There were some rare and wonderful wintering birds across North America this January, including Pink-footed Goose in Longmont, Colorado; Barnacle Geese in Suffolk County, New York, Frederick County, Maryland, and very surprisingly, again, in Longmont, Colorado; Tundra Bean-Goose in Benton County, Oregon; Rufous-backed Robinin in Uvalde County, Texas; White-throated Thrush in Madera Canyon, Arizona; Fieldfare in Salmon Arm, British Columbia; Dusky Thrush in Nanaimo, British Columbia; Red-flanked Bluetail in Los Angeles County, California; and Golden-crowned Warbler in Hidalgo County, Texas.
But our personal favorite "rarity of the month" was the male Brambling that appeared at a feeder at Callaway, Minnesota.
It appeared at a private residence feeder and was reported as early as 1 January, when it was observed for barely half a minute! Then it showed up again on 25 January. Fortunately, there was no need for birding visitors to contact the feeder host, Beau Shroyer, about access permission, because starting on 25 January, the Brambling began regularly visiting his front yard feeders. The bird could be seen on the ground, often in the company of American Goldfinches and Purple Finches, and was even visible from the inside of a warm parked car. This was especially appreciated because the air temperature was 30 degrees below zero!
The Brambling stayed through the end of the month, and details can be found in The Bemidji Pioneer:
The Brambling, a Eurasian finch that in the breeding season is found throughout the forests of northern Europe and Asia and wintering in southern Europe, north Africa, north India, northern Pakistan, China, and Japan, is now seen almost annually in Alaska. But it is much rarer farther south in Canada and anywhere in the northern U.S. Bramblings are increasingly regular in the Pacific Northwest, however. Almost each winter, birders can count on at least one being found somewhere in that region, but the species remains rare enough to typically draw the attention of active birders. (e.g., in the winter of 2012-2013 at least three Bramblings were found in British Columbia and Washington). There have also been other odd records in recent years, for example from Ohio and Arkansas in January 2016. Still, it's astounding that this bird probably reached North America via northern Asia. Also, this recent Brambling in Minnesota is only the eighth Brambling ever recorded in the state, and only the fourth one to stick around for any longer than a day.
This story could easily have fulfilled our requirements for our regular "Access Matters" feature, usually located toward the bottom of the E-bulletin, but another important issue "bumped" the story.
PORTLAND'S GREAT BLACK HAWK
Readers will no doubt remember last month's astounding rarity - a Great Black Hawk, probably from Central America that ultimately appeared in Maine. It was photographed on 29 October in the eastern portion of Portland, Maine, and then ultimately became regular for hundreds of observers to observe at the city's Deering Oaks Park starting on 28 November. See here for a recap of our story last month:
Alas however, when the local temperature dropped to nine degrees on 20 January, the celebrity raptor was picked up in a bad state by intrepid volunteer rehabilitators at 9 a.m. Despite treacherous road conditions, teams of transporters helped get the bird safely to Avian Haven at Freedom, Maine. This normal hour and a half-long trip took four hours! The hawk arrived safely, however, and, by 5 p.m. was settled into an intensive animal care unit.
The Great Black Hawk was immediately treated for frostbite to its legs and toes. Diagnostic testing that included infrared thermology and Doppler ultrasound, revealed that there was no circulation at all in the bird's feet or lower legs. Based on the condition of the hawk's feet, initial frostbite damage probably occurred well before the bird was found on the ground in Deering Oaks. It was likely that at that point the hawk's frozen feet, no doubt coupled with pain that it was no longer able to perch.
The skilled team treating the bird at Avian Haven had hoped that the frostbite damage would be minor and the bird might eventually be releasable. After the extent of the damage became obvious however, the possibility of using prosthetics and captive placement and rejected.
Sadly, euthanasia became the only viable option available.
Doug Hitchcox, staff naturalist with Maine Audubon and who spent many hours in the park once the rare raptor arrived, helping to manage crowds and teach people about the exotic visitor, said that from the start he suspected that the hawk was unlikely to survive very long. He tried to be "brutally honest with people in the park that we didn't expect it to survive the whole winter." Nonetheless, the Great Black Hawk seemed to be doing well until the frostbite set in, and there seemed no reason to intervene on its behalf.
You can read more here, from the Portland Press Herald:
TIP OF THE MONTH: TIME FOR THE GBBC
It's time again to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an event that will run from 15 -18 February. The GBBC has evolved into one of the most popular birding events in the world. Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, and joined by Bird Studies Canada, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data about wild birds, and to also display results in near real-time. Today, over 160,000 people worldwide participate in this four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds around the world.
For at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count - the lengthy Presidents' Day weekend - just tally the numbers and the kinds of birds seen: any location, anywhere in the world, for as long as you wish.
Last year, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in more than 100 countries counted over 6,400 species of birds on more than 180,000 checklists. The process involves three steps:
- If you already created an account for the GBBC in the past, or if you're already registered with eBird or another Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you can use your existing user name and password. Otherwise, create a free GBBC account.
- Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. Submit a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you count at a different time of day. Estimate the number of individuals of each species you see during your count period.
- Enter your results on the GBBC website by clicking the "Submit Observations" tab on the home page. You may also download the free eBird Mobile app to enter data on a mobile device. If you already participate in the eBird citizen-science project, please use eBird to submit your sightings during the GBBC. Your checklists will count toward the GBBC.
For more information, be sure to refer to the official Great Backyard Bird Count website here:
BIRD-SAFE BUILDINGS ACT REINTRODUCED
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), along with 15 other co-sponsors, reintroduced the Bird-Safe Buildings Act, H.R. 919 on 30 January 2019, where it was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. This bipartisan proposal is designed to reduce bird mortality by calling for federal buildings to incorporate bird-safe building materials, design features, and lighting.
As many as a billion birds a year die in collisions with buildings in North America alone. And a 2014 study found that White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Ovenbird, and Song Sparrow were among the species most commonly killed by these collisions with buildings. The study also reported that several species of national conservation concern seem to be especially vulnerable to collisions. Affected species include Wood Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Canada Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, and Painted Bunting.
You can take action and ask your members of Congress to support this bill here:
BOOK NOTES: GUIDE TO ATLASING
There is now a new resource available on how to take a breeding bird atlas project from start to finish. This essential publication, The North American Ornithological Atlas Committee Handbook, is a 147-page in-depth resource for anyone in North America who wants to engage in a breeding bird atlas, or who is curious about how an atlas is done. Yes, the subtitle tells all: A guide for managers on the planning and implementation of a breeding bird atlas project.
Like a breeding bird atlas itself, The North American Ornithological Atlas Committee Handbook was a cooperative endeavor taking many years to finish. The handbook was written and edited by Gregor Beck, Andrew Couturier, Charles Francis, and Seabrooke Leckie. The book was based on input from other members of NORAC as well as from the wider bird-atlas community. The book's principal recommendations have been endorsed by NORAC.
The guide was published by Bird Studies Canada, along with financial support provided by the Government of Canada.
A breeding bird atlas maps the distribution of breeding bird species across a specific geographic area (e.g., a state, province, or region). An atlas project is a complex, cooperative, and multi-year undertaking. It involves everything from securing project funding, identifying suitable sampling strategies for collecting data, training and managing volunteers, analyzing large amounts of data, creating maps, publishing results, and much more. In this new handbook, atlas organizers will find detailed information to guide them through every step of the atlas process. Atlas projects are usually based on five years of field work, and then repeated in the same region at regular intervals (e.g., every 20 years), so atlas results are able to track changes over time. And because they are volunteer-driven, atlases provide meaningful opportunities to get more people engaged in nature appreciation, Citizen Science, and conservation. Large scale atlases make them effective ways to track ecosystem health, and the results have important applications for wildlife management and conservation. For example, atlas results can be used to inform conservation policy, species recovery, habitat management, stewardship, and more.
You can learn more about breeding bird atlases by simply downloading your free copy of the handbook from here:
ACCESS MATTERS: REDWOOD RESERVE TO OPEN
For nearly 150 years, the Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve was privately owned by the Richardson family, which managed the 8,000-acre Richardson Ranch in California. Herbert Archer Richardson originally bought the property in the 1870s, and it subsequently passed through the generations.
The reserve is the largest old-growth redwood forest in private hands, and it hosts the oldest known redwood south of Mendocino County. The so-called McAlpin Tree is believed to be 1,640 years old, and the diameter of its trunk is as wide as a two-lane street.
Once Harold Richardson, the family's patriarch, passed away in 2016, the tax on the land proved to be too much for his heirs. After much negotiation, the heirs came to a deal with Save the Redwoods League last June. This nonprofit organization has protected over 200,000 acres and created 66 redwood parks since its launch in 1918.
The League paid $9.6 million for the forest, most of it raised through donations, and it also returned 870 acres of coastal land to the Richardsons. (A separate member of the family had sold the land to the organization in 2010.) The Richardsons will also be allowed to continue their timber business on the 8,000 acres of forest surrounding the new reserve.
The reserve, which the Save the Redwoods League will operate itself rather than turn over to either state or the federal government, will cover 730 acres of pristine forest, roughly 30 percent more land than the John Muir National Monument and, it contains 47 percent more old-growth redwoods than that National Monument.
In addition to stunning redwoods and sequoias, the Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve is also home to many special birds, including the rare Northern Spotted Owl and the imperiled Marbled Murrelet - a seabird species that nests on large boughs high in the canopy of redwood trees.
We may have to wait a few years, possibly until 2021 - to visit this new reserve until The Save the Redwoods League has time to develop a public access plan and establish appropriate hiking trails within the forest.
Put it on your calendar, however, because it should be worth the wait!
FINALE: BIRD SONG OPERA
Hopefully we are at the end of the Great Governmental Shutdown, so we wanted to end this Birding Community E-bulletin with something upbeat and different. We recently stumbled across a wonderful bird-sound collection, produced by ShakeUp - a center for innovative music and sound design for film, advertisements, events, and interactive applications. It is based in Berlin. See here for more:
This particular ShakeUp Music from a little over a year ago is a recomposed Mozart's Magic Flute combined into an audiovisual bird song aria. It deserves a thoughtful listen. Do enjoy:
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