On 21 February, at Long Key State Park in the Florida Keys, Alan Moss saw what he was convinced was a Zenaida Dove. He returned the next morning and spent two and a half hours searching for the bird and ultimately photographed it. He relocated the dove on the lower half of Golden Orb Trail where it was foraging in relatively open areas close to where the trail opened up into a circular area bordered by mangroves.
Eventually the dove was seen by many observers through the end of the month, even though sometimes the site sometimes became a little over-crowded and the bird stayed back. Soon, orange flagging-tapes, used as trail-markers, were placed in the area, to help birders locate this rarity.
The Zenaida Dove resembles a Morning Dove, but with a shorter and slightly rounded tail, not pointed, and with white trailing edges to the secondaries. That last mark shows as a small white rectangular patch on the inner secondaries on a perched or standing bird.
Zenaida Doves are largely residents of the West Indies and Yucatán Peninsula. During Audubon's day, the species may have also been a resident in the Florida Keys, but nobody knows for sure. Today, the species is considered an accidental visitor, with only a few previous records for s. Florida (and one, possibly, for Georgia), mostly between fall and spring. Because the species is a strong flyer, this individual could have originated in either the Bahamas or Cuba.
You can see the eBird report and photo by Alan Moss here:
GREAT WHITE PELICAN IN FLORIDA
Since we're on the subject of rare birds in Florida, it's appropriate to mention one puzzling appearance. A Great White Pelican, a bird that is a resident of parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, was discovered at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the morning of Sunday 28 February. By 'leap day,' the 29th, curious crowds started forming.
Great White Pelican breeds from southeastern Europe through Asia and in Africa at shallow lakes and coastal swamps. Wintering locations for these pelicans originating in Europe are not exactly known, but wintering birds may occur in northeastern Africa through Iraq to north India.
It's hard to believe that this Ding Darling NWR bird was not an escape, but as of this writing no zoo has claimed the bird. It had no band. This pelican was associating with its similar-looking cousins, American White Pelicans. Great White Pelican is a long-lived bird, so if one escaped years ago, it may have just associated with American White Pelicans without being noticed until now.
Photos and more details can be found from the Santiva Chronicle:
What can be cuter than baby birds? Or, on the other hand, what can be more strange or reptilian? Regardless of your opinion, the latest book by Julie Zickefoose, Baby Birds (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) may be worthy of consideration.
This hefty volume (338 pages) is a mixture of art and natural history. Zickefoose provides plenty of each in more than 400 watercolor figures to show the development of 17 different species of wild birds. All but one nested on her home property in southern Ohio. Her artwork is accompanied by individual intriguing narratives, all about the lives of these nestlings. Clearly, she writes about them with authority.
She follows their day-by-day development, in both drawing and accompanying text, chronicling their growth. Certainly, there is material in there you never knew about, concerning Carolina Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, or Chimney Swift. As an artist and wildlife rehabilitator, Zickefoose is uniquely positioned to create such a fine work, and nothing like this has ever been attempted before. She has broken new ground.
The only disappointing thing about the book is the pencil-rendered script that accompanies much of the pieces of artwork. While capturing an authentic presence of the artist as scientist, the words are sometimes just too difficult to read.
No matter. We get a unique insider's view of the breeding biology, growth, and charm of these creatures. Yes, they are ultra-cute.
IBA NEWS: GREAT THICKET POSSIBILITY
Shrublands and young forests in the northeastern U.S. often have two fates: they are either cleared for development, or they grow into mature forests. The first option ultimately means a loss of habitat, a loss that cannot be reversed. The second option is beneficial for woodland-oriented birds and wildlife, but it has a downside in that there are both winners and losers in the process. Those species that depend on dynamic, short-lived shrubland and young forest habitats eventually get squeezed out as the forests mature into habitats that are no longer acceptable to them. They then become the losers.
Fortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that more permanently protected and managed shrubland habitat is needed to restore wildlife populations and return an ecological balance to the Northeast. To accomplish this, the USFWS has proposed establishing a Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge, in 10 separate focus areas in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York. Many of these landscapes are intended to secure habitat for the New England cottontail rabbit, however many early-successional bird species are also expected to benefit.
Not surprisingly, the 10 sites overlap or touch already-designated Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in these six states. Depending on the stage of vegetative growth in each site, benefits would accrue to such species as American Woodcock, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Prairie Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Brown Thrasher, and Eastern Towhee.
If the Great Thicket plan is approved, the USFWS could begin working with willing and interested landowners to acquire about 15,000 acres of land through conservation easements and fee-title acquisition. The Service stresses that it will work only with willing sellers, and that no owners will be forced to sell land for the new refuge unless they want to. Not surprisingly the land acquisition process could take decades to finalize.
