Saturday, March 31, 2012

Whooping Cranes Migrating Early

Whooping Cranes / USFWS Photo
You can add Whooping Cranes to the list of birds moving north early this spring.
It's been an unusual year for whooping cranes in Texas, and the endangered species' spring migration is the latest example. Researchers report several whooping crane families initiated their spring migration nearly a month earlier than usual, with some birds already having reached South Dakota.

Texans are asked to report sightings of these large white birds as they progress along their migration route northward from the coast through Central Texas and the Wichita Falls area.

After a winter distribution that surprised biologists and kept birders enchanted with unprecedented sighting opportunities for one of North America's most ancient bird species, the unusually early start of the migration to nesting grounds in Canada does not surprise Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Lee Ann Linam.
I am not surprised either, given the unusually warm spring and last year's drought in the southern U.S.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Loose Feathers #336

Lesser Scaup / USFWS Photo
News about birds and birding
Nature blogging
Environment and biodiversity
  • The Xerces Society issued a report finding that neonicotinoid pesticides are harmful to honey bees and native bees. While they are not directly linked to colony collapse disorder, neonicotinoids make bees more susceptible to pathogens and parasites, including Nosema. Such pesticides are often poorly labelled and are approved for lawns and gardens at much higher application rates than for agriculture. Two studies published in Science this week reach similar conclusions; neonicotinoids make it more difficult for honey bees to find their way back to their colonies, and bumble bees have a harder time bringing enough food back to the colony to produce more queens. See also Tom Philpott's commentary.
  • Monarch butterflies in Mexico and the eastern U.S. could be down as much as 30% this year due to drought in Texas and the reduction of milkweed availability in breeding areas further north. The decline in milkweed is linked to widespread use of herbicide-resistant crops; application of such herbicides kills off milkweed, among other plants.
  • At least 17 European butterfly species have declined 70% in the last 15 years; one solution may be to maintain more open, agricultural-type habitat.
  • A group of scientists found coral beds in the Gulf of Mexico that are coated in brown goo, which is likely a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
  • Meanwhile, Bottlenose Dolphins in Barataria Bay, which got a heavy influx of oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig, are very unhealthy.
  • The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia marks its 200th anniversary this year. It is the oldest natural history museum in the Western Hemisphere and has one of the largest collections in the world.
  • A boom in development is threatening Turkey's biodiversity, much of which depends on unprotected lands. Turkey has over 9,000 species of plants, 150 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 500 birds species recorded to date.
  • The Cox Hall Creek WMA (a.k.a. The Villas, a.k.a. Ponderlodge) was formally dedicated this week. The dedication was marked with a release of trout into the pond.
  • A new paper argues that the extreme weather events of the last decade are linked to climate change.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Greenhouse Gas Regulations

This week the EPA proposed its first-ever regulation of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural-gas plant emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.

Industry officials and environmentalists said in interviews that the rule, which comes on the heels of tough new requirements that the Obama administration imposed on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution from utilities within the past year, dooms any proposal to build a new coal-fired plant that does not have costly carbon controls....

The rule provides an exception for coal plants that are already permitted and beginning construction within a year. There are about 20 coal plants now pursuing permits; two of them are federally subsidized and would meet the new standard with advanced pollution controls.
Based on the coverage I read, it looks like the coal industry and its political patrons are trying to paint this as a sign of the EPA having a radical agenda. The EPA only came to this point reluctantly, however. The EPA was bound by a Supreme Court decision in 2007 to determine whether carbon dioxide was a harmful pollutant as defined by the Clean Air Act. Once the EPA determined that carbon dioxide emissions are causing harm in 2009, it was bound by the Clean Air Act to issue regulations. Even so, the Obama administration waited three years after the initial determination to do something about it because they wanted Congress to pass a new climate change bill.

A potential downside of the new regulation is that it only applies to new power plants and not existing ones. So this will not lead to an immediate decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. That will only happen once older coal plants come offline and get replaced with cleaner power sources. However, David Roberts argues that regulations of existing plants are bound to come at some point.

