Archive for December, 2008

Bird Conservation and National Wildlife Refuges

December 31, 2008

National Wildlife Refuges, now managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the Department of Interior, were once waterfowl factories paid for by funds from waterfowl stamps. Now biodiversity and habitat preservation seem to be an important goal of the National Wildlife Refuges, implemented for waterfowl conservation in 1909.

To give you an example the wildlife refuge called Loxahatchee is a favored area for nature lore for nearby Boca Raton, Coral Springs, Delray Beach and Boyton Beach servicing over 2 million nearby residents in South Florida. Birdwatching and bassfishing are the primary uses after local nature lore. Waterfowl hunting is now a secondary use of the refuge. I saw this dynamic almost everyday as I fervently scoured the refuge for birds of all species for a period of 4 years.

Funding should come directly to the US Fish and Wildlife Service from user groups who regularly use the refuge. I was one of those users and I paid for a pass to regularly use the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge or I volunteered my time to help other birdwatchers, bird watch. I did this for up to 4 weeks at a time. If you believe in sustaining our countries biological diversity and habitat preservation then you can fund these conservation necessities by helping fund biodiversity at National Wildlife Refuges by purchasing a pass or volunteering your service.

I saw persons who saw it as a badge of honor to not pay the US Fish and Wildlife Service for a pass or at least volunteer expertise. I just shook my head, not wanting to get involved in another person’s indiscretions.
This seems to be the case on refuges in the US and I have been to a lot of refuges in the US.

The first refuge I went to was Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern shore of Maryland. I went as a teen in the 1960’s. I went in the early winter. Our primary target to see was the Brown-headed Nuthatch. I came away seeing the nuthatch, a Golden Eagle and a Rough-legged Hawk. For a youngster it was quite a day of birding. I was immediately a huge fan of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Now global warming is changing much of the wetlands of Blackwater into large lakes.

I do remember Mason Neck in Northern Virginia. It was a place near our Nation’s Capitol where you went to see our Nation’s Symbol, the Bald Eagle. Talk about a great idea. There are now three National Wildlife Refuges outside of the confines of Washington D.C. serving over 3 million users that feature the Bald Eagle. Now after maneuvering the traffic in Northern Virginia you can still see eagles near Washington D.C. by visiting these refuges.

I have seen Laguna Atiscosa National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas. I remember the highlight there was the spotting of the reintroduced Alpomado Falcon.

I was at Santa Anna National Wildlife Refuge and the highlight was a few rare birds and ocelots and jaguirundi (I saw a bobcat their and a jaguirundi). In Alaska, at the Yukon-Kuskokwim, it is a waterfowl nesting factory and a place where you see few other human beings and a lot of mosquitoes.

Now the National Wildlife Refuges are seas of biodiversity, at least when you are outside of Alaska’s refuges. Many refuges now are surrounded by seas of humanity.

Some of the refuges are threatened, like Blackwater, from the throws of dramatic climate change.

Wildlife Refuges got their start as waterfowl hunting factories and now are sources of biodiversity and habitat preservation. I believe their funding (certain National Wildlife Refuges) should reflect this shift in mission by implementing modest user passes. (I am not opposed to waterfowl hunting at all)

In some refuges, like Santa Anna the number of hunters has decreased, on wildlife refuges. Groups, like birders, have increased their use, changing the mission of wildlife refuges to emphasize biodiversity and habitat preservation. Now biodiversity and habitat preservation are becoming the primary goals of certain National Wildlife Refuges, which I see as a good thing.

As the refuges become incubators for biodiversity, places like Northern Virginia become the new epicenters for conservation. Opportunities are abundant here for all groups who see habitat preservation and biodiversity as good.



Bird Conservation and the Increase in Infectious Diseases

December 30, 2008

One time I remember in 2005 being in the middle of a forest near Rome, Georgia and seeing a number of dead crows and two dead blue jays. The birds had intact bodies and no powerlines were nearby. I thought about some form of infectious disease and had no will to be bit by a mosquito; I felt a twinge of fear and a twinge of paranoia and hiked out of the woods pretty quickly.

Probably the most well known infectious disease that increased in recent years, impacting birds in a large way, was West Nile Virus. Did this disease spread as our climate warms up? We really do not know the answer to that but we suspect that that is the case. We live in times where this becomes way more of a possibility.

West Nile Virus is carried by mosquitos and similar insect carriers. It hit birds hard in the early years of this century.

Diseases like West Nile may be spreading as a result of global climate change and this can be a preview of the bird conservation challenges that we face as our planet warms.

