Friday, September 29, 2006

Week in Review

This week's posts.

Sunday: A Dark and Birdy Afternoon

Monday: Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #24: Swainson's Thrush

Monday: Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Florida

Tuesday: More Ivorybill Links

Wednesday: Editorial on the Ivorybill Paper

Thursday: I and the Bird #33

Thursday: Review: Birds of Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Field Guide

Friday: Loose Feathers #68

Loose Feathers #68

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

  • Some pollution regulators are starting to look at wildlife as significant sources of bacteria in the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Overpopulation by certain groups of mammals and birds leaves behind a tremendous amount of waste, just like human overpopulation leaves waste. This has been one justification given for Canada goose control in the District.
  • Smog has been reduced in the Washington area during the past 3 years; the number of Code Orange, Red, or Purple days fell from 114 in 1999-2002 to 63 in 2003-2006. That is the good news. Unfortunately for Washington residents, this is still well above what federal regulations mandate. Continued violation of clean air regulations could lead to sanctions and a loss of federal transportation funding. (If public transportation is included among the cuts, the sanctions could be counterproductive.)
  • Building a massive security fence across the southern U.S. border could disrupt the migrations of birds and mammals, especially ones whose northern range limit is in the U.S. Southwest. Birds that migrate at night could be disoriented by the bright floodlights planned for the fence.
  • More crowded nests lead to higher nestling mortality rates. When a nest is overcrowded, nestlings tend to fight for space and some end up falling out.
  • The Jamaica Environment Trust is looking to save Jamaica's remaining endemic species through the creation of 47 Important Bird Areas on the island.
  • Like it or not, wind power is probably here to stay. Demand for wind power as an alternative to coal has been growing in India and China.
  • A state judge in Connecticut ruled that monk parakeets are protected by law from capture and killing by power companies unless they have already tried nonlethal means of control. Monk parakeets cause problems for power companies by nesting on utility poles.
  • Here are some tips for distinguishing downy and hairy woodpeckers. I would add that the downy's trill goes down while the hairy's stays relatively level in pitch. Also check for spots on the tail; downies have them, but hairies do not.
  • Some teens in Montana are in trouble for smashing bluebird boxes.
  • Grace's Poppies, another DC blogger, has a post on the beauty of the National Arboretum.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Review: Birds of Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Field Guide

Birders today have a wealth of bird guides and other identification material to use on their trips into the field and for home study. Even as North American guides have continued to expand their coverage and have become more sophisticated, there has continued to be interest in guides with a narrower, more regional focus. A newly-published field guide profiles the bird species of a region close to me: Birds of Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The book was written and organized by Ernest Preston Edwards.

As Edwards explains in his introduction, the Blue Ridge is an interesting area ecologically due to its rapid changes in elevation. Variations in the landscape encourage avian diversity. While southern bird species inhabit the lower elevations, a few miles away one may find some northern species at the tops of the ridges. Several species can be found breeding in the Mid-Atlantic at such higher elevations. There have been 336 species recorded in the area covered by this book.

Aside from a brief introduction that includes maps of the book's coverage and a diagram of bird topography, the bulk of the book consists of species accounts and plates. The descriptions and plates accompany each other on facing pages. Species accounts include the English and scientific names, a brief description of characteristic plumages, and notes on habitat and locations to find the species. Specific locations are rarely given; the note simply states whether to look along Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Rare species and vagrants are placed at the very end of the book, for reference and to signal that these are relatively unlikely. There are no range maps. In a continental guide, the lack of maps would be a major drawback, but in a small regional guide, they are probably unnecessary.

The illustrations are mostly reprinted from a work by the same principal author and illustrator: A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas. A small number were contributed by Ramiel Papish and F.P. Bennett. The authors chose to use painted illustrations rather than photographs. While photographic guides have been improving lately, especially with the publication of highly-detailed guides to specific familes, illustrations are still largely the best choice for general field guides that cover all species in a given area. The illustrations are competently done and show the salient markings. Male and female forms are shown for sexually dimorphic species, and immature forms are shown for species where there is a major difference from adult plumages. While most illustrations are in color, some - particularly among the loons, grebes, some raptors, gulls, and terns - appear in black-and-white. For these species shape and pattern are generally more important than color.

This guide's illustrations do not quite measure up artistically to those in the Sibley guides, which have set the standard for illustrated field guides. The colors in the illustrations tend to be duller than Sibley's. They are more in line with those in the National Geographic guide. Some birds also seem slightly misshapen. This is especially noticeable among the thrushes. Other family groups, such as the woodpeckers, are much better.

With all of the field guides to North American birds that already exist, one might reasonably ask if another one is really necessary. Someone who does a lot of travelling or demands a high level of detail for the tricky species and subspecies may be better off looking elsewhere. However, this guide will be of use to at least three groups of birders. Beginning and some intermediate birders who watch birds primarily in the southern Appalachians will find this guide useful because it narrows identifications down to the most likely species. One of the challenges of starting out birding is making such distinctions between common and rare birds. Since the guide is very small and lightweight, it can easily be carried into the field. For that reason, it may be good for backpackers who need to reduce weight as much as possible. While the guide is marketed for birders in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia, birders in the Mid-Atlantic region outside of the Appalachians may use this book profitably. Most species found in the Blue Ridge are present in other areas at one time or another during the year, and vice-versa. Unless you do a lot of birding along the shore, the regional focus should not be an obstacle.

Full citation:

Ernest Preston Edwards, Birds of Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Field Guide. Illustrations by Edward Murrell Butler, Ramiel Papish, and F.P. Bennett. Blacksburg, Virginia: McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, 2006. Pp. x, 142; maps, illustrations, checklist, and index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 0939923963.

To purchase:


Crossposted at Blue Ridge Gazette.


I and the Bird #33

No one likes paying taxes, but they are a necessary burden to provide important government services. Wildlife benefit from the small percentage of federal and state budgets that go towards land acquistion and species conservation. Birds have benefitted from the network of National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks, as well as state parks and wildlife management areas.

The two topics are joined in this week's I and the Bird, hosted by the financial blog Don't Mess With Taxes. Go there for I and the Bird #33.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Editorial on the Ivorybill Paper

An editorial in Avian Conservation and Ecology explains the decision of the editors to publish the paper by Hill et al. despite the lack of definitive evidence. They acknowledge the controversy around the question of whether ivory-billed woodpeckers persist, but argue that they have a responsibility to further an ongoing discussion.

