Saturday, December 31, 2005

CBC: Raritan Estuary

This morning and afternoon I participated in my third Christmas Bird Count of 2005 - the Raritan Estuary Bird Count in central New Jersey. For this count I was birding with my mother and sister; we covered areas along the Raritan River near where I grew up. We were a little sparse on the ground, especially compared to the Washington, DC, bird count. Plus we were working against the threat of bad weather in the afternoon. But we managed to complete our four-mile sector before the rains fell.

There were fewer species in our sector this year than last year, but more individuals. Unfortunately we missed winter wren and both kinglets; chickadees also were hardly to be found. Some highlights included great cormorants (uncommon inland), peregrine falcon, common goldeneye, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and brown creeper.

Species Number
Great Cormorant 5
Double-crested Cormorant 5
Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 5
Canada Goose 1518
American Black Duck 1
Mallard 289
Common Goldeneye 3
Common Merganser 23
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Peregrine Falcon 1
Killdeer 2
Ring-billed Gull 121
Herring Gull 165
Great Black-backed Gull 37
Gull sp. 380
Rock Pigeon 24
Mourning Dove 119
Belted Kingfisher 4
Red-bellied Woodpecker 17
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Downy Woodpecker 11
Northern Flicker 9
Blue Jay 107
American Crow 51
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 22
White-breasted Nuthatch 5
Brown Creeper 2
Carolina Wren 4
American Robin 356
Northern Mockingbird 3
European Starling 405
Song Sparrow 27
White-throated Sparrow 76
Dark-eyed Junco 122
Northern Cardinal 30
Red-winged Blackbird 1
House Finch 29
American Goldfinch 24
House Sparrow 90
Number of Species 41
Number of Individuals 4100

And Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 30, 2005

New Tropical Storm

The year could not end without offering up one more Atlantic tropical cyclone, this time Tropical Storm Zeta:

Zeta _ the 27th named storm of the season and the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet _ was located about 1,065 miles southwest of the Azores, the National Hurricane Center reported at 4 p.m. EST Friday. Zeta had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph and was moving northwest near 7 mph.

Since record keeping began in 1851, only one other named storm has formed as late as Zeta, said Greg Romano, a National Weather Service spokesman. Tropical Storm Alice developed Dec. 30, 1954, and later became a hurricane before dissipating Jan. 5. Tropical storms develop when their winds exceed 39 mph, and hurricanes form when their winds exceed 74 mph.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Life Birds from 2005

In the two-and-a-half years that I have been birding - or at least in the two-and-a-half years that I have been keeping lists of birds that I see - it has become increasingly difficult to see birds I have not seen before, or life birds. At this point, if I want to see many new life birds, I probably need to travel outside of the mid-Atlantic region. But I still saw a few new species during the past year. Here they are, in chronological order.

1. Ring-necked Pheasant, Bombay Hook NWR, 5/14/05

This bird and the following one were both sighted on a DC Audubon field trip to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. The pheasant played hard-to-get, but eventually showed enough of itself for us to identify it. Pheasants are grassland birds, and more at home in a place like Bombay Hook than in urban areas, but can show up anywhere.

2. Red Knot, Bombay Hook NWR, 5/14/05

A little south of Bombay Hook there is an accessible "beach" called Port Mahon. One red knot was among a group of other peeps there. The red knot is on the verge of extinction if current trends remain unchecked. I was happy to see it while the species still exists.

3. Alder Flycatcher, Great Swamp NWR, 5/21/05

This and the next species were both at the "heronry" overlook portion of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. This flycatcher first made its presence known by its sneezy call, then appeared atop a shrub.

4. King Rail, Great Swamp NWR, 5/21/05

The king rail, like the flycatcher, made its presence known by its hammer-like call. Unfortunately it did not show itself; one day I will actually see one.

5. Barred Owl, Radnor Lake Park, Nashville, 6/4/05

Since I began birding, there were repeated occasions when other birders would point out a barred owl call, but I would fail to hear it. This time, the barred owl made its appearance obvious by sitting next to a busy trail in broad daylight. More on my barred owl experiences here.

6. Mississippi Kite, Meeman Shelby Forest State Park, near Memphis, 6/6/05

June 6 was a hot and humid day in Memphis, made worse by a sudden downpour in the middle of the day. This Mississippi kite made the day much more pleasant.

7. Willow Flycatcher, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, 6/21/05

I rounded out the local empidonax species with a willow flycatcher at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. More on that day here.

8. Yellow-breasted Chat, National Arboretum, 6/26/05

This sighting was a bit of a surprise, since Washington, D.C., does not provide much ideal habitat for yellow-breasted chats. However, the species did make an appearance in the National Arboretum, and I was there to see it. More on the sighting here.

9. Piping Plover, Sandy Hook, 7/30/05

In the first few months after I started this blog, the status of piping plovers - as well as red knots - was a bit of a hobbyhorse. I finally got to see one at the end of July at Sandy Hook, one of the few places where the species breeds in New Jersey. More on the sighting here.

10. Northern Waterthrush, Sandy Hook, 10/1/05

This northern waterthrush was seen on one of the wooded trails through the middle of Sandy Hook. Unfortunately another birder scared it away with too much pishing. My report of that day at the Hook is here.

11. American Woodcock, Point Lookout, Maryland, 10/15/05

Woodcocks can be very difficult to see because of their cryptic coloration and their habit of skulking in the underbrush. This bird, seen on a DC Audubon field trip to Point Lookout, strutted in open woods and allowed the whole group to watch it for a long time. Coincidentally, my bird-of-the-day calendar showed a woodcock the day before. [link DCA report if posted]

12. Vesper Sparrow, Blackwater NWR, 11/19/05

This was another life bird seen on a DC Audubon field trip, this time to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. And, like the woodcock, this bird sat out in the open so that we had plenty of time to view it and to hash out the identification. That trip demonstrated one of the great things about birding: you never know what you will see. We went out expecting waterfowl, but instead had a sparrow bonanza.

Meanwhile, I still have not seen that cerulean warbler. Will I see one next year? I will report it here, if I do.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Today is December 25, Christmas Day to those of us who celebrate that holiday.

Many Christmas carols feature birds among their imagery for Christmas and the holiday season. One of my favorites that does so is the Advent hymn, People, Look East (full text here, midi here). People, Look East is an English hymn set to a French melody, and it uses various symbols - guest, rose, bird, and star - to refer to Christ.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love the Bird is on the way.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I and the Bird 13

The thirteenth I and the Bird has been posted at Woodsong. Take a look this holiday-themed birding carnival.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

ANWR Drilling Blocked Again

The latest maneuver to win approval for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge failed this afternoon. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) had attached an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have allowed oil drilling in the refuge. Democrats, however, managed to filibuster the bill to prevent this measure from passing. Presumably, the measure will be removed to allow the defense bill to move forward in a timely manner.

CBC: Eastern Neck NWR

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, an island of 2,285 acres, juts from the eastern shore of Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay. The DC Audubon Society has traditionally covered the refuge for the Lower Kent County Christmas Bird Count, even though the refuge is about a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C. Doing this count requires leaving D.C. at about five or five-thirty in the morning so that there is enough time to cover all of the refuge. On Sunday we had about ten birders at our highest number, but most of the counting was done by six. As is normal for counts like this we split into three groups, those with scopes to cover waterfowl and those without to cover landbirds.

As it is surrounded by water, Eastern Neck features large numbers of waterfowl. Several thousand canvasbacks and scaup were the main attraction on the water. Swans of both local species, as well as goldeneye, bufflehead, mergansers, black duck, and several other species rounded out the numbers. For raptors we had plenty of bald eagles as well as several harriers.

The best bird of the day for me was a Lincoln's sparrow at the end of the Duck Trail, which is about halfway down the island from the bridge. The bird sat out in the open long enough for me to recognize its crisp streaking with a buffy background, sharp bill, buffy malars and gray eyebrow. The buffy areas were particularly bright on this bird, almost like a Carolina wren's breast; the rufous areas like the cap and wings also seemed particularly bright. The Lincoln's topped a very good day for sparrows, which included a fox sparrow and about thirty savannah sparrows.

There were plenty of good birds to go around on Sunday: pileated woodpeckers, which are unusual at the refuge; marsh wren, brown thrasher, and common yellowthroat, all very late; visible barred and great horned owls; a flock of eastern meadowlarks; and dunlin and wilson's snipe to end the day.

A full report by our sector leader, with photos and a species list, is available on the DC Audubon website.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

CBC: The District of Columbia

Earlier today I participated in the Christmas Bird Count for the District of Columbia. Yes, it seems early for a "Christmas" count, but the National Audubon Society and local birding clubs schedule the counts over a two-week period to take advantage of weekends to ensure maximum participation. I was one of eight counters for the National Arboretum (part of the Anacostia sector). The DC count has traditionally had many volunteers; last year 123 birders participated across the district.

I have noted before on this blog that the winter seems to be especially good for red-breasted nuthatches in the Washington area. In the National Arboretum alone we had about half a dozen. I imagine that more will turn up in other sectors once the data is compiled. Red-breasted nuthatches are an irruptive species for the mid-Atlantic. While not uncommon, they do not show up in great numbers every year. The graph below gives a picture of red-breasted nuthatch numbers in the district over the past 35 years.

The full results of the DC bird count will be available later in 2006, once the National Audubon Society has compiled the data and published it on its website.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Warming Trend

According to one government report, by NASA's Goddard Institute, 2005 was the hottest year on record. By the measure of two others, it was the second hottest, and hottest in the northern hemisphere. The others were by NOAA and the United Kingdom's Meteorological Institute.

The three teams used the same set of ocean and land temperature records, but they analyzed the data and compensated for gaps in the climatic record differently. As a result, NASA scientists estimate that 2005 average global land and sea temperatures were 1.04 degrees Fahrenheit above average, just beating out 1998's 1-degree elevation. NOAA researchers, by contrast, say this year's global average is 1.06 degrees Fahrenheit above average, compared with 1.1 degrees in 1998....

Scientists said yesterday that these differences should not detract from their common conclusion that the world is experiencing serious climate change, driven in part by human activity. Researchers recently found by drilling ice cores that there is a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than in any time in the last 650,000 years, which reflects that humans are burning an increased amount of fossil fuels to power automobiles and utilities.

The Earth has warmed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century, with 1 degree of this increase occurring in the past 30 years. This climate change has brought unusually prolonged droughts in some regions and heavy precipitation in others, while the Arctic's sea ice has shrunk to its lowest level since observers started using satellite records in 1979.

James Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute, said this year's statistics were particularly significant because in 1998 the world experienced El Nio, which drove up temperatures dramatically. This year, by contrast, the world reached record levels without such a dramatic climatic event.

The finding that there was more heat - and therefore more energy - in the atmosphere is not unexpected. We had far more hurricanes and tropical storms than normal; this season broke the record by far. Such storms do not materialize from nowhere. They need to feed off energy to maintain strength and grow.

The remaining question is what will be done (and to some extent, what can be done) about the problem of global warming. Unfortunately our current leaders have kept their heads in the sand so that the largest producer of greenhouse gases refuses to be part of the solution.

Major League Birds?

Milkriverblog directs us to this page on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service site. It includes a series of audio files to various sounds of animals. Unfortunately the page could seriously use an editor. Beyond that it could probably use writing by someone with better knowledge about wildlife. My favorite is "A indigo's bunt," though "A tundra of swans" and "Sounds of a leatherback flying into waves" are hard to beat. I guess the birds are taking up baseball these days.

Loose Feathers #13

News and links on birds, birding, and the environment.

  • The whooping cranes fledged in 2005 have now reached their winter home in Florida, under the direction of ultralight aircraft. A crowd of onlookers was waiting to greet their arrival.
  • The latest impact of global warming is being felt by polar bears. More bears have been found swimming far offshore, and as a result more have been found dead as a result of drowning. (Via AMERICAblog.)
  • While Bush warms the hearts of his corporate supporters by refusing to consider action on global warming and other environmental issues, American governors and mayors have been working for reform at the local level. Unfortunately one plan cited in that article, a regional carbon-credit arrangement in the northeast, has been threatened by the withdrawal of two states from the agreement at the last minute.
  • Westborough News profiles Canada geese, their migration patterns, and status in Massachusetts.
  • New Jersey, meanwhile, wants to reduce its resident Canada goose population by 60 percent over the next ten years. The plan is being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under a new policy that allows different regulations for different states. Landowners would be allowed to destroy nests and eggs during the breeding season and kill geese from April 1 to August 31.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Loose Feathers #12: CBC Roundup

In recent weeks I offered a few posts on Christmas Bird Counts (here and here). Here are some sites with information on counts in the area:

The Washington, DC, count is December 17, this Saturday.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

National Zoo Birding

This morning was bitterly cold; in fact it was the coldest of the winter so far here in Washington. When I woke up, the temperature at National Airport was reported to be 19°F. The high was about 24° or 25°. Naturally it seemed like a good morning for birding. During sustained cold spells like what we experienced over the past two days, local ponds freeze over, leaving waterfowl to seek other open waterways. One place where open water is guaranteed is the National Zoo. Most ponds are heated, and the stretch of Rock Creek below the zoo rarely freezes. So the zoo's waterfowl population will rise considerably during cold snaps.

The best place for birding at the zoo, in my opinion, is the bicycle trail along the creek. I have seen up to 30-40 wood ducks gathered there at times. This morning there were about a dozen. Males in the full breeding plumage were giving their whistling "zipper" calls, while females clucked. Up at the bird house, about fifty mallards and a few wood ducks and American black ducks had gathered in the wetland ponds vacated by the zoo's own birds. (Apparently all the birds in the birdhouse ponds are wild at the moment; a fire caused most of the zoo's birds to be removed temporarily.)

Waterfowl were not all there was to see. Many sparrows - house, song, and white-throated - competed for rights around the feeders in the various animal pens. No unusual ones, though. Woodpeckers also were plentiful. One very good bird was a red-breasted nuthatch. The Washington area seems to have unusually high numbers of this species this year.


Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Black Duck
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
European Starling
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

Winter Hummingbirds Note

The Washington Post today has an article on hummingbirds that winter in the Washington area. It features the banding of a rufous hummingbird spotted recently in suburban Maryland.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

It's Not Dead Yet

The Bush administration is still pushing to win approval for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge despite widespread and bipartisan opposition to the project on Capitol Hill. On Monday, Gale Norton (Interior Secretary) and Elaine Chao (Labor Secretary) made the rounds of conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation to pitch the project. They made the usual deceptive arguments in favor of the proposal. Chao spoke of the drilling creating a million jobs; Norton talked about how the oil reserve would supply a single state for a decade or two, without mentioning that in the context of the entire country, the amount is actually very small. Dana Milbank took a skeptical look at the proceedings here. His take:

But you wouldn't know that watching Norton. The administration's Ahab, she has been fighting for drilling in ANWR for five years, only to see the proposal shot down in Congress each time. This week, some House Republican moderates are fighting to keep it out of the budget bill. And Captain Norton has returned to the Pequod.

Heritage offered about as sympathetic an audience as Norton could hope for. Arriving in her Lincoln Town Car (17 mpg), she was greeted at the conservative think tank by Ginny Thomas, the Supreme Court justice's wife, and introduced by President Ed Feulner, who called ANWR "a win-win situation."

But even here, the questions were gently skeptical. One questioner pointed out the tepid support for ANWR from oil companies, "leading some on Wall Street to say this is more of a political issue than an energy economics issue." Another person pointed out that Norton's forecast of a million barrels a day from ANWR was "somewhat underwhelming."

The column is well worth reading. Milbank deflates most of the arguments in the proposal's favor.

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

This morning I visited the east side of the Anacostia in hopes of tracking down some winter migrants. The day began at Kenilworth Park. A bald eagle was visible across the river, perched on a snag above a large flock of Canada geese. A hooded merganser was also in the river. The brush along the edges of the park was loaded with birds. Many cedar waxwings were present in several flocks, along with house finches, robins, and white-throated sparrows. One lingering gray catbird was in the bushes near the recreation center.

The aquatic gardens was full of sparrows. Among the many song sparrows and white-throateds, there were swamp sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, and a single Lincoln's sparrow. The latter perched on a sapling at the bank of one of the ponds and allowed a good look. A small flock of red-winged blackbirds was in the trees along the boardwalk trail. The dominant black-colored birds, though, were crows, of which there may have been a hundred, all chattering noisily. Along the river trail, there were purple finches and yellow-rumped warblers, as well as more sparrows. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers were in good numbers in both parks.


Canada Goose
Hooded Merganser
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird

Monday, December 12, 2005

Loose Feathers #11

News and links on birds, birding, and the environment.

  • In Fairfax County, Virginia, a hiking trail was recently refurbished. It connects Great Falls with Riverbend Park. Both endpoints of the trail are known for good birding during migration, so local birders might want to check this out. It should be a good spot for combined hiking/birding trips.
  • New York City has been implementing energy efficiency measures throughout its various public agencies to relieve the demand on the city's power supply. Many of these affect wide swaths of the city, including more efficient refrigerators in public housing, light-emitting diodes instead of standard bulbs in traffic signals, and converting its buses to hybrids. In a city as large as New York, it is easy to have much wasted electricity; instead it has been leading in reducing the waste.
  • Hunting of Canada geese is causing more heartburn for animal rights groups, this time in Massachusetts. Elsewhere, geese appear to have been killed by snowmobile.
  • The Plain Dealer reports on successful surgery for a peregrine falcon with a broken wing.
  • Oklahoma has a program to help preserve habitat for grassland species like quail and pheasants. Under the program, farmers are paid by the state to preserve habitat buffers around their fields that birds can use for nesting.

Parks in the News

Two places where I bird frequently turned up in the news this morning, one for good reasons and the other for not so good reasons.

In the first, a church in southeast Washington is sponsoring an exhibit of photographs taken by children along the Anacostia River. The photographs were taken during trips run by the afterschool "Children of Mine" program, backed by local groups seeking to restore the Anacostia. The program helped to introduce residents to the natural areas of the district:

The day started with a ride along the river in a pontoon boat with about 12 children, several adults and a river guide from the watershed society, followed by a hike in Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, with opportunities to snap photos along the way.

Jeffery's mother, Cheri Hall, who volunteers with Children of Mine and also attended the trip, said she was amazed to see raccoon and fox prints in the mud and could scarcely believe that she was in the District, where she has lived all 43 years of her life.

"You live right here, and you don't know that all of this is out here," Hall said, standing next to her photo of hundreds of plastic soda bottles floating atop the river.

The other place in the news is the National Arboretum, which was shut down yesterday afternoon for a manhunt after a raid at a nearby motel went badly. The police found their kidnapping suspect at the Days Inn Motel, but he managed to escape. They presumed he headed into the arboretum.

Marked and unmarked police cars patrolled the perimeter of the wooded reserve, sometimes sounding their sirens and moving in groups of four from one corner or parking lot to another. Officers stationed on foot along the arboretum's high fence scanned the woods for signs of movement. Other officers, assisted by dogs, searched the grounds. Helicopters supplied by U.S. Park Police and Maryland State Police continuously circled overhead.

The arboretum, usually open until 5 p.m., was closed about 1 p.m., and all the workers and visitors were evacuated, arboretum Director Thomas Elias said. He said that he was unsure how many people were visiting at the time but that attendance generally is light in the winter. Elias said he expected the facility would be open on a normal schedule today.

I am sure glad I did not go there yesterday. Escaping into the arboretum does seem like a foolish strategy, as there are only about four or five places where one could leave. So someone who went in would have a hard time leaving without being noticed. But then, a lot depends on how quickly and how thoroughly the manhunt was organized.

Update: More details on the escape here.

Sunday Birding

Following a report of some very good birds for DC along the Anacostia, I went over to Anacostia Park to see if I could find the greater white-fronted goose that had been present the day before. There were several large flocks of Canada geese, on both the north and south ends of the park, but unfortunately no white-fronted goose was present.

The trip to Anacostia Park was not a waste, however. On the north end of the park, a gorgeous adult red-shouldered hawk glided past me and settled in a tree that was full of starlings. The latter barely stirred, and held their ground. A blue jay and northern mockingbird did take interest in the hawk, and began harrassing it. The hawk eventually left its perched and flew away, with the mockingbird and blue jay in close pursuit.

Among the geese on the river, I saw at least three pied-billed grebes, at several different points along the park. On the south end of the park - below the 11th Street bridge - an adult lesser black-backed gull was in a group of various other gulls. The small flock was on a sandbar across the river from the Navy Yards. I walked all the way down until the road appeared to stop and then back up to Pennsylvania Avenue. As I got to the bridge I spotted a northern harrier soaring over the bridge. Now, harriers are not particularly rare, but do not venture into Washington very frequently; this was my first sighting of one within the district.

Later in the afternoon I headed up to the McMillan Reservoir to check on the waterfowl. Most of the birds were on the south end of the reservoir, across the street from the Howard University student center. There were good numbers of American coots and ring-necked ducks, though both were in lower concentrations than the last time I visited. The usual gulls rounded out the crowd at the reservoir.


Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
Ring-necked Duck
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Northern Mockingbird
Blue Jay
American Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird

Saturday, December 10, 2005

More on Montreal

The key role that the United States needs to play in attempts to slow global warming is clear from its position as the major contributor of carbon dioxide emissions.

The United States, which produces one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, objects to mandatory limits on the grounds that they could damage the nation's economy and because developing nations, such as China and India, which are burning increasing amounts of fossil fuel, have not embraced binding emissions cuts. Under Saturday's nonbinding agreement, however, China and India pledged to pursue voluntary emissions reductions.

China and India contend that their populations emit far smaller amounts of greenhouse gas per capita than people in the United States.

China and India actually have a point here. Why should those two countries put much work into emission reductions when the United States refuses even to consider nonbinding agreements for reduction goals? While both have potential to become major contributors of emissions, neither is anywhere close to the United States, the world's biggest offender.

Meanwhile, the charming Senator Inhofe had this to say:

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) was even more skeptical of Saturday's pact, saying it would lead only to "a dead end economically."

"Two weeks of costly deliberation only resulted in an agreement to deliberate some more, so Montreal was essentially a meeting about the next meeting," Inhofe said in a statement. "The Kyoto Protocol . . . is a complete failure."

First, it is too early to call Kyoto a failure since the major period for reductions - 2008 through 2012 - has not yet arrived. Second, the White House and its allies in Congress have done more than anyone else to try to make the Kyoto Protocol a failure. So a member of that group really has no business criticizing the Protocol as a failure when he had no interest in seeing it succeed.

Arboretum Birds

In the late afternoon I took a short walk through the woods near the Arboretum's visitor center. My main goal was to see if any owls were around. Sometimes in winter they can be seen at their daytime perches, or will make themselves more visible as the afternoon shadows lengthen. Unfortunately I struck out on the owls. I did see a few other birds, though, including a gorgeous fox sparrow.


Canada Goose
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Carolina Wren
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

Mall Expansion?

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., has been running out of space for several years. With the recent additions of the monuments for Franklin Roosevelt, the Korean War, and World War II, and the future monument for Martin Luther King, most of the available monument space has been taken. Meanwhile, the National Museum of the American Indian has filled the last large tract for museum construction. So the National Capital Planning Commission has been trying to encourage groups pushing museums and memorials to place them elsewhere - either statues in neighborhood parks or museums along important corridors like South Capitol Street.

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall has a different idea. They want to expand the Mall into East Potomac Park, the narrow peninsula that stretches along the Potomac River up to the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia. This narrow strip currently holds a golf course, baseball fields, and a playground for kids. It also is a quiet haven for fishermen, a racing site for bicycle clubs, and a winter hot spot for birders. (Several D.C. rarities have been seen here, including glossy ibis in 2004.)

The ideas include the bizarre, like building a new Supreme Court in East Potomac Park. (No thanks, we already have one.) Some also involve wasteful expenditures, like breaking up the peninsula into a series of islands connected by bridges. Proposals to improve recreation facilities and to build some new monuments in East Potomac Park are more realistic and make better use of the space without seriously disrupting the park's current uses. Building museums there is not a good use, unless their curators do not care about having good attendance.

Any plans for the park need to keep in mind that the park is not easily accessible since it only connects to downtown at the north end. Building more connections is made difficult by the marinas along Washington Channel and the major highways (Route 1 and Interstate 395) that cross over the park.

But East Potomac Park should remain primarily a place for recreation. We have few large areas of open fields for general recreation in this city. There is the central area of the Mall, but that is frequently circumscribed by fences for grass recovery or large events whose stages and booths block large areas at a time. Anacostia Park also has the space but is hard to access. Rock Creek Park is mostly wooded, as is Roosevelt Island. East Potomac Park fills a need in this city, and any development there should serve to enhance its current uses and not make them more difficult.

Montreal Conference on Global Warming

This week 157 nations met in Montréal, Canada, to discuss the problem of global warming, a.k.a. climate change. Most talks centered around the problem of how best to reduce carbon emissions and to settle the next step beyond the Kyoto Protocol, which call for emission reductions between 2008 and 2012. As usual, the United States was the odd man out - by choice and not by necessity. The American representatives refused to consider even a nonbinding agreement.

The United States, which generates a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, questioned the need to engage in even nonbinding talks on the subject. When the Europeans and Canadians proposed such talks Thursday, chief American climate negotiator Harlan Watson rejected it on the grounds that it would be tantamount to formal negotiations.
Other countries felt that it would be worth continuing talks without the United States, in the hope that a regime change in this country might lead to a more responsible attitude towards environmental policy after 2008.
"We can't have an effective global regime without the U.S., but we can move ahead with the discussion about what the regime will be with everyone else at the table, leaving a seat for the U.S. and hoping the U.S. will fill its empty seat," said Michael Zammit Cutajar, Malta's ambassador for international environmental affairs, who helped oversee the initial Kyoto negotiations. "After all, things will change in the U.S. in a few years. There will be a new constellation of forces, and maybe there will be a greater readiness to engage."
There is little hope of improvement within the next three years within the United States, because this administration has stubbornly refused to make environmental issues a priority. Indeed even the EPA nowadays often works at cross-purposes with conservationists, while the appointees at the Department of Energy seems most focused on how to make the most money for their friends in the industry as quickly as possible, with no thought for long-term ramifications.

Bill Clinton was in Montréal to stir the pot:
The last day was also marked by high drama as former president Bill Clinton showed up and urged meaningful action to combat global warming, giving a half-hour speech that the Bush administration had tried to block, according to sources close to Clinton who would not speak on the record for fear of jeopardizing the talks....

At one point Bush's deputies threatened to boycott the meetings if Clinton, who was invited by Montreal's mayor and the Canadian Sierra Club, spoke. Clinton offered not to come, said sources close to the former president, but the Canadians stood by the invitation.

Publicly, however, Paula Dobriansky, the U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, welcomed Clinton, saying in a statement that "public events in connection with the U.N. climate change conference, such as the one involving former President Clinton, are useful opportunities to hear a wide range of views on global climate change."

According to this report (via TPM), the Bush administration threatened not to take any action on the Kyoto Protocol if Clinton spoke. Now that's a way to scare people - threaten not to do something that you had no intention of doing anyway.

The agreements that came out of this conference included measures to include developing nations in the solutions to the global warming crisis. In particular there are incentives for countries with large tracts of rain forests to preserve as much as possible of them, in return for credits. Bringing developing nations into the dialogue is useful and necessary. But of course the main problem remains with the big polluters, that is the industrialized nations that produce most of the emissions that create a greenhouse. Chief among these is the United States, and until such time as this country takes major steps to reduce its emissions, agreements among other countries will only be partial solutions.

Friday, December 09, 2005

More WTC Site Testing?

Two New York politicians, Senator Hillary Clinton and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, want to see more testing at the site of the former World Trade Center.

Clinton and Nadler maintain the Environmental Protection Agency should conduct much more extensive testing work. The EPA's inspector general found fault with the first round of such testing, prompting a technical review and a second round of testing announced last month.

The lawmakers said Friday that a second investigation is needed to determine if the EPA is repeating mistakes made the first time.

Clinton said the EPA's new testing plan "is incredibly frustrating and disappointing" because it does not expand the area first tested, or test in workplaces or sites the agency has already cleaned.

It seems a little late for this, doesn't it? The time when testing really needed to be done was in 2001, after the towers collapsed and the powder of pulverized steel, concrete, and other materials still hung in the air. We know that the political appointees of the EPA at that time failed to test properly and erroneously assured the public that the air was safe. (It was not Christie Whitman's finest hour.) But at this point the damage has been done, to the workers who cleaned up the site and to nearby residents and employees. I suppose more testing would not hurt, but it is unclear whether it would help, four years after the event.

Most likely this represents an attempt by Clinton and Nadler to remind their constituents that the administration failed to ensure their safety at that time, and to suggest that the same would happen again under similar circumstances.

Another Winter Storm

Washington had its second snowfall this morning. Or at least it appears that mostly snow fell overnight. We also got some sleet and freezing rain, making it the dreaded wintry mix. Now that I live in an apartment building I now longer have to shovel snow, but when I used to shovel, I always thought that this kind of storm is worse to clean than straight snow. At least the white stuff does not appear to have frozen solid yet.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Former Nuclear Site Becoming a Wildlife Refuge

A nuclear weapons plant near Denver, Colorado, will become a national wildlife refuge once its cleanup is completed. The Rocky Flats plant was closed in 1991 after a series of problems; the cleanup so far has taken ten years and $7 million to complete. The Energy Department claims that the process is finished, but the site still requires inspections to prove that it is safe. The new wildlife refuge will have a mix of grasslands and wetlands.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I and the Bird #12

The time for the twelfth I and the Bird is already upon us. David of Search and Serendipity had presented it to us in the form of The Canterbirdy Tales, a carnival in verse.

Loose Feathers #10

News and links on birds and the environment.

  • The federal government has agreed to decide by March 31, 2006, whether to list the Gunnison sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act as part of a settlement of a lawsuit over the grouse's status in Colorado and Utah.
  • New Jersey's six-day bear hunt is underway.
  • A list of ten possible sites to look for ivory-billed woodpeckers. If anyone wants to take the initiative here, these are the places to search. (Via Ivory-bills LiVE!!)
  • sphere has been covering the controversy over the removal of monk parakeet nests from telephone poles in Connecticut. Not only were 103 nests removed, but many of the parrots were sent to be euthanized by the USDA.
  • A husband and wife in Minnesota are both serious birders - and both have very high North American life lists. (She's ahead.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Counting Birds, Part 2

A week ago, I wrote a post on various bird counting activities that involve birders during the winter months. Today I would like to give an example of how the data can be used.

