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:


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!!!!