April 2023

This Birding Community E-bulletin is being distributed to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats. 

You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA):
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Brown Jays seem to come and go. Some years they seem like a “very local resident” in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas; in other years – they simply seem to be gone.


Brown Jays normally range south from the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas through Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon in northeastern Mexico, southward to Panama along the Gulf-Caribbean slope below 5,000 ft. elevation.


Brown Jays were first found in the U.S. in 1969 from just below Falcon Dam, and the birds eventually started to be seen in river thickets from the dam to Roma, downstream about 18 miles. A small nesting colony was discovered near Santa Margarita in June 1974. By the next year, an estimated population of 40-50 birds was scattered among the thickets along the Rio Grande River, with breeding probably occurring annually. Gradually they could be found between Rio Grande City and San Ygnacio, and often at Salineño and Chapeño. Soon, some started coming to feeders at one or more of the local RV parks.


Eventually however, the numbers and the sightings shrank, and they did so fairly quickly. By the early 1990s perhaps only a dozen birds persisted. Some years: nothing!


So, it was a delight and surprise when a group of four Brown Jays was found on 3 March on the formerly reliable and private Santa Margarita Ranch in Starr County. Some days there were three or four birds present, some days only one, but often they were at feeders offering suet and cut oranges.


Photos of Brown Jays at Santa Margarita Ranch can be found here:


This private location is generally restricted, but organized groups for birders have been put together. The guides at the site are working for tips only ($25 per person recommended) as a way to keep the guiding structure sustainable. The Brown Jays were observed through March . You can find details here:


We could have included this aspect of the Brown Jay experience in our regular “Access Matters” section of the Birding Community E-bulletin, but we have another access-oriented report to make instead.





In October of last year, we reported on the impact of Hurricane Ian on Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge at Sanibel Island, Florida. The near-category-five storm ravaged Refuge habitat and facilities on 28 September, causing the closure of all its waters and land areas to public access. We reported on it here:


We also covered “Ding” under our “IBA News” in November:


“The ‘Ding’ team, with help from refuge crews from around the U.S., has been working nonstop to get parts of the Refuge open so the public can once again view the wildlife, which has made a remarkable comeback since Hurricane Ian, especially the birds,” according to “Ding” Refuge Complex Project Leader Kevin Godsea.


Visitors to the Refuge were thrilled to hear that the gate to the ever-popular and bird-filled Wildlife Drive would open for the first time since the hurricane in the first week of April. Plans for a Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony were included. The “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center will also open that week. Wildlife Drive hours - 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday – will facilitate access, and entrance fees will remain the same as before the hurricane. You can find details here:


Birding is all about getting to see, hear, and share birds afield. And access at NWRs, parks, forests, and elsewhere is the essential prerequisite to enjoying and saving the birds. Accordingly, the hard work of USFWS staff, Friends, and volunteers at Ding Darling NWR should be appreciated as such. They make access happen!





And while we’re on the issue of available access, a new start to a “birding hotspots” inventory is now out there, covering NWRs, parks, forests, shoreline, golf-courses, lakes, roadside stops, dumps, cemeteries, and much more.


“Birding Hotspots” is a new open-source website that collects information about birding opportunities and locations from the local birders who know the sites best. These involve descriptions and maps of eBird hotspots, other websites, and local collaborators.


Created and managed by Ken Ostermiller, a hotspot reviewer for eBird, this website is a real eye-opener. Along with Adam Jackson, a software developer, and numerous eBird editors and devotees who regularly contribute their sightings, the effort has the potential to build a fascinating new birding community resource.


Currently, the site covers 18 states and one Canadian province. You may want to see if your state or province is included… or help the team build the coverage for wherever you live and bird:





Last month, the Hemispheric Council of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN), added the first WHSRN site in Honduras, further connecting the web of vital shorebird locations in the hemisphere. The Punta Condega - El Jicarito system was assigned the status of a “Site of Regional Importance” for supporting 1% of the population of the Wilson's Plover and the Double-striped Thick-knee.


The site is found in the southern part of Honduras, in the Gulf of Fonseca, that includes intertidal mudflats, sandy beaches, and remnants of natural salt marshes. (The area is also part of the RAMSAR Site 1000, for being a Wetland of International Importance that serves as habitat for many species of flora and fauna.) Besides officially protected areas, the location has shrimp production areas that includes four shrimp farms.


In the Punta Condega – El Jicarito System, over 100 American Oystercatchers have been recorded, some banded on our own Atlantic coast. The location also hosts 12,000 Western Sandpipers and 5,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers as a resting site. In addition, there are significant numbers of Least Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts, and Whimbrels at this location in season.


For more details on the new WHSRN site and its importance for inter-American shorebird conservation, see 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:




It seems that plastic pollution at sea is becoming so prevalent that the scarring of digestive tracts in seabirds is being found across different ages of the birds, according to a new study, published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.


When seabirds ingest small pieces of plastic, it can inflame the digestive tract. Over time, this can cause tissues to become scarred and disfigured, and eventually affecting digestion, growth, and survival. Researchers have called the fibrotic condition “plasticosis” to make it clear that it was caused by plastic in the environment.


Study co-author, Alex Bond, who is the senior curator in charge of birds at the U.K.'s Natural History Museum in London, said "This study is the first time that stomach tissue has been investigated in this way and shows that plastic consumption can cause serious damage to these birds' digestive system."


Other studies have found that around 90% of all seabirds have ingested plastics. Bird and marine conservationists argue that reduced plastics consumption and targeted efforts to keep plastics out of our oceans are the best ways to curb the situation.


You can find more details here:


And you can see the original article here:





In the March issue of the Birding Community E-bulletin, we reported on the study from the Acopian Center for Ornithology at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania revealing that installing “bird-safe glass” is a low-cost option when constructing new commercial-type buildings:


At about the same time that the Acopian Center report was released, there was a joint statement by Dr. Dan Klem, of the Center, and Dr. Doug Tallamy, of the University of Delaware that established a native-plant element to stress the call for installing native plants and bird-safe windows as a complementary approach.


The scientists insisted that wherever crucial native plants are started to be grown that the installation of bird window-collision prevention systems also be installed. The pair stressed that adding native plants to a yard can create an “ecological trap” when the window element is not addressed.


Unless these efforts are linked the goal of really helping birds can fail. What is the use of attracting birds with the best native plants if they might die from impact with nearby glass windows?


See the statement, along with “five key actions” that should be in place the day a native plant is planted:


For a description of how to recraft planting programs, see here:





For many years, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art has been an artistic, cultural, and historical landmark on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Its origins are connected to brothers Lem and Steve Ward, from Crisfield, Maryland, as they transformed bird decoys and associated carvings into an art form starting in the 1920s and 1930s. Wildfowl art – well beyond decoys - soon gained local and national attention.


To maintain that tradition, the Ward Foundation was founded in 1968, followed by the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art which opened in Salisbury, Maryland, in 1992. The Ward Museum and its contents were graciously “sold” to long-time partner and cooperator, Salisbury University for the sum of $1 in early 2000.


For over two decades, Salisbury University and the Ward Foundation experienced a mutually advantageous relationship. The foundation would receive financial support from the university – roughly $200,000 each year – and the university would freely use the space for varied purposes. Environmental and science classes at the museum were an essential part of the arrangement, providing students and local schools with hands-on experiences connected to nature.


While the current museum boasts over 12,000 square feet of exhibition space, four gallery rooms, multiple educational spaces, and direct nature access, a proposed new location is much smaller. It is a renovated building with 5,000 square feet, in downtown Salisbury which has space for one gallery (c. 1,500 square feet), no educational settings, and limited office space. Most of the art would have to be stored away from exhibition.


Unfortunately, during recent Covid-times, the Ward Museum had an HVAC malfunction in July 2022 and other reported problems that Salisbury University officials claimed would necessitate a closure of the facility and a related relocation.


The unexpected upshot from this announcement was a wave of outrage from wildlife art enthusiasts and their supporters, upset that a respected center for their art form and associated education would be downsized “to a storefront gallery.” Art donors are concerned about the future of the pieces they gave to preserve the Ward institution's vision. Students and community members have seriously feared losing a valuable educational space and center for regional and wildlife art and culture. The Wicomico County Council has invited Salisbury University officials to address ongoing issues surrounding the planned closure. An associated petition-drive has received serious circulation.


By mid-March, the Salisbury University's student voice, The Flyer, had an illustrated and explanatory article by editor, Liam McGinnes:


Then, on 20 March, Salisbury University unilaterally announced that it intended to proceed with the planned move, despite the opposition. You can review some of these issues and concerns via the local ABC affiliate,”47ABC WMDT”:


The petition highlighted in the news continues and has now topped over 5,000 signatories. Background and the petition can be found here:





Trail-cameras are fascinating and often helpful as a way to monitor the arrival and frequency of birds and other wildlife at parks, refuges, and private study sites. A trail-cam can help address questions of human impacts on birds, interaction and behavior between species, and even watching for predators at nests. Indeed, trail-cams took a major usage leap during the pandemic, too!


Amazingly a trail camera images taken at the Google corporate property in Mountain View, California, produced an astounding new First State Record for Siberian Rubythroat. The documentation of this Old-World Flycatcher is also the first record of the species in the Lower 48 States. It is also only the second record in North America outside of Alaska, the other being a single bird found dead in Ontario, Canada, in December 1983.)


The trail-camera identification was made last month from a unit installed on the Google property for an ongoing San Jose State University project. Since researchers only check cameras every 4-6 weeks, we know that the bird was actually photographed on site on 19 November!


Further intense searches on the Google property failed to produce a rediscovery of the Siberian Rubythroat, but you can view the fascinating and unmistakable original photo and read some of the related comments at iNaturalist, here





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