The Birding Community E-Bulletin: April 2013

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).



On 9 March at the village of Little Heart’s Ease in eastern Newfoundland, a Great Blue Heron was reported at a local estuary. Reportedly, it had been there for days. Since that was pretty far north for a Great Blue Heron at any time of year, a closer look was required. Bruce Mactavish and others decided to drive to the site, about two hours from the St. John’s area, a trip that included traveling a narrow, hilly, and winding section of road to reach Little Heart’s Ease.

They were rewarded the next day, however, since the bird turned out to be a Gray Heron. This Eurasian species breeds from southern Scandinavia to southern Africa, and east from southeast Russia to Indonesia. It winters throughout much of its breeding range.

There are precious few records of Gray Heron anywhere in North America. One was found exhausted and dying on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland in October 1996, and three landed on an oil tanker about 1,100 miles east of Newfoundland in September 2002. There are also a few records for western Alaska (e.g., St. Paul Island in August 1999 and October 2007 and Shemya in April-May 2010).

Gray Herons of presumed European origin have also been reported from Greenland (over a dozen reports) and commonly in Iceland. Gray Herons have also been found on Bermuda. There have also been reports from the southern West Indies and vicinity: Barbados (including multiple birds), Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Martinique, Tobago, Trinidad, and French Guiana.

The species is essentially a Great Blue Heron look-alike, except that it’s smaller, with shorter legs and neck. Most importantly, in all plumages Gray Herons lack the rufous thighs present in Great Blue Herons. Although there have been some fairly convincing, but unverified, reports elsewhere in North America, more have yet to be found. Surely, some are out there somewhere, perhaps passed over as Great Blue Herons.

Observations of the Newfoundland Gray Heron continued through the end of March, although some days it went unobserved. The heron was most frequently seen in the afternoons along the same shoreline where it was originally found.

For notes and photos by Bruce Mactavish, see here.


In separate incidents and legal cases, two men in the U.S. were recently sentenced for shooting and killing Endangered Whooping Cranes during their southward migration from the Wood Buffalo National Park population in Canada.

In Texas, a 42-year-old man shot a juvenile Whooping Crane in January after mistaking it for a Sandhill Crane. He pleaded guilty on 6 March to one count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and was fined $5,000, ordered to make a $10,000 community service payment to the Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuges, and placed on probation for one year.

In South Dakota, a man was sentenced in February for shooting an adult Whooping Crane in April of last year. The 26-year-old man was ordered to pay $85,000 in restitution, placed on probation for two years, had his hunting rifle confiscated, and lost hunting rights anywhere in the U.S. for two years.


A far more important and significant case concerning Whooping Cranes has to do with continuing to maintain appropriate crane habitat along the Texas coast.

The issue has been covered previously covered in the E-bulletin, but resolution was reached last month.

Wintering Whooping Cranes have been dying on and near Aransas NWR over the past few years as a result of drought and a decrease in the availability of fresh water. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is responsible for controlling the availability of fresh water flowing into the San Antonio Bay/Guadalupe Estuary. Since Whooping Cranes at Aransas NWR are under recent severe stress due to hyper-saline conditions, the TCEQ was found in violation of section 9 of the Endangered Species Act. The TCEQ cannot approve or grant new water permits until the court is assured that the Whooping Cranes will not suffer. Also the TCEQ now has to develop a detailed Habitat Conservation Plan.

See more details on this important ruling here, from the CORPUS CHRISTI CALLER TIMES.


Some vexing wildlife issues never seem to go away, even when they appear to be resolved. For about the past three decades, there has been continued pressure to build a road on the tip of Alaska Peninsula through Congressionally-designated Wilderness Area at the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The stated reason is to connect two small towns, King Cove (pop. 948) and Cold Bay (pop. 111), to expedite evacuation during medical emergencies even though the more likely intent is to facilitate shipments by the seafood industry. Such a road would cost more than $75 million.

The proposed road would slice through vital wildlife habitat, and the issue has seemingly been “resolved” multiple times. For one, the area already has received $37.5 million in taxpayer funding to support a marine hovercraft that would operate between the two towns and pay for improvements to their medical clinics. For another, the Fish and Wildlife Service has had to analyze the impact of such a road more than once. One such analysis has already lasted more than three years and cost the agency approximately $3 million to complete.

In February, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) threatened to hold up the confirmation of Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell after the Service released its Izembek environmental analysis concluding with a recommendation to reject the road. Now, the Senator will drop the confirmation hold-up in exchange for re-opening the Service’s exhaustive analysis.

The road would violate a designated Wilderness Area, altering wetlands, degrading significant habitat, and creating serious threats to sensitive bird populations. This unique, world-class habitat attracts hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds annually to the refuge. Among the waterfowl using the area for wintering, stopover, and molt-migration are nearly the entire population of “Pacific Black” Brant, and large numbers of Emperor Geese, Steller’s Eiders, and Tundra Swans. In essence, the proposed road is incompatible with the purposes of the Izembek NWR.

Read the 22 March summary on the Izembek NWR situation from the National Wildlife Refuge Association here and the NWRA “Red Herring Highway” fact sheet here.


In our “IBA News” section in February and March of last year we reported on the discovery of nesting sites for Black-capped Petrels in southeast Haiti, near the Dominican Republic border.

The encouraging findings continue, and they come from both Hispaniolan countries.

Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) and its partners recently finished surveys in the Dominican Republic using radar, infrared scopes, and thermal imaging cams in both the Cordillera Central and Sierra Bahoruco. Petrels were detected in both mountain ranges.

In Haiti, EPIC, Grupo Jaragua, Soci鴩 Audubon Haiti, and others also used radar and infrared scopes to survey locations throughout the Massif de La Selle. Petrels were detected throughout the range, and important flight corridors were identified.

Besides this good news, researchers discovered some bad news: communication towers (i.e., cell phone towers) were found to be hazardous to Black-capped Petrels. Two cell phone towers in particular above the La Visite escarpment watched for just two nights proved deadly to a number of Black-capped Petrels.

SAH, EPIC, and others are now working to discuss the issue with the cell phone companies that operate these communication towers.

Unfortunately, this particular location is not unique. There are cell towers at most high points throughout Hispaniola, including at the well-known petrel nesting area at Loma del Toro in the Dominican Republic.

For more information on EPICs activities on Black-capped Petrel, see here.

So what is the IBA connection? Well, it turns out that most of the known or potential breeding locations for the Black-capped Petrel have been designated as Important Bird Areas. In the case of the known breeding locations near the Haitian-Dominican border (and potential locations in Cuba) the presence of the petrels is what triggered IBA designation.

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.


Interested in recommendations for retaining and enhancing habitat for Cerulean Warblers? There is a new downloadable 25-page document available from the Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture titled “Cerulean Warbler Management Guidelines for Appalachian Hardwood Forests ” that should be appreciated by federal, state, and private foresters, land managers, biologists, and any other involved bird or conservation organizations.

These guidelines are based largely on the recently completed Cooperative Cerulean Warbler Forest Management Project, but they also incorporate relevant findings from other research projects. The guidelines apply primarily to upland oak-dominated habitats where the majority of the reported research was completed.

You can view and download the guidelines here.


Pollinator losses have come to represent a serious threat to agriculture, food availability, and food stability. In the past decade, a number of studies have implicated a class of pesticides known as “neonicotinoids” in the declines of some of these pollinator populations, including bumble bees and honey bees.

But the problem goes beyond bees. Exactly how far beyond and how seriously also needs to be addressed.

In response to widespread pest resistance and health concerns linked to older pesticides, neonicotinoids were first introduced in the 1990s. These neonicotinoid insecticides quickly rose to become top sellers. Now they are the most widely-used insecticides in the world, and it is difficult to find pest control commodities that do not contain neonicotinoids. California alone has registered nearly 300 neonicotinoid products.

Today, neonicotinoids also present a serious and lethal risk to birds at varied levels, according to a report released last month by the American Bird Conservancy. For example, birds that eat seeds coated with the insecticide can die after eating a single kernel, and the report says smaller amounts can affect reproduction. High concentrations of neonicotinoid have also been found in aquatic food chains that birds depend upon.

The American Bird Conservancy report recommends
suspending all applications of neonicotinoids pending review of the effects on birds and other wildlife;
expanding the review of neonicotinoids beyond bees to include birds, aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife;
banning the use of neonicotinoids as seed treatments; and
requiring registrants to develop the tools needed to diagnose poisoned birds and other wildlife.

The 96-page report, “Beyond the Bees: Assessing the Impact of Neonicotinoid Insecticides on Birds,” by Pierre Minneau and Cynthia Palmer, can be downloaded here.


On 6 March, the National Park Service ferried a boatload of scientists and reporters to Anacapa Island, one of the Channel Islands off California, to declare victory over rats.

Black rats had been on Anacapa perhaps as early as the 1850s, but by the end of the 20th century they were clearly out of control. The rats were devastating the island’s birdlife, particularly the Scripps’s Murrelets (formerly Xantus’s Murrelet) that nested on the ground in rock crevices and burrows in the ground.

In a controversial extermination program that cost about $3 million, poisonous green pellets were dropped on the island by helicopter, a showering designed to rid the island of rats. This was in 2001 and 2002.

A lawsuit from the Fund for Animals followed which called the poison drop “an ecological disaster.” At the same time, a number of other concerned organizations (e.g., Pacific Seabird Group) sent several strong letters in support of the rat-eradication project. The suit was eventually dismissed.

In the decade that has passed, the number of Scripps’s Murrelets’ nests has quadrupled. Other birds are doing well, and deer mice, Anacapa’s only native mammal, have also bounced back. The National Park Service touted its success last month, a success summarized in an article in the LOS ANGELES TIMES.


The issue of access to rare birds at private and public locations never seems to go away. And that’s good, because it means that we are appropriately addressing the concerns of birders on a regular basis.

Indeed, private access has been the major theme of our “Access Matters” section over the last two months, both of which concerned birds in Massachusetts, the first a Black-throated Gray Warbler, the second a Gyrfalcon.

Who gets notified when a rarity shows up? How does one control the crowds, protect the landowner, and maintain the good image of the birding community when a rarity is reported?

It really helps if there are policy guidelines in place.

In Maryland, the Howard County Bird Club Board of Directors adopted just such a policy in late February. The policy covers recommendations on public property as well as a myriad of concerns where private-property issues are concerned.Recommendations for appropriate contact with the property owner are outlined. “Bad options” are reviewed, as are “better options,” and ways to show appreciation to property owners who are especially cooperative with visiting birders.

This club’s approach is not the last word on the issue, but the solutions presented provide a genuine service to birders, let alone to property-owners who might someday be faced with the situation of having a rare bird appear on their land!

You can read and review the thoughtful Howard County Bird Club Rare Bird Procedures here.


If there is any one thing that defines birds, it is their feathers. If there is one thing that defines this book, it is an absence of feathers. Katrina van Grouw has presented us a remarkable look into birds through THE UNFEATHERED BIRD (Princeton, 2013). It has been described as “hauntingly beautiful,” “irresistible,” “extraordinary,” “weird,” and “creepy.” While it cannot be all these things, it surely comes close. The author originally planned this volume for artists, but it ultimately became much more. It evolved into a collection of intricate and life-like – if that is a proper word in this context – drawings revealing the skeletal structure, postures, and, indeed, the lives of birds.

The book, an oversized coffee-table format, is packed with images of bird structure in groups that are superficially similar to each other (e.g. storks are next to cranes, swifts next to swallows), that work well in this book.

From beaks and skulls to vertebrae and wing-structure to feet, this amalgam of images is a wonder. The text is a fine accompaniment to the drawings, but it is the artwork that is the main attraction in this book. The author’s previous experience as artist, taxidermist, and bird-bander all come together in this remarkable book, resulting in a finished product that is both unique and compelling. It’s the perfect convergence of art and science.


It’s time to plan for IMBD (International Migratory Bird Day). IMBD officially takes place on the second Saturday in May in the U.S. and Canada. In Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean it takes place in October. But not even these different dates work well for all bird event organizers. They don’t always work for migratory birds either! In the southern U.S., migratory birds have mostly passed in May, while much farther north some species may not have even arrived.

These days, IMBD is moved around fairly easily, depending on location, regional needs, and the birds themselves. For most birders in North America, however, a local IMBD celebration is coming soon.

This year’s IMBD theme is life cycles, ranging from nesting and migration to breeding and raising young. Most importantly, the theme addresses the essential need for conservation throughout a bird’s life cycle.

Our tip this month is to prepare to engage in a local or regional IMBD celebration by volunteering to bring the life-cycle message to the non-birding public.

More details can be found here.


Readers may remember the case of a man who attempted to smuggle 16 Cuban Bullfinches into the U.S. in October 2012. He pleaded guilty on 6 December, and we summarized the situation in our January E-bulletin.

He was sentenced on 7 March. It was a fairly light penalty, including two years of probation, 120 days of home detention with electronic monitoring, and $100 fine.

– – – – – – – – –
You can access all the past E-bulletins on the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) website: http://refugeassociation.org/news/birding-bulletin/

If you wish to distribute or reproduce all or parts of any of the monthly Birding Community E-bulletins, we simply request that you mention the source of any material used. (Include a URL for the E-bulletin archives, if possible.)

If you have any friends or co-workers who want to get onto the monthly E-bulletin mailing list, have them contact either:

Wayne R. Petersen, Director
Massachusetts Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program
Mass Audubon
Paul J. Baicich
Great Birding Projects

We never lend or sell our E-bulletin recipient list.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2013/04/aprilebird/