The Birding Community E-Bulletin August 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).



The rarity focus for this month is further proof that you just never know what can turn up when you’re looking for birds.

To illustrate this point, on 7 July, Matt Daw, a member of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Southwestern Willow Flycatcher survey team, was birding at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near the Marsh Overlook Trail when an apparent Rufous-necked Wood-Rail simply walked through the viewfinder of his cameral while he was getting video of a cooperative Least Bittern. Go figure!

The Rufous-necked Wood-Rail is a bird often found in coastal mangroves from Mexico southward, into Central and South America. The closest this species normally occurs to the United States is in Sinaloa, on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Until Daw’s fortuitous discovery, this species had never been seen in the United States.

You can watch Matt Daw’s original video of the Least Bittern and see for yourself the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail walking into the background. Daw was so startled that he turned off the camera after a few seconds:

From the moment of Daw’s discovery the event became a birding phenomenon. Birders near and far came to Bosque to see this bird, and fortunately hundreds were rewarded. Visiting birders stationed themselves by an opening in the willows, on the boardwalk, or anywhere in the general vicinity of the original sightings. The Rufous-necked Wood-Rail sometimes worked the muddy shore on the west side of the pond, and occasionally would come out even further. Early or late in the day seemed to provide the best viewing, although some days the rail was active even in the mid-afternoon.

The bird and some of the birders were even featured on TV, radio, and in the newspapers. The refuge staff was wonderfully accommodating, and the town of nearby Socorro clearly noticed the boost in traffic and increased occupancy at local motels and restaurants. It was a win-win situation.

Amazingly, this same refuge hosted another phenomenal first-record bird in November 2008 when a Sungrebe appeared there. It was reported in the December 2008 E-bulletin:

Fortunately, the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail was far more cooperative and stayed longer than the 2008 Sungrebe did. The wood-rail was last reported on 19 July. At that time, evaporating water in the pond area may have caused the bird to move on.

To view photos by Matt Baumann from the day of Matt Daw’s discovery see:

For an AP-wire story that appeared in the LAS CRUCES SUN-NEWS, see:

To see national coverage of this amazing avian occurrence on CBS News, see:


In early July, the latest annual federal “State of the Birds Report” was released. This report focuses on private lands, with the understanding that these lands and their landowners are essential to the conservation of the country’s birds

Private landowners, individuals, families, organizations, and corporations – including two million ranchers and farmers and about 10 million woodland owners – manage 1.43 billion acres, or roughly 60 percent of the land area of the U.S.

This report presents valuable insights into the management consequences of private ownership for wetlands, grasslands, arid lands, forests, coasts, and islands. The opportunities for improving private lands conservation are presented, along with recommendations in the Farm Bill, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well an array of easements, land trusts, and crucial and creative public-private partnerships.

Particularly important sections include those on private forests, rangeland, and riceland, as well as the coverage on Farm Bill benefits and proposals (e.g., sodsaver).

For a downloadable copy of this insightful 47-page report, see here:


The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey for 1981-2012 revealed some disturbing trends for the Common Loon. Currently, Common Loons are successfully producing enough chicks to maintain a stable population, but research shows that their reproductive success has declined significantly since 1992. If this current rate of decline continues, Common Loon numbers are expected to begin decreasing within two decades.

Mercury and acid precipitation are the suspected culprits. Other problem sources were also examined, including lead (in the past, a major concern), shoreline development, human disturbance, botulism, and even old age among loons.

But in a summary released by Bird Studies Canada, mercury and acid precipitation were deemed to be the main problems affecting lake health and the impairment of loon reproductive success. Unfortunately, the burning of fossil fuels (e.g., in vehicles and at coal-fired power plants) produces mercury and acid emissions. Once these pollutants make their way into lake waters, they enter the food chain where loons are then exposed to the substances, which eventually leads to reproductive problems.

“We are approaching the tipping point. Annual reproductive success may soon drop below the minimum level required for these birds to sustain their numbers,” said Bird Studies Canada scientist Dr. Doug Tozer, the lead author of the recent report. “Because 95% of the world’s Common Loons breed in our country, Canadians have a critical role to play in monitoring and conserving loon populations.”

High mercury levels result in loons moving slower. Adults with high mercury levels spend less time collecting food for chicks and defending breeding territories. Loon chicks have compromised immune systems, and they become less able to avoid predators. Also, on lakes with high acidity, fish are less abundant, with the result that loons produce fewer young.

These findings were based on three decades of research by Bird Studies Canada scientists and an army of volunteers. Over 3,000 citizen scientists contributed their time, data, and support to make this research possible.

More detailed analysis can be found in the paper, “Common Loon Reproductive Success in Canada,” recently published in AVIAN CONSERVATION & ECOLOGY, found here:


In December we ran a quick review of a new bird finding guide for the Dominican Republic, RUTA BARRANCOLI, by Steven C. Latta and Kate J. Wallace (2012, National Aviary):

Now there is news from the Dominican Republic that the Sierra de Bahoruco, an Important Bird Area (IBA) in that country is currently under increasing threat.

The area has long been suffering due to burning for charcoal production and illegal agricultural practices, and in mid-July a dry forest area on its northern foothills an area formally protected as Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve, is starting to be cleared to make way for an agricultural settlement. This is occurring despite the fact that the area is supposed to be protected as a Biological Reserve.

The Dominican Agrarian Institute has approved this activity, and about 260 acres are slated for immediate destruction. Multiple species are at risk. The Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve, which falls under the larger Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve which has been ratified by UNESCO, is habitat for the endangered Bay-breasted Cuckoo (Coccyzus rufigularis), an endemic species with a very limited distribution in Hispaniola.

You can get more details on this threat and actions being taken 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:


Just when it seems that things can’t possibly get any worse in Congress for natural resource and bird conservation – e.g., see last month’s Farm Bill coverage in the E-bulletin (http://refugeassociation.org/?p=7787/#farm) – activities in the U.S. House surprise us yet again.

Last month, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies presented its proposed budget for natural resources on the federal level, which turns out to be one of the most astounding budget proposals impacting bird conservation in living memory.

If enacted, the proposed funding and riders would:

  • Eliminate all funding for conservation easements and land acquisition under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program established in 1965 that uses a portion of royalties from offshore drilling to support federal land acquisition and to support state and local conservation;
  • Eliminate all funding for the State Wildlife Grants Program (SWG), which helps states keep species from becoming endangered;
  • Eliminate all funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which funds wetland restoration to benefit wetland birds and other wildlife;
  • Eliminate all funding for Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) that are forums for federal, state, tribes, organizations, and groups to work together to support conservation;
  • Eliminate all funding for the Neotropical Migratory Birds Conservation Fund that promotes projects for the conservation of Neotropical migratory birds;
  • Cut overall funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by 27% (and if the 27% cut is evenly distributed to all Service programs, the Refuge System will fall from $502.8 million in FY10 to $331.2 million in FY14, a 34% cut in four years);
  • Cut National Park funding more than $115 million below the dollar amount for operations that was in place before the sequester that forced a roughly 5 percent across-the-board cut on the Park Service.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Paul Schmidt, Chief Conservation Officer for Ducks Unlimited, commenting particularly on NAWCA. “They’ve had some ups and downs, but never that low. You can’t get lower than zero.” The North American Wetlands Conservation Act typically leverages $3 or $4 for every federal dollar to promote the restoration and acquisition of wetlands.

One former House Appropriations Committee staffer said he recalled only one time when Congress provided LWCF funding only for agency staff to complete existing projects and land exchanges. He said Congress had never zeroed-out the program entirely.

By his count, Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) said that the moves eliminate funding for 20 programs while boosting funding for oil and gas development and offering regulatory relief to “the polluters, the grazers [and] the snowmobilers.”

According to a list compiled by Moran’s office, other programs proposed to be cut are diverse, including Forest Service planning, U.S. EPA brownfields, and Native American memorial programs.

While this subcommittee made these dismal proposals, the full Appropriations Committee suspended action on the last day of July, just before the summer recess. So, the Interior bill will not be reconsidered until September, if at all.

On the slightly positive side, some observers suggest that the predicted differences in overall funding levels between the House and Senate indicate that Congress might again pass a continuing resolution (CR), keeping the government funded at current levels in these areas.

In any case, birds and natural resources continue to suffer, and relief is not in sight.


In February and October 2011, we reported on a crane-hunting controversy in Tennessee:

The upshot of that discussion was that for a number of reasons, Tennessee decided to delay a decision for two years. Now that time is up, and the issue has come up again. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) is soliciting comments.

Sandhill Cranes had practically disappeared in the southeastern U.S. by the 1930s, but they have been steadily increasing since then, especially in the last two decades. Still, there is disagreement over exactly how many migratory cranes currently exist in the East. Additionally, the slow reproduction rate of Sandhill Cranes (breeding after 5-7 years with only one in three nests producing a chick that survives to fall migration) raises concerns over a replacement rate within the context of a possible hunting season in Tennessee.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a potential 60-day Sandhill Crane season (December-January), with 775 permits available (3 birds per permit). The Sandhill Crane hunting-zone would be restricted to the southeastern portion of the state where most of the birds migrate. This would make Sandhill Cranes a brand new game species for the state.

At the same time, for 22 years the state-run Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge (at the confluence of the Hiwassee River and Tennessee River) has hosted a very successful annual Sandhill Crane Festival- an event which draws thousands of visitors annually – to showcase the thousands of Sandhills that overwinter there. (Some birders may remember that a rare Hooded Crane, a vagrant from Asia, showed up among the Sandhill Cranes there in early 2012). This refuge is included in the zone currently proposed for a hunting season. Although no hunting will occur on the refuge property itself, hunt clubs abut the refuge and no buffer zones around the refuge are being considered for the cranes in the proposal.

A number of important questions arise if one wishes to manage for this new-found regional resource:

  • Is the population of Sandhill Cranes currently sustainable in the East?
  • Is there any need to limit or reduce their numbers?
  • Is this a Tennessee resource or a regional resource?
  • Will cranes harvested in Tennessee come from states where the species is considered endangered, threatened, or of special concern (e.g., originating in Ohio or Indiana)?
  • How does one measure and compare the social and economic impact of outdoor activities such as hunting and wildlife-watching?

The answers to these and other important questions should be evaluated in Tennessee this month. Some of these issues were summarized in early July in the CHATANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS:

Details on submitting comments to TWRA, due 10 August, can be found here:


The most recent Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (often called the Duck Stamp and increasingly called the Migratory Bird Stamp) was released at the end of June. The new Federal stamp painted by Robert Steiner of California features a beautiful male Common Goldeneye and costs $15.

Stamp dollars go into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund which is used to acquire wetland and grassland habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. It not only helps ducks; shorebirds, long-legged waders, raptors, and songbirds also benefit from stamp investment. Stamp acquisition-dollars support other animals (charismatic or not), too, as well as plants, and improved water quality.

Notably, among the refuges that have been acquired thru Stamp/MBCF dollars is Bosque del Apache NWR in central New Mexico. This is the refuge where this month’s rarity, the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, thrilled visiting birders. This refuge is 57,331 acres in size, of which 56,850 acres were acquired through Stamp/MBCF dollars, or 99.2 percent of the refuge!

To find out more about this year’s stamp and how to support the stamp, see the sites for the Federal Duck Stamp Office and the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp, found here:
and here:

Of notable interest last month was the action of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, the sponsor of this E-bulletin, in relation to the stamp. The company announced that as part of its “Field Days,” from 19 July though 11 September, it would offer a free Federal Duck Stamp and holder to anyone who bought one of the company’s “Conquest HD” binoculars.

Mike Jensen, President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, said “Zeiss wanted to offer a tangible benefit to our customers and one that has a lasting effect. The Federal Duck Stamp program has been called one of the most effective conservation programs ever initiated. ‘Field Days’ is our way of supporting wetlands habitat conservation and encouraging people to visit the National Wildlife Refuge System.”

More details on the consumer mail-in rebate can be found here:


Access to birding locations is of increasing importance, and it’s good to remember that anyone holding a valid Migratory Bird Stamp can use it for free admission to any National Wildlife Refuges that may charge for entry. A new valid stamp is good until next July.


Our birding tip of the month is simple, just re-read the previous two items under the story of the new stamp and the short item on birder access!

Buy and proudly display the new Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp to show that you care about preserving and sharing birds, wildlife, and wild places.

If you need further motivation, just refer to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “Eight Great Reasons to Love the New Migratory Bird Stamp”:


When his first guide, THE CROSSLEY ID GUIDE: EASTERN BIRDS, was published by Princeton University Press in the spring of 2011, Richard Crossley discovered that a number of experienced birders were simply scratching their heads. The approach was so novel, that many birders didn’t know how to react to the 640 photographic scenes each featuring superimposed individual bird photos. With the images placed as they were at various angles in such a non-traditional way in habitat backgrounds, the impression was shocking to some readers at first.

Others found it a breakthrough and a unique way to present bird identification to the public.

Skeptics may back away from their earlier opinions with the release of the most recent book in the Crossley series. THE CROSSLEY ID GUIDE: RAPTORS, which came out in April uses extensive contributions from raptor experts Brian Sullivan and Jerry Liguori, and is certain to turn some heads.

Crossley’s initial approach of jamming lots of photos onto a page seems to work more effectively in this book than in his first guide, and that’s no surprise. Such a book, devoted as it is entirely to one family group, especially one that consists of large birds in open spaces, auger well for the Crossley approach. The broad panoramic plates help the birder to assimilate details of size and shape while at the same time reducing any obsession over fine feather details. This is not unlike real field experiences.

The second half of the book –the species accounts – are well done, packed with fine details, even though some seem a bit uneven with their opening paragraphs. Though the panoramic photos in the first part of the book are inviting, some of the species accounts are a bit disappointing, especially when they don’t elaborate on non-ID issues, such as habitat or the associated diet of each species. But it is, after all, an ID guide…

And just for fun, this new guide can really challenge you through 15 “mystery plates.” Moreover, it’s an ID guide that will encourage you to keep turning pages, tempting you to ID the birds at a glance, and then learn much more.


There are bird-protection issues that never seem to go away, and the continuing concern for the Spotted Owl is just such an issue.

We have written about this species a number of times, including in March of 2011 when we described the concept of helping Spotted Owls by “removing” Barred Owls from their habitat. See our third article here:

Barred Owls began working their way across the Great Plains in the early 1900s, moving westward accompanying human expansion. By the 1970s, the species had spread to the West Coast, where their numbers have multiplied and come into conflict with Spotted Owls. Barred Owls are bigger and more aggressive than the Spotted Owls.

In late July, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its plans to proceed with efforts to “remove” Barred Owls from four test areas in the Pacific Northwest and monitor the subsequent impact on the Spotted Owls in those areas. Basically, it’s killing one owl species to save another. Robin Brown, a federal wildlife biologist, says that in some areas, Barred Owls outnumber Spotted Owls 5 to 1, and killing them might be the only way to put number back into balance.

The agency’s preferred course of action calls for removing 3,603 Barred Owls in parts of Oregon, Washington, and Northern California over the next four years. The USFWS will issue a final decision later this month.

For more on the options and controversy see this story in the LOS ANGELES TIMES:
and this story from the PBS NEW HOUR:


There may be some controversy over the above owl story, but we end with an upbeat story on another species of owl, the Barn Owl, that has for the second year nested at a Marriott Hotel near the San Francisco Airport. While breeding season for Barn Owls typically starts in March or early April, breeding can occur at any time of year, especially when there is an ample food source.

The airport nesting pair has recently been raising four owlets on the balcony of room 1141 at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, hotel officials recently announced.

Marriott officials try to keep room 1141 on the Concierge Level vacant, but when the hotel is sold out and room 1141 is needed, the hotel asks guests to be respectful of the owls.

Moreover, in celebration of the nesting Barn Owls, children staying at the hotel are offered a complimentary stuffed owl toy, as are any guests staying in room 1141. The hotel’s Director of Operations, Dean Waziry says, “I never get tired of looking at them… we love having them at our hotel.”

For more on this fascinating Barn Owl event, see the National Wildlife Federation blog by Beth Pratt:

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