Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Immigrants


After hearing about all sorts of interesting birds being reported in southern New York City, I was fortunate enough to go on a daytrip to see whatever was out there. By midmorning we arrived along the Gravesend Bay promenade in Brooklyn (pictured above, at sunset). A Mew Gull of European origins (Larus canus canus, henceforth Common Gull) had been seen amongst a flock of Ring-billed Gulls there. From the parkway, a group of gulls was visible in the parking lot of the department stores there. It looked like this bird would be easy. Ha!
Needless to say, the bird wasn't among the gulls in the parking lot. A few other birders were there already, and they had heard positive reports from earlier in the morning. However, the bird had flown off, and around a thousand Ring-billed Gulls were now visible. Groups were being fed at several points along the promenade while others rested on the water and on the ballfield. I think it is safe to say within each half hour every bird had moved to participate in some other activity. Despite the continual rotation, no Common Gull ever showed.
The next spot was Cloves Lakes Park over in (on?) Staten Island where a female Summer Tanager had apparently forgotten to check her wintering range in Sibley. En route, we had excellent views of the ever-impressive Verrazano-Narrows Bridge before crossing over it. Some research later revealed that it is the largest suspension bridge in the country, and is so massive that its towers were built very, very slightly tilted away from each other to compensate for the curvature of the Earth. I thought that was worth the digression. Despite recent snowfall, the ironic tanager was still in the park, busy sitting guarding an active beehive inside an old woodpecker hole! Eventually she began sallying out to catch bees, then messily disarming them in her beak. Apparently very pleased with herself, she then began her distinctive chortling call!


A quick check for a nearby Rufous Hummingbird was fruitless, so we returned to the Common Gull stakeout. No positive sightings until shortly after arrival, when the bird was seen briefly by one birder but again vanished. One Bonaparte's Gull that landed on the ballfield, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and some Purple Sandpipers did make the spot productive. I also thought it was interesting how one could see such an eclectic group of vagrant birds right where so many human immigrants had also found new homes in a foreign land. The Lesser Black-backed Gull could be Scottish. Perhaps the tanager is Cuban. Maybe the Common Gull hails from Poland. They don't realize it, but they are not without compatriots here.
Postscript: the author did catch up with the adorable Common Gull on a subsequent trip. A detailed account of the day was written by Benjamin Van Doren here!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunken Meadow SP & Eurasian Wigeon in Setauket


This morning I took a trip to see if I could spot the Eurasion Wigeon in Setauket. I got there and scoped almost all of the bay without luck. Many American Wigeon were out and about though. Then as I was leaving I passed a small cove and in it fed a flock of about forty American Wigeon and amongst the flock was the Eurasian Wigeon.

Yesterday(December 26) I visited Sunken Meadow State Park. The highlights included a female Northern Harrier hunting over the Dunes near Field 3, a single Killdeer along the edge of the exposed mudflats, a cold Snowy Egret hunting in the Inner Marsh, and 32 Northern Gannet plunge-diving on the Long Island Sound. I also enjoyed watching a immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker foraging very close to me on a tree. complete list of the birds seen is below:

December 26, 2009

Sunken Meadow SP: Northern Harrier, 1 Killdeer, 32 Northern Gannets, Snowy Egret, 4 Red-tailed Hawks, Fish crows, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, 46 Long-tailed ducks, American Black ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Belted Kingfisher, Sanderlings

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays


The Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Youth Outreach Committee would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year!!!!

Stella, Brendan, Brent and Vinny

Monday, December 21, 2009

Northern Nassau CBC, Route 9/15




The first time the word “birding” was used (in a work of William Shakespeare), it referred to the act of bird hunting. At some point during the following four hundred years it shed its old definition and acquired a new one: bring binoculars instead of a retriever.

I don’t know when this switch occurred, but I do know that a traditional Christmastime expedition made a congruent switch abruptly in the year 1900. For some reason, in my mind I picture a group of men, each resembling Daniel Boone with rifle in hand, in deep, Monty python-style conversation about why they can’t just look at the birds. But in reality, a gentleman and National Audubon society named Frank Chapman introduced the Christmas Bird Count to complement to the new conservation era. With time, the numbers of birds tallied by participants began to reveal nationwide trends in population growth and decline.

On the 110th iteration of Chapman’s count, I helped survey a circles 9 and 15 on the Northern Nassau count. The first snowstorm of the winter was scheduled to snuff the count by early afternoon, so we had a packed and eventful half day.

I met our team leader, Stella, and began the day listening for owls. A train, a dog, and a rooster replied to our screech owl rendition. Little did the rooster know it was 0400 hrs.

Our next site was also for screech owls, a little site off 25A called the Cushman Preserve. We pulled in and began calling. Before anything replied, a small sedan drove past us farther into the preserve. It wasn’t another team crossing into our territory; it was just a hint of the odd company we were to get that night. We left the site with one Eastern Screech-Owl in our bag. Erm, metaphorically.

At the time we suspected the lone car in the woods would take the title of “strangest vehicular encounter of the day.” Ha, well. On our way to our next stop, we spotted an interesting convergence of habitat around the road. Optimistically thinking hyphenated words such as “Long-eared” and “Saw-whet,” we pulled over and warmed up to call. Shortly, a roar from the left heralded the most ridiculous sight of the day. It was a monstrous black hummer, sporting too many flashing lights to be an ambulance but just enough to belong on the Las Vegas strip. It blasted by the two awed owlers and went down the road. As if the incessant tooting of our Saw-whet call challenged the glowing beast, it braked and began a three-point turn. Time to leave! But the creature quickly pulled right up to the car and cut off our escape. A man got out and asked if we were having car problems. After some suspicious misunderstanding of our stated intentions, he jumped back into the behemoth and drove away. We hadn’t called in any owls yet, but you may understand that the mood had been killed. Lesson learned? All good birders know to pull well off the road while birding to avoid accidents, but while you’re at it, pull into a quiet sidestreet.
(A quick scan of the internet came up with nothing close to what we encountered, but this is approximately the image that was burned onto my retinas for the next 20 minutes.)

