iceland has had about 50 Corn Crake records since 1950.
There was a surprising Pennsylvania record as recently as 2016, involving a bird rescued from the jaws of a cat but which later succumbed to injuries. The story of this individual appeared in the Birding Community E-Bulletin in February 2016:
The Cedar Beach bird was also present all day on 8 November, delighting the many birders who watched it from the median strip of the road. Unfortunately, birders coming
to Cedar Beach from near and far the next day were sadly informed that the Corn Crake was discovered dead on site by 15 birders who had arrived at dawn. The cause of death was thought to be collision with a passing car. The specimen was brought to the American Museum of Natural History, where it was determined to be a male and somewhat underweight.
To view some original photos of the Corn Crake taken by Ken Feustel see:
or images by Steve Walter at:
For a video clip by Peter Reisfeld visit:
IBA NEWS: 100th WHSRN SITE
On 21 October, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) Hemispheric Council voted to approve the designation of the Georgia Barrier Islands as a "Landscape of Hemispheric Importance." The Georgia Barrier Islands thus became WHSRN's 100th site.
Georgia's barrier islands are owned and managed by a number of private and public entities, many of which have committed to the WHSRN designation. The Georgia Shorebird Alliance (GSA), a group of biologists, land managers, and institutions devoted to the protection of Georgia's shorebirds, submitted the nomination. Involved parties included the National Parks Service (Cumberland Island National Seashore, Fort Pulaski National Monument), US Fish and Wildlife Service (Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex), and the privately-owned Little Cumberland Island, St. Catherine's Island, Little St. Simons Island, and the Cannon's Point Preserve and Musgrove Preserve on St. Simons Island. Together these comprise 79,709 acres included within the WHSRN Landscape designation.
With the inclusion of the Georgia Barrier Islands, there are now 100 WHSRN Sites in 15 countries covering a total of 36.9 million acres of shorebird habitat across the Americas. Georgia Barrier Islands becomes only the 3rd WHSRN Landscape, and the first to include an existing WHSRN site, the Altamaha River Delta, designated as a WHSRN site of Regional Importance in 1999 due to its supporting more than 20,000 shorebirds.
Significantly, the new Landscape of Hemispheric Importance also overlaps with already-designated Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Georgia, such as the Altamaha River Delta and Cumberland Island National Seashore.
The Georgia Barrier Islands WHSRN Landscape was designated due to its seasonal hosting of more than 30% of the population of the rufa race of the Red Knot and the Great Lakes breeding population of Piping Plover. The area also annually hosts more than 10% of the North American populations of American Oystercatcher, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Black-bellied Plover. In addition, the landscape supports one of the largest spring gatherings of Whimbrel in North America.
Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) commented on the designation, saying, "This designation as a 'Landscape of Hemispheric Importance' by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network is another strong endorsement for Georgia's beautiful coast and will help keep conservation efforts top-of-mind in the area. I congratulate all who have worked to help protect Georgia's barrier islands and natural habitats."
More on this landscape designation from WHSRN:
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:
NEW PASSENGER PIGEON POSSIBILITIES
A study released last month in Science sheds new light on the possible reasons for the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. A team of researchers has suggested that "Natural selection shaped the rise and fall of passenger pigeon genomic diversity. Of course, it is now well known that the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, or perhaps even on Earth, and that it was ultimately hunted to extinction. But wholesale market hunting is only one causal explanation. Gemma Murray and her colleagues examined the genomes of Passenger Pigeon samples from different locales throughout the species' range. They concluded that a reduction in genetic diversity provided few avenues for the bird to respond to serious human pressures. It may be that it was population instability that seriously contributed to this species' surprisingly rapid extinction.
Natural selection may have played a role in the pigeons' extinction, with the birds well-adapted to living in large populations, but not in situations where their numbers were much smaller.
Assuming that the Passenger Pigeon had a high rate of adaptive evolution, they likely adapted to living in large populations for feeding, movement, and nesting. Murray says that when it comes to feeding and nesting, "these sorts of behaviors are the sorts of things which might work really well when your population size is large and dense. But when hunting had a big impact on their population, and their numbers went down hugely in the 19th century, maybe those things (i.e., behaviors) didn't work anymore."
When Passenger Pigeons existed in the billions and even the millions, their very numbers played a protective role. But when their numbers dipped below a certain point, their own dependence on a social existence may have worked against them. They were so social that they couldn't exist below a certain number. But what was that number?
It may be enough to consider or to know that smaller populations really could not persist. It may be sufficient to admit that human actions reduced the populations to such a point that recovery was impossible or near impossible. It may simply be enough to say that the pigeons needed each other.
For a quick review of some of the pros and cons of this theory, you can go to an NPR story from All Things Considered:
ACCESS MATTERS: MISBEHAVIOR
Wastewater treatment plants are well known to birders as potentially excellent birding spots. When managed creatively and open to the public, these facilities can be great for birds and birders as well as providing essential services to local communities.
At the start of last month, during the unique and fascinating Yellow Rails and Rice Festival in southwestern Louisiana, a number of wonderful birds - besides the much-desired Yellow Rails - were found on field trips built around the central focus at the rice fields. At the nearby Crowley Wastewater Treatment Plant there were some interesting shorebirds and waterfowl found, including an uncommon Long-tailed Duck, a first record for Acadia Parish. This is a species seen at least a few times yearly on the Louisiana coast, but a bit of a surprise inland.
Festival participants were happy to see the birds at the Crowley WTP, but all visitors or groups were clearly instructed to sign-in at the WTP offices. Moreover, according to Tim Cradeur, the WTP manager, no visitors are allowed to enter the plant outside of regular working hours except by special permission from the WTP office.
Unfortunately, things turned ugly
the weekend after the festival, on the Saturday of Veterans Day weekend, a day the plant was closed. On that day, two birders were reported trespassing at the WTP in an effort to see the Long-tailed Duck. This was not a minor issue, because the WTP has a high-security barbwire fence surrounding it, and since birder access and visitation protocols have been carefully negotiated with the plant staff. Plant management was clearly and quite properly upset when they found out about the incident.
Had the concerned neighbors called the police directly instead of calling the closed WTP office, the violators would no doubt have been arrested. The offenders - former Louisiana birders, no longer living in the state - have since been identified by the birding community, and appropriately "called out" for their actions.
Access to this locally important birding spot, including for events like the Yellow Rails and Rice Festival, was put in jeopardy as a result of this unfortunate incident. Fortunately, thoughtful birder-diplomacy was immediately initiated, and birders in the region were again encouraged to visit the facility by following established protocols. Additionally, the WTP management was told how grateful the birding community has been for allowing continued access, as well as informing the staff how much the birding community appreciates their patience.
Simply following entry instructions, applying basic courtesy, and respecting those who work at such facilities can do wonders because, after all, continued access to such places really matters to birders.
MORE WHOOPING CRANES FOR LOUISIANA
Elsewhere in Louisiana, there is an ongoing encouraging story, news connected to Whooping Cranes.
In December 2011, we reported on the ambitious multi-partner effort to reestablish Whooping Cranes in Louisiana:
This effort began in earnest that year when 10 Whooping Cranes were delivered to the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WLWCA). The cranes came from the U. S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Facility in Maryland and were released at the WLWCA in Vermilion Parish to develop a non-migratory flock. Prior to this introduction, the last time a Whooping Crane was seen in Louisiana was in 1950.
Last month, two more groups of young Whooping Cranes were released in the state. Eleven juvenile cranes from the International Crane Foundation were released on 9 November at WLWCA, and on 14 November another 12 juveniles were released at the nearby Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' (LDWF) Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge. There are now 72 Whooping Cranes in Louisiana that comprise this experimental population being monitored by LDWF.
