Birding Community E-Bulletin: September 2015

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 (the Refuge Association).

Rarity Focus
Access Matters: Parking Implications
More Birding Ethics
Book Notes: Mount Auburn Cemetery
IBA News: LCFW Clock Ticking
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and Restore
Looking at the Sage-Grouse Deadline
Tip of the Month: Plan for the Big Sit!
Flying Birds and Putin’s Face





Rarity Focus

There were some outstanding rarities that appeared in August, including species the might normally be our “rarity of the month.” These included Lesser Sand-Plover in Washington, Gray Thrasher in California (see our Access Matters story below), Slate-throated Redstart and multiple Plain-capped Starthroats in Arizona, and a delicious selection of Asiatic birds on the edges of Alaska. However we decided to profile a repeat-appearance of a bird from last year.

It’s not that uncommon to have a rare bird reappear at the same location in consecutive years. This often happens with waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, long-legged waders, and various other long-lived species.

This is exactly what happened with a rare shorebird that made its original appearance last August in south Texas. On 2 August2014, a Collared Plover was found at the Hargill Playa in Hidalgo County, Texas, just a few miles north-northeast of Edinburg. This individual was only the second record for the U.S., and it remained through the early evening of 17 August. This is a species which normally ranges from southern San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas, Mexico, to Argentina. View the 2014 report.

This year, a Collared Plover, presumably the same individual, was found in the exact same location on 21 July. (Last year’s parking suggestions, in consideration of local and farming traffic, were repeated again this year.) See photos of the Collared Plover taken by Mary Beth Stowe on 21 July.

Birders who might have missed the plover last year took the opportunity to visit the Hargill site again this year, where the bird obligingly remained through Aug. 30.

There is a rarity lesson to be learned here: When a rare bird – especially a naturally long-lived species – appears at an attractive site and remains for a while, it’s a good idea to recheck the same area the following year. The bird’s reappearance in successive years is not out of the question!





Access Matters: Parking Implications 

The presence of a Gray Thrasher in California was mentioned in the “rarity focus” above. This bird would surely have been the subject of the rarity profile had it not been simply a one-day-wonder, a bird that was seen only one day.

This species, a bird of Baja California, has never been previously observed in the U.S. It was found at Famosa Slough at Point Loma, San Diego, California, by Ter Hurst, John Bruin, and Lisa Ruby on 2 August. This is about 130 miles north of where Gray Thrashers have been recorded in Mexico.

On that day, a number of lucky local birders rushed to the site, and many of them were rewarded with views of the Gray Thrasher. You can view photos of the thrasher by Lisa Ruby here:


and by John Bruin here:


as well as photos and comments by Gary Nunn here:


By the next morning, when birders from as far away as the Bay Area and Tucson showed up at the site, the bird had disappeared. The unsuccessful search continued throughout the day, 3 August.

This Famosa Slough location is a fairly high-density residential area, and birders were asked to use specific parking sites on main streets and at the entry of Famosa Slough, avoiding the local residential streets. Some local parking was limited and, in light of current construction, residents were sometimes left with very little parking that first evening. One birder was reportedly parked in a handicapped spot without any handicapped sticker or license plate.

And, strange as it sounds, multiple neighbors living near the site’s fence line were concerned that birders were looking into their windows. Oversensitive residents notwithstanding, these sorts of delicate situations need to be regularly considered by birders.

Most birders, of course, are courteous and respectful when it comes to parking and try to avoid causing friction with local residents. Unfortunately, however, access issues are always at risk when a rarity event like this shows up.

Access awareness should always be a factor when publicizing a rarity, and for the San Diego area it is not unusual to witness a birding crowd gathering within 30-40 minutes of important birding news being released. Some unfortunate encounters – including parking conflicts – are practically inevitable, but birders should always take this into consideration when a rare bird appears.

The Gray Thrasher episode describes a relatively small problem, but it is nonetheless emblematic of the larger issues of access that birders regularly face and the public impressions left.






More Birding Ethics 

For decades, the American Birding Association (ABA) has promoted an excellent “Code of Birding Ethics.” This code has been improved a number of times, with some very serious changes having been made after June 1996. This major code adjustment was an outgrowth of a discussion held at the Park City, Utah, ABA convention. The discussion was led by the late Blake Maybank, then a member of the ABA Board.

You can access the revised and current “ABA Code of Birding Ethics” here:http://www.aba.org/about/ethics.html

Discussions regularly continue about birding behavior afield, as well they should.

The Mindful Birding Project has recently presented a new compilation of ethical birding guidelines for birders and organizations considering new guidelines or updating existing ethical birding standards. The compilation is the result of an extensive search for ethical birding guidelines used by organizations, birding festivals, and nature tour operators from around the world. The compilation is presented here:http://mindfulbirding.org/existing-guidelines

The project’s image of a mindful birder is one who is aware of (a) the needs of wildlife; (b) his or her safety and the safety of others nearby; (c) the ways he or she may influence the experiences of others (both birders and non-birders); (d) his or her personal birding experience; and (e) the role he or she can play in advancing bird conservation.

In addition, the Mindful Birding Project is offering awards to birding festivals that demonstrate improved or superior ethical birding guidelines, beginning with festivals occurring in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Of course, projects like this can only help.





Book Notes: Mount Auburn Cemetery

Ludlow Griscom, B.F. Skinner, and Charles Sumner all have in common?

Well, they are all buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, located on the line between Cambridge and Watertown in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, four miles west of Boston, is a “garden” cemetery, full of lush vegetation and classical monuments set in a rolling landscaped terrain. It has an urban birding reputation as a migrant trap, justifiably compared to that of Central Park in Manhattan.

A new book, edited by John Harrison and Kim Nagy, is packed with essays, poems and wildlife photographs concerning Mount Auburn Cemetery. It is titled Dead in Good Company, (2015, Ziggy Owl Press), and it intertwines birdlife with other features of this unique locale.

There are over 35 short essays and half a dozen fine poems in the book. Multiple photo collections – mostly of birds – grace the book’s pages.

While Mount Auburn may be the much-respected resting place for those who have passed on, it is also an inspiring sanctuary of wild things for those of us who are still among the living. Whether or not you have ever visited “Sweet Auburn,” as the place is often called, you may want to track down Dead in Good Company and visit – or re-visit – the place while sitting down and reading.







IBA News: LFCW Clock is Ticking

Congress has until the end of this month to reauthorize the overwhelmingly popular and crucial Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) before it expires. The LWCF has successfully conserved treasured lands across the country, ranging from city parks to large landscapes, including vital bird habitats.

In fact, there are innumerable sites created and sustained through LWCF that are Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across the U.S.

The LWCF, signed into law in 1964, is a visionary idea that has has protected over 5 million acres of federal land and supported over 40,000 on the state side of funding, just to name some highlights. A thoughtful history can be found here: http://livinglandscapeobserver.net/half-century-legacy-of-lwcf-at-risk/?utm_source=August+2015&utm_campaign=Aug+Newsletter&utm_medium=email

Since 1977, LWCF has been authorized at $900 million per year, although rarely – only once, actually – has that full amount been appropriated. The importance of LWCF has been described in the E-bulletin many times, and you can see our most recent coverage here, in February: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=11019/#lwcf

Companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf off our shores pay a portion of their revenues into the fund. The concept was to take the depletion of one of America’s natural resources – oil and gas – to the protection of another – our public lands. The LWCF is sustained by these oil and gas revenues, not by individual taxpayer dollars. The funding is intended to go into a trust to acquire inholdings and expansions of our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other sites, including local parks. According to the National Recreation and Park Association, 98 percent of counties in the United States have had a park or recreation site that was created with LWCF grants.

You can find more details on LWCF here: http://common-resources.org/blog/2015/reauthorizing-land-and-water-conservation-fund-three-key-issues and more on the importance of the September countdown here:http://lwcfcoalition.org/

You can also see how LWCF has been invested in your state here, including vital IBAs, here: http://www.lwcfcoalition.org/usa-conservation.html

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/







Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and Restore

In our June issue, we mentioned the recent Migratory Bird Conservation Commission investment of MBCF/Stamp dollars at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, in Texas, a bargain acquisition of 1,778 acres: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=12013/#iba

Last month, there was another important announcement concerning this NWR and the RESTORE Act, with funding from federal penalties paid by BP and additional companies after the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil blowout of 2010.

RESTORE funding will be used to buy land or secure conservation easements between the main unit of the refuge and the Bahia Grande unit. This $4.4 million “Bahia Grande Coastal Corridor Implementation” project will involve the acquisition of land for restoration and enhancement of coastal prairie, as well as saline and brackish marsh habitats. This project will help create new habitat and will provide vital connectivity for wildlife. These fee-title properties and conservation easements will be held by either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or The Nature Conservancy.

The Bahia Grande, located between Brownsville and Laguna Vista, was once a wildlife-rich wetland, at least until construction of the Brownsville Ship Channel in the 1930s and Highway 48 in the 1950s cut off the natural tidal flow between it and the vital Laguna Madre, one of the most significant lagoon ecosystems in Texas.

Most birders know Laguna Atascosa NWR as the prime location for the reintroduction of Aplomado Falcons in the U.S. and a major wintering area for waterfowl, especially Redheads. The general public also knows the NWR as the site of a major Ocelot recovery effort.

See details on the funding from the local Brownsville Herald here: http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/local/article_12e857a6-4553-11e5-bc33-0733027af613.html





Looking at the Sage-Grouse Deadline

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court-ordered deadline to make a decision on whether the Greater Sage-Grouse should be included under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That decision must be transmitted to the Federal Register by 30 September.

While the Service is now limited by Congress from publishing rules regarding sage-grouse conservation, it is not relieved of the obligation to determine whether ESA protection is still warranted. (A warranted/not-warranted finding is not considered a final rule.) Current congressional roadblocks would also prevent the Service from taking the next step: to evaluate a Threatened vs. Endangered status. (In the event of a warrented finding, the species would remain on the “candidate list.”)

Still, the concern over an ESA listing for the Greater Sage-Grouse in 11 states is deepening in anticipation of the decision, with multiple western-state officials urging that ongoing state plans be allowed to prove their conservation successes, if not supersede the BLM and USFS plans..

According to a recent report from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), the number of male sage grouse in the western U.S. has increased by 63 percent over the last two years. Sage grouse used to number in the millions, but the bird’s population has taken a disturbing plunge over the last century.

Everyone engaged in this 11-state drama is aware of the stakes. If the Greater Sage-Grouse is ultimately listed, it could have huge impacts on ranching, oil drilling, mining, suburban growth, and habitat fragmentation (e.g., roads, transmission lines, fences, and other potential barriers).

But despite the population boost shown in the recent WAFWA report, that particular data was collected before this year’s fire season. With wildfires gobbling up chunks of key sage-grouse habitat in a number of states (e.g., Idaho and Oregon), it is not clear yet how many birds may have been impacted.

In the meantime, Congress is continuing to interfere with the process, even considering an unlikely but disturbing congressional rider to suspend the Service’s authority to propose any listing rule under ESA for Greater Sage-Grouse for a decade, and to prevent the implementation of new federal grouse conservation plans.

Regardless of the decision, the sage-grouse story will not end with the 30 September deadline; it will just start a new chapter in the ongoing saga. It will take a long-term and concerted effort to restore the health of the sagebrush sea on which this species and so many others rely.






Tip of the Month: Plan for the Big Sit! 

The Big Sit! is an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event founded by the New Haven (Connecticut) Bird Club and hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest. This year, it’s being run on the weekend of 10-11 October, so there is still time to consider plans.

Some people have called it a “tailgate party for birders.” Here’s how it works: Find a good spot for bird watching, preferably one with good views of a variety of habitats and lots of birds. Next, create a circle 17 feet in diameter and sit inside the circle for up to 24 hours, and count all the bird species you see or hear. Then submit your findings at the end of your vigil.

You can find rules and submission details here: http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/connect/bigsit/about-the-big-sit.php

It’s free, open to everyone, makes a great fundraiser and recruiter, and can be combined with an outdoor party. For more information read Bill Thompson’s excellent top 10 reasons to participate in the event here: http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/learn/top10/bigsit.php

Every year, bird watchers from around the world participate in this special free birding event, open to any person or local organization in any country. Plan now for next month’s Big Sit!






Flying Birds and Putin’s Face

And finally for something on the light side…

A YouTube video, originally posted in mid-August purports to show a flock of flying birds – perhaps European Starlings – forming the face of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The video went viral, viewed by more than 1.6 million viewers, especially in Russia.

The 11-second video appears to show a large flock of these flying birds, a video filmed from an open-top tour bus crossing the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, New York. Suddenly, the flying birds seem to form a face that has been likened to that of the Russian president’s.

Many viewers thought that it must have been digitally manipulated a clever CGI (computer-generated imagery) hoax. Others were not convinced.

Early on, The Washington Post reported that the video had become a major talking point on Russian social media and on the national TV station Zvezda, “The Star,” owned by the Russian Defense Ministry. See here for a story and a link to the video clip: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/08/13/russian-tv-channel-sees-putin-in-the-sky-above-new-york/

Frankly, we think that it can’t possibly be Putin. It must be actor Liam Neeson.




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

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2015/09/birding-community-e-bulletin-september-2015/

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