There were some notable rarities across North America in September, including multiple-day sightings of Blue-footed Booby in Ventura, California and Kane Co., Utah; Black-tailed Gull in Powell River, British Columbia; Wood Sandpiper in Humboldt Co., California; Little Stint in Deschutes Co., Oregon; Thick-billed Vireo in Miami-Dade Co., Florida; and Golden-crowned Warbler in Hidalgo Co., Texas.
Anyone one of these could have ranked as our single choice for the rarity of the month, but this month we chose to bend our own standards for what qualifies as the rarity focus for September. This month, like our similar digression in July, we've actually chosen a locality, not simply a species. In the July issue we focused on the rarities that appeared across the exterior outposts of Alaska in June. This month we highlight one of those very same outposts in Alaska.
It's St. Paul Island, the increasingly birder-visited island among the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. The Pribilofs, a four-island archipelago about 300 miles from Alaska's mainland, are part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and are famous for its resident fur-seal population and cliff-nesting alcids. St. Paul is also the home to the largest population of Native Aleuts in North America, which comprise about 450 of the 530 residents of the island. St. Paul is also a bird-magnet during migration, usually in spring, but increasingly also in fall.
Last month, St. Paul hosted a remarkable collection of Asian-sourced birds, including, White-tailed Eagle, Little Stint, Solitary Snipe, Brown Shrike, Taiga Flycatcher, Gray-Streaked Flycatcher, Red-flanked Bluetail, Olive-backed Pipit, Common Rosefinch.
Sometimes, outstanding birding is simply a question of being at the right place at the right time, and last month the right place was probably St. Paul Island.
NEW STAMP ART AND MORE
On Saturday, 15 September, a panel of five judges at the Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest held in Las Vegas, Nevada, chose an acrylic painting of a Wood Duck and a decoy by Scot Storm as the contest winner. Storm's winning art will appear on the 2019-2020 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp, which will ultimately raise tens of millions of dollars for fee-title and easement habitat acquisition for the Refuge System once the stamp goes on sale in June 2019. Approximately 1.6 million of these $25-dollar stamps are sold every year.
This is the second contest win for Storm, an artist from Freeport, Minnesota, whose depiction of a pair of flying Redheads previously appeared on the 2004-2005 stamp.
The stamp is required to hunt waterfowl in the United States, and it also serves as a free pass to any National Wildlife Refuge that charges an entry fee. A short article on the contest, including an impressive image of the stamp, may be seen here:
Also last month, an article titled "Do birdwatchers buy the duck stamp?" appeared online in Human Dimensions of Wildlife. The article written by Nathan J. Shipley, Lincoln R. Larson , Caren B. Cooper, Kathy Dale, Geoff LeBaron, and John Takekawa raised an important issue: "As sociodemographic trends continue to reshape the conservation landscape, [people have] questioned whether the current financial trajectory of wildlife conservation is sustainable and, perhaps more importantly, who is going to pay for it."
Birdwatchers buying "duck stamps" was measured as one possible vehicle to help maintain such sustainability. Shipley and his colleagues surveyed more than 3,300 participants in the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count and found that 20% of the birders had purchased duck stamps within the past two years. Curiously, the researchers regarded this as a rather low number, while others think it may be too high!
Regardless, we know that hunters are nearly six times more likely to buy Duck Stamps than the average non-hunting birder, a figure easily explained since duck hunters are required to hold an annual Stamp. You can find a summary of the article here:
For more discussion of the Stamp, its uses, and promotion, you can find a lot more at the website for the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp:
BIRD EXTINCTIONS THIS CENTURY
Well, the count is in. Last month, BirdLife International released the results of an eight-year study analyzing 51 critically endangered bird species and found that eight could arguably be classified as already extinct, or very close to extinction. More specifically they found that three are extinct, one is extinct in the wild, and four are precipitately close to extinction if not already gone. These results were published in the journal Biological Conservation.
There were some unexpected results in this release. Generally, bird extinctions tend to be concentrated among small-island species, especially those vulnerable to excessive hunting or competition with exotic invasive species. In this study however, five of eight documented cases have occurred in South America and are attributed by scientists to deforestation.
