Birding Community E-bulletin: March

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.

This issue is sponsored by the producers of superb quality birding binoculars and scopes, Carl Zeiss Sport Optics:

You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA):

March Birding Bulletin













On the morning of 27 January, Paul Dunbar discovered a Common Crane in Hall County, Nebraska, southwest of Grand Island. It was accompanying a group of about 2,000-2,500 Sandhill Cranes.

Common Cranes regularly breed in Eurasia, wintering from southern Eurasia to sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. There are only about 20 reports of this species for North America, but it is not known how many of these represent legitimate wild birds. Common Cranes seen in Nebraska generally accompanying large flocks of Sandhill Cranes are usually presumed to be wild birds. Such individuals are thought to have probably followed Sandhill Cranes from Siberia to North America.

By late January, the crane’s pattern of occurrence became established, and by February, many birders were able to locate it at one or another of the regular sighting locations in the area.

The crane was observed almost daily, and always with a large flock of Sandhill Cranes. Paul Dunbar was gracious enough to keep tabs on the bird and to inform visiting birders of its daily whereabouts  until it was last seen on 19 February.

This is probably the longest stretch of time that a presumed wild Common Crane has been observed in North America. Curiously, this is also the first time in memory that significant numbers of Sandhill Cranes overwintered in the state.

To see a fine photo of the Common Crane taken by Tucker Lutter, see:


In September of last year, we reported on the discovery of a newly described shearwater species.  The discovery, based on a very small shearwater specimen obtained in 1963 on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, was determined to be totally unique from all other living shearwater species. We indicated that the species might have been far from its regular range, and that “this discovery will put marine scientists on notice to the fact that perhaps this obviously rare species might still exist.”  To see our original story  about Bryan’s Shearwater, see:

In February, it was reported at the 39th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Seabird Group held on Oahu, Hawaii, that researchers from the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Tsukuba, Japan had found six specimens of this species on the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands, about 620 miles south of Tokyo, between 1997 and 2011.

DNA testing confirmed suspicions that these six birds were also Bryan’s Shearwaters. Five of these were carcasses and the sixth was a live individual that died after attempted rehabilitation.

“Not only does it indicate that Bryan’s Shearwaters still survive but it suggests where they might breed, the first step to conserving what must be a highly endangered species,” said Peter Pyle of  the Institute for Bird Populations, the researcher who had originally examined the specimen and concluded that it had to be a distinct “new” species.

Some Japanese researchers surmise that there may be as many as a few hundred of these shearwaters on the Ogasawara Islands, so the next steps will be to locate the actual breeding colonies and to address the possible eradication of rats on the islands. (Three of the six specimens showed evidence of rat predation.)

See here for more information on this shearwater:


Last month we reported on the discovery of active nesting of Black-capped Petrels on Morne Vincent in southeast Haiti, a site near the border of the Dominican Republic. Population estimates of this Caribbean-nesting species are highly uncertain, with 600-2,000 pairs most likely. To see  our February story which stresses the site’s IBA implication, check:

Just a few days after February’s E-bulletin was distributed, an announcement was released that researchers from Societe Audubon Haiti had discovered more nesting locations for the Black-capped Petrel in southeastern Haiti.

This is exciting news, with over 24 petrels discovered calling near the locality of Bois Dime and between 10 and 15 individuals close to the escarpment of Bois l’Etat. More circumstantial evidence is accumulating at sites within the La Visite National Park, close to a well-documented breeding colony on Morne La Visite.

You can read more and download a field report at:

And for additional information about IBA programs worldwide, including those across the U.S., check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at:


News from another IBA, a somewhat unlikely site, is also the story of the pursuit of birder access and preservation.

“Dike 14” on the Cleveland, Ohio, waterfront on Lake Erie was created as an official Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At least from 1979 through 1999 it served as a site for sediment dredged from the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland Harbor.

By default, its 88 acres also became an excellent location for birds, especially given the scarcity of similar suitable habitat along that part of the Lake Erie waterfront. The original shallow muddy areas created by the project became attractive to waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, and terns (e.g., amazing records of Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers were made at this site). Eventually, the waterbird attractions of Dike 14 shifted, mainly due to the increasing growth of willows and other plants, but these thickets provided habitat for migrating warblers and other songbirds.

Finding an agency willing to manage the site on a long-term basis was a concern until the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority agreed to take on the responsibility in 2001.

Up to the early 2000s, birders regularly monitored the avian comings and goings at Dike 14 (over 290 species recorded). For much of the time thereafter, however, access became severely limited. The area was fenced, and gates were often locked.  Some days, however, the site was opened with advance notice or for special events. Still, permission was often needed to enter, and visitors in groups were required to sign a waiver to gain access. This went on for years, during which time the birding public yearned for open access.

While conflicting access and management concerns complicated the situation, a Dike 14 Nature Preserve Committee and an Environmental Education Collaborative was created between 2001 and 2003 that pressed for the creation of a nature preserve at Dike 14 (rather than making athletic fields, for example).

In the process, Dike 14 was even designated as an IBA in 2004:

When new Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority President and CEO, Will Friedman, took charge in June of 2010, he embraced a creative vision for the site. Last May, the Authority officially changed the name of Dike 14 to the “Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve” and committed itself to making improvements and investments to enhance lakefront access.

Finally, on 6 February, the site opened to the public, culminating a long effort to secure the site and provide access. The official entrance hours are from dawn until dusk. There is no entry fee and parking is available. No advanced notice or permit is necessary for entrance, and a new and turnstile-type high gate allows general entry to the 1.3-mile trail but prevents access by bicycles and other wheeled vehicles. There is even an informational kiosk at the site. Area birders are thrilled, confirming, of course, that access matters and can make a real difference.

For a fine local story on the opening of the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve and the efforts to make it happen, see here:
Also see here:
And here:


The historic Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine is producing yet another set of impressive June programs where participants will spend five and a half days attending fascinating lectures, hands-on field trips, great discussions, and visiting different Maine habitats with an all-star cast of bird experts and naturalists.

Hog Island, the 330-acre island in Muscongus Bay, was recently on the path to extinction as a bird-and-nature learning center, but it is making another grand showing this summer. This year’s programs are important in raising the profile of Hog Island for the National Audubon Society’s Board of Directors and leading officers and providing further evidence that the historic camp is worth supporting and preserving.

Almost every summer since 1936, the Audubon Camp in Maine has offered environmental education and bird programs for adults, teens, families and conservation leaders. Once again, participants can study nature and go birding in the footsteps of Roger Tory Peterson who was the first bird-life instructor there in 1936, and where Rachel Carson and other great naturalists spent significant inspirational time.

For information on dates, prices, lodging and meals, exciting teaching staff, and special available scholarships, visit:


Last May we reported on bird seed testing and safety issues that showed that inspected seed was either free from pesticides or fell below levels that would threaten avian health. See the third story on the posting here:

In late January, however, Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., based in Marysville, Ohio,  agreed to plead guilty to charges in federal court and agreed to pay fines in connection with bird-seed incidents dating back a number of years.

The plea agreement is waiting the judge’s approval, and may not be resolved for another 60 days, but fines for this case and for another related Scotts case (on falsified pesticide registration numbers) add up to $4.5 million.

Scotts is the world’s largest marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products.  The seed case specifically deals with the recall of seed for wild birds that had been coated with pesticides that were determined to be toxic to birds.

It seems that Scotts had distributed 73 million units of birdseed coated with the insecticides Storcide II and/or Actellic 5E between November 2005 and March 2008. The chemicals were used to keep insects from eating the seed during storage. Storcide II is labeled as “Toxic to birds. Toxic to wildlife,” and that “Exposed treated seed may be hazardous to birds.” And the EPA regards pirimphos-methyl, an active ingredient in Actellic 5E, as highly toxic to birds and fish.

Documents filed with the court indicate that Scotts continued to sell the products, despite warnings from two employees, a pesticide chemist and an ornithologist, in the summer and fall of 2007.

Finally, in the spring of 2008 the company initiated its own recall of all bird seed that might be harmful with the intent of replacing the contaminated product with bird seed that had been treated with Diacon II. (Just about every major bird seed company uses Diacon II in their products to prevent insect infestation.)  The Scotts recall announcement drew attention to their original inappropriate use of Storcide II and Acetellic 5E, and the legal actions were launched with punitive results.

A few days before the court announcement, Scotts and the National Wildlife Federation had announced a nationwide cause marketing program to address songbird declines, a partnership which would include a $1 donation per bag sold of “Songbirds Selections NutriThrive” bird food to the National Wildlife Federation. Three days later, NWF announced that the partnership was “not viable” and that the parties would work to end the relationship in a “friendly and mutually beneficial way.”

Part of the fine imposed on Scotts – $500,000 – will be split among a number of groups and agencies to fund efforts to protect birds, mostly based in Ohio. They are Audubon Ohio (for the IBA program), the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (Urban Forestry Program), Columbus Metro Parks (Bird Habitat Enhancement Program), the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and The Nature Conservancy of Ohio.

The issue highlights the need for ongoing monitoring of the quality and safety of the nation’s bird seed supply.

More details can be found here:


Osprey-Watch, a project to engage a global community to collect data on breeding ospreys, has just been launched by the Center for Conservation Biology.

Ospreys are one of very few conspicuous global sentinels for monitoring aquatic health. This project is intended to collect information on a large enough scale to be useful in addressing three of the most pressing issues facing aquatic ecosystems: global climate change, depletion of fish stocks, and environmental contaminants.

Osprey-Watch should allow observers anywhere to map Osprey nests, log observations, upload photos, and interact within an observer forum.

You can find more information here:


It’s March, and birders across North America are looking forward to having some grand birding experiences this spring. Accordingly there’s lots going on in the way of dusting off equipment, checking out field guides, listening to recorded bird sounds, and making travel plans.

There’s great advice on “becoming a better birder” everywhere you look these days. Most field guides start with valuable advice on how to do just that. Indeed, there are entire books available on the subject, and they are packed with excellent suggestions on how to observe birds, how to use structure/shape, behavior, comparative sizes, and color to identify birds, how to age and sex species, how to appreciate avian molt, how to listen for birds, how to learn when and where to go birding in your region, how to record field notes, and, hopefully, appreciating the role of birding ethics when in the field.

All this is great advice and all of it is very important.
But most of these recommendations overlook two absolutely essential elements in “becoming a better birder.” These are 1) learning to share your birds with others, and 2) doing something to help save birds.

Being a “better birder” is not simply a personal, individual thing. It may start there, but it should not end there.

Sharing your birds and engaging in activities to save birds, of course, need not dominate your birding, any more than should an obsession over taxonomy and nomenclature. But sharing and saving birds really should become part of your birding skill-building. Drawing attention to these twin pursuits is our tip of the month.


A new book, IN THE FIELD, AMONG THE FEATHERED, by Thomas R. Dunlap (Oxford University Press, 2011) has as its subtitle “A History of Birders & Their Guides.” For a book that attempts to view the pastime of birding through the creative lens of how the North American field guide has evolved and how it has impacted birding, the author has taken on an important subject.  And while the first half of the book offers some insightful observations on how bird study through the field guide has changed over time, the second half of the book falls disappointingly short of the task. This is not to suggest that the author has not highlighted some fascinating insights, it’s just that the results don’t match the reader’s expectations.  Somehow Dunlap seems to get districted by the narratives of listing pursuits (e.g., Peterson and Fisher’s WILD AMERICA and Kaufman’s KINGBIRD HIGHWAY) and neglects important historic developments of the true field guides developed during the past four decades.

This is not a bad book; it’s just a somewhat disappointing book. One can gain perceptive trends and insights in the first half of the book, but except for an occasional nugget here and there later in the book, the rest of this history may disappoint.


You are probably aware of the warnings about sea turtles mistaking plastic bags (or balloon fragments) for jellyfish, but similar admonitions for land animals are rarer, at least until recently. Researchers at the Natural History Museum in Brunoy, France, looked into the case of White Storks in Europe consuming worm-like rubber bands. They found rubber bands in about five percent of 227 nests. And after examining dead storks, they found that about one-quarter had rubber bands in their stomachs and seven birds had died after bands blocked digestive paths. Inexperienced immature birds were also more likely to consume rubber bands than the adults. The problem seemed worse with closer proximity to trash dumps. For a summary of these findings, see here:

Does this problem exist in North America? Are there places or circumstances here where our birds – of some species – might actually consume “attractive” rubber bands? There is no clear evidence that this is problem here  – at least not yet.

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