Friday, August 31, 2007

Circus Time!

The invertebrates of the month can now be found at Naturalist Notebook, in the form of Circus of the Spineless #24.

Loose Feathers #113

Snowy Egret / Photo by Ryan Hagerty (USFWS)

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment
  • rare bird sex ratioA recent study found that males outnumber females in most bird species. This seems to be a cost of sex; females are more likely to be killed on the nest by a predator. The finding has implications for conservation. Most population estimates for threatened species are based on counts of adult males; the estimates may be too high if males outnumber females. Rarer species are even more skewed than common species in this regard.
  • Male songbirds may use the songs of other males to judge habitat quality. For example, the song of one black-throated blue warbler will attract other males into the area.
  • juvenile blue titSongbirds that feed spiders to their young make their offspring bolder and improve their ability to learn. The key ingredient seems to be taurine, an amino acid also found in breast milk and energy drinks.
  • A rare red kite was found shot dead in Ireland. The species was recently reintroduced after a long absence.
  • The kakapo, a flightless parrot in New Zealand, is the beneficiary of a conservation program. Scientists provide the parrots with dietary supplements to help them reproduce in lean years.
  • Conservationists in the U.K. describe 1,149 species - including 59 bird species - as being in need of conservation action. The list includes house sparrow and starling.
  • Puffin chickPuffins are now thriving in Maine thanks to protection and a three-decade restoration program.
  • A nonprofit group recommends the restoration of 36,000 acres of wetland around San Francisco Bay.
  • The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a sentence against a man for importing black sparrowhawks from Africa, an action that is illegal under the Wild Bird Conservation Act.
  • Grist covers how to get started with landscaping your yard to attract birds.
  • The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the Bush administration to force the restoration of designation critical habitat for 55 species to its size before recent reductions.
Birds in the blogospere
Carnivals and newsletters
Reminder: The next I and the Bird will be here at A DC Birding Blog next Thursday, September 6. Please send your posts to

Thursday, August 30, 2007


This butterfly is a sachem, a species of grass skipper. I found and photographed it in my neighborhood. Skippers are a tough group to identify because the butterflies look very similar and the field marks are usually subtle details. I have seen two other skipper species near my home - silver-spotted and zabulon. I imagine there are others around; I have heard that broad-winged skipper is also common in this area.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Native Plantings on Highways

Instead of constant mowing, Delaware is allowing native grasses and flowers to grow along its highways.

Dark green switchgrass stands four feet tall. Asters, amonsia with tiny blue flowers, and flowering white thoroughwort nestle there, in place of a simple lawn. Down the road, the cloverleaf for I-95 and Route 896 is filled with golden Indiangrass, its gossamer flowers riffling as trucks whiz by.

This is the meadow vista when Delaware was a colony, and before. Now these regional plantings are increasingly deployed by highway gardeners around the country who see themselves as heirs of an environmental Enlightenment. Their credo: get the mowers out of the 12 million acres of roadsides and median strips around the United States, and let the wildflowers and grasses grow.

In part as a frugal move — not mowing can save states tens of thousands of dollars each year — at least a dozen states including Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Vermont and Washington State , have increased their inventory of native plantings. Roadsides, they say, are the national front porch. Why, then, should they look like an English formal garden or a Scottish golf course? Why shouldn’t they mimic the land as it was before highways?

In the words of the University of Delaware horticulturist, Susan S. Barton, an adviser to the state’s Department of Transportation: “We’re doing it so when you’re driving around Delaware you know you’re in Delaware, not in the tropics.”
The article reviews highway vegetation policies in other states and the problem of crown vetch, first introduced along Pennsylvania highways half a century ago.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Happy Birthday to...

Roger Tory Peterson

Disappearing Marshes in Delaware; Bay Grass Data Destroyed in Maryland

Delaware's coastal marshes are falling the rise in sea level.

In some areas, the marsh is disappearing. At the 16,000-acre Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, for example, as much as 1,160 acres of interior marsh has vanished since 1979. In its place: water. ...

"It's approaching a crisis at the refuge," said David Carter, environmental program manager with the Delaware Coastal Management Program. "We're really looking at an early indication of problems."

Scientists in Delaware and throughout the region are trying to figure out why some salt marshes -- both here and elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic -- are thriving and others are in trouble. ...