Stuary Butchart, the chief scientist for BirdLife International, said, "Historically, 90 percent of bird extinctions have been small populations on remote islands. Our evidence shows there is a growing wave of extinctions washing over the [South American] continent driven by habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture, drainage, and logging."
BirdLife considered three factors: intensity of threats, timing and reliability of records, and the timing and quantity of search efforts for the species. The team then applied these factors to the likely species and concluded that their methods not only aligned with the status of many birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List, but also that some of those birds needed to be reclassified as extinct.
The three species that were deemed extinct were the Brazilian Cryptic Treehunter (Cichlocolaptes mazarbarnetti), the Brazilian Alagoas Foliage-gleaner (Philydor novaesi), and the Hawaiian Black-faced Honeycreeper (Melamprosops phaeosoma), also known as the Poo-uli. These species were last seen in 2007, 2011, and 2004, respectively.
The Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) was classified as being extinct in the wild, probably becoming extinct in the wild in 2000. Only 70 individuals currently exist in captivity. The remaining species - the Glaucous Macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus), the Pernambuco Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium mooreorum), the New Caledonian Lorikeet (Charmosyna diadema), and the Javan Lapwing (Vanellus macropterus) could be reclassified as critically endangered (or possibly extinct), since none of them has been seen since the beginning of this century.
This most recent classification is considered a cautious one, according to Butchart, since it basically means that these species are functionally extinct. It's also part of a judgment about how to implement ongoing conservation efforts. "We've got limited conservation resources, so we need to spend these wisely and effectively. If some of these species have gone, we need to redirect these resources to those that remain," Butchart remarked in a recent interview.
Here's a summary of the situation from National Geographic:
Over the previous five years, we have touched on the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) no less than a dozen times in the Birding Community E-bulletin.
Since it was signed into law in 1964, the intent of the LWCF has directed the use of revenues obtained from the development of one natural resource - offshore oil and gas - to support the conservation of another resource - U.S. lands and waters. While "authorized" to spend upwards of $900 million a year for parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and other public open spaces, be they federal, state, or local, it has almost never been fully "appropriated" at that amount. (Note: recently, up to $6 billion annually has actually gone into the U.S. Treasury from offshore oil and gas revenue.) At the same time, LWCF has protected well over 5 million acres of federal lands and supported over 40,000 projects on the state-side of funding, just to name some of the highlights. In fact, there are innumerable sites created and sustained through LWCF that are Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across the U.S.
A shortsighted Congress allowed the LWCF to lapse in 2015, but strong public reaction led to it being revived for three years.
And in a surprise move in mid-September, the House Natural Resources Committee passed a significant compromise and bipartisan recommendation that would permanently reauthorize the LWCF. The proposal, led by Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), was adopted as an amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R. 502, a bill introduced by Grijalva in January 2017 that had 235 co-sponsors. H.R. 502 would have permanently reauthorized LWCF at $900 million and require that no less that 1.5 percent of the annual authorized amount or $10 million, whichever is greater, be used for recreational public access. The new amendment proposed that 40 percent of LWCF funding be allocated for federal land acquisition, 40 percent be available for the much-neglected stateside LWCF program, and would increase the amount available for recreational public access to 3 percent or $20 million. In addition, the remaining funds would be available for other activities that could include land maintenance needs. Finally, the agreement provided much-needed parity for the District of Columbia and U.S. territories so that they would receive equivalent shares of stateside LWCF funding.
This was a remarkable achievement. "This is a taste of what's possible when people work together in good faith. Days like these are far too rare in Congress, and if we keep this up we might just restore public trust in Congress' ability to get things done," said Ranking Member Raul Grijalva. "Thanks to a lot of hard work on both sides, the days of LWCF being a political football could end very soon."
But the good feelings ended quickly. Republican congressional leaders balked, in no small part on ideological grounds and general disagreement over land acquisition. After years of congressional wrangling over efforts to make the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent and reliable, LWCF expired once again on the last day of September.