Here’s the story: Once something is deemed a pollutant under the Clean Air Act (which, in the case of CO2, was settled by the Mass v. EPA Supreme Court case), then it must be regulated under Section 111 of the act, the New Source Performance Standards program.

Section 111b governs new sources. That’s what was issued today. But when EPA regulates under 111b, that triggers a legal obligation for it also to regulate existing sources under 111d.
Which is a nerdy way of saying: EPA is legally obligated to regulate existing power-plant sources of CO2.

All that remains is to determine the timing. A bunch of green groups sued EPA over their delay on CO2 several years back. The settlement that was reached obligated EPA to issue CO2 regs by last September. Obviously that didn’t happen. Green groups then agreed to a few extensions. They have taken the issuance of the rule today as a sign of good faith from EPA that it’s on track.

Regulation of existing sources under 111d is a much trickier, more difficult matter than regulation of new sources. There are genuinely novel questions of law and technology involved. EPA has been grappling with these questions, but it’s not easy and there are a great many interested stakeholders, to say the least. Even if it wanted to, EPA probably couldn’t get that rule done and issued before the election.
On the whole, I think this is a step in the right direction, though perhaps not one that will bear immediate fruit. If Obama is reelected, it would not surprise me to see some regulation of existing sources during his second term. Of course, if he loses, the new regulation could be watered down or rescinded entirely, though the latter would be in defiance of the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Birding Hawaii

I'iwi / USGS Photo
Here is an interesting Washington Post article on birding in Hawaii.
Even before we’d spotted a single bird, we knew that we were in the right place, thanks to the ear of Jack Jeffrey, a former biologist with the State of Hawaii who now guides birding and photography tours. Just a few minutes from the parking lot of the Puu O’o Trail, he began identifying call after call. There were twittery trills, raspy kazoo blasts and what could have been R2-D2 chirps and beeps straight off the “Star Wars” soundtrack.

Jeffrey explained that recent research has traced the ancestry of nearly 60 species of nectar-loving Hawaiian honeycreepers back to a flock of finches from Asia that arrived nearly 6 million years ago (even before all the islands had formed). Of those 60 species, only 18 remain today. The honeycreepers, along with many other native animals and plants, have suffered pressures from development and from introduced predators and diseases. With so many unique species facing extinction, Hawaii is often described as the endangered species capital of the world.

Photographer Kim Hubbard and I spent eight days in Hawaii in December, mixing birding on Oahu and the Big Island with other sightseeing. We found that bird-watching served as a lens on the islands, allowing us to meet locals who were passionate and expert enough to share their insights and help us step off (or in one case very much onto) the beaten path.

Sitting on the edge of what was once a moving wall of lava, we looked straight out over the treetops. A buzzing sound that might have been a miniature helicopter announced the arrival of an apapane. This bird would fit in your palm; it’s as red as the ohi’a flowers. Its legs and slightly curved beak are black, its lower abdomen white. Unlike a hummingbird, with which it shares a zippy pace, it actually lands to feed on the flowers. Jeffrey described watching these birds as a series of three-second sightings. The pattern, he said with a metronome beat, is: “There it is, there it is, there it goes.”

Even though we were sitting in the open and chatting, the birds came closer and closer as they got used to us. Soon we spotted an ‘i’iwi with orange-red plumage. Its beak, a pale orange, curved to dip perfectly into the spray of stamens that form the blossom. The ‘i’iwi paused, then extended its neck to sing with full-bodied earnestness — operatic vigor in a tiny package.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blooming Blueberries

These tiny white and pink flowers are on a northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). This shrub is native to North America and grows especially well in moist, acidic habitats like New Jersey's Pine Barrens. Cultivars of this species are grown commercially to produce the blueberries familiar from stores and farmer's markets. In the wild, this plant's natural form provides food for birds and other animals. I have tasted a few wild highbush blueberries on hikes and found them very sweet, more so than commercial blueberries, and without the bitter notes I sometimes detect with the latter.

Northern highbush blueberry serves as an important host plant for many insects. A search of the HOSTS database for Vaccinium corymbosum brings up 42 records involving at least 30 species of Lepidoptera. (A search for Vaccinium turns up over 1000 records.) There are probably many more insects in other orders that depend on the shrub in one way or another. One such species is the Blueberry Azure (Celastrina lucia), shown below.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pine Warblers and Azures

Yesterday morning I was at Cheesequake State Park. Having seen Bloodroot blooming at home, I was hoping that some of the early woodland plants might be in bloom, but that was not the case. I saw plenty of fresh greenery, but no flowers. Other signs of spring were around, though. A few Tree Swallows were working the fields by the entrance. An Osprey pair has reclaimed the nest by the parking lot for the lake. A Great Egret was stalking through the marsh near the crabbing bridge. At least six Pine Warblers were singing among the Pitch Pines. An Eastern Phoebe was foraging up in the deciduous woods. All of those birds were my first of the year for Middlesex County.

In addition to the birds, I saw at least seven azures. Most of them were flying or sunning themselves on a stretch of gravel road not far from the nature center. I think this is a Blueberry Azure (Celastrina lucia or Celastrina ladon lucia), an azure that flies in early spring and lays its eggs on the flower buds of blueberries and other shrubs. Azures were previously lumped as a single species, Spring Azure, but in the last decade or so, it has become increasingly clear that they are actually a complex of closely-related and similar-looking species.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


As with several other plants, the warm weather has prompted bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) to emerge and bloom early this year. Last year, the same plants bloomed in the second week of April, which puts this year's flowering a little more than two weeks ahead of schedule. Bloodroot is a distinctive woodland plant. Its wild form has 8-10 white petals arranged around a yellow center; cultivated varieties sometimes have the number of petals doubled, in two rows. The reason for their name is not obvious at first glance. The flower's roots produce a red sap that at times has been used as a dye.

Bloodroot is one of the perennial plants known as spring ephemerals. An ephemeral plant is one with a short life cycle; a spring ephemeral completes its entire life cycle before the end of spring. That means it emerges, blooms, sets seeds, and dies back within a few weeks. This strategy is often used by woodland wildflowers of the forest floor since they can take advantage of the extra sunlight on the forest floor before the trees leaf out.

So what effect will the warm winter and early emergence of plants have on birds? Julie Craves presents some answers to this question in a blog entry for the Rouge River Bird Observatory.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Loose Feathers #335

Rufous Hummingbird / Photo by Roy W. Lowe (USFWS)
News about birds and birding
Nature blogging
Environment and biodiversity

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Wild Parrots of Carteret

New Jersey currently has two wild and self-sustaining populations of Monk Parakeets. The better known (and longer established) one is in Bergen County. The second is in Carteret, in the northeastern corner of Middlesex County. I would not be surprised to see colonies start in more of the state's urban areas as their population grows. These colonies are the descendants of birds that escaped from the pet industry. One story I have read is that workers dropped a crate full of Monk Parakeets at JFK Airport, the crate broke open, and the birds escaped to found nesting colonies around New York City. That initial introduction may have been supplemented by subsequent escapes, but the populations in New York and New Jersey have been established long enough to pass muster as self-sustaining, and thus countable for birders under standard listing rules (unlike say, Budgerigars, another popular caged bird that often escapes but has not established a population in the area).

In any case, I knew about the New Jersey populations of Monk Parakeets but had not gotten around to seeing either of them. As long as they were there, I figured I could go see them some other time and focused on more seasonal birding or (occasional) rarity-chasing instead. That changed yesterday, however, and the Monk Parakeets in Carteret became a new life bird for me. They are, in fact, the first psittacid species on my life list.

I have read a bit about Monk Parakeets over the years, so I was prepared for their behavior, but it was still interesting to see it in person. Their nests are very prominent – even unmissable – and the birds screech and chatter loudly. Between their screeches and bright green, they are very noticeably different from the other common urban birds, most of which are marked in shades of gray and brown. When they flew and when they foraged on the ground, they reminded me of the Budgerigars my family kept when I was a kid.

Yesterday, the parrots were actively engaged in nest construction. I could see them breaking twigs off a sycamore or London Plane tree and carrying them back to stick into the nests. There are currently two and possibly three nests in Carteret, all in a one-block area. The largest nest (shown above) sits under the transformer of a utility pole on Washington Avenue. A second, smaller nest (the next image up) is around the corner on High Street, across an empty lot from the Washington Avenue nest. This nest also sits on a utility pole just below the transformers. In the wild, Monk Parakeets usually build their large colonial stick nests in trees, but in urban areas of the U.S., utility poles serve as a substitute. Building stick nests on utility poles is probably useful to the birds in another way: the heat from the transformers may help keep them warm in cold northern winters. Monk Parakeets are already somewhat adapted to cooler weather as they are native to Argentina rather than the more tropical climates usually associated with parrots.

The third possible nest is in a hole in a building on Atlantic Street. Monk Parakeets were carrying twigs to this building in addition to the other two nests. Just before I took this photo, one parrot had its head sticking out of the hole, and another was sitting on top of the cornice. The building houses a pizzeria that at one time had a Monk Parakeet nest above its door (until the restaurant owner took it own). What will happen with this nest remains to be seen.

Finally, I took a short video to give a sense of how the Monk Parakeets act and sound around the nest. If the video does not embed, you can view it here. I have several more photos of the Monk Parakeets, which you can view in my set on Flickr.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Like several other plants, the forysthia is already blooming. It does not seem to be as far ahead of schedule as some of the other plants, but it is still the earliest I can remember this plant blooming by about a week. One thing I have realized this spring is the value of having precisely dated photos. I can go back and check the dates on the photos I took in previous springs to see how they compare to the blooming dates this year. Most plants seem to be running about a week or two ahead of schedule.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Vernal Equinox

It felt like spring came early this year thanks to an unusually warm winter, and it looks like those unseasonably high temperatures are going to continue for the near future. In the mean time flowers bloomed weeks ahead of schedule, and Washington's cherry blossoms are already at their peak. Above is one of the many crocuses in bloom in New Jersey.

A blue hyacinth.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Hunting the Passenger Pigeon

The Detroit News has a great article on the demise of the Passenger Pigeon, with a focus on events in Michigan when the birds were still plentiful. People working for William B. Mershon, who was disturbed by the pace of slaughter, documented one mass killing in 1878:
The pigeon kill in 1878 outside of Petoskey, Mich., was considered the last big slaughter of pigeons which led to their extinction. By the 1860s there was a group of 500 men who called themselves "professional pigeoners." Their killing methods, the railroad, and the advent of the telegraph which kept them aware at all times of the flocks, ensured the pigeons' doom. However, most people who killed pigeons were farmers and their families....

The pigeoners poured into Petoskey. Mershon's friend noted from the hotel register that they came from New York, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota and Missouri. The pigeoners hurried about town, comparing market reports, discussing the price for squabs and quotes for live birds. They established packing houses and wagons with teams for hauling out dead birds. Locals would be hired for these jobs as well as being trained on trapping and killing birds.

The pigeons arrived by the millions to roost and the pigeoners were stretched out alongside the birds for 40 miles. They killed birds from daylight to dark, hauling wagon after wagon of dead and live birds for 50 days. It was estimated that they may have killed a billion birds.

Mershon's men rode horses up and down the line, breaking traps, harassing the pigeoners, prodding the lone overworked sheriff to prevent illegal slaughter. They were seen as a nuisance and chased off with shotguns.

Eventually by summer it was over. They wrote about their efforts "to check the slaughter" in a Chicago publication, American Field Magazine. A music professor and friend of Mershon's, H.B. Roney, who led the group, said that the work was futile: four against 2,000 (professionals and locals).
Read the rest.

Mershon later wrote a book, The Passenger Pigeon, which compiled historical accounts, life histories, and notes on the status of the then-vanishing species. That book is available, free, on

(via 10,000 Birds)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Early Spring at Negri-Nepote

When I got to Negri-Nepote Grasslands Preserve yesterday morning, the place was so foggy that I was not able to see across the field. The murky fog made it difficult to identify birds by sight. Fortunately, most species have begun singing by now, so birding by ear was possible. In fact, for the first half of the walk, that was the main way I was picking birds out. The first species I heard was American Robin; by the end of the walk, I had recorded an estimate of about 70 in the reserve. Surely the number was even higher than that given the volume of robin songs and chuckles.

Sparrows were plentiful and very vocal. I quickly located Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos in the brush along the side of the path. There were a lot of each species, all around the refuge. I thought I could hear a Field Sparrow, but I did not confirm that until later, after the fog started to lift, when I found one singing. At about the same spot, I found a Fox Sparrow and later heard a second one sing a few times on the other side of the field.

The pond contained mostly Canada Geese but also a pair of Ring-necked Ducks. Some spring migrants are already arriving. I heard one Eastern Phoebe and saw several Tree Swallows. Many of the latter were checking out the nesting boxes.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Second Moth of 2012

On Wednesday night, I ran my UV blacklight outdoors for several hours to see if any more moths had emerged. Despite the warm weather (and the lack of a full moon), very few moths came to the sheet. In fact, only one appeared, another micromoth. This one showed very subtle markings under a flashlight beam, but the camera brought out more detail. Having seen many moths like this before, I quickly recognized it as a probably tortricid in the subfamily Olethreutinae. When resting, they tend to look almost rectangular, with the wings rolled so the top and sides look perpendicular to each other.

After looking through the plates at the Moth Photographers Group (currently the best online resource for moth ID in North America), I narrowed the possibilities down to the genus Pseudexentera. The most likely candidates are P. spoliana and P. vaccinii. Both species have been found recently in the same county by fellow birder/mother Todd Dreyer.

Sometimes information about food plants can help narrow down an identification, as some plants are more common in the neighborhood than others. In this case, food plant information is less helpful. P. spoliana, the Bare-patched Oak Leafroller, is known to feed on oaks, of which there are many in my neighborhood. BugGuide does not list a host plant for P. vaccinii, but its name suggests that it uses blueberry plants (Vaccinium sp.), which are also present. (A search of the HOSTS database confirmed my guess.) Above is a Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra); below is a Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Loose Feathers #334

Gulls fighting over a crab / Photo by Bill Thompson (USFWS)
News about birds and birding
Nature blogging
Environment and biodiversity

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Orange Sulphur

Prompted by the exceptionally warm weather, butterflies emerged in a big way this week. Just in the last two days, I have seen my first Cabbage White, Orange Sulphur, and Mourning Cloak of the year. Above is an Orange Sulphur sipping from a Lesser Celandine flower in Donaldson Park yesterday afternoon.

Red Maples are among the many plants blooming right now.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Broad-tailed Hummingbird in Cape May

The Press of Atlantic City has an interesting article on the Broad-tailed Hummingbird (a first state record) currently visiting a feeder in Cape May County. The has been there through the winter, but its identity was not recognized until recently because of its similarity to Rufous Hummingbirds.

A broad-tailed hummingbird is spending the winter in Lower Township, just a couple miles away from some of the world’s top birders at the Cape May Bird Observatory. These experts knew about this particular bird and some had even seen it with their own eyes, but they gave it scant attention because they thought it was a different, more common species.

Now they are feeling sheepish about their mistake.

Cape May birder and ecotourism guide Michael O’Brien was the first to realize the error when he took new photographs March 1 after the tiny creature had molted telltale spring plumage.

He immediately tweeted his colleagues his pictures captioned only with the expletive: “Oh, s***.”

Finding a bird never before seen in New Jersey is rare in a state that is so vigilant about such things. New Jersey has documented 465 bird species. Ignoring a new species that for months has had habits as predictable as the tides is simply embarrassing.

“We were going to pose for a photo with some scrambled egg on our faces,” observatory Director Mike Crewe said.
This story is a good reminder not to make assumptions about a bird's identity based on incomplete information. Most of the time, the danger is trying to turn a common bird into a rarer one based on a partial view or a momentary glimpse. Now and then, though, it might make us miss a true rarity while thinking, "Oh, that's just a [fill-in-the-blank]." This incident also serves as a reminder that even the experts can be wrong, and it is worth evaluating rare sightings for yourself.

Monday, March 12, 2012

New Program to Benefit Golden-winged Warblers

Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes
The Golden-winged Warbler is one of the fastest-declining North American warblers. Its range has been shifting northward, whether due to climate change, competition (and interbreeding) from Blue-winged Warblers, habitat loss, or some combination of factors. A new federal program called Working Lands for Wildlife is intended to benefit Golden-winged Warblers and several other declining species. More specifically, the initiative will address the availability of adequate habitat in the warbler's breeding range.
Before widespread European settlement of the Appalachian region, Golden-winged Warblers relied on young forest or open woodlands created by natural fires, natural disasters, or beavers. During the early and mid-part of the Twentieth Century, much of the region was cleared through timber harvesting, and later, through strip mining for coal. Second growth vegetation and revegetation of these areas resulted in habitats that were conducive to species such as the Golden-winged Warbler. Over time, these areas have matured or become dominated by species that do not provide the habitat structure that warblers need.

The WLW initiative will focus on creating and maintaining the types of habitat necessary to sustain breeding populations of warblers in and around their current breeding areas. This will include efforts designed to expand the existing Appalachian range of the species and increase the amount of available habitat throughout the Appalachians. Two particular challenges are that many key areas are located within a matrix of lands with mixed ownership and there are potential conflicts with regard to commercial timber harvests.
The projects will presumably also benefit other animals that use the same habitat.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Loose Feathers #333

Burrowing Owls/ Photo by Lee Karney (USFWS)
News about birds and birding
Nature blogging
Environment and biodiversity
Blog carnivals

Thursday, March 08, 2012

First Moth of 2012

Last night I put out my moth light for the first time this year. One micromoth came to the sheet before I even turned the light on and stayed there in the same spot for the two hours I left the light on. That was the only moth I saw. The moth, shown above, appears to be Battaristis concinusella, a species of gelechiid moth. Most of the reports of that species in BugGuide's database are for later in the spring, but perhaps a few came out early thanks to the warm winter. In any case, the markings towards the apex of its forewing and along the outer costa seem pretty distinctive.

The only other insects I saw last night were some midges and this crane fly.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Mabel Osgood Wright's Birdcraft

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is an initiative to make old science books available to the general public by scanning them and posting them online. The books are generally out of copyright and cover a wide variety of plants and wildlife from many regions. I believe I have linked to their blog a few times in my Loose Feathers series. They also maintain a Flickr account where they often post individual plates from the books to highlight the best images. Unfortunately the images do not come with a lot of descriptive text, so you need to go to the scanned book on BHL's website to find keys for unfamiliar species.

One of the latest books to be posted on their Flickr account is Mabel Osgood Wright's Birdcraft. First published in 1895 (with many subsequent printings), this book is notable as being one of the very first to promote bird watching and identification. Another was Birds through an Opera-Glass by Florence Merriam Bailey, published in 1898. (The significance of those two women in the history of field guides and birdwatching is covered in two books I reviewed, Of a Feather by Scott Weidensaul and Binocular Vision by Spencer Schaffner.) You can find the set of images from Birdcraft here, and the images on this page are linked to posts within that Flickr set.

Most of the birds on these plates are immediately recognizable, and many are posed as if engaging in characteristic behaviors. In the plate above, the nightjars are chasing after moths, and the swallows are building the nests characteristic to each species. However, the names are in a key a few pages away, and descriptive text resides somewhere else in the book. The birds are also somewhat oddly proportioned and often out of scale with their neighbors. Consider how huge the Brown Creeper two plates above looks compared to most of the other birds on the page! Field guides have clearly come a long way in their visual depictions and organization since then, but we can still enjoy and appreciate them.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Early Bloomers

The crocuses are a bit ahead of schedule this year just liked the daffodils. These have not opened fully yet, but I already saw a few in other gardens that had opened.

On a related note, this is a good time to plan new plantings for the spring and summer. While doing so, please consider including plants that provide foraging opportunities for native pollinators. The Xerces Society has a page full of pollinator resources, including appropriate plantings (via Bug Girl).

Friday, March 02, 2012

Loose Feathers #332

Barred Owl / Photo by Ray Bosch (USFWS)
News about birds and birding
Nature blogging
Environment and biodiversity
Blog Carnivals

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Review: Birds of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire

The Caribbean tends not to loom as large in a birder's imagination as areas for seeing ABA-area rarities like Texas's Lower Rio Grande Valley or Attu, or sites for watching major bird spectacles like the wintering cranes and geese at Bosque del Apache, or regions with tons of endemics like the mountains and rainforests of northern South America. Still, some bird species are endemic to the Caribbean, and many migratory birds from North America spend their winters there. This makes it an attractive destination for a birding trip, especially since the region can be visited in the company of nonbirding family members or friends. Birders, of course, will want bird identification guides, and to that end, Bart de Boer, Eric Newton, and Robin Restall have created a new guide for the Netherlands Antilles: Birds of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire.

Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire lie close together just north of Venezuela. At this location, their avifauna is influenced by both the other Caribbean islands and northern South America, in slightly different proportions on each island. There are breeding birds present from each of the two regions. Beyond that, the islands frequently host migrants from North America, mainly during fall migration. Like elsewhere in the Caribbean, many species have been introduced from elsewhere and now maintain small colonies on the islands.

The guide has all the elements that one would expect in a field guide designed primarily for ecotourists. The introductory material discusses the history, geography, and biodiversity of the islands, including notes on the best spots to go birding. The plates follow, with most plates depicting 3-5 bird species with painted illustrations. The descriptive text for each species is on a page facing the plate that depicts it. The accounts give the official English and scientific names for each species, as well as the common names in the other languages used on the islands (Papiamento and Dutch). The rest of each species account includes the bird's average size (in centimeters) and thorough descriptions of the bird's distinctive physical characteristics, vocalizations, habitat, and current status. While there are no range maps in this guide, this should not pose a problem as the islands are small. The end pages include a checklist of species that indicates the islands where each species has been recorded as well as each bird's conservation status (as determined by the IUCN). The lack of range maps and the small number of species makes it possible to pack all of that into a very slim book of only 176 pages.

While the organization and information presented are very good, the artwork is not up to the high standard I have come to expect from Princeton field guides. First, the oranges and reds seem a bit too intense. This is very noticeable among the waterfowl, but it shows up elsewhere in the guide as well. The male Mallard's breast seems almost orange instead of the chestnut brown that one normally sees in the field. The male Northern Shoveler's flanks also look too bright. Beyond that, the proportions do not look right for many birds I know from North America. This is a bigger problem than the color intensity since size, shape, and structure are such important elements of sorting birds into families and even identifying one species from another. I first noticed the problem among the waterfowl, but as I looked through the rest of the book, I noticed more and more examples of badly shaped birds. It was particularly disappointing to see the illustrations of the wood warblers, which do not look true to life, in my opinion.

Still, a birder visiting these islands will want a copy of Birds of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire. It provides useful information on birding the islands and good enough plates to identify the birds found there. However, I would advise using the plates with care.

This review is based on a free review copy provided by Princeton University Press.