The Birding Community E-Bulletin: November

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.

And by NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, publishers of a complete line of birding books for beginners and experts, available wherever books are sold. To purchase online and get updates on books, authors, events, and contests, like us on Facebook.com/NatGeoBooks or purchase at www.shopng.com/birdbooks.

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














There were some truly remarkable rarities to consider during October (e.g., Pink-footed Goose in Massachusetts, Barnacle Geese in at least three locations in the Northeast, Gray-tailed Tattler in Massachusetts, Black-tailed Godwit in Virginia, Rufous-capped Warbler in Arizona, and Red-throated Pipit in California) so we decided to depart from our common practice of only choosing one species and instead focused on two this month – a bi-coastal duo of Eurasian vagrants.

The first species was actually found on 28 September by Steve Gerow and his group during a Santa Cruz Bird Club field trip. Specifically Lois Goldfrank was the first to spot a Common Cuckoo during a trip being conducted in Watsonville, California. At least until the morning of 2 October, this rare vagrant was found near Watsonville Slough, in and around the area of Ramsey Park. The cuckoo moved around quite a bit and was often skittish. Nonetheless, hundreds of birders went to see this vagrant from Eurasia.

Common Cuckoos breed from Western Europe to eastern Russia, and they mainly winter in southern Africa, as well as India and Southeast Asia. To find one in remote parts of Alaska is rare enough, but to encounter one in California is simply shocking. There is only one other record for this species in the lower-48 United States – an individual seen and banded on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in May 1981.

Right from its initial appearance the Watsonville individual was well photographed where it was often observed in small patches of willows and acacias. To view some photos taken by Don Roberson, see:

For more details, here is a story from the 1 October SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL along with some additional quality photos. (You can ignore the silly headline and lead sentence, however):

The second Eurasian vagrant was discovered on the other side of the country on 13 October, at Marsh Meadows in Jamestown, Rhode Island. This was a Wood Sandpiper found and photographed by Carlos Pedro and viewed by hundreds of birders through at least 28 October. The bird tended to most often frequent shallow marsh pools in the northwest corner of the salt marsh.

This shorebird is a widely distributed Eurasian breeder and one that is fairly rare in Alaska, and significantly rarer elsewhere in the United States. Even with the increasing number of astute birders afield these days, Wood Sandpipers are still very rarely found in the eastern United States. To view photographs of the Rhode Island bird, taken by Pedro and others visit:


Whenever your editors are reviewing the rarity of the month, like the spectacular Common Cuckoo and Wood Sandpiper reported in this issue, one of our most dependable sources of information has been the on-line collection of birding listservs that Jack Siler has maintained since the early 1990s.

For years, Jack Siler’s “birdingonthe.net” has been an essential source for active birding information in North America and beyond. On this single website, one could easily access listserv postings from Alaska to Florida, plus locations in-between. But Jack recently expressed an interest in moving on. Accordingly, he invited the American Birding Association to keep this outstanding birding listserv resource going. Since mid-August, the ABA has stepped up admirably to fulfill this task. The resource is now called “Birding News,” but the invaluable collection of birding listservs is still available for quick review.

The re-worked web pages are clean, user-friendly, and very inviting. And the bird-and-state filters are most helpful. Kudos to Jack’s previous long-term dedication and to the ABA’s for continuing this fine birding resource.
If you want to examine and bookmark Birding News, see:


At the end of October, reports were already coming in concerning the avian fallout from Hurricane “Sandy.” The storm was still running its course through Pennsylvania when reports began coming in about storm-tossed birds observed from land, including storm-petrels, Sooty and Bridled Terns, jaegers, Red Phalaropes, and at least four separate Northern Lapwings in Massachusetts and Maine.

For a more thorough storm-bird report and further details on an alternate side of Sandy, check out the eBird narrative found here:


Last month the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would allow members of federally recognized American Indian tribes to possess eagle feathers along with feathers of other bird species. Such birds are covered under federal wildlife laws, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These laws prohibit the possession, use, and sale of the feathers or other parts of federally protected bird species, as well as the unauthorized killing of such birds.

Under this new Justice Department policy, tribal members will not be prosecuted for wearing or carrying federally protected bird feathers or bird parts. These tribal members may also pick up feathers found in the wild as long as they do not disturb federally protected birds or their nests. Also allowed will be the giving, lending, or trading of feathers or bird parts among tribe members, so long as such activities that do not involve any compensation.

The Justice Department will, however, continue to prosecute tribe members and non-members for violating federal laws that prohibit killing eagles and other migratory birds or the buying and selling of the feathers or other bird parts.

Attorney General, Eric Holder, stated that the new Justice Department policy strikes the right balance between enforcing wildlife laws that protect the birds and respecting the cultural and religious practices of federally recognized American Indian tribes.

Currently, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Eagle Repository, located near Denver, holds carcasses of eagles that are killed by contact with power lines or die of other causes. American Indians may apply there for a feather or a carcass from this archive, but there is currently a waiting list to get the feathers.

This is obviously a significant religious and cultural issue for the many tribes that were consulted in advance about the policy, the Justice Department announced. The Department of the Interior was also consulted extensively in developing this policy. It is the absence of consultation with other concerned parties that has been questioned since the announcement was made last month.

You can read an informative Department of the Interior fact-sheet on the subject here:


In mid-September, The Nature Conservancy transferred ownership of the majority of its Elkhorn Slough land holdings – 750 acres – to the Elkhorn Slough Foundation for conservation management. Elkhorn Slough, located on the California coast midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, is a vital tidal marshland estuary system surrounded by hills of oak woodland and associated grassland. It is also a designated Important Bird Area.

Much of the wetlands of Elkhorn Slough are protected as federal and state conservation reserves, but the mix of agencies that have responsibilities over the larger area are very important and include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the California Department of Fish and Game, the Moss Landing Harbor District, and the Monterey County Parks Department.

The Nature Conservancy actually arrived on the scene early, in 1971, to protect Elkhorn Slough from major development by purchasing the first wetlands there for conservation.

This recent transfer from TNC to the Elkhorn Slough Foundation has been part of the goal to enable seamless management and preservation of the area under fewer land managers. “It puts nearly 3,600 acres under single ownership protection,” said the Elkhorn Slough Foundation’s spokeswoman, Lorili Toth. The foundation managed TNC’s properties at the slough for about 20 years, but this transfer makes for easier management, from the water’s edge right up through the hills to protect the entire watershed.

Elkhorn Slough, which stretches seven miles inland from Monterey Bay, is one of California’s few remaining tidal wetlands. In California, it is estimated that nearly 90% of such wetlands have previously been lost.

For more information on the status of Elkhorn Slough as an IBA and its rich mix of shorebirds, waterfowl, marshbirds, and songbirds, see the description here:

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:


Last month, the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory released the first-ever conservation plan for Chihuahuan Desert grassland birds.

Two-thirds of the Chihuahuan Desert lies in Mexico, and less than 15 percent of this area is grassland. In addition, many Chihuahuan Desert grasslands have been destroyed or altered through cropland conversion, inappropriate grazing, urbanization, or invasive species.

Since grassland birds have declined more steeply than any other group of North American birds, a closer examination of the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands was deemed appropriate. Moreover, the loss of suitable wintering habitat is likely a major factor accounting for population declines among key grassland species wintering in the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands.

To address this concern, the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory released the conservation plan for Chihuahuan Desert grassland to provide an understanding of the distribution, abundance, and habitat associations of five declining wintering grassland bird species: Baird’s Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Lark Bunting, Sprague’s Pipit, and Loggerhead Shrike. These are all species which nest farther north, but which winter in these grasslands.

The plan was developed with support from the Rio Grande Joint Venture and the American Bird Conservancy. You can view an explanation of the project and download the plan at:



On 3 October, Josh Friers found two White-cheeked Pintails at “Mt. Trashmore,” the South Dade County landfill located south of Miami. In that part of Florida, there is a chance that this rarity could be a true vagrant and not escaped birds, so the two birds in question seemed to be promising as legitimate candidates. They arrived with Blue-winged and Green-winged teals, Northern Shovelers, and Mottled Ducks. They were also very skittish.

The landfill is one of the county’s busiest, and typically is off limits to anyone not conducting related business. Friers himself is a government employee who works on reducing strike hazards at a nearby military airbase.

An avid birder, Friers felt a responsibility to report the birds to the birding community. Landfill management agreed to allow Friers to escort some birders to view the White-cheeked Pintails, as long as the birders did not leave his side in what is an essentially hectic and potentially hazardous site.

Friers was able to accommodate a few birders in small groups early in the morning and during his lunch break. In the meantime, while Friers was fulfilling his more serious job responsibilities, landfill management asked for time to develop some rules that might allow for increased access.

But the pintails disappeared on the weekend of 6-7 October, obviating the development of more formal standards. Still, birders continued to show up at the landfill to request access, or just continued to call the landfill office to ask for entry. While the interest among birders was understandable, the requests were not particularly helpful. “That kind of over-activity can have the potential to ruin access for the sighting rare birds for everyone,” said Friers. “Slower (less busy) landfills normally will work with the birding community, but this may not be feasible or safe at busy ones.”

Every access event of this sort can be a learning experience, and birders elsewhere might do well to consider exploring access options before rarities actually appear, because as we have previously noted, birding access is a truly important issue.


In the most recent issue of BIRD WATCHER’S DIGEST (November-December), there was an excellent article by Alvaro Jaramillo on what to pack and how to pack when traveling as a birder. The article included some very practical and useful suggestions, and E-bulletin readers are encouraged to obtain a copy of the magazine and read the article for themselves. However, because it is such useful information, we here shamelessly summarize one of Alvaro’s recommendations when it comes to traveling with a tripod and telescope.

When flying, pack your tripod with your checked luggage. On many airlines TSA regards a tripod as a potential weapon, in the category of “sporting goods,” and as such are not allowed as carry-on luggage. If you use a 45-degree-angled scope, you will also use a shorter, lighter, and smaller tripod. If you pack your scope in your luggage, place it next to your tripod. The tripod will serve as further protection for the scope, and you can wrap the pair with heavy clothing pants or sweater and even secure the combination with a light bungee cord. Using a TSA-approved lock on your checked baggage is also advisable.

Alvaro’s suggestions make good sense.


The newly released BIRDS-OF-PARADISE book, co-published by National Geographic and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is more than a collection of stunning photos. The book is the result of 8 years work, 18 expeditions, 544 expedition days, 200 commercial flights, 58 boat trips, 109 constructed photo-blinds, 39,568 archived photos, and much more. This daunting effort by the team of Tim Laman and Edwin Scholes has produced a sumptuous book worthy of the effort – a coffee-table volume packed with dazzling photos and capturing images of all 39 species of birds-of-paradise.

Cornell Lab scientist, Ed Scholes, and National Geographic photographer, Tim Laman, set out to explore the mysteries of some of the most amazing feats of evolution in the bird world, and also to draw attention to the conservation of these spectacular birds, most of which are endemic to the island of New Guinea. At the same time, the book describes the many almost incredible challenges faced to complete this project and the support needed to make it happen. While the photos can take your breath away, the final section of the book, with its multi-page species treatment, is also a practical and well-organized species treatment for each of the 39 birds-of-paradise species.

Looking for a great holiday gift for that naturalist or birder in your life? Search no further.


The BIRDS-OF-PARADISE book described above is only part of a cooperative effort to draw attention to these birds, their natural history, and their conservation. This fall, as part of a National Geographic Society project in cooperation with the Cornell Lab, the Birds-of-Paradise Project is featuring a major exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC, a TV documentary on Thanksgiving Day, articles in LIVING BIRD and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazines, and a North American lecture tour. For a taste of this broad-based effort, watch part of the story in a five-and-a-half-minute CLO video:

To get information and details about the broadcast to take place on Thanksgiving Day (22 November) and on the North American lecture-tour schedule, you can find details here:


For the next two months, the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC quiz question will relate to a factoid revealed in the BIRD WATCHER’S BIBLE, the new publication that we reviewed last month. No, you don’t have to own this book to find the answer, but it may help!

This month we will give away five books to E-bulletin readers whose names are picked at random from among those submitting correct answers. Due to shipping constraints, only folks residing in the U.S. or Canada are eligible to win.

Last month’s question was: Which Native American people saw the Burrowing Owl as the keeper of the underworld and which helped souls navigate death?

The answer: The Hopi viewed the Burrowing Owl as helping departed souls navigate death, known as “crossing the owl’s bridge.”

Last month’s five winners of the BIRD WATCHER’S BIBLE (edited by Jonathan Alderfer), were Erik Bruder (Bay Village, Ohio), Chuck Carlson (Ft. Peck, Montana), Gary Edwards (Seneca, Pennsylvania), Barbara Harris (Nashville, Tennessee), and Regina Martel (Amherst, Massachusetts).

The prize for November will again be five individual copies of the BIRD WATCHER’S BIBLE. You can find a short review we did on this book in last month’s E-bulletin at:
and further details here:

Our quiz for this month is: John James Audubon, born in April 1785 in what is now Haiti, had a French plantation-owning father and a French Creole mother. What was Audubon’s original birth-name?

Please send your answer by 15 November to:

Make the subject line “QUIZ!” and please include your full name and mailing address along with your answer so that we can mail you a book should you be a fortunate winner. We will provide the correct answer to the quiz next month.

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