The current funding lapse can mean no new revenue from offshore drilling going into the existing fund. Without continued funding, upcoming and already authorized LWCF projects could stop. That said, there are multiple bills still before Congress that could reauthorize the LWCF.
ACCESS MATTERS: LWCF AGAIN
For our usual "Access Matters" feature, we simply suggest that you re-read the fourth paragraph above, in the coverage on the fate of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The House Natural Resources Committee's proposal - a serious compromise among different interests - in an attempt to reauthorize LWCF at $900 million, asked that no less that 3 percent of the annual authorized amount or $20 million, whichever to be greater, would be used for recreational public access.
This may be a departure from the original intent of the LWCF, but it also emphasizes the level of concern over public access. The compromise had value and was intended to make passage of the entire LWCF reauthorization possible.
Apparently, it wasn't enough for some in Congress however, so now it's back to the proverbial drawing-board for the much-abused LWCF.
AUGUST'S IOC EVENT
After much preparation and anticipation, the 27th International Ornithological Congress (IOC) and first-ever Vancouver International Bird Festival took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, from August 19-26. Its conclusion occurred close to the end of August, not quite in time to give it an assessment in last month's Birding Community E-bulletin, so we will address that omission here.
Considered the oldest and most prestigious of global meetings for bird scientists, the IOC has met every four years since the first one held in Vienna, Austria, in 1884. Canada has previously hosted only one IOC meeting, in Ottawa in 1986, and Vancouver became the first meeting of the Congress on the Pacific Coast of the Americas.
The Congress had broad national endorsement, including from the City of Vancouver, the province of British Columbia, Environment Canada, Simon Fraser University, Artists for Conservation, Tourism Vancouver, and an array of scientific societies and conservation organizations. Bird Studies Canada, the leading science-based bird conservation organization in Canada, was co-host.
In a creative twist, the city's annual "Bird Week" coincided with the Congress in August, revealing Vancouver as a welcoming, green, and bird-friendly city. Throughout the week, the Vancouver Convention Centre was busy while ornithologists and general bird enthusiasts gathered to celebrate a concern and passion for birds, and to exchange vital information for ornithology and conservation. The attendance numbers were impressive: about 1,600 delegates from 74 countries for the IOC, and 33,000 participants for the Bird Week festival itself. It was a fine combination of solid science and popular interest in birds.
Characteristic of this unique blend was the highly successful Canada Evening reception co-hosted with the Society of Canadian Ornithologists, an event which drew 1,350 attendees. It featured prolific author and speaker Margaret Atwood on bird conservation and the inspiration behind her graphic novel series, Angel Catbird.
Among other points in her talk, Atwood offered three messages of hope that emerged from current bird-conservation actions:
1 Where non-indigenous rats can be eliminated from islands, seabirds come back and these birds in turn enrich the seas around them through their guano and increase of fish stocks.
2. We can best capture some of the excess carbon dioxide that affects our atmosphere by regenerating tropical forest.
3. We can actually move away from top-down schemes and efforts to move native people off their land to prevent conflict with wildlife, and, instead arrive at cooperative formulas.
For a summary of the IOC and Bird Week combination, see this report from Bird Studies Canada:
IBA NEWS: HUMBOLDT BAY ANNIVERSARY
Humboldt Bay in coastal Humboldt County in northern California is a Globally Important Bird Area IBA. It is also a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site, which last month marked its 20th anniversary.
Research published last month showed that the Humboldt Bay Complex WHSRN site actually hosts many more shorebirds than previously estimated. The study (four surveys, 14 days apart, over 46 days), was conducted by Humboldt State University shorebird ecologist Dr. Mark Colwell and his team, and it was published in the August issue of Wader Study.
The most abundant species at the site is Western Sandpiper, with the new study estimating that there are 313,750 - 536,750 currently using the Bay. Twenty-five additional shorebird species account for another 192,982 birds using the Humboldt Bay Complex, combining to well over the half-million threshold for a Site of Hemispheric Importance. In addition to hosting Arctic-nesting shorebirds, the site is a wintering area for nine shorebird species either breeding locally or in the temperate interior, including Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, American Avocet, and Willet.
The site is a mix of federal, state, local, tribal, and private lands, and there are many partners within the Bay, including Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Bay has diverse habitat types, including eelgrass beds that are the largest anywhere between Willapa Bay, Washington, and Baja California, Mexico. The complex offers succor to much more than shorebirds; the eelgrass beds, for example, provide important food for Brant and offer cover for many species of marine and estuarine vertebrates and invertebrates.
The Bay's status as an IBA is described here:
The full story on the 20th anniversary can be found 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:
FLORIDA'S RED TIDE PROBLEM
Harmful algal blooms occur when colonies of algae living in the sea or in freshwater grow out of control, producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. While many people call these blooms "red tides," scientists prefer the term harmful algal blooms. One of the best-known occurrences of red tides appears nearly every summer along Florida's Gulf Coast. The bloom produces toxins that make the surrounding air difficult to breathe for both wildlife and people. As the name suggests, these blooms often turn the water red, and the phenomenon has now been reported in every U.S. coastal state, with the trend seemingly rising.
The red tide that began last fall in southwest Florida stretched to over 150 miles of the state's Gulf Coast this summer. Such blooms have affected both sides of Florida's coasts and have recently reached the panhandle.
The blooms actually started on the heels of Hurricane Irma, initiated by a complicated set of factors. Nitrogen, some from agriculture, is necessary for red tide to thrive. Normally, winter winds tend to break up the tide south into the Gulf of Mexico. But last winter, the strong northern winds didn't arrive. An additional factor conceivably making conditions more favorable for red tide is climate change. Climate change is not just about rising water temperatures; it is also about shifting systems.
This summer, the Florida media was focused on images of dead sea turtles, dolphins, and fish, including a 26-foot-long whale shark. In late August, two manatees washed up at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, drowned after being paralyzed from the harmful bloom.
With the concern over the wildlife killed by red tide this year - eels, snook, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles - seabirds and shorebirds are sometimes neglected. But the problem has become so serious that Florida wildlife rehabilitators are searching for birds that are specifically protected by state and federal law, including Black Skimmers, Snowy Plovers, Least Terns, American Oystercatchers, and Red Knots.
The birds that get sick appear to do so after consuming matter killed by red tide. The algae's toxins collect in their bodies and impact their neurological and digestive systems. Recently, the hardest hit region for the birds appeared to be in the Sarasota area. Among fatalities were at least four Snowy Plovers on Lido Key, near Sarasota, all seemingly killed by red tide.
See here for a recent report on the impact of this phenomenon at the Ding Darling NWR. It appeared in the National Wildlife Refuge Association blog:
TIP OF THE MONTH: PLAN FOR SWIFTS
Last month, the Atlanta Audubon Society teamed up with the Piedmont Park Conservancy to build a unique chimney tower, one unveiled on 25 September in Atlanta's popular park. It's a chimney tower without a fireplace; a chimney specifically designed as a nesting-and-roosting site for Chimney Swifts.
The unveiling occurred during the state's inaugural "Georgia Grows Native for Birds Month." Chimney Swifts have been historically widespread and common across the eastern United States, but the population has been decreasing due to habitat loss and pesticides. At the same time, Chimney Swifts having adapted in the U.S. to nesting inside brick-base chimneys, now find this "habitat" decreasing. New homes are often built without chimneys, cap them closed, or even use fixtures like metal liners for whatever fireplaces and wood stoves the chimneys might service. That's why Chimney Swift fans in the East have been creating artificial nesting-and-roosting habitats, like the tower in Atlanta.
But building a tower is not as simple as putting together a backyard feeding station. It generally requires elaborate plans and, more often than not, cooperative partners (e.g., a bird club, nature center, or local park authority).
However, last month's Atlanta debut should serve as an example for others to follow when planning to build a chimney-tower for swifts. Serious planning right now could mean that a local tower in your area would be ready when the swifts return early next spring.
You can read about the Atlanta experience here:
And to find plans for building towers, look here: