In late April and May, Fork-tailed Flycatchers from South America started appearing, mostly in Florida and South Carolina. By June, these handsome birds were also being seen elsewhere in the East. These locations included Orange County, Florida; Bécancour County, Quebec; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Cape May, New Jersey.
The Quebec bird was only a one-day visitor, but the Cape May bird was present for parts of three days, and the Florida and Virginia birds were the most cooperative of all.
The Orange County Fork-tailed Flycatcher actually appeared in the last days of May, along the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive for the St. Johns River Water Management District where it remained through the end of the month. Starting on 15 June, the Virginia Beach bird was at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where it was usually seen on the wires along the refuge entrance road near the Visitor Center, although it was also observed from the Boardwalk Trail and in the sand-dune area between the entrance road and the ocean. This cooperative individual also remained through the end of the month. The behavior of these two Fork-tailed Flycatchers was a bit surprising in that this species is notorious for only staying one or two days in any one location when it usually appears in North America.
This species, widespread throughout the Neotropics, has been recorded north of Mexico well over 130 times. It has been hypothesized that many of these vagrants which come from the southern population of Fork-tailed Flycatchers centered in Brazil and Argentina, migrate northward during the austral winter and "overshoot" their intended destination and show up as far north as the U.S. anytime from May to November, but most often in September and October.
Most of the U.S. records for this species have occurred along the Atlantic seaboard, with a notable concentration between Delaware Bay and southern Maine. Recently however, there have been multiple observations in Texas, possibly suggesting a source from the range of the generally sedentary southern Mexican and Central American population of this distinctive species.
SUCCESS FOR THE ARANSAS-WOOD BUFFALO WHOOPERS
The remote muskeg of the taiga in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, and its surrounding environs have long been the last holdout for nesting Whooping Cranes on the continent. This wild population, discovered in 1954 by Robert Porter Allen, is the population that migrates annually to the area of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. All other experimental Whooping Crane populations have derived - one way or another - from the eggs of birds from this Canadian breeding population.
This year, in a report issued by Mike Keizer, External Manager at the Wood Buffalo National Park, a record number of Whooping Cranes were found in the Park during the recent 2017 nesting survey run by Parks Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada. This season's survey found a record 98 nests, an increase of 16 over the previous record of 82 nests set in 2014. Another aerial survey will be run next month to determine the number of fledged colts, as the young cranes are called. This is exciting news and important information for crane fans everywhere.
For updates on the wild Whoopers and the Wood Buffalo National Park breeding season, go here:
ACCESS MATTERS: BIRDING BY SUBWAY
Access in birding terms means getting the opportunity to see, photograph, and simply enjoy birds wherever they occur. In some cases, this means making a contact, getting the right permission, having the right pass, or getting the proper door opened. For many birders, access may mean a drive to your favorite birding location. For others, it may be a walk to a local park, and for still others it's a bicycle ride around a nearby pond, a loop through a refuge tour-drive, or a visit to a state park just down the road.
But to some birders, access includes a rapid transit bus or train ride. To those living or visiting New York City, a birding trip includes the opportunity to take the subway to a birding spot. It might be to gain access to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, VanCortlandt Park, Central Park, or the New York Botanical Garden. The Big Apple is special in having some very fine urban birding, and many of the areas are fully accessible by subway or bus.
Now, thanks to NYC Audubon's downloadable "Birding by Subway" brochure, it possible to get help reaching some of these choice birding spots. For more information see:
Birders can also use a "Birding by Subway" interactive map by clicking on more than 25 birding spots marked with red labels on the map, entering your starting address, and then getting directions. Try it out here:
One can also choose to get biking, driving, or walking directions to these spots. But by taking the subway, you never have to worry about where to park the car!
TIP OF THE MONTH: NEW STAMP
The new 2017-2018 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, also known as the Duck Stamp, was released late last month. While waterfowl hunters, 16 years of age or older are required to purchase stamps in order to hunt migratory waterfowl, anyone can contribute to conservation by buying a Duck Stamp. Each stamp costs $25. Remember, a current Federal Duck Stamp is also a free annual pass (until next July) into any National Wildlife Refuge that charges an entry fee, so it's a win-win purchase.
For example, if you are going to Forsythe NWR (NJ), Aransas NWR (TX), Bombay Hook NWR (DE), Santa Ana NWR (TX), Bosque del Apache NWR (NM), Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually NWR (WA), Sacramento NWR (CA), Arthur R. Marshall NWR, Blackwater NWR (MD), Okefenokee (GA), Parker River NWR (MA), or any other refuge that charges admission, there is no need to pay an entry fee if you have a new Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp.
The money from the sale of Duck Stamps goes to conserve wetland, bottomland, and grassland habitats for the National Wildlife Refuge System and obviously benefits waterfowl as well as other birds and wildlife species. Almost all (c. 98%) of the money collected from the stamp goes to habitat acquisition. In the past, investments of stamp dollars have gone into securing habitat at 253 different National Wildlife Refuges and have helped preserve about three million additional acres in the smaller Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs). Duck Stamps are valid from July to July of the following year.
James Hautman, a skilled wildlife artist from Chaska, Minnesota, had his stunning painting of three flying Canada Geese chosen in a contest last September as the artwork that is on this new stamp. It looks spectacular!
Buying a Duck Stamp remains one of the easiest ways to support wetland and grassland conservation in this country. The program remains one of the most successful conservation tools ever created to protect habitat for birds and other wildlife. Check here for more information:
Finally, with the unveiling of the new stamp last month, the Department of the Interior released a listing of five cool and interesting facts about the Duck Stamp:
PROPOSED FCC RULE CHANGE PRESENTS A THREAT
A proposed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule would exempt construction of communication towers from our nation's environmental laws. Currently, the birds benefit from existing lighting guidelines, but the rule change could have a negative impact on birds, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and possibly other bedrock environmental laws.
Millions of birds are directly harmed by colliding with towers each year, and other species avoid tall structures such as towers because they serve as perches for predators. The FCC has treated communication towers as subject to NEPA for the last 43 years. As a result, the current protocols for environmental analysis are used to protect at-risk species whenever new towers are built. One important example is the need for appropriate siting of towers in the habitat of Greater Sage-Grouse. Sage-grouse are among the species that avoid tall structures in their habitat and accordingly lose the use of sagebrush habitat if there are towers present. (See the next story on other problems confronting sage-grouse.)
Furthermore, exempting towers from environmental review would have other negative impacts. "Without NEPA, the public loses its ability to comment on proposed tower locations, or to ask that the environmental risks those towers pose to migratory birds or species of conservation concern be minimized," said Steve Holmer, American Bird Conservancy's Vice President of Policy.
The current concern extends to changing recently adopted lighting guidelines that help reduce the number of birds killed at towers - an estimated 7 million birds per year. New lighting standards can reduce collisions by as much as 70 percent while also lowering energy costs. "We appreciate that hundreds of tower operators have already adopted the new standards, and urge the operators of the remaining towers to change their lights to save birds and to save energy," added Holmer. Basically, it would not be wise to step back from progress already made.
REVISITING THE SAGE-GROUSE APPROACH
In early June, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3353 initiating the review of sage-grouse conservation plans meant to keep the sage-grouse off the Endangered Species list. The order establishes a Department of the Interior interagency team to evaluate, within 60 days, whether federal plans are complementary to state plans and compatible with recent administrative orders on energy independence.
Secretary Zinke said that one goal was to ensure that "innovative ideas" from the states are considered to allow flexibility. These might include setting population target goals, establishing captive breeding programs, improving predator control and monitoring techniques, and curbing West Nile virus, according to the Secretary.
Many of these suggested tools are already available to the states, but virtually all bird conservationists agree that these measures cannot stand in the place of managing habitat for a healthy ecosystem that benefits all sagebrush-dependent species
"The work to benefit sage-grouse over the last five years has been the greatest landscape-scale conservation effort undertaken in modern times, which is why this order to review the plans seems to be a solution seeking a problem," said Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The decision not to list the bird was predicated on federal and state plans being implemented simultaneously, without interference, and in combination with ongoing conservation efforts on private lands. Any amendments to the plans before they've been fully implemented would impede real conservation results, threatening not only the bird but also certainty for stakeholders like sportsmen, ranchers, and industry."
While critics of the ongoing plans have claimed that they significantly restrict mining and energy development, a report released by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers on 13 June indicated that there was very little overlap between sage-grouse priority habitat areas and areas with the highest potential for energy development. The research, conducted by Western EcoSystem Technology Inc., found that 79 percent of the medium-to-high potential energy areas, for both traditional and renewable resources, fell outside of these core areas. Only 4 percent of existing energy leases overlap with sage-grouse priority areas. The findings strongly suggest that most sage-grouse conservation and energy development can actually co-exist.