You can read more details and access the proposal itself here, with the comment period extended to 3 April:
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:
ACCESS MATTERS: SILENCE AND CONSENT
Take another look at the notice just above on the proposed Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge. It's a fine proposal that will benefit some birds with particular shrubland and early-forest needs, but it will take many decades to develop.
At the same time that it announced the plans for this unique refuge, the USFWS announced that while this refuge must be managed specifically for wildlife, there would also be wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities available "whenever possible." This proviso, plus the note that the USFWS gives special consideration to wildlife observation, wildlife photography, fishing, hunting, environmental education and environmental interpretation, provides some hints into the agency's limitations in making access available at this new refuge -as well as at already existing refuges.
Fortunately, the "big six" wildlife-dependent activities mentioned above have special status at NWRs. (Contrast these, if you will, with other activities such as camping, off-road biking, horseback riding, or picnicking on refuges.) But even if you are interested in wildlife/bird watching or wildlife photography on a refuge, that activity relies on the Service's evaluation of the "feasibility" of such activities. And feasibility often means finances and personnel to facilitate access. It can also mean choosing between alternate options for access.
The maxim to consider here may be, "Qui tacet consentiret," or "Silence gives consent." If advocates of wildlife-dependent activities don't speak up, especially when public-land priorities are being established, it can be difficult to complain later about the decisions that have already been made. Let readers be vigilant!
THE FUTURE OF PUBLIC LANDS
Since we have touched upon our usual "access matters" story, perhaps a lateral shift to a public-lands issue would be appropriate. Public lands, of course, usually, but not always, provide just the kind of access that bird enthusiasts crave. This is true whether considering local urban parks - regular readers will remember our coverage in January of the Painted Bunting in Prospect Park, Brooklyn - or expanses of wild areas, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The issue of support for public space - for birding and other recreation - is going in both directions at the same time these days.
On the one hand, President Obama recently announced his support for full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in his FY17 budget request. The President's requested budget calls for $900 million in conservation and recreation projects, through a combination of discretionary ($475 million) and mandatory ($425 million) funding, and pursues permanent authorization in annual mandatory funding for LWCF beginning in FY18. Conservationists across the country were thrilled. The attitude is well represented in the blog by the National Wildlife Refuge Association, in response to the LWCF intent:
On the other hand, a Congressional assault against public lands continued last month, with hearings for a number of significant bills in the U.S. House, especially H.R. 3650 and H.R. 2316. The former would enable state and county governments to take possession of National Forests and manage them without regard to conservation and public-access laws. The latter would allow states to seize - and subsequently sell to private interests - millions of acres of National Forests. Unfortunately, these proposals are viewed by some as "reasonable answers and compromises" to the 41-day Malheur NWR seizure. This would be a tragic misreading of the threat, merely a "kinder and gentler" way to the same ends.
LEAD AND THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
Lead is highly toxic to both people and animals, and lead consumption by birds can be lethal. Last month, the European Commission announced that it would continue to allow lead's use in ammunition. The Commission had focused in the past on lead shot over wetlands, where a waterfowl-oriented ban is already supposed to have been in place for many years. (Fortunately, a lead-shot ban over water has been in effect in the U.S, since 1991 and in Canada since 1999.) In the UK, however, while lead shot has been banned at wetlands, as many as 70% of the ducks harvested in England still contain lead shot. On the other hand, several EU member states, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, have phased out the use of lead ammunition.
Across the EU there are frequent cases of lead poisoning in raptors. White-tailed Eagles, for example, are recorded every autumn with signs of serious lead poisoning. Not unlike Bald Eagles in North America, they regularly eat the carcasses of game species that still have lead shot or bullets in them. The consequences are deadly.
Responding to the EU Commission's announcement, Ariel Brunner, Head of Policy at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, said, "Alternatives to lead ammunition, such as steel shot and modified bullets, are readily available and there is no reason to delay banning lead in ammunition."
