In last month's Birding Community E-bulletin we mentioned in passing, a number of delicious May rarities passing through the outer reaches of Alaska, mainly in the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands. These are locations that are relatively inaccessible, even over a long weekend trip.
We neglected however to mention a rare waterfowl that was in Anchorage, Alaska: an adult male Falcated Duck found at Potter's Marsh on 3 May. Fortunately, for many observers, including birders passing through Anchorage on their way to other locations in Alaska, the Falcated Duck remained through May and even June!
Falcated Duck breeds in northeastern Asia, and winters from its southern breeding range to the northern parts of Southeast Asia. Falcated Ducks occur very rarely to casually in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. There have also been records in late fall through winter from southern British Colombia through California, primarily from Washington to Central California.
Curiously, the male at Potter Marsh, first reported by Bill Taylor, represents the first of its species to be found on the Alaskan mainland. Sometimes the duck was observed by the south end of the Potter Marsh boardwalk, sometimes by the south pullout, and at times consorting with American Wigeon. A summary of the discovery - with some nice photos - can be found here:
Who knows? Since the Falcated Duck has been there for two months, it may remain for longer, entertaining even more birder-tourists passing through Anchorage into the summer.
ADDENDUM: A very rare Red-legged Thrush was found on 26 June at South Point Park in Miami Beach. It remained through 30 June, observed by many birders and well photographed. It was the plumbeus subspecies, from the Bahamas. The few days it was on site were the longest this rarity has been observed in the U.S. For a day or two it even collected nesting material. Shane Runyon's eBird report shows a couple of photos of this special bird:
ACCESS MATTERS: UPGRADES ARE IMPORTANT
Since the Falcated Duck is our Rarity of the Month, it may be appropriate to stress some related access issues at a place like Potter Marsh.
This site, located at Mile 117 along the Seward Highway approximately 10 miles south of downtown Anchorage, is one of Anchorage's most popular wildlife viewing areas. It's part of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, under the jurisdiction of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (not the USFWS). A wooden boardwalk runs 1,550 feet from the parking area through the marsh.
The south end of the wheelchair-accessible boardwalk is now getting a much-needed upgrade. And there are plans to extend the old boardwalk, adding about 100 to 200 feet to the end of it, increasing the elevation to a viewing deck to make it a destination.
Recently there was funding approved to upgrade some of the pullouts on the south end of the marsh, particularly to get folks off the pavement to give them "a convenient and easy spot to get out and enjoy the marsh and watch the wildlife and the scenery," according to Joe Meehan, refuge manager, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
These are the very improvements that add access and make the area increasingly birder-friendly. Indeed, in the past, there were two old pullouts along the road, and simply stopping along the side of the road was neither safe nor legal.
Access improvements really matter, whether they are at parks, refuges, forests, or private areas, whether they are trails, boardwalks, modest parking areas, pullouts, blinds, or towers.
STATE OF THE BIRDS: CANADA
NABCI Canada, just released its 2019 State of Canada's Birds report under the leadership of Environment and Climate Change Canada, Bird Studies Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and Nature Canada. The report looks at how bird populations of 449 species in Canada including waterfowl, birds of prey, wetland birds, seabirds, forest birds, shorebirds, grassland birds, aerial insectivores, and other birds have changed since1970.
The sobering report highlights that Canada has lost 40% of its shorebird, 57% of grassland bird, and 59% of aerial insectivore populations. Habitat loss, unsustainable agricultural practices, climate change, and pollution are viewed as the most important causes of these declines. Since these threats affect birds throughout their life cycle, the need for strong international cooperation is emphasized. The report also points to positive progress as well: several species have benefited from investments in conservation by government, non-government, and industry organizations. For example, since 1970, geese have increased by 360% and ducks by 150%. And thanks to the banning of DDT, birds of prey populations have increased by 110%..
The NABCI team stresses that "these results represent both a call for conservation action and a testament to what we can achieve when we work together. Each of us can make the transformative changes outlined in this report to ensure a healthier Canada for both birds and people."
For the full report, see here:
HUDSONIAN GODWITS: CANADIAN WARNING
Also from Canada, we have a warning from the recent meeting of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The group assessed the status of 19 species, including the Hudsonian Godwit, and found that Hudsonian Godwits are "Threatened" and likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to the species' population decline.
The three sub-populations of Hudsonian Godwits nest in western Alaska, the Mackenzie River Delta in the Northwest Territories, and the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Manitoba and Ontario. Individuals from all these sub-populations undertake long-distance migrations to wintering areas in Argentina and Chile, and they make important late summer feeding stopovers at key wetland areas in Saskatchewan and along the west coast of James Bay in Ontario.
In a recent report by Dr. Marcel Gahbauer, it was noted that Hudsonian Godwits where they are monitored most effectively on their wintering range, could be suffering an overall 44% population decline. With a recent population estimate at about 41,000 adults, Hudsonian Godwits confront threats at all stages of their annual cycle. These include climate change, overgrazing of tundra habitat by Snow Geese in the Arctic, loss of wetland habitat at migration staging sites in the U.S. and South America, and disturbance of wintering habitat from human development and other activities. Indications are that Hudsonian Godwits will continue to decline if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to the population's decline.