The National Audubon Society makes the results of past Christmas Bird Counts available on its webpage in various forms. Graphs are given both for the raw numbers reported and for the numbers reported per participant-hours. The latter helps control for differing levels of effort.

In some cases the count results can show an improvement in a species's fortunes. Here is a graph showing numbers of wild turkeys counted on CBCs in Maryland and DC over the past 50 years.

You can see how the population of wild turkeys was virtually non-existent in Maryland and DC through the middle of the 20th century, then took off with re-introduction programs in the 1970s. Wild turkeys would appear to be one of the more successful species in terms of adapting to new conditions in the area.

Monday, December 05, 2005


We have been getting snow since about mid-afternoon. This is the first real snow storm for D.C. this winter, or at least the first time snow is accumulating. Sidewalks and streets are relatively clear so far. There is a thin frosting of snow on the grass and trees. (Fresh snow on grass has always reminded me of this breakfast cereal.)

Coming from farther north, I have always been amused at the way Washington shuts down at the slightest hint of snow. Half an inch can cause traffic tie ups and Metro delays. Any prediction of white stuff can be grounds for clearing the stock off grocery-store shelves. In a way it is endearing; snow storms around here are infrequent enough to be unusual events.

(See DC-Streets for a look at the situation this afternoon.)

(Post coverage)

Loose Feathers #9: Chesapeake Edition

A few weeks ago, a study found little improvement in the condition of the Chesapeake Bay over the past few years. (My posts here and here.) Recently there have been new developments in the story.

  • A study published in Marine Ecology Progress Series focuses on pollution as the major cause of declines in the bay's marine life and considers possible methods for remediation.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has lost a lawsuit that attempted to limit nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater discharge from the town of Onancock, Virginia.
  • The December issue of the Chesapeake Bay Journal has coverage of some of the bay's problems, including the decline of blue crabs from overfishing, the possibility of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus runoff through dietary changes in livestock, and the disappearance of eelgrass in many areas of the bay.
And some other bay notes:
  • The National Geographic website has a special section devoted to the history of the Chesapeake Bay, including a flash animation comparing the the bay in 1609 when John Smith and the English arrived to the current day. (

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Loose Feathers #8

News and links on birds, birding, and the environment.

  • A study from Spain and Morocco suggests more problems from habitat fragmentation than just loss of places to forage and breed. Where habitat is broken into small patches, birds have difficulty learning songs from any others except their closest neighbors, and breed within a smaller circle. This implies a loss of genetic diversity.
  • A new study suggests that ocean currents may be slowing due to decreasing salinity, which is a result of increased fresh water entering the ocean through melting polar ice. Over the long term this could mean a much colder climate for northern Europe, even as temperatures rise elsewhere.
  • Meanwhile, the climate summit in Montreal is seeking alternative ways to address global warming to global agreements to cut greenhouse gases. (The lead American negotiator has been criticized for his close ties to the energy industry.)
  • According to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the EPA manipulated the results of its estimates of the costs and benefits of Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative in comparison to plans proposed by senators. The senators' plans would have implemented reductions in emissions by power plants much faster than the Bush plan. Such manipulation is of a piece with this administration's pattern in other matters, ranging from the environment to health care.
  • A chemical spill in northeast China contaminated the water supply with benzene, a carcinogen. Several million people were left without drinking water as a result. Now the head of China's environment agency has been fired to show accountability.

Birds at the National Arboretum

This afternoon I walked my usual circuit around the National Arboretum in northeast DC. When I first arrived, I was greeted by a great look at a young red-shouldered hawk as it soared over Heart Pond. At the same time, a pileated woodpecker was calling in the woods near the pond, but I did not find the bird. On the pond itself, there was an American black duck along with the usual mallards.

The Asian Gardens were full of birds. Red-breasted nuthatches are still residing in the numerous conifers at the top of the hill. The one I saw this afternoon posed head-down on the trunk of a scrub pine near the red gazebo. White-breasted nuthatches, several woodpeckers, and white-throated sparrows were among the other birds present. I saw several chickadees, but none appeared to be black-capped. Fern Valley held a similar combination.

Several trees in the arboretum had what appeared to be whitewash on the trunks - a possible sign of owls nearby. I did not find any today, but I hope I might sometime this winter.

Earlier today I saw a large red-tailed hawk perched in the park near my apartment.


American Black Duck
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

Friday, December 02, 2005

Upcoming I and the Bird

Another I and the Bird will be appearing next Thursday, December 8, on the blog Search and Serendipity. Make sure to submit posts by Tuesday, December 6.