You can access more information on the EU decision here:
AMMO SHOULDN'T KILL TWICE
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., a parallel debate continues. In November, we reported on a proposal from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that would require hunters to use nontoxic shot on state Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in Minnesota's farmland zone. This is not a complete ban at WMAs in the region, but it could cover about 46% of the state's 1.3+ million acres of WMAs. If approved, the lead-shot ban will begin in 2018:
A decision is still pending, amid an onslaught of misleading opposition to the proposal. These objections are well addressed in an Op-ed by Carrol Henderson in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press:
PROPOSED CHANGE IN THE DUCK STAMP ART CONTEST
There's a possible new twist in the upcoming Federal Duck Stamp art contest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that a non-waterfowl species in the background of the new stamp be included in the stamp's design. Supporting arguments have been made that it would help celebrate this year's centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty, could present a new challenge to artists, and might emphasize that habitat secured through the stamp benefits species beyond waterfowl. Many stamp traditionalists are resisting the proposal, but the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp has offered a series of compelling arguments in support of the change:
Comments to the proposal in the Federal Register can be viewed here, and additional comments can be posted through 14 March:
WHOOPING CRANE SUSPECT FACES STIFFER CHARGES
Last month, we wrote of the case in East Texas where two Whooping Cranes were shot and the young man suspected of the activity was charged with a Class B Misdemeanor offense. These cranes were members of the experimental Louisiana flock which consisted of 44 birds:
Now, we understand that the case against the alleged shooter of the two Whooping Cranes has been re-filed under the Endangered Species Act, which increases the likelihood of larger penalties for the crime. It was previously thought that the case against Mr. Trey Frederick would be treated as a misdemeanor under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This initial penalty was widely considered an insufficient course of action.
The International Crane Foundation released a statement on the situation which read in part: "In recent years, shooting incidents have increased at an alarming rate. Whooping Cranes typically live 20-30 years in the wild and do not begin reproducing until 4 or 5 years of age. Therefore, the loss of every individual has a devastating impact on the future of this species."
More details here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: TAPES?
No, not old-fashioned audio-tapes with bird song, but rather engineering-survey tape, often used to flag construction sites or hiking trails. You will recall that the location for this month's rarity, a Zenaida Dove in Florida, was marked by orange flagging-tape as a courtesy to help birders locate the site and the dove.
Usually colored in day-glow orange or red, this tape is often sold as trail-marking ribbon or engineering-survey tape. But should using this tape for birding purposes be considered "littering"? Good question. While bright plastic tape is handy and effective, introducing more plastic into the environment is often not a good idea. With a little searching conscientious birdwatchers and hikers can find biodegradable tape. Made of non-woven cellulosic material made from wood pulp, such material lasts from three months to one year, should you forget to remove it. This material is at least better than standard plastic engineering-survey tape. Better yet, one can even use a pen or pencil to write messages on the biodegradable tapes to inform other birders, hikers, or campers of specific information.
In either case, when the need for any trail- or site-marking is over, such marking tape should be removed from the area. In any case, carrying a few yards of bright tape in your field pack is a good idea. It may come in handy in the event of the discovery of an interesting bird.
SNOW PACK IS UP!
No, this is not about skiing; it's about the California drought. Residents of drought-stricken California have been cutting back on water use, but have also fallen short of the 25% mandate set by Gov. Jerry Brown, according to figures released at the beginning of February.
At the same time, there is good news: at the start of last month, the water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack measured 130 percent of its historical average for this time of year. Although January was quite good in California, February was not. Still, California needs to see snowstorms almost each week for the next month to seriously ease the drought. Traditionally, by this time next month, the snowpack is at its deepest before melting and feeding rivers and streams. The snowpack provides nearly a third of the state's water supply during months when it melts and rushes through rivers and streams to fill reservoirs.
Cities and towns, agricultural areas and refuges, ricelands and suburbs all need the water. And the struggle over this valuable resource continues in California. Birds are often neglected in the process, and waterbirds such as waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, and others can also suffer greatly. Water-associated food for the birds - from fish and their eggs, to aquatic vegetationand rain-induced flowering plants - depend on a reliable supply of precipitation.
By this time next month, the snowpack depth will signal whether the threats from the drought have been removed or whether conditions are easing in the long-term - for humans and birds - after the state's driest four-year period on record.
A POSITIVE MONARCH REPORT
We end with a report that is not specifically bird-oriented, although one that has bird implications.
According to the Mexico National Commission of Protected National Areas, the monarch butterfly population in Mexico has increased 255 percent this season. At 150 million butterflies, the annual overwintering count of monarch butterflies released in late February shows an encouraging population rebound from last year's second lowest-ever count of 42 million butterflies, but still a decline of 78 percent from the population highs of the mid-1990s.
During their international migration, monarch butterflies breed along the way, and their northward journey is ultimately finished by their offspring. Dwindling amounts of milkweed habitat - vital as food for egg-laying monarchs- as well as erratic weather patterns, use of some pesticides, and illegal logging in Mexico have led to a serious decline in the monarch population.
"We are seeing the beginning of success," said Daniel Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Our task now is to continue building on that success." The United States is trying to replace about 7.5 million acres of milkweed - either by planting or by halting pesticide use, Ashe said. He said that areas of milkweed increased by about 250,000 acres last year.
Creating and sustaining this kind of habitat not only provides food for monarchs, it also supports other pollinators such as honey bees, homes for other important insects, and, yes, provides habitat and nesting material for grassland birds.
Indeed, there are multiple winners here.