In April 2014, and then again in April 2016, a rare Marsh Sandpiper was found in the vicinity of Sacramento, California. Each time the bird remained for about a week, delighting a number of local and visiting birders.
Then last month, on 15 April, a Marsh Sandpiper was again found at the Yolo Wildlife Area (near Sacramento), where it was loosely associating with Greater Yellowlegs. More importantly, it was very near the area where the 2016 Marsh Sandpiper had been seen.
Was this the same bird? The coincidence seems too astounding to think otherwise, especially since there are so very few other previous records of this species in North America where it is an extremely rare bird.
This slim shorebird species breeds in Eurasia and winters from Africa to Australasia. There are only about nine previous records from Alaska, mostly in the fall and all from the Aleutian or Pribilof Islands.
The only previous record in the lower 48 United States prior to the 2014 bird was in late October 2013 when a Marsh Sandpiper was found and photographed by the north end of the Salton Sea in California. Curiously, there is also one other fall West Coast record from Mexico, in October 2011 when a bird found in Baja California.
Last month's surprise rarity stayed at the Yolo Wildlife Area through 21 April.
So, the conundrum is whether this is a single Marsh Sandpiper migrating annually up and down our West Coast. It's almost certain that during next April birders will be scouring the Sacramento-area wetlands in search of this Marsh Sandpiper!
You can see Steve Hampton's original photos of last month's Marsh Sandpiper here:
Last month produced some wonderful "one-day-wonders" among rarities - birds that were found by individual birders or a group of birders but only remained for one day - not long enough time for many other birders to see them.
Among these one-day wonders - which might have been candidates for our rarity of the month had they stayed longer - were European Golden-Plover (Newfoundland), Bahama Mockingbird (Florida), and an amazing Great Black Hawk (Texas), which actually was seen briefly on two days (24 and 29 April) within a week.
But leading the list of these one-day-wonder, one especially stands out. On the morning of 9 April, a Red Warbler was found by Janet Moore and Janet Stein at Rose Canyon Lake, at Mount Lemmon, Arizona. The warbler was frequenting a grove of willows and alders bordering a small stream. The Red Warbler is an endemic species in the highlands of Mexico and one never previously seen in the United States. The bird was seen by a few other lucky birders into the afternoon and was even photographed, but, unfortunately, it was not seen again, despite serious efforts to relocate the stunning rarity.
Red Warbler consists of three disjunct subspecies. The bird at Mount Lemmon was thought to represent the gray-cheeked subspecies, melanauris, the race that ranges the farthest north from Nayarit to southern Chihuahua.
For a short story on the bird and a delicious photo by Dave Stejskal, see here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: WHITHER CHIMNEY SWIFTS?
This month in eastern Canada, Bird Studies Canada will revisit its creative "SwiftWatch" program. This citizen-science effort aims to fill information gaps by monitoring Chimney Swifts and their habitat, following the arrival of the species from their wintering grounds in South America.
Each year, volunteers and community members in Canada identify and monitor chimneys being used by swifts between May and September. This information is part of an effort to track Chimney Swift populations in Canada and assists in Chimney Swift conservation efforts. The population of Chimney Swifts has plummeted in recent decades to the point where the species is now designated as threatened in Canada. See here for coverage under Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA):
Volunteers in Canada are especially needed to count swifts at roost chimneys on designated 2018 National Roost Monitoring dates. The dates are as follows: May 17 (optional), May 23, May 27, May 31, and June 4. For more information in Canada, check the SwiftWatch page at Bird Studies Canada:
The folks at Bird Studies Canada are part of a growing concern in North America about declining swift populations. A number of other North American aerial insectivores are in decline, and Chimney Swifts are certainly among them. Is the problem the loss of "aerial plankton" (the arthropod fauna in the atmosphere upon which many aerial insectivores feed), loss of suitable nesting sites, or some other causes taking place in South America where the species spends the winter? The Chimney Swift may well be an indicator of more serious and widespread problems, including other species as well as Chimney Swifts.
Making an extra effort to count these swifts in the U.S. is appropriate (e.g., via eBird) and sharing more information on nesting sites is warranted. As an example, a recent conference was held at the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts on the subject of declining aerial insectivores and one of the presentations was specifically on the subject of declining Chimney Swifts.
ESA: VIREO DELISTING
On 13 April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the successful recovery of the Black-capped Vireo, thus removing the species from Endangered Species List protection for this once-beleaguered species. Thirty years ago, the population was down to only about 350 individuals. Today, however, there are more than 14,000 birds estimated across the bird's breeding range in Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico. No longer will this species be listed among those species considered Endangered and Threatened.
The vireo was Federally-listed in 1987, primarily due to the impacts of habitat loss and nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. During this time-period, Texas especially had a large number of goats on the landscape, browsing on shrubs and reducing the cover that Black-capped Vireos needed for nesting. Fortunately a serious effort to eliminate cowbirds, combined with habitat restoration efforts, had beneficial consequences. Part of the vireo's recovery could also be attributed to decreasing goat densities in Texas, especially since the repeal of the National Wool Act in 1993, terminating wool price-supports by the end of 1995 and helping increase vireo numbers across much of the species' breeding range.
Across Texas and Oklahoma, the USFWS worked with the U.S. Army, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, and other partners to help the Black-capped Vireo recover. Conservation activities included the use of prescribed fire, arranging for conservation easements, and the control of Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Using their scientifically rigorous Species Status Assessment protocol, the USFWS concluded that the primary threats to the Black-capped Vireo have been reduced or adequately managed, and vireo populations are now expected to be viable in the future.
But this does not mean that a "hands-off" approach will be justified. To ensure that Black-capped Vireo populations remain healthy, the USFWS has developed a post-delisting monitoring plan in the states of Texas and Oklahoma, along with Fort Hood (Texas), Fort Sill (Oklahoma), and The Nature Conservancy of Texas. This plan outlines the methods to be used to monitor the status of the vireo and its habitat, in cooperation with partners for a 12-year period, and it also provides an approach for identifying and responding to any future population declines or habitat loss.
"The delisting of the Black-capped Vireo clearly illustrates the value of the Service's partnership-driven approach to conservation," said Amy Lueders, the USFWS's Southwest Regional Director. "By working with our partners including Fort Hood, Fort Sill, the states of Texas and Oklahoma, private landowners and others we were able to conserve a North American songbird that once perched on the brink of extinction for future generations to enjoy."
J.D. Strong, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, added, "Now our challenge is to redouble efforts to make sure those partnerships continue - along with valuable
habitat restoration work and research - so that vireos and Oklahoma's other fish and wildlife populations remain healthy."
ESA: KIRTLAND'S WARBLER PROPOSAL
A similar road toward delisting is possibly underway for the Kirtland's Warbler. The USFWS is proposing to also remove this species from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection. The proposed rule to delist the Kirtland's Warbler was published in the Federal Register on 12 April.
The Kirtland's Warbler has traditionally nested in young jack pine forests in central Michigan, and has recently spread to parts of Wisconsin and Ontario. Still, this warbler has one of the most geographically restricted breeding distributions of any bird in the continental United States.
When the ESA was passed into law in 1973, the Kirtland's Warbler was on the original list of species to be included. A 1971 census indicated that there were only 406 birds remaining in Michigan. The current Kirtland's Warbler population is now estimated to be over 4,600 individuals, actually more than double the recovery goal. In fact, the warbler's population has exceeded recovery goals for the past 16 years.
We now know that the warbler's population had declined primarily for two reasons: loss of nesting habitat and brood parasitism caused by the spread of Brown-headed Cowbirds which significantly reduced their nesting success. After ESA listing, the first Kirtland's Warbler Recovery Plan was crafted, involving multiple partners and outlining steps to increase the population of the warbler. The management of jack pine areas (involving the regular replanting of the trees in appropriate sandy soil) was essential, as was the control of Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Central to the recovery was the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Over the years, new state forest and national forest lands were added through the 2000s. This brought the total public land specifically managed for the Kirtland's Warbler to more than 210,000 acres. An aggressive cowbird control program continues throughout the known nesting areas. At the same time, more knowledge from the bird's wintering grounds in the Bahamas has been acquired.
Again, multiple partners have be crucial to the warbler's recovery. "Without a doubt, this bird's recovery is the result of cooperation among states, local residents, federal agencies, and conservation groups. This dedicated conservation community is committed to addressing the needs of the Kirtland's warbler into the future," said Tom Melius, Midwest Regional Director for the USFWS.
Before making a final decision on delisting, however, the USFWS must gather and analyze public comments and any new information. Publication of the proposed rule opens a 90-day public comment period, which closes on 11 July. To submit comments electronically visit http://www.regulations.gov
and enter "FWS-R3-ES-2018-0005" in the search box.
IBA NEWS: WORLD MAP
One of the difficulties of the worldwide Important Bird Area (IBA) program as defined by BirdLife International is the sometimes-mistaken assumption that some areas, and some habitats in certain regions, are not "important." Over the years, the IBA effort, originally launched in the 1970s, has helped to put to rest that misunderstanding in the process of identifying over 13,000 IBAs - over both land and sea. The assumption is that if we can protect these vital sites, we can secure the long-term viability of all the world's birds.
Unfortunately, many of these IBAs are in grave danger, or face the risk of being entirely lost. Since 2013, BirdLife has published a list of "IBAs in Danger" based on information gathered from partners, associated conservation organizations, volunteers, and regional experts. The most recent update reveals that 241 IBAs around the world are in imminent danger.
By far the biggest threat to IBAs appears to be dam-building and flawed water management. Nearly a fifth of all IBAs in danger - 47 - are affected by dam building or other water management works. Agriculture development also remains a big threat to at least 39 IBAs, while irresponsible hunting and trapping is impacting another 23.
Of the 241 IBAs in Danger, more than half - 137 - are at least partly covered by protected areas, including 59 Ramsar Sites (wetlands of international importance). This is why it is vital that these sites continue to be monitored. While some of the sites have been on the list since its inception; others are relapsing, returning to the list after some years of recovery.
Among the 241 sites, there are only three in the Danger category for North America: The Northern Everglades (Florida), Prince Edward Point (Ontario), and the Fraser River Estuary (British Columbia). While we might quibble with the exclusion of other at-risk sites here in the US and Canada, the list is instructive nonetheless. You can find the full current list of IBAs in Danger as well as an interactive map with individual case studies here:
For additional information about worldwide IBA programs, including those in the U.S., you can also check the National Audubon Society's Important Bird Area program web site at:
FACING EXTINCTION: SOME SURPRISES
Since we are on the subject of BirdLife International findings, it would be interesting to view some predictions made by BirdLife last month. The organization reviewed a number of species that were once considered quite common and widespread but whose numbers are now plummeting. They looked at seven of these species last month, and some of them might surprise you. Among the seven they include three that occur in North America:
Snowy Owl - Experiencing a rapid decline, most likely driven by climate change. Disruptions to snowmelt and snow cover can affect the availability and distribution of prey.
Atlantic Puffin - Regional overfishing and climate change have created serious food shortages.
Black-legged Kittiwake - Rising sea temperatures are driving catastrophic declines in plankton populations, with an impact to the rest of the food chain, including fish. Plastics at sea (consumed by the kittiwakes) may be another threat.
For more details and the full listing, see here:
MORE FLORIDA BIRD-TRAFFICKING
We have previously reported on the illegal U.S. cagebird trade multiple times in the Birding Community E-bulletin, and we even summarized the situation in the February 2016 issue, with a special emphasis on the Cuba-to-Florida scene:
The situation has not improved, and the trafficking continues. Last month, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida announced that six individuals were charged in six separate cases with illegally trafficking over 400 birds. The species included species from Puerto Rico (e.g., Puerto Rican Spindalis and Puerto Rican Bullfinch), Cuba (e.g., Yellow-faced Grassquit and Cuban Bullfinch), and several of our own species from the U.S. mainland (e.g., Indigo and Painted Buntings, Blue and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Summer Tanager, and Gray Catbird). The methods of trapping in these areas included sophisticated birdcalls using power systems with solar panels, mist nets, and primitive glues spread of tree limbs and sticks. The shipment and smuggling methods involved boxes with false bottoms, concealment of the birds in hair curlers, and birds taped to smugglers' legs beneath baggy pants.
According to the criminal complaint, one of these six defendants had previously pled guilty in 2016 to smuggling birds from Cuba into the U.S. in a fanny pack. In 2017 and 2018, while on probation, the smuggler offered Yellow faced Grassquits and additional migratory birds for sale.
A long-running undercover operation, called "Operation Ornery Birds," a take-off on the video game, "Angry Birds," had involved mainly the USFWS (Office of Law Enforcement) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, with help from the Department of Homeland Security (Customs and Border Protection), and the U.S. Postal Service (Inspection Service). Undercover operatives had purchased or seized migratory birds from all six of these defendants.
Before April ended, over 130 of these birds - all birds native to the U.S. - were released at an event run by the partners at the Everglades National Park headquarters near Homestead, Florida. For an impressive video of the release, see here:
For more details on each of the cases see the Justice Department press release here:
WEBCAM STAR DISAPPEARS
Finally, where is Decorah Dad? This is the question that legions of dedicated webcam nest-viewers are asking. While eagle-cams may no longer be a novelty, they still draw millions of viewers. Indeed, millions. As of the end of last month, the Decorah, Iowa, eagle-cam had had over 356.6 million hits. In fact, there has been major drama at this particular site in Iowa since the evening of 18 April. That's when the adult male, perhaps 21 years old, was last seen.
For over a decade, he had served as the subject of "enjoyment, education, and wonder for millions of people," according to John Howe, director of the Raptor Resource Project, host of the eagle-cam.
But despite searches by many volunteers (including the Decorah Fire Department Search & Rescue Team), there seem to be no answers to Decorah Dad's whereabouts or his fate. Was Dad struck by a vehicle when getting roadkill for the eaglets at the home-nest? Was he electrocuted or caught in a powerline? Was he shot? Was he chased off by a rival local male Bald Eagle? Theories abound.
Although Dad may have disappeared, Mom seems to be playing an excellent role as the lone parent, feeding and protecting the young eaglets.
As for Dad's possible fate, Howe reminded dedicated eagle-fans that "Death and the succession of eagles is part of the natural order, but that doesn't make it less sad when it happens. We watch the Decorah eagles and love them, but they belong to no one but themselves. Their lives are a gift we are privileged to share and learn from."
You can watch the live eagle-cam at Decorah here:
For a late-April article from The Des Moines Register on the Decorah eagle situation, see here: