On the morning of Saturday, 24 September, Ron Thorn and Leonie Batkin discovered a Dusky Warbler at Oyster Point, South San Francisco, California. The bird proved to be a real skulker in a scrubby field containing large patches of fennel. The bird spent most of its time covering 100 yards or more of mostly fennel between a roadway and a channel, where it called fairly regularly.
This secretive species breeds in central Siberia, south and west to Mongolia, and winters from India through much of Southeast Asia. There are multiple previous records from Alaska, mainly in the fall, and it is nearly annual on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. But the species has also been found in California, with almost a dozen reports since 1980 between late September and early November. Almost all these reports have been near the coast. There are also a couple of reports from Baja California, Mexico.
With this in mind, Dusky Warbler may not be as rare in California as many birders previously thought a decade or so ago. Accordingly, it pays to be on the alert!
The South San Francisco Dusky Warbler remained into the afternoon of Monday, 26 September, to the delight of many birders who sought it out.
To see 10 photos of the bird taken by Mark Rauzon, see:
GETTING THE LEAD OUT THIS SEASON
In June, the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society in Oneonta, New York, teamed up with the American Eagle Foundation to create a video urging hunters to switch to non-lead bullets when hunting deer. The 13-minute video, "Lead Ammunition: A Needless Danger to Eagles and Ourselves," features interviews with hunters and their families, as well as with wildlife biologists and wildlife rehabilitators, and it encourages hunters to switch to non-lead ammunition.
The issue is becoming increasingly important now since it is a seasonal danger concurrent with the arrival of fall deer-hunting. This is because Bald and Golden Eagles, other raptors, ravens, crows, and other scavengers are at risk of consuming lead fragments from gut piles - the entrails left behind by hunters - or from unrecovered carcasses. A highly toxic metal, lead can cause damage to the central nervous system and the brain. Symptoms of lead poisoning in eagles include tremors, convulsions, and organ failure, ultimately leaving these birds unable to fly or feed. Lead-poisoned eagles can also die from starvation or predation.
While lead use in gasoline, paint, pesticides, and solder in food cans has nearly been eliminated in the U.S., and despite the fact that lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting in 1991, the use of lead in ammunition for upland game hunting, shooting sports, and in fishing tackle remains widespread.
The video encourages hunters to voluntarily switch to alternative types of ammunition, such as solid copper bullets. These bullets do not break apart on impact and pose no further lingering danger to eagles, other birds and wildlife, or humans. These points are all stressed in the video that is accessible here:
CANADA'S NATIONAL BIRD
Since the previous story dealt mostly with the U.S. national bird, the Bald Eagle, it seems only appropriate to include a story here on Canada's national bird.
Well, there isn't one!
In an effort to correct that oversight, nearly 50,000 Canadians voted for their favorite species in the National Bird Project, an undertaking by Canadian Geographic, in partnership with Bird Studies Canada, to help select an appropriate avian emblem for Canada. When public voting ended on 31 August, the top five choices were, in order: Common Loon, Snowy Owl, Gray Jay, Canada Goose, and Black-capped Chickadee.
After voting closed, the project's next step was to have a debate at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa on 19 September. Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna provided opening remarks. The panelists were Steven Price, President of Bird Studies Canada (speaking for the Common Loon), Alex MacDonald, Senior Conservation Manager, Nature Canada (speaking for the Snowy Owl), David Bird, Professor Emeritus of Wildlife Biology, McGill University (speaking for the Gray Jay), Mark S. Graham, Vice-President of Research and Collections for the Canadian Museum of Nature (speaking for the Canada Goose), and George Elliott Clarke, Parliamentary Poet Laureate (speaking for the Black-capped Chickadee).
The discussion was lively, cordial, and humorous, with some passionate advocates for the species.
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society's official recommendation for Canada's National Bird will be announced on 21 November and will appear in the December 2016 issue of Canadian Geographic.
The effort has yet to fully address an official designation through the Canadian Parliament, but that may yet come to pass, with a possible official bird for Canada being selected in 2017, the country's sesquicentennial.
You can find more details here:
CARIBBEAN WILDLIFE TRADE AND JET BLUE
We have written about problems with the cage-bird trade in the past, especially with an emphasis on Cuban birds being smuggled into the U.S. In light of some recent developments, there is some broader activity in this area that deserves special attention this month.
Back in March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and JetBlue announced a partnership to reduce the demand for illegal wildlife trade. An increase in this trade is contributing to the decline of some indigenous species, e.g., sea turtles, parrots, iguanas, and coral. USFWS Director, Dan Ashe, emphasized that the Caribbean is "considered to be a wildlife trafficking hotspot." And Sophia Mendelsohn, head of sustainability at JetBlue, commented that the partnership is intended "to create a large-scale dialogue and action highlighting the numerous ways to travel, eat, and shop in the Caribbean, leaving the region stable for future tourism."
Jet Blue is a major U.S.to Caribbean carrier and, at the end of August, became the first U.S. airline to complete a commercial flight to Cuba in 50 years, only a few months after a historic agreement between the two countries to resume scheduled air service. JetBlue will use one of its key airline features - TVs available at every seat on all flights - to inform passengers about responsible travel and shopping practices in the Caribbean. Short inflight videos on the subject were originally expected to be unveiled in the next month, but will now probably be launched in early 2017.
JetBlue and the USFWS have a five-year partnership agreement, starting with a customer education and awareness campaign. The USFWS and JetBlue are expected to work together beyond the initial onboard video to develop online content, social media campaigns, and strategies that will reduce demand for illegal wildlife.
BOOK NOTES: A CUDDLY KILLER
When Stanley Temple began studying the impact of cats on bird populations in Wisconsin in the 1980s, he unwittingly started a firestorm and a controversy that involved public health, biodiversity, and wildlife management that has become contentious, to say the least. In Cat Wars (Princeton University Press, 2016), with its revealing subtitle, "The devastating consequences of a cuddly killer," authors Peter Marra and Chris Santella take on the broader issues of this subject and attempt to handle them in measured and responsible ways.
This thoughtful volume follows the historical and cultural ties between humans and cats, from early domestication to the current enthusiasm in pet ownership, while at the same time revealing the difficulties of addressing problems associated with feral animals. Despite what seems to be a small army of detractors, the book is important for anybody truly interested in birds and nature. It is well-written, with a compassionate handling of a very complex issue.
With U.S. bird mortality numbers ranging between 1.3 and 4 billion (median 2.4 billion) birds per year, with unowned cats causing the majority of the mortality (69 percent), the issue cannot be ignored. The authors confront issues of leash laws, cat colonies, cat sanctuaries, trap-neuter-return (TNR), and science denial with care and thoroughness.
Indeed, if there is controversy in this country over climate change, abortion, guns, smoking, and capital punishment, we could reasonably add cats to the list of polarizing subjects! Marra and Santella traverse a minefield of dilemmas and have come to some common-sense and perceptive conclusions. The result is captured in the title of the next-to-last chapter of the book: "A landscape with fewer free-ranging cats: better for cats, better for birds, better for people." Readers on all sides of this issue are encouraged to read Cat Wars.
In 2002, the Pacific Seabird Group petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider listing the Xantus's Murrelet as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A small population, a limited breeding range, and nonnative predators on the breeding islands were all cited as reasons for concern. Two years later, the USFWS identified the species as a candidate species. Threats included predation by cats and rats on breeding islands, as well as light distraction of adults, and oil pollution.
In 2012, the Xantus's Murrelet was split into two species, with its former scrippsi and hypoleucus subspecies each elevated to full-species status. Scripps's Murrelet breeds on islands off southern California (including the Channel Islands National Park) and western Baja California. Guadalupe Murrelet breeds on Guadalupe Island and other islands off western Baja, and the species wanders at least casually north into U.S. waters after the breeding season. Now, however, there are two species at risk.
Toward the end of last month, the USFWS published findings that the two murrelet species are no longer at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future. Over the past the decade or so, park officials and other groups have removed many of the threats, including those from nonnative animals that eat seabird eggs, such as rats and cats.
Currently, the population of breeding-age Scripps's Murrelets is estimated to be between 4,000 and 6,600, and the population of breeding-age Guadalupe Murrelets is about 1,200 to 4,900.
You can find out more (including links) here, from the Ventura County Star:
TIP OF THE MONTH: NWR WEEK
National Wildlife Refuge Week is celebrated each year during the second full week of October. This month, the event occurs from 9-15 October, and it is an ideal time to visit a National Wildlife Refuge to bird, photograph, hike, fish, paddle, or simply enjoy time in nature. Discover how refuges conserve your natural heritage and how these refuges highlight the "Big Six" wildlife-dependent activities on refuges - wildlife watching, wildlife photography, fishing, hunting, wildlife-associated education, and interpretation. There are a number of special events and local festivals, many appropriate for the entire family, hosted on NWRs in October.
You access more information on National Wildlife Refuge Week, including special events, here:
ACCESS MATTERS: MBCC INVESTMENTS
And speaking of refuges...
Early last month, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) met and approved expenditure of $11.7 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF) to preserve more than 13,000 added acres at four National Wildlife Refuges - McFaddin in Texas, Felsenthal in Arkansas, Lower Hatchie in Tennessee, and Turnbull in Washington. The McFaddin NWR acquisition is for 12,376 acres, costing $10 million. The three other acquisitions are smaller - under 300 acres each - but nonetheless significant. The funds for these four acquisitions were raised largely through the sale of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (Duck Stamps), which go to provide habitat for wildlife and increased opportunities for refuge visitors who bird-watch, hunt, photograph, and view wildlife.
For more details on these MBCC acquisitions, see here:
If you bought a $25-stamp last year, you now know where some of your conservation dollars went! Actually, you should be able visit those four locations for birding, since plans are in the works for access expansion at each of these NWRs. This is how buying a "Duck" Stamp can actually contribute toward increasing access for birding.
IBA NEWS: McFADDIN NWR
The previous story, about the MBCC decisions to secure new National Wildlife Refuge habitat for the refuge system, highlights the de facto overlap between MBCC decisions and many Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the country. The overlap is extensive.
The largest single acquisition by the MBCC last month was for McFaddin NWR, about three miles east of High Island, Texas. This was for 12,376 acres, costing $10 million. This acquisition increases the size of McFaddin NWR by over 20%. This bargain property - the Sabine Ranch and Cattle Company, Ltd.- includes a large portion of the Willow Slough Marsh, the largest remaining freshwater marsh on the Texas coast. Its acquisition was facilitated by the actions of The Conservation Fund (TCF) which is purchasing the property directly for over $30 million, and will be transferring it to the USFWS for no more than $10 million. The property will be especially significant for Mottled Ducks, Wood Ducks, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, and Blue-winged Teal. Many other species, of course, will benefit. For example, this is assumed wintering area for both the Black Rail and the Yellow Rail.
McFaddin NWR, along with neighboring Texas Point NWR, was recognized early along as one of the 500 crucial IBAs in the U.S. by the American Bird Conservancy.
You can find more information on McFaddin NWR 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:
RIP: ALAN WORMINGTON
Alan Wormington, highly skilled birder, general naturalist, and Ontario wonder, was in the words of one colleague, "possibly...the most influential birder in Ontario over the last 100 years."
Whether engaged in writing or in direct field work, his dedication to birds and birding was paramount. Birds fascinated him from an early age, an abiding passion he never abandoned. He passed away last month, after battling cancer. You can read a thorough and unique obituary about this prominent Canadian field ornithologist in the Toronto Globe and Mail:
In last month's story on the expanded Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, we inadvertently wrote that the announcement for the expansion was made on 26 September, an impossibility since the E-bulletin itself was only distributed on 1 September! Of course, what we meant to write was 26 August.