This virus killed potentially millions of birds. We found some of the birds but they went largely unnoticed as birds would drop dead in the middle of a forest often going unnoticed.

So what does that future hold in store as millions of birds die? The infectious nature of that particular disease impacts humans also. Another horrendous complication. As our planet warms disease that was not here because of our cool climate now can stay here and reach a “tipping point” killing a lot of things, like wild birds, in the wake of the disease.

Insects, like the mosquito, are a widespread disease vector and will become more widespread as our planet warms up. This will impact the earth’s biodiversity. Groups like birds are harbingers of the complications of those dynamics. The disease, West Nile, turned scientists into hardcore conservationists and verged on spreading out of hand as we wrestled with the disease, mostly with dead birds, that were dropping all over.

Conservation might become more straightforward, but our will to resolve conservation challenges will become harder as forms of life, birdforms in particular, will be ravaged by things like an increase in the West Nile Virus and other diseases as well complicating something that is already complicated.

Coffee That Helps Birds

December 30, 2008

I drink a good cup of coffee almost everyday at a place called Wild Joe’s Coffee in Bozeman, Montana. I drink Wild Joes coffee because it is “Fair Trade” coffee and this is the least I can do to help birds. Birds thrive on shade-grown coffee. In fact you can by Shade Grown Coffee through most conservation magazines.


What is shade grown coffee you ask?


Bridget Stuchbury calls it “coffee with a conscience” and it is because you help the farmer grow something he/she will support their family on and a coffee, that will in fact, help wild birds .This is coffee from a coffee farm “ with more than 2 dozen different species  of trees that shade coffee plants below and provide surrogate homes for plants and animals that are normally found in a tropical rainforest” according to Stucbury in her book: Silence of the Songbirds.


My Nephew is a professional at picking out coffee for a line of coffee houses I have tried for three years to get him to select shade grown brands. I even sat him down and had him read Bridget Stuchbury’s chapter:  Coffee With a Conscience.


His answer to me is that Shade Grown Coffee costs too much.  This from a guy who will spend 50 dollars on a good bottle of wine. I just shake my head and drink a cup of shade-grown coffee.


Do we put a price on paying for meaningful bird conservation? Well here is a way to pay for meaningful bird conservation and our help keeping a small farmer in Central America on the farm, a lack of pesticides and a great cup of morning coffee.


My nephew is a good kid but his priorities are different than mine.


If you drink Fair Trade coffee, at a place like Wild Joes, you help keep a farmer on land, growing coffee.  A lot of people go to Wild Joes and drink coffee and eat pastries that are cooked at Wild Joes. I see it everyday!


We drink 300 million cups of coffee each morning in the US. Just think if half of this was shade grown coffee. We could make up a lot of ground supporting neotropical bird conservation while we drink our morning cup of coffee.


So why don’t we support “coffee with a conscience?”


I am reminded of the little Columbian Man, with a donkey full of coffee beans in burlap bags on its back, an advertisement for a cheap, common brand of coffee.


Think about a man coming down the mountain with a load of coffee beans from his shady farm, where the Oven Bird chips it’s metallic chip and the American Redstart flits about in the trees as a farmer and children harvest coffee for consumption by American’s who actually care where their coffee comes from.



Cowbird Parasitism and Bird Conservation

December 24, 2008

Aside from global Climate change, Cowbird parasitism and forest fragmentation are huge problems for all forest dependent songbirds.

Back east that includes species like the Woodthrush. In the Rocky Mountain West, I am going to bet species like the Western Tanager and in the west coast species like the Varied Thrush or any forest dependant songbird. What the cowbird does is it comes, quietly into a songbird’s territory. The cowbird will remove a songbird’s egg and replace that egg with its own egg.

The songbird raises the aggressive young cowbird at the expense of it own young. The greedy cowbird has the dutiful parent songbirds working overtime to supply it with food as its co-nestlings eventually die of starvation and are pushed out of the nest as the aggressive and usually larger cowbird young mug the songbird for food.

Cowbirds were pretty well limited in their range and their nest parasitism that is until we began clearing forests in the east for agricultural lands and opened up the forests in the west by cutting and clearing these forests.

Now you have places where forests used to be in the east and west. Cowbirds thrive in these kinds of places and visit their dastardly deeds on songbirds like the Woodthrush and Ovenbird.

So cowbirds will be with us in the short tern, especially as we keep thinking of excuses to clear. Cowbird parasitism can be mitigated if we stop opening up habitat and either creating more agricultural land or thin as a way of minimizing fire danger or clearing land for supposed old growth and putting roads in the forest landscape.
Cowbirds are always going to follow cows like they followed the Bison.

There will always be some cowbird parasitism but not at the scale or level we see today that is impacting songbird populations throughout their range. I think that part of the solution is to promote habitat that cowbirds do not find suitable. Let this problem recede to levels we can live with and no cowbird parasitism is a part of life but it does not have to be the major feature in the life or death of songbirds like the Woodthrush or Ovenbird.

Biofuels and Bird Conservation

December 22, 2008


Alternative forms of energy will be in the future of the US and that is good. There are impacts on wildlife in the development of windpower. These impacts can be mitigated. There are types of alternative energies that can be used in place of windpower.  One of these forms of alternative energy is solar power. This energy form is abundant and solar panels can be built in such a way that wildlife is minimally impacted.


Biofuels are a form of alternative energy that will impact birds. Here is how. In an article by BirdLife, a website for birders biofuel impact on birds is analyzed.


The first thing this site says is that biofuels have a low greenhouse gas savings. Biofuels potentially have Nitrous oxide emissions through fertilizer use. That can be bad for birds. The second aspect of biofuel technology that can lower green house gas savings are the potential for emissions through indirect land use change.


Biofuels can threaten valuable wildlife habitat like the Cerrado area of Brazil. According to the BirdLife website the Cerrado, located in central Brazil.  The Bird Life site says that in 2004 large scale soya bean and other biofuel farming had reduced the size of this unique habitat to 43% of its original size. Around 1% of the remaining Cerrado is lost each year.


The Cerrado is a wildlife rich savannah and is listed as a biodiversity hotspot, according to BirdLife.


With a high-level of endizm the Cerrado has 837 bird species, including the critically endangered Cone-billed Tanager. European grassland would be impacted by biofuel production.


A conversion to maize to biofuel in the European would be detrimental to the Red Kite and the Little Bustard and decrease fallow pockets on biofuel Production lands where the production of biofuels is more prosperous than leaving land fallow.


While my focus is impacts on birds biofuels have potential to have pollution as a byproduct and water impacts.


Large-scale production of biofuels will produce pesticides and has potential to produce ecological deserts like the sugarcane lands in modern Southern Florida, where birds are scarce over extensive areas of sugarcane lands.


According to BirdLife a biofuel plant is planned for the Cerrado. Extensive amounts of water will be used to irrigate the biofuel areas. The water will be taken from the Tana River. Pesticides will be washed into the Pantanal, where up to 345 species of birds, including the endangered Hyacinth Macaw.


So biofuels are a threat to the biodiversity of birds. This needs to be considered as we plan to use alternate forms of energy for our future as a species.


The bottom line is that some forms of alternative energy are better than other forms from a bird conservation perspective and this type of interaction is promoted by the NRDC, a group that wants to conserve wildlife and make a place for humanity as our climate warms up.



Bright Lights, Power Poles and Bird Conservation

December 17, 2008

Birds will follow landmarks as they migrate. (Coastlines, ridges, rivers). If a large city or power pole is along one of these migratory corridors you will find dead birds near the light sources on the edge of cities or human development and near to power poles, all kinds.

I have sat on the edge of cities with a large bay window and a light source and every year birds hit my windows.

The next day I would walk out and I find dead birds near power sources and lighted areas. I mostly found migrating birds and such divergent species like the Scarlet Tanager, and 15 species of warbler, Sharp-shinned hawks, Wood Thrushes and so forth

This seems like nit picking but every day for at least thirty or so days millions of birds will die as they crash into lighted areas and power poles or power production areas, usually on the edges of bird migration corridors. There are even entire teams of persons who find dead birds on the edge of migration corridors who try to determine what killed the migrating birds. The two major culprits are lighted areas and power poles.

What seems relevant about these things is that they are easily resolvable forms of bird conservation.

Wind energy, which I have blogged about, can be cited in such a way so as to not kill many wildforms, like birds and bats.

The word I frequently here is political will. Do we have the political will to cite wind turbines in such a way that we are not harming migratory wildlife like birds and bats?
We can search these places for dead wildlife and hopefully we can move wind turbines.

The very least we can do is not put these turbines in migratory areas.
Let’s not have lighted areas at the edge of any size of a city. Power poles can be cited out of these important wildlife areas.

This seems like a lot to go through to cite things like power poles but we can conserve wildlife and still have a high quality of life. This is called a “win-win and it works for us and some forms of wildlife, especially migratory forms of wildlife like birds, butterflies and bats-all wildlife.

Global Warming and Birds; Complicated Indeed!

December 16, 2008

By Roger Segelken
Earlier springs with warmer temperatures over the past 30 years have prompted a ubiquitous North American bird species, tree swallows, to begin laying eggs, on average, a week or more earlier. But whether these harbingers of global warming are being adversely affected by changing weather patterns isn’t clear, biologists in New York, Wisconsin and California report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

When tree swallows start earlier, they often lay more eggs, say the biologists, referring to data collected by thousands of volunteer citizen-scientists who have watched the birds’ nest boxes for 40 years.

The ‘bug sucker,’ a vacuum device that samples aerial food supplies for insect-eating birds, is examined at the experimental ponds site in Lansing. From left are Marisa Adler, a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Peter Wrege and David Winkler, senior research associate and professor, respectively, in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; and Susan Longest, a senior in CALS. Charles Harrington/University Photography

“We don’t know whether earlier lay dates and larger clutch sizes will be good in the long term for populations of tree swallows,” said David W. Winkler, a Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “And tree swallows are just one of the many organisms that potentially can be affected by climate change.”

After an exhaustive, three-year statistical analysis of bird and weather data, Winkler, Peter O. Dunn of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Charles E. McCulloch, a biostatistician at the University of California-San Francisco, report the effects of climate change on swallows in the PNAS Online Early Edition, week of Sept. 23, 2002. Their article is titled “Predicting the effects of climate change on avian life history traits.”

Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are astute weather monitors, Winkler explains, because of three characteristics:

They are aerial insectivores, hunting the insects they crave “on the wing.” (An adult tree swallow can capture as many as 50 insects before returning to the nest and feeding its young.)

Tree swallows are “income breeders” that rely, more than many other species, on their daily foraging intake — both before and during the spring breeding season. (Tree swallows begin breeding once their source of insect income looks large enough, but the future of their growing family is at the mercy of sometimes-fickle weather.)

Insects the swallows need do not fly during cool weather, and swallows will not forage on the ground. (A sudden cold snap and a local shortage of insects can kill 5- to 8-day-old nestlings before their developing bodies learn to thermoregulate and grow insulating feathers. When adult tree swallows are forced by cool weather to travel greater distances in search of insects, they may be forced to abandon their chicks.)

Professional ornithologists rely on trained amateurs in volunteer programs, such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nest Record Card Program, to report on birds throughout a wide geographic area. In 1999, after studying 21,000 nest records from Cornell’s database and similar programs in Canada, Dunn and Winkler reported that the lay date of tree swallows shifted an average of nine days earlier between 1959 and 1991.

Since that report, which was among the first to link animal-behavior changes to global warming, Winkler and Dunn have worked with McCulloch and extended the analysis to another key life-history trait — the number of eggs birds lay each year.

“One of the strongest patterns in this data set showed birds that begin earlier in a given season tend to lay larger clutches of eggs,” Winkler recalled. “We wanted to see if earlier average lay dates over the past 30 years have led to larger clutches. However, it is interesting to find that, despite the change in lay dates, there has been no significant increase in clutch size across the years.”

To say more with any certainty will require a much better understanding of how birds respond to climate change — and more detailed, hands-on research than even the most dedicated legions of volunteers can conduct. Nevertheless, the PNAS authors believe that their statistical analysis of tree swallows’ response can be a template for studies by other researchers of how climate change might affect various plant and animal species.

“Tree swallows are doing a fine job of observing seasonal climate conditions and responding in a way that’s easy for us to measure,” Winkler noted. “Clearly, they’re laying eggs earlier on average. Our job as biologists is to learn more about the birds and their food organisms in order to understand the effects of this and other responses to climate change.”

The study was sponsored, in part, by the National Science Foundation and Cornell.

The Prairie Potholes and a Warming Climate

December 16, 2008



While all wetlands are important to waterfowl conservation, one area stands out and needs to be discussed in this post. I remember a book by Frank Bellerose called, Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America, it was a Wildlife Management Institute Book printed by Stackpole Press. It is a birder’s classic.


I remember the professor of that class getting animated and saying, no shouting, as he held that book, he shouted, “if you remember one thing it is that the prairie pothole of  Central-western South Dakota and  most of Western North Dakota, Southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, south of the Boreal forest is perhaps the area most important to “puddle ducks” or as some friends called them “dabblers”. The potholes are where “dabbling ducks” like the Pintail, Northern Shoveler,  Redhead, America Widgeon, Ruddy Duck, Gadwall and all of the 3 teal breed.


Back then we seldom discussed the prospective impacts of global warming on anything, let alone waterfowl, however we new that global warming could be significant in the “pothole region”.


It did not take a rocket scientist to know global climate change would negatively impact waterfowl. We knew what global warming and the greenhouse gas effect were and we could not see that it was happening all around us, even as the “dabblers” showed increasing signs of stress, as the habitat started drying out all by itself.


Global climate change might ravage a bird factory, like the prairie potholes in a way that we could only wish back the days of wetland drainage, when conservation battles were pretty straight forward.


That is like wishing for the ultimate extinction of a lot of birdlife and you just do not want to do that…Ah! But the good old days, I am already lamenting, when bird conservation was a straightforward battle of “ he said versus he said’. Well I do not see global warming this way at all and it is the number one obstacle to the conservation of the Prairie Pothole region.


Bellerose’s Book points out just how extensive the Prairie Potholes were at one time in our recent past.


I have visited the prairie potholes to bird watch in South Dakota, North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Alberta, at the height of breeding season for pintails, gadwalls, shovelers and a host of other dabbling ducks.


These ponds were vernal (seasonal), and real prone to drought, which has ravaged the area recently. Drainage of these wetland areas enhanced agriculture that was already marginal in these areas. This drainage was even encouraged by the federal Governments of Canada and the US, at a time in our past when global warming was not known as an issue.


As global climate change rear its head these areas, so important to “dabblers” and other species of duck as well. These species will either change their nesting grounds or go the way of the Dodo…extinction.


Perhaps we can change this but we need the time to become more energy efficient and think of new strategies to preserve habitats like the Prairie Potholes, a “dabbler factory”. I see that task as the future challenge of all waterfowl management.


In the meantime let’s hold on to what we have, a task that is already daunting as we hit global climate change head-on.


Global Warming Will Make Bird Conservation Hard

December 16, 2008

Shorebirds nest by the millions along the North Coastal Plain of Alaska. They stage in areas like the Snake Bite of the Everglades National Park, Bolivar Flats in Texas and the Delaware Bay in New Jersey. Besides being critical habitats for shorebirds, what do these places all have in common?

These habitats will all be under water before the end of the century, or potentially so, and that is not good for shorebirds and poses a threat to all shorebirds.

These areas are under water (shallow) already for part of the year now…and that is good for shorebirds. These areas are now hotspots for global warming, especially the well documented rise in seashore levels that is frequently written about in science journals and is frequently written about by groups like the NRDC. Another problem associated with the warming of the wetlands in the North Arctic is the prospective release of methane gas, an extremely toxic gas that enhances global warming and is found in many of the lakes in the arctic.

I have been called a “canary in a mine shaft” because I extrapolate much of what I read to lifeforms like birds, but I get much of my information from groups like the NRDC. It helps that I have been observing wildbirds for many years throughout much of the world.

For years I can remember going to seasonally wet areas, mostly near coastlines, to see shorebirds and related species of waterbirds. I new that if seashores were to rise, even a couple of inches, and these areas would remain flooded all years that major, critical chunks of shorebird and waterbird habitat would disappear.

What is a shorebird and what is a waterbird? A small shorebird might be a small bird like the Baird’s Sandpiper or Least Sandpiper. Larger shorebirds might be like a Willet. Common shorebirds might be like the Greater Yellowlegs.

A coastal waterbird is like the Black Skimmer or the Laughing Gull.

These are species that will be impacted as seashores rise. That is happening now.

I cannot help but wonder how will things be for shorebirds in 10 years if we as a species choose to ignore the signs of global warming that we see and hear about now on a daily basis.

I am listening as I write this post to a story about melting ice making it impossible for Antarctica penguins not being able to survive fast and dramatic changes, as a result of Global climate change to coastal penguin habitats.

These bring in seemingly unrelated issues that are highly related to penguin survival. These are processes like a cap and trade system for vehicle fuel efficiency and carbon sequestration for dirty fossil fuels like coal, which will be developed in places like Montana and Wyoming over the next few years as we hopefully move toward alternative forms of energy. Do you see the connections between bird conservation and our use of energy?

Shorebirds are the real “canaries in the mine shaft”. Their fate is intimately tied to human energy consumption.


More Tinkering by Bush

December 12, 2008

Bush, who as far as I am concerned, cannot leave office soon enough, has tinkered again with the Endangered Species Act and that is so sad!!!

Bush can do that as the world is strangled by a financial fiasco. Go figure!!!