Some individual rarities return again and again to favored seasonal locations. This often involves recurring wintering individuals. At least we often assume they are the same individuals!
On 16 December 2013, a very rare Redwing (a Eurasian thrush) was photographed in a densely-housed residential neighborhood in Victoria, British Columbia. However, it wasn't found again that winter.
Then, on 19 December 2015, the day of the Victoria Christmas Bird Count, a Redwing was again found in the same neighborhood! More to the point, it was probably the same bird. This story can be found here:
If you are unaware, the Redwing is a real rarity anywhere in North America, and one that is occasionally discovered on either side of the continent. In the West, there are records from Alaska and Washington, in addition to British Columbia. In the East, there are about two dozen records, mainly from the Maritime Provinces, but also south to New York and Pennsylvania. The birds in the East may have come from Iceland or Greenland where the species is regular and also breeds. Birds in the West may come from Siberia.
Well, last month, on 11 February, a Redwing was found in Victoria, British Columbia. Very likely this is the same bird that was found in the area in December 2013 and was again present from 19 December 2015 to 14 April 2016.
The Victoria Redwing remained through February and was observed by many birders. You can see a collection of photos taken by Monte Taylor of this year's surprise visit at:
ACCESS MATTERS: MORE FEEDER VISITORS
A bird that might have received rarity attention in this month's Rarity Focus was a Black-backed Oriole, found at a feeder in Sinking Spring, Berks County, Pennsylvania, in late January, but only identified on 2 February. How a species that is only a short-range migrant from the highlands of central Mexico got to eastern Pennsylvania is a subject of contested debate. Regardless, the Black-backed Oriole attracted many observers through all of February as it visited multiple feeders at adjacent homes. A story on the bird and visiting birders is available from The Reading Eagle (5 February):
Regardless of the provenance of this oriole, the neighbors in the area had some clear requests for visiting birders:
* Visiting hours are 7:30 am to 4 pm only
* Parking is on Indiana Street, where the bird visits.
* Be courteous; don't block driveways or mail boxes.
* Please sign the logbook so that the homeowners know who comes to see the bird and where they come from.
* Please don't stand right in front of the house to keep from scaring the bird away from the feeder by the front window! The bird is shy!
* Please stay on the sidewalks, and don't enter people's yards.
* Respect the neighborhood's privacy and property.
These requests were quite reasonable, and they should contribute to any discussions over controlling access for birders under these sorts of neighborhood-and-feeder circumstances.
WISDOM DOES IT AGAIN
Wisdom, a Laysan Albatross and the world's oldest known breeding bird in the wild, successfully hatched another chick last month at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial within Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The chick hatched just about two months after Wisdom, at least 66 years old, was first spotted incubating an egg at the same site that she and her mate, Akeakamai, use each year. Laysan Albatrosses typically mate for life, but Wisdom has likely had more than one mate.
"Wisdom... has returned home to Midway Atoll for over six decades and raised at least 30-35 chicks," said Bob Peyton, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Project Leader for Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Memorial.
We know the age of Wisdom because she has been a banded bird since 1956. The much-respected ornithologist, Chandler Robbins, first put a band on Wisdom in December of that year, and multiple bands, each significantly worn away by time, the sea, and sea air, have been replaced on multiple occasions. Wisdom is estimated to be at least 66 years old, but she could actually be older!
"Because Laysan Albatross don't lay eggs every year, and when they do, they raise only one chick at a time, the contribution of even one bird to the population makes a difference," added Peyton. Albatrosses start to arrive to return from sea to breed in late October, and by the end of November nearly every available nesting space on the atoll is claimed by a breeding pair.
Wisdom and Akeakamai are not alone in calling the Refuge and Memorial home. The atoll is actually home to the world's largest colony of albatrosses. Nearly 70% of the world's Laysan Albatross and almost 40% of Black-footed Albatross, as well as a handful of endangered Short-tailed Albatross, all rely on the Refuge and Memorial.
For more details and shareable social media about Wisdom, visit here:
EMPHASIZING BOREAL WETLANDS
Last month, the Boreal Songbird Initiative released a short but powerful report that helps underscore the importance of Canada's boreal wetlands. The report, called "Wetland Wonders," focuses on six specific boreal wetlands zones.
Canada's boreal forest is home to 25% of the world's wetland and the largest concentration of wetlands on earth. The report calls upon Canada to increase its wetland conservation for the billions of North American birds that nest there (many of which winter in the US), the caribou populations, and other wildlife that thrive there, and to ensure that 700 years' worth of Canada's industrial greenhouse gas emission are kept safe in the ground.
The entire boreal region faces stresses of industrial development (logging, mining, hydro-power, and oil and gas - including tar-sands extraction), transportation, agriculture, and settlements. These factors demonstrate the need to conserve large portions of the boreal forests to create a sustainable balance.
The six carbon-rich wetland regions that are described in the report significantly contribute to global bird life, provide healthy habitat for caribou, and are either in need of conservation planning or are still awaiting final, permanent protection designation.
You can download the 11-page report here:
JR. AUDUBON CLUBS EXPERIENCE
The Junior Audubon Club program, which launched in 1910 and ran for at least half a century is considered one of the most successful conservation education programs ever. Amy Weidensaul, the director of community conservation and education for Audubon Pennsylvania, is conducting research on the effort. If you participated in Junior Audubon as a child or have specific documentation on the program, and if you would be willing to share your knowledge, please contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (570) 617-9748.
MORE INSIGHT ON GETTING THE LEAD OUT
Starting in the late 1980s, the U.S. federal government began phasing in a ban on toxic lead shot for waterfowl hunting - a ban which became nation-wide in 1991. The learning process, and the production of quality alternatives, was not easy, but the goal - removing toxic lead over wetlands and reducing lead-carrying deadly game that was predated by raptors, such as eagles - was successful. The move toward steel and other alternate shot grew, since some areas and states adopted parallel restrictions. (Some non-waterfowl hunters - such as pheasant hunters - had to find nontoxic alternatives if they hunted on National Wildlife Refuges and Waterfowl Production Areas.)
We have written about this subject multiple times in the Birding Community E-bulletin, and in the quarter century since the original ban on lead shot, manufacturers have greatly improved the quality of steel shot. This may sound like an esoteric subject, but it has broad bird-conservation consequences for species ranging from doves, to waterbirds, to eagles. Fortunately, Pheasants Forever magazine ran an article, "The Evolution of Steel," by Greg Breining, that explains the technicalities, pluses, and minuses of steel shot. You can find the article on the Pheasants Forever blog, here:
Breining presents solid arguments and background that can make a real contribution to the discussion over "getting the lead out."
TIP OF THE MONTH: LET'S BEHAVE
Maybe it's because it's the end of the winter, with more folks spending time afield. Maybe it's due to more bird photographers out there. Maybe it's something in the water. In any case, it's worth reminding people of the need for courtesy and good behavior while birding.
Most birders behave wonderfully, but we've heard of some nasty episodes in the field over the last few months. There was the birder who climbed a fence to get closer than everyone else to a rare goose at a golf course, only to be tossed off the property. There were the two photographers who simply had to get "that perfect shot" of Long-eared Owl and flushed the bird, only to have the owl nailed by a large hawk. There was the feeder rarity, where some individuals in tight crowd were oblivious to standing in front of other watchers.
Get a grip, folks. Share; don't hog. Don't be a SLOB (selfish, lazy, obnoxious, birder). Besides, all it takes is one jerk to spoil the day. Or one jerk to sometimes get a bird killed.
Appropriate behavior is best for us all, and best for the birds. It may be time to review the well-worn American Birding Association code of birding ethics:
BOOK NOTES: WEARING WHITE AGAIN
Readers may remember the charming little book,
Good Birders Don't Wear White (Houghton Mifflin) a collection of 50 short essays and tips that appeared in 2007 and was edited by Lisa White. Now, a decade later, a sequel has just appeared,
Good Birders Still Don't Wear White (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), edited by White and Jeffrey A. Gordon (2017).
In the spirit of the previous edition, this little gem contains 37 short essays penned by well-known birders and birding authors, and each having a succinct and well-written message sure to be of interest or relevance to any birder regardless of his/her experience. Some of the essays are personal, while others are general, but all pertain to birding topics or themes that any birder can identify with. Entertaining to read and easy to stick in a pocket when traveling, this little paperback, modestly priced at $13.95 and illustrated with appealing cartoon sketches by Robert Braunfield makes a perfect gift for the "birder who has everything."
IBA NEWS: MALHEUR OPENING
It has been more than a year since a group of armed occupiers seized Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. We wrote about the event in February of last year:
When considering Important Bird Areas (IBAs), Malheur NWR ranks as absolutely outstanding, whether it be for waterfowl, raptors, ibises, shorebirds, or songbirds.
Last year's 41-day seizure shut down access to the public and caused millions of dollars in damage to buildings and land. Roads at Malheur NWR have already reopened, but since last summer, employees have been working out of temporary and portable offices.
The refuge headquarters, visitor center, nature store, museum and immediate grounds are set to reopen sometime this spring, although an exact date has not yet been announced, according to Jason Holm, spokesman for the Pacific Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Holm has described extensive damage to land and buildings. The repair and cleanup effort have included "everything from deep cleaning, holes in walls, painting," Holm said. "There was some sewage flooding; several trenches that were dug; a well that needed to be gone through and filled in." Restoring the land and structures cost $2 million, according to Holm. The NWR did not lose visitor fees, since it is among the many "no-fee" refuges.
Holm added that the refuge is "essentially an archeological site," and in the process or repairs, "there were precautions that had to be made." (The refuge was built in 1908 on top of a Burns Paiute Tribe archeological site and burial grounds, before it was illegal to do so. Over the decades, the refuge system has committed to preserving artifacts including tools, cookware, and arrowheads.)
Between 1 January 2016 and 11 February 2016, the occupiers went through boxes of artifacts in the headquarters building, and trenches were dug near other artifacts. At least one trench had human feces in it.
Even more costly than the on-site repair was the need to relocate refuge employees during the occupation and, due to potential safety, staff other remote NWRs in the West with enhanced law enforcement. According to Holm, that combined effort cost another $4 million. Holm added that the $6 million bill will be paid by siphoning off other USFWS programs, such as restoration efforts, maintenance projects, and hiring seasonal workers.
The cost to buildings, land, and employees is not the only damage incurred. An important effort to control the invasive Asian carp infestation at the Malheur Lake had to be put on hold during the occupation, setting the project back years.
Now, the NWR facility is getting ready up to reopen its doors and return to life. It's also a good time to review the details on Malheur's status as an IBA:
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:
SELL-OFF BILL AND LAW ENFORCEMENT BILL
Related to the last story about Malheur NWR is the status of H.R. 621, a bill to sell off 3.3 million acres of federal public lands - an area the size of Connecticut - across 10 states in the West. In the first days of February, and in response to a very broad public outcry, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced that he was withdrawing this bill from consideration. An outcry from supporters of America's public lands, wildlife, and wild places had made support for H.R.621 very difficult. The broad environmental community was encouraged.
But a similar and lesser-known bill to threaten public land protections, which Congressman Chaffetz introduced alongside H.R.621, is still on the table. It's H.R.622, the "Law Enforcement for Local Lands Act." This bill would abolish the law enforcement capacity of Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service officials and hand over law enforcement powers and funds to states or local governments. H.R.622 could just as easily have been crafted by the armed occupiers at Malhuer NWR.
Both the BLM and the USFS have uniformed officers and criminal investigators who enforce laws and investigate many issues, including mineral resource theft, dumping of hazardous materials, vandalism of archeological sites, theft of artifacts and timber, arson, deterring illegal off-road vehicle use, curbing waterway pollution, and upholding a plethora of crucial bird and wildlife laws.
Access, appropriate use, and bird conservation are all involved here, and H.R.622 is seen by many as a threat to law enforcement on all our federal public lands.
"TOGETHER FOR BIRDS" RELEASED
Last month, we described the "Together for Birds" petition circulated by the American Birds Conservancy. It is intended to appeal to the new Congress in making decisions to help conserve wild birds and their habitats:
The petition outlines support for the following:
- The Endangered Species Act: Protecting the Act that has helped recover our national bird, the Bald Eagle, and other species in trouble.
- The Migratory Bird Treaty Act: Safeguarding the only law that exists to protect most American birds, and support the federal Duck Stamp, one of the nation's most successful conservation programs.
- Federal funding for birds: Maintaining and growing essential sources of federal support for migratory bird conservation.
- The Environmental Protection Agency: Ensuring that the EPA can continue its vital work to protect people and birds from dangerous pesticides and other toxins.
- Land management for birds and people: Ensuring that public lands remain public, are properly managed for wildlife, and that recreational access is maintained.
The encouraging results of the petition were released in late February. Beyond the more than 24,000 individual signatories, there were 424 organizations that signed on: