The Birding Community E-Bulletin: September

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).

September Birding Community E-Bulletin













Starting 13 May, there was a Plain-capped Starthroat in Bob Behrstock and Karen LeMay’s backyard in Lower Ash Canyon at the edge of the Huachuca Mountains in southeast Arizona. Unlike many previous Arizona Starthroat occurrences, this individual almost never visited feeders, foraging instead high in the oaks, often making the bird difficult to see. It remained sporadically in and around this Ash Canyon yard at least through 23 August. The yard was not generally accessible to the public, and few people were fortunate to see this hummingbird.

Then on 26 May another Plain-capped Starthroat was found by Dave Stejskal close to a culvert along Mount Hopkins Road in Montosa Canyon, on the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains in southeast Arizona. After its discovery, local birders put up a hummingbird feeder to hopefully aid visiting birders to see the hummer. Unfortunately this individual was missed as many times as it was seen. Nonetheless it was present at least through 15 August.

Remarkably, on 7 July, another Plain-capped Starthroat was seen by John Yerger at the Sunny Flat Campground at Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains, although this was not seen again. Still another Plain-capped Starthroat was found at the backyard feeders of Hank and Pricilla Brodkin on 7 July in Carr Canyon, again in the Huachuca Mountains. The same or another Plain-capped Starthroat visited their backyard again on 17 and 24 August.

Then, between 12 July and 1 August Christie Van Cleve reported still another feeder-visiting starthroat on her property, also in Carr Canyon.

Finally, on the afternoon of 10 August, Mary Jo Ballator, host and owner of the Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast, found a Plain-capped Starthroat at her feeders at the at the edge of the Huachuca Mountains. This Plain-capped Starthroat visited several of her available feeders. It is unknown if this was the same individual that visited the Behrstock/LeMay backyard in Ash Canyon less than one mile away. This individual remained through August and delighted well over 400 birders during its stay at the Ash Canyon B&B.

This species is normally found in arid habitats and riparian areas from southern Sonora, Mexico, to northwestern Costa Rica. It has been reported in southern Arizona over two dozen times since the first verified record in 1969, and has occurred in southeastern Arizona annually for about the last half-dozen years. The Ash Canyon B&B has actually hosted a Plain-capped Starthroat twice before–in 2002 and 2003 (the same banded individual). Although the species has occurred in the U.S. from May to November, most verified observations have been in late summer.

There may well have been even more starthroats observed recently in southeast Arizona. This summer’s multiple reports could be significant, possibly being indicative of a new trend for the occurrence of this species in southeastern Arizona.


Last month we focused on access and visitation at the popular Paton’s feeder complex next to TNC’s well-known Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve in southeast Arizona:


With this month’s rarity – Plain-capped Starthroat – we have described a similar access opportunity in the same region at the Ash Canyon B&B. The owners at the Ash Canyon B&B requested a donation of $5 per visiting birder to help pay for the many types of foods offered every day at this year-round feeding station. That contribution facilitates access and makes it better for all concerned.

Birders are always welcome; comfortable chairs are provided, and everyone benefits. In fact, the Ash Canyon B&B is officially listed as stop #32 on the Southeastern Arizona Birding Trail Map. You can find details on the Ash Canyon B&B here:


In this example, the proverbial door is always open. Some of the other local B&Bs are unfortunately not always as accommodating, generally with good reason. Some require an advance phone call, which is very reasonable, but birders should be aware that standards vary and that conditions or protocols might change with little notice.

What birders ideally should have is a series of “best practices” and appropriate standards to share both with private-property owners, as well as with other birders, and not simply expect to always be received with open arms.


In the past, we have attempted to provide summaries in the Birding Community E-bulletin about efforts to reduce bird mortality resulting from long-line fishing, particularly those involving bird-distraction techniques (e.g., July 2005 and September 2007). Increasingly, technologies have been developed either to scare away seabirds or to submerge baited hooks deeper in the water so they are out of reach of albatrosses, petrels, and other seabirds. This is most commendable.

A recent study in SCIENCE unfortunately draws attention to another persistent problem that is apparently taking a heavy toll on seabirds. This is the problem of overfishing of anchovies and other small fish that are the favorite prey of many seabirds. The study, published last December, concluded that when seabird prey populations fall below one third of their maximum abundance, seabird breeding suffers and their populations begin to drop.

Jeremy Hance summarized this situation nicely in a recent article. You can read it here:



Cat predation on birds and small mammals is probably worse than you thought.

Last month, The Wildlife Society and the American Bird Conservancy suggested that nearly a third of all free-roaming house cats are capturing and killing wildlife, resulting in an estimated loss of 4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds. This number far exceeds previous estimates.

This information was derived from a study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia in partnership with the National Geographic Society’s Crittercam program. Local cat owners near Athens, Georgia, volunteered 60 of their outdoor house cats for the experiment in exchange for free health screenings for their pets. The cameras recorded the cats’ outdoor activities during all four seasons of the year, averaging five to six hours of outside time every day.

“The results were certainly surprising, if not startling,” said Kerrie Anne Loyd of the University of Georgia, who was the lead author of the study. The researchers found that about 30 percent of the sampled cats were successful in capturing and killing prey. Those cats averaged about one kill for every 17 hours spent outdoors, or 2.1 kills per week. What was also surprising was that less than a quarter of the cats brought their kills back home. The range of prey species was broad, too, including birds, lizards, voles, chipmunks, frogs, and small snakes.

The finding that cats would bring back under a quarter of their kills to the residence of their owners actually counters previous studies that have attempted to measure the impacts of domestic cats on wildlife. Earlier estimates of a billion birds and animals per year were based on dead animals that the cats would bring home. The KittyCams showed that almost half of the time cats would leave the prey at the capture site and slightly over a quarter were eaten and never brought home.

This University of Georgia study does not take into consideration the impacts of the estimated 60 million feral cats that roam the United States. This fact alone, suggests that the killing fields out there are huge!

Finally, the University of Georgia researchers also found that the house cats were engaging in risky activity outdoors such as crossing busy roads, entering tiny crawlspaces, and interacting with potentially diseased stranger cats.

A brochure for cat owners, designed to address both risky feline behavior and the high rate of wildlife predation, was developed by researchers and can be viewed here:


For more details from the American Bird Conservancy and The Wildlife Society, see here:



Data from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), Christmas Bird Count (CBC), raptor migration counts, and nestbox monitoring programs indicate that American Kestrel populations are experiencing long-term declines in many parts of North America. In response, The Peregrine Fund launched the American Kestrel Partnership in April to generate data, population models, and conservation strategies for American Kestrel populations by connecting citizen scientists with professional ornithologists.

The effort is supporting and coordinating a Western Hemispheric network of locally managed nestbox monitoring programs with an innovative interactive website for partners in order to create partner profiles, share resources, and collect, manage, and access nestbox monitoring data. The American Kestrel Partnership is also seeking professional researchers to serve on its Research Development Committee and, among other things, help identify knowledge gaps, data needs, research goals, and prospective funding sources.

To learn more, visit the American Kestrel Partnership’s website:



At its annual meeting this spring in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) Hemispheric Council voted unanimously to approve two new sites of “Regional Importance” into the network. One of these is the Greater Skagit/Stillaguamish Delta in Washington. There are now a total of 87 WHSRN Sites in 13 countries covering more than 32 million acres of shorebird habitat.

The 91,429-acre Greater Skagit and Stillaguamish Delta, located in northwest Washington State, consists of Port Susan and Skagit Bays. This area’s marshes, mudflats, and channels are among the most important in Puget Sound for migrating and wintering shorebirds. Surveys conducted in the mid-1990s regularly recorded concentrations exceeding 20,000 wintering shorebirds. Shorebird counts run in 2007–2011 revealed annual totals ranging from 30,390 to 57,100 birds. Dunlin and Western Sandpiper were the dominant species. Concentrations of this magnitude meet WHSRN’s criteria for designation as a Site of Regional Importance.

This WHSRN site overlaps the smaller, 8,747-acre Port Susan Bay IBA, which includes northeast portion of Port Susan Bay, the mudflats of Livingston Bay, the Stillaguamish River Delta, and the surrounding farm fields which also support large numbers of wintering waterfowl.

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:



Among other significant Important Bird Areas are large parts of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA). Located on Alaska’s North Slope, the NPRA is nearly 23 million acres in size and is the single-largest block of federally managed land in the U.S. In June, we described the four main options for development and conservation at the NPRA:


Four alternatives were being considered:

A     would have no changes, with 57 percent of NPRA subsurface available for gas and oil leasing, and maintaining the four current Special Areas;

B     would substantially increase the Special Areas and would designate extensive areas around Teshekpuk Lake and the SW part of NPRA that would be closed for leasing;

C     would provide for smaller additions to Special Areas, make very remote areas unavailable for leasing, and would allow for some leasing around Teshekpuk Lake, and

D     would allow the entire NPRA to be open for oil and gas development

Most wildlife, conservation, and environmental organizations supported Alternative B as the best option for meeting the requirements of the current law to provide a balance between future opportunities for development while at the same time assuring maximum protection for vital surface values. Alternative B was the option announced last month by the Bureau of Land Management, although with some modification.

The announcement was for “Alternative B-2,” a change from the original Alternative B, with slightly more land being made available for leasing. Alternative B-2 would make several Special Areas totaling more than 13 million acres, including the bird-rich Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (a globally-significant IBA), off-limits for oil and gas leasing. But B-2 eliminates the 12 Wild River designations in the original Alternative B.

The B-2 alternative provides a responsible balance that would protect about half of the nearly 23-million acre NPRA, but still allow for the vast majority of the area’s oil to be accessed and developed. The new plan is not scheduled to be finalized until mid-November, but last month’s announcement is a major step forward to protect the shorebirds, waterfowl, and other birds and wildlife that depend on those Special Areas in the NPRA. A final plan is now scheduled for December.


The Federal Duck Stamp Art Competition will be held on 28-29 September at Weber State University (WSU) in Ogden, Utah. The winning design will become the 2013-2014 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. Since its creation in 1934, the “Duck Stamp” has raised more than $850 million dollars to help secure almost 5.5 million acres of wetland and grassland habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Each year five waterfowl species are selected, any one which can be painted to compete for the next year’s stamp. For this month’s contest, there are 192 qualified art submissions, and the eligible species are Brant, Canada Goose, Northern Shoveler, Common Goldeneye, and Ruddy Duck.

Even if you can’t go to Ogden for the contest, you will still be able to view all 192 art submissions and also watch the actual judging live-streamed. You will find details, as they are announced, here:



Every five years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publishes its “National Survey on Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.” The preliminary findings for the 2011 survey were released in mid-August. These findings simply constitute an overview, with the full report including state breakdowns available in November.

The preliminary findings can nonetheless tell us a lot about bird watching, its numbers, its growth, and its specific expenditures.

Basically, watching birds – at home and away from home – is still large and is holding its own. Total bird observers now number 46.7 million. This is down a mere 2% from 47.7 million in 2006. The number of at-home bird observers is standing fast at 41.3 million (essentially the same figure in 2006 of 41.2 million). Away-from-home birders now number 17.8 million according to the survey, down slightly from the 2006 number of 19.9 million. Waterfowl continue to be the largest subset of birds regularly observed, photographed, or fed, with 13.3 million people engaging in these activities – a figure that is down somewhat from 15.4 million in 2006.

While a few of these numbers have slipped slightly since 2006, most are up from the 2001 numbers. Moreover, expenditures for some important bird-watching items have gone up since 2006, sometimes substantially. For example, binocular and spotting scope expenditures have increased (up 40%) since 2006, as have bird food expenditures (up 21%) and those for nest boxes, feeders, and birdbaths (collectively up 23%).

You can peruse the 20-page USFWS report yourself. It can be found here:



While we usually report on book developments, this month we are going to stray a bit and reflect on a related issue. This month we examine different kinds of publications – magazines. Although birding numbers from the recently released “National Survey on Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife-Associated Recreation” show that birding is healthy, recent announcements from two leading birding magazines in the U.S. suggest that there may be some shifts in birders’ interests. Some of these shifts have to do with changes in hard-copy-and-subscription publications to on-line and free information about birds and birding.

WILDBIRD magazine has shut down, and BIRD WATCHING (formerly BIRDER’S WORLD) is in transition. Both are over a quarter of a century old, and both have had a fine tradition of providing information to birders across North America and beyond.

BowTie Inc., the owner of WILDBIRD has already stopped publishing this magazine, effective with the September/October 2012 issue. That final issue has already arrived in subscribers’ mailboxes. The current editor, Amy Hooper, did an excellent job in choosing fun birding content as well as some easy-to-read and easy-to-understand conservation content that was not in-your-face doomsday material. Her stable of regular contributors was reliable and very much-appreciated.

Meanwhile, BIRD WATCHING, which for a while seemed to be on the ropes, is now looking at a new lease on life. (This U.S. magazine is not to be confused with a similarly-named magazine in the U.K.) It was common knowledge that the publisher, Kalmbach Publishing Company, was seeking a new buyer. Current editor, Chuck Hagner, and his right-hand man, Matt Mendenhall, were able to assemble, newsy, very attractive, and timely material for many years. Many of the finest names in birding, bird photography, and ornithology have regularly appeared in the magazine’s pages. However, a new owner for BIRD WATCHING, Madavor Media, was announced late last month.

Madavor Media publishes other titles in the areas of sports and enthusiast markets, and the company is very excited over adding a magazine such as BIRD WATCHING to its stable of other titles. Both Hagner and Mendenhall have been retained to produce the next issue or two, with the possibility of retaining permanent positions down the road.

With bird magazines, the trends for bird watching publications may be more precarious than birding as an activity. At the same time, competition among creative publications is always healthy.


Our E-bulletin started with a hummingbird story this month, and it will end with a hummingbird story.

Our tip of the month concerns hummingbird feeders, and keeping them filled at least well into the fall, if not longer. East of the Mississippi, it is generally well known that only one hummingbird species is present – the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Ruby-throats are typically present in the U.S. from April into late September. But that has now changed. Starting in the fall, especially after the end of September, other hummingbird species are increasingly possible. Rufous Hummingbirds, for example, are now regular in the East in the fall. Our advice: keep those feeders up through this month and well beyond!

Besides the Rufous Hummingbirds, the possibility of Calliope, Black-chinned, or Allen’s hummingbirds is also an option. The idea of keeping hummingbird feeders active pertains to other areas beyond the eastern U.S., too. It also holds for the Midwest, and is true along the Gulf Coast, a region that is often rich in wintering hummingbirds. Even the Northwest and south-coastal Alaska can be exciting for wandering hummers.

Away from their expected ranges, additional species such as Anna’s, Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, Buff-bellied, Magnificent, and Blue-throated Hummingbirds add to the temptation for backyard birders to maintain and monitor hummingbird feeders late in the season when many vagrant hummers are most likely to occur. Virtually no hummer is out of the question, as vagrant appearances of such super rarities as Green Violetear and Green-breasted Mango will attest.

At the same time, this tip includes the regular admonitions: keep those feeders clean; rinse them every time you refill them; maintain a 4-to1 ratio of water to sugar; use just white sugar (no brown or powdered sugar, molasses, syrup, honey, red food-coloring, or artificial sweeteners), and don’t use insecticide sprays anywhere need the feeders.

Happy backyard birding!

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2012/09/the-birding-community-e-bulletin-september/