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.

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



On the morning of 9 November, a dark goose, presumed to be a bean-goose, was observed by Lee Sliman, a volunteer at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the northern Oregon coast. She asked refuge staff and local birders to check out her identification, and they confirmed that the goose that was accompanied by Cackling Geese was, indeed, a Tundra Bean-Goose.

This species is very rare in North America, which is complicated by the 2007 “split” that resulted in separating the former Bean Goose into the Taiga Bean-Goose and the Tundra Bean-Goose. The breeding range of the Tundra Bean-Goose includes the tundra zone north to the Arctic across northern Russia, and the species usually winters from Western Europe to eastern China and Japan. Its historic occurrence in North America has been mainly limited to western Alaska with a couple of odd records, including the Yukon and Quebec.

The Tundra Bean-Goose at Nestucca Bay NWR was seen daily through the end of the month in the company of Cackling Geese and Canada Geese that were also on the refuge. It was regularly observed from the viewing platform or refuge parking lot, but also occasionally seen off the refuge on nearby privately-owned cow-pastures.

Hundreds of birders visited the refuge, from across Oregon, as well as from California, Idaho, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, and even Alaska, to see the rare visitor.

One of the best things about the goose is that it introduced so many birders to the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was only opened to the public in 2008, and it has been relatively unknown until now to the birding public.

To see early photos of the Tundra Bean-Goose taken by Owen Schmidt, see here:


And for a collection of later photos – of the goose and the refuge – see these photos by Jack Williamson:



On the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, a female-plumaged Red-legged Honeycreeper was found by Park Ranger, Ruben Rangel, at Estero Llano Grande State Park in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. There have been several previous observations of this species in the U.S., particularly in Florida. None of these has been accepted due to questions concerning provenance.

At Estero Llano Grande State Park, the honeycreeper was observed by numerous birders for a few days in the area of a water drip in the “tropical zone” of the park, by the resident park-hosts’ RV.

Authorities on the species identified the Red-legged Honeycreeper as an immature bird. The identification of the honeycreeper has not been questioned; the origins of the bird continue to be troublesome, especially since the species has been observed as a cage bird in nearby Mexico. Most cage birds, however, tend to be the more colorful males, not females. Additionally, the natural range of the Red-legged Honeycreeper is not all that far away (c. 250 miles) from Estero Llano Grande. Although the species is somewhat migratory in eastern Mexico… alas, it tends to migrate in the other direction at this season!

Speculation is rampant, but hopefully a pattern of future observations will help answer the questions.

You can view a photo taken by Tiffany Kirsten of the Estero Llano Grande bird here:



In mid-November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its decision to list the Gunnison Sage-Grouse as a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). At least since the recognition of the distinct species status of the bird in 2001, Gunnison Sage-Grouse have been declining across western Colorado and southern Utah. This is due to loss and fragmentation of sagebrush habitat.

The decision will have no impact upon on landowners in Colorado and Utah who have previously entered into “Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances,” or a number of USDA programs; these landowners can continue to implement the practices covered by those programs in the knowledge that they will be consistent with the ESA. How this status for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse will impact oil and gas development in Colorado and Utah is unclear however. (A Threatened listing involves fewer habitat protections and development restrictions than an Endangered designation, which is what was originally proposed in January 2013.) Still, nobody seems to be satisfied. Many conservationists insist the move did not go far enough; many local government, ranching, and development interests claim that it went too far.

Under the listing, the USFWS will designate 1.4 million acres in Colorado and Utah as “critical habitat” for the grouse, which is still a fraction of the species’ historic range. At the same time, the listing could now hamper the voluntary conservation programs among ranchers and others. USFWS officials argued that unfortunately the voluntary efforts to protect the species have not proven to be sufficient.

You can read a thoughtful summary of the situation in High Country News:


And you can review a summary press release from the USFWS here:


Federal officials say their decision to protect dwindling Gunnison Sage-Grouse populations in Colorado and Utah has no bearing on next September’s highly anticipated ruling on the far more widespread Greater Sage-Grouse. Nonetheless, not everyone is so sure.


The California Condor recovery effort in Utah and Arizona has been a cooperative venture among federal, state, and private partners. The partners include The Peregrine Fund, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Recently, these partners have touted some good news. Apparently, the number of California Condors treated for lead exposure from lead-bullet ingestion in Utah and Arizona recently dropped to its lowest level since 2005. Between September of last year, and the start of September of this year, a total of 13 condors were treated for lead poisoning. During the same period the previous year, there were 28 birds treated. The average over five years had been 26 condors per year.

The problem, of course, is that condors can be at risk of death if they ingest carrion that contains lead fragments.

To help the California Condor, the state wildlife agencies in both states have asked hunters in southern Utah and northern Arizona to use non-lead ammunition. In an effort to offset the cost and encourage hunter participation, both agencies have run voluntary programs to provide hunters with a free box of non-lead bullets. The voluntary response from hunters has been significant.

Lynda Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said that she’s cautiously optimistic. She added, “We have between 80 and 90 percent of hunters participating in any given year.”


Jan Dunlap’s latest contribution to her birder-murder-mystery series is Swift Justice (North Star Press). If you like your detective stories hard-boiled, with gritty dialogue, dark characters, irresistible femmes fetales, and a dose of bloody knuckles, you will want to look elsewhere. Swift Justice is a light read, presented with a mix of interesting characters, well-done dead-end clues, and light and often humorous dialogue all presented within the Twin Cities and with a good understanding of the quirky birding culture, both positive and negative.

This is probably the best and most developed work in Dunlap’s series – including A Murder of Crows, Murder on Warbler Weekend, and The Boreal Owl Murder. They all feature Bob White, as detective, high-school guidance counselor, and top-notch Minnesota birder. There are some good laughs in this mystery, as Bob pursues the murderer of a fellow birder (and fellow rare-bird-record committee member) who was killed at the start of a Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union meeting. The mix includes Hmong students who are birders, the effort to preserve an old brewery used by roosting Chimney Swifts in season, nice and not-so-nice birders, and some real-life Twin Cities characters who have important cameo-roles in the mystery.

You could do much worse than to read this book, and it’s fun to see how Dunlap weaves the birds and birding into solving this murder mystery.


Our regular “IBA News” section usually pertains to developments for Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in North America. We sometimes, however, slip into areas of Latin America and the Caribbean where “our” birds spend much of their lives, and where bird conservation is crucial for the survival of these species.

This month, we take the IBA news much farther afield, to Phillip Island, an IBA in Australia, not far from Melbourne. The site accounts for at least 1% of the global population (approximately 450,000 pairs) of Short-tailed Shearwaters, a species which visits the North American Pacific Coast, primarily off Alaska in our summer and farther south during our fall and winter.

In a study in PLOS One in mid-October, researchers reviewed the attraction of human-initiated nighttime lighting to fledgling Short-tailed Shearwaters near their Phillips Island nesting-areas. The mortality was remarkably high, especially that caused by road-and-bridge lights and associated with automobile impacts. This is ironic because the IBA site is also a popular ecotourism destination as a result of nesting Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor).

The good news is that the control of lights and traffic can lessen the mortality of Short-tailed Shearwaters, specifically by turning off bridge lights, restricting speed limits, and displaying warning signals.

You can access the full report here:


And you can find out more about the Phillip Island IBA here:


For additional information about worldwide IBA programs, including those in the U.S., check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at: www.audubon.org/bird/iba/


Last month, the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in northwest Ohio won the USA Today “10 Best Readers’ Choice” award for the top birdwatching location in the U.S. The Readers’ Choice awards are voted on worldwide, and they are related to a myriad of unrelated topics, including best airport, best American riverfront, best city for sports, and, yes, even best beer town. See the results here:


Anyone familiar with Magee Marsh Wildlife Area knows that the very heart of the site is its famous “boardwalk,” meandering just over 3,000 feet through about 27 acres of moist woodland, which is a veritable migrant magnet on the edge of Lake Erie.

Without the boardwalk, there would be no easy access to the migrant-loving woodlot. And access is what really matters at this popular site.

The boardwalk was finished in April 1989, and it has since put Magee Marsh on the map. An estimated 80,000 visitors are said to visit Magee during spring migration.

The boardwalk is over a quarter century old now, with significant parts in disrepair. Last spring, the Friends of Magee Marsh began a campaign to raise $300,000 to refurbish the boardwalk. This will make it possible to replace the decking and rails, stabilize the tower on the west end of the boardwalk, and make other improvements to ensure continued access.

While there is free access to most state land in Ohio, there is no state funding available for such a project, even though it’s on state property. Without state funding, the money needs to come voluntarily from the public. So far, the Friends are a third of the way to their goal. Of course, if every visitor last spring gave $4, the goal would already have been easily achieved. Now, the Friends of Magee Marsh are continuing to work on individual and corporate fundraising in an attempt to keep the access at Magee open and welcoming.

You can find more details on the ongoing effort here:



On Election Day last month, there were many incredibly successful conservation funding initiatives on the ballot. In fact, voters in 19 states approved over two dozen measures that should dedicate over $29 billion to open space, water protection, wildlife conservation, parks, and trails.

You can read about this victory for wildlife and wild places from this summary from The Nature Conservancy:


or from this chart produced by the Trust for Public Land:


The notable exception in this trend occurred in North Dakota, where Measure 5 was soundly defeated. In October, we reported on this effort to take five percent of the state’s oil and gas extraction tax revenue to protect North Dakota’s water, wildlife, and parks:


Had Measure 5 passed, funding estimates as low as $44 million per year, but as high as $150 million per year, would have been dedicated to these outdoor resources.

There were changes made in the crafting of the “Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks” initiative, specifically changes over the last year to address criticisms over the dollar amount being too high and the effort being an “overreach” by conservation groups. Nonetheless, the onslaught from the fossil fuel industry aided by large farm and ranching interests, was unrelenting.

At the same time, the state’s booming oil rush has led to an unprecedented need for spending on schools, law enforcement, public works, and emergency medical services. While the crafters of Measure 5 took care to explain that other state spending needs would not be adversely impacted, the opponents raised exaggerated alarms to pull voters away from the conservation initiative.

In the process, the state’s Republican governor, Jack Dalrymple, added confusion to the mix by announcing his own plan to spend $30 million more on state parks and add an extra $50 million more for conservation efforts over the next few years. These announcements were also widely seen as undercutting Measure 5, and some key state legislators seemed to be pulled in that direction.

Ultimately, Measure 5 was defeated by a wide margin, with almost 80 percent voting no.

On the one hand, Measure 5 supporters, as articulated by campaign chair, Steve Adair, from Ducks Unlimited, asserted that the entire effort helped to “elevate the conversation” and propelled the governor’s announcement of an alternative. Adair said, “I’m not sure we would have seen the same response out of the governor and legislative leaders without pushing for something big.”

On the other hand, oil and gas interests in the state are on a roll. The industry appears to want to apply growing state revenue to help build the infrastructure they need to maximize a higher return. Last year, the industry tried to roll back the state’s overall extraction tax from 6.5 to 4.5 percent, and industry lobbyists are expected to try again during the next legislative session. Based on the aggressive efforts by the oil and gas industry to discredit Measure 5, its passage could have made their quest for tax breaks far more challenging.

Meanwhile, the natural side of North Dakota suffers. Not only is the state at the center of North America’s “duck factory,” it is also home to Yellow Rails, Black Terns, Marbled Godwits, Sprague’s Pipits, Baird’s, Nelsons, and LeConte’s Sparrows, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs.

This saga is not over. Stay tuned for the next round.


Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine is an extraordinary place. The historic camp goes back to 1936, with original staffers including Roger Tory Peterson, Allan Cruickshank, and Carl Buchheister. Next summer will mark the sixth year since National Audubon resumed management of the famous camp. In the interim, it had been run for about eight years by Maine Audubon.

The 2015 schedule includes some novel innovations, including a session entitled “Breaking into Birding,” with Pete Dunne and others, and “Hands-on Bird Science,” directed by Scott Weidensaul.

It’s not too early to look into the full schedule. Indeed, December is the perfect time to consider next-year’s warm-weather options. See here:



The 115th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is about to begin, scheduled for14 December 2014 to 5 January 2015. The accumulated CBC data through the years, first collected by Frank M. Chapman in 1900, has been remarkable. And all of it will be available on a database accessible to the general public.

The CBC charged for individual participation between 1955 and 2011; this was the funding that helped sustain the program and publish the results for many years. But now, with online access, an annual hardcopy has become unnecessary. In addition, by dropping the individual participant fee, more counts and counters can be attracted.

It still costs National Audubon about $300,000 a year to run this granddaddy of citizen science programs, but the CBC returns can be invaluable. There will be tens of thousands of participants this year, including over 2,000 compilers. Some compilers will make a special effort to solicit funds for the CBC in order to sustain it and keep it free; other compilers may feel awkward in soliciting funds.

In either case, all concerned birdwatchers participating in the CBC should consider sustaining this grand effort through this form to keep the CBCs free in the future:



We were recently reminded that Bob Sargent – remarkable bander, bird educator, and hummingbird aficionado extraordinaire – passed away in early September. It’s not too late to remember Bob’s many contributions.

For about 30 years, Bob, his wife Martha, and an exuberant group of volunteers, assembled on the Alabama coast each spring and fall to band and study birds – especially hummingbirds – with aplomb and enthusiasm.

Bob Sargent’s work helped change the understanding of trans-gulf migration and the status of hummingbirds in the southeastern U.S. His legacy will be difficult to match.

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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/2014/12/birding-community-e-bulletin-december-2/

1 comment

  1. RCS Optics says:

    Kudos to the residents of Florida, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maine, and many other states that passed significant conservation funding measures for their states, counties, or cities. A real disappointment was the defeat of Measure 5 in North Dakota. There are definitely a lot of immediate needs especially in the oil regions.
    Hopefully, the governors alternative is more than lip service and is truly realized for the benefits of the state and her citizens and that the citizens and the legislators are also as staunch against extraction tax reductions.

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