Birding Community E-bulletin: May

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):

May Birding Community E-bulletin











On Tuesday, 17 April, brothers Aaron and Ethan Gyllenhaal observed and photographed a strange flycatcher at Douglas Park in Lawndale, Chicago, Illinois. One brother thought it might be a “weird Least Flycatcher,” the other thought the bird was too “odd.” Aaron Gyllenhaal posted his flycatcher photos, and quickly speculation and excitement began. It was soon determined that what the brothers had seen was a flycatcher of the genus Elaenia, one of a group of often difficult-to-identify tropical flycatchers. But which one? Quickly the choices were reduced to two: White-crested Elaenia or Small-billed Elaenia. These are both species from South America, both Austral migrants. Austral migrants are South American bird species which migrate northward during the austral winter and could “overshoot” to North America.

Whichever species it was, the bird was an astounding 7,000+ miles north of its normal range.

Here are some of the original photos, taken by Aaron Gyllenhaal (and a sample of the online discussion that followed):


The good news is that differentiation between these two species is relatively easy if the bird vocalizes. The bad news is that for its entire stay in this small and lovely urban park, the Eleania was never heard to vocalize. Not once!

The speculation first leaned toward White-crested Elaenia (a species which has been seen previously only once in North America), but then seemed to swing toward Small-billed Elaenia, a species never previously seen in North America.

The uncertainty, however, did not deter scores of birders from rushing to Chicago to see it. Many, many birders saw the rarity through the afternoon of the following Sunday, 22 April, when it was last observed.

The excitement over the bird was even covered by the CHICAGO TRIBUNE:


As we send out this E-bulletin, the jury is still out on the precise identity of the Elaenia. The discovery of this cryptic bird raises another vital question, however. One can only wonder how many other such tropical flycatchers seen in North America might have been passed off as “just another Empidonax flycatcher” or even as simply “a strange pewee. ” There is a lesson here: Look twice and look carefully!


We have covered the issue of tall buildings and glass-and-glare threatening migrating birds many times in the E-bulletin. Most recently, we wrote about bird-friendly design in December:


Those close to the subject have been eagerly following two court cases in Ontario that may prove to be very significant for Canada, and possibly for all those concerned with making the skies safe for migrant birds.

The first trial began in April, 2011. It pitted the owners of Consilium Place, a cluster of highrise towers in Scarborough, a municipality within Toronto, against Ecojustice and Ontario Nature. The three-building, glass-filled complex has been the site of much avian mortality, with over 7,000 impact deaths presented as evidence in the last decade. That trial recently came to an end, and a decision is expected in November.

The second case involves the Yonge Corporate Center, where its own highly reflective glass buildings mirror nearby trees and the sky over north Toronto. That case started early last month. About 2,000 birds have been collected at this site between 2000 and 2010. While the trial was originally expected to end by late April, it has been re-scheduled for mid-August and late September.

According to Michael Measure, executive director of the well-respected and pioneer Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), both cases are “precedent-setting.” FLAP, a group based in Toronto, is not a party to either case, but has been called on to present evidence.

Two Ontario provincial laws and one Canadian federal law have been addressed in one or both of these cases: the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, both provincial-related, and the federal Species at Risk Act.

Here are two recent stories from the TORONTO STAR, the first describing the original Consilium case:


and the second, summarizing the Yonge situation, including a listing of the 10 “worst offenders” among buildings in the Toronto area, according to FLAP:



Many states make available and distribute annual “Public Access Atlases.” Sometimes these are called “Walk-in Atlases.” Usually these are made available through the state wildlife agencies – a DNR or Game & Fish Commission, or whatever the title in a particular state.

At lot of these atlases, but not all, seem to be in the middle of the country. You may have come across one or more of these directories in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, for example. Increasingly, these are also becoming available through GPS readings or Google-Earth and are usually available as downloadable PDF documents.

They are very handy, and they often provide page by page, section by section, township by township details marking public and private tracts where walk-in access is available to the public. These rosters and maps reflect arrangements made with willing landowners, arrangements often clearly indicated with on-site signs. The problem is that while some state efforts to highlight open private land are available to a variety of wildlife-associated recreation, including birding, others are not.

Unfortunately, some states limit these walk-in opportunities to hunting only.

Obviously, there are occasions when some properties need to be closed to outsiders due to harvesting schedules, calendar/weather limitations, or other factors. But often to find out if a state’s arrangement on these properties allows total “Open Access,” requires an inquiry with the landowner.

The point here is not to blame the state wildlife agency, the hunters, or the landowners for this situation. It is simply that this sort of policy needs to change in the 21st century in those states still having antiquated access limitations. There are wildlife photographers, hikers, butterfly aficionados, and, of course, birders, who value – and deserve  –  regular accommodation, because land access increasingly matters these days.


You don’t have to carry your binoculars everywhere. Actually, you can’t. But you can do the next best thing by taking along a spare pair in your car. Those binoculars could be in your glove compartment or your trunk. No matter; they will be near you when you need them unexpectedly. Or at least they will be with you when you are near your car.

Did you pass a flock of ducks in the local pond on your drive to the post office? Just pull over and use your spare pair of binoculars. Could there be shorebirds at the wastewater treatment plant? Or might you see geese at the local ball field when you are driving to your dental appointment? A spare pair might really come in handy. They don’t have to be as “good” as your regular binoculars, but they should be reliable, and more importantly, they should be available.


Without formal art training, Bob Hines (1912-1994) first applied his professional talents in 1939 at the Ohio Division of Conservation and Natural Resources. A decade later he joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as their artist-illustrator in residence. John Juriga’s new book, BOB HINES: NATIONAL WILDLIFE ARTIST (2012, Beaver’s Pond Press) describes the life and work of this prolific and extraordinary wildlife artist.

Starting from the near-obscurity of federal employment, Hines drew birds, mammals, fish, and other wildlife that even today continues to circulate (available as free government-backed clip-art). The artwork that Hines did for Rachel Carson’s highly successful THE EDGE OF THE SEA may have first brought his skills to the attention of a general public, but he had already drawn the 1946-1947 Migratory Bird Hunting [Duck] Stamp and had produced a myriad of illustrations for USFWS publications. His relationship with Carson was creative and more than collegial (indeed, Juriga’s chapter on the Carson-Hines collaboration is among the best in the book). Moreover, Hines’s enthusiastic dedication to the “Duck Stamp” led to a formal selection process, with judges, standards, and clear rules established for the art contest, starting in the early 1950s.

For a while – especially from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s – the birds and other subjects that Hines drew seemed to be everywhere. This biography captures the life, times, creativity, and, yes, even the faults of this fine wildlife artist.


A flying male Northern Pintail, painted by 17-year-old Christine Clayton of Sidney, Ohio, was selected to appear on the 2012-2013 Federal Junior Duck Stamp. The artwork was chosen by a panel of judges on 20 April at the national Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest, held at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland.

Matthew Messina of Avon, Connecticut, came in second place with his painting of a male Wood Duck. In third place was Hyun Wang of California for his rendition of a pair of Hooded Mergansers.

All 53 entries for the contest can be viewed here:


Proceeds from sales of the Junior Duck Stamps, which the Fish and Wildlife Service sell for $5 each, go to support the promotion and expansion of the arts-based educational program for youth. This new Junior Duck Stamp will be released for sale on 29 June – along with the federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp.

To see the press release on last month’s contest, visit:



While on the subject of reaching youth through birds, we want to make readers aware of the Leo Politi Elementary School in Los Angeles.

What happens when a school inherits a 5,000-square-foot area of concrete and Bermuda grass behind the school library, all that remains of a once towering apartment building?

When Brad Rumble became school principal a few years ago, he aimed to have the concrete removed and the Bermuda grass killed. Then, he had volunteers, many from the local high school, replace what he called “the dead zone” with native bushes, flowers, and trees for a native habitat schoolyard.

First the insects came in, and then the birds. Lots of birds!

This novelty also attracted the students, and then real outdoor education began. Skill-building grew among the young students, from science to vocabulary, to math. In the words of Mary Ellen Riehmann, who teaches second-and third-graders the field marks of birds, among other things, “It is a springboard for all kinds of interesting projects.” Grades among the students also improved significantly. Birds soon became a significant way to link to other aspects of learning.

It didn’t hurt that principal Rumble had become a casual birder about 10 years previously. Los Angeles Audubon has been an essential partner in the whole experience, and principal Rumble joined the L.A. Audubon Board last July.

With the help of L.A. Audubon, the school was one of the first in the city to apply for and win “schoolyard habitat” and partner’s grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That was in 2008.

This entire educational experience took place in “one of the poorest and most crowded parts of the city” according to Rumble.

You can read much more on this inspiring story in this LOS ANGELES TIMES article from mid-April:


And learn more from the students in this short video from NBCLATINO:



You may remember that in October 2011, over 100 bird educators and bird conservationists met at the first “Focus on Diversity – Changing the Face of American Birding” meeting in Philadelphia, at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. We covered it in the E-bulletin, and you can view meeting highlights in a short video here:


Now, another regional “Focus on Diversity” meeting is planned for 13 October 2012 at the Minnesota Valley NWR, just south of Minneapolis. The purpose of the event is to discuss and launch effective outreach methods for diverse audiences using a birding message and other nature-study opportunities, outdoor recreation, and a conservation ethic.

The assumption, of course, is that getting broader audiences interested in birding is valuable. Not only would it benefit newer birders, but it would also be helpful to the general birding community, the broader environment as a whole, and ultimately be beneficial to birds.

You can view the initial announcement on this October event here.



Concord, Massachusetts, resident Lydia Lodynsky claimed that neighborhood cats are regularly invading her bird-attractive backyard which includes bird feeders and nesting Eastern Bluebirds, despite a six-foot protective fence. Lodynsky wants new town regulations to control where local cats can wander.

She was interviewed, calmly and convincingly, on the NPR show, “Here and Now.” This broadcast contains eight minutes of worthy listening:


Unfortunately, in late April the Concord town council voted down three articles that would control wandering cats (requiring the hiring of a town animal control officer, requiring cat owners to vaccinate and license their cats, and adopting a policy of “responsible pet ownership”).

You can read the proposals here:


The Concord example is just one case. The free-roaming cats issue simply will not go away.

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Mass Audubon


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Great Birding Projects

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