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Red-flanked Bluetail is an Old-World species which breeds sparingly in eastern Finland and northwestern Russia, and from western Siberia to Sakhalin Island, the Kamchatka Peninsula, and south to Japan. The species winters in the Indian Subcontinent, the Himalayas, Taiwan, and northern Indochina.
As for North American occurrences, the species is casual in western Alaska, primarily in the western Aleutians. It has also been found a couple of times in California (e.g., SE Farrallon Island in 1989 and San Clemente Island in 2011). In 2013, one of these charming little Eurasian flycatchers was also found, at Queen's Park, New Westminster, in the Metro Vancouver area of British Columbia where it remained to delight many observers.
This species could potentially occur elsewhere on the mainland West Coast, such as Washington or Oregon, or again in California or British Columbia. But on 26 December, John Walter Hanna found one at Hell's Gate State Park, not far from Lewiston, Idaho. Yes, Idaho! Who could have imagined?
The bird was very active in brushy habitat at the bottom of a slope next to the river in the park, but it was sometimes difficult to obtain lengthy views of the bird. It would periodically disappear for five or more minutes, only to reappear, 100 feet away, but calling frequently. For an original photo, see here:
Not only did this Red-flanked Bluetail in Idaho remain through the end of the month, but on 29 December, another Red-flanked Bluetail was also identified in British Columbia, at Lazo Wildlife Park in Comox. (It was actually first seen on 22 December, but not identified until the 29th.) The bird remained through the end of the month.
Last month, we encouraged readers to be on the alert for strange and rare ducks. We even mentioned the short visit in late November of an immature Common Shelduck in Rivière Brochu, Gallix, Quebec, located on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence:
The possibility of a natural occurrence of this Old-World species in North America has been confounded by the chance of escapes from waterfowl collections, even though Common Shelducks are increasing across much of Europe, including Iceland. All early-winter records for this species in eastern Canada and New England suggest a need for careful re-evaluation.
With this in mind three Common Shelducks found feeding with American Black Ducks and Mallards in Saint John, New Brunswick, on 17 December were of some interest. The shelducks were found by Kelly Honeyman, Samantha Brewster and Jim Wilson during the local St. John Christmas Bird Count. These birds were found intermittently through the end of the month
The case for legitimately wild Common Shelducks is sounding more convincing. For more details (and a photo) on the three New Brunswick birds, see here:
And for readers wishing to see a thorough discussion of the question of origin in Common Shelducks in North America, see Brinkley, E.S. (2010. The changing seasons: Provenance. North American Birds 64:20-31).
On the opposite coast, in Humboldt County, California, another rare Old-World duck was discovered on 22 December. It was a Common Pochard, a rare visitor to Alaska, with a few previous records for California and Canada (Quebec). The Common Pochard also remained through the end of the month.
As we mentioned last month, there are plenty of "odd ducks" out there still to be found. Remember, this is still an ideal season to find them too, so keep your eyes open and keep looking!
IBA NEWS: TENNESSEE RIDGETOP IMPLICATIONS
At the request of the State of Tennessee, in early Decemberthe U.S. Department of the Interior agreed to designate almost 75,000 acres of mountain habitat along 569 miles of ridgeline as unsuitable for surface coal mining operations. This was the result of a decade of activity, during which time many citizens worked on a Tennessee petition to declare a 1,200-foot corridor (600 feet on each side of the ridgelines) in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and Emory River Tract Conservation Easement as unsuitable for surface coal mining operations. The petitioned area originally encompassed about 67,326 acres.
The area is an important wildlife corridor, providing habitat for black bear, elk, and many songbirds, including Cerulean Warbler. It is also the region where much important Cerulean Warbler research has been done under contract with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
"This is great news for the hunters, anglers, hikers, and birders who come, year after year, to enjoy this incredible place," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. "I applaud the State for their forward-looking vision that will help strengthen the local economy and help protect a critical watershed."
The Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE) at the Department of the Interior studied six possible options for the designation, including a "no-action" alternative that would deny the petition altogether. In fact, the option chosen was based on public comments and a robust evaluation, including improved aerial mapping technology that more accurately reflected the State's original objectives.
The designated area is part of the Cumberland Mountains Important Bird Area, an IBA of global significance because of its "assemblage of biome-restricted species," with special reference to Cerulean Warbler.
In the words of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), an opponent of mountaintop removal mining, "Secretary Jewell's decision to approve the State of Tennessee's petition... in Anderson, Campbell, Morgan and Scott counties as unsuitable for mining will help safeguard our state's mountains without affecting mining operations in other parts of these counties, or elsewhere in Tennessee. This means these ridgetop landscapes - and the rivers, streams and forests that surround them - can continue to bring millions of tourists and thousands of jobs to Tennessee."
The designation does not impact existing mining operations within the area, but it does constitute added de facto protection for the New and Emory Rivers running through the designated area that provide clean drinking water to thousands of Tennesseans.
