16 January 2011

Incidental Take by Fish Hook Indicated in 1878

Incidental take of a bird associated with coastal fishing dates to the 1870s, based upon an 1878 report by T.M. Brewer, of Boston, Massachusetts.

A Fulmaris glacialis (Northern Fulmar) was taken "on a cod-hook" on the eastern part of George's Bank, which is off the Massachusetts coast, a little south of east of Boston. A live bird was taken captive on October 28, 1878 by Captain William Sweet, of the fishing schooner Grace C. Hadley.

The fulmar was still alive on November 4, when in the possession of George O. Welch, whom had received the bird to mount it for the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The collection does have a New England specimen collected in 1878 (USNM 77114) but it is not apparent whether this is the specimen snagged by the fishing hook.

This instance of occurrence was the first known instance which provided documentation of its occurrence off the coast of New England. There are previous records from locales further north - in Canada - for Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Labrador and Nunavut, as well as along the western coast of Greenland.

Cross-bill Deformity in Birds Noted in 1879

The cross-billed deformity in birds was recognized by two reports issued in 1879.

Dr. T.M. Brewer noted the condition in a magpie, which was apparently the Black-billed Magpie. This report was published in the Familiar Science and Fancier's Journal (June 1879, p. 106), which was not found online, though other volumes are available.

A Horned Lark shot December 9, 1879 near Grinnell, Iowa, also with this condition, was well documented. Professor H.W. Parker, with the Agricultural College of Iowa, sent drawing and descriptions to J.A. Allen, for the article issued in the Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club.

"Both mandibles are of the same length, rather longer and slenderer than usual, the upper curving downward and the lower upward, passing by each other and crossing in the same manner as in the crossbills."

Allen also noted: "Deformities of the bills in birds is not a very rare occurrence, but examples are rare in which the mandibles are so fully and symmetrically crossed as in the present case." At the end of the article, author Allen, of Cambridge, Mass., noted "a few other cases are on records" but did not provide any notes regarding the instances to which he was referring.

15 January 2011

Passing of Purple Martin Man - Dennis Devine

Dennis Devine, the preeminent purple martin man of the Omaha metro area, is dead. His passing on January, when he was a young 71, is a tragic event and the loss of an important ambassador for the martins, which have been his passion for decades.

Dennis was one of the three "martineers" at the midtown Omaha martin roost.

An article of his death, describes well, one of his major accomplishments.

"On April 20, 2007, Mayor Tom Hanafan read a proclamation naming Council Bluffs and southwest Iowa a Purple Martin Capital of Iowa, and in June of that same year, Nature Society News – known as the Voice of the purple martin – devoted its entire front page to Devine’s successful efforts. ... Back in 1992, Devine succeeded in making the city of Omaha Nebraska’s purple martin capital. " Council Bluffs Nonpareil

Justin G. Rink, provides these thoughts on the purple martin man.

"I first met Dennis Devine in 2008 shortly after the Midtown Martin Roost had been discovered at 44th and Farnam. He was a bright happy-go-lucky gentleman with a passion for the preservation and environmental well-being of Purple Martins in eastern Nebraska, western Iowa, and nationwide. He even went so far as to don the hue of his favorite swallows during his visits to the martin roost! Devine also was responsible for handing out informative literature to joyful visitors who came to witness the spectacle of the Midtown Martin Mecca, all the while telling stories about his favorite experiences with Johnny Cash.

"On Tuesday (1/10) it came as quite a shock to hear [of the death of Mr. Devine]. With his joyful demeanor, and mission to teach about these unique swallows, it appeared that Mr. Devine still had a lot to live for. Even at age 71, Mr. Devine was still very full of life. As long as Purple Martins are a part of the Missouri River Valley community, it seemed that he had a lot more information to give on his favorite birds.

"He was a great inspiration for people to put up residences for these unique swallows, and helped to make Council Bluffs and Omaha the Purple Martin capitals of Iowa and Nebraska respectively.

"He will be greatly missed by people and Purple Martins alike."

Dennis Devine - in his purple splendor - getting the attention of Justin Rink, at the martin roost on August 18, 2009. He was carrying the umbrella to avoid getting "martinized."

A fine tribute to Dennis Devine was also presented on a local television station, though the video does not seem to be available.

08 January 2011

Evaluating Options to Create Sandbar Habitat for Terns and Plovers

Adaptive management in a cost-effective manner is the current focus among the options being considered to create sandbar habitat for two bird species along the Missouri River.

During recent public involvement meetings held regarding options to create emergent sandbar habitat, officials with the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed an option that would use adaptive management to provide sufficient breeding places for the endangered interior Least Tern and threatened belted Piping Plover population on the northern Great Plains.

The Corps is currently accepting public input for the draft programmatic environmental impact statement for the mechanical creation and maintenance of emergent sandbar habitat along the Missouri River from northern Nebraska to eastern Montana. There are five particular reaches: Fort Peck, Garrison Dam, Fort Randall Dam, Lewis and Clark Lake west of Gavins Point dam, and the Gavins Point reach below the dam.

Rather than establishing a fixed amount of habitat which would be created, adaptive management would be used to create nesting habitat, evaluate results and then proceed accordingly to achieve the Corps and Fish and Wildlife Service goals of a sustainable population for both species.

The proposed option would progressively add acres of sandbar habitat and the results would then be monitored to see how the terns and plovers respond, said Cindy Upah, project manager for the emergent sandbar habitat PEIS. This would "deal with the uncertainty of what the birds need, allow flexibility in implementing the program and reduce costs."

This option - if chosen - would initially supplement up to 1315 acres of sandbar habitat. An essential part of the effort would include evaluating other management options, including mechanical clearing of vegetation from sandbars and use of geotubes.

Additional habitat is required as the extent of emergent sandbar habitat has declined from a peak of about 6000 acres in 1998 to ca. 1110 acres in the five river reaches in 2010, according to Corps figures.

If the initial measures were not sufficient to meet the goal for numbers of plovers and nesting success of terns, additional habitat would be created.

The cost of the initial effort would be approximately $6.7 million, according to the Corps. The agency currently spends $6 million on habitat creation and maintenance.

"Adaptive management is a good step and a good strategy," said Mike George, supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service field office in Grand Island, said at the Omaha public involvement meeting. "Incrementally building habitat is a good way to go and makes sure the efforts are working. It also puts the critters first."

"Creating habitat is expensive," George said, "but it is a cost of doing business along the river" which is managed for many different public uses and provides billions of dollars in benefits associated with flood control, generating hydro-power and navigation, for example.

Figures from the draft PEIS.

"We need to meet the birds’ needs in a cost-effective manner," said Upah, adding that the agency appreciated that people attended the public meetings. "We are glad to have an opportunity to hear comments" regarding the river and its management. The largest turnout was at Yankton, she said.

At the meetings, Corps officials presented maps of the riverine regions, which in particular along the Missouri National Recreation River, have other recognized uses that need to be considered, so only certain portions of the channel are suitable sites for creating habitat.

Thus far, the Corps has created about 600 acres in the reach of the river below Gavins Point Dam to near Ponca State Park, about 300 acres at river mile 827 and an additional 40 acres near the confluence of the Niobrara River.

The Corps is required to manage the Missouri River for threatened and endangered species because of the Endangered Species Act and the findings of a biological opinion issued in 2003.

The final public meetings were held January 5 in Omaha and January 6, in Kansas City.

About 15 people, in addition to Corps staff and representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service were also present.

Three people presented testimony in favor of the proposed effort, with two residents from the Verdel area expressing concern over the drastic change in riverine conditions in their area due to the aggradation of the channel due to sediment deposition.

The Corps will continue to accept public comments through February 22, 2011.

Copies of the draft PEIS statement – a document comprising nearly 1200 pages and 3-4 inches thick – are available online (16.5 mb PDF).

A final EIS will then be prepared and be made available for final public review, according to Upah. The final version of the document should be completed by the end of the summer, 2011.

06 January 2011

Expansion Proposed for Nebraska Wetland District

A expansion of the wetland and grassland habitats for migrating birds managed in the Rainwater Basin in southern Nebraska is being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Courtesy map.

The federal agency proposes to increase its acquisition goal to 38,177 acres from the current target of 24,000 acres. Additional areas would be acquired through purchase from willing sellers (9000 acres) or protection using perpetual conservation easements (5000).

The district currently encompasses 26,528 acres, which includes 4,505 acres "donated by or obtained from other agencies, primarily the Farmers Home Administration."

Three factors will influence the acquisition of property, according to a fact sheet:

  • the number of privately owned wetland acres that affect management of adjoining acres owned by the Service or the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
  • the energy needs of waterfowl and the ability of the regional wetlands to provide the needed calories, amino acids and minerals
  • the need to provide more separation between wetlands to reduce the likelihood of large outbreaks of avian cholera

Two public meetings are to be held on the proposal:

Holdrege, Nebraska on January 11, 2011
Clay Center, Nebraska on January 12, 2011

Public comments can be submitted until January 31, 2011. The comments received will be used to prepare a "draft environmental assessment and land protection plan for the proposed expansion."

The district was recognized as a "Landscape of Hemispheric Importance" for shorebirds in April 2009 by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

The Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District was established in 1963.

Newspaper article on the public meeting in Clay County.

03 January 2011

A Shootist at Deadwood and Other Arizona Places

Since the route to California, and through the southwest territory was already set, it was easy for the traveler to agree to be a shootist for an easterner. There was no rush in this journey, so there was ample time to travel slowly, stop where appropriate and shoot whatever suitably got in the way. During numerous weeks, the wild country was filled with suitable targets whom did not realize they would be at the wrong end of a shotgun's blast.

It was March 3, 1881 when Frank Stephens started westward, starting his taking of a myriad of victims. The results of his journey are well known in the historic annals, with details subsequently given for nearly every victim.

The killing started at Galeyville (now called Paradise), in the southern Arizona Territory, then onward to Cave Creek and to Morse's Mill and other localities in the western extent of the Chiricahua Mountains.

Despite the many deaths Stephens wrought, he was able to stay for about three weeks at Morse's Mill. His cash money for food and shelter was good. Suitable hospitality and ample opportunities for taking meant an extended stay. Each day he ventured forth, fully loaded, to find more victims.

He was not cavalier in his endeavor, as each victim was carefully attended to after its demise. It was spring in the desert country, and the seasonal freshing made the land especially attractive in the variety of victims continually presented.

On April 1st, shootist Stephens started for Tucson. Riding along in his wagon, with a shotgun ready for close-up use - for his purposes a pistol would not suffice - his eye was roaming the vegetation along the trail, in case an unlikely victim appeared.

The route went through Sulphur Spring Valley before reaching the frontier town of Tombstone. After a days' voyage along the trail, Stephens stabled his horses at the livery, found a suitable place to stay where he cleaned up before getting a hot meal.

While in town, his gun was put away, as his targets were elsewhere and he did not need to have any firearms to cause a ruckus among the local residents or unruly shootists of another sort.

His schedule meant he was early to bed, and early to rise. In the early morning hours, he'd walk around town, or perhaps get the team and wagon ready for a longer outing to the surrounding countryside. When the designated targets came in view, they got a load of buckshot, and after gathering a few victims it was time to return to a place suitable for preparing them for their final destination.

It was the wild shootists' regular routine. Whether he caught the attention of the local newspaper isn't readily apparent, but a visitor of his sort in town for an extended stay, could have easily been a subject of interest to the local publisher, even though his known and intended victims never had anything to say.

The local constabulary were probably aware of his intentions, but once they knew the particular facts, they probably ignored him as an eccentric.

Once the local killing fields had been visited to a sufficient extent, provisions were bought at a local mercantile to provide the supplies essential for the subsequent days through southern Arizona.

Once Stephens left Tombstone, undoubtedly using his own conveyance as he was on his own schedule, he tarried two to three days at Cienega Station, before reaching Tucson a few days later, on April 18.

This city was a haven, with all the necessities for the traveler of the early 1880s. There was a place to keep his conveyance, numerous options available for comfortable sleeping, and stores where his necessities could be purchased.

Most importantly, the place was comfortable and surrounded by wild lands with the targets which were the essential and primary focus for his journey. The easterner wanted a collection of victims, and Stephens was providing suitable results.

The easterner, William Brewster, received the results: 650 skins of which he wrote about with great zeal in an national bulletin, listing the identities of the victims, their particular features, and even describing the young of adults which were killed. Neither age nor sex mattered.

Shootist Tally

During his journey of a few months - which ended in July at Riverside, California - there were 650 known fatalities described in Brewster's report, issued in several installments since it was too lengthy for a single article in the bulletin. A couple of the skins of his victims are in the collection of the United States National Museum in Washington, D.C.

Stephens was a intent shootist, whose target was the variety of wild birds, and the results of his blasting are impressive. Overall, there were 164 individual species killed according to the reported tally. For some, there were multiple taking, especially for the most unusual or lesser known entities, including the following types of birds, which were represented to a greater extent in the published report: Lucy's Warbler (17 skins), Crissal Thrasher (12), Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (10), Strickland's Woodpecker (10), Scaled Quail (9), Bell's Vireo (8), Bendire's Thrasher (7), Brown-crested Flycatcher (7), Summer Tanager (6), Black-throated Sparrow (6), Gray Hawk (6), Olive Warbler (6) and Gilded Flicker (6).

A tally according to locality, indicates the larger number of specimens reported came from the Tucson area (133), then Camp Lowell which was in the same vicinity (52). Other denotable sites are: Santa Rita Mountains (50), Chiricahua Mountains Area (38) with the name revised from Chiracahua Mountains as there are previous records for this site so the name was revised to deal with temporal differences, Morse's Mill, Chiricahua Mountains (24), and Cienega Station (18 records).

In the published report of fatalities, there are sixteen records denoted for Tombstone, representing the following fifteen species represented by specimens: Ash-throated Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Brewer's Sparrow (four specimens), Canyon Towhee, Canyon Towhee, Cassin's Kingbird, Common Poorwill, Crissal Thrasher, Gila Woodpecker, Gray Flycatcher, Hammond's Flycatcher, House Wren, Lark Bunting (several large flocks in the vicinity), Northern Mockingbird, Scaled Quail and Vesper Sparrow.

A number of these species of the spring, occurred also during the summer, or were permanent residents.

Stephens Specimens

According to Brewster's report of the journey, he received all of the specimens collected, of which there were more than 600.

Brewster's article issued soon after Stephens completed his journey, did not indicate where the final fate of the bird skins, i.e., where they finally ended up as specimens lying in a cabinet.

Though only about 350 distinct observations were conveyed in the published article, additional records which were not given in the published article, went to various American museums. The online "Ornithological Information System" indicates further details indicate the variety of museums which apparently have specimens collected by bird shootist Stephens.

There are pertinent records in the following collections:

¶ American Museum of Natural History: a specimen of Toxostoma dorsale dorsale collected on May 25, 1881 at Tucson
¶ Delaware Museum of Natural History (one specimen): a skin of Vermivora luciae collected at Tucson on April 19, 1881
¶ Field Museum of Natural History (23 specimens): the records do not indicate the collector, but the dates and sites given conform to period when Stephens was collecting specimens in Arizona
¶ San Diego Natural History Museum (10 specimens)
¶ United States National Museum (12 specimens): these records indicate Stephens and William Brewster as the collectors, though Brewster was not the actual collector, but had the specimens in his collection
¶ Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology (records of eggs/nest for four species): from Tucson

The skins records of Stephens are a prime example of the difficulty in comprehensively considering the ornithological history for a particular place or a specific collector.

In this particular case, the published article contains a bit more than half of the recorded specimens. A couple of museum collections have additional details for a few more specimens. Other museum records have pertinent records but do not include an attribution to the collector, though dates and locations conform to the place and time when the person where skins were taken.

The different sources with the variety of given information, makes it extremely difficult - impossible actually - to compile an accurate and thorough list of the species denoted by a particular bird collector. There are too many sources to consider, a lack of pertinent information in some cases, and other attributes preventing a single-source search which would suitably convey the bird collection efforts of Stephens.

Stephens eventually sold his collection to the San Diego Society of Natural History.

Successful Journey

Stephens obviously safely came and went - despite his carrying of a shotgun loaded and ready to shoot something obvious - perhaps, because perhaps once he was recognized as some "eccentric" interested only in birds - he was ignored by law enforcement, citizens, and local rowdies.

Undoubtedly, some of the birds reported by Stephens were about Tombstone when the celebrated gun-slinger affray occurred at the OK Corral, on October 26, 1881.

However he conducted his journey, his skins represent a unique tally of local bird residents with the specimens representing many distinct western subspecies for which little information had been previously available.

Stephens' efforts are unique in presenting a birdly perspective for a frontier town of such significance in the annals of western history.

Northern America Specimens Prevalent in Strickland Collection

A catalogue of the specimens in the historic collection of European Hugh Edwin Strickland includes numerous specimens from localities in northern America.

Strickland, a "Fellow of the Royal, Linnean, Geological and Royal Geographical Societies" collected "about a third" of the specimens, while also obtaining bird specimens from a number of prominent collectors on the continent. A thorough list is given, which includes a number of notable men. The tally included the number of skins which they provided, as based upon the overall collection, not just those from northern America.

Sir W. Jardine, of Jardine Hall — a prominent author on birds during this era — was the father-in-law to H.E. Strickland,

The catalogue — A Catalogue of the Collection of Birds Formed by the Late Hugh Edwin Strickland, M.A. — prepared by Osbert Salvin, and published in 1882, listed 6006 skin records, including those from the following, pertinent sources:

  • Captain Askew, in the Merchant Service - 339
  • J.J. Audubon, "Author of the 'Birds of North America' and other works - 4 skin records
  • S.F. Baird, "Professor, formerly of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, now Secretary to the Smithsonian Institution, Washington" - 66 skn records
  • Senor Jose Constancia, Antigua, Guatemala - 212 skin records; there are more than 160 records from the Senor for the area of interest; the records entered convey a notation of a species for a place by a particular site, though the catalogue record may be for more than one specimen
  • Galeotti, a traveller in Mexico, where "he made large botanical collections" but obviously also acquired bird specimens which were sent to Europe -23 records
  • P.H. Gosse, author of the preeminent work, "Birds of Jamaica" - 39 records, of which 30 where from northern America
  • J. Gould, a prominent writer about birds during this era of history - 54 records of which 11 were from Jamaica
  • T.G. Mann, a collector of birds traveling about Mexico; the given number of skins in the Salvin catalogue was 33 skins, but once pertinent records were compiled, there were 37 records
  • Nathaniel Constantine Strickland, a cousin of H.E. Strickland, and brother of Arthur Strickland (also a contributor); the Stricklands were the source of more than 55 skins for the area being considered

One source of skins was Wosnessenski (not listed in the origins list of names), at N.W. America or Sitka or Kodiak Island, and who seemed to have sold some skins to J.F. Brandt, a German dealer.

Some specimens were bought from skin dealers, including Havell in London, S. Stevens in London, Thomas in London, and others.

Also worth noting are that specimens were acquired from Charles Darwin, naturalist on the H.M.S. Beagle, and author of "Origin of Species"; one specimen in the catalogue was from the Galapagos Islands; E. Blyth at Bengal; B.H. Hodgson, formerly of Nepal; T.C. Jerdon who was the author of 'The Birds of India'; Captain W.J.E. Boys collecting in northern India; and, other collectors lessor of better known.

Most of the specimens were obtained between 1838 and 1953, and the date when they became part of the catalogue is given with each item. Often this date is the only temporal indicator for a specimen record, as the actual date when a specimen was collected is not given for the majority.

The avid collector increased his collection in 1838 by purchasing about 1200 specimens from his cousin Nathaniel Constantine Strickland.

The oldest specimen is dated 1824, and the most recent had a date of 1856, though that had to be a typographical error, since in September, 1853, Strickland died after being involved in an accident involving a railway train.

In preparing the catalogue, Salvin, the collection curator at the University of Cambridge, included name synonyms, which provide an interesting depiction of avian taxonomy when the catalogue was published.

Species Denoted

An example of an entry, is:

"382. Troglodytes hyemalis.
Troglodytes hyemalis, Vieill. N. Dict. d'Hist. N. xxxiv. p. 514; Troglodytes parvulus var. hyemalis, Baird, Brew. & Ridgw. N. Am. B. i. p. 155.
a N. America (J.G. Kinberg) 1845."

This record would be attributed to the Winter Wren, in N. America, and given a designated date of 1845, based on the chronology of the specimen, which in this case which was added to Strickland's collection in 1845, with J.G. Kinberg the source of the skin. The locality entered was N. America, which would apply generally to Canada or the United States.

More than 500 records were noted to occur in the northern America region. Records occurred from Panama Bay, Guatemala, Jamaica, the West Indies, North America, Illinois, California, Canada, N.W. America and from Sitka and Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Among the records with the most information on date of occurrence were about 35 from Carlisle, Pennsylvania obtained from S.F. Baird, which have the specific date when collected. In comparing the Strickland skins to the records previously published by Baird, there was only one example of a duplicate record, where the same species had been noted for the same date.

  • Guatemala - 167 items
  • United States of America/Canada - 109
  • United States of America - 108
  • Mexico - 61
  • Jamaica - 53
  • Canada - 20
  • West Indies - 1
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines - 1
  • Panama - 1
  • Bahama Islands - 1

About 355 different species are represented for these countries or regions.

There are several skins in the collection for species such as the Orchard Oriole (7 skins), and five each of the Eastern Bluebird, Northern Flicker, Yellow Warbler, and Belted Kingfisher. Those represented by four specimens are Acorn Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Baltimore Oriole, Blue-winged Teal, Cedar Waxwing, Great Crested Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. About 90 species have two or three skins. For about 240 species, there is only a single specimen.

There are no extinct species such as the Carolina Parakeet or Passenger Pigeon in the collection.

Though most of the species records given in this catalogue lack details to provide - preferably - a more precise date and location where they were collected, the information does none the indicate that numerous species for northern America occur in European collections which also need to be evaluated to get a comprehensive perspective on bird occurrence and distribution.

This publication is available online in its entirety at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.