For more information, see here:
IBA NEWS: RECOGNITION AT FORT HOOD
Fort Hood is an Important Bird Area (IBA) of global significance in central Texas, particularly because of the presence of breeding Black-capped Vireos and Golden-cheeked Warblers. On 7 June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized the fort as this year's recipient of the Military Conservation Partner Award for its continuing work to protect the two species. This award is presented each year "to a military installation that has made significant natural resource conservation achievements through cooperative work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state and local government and other organizations."
Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, southwest regional director, USFWS, presented the award to Fort Hood Garrison Commander Col. Todd Fox, on behalf of the Service to recognize the post's efforts with conservation and environmental stewardship.
Dr. Tuggle said that "Fort Hood serves as an outstanding example of the many conservation contributions that military installations make across the country," and added that the Army went out on a limb to help the populations of the Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler while making sure soldiers could train in all appropriate areas.
Col. Fox said that recognition of the hard work done at Fort Hood was appreciated, but it was not done alone. "It goes back to partnerships," he said. "We found a way to work together."
"We're here to acknowledge the fact that, because of the commitment that Fort Hood is making, we have better populations of Black-capped Vireos and Golden-cheeked Warblers," Tuggle said.
The oak/juniper woodlands and savannahs at Ft. Hood are managed in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, with an estimated 4,500 breeding pairs of Golden-cheeked Warblers and at least 5,700 pairs of Black-capped Vireos occupying territories. This is the largest breeding population of both species under one management authority.
Now, after 30 years on the federally Endangered Species list, the Black-capped Vireo is facing a potential de-listing because of its population growth, thanks in large part to the wok at Fort Hood.
Here's an NBC-TV local affiliate (KCEN - Channel 6) report on the situation:
For more information on Fort Hood as an IBA in Texas:
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:
Each month in the E-bulletin we try to highlight some bipartisan or hopeful legislative information, and this month is no exception.
On 23 June, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Saving America's Pollinators Act of 2017 (H.R. 3040), directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend registration of a toxic group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or "neonics." Originally introduced in the 1990s, these pesticides were originally seen as a wonderful alternative to DDT. Neonicotinoid insecticides quickly became top sellers in global pesticide markets to such an extent that it is now difficult to find pest control commodities that do not contain one or several of the neonicotinoid insecticides. Unfortunately, this "miracle alternative" to older deadly pesticides was too good to be true.
Now neonics, the most commonly used insecticides on Earth, are understood to be deadly to birds, bees, and aquatic life. One seed coated with these insecticides is enough to kill a songbird. A coalition of conservation organizations, beekeepers, scientists, and business leaders, has requested the EPA to suspend the four most toxic neonics - imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran - until a comprehensive study of their effects on wildlife and humans is completed.
The Conyers/Blumenauer bill has been presented before, at least since 2013, with no fewer than 70 co-sponsors each previous time. You can find more details here from the American Bird Conservancy:
CHAN ROBBINS MEMORIAL AND FUND
In the April issue of the Birding Community E-bulletin, we ran an obituary for the great Chandler S. Robbins (1918 - 2017):
A "Celebration of Life" in Chan's honor was held on 23 June at Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland. About 160 friends and family attended this joyous and humbling occasion. The talks and other elements of the gathering were videotaped and should soon be posted online. The research center at Patuxent is dedicating a section of its website to Chan Robbins:
And at the same time, there will also be a fund established in Chan's memory to foster environmental education and his lifelong love of birds. The fund will be held and managed by the Friends of Patuxent.
This announcement is unlike something we usually do since we regularly turn down requests to promote funding efforts, no matter how virtuous or noble, but, in this instance, we are making an exception.
This endowment, requested by Chan's family, will be used to further the appreciation and conservation of birds and their habitats everywhere. An initial project of this effort will be to develop an interpretive sign at the National Wildlife Visitor Center highlighting Chan's work and the research he inspired related to identifying, monitoring, and studying birds and their habitats. Other possible uses of endowment funds are expected to include:
* Youth programs related to bird appreciation
* Continuing adult education such as a distinguished speaker series
* Research support
* Community outreach
Contributions may be made to -
Friends of Patuxent (for the Chandler S. Robbins Memorial Endowment)
10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop
Laurel, MD 20708
If Chan Robbins and his work, from his initiation of the Breeding Bird Survey, to banding, to studies on forest fragmentation, to his co-authored pioneering "Golden Guide," to much more, has influenced your own bird study, we encourage you to consider contributing.