A Bahama Mockingbird was reported at the Lantana Nature Preserve in Palm Beach County, Florida, on the morning of 20 April. It was near a clearing not far from the preserve pavilion, and it continued to be found by many visiting birders for a week, and was last observed on 27 April.
This species is a resident of the Bahamas, Jamaica, and small islands on the coast of Cuba. Most sightings of Bahama Mockingbird in Florida have been from early April to mid-June, mostly between the Dry Tortugas and West Palm Beach. The first individual ever found was at the Dry Tortugas in 1973. Since then, it has been observed in the U.S. perhaps as many as 30 times.
Coincidentally, the increased number of birders visiting the Lantana Nature Preserve produced an unexpected bonus in the early morning of 25 April: the discovery of a very rare Red-legged Thrush. The thrush left the site shortly after 3pm and then returned to the original location just after 5pm. It was a one-day-wonder; despite thorough searching, the bird was never to be found again. This was very unfortunate, since there is only a single previous verified record for this Caribbean species in North America. That individual was an equally frustrating bird: it was also a one-day-wonder on 31 May 2010 in Brevard County, Florida, however it was fortuitously photographed. For details on last month's Red-legged Thrush, see here:
HOPE SURELY SLIPPED AWAY
"Hope" was one of seven Whimbrels banded in 2008 and 2009 as part of a joint project between the Nature Conservancy and the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. She was initially tracked with a satellite transmitter and became a living symbol of the challenges faced by migratory shorebirds throughout their lives.
Hope was the last of her group of seven that continued to be monitored for years. Unfortunately, she is also considered to be one of the many casualties of Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
Hope was originally captured as an adult on 19 May 2009 while staging in Boxtree Creek in Virginia where she was banded and fitted with a satellite transmitter as part of a study focused on Whimbrel migration. Hope was then tracked for more than 50,000 miles back and forth four times between her breeding site on the Mackenzie River in far western Canada and her wintering site on Great Pond, on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Once her transmitter antenna was lost in September 2012, shortly after she arrived at Great Pond, researchers decided to remove the transmitter rather than replace it. After removing the transmitter in late November 2012, Hope simply had to be identified by her coded leg flag (AYY).
Hope was featured on a website that allowed the public to potentially track her movements. She rapidly attracted a near-cult following of shorebird biologists, bird watchers, and school children from across the hemisphere and beyond. Over the years, she became a virtual ambassador for shorebird migrants making impressive nonstop flights, sometimes moving great distances out over the open Atlantic Ocean, and navigating with great precision to specific
stopover sites. Hope reliably exhibited high fidelity to her breeding site, her wintering location, and several staging areas along the way.
One of the more dramatic events during Hope's tracking life occurred in August of 2011, when after taking off from South Hampton Island in Hudson Bay she encountered Tropical Storm Gert over the open ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia. Hope flew through the storm for 27 hours against powerful headwinds. Once she broke through the storm, she immediately made a turn toward Cape Cod, and after an unplanned layover to refuel, she ultimately continued to her winter territory on Great Pond.
In mid-August 2017, Hope arrived at her usual wintering site at Great Pond where she was positively observed and photographed. St. Croix was hit by Hurricane Irma on 6 September 2017 as a category five storm with heavy rain and major damage. Local ecologist, Lisa Yntema, was eventually able to visit Great Pond and saw Hope following Hurricane Irma on 11 September. Unfortunately, less than two weeks later, on 19 September, St. Croix was hit by Hurricane Maria, causing extensive damage with the eye of the storm passing directly over Great Pond.
Starting on 5 October, Lisa Yntema visited Great Pond several times through the fall of 2017, but she did not find Hope. In April and May of 2018, Barry Truitt also spent time searching for Hope at her spring staging area on Boxtree Creek in Virginia, but unfortunately came up empty. Hope did not return to Great Pond during the fall of 2018 either.
There will surely be some serious searching near Boxtree Creek again this month too, but the odds are not good for finding the famous Whimbrel.
In a thoughtful homage to Hope, Bryan Watts, from the Center for Conservation Biology, wrote the following: "Over a short period of time, by just living out her fascinating life, Hope unknowingly taught scientists important lessons about the requirements of Whimbrels through the annual cycle, educated the broader community about the challenges faced by migratory birds, demonstrated that local actions can contribute to international movements, and left a legacy that will educate children for generations. Fair winds and following seas, Hope."
BOOK NOTES: REVISITING HOPE
Since we are bidding farewell to Hope, it's appropriate to look back at a children's book that told Hope's story.
