Birding Community E-Bulletin: October 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: Baltimore Booby Viewing
Bird Friendly Convention Center in NYC
IBA News: Izembek Upheld
Three Brothers Make Stamp History 
Seabird Information Central
Tip of the Month: Footgear
Sage-Grouse Decision



Rarity Focus

Last month we mentioned a Slate-throated Redstart found in Arizona. It was originally reported on 21 August by a group of birders from Louisiana State University who briefly and distantly saw the bird, and the next day it was confirmed by Ron Beck. It was found about 0.6 miles up the Hunter Canyon trail in the Huachuca Mountains of Arizona. Fortunately, the warbler pretty much remained in the same area, although it was not reported every day. Though it was often difficult to find, it was positively reported through the end of September.

This species is largely resident from northern Mexico (s. Sonora and s. Tamaulipas) to southern Bolivia. Over the years, there have been fewer than 20 U.S. records of this bird, mostly from Arizona and Texas.

The most surprising thing about the Hunter Canyon Slate-throated Redstart is that it stayed in place as long as it did. Previous U.S. sightings of this species have been of much shorter duration, mostly only a day or two. (One exception was a bird that stayed for two weeks in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park, Texas, in 1990.) The Hunter Canyon bird had a relatively long visit and a late one, too, since most observations of this species in the U.S. have been made between March and June. The Hunter Canyon redstart could have been present since late July, however, when there was an unconfirmed possible sighting.

Read more details on the bird with photos by Bettina Arrigoni.






Access Matters: Baltimore Booby Viewing

What follows is a report on a rarity that almost topped our front-running Slate-throated Redstart this month. This particular story, however, has an additional happy access lesson.

On Sept. 5, a Brown Booby was reported by Nico Sarbanes near the famous Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. Then, nothing. But almost two weeks later, two Brown Boobies – an adult and an immature – were discovered elsewhere in the harbor, by birder and water-taxi captain, Deborah Rowan. The pair of Brown Boobies could be observed from shore, perching alongside cormorants on a rope between two ships, the Denebolla and the Antares, at Locust Point. One problem was that the two cargo ships were part of the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Fleet, and security issues were involved. Another problem was that the ships were about a half-mile away from the closest land-based point of observation!

Soon however, birders came up with ways to obtain better views of the boobies. Access was able to be gained via regular local harbor taxis, some of which would make slight detours to allow birders some better looks. Other birders used kayaks to get closer or even obtained rides on boats belonging to generous strangers! This story – with fine photos – is recounted in The Baltimore Sun.

On Sept. 20, arrangements were also made to transport visitors through the Downtown Sailing Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing sailing to those who would normally not be able to experience sailing due to a lack of means, disability, or other factors. The DSC made a number of trips to show visitors the boobies in exchange for contributions to support their work.

The two Brown Boobies remained through Sept. 27. And the adult, at least, was observed through the end of the month.

This is another fine example of a way to facilitate birder access in a way that works for everyone.






Bird Friendly Convention Center in NYC

Jacob K. Javits was a well-respected politician who served as a United States Senator (R-NY) from 1957 to 1981. In his day, he held an admirable environmental voting record.

Unfortunately, the building which bears his name, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan, has a less-than-stellar environmental record. With severe angles and a mirror-like facade, this NY State-owned building has been a major site for bird fatalities.

The center’s five-year renovation, finished exactly one year ago, cost a half-billion dollars. An assessment is probably in order, and the center – the Big Apple’s largest venue for conventions, trade shows, and special events – is today far more welcoming to birds.

Reportedly, the new glass panels imprinted with tiny patterns have reduced bird collisions and deaths by 90 percent. Additionally, the building’s new green roof – the second-largest green roof on a single, free-standing building in the U.S. – has attracted many bird species as well as five species of bats.

The new glass panels, covered with tiny dots, or “fritting,” were the final choice after considering 15 eco-friendly alternatives. The choice to use glass paneling sprinkled with small white dots is because apparently the dots are more easily seen by flying birds than they are by people. This feature can also naturally cool the building and, with other improvements, the energy consumption has been reduced by a reported 26 percent.

The green roof also captures rainwater, helping to deter the potential discharge of 6.8 million gallons of runoff per year into NYC waterways. The roof also apparently moderates air temperatures being drawn into the rooftop HVAC units and helps reduce temperature extremes inside the building. Beyond the songbirds that visit the roof “habitat,” Herring Gulls have nested there. Last year there were six nests; this year there were 12. (Oh, yes, Canada Geese nest on the roof, too.)

New York City Audubon has even located two American Kestrel nesting boxes on the roof, along with mounting an ultrasonic acoustic recording unit, a specialized microphone, to detect bat sounds. Since this installation, five of the nine possible bat species found in New York have been recorded over the Javits Center roof. There are also three bee hives on the roof.

The building’s renovation was undertaken by FXFowle Architects, whose principal, Bruce S. Fowle, is a bird enthusiast. His wife, Marcia T. Fowle, also sits on the board at New York City Audubon.

Mr. Fowle said that the New York State owners did not necessarily want to spend extra money simply for bird protection. But the same creative features that made the building more economical and environmentally sound had the added bonus of being bird-and-nature friendly.

You can read more on the project, with an emphasis on the roof, here:





IBA News: Izembek Upheld

In early September, U.S. District Court of Alaska Judge H. Russel Holland upheld U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s decision to not build a gravel road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. This has been an ongoing issue, and we covered it in January 2014:


The threatened road would have cut through a federally designated Wilderness Area, risking hundreds of thousands of “Pacific” Brant, Emperor Geese, swans and other migratory birds that rely on this refuge, as well as other wildlife living there.

Izembek, Moffett, and Kinzarof lagoons are marine bays located on the Alaska Peninsula close to the southwestern tip. The lagoon and intertidal habitats are managed by the State of Alaska as Izembek State Game Refuge, while the surrounding uplands are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

To learn more about the ruling, read the joint press release by many concerned partners:


For more information on the lagoon complex IBA, see here:


and on the Izembek NWR, see 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:









Three Brothers Make Stamp History

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





Seabird Information Central

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: Footgear

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!






The Sage-Grouse Decision

On the odd chance that you missed the news last month, the USFWS announced that the Greater Sage-Grouse need not be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), that such coverage is “not warranted.”

Much of the decision rested on the record of recent cooperation among federal agencies, states, ranchers, industry, and environmental groups to make such a listing unnecessary. These forces point to the evidence that conservation and restoration of the species has already begun or is on its way.

Depending on whom you ask among conservationists, the sweeping cooperation in this effort to save the Greater Sage-Grouse and its habitat is either proving more positive every day, or else with the absence of an ESA listing it can mean that current conservation plans will now lose steam.

Most of the conclusions fall in the former camp. Still, there were even attacks on the decision from some conservative quarters, such as Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s “deep concern” that the Department of the Interior’s “actions constitute the equivalent of a listing decision outside the normal process” And congressional interference could also prevent the new grouse conservation plans from going into effect.

It will take time to tell if these ongoing plans create enough habitat protection and effective controls on future negative developments to make future ESA protection unnecessary. But how much time is really available? There is still serious concern over continued habitat loss from oil and gas drilling and new power-line construction. In addition, continued objective population monitoring will be absolutely necessary to accompany the mix of conservation plans.

If you would like to see a summary of this situation, you may be interested in this story from The Washington Post:


This milestone has been passed, but the sage-grouse issues will continue. In the words of the late, great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”



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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Wayne R. Petersen, Director
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Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2015/10/birding-community-e-bulletin-october-2015/

1 comment

  1. Kevin Lawton says:

    Please add me to the E-bulletin mailing list.

    Thank you.

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