On the morning of New Year's Day, Bill Lisowsky found a Sinaloa Wren along the de Anza Trail in Tumacacori, Santa Cruz County, Arizona. The wren was located south of Santa Gurtrudis Lane on the trail just past where the trail begins to parallel the Santa Cruz River. It was subsequently found a few hundred yards farther south along both sides of the river. This is not far from where one or more Rufous-backed Robins have been present since the end of October in an area where many birders were regularly visiting.
The Sinaloa Wren is an endemic species from western Mexico, and over the decades it has been found nesting multiple times as close as 35-60 miles from the Arizona/Mexico border. There is actually an old, but unverified report of this species in Arizona dating back to June 1989. Sinaloa Wren was not positively identified in the U.S. until August 2008 when one was found at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Santa Cruz County, Arizona. Apparently, that individual remained in that area for more than a year.
At least two other Sinaloa Wrens have been seen in Arizona, one in Huachuca Canyon and the other along the Santa Cruz River, near Tubac. These locations have all been within about 23 miles of the Mexican border. The Huachuca Canyon individual was presumably rediscovered in Sep 2013-May 2014, and Sep 2014-May 2015. A similar pattern exists for the Tubac bird (i.e., Sep 2013-Apr 2014 and Sep 2014-May 2015).
We only mention this in some detail because some rarities reappear at the same general location for multiple years. Often these appearances may involve the same individuals lingering for multiple years. Accordingly, some birders wondered whether de Anza Trail wren is the same as the Tubac bird, even though the observation gap is two and a half years.
The answer is: "It could be!" The Sinaloa Wren discovered in Tubac was about 2.5 - 2.8 miles, as the wren flies, from last month's rarity, located south of Santa Gertudis Lane. Where, exactly, this individual might have stayed during the summers is also an interesting question, but it might just have spent the winter along the Santa Cruz River in the general area, since at least 2013.
In any case, this Sinaola Wren, which was not always easy to find, remained on site for all of January.
IBA NEWS: FOUR WHSRN ANNIVERSARIES
In December, four bird-rich areas reached exciting milestones: a quarter-century as sites in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). Two are in Mexico, one is in Argentina, and one is in the U.S. All four are also ranked as Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in their respective countries. The overlap is no accident, especially since shorebirds are usually long-range migrants that depend on a network of wetland sites to thrive.
The Marismas Nacionales is one of the sites in Mexico. Historic counts at this site located on Mexico's west coast have hosted up to 206,000 individual shorebirds, with American Avocet accounting for nearly 61,000 individuals:
The Alto Golfo de California is another Mexican site, this one in the northwest coast and one that supports more than 160,000 shorebirds annually. It turns out that Delaware Bay isn't the only place where Red Knots sync their migration with the spawning events of an aquatic species. In the Alto Golfo de California, the race roselaari of the Red Knot relies on the eggs of Grunion, a fish known locally as pejerrey:
The Reserva Costa Atlántica de Tierra del Fuego may be in far-off Argentina, but it offers protection for a number of North American shorebirds including such long-distance migrants as Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, and White-rumped Sandpiper:
And Bolivar Flats on the upper Texas coast has long been a well-known site for a myriad of nesting, migrating, and wintering shorebirds, including American Oystercatcher, American Golden-Plover, Snowy Plover, and Western Sandpiper:
These quarter-century milestones only accentuate the importance of the joint coverage shared by these WHSRN and IBA sites.
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:
Cannabis used to be a major bird food, with at least one hemp variety going back to the beginning of the 20th century. But the conflation of "psychoactive hemp" with "industrial hemp" has complicated things. Now industrial hemp is starting to be used in cloth, paper, biodegradable containers, construction, insulation, health food, and fuel.
In early January, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture sponsored a "Hemp Forum" information session on their state-sponsored pilot program for industrial hemp production. Over 80 people attended the session, including about 30 farmers with permits to grow hemp in a federal pilot program.
The meeting included a presentation by Carrol Henderson of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on the significant and increasing importance of the bird-feeding industry and the historic role of hemp in birdseed. Also presenting information at the meeting about the potential importance of industrial hemp as wild bird food was Dave Netten, president of the All-Seasons Wild Bird Stores in Minnesota, and president of the Wild Bird Feeding Industry.
As a consequence of these moves, Canadian hemp seed growers have provided 12 different strains of industrial hemp to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, samples that could be tested for their potential as a revived wild bird seed.
TIP OF THE MONTH: FEEDERS
Since we are on the subject of feeding birds, it is good to recognize that February is "National bird-feeding month." This is an ideal time to review your feeder-activities and stewardship. It's a good time to enjoy the "neighborliness" of bird feeders and the opportunity to bring birds closer to us and our homes. Feeders are also a perfect way to encourage newcomers to bird watching with the chance to get intimate looks at birds in familiar surroundings.
If you've had a feeding station up for the winter, now is a very a good time to remember to clean the units, especially the tube-feeders, and clean the area on the ground below the larger feeders.
Move some of the feeders around. Replace any particularly old and broken feeder. Think about initiating a peace treaty with the squirrels... or just surrender.
HANDS-ON BIRD SCIENCE AT HOG ISLAND
The educational sessions at the historic Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine are engaging experiences, and a new class on "Hands-on Bird Science" this year (10-15 June) is particularly attractive and important.
This session will provide hands-on experience in the many facets of bird science, especially within the context of climate change and how birds are responding to these challenges. Participants will work side-by side with scientists and experts from around the country in learning how to mist-net and band songbirds, prepare museum-quality specimens, record bird song on a 330-acre island, as well as learning how to census locally breeding songbirds.
BOOK NOTES: TECHNOLOGY AND ANIMAL MOVEMENTS
The application of technological devices including satellite transmitters, GPS, infrared sensing devices, and drones are among the many tools now available to scientists interested in tracking the movements of animals over vast distances in the air, in the water, and on land.
In a handsome and succinct new volume, Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti (W.W. Norton, 2017), readers are introduced to some of the extraordinary migrations and other movements that animals undertake, often on an annual basis. Using full page, four color landscape maps with accompanying facing-page text, the authors tell the story and graphically depict the movements of animals ranging from ants, otters, birds, and snakes to turtles, whales, sharks, and numerous land mammals.
This book is certain to offer readers new insights into how technology is unlocking many secrets about animal behavior that were previously unknown, or at best were only suspected. You won't be disappointed if you peruse this fascinating account, and you'll certainly be entertained.
DISTURBING MBTA REINTERPRETATION
On the Friday before Christmas, the Department of the Interior released a memo reinterpreting the enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA) as "covering only the intentional taking of a bird." In other words, this interpretation claims that "incidental take" is not covered under the Act. This means that the US Fish and Wildlife Service would not have jurisdiction to prosecute individuals or entities (such as energy companies or other developers) that "take" migratory birds as part of their operations.
The Service indicated as recently as last year that the "federal government has long maintained that the MBTA take prohibitions cover both direct and unintentional killing and taking of birds without authorization." Also last year, in January, Interior's then-Solicitor Hilary Tompkins concluded that the MBTA covered incidental as well as intentional takings. She identified the law as a "strict liability statute" in felony cases, meaning one's state of mind did not matter.
In November, Tompkins explained that Federal officials had over time investigated "hundreds of activities or hazards that kill birds in the incidental-take context, including oil pits, power-line electrocutions, contaminated waste pools, pesticide application, [and] oil spills."
As written, the law prohibits the unauthorized taking of more than 800 species of migratory birds. But in the words of Bryan Watts of the Center for Conservation Biology, "No one wants to prosecute every homeowner who has had a bird fly into a window or every driver who has hit a bird flying across the road, and no prosecutions of this type have been brought forth. However, situations where a party knowingly places large numbers of birds at risk of being killed should be avoided... and it is in the public's interest to have legal deterrents to these activities."
Within a few weeks of the Interior decision, 17 former conservation professionals who have served the Department of the Interior, from 1971 to 2017 as Deputy Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Directors, and Migratory Bird Conservation Chiefs under Republican and Democratic Presidents, sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, objecting to the "new, contrived legal standard that creates a huge loophole in the MBTA, allowing companies to engage in activities that routinely kill migratory birds so long as they were not intending that their operations would 'render an animal subject to human control.'" Their letter can be found here:
In addition, Paul Schmidt, former Chief, Migratory Bird Management (1993-99) and former Assistant Director Migratory Birds (2003-11) explained the objections of the signatories in a revealing interview on Living on Earth, Public Radio International's popular show:
This administration's new interpretation of the MBTA is predicted to spark future battles over the application of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, ironically at a time when there should be a celebration over the centennial of its Congressional passage and signing.
SANTA ANA NWR WALL ISSUE CONTINUES
The issue of the boarder wall proposed to go through Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge continues to be hotly contested. We have reported on this story multiple times, including:
and January 2018
On the last Saturday in January, in a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the NWR, there was a protest rally held on property immediately next to Santa Ana NWR. Dozens of organizations sponsored the rally, including Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, Frontera Audubon, Lower Rio Grande Sierra Club, and Humane Borders. More than 600 people participated, and speakers included local Congressman Filemon Vela Jr. (D-34). Geoffrey Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, emphasized the devastating effects the wall would have on the refuge and other nearby sensitive areas: "This refuge is one of the places that most needs to be protected and preserved, not bisected by a wall that's taller than the wall of China. It makes absolutely no sense."
For an article on the event from the San Antonio Express-News, including informative photos and a video, see here:
Other bird-filled refuges have been put in jeopardy recently, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge which is now open to oil drilling. We covered that subject in last month's issue:
But we also mentioned in that coverage that "the next shoe to drop" in the assault on Alaska refuges could be the construction of a much-contested road through a federally designated Wilderness Area (and an IBA) at Izembek NWR, Unfortunately, we were right.
On 22 January, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke approved a land-transfer deal to allow a road about 11 miles in length to be built through Izembek. The refuge, of course, is particularly important for waterfowl, especially Emperor Geese, Steller's Eiders, and "Pacific Black" Brant. Under the transfer-deal, about 500 acres would be taken from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and given to the community of King Cove, and the same amount, plus one acre, would be transferred from the Alaska Native authority to the refuge. (A previously rejected offer, made in 2013, had been for over 56,000 acres in exchange for the road right-of-way.) Regardless, this land swap is inconsistent with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, runs contrary to official Wilderness designation, and contradicts the Department of the Interior's own very involved findings that such a swap is not in the public interest. The recent decision will likely be challenged in federal court.
More details here, from The Hill: