Sunday, July 24, 2005

Birds and Heat

In several entries I have noted that on hot summer days it becomes harder to find birds to watch. The Houston Chronicle has a piece on how birds react to hot weather, which can affect them even more strongly than humans because their bodies are so on-edge. The article notes several ways birds keep cool, such as sitting in the shade, fluffing feathers to circulate air, and seeking water sources for bathing. To the recommendations for helping birds mentioned in the article, I would add that it is good for birders not to engage in disruptive behavior on very hot days, like those we had in Washington this past week. That is, we should refrain from pishing and other things that might put undue stress on the birds that we are trying to watch.

Piping Plovers

In Massachusetts, four piping plovers were stolen from a closed beach where they were nesting. There were witnesses to the heist, but so far there are no suspects and no known motive. Since the piping plover is an endangered species, the theft can be punished by fines and jail time under both state and federal law. After all the bad news regarding piping plovers, at least one location has seen a successful breeding season for the species: Brigantine, New Jersey.

More Ivory-bill News

According to the New York Times, two top American birders - David Sibley and Kenn Kaufman are expressing skepticism about the reported ivory-bill sighting:

In fact, Mr. Kaufman said, "I've actually been shocked that virtually everyone has been embracing this."

He added, "I do in fact believe that there was a bird there last year, but it hasn't been proven and we could have a more honest discussion if people accept the fact that we don't have proof."

Mr. Sibley is unconvinced. At first, he, too, was elated, and went down to Arkansas for 10 days to look for the ivory bill without success.

It was only when he returned, he said, that he began to think critically about the Science report. "It's really crushing to come to the conclusion that it might not be true, that there is room for some reasonable doubt."

He has been reluctant to speak publicly about his doubts, and described doubters as being treated as "heretics" in online discussions.

The reason he is speaking out now, he said, is that he worried that money might be diverted from other conservation efforts.

What he said he wanted, for proof, was "redundancy. Repeated sightings by independent observers of birds really well seen."

A member of the search team, Bobby Harrison, was interviewed at length for the article. He agrees with the skeptics that further documentation is needed; in particular he hopes to get clear photographs of the ivory-bill when he returns to the Arkansas swamps later this year and early next year. At the same time he maintains that he did indeed see an ivory-billed woodpecker.