For details on the Cumberland Mountains IBA, see here:
For additional information about worldwide IBA programs, including those in the U.S., check the National Audubon Society's Important Bird Area program web site at:
OUTDOOR RECREATION GROWTH
Outdoor recreation is a very large contributor to the American economy. It could be half a percent of the entire nation's economy. Hiking, canoeing, camping, birding, hunting, fishing, climbing, mountain biking, are all parts of the picture. Americans are buying all sorts of related equipment and also paying handsomely for the privilege of access to the outdoors. But how much, exactly, are they spending these days? How large is the "outdoor recreation economy"?
In 2005 and 2011 the Outdoor Industry Foundation commissioned studies to make some serious measurements. The results for the outdoor recreation economy were surprising. Up to an astounding $646 billion is attributed to annual consumer spending! While many of the industry's players accepted that number at face value, others insisted on better metrics and more tightly-run surveys.
What emerged was a congressional call for a piece of bipartisan legislation that passed both the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama on 8 December. The Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016, or REC Act, directs the Department of Commerce to enter into a joint memorandum with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior to conduct an assessment and analysis of the outdoor recreation economy of the United States and the effects attributable to it on the overall U.S. economy. The data will be collected and analyzed through the highly-respected Bureau of Economic Analysis at the Department of Commerce.
Two multi-year phases in the project could produce tangible results by 2020.
"It's long overdue," says Bob Ratcliffe, the National Park Service's recreation chief. "We've never really understood how the outdoor recreation economy works. When you start talking about communities and states that have a high degree of outdoor recreation in their economy, it's important to understand it just as you would energy or trade or tariffs."
For more details, see here:
BOOK NOTES: A UNIQUE BIG-YEAR ACCOUNT
Lost Among the Birds by Neil Hayward (2016 Bloomsbury) chronicles in poignant detail the author's record-setting "Accidental Big Year" in 2013. By finding 749 species in North America in one year, Neal Hayward successfully eclipsed the standing record of 748 species set in 1998. However, unlike most of his predecessors in this near-Olympic birding endeavor, Hayward didn't initially plan to do a Big Year until well into 2013! As the book's subtitle suggests, the author recounts "Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year."
Unlike similar Big Year-type accounts, this beautifully and sensitively written volume is not just about chasing birds - rather it's an autobiographical journey describing self-discovery, personal love, and a passion for birds seldom folded into one story. Readers get to know and feel both the pathos of Hayward's inner journey, as well as the enjoyment of finding and pursuing some of the most exciting bird species on the continent. His descriptions of exotic and often remote regions (many no doubt familiar to some readers) and the spectacular birds that inhabit them are worthy in their own right, but when Hayward's personal story is intimately bound with these avian pursuits, the end result is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
ACCESS MATTERS: HOW DO I GET THERE?
What good is a wildlife refuge, a park, a state or national forest full of birds and other wildlife if the public has a problem getting to the place? It is unrealistic to expect appreciation when access is a barrier.
There are many state and federal agencies addressing this question today, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is among them.
Over 100 National Wildlife Refuges are within 25 miles of large and medium-size cities. But the staff at the National Wildlife Refuge System is asking: "How many urban refuges are truly accessible to people who have physical, financial and other issues that might be barriers to getting into nature? How can wildlife refuge staff work with others to provide those connections to increase visitation and better connect people to nature?" These are essential questions, intrinsic to the issue of real access and core to a new study launched for refuges.
The Urban Transportation Connections Study will be collecting transportation-related data for those 100+ refuges. That should allow the Refuge System to establish baseline information about the condition of transportation facilities.
The effort which is being coordinated with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has started with seven of the regional priority wildlife refuges: Steigerwald Lake/Pierce in Washington, Santa Ana in Texas, Detroit River International Refuge in Michigan, Bayou Sauvage in Louisiana, Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado, and Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Refuge.
Most of these seven are well-known localities for birdlife, and all support either "specialty" birds for their areas or certain species in impressive numbers.
The transportation study is expected to be completed by September 2017. Ultimately, it will summarize existing conditions, uncover gaps in transportation services and systems, and will recommend improvements to essential access.
You can find more details here:
TIP OF THE MONTH: RESOLUTION FOR 2017
In past January issues of the Birding Community E-Bulletin (e.g., 2009, 2010, and 2014) we have offered some modest suggestions for New Year's resolutions. Accordingly, we are offering some bird-oriented suggestions again for 2017.
What follows is a three-part, bird-oriented resolution for2017:
First, take the time to enjoy birds this year. This is a good idea whether you expect to spend time in your back yard, on local or national trips, or even abroad. Simply relax, enjoy yourself, and relish the wonder of birds. This is potentially the easiest part of our suggested three-part resolution.
Second, resolve to share the wonder of birds with others. Take others out and help them discover the amazing world of birds that has already inspired you. Introduce birds to your neighbor, a co-worker, a local teacher, a local office-holder, or a group of kids.
Finally, and this is particularly important, do something to secure the future for birds. It doesn't have to be a huge endeavor, but it should be directed at whatever local, regional, or international effort fits you best. You can help make a difference to protect birds, but it only happens if you make that initial deliberate effort.
Enjoy, share, protect. This is a winning formula for a successful resolution in 2017. Best of luck to you all!
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