Back in 2013, Cristina Kessler, an award-winning author and Virgin Islands resident, was asked by the First Lady of the Virgin Islands, Mrs. Cecile de Jongh, to write a book that would be given to all K-3rd graders in the Virgin Islands in a Christmas book give-away program.
Kessler was allowed to write whatever she wished, and she wanted to tell Hope's story.
With the help of illustrator, Marcos Castillo, Kessler produced Hope is Here (Little Bell Caribbean, 2013). The book tells a conservation story to children and has been used as a teaching tool on both the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Hope spent the winter months, and also in schools on the Delmarva Peninsula, where Hope paused during spring migration.
The short, 32-page Hope is Here was a creative experiment. And since connecting children to nature is a vital part of effective conservation, this story has become another way to present bird conservation to children. In the broadest sense, the story has become e a way to better understand how many species migrate thousands of miles between their breeding and wintering grounds.
With a little searching online, this charming book is still available.
TIP OF THE MONTH: WORLD MIGRATORY BIRD DAY
International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) launched in the early 1990s by visionaries at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, used to be celebrated in mid-May, often on the second Saturday of the month. But the day, now called World Migratory Bird Day, can be celebrated any day of the year that local sponsors may wish to hold it. In any case, after a full quarter century of the event, there is, again, an opportunity to enjoy this Hemisphere-wide - and now worldwide - celebration of migratory birds with many events being held in May.
Indeed, many organizations, clubs, and special events continue to mark the second Saturday of the month of May as a day to celebrate birds - migratory or not. You may even have just such an event in your area this month, an event geared for new birders, children, and even experienced "big day" listers. The suggested theme for such events this year is to seek solutions to plastic pollution since the accumulation of plastics and plastic pollution have become a worldwide epidemic that pose a serious threat to birds around the world.
Whatever the pitch or precise timing of an event, readers might consider participating, bringing a new enthusiasm to the study, conservation efforts, and sheer pleasure of enjoying birds at an event near you.
For background, resources, and ideas on World Migratory bird day, see this site from Environment for the Americas (EFTA):
IBA NEWS: SALT PLAINS WHSRN UPGRADE
Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), in north-central Oklahoma, is an Important Bird Area (IBA) of Global significance. The refuge has also been placed on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. And in February of 1994 it joined the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). Because of the site's salt flats and wetlands, both of which are vital to shorebirds during spring and fall migration, the WHSRN designation was originally considered to be of "Regional Importance."
Now, a quarter century later, the WHSRN status of Salt Plains has been upgraded to a "Site of International Importance." This upgrade was in part due to a better understanding of the Refuge's significance to the North American breeding population of Snowy Plovers.
While the refuge is important for a variety of shorebirds - numbers which peak during spring migration in late April and early May - and since the refuge is also important for waterfowl and cranes, special studies have also been conducted there for Snowy Plovers.
In 2012, Susan M. Thomas et al. published a breakthrough article in Waterbirds, and they identified Salt Plains NWR as one of the most important breeding areas for Snowy Plovers in North America, and estimated that the Refuge contained about 22% of the continental breeding population. From 2013 through 2017, spatial surveys were replicated at the salt flats, confirming numbers published in 2012. An average of more than 4,500 Snowy Plovers was consistently estimated at Salt Plains NWR during the breeding season, an abundance that represents 20.4% of the Interior/Gulf Coast population and 18.1% of the entire North American population.
For a summary of the work and the basis for the International Importance upgrade, see here:
For a general description of Salt Flats as an IBA see:
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:
MONOMOY NWR AT 75
We could have focused on Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, located of the "elbow" of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in our "IBA News" this month, simply because it is celebrating 75 years of existence and it is an important IBA site. But Monomoy deserves special notice this month beyond its special anniversary and IBA status.
Monomoy NWR was established in May 1944. It consists of almost 8,000 acres with varied habitat, including ocean waters, salt and freshwater marshes, dunes, and freshwater ponds. There are 3,244 acres of the NWR that are official designated as a National Wilderness Area. The refuge has also been designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) regional site due to its importance for migratory birds. Throughout its existence the refuge has experienced a shape-shifting geography - formerly peninsular, now multi-insular -but throughout, wonderful for birdlife.
Over 98% of the refuge was acquired through Duck Stamp and related excise-tax dollars from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund.
This NWR is especially appreciated by birders as a shorebird haven. The annual shorebird migration peaks in late May and again in late July to early August, with several thousand shorebirds typically present. No fewer than 48 species of shorebirds have collectively been recorded on Monomoy, including some outstanding rarities, such as Common Ringed Plover, Eurasian Curlew, Wandering Tattler, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Rufous-necked and Little Stints, along with more regular, yet still uncommon, Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff.