27 April 2009

Art Contest for Schools Promotes Interest in Bird-Study

Drawing of a Chestnut Collared Longspur by Halle Magid, a 7th grader at Kiewit Middle School, winner of the Best of Show for Middle School. Note the form which includes details of its natural history. Pictures taken by Bill Massengill and courtesy of the Audubon Society of Omaha.

An annual contest to promote student interest in the study of birds and natural history was another great success this year at Omaha. Students in grades kindergarten through 12th from a number of private, public, religious, and home schools in the greater Omaha metro area were involved in the contest sponsored by The Audubon Society of Omaha (ASO), a local chapter of the National Audubon Society.

"This contest is a wonderful way to have students study and draw different birds, and promotes education in their natural history," said Jackie Scholar, the ASO coordinator. "Some of the art teachers feel that birds are good subjects to teach children to be observant and to use detail in drawing and painting. Some of the art teachers also happen to like birds and are passing on their love of birds to their students.

"It was wonderful to see the children’s drawing of birds," Scholar said. "They were so beautiful. Each year we receive a very diverse selection of birds portrayed. This year we had bald eagles, goldfinches, blue jays, peregrine falcons, various hawks, red-headed  and red-bellied woodpeckers, great horned and barn owls, a piping plover, sandhill cranes, a yellow-rumped warbler, a chestnut-collared longspur, a pacific gull, a wood duck, an Eskimo curlew, a white throated sparrow, bluebirds, and red winged blackbirds."

"The students were judged for realism or graphic design or for cartooning," Scholar said. "The media used varied and included watercolor, pastels, oil paints, and colored pencils and collages.

All of the 110 entries were on display at the awards ceremony held April 4 at the gym of Bellevue University. This event "was a wonderful experience for the children and their families," Scholar said. "There was so much excitement."

Winners of the Best of Show awards were:

Emmie Doerr  - Elementary
Halle Magid – Middle School
Ashley L. Hauger – High School

Bald Eagle by Tiffany Griffith, Omaha North High Magnet School; Excellence-Realism award winner.

Oil painting of White-throated Sparrow by Ashley L. Hauger, a senior at Omaha North High Magnet School; winner of the category, Best of Show for High School.

There were several award categories for the grade levels: excellence-realism, merit-realism, merit-graphic design and excellence-cartoon.

Kristie Horn, holding an Eastern Screech-Owl, a special guest at the art contest awards event.

Prizes, according to Scholar, included stuffed birds which emit an accurate bird call when squeezed for the youngsters, books on birds, bird guides at various levels for children in the 10 – 15 yr old groups and for older students, art pads, color pencils, and gift certificates to a local art store. Each entrant receives a certificate of recognition.

Judges this year were local artists or birders, Don Wesling, Jo Bartikowski, Susan Anderson and Clark Pflanz. Loraine Blankenau, Nellie Falzgraf, and Jerry Toll of ASO, also volunteered to help with the contest.

Kristie Horn of Raptor Recovery Nebraska was present at the awards ceremony with an Eastern Screech-Owl that had been raised from a chick, and has not adapted to the wild so it cannot be released.

The Fontenelle Forest Association Gift shop was a source for many of the awards given to the students.

A complete list of winners is presented at the Audubon Society of Omaha website.

"It is a lot of work to have this contest," Scholar said, "but it is very rewarding." She has been coordinating the event for about four years. The number of entries varies each year, with 185 entries in 2008, about 44 in 2007, and 193 in earlier years.

Scholar "absolutely" looks forward to the event again in 2010.

25 April 2009

Wood Duck Depicted by Winner of Junior Duck Stamp Contest

Wood Duck, by Lily Spang.

An acrylic painting of a Wood Duck by Lily Spang, age 16, of Toledo, Ohio is the winner of the 2009-2010 Federal Junior Duck Stamp competition. Her entry was chosen on April 22 by a panel of judges at contest held at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

"The Junior Duck Stamp Program is a unique effort that for 17 years has celebrated and taught conservation through the arts," said Rowan Gould, Acting Director for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. "One of the fathers of the modern conservation movement, Aldo Leopold, put great emphasis on the value of nature observation to conservation efforts. All Junior Duck Stamp artists carry on this tradition by translating their observations to canvas."

Second place was awarded to Abraham Hunter, 15, of Vienna, Illinois with his acrylic painting of a hen and drake common goldeneyes.

Rebekah Nastav, age 18, of Amoret, Missouri took third place for a rendition of two male common goldeneyes.

Entrants were required to depict a "live portrayal of a native North American duck, swan or goose," according to contest entry rules. Entries had been received from each of the 50 states, and the District of Columbia.

"The National Postal Museum is always honored to be associated with the Junior Duck Stamp Program, as this is a vital tool in conserving our nation’s natural resources," said Allen Kane, Director of the National Postal Museum, which was the host for this years’ contest.

The Federal Junior Duck Stamp is sold for $5 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stamp collectors, conservationists, and the general public, according to project sponsors. It will be released on June 26, 2009. Proceeds are used to support environmental education efforts and awards for contest winners.

"The first-place winner receives a $5,000 award. The second place winner receives $3,000, the third-place winner receives $2,000, and Conservation Message winner receives $500."

Christopher Voekel, age 8, from New Mexico, was the 2009 Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation Message Contest winner, with his entry: "Our environment, our responsibility, our future."


Each of the entries in the 2009 Junior Duck Stamp can be viewed at a web gallery.

24 April 2009

Wetland Funding Supports Continued Conservation of Dakota Habitats

A small portion of a 17,000 acre privately owned grassland/wetland complex in the project area that is perpetually protected via voluntary U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grassland and wetland conservation easements. In addition, much of the grassland is enrolled in a managed grazing plan with the F.W.S. Partners for Fish and Program. F.W.S. photos.

As spring arrives on the northern plains, a myriad of waterbirds are winging their way northward to places they have considered home for endless generations.

A recent grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act - administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is helping to further conservation efforts to protect these unique and essential wildlife habitats.

The grant provides $770,109 for Phase III of the South Dakota Threatened Habitats project, with $1,635,531 in matching funds. Another $27,167,000 from the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act (a.k.a. Duck Stamp) will be used to "voluntarily purchase perpetual wetland and grassland conservation easements from landowners in the project area," according to the information about the project.

"South Dakota continually leads the Nation in sodbusting of native prairie to tillage monoculture," said Kurt Forman, working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the South Dakota coordinator for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife. "We average 40,000-50,000 acres of native prairie/wetland complexes that are lost each year and this trend continues to expand westward into formerly secure bird production landscapes."

This project represents "a continued effort to accelerate protection of this threatened landscape by working primarily with family ranchers to ensure a sustainable future," according to the NAWCA grant summary. "A diverse coalition will address these challenges by developing an integrated suite of wetland and grassland conservation tools that will be implemented to benefit the grasslands needed by ranchers and the vital landscape attributes needed by prairie birds.

"Contributions will be combined with grant funds to restore 3,453 grassland acres and 250 wetland acres; enhance 42,062 grassland acres, establish 34 acres of wetlands and enhance and 2,685 wetland acres. This habitat will not only provide direct benefits to more than 7,000 breeding duck pairs, but will also afford critical conservation benefits to the full spectrum of native bird communities dependent on the rapidly disappearing native grasslands and wetlands of central South Dakota. For example, match and grant tracts will provide direct breeding habitat benefits to an estimated 475 willet pairs, 440 marbled godwit pairs, 210 pairs of Sprague’s pipits, 135 pairs of Baird’s sparrows and 2,730 pairs of chestnut-collared longspurs."

Twenty-eight prairie potholes (61 wetland acres) restored on private land by the U.S. F.W.S. Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in the project area and perpetually protected via a voluntary U.S. F.W.S. wetland conservation easement.

"The project area encompasses the Missouri Coteau of South Dakota and adjacent grassland/wetland landscapes," Forman said. "Specific conservation practices including wetland restorations, native prairie restorations, rotational grazing systems and wetland enhancements will be focused towards the remaining grassland/wetland complexes of the project area.

"Projects are selected by F.W.S. wildlife biologists with an emphasis on those sites that directly contribute to the grassland and wetland habitat objectives defined in the 2005 Prairie Pothole Joint Venture implementation plan." An emphasis is placed on projects best addressing the joint venture habitat objectives and based on the seven evaluation factors:

  • Risk of habitat conversion to tillage and/or drainage
  • Grassland tract size
  • Native prairie condition
  • Breeding pair density
  • Proximity to other protected tracts
  • Cost-benefit relative to other tracts
  • Association with existing or potential conservation easements

The goals of this project are being achieved only through a coopertative effort, Forman noted. "First and foremost I would like to acknowledge the landowners who are willing to share our vision of a sustainable grassland/wetland landscape in the project area.

Other cooperators for this particular grant are the Beadle Conservation District; Hyde County Conservation District: South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks; Ducks Unlimited; 200 private landowners, and the Heartland Chapter of Pheasants Forever.

The remaining grassland ranchers in the project area are often under intense economic and social pressure to convert their prairie to the plow.

An example of sodbusting of native prairie in the project area.

Forman was an author, along with Kenneth F. Higgins and David E. Naugle, of a 2002 article in the scientific journal "Waterbirds" on how changing land use in the northern Great Plains is impacting the conservation of waterbirds: "Wetland and grassland habitats of the northern Great Plains are a primary breeding ground for waterbirds in North America. Native mixed grass prairies that were historically used for cattle grazing have met with changing social and economic pressures that put the remaining 40% of this resource at high risk of tillage."

The paper described:

1) the current state of waning rural societies,
2) characterized impacts of land use change on waterbird habitats, and
3) discussed conservation actions to benefit waterbirds.

"Recent population statistics indicate that a record number of farmers facing low commodity prices are selling their farms and moving to urban centers for employment. Other farmers are shifting from diversified agriculture to monoculture grain farming to take advantage of farm programs that provide incentives to bring marginal land into production. Additional data indicate that concurrent changes in crop types have decreased quality of farmland wildlife habitat while bigger and faster farm equipment and genetically modified crops continue to make farming marginal land less risky. Legislators and administrators should be advised that waterbird habitat loss continues to expand westward. The last chance to sustain the unique grassland-wetland character of the northern Great Plains is to accelerate grassland conservation with short- and long-term stewardship programs and incentives to family ranchers. This philosophy is of vital importance because it also protects wetland habitats that otherwise are vulnerable to drainage when native prairie is converted to cropland. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this would conserve our prairie heritage for future generations while preserving the private property rights of landowners."

Grassland protection priority areas for grassland birds. Images courtesy of the F.W.S.

Upland accessibility by breeding duck pairs in the Prairie Pothole region.

"Over 80,000 acres of native prairie have been converted to cropland in the project area from 2005-2007," according to information provided with the grant. "The degree of native prairie loss found within the South Dakota Threatened Habitats project area is by far the highest documented within the PPJV. These large-scale landuse changes continue to rapidly expand westward into formerly secure grassland tracts and prairie wetland complexes that represent much of the last of the best remaining breeding bird habitat."

"Many biologists believe that the ultimate landscape character of the project area will be defined within the next decade," Forman said. "Recent landscape modeling indicates that current rates of habitat loss will lead to a 50% reduction in native prairie acreage in some of the most biologically rich portions of the Threatened Habitats project area within just 34 years. Each acre of grassland and prairie loss will have direct negative impacts on the full spectrum of bird assemblages in the project area."

This project initially started in 2001. Currently, there are over 1.5 million acres of such conservation easements in the PPJV portion of eastern South Dakota.

22 April 2009

Status of Hybrid Birds Currently Unknown for Niobrara River Valley

[Smith Falls, Niobrara River Valley, June 2007]

A primary aspect given for attributing unique values to the Niobrara River Valley is its recognition as a biological crossroads. This designation relies on a readily apparent setting of different habitats with distinct associations of flora and fauna.

One of the special features mentioned, is a zone of hybridization for a few species of birds with typically eastern and western distributions, according to statements given by conservation groups and a government website.

The Niobrara Valley is recognized as a biological crossroads for wildlife by the Nebraska Wildlife Federation.

The National Audubon Society and its local chapter in Nebraska, designates the Niobrara Valley Preserve - along the river north of Johnstown - as an Important Birding Area, giving pertinent details in an ornithological summary. Therein is mentioned that eastern and western forms of birds breed, referring to Baltimore and Bullock's orioles, lazuli and indigo buntings, rose-breasted and black-headed grosbeaks. The summary also says that eastern and western wood-pewee's may also hybridize.

The Northern Prairie Lands Trusts website, on their projects and news page, says the Valentine, NE area and the Middle Niobrara River Valley Biologically Unique Landscape, is a zone of hybridization for some eastern and western bird species.

The National Park Service, on a webpage with details about the Niobrara Scenic River, which it administers, says: "Hybridization of eastern and western associated species, such as indigo and lazuli buntings, yellow-shafted and red-shafted flickers, and Baltimore and Bullock's orioles are vivid testament of the biological uniqueness of the Scenic River."

Studies of Hybrid Birds

Hybrid birds have been documented as occurring along the profound Niobrara River, as well as elsewhere south to north on the central Plains, based upon several seminal studies that provide particulars for several species.

An initiative to study hybrid birds on the Great Plains started in 1955, according to comments made by Charles G. Sibley and David A. West in their 1959 article on towhees.

The following species have been known to hybridize, according to just a few articles issued by preeminent ornithological scientific journals. There are some additional details on post A.D. 2000 sightings, that should be presented with this consideration, as the more recent co-mingling of species should be considered along with the original studies.

Baltimore Oriole x Bullock's Oriole

The hybrid zone in the central Great Plains - spanning a 150-200 mile distance west to east - includes the Niobrara Valley from northwest of Bassett to at least the western edge of Cherry county, in the article by Charles G. Sibley and Lester L. Short, Jr., published in 1964, and based on more than 600 specimens collected between 1954-1957. William Youngworth noted both species at Fort Niobrara NWR in the mid-1950s. When Short published an additional paper on the distribution of species on the Great Plains in 1961, the Niobrara River in Keya Paha county was given as a region where these two species both occurred. He also included the eastern portion of the river valley in Cherry County.

Spotted Towhee x Eastern Towhee

Most of the 487 specimens evaluated for this research were obtained in Nebraska during 1954-1957. Determination of the "hybrid index" was based on a "back-spotting index" with Spencer, Bassett and Valentine particular places where birds were collected for eventual, focused evaluation. The article in the Auk, extensively discussed biotic features of the Niobrara Valley. The Spotted Towhee "influence" was said to extend eastward into Holt County.

There are no known modern records available for the Niobrara Valley that indicate where both species occur at the same locality, lending credence to species' hybrids.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak x Black-headed Grosbeak

"Pure" species - based mostly upon measurements of certain characteristics of specimens - were noted in Cherry county and eastward, with hybrids found in the Holt County area. This evaluation was conducted from 1955-1957 by researchers from Cornell University in Nebraska, as well as South Dakota and Colorado. A figure showing the zone where hybrid occurs, extends the furthest west along the Niobrara Valley, to a short distance west of Bassett.

William Youngworth noted both of these grosbeaks at Fort Niobrara in his 1955 paper on birds of the Quicourt valley, which is a historic name given for the Niobrara river. Lester Short, Jr., then noted them along the Niobrara River in Keya Paha county during the same year. Recent records indicate both species occur in the immediate vicinity of Valentine, at Anderson Bridge WMA in central cherry County, as well at private property along the river south of Nenzel.

Indigo Bunting x Lazuli Bunting

The first instance of hybrids of these two species was recorded by Youngworth, when a oddly marked male specimen was collected June 1, 1932. He noted in his brief article published in the Wilson Bulletin: "The country bordering the swift Niobrara River in Cherry County is ideal for the summer home of grosbeaks and buntings." These two bunting species were also noted as occurring at Fort Niobrara NWR in 1955, by the same bird watcher.

The article by Sibley and Short published in 1959, was based upon specimens gathered during 1955-1957. Valentine was recognized as an especially interesting locale, with "pure" species present at the same immediate locale as hybrids. Hybrids were also noted at Spencer.

The most recent study along the Niobrara, looked at these two species near Niobrara, at Valentine and south of Chadron in 1969. Hybridization was noted in the vicinity of Chadron.

"We conclude: (1) That massive convergence and introgression is not occurring among the Passerina of the Great Plains. (2) The species appear to have diverged to a point where hybrids and mixed-pairs are at a selective disadvantage. (3) The two forms minimize ecological competition through the maintenance of non-overlapping, interspecific territories. - Stephen T. Emlen, James D. Rising and William T. Thompson

There have been additional, recent concurrence elsewhere in the region, particularly the sandhills, but not in the confines of the river valley.

Northern Flicker - red-shafted and yellow-shafted forms

Extensive details have been published on hybridization among flickers with different colored featheration, but as the two forms - red-shafted and yellow-shafted - are now designated as a single species, the mingling of these two species which have different color characteristics is not a valid example of hybridization. This occurrence does, nonetheless, have its own distinctive biotic interest.

Two sets of additional species have also been included as having the potential for there being hybrids in the river valley.

Western Wood Pewee x Eastern Wood Pewee

There is no actual scientific research paper that gives any particulars that these two species actually hybridize in northern Nebraska. Particular locales where both have been known to occur is shown in recent years by sightings in Cherry County at Anderson Bridge WMA, the Valentine City Park, and at Fort Niobrara NWR.

Scarlet Tanager x Western Tanager

There is no known documentation of inter-specific breeding along the Niobrara by these two species. They both occurred at Fort Niobrara NWR in 1955, according to Youngworth in his article on species of the vicinity.

Current Status

It has been more than five decades — with the exception of the buntings where it has been forty years — since rigorous and authoritative studies have been done on the occurrence and distribution of hybrid birds in the central Niobrara River Valley. There is no known source of current information on this topic, based upon contacts with several regional authorities familiar with bird occurrence in the Nebraska, as well as several detailed searches of web-based information.

There are no modern details on bird hybrids and also a readily apparent lack of knowledge of the current distribution of most birds - not only species which may hybridize - along the Niobrara River in northern Nebraska. Despite surveys such as the detailed work during the early 1980s for the Niobrara Valley Preserve, when The Nature Conservancy bought thousands of acres of what had been ranch property.

Numerous site surveys personally conducted in the valley since 2000 have been done at many privately and publicly owned land tracts to get some sense of bird species occurrence, and here are a few other occasional reports from easily accessible places such as Fort Niobrara NWR. None of this information discusses to any useful extent the essential aspects of bird hybridization, although it does indicate to a somewhat limited extent, places where species do co-mingle.

Considering the intense attention being given to how climate change is supposedly influencing the temporal occurrence of many bird species across their normal range of distribution, a "crossroads" where several species mix is a prime region where there should be a detailed evaluation of any flux or alteration in range. Yet, there is no known research being done to evaluate any changes in the occurrence and distribution of avian species along the unique Niobrara River valley where an obvious, and well known mix of several types of plant communities create a floristic crossroads of habitat.

There is a obvious and prevalent need for detailed research to determine the status of bird species recognized for their hybridization in the Niobrara Valley. Also essential is an understanding of the current occurrence and distribution of other species of concern which are changing due to changes in conditions suitable for their existence.

Until there is actual, record-based and current gathering of information on the inter-mingling of different bird species along the Niobrara River, there is no basis to define the valley as a biological crossroads for hybrid birds. Any statement about this needs to be given in the context as being based upon historical conditions. Any claims otherwise are erroneous.

19 April 2009

Whoopers at Playa Wetland Amidst Potential Turbine Project

The occurrence of two adult Whooping Cranes has been confirmed at a playa wetland on the West Table, west of Broken Bow.

The two birds were first noted by Maxine and Ed Wehling on Saturday April 18, at 7:30 p.m. The wetland is just a few miles northwest of the Wehling place.

"Saturday night, Ed and I were driving the wetland playas, looking," Maxine Wehling wrote in an email. "We found the strikingly beautiful whoopers about 7:30 p.m., in the large wetland," that was featured in a story recently written about the central table playas.

"We were thrilled to see them. They are breath-taking to look upon. The one was slightly larger in the body, and would flap it's wings, pick it's feet off the ground, and do a dance of sorts!"

"We called the whooper watch number to report the siting, followed by calls to Ben Wheeler."

The presence of the cranes was confirmed by Wheeler on Sunday morning.

The wetland where the whoopers were noted is the third wetland pictured in the article, and located about five miles northwest of the Wehling place.

Winter Wren Season Wanes at River City Environs

With the fine warmth of spring spreading across the land, another season of cold times for the Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) will soon be gone again at Omaha, and at another really close place, just to the south along the Missouri River valley.

Graffiti at Shadow Lake, beneath the west end of the pedestrian bridge, indicating the midcity, urban character of the neighborhood park. April 2009. This picture has been digitally changed to enhance the view of the writing and graphics on the wall.

With some particular interest, it has been a season of midtown constants for this vibrant, warm and little wonder of feathered life.

On the first day of October, back in mid-autumn of 2008, there was an online report by someone about their having observed this little bit of avian splendor amongst the natural environs of Fontenelle Forest, east of Bellevue. With this information some particular attention was given to looking at another suitable locale. So, on the same day, there were three noted at the splendid Shadow Lake, Elmwood Park, a primary haven for this bird hereabouts in midtown River City, though 99.99% of the human residents are clueless about this important detail of the valuable natural habitats that are essential places where wild birds can survive.

Due to a particular interest in this species, going back five seasons when it was first seen - personally - in October 2003 at Tobacco Island, down south of Plattsmouth, watching endeavors with an intent to see such a bit of a exuberant bit of feathers, continued forthwith. Times with hearty hikes were needed in autumn 2004, to note that this wren could be found in the Niobrara Valley. This included hikes amongst the valley, down big slopes, and with attention to weather forecasts to avoid being stranded outside during severe winter conditions, for safety sake.

In January 2006, a particular attempt provided some more records of the species along the Northern border of Nebraska, once again at places associated with the Niobrara River. Some of this information was contributed to the Great Backyard Bird Count, though the places submitted were in no way anything similar to a backyard, but given in the manner that the effort to submit information required.

The current winter season, based upon observations influenced by personal mobility and only from an urban place, there were the regular windy gales. Winter snows blew and hefty flakes accumulated, with a result of some few minimal conditions due to by warm waters clear of ice due to subterranean spring-flows. There were frigid temperatures, again and again, where only multiple layers of clothing provided warmth for a watcher, while all the while, a little mite of a bird kept on with its daily routine of moving amongst a winter's place. Their existence was only occasionally noted by an intrepid watcher willing to deal with outdoor conditions.

These were the numbers counted on different dates during the season. Its possible that when they were noted at one of the "irregular" locales — i.e., Happy Hollow Creek and the South Grove — at a time early or late in the season, they may have been migratory wrens temporarily present.

Date

Happy Hollow Creek

Elmwood Park Ravine

Shadow Lake, Elmwood Park

Botany Spring, Wood Creek

Wood Creek, Elmwood Park

South Grove, Wood Creek

2008

10/01

-

1

2

-

-

-

11/09

-

-

-

-

5

-

11/16

-

-

2

-

-

-

11/27

1

-

-

-

-

-

12/11

-

1

2

-

1

-

12/31

-

-

1

1

-

-

2009

01/09

-

-

1

-

-

-

01/15

-

-

1

-

-

-

01/19

-

1

-

1

1

-

02/04

-

-

1

1

-

-

02/06

-

-

1

1

1

-

02/14

-

-

1

-

-

-

03/01

-

1

1

-

-

-

03/13

-

-

1

-

-

-

03/20

-

-

-

-

1

-

03/29

-

-

1

1

-

-

04/03

-

-

1

-

1

-

04/07

1

-

-

-

1

-

04/08

-

-

1

1

-

-

04/14

-

1

1

-

-

1

04/17

-

-

1

-

-

-

04/19

-

-

1

-

-

-

This diminutive wren endured where it found a suitable spot with deadfalls and permanent open water, irregardless of any human influences.

Wetland south of Shadow Lake, where the Winter Wren could often be seen foraging. The view is from on the pedestrian bridge. Picture taken 19 April 2009.

The stability of such an especial perspective of one species of the local avifauna, elicits many wonders to appreciate from some particular place, and unknowingly to other locales where this tiny bird obviously knows what situations are suitable for its survival.

As the 2008-2009 winter season wanes, the Winter Wren has been noted a bunch of times in the bird forum for Nebraska. Notations for the Fontenelle Forest environs, have been conveyed again and again this April. It was a particular focus that when another someone gave this species amongst their list of species of spring, to then go forth again to see a relative at Elmwood Park environs.

The final date of local occurrence is pending for the Winter Wren, as the time of their departure will be known only to their own avian memory. It will not be based on a some particular clock devised by a large primate.

Fly onward little wrens. Thanks for the memories of another winter season!

16 April 2009

Ecotourism in South Africa is Helping to Conserve Birds in South Africa

Ecotourism and education on the value of wild birds is helping to ensure conservation of species and their habitats in South Africa.

"Ecotourism ensures the conservation of birds and their ecosystems because this 'product' is of importance to the owners and visitors to the lodge," said David Letsoalo, based at Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge, and recognized as the top local bird guide in South Africa and an expert on nature in the the Magoebaskloof area. He has been taking birders on outings since 2002 when he was accredited by Birdlife South Africa.

"A large percentage of the visitors to Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge and the Magoebaskloof area are coming specifically because of David's expertise in forest birding," said Lisa Martus, the owner and manager of the lodge. "David recently guided Stephen Moss, of the British Broadcasting Company, who is an experienced birder familiar with birds all over the world. They spent the whole day out birding in the area covering the Woodbush Forest, the Mamabolo Grasslands, Greatheads Mountains and Protea Belt, as well as Kurisa Moya's forst. By the end of the day, Stephen had seen 26 new species. The Guerney's Sugarbird was a big challenge because there were many males calling from inside the Protea bush, but they would not show themselves. Eventually, one came out and displayed itself beautifully. Stephen was thrilled.

"Another highlight recently has been a client who saw the first Flufftail in their life by seeing the Buff-spotted Flufftail on Woodbush Forest Drive. David heard the Flufftail calling, and followed the call for 20 minutes, eventually crawling on their knees in the undergrowth. When they finally saw it, it was a wonderful moment.

"The local people are very interested in David's bird tours and have got used to seeing him in strange places with South African or international guests. He has a Short-clawed Lark site near a village in a cattle-grazing field and young guys have actually stopped poaching the Queleas since he has been coming around more often (they used to use birdlime to catch them on a bush and then would roast them on a stick like small kebabs). David goes to the Turfloop Dam where local cattle herders know him and will update him on what they have seen lately. At Woodbush, Debengeni, Haenertsburg Grasslands etc, he is well known and residents will phone him if they have seen an interesting or unusual bird. David is also a Node Co-ordinator for the Grasslands Node of Eco-schools so he has influenced a lot of those kids to have a more positive attitude towards conservation. One of the kids wrote an essay about how David is his hero and when he grows up he wants to be a bird guide. David gave him a bird book and an old pair of binoculars to encourage him.

"The local black (village) community are mostly bemused but interested in David's profession (can't believe it makes him enough money to be a real job) and the local white community are extremely supportive of David and all want him on their committees (Friends of the Haenertsburg Grassland, Haenertsburg Rotary, Woodbush to Wolkberg, etc.) because he bridges the gap between the various communities as well as the needs of people vs environmental needs."

In their particular region, the "Cape Parrots are growing in numbers, and we also monitor raptors whose numbers have been picking up," Letsoalo said. "Education is an important aspect to improve conditions for birds and educating people about these values. "This is an ongoing process but it has shown results with some of our local learners who do not hunt birds like they used to," Letsoalo said.

The Magoebaskloof region and Limpopo Province areas have some stellar examples of places and habitats of essential importance to native species of birds. Examples, from the Limpopo Province website, include:

Woodbush Forest Drive: "This 14km dirt road is the best forest birding area in the Limpopo Province, if not the country. The Woodbush Forest Drive winds through pristine afro-montane forests, down into semi-deciduous mixed forest along the lower sections of the drive. Cape Parrot, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Orange Ground-Thrush, Brown Scrub-Robin, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher are a few of the specials.
Kudu´s Valley: "This spectacular 30 km dirt road between Houtbosdorp and Mooketsi drops down over the escarpment through bushveld and riverine habitats. On this road, you will descend about 1000 metres and be treated to fantastic views and an interesting mix of habitats. Verreaux´s, Crowned and Long-crested Eagle, Lanner Falcon as well as Horus, Alpine and African Black Swift are often sighted soaring over the valley. The exposed granite boulders along the slopes near the top of the route are home to Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Olive Bush-Shrike, Shelley´s Francolin and Lazy Cisticola. The lower end of the pass has more riverine and tropical bushveld areas in which African Green-Pigeon, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Purple-crested Turaco, Green-capped Eremomela and White-throated Robin-Chat can be seen. Look out for African Fish Eagle, Great Egret, Purple Heron and various Indigobird and Firefinch species around the farm dams near the bottom of the route."
Debengeni Falls: "This spectacular waterfall is a popular picnic site for locals and visitors to the area. Grey Wagtail has been sighted here for three years running. … it is worth visiting to see Mountain Wagtail and other forest birds. After turning off onto the dirt road from the R71, keep a lookout for Red-backed Mannikin, African Firefinch and Swee Waxbill on the road verges. After about 100m you will cross a small stream; when the water levels are high this is a good spot for Half-collared Kingfisher and African Finfoot. On the 3km drive up to the falls look out for Tambourine and Lemon Dove, Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and Yellow-streaked Greenbul in the forests. Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk breed in the vacinity of the falls and Buff-spotted Flufftail and Scaly-throated Honeyguide."
Louis Changuion Trail and Haenertsburg Grasslands: "The whole trail is 10 km but various parts of the trail can be done separately depending on your fitness level and enthusiasm. It is one of the most easily-accessible pieces of this rare habitat left in the area. Blue Swallows have been encountered here in the past. On the grasslands, you may find Wailing-, Lazy-, Croaking-, Cloud- and Wing-snapping Cisticola. Grass Owl, White-necked Raven, Red-winged Francolin, Yellow Bishop, Dark-capped Yellow and Broad-tailed Warbler and Drakensberg Prinia are present as well as Cape Grassbird. Jackal Buzzard, and Long-crested Eagle often hunt over the grassland. The patches of forest have Olive Bush-Shrike, African Olive-Pigeon, Cape Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Forest Canary."
Polokwane Bird Sanctuary: "This small bird sanctuary, which consists of three large settling dams, dense reed beds and tall riverine thickets, is always likely to produce an interesting birding surprise or two. Apart from a good variety of waterfowl, waders and rallids, the Acacia thickets are very productive and accommodate Grey-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis and many warbler species in the summer months, including Common Whitethroat and Olive-tree, Icterine, Garden, Great Reed Warblers and Eurasian Marsh Warblers. The shallow ponds on the eastern side of the sanctuary attract a host of waders during middle to late summer with Wood, Marsh, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshank, Ruff and Little Stint. Look out for skulking African Snipe and Greater Painted-Snipe. There is a resident pair of African Fish Eagle along with other interesting raptors, including Ovambo Sparrowhawk, African Goshawk and African Harrier-Hawk."
Turfloop Dam: "It has now also become a protected breeding site for the northernmost population of the Southern Bald Ibis. It falls within the Mamabolo vegetation-type and has many granite outcrops, which are typical of this habitat. The dam itself has fluctuating water levels depending on local rainfall, so conditions change seasonally. The dam has an open shoreline with some exposed mudflats in the summer, a feature which has probably led to this site having provided the odd vagrant wader, with species such as Ruddy Turnstone, Pectoral, Green, Broad-billed and Terek Sandpiper having been seen here over the past few years. The more common wetland species to be found here include Great-crested Grebe, Southern Pochard, Fulvous Duck, Hottentot Teal, Cape Shoveler, and Maccoa Duck. The rocky island in the dam is an important breeding site for White-breasted Cormorant, Black-headed Heron, African Sacred Ibis, Yellow-billed Egret and African Spoonbill."

With the recognition of unique places, there has been further understanding of distinct birds which occur, and a recognition of where to visit to see the more unusual species.

This increased attention to local birdlife, has also brought about an increasing awareness of challenges.

"We still have problems due to lack of resources in policing these vast areas in order to prevent bird poaching and bird trade in valuable species but there are some very active conservationists in the area," Letsoalo said. "The plantations, building developments and mines threaten indigenous forests and grasslands. The Haenertsburg Grassland is threatened and it used to host Blue Swallows, Broad-tailed Warblers and other species."

"I hope that more of our Important Bird Areas can get listed as national heritage sites because they are still under threat of being destroyed," Letsoalo said. "I also hope to spend more time with the youth to explain the value of our environment and how people can make a living out of it without harming it."

"Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge http://www.krm.co.za/ provides several options to enjoy the endemic bird species of the region, as well as other natural wonders, in a setting of comfort and appreciation for the local communities," said Martus.

14 April 2009

First-ever Rusty Blackbird Blitz a "Smashing Success"

The first-ever "blitz" to count wintering Rusty Blackbirds was a "smashing success," according to results indicated by information presented by the Smithsonian Institution.

The survey was carried out from February 7-15, 2009, and sponsored by the International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group associated with the Migratory Bird Center at the Smithsonian Institution, and Ebird, supported by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.

"One of the intangible, but important, outcomes was a heightened awareness of the plight of this species and the desperate need for more information on its distribution and abundance," according to details on the website with results of the blitz. And "173 birders submitted 453 rusty blackbird surveys under the E-bird Blitz protocol. Of these individual reports, 249 sightings totaling 19,243 individuals were recorded. 204 surveys did not record any rusty blackbirds (but negative data are very valuable as well). Some of these reports were repeats from the same site." Counts were provided from 27 states.

"The highest mean counts were found in the states of the Lower Mississippi alluvial valley including Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama averaging over 100 birds per site. The next tier (50 or more per site) includes two states along the South Atlantic Coastal Plain and adjacent Piedmont (North and South Carolina) and two more states in the greater Mississippi Valley (Missouri and Louisiana).

"The Rusty Blackbird has shown severe documented declines," according to Russell Greenberg, a member of the technical working group, and biologist at the Smithsonian. "We don't understand it, but it seems likely changes in the amount and quality of winter habitat is playing a big role. In order to proceed with research and conservation action to protect Rusties, we need a rapid assessment of the winter strongholds for the species as well as its overall distribution."

"Rusty blackbird populations have fallen steeply, with estimates of an 85-99% population drop over the past 40 years." – Rusty Blackbird blitz page provided at the Smithsonian Institution

The International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group saw a "tremendous opportunity to harness the knowledge and bird finding prowess of the birding community to locate wintering Rusties," Greenberg said in an email. "E-bird is the perfect vehicle to gather and collate the data from the birding community.

This blitz was viewed "as a way of enhancing birder awareness of the plight of the Rusties and to efficiently gather important winter distributional info. This information can be followed up with more focused regional research and population monitoring," he said

Further details are available on the webpage with summary information for this count, including an interactive map showing the locations where Rusty Blackbirds were counted.

According to the details on the webpage, the results "have much more to tell us and we are plowing through the comments fields to learn about specific flock size, sex ratios at different sites, and habitat conditions associated with hot spots. We also need to distinguish between foraging and roost or staging sites. As we complete these analyses, we will update you on what we have discovered."

13 April 2009

Efforts Underway to Understand Rare Owl in Far-east Russia

Adult Blakiston's Fish Owl. Picture taken in 2007. All images courtesy of Jonathan Slaght.

Rare and elusive in a wintery lair, some few Blakiston’s Fish Owl (Bubo blakistoni) exist in the remote Sikhote-Alin Mountains of far-east Russia. Here on the frontier, a team is working to document the distribution and discover how to conserve this endangered species with an estimated population of about 5,000 birds.

"Sergei Surmach, an energetic ornithologist with Vladivostok’s Institute of Biology and Soil Science, has chased these brown ghosts around Primorye’s rivers for more than ten years," Jonathan C. Slaght wrote in his article about the owl and his research, for Wildlife Conservation Magazine, March-April issue. "In 2005, Sergei and I began collaborating on a telemetry project to collect ecological information that will be the basis for the conservation plan."

Seven pairs have been monitored thus far during the 2009 survey underway in recent weeks for the Amgu portion of the owl survey, in the Amgu river drainage, including the Leonovka, Granatnaya, and Saiyon Rivers.

The party consisted of Slaght, Andrei Katkov, Shurik Popov and Kolya Gorlach. They started west of Amgu, a town on the frontier, arriving on March 9th.

Andrei Katkov, Jonathan Slaght and Shurik Popov in the kitchen of the GAZ-66, during recent field work. Picture taken by S. Avdeyuk.

"The excitement at finding the Leonovka nest," Slaght wrote in the first update sent after returning from the field in early April, "was muted by the realization that our tagged female was sitting firm, and we will not be able to attempt recapturing her until May or June, when her young chick has fledged and a capture attempt is safe. So, we refocused our efforts on her mate. He found our prey enclosure quite quickly, and we set our trap the next day. After scaring a mink away from our enclosure with a stick, the fish owl came in and was easily captured. Like most male fish owls he was calm and docile to handle, and after release he sat in a nearby spruce and hooted at us for an hour or so before flying off."

"Their chosen hunting spot was a wide section of the Amgu River, about 30 meters across, very shallow, and right on the edge of the village itself. There, with a background chorus of baying village dogs, logging trucks and ocean static, the Granatnaya family" hunt in the evening.

The team lived in their GAZ-66 vehicle, which was reliable but tinkered with.

"Kolya was constantly adjusting and tightening some hose ... I am not mechanically-oriented so do not know the exact problem," Slaght said. 

GAZ-66 at Sanyon Camp.

"Although we had been in the Amgu area for almost two weeks, we had not gone into the town itself until the afternoon of 18 March, when we drove to Vova Volkov’s banya (sauna and bath house) for a well deserved wash."

Other locales visited earlier in the season, were the Mineralnaya and Sadoga Rivers at their confluences with the Avvakumovka River, near the town of Olga, and the Serebryanka and Faata fish owl territories at Ternei, Slaght describes in two February updates. Details convey the trials of field research in remote country, and the people and places visited, and it all relates to the known Blakiston’s Fish Owls being visited.

Notable for the season: "We were constantly being harassed by county and provincial game inspectors looking for poachers, and many assumed that we were indeed poachers," Slaght said in an email.  Nothing like staying all night trying to catch an owl, then have a bunch of inspectors wake you up at 7 a.m. demanding to know where we are hiding our poached meat."

Quick Statistics (2009)
Of Seven Monitored Pairs, Number Nesting: 2
Of Seven Monitored Pairs, No. With Year-Old Juveniles: 3

The next stop was the Saiyon territory, some 20 km north of Amgu.

"We quickly found where the birds hunted and set our trapless prey enclosures. We were delighted thathere, as at Granatnaya, the pair seemed to hunt in different places, and that their year-old juvenile was with them. On 21 March we set prey enclosures at two sites, and quickly captured the male. He had a wealth of information on his back: 175 locations over six months! We caught the juvenile two days later, weighed him, and gave him leg bands."

This bird is pictured in Slaght's article in Wildlife Conservation Magazine.

Information gathered from the GPS dataloggers, "is unprecedented for the species," Slaght explained. "As of now we have good data on winter, spring and summer habitat use, but because of the limitations of rechargeable dataloggers (only last six months), coupled with the difficulty of recapturing fish owls outside of winter, we do not yet have any autumn habitat use data. At present, we have one six-month datalogger and seven year-long dataloggers on fish owls; all will be retrieved next winter."

Each unit costs about $1700 he said, and since they do not transmit, the owls need to be recaptured to retrieve the unit and its information. Two types, from a company in New Zealand are being used.

At Leonovka, though the nest was found abandoned, the female bird was captured and found to be "quite thin," Slaght said. The team retrieved the datalogger which contained information on her movement during three months and at 52 locations.

The field season ended with a "banya and banquet" on April 6.

"This was a highly successful field season; we captured ten individual owls, which is twice as many as we captured in 2008," Slaght said in his final update for the season. "We placed GPS dataloggers on eight of these birds (the remaining two were juveniles), and next winter will return to retrieve these data."

Slaght was at Ternei, finishing up final details in the country, and then at Vladivostok, before returning to Minnesota about mid-April. He will be back again in August-September to conduct habitat and prey density surveys, and again winter 2010 to check on the same birds and retrieve dataloggers with telemetry information.

"The current focus of the research is the conservation and management implications of resource selection by this species in Primorye," according to the mission statement of the Blakiston’s Fish Owl Project.

Slaght is working for a PhD. degree in wildlife conservation from the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota. His advisor is Dr. Ralph (Rocky) Gutierrez.

Slaght indicated that funding for the 2009 field season has been provided by the University of Minnesota, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, National Birds of Prey Trust, Columbus Zoo, Minnesota Zoo, Denver Zoo, Bell Museum, and a Wildlife Conservation Society Fellowship.

Links to these organizations, previous project updates, an article archive and other information about fish owls are at the project website which is maintained by Slaght.

Irony of a Dead Flicker on Easter Morning at Creighton

It is ironic that the first dead bird found for the 2009 season was found Easter morning at Creighton University. The carcass was noted on the south side of the Mike and Josie Harper Center.

The Mike and Josie Harper Center for Student Life and Learning, according to website information, "Serves as Front Door" on the east side of the campus.

The irony is that University personnel profess that - as a religious institution - campus faculty and staff should, according to the message for this Easter:

He said that we would be judged by how we care for, or fail to care for, the least among us. ... Together, we can address systemic and global issues with faith-inspired hope. ... take greater care with the environment — Rev. Andy Alexander, S. J.

Northern Flicker carcass at the Harper Center, Creighton University, early on Easter morning. The dead bird remained upon my departure, to languish for some time until it would get unceremoniously thrown into the trash!

Millions of bird dying from striking buildings and getting killed is certainly a national and international issue. Although the comment of the Jesuit were focused on people, there should be no less attention to the plight of our natural neighbors.

It is doubtful that letting birds get killed on campus, and pursuing campus development that removes the homes for chimney swifts - which has a declining population - shows a greater care for the environment.

The flicker — with its unique and to use religious terminology "God-given life and beauty" — had been killed a day or two previous to Sunday morning. There was no glory of an holy resurrection for it on the third day. Its life was ended by men building dangerous architecture to glorify people, without any concern for what it may wrought on migratory birds.

There were a couple of interesting causes that lead to the finding of this dead bird, including an expectation the previous evening of finding a dead bird on the morning, and a flat-tire on the bicycle that meant being at the right place.

This bird is the eighth known bird death at this building. There have been three on the south side, three on the northwest side and one on the east side. Another died at the entryway. Strikes also occur elsewhere on campus, especially at a walkway on the west edge of campus where dried up and aged carcasses have been noted. There have probably been occurrences elsewhere.

11 April 2009

Glory of a Sunrise With Bird Grandeur on an April Morning

As spring spreads across land of the plains, morning sky places provide many a special sighting of distinct birds going about their daily, normal ways. With temperatures rising, and a fresh blush of plants just starting to issue buds or peak from the warming earth, local haunts of some type are places to appreciate where birds are getting along with necessities of their distinctive, and focused times.

Mornings are an especially fine occasion to see what avian species are extant. Forget that big word last used, as just getting out at dawn, with its distinctive quiet and freshness of the day, is always a fine way to realize another time. Birds are flying about to find and relish in their distinct and indicative manner, food and shelter for another particular day in their lives.

Cedar Waxwings. April morning sunrise in the park.

So many details might be considerations for any focus on the natural history or behavior of winged ones about a local habitat on an April morning. What to consider? How many species were seen at the park, lake, wetland, beach, island or other place this day? How many were there of each species? What was seen that has not been seen before? How does the species composition compare to previous recorded information? And of course, a compliant watcher should note the species and how many and a particular locality and enter the particulars as a personal contribution for some database. The dates and details are important, and the species composition and habitat situation, etc., may show some changes in climate, species distribution, extent of a population, habitat conditions, or other humanoid concerns. Etc., again and maybe again, depending.

Birds do care about existence in their own way, living day to day with some readily apparent focus on survival, hopefully without undue, and unnecessary disturbance, dangers and threats. Their times are impinged upon in many ways - how much of their habitat is destroyed again and again - as so many varieties of birds strive to survive the changes constantly imposed on their world.

Watching does certainly provide a human perspective, with foibles of some particular intensities.

What is flying over there beyond the grove? Hear that distinctive call in the pines. A flock is flying with hearty and certain beats of their wings, moving northward in the ageless tradition for generations. Something different could perhaps be seen by a watcher, maybe as a certain dramatic indication, as once again species are moving about in search of a tidbit to eat or wending along to their preferred summer haunts. Though this is without any care for someone that is spying on what they are doing. Birds species always appreciate a place with the food and shelter - those basic comforts which are so important - that let them survive and thrive. Birds could care less whether someone documents their passage. They might rather prefer having a few less folks who's dogs would harass them, or bother them as they build a nest to raise a treasured brood, or flush them away from a spot with warming sun that is a suitable place to roost and rest for the coming hectic times while raising a brood.

Details of each day might be considered once and again, in many a diverse manner, but the birds don't care about how they might be seen or appreciated. They live their lives, and any observer is a voyeur into their realm of existence.

Gull sky at dawn. April 10, 2009.

The duality of the situation is deserving of some proper consideration. Birds do not charge any of their neighbors to impose upon their as they live in their natural realm. Watchers can appreciate and perhaps understand something without any fee. In return, they do deserve proper consideration and assistance to help them thrive and survive.

Hallelujah!

10 April 2009

Ongoing Efforts to Conserve Severely Endangered Birds of Hispaniola

Adult male, Ridgway's Hawk. Photographs by Lance Woolaver, unless otherwise designated.

For Lance Woolaver, efforts to get an advanced degree in ornithology focused on helping to understand the life and times of one of the most endangered hawks on the planet, and an equally as rare cuckoo.

Ecology and conservation of the Ridgway’s Hawk (Buteo ridgwayi) of which an estimated 300 exist, is one topic, and the Bay-breasted Cuckoo (Coccyzus rufigularis), another as he continues working for species’ protection on Hispaniola and in the Dominican Republic.

"The Peregrine Fund was the first conservation organization to focus on the Ridgway’s Hawk in 2002, when they carried out preliminary surveys to get an idea of the remaining population size, distribution and threats and they have played the leading role in conserving this species since then."

"When I arrived in 2004, none of the local people had any idea that this was a special bird that was only found near their village and nowhere else on the planet."

Each season since then, Woolaver, first as a student at York University, journeyed to the Caribbean to study the hawks.

Teatro for the Ridgway's Hawk, 2007.

In 2007 The Peregrine Fund (TPF) and Sociedad Ornitologica de la Hispaniola (SOH) organized an amazing play or "teatro" that made a huge impact on the awareness throughout local villages.

"These plays were written and acted by a professional theater group," said Russell Thorstrom, with The Peregrine Fund. "The play was based on the life of a Ridgway’s Hawk near a local community. The play highlighted as a nesting pair of Ridgway’s Hawk, the local community, conservation and biodiversity and protected the species for future generations. The play was presented at seven communities around Los Haitises National Park and one showing in Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic."

Three significant achievements during the 2008 season from January to August were:

1) "monitoring and protection of hawk nests, and the banding of nestlings. Thirty-nine nest attempts were monitored, 18 of which were successful producing 23 fledglings. Seventeen nestlings were banded, bringing the total number of hawks banded since 2005 to 108 (36 adults and 72 nestlings)," Woolaver said in his report.
2) compiling a Conservation Management Plan for the Bay-breasted Cuckoo, funded by the American Bird Conservancy.
3) SOH produced an educational pamphlet about endemic psittacines which are in need of conservation - the Hispaniolan Parakeet (Aratinga chloroptera) and Hispaniolan Amazon (Amazona ventralis) for use in community awareness programs. WPC provided advice in preparing this publication.

Lance Woolaver holding a nestling. Photograph by Eladio Fernandez.

Measuring a juvenile Ridgway's Hawk. Photograph by Rina Nichols.

TPF translocated four young during the 2008 season to an area outside the Park. They are planning on establishing other populations in other areas of the hawk's historic range through translocations and hacking of young birds collected from the Los Limones area this season.

Wildlife Preservation Canada will be working closely with SOH and TPF to provide assistance in the translocation of young to areas outside of Los Haitises.

Woolaver’s efforts this coming season, working for Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC), are "slightly scaled down due to lack of funding and the end of the intensive research for my PhD. But the same three local men are continuing to monitor and protect nests, band fledglings and adults, and collect date on breeding and feeding ecology. We now have many young birds that we banded that are beginning to breed so we are learning a lot about survival and dispersal."

The local team is managed by Jorge Brocca, director of Sociedad Ornitológica de la Hispaniola, and the fieldwork carried out by Timoteo Hernandez, Pastor Leon and Hilario Pollanco from the village of Los Limones.

This team continues to talk with landowners (building mutual respect and trust, etc.) and visiting local schools and taking older grades on field trips.

Their initiative gets a positive reaction by "local villagers who now protect the hawks and nests on their conucos, which are the small farms in the valley basins, primarily with root crops mixed in with some beans and some fruit trees," Woolaver said. "Since the first start of a project to protect this unique hawk, the situation has changed and "the people are genuinely proud of ‘their’ hawk."

"The rainforest is so productive that just these hilltop patches could provide plenty of food (tree snakes and anolis lizards, skinks in the undergrowth) for the hawks and their young.

"A good example of local residents protecting the hawks comes from 2006. We had a nest and nestling fall to the ground due to stormy weather. The nest was about 9 km from the village so not easy to get to. The local landowner that was working his conuco moved the nestling and what was left of the nest onto a rock outcrop, added material to the nest, and built a crude shelter to protect the nestling from the shade. He then protected the nestling for nearly a week until he was able to get word to the local hawk guys and myself in Los Limones. The adults continued to diligently feed the nestling on the ground. We promptly went out as soon as we could, rebuilt the nest in the palm tree and climbed up and put the chick back. That chick fledged and is alive today.

"There have been situations like this every year. Just this year a landowner told the team of a nest that was falling down and the local team climbed up and fixed the nest and the nestlings are now safe."

Habitat changes are having a drastic impact on the local flora and fauna.

Fire at Los Haitises National Park.

"The Dominican Republic covers the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola," Woolaver said in his 2008 report. "Less than 10% of the Dominican Republic remains forested and the remaining areas of native pine, rain and cloud forests are highly fragmented and in immediate danger of further loss due to unregulated logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, and cutting for charcoal production. In addition, hunting and persecution of birds for food and as crop-pests has also had a significant impact. Currently, 21 of the 32 endemic bird species are considered threatened and very little data exists regarding the ecology and status of the majority of these species.

"There is still a massive problem from slash-and-burn agriculture and this is out of necessity as the people have no other choice at the moment if they are to feed their own children, but they are no longer cutting down hawk nest trees. It is a bit surreal though to see an entire valley wiped out yet all the Royal Palm trees which the hawks use for nesting still standing. If the next step could be made whereby locals practice sustainable agriculture in the valleys and leave the tops of the hills forested then everyone would benefit and the hawks and people could easily live side-by-side, and I honestly think the local people would want this as well."

During his field studies, "my most satisfying moments have come from quietly sitting and watching hawks on their nests, either females fussing over their nests (moving the same twig back and forth on the edge of a nest until she feels it is just right) or gently turning eggs, or patiently holding food for a one day old chick while it learns to feed," Woolaver said. "These quiet moments one-on-one with the hawks bring peace and a feeling that everything will be alright and that all the long days and effort are worthwhile.

Ridgway's Hawk nestlings.

Pastor Leon with Ridgway's Hawk nestling. Both photographs by Timoteo Hernandez.

"In 2007 I watched a young female with her first nesting attempt care for and fledge two healthy and strong fledglings. I had first seen her as an egg and then banded her as a nestling at one of the first nests we found in 2005.

"I am also grateful for the friendships I have made in the village and seeing the three local men take charge and being more than able to carry on the work of protecting and monitoring the hawks. They are exceptional people and very well respected members of the community. I think this is the very best that a conservation biologist can hope for when going to another country and working with an endangered species.

"Wildlife Preservation Canada has a long and successful history of providing expertise and funding work with critically endangered species in other countries (Mauritius Kestrels for example)" Woolaver added, "and also realise that a long-term commitment is almost always needed to bring a species back from the brink once it has reached a critically low level. WPC also has a history of working on several levels, locally with species in Ontario (eastern Loggerhead Shrike), nationally (Burrowing Owls) but also internationally (Mauritius Kestrel, Pink Pigeon, Echo Parakeet, Madagascar Teal) are just some examples.

The project to learn more about the Ridgway’s Hawk was part of the WPC program called the Canadian Collection.

"They fund Canadian students to carry out research on endangered species, Woolaver said. "My PhD. thesis was on the ecology and conservation genetics of Ridgway's Hawk, hence the initial funding. Even though the funding was initially for this thesis research they recognized the need for a long-term commitment and the value of working with one of the world's rarest hawks."

Timoteo measuring a Ridgway's Hawk.

A repaired Ridgway's Hawk nest.

"It is one of WPCs strengths that they have this wealth of experience that has come from working on projects at different levels worldwide. There is also the very pragmatic reality that WPC is a relatively small organization and a small amount of money can go much further in a developing country than it can in North America so a small amount of money can make a very real difference in a country like the Dominican Republic.

"WPC has done an amazing amount of work in the past even though they are a small organization and I think this is due to their staying very focused and you can't get much more focused than trying to help the rarest hawk on the planet."

The Sociedad Ornitológica de la Hispaniola, a Dominican Republic non-governmental organization (NGO), "is a strong partner and they are WPCs main partner organization implementing and overseeing work with the hawk this year. They are planning to increase the education and awareness component this year through funding provided by The Peregrine Fund and BirdLife International and in cooperation with another experienced Dominican NGO (Grupo Jaragua Inc.). We will also all be jointly producing a much needed Action Plan this year and this will be funded primarily by BirdLife."

09 April 2009

Fowl Times Portrayed in Poetic Prose of Sportsmen of the 1870s

Here is another sample of poetry about wild fowl written by contributors to Forest and Stream, the sportsmen's newspaper of the 1870s.

The Canvas-back Duck.

In sharp November, from afar,
From Northern river, stream and lake
The flocks of noble canvas-back,
Their migratory journeys make.
The frosty morning finds them spread
Along the flats of Barnegat,
Where grows the valisneria root,
The duck-grass with its bulbous thread.
But chief where Chesapeake receives
From Susquehannah, brackish tides,
By calm Potomac and the James,
Feeding at will from morn till eve,
Mid those aquatic pastures green,
The ribbon'd grass and bulbous root
Where slant the yellow sedges lean.
 
By myriads there the wild fowl come
To taste the rich, delicious fare
The red head and the canvas-back
The widgeon with its plumage rare,
The ruddy-duck, the buffer-head,
The broad-bill and Canadian goose,
Loving o'er placid shoal or cove
Their winnowing pinions to unloose.
 
Through all day, dispersed around
They swim and circle o'er the bay,
And at the eve, in gather'd flocks
To mouth of creeks they take their way,
Where some a wakeful vigil keep,
Others at anchor float asleep.
 
And when winter keen sets in,
And frozen is the river's face
To its salt confluence with the bay
The flocks seek out their feeding place.
And where across the ice, a pool
Of open water they discern,
The hungry flocks their flight suspend
And toward the friendly pasture turn;
And tyere the lurking fowler waits,
(Amid the ice-blocks hid from sight)
With heavy gun and deadly aim,
To thin the numbers that alight.
Isaac McLellan. November 20, 1873. Forest and Stream 1(15). On the front page.
For Forest and Stream.

The Whippoorwill.

The white fog drifts along the meadow,
And the gleam
Of the Western sky is fading
From the ripples that were crimson
On the stream.
 
The thousand tiny voices of the hylas
Fill the air,
And the music of the woodthrush,
Floating softly down the mountain,
Seems a prayer.
 
When twilight shadows gather 'neath the cedars
On the hill—
Where the robin lately warbled,
And the sparrow sang his vesper,
All is still.
 
But the whippoorwill complaining in the valley
Far below,
With its voice so wild and restless
Wakens memories forgotten
Long ago.
 
Till the thoughts of former joys and former sorrows
Come again,
And they fall upon the spirit
With the gentle measured cadence
Of the rain.
P. C. B. September 3, 1874. Forest and Stream 3(4): 49.
For Forest and Stream and Rod and Gun.

Western Wild Fowl Shooting.

By J.S. Van Dyke.
 
Many the scenes that deeply, keenly thrill
The sportsman's bosom, as o'er dale and hill
With throbbing heart and tingling nerve he bounds
With pointer, setter, or the ringing hounds.
But few more grand and wild emotions raise
Than one that oft is seen in autumn days,
When first the surly blasts begin to howl,
And heaven's smile to change into a scowl.
When droops the wild rice its once stately head,
And rush and reed and flag are sere and dead;
When withered leaves ride swift on whistling gales,
The wild fowl for their journey spread their sails,
But pause awhile around some favorite place
Ere starting on their long and weary race.
At such a time and spot our stand we take,
Close by the borders of some rice-fringed lake.
Wondrous and grand the scene that now unfolds,
And the astonished eye enchanted holds!
From every quarter of the great blue dome,
In countless throngs the wild fowls swiftly come,
Circling, rushing, darting, wheeling, dashing,
Towering, settling, in the water splashing.
High in the air, with stately, solemn wings,
Slow sail the geese in long converging strings.
Still higher up, with proud, majestic pace,
The sand-hill cranes float by in easy grace,
While far above in dignified array,
The swans are drifting on their southward way.
From every side what varied sounds we hear,
That make true music to the sportsman's ear:
The mellow "honk," the "scape" of saucy snipe,
The widgeon's whistle and the loon's clear pipe;
The "clank-a-lank" that from the brant doth ring,
The rushing bustle of the broadbill's wing,
The mallard's "quack," the frightened wood duck's squeal,
The sandhill's trumpet that o'er all doth peal!
As fall the night, they faster, nearer come;
The air resoundeth with their steady hum,
But we've not come to idly stand and gaze,
And fast and sure spouts forth the deadly blaze.
With rapid buzz the broadbill by us whirls,
But in a trice his whistling pinion furls.
In vain the blue wing plies his whizzing wings,
The deathful hail across his pathway sings;
The lovely wood duck, with his plumage bright,
Whirls struggling down into the shades of night.
The watchful goose, that cautious threads the air,
Droops neck and wings, as if in silent prayer,
And downward plunges with impetuous crash.
In vain the mallard, with his wary eye
Doth seek, with vigorous "quack," to climb on high,
Too late his care; Too late his skyward dash!
He downward thunders with a sullen splash.
Waiting with patience till we give the word,
Our faithful dog retrieves each fallen bird.
The trusty creature, having marked its fall,
Bounds through the reeds, however thick or tall;
Although they fall where man could never stand,
This honest servant brings them to our hand.
The lake is cold; its edge fringed with ice;
But still he flounders on through tangled rice,
Heedless of comfort or the wintry blast,
Toils shivering on until he gets the last.
Then to our boat, and down the moonlit stream
We glide to camp, and soon the fire doth beam.
From drift wood piled on high, the cheery blaze
Shoots far and wide, and o'er the river plays;
And soon we gather round the festive board,
Laden with viands that would tempt a lord;
Then round the fire comes the social smoke,
The song, the story, or the spicy joke;
And then to sleep upon our bed of reeds,
While fancy pictures out to-morrow's deeds.
June 21, 1877. Forest and Stream & Rod and Gun 8(20): 317.