Tidal salt marshes are one of Delaware's most unique and valuable ecosystems, providing a refuge and forage area for dozens of bird species, a nursery ground for fish and a habitat for muskrats. But once inundated with water, the grasses -- the glue that holds the wetland together -- die off. Without the grass, sediment slips away and the marsh disappears. Once the marsh is gone, upland residents lose a natural sponge that helps minimize flooding and a filter that buffers the impact of pollution on the Delaware Estuary.

Once a wetland is gone, Carter said, it is expensive and difficult to bring it back. One possible fix may be to spray sediment over the marsh, much like sand is added to the beach to compensate for erosion and rising sea level. Carter said more work is needed to better understand where Delaware's troubled salt marshes are and how best to restore and repair them.
Two researchers lost 30 years worth of data on the Chesapeake's bay grasses in an office fire.
Bay grasses are crucial habitat for crabs, small fish and other marine life. They were once so plentiful that boaters routinely complained to natural resources officials that the plants were clogging their propellers. But since 1972, when Tropical Storm Agnes dropped millions of tons of sediment into the bay, the grasses have struggled for life against an increasing tide of pollution and runoff. ...

Investigators from the state fire marshal's office have not determined what caused the blaze, which caused an estimated $550,000 in damage at the sprawling Horn Point scientific campus along the Choptank River. ...

The 25-foot-by-40-foot trailers, meant to be temporary offices and to house computer equipment, had become fixtures since they were installed in the mid-1980s, said laboratory director Michael Roman. With data and backup servers stored in one of the buildings, the researchers never imagined a fire would destroy both trailers, which sat about 10 feet apart.

"As a scientist, you collect data, write it in a notebook, then type it into a computer," Roman said. "There's no question that their research was irreplaceable. It's hard to resurrect."

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Hidden Hackensack

Today we have the second in a two-part series on the Meadowlands: Paddling on the Hackensack can turn magical. See the photo gallery and interactive map for more about the river.

(Via Birds, Bats, and Beyond)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Meadowlands Morning

This morning Patrick and I met to look for shorebirds at De Korte Park, one of the prime access points for birding in New Jersey's Meadowlands. This was the first time we met, though we both grew up in Middlesex County and had visited a lot of the same places. (If I am not mistaken, this was also my first meeting with another bird blogger.)

We made a circuit around the dikes surrounding the main pond. At the entrance gate to the marsh boardwalk trail, there was a Baltimore oriole whistling from the top of a tree. With that auspicious start, we pressed on. The usual De Korte waterbirds were around - great and snowy egrets, mute swans, ruddy ducks, and laughing gulls were visible from the network of boardwalks and blinds. A few least sandpipers were at the muddy edges of the phragmites beds. In the far corner of the Transco Trail, near the Turnpike, there was a small flock of shorebirds, which turned out to be mostly semipalmated sandpipers, with a few greater and lesser yellowlegs on the edges. A few spotted sandpipers were foraging along the rocky sides of the dikes.

The water level was still high as we headed out to the Saw Mill Creek trail that runs along a power line towards the Saw Mill Creek WMA. This is usually the best place in the park to find shorebirds, but today the water levels stayed a bit too high for mudflats. Instead we were treated to a peregrine falcon, which cruised past us twice and landed at the top of one of the electric towers. (It scolded a bit while we took its picture; I'm not sure if that was because of our presence or something else.) An osprey perched to eat a fish on a tower farther down the trail, and another osprey sat on a tower even farther down. A few black duck and a gadwall were visible in the impoundment next to the trail. We had a few looks at distant herons as well. These included a few black-crowned night herons perched in trees.

In addition to the birding opportunities, De Korte Park has a butterfly garden with brightly-colored flowers, including butterfly bushes and trumpet creeper. A lot of monarchs were around, as well as broad-winged skippers and red admirals. I saw my first painted lady (pictured left).

Thanks to Patrick for driving and for a fun morning of birding!

The Meadowlands is hosting a Festival of Birding on the weekend of September 15-16. Details are available from the Hackensack Riverkeeper (co-sponsored by NJ Audubon).

Sunday Update: Here is an article on the recovery of the Haskensack River, via Birds, Bats, and Beyond.


Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Mute Swan
American Black Duck
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Laughing Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Barn Swallow
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
American Robin
Black-capped Chickadee
House Sparrow
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Baltimore Oriole

Friday, August 24, 2007

Loose Feathers #112

Common Moorhen / Photo by Lee Karney (USFWS)

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service has released a draft recovery plan (pdf) for the ivory-billed woodpecker. The plan would spend close to $28 million over five years with a focus on population surveys, monitoring potential habitat, and management of existing habitat to meet the woodpecker's needs. The draft is open for comments until October 22, 2007.
  • Crested AukletDuring courtship, crested auklets rub each other with a scent that discourages parasites.
  • Pigeon dung is being considered as a factor in the Minnesota bridge collapse.
  • A comment in Environmental Science and Technology praises the work of citizen science, especially Audubon's Christmas Bird Counts.
  • The Basra Reed-Warbler has been found in Israel. It is the only record of the species outside of Iraq.
  • A California condor died of lead poisoning.
  • A farmer in New Zealand used a massive fuel bomb to kill a flock of starlings that he feared would eat his fruit. Many birds were left injured but not killed.
  • Orange-bellied ParrotThe sighting of nine orange-bellied parrots, an extremely rare bird, in southern Australia has led to hopes that a recently-built wind farm did not disturb their migration.
  • Numbers of house sparrows are declining in the U.K. because of a loss of private gardens to intense development.
  • Bush issued an executive order to expand hunting opportunities on public lands.
  • Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ-3) argues for federal grants for invasive species control in National Wildlife Refuges. (Saxton's district includes the Forsythe Refuge's Barnegat Division.)
  • A red-tailed hawk crashed through a screen onto a porch; the homeowner attributed the incident to an attempt to eat his cat, which was in the porch at the time.
  • A new wind turbine design allows turbine blades to be lowered in bad weather when birds fly at a lower altitude.
  • The U.N.'s climate change official believes that two-thirds of emissions cuts before 2030 must come from developing nations.
  • The Bush administration has a proposed a new rule that expands mountaintop removal mining in the Appalachians. This type of mining practice causes deforestation and threatens vulnerable species such as cerulean warblers.
Birds in the blogosphere
Carnivals and newsletters

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Eight Random Facts

As I was completing the birding meme on Monday, I remembered that some time ago, John at Born Again Bird Watcher tagged me with the meme that has been spreading around the blog world. Though I have been slow in responding, I did not want to pass since I have enjoyed John's blog since I first became aware of it. (And subsequently David and BirdCouple have tagged me, too.) So I decided to finish and post my response.

First, the rules for Eight Random Facts:

  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
Now for my facts:
  1. On the night owl - early bird continuum, I tend to be a night owl. This has been true for me for as long as I can remember. Sometimes this gets in the way of good birding.
  2. But for the last month or so, I have been more of an early riser.
  3. My five favorite birding experiences since I started this blog have been seeing my first cerulean warbler, watching phoebes and yellow-rumped warblers in the snow, coming face-to-face with a barred owl, hearing chorusing barred owls late at night, and reaching 101 species on a birdathon in DC.
  4. I am a historian by training; my interest in nature is something that developed gradually outside of my academic pursuits.
  5. Central Jersey is considered Mets territory, but I grew up as a phan of the baseball team that recently lost its 10,000 game.
  6. My eighth grade class was the last to graduate from my elementary school.
  7. Places I will miss walking in DC: the Mall in the spring, Kenilworth during summer, Rock Creek Park in fall migration, the Arboretum in winter.
  8. Places I look forward to seeing more in NJ: Great Swamp, Sandy Hook, and the lower Jersey Shore.
This seems to have passed around to most of the bird blogging niche - or at least to most of the blogs that I read regularly, so I am not going to tag anyone. But if you have not done it, and would like to, consider yourself tagged.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I and the Bird #56

This week's I and the Bird is online at Big Spring Birds.

I and the Bird is a blog carnival that features the best posts about birds and birding from around the blogosphere every two weeks. Posts are submitted by blog writers and readers. Anyone with a blog is welcome to participate, whether or not birds are its principal theme.

The next edition of I and the Bird will be here at A DC Birding Blog in two weeks. This is my second time hosting; my first was I and the Bird #5 two years ago. If you would like to have a post included, send it to me at by the night of September 4. Please include the words "I and the Bird" in the subject line.

Night Heron Video

While at Jamaica Bay on Friday, I recorded a couple of videos with my camera. The better of the two is an immature black-crowned night heron that we saw at Big John's Pond. The sound in the background is the air traffic from JFK International Airport.

Uploaded at BirdCinema.


Cormorants have a reputation as prodigious eaters, and for setting up large colonies that reek of guano and vomit. This reputation brings their colonies into conflict with local fishermen, who believe that cormorants reduce fish stocks and threaten their livelihood. A graduate student at Queens College in New York is studying cormorant vomit to learn what they eat and why they vomit so readily.

The thumps he hears are exciting for him: In gobs of vomit, to be referred to in his thesis as boli, he has identified eels, mud snails, oyster toadfish and menhaden. Sometimes he will hear a thump so loud it can only be a whole fish, or close to it. This, he says, is particularly interesting.

“I’ve been hit on occasion,” he said. “In some ways it’s almost this great personal experience between you and the birds.”

Mr. Grubel got down on his hands and knees, picking up about a dozen samples for what Professor Waldman describes as frantic ichthyology — a search for ear bones or other fragments that could identify a certain species. The fish he found were nothing unusual: cunner and tautog, small fish generally found around pilings or rocky shores, and one weakfish.
The study site is Swinburne Island in Lower New York Bay, which is home to 264 cormorant nests.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Shorebirds at Jamaica Bay

Last Friday my sister Belinda and I visited Jamaica Bay, a wildlife refuge in Queens. The refuge is part of the Gateway Recreation Area and consists of several low-lying islands. The areas accessible to visitors are served by a subway stop on the 'A' line. It is easy to get there if you are willing to take a long train ride.

Since we got to the refuge late in the morning, we missed out on the early morning songbird activity. Songbirds are not the real reason to visit the refuge, though. In late summer the islands serve as a gathering point for for waterbirds on the move, especially herons, shorebirds, and gulls.

On the West Pond we saw eight species of herons. The highlights were two tricolored herons near the west end of the pond and several yellow-crowned night herons. The latter were in both adult and immature plumages. Both species were life birds for Belinda. In addition we saw a glossy ibis in flight as we entered the refuge. Any day that involves nine long-legged waders is a good day! In addition to the usual waterfowl, there were several substantial flocks of gadwall and a contingent of black ducks. A short spur called the terrapin trail provides egg-laying habitat for terrapins. We found numerous terns resting there. All the birds on the beach were common terns, though we also spotted a few Forster's terns in flight. Belinda found a pied-billed grebe in the bay.

Our next stop was the north end of the East Pond, which features mud flats where shorebirds congregate in migration. When we started walking north on Cross Bay Boulevard, the sun was shining with hardly a cloud in sight. By the time we reached the good birding spots, the sky was growing dark and a few rain drops were falling. Soon the ominous signs turned into a steady drizzle accompanied by thunder and lightning. At that point, there was little we could do to find shelter, since the visitor center and nearest blinds were all about a mile away. So we pressed on to check out the mudflats.

The flats on the bay side of the north dike featured a small group of American oystercatchers and a single black-bellied plover, in addition to the more common semipalmated plovers and greater yellowlegs. We followed openings in the phragmites on the south side of the dike to view the full East Pond. The trail there is wet and sloppy even under the best of conditions. As we made our way along the edge of the pond, a harried-looking northern waterthrush preceded us. Large flocks of gulls, terns, and shorebirds loafed on distant mudflats. Unfortunately, in bad visibility and without a scope we were unable to make much out of them. On the flats closer to us, we did see some least and semipalmated sandpipers.

Once we were done at the north end, we headed back towards the visitor center via a trail that parallels Cross Bay Boulevard. The rain had mostly stopped by that point, so we had an opportunity to dry out. Near the north end of the trail, we came across a wounded short-billed dowitcher. It appeared that some predator (cat? fox?) had broken one wing and possibly a leg. It limped ahead of us and disappeared into the underbrush.

As we reached the south end of the trail, the rain suddenly started again, this time as a downpour. This time we were able to take shelter in the blind at Big John's Pond. Once the rain stopped, bird activity resumed. First, there were catbirds and red-winged blackbirds. Then an immature black-crowned night heron perched on a stick a few feet from the blind and stared at us for a while before flying off.

Our last stop were a few viewing points near the middle of the East Pond. From there we spotted a long-billed dowitcher and lesser yellowlegs. By that point we had done a full day of birding, so we started the long trip back to central Jersey.


Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Tricolored Heron
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Mute Swan
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
American Oystercatcher
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Laughing Gull
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Mourning Dove
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Barn Swallow
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
Fish Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Yellow Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Boat-tailed Grackle

DC Metro System

There is some interesting discussion of Metro's plan to cut late night service at CommuterPageBlog, BeyondDC, and Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space. It seems to me that one of the best things that could be done to improve quality of life in the DC area would be to improve its rail service - both in hours of operation and geographic coverage. Metro will always have rush hour commuters as its primary clientele, but an urban subway system needs to provide other services as well.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Birding Meme

Blogger cogresha tagged me (and several others) with a Birding Meme. Here are my answers to his questions:

1. What is the coolest bird you have seen from your home?

I have not been living at my current address long enough to develop a real list, so I will name one from my old apartment in downtown DC. One day, as I was sitting at my computer, I looked out my window and saw an ovenbird standing on the asphalt roof that connects my building to the one next door. This was at the height of fall migration when birds were on the move, but very surprising on a street with little vegetation. [Update: I saw a Canada Warbler at home today (8/22), so that counts as the coolest bird for here.]

2. If you compose lists of bird species seen, what is your favorite list and why?

I use Avisys to keep track of bird sightings, so I can keep lists for any time or place that I want. The most local ones tend to mean the most for me. The DC list, now at 200 species, still means the most for me, since it was in the course of building that list that I learned the most about bird identification. I imagine that will be changing now that I am in NJ.

3. What sparked your interest in birds?

My interest grew gradually since I was always had some interest in nature, a result of many visits to places like the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Great Swamp as a kid. (It helped to have the Peterson coloring book when I was very young.) I shifted from mild interest to birding once I realized that (a) binoculars actually worked and (b) it was possible to see all the beautiful birds in the bird books, at the right places and times.

4. If you could only bird in one place for the rest of your life where would it be and why?

I'll give two answers for this one. Of the places that I have visited, I would say Bombay Hook, because of the diversity of species present. Of places I have not visited, it would be someplace like Peru or Colombia, where it would take me a long time to run out of potential life birds.

5. Do you have a jinx bird? What is it and why is it jinxed?

The closest would be horned lark, which I have not seen despite regularly visiting appropriate habitats. A few times, other people have seen one and I missed it. But I have not been pursuing it vigorously enough for it to be a true jinx bird.

6. Who is your favorite birder? and why?

I have birded mostly by myself so it is hard to name a favorite.

7. Do you tell non-birders you are a birder? What do they say to you when they find out?

I mention it if there is good reason.

I am tagging BirdCouple, nuthatch, and Pamela

Friday, August 17, 2007

Loose Feathers #111

Royal Terns / Photo by Donna Dewhurst (USFWS)

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment
  • Many apex bird species like osprey and brown pelican have returned to thrive in New Jersey's Barnegat Bay in recent decades. Yet the bay is one of the most threatened estuaries in the U.S., thanks mainly to runoff from traffic and suburban lawns.
  • The Highlands Bridge, which crosses the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers, is one of the worst in New Jersey and is due for replacement. A local coaliton wants the state DOT to do a full Environmental Impact Statement to assess the effects of demolition and reconstruction on the important estuary and Sandy Hook.
  • Australia's superb fairy-wren is one of the 10 percent of bird species that engage in cooperative breeding. Nestlings in pairs with helpers get more food than in pairs without help, but the biggest beneficiary is the mother, for whom reproduction becomes less costly.
  • The government's draft recovery plan for the northern spotted owl failed peer-review by the Society for Conservation Biology and American Ornithologists' Union. The plan would name barred owls as a greater threat than logging and reduce designated critical habitat.
  • Peru has a new flycatcher species, Cnipodectes superrufus. The species dwells in dense thorny bamboo thickets in southeastern Peru and southwestern Brazil. A specimen was taken in 1990 but not identified as a new species until the present.
  • The Bengal Florican will be the first bird to benefit from BirdLife International's Species Champions program, which matches threatened species with conservation plans funded through private donors.
  • Fewer birds from Siberia and Greenland are visiting the U.K. during winter because climate change has reduced their need to migrate.
  • A national bird survey in New Zealand established that the ranges of many birds are shrinking, to the point that some are no longer found where they used to be common. (That said, morepork has to be one of the funniest bird names.)
  • New Caledonian crows have used multiple tools in experiments; this suggests the use of analogical reasoning, usually found only in higher primates.
  • The exclusion zone around Chernobyl is not the wildlife haven that some have claimed. Areas of higher radiation have lower population density and biodiversity.
  • Birds may learn to fly more easily through latent memories inherited from previous generations. (Full paper at PLoS Computational Biology)
  • Shorebirds are now moving through the Blue Ridge region (and inland spots).
  • New research warns that extensive use of biofuels may lead to greater warming than fossil fuels, when the full production cycle is taken into consideration.
Birds in the blogosphere
Carnivals and newsletters

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Red Knot Troubles

BirdLife International has a good summary of recent problems with red knot conservation. Some of the issues they list are familiar:

Although the causes of the population crash are not yet fully understood, the dramatic decline is mainly attributed to the low availability of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay, USA, a key stopover site for Red Knot Calidris canutus rufa. The lack of eggs has been attributed to an elevated harvest of adult crabs for bait in the conch and eel fishing industries. Studies show that Red Knot individuals with lower body weight at departure in Delaware Bay have lower survival than heavier birds.

Even if crab exploitation ceases immediately, scientist predict it would take years before the horseshoe crab population recovers to its former level. Other possible contributing factors in the decline include the loss of critical habitats, contamination and the spread of non-controlled tourism activities at their wintering and migration areas.
And one I had not read about:
In April, 312 dead Red Knot Calidris canutus rufa were discovered by a park guard at Playa La Coronilla in northern Uruguay and the same day over 1,000 birds were found dead at a second site nearby. Of the events Joaquín Aldabe, IBA coordinator at Aves Uruguay (BirdLife in Uruguay) commented: "It seems possible that harmful algal blooms could be related to it, although additional studies are required in order to fully understand this unexpected event."

Aves Uruguay, in connection with other national and international organisations, is already working in the area to establish the possible causes of the casualties and the role of Uruguay as stopover for the species.

“The death of more than 1,300 Red Knots in Uruguay is of particular concern given the low overall population size,” said Rob Clay, Conservation Manager of BirdLife’s Americas Secretariat. “This number represents over 6% of the [rufa] population, all of which winter in southern South America. The discovery underlines the need to better understand factors which may be affecting the species during migration and on its wintering grounds.”
If a substantial portion of the subspecies can die off so suddenly, the bird really needs protection.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Palmyra Cove

New Jersey Audubon is fighting a plan to dump dredge spoils in Palmyra Cove, a nature preserve near the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. This email was sent to the JerseyBirds list:

Commissioner Jackson has called a public information session regarding the dredge spoil plan for Palmyra Cove Nature Park for this coming Monday, August 13th, at 10am at the Burlington County Bridge Commission's Offices (see address below). The meeting will likely be moved the the Palmyra Cove Nature Center because of the large crowds that the meeting is expected to draw. The commissioner has called the meeting to explain the need for Palmyra Cove to accept dredge material and to outline the plan for this project. There will be an opportunity for the public to ask questions. The most recent plan that I am aware of calls for use of 10 acres of the Park for dredge material. This plan requires that the 2 wetlands and existing vegetation near the site not be disturbed. Although this sounds like a good compromise in comparison with the original plan of 90 acres, we are not given any guarantee that ACE will return for the additional 80 acres.
There is a little more on the issue here and here. I do not have a strong opinion on the case since I do not have adequate knowledge of the context. If you do have an opinion on the case, Monday's meeting is a chance to express it; alternately, try writing to a state official or the Bridge Commission.
Burlington County Bridge Commission
1300 Route 73 North
P.O. Box 6
Palmyra, NJ 08065

Friday, August 10, 2007

Loose Feathers #110

Black-bellied Plover / Photo by Tim Bowman (USFWS)

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment
Birds (and some non-birds) in the blogosphere
Carnivals and newsletters

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I and the Bird #55

The latest I and the Bird is hosted by Birdfreak. Go visit I and the Bird #55 for the best of bird blogging in the past two weeks.

I and the Bird is a biweekly compilation of posts about birds and birding. Contributions are self-submitted. If you have a new blog or have not submitted to the carnival before, consider sending a link to the next host, Big Spring Birds.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Owl Cleaners

Because of my recent relocation, I have been sorting through a lot of old possessions and deciding which to keep and which to throw away. In the course of the project I came across an old address book emblazoned with the name "OWL CLEANERS." This was presumably some laundromat or dry cleaner that may or may not still be in business. For me, the name conjured images of devices for washing this guy - presumably a daunting task.

In other silliness, we have an important warning from The Onion:

WASHINGTON, DC—The Environmental Protection Agency issued a bulletin Tuesday warning the bodies of American citizens, with their large concentrations of artificial, synthetic, and often toxic substances, have been reclassified as industrial waste.

"The average human body is now only 35 percent organic," EPA chief Ralph Johnson said. "Due to changes brought about by modern detergents, silicone implants, and processed cheese food product, it is no longer safe to allow human tissue to come into contact with our nation's topsoil."
Given recent headlines, it is tempting to think The Onion is doing real journalism instead of satire.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Fungus Among Us

This evening I found s few of these fungi growing in a compost pile:

Here is a view of the bottom of one of the smaller ones:

I looked around for an identification in mushroom guides and on the internet. The best match I could find is Calvatia rubroflava, also known as Orange-staining Puffball. (If anyone has a better identification, please leave a comment.) The linked site notes that although the mushroom is edible, "it is distinctly unpalatable and the odor of the mature mushroom is very disagreeable." The smell of this one certainly matches the description. I could smell it from several feet away!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Piping Plovers and Cats at Cape May

Cape May is known among birders as a prime birding destination, especially during fall migration. The area is also home to nesting populations of threatened bird species, including piping plovers. Recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that feral cats in Cape May are a threat to the endangered species that live there and informed the town that the problem would need to be rectified. Unfortunately, feral cats are seen by some residents and visitors as part of the town's Victorian charm.

The federal government may intervene on the side of the birds, drawing mixed reactions here. Cat lovers fear that the cats will be euthanized, while bird lovers are wary of the possibility of rare species being wiped out.

“This is a very emotional issue; this really is a cat town,” said one resident, Pat Peckham. “I think they should leave the cats where they are. I’m a firm believer in letting nature take its course.”
The trouble is that feral cats really are not part of nature, at least not in North America. They are introduced domesticated animals that were released into the wild for a variety of reasons. Like other nonnative species, they can upset the balance of natural ecosystems. In some places, the impact may be debatable, but when mixed with rare species, nonnative predators are a major problem.

New Jersey Audubon is offering one possible compromise solution:
Mr. Stiles, the Audubon Society official, is working on a pilot project to find a middle ground. It would bring together animal control officials and advocacy groups to share information on endangered birds and cat colonies. Cats that are near endangered birds could be relocated, while others could be undisturbed.
Whether or not this would work remains to be seen. Cats are territorial hunters and defend their territories fiercely. Taking feral cats from one territory and moving them into another would cause stress and possibly injury for both the relocated cats and other cats in the areas where they would be moved. If there is a heavy saturation of feral cats in Cape May, as the article suggests, then other cats are likely to move into the newly-vacated territories. Without some form of feral population reduction, keeping cats away from plover nests would require constant vigilance and intervention.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Griggstown Grasslands

This morning I went with my mother and sister to the Griggstown Grasslands, a spot that I have visited once before. The site is mostly managed pasture with hedgerows and woodland dividing the fields. Like the last time, the fields were full of grasshopper sparrows, but instead of singing adults hiding in the meadow, we saw young hatch year birds perched out in the open. Several were moving around right at the parking lot. These confused me at first since they were noticeably paler than the adults and had light streaks on their breasts. (A process of elimination settled the issue.)

Several other bird species were active around the parking lot as well. Most exciting were some bobolinks - life birds for my sister, and unusual for me. Song sparrows, tree swallows, indigo buntings, and orchard orioles took turns perching on the common mullein stems. (Common mullein turns out to be a useful plant for birders.) We failed to turn up many more bird species in the rest of the fields, though we could hear field sparrows at various locations.

As one would expect, most of the individuals were hatch-year birds or in non-breeding plumage. The exceptions to that were the American goldfinches, which are now in the peak of their breeding season. They typically wait to nest until late in the summer when flowers start to go to seed.


Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
Tufted Titmouse
Blue Jay
European Starling
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Common Yellowthroat
Field Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Orchard Oriole

Friday, August 03, 2007

Loose Feathers #109

Least Sandpiper / USFWS Photo

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment
Birds in the blogosphere
Carnivals and newsletters