THE BIRDING COMMUNITY E-BULLETIN

March 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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RARITY FOCUS

 

Regular readers will remember that we had some interesting rarities to highlight in January and February – namely, Northern Lapwings and Short-billed Gulls – but this also meant that we bypassed some fascinating rarities across the country, including a very special Red-flanked Bluetail in California.

 

In late December – a few days after Christmas –a Red-flanked Bluetail was spotted by Matt Brady at Lighthouse Field State Beach in Santa Cruz, California, at the northern end of Monterey Bay.

 

This species typically breeds in the Old World from Finland across central and southern Russia and the Kamchatka Peninsula into northern China and Japan, and winters southward into southeast Asia. Most North American records of this East Asian chat are from the outer edges of Alaska, especially around the Bering Sea. But recently records have indicated a nearly annual pattern of single West-Coast wintering birds somewhere from British Columbia to California.

 

Fortunately, the Santa Cruz bird remained through February. While it was often skulking, persistent birders were regularly rewarded with good looks. In fact, you can find a photo of the bird taken on the last day of February by Colette Micallef here:

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/540794671

  and selection of other photos of this Red-flanked Bluetail here:

https://ebird.org/species/refblu/US-CA

 

 

RARITY FOOTNOTE: EURASIAN MARSH-HARRIER

 

This is a strange story. Very strange.

 

Regular readers may remember our Rarity Focus from last September, the details on a Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, found and photographed on 25 August, on the island of North Haven, in Maine. The next day it appeared about 16 miles away, in the area of well-known Weskeag Marsh. The harrier was seen and photographed in this locality by intrepid birders into the late afternoon of 27 August.

 

We wrote about it here in September:

https://conta.cc/3d3k0Bl

 

Then, surprisingly, on 8 November, a Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, presumably the very same raptor, was photographed about 350-400 miles to the SSW, at Melanie Lane, a marshy area in Morris County, New Jersey, where it  remained for two days, and then was seen at two other nearby locations on 12 and 18 November.

 

Incredibly, the very next day, 19 November, a United Airlines 737 from Chicago, on its final approach to Newark International Airport, hit a bird at about 3,000 feet about nine miles from the runway.

 

The Federal Aviation Administration released a report toward the end of January indicating that this bird was identified “by both DNA and whole feathers” as a Eurasian Marsh-Harrier! Surely, this was the same bird, last seen alive about 15 miles northwest of Newark International Airport on 18 November.

 

Dave DeReamus, a Pennsylvania birder, wrote in his blog that the raptor had been hunting in the general area for “at least a week-and-a-half. The odds of this happening to this particular bird are astronomical. It’s a very sad ending to a bird that survived a trip from another continent, only to meet its demise while soaring in the New Jersey sky.”

 

For more details, see this fine summary (with a photo of the live bird by DeReamus) in a piece by Matt Mendenhall, editor of BirdWatching:

https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/news/birdwatching/tragic-ending-for-a-mega-rare-marsh-harrier/

 

 

IBA NEWS: CONTINUING OKEEFENOKEE THREAT

 

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Georgia (with a bit in Florida) is an Important Bird Area (IBA) of global significance as well as a Ramsar site(a wetland of international significance). Okefenokee is also on the tentative list to become a World Heritage Site because of its global significance.) Some of the special bird species that can be found at Okefenokee include Wood Stork, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bachman’s Sparrow, and many herons and egrets.

 

Unfortunately, Twin Pines Minerals, LLC wants to build a heavy mineral sand mine next to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The company has been actively working on plans for a roughly 8,000-acre titanium mine atop a geological feature critical to water storage for the expansive swamp.

 

We previously covered this story in the June 2021 issue of the Birding Community E-bulletin:

https://conta.cc/2RQVx7K

 

The controversy has continued, and in November 2022, the National Wildlife Refuge Association and other environmental partners filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, seeking relief for their “alleged arbitrary and capricious reinstatement of approved jurisdictional determinations in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.”

 

In a recent development, Twin Pines released its draft mining land use plan, which has initiated a 60-day comment period for the public. Comments are due by 20 March:

 

You can find more details here from the National Wildlife Refuge Association, including on how to submit comments:

https://www.refugeassociation.org/news/2023/2/22/the-fight-for-okefenokee-national-wildlife-refuge-continues

 

For more information on Okefenokee as a global IBA, see here:

https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas/okefenokee-national-wildlife-refuge

 

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:

https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas

 

 

MIGRATION PREDICTIONS: BIRDFLOW

 

A developing new bird-migration predictive tool may very well be capable of closely and accurately forecasting where migratory birds “will go next.” It’s called BirdFlow, and while it is still being perfected, it should be available to biologists within this year and may eventually be available thereafter for birders to use.

 

Computer scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, in collaboration with biologists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, recently announced this BirdFlow in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

 

Initial results are encouraging. For example, the researchers tested BirdFlow on 11 species of North American birds - including the American Woodcock, Wood Thrush, and Swainson's Hawk - and found that not only did BirdFlow outperform other models for tracking bird migration, it also accurately predicted migration flows without real-time GPS and satellite tracking data. This could make BirdFlow a valuable tool for tracking species that may literally fly under the radar.

 

According to Benjamin Van Doren, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a co-author of the article, “Using BirdFlow, we can unite different data sources and paint a more complete picture of bird movements with exciting applications for guiding conservation action.”

 

This could be an exciting development, and you can review more details here:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/02/230201102837.htm

 

 

WOOD STORK DELISTING?

 

Wood Stork is a species that faced a grim future when it was originally listed in 1984 under the Endangered Species Act. The population decreased from 20,000 nesting pairs to less than 5,000 pairs, primarily nesting in south Florida’s Everglades and Big Cypress ecosystems.

 

After three decades, successful conservation and recovery efforts prompted the species’ downlisting from Endangered to Threatened in June 2014.

 

Today, the Wood Stork breeding population has doubled to 10,000 or more nesting pairs and increased its range to include the coastal plains of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. These long-legged wading birds more than tripled their number of nesting colonies from 29 to 99 in their expanded range. Fortunately, they have adapted to new nesting areas, moving north into coastal salt marshes, old, flooded rice fields, floodplain forest wetlands, and human-created wetlands.   

 

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposes to remove the Wood Stork’s Southeast U.S. distinct population segment (DPS) from listing. This proposal, of course, is based on data indicating that the species may no longer meet the definition of an Endangered or Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended.

 

The USFWS will accept comments on this action received or postmarked on or before 17 April 2023. Specifics on this process and other details can be found inside this informative FAQ page:

https://www.fws.gov/story/2023-02/wood-stork-proposed-delisting

 

 

LEAD AMMUNITION AND EU WETLANDS

 

Since mid-February using lead shot ammunition over wetlands is now illegal in all 27 European Union countries, as well as in Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein. The law came into force following a two-year period given to the EU countries to prepare for the change.

 

Of course, lead shot is dangerous for all sorts of waterbirds that ingest lead pellets, mistaking them for grit, i.e., small pieces of stone or sand useful for their digestion. This ban will also decrease the secondary poisoning of raptors and scavengers, which are regularly poisoned while eating often injured prey contaminated with lead shot.

 

The EU ban, however, does not go beyond wetlands. Lead ammunition in hunting and outdoor sports-shooting away from wetlands, as well as lead used in fishing sinkers and lures, will continue to threaten the environment, at least until further action in Europe is taken.

 

See details here:

https://www.birdlife.org/news/2023/02/14/press-release-lead-ammunition-finally-banned-from-wetlands-across-the-eu/

 

 

ACCESS MATTERS: SEA-EAGLE PROBLEMS

 

Regular readers will remember that we have been following the Steller’s Sea-Eagle that has crossed the continent and delighted hundreds – if not thousands – of birders since 2021. Indeed, for 2022 alone we featured this bird at least three times in the Birding Community E-bulletin, in January (https://conta.cc/3zM0i3V), March (https://conta.cc/3J8q5Hp), and May (https://conta.cc/3FHTPtX).

 

So, when the Steller’s Sea-Eagle reappeared in Maine in early February – and remained for about 10 days - between Arrowsic and Georgetown, that was exciting news.

 

But there was also some bad news:

·        As early as 5 February the sea-eagle was reported to be flushed by someone trespassing too close to its roosting area.

·        By 11 February, viewing from the Rt 127 Back River bridge presented major safety issues (both for viewers and for drivers). Police have had to remind people to park completely off the road, and stay out of the road.

·        By 14 February, Flying Point Road, a narrow dirt road used by birders, became deeply rutted, with parking also becoming extremely limited.

·        By 15 February, the Town of Georgetown announced that Flying Point Road had to be closed to vehicles due to mud and ruts formed through heavy over-use.

 

Other problems also arose, with the Fire Commissioner having concerns that parked cars at the bridge and Flying Point Road could impede their firetrucks. Viewers also created new paths in the marsh and bush at Flying Point Reserve to get better looks, potentially damaging the habitat.

 

Fortunately, most of the birders behaved themselves very well, responsibly, and were mutually supportive. But exceptions to appropriate field standards can often spoil things for the rest of the birding community. And, depending on location and circumstances, access to appropriate viewing sites can be severely restricted or simply closed. Unfortunately, while “getting the bird” for oneself is fine, forgetting that jeopardizing the experience for others is totally inappropriate.

 

You can review this most recent Maine visit by the Steller’s Sea-Eagle here, at the special Maine Audubon page created by Staff Naturalist, Doug Hitchcox:

https://maineaudubon.org/news/rba-stse-2023/

 

NOTE: Details on how to make contributions to the town for repair of the town-maintained road can be found on the same Maine Audubon page. Also, there was a parallel and thoughtful “GoFundMe”account created for repair contributions:

https://gofund.me/1c811365

These efforts could very well serve as a general model for other situations where birders can compensate local managers or municipalities for their “birding footprint”… or tire-tracks!

 

 

WESTERN HUMMER PLAN

 

The Western Hummingbird Partnership has been running a series of planning sessions that are bringing together more than 150 individuals from over 47 organizations across Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. These sessions were aimed at identifying threats to western migratory hummingbirds across their ranges, with a particular emphasis on migration routes as well as their breeding and non-breeding ranges.

 

The network is intending to continue to work with partners to develop information on five key priority threats. The network will also assist working groups to address knowledge gaps on threats and interventions.

 

For more on the Western Hummingbird Partnership, see here:

https://westernhummingbird.org/

 

If you are you interested in reviewing, writing, or contributing to any portion of the upcoming plan, you can respond to a brief survey:

https://efta.typeform.com/to/BmEgJMvR

 

And, if you have questions, you can contact Susan Bonfield:

sbonfield@environmentamericas.org

 

 

THIS IS NUTS!

 

There was a fascinating story of Acorn Woodpeckers in California that circulated across the media in the first week of February. In case you missed it, the news report concerned the discovery of a massive trove of acorns by a California pest control technician on a routine call.

 

When the technician inspected the vacation rental home in question, he cut a hole in a bedroom wall and thousands of acorns came streaming out. Apparently, there were over 700 pounds of these acorns in the walls and chimney!

 

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Nick Castro, owner of Nick’s Extreme Pest Control in Santa Rosa. Castro and his team of three spent a full day extracting the nuts. "We filled eight big black garbage bags. They were so heavy we could barely pick them up," said Castro. "They had to have weighed at least a hundred pounds each."

 

Since Acorn Woodpeckers live in social groups of up to a dozen of more individuals, hoarding acorns and even breeding cooperatively, the acorn stash was probably the work of multiple individuals. The Acorn Woodpeckers may have been adding to the stockpile for perhaps two to five years.

 

You can find photos and more details on this offbeat story here:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/feb/07/woodpeckers-700lbs-acorns-santa-rosa-california?ref=upstract.com

 and here:

https://www.npr.org/2023/02/08/1155458695/woodpeckers-700-pounds-acorns-in-wall-home

 

 

GLASS COSTS AND SAFE BIRDS

 

A very recent study from the Acopian Center for Ornithology at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania revealed that installing “bird-safe glass” is actually a low-cost option when constructing new buildings.

 

Bird-safe glass options in the study include frits, ultra-violet glass, painted patterns, etched patterns, and photovoltaic glass types.

 

This report makes the case that building-code changes can easily require bird-safe glass in new commercial construction, and it lays out the claim that the additional costs are minimal. (For example, bird-safe glass can be installed in a new $8-million nine-story office building for about $30,000, or four tenths of one per cent - 0.38% - of the total cost of the building.)

 

The study is available at

https://bit.ly/3IIEJYT

 

A parallel study on residential costs is in the works but not yet released.

 

 

RIP: JIM BAIRD    

 

While we don’t always feature obituaries in the Birding Community E-bulletin, we felt it important to highlight the recent loss of James “Jim” Baird, who passed at the age of 97 at the end of January.

 

James Baird was known to many as a dedicated bird bander and observer of birds, authoring or co-authoring several formative publications on bird migration and related topics. Indeed, from his New England base, he served as President of the Northeast Bird Banding Association (predecessor of the Association of Field Ornithologists) from 1967 to 1971.

 

But Jim was much more. At his position at the Massachusetts Audubon Society (now Mass Audubon) as Director Natural History Services, he was able to accomplish several outstanding tasks, enough for several dedicated individuals.

 

Surrounded by a cadre of enthusiastic young followers, Jim initiated one of the first and most successful ecotravel programs in the country. He pioneered the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas, the first statewide atlas in North America. He influenced the formulation of wetland protection legislation in Massachusetts, a key model for federal legislation.

 

Early on, Jim encouraged state testing labs to examine birds for the presence of pesticide residue. He was equally active in early campaigns to remove lead in ammo and fishing gear due to previously unknown consequence.

 

He was one of the first ornithologists to emphasize the importance of protecting the wintering habitat of Neotropical migrants, among other things leading to the creation of the Programme for Belize, starting in the 1980s and today protecting over 260,00 acres of tropical forest habitat.

 

Perhaps most importantly, it was Jim Baird’s facility as a teacher and mentor that many who knew him will most remember.

 

For more on Jim Baird and some of his work, see this profile from the Association of Field Ornithologists:

https://afonet.org/2023/02/remembering-james-baird/

 

 

LAST WORD

 

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