Yesterday morning, before we left Massachusetts, we spent a few more hours birding around Gloucester to get better looks at some of the birds we had seen during the Superbowl of Birding on Saturday. (I will have more to say about the competition in a future post.) At our first stop, in Gloucester Harbor, there was an interesting gull near the pier where many gulls normally roost. on top of a green warehouse. Most of the more knowledgeable birders present believed it to be a 3rd winter Slaty-backed Gull, a rare species along the eastern coast of North America, but one that has appeared around Gloucester before. If you have not already done so, take a look at Corey's post, which has photographs of the gull in question and summarizes points in favor of the bird being a Slaty-backed Gull. If you have an thoughts on the identification, especially if you know a lot about gulls, please leave a comment there.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
on my account and those of my teammates on my Bloggerhead Kingbirds list. If you have your own Twitter account, you can follow them all individually. Here are their pages:
Friday, January 28, 2011
Birds and birding news
- National Geographic has an article on feather evolution.
- Scientists are attempting to eradicate rats from the Galapagos Islands to protect endemic birds and other native species. The rats were introduced to the islands by European visitors.
- The new Crossley ID Guide will include the four-letter abbreviations used by bird banders to record bird species.
- In an interview, an ornithologist discusses the impacts that climate change could have on mountain-dwelling birds.
- Invasive boa constrictors are a severe threat to endemic island birds.
- This weekend is the Big Garden Birdwatch in the UK.
- Edward Tenner: The Tech That Transformed Birdwatching Into a Bloodless Sport
- Fotoportmann: Cleopatra's Falcons: Central Park, NYC
- 10,000 Birds: Wikipedia and the Birds
- 10,000 Birds: USDA Blackbird Management
- Sibley Guides: Can Old World and New World Great Egrets be distinguished by call?
- ABA Blog: Boors, Birds, and Bad Behavior
- Audubon Guides: Sanctuary
- John Rakestraw: Second cycle gulls
- Tails of Birding: Airy Castles and Brain Windmills
- Earbirding: Splitting Mountain Chickadee
- Towheeblog: White White-crowned
- On the road: The undescribed song of the Green-breasted Mountain-gem
- View from the Cape: A Cold Winter Raptor Survey
- Fishers (a type of weasel) have moved back into the Albany area.
- The Coffee & Conservation blog has updates about the effects of climate change on coffee.
- A record number of gray whales have been migrating along California's coast this year.
- With the federal government unlikely to make significant progress on climate change in the near future, states are taking the initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Biologists are exploring whether eastern oysters could be used to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
- Wild Muse: Africa's new, old gray wolf
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Here’s how they got their bird:
The team put a pair of starlings – Frick and Frack, according to their owner – in a trap on a ledge inside the dome and waited, hidden beneath a tarp.
The starlings saw the hawk poised nearby and froze. But the noise of a truck passing by the Jefferson Building startled the pair and caused them to move.
The motion drew the attention of the hawk: She immediately flew onto the trap, where its talons entangled in the nylon nooses attached to the top of the wire cage.
The team grabbed the hawk, weighed and banded the bird, then placed it in a covered cardboard carrying box....
The capture occurred about 8:30 a.m., and the process took about 25 minutes from setup to completion, according to Craig Koppie, an eagle and raptor biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.According to the post, the trapped raptor was a female, but it weighed only 424 grams. That is very light for a female Cooper's Hawk. Most females weigh between 500 and 600 grams, sometimes even more than that. This is clearly a very hungry bird. In addition to losing significant weight, the bird was also somewhat dehydrated, but it was otherwise healthy and sustained no injuries during its time in the library. After some time for rehabilitation, the hawk will be returned to the wild.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
What is the Superbowl of Birding? It is an annual competition sponsored by Massachusetts Audubon. Teams compete to see the most species and earn the most points within a 12-hour period (5 am to 5 pm). Unlike the World Series of Birding, in which every species counts the same, bird species are worth from 1 to 5 points, depending on how common they are, with extra points possible for the first team to report a 5-point species. All species must be recorded in Essex County, Massachusetts, or Rockingham County, New Hampshire.
So who else is on this year's team? To find out, you will have to visit Feathers and Flowers, the blogging home of one of my teammates. Mike blogs with the authority of an experienced ornithologist about such important topics as the mass death of blackbirds in Arkansas and what bird-related costumes not to wear for Halloween. Mike is also a dedicated eBird user. In addition to maintaining his own daily lists, he made sure that all of our sightings from last year's competition were properly recorded, with complete eBird checklists for each location that we visited. Last year, he brought an extra spotting scope along with him, which allowed me to have use of a scope for the competition day. So go visit Mike's blog to learn more about this year's team!
Monday, January 24, 2011
This weekend I went down to Washington so that I could participate in this year's C&O Canal Count. (My apologies for the lack of posts this weekend. I forget to schedule them before I left.) Like last year, I stayed with my friend Jed and traveled with him to cover some miles around Little Orleans in Allegany County. This year we helped Paul with his section, miles 141-143.
Allegany County has more northerly bird life than most of Maryland. For example, while most of Maryland is the land of Carolina Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees predominate in Allegany. Birds that are common on the coastal plain, like Fish Crows, are scarce, but mountain-loving Common Ravens are present. Uncommon eastern birds like Ruffed Grouse and Golden Eagle are present but hard to find. This means that a bird count covering the area will probably produce fewer species but more interesting ones, and possibly even something unusual.
Of course, as soon as we finished our section and left the park boundaries, we encountered a mixed species flock that included Red-breasted Nuthatches and a Hermit Thrush, neither of which we recorded for the count.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Birds and birding news
- The hawk that flew into the New York Times building in Manhattan has survived with no broken bones, but it has not resumed flying yet.
- According to a recent study, barred feathers play a role in courtship, not just in camouflage.
- Socially dominant Black Kites use the most white objects to line their nests as a warning signal to other kites.
- Conservation organizations finally persuaded the US Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Rusty Blackbirds and Mexican Crows from its standing depredation order that allows killing blackbirds, crows, and starlings to prevent threats to agriculture or health. Killing of these species will now require a separate permit. (Here is an example of the depredation order in action.)
- After autopsies, it is still unclear what caused the deaths of about 200 Brown Pelicans off Topsail Beach in North Carolina.
- Male Splendid Fairy-Wrens sing a special song type shortly after they hear butcherbird calls.
- Female Blue Tits are more fertile later in life if they mate with the right males early on.
- Wild bird populations in the U.K. continue to experience population decline, especially farmland birds, whose population is half what it was in 1970. Only seabirds are more numerous than they were 40 years ago.
- German police rescued an owl that appeared to be drunk.
- Colombian police caught a pigeon that was being used to smuggle drugs into a prison.
- The Drinking Bird: Little Larksong King
- Photo Feathers: Rosy-Finch Banding at Sandia Crest
- The Marvelous in Nature: Nest searching
- Urban Hawks: Varied Thrush
- View from the Cape: Follow the Titmouse Down the Prairie Dog Hole
- Library of Congress Blog: Watching Our Researchers Like a Hawk
- Tetrapod Zoology: A White-tailed eagle in southern England
- Nature Canada: Study Outlines Steps to Protect Declining North American Landbird Populations
- Prairie dog calls alert other prairie dogs to the type and appearance of approaching predators.
- A giant crayfish found in Tennessee proved to be a new species (Barbicambarus simmonsi).
- New images from NASA show how the four major global temperature records show consistent amounts of warming, even though they use different methods.
- Last summer, biologists found freshwater mussels in the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Trenton; the find included one species that had not been seen there for 50 years.
- A new paper argues that current methods overestimate how much carbon ecosystems can absorb because they underestimate how much carbon bodies of water release.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection plans to add five new species to the state's Endangered Species List.
The DEP proposal, which will be presented to the Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee today, would also reclassify eight other endangered species on the list so that they will only be considered endangered during certain times of the year.Unfortunately the DEP is also using the opportunity to reduce habitat protections.
Under the proposed changes, there will also be fewer categories for classifying species that do not rise to the level of endangered or threatened. Current classifications, such as "declining," "increasing" and "stable," would be eliminated and replaced by fewer categories such as "special concern," officials said....
The five species proposed for the list include three birds — the black rail, the golden-winged warbler and red knot — as well as the gray petaltail dragonfly. Also newly included on the list is the tiny Indiana bat, which has been on the federal endangered list since 1973.
The eight birds which are going to be reclassified, include the bald eagle, which has rebounded in recent years. Under the new plan, it would only be considered endangered during its breeding season from January to August. The rest of the year it would be classified as "threatened."
The proposed changes would also reduce the need for protected habitat in New Jersey by about 31,000 acres — over 48 square miles — which could then be opened to economic development, the plan concludes.
"The net result of the proposed listing and de-listing is an overall reduction in lands protected as endangered and threatened species habitat," according to the plan. "The indirect effect is a potential for increased economic growth due to the net decrease in area determined to be potential threatened species habitat and thus restricted under other regulations."
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Since the first mass bird deaths were reported on New Year's Day, a new round of proposed explanations has accompanied each additional bird kill – some plausible, others far-fetched, still others downright loony. The reality is that there are many bird deaths every day. Some birds die from natural causes or predation, and others are killed because of dangers introduced by humans. This article puts the deaths into some perspective:
Even without humans, tens of millions of birds would be lost each year to natural predators and natural accidents — millions of fledglings die during their first attempts at flight. But according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, people have severely complicated the task of survival. Although mortality rates are difficult to calculate for certain, using modeling and other methods like extrapolation from local research findings, the government has come up with estimates of how many birds die from various causes in the United States.It is unfortunate that conservationists and responsible reporters have had to counter misinformation in the aftermath of several large bird kills. However, it is good to see more information on human-induced bird deaths making it into mainstream publications. Most of the numbers above were familiar to me, as I expect they will be to many readers. But that is a result of my reading bird blogs and conservation-oriented magazines over the past decade. It would be helpful for bird conservation if more people became aware of how many bird deaths are caused by common hazards.
Some of the biggest death traps are surprising. Almost everyone has an experience with a pet proudly bringing home a songbird in its jaws. Nationally, domestic and feral cats kill hundreds of millions of birds each year, according to the government. One study done in Wisconsin found that domestic rural cats alone (thus excluding a large number of suburban and urban cats) killed roughly 39 million birds a year.
Pesticides kill 72 million birds directly, but an unknown and probably larger number ingest the poisons and die later unseen. Orphaned chicks also go uncounted.
And then there is flying into objects, which is most likely what killed the birds in Arkansas. The government estimates that strikes against building windows alone account for anywhere from 97 million to nearly 976 million bird deaths a year. Cars kill another 60 million or so. High-tension transmission and power distribution lines are also deadly obstacles. Extrapolating from European studies, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 174 million birds die each year by flying into these wires. None of these numbers take into account the largest killer of birds in America: loss of habitat to development.
All of this explains why about a quarter of the 836 species of birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are in serious decline. For a third of the other birds there is not enough information to be sure about the health of their populations.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
Birds and birding news
- Yesterday a Red-tailed Hawk hit a window on the New York Times building in Manhattan. Colliding with windows is a major form of avian mortality in the U.S.; for raptors it is the third-highest human-induced cause of death after being hit by cars and rat poison.
- Three endangered Whooping Cranes were shot and killed while they were migrating through Tennessee in December. The three cranes were migrating separately from the ultralight-led flock.
- Winter recreation and alpine sports threaten the survival of European mountain birds such as the Capercaillie.
- A new study looked at how seabirds at a breeding colony in the Falkland Islands vary their feeding habits to avoid conflicts with other species.
- Great Tits with access to bird feeders start their dawn chorus 20 minutes later than they otherwise would.
- The El Paujil Bird Reserve in Colombia will cover an additional 1,480 acres to protect habitat for five threatened bird species (Blue-billed Curassow, Cerulean Warbler, White-mantled Barbet, Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant, and Turquoise Dacnis) and three threatened mammals (Magdalena spider monkey, spectacled bear, and Colombian tapir).
- Snowy Owls use their bright plumage to impress rivals and defend their territory from encroachment.
- Not Exactly Rocket Science: Flipper bands impair penguin survival and breeding success
- Earbirding.com: Trumpeter and Tundra Swans
- Birds on the Brain: Puerto Rico: Yellow-shouldered Blackbird
- Fotoportmann: Red-headed Woodpecker: Central Park, NYC
- Sibley Guides: Possible hybrid sandpiper in Kenya
- birdspot: Ink
- Coffee & Conservation: Know your coffee birds: Horned Guan
- The official oil spill commission concluded that the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent spill were preventable. It recommends the creation of a safety board and an independent monitoring office to oversee safety at future drilling operations.
- The National Wildlife Federation found that new tar balls continue to wash up on the beaches at Grand Isle in Louisiana.
- The Brown Pelican population in the Gulf of Mexico is still strong despite being hit hard by the oil spill.
- 2010 tied 2005 as the hottest year on record, and it also was the wettest year on record. It was the 34th consecutive year that global temperatures were above the 20th century average, and 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001. The year was not as unusually warm in the United States as in the rest of the world; in the U.S., the summer was the fourth-hottest on record, and the entire year was the 23rd warmest.
- The EPA revoked the permit for a massive mountaintop-removal coal mine in West Virginia. The agency made the move on the basis of Clean Water Act violations.
- Changes in the climate of western Europe may have contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire and the outbreak of the Black Death. A study of European climate over the past 2,500 years identified a period of unpredictable weather from 250-550 C.E. and prolonged cold snaps during the early 14th century and early 17th century.
- Six frog species considered extinct were rediscovered in Haiti.
- According to new projections, even if humans stop producing excess greenhouse gases by 2100 the world will be a much hotter place by 3000 with much different effects in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
As the thrush disappeared away for the second time, I became aware of someone approaching along the path. It turned out to be a familiar figure – Corey of 10,000 Birds pushing his son, Desi, in a stroller. I stood with him for a while and waited for the Varied Thrush to come back. When it did not appear for a while, I decided to move on and look for another unusual bird for the park, an immature Red-headed Woodpecker that has been using the trees on the south end of the Sheep Meadow. The woodpecker was easier to find than I expected; I was only waiting about five minutes when it flew into view, and I had a good look at it. Unlike the Varied Thrush, the woodpecker was not a life bird, just an interesting one.