Continuing on our way, we passed Las Vegas On Wheels saving another motorist, this time a taxi. A quick check of Stillwell Woods produced no owls. We picked up our third member, Simone, and returned to the last spot. A Great Horned Owl was calling just beyond the limits of our territory. I didn’t care; it was our second owl species and individual of the night. Great Horneds dotted our route, with 3 more between two stops on 25A, plus a pair of screeches at another.

At dawn we picked up our last member, Joe, and birded another roadside site. We picked up good numbers of sparrows, including some Fox, the most cardinals of any team in the circle (over 45 at that spot alone!) and good flyovers such as a pair of American Black Duck and the count’s only Common Merganser!

We visited a Boce’s property for feeder birds and a chance for roosting Great Horned Owls. Feeder birds abounded, with the highlights there being a Brown Creeper, many juncos, a pair of House Finches. A tour of the back of the property turned up nothing except a Red-bellied Woodpecker chuckling at our futile attempts. With restricted time, scrutinizing the canopies of the pine grove there for owls wasn’t really an option. But one owl happened to be nicely silhouetted in a deciduous tree in a break in the grove. It posed then flew off, followed by its mate. Total owls: 3 Eastern Screech and 6 Great Horneds. I didn’t know the county had such potential.

We hit a couple of little woodland preserves, where we rounded out the expected species, like Carolina Wren, and added more woodpeckers, jays, crows, titmice, chickadees, kinglets, and sparrows to their respective totals. Joe left us early, but fortunately didn’t miss much. We increased our goose count at a pond and then again at a school. After that, we hit the Old Westbury Gardens and added one new species for the day, a Hermit Thrush. Notable for numbers there were doves and robins. One last treat at the gardens was seeing a pair of Northern Mockingbirds face off at the edges of their territories.

Before turning in for the compilation, we bolstered goose and American Black Duck numbers and got our first Mallard of the day at a final pond. The first flakes were dusting the road.

The night produced an exquisite blizzard. The beautiful, swirling winter scene lulled me to sleep at home that night. When I awoke, it was already lunch time. The snow was now dazzlingly white. I wondered if the owls had still called in the night. Then I remembered how early I woke up for owling and fell back asleep until dinner.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Report on Species Hardest Hit By Global Warming


Please note: This article is directly from the IUCN website:

"The Arctic Fox, Leatherback Turtle and Koala are among the species destined to be hardest hit by climate change, according to a new IUCN review.

The report, Species and Climate Change, focuses on 10 species, including the Beluga Whale, Clownfish, Emperor Penguin, Quiver Tree, Ringed Seal, salmon and staghorn corals, which all highlight the way climate change is adversely affecting marine, terrestrial and freshwater habitats.

“Humans are not the only ones whose fate is at stake here in Copenhagen – some of our favourite species are also taking the fall for our CO2 emissions,” says report co-author Wendy Foden. “This report should act as a wake-up call to governments to make real commitments to cut CO2 emissions if we are to avoid a drastically changed natural world. We simply don’t have the time for drawn-out political wrangling. We need strong commitments and we need them now.”

Polar species are being affected by loss of ice due to global warming, according to the report. The Ringed Seal is being forced further north as the sea ice it relies on for pup-rearing retreats. The Emperor Penguin, highly adapted to unforgiving Antarctic conditions, faces a similar problem. Regional sea ice, which it needs for mating, chick-rearing and moulting, is declining. Reduced ice cover also means less krill, affecting food availability for the Emperor Penguin and many other Antarctic species.

The Arctic tundra on which the Arctic Fox depends is disappearing as warming temperatures allow new plant species to flourish. As the habitat changes from tundra to forest, the Red Fox, which preys on the Arctic Fox and competes with it for food, is able to move further north, reducing the Arctic Fox’s territory.

The Arctic’s Beluga Whale is likely to be affected by global warming both directly, through loss of sea ice and subsequent difficulty finding prey, and indirectly, through human activity as melting sea ice opens up previously inaccessible areas. Ship strikes, pollution and gas and oil exploration all put this highly sociable mammal at risk.

“Ordinary people are not powerless to stop these tragic losses,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “They can cut down on their own CO2 emissions and voice their support for strong action by their Governments to change the dire climate prognosis we are currently facing.”

The impacts of climate change are not confined to polar regions. In more tropical areas, staghorn corals, which include some 160 species, are severely affected by rising ocean temperatures, which causes coral bleaching. Ocean acidification, the result of too much CO2 in the oceans, weakens the corals’ skeletons.

Clownfish, of “Finding Nemo” fame, are also victims of ocean acidification. Acidic water disrupts their sense of smell, impairing their ability to find their specific host anemone, which they rely on for protection. Salmon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the commercial fishing industry, are threatened by increases in water temperature, which reduces water’s oxygen levels, increases their susceptibility to disease and disrupts their breeding efforts.

Australia’s iconic Koala faces malnutrition and ultimate starvation as the nutritional quality of Eucalyptus leaves declines as CO2 levels increase. The Leatherback Turtle, another iconic species, is being affected by rising sea levels and increased storm activity due to climate change which destroys its nesting habitats. Temperature increases may lead to a reduction in the proportion of males relative to females.

An increase in CO2 levels does not just affect animals however; it also impacts on the world’s plants. The Quiver Tree, found in the Namib Desert region of southern Africa, is losing populations in the equator-ward parts of their distribution range due to drought stress. They highlight the problems that all plants and slow-moving species face in keeping up with rapidly accelerating changing climate.

“Several of the species highlighted in the report are already listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, due to other threats such as habitat destruction or over harvesting,” says Jean-Christophe ViĆ©, Deputy Head of IUCN’s Species Programme. “Others are not currently threatened on the IUCN Red List, but will be very soon as the effects of climate change materialise. For a large portion of biodiversity, climate change is an additional and major threat.”

Please go to http://www.iucn.org/?4292/Species-on-climate-change-hit-list-named for more details and to read the report.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another Book Review: Birdwatcher, The Life of Roger Tory Peterson


I recently finished Birdwatcher, The Life of Roger Tory Peterson and enjoyed that a great deal This book is written by Elizabeth Rosenthal and is a terrific and thorough look into the life of Roger Tory Peterson. To me, Peterson was always an abstract and revered figure. Who hasn’t owned a Peterson field guide? It was the first one I owned, a gift from my mother for my 21st birthday, along with my first pair of binoculars. It took me a very long time to actually delve into birding, but I always had my Peterson Field Guide handy if I did need to ID something through the years!

Roger Tory Peterson was born in 1908 in Jamestown, NY. From an early age he was enthralled by birds and nature. In 1934 his Field Guide to the Birds revolutionized the world of birding and he is credited with bringing bird watching to the forefront of American interests. Thanks to his field guides, millions of people now had the tools to go out into the field and definitively identify what they were seeing. His influence and knowledge helped spur a national past time that can now boast over 48 million participants, with one in five Americans stating that they watch birds. This book is so much more than just a narrative about Roger the “birding legend”. What Rosenthal does is tear down the myth and legend and offer us a wonderful glimpse into the real person. His marriages, his relationships with his children, and with others in the field: it is all covered here.

The love of nature that had begun as a small child had morphed into a force to be reckoned with. When he died in 1996, at the age of 87, as the father of modern birding, he left behind a lifetime of achievement and had influenced and helped to educate millions of people. This is terrific book and I recommend it!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nassau County Grassland Excursion



Today Stella and I took a tour of some of the last remaining native grassland habitats in Nassau County.  These small parcels are invaluable to the survival of such species as Eastern Bluebird, Field Sparrow, and American Kestrel.  Through the continued preservation of these sites species such as these can be prevented from disappearing from Long Island all together.

Our first stop was a 51 acre parcel in Jericho.  Very few people had birded here before, and those who had had turned up such rarities as Northern Shrike and American Bittern.  Our decision to come here was a good one, as we were greeted by a large flock of sparrows, numbering in the 40's.  In it were at least four Fox Sparrows, a desirable species in this area.  Last year that was the total for the entire Christmas Bird Count!  In the open field we did not find anything else, so we kept moving.  By a small pond we found a small flock of chickadees which contained both Kinglets and some titmice.  Here we also found a flock of sparrows including another four Fox Sparrows.  That gave us eight for one location!  Down the trail a little further was a Gray Catbird.  After waling to the opposite side we found another large grassland area, this dominated by tall grass.  It was here that we flushed a huge female Great-horned Owl out of a Eastern Red Cedar.  Walking back we ran into five Yellow-rumped Warblers and an adult Cooper's Hawk.  What a location!

We thern hit the Tiffany Creek Preserve and birded a small field which contains breeding Eastern Bluebirds.  We didn't turn up anything unusual, but it was still great to be out in such a unique location this time of year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Importance of Predators and How You Can Help One Species Right Now



I recently received an action alert email from Defenders of Wildlife concerning a devastating poison called carbofuran. This agricultural pesticide is made by a US company and has been deemed too dangerous to be used in the United States, but it can easily be bought in Kenya and East Africa. What is it being used for? Herdsmen are purchasing it in order to kill lions, leopards and other predators.
According to Defenders: “Just a handful of carbofuran -- a deadly neurotoxin that Defenders helped to ban in the U.S. -- can kill an entire pride of lions”.

Despite the popular belief that lions are abundant, they are in steep decline. According to Defenders, just 50 years ago, a half million of the big cats could be found roaming Africa. Populations have plummeted to an estimated 16,000, a decline of more than 95%. Kenya now hosts fewer than 2,000 lions, down from 35,000 fifty years ago. At this rate, Kenya’s lions will be extinct within two decades. This issue got me to thinking about predators in general.

Predators or carnivores have been my main passion since I was five years old. Bears, wild cats and dogs, and the entire mustelid family (weasels, wolverines, martens etc) are just a few of the animals that have captured my heart. As a birder, I am also aware of the importance of predators in our ecosystem. You are probably thinking, “Why should birders care about lions and other predators?” Predators are a keystone or umbrella species. Protect them, and their habitat, and you protect everything else that lives within that habitat, including birds.

One classic example can be found right here in the US, in Yellowstone National Park. Once wolves disappeared from the park, the ecosystem began to suffer. With no major predators to fear, elk and deer began to congregate and demolish anything they could reach. Willow and aspen trees began to die out as these ungulates browsed them down to nothing. Returning wolves to the ecosystem has caused prey animals to disperse and spread out more, which is allowing these trees to flourish. Browsed out riverbeds are once again lush and green.

Where there are trees and shrubs, there are nesting birds. See the connection? Wolves also provide food for other wildlife. Coyotes, ravens, bears, magpies and eagles have all benefited from wolf kills. The presence of wolves has helped bring down the coyote population, which was out of control. With the reduction of coyotes, other predators such as foxes, fishers, wolverines, martens and badgers are increasing in number, which of course leads to a healthier ecosystem.

It is all a careful balancing act, and one that is fiercely intertwined. Take one component out of the equation, such as predators, and watch an entire ecosystem begin to decline.

For many people, predators symbolize the last of the world’s last great wilderness areas. Many others fear predators. They think the only good predator is a dead one. This is the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, predators are essential to our natural world. Without these powerful creatures, entire landscapes can change for the worse. I also truly believe that when we lose predators, we lose the wildness in our souls. Right now, in Africa, lions can be lost within twenty years, unless something is done now. Take a moment to make a difference. Please go to www.defenders.org now and sign the petition to save the African lion!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book Review: Wesley the Owl





After a whirlwind summer and autumn filled with birding and hiking, I have finally been able to hit the books and start digging into some of the reading material that was starting to pile up in my living room. I have enough books laying around, ready to be devoured, to last me months and months. Time to start cracking!

I recently finished Wesley the Owl by Stacy O’Brien, a delightful and remarkable memoir about a barn owl and the woman who was his caretaker for almost 20 years. It is a fascinating look into the mind of an owl and the relationship that can form between two species.

Stacy O’Brien, a biologist, adopted Wesley as a non releasable four day old owlet and lived with him for almost two decades. During that time, they forged an incredible bond, a bond that transcended their interspecies differences. This wonderful memoir is filled with humor, important life lessons, compassion and interesting facts.

Stacey was a research student when she took Wesley home. He, of course, became imprinted on her. Imprinting is when an animal takes its identity from whatever it perceives to be its parent. Many birds of prey in captivity are imprints and as a result, they can never be released into the wild. The danger to humans is too great and the chances of survival without proper training from a raptor parent is slim. Wesley thought of Stacey as his mother, and then his mate. His various sexual overtures towards her are a hoot (sorry, I couldn’t resist) to read about and her discomfort is priceless as she tries to explain Wesley’s “affection” to her professor.

This book carries you through the 19 years that they spent together. Some of it is very funny, and I especially enjoyed reading about Stacey’s various suitors and their reactions to Wesley. Perhaps my favorite anecdote is the one about the night Stacy was feeding wild barn owls and was approached by some rather sketchy characters. As she explained what she was doing, the boys were transformed into assistants as they became excited about her efforts and eagerly helped her out. Proof that education and awareness are key and I would bet that after that experience, every one of those boys developed a little bit of appreciation and compassion towards owls. Just as this book leads us into the mind of Wesley, and teaches us the “Way of the Owl”, these boys’ lives were probably changed for the better that night. Stacy’s life was absolutely changed for the better through her relationship with Wesley.

I think you will adore this book. Sweet, funny, heartbreaking, engaging and informative, you will not be able to put it down!


Monday, November 30, 2009

YOC Presentation 11/27

On November 27, 2009 Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon's Youth Outreach Committee gave a presentation to the Comprehensive Care Management Center of Amityville, housed in the Sisters of St. Dominics Convent. Earlier in the year, several birdfeeders were constructed by local cub scouts. Each scout kept the feeder that they had built, and the extra feeders were donated to the CCM. We gave a short presentation to the sisters about the birds they may see at the donated feeder, and afterwards several rounds of bird bingo were played. Vinny Pellegrino gave most of the presentation, which focused on the multitude of backyard birds that the sisters might see at their new feeder.


Bird Bingo was also a hit; each sister received her own card which depicted birds instead of the typical numbers usually found on a bingo board. Whenever a bird was drawn, a member of the YOC would give a brief description of the species and some interesting facts about it. The grand prizes were two Huntington Audubon tee-shirts and a photo of a Northern Flicker by Vincent Tizio. Sister Rose Michael was especially pleased with the Northern Flicker that she won from the YOC, and expressed her admiration in the work done by the YOC. The YOC consists of HAS President, Stella Miller, and three teenagers, Brent Bomkamp, Vinny Pellegrino, and Brendan Fogarty.


The YOC with Sister Rose Michael

Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps ("Duck Stamps")


As conservationists we hear the word hunters and our first thought is a negative one. Kill the animals we are trying to save? Isn't that defeating the purpose? I know that I personally abhor hunting and could never do it myself. But...I recognize that responsible hunters are perhaps some of the greatest contributors to conservation out there, via this program. Check this out:

Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from the $15 Duck Stamp go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which supports the purchase of acres of wetlands for inclusion into the National Wildlife Refuge System. Another interesting and important fact:

Since 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp program has raised more than $750 million to purchase nearly six million acres of wildlife habitat for the Refuge System.

Duck Stamp funds have been used to acquire habitat at hundreds of refuges, in nearly every state in our nation. There are 550 national wildlife refuges spread across all 50 states and U.S. territories. A current Duck Stamp can be used for free admission to any national wildlife refuge open to the public. To show you how important our refuges are: In 2008, more than 41 million visited a unit of the refuge system. Refuges offer recreational opportunities, including hunting, fishing, bird watching and photography, all the wild protecting wildlife and its habitat.

I have visited wildlife refuges across the country and they are some of my very favorite places to hike and bird at.

All waterfowl hunters age 16 and older are required to purchase and carry the current Migratory Bird Conservation and Hunting Stamp – commonly known as the Duck Stamp – but conservationists, stamp collectors and others also purchase the stamp in support of habitat conservation.

Please consider purchasing a Duck Stamp today. You can be sure that this is one way that your dollars are guaranteed to go towards the preservation of habitat and wildlife!!!!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunken Meadow, Shinnecock, and Calverton-11/29


Today John Turner, Stella Miller, and I took a trip to various locations on Long Island.  Our prime targets were Black-legged Kittiwake, Pink-footed Goose, and Barnacle Goose.  Our first stop was Sunken Meadow State Park, where a Pink-footed, Cackling, and Barnacle Goose have been hanging around recently.  As we scanned the fields it became apparent that there were none of these species in the few goose flocks present.  We decided to check out the marsh outflow pipe and the island of vegetation nearby.  In this area we had some House Finches, Northern Flickers and American Goldfinches.  On the water there were numerous Common Loons and some Red-breasted Mergs.  A Belted Kingfisher and a Black-crowned Night-heron were on the creek.  Another check of the Sound revealed a small Bonaparte's Gull movement consisting of about 25 birds and an adult Northern Gannet.  This mockingbird perched nicely for a photo.


Afterwards we headed over to Shinnecock Inlet.  There were lots of Laughing Gulls and Common Eiders, with at least 60 LAGUs and 70 COEI.  There were also a few Bonaparte's Gulls in evidence along with loads of Double-crested Cormorants.  Down the beach a little we did a seawatch that turned up good numbers of Scoter and Red-throated Loons, Common Eider, and Northern Gannets.  A bird that could have possibly been a large alcid also flew by.  From here we headed over to Calverton, where we birded the former Grumman facility.  Over the vast fields we located an immature Northern Harrier, and in the trees there were 7 Eastern Bluebirds. 

Overall it was a productive day of birding despite the lack of our target species.  Thankfully we did manage to see some relatively good species and John taught us an incredible amount of information about the Pine Barrens.

  1. Red-throated Loon
  2. Common Loon
  3. Pied-billed Grebe
  4. Northern Gannet
  5. Double-crested Cormorant
  6. Black-crowned Night-heron
  7. Mute Swan
  8. Brant
  9. Canada Goose
  10. Green-winged Teal
  11. Mallard
  12. Gadwall
  13. American Wigeon
  14. Ring-necked Duck
  15. Common Eider
  16. Long-tailed Duck
  17. Black Scoter
  18. Bufflehead
  19. Hooded Merganser
  20. Red-breasted Merganser
  21. Northern Harrier
  22. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  23. Cooper's Hawk
  24. Red-tailed Hawk
  25. Sanderling
  26. Dunlin
  27. Bonaparte's Gull
  28. Ring-billed Gull
  29. Herring Gull
  30. Great Black-backed Gull
  31. Rock Dove
  32. Mourning Dove
  33. Belted Kingfisher
  34. Downy Woodpecker
  35. Northern Flicker
  36. Blue Jay
  37. American Crow
  38. Black-capped Chickadee
  39. Carolina Wren
  40. Eastern Bluebird
  41. Northern Mockingbird
  42. European Starling
  43. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  44. Song Sparrow
  45. White-thorated Sparrow
  46. Dark-eyed Junco
  47. Red-winged Blackbird
  48. House Finch
  49. American Goldfinch
  50. House Sparrow

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Brown Pelicans off the Endangered Species List

In case you were unaware, the Brown Pelican, a common coastal seabird found in the Southeastern United States, was finally removed from the Endangered Species List. Just like our famous, reveled raptors such as the Bald Eagle and Osprey, whose populations were drastically decreased after DDT entered ecosystems nationwide, the Brown Pelican too, was affected by the malignant pesticide. Below is the full article about their rebound and the conservation efforts taken to bring back the charming and renowned resident of the southeast.

"Much like its death-defying dives for fish, the brown pelican has resurfaced after plummeting to the brink of extinction.

Interior Department officials on Wednesday announced that they were taking the bird off the endangered species list, after a nearly four-decade struggle to keep the brown pelican population afloat.


The bird now prevalent across Florida, the Gulf and Pacific coasts and the Caribbean was declared an endangered species in 1970, after its population — much like those of the bald eagle and peregrine falcon — was devastated by the use of the pesticide DDT.

The chemical, consumed when the pelican ate tainted fish, caused it to lay eggs with shells so thin they broke during incubation.

The pelican's recovery is largely due to a 1972 ban on DDT, coupled with efforts by states and conservation groups to protect its nesting sites and monitor its population, Interior Department officials said.

"Today we can say the brown pelican is back," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a conference call with reporters in Washington. "Once again, we see healthy flocks of these graceful birds flying over our shores. The brown pelican is endangered no longer."

The official announcement came earlier at a press conference at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, which is dubbed the "Pelican State". The bird has been on the state's official seal since 1804, but the pelican had virtually disappeared from its coasts in the 1960s.

"It's been a long journey," said Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, parks for the Interior Department. "It's tracked my whole adult life."

Strickland acknowledged that the bird's coastal habitat was in danger from rising seas and erosion, but he said wildlife officials were confident the bird was ready to be taken off the list.

Anthony Walgamotte, a 75-year-old retired levee worker fishing along Irish Bayou outside New Orleans on Wednesday, said he never knew the bird was in trouble. Nearby, brown pelicans rested on pilings every few hundred yards.

"They're plentiful now," he said.

The plight of the brown pelican has tracked closely with the development and birth of the nation's environmental policy and the environmental movement. It was listed as endangered before Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. And its struggle for survival, initially due to hunting for feathers to decorate hats, led to the birth of the National Wildlife Refuge System more than 100 years ago. That's when President Theodore Roosevelt created the first refuge at Pelican Island in Florida.

Nowadays, the bird is prevalent along the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, California, Washington and Oregon. It can be seen dramatically diving headfirst into the water to emerge with a mouthful of fish.

The Bush administration in early 2008 proposed removing the bird from the endangered species list. In 1985, the Fish and Wildlife Service eliminated brown pelicans living in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and up the Atlantic Coast from the list.
Some environmentalists Wednesday said that they would like to see populations in the Western Gulf and the Caribbean stay on the list. Along the Gulf Coast the concern is that the population lives on low-lying islands and coasts vulnerable to hurricanes and the rising sea levels expected to come with global warming. In the Caribbean, the question is whether the population has been sufficiently monitored.

"We remain very concerned with the long-term viability in the face of global warming and hurricanes," said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity. "We would prefer to see the federal government secure long-term agreements (along the Gulf) to ensure coastal nesting habitat is going to be restored and protected in perpetuity."

The announcement does not remove all protections for the species. It will still be protected by other laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. "

The Quoted article above was extracted from National Public Radio.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ash-throated Flycatcher in Brooklyn

Last Sunday, an Ash-throated Flycatcher was found in a vacant lot in Queens.   The Ash-throated Flycatcher is a fairly common bird of the western United States that is annual in New York, with some years seeing multiple birds.  This individual, however, certainly has chosen the most unusual location of any of the other vagrants, to a level of the polluted mudflat behind a homeless camp selected by 2007's Western Reef-heron.  A overgrown parcel in between an abandoned garage and a construction company, one wouldn't expect to see any birds, let alone such a rare one.  However, it apparently is finding the location adequate, as it has stayed there for the past 4 days.

Last night I convinced my Dad to drive me out to Brooklyn before Thankgiving dinner.  We arrived at the site at 7:00, before anything could be seen with the overcast sky.  We took a few drives around the block, and found a Chipping Sparrow in a nearby lawn.  However, at 7:30, we spied some movement in the original lot.  Once I got my binoculars on it a small gray Myiarchus sp. flycatcher revealed itself.  Bingo.  Ash-throateds can be separated from the more common Great-crested Flycatcher by the (unsuprisngly) overall ashy and drab color, smaller size, and more uniformly brown retrices, especially at the tips.  We were provided with great views, but as I got the bird in the sight of my camera, the battery died.  So no photos were taken, but great views were had for around 10 minutes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Perfect Weather at Montauk

Generally an oxymoron, well, if you you want to successfully bird The End in winter.

Despite the title fact, Brent and Stella lead a great trip to Montauk today. We began by scanning the waters from the concession stand. The show wasn't as spectacular as it could've been, with only hundreds, not thousands, of eiders and scoters. But seeing all flying together below you is never a bad thing.

After finding nothing of terrible interest at the point, we tried Deep Hollow Ranch. I had seen my first Pink-footed Goose in the pastures here in 2007, and was excited to see several hundred geese milling about today. We scanned through them all and found nothing to note. Just then Shai Mitra pulled up and performed a magic trick. He pointed us to a small cluster of geese hiding behind several layers of fencing, and there stood a Richardson's Cackling Goose. This was a lifer for many of our little group, and more importantly we all learned how to pick out a true Cackler!

Before making our way slowly west, we hit the point again. We then learned that small gull identification is possible even at a mile's distance, and used our new knowledge to separate the microscopic Bonaparte's Gulls from kittiwakes. In this way we were greatly rewarded for optimizing the high power of our scopes.

Brent lead us to the next stop, the Lake Montauk inlet. There we had fine views of flyover Laughing Gulls, juxtaposed Great and Double-crested Cormorants, and a male Common Eider that somehow ate an impossibly large piece of seafood. Tons of large gulls were visible offshore following fishing boats, but nothing interesting could be picked out of the frenzy. Our next stop, Culloden Point, fixed our interesting Larus paucity with a creamy first cycle Iceland Gull.

We closed our East End birding with a brief look at Fort and Hook Ponds. Hook Pond was loaded with Canada Geese, but we were fairly certain there were no Cacklers among them. We did add Gadwall and Sanderling to the day list there, however.

As the group disseminated at Stella's, an Eastern Screech-Owl whinnied "adieu." In the dark northern sky, I laid my eyes on the last flying object of the day: one brilliant white bird with a red tail that streaked over the Long Island sound for a few seconds before disintegrating in the atmosphere.

My thanks to Stella, Brent, Vinny, and Benjamin for perfecting a day of fine weather at Montauk.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Methane Flare/Raptor Conflict







Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon has been working on an issue concerning the deaths and injuries of birds of prey at landfills across the country. The following is informaton and a timeline concerning how I became involved in this issue:



Background:


Landfills consist of a treeless landscape which attracts rodents, a favorite food source of raptors. Methane is a by-product of the decomposition process in the landfill and operators are rquired by law to either burn it off or recycle the methane for energy.


According the Solid Waste Association of North America ("SWANA"), "Waste disposed in landfills generate landfill gas-roughly half of which is methane-through the process of waste decomposition. Methane is a green house gas, which according to the EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program ("LMOP") is 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. In order to prevent this gas from being released into the atmosphere it is becoming common to use landfill gas as a fuel source to generate green electricity. If a landfill does not produce enough landfill gas to make the capital investiment required for a green energy project feasible then another option is to burn off the landfill gas in a device known as a flare."


The height of the flares makes for a perfect perch for hunting raptors. Some methane flares have an ignitor which causes a sudden flame, while others have a continual invisible flame. Both types can kill anything perched on, or flying over, them. Because landfills are very low-traffic areas, a very small percentage of these birds are ever found and treated. Most succumb painfully to their injuries.


Birds have been found in numerous states, including New York. This is a nationwide problem and it is just finally coming to to the public eye.


Raptors are fully protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and as such, it is illegal to harm them. In fact, the fine for harming any bird, from the smallest songbird to the largest raptor, can run up to $15,000 per bird!

Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon became involved in this issue in November 2008. At that time, I heard about the issue that raptor rehabbers across the country were having and I felt compelled to help. I reached out to Rob Fergus of National Audubon who quickly posted the issue on his blog and we began to brainstorm on how we could help.

The following is a timeline of our action steps thus far:


December 2008: A landfill burned kestrel is brought in from the Port Washington Landfill to Sweetbriar Nature Center. Now that the issue has hit home, we decide it is time for stronger action. While Sweetbriar starts a paper petition to garner support, I quickly created an on-line petition, which now has almost 5, 000 signatures, and a Facebook cause called Save our Raptors (it has 900 members right now). The target of our cause? The USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service). I called the FWS and asked for a meeting, which they quickly granted.

January 2009: meet with the FWS who pledge to help us on this issue. I created a PowerPoint presentation on the topic. Numerous conference calls followed, including calls to the EPA and Rick Harness, a raptor biologist who has been instrumental in the powerline/raptor conflict issue. Nick Papadopoulis of Burning Hawks Vineyards was a tremendous help in putting me in touch with the "people in charge" that I needed to speak to. The EPA claims they have no authority over these landfills but can be a resource with regards to LMOP.

By March I realized that it would perhaps be more productive to target the industry, creating awareness and education and discover that the SWANA is the largest professional organization in the industry. I sent letters and photos to the CEO, hoping to generate some response. In the meantime, an article that I wrote in our newsletter was seen by a board member of both the NYS Association for Solid Waste Management and the Federation of NYS Solid Waste Associations. As a result of this, in April 2009 the two associations joined forces with HOBAS, Audubon New York, Save our American Raptors, Oklahoma Raptors and Hoo's Woods to form the Save Our Raptors Campaign Coalition. A press release is sent out and as a result of that, the Associated Press ran an article which hit over 100 news outlets across the country!

The NYS solid wasted people presented this issue at their May meeting and there just happened to be a SWANA representative there. A SWANA rep quickly reached out to me and since June, the organization has been actively engaged in this issue. We have had several conference calls and they have engineers working on various bird deterrents.

Some of the methods have been talked about for years by rehabbers...anti perching devices and alternate perches. Some of the ideas are new and innovative. Easy solutions yes? Well, there ARE complications. Perching could possibly pierce the protective liners that are on the ground of landfills and anti perching devices must not only be heat resistant, they must be made to the specifications of the flare, so as not to void any warranties on the flare.

Swana sent out an email to over 1,300 members and as a result, we have already seen a trickle of responses. A landfill in North Carolina reached out to SWANA and I was contacted by someone from PA Wildlife who is now working with their local landfills. I was also contacted by someone in MA. SWANA has also formed a "Raptor Committee" and are committed to engaging on this issue.

Our hope is that even if landfill operators do not care about birds dying (and we have already heard from several that do), they will care about bad press and about possible prosecution. By creating public awareness and engaging industry leaders, perhaps the pressure will be greater for landfills to implement methods to prevent bird deaths.

Landfills vary in how they are set up and there is no cookie cutter remedy. There is no guarantee that this is going to be a miracle cure. There is no guarantee that landfills will take the steps needed to protect raptors. However, this is a fine first step.

Each time a bird dies at a landfill, the law is broken. Trying to enforce those laws by engaging various FWS branches has not been successful to date. To have SWANA on our side is vital. SWANA cannot enforce the law. Their job is to educate and to offer resources for landfill operators. They have the ability to be a powerful voice for raptors and this is what we have needed. For too now long raptor rehabbers have struggled to bring awareness of this issue outside their circles and now it finally is out there.

Latest Updates:

I have been invited to present a program on this topic at SWANA's national conference in Reno in April 2010. The fantastic news? SWANA themselves will be my co-presenters!

I have also been invited to present the program at the NYS solid waste conference in May 2010. Again, SWANA will co-present.

This is all great news and HOBAS is proud to be a part of this campaign along with our partners!!!!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Winter Finch Forecast


Bohemian Waxwings
Lincoln, NH  2/20/09
This was posted to the New York State Birds List by Matt Young.  It provides a nice overview of what boreal birds you might expect to find in the Northeast this coming winter.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hello all,


As usual here's a follow-up post about the potential for a winter finch
invasion in NY and points north and south.
However, this is an abbreviated finch forecast since I do not expect it to
be big winter, and Ron Pittaway already
covered much of what will likely take place.

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: I do expect there to be scattered White-winged
Crossbills in the northeast given the good red spruce crop in northern NY and very good spruce crop on all spruces in NH and Maine. Some very isolated
breeding could take place in NE Jan-April.

RED CROSSBILL: Birds continue to be reported in small numbers in NH and as
usual a few are around in typical locations of Madison and Chenango counties of central NY. The hemlock and red spruce crop is good in northern NY,
and other spruces (i.e. black and white) and white pine crops are very good
in NH and Maine. I would not be surprised if crossbills become a bit more common in the northeast as we head in February-April. Additionally, birds
could invade central NY state forests again like last year come March-April
since the red pine crop is good. Types 1 are regular in "sprucy" state forest of NY, and types 3 and 10's are the next most common in recent years. Type 2
and 4 also occur in the state. All conifers can be utilized by all types to
a degree with type 2 more easily utilizing red pine and type 3 more easily utilizing hemlock. All types can utilize various spruces, and white pine to a lesser
degree.

COMMON REDPOLL: If you follow the biennial pattern of redpolls, this year
would be a year to expect them. However, we had a fairly large invasion in 07-08 and a small invasion in 08-09. The cone crops have been a bit more variable
the past two years, and so invasions have been a mixed bag. I would expect
a few redpolls in NY and northeast come January-February, but I do not expect a major invasion. Look for them on alder and birches --these trees are
producing fair and variable crops in NY and northeast this year.

PINE SISKIN: After last year's enormous eastern invasion (best since 89-90
like WW Crossbill), I do not expect a major invasion. However, there's always a migratory pulse of Pine Siskins through NY and the Northeast every year (this
has already been noted with some recent reports), so I expect some birds to
move through from October-November. Additionally, given the good spruce crop, some nesting will also likely take place in northern NY to Maine.

EVENING GROSBEAK; This once annual invader is more of a biennial invader
these days. Like the redpolls, if you follow this biennial pattern, this would be the year to be expect some. However, Evening Grosbeaks have been in
decline (likely b/c of a lack of spruce budworm outbreaks) for 20 years.
There have been some very subtle signs that Evening Grosbeak populations have stabilized or are on a slight increase (again, spruce budworm has been on the
increase the past few years and we're due for a large outbreak). I expect
them at "usual" high elevation areas of northern NY and the northeast with a few making it to central NY and perhaps northern PA. This bird loves tree seed
crops (box-elder, ash, maple, cherry). These crops are pretty good in NY
this year. However, this bird loves bird feeders at "usual" high elevation locations.

PINE GROSBEAK: Two years ago was a large invasion, and last year, like
with redpolls, there was a small "echo flight" into the northeast and NY. I do not expect many in the state this year. The mountain ash and berry crop is good to
the north so don't expect many around.

PURPLE FINCHES: This bird likes tree seeds as well, but populations tend to
be highest in northeastern winters in years of good spruce crops. Expect a slightly higher than normal winter numbers given the better than average
spruce cone crop.

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES: Likely common in Northeast and points northward,
but do not expect a lot to the south. This is a theme, not a lot of winter finches will be found south of northern NY and boreal regions of the
northeast this year except for maybe a few Purple Finches, siskins and Type
1 Red Crossbills in typical higher elevations of the Appalachians.

BOHEMIAN WAXWING: It's almost to the point it's hard to consider this
species an "irruptive". It is now annual in the northeast and NY, however, there are usually larger biennial irruptions. This is an expected "larger biennial (every
other year) irruption year. The mountain ash and berry crop is good, so
expect birds in the usual areas of northern NY into northern reaches of the northeast. A few could invade central NY come February-March if crops to the north
are depleted enough.

Chickadees often irrupt in years with redpolls, but I do not expect a major
invasion. Blue Jays are also around in moderate numbers so far.

Owls and hawks: There could be an "echo-flight" of Snowy and Boreal Owls
this year. Were over due for a large Roughy invasion.

Again, overall, expect few finches until at least Jan-Feb. The theme is,
not a lot of winter finches will be found south of northern NY and boreal regions of the northeast this year except for maybe a few Purple Finches, siskins and Type
1 Red Crossbills in typical higher elevations of the Appalachians. Even in
boreal regions of the NY and the northeast, I do not expect large concentrations except in perhaps areas of NH were there's very good cone crops on nearly all
species. After the last two years, we were due for a below average finch
winter in the northeast!

Sorry for any typos.
cheers,
Matt Young

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fire Island and Jones Beach- 10/12/09

Columbus Day... most people think of it as a break from work, Italians think of it as a day to celebrate their heritage, and birders think of it as a day to get themelves out looking for mid-fall migrants and early rarities.  Thats why I found myself a good ol' Robert Moses State Park last Monday.  Love it or hate it, Robert Moses is a fun place to turn up birds that don't really belong on Long Island.  The past two years have brought a lot of good birds to the volleyball courts in the northeast corner of parking field two, so I decided to start my excursion there.  As I walked up, the dunes were filled with birds, but 90% were Song Sparrows.  A few other species were present, like this male Pine Warbler:

And a few Field Sparrows were an added bonus


But overall, there was nothing too good.  I decided to check out the picnic area as well.  I gave a pish over some nice thorn bushes, and a Gray Catbird popped out.  Then another, and another, and another... soon enough I was getting freaking mauled by Gray Catbirds; about thirty jumped out of this little area of brush.

I then headed down the Barrier Beach to Jones Beach State Park, known as a more reliably birdy location than the latter.  The rain kept my camera in the car, but the birds were still out.  At the Coast Guard Station I had a Clay-colored Sparrow among about five Chippies, and 3 Royal Terns and 8(!) Western Willets on the sandbar.  Thats my high tally for western in NY.  In the island of bushes in the middles of the West End 2 parking area, I had a imm. Lincoln's Sparrow and a imm. male Black-throated Blue Warbler, which I managed to photograph a the rain let up. Overall, a good day of barrier beach birding.


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