This Birding Community E-bulletin is being distributed to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats.
This issue is sponsored by the producers of superb quality birding binoculars and scopes, Carl Zeiss Sport Optics:
You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA):
On the morning of 9 November, Jeff Bouton found and photographed a female Amazon Kingfisher south of San Benito in Cameron County in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
The discovery was made during the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, so consequently hundreds of festival participants were able to gather quickly to see the bird. The County Sheriff’s Deputies even came to help direct traffic around the gathered birders, since the kingfisher was found at a resaca (an oxbow) on the side of fairly busy Texas Rt. 100.
Here is a short original video taken by Jeff Bouton:
And here are photos taken a few days later by Monte Taylor:
The Amazon Kingfisher normally ranges from Mexico (no closer than southern Tamaulipas) to Argentina and Uruguay. Amazon Kingfisher is the largest "green" kingfisher in the Americas.
The bird in Cameron County constitutes only the second North American record. The first was found upriver, in Laredo in 2010 and was our rarity of the month in February of that year:
The Amazon Kingfisher south of San Benito seemed to run a circuit across three accessible resacas on either side of the road, although on some days the bird was difficult to find, or was apparently not present at all. The kingfisher persisted in the area through the end of the month.
CONSERVATION IN THE BALANCE IN THE FARM BILL
We last visited the Farm Bill in detail in July, when forces in Congress had failed to agree on hammering out a comprehensive even though under other circumstances, another Congress might have easily passed the bill:
House and Senate conferees began to meet on the last days of October to craft a final version of a bill that would hopefully be acceptable to both houses. Almost immediately, however, substantial disagreements emerged. The news since has not been good.
The conservation elements of the extended 2008 Farm Bill ground to a halt at the end of September, and now a pressing deadline of 1 January hangs over the entire effort. As mentioned in the E-bulletin in July, if Congress fails to meet the January deadline, the federal farm program will revert to a permanent law passed in 1949. Yes, 1949. Not only will this trigger many undesirable consequences (e.g., milk prices), but it will mean reverting to a policy that did not include most of the creative conservation programs that have become part of the Farm Bill legacy.
Congress could avoid these consequences by passing a new Farm Bill, or, once again, by extending the 2008 law, thereby kicking the can down the road.
Regardless of the moves in the next month, so far, the conservation elements in the Farm Bill - protecting habitat, birds, and other wildlife - are not receiving the attention they deserve.
At stake are at least seven key conservation elements:
1) Re-linking basic conservation compliance safeguards to crop insurance premium assistance.
2) Opposing the weakening of current soil and wetland protections.
3) Establishing a real national Sodsaver program to protect our last remaining 10,000-year-old native prairies.
4) A Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with a minimum 25 million-acre baseline.
5) Retaining what has been the essence of the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), regardless of a potential new name.
6) The inclusion of a healthy pollinator element for birds, bees, and bats.
7) Passing a minimum five-year bill.
The Farm Bill is actually one of the largest sources of conservation funding in the federal government, but sadly its role in sustaining current conservation is now in question.
LOSING COASTAL WETLANDS
A report released in late November by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that overall, the U.S. is losing 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands each year to development, sea level rise, certain forestry practices, and several other related causes. The report is titled, "Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009."
Significant wetland losses were recorded for this period along the Gulf Coast (257,150 acres), and they accounted for 71 percent of the total estimated loss during the study period. The Atlantic Coast lost 111,960 acres and the Pacific Coast 5,220 acres. Even though the losses along the Pacific Coast were small in comparison to the others, they represent an important component of coastal wetlands in this region, which has a predominantly high, rocky coastline. At least the watersheds of the Great Lakes region experienced a net gain in wetland area of an estimated 13,610 acres.
Wetlands are vital to the survival of diverse wildlife species, including such birds as waterfowl, gulls, terns, rails, long-legged waders, and shorebirds. Wetlands also help sustain the country's multi-billion-dollar coastal fisheries and outdoor recreation industries, improve water quality, and protect coastal communities from the effects of severe storms.
You can access the full 46-page report here:
LOWER DELMARVA LAUGHING GULLS IN TROUBLE
Laughing Gulls have bred along the Lower Delmarva Peninsula throughout recorded history. Yet the population has collapsed in less than a decade. Surveys conducted by the Center for Conservation Biology have shown that the Laughing Gulls have declined from more than 25,000 to less than 4,400 breeding pairs between 2003 and 2013.
Laughing Gulls began to experience notable breeding problems in the early 2000s when significant tidal events repeatedly washed out eggs and nests. Since the marsh islands used for nesting have little topographic relief, nearly the entire region was impacted simultaneously, and the space available for nesting has declined by more than 85%. Historic landmarks such as Gull Marsh and Egg Island, named for their breeding birds, no longer support them.
Over many decades, Laughing Gulls have been among the most numerous seabirds nesting within the mid-Atlantic region. Yet, if the situation along the Lower Delmarva is any indication, these birds could be in serious trouble.
It is time to see if corresponding losses and habitat stress are leading to similar results across the Northeast and Central Atlantic States, as well as investigating other potential causes.
Click here for more details on the gulls, including a set of maps:
Other news from the Center for Conservation Biology is the newly launched Osprey-Watch. This is a project created to engage the public in collecting data on breeding Ospreys. The mission of Osprey-Watch is to bring citizen scientists together in order to collect information on a large enough spatial scale to be useful in addressing three of the most pressing issues facing aquatic ecosystems: global climate change, depletion of fish stocks, and environmental contaminants.
Information entered into this database will be immediately accessible to users and will be summarized following each breeding season.
To find out more, visit:
ACCESS MATTERS: RECREATIONAL TRAILS
Under MAP-21, a federal transportation law, an important Recreational Trails Program has been extended into FY2014. Each year, state governors can opt-out of the Recreational Trails Program and divert these available dollars to other transportation projects, like highways. Fortunately, 49 of state governors (all except Florida) have recently chosen to retain the program for another year.
Features included in this program are the maintenance and restoration of existing trails, development or rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and linkages, acquisition of necessary easements, associated administrative costs, and the construction of new trails and educational programs. Here’s where birders, hikers, bikers, and other outdoor recreationists can find common ground, since many of these trails provide birding areas and crucial access for birders.
Sometimes birding access issues arise in the oddest ways, and the Recreational Trails Program is a tool that should not be discounted. The Recreational Trails Program is the most flexible federal funding source available for the development and maintenance of high-quality trails, having been used to create thousands of miles of trails and access from former rail lines, utility corridors, and other spaces.
Whenever birding access problems arise, there are cases where official Recreational Trails should be considered as part of the solution.
WIND POWER: FIRST PROSECUTION FOR BIRD DEATHS
In late November, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement on the prosecution of Duke Energy’s wind developments in Wyoming. This was in connection with the deaths of 14 Golden Eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, wrens, larks, blackbirds, and sparrows. The settlement involved $1 million in fines and mitigation actions. This is the first prosecution in the U.S. of a wind company in connection with bird mortality pertaining to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).
According to related court documents, Duke Energy’s Renewables failed to make all reasonable efforts to build the projects in a way that would avoid the risk of bird deaths due to collisions with turbine blades, despite prior warnings about this issue from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
In March of last year, the USFWS published voluntary operating and siting guidelines for the wind industry, but there has yet to be established a federal mandatory wind project permitting system to ensure that wind developments be well sited, operated, and mitigated, with paid permits to cover costs. In the absence of such mandatory standards, the prevention of damaging wind development is difficult.
For more information on the Duke Energy case, see the Department of Justice press release here:
IBA NEWS: PROMOTING SAX-ZIM BOG
Identifying an Important Bird Area (IBA) is the first step in preserving and protecting an area that may be particularly significant for birds. But it is only the first step. Creating awareness and securing ongoing protection – including appropriate access – must follow. Often this means providing appropriate help from supporting citizens' or friends' groups.
One such development with a current creative project is the Sax-Zim Bog IBA, located northwest of Duluth, Minnesota. Although the location is prime breeding habitat for northern bog specialists such as Great Gray Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Connecticut Warbler, the area is probably better known for its wintering specialties, such as Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, White-winged Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak, Northern Shrike, Rough-legged Hawk, Snow Bunting, and both redpoll species. Occasional Snowy Owls and Boreal Owls are also much sought-after species in winter.
The point is that the location at this season is cold, very cold, in winter, and shelter for birders can be hard to come by.
Enter the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, who are raising funds to build a Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center. This will be a modest sod-roofed, off-the-grid solar building constructed of local aspen, tamarack, and white pine. This winter-use-only building will serve as a gateway to the bog and a place for all to gather, share sightings, watch and photograph birds at the many feeders (on all sides of the building), learn about the bog’s biodiversity through the displays and literature, warm up, and, yes, use an outhouse!
The Welcome Center is currently being finished on a one-acre leased piece of property owned by the St. Louis County Land Department, located on the appropriately-named Owl Avenue. Fund-raising is ongoing, but the building is scheduled to be open very soon, for the 2013-2014 winter birding season.
You can find out more here:
For a short profile of the Sax-Zim Bog IBA, see here:
For additional information about IBA programs worldwide, including those across the U.S., check the National Audubon Society's Important Bird Area program web site at:
"BANKING ON NATURE" HIGHLIGHTS REFUGE VALUES
We all are aware of the biological, aesthetic, and even spiritual value of natural habitat, as exemplified through national and local parks, wildlife refuges, and national and state forests. But sometimes, just sometimes, these economic values need to be qualified.
The "Banking on Nature" report released in early November by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) did just that for the National Wildlife Refuge System. This 365-page report is the latest of a series of such studies, the previous one having been released in 2006.
The current "Banking on Nature" report spanning 2006-2011, shows that even during the greatest recession since the Great Depression, the overall return on investment increased substantially for the Refuge System, as well as every other major indicator. This includes the following five highlights:
1 The combined economic contribution to communities nationwide is almost five times the $492 million appropriated to the Refuge System in FY 2011 (Or for every $1 appropriated by Congress to run the National Wildlife Refuge System, nearly $5 is generated in local economies.)
2 In FY 2011, 46.5 million people visited refuges. Their spending generated $2.4 billion of sales in regional economies. As this spending flowed through the economy, over 35,000 people were employed and $792.7 million in employment income was generated.
3 About 72 percent of total expenditures are generated by non-consumptive activities on refuges. Fishing accounted for 21 percent and hunting 7 percent.
4 Local residents accounted for 23 percent of expenditures while visitors coming from outside the local area accounted for 77 percent. Therefore, NWRs are seen widely as travel-worthy destinations.
5 Refuge recreational spending generated about $342.9 million in tax revenue at the local, county, state and Federal level.
"Banking on Nature" closely examines economic activity at 92 representative NWRs, and there is an appendix toward the end on the "Economic Impacts of Birding" which highlights birding visitation at popular refuges, birding expenditures at 10 key refuges, and the national significance of birding visitation to refuges. The study concludes that there were 11.9 million birding visits (not to be confused with visitors) to refuges during 2001FY.
You can view a thoughtful Associated Press story on the report here:
And you can access the full USFWS "Banking on Nature" here:
BOOK NOTES: URBAN BIRDING
David Lindo delivers a charming and thoughtful book in THE URBAN BIRDER (New Holland, 2013), mixing a personal biography of a birder situated in an urban setting in the UK with observations about a birding obsession, learning, growing up, and conservation. It wasn't necessarily easy in the 1970s when he started to pursue his interest as a youth. At a time when birding was considered the pastime of rural-based, white, tweed-wearing, walking-stick-brandishing, middle class folks, what, in his words, was "a young, working class black kid doing getting involved? "
His self-declared mission is to get urbanites to appreciate that there is a great deal of natural life – especially birdlife – in even the most concrete-laden of cities. And in this regard, he has made a name for himself.
While urban birds and wildlife have always been treated as a novelty, secondary to "natural" settings, Lindo takes on the cause of speaking up for that lesser-appreciated interest, a cause he maintains is crucial for the future.
Some of the book's references – cultural, geographical, and biological – may need a bit of translation from Brit-speak to the American scene, but it matters little. The basic message comes through.
The book is a quick and fun read. And, toward the end the reader discovers how the author arrives at the moniker, "The Urban Birder."
You can also check out his website here:
HOPEFUL NUMBERS OF SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPERS REPORTED
The plight of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper has appeared in past issues of the E-bulletin, including in February:
The international Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force has been set up under the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) to implement conservation measures to reverse the declines in the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Fifteen experts from the effort conducted a survey in mid-October along 46 miles of coastline between Dongtai and Rudong, Jiangsu Province, China.
The group found 140 Spoon-billed Sandpipers as well as "internationally important concentrations" of several other waterbird species (including 1,200 Nordmann's Greenshanks).
This is the largest number of the rapidly-declining Spoon-billed Sandpiper found anywhere in the world since 2008, when it was designated as a globally critically endangered species (a species, "facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future," according to the IUCN).
The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is apparently dependent on the most naturally-productive and healthy intertidal wetlands during migration, especially in the Yellow Sea. The intertidal wetlands of Rudong, in particular, are probably the most important remaining stopover site for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper during its entire 5,000-mile migration route.
Many of the most important intertidal wetlands along the Jiangsu coast have been threatened by continuing reclamation for agricultural and industrial development. However, local and provincial authorities now recognize the international importance of the area and announced the creation of one new protected area for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, together with two more existing shellfish and fishery protected areas at a workshop that immediately followed the survey.
113TH CBC AVAILABLE ON LINE
The National Audubon Society has moved to the digital delivery of the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), and the final results of the 113th Christmas Bird Count have recently been posted. To get the full count summary, regional summaries, articles from compilers, and more, see here:
Beyond that, NAS is producing a quarterly citizen science eNewsletter to inform recipients of their citizen science efforts (e.g., CBC and GBBC). You can get it delivered straight to your email inbox by entering your email address just to the right of "Want to keep up with Citizen Science?" here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: PREPARING FOR THE CBC SEASON
And while we're at it, our tip this month is to encourage you to participate in this season's Christmas Bird Count. This count is the most essential source for information available on North American winter bird populations. This year's CBC – the 114th count - will take place between December 14 and January 5.
It's always a good idea to prepare in advance for a CBC. And by preparing, we don't just mean dressing appropriately and bringing a thermos of brewed coffee – shade-grown, of course – but also checking out your assigned route/area before the count day. This is especially important if you haven't been there since last year, or possibly at all! Things change: access, habitat, and seasonal birdlife.
Contact your circle leader and get count details, or to offer assistance to help cover under-birded zones.
Reminder: there is no longer a $5 fee to participate in the CBC, although help is still needed to keep the CBC alive and well.
FINALLY, THIS ALERT ON THE CBC IS THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY… to wish you the very BEST of the holiday season and a 2014 full of birds and nature!
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Wayne R. Petersen, Director
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Great Birding Projects