One management technique in play in Louisiana is to release the young birds, called colts, as a "cohort" that will hopefully socialize together. The idea is that the colts will associate together, form relationships, and be released without any adults so the "cohort will create a family [of their own] for the birds to increase their chances of survival," said Richard Dunn, Assistant Curator at the New-Orleans-based Audubon Nature Institute's Species Survival Center.
There are many partners in this LDWF effort, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, International Crane Foundation, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation, the Audubon Nature Institute, and Chevron. Chevron not only contributed financially to the initiative; their employees have also given volunteer hours to help construct enhanced Whooping Crane enclosures.
"We continue on the path to establishing a self-sustained Whooping Crane population in Louisiana so this magnificent bird can thrive for generations to come,'' said Jack Montoucet, Secretary of the LDWF. "We've made so many advances in our Whooping Crane program, including the first wild-hatched Whooping Crane in Louisiana in 2016. The arrival of this cohort is another important step in the restoration process. We are blessed to have many partners, including private landowners who have assisted us by working with our staff when the cranes roost on their property. We thank them for their help.''
Anyone encountering a Whooping Crane in the state is advised to observe the bird from a distance and to report the presence to LDWF on this form:
Also, anyone witnessing suspicious or harmful activity involving Whooping Cranes is advised to call the LDWF's Enforcement Division or use their tip411 program, which may offer a cash reward for information leading to arrests or convictions.
More information on recent reintroductions, partners, or sending information to LDWF, can be found here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: TRY THE SONGBIRD SAVER
It has been estimated that 7,000,000 birds die each year in North America by colliding with broadcast and cell towers. These birds - mostly night-flying songbirds on migration are either attracted to, or disoriented by, the tower lighting systems, especially in conditions when night skies are overcast or foggy.
A key factor in bird mortality at towers is height, with towers 350 feet or more in height posing the greatest threat. Elimination of outdated, non-flashing red lights on these tall towers also provides a substantial benefit to tower operators because they reduce electricity consumption. Hundreds of tall towers across the U.S. have already updated their lighting systems to reduce bird collisions and to reduce operating costs. The change was urged by the Federal Communications Commission, which launched a policy encouraging tower operators to adopt bird-friendly and energy-saving lighting configurations.
Now, a new website provides a way to participate in a solution. With "Songbird Saver," observers can enter a zip code or use the map feature to find tall towers in their area, then send a request to the tower's operator to turn off or replace any steady-burning red lights that may attract birds.
The Federal Aviation Administration which regulates airline safety has also studied the safety issues, and is recommending this lighting change which can reduce bird mortality by an estimated 70 percent. You can participate, provide feedback, and be part of an effort that can save birds in your community. (Some of the data on the website - including tower operators' e-mail addresses - may be out of date. If you receive an email bounce-back from a tower operator, or if no email address is available, you can always print and mail a letter.) It's best to start now, well before spring migration and in time to give the operators the opportunity to make lighting changes.
"We are seeing great progress and thank the operators of the 700+ towers that have updated their lighting to help reduce mortality of birds," said Christine Sheppard of American Bird Conservancy's Bird Collisions Program. "But there are still tens of thousands of tall towers across the U.S. with outdated lights. We are asking all tower operators to make this cost-saving and life-saving switch to help save migratory birds."
You can access the Songbird Saver site here:
PROTECTING MIGRATORY BIRDS AND THE MBTA
Congress is currently considering actions which could undermine the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the protection of migratory birds. The House Energy Bill, H.R. 4239, would make it difficult, if not impossible, to protect birds from being trapped in oil pits, or electrocuted by power lines.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed the creation of an incidental take permitting system to reduce the loss of birds by applying best management practices, and mitigating for unavoidable losses. For example, the agency has been requiring oil and gas companies to cover open oil pits to prevent birds from falling in and drowning in oil.
This should be a non-partisan issue, and both Democrats and Republicans have raised objections to this proposal. You can support the birds and tell Congress to oppose drastic changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by accessing this letter-page from the American Bird Conservancy: