Little Egrets are an Eastern Hemisphere species that range from Western Europe, Africa, and southern Asia and Japan south to Australia. This species was first seen in North America in Newfoundland in the spring of 1954, but it was not until the 1980s that a few more were reported in Atlantic Canada, and by 1989 and the 1990s multiple birds were reported in New England.
In some years Little Egrets have appeared south of New England (e.g., Delaware and Virginia), including records involving returning individuals for multiple years. Little Egrets have also regularly occurred on several Caribbean islands, most notably Barbados, where the species has even been found breeding. Remarkably, a May 2000 record was also established for the western Aleutian Islands.
But other than by speculation, we really don't know the breeding origins of the Little Egrets so regularly seen in the Northeast.
One of this year's Little Egrets was found on Saturday, 4 August, by Barbara Gearhart in the Napatree Point area of Rhode Island. It frequented the salt-marsh ponds along the summer-vacation beach colonies in the area, often associating with 20 or more Snowy Egrets and a half dozen Great Egrets.
Most early evenings the Little Egret was seen flying toward Barn Island and Stonington Point in Connecticut where it was finally found about a week later. A general pattern developed where the Little Egret could be found in the mornings in Rhode Island and early evenings across the water in Connecticut.
Plenty of local, regional, and out-of-area birders got to view the egret, which remained through the end of the month.
BAHAMA NUTHATCH REFOUND
The pine-dependent little nuthatch inhabiting Grand Bahama Island may be a subspecies of the Brown-headed Nuthatch of the Southeastern U.S., or it may be a distinct species, based on morphometric differentiation and distinct vocalization differences. While two ornithological camps have debated whether or not the "Bahama Nuthatch" is a full species, the numbers of this Caribbean pine (Pinus caribea)-dependent form residing on Grand Bahama Island have plummeted over the last decade and a half.
Regardless of their taxonomic status, these nuthatches need mature, fire-maintained stands of Caribbean pine for survival, and they face serious threats related to development, potential logging, invasive species (including cats, snakes, raccoons, and competing cavity-nesting birds), and catastrophic storm damage. In fact, the Bahama Nuthatch had been feared extinct following the massive damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and no individuals had been found in subsequent searches until earlier this year.
Last month, it was announced that the Bahama Nuthatch had been rediscovered on Grand Bahama by two research teams working in coordination with the Bahamas National Trust. One team was led by Zeko McKenzie and his students at the University of The Bahamas-North, and supported by American Bird Conservancy, and another by University of East Anglia (UEA) masters students, Matthew Gardner and David Pereira, in conjunction with BirdLife International.
Both teams first observed and photographed nuthatches in May 2018. McKenzie's team observed five birds in all, starting with a sighting of two individuals together on 1 May. The next sighting was on 23 May, over a mile from the first observation, and included a juvenile bird.
Regarding the moment when he saw the Bahama Nuthatch, Matthew Gardner recalled, "We had been scouring the forest for about six weeks, and had almost lost hope. At that point we'd walked about 400km (250 miles). Then, I suddenly heard its distinctive call and saw the unmistakable shape of a nuthatch descending towards me. I shouted with joy; I was ecstatic!"
It is unclear how many nuthatches may be left, but the number is apparently small, based on the extent of the searches on Grand Bahama. The observations occurred within the Lucaya Estates, an area previously logged during the mid-1900s, and since marked by roads for residential development.
Researcher Zeko McKenzie said, "Although the Bahama Nuthatch has declined precipitously, we are encouraged by the engagement of conservation scientists who are now looking for ways to save the species."
More details and access to a short video are available here:
IBA NEWS: FRASER ESTUARY PROBLEMS
In our May issue, we mentioned that among the three Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in North America that BirdLife International regarded in a "Danger" category, the Fraser River Estuary in British Columbia was one:
The Fraser Estuary became a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site of Hemispheric Importance in 2005, mainly for seasonally hosting great numbers of Western Sandpipers. In May 2015, we highlighted the crucial role that the Fraser River Estuary plays as a critical migratory stopover and refueling location for at least 60 % of the global population of this species:
Three main areas of the site, Roberts Bank, Boundary Bay, and Sturgeon Bank, are also important for several other shorebird species, including Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover.
But this location doesn't simply attract birds. The estuary is also the ancestral home of the Coast Salish people, and it continues to be inhabited by a number of First Nation communities across the delta. The estuary also supports an important salmon fishery, along with other fisheries.
At the same time this site is rapidly changing, threatening the health of the estuary, the communities that use it, and the wildlife that depend on it. Walking paths, dog parks, picnic areas, and other recreational areas are all part of the scene. The conversion of in-soil agriculture to greenhouses (or other hard infrastructure), unexplained die-off of coastal wetlands, and an invasive Spartina cordgrass that crowds healthy wetlands and mudflats are collectively issues of concern.
One of the biggest threats facing the estuary is the expansion of western gateway trade infrastructure. A proposed port expansion would double the size of an existing artificial island and causeway that already hosts Canada's largest shipping-container facility.
Together these changes add up to the loss of wetlands, mudflats, and agricultural lands which result in fewer places for birds to roost and feed.
While protecting the estuary is critical for shorebirds, it is also vital to the quality of life of nearby communities relying on the area for food, heritage, recreation, seafood, and open space.
For a thoughtful discussion of the situation, see this recent summary from WHSRN, a report on an assessment trip to the estuary by Bird Studies Canada:
To access more details on the Fraser River Estuary IBA read:
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:
VOLLYBALL PLAYERS VS. NESTING BEACHBIRDS
Every summer seems to present at least a few disturbing stories of conflicts between beachgoers and beach birds - terns, gulls, plovers, sandpipers, etc. This summer provided an especially tragic example along the Alabama coast which deserves special mention.
In July, beachgoers on a small island at the mouth of Mobile Bay destroyed hundreds of bird eggs in the process of playing volleyball. The wrongdoing was discovered by Andrew Haffenden, a biologist with Birmingham Audubon's Coastal Bird Survey. He was conducting a routine bird survey on a spit of land that juts off the side of Dauphin Island when he noticed several tents and a volleyball net set up on a small island known as Sand Island about a mile offshore. There were also as many as 17 boats anchored there.
After getting to the island, Haffenden and others discovered a large nesting colony of Least Terns and Black Skimmers, but they also found massive destruction. According to Haffenden, "The people had collected all the eggs from the nests to clear out an area to play volleyball. The people had actually made a little dome of sand and placed the eggs around it to decorate it... In that pile of eggs, there were a number that were about to hatch. In fact, if you look at the pictures of the pile you can see an egg that showed pipping... But it's not just the eggs in the pile; the amount of disturbance to the colony while playing volleyball, and standing or sitting and watching the players would have at least kept a couple of hundred females off the nest, which certainly caused the death of their hatchlings, and about to hatch developing eggs."
The folks from Birmingham Audubon's Coastal Program immediately informed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Soon, loose fencing and signage was installed, designed to discourage disturbance. A count of 520 remaining and active Least Tern nests and 13 Black Skimmer nests was made, thus marking the site for a time as the largest Least Tern colony in Alabama.
By putting up the fencing and signage further human visitation virtually stopped. Sadly, however, the initial volleyball-caused losses were increased in late July by high winds which put much of the nesting area under water. Fortunately, at least some young birds did survive.
For a full description of the incident - including photos of the volleyball disturbance - see here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: TRY NABCI'S RELEVANCY TOOLKIT
The North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) has unveiled a new "Relevancy Toolkit," a resource intended to facilitate conversations between our bird-focused community and other partners whose broad goals may align with bird conservation outcomes. The toolkit is designed to help in working with varied interest groups, such as private landowners, agricultural organizations, industry, land trusts, transportation departments, or community associations. It is meant to help find that essential "hook"- a way to engage a new audience to begin discussing cooperative work to achieve shared goals.
The 13-page toolkit showcases dozens of studies linking birds and bird conservation with other human benefits, from ecotourism revenue, to pest control services, to increased property values, to human health. By using the handy toolkit, parties may understand better their target audience and their interests, providing examples in the document that can resonate strongly.
Achieving conservation goals in isolation is not long-lasting, and the best chances for ultimate success come from understanding those benefits that go far beyond birds and other wildlife. If you are looking for some general talking-points, or fun facts about the relevance of bird conservation, this toolkit may have something for you.
Access the toolkit here:
FIVE YOUNG WHOOPING CRANES IN LOUISIANA
Five new Whooping Cranes hatched and fledged in late April and early May this summer in southwestern Louisiana marked a significant milestone in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project. The five colts are the most to hatch in any one year since the project started in 2011. Previously, three Whooping Cranes hatched and one fledged in 2016, and three hatched and one successfully fledging in 2017, thus making 2018 with its five fledglings a real winning year for the project.
Louisiana's Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project began when 10 Whooping Cranes from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center were released at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. The original idea was to establish and nurture a non-migratory flock. Every year since 2011, more Whooping Cranes have been added to the initial flock, and the current Louisiana population is now up to 66 (61 adults plus the five 2018 fledglings).
All five youngsters were hatched in nests on private lands in southwest Louisiana, significantly located amid commercially-oriented crawfish ponds. According to Sara Zimorski, with the restoration project, the cooperation of private landowners and farmers has been vital to the success of the effort.
DUCK STAMP CONTEST IN LAS VEGAS
The 2018 Federal Duck Stamp Art Competition will be held Friday and Saturday, 14 and 15 September, at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, Nevada. Contest judging will start at 10 a.m. (Pacific time) each day. The Preserve will also offer free admission to its 180-acre site for all visitors on both days.
The five species eligible for the art competition this year are Wood Duck, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and Lesser Scaup. The winning artwork will grace next years' Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, popularly called the "Duck Stamp."
Since 1934, the stamp has helped raise over $1 billion to secure over 6 million acres of wetland, bottomland, and grassland habitat for birds in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Last year, the stamp brought in over $42 million.
The competition in Las Vegas will be live-streamed. For more information, see here:
RIP: KATHLEEN S. "BETTY" ANDERSON
While we seldom feature obituaries in the Birding Community E-bulletin, this month we felt compelled to highlight the recent loss of Kathleen S. "Betty" Anderson, a woman whose influence was extraordinarily broad and deep. No doubt, readers will likely see other biographies and eulogies to Betty Anderson, so ours will be necessarily brief.
Betty's professional career began in 1957 working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Encephalitis Field Station where she worked on early research on Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Following the birth of her two children, she became a Mass Audubon teacher where weekly she introduced hundreds of young children to birds and natural history in southeastern Massachusetts.
As Betty's enthusiasm for research and bird-banding grew, she eventually established an Operation Recovery banding station on Duxbury Beach in Massachusetts. It was a project coordinated by Chandler Robbins, James Baird, and other active banders of the day. Betty's active involvement with this effort ultimately led to the establishment of the Manomet Bird Observatory (now called Manomet, Inc.), where she was the founding director from 1969-1983. It was during her tenure there that she was able to touch and influence the lives of hundreds of burgeoning ornithologists in her role as an educator, a mentor, an ornithologist, and an inspiration to everyone with whom she came in contact.
From 1981-2018 she served as an active member and eventually as chair of the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program's Advisory Committee, and in 2007 she received the prestigious Governor Francis W. Sargent Award from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
While her honors and tributes are legend, among the more notable were being the first woman ever elected to membership in the Nuttall Ornithological Club in 1974, and its first female president in 1987; receiving the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's prestigious Arthur A. Allen Award in 1984; being elected a Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union in 2005; and her lengthy service on the boards of Mass Audubon, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the New England Wildflower Society, the North American Loon Fund, and the American Birding Association.
Betty authored more than 50 professional papers along with publishing numerous popular articles in journals and magazines. However, it is her own personal journals documenting and detailing early indications of climate change as a result of 50 years of continuous observation of events on her own 100-acre property in Middleboro that are among her most valuable professional contributions.
Betty Anderson gave so much to so many people for so many years, that her greatest legacy will forever be her incalculable ability to enthuse, enlighten, educate, and motivate others to become the best that they can be.
Also, for a fine profile of Betty Anderson and her contributions, see this article from last year: