The Birding Community E-Bulletin: December

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).




Citrine Wagtails are wet-area songbirds that range from western Russia to central Siberia and northeastern China southward to parts of Iran, Pakistan, and northwestern India. At this time of year, the species should be wintering in the Indian subcontinent, southern China, or Southeast Asia. There has been only one record for this species in North America – a bizarre occurrence in Mississippi for two days during the winter of 1992.

With this in mind, when David and Adele Routledge found a wagtail near Courteney, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, they were hardly thinking “Citrine Wagtail.” The bird they discovered was first thought to be a Yellow Wagtail, a rare enough bird, but then the speculation shifted to White Wagtail, another Eurasian rarity. When the wagtail was relocated and photographed on 17 November, it was ultimately identified as the far rarer Citrine Wagtail. If you are unfamiliar with wagtails, check the National Geographic guide, or look up wagtails in any European field guide. Citrine Wagtail is an astounding find in North America since it is a species which properly belongs in the Indian subcontinent, southern China, or Southeast Asia at this season.

The British Columbia Citrine Wagtail seemed to like a dirt road opposite the sewage treatment plant in Courtenay, less than a kilometer beyond the junction at the main bridge in Courtenay at Highway 19A. The bird often frequented a wet grassy spot or a location bit farther down the road by an adjacent brush pile. Many birders made the trek to see this mega-rarity and were accordingly rewarded.

This individual is now only the second Citrine Wagtail to occur in North America and a first-ever for Canada.

Significantly, the area where the wagtail appeared is private land, but birders were allowed to walk down the farm road but not enter the property on the left side of the road. Visiting birders have been considerate and respectful of this limitation.

The wagtail was seen practically every day through the end of the month.

To see photos of the Citrine Wagtail, taken by Rick Reeves on 18 November see: http://tinyurl.com/cna7xqf


In last month’s E-bulletin we mentioned the surprise arrival of four separate storm-driven Northern Lapwings from Europe in Massachusetts and Maine in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The Maine bird was a one-day-wonder, but the three Massachusetts birds – one in Eastham and two on Nantucket – arrived on the same 30 October, with the Nantucket duo remaining through the end of the month.

The original four birds were the vanguard of a significant fallout in the Northeast. Northern Lapwing would have surely qualified as November’s rarity-of-the-month, except for the remarkable appearance of the Citrine Wagtail in British Columbia cited above.

Following the original sightings, more Northern Lapwings soon landed on our shores, sometimes associating with Killdeer. First there was another one-day bird with a group of Killdeer at Allentown, New Jersey on 8 November. Then another duo was found in New York, near Montauk Point, Long Island, on 10 November, which remained through 14 November. On 11 November, a Northern Lapwing appeared in Shelburne County in Nova Scotia, and remained through the end of the month. On the same 11 November, another lapwing was discovered at Cumberland Farms, in Middleboro, Massachusetts, which remained until 13 November. On 12 November, another Massachusetts lapwing was discovered nearby in Bridgewater, in a cornfield within sight of a state correctional institution. Had this lapwing moved closer to the correctional institution, a serious “birder access” issue could have evolved, but fortunately the lapwing stayed in place through November. Lastly, on 20 November, yet another Northern Lapwing was discovered at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia coast. It was only seen on that day.

That’s a minimum of eleven Northern Lapwings, and there may be more that have not come to our attention. And who knows how many simply went undiscovered? There may yet be more to be found.

Whatever the case, this flurry of Northern Lapwings –possibly still in motion – appears to have surpassed all previous fall and winter occurrences in recent memory for northeastern North America, probably back to 1966. One remarkable trans-Atlantic storm in December 1927, however, deposited an estimated 500 to 1,000 Northern Lapwings to Newfoundland and also a few on our northeastern United States shores.

Keep looking out there!


Who remembers Chester A. Reed? Reed, born 1867, was an American artist, photographer, author, and naturalist who sadly passed away at the early age of 36, on 16 December 1912.

Reed published 67 editions of the magazine “American Ornithology for the Home & School,” produced 24 books on numerous nature subjects (but mostly on birds), and drew thousands of bird and flower illustrations in color.

Reed began his career in Massachusetts as a taxidermist and natural history dealer in the specimen trade. With changing values and legal restrictions, his activities gradually shifted toward popularizing bird watching. This began in 1901 when he initiated the monthly, “American Ornithology.” Young Chester Reed soon reached a broad audience with his innovative book, the GUIDE TO THE LAND BIRDS EAST OF THE ROCKIES. This odd-shaped little book came in two editions: clothbound for the field (available for 50 cents in 1906) and a leather-bound edition for home use (for 75 cents).

This book soon became the basic field guide for every birder of the next generation. It was truly the first modern North American field guide for birds published in the 20th century, and it introduced an untold number of people to wild birds. It was followed shortly thereafter by a companion book pertaining to water birds. Sadly, however, Reed died a few years later, before he could fully develop his skills and his reach, enjoy his work’s growing success, or build on the significant movement created by his first half-dozen books on birds and nature. Nonetheless, the popularity of his books lived on, well past the life of Chester Reed himself and deep into the Depression years.

On the centennial of his death, a website has been put together by Michel Chevalier which is dedicated to Chester Reed’s memory and accomplishments. You may want to view it here: http://www.chester-reed.org/


We have covered glass-and-glare concerns in past issues of the E-bulletin, most recently in May when we discussed two crucial and pending court cases in Ontario, both concerned with making the skies safer for migrant birds: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=5497#ontario

The first of these two Toronto-area court cases and decided in mid-November, presents a mixed message for safe skies. On 14 November, Justice of the Peace William Turtle dismissed three charges against the Consilium Place/Menkes property where an estimated 800+ birds were killed in crashes between 2008 and 2009. This cluster of high-rise towers has long been considered Toronto’s deadliest building complex for killing migrating birds.

Turtle recognized that birds had been killed at the location, but he held that the property owners could not be held responsible for the natural light discharge and their reflection at the buildings. In the meantime, the owners – sold by Menkes to Kevric Real Estate Corporation in July – have spent thousands of dollars retrofitting the towers with corrective film to protect the birds.

This is core to the mixed message. Working with Toronto-based Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), Consilium Place retrofitted towers with an outer-layer of film intending to steer birds away from the building. The company also established “bird action stations” to assist FLAP volunteers to collect and tag bird victims, and obtained a federal permit to do so on site, all in accordance with Turtle’s ruling.

“We’re disappointed by the decision,” said Albert Koehl, lawyer for Ecojustice, one of the two environmental groups involved with the case. “However, the irony is that the building has now been retrofitted with window film. The number of collisions is dramatically down, so there are obviously solutions that do work.”

Michael Mesure, FLAP’s executive director, has reported that the bird collisions at this property have dropped to about 200 in 2012. Mesure said that the owner’s work, as well as the City of Toronto’s mandatory bird-friendly building guidelines, which cover projects started after 2010, are a “step in the right direction.” But more needs to be done to protect the birds.

The second crucial case – as we described in May – involves the Yonge Corporate Center, where about 2,000 dead birds have been collected between 2000 and 2010, and 800 between March and November 2010 alone. Judge Melvin Green should present his delayed judgment in this case in early February. Here also, the most deadly building in the center has recently been retrofitted with the same film as an experiment. Again, there have been favorable results.

According to FLAP at least one million birds are annually killed in building/glass/reflection collisions in Toronto, and this figure could conceivably be much higher. According to FLAP’s Mesure, legislative action is what is really needed. “We desperately need to find a way to make this included in the environmental law.”


Mercey Hot Springs is a well-established resort in the Panoche Valley in Fresno County, California. Included among its amenities are cabins, campgrounds, an RV area, and natural mineral waters used in hot tubs. The property is also an attraction with planted and irrigated trees where birders and photographers regularly go, especially to view obliging Long-eared Owls that regularly roost there. The owls will nest at Mercey Hot Springs, and in the winter sometimes as many as 30+ roosting birds are present. There are also Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls on site. Having a year-round water source in the Panoche Valley definitely attracts good numbers of bird species to Mercey Hot Springs. You can view details about this location here: https://merceyhotsprings.com/

For individual birders and photographers wishing to drop in for a view of Long-eared Owls, the Mercey Hot Springs management has charged only a nominal $5 fee. This thoughtful accommodation has been in place despite the normal facility day-use fee of $25 per person for up to four consecutive hours.

Unfortunately, some birders and bird photographers have abused this gracious opportunity, attempting to slip onto the property and stiffing management of the appropriate fee. Some birders tried to avoid paying, and some photographers virtually “planted” themselves and their equipment in the campground for eight hours at a time, but only paying the $5 fee. Regular guests and long-term visitors complained, and now the normal $25 fee is charged for any day use whatsoever, including drop-in birders and photographers. Unfortunately, because of SLOB behavior (i.e., selfish, lazy, obnoxious, birders) everyone suffers.

Management at Mercey Hot Springs does occasionally make exceptions for groups of 10 birders or more – e.g., bird clubs – who will call in advance, present a signed release form, and truly “drop in” for a short visit. These folks are only charged the original $5 fee per person, handed over as a sum for the entire group.

Still, when access privileges are abused under such circumstances, there are potential negative consequences. Apparently, some birders still fail to appreciate the fact that access matters.


The access story above serves to highlight larger issues at Panoche Valley. The valley, which ranges across parts of Fresno and San Benito Counties, is also an Important Bird Area (IBA) of global significance. It supports a sizable number of over-wintering Mountain Plovers on short-grass habitat and also hosts other species of interest, including Golden Eagle, Northern Harrier, Prairie Falcon, White-tailed Kite, Long-billed Curlew, and multiple sparrow species, including nesting Grasshopper Sparrows. Pasture-based livestock grazing land and native grassland habitat in the valley are vital bird attractants.

Since 2009, however, there has been an ongoing debate over establishing a $1.8-billion solar energy project covering almost 5,000 acres of the valley floor, mostly in parts of the San Benito County portion of the valley. While few people dispute the necessity of developing and installing solar energy as a meaningful renewable resource, the issue in the Panoche Valley is one that raises the issue of appropriate siting. While solar development in urban and industrial areas and in certain retired farming areas with little wildlife habitat value may make good sense, solar development in active, high-quality, ranch land and agricultural zones with exceptional wildlife value need to be considered more carefully. It’s all about location.

Serious review of the potential environmental impact of this enormous solar-energy project have found the stated justification – and the mitigations proposed to compensate for its harmful impacts – to be inadequate. (There are also three endangered species in the area: San Joaquin Kit Fox, Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard, and Giant Kangaroo Rat.)

Concurrently, the recent entry of Duke Energy as the major partner in the project has boosted the expectations of pro-development forces. Still, in the words of one project skeptic, “Panoche Valley is not the only place where the sun shines. Tracts of lands of less significance to wildlife also get their share of sunlight.”

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: http://web4.audubon.org/bird/iba/


As we have previously noted in the E-bulletin, birding festivals have become THE gateway to new birding experiences for many birders. They are usually welcoming, family-friendly, and often geared to introducing new bird watchers to skills, travel, and the basics of cooperative birding.

December is often a time to plan your next year’s vacations and a perfect time to blend those vacation plans with a birding festival away from home. Why festivals? Birding festivals provide a great introduction to an area – and an area’s birds – that may otherwise be unfamiliar to you.

Because there are so many promising birding festivals these days, we never have the space in the E-bulletin to give them individual attention. Nonetheless, there are some wonderful-looking festivals coming up in 2013, festivals which you may want to consider. We encourage you to do some searching through the Internet, pick out some potential favorites at birding hotspots of interest to you, and ask friends about which ones they’ve liked the best.

If you decide to attend a birding festival, we also recommend that you build in an extra day or two of visitation after the festival ends. Allow yourself the time to visit a special place you may have missed during the event, or the opportunity to revisit a site you only got a taste of during a birding festival field trip. It’s always worthwhile, and it always pays to get to know a new site and new birds ever better after the initial festival introduction.


There seems to be a plethora of fine bird finding guides to areas in North America, the primary focus area of the E-bulletin, however for areas just beyond our borders, these guides are not always so easy to come by. A recent contribution of this genre, RUTA BARRANCOLI, by Steven C. Latta and Kate J. Wallace (2012, National Aviary) is a notable exception.

Well illustrated and packed with directions, charts, and birding clues, this 241-page guide to bird finding in the Dominican Republic guides the visiting birder through 44 sites targeted for viewing many of the country’s 300+ bird species, 32 of which are endemic to the Dominican Republic. The team of Latta and Wallace, two of the region’s most experienced and knowledgeable ornithologists, have been ably assisted by Emily Pierson (site-by-site research), Dana Gardner (artwork), and Dax Roman (photographer). Conveniently scattered throughout the text are many useful maps, specific site directions, data tables, and colorful illustrations and photographs, all of which make this guide extremely useful to both first-time and seasoned birders alike. Central to the book’s theme is the belief that ecotourism can play a real role in conservation efforts by “showing others that there is international interest in a nation’s patrimony, and by providing an economic basis to support and justify conservation efforts.”

There seems little doubt that this fine book will help do just that.


This month the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC quiz question will relate to a clever factoid revealed in the BIRD WATCHER’S BIBLE, reviewed in October. No, you don’t have to have this book to find the answer, but it may help!

Last month’s question was: 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 his original birth-name?

And the correct answer is: Jean Rabin

Last month’s five winners of the BIRD WATCHER’S BIBLE, edited by Jonathan Alderfer, were: Ellen Blackstone (Seattle, Washington), Ross Geredien (Edgewater, Maryland), Tom Patrick (Fort Worth, Texas), Brian E. Small (Los Angeles, California), and Kari Rebecca Wouk (Durham, North Carolina).

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

The prize for December will be a copy of BIRDS OF PARADISE, by Tim Laman and Edwin Scholes. You can find a short review of this book that we did last month here: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=6635#book and further details here: http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/ngs/product/birding-books/birds-of-paradise

Since our monthly rarity feature concerned a bird which might otherwise be in southern China at this season, our quiz for November has a China connection: Mao Zedong’s “Four Pests Campaign” of the late 1950s targeted supposed pests, including the mosquito, fly, rat, and a sparrow. What sparrow species was the main target of this campaign?

Please send your answer by 15 December to: BirdingEbulletin1@verizon.net

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 also provide the correct answer next month.

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