What is that responsibility, more specifically? Consider the scientific method: observations about nature generate hypotheses and predictions that are subjected to further scrutiny. This leads, through strong inference (Platt 1964, Chamberlin 1965), either to falsification of the hypotheses, or an increase in our confidence that the hypotheses can account for the observations. In this case, the null hypothesis seems clear: Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are not present—in Arkansas, Florida, or anywhere else for that matter. Some advocates may treat the alternative hypothesis—that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are present, at least somewhere—as an article of faith, and skeptics will rightly point out that the evidence for this alternative hypothesis may be weak. From a scientific perspective, it seems safe to state that the observations do not allow rejection of the alternative hypothesis out of hand. Regardless, as Carl Sagan pointed out, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Hill et al. conclude that their evidence at least warrants an expanded search in space and time. We agree. “Harder” physical evidence, such as photographs, would enable an unequivocal rejection of the null hypothesis. If no such evidence ever materializes, despite an expanded search effort, the alternative hypothesis is assessed just the same. Furthermore, Hill et al. offer new forms of evidence (cavity size distributions, putative foraging sites) that can be assessed in other areas, including those in which Ivory-billed Woodpeckers clearly are absent. Thus, they provide both evidence consistent with the alternative hypothesis, and means to increase confidence in our inability to reject the null hypothesis. Science is a way of knowing, and knowing occurs either way.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More Ivorybill Links

The paper reporting on the Auburn-Windsor team's search in the Florida panhandle has now been posted at the Canadian journal Avian Conservation and Ecology. The article includes a detailed explanation of why the team believes the recordings match ivory-billed woodpeckers and not other birds such as blue jays or red-breasted nuthatches.

Sounds that resemble Ivory-billed Woodpecker kent calls are produced by Red-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta canadensis), White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis), gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), and Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) (Jackson 2002, Tanner 1942), and may also be produced by Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) (R. Charif, pers. comm.). Neither species of nuthatch was detected at our site, either by experienced human observers or on our remote sound recordings. Great Blue Herons are common along the Choctawhatchee River, but their occasionally kent-like calls could be distinguished because they were followed in sequence by repeats of their more common squawk-like calls. Gray squirrels, which are plentiful throughout our study site and produce a “chuck” call with harmonic structure similar to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s kent call, could be distinguished on the basis of a drawn-out squeal that follows the “chuck.” Blue Jays have immense vocabularies of vocalizations (Tarvin and Woolfenden 1999) and may be able to produce notes that closely resemble Ivory-billed Woodpecker kent calls (Charif et al. 2005). Such vocalizations are atypical sounds for Blue Jays and should not be their exclusive vocalizations. If Blue Jays were the source of our putative kent calls, then kent calls should be commonly associated with more familiar Blue Jay vocalizations. However, none of the 210 putative kent calls recorded by our listening stations were associated with any known Blue Jay vocalizations. Between December and March, Blue Jays were absent from the core study area and were detected only at the edges of the swamp next to pine (Pinus spp.) stands. Blue Jays were not detected within the core study area either by experienced human observers or by our listening stations until the end of March, at which time both humans and listening stations recorded the appearance of Blue Jays, especially at the periphery of the study area. Numerous putative kent calls were heard by human observers and recorded by listening stations in February and early March, when no Blue Jays were present.
As I noted in yesterday's post, the recordings of calls and knocks are presented on Mennill's site.

In addition, Geoffrey Hill's website now includes his report on the ivory-billed woodpecker search in Florida. The site includes a pdf of field notes from the 14 sightings and photographs of bark scaling on freshly dead trees in the river basin. Most sightings were recorded by Brian Rolek, one of Hill's students, and Tyler Hicks, a research assistant, had the most detailed sighting. At least one sighting by Rolek was of two birds flying together. Hill emphasizes that the evidence is not conclusive but also insists that the sightings are of real ivory-billed woodpeckers and that he is confident in the work of his team. There are plans to return to the Choctawhatchee River this winter, and the team is taking applications to form a larger search team than last winter's.

The Toronto Star has a story with more quotes from the searchers. Geoffrey Hill explained the absence of good photographs or video by the difficulty of raising and focusing a camera on a bird in flight.
"Each of us could have shot an Ivory-billed by now because we had time to raise a shotgun. But video cameras are really hard to point compared to binoculars and shotguns," Hill said in an interview.
And beware the twitchers.
Especially worrisome would be an invasion of so-called "twitchers," sometimes fanatical birders armed with high-power spotting scopes who play back recordings to entice rare birds to appear.
Those high-powered spotting scopes sure are dangerous.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Florida

Researchers are reporting evidence for the presence of ivory-billed woodpeckers along the Choctawhatchee River in Florida. Up to nine pairs may be breeding in the area. There have been 14 sightings by multiple observers, including of female woodpeckers. In addition, the searchers recorded audio of kent calls and double-knocks. Unfortunately no photographic or video documentation has been obtained. Until such happens, the findings are likely to be attacked by self-proclaimed skeptics. If nest sites do exist, and the researchers can find them, then visual documentation should be produced soon enough.

The search efforts were coordinated by Geoffrey Hill of Auburn University and Daniel Mennill of the University of Windsor. Hill and Mennill have been more cautious in describing their findings than the Cornell team was with regard to the Arkansas sightings.

In a phone interview, Dr. Hill said only an indisputable photograph or DNA evidence would be scientifically conclusive. He said he knew how heated the subject of ivory bills had become, but asked, “Once we found them, what was I supposed to do?”

“The mistake,” he added dryly, “was ever looking for them.”
This report has been in the rumor mill for some time. An official announcement with more details on the sightings is set for tomorrow.

Update: An article from the Anniston Star (in Alabama) has much more detail on the search team and its findings. Geoffrey Hill and two research assistants made their first sightings in May 2005, and then returned to the area for prolonged searching in the winter of 2005-06. Apparently there are 210 recordings of kent calls and 99 of double knocks. The audio evidence was gathered at seven locations from December 2005 to April 2006, and then the recordings were searched for the audio signatures of ivory-billed woodpeckers, as well as more common animals. The sightings and recordings occurred in a section of the Florida panhandle that was not searched by James Tanner in his famous expeditions. This area has been cited by Jerome Jackson, among others, as having the best chance for ivory-billed woodpeckers in the southeast United States. An article describing the research is due to be published in Avian Conservation and Ecology.

Another update: Daniel Mennill has posted his page on the ivory-billed woodpecker search. The page includes sound files for all of the recordings made along the Choctawhatchee River. I listened to a few of the recordings, and in most cases the putative woodpecker sounds are faint and difficult to hear over the ambient noise.

The team is asking birders to stay out of the search site and look in other areas for the time being:
If we encounter birders in our study area, we will ask them to leave and suggest other areas to search. It is not worth endangering this small population of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers to try to get this bird on your life list. Our observations of bark scaling and large cavities from I-10 to the Choctawhatchee Bay suggest that ivorybills may be widespread in the Choctawhatchee River Basin, and there are many areas to explore outside of our small study area with great potential for ivorybills. Below, we suggest several places to search. If birders spread out, the impact on any given area will be small. If birders crowd into one spot, ivorybills will be driven out of that area. We ask that you put the interest of the bird first.

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #24: Swainson's Thrush

Like spring migration, fall migration proceeds in stages, each bearing different sets of species. The birds one sees on the morning after a cold front will be much different in late September than in early September. In the thrush family, most veeries pass through the D.C. area during early September. By late September, most veeries have departed, and the Swainson's thrushes and gray-cheeked thrushes are on the move. Sunday was a good day for spotting Swainson's thrushes, as I saw several of them at the National Arboretum in D.C.

Swainson's thrush is a member of the genus Catharus. Thrushes of this genus are small and brown with some degree of breast spotting. Most Catharus thrushes are noticeably smaller than American robins and slightly smaller than wood thrushes. Similarities in shape, size, and plumage make this the most challenging North American thrush genus, even though it is fairly easy to distinguish Catharus thrushes from other genera in the thrush family.

The most distinctive of eastern Catharus thrushes is probably the Swainson's thrush. The key field marks are on the face of this species. Swainson's has prominent buffy eye rings. A buffy line over the bill connects the eye rings so that the bird appears to wear spectacles. Now one field mark is not enough to base an identification, so make sure to check the back and breast even on bespectacled birds. The back, wings, and tail should be a cold grayish brown with no hint of rufous; from the rear a Swainson's thrush should resemble gray-cheeked more than hermit or veery. The breast should be covered with small dark spots on a buffy background; the spots are less heavy than a wood thrush but bolder and darker than a veery. The spots and buffy wash extend from the throat about halfway down the breast. Put these marks together, and you have yourself a Swainson's thrush.

Swainson's thrushes breed in a wide band across southern Canada and the northernmost states of the United States, including the Appalachians in upstate New York and Vermont. Very few spend the summer at the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge. Though they prefer spruce woods for breeding, Swainson's thrushes can be found in any type of forest and even some edge habitats during migration. The birds we are seeing now are on their way to the Andes of western South America.

Image credits: Top, Photo by NPS; Bottom, Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.

Crossposted at Blue Ridge Gazette.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Dark and Birdy Afternoon

It was a dark and stormy day....

This afternoon I visited the National Arboretum to see if any migrants lingered after the strong migration nights of last week. As usual I started in the Azalea Garden and worked my way around the hill. I was greeted with the customary large flock of American Robins. Among them was a Wood Thrush and at least three Swainson's Thrushes. (I saw more of each species along the trail on the other side of the hill.) Farther up the hill, I came across a patch of activity that included a Red-eyed Vireo and a Magnolia Warbler. Unfortunately the robins quickly moved in to squelch activity, so I saw no more warblers or vireos in that patch of the Arboretum.

A turn around the fields near and behind the Capitol Columns turned up little else. Even the American Goldfinches seemed to be in hiding, as I only saw one of that species. I need to get back there on a better day.

I did manage to get home before the rains hit. It looks like tomorrow morning may be better for birding than today.


Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
American Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
Red-eyed Vireo
American Goldfinch
Magnolia Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle

Friday, September 22, 2006

Week in Review

Saturday: Nighthawks Over Washington

Tuesday: Gore Proposes Solutions for Climate Change

Wednesday: Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #23: Red-eyed Vireo

Wednesday: Global Warming Plan from the White House

Thursday: Butterfly Lifecycle

Friday: Loose Feathers #67

Loose Feathers #67

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

  • A review of 65 mercury studies covering 40 species reveals that mercury is widespread and potent in the environment. The primary source of mercury is pollution from coal-fired plants and waste incinerators, but mercury may leach into the water from abandoned mines and industrial sites. This is a major issue affecting both birds and humans, and is more reason for tighter enforcement of clean air and water standards.
  • Marshes around Indian River Bay in Delaware have experienced a sudden dieback of marsh grasses, leaving only mud flats behind. The cause of the problem is unknown.
  • Eight Hudsonian Godwits were electrocuted in upstate New York when they flew into a power line.
  • Nuthatch has a great description of the work in a bird banding workshop.
  • California is hosting a symposium to form guidelines for preventing bird kills at wind farms. One Californian wind farm, Altamont Pass, is notorious for killing thousands of migrating raptors and must be shut down each winter to let hawks pass unscathed. Strong guidelines could prevent further massacres like that while keeping wind power alive as an alternative energy option. Weak guidelines could end up papering over the problem.
  • Remnants of the demolished Wilson Bridge will be moved to the lower Chesapeake Bay near Point Lookout to form a reef for fishes.
  • Maryland is considering mass transit options across the Chesapeake Bay as part of its examination of how to solve growing traffic congestion on the Bay Bridge.
And finally...
  • Tim Gallagher claims the following: "I knew that the ivory-bill had been the Holy Grail of bird-watching for more than half a century, but I had no idea how deeply other people would respond to the news," he said. "Apparently when National Public Radio broke the story of the rediscovery on April 25, 2005, hundreds of people across the United States who were on their morning commute had to pull over to the side of the road -- they were crying and couldn't see well enough through their tears to drive." (via Wildbird on the Fly)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Butterfly Lifecycle

The Nature Center at Rock Creek Park has a small plot planted with milkweed in front of the building. Milkweed is now past its prime and is going to seed. On Sunday, during the DC Audubon field trip, these milkweed plants held monarch butterflies in all stages of their life cycle.

Several caterpillars munched on the leaves.

Underneath at least one leaf was a chrysalis, a cocoon-like structure that holds the pupa as it grows into an adult.

One adult sat still on a leaf, despite the close attention of several observers with cameras.

Finally, here is one ex-monarch. I am not sure how it met its demise, but something has already eaten most of this insect's body.

Monarch butterflies, like many of the birds we saw, are making their annual migration south. Migrating monarchs can be seen high in the sky over the tree canopy. Sometimes they will appear as tiny fluttering specks to the naked eye. At some coastal concentration points, like Point Lookout, migrating monarchs may gather in the hundreds or thousands.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Global Warming Plan from the White House

Fresh on the heels of Gore's speech on Monday, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman has released an outline of the administration's plan for addressing climate change. As usual, the administration is emphasizing voluntary measures over government intervention. The plan calls for some funding of research into carbon-free alternatives. Voluntary measures are helpful, but at some point there needs to be some strong regulation if there is to be large-scale improvement. Calling for more research, while important, seems in this case to be another form of kicking the can down the road, and leaving the problems for the next administration to solve.

But Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University, said the country would have to spend "hundreds of billions of dollars a year" to move away from a carbon-dependent economy. He added the government would have to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, either through a tax or cap-and-trade system, to create incentives to develop and implement cleaner technologies.

"Most energy technologies that do not emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will cost more than those that do emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere," Caldeira said. "A major energy R&D program only makes sense in the context of a price on carbon emissions."
There seems to be a certain fascination with technology in the abstract, as if there will emerge a simple and painless solution to reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately, carbon emissions are so deeply embedded into our economy and daily lives that a simple solution is unlikely in the short term. At some point there need to be some hard choices; the sooner that starts, the better.

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #23: Red-eyed Vireo

On Sunday I attended the DC Audubon Society's annual September field trip to Rock Creek Park. For those not familiar with the area, Rock Creek Park is the hotspot for migratory songbirds in Washington, DC. Picnic areas 17/18 on Glover Road and the maintenance yard are particularly productive.

On Sunday, the most common neotropical migrant was probably the red-eyed vireo. Every tangle of vines, every tree, and every bush seemed to have a red-eyed vireo hopping in and out of the foliage. Other birders estimated that there were about 30 red-eyed vireos around the ridge, maintenance yard, and nature center that day.

Red-eyed Vireo / Painting by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Red-eyed vireos reported in D.C. during the fall are a mixture of local breeders and migrants from up north. This species breeds as far north as the Yukon Territories in western Canada; in the east it ranges up to the southern half of Ontario and Quebec. In the mid-Atlantic, red-eyed vireos are widespread and common breeders. Throughout the summer one can hear their simple three-syllable songs echoing from high in the canopy. Even in the middle of the day, red-eyed vireos will keep singing: "Here I am. In the tree. At the top. Can't see me." All red-eyed vireos, whether they bred in D.C. or farther north, are on their way south to their wintering grounds in northern South America.

In the flurry of drab birds that make up fall migration, it is helpful to be able to recognize red-eyed vireos. Being able to confirm or eliminate red-eyed vireo quickly will help one to pick out other, less common, migrant species that share the red-eyed vireo's drab coloration. Within the vireo family, warbling vireo and Philadelphia vireo are superficially similar in their facial markings and drab backs. However, the eyebrow and eyeline of both species are far less bold than on a red-eyed vireo. A warbling vireo tends to be browner than a red-eyed vireo's olive-green back. Philadelphia vireos have clearly yellow throats and undersides, as well as a shorter tail.

Outside of the vireo family, red-eyed vireos may be confused with Tennessee warblers. Like red-eyed vireos, Tennessee warblers show gray heads, olive backs, and light undersides. However, one can usually tell the difference by the bill, which is hooked for vireos but straight and sharp for warblers. In addition, while Tennessee warblers have white eyebrows, they lack the bold black eyeline that distinguishes red-eyed vireos. Tennessee warblers also have shorter tails.

Get out and enjoy the challenge of fall migration while it is with us. Several species pass through in good numbers at this time but not at others. A cold front has just passed through the D.C. area, and we are sure to get a few more before all the warblers have passed. But time is short; by mid-October most of the warblers, and the red-eyed vireos, will be gone until next spring.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gore Proposes Solutions for Climate Change

On Monday, Al Gore spoke at the NYU School of Law to propose a set of solutions for human-induced global warming. The proposals are steps that will reduce greenhouse emissions by making energy production cleaner and reducing energy usage.

NEW YORK, Sept. 18 -- Former vice president Al Gore laid out his prescription for an ailing and overheated planet Monday, urging a series of steps from freezing carbon dioxide emissions to revamping the auto industry, factories and farms.

Gore proposed a Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association ("Connie Mae," to echo the familiar Fannie Mae) devoted to helping homeowners retrofit and build energy-efficient homes. He urged creation of an "electranet," which would let homeowners and business owners buy and sell surplus electricity....

Gore cautioned against looking for a "silver bullet" policy reform that would address global warming, a view many scientists share....

Gore touched on nuclear power as a palliative for global warming but made it clear that this is at best a partial solution. Nuclear power inevitably raises questions of nuclear arms proliferation, he said.

And he warned against thinking that the recent drop in oil prices offers much help: "Our current ridiculous dependence on oil endangers not only our national security, but also our economic security."
Unfortunately the article does not give much detail about what the proposals would cost or entail. For those who are interested, there is a video (.rm link) and a transcript of the speech at the NYU website.

As a side note, does anyone else think Gore is running? I tend to take him at his word that the answer is "no," but his policy speeches and prominence on the global warming issues have made me wonder. I know I am not the only one who thinks Gore is considering a run.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Nighthawks Over Washington

My neighborhood has been treated to a flock of Common Nighthawks. They swooped and glided over the rooftops this evening as they snatched insects on the wing. Nighthawks are uncommon residents but common migrants in Washington, D.C. Though they can be seen in the spring, they are most visible now, in late summer, as they migrate south in large flocks.

Nighthawks are not actually hawks, or perhaps it is better to say that they are not members of the order Falconiformes. They are actually members of the order Caprimulgiformes, which includes nightjars, as well as Whip-poor-wills and Chuck-Will's-Widows. Nightjars share certain characteristics, such as cryptic plumage, chunky bodies, tapered wings, and short but wide mouths. They are built to catch insects in flight.

Because of their large mouths and nocturnal habits, species in this order have been known collectively as "goatsuckers," a term referring to the belief that these birds suck the milk from goats at night. The superstitious appellation has been preserved in the scientific name for the order, as a caprimulgus is someone who milks goats. This belief goes back at least as far as Aristotle. In the first century, Pliny the Elder wrote of them:

THE CAPRIMULGI (so called of milking goats) are like the bigger kind of Owsels. They bee night-theeves; for all the day long they see not.Their manner is to come into the sheepeheards coats and goat-pens, and to the goats udders presently they goe, and suck the milke at their teats. And looke what udder is so milked, it giveth no more milke, but misliketh and falleth away afterwards, and the goats become blind withall.
See the Stokes Blog for images of nighthawks in flight.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Poisoned Pigeons

In Texas this week a bird-control effort went awry. A local bank had placed poisoned corn on its roof to eliminate the pigeons that had gathered there. The poison worked in killing the birds. Unfortunately for the city, the dying pigeons disrupted its annual festival by dropping dead onto the sidewalks and streets around the bank.


Week in Review

A roundup of this past week's posts.

Saturday: Migration? Not Quite Yet.

Sunday: Arboretum Again

Sunday: Winter Finch Forecast 2006

Sunday: Migration Study

Monday: Memories

Monday: DC Mayoral Election

Tuesday: Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #22: Broad-winged Hawk

Tuesday: New Bird Species Discovered

Wednesday: USFWS Declines to List Red Knot

Thursday: I and the Bird #32

Friday: Poisoned Pigeons

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I and the Bird #32

Go read I and the Bird #32, hosted by Sand Creek Almanac for the best in bird blogging from the past two weeks.

Carnival of the Vanities celebrated its fourth anniversary this week.

Also, Nick has a profile of me at birdDC.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

USFWS Declines to List Red Knot

Several states and conservation organizations had petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Red Knot (Calidris canuta) as an endangered species. The USFWS decided to designate the red knot as a candidate species but not to list it as endangered or threatened, so that red knots will not receive federal protections. In recent years red knots have undergone a drastic decline. From 2005 to 2006, counts along the Delaware Bay have shown a decline from 15,345 birds to 13,445. Other counts over a longer time frame from other locations have shown similar results. The decline is at least partly linked to overfishing of horseshoe crabs, which became very popular for bait fishing in the 1990s. Individual states and conservation organizations will continue to work towards restoring the population, but will not have federal help.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New Bird Species Discovered

A beautiful new species has been discovered in India. The new species is a liocichla, related to babblers. An astronomer first saw the species in 1995 but could not identify it with existing field guides. He did not see it again for another decade. A colleague suggested that it was an Emei Shan Liocichla (Liocichla omeiensis), a species that occurs 1,000 km away in southwest China. In May 2006, he caught one bird. Measurements taken from that bird, as well as differences in plumage and calls, indicated that this liocichla was a separate species. It has been designated Bugun Liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum) after the local Bugun tribe that owns the forest where most sightings were made.

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #22: Broad-winged Hawk

Birders typically divide the year into seasons devoted to certain activities. May, for example, is a time when birders want to be out as much as possible and in as many habitats as possible to see and hear birds on their way north. June and July tend to be times for searching out breeding birds, especially for birders participating in breeding bird surveys and atlas projects. August is a month devoted to shorebird-seeking. September and October are great for finding many species as they make their way south to their wintering grounds. I could list more, but you get the point.

The southbound migration of September and October is perhaps most distinctive for the massive flights of hawks along the Eastern Seaboard. Hawks migrate in other months as well, but the largest concentrations of raptors will be found in mid to late September. Among the most common hawks in the early stage of migration is the broad-winged hawk.

Broad-winged hawks are small for buteos: 15 inches long with a 34-inch wingspan (compared to 19 inches and 49 inches for red-tailed hawks). Adults may be distinguished in flight by their broad black-and-white tail bands, the dark edging around their wings, and the overall paleness of their undersides. Immature broad-wings do not show the tail bands but do have the dark edging around the undersides of their wings. During the breeding season, they nest in forests and may be hard to find. During their autumnal flights to Central and South America, they become far more apparent.

Broad-winged Hawk / Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

During migration, broad-winged hawks are notable for engaging in a practice known as "kettling." Large groups will migrate together; when they gather, the rising and falling motion of individual hawks gives the appearance of bubbles in a boiling kettle of water. This activity is not merely a sign of sociability; it is an important part of their migration flight. Unlike passerines, which migrate at night, hawks depend upon thermals and updrafts to minimize the work they need to do to stay aloft. Hawks use these to rise high in the air, and then glide onward until they meet another thermal, and repeat the process. "Kettles" usually occur where there happens to be a strong rising stream of air. (For photos of broad-winged hawks in flight, including a kettle, see here.)

The premier hawk-watches in the Mid-Atlantic are Cape May and Hawk Mountain. There are also many other good sites. While they may not have the volume of the premier sites, each makes for a good show. Many great sites for hawk watching are located along the peaks of the Blue Ridge in Virginia; DL Ennis has a list of such sites here. Rockfish Gap, for example, maintains hawk counts each migration season; last year that count recorded over 10,000 hawks during fall migration, dominated by over 7,000 broad-winged hawks. A list of hawk watching sites in Maryland can be found at the MOS website. In addition to the sites on that list, Point Lookout State Park, where the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay converge, is productive for hawk watching under the right conditions. Several good spots lie along the Eastern Shore, notably Kiptopeke State Park in Virginia.

Unfortunately, Washington, D.C., does not have a high-quality hawk watch location. However, if you keep your eye on the sky, you are sure to see at least a few migrants on good days. To do your own hawk watch, choose a location that is somewhat elevated and has good sightlines in all directions. You may or may not see broad-wings, but you should see a variety of raptors.

Crossposted at Blue Ridge Gazette.

Monday, September 11, 2006

DC Mayoral Election

This fall features the first open mayoral race in the District of Columbia since the start of the Williams administration. Mayor Anthony Williams declined to run for an additional term, and there are five Democrats vying to replace him. Because of this city's political orientation, the really important vote is the Democratic primary in September, not the general election in November. The winner of that primary will almost certainly win the general election. Neither the Republican Party nor the DC Statehood Green Party are likely to mount a serious threat.

The candidates have been making a major push in the last few days. I have received at least five pre-recorded candidate phone calls in the past 48 hours. There are sure to be more to come.

So who are these candidates? Here is a list.

Linda Cropp
Nestor Djonkam
Adrian Fenty
Marie Johns
Vincent Orange

The mayoral race seems to have narrowed to a two-way contest between Linda Cropp and Adrian Fenty. The latter has been leading in most polls. The last poll from SurveyUSA (August 26-28) had Fenty at 45% and Cropp at 35%, with the other candidates in the single digits. A poll in July from the Washington Post showed Fenty ahead of Cropp by 39%-31%.

The main issues in the race have been economic redevelopment outside of downtown, the recent crime wave, and improving education, which remains a problem despite recent efforts. I browsed the candidates' websites for plans or position papers regarding environmental issues. The only two candidates who give the environment more than passing mention are Adrian Fenty and Marie Johns (pdf). Both candidates have proposed fairly ambitious plans for DC. If even half of them are fully implemented, the city should show great improvement. Unfortunately they are still short on details, and funding is always a major obstacle.

If you are a registered voter in the District, make sure to get to the polls tomorrow.


Five years ago, hijackers commandeered four commerical airliners and crashed them: one into each tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, one into the Pentagon, and one into a field in Pennsylvania. For various reasons, I did not learn about what happened until well after the events; all planes had crashed and both towers in New York had collapsed by the time I got some email messages alerting me to what was going on. My attempts to verify the news on news websites were unsuccessful because everyone else was trying to do the same thing, and the sites could not handle the traffic. With limited television access, I missed much of the repetitive coverage and searing images.

When I think about the World Trade Center, I prefer not to think about the towers burning and collapsing. Rather I prefer to think about happier times spent at the towers. The images above and below were taken in summer 1998 when I visited the observation deck with my girlfriend. These show uptown Manhattan, the East River, and the sun setting over New Jersey. Over the years, the two of us also frequented the plaza and restaurants, along with the Borders book store in one of the smaller buildings. The trade center was a part of daily life for many New Yorkers, and it was a routine stop for my girlfriend and me when we met in Manhattan. Though the design of the place left something to be desired, it was a vibrant place and full of life. Then in one short morning, all of that was gone.

Someday, when the political squabbling stops, the trade center will be rebuilt, a memorial will be in place, and the site will be full of life once again. For now, we are left with a lingering hole - literally in Lower Manhattan, and figuratively for those who lost loved ones and for those of us who remember the World Trade Center fondly.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Migration Study

Migration is a fact of life for most bird species in North America, and migration periods are much anticipated by birders. Since the beginning of detailed migration studies, much has been learned about how birds migrate. However, there are still open questions, such as what factors influence the routes and timing of migrants and how migration evolved. To that end, two government naturalists are tracking marbled godwits with radio transmitters in the west.

Farmer and Olson attach a small box with a wire that weighs half an ounce to the back of the bird and set it free. A solar panel on the tiny backpack provides power to send a signal for six hours each day to satellites. Such devices have long been used on other animals, but the recent development of super-lightweight transmitters have for the first time allowed scientists to track birds that weigh as little as a pound....

Using the satellite signals and Google Earth's online global-imaging service, the scientists tracked the bird. In a little less than a day, they found, it flew 600 miles to Saskatchewan.
This article focuses on two individuals, so it is hard to tell how many birds are being tracked. Given that this equipment is probably expensive, it may be a small number. One interesting result so far is that the migration routes of these two godwits confirm the importance of setting aside protected wetlands. Each bird made stops in multiple protected refuges as they made their way north from the banding station in Utah.

Winter Finch Forecast 2006

"Winter finches" are a group of birds that breed in the boreal forest, and only appear south of the boreal during winter. Their movements south, known as "irruptions," are one of the joys of winter birding. While a few species like purple finches migrate south regularly, most do not often come this far south in good numbers. Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists has again published his annual winter finch forecast. It looks good for finches, but not for the mid-Atlantic.

This is one of those rare years when most conifers (softwoods) and broad-leaved deciduous trees (hardwoods) have synchronized bumper seed crops across much of Eastern Canada and the bordering United States. It will be an excellent winter to see winter finches in northern Ontario and central Ontario (e.g., Algonquin Park). Very few boreal finches will move south of Ontario this fall and winter. Most finches likely will be scarce even in southern Ontario south of the Canadian Shield this winter despite bumper seed crops on native and ornamental species. There also are bumper cone crops in Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, New York and northern New England States, so finches will be there too, but in what numbers is the question, because excellent crops are so widespread this year. There are good cone crops west of Lake Superior in northwestern Ontario, but cone quality diminishes towards Manitoba because of severe drought conditions this year. Cone crops are generally poor at the continental extremes in Newfoundland and Alaska. Both White-winged and Red Crossbills have been arriving in Ontario since late June in areas with bumper cone crops.
Last year's forecast mentioned that the whereabouts of red-breasted nuthatches were unknown. Following that, we had a very good year for them in the DC area. This year it seems likely that few will irrupt.
Red-breasted Nuthatch: Most Red-breasted Nuthatches will not migrate south this fall. The bumper cone crops across Ontario will hold most Red-breasted Nuthatches close to their northern breeding grounds this winter. When Red-breasted Nuthatches winter in the boreal forest they eat conifer seeds so are closely linked to finches.
Read the rest of the winter finch forecast. It includes forecasts for individual species, and explanations of how the seed crops affect the finch population and migration.


Arboretum Again

I visited the National Arboretum again this morning in the hopes of finding more birds than I did yesterday. Well, I saw some different ones, but overall I saw even fewer than yesterday. The only warbler I spotted was a chestnut-sided warbler, apparently my first at the Arboretum this year. Some other patches of activity turned out to be all common species - Carolina wrens, chickadees, titmice, and the like. Before I left I saw an immature Cooper's Hawk soaring high above the tree line. The full species list follows.


Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
American Crow
European Starling
American Goldfinch
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Spicebush Swallowtail
Clouded Sulphur
Cloudless Sulphur
Gray Hairstreak
Common Buckeye
Least Skipper

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Migration? Not Quite Yet.