TIP OF THE MONTH: TAKE A CHAIR!
Sometimes, just sometimes, having a chair in the field is a real plus. In this case, we are talking about a portable chair. Tossing a light and folding-type chair in the back of your car can really be a good idea - particularly in summer. If you may be staying in one place for a while - say, a rarity stake-out at a hummingbird feeding station, a prime spot for watching shorebirds, or checking out a busy seaside inlet for gulls, terns, and seabirds- a folding chair can do wonders. Why stand in place for hours when you can sit or just take breaks sitting? These days, the chairs are cheap, light, and - miracle-of-miracles - come with cup holders! It's just the thing to make a summer birding experience simply more comfortable.
IBA NEWS: DAUPHIN ISLAND OPPORTUNITY
Dauphin Island, off the coast of Alabama, is an Important Bird Area (IBA) that contains areas densely populated with residential properties (on the eastern end) as well as barrier beaches, dunes, and remnant maritime forests. The forest habitat is especially important for Neotropical migrants. Spring migratory passerine stopover can be dramatic, especially when "fallouts" - migrating birds suddenly descending to land in great numbers - occur. And in autumn, vegetated areas can sometimes teem with warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, gnatcatchers, wrens, kinglets, mimic thrushes, tanagers, and other species that often join together in mixed species flocks.
The major threat to migrating birds is continued development. Dauphin Island is experiencing unprecedented home building (with c.40 new home and commercial building permits issued since January). This trend is removing prime habitat for not only migrant birds, but also for resident birds including colonial nesting birds (e.g., egrets and herons).
While the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board (DIPBB), with its multiple partners, has secured protection of more than 160 acres of public parklands through a series of conservation easements, current pressures continue to move quickly.
One of the area's conservation partners is the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary (DIBS). Over the years, DIBS has raised over $1.3M for the protection of critical habitat.
There are approximately 40 undeveloped acres on the island which are crucial for sustaining migratory bird habitat. DIBS is presently targeting these properties for purchase, with a current focus on a specific four-piece project.
These four contiguous properties are in a residential area on a quiet dead-end street. To the south, the contiguous properties adjoin undeveloped dunes secured by the Property Owners Association (POA) and the POA-owned island golf course bordering the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, they have never been developed and are heavily vegetated with native plant species that provide vital habitat and food sources for migrant birds. Four contiguous lots are not a lot of property, yet, combined, they are now a rarity on Dauphin Island. These four lots would also be the most southerly lots within the DIBS portfolio of island properties. They have also been thoroughly surveyed with little or no invasive flora or faunal species found. If DIBS is able to secure these lots, the hope is to create bird watching opportunities for the birding public, and more importantly, to conserve prime stopover habitat for birds in this significant IBA.
The total cost for the four properties is estimated at $220,000, and DIBS has until the end of the month to raise the funds. You can find more details (and even contribute) here:
For a broad view of Dauphin Island as an IBA, see here:
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:
DUCK STAMP DEVELOPMENTS
Last month, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) met in Washington DC to decide, among other things, where Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF) dollars would be spent. The MBCF is where the annual funds collected through "Duck Stamps" are deposited.
The commission approved more than $15.1 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to secure 4,886 acres for five national wildlife refuges: Blackwater National Wildlife Refugein Maryland, $5,980,000; Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, $1,988,000; San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, $1,690,900; San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge in California, $3,415,000; and Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, in Washington, $2,092,690.
The largest investment, at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, will add over 2,600 acres of priority habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl, Black Rail, Saltmarsh Sparrow and other wetland-associated migratory birds.
Also, toward the end of the month, the brand-new Duck Stamp (officially called the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp) was unveiled for 2019-2020 at the Bass Pro Shops store in Springfield, Missouri. This latest stamp features a Wood Duck with a background decoy, painted by Scot Storm, a native of Freeport, Minnesota. (Storm also had his pair of flying Redheads grace the 2004-2005 Federal stamp.) Each stamp today cost $25 with 98% of the funds collected going to habitat acquisition.
For more details on the new stamp, see here:
U.S. HOUSE INCREASES FUNDING FOR BIRD CONSERVATION
Migratory birds and other wildlife could greatly benefit from new funding increases in the House Interior Appropriations bill that passed in late June.
This includes a $22-million increase for key bird conservation programs: Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act ($1 million), Migratory Bird Joint Ventures ($3 million), North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) ($8 million), State and Tribal Wildlife Grants ($6 million), and Invasive Species Monitoring and Control ($4 million).
The bill also continues essential State of the Birds Activities for Hawaiian birds that was proposed for elimination in the administration's budget at $3 million.
While the House of Representatives got very close to moving all of its 12 appropriations bills in June, it still remains months ahead of the Senate.