The Birding Community E-Bulletin: May 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).



Our “rarity of the month” tends to be a rare bird in North America that has been available for viewing at an accessible place and location where it could be appreciated by a number of observers over multiple days.

This month’s choice is certainly rare, but somewhat marginal when it comes to the category of being seen for multiple days by many traveling birders. Nonetheless, the bird was seen for about three days by many birders lucky enough to make it to the site of the initial discovery.

On 19 April, 10-year-old Amara Weiss, a fairly new (starting last summer) and very talented young birder was out with her parents, Ian and Rhonda, checking out local flood waters in the area of Sumner, Missouri, when she spotted a different-looking duck among Blue-winged Teal. She at once knew that it was something rare. “Stop the car! I think that’s a duck that shouldn’t be here!” Amara said. She was right. It was a male Garganey, an Old-World species closely related to the Blue-winged Teal.

The odds of finding this species in North America are very slim, and they actually seem to be diminishing. There were more Garganeys discovered 20 or 30 years ago than today. For example, of the two dozen records for California, almost all of them were recorded in the 1980s and 1990s, but very few since. The drop in the number of reports is possibly due to an observed population decline in Eurasia.

Even when a Garganey is found in North America today, it is most likely encountered at the edges of remote Alaska, or rarely somewhere on the Atlantic coast. . To have one appear in the middle of the continent in Missouri, is quite remarkable. And to have the bird discovered by a 10-year-old girl is delightful!

There is one previous Missouri record for Garganey – a first state record found in St. Charles County in April 1994that was present for two days.

This year’s Garganey remained for a few days, most often accompanying Blue-winged Teal, and was seen by dozens of birders able to get to the location. The site was along Highway 139 by a bridge over Stanley Lake, although local flooding and impassable roads made access difficult and also likely contributed to the movement of waterfowl in the area.

For twelve photos of the Garganey by Allen Smith, see here:

Remarkably, a Garganey was found with a small group of Green-winged Teal on 20 April near Rimouski, Quebec.. It, too, stayed only for a short time, but was at least reported through 22 April. And another was found on 27 April near Montreal and stayed into the start of May.


A hummingbird visiting the yard and feeder of Delmas and Ruth Witmer in Denver, Pennsylvania, was initially considered by some to be a Broad-tailed Hummingbird, or possibly even a hybrid. This was on Monday, 22 April.

Sandy Lockerman successfully captured and banded the bird at noon that day and sent details to fellow hummer-experts and those who initially had a hard time identifying the parentage of the hummingbird. It was Bob Mulvihill in Pittsburgh who, on the next evening, first raised the possibility that the hummer might be a Bahama Woodstar.

This was nothing short of astounding. As its name attests, the Bahama Woodstar is a species found exclusively in the Bahamas, where it is resident. There are only about four previous reliable records of Bahama Woodstars in the United States, all seen in Florida, with the most recent dating back to 1981.

Birders able to get to the Wittmer’s home the next morning were very lucky to glimpse the bird, because it was last seen just after noon on Wednesday, 24 April.

Had it remained any longer this bird would have qualified as our rarity of the month. This was too bad, because the Wittmers were gracious enough to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of visiting birders. They had gone so far as to provide visiting instructions (i.e., “not before 9am or after 8pm”) and had a guest book ready for visiting birders to sign.

This is just another amazing example of how some birds show up in seemingly remarkable locations.

You can inspect photos of the bird by Chris Bortz here:

View a video by Meredith Lombard here:


Last month, the Athens Research Group for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, a project led by Ken Cordell, released a research brief on birding trends in the U.S.

The review indicates that birding continues to grow in the United States, but not at the same rate as in the past. Furthermore, birding ranks about 15th on the list of most popular activities included in the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (Cordell 2012). “As an activity, birding ranks just below visiting a beach, swimming in lakes/streams/etc., and bicycling. Birding ranks just above day hiking, visiting natural areas and gathering mushrooms/berries/and other nature products.”

The NSRE birding figures are higher than those of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.” This can be attributed to the definition of birding used in the two surveys, such as whether birding is the primary purpose of a trip or whether it is one of many activities in which participants engage on a trip.

For a look at this short USDA Forest Service report, see here:


As we pointed out in our January issue, the Bay of Panama is used by over a million shorebirds every year on their way south after breeding in the North American Arctic and this Important Bird Area (IBA) constitutes a vital location for one of our most precious shared resources – shorebirds. As we said in January, the status of the Bay of Panama is not only an IBA but it is also as a Ramsar site (Wetland of International Importance) that was in jeopardy since the area’s Ramsar status was withdrawn last spring:

Last month, however, the Bay of Panama was reinstated as a protected area by the Panamanian Supreme Court. This temporary reprieve reverses the suspension imposed in April 2012 that potentially opened the door to major residential, recreational, and industrial development.

Many regional and local groups cooperated in convincing the Panamanian Government of the natural importance of the Bay of Panama. And on the ground, the Panama Audubon Society (the BirdLife International partner in Panama) worked diligently to reverse the original decision.

Rosabel Miro, Executive Director of Panama Audubon Society commented, “Continuing threats to the site remain, and we will continue our work with international agreements such as the Ramsar Convention to make sure this reprieve becomes permanent.”

You can find some more information from partners at Bird Studies Canada:
and from BirdLife International:

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:


For decades, the “Salineno birder colony” was open to visitors who wanted to see some of the “Lower Rio Grande Valley specialties” of South Texas like Audubon’s and Altamira Orioles, Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, and Brown Jay. Bird feeders were maintained by dedicated “winter Texans” at this fabulous hotspot from November through March. The site, about two acres in extent, eventually became the property of the Valley Land Fund.

For a number of reasons, including security, the Valley Land Fund decided to shut down access to the location before the opening of the 2012-2013 season. This change in policy occurred much to the dismay of both visiting and local birders alike.

There would be no more welcoming hosts, and no more access to the property and its unique birdlife. The Salineno location had also served as a functional anchor for birders going elsewhere in Starr County. The impact of the Salineno closure was actually being felt at neighboring locales.

The staff at the South Texas National Wildlife Refuge Complex then stepped in. They incorporated the former winter hosts at the Salineno site as official NWR volunteers, and the refuge staff successfully opened up an adjacent tract – the Kepler Tract – for birders. This smaller piece of property is about 1/2 acre in extent.

Regardless, a failure to open up the original much-desired property was a crucial missing element.

In late February, the Valley Land Fund and the USFWS started a discussion for a working partnership to reestablish access at the Salineno site. The arrangement is currently under review and is about to be finalized, with combined site-plans and improvements in the works. The site will be maintained through the USFSW’s Roma World Birding Center, about 12 miles away.

If everything goes as planned, there will be a grand opening in October or early November, just in time for the Harlingen-based Rio Grande Birding Festival.

This is a classic case where concerned birders and working institutional partners (the Valley Land Fund and the USFWS) have resolved an access issue that is to everyone’s advantage. As we have suggested many times in the past, access to quality birding areas is vitally important.


Yes, we encouraged your participation in International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) activities last month:

Now you have the opportunity to go one step further in expressing concern for international migratory birds by playing a role in this summer’s Partners In Flight (PIF) meeting. PIF, a multi-partner bird conservation network will hold its 5th international conference from 25 through 28 August in Snowbird, Utah.

The Partners in Flight program was launched in 1990 in response to concerns over declines in the populations of many North American migratory landbird species. The primary focus was on Neotropical migrants that breed in North America and winter in Central and South America, but the scope has been broadened to include practically all landbirds and other species requiring terrestrial habitats.

This summer’s meeting will target the creation of a unified vision within the bird conservation community for full lifecycle bird conservation needs, and will attempt to identify innovative approaches for addressing the most urgent needs. Goals will include building hemisphere-wide cooperation, increased funding, and shared priorities to address the causes of population declines.

Even if you can’t attend, try to get someone from your local organization – your local or state bird club, observatory, state agency, Friends group, land trust, bird-business, nature center, etc. – to participate in your stead. This is a very important meeting.

Visit the PIF website for details:


On 19 April, Madison Grimm, from Burbank, South Dakota, won the nation-wide Jr. Duck Stamp Contest, beating over 50 contenders from other states and territories. Madison painted a lovely male Canvasback, no less remarkable since she is only six years old, eclipsing artists who were already seniors in high school.

Then, on 26 April, Madison Grimm was disqualified as the winner. Apparently, there were concerns about her “copying” from an image and because “tracing” was part of her technique. For the full story, and to see a video made of the artist explaining her work during the ensuing week, check out THE ARGUS LEADER in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

During the week between the first and second announcement, there was discussion and anxiety over the contest announcement – both pro and con – among bird artists and others. Note, however, it’s not only six-year-olds who use this technique in their work. Consequently, after considerable debate and controversy, the Fish and Wildlife Service rescinded the decision to disqualify Madison Grimm and ultimately restored her winning title. For full details see here:


Over the past few years, several of the professional ornithological societies in North America have been contemplating cooperating, merging, or federating, with an eye at least toward coordinating some of their most serious and important activities.

Susan Haig, President of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) has described this process as “painfully complex,” one which involves “significant soul searching to identify the most productive path for the future of AOU and the field of Ornithology.” The process has involved well over 100 ornithologists from six societies working on various aspects of plans and task forces, in pursuit of a design for the “most functional and forward thinking ornithological society we could imagine.”

The initial plans for a “Society for Ornithology” (SFO), has evolved into a more nuanced approach, including plans for publications, website, and meetings. The AOU seems to be moving modestly with the Cooper Ornithological Society (COS), with advice and observers from the Wilson Ornithological Society, the Association of Field Ornithologists, and Society of Canadian ornithologists.

The process has been an effort to balance collaboration and autonomy. For the AOU/COS portion of the equation, their respective journals will assume somewhat different responsibilities. The AOU will focus on more basic and theoretical papers, while the COS will maintain a journal with an orientation toward applied ornithology. As for a web presence, the two organizations are working on a detailed plan for a joint website.

This is a work in progress, but you can gain some insight by reading Susan Haig’s message to the AOU members here:


This lovely, coffee-table sized book is a wonder. It started as a project between colleagues trying to collect photos of the world’s rarest birds through an international photo competition, but ended as a collection of photographs and thumbnail sketches of 515 amazing species.

THE WORLD’S RAREST BIRDS, by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash, and Robert Still (Princeton, 2013) is an impressive outgrowth of collective and cooperative work. The encouraging news is that seven species were removed from the photo-list because of conservation progress or recent discoveries; the discouraging news is that fully 23 additional species had to be added during the process of writing and producing the book.

Introductory chapters, region-by-region snapshots, and calls to save various crucial habitats characterize this book. The short thumbnail sketches of the included species are particularly helpful, and much appreciated in that they nicely summarize what actions are needed to protect each species in question. Perhaps most creatively, these thumbnail sketches also have QR Codes placed beneath each range map that are able to be scanned that will direct readers to a species account on the BirdLife International website where the latest and most authoritative information on each species can be found.

The take away lesson in this book is obvious: The species described in the book are in peril; conservation actions for each are necessary, and time is of the essence.


We have previously commented on the problem of cage bird-trade in Cuban Bullfinches, including smuggling this species into the U.S. See, for example our coverage in January:
and in April:

Some readers have asked for further information. For a number of reasons, including territoriality, ease of care, and melodious song, the Cuban Bullfinch has been commonly used as a cage bird in Cuba. In recent years, the levels of extraction have increased.

Fortuitously, a profile of the Cuban Bullfinch was just put on “Neotropical Birds Online.” This profile is one of a number of species accounts being authored by Cuban graduate students who spent time at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology last spring.

Details on the conservation and the harvesting trade of Cuban Bullfinches in North central Cuba can be found here:


A creative team is currently working on a documentary about the Passenger Pigeon, a film called “From Billions to None.” The team is comprised of director, David Mrazek, musician and composer, Garth Stevenson, author and naturalist, Joel Greenberg, and many others. The release of the film is scheduled for next year, the year marking the 100th anniversary of the death of “Martha,” the last known Passenger Pigeon on Earth.

In the words of the crew working on this project, “this story doesn’t have to be depressing.” There are lessons to learn and success stories to share. Indeed, awareness and concerted effort can make a difference for the future of all birds… as well as for us. Actually, we can learn something important from Martha.

See details here on the documentary, and consider joining the effort to make it happen:

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