After hearing about migrants filtering through Rock Creek Park and other sites for the past week, I tried my luck in finding some of my own at the National Arboretum this morning. Last night must have been an off-night for migration, because migrants were fairly scarce on the ground (and in the trees).

The Azalea Gardens had a few big flocks of robins, especially on the lower portions of the hill. An ovenbird skulked along the side of the trail. Near the top I found a small mixed flock with a few black-and-white warblers and tufted titmice. A little further down the trail, there was a wood thrush.

The meadows behind and around the columns were the liveliest area this morning, mostly due to the large flocks of goldfinches, which sported a mix of breeding and nonbreeding plumages. One first winter blue grosbeak was in the brush across the street from the columns. (I have been quite pleased that blue grosbeaks have appeared consistently at the Arboretum this year.) Meanwhile a small flock of indigo buntings, mostly in winter plumage, were in the tall grass next to the columns. The same area held at least one field sparrow.

Elsewhere in the gardens I saw a Baltimore oriole.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera this morning, so I have no photographs for this post.


Turkey Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
American Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Crow
European Starling
American Goldfinch
Black-and-white Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Variegated Fritillary
Common Buckeye

Friday, September 08, 2006

Loose Feathers #66

Cartoon by Tom Toles (Washington Post)

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.
  • The snowy owl population in Alaska is booming this summer, thanks to unusually high numbers of lemmings. (Via BirdTLC)
  • A federal judge has temporarily halted the plans to lease land around Teshekpuk Lake for oil exploration because the environmental impact review was inadequate.
  • BirdDC has a timeline of oil spills stretching back to 1998. Many involve BP, which recently had to shut down half of its Prudhoe Bay operation. BP America claims to be fixing the recent pipeline problems, while the federal government considers stricter regulations.
  • Melting permafrost in Siberia is releasing methane, a greenhouse gas.
  • The National Weather Service radar picked up birds leaving a roost in Green Bay at dawn. The morning flight appears as an expanding ring. See the image here.
  • Nocturnal migration also appears on weather radar when it is in clear-air mode. For more on how to interpret radar for bird migration, see the Woodcreeper blog.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Swift Night Out

If you know the location of a chimney swift roost, consider participating in A Swift Night Out. This project was begun to increase public awareness of chimney swifts and to support their conservation. There are two weekend counts this summer, one in August (already passed) and one this weekend. Here are the directions:

Here is how it works: Keep your eyes to the skies at dusk in late July and watch for areas where swifts are feeding. Look for a tall shaft, chimney or similar structure to locate where Chimney Swifts (central to east coast) or Vaux's Swift (Pacific coast) go to roost in your area.

This year, on one night over the weekend of August 11, 12, 13, and / or September 8, 9, 10 observe the roost starting about 30 minutes before dusk and estimate the number of swifts that enter. When you have your number, contact us with your results. That's all there is to it!

Please include the following information:
  • Number of swifts counted
  • Time (and time zone)
  • Date
  • Location
  • Address: city, state/province
  • Broad description of the site, e.g. school, warehouse, residence, Chimney Swift Tower, etc.
  • Weather conditions may also be reported.
See here for contact information and results from previous years.

Chimney swifts became common in urban areas because of the availability of chimneys and other vertical structures for nesting. However, in recent years the population has declined as chimney construction has changed to discourage nesting. Swifts benefit city residents by consuming large number of insects every day. For more information on chimney swifts, see

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Male Fish Bearing Eggs

A few years ago, male smallmouth bass in the South Branch of the Potomac River were found to have eggs. Now a study of bass throughout the Potomac watershed has shown that the problem is not confined to the South Branch. Researchers tested smallmouth bass from the Shenandoah River, Monocacy River, and Conococheague Creek, and largemouth bass from the Potomac River in Washington, DC. Most of the male bass have eggs.

The results were striking, according to Vicki S. Blazer, a fish pathologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. More than 80 percent of all the male smallmouth bass they found were growing eggs, including all of the fish caught at four of the seven survey sites. The intersex condition doesn't change the fish's outward appearance but can be detected under a microscope.

At the site in Washington, seven of 13 male largemouth bass showed some kind of unusual feminine characteristic. Six of the seven fish tested positive for a protein used to produce eggs, and three of the seven contained eggs, Blazer said.

Taken together, Blazer said, the results on both bass species seemed to indicate that the Potomac watershed has a problem with "endocrine disruptors," contaminants that interfere with nature's chemical signaling. In this case, she said, the contaminants might have turned on bodily processes that normally are only active in female fish.

The causes are not well-understood, according to the article. While the researchers have found a number of pollutants that may be disrupting the fishes' hormonal systems, none has been conclusively linked to the problem. The effect this might have on humans is also unknown, and probably will not be known until the pollutant is identified. At the same time, the researchers indicated that the effect on humans would likely be far less than on the fish, since humans do not have the same exposure levels and have different hormonal systems. Still, it is reason to be concerned about the state of our water, and a reminder to be wary of eating local fish.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Save Teshekpuk Lake

This evening I received an alert from the Wilderness Society regarding the upcoming lease of Teshekpuk Lake in Alaska by the Bureau of Land Management to oil and gas interests. Here is the alert:

As soon as September 27, a very special bird habitat could be sold to the oil and gas industry – unless we act now!

The Teshekpuk Lake region, one of the most important and remarkable wetlands on the planet, provides essential molting-season habitat for nearly a third of all the brant in the Pacific Flyway. Millions of waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds nest in the area. It is also a stunning sweep of landscape, remarkable even in Alaska where a grand scale is the only scale.

Together, we can protect this critical bird habitat by urging the government to cancel the September 27 sale of this precious public land.

The sale is imminent! Act quickly before it’s too late!
Go here to send a message to Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne to oppose the lease.

Monday, September 04, 2006

10 Things You Did to Further Your Interest in Birding

Someone on BirdForum started a thread asking people to name 10 things they did to further their interest in birding. It looks like a fun question to answer, so I decided to post it on my blog as well as over there. If anyone else wants to pick this up, go right ahead.

  1. Bought good pairs of binoculars.
  2. Bought the Sibley Guide and Sibley's Birding Basics.
  3. Read Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman.
  4. Read some books by Pete Dunne.
  5. Read Spring in Washington by Louis Halle.
  6. Learned how to get to DC's parks by public transportation.
  7. Found a local patch: the National Arboretum.
  8. Attended field trips with the DC Audubon Society.
  9. Joined MDOsprey and other email lists.
  10. Started a birding blog.

Sparrows of September, and Trees in Sacramento

Washington is full of small parks and squares thanks to the L'Enfant Plan's inclusion of diagonal streets inside of the regular urban grid. Where diagonal streets meet with a grid intersection, traffic flow is regulated with a square or circle, which then has room for a park. These parks have become the focus for neighborhoods within the District and relieve long stretches of concrete and asphalt with a bit of green

This afternoon I was in a small park near my apartment. A house sparrow landed nearby to scrounge for food. Soon a starling appeared. Then a few more house sparrows flew in, then a few more, and soon on, until about twenty birds were on the ground. I got pictures of a few. Below are two birds that came close.

Today's Washington Post has an article about tree-planting in Sacramento. The city is trying to encourage home owners to plant trees in order to reduce their own and the city's energy bills. A few well-placed trees around a house will cool the structure by a few degrees, meaning that air conditioning units will have less work and use less energy over the course of a summer. The program seems to be doing well so far.

About 375,000 shade trees have been given away to city residents in the past 16 years, and there are plans to plant at least 4 million more. To receive up to 10 free trees, residents simply call the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a publicly owned power company.

"A week later, they are here to tell you where the trees should be planted and how to take care of them," said Arlene Willard, a retired welfare case worker who with her husband, John, has planted four SMUD trees in the back yard of their east Sacramento house.
Several other western cities are adopting a similar approach. Eastern cities, where more humid air reduces the impact of individual trees, have been slower to respond with tree planting programs. Such programs are needed because the tree canopy in most cities is shrinking dramatically. Nationwide, the decline has been about 25 percent over the past 30 years; in Washington, DC, the canopy has shrunk by about 64 percent. The declines are unfortunate, not only because trees reduce the urban heat island effect, but also because they absorb much of the carbon dioxide produced from traffic and other urban sources.

For information about planting trees in Washington, see the Casey Trees Endowment Fund and the District's Urban Forestry Administration.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Weird Searches

People look for strange things on internet, and some of those strange searches bring visitors to my blog. Here are some phrases that led people here. (Some are not weird in themselves, but weird for finding my website.)


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ten Places to Visit for Birding

Birding is NOT a crime!!!! is running a survey on Ten Places Every Birder Should Go Before They Die, with the provision that the sites are limited to the lower 48 United States and Canada (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and everywhere south, east, or west of there). I am not sure how long he intends to keep this survey running, but if you would like to suggest some sites, you can do so at that link. Eventually the survey will become a poll with about 25-30 contenders.

Now I cannot contribute much to this question, since I am not well-travelled and know only a handful of sites in my region. However, I am going to change the question a little bit, and list the top ten sites I would like to visit for birding. As with the poll, I am limiting this in scope to the lower 48 and Canada.

  1. Machias Seal Island (Maine) - I have always wanted to see Atlantic Puffins, and this is one place to do it. Plus, there is the likelihood of seeing many other alcids, most of which would be lifers for me.
  2. High Island (Texas) - As I understand it, this is the place for major migration fallouts in the spring.
  3. Santa Ana NWR (Texas) - The Rio Grande Valley is full of bird life, including many birds from Mexico that cross the border into Texas and many other specialties like Green Jay, Great Kiskadee, and Plain Chacalaca.
  4. Everglades National Park (Florida) - Lots of tropical or subtropical species at the northernmost limit of their breeding range.
  5. Crane Meadows Nature Center (Nebraska) - Sandhill Crane and Greater Prairie-Chicken
  6. Churchill (Manitoba) - premier site for gulls and shorebirds
  7. Point Reyes National Seashore (California) - Great for west coast shorebirds and landbirds, like Tricolored Blackbird.
  8. Madera Canyon (Arizona) - Great for many species of hummingbirds, sparrows, and warblers, plus some Mexican vagrants.
  9. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) - Known for geysers but good for birds, too. Great Gray Owl, Trumpeter Swan, Barrow's Goldeneye, plus woodpecker specialties.
  10. Sequoia National Forest (California) - Spotted Owls, plus other specialties in fabulous surroundings.
So there are 10 places I would like to visit eventually. Any better spots out there?


Friday, September 01, 2006

Loose Feathers #65

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

  • California has passed a law that aims to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020. The article is a little short on details; it seems that the details of the plan still need to be worked out by the California Air Resources Board.
  • Early hominids may have been preyed upon by eagles. The modern African Crowned Hawk Eagle will take small monkeys such as Mangabeys. The skulls of primates found under these eagles' nests bear similar scratches and holes to the skull of the Taung child, a young representative of the species Australopithecus africanus. The article explains more.
  • Lambert's Bay in South Africa had grown dependent on business from birdwatchers who came to watch the nesting flocks of Cape Gannets. When fur seals killed some and drove off the rest, the town lured the gannets back with decoys. It is good for birdwatchers, and good for the town, but is it good for the birds? I guess it depends on whether another incident can be prevented.
  • The oceanside beach at Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware is reopening as of today because piping plover chicks have left their nests.
  • A student writes about the trials of being a park ranger on the C&O Canal. Hmm... sounds like good material for a blog.
  • New Jersey is looking to ban the use of pipes and funnels to force feed ducks and geese in the production of foie gras. Here's more on Chicago's ban and the process of making foie gras.
  • The National Park Service is issuing new rules that reject most proposals for allowing jet skis, off-road vehicles, and commercial activities like mining. However, so-called "gateway communities" will have a say in the rules for individual parks.
  • Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has not been monitoring emissions and the effects on wildlife of drilling on BLM lands. Sage Grouse have been declining thanks to human interference.
  • Dick Kempthorne, the Interior Secretary, is touring the Arctic NWR. He supports drilling: "There's a [wildlife] reserve there," he said before the aborted flight. "But we've seen so many different areas where we can responsibly recover resources and do it while meeting the highest environmental standards. I think it's also important to see it." (The link above suggests otherwise.)
  • A study confirms that California Condors are suffering from lead poisoning due to injested shotgun pellets.