Friday, September 28, 2007

Early Fall Nature Photography


(click for larger image)

What a beautiful day! I had a little time to some nature photography this morning before work. I confess I haven't been doing all that much digiscoping lately. Sometimes it's simply more fun to observe birds (nature, too) and not worry about lugging the spotting scope and tripod around. In case you were wondering, most of the bird images appearing in my blog in the past few months are recycled from past seasons.


Outdoor Studio for Digiscoping

Since my Nikon Coopix 995 is starting to drop a few pixels, I decided to switch to the Coolpix 8400. I set up at one of my "outdoor studios" about 15 minutes before sunrise and birds were already zipping around in the dense habitat. This is a spot I often return to - it's been so productive, especially during the fall...many images in my digiscoping gallery were taken right here.

I saw (and heard) Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Common Yellowthroats, White-throated, Lincoln's and Song Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Eastern Bluebirds, even a Wilson's Warbler. I don't chase them down in order to get a photograph – I line up on a particular zone and wait. After several minutes, the birds begin to adjust to my presence and go about their business. In the limited time I had, the only bird to pop up on one of the pre-selected perches was this Song Sparrow:


(click for larger image)

I'm still reluctant to retire the 995, but I suspect it's time to move from one discontinued digital camera to another one. I think I could get comfortable with the 8400 and make it my primary digiscoping camera.


Painted Lady (click for larger version)

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Birds Can "See" Earth's Magnetic Field



Yesterday I saw my first Dark-eyed Junco of fall. With migration being fairly steady throughout the night, there are sure to be more this morning. Many readers sent me the following story, which is pretty interesting stuff:

Birds Can "See" Earth's Magnetic Field

"Scientists already suspected birds' eyes contain molecules that are thought to sense Earth's magnetic field. In a new study, German researchers found that these molecules are linked to an area of the brain known to process visual information. In that sense, "birds may see the magnetic field," said study lead author Dominik Heyers, a biologist at the University of Oldenburg."

Link: Full article from National Geographic

Dark-eyed Junco © 2007 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sparrow Season


White-crowned Sparrow

My blog about reducing long-distance trips to observe birds apparently inspired a discussion thread on the Wisconsin Birding Network – how fascinating. But now it's time to set that aside and get back to birding as more sparrows pour into southern Wisconsin during the night - we're nearing the apex of migratory sparrow season.

This morning at Pheasant Branch I found my first White-crowned Sparrow of fall – a beautiful adult. I was birding with Sylvia and she thought she had heard it singing before we saw it, but I missed the song because I was concentrating on wren chatter from just behind us. Turning around, we were treated with an extremely close-up look at a Sedge Wren perched in thicket just a few feet away...so close we could see it blinking even without binoculars.


Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow

By now Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows should be at Nine Springs, arguably one of the most beautiful sparrows anywhere. I doubt I'll ever best the photographs of them as I was able to get last fall, so I'm not even sure I'll try. Dottie and Sylvia have never seen a sharp-tailed sparrow, so we're thinking about taking a trip there this weekend to try and find them. It can be very tricky. Nine Springs is often crawling with Song and Swamp Sparrows. Every LBJ (little brown job) that shoots out from the vegetation deserves a look through binoculars...just to be sure. Scanning and landing on a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow is an annual superlative experience I have seldom missed.


Swamp Sparrow

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sparrows Return


(click on image for larger version)

It's raining here in southern Wisconsin this morning, so I'm going to skip birding before work. To help celebrate the return of sparrows, I created a large image (1024 x 768) suitable for your computer's background. Feel free. This is a White-throated Sparrow I digiscoped last fall at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. What a smart looking bird, huh? I love'm.

White-throated Sparrow © 2007 Mike McDowell

Comments



"It's impossible, if no more than one opinion is uttered, to make choice of the best: a man is forced then to follow whatever advice may have been given him; but if opposite speeches are delivered, then choice can be exercised."

Artabanus to Xerxes, from The Histories of Herodotus

"The important thing to notice here is that Dave does not see blog comments as productive to the free exchange of ideas. They are a part of the problem, not the solution. You don't have a right to post your thoughts at the bottom of someone else's thoughts. That's not freedom of expression, that's an infringement on their freedom of expression. Get your own space, write compelling things, and if your ideas are smart, they'll be linked to, and Google will notice, and you'll move up in PageRank, and you'll have influence and your ideas will have power."

Joel Spolsky, from Joel on Software Blog

I'm still glad many readers have opted to email me their thoughts concerning recent posts. Most of the following excerpts are from those emails, but also fragments I found elsewhere on the web concerning this discussion I thought were relevant.

"Thanks for your insights on the mangomania. We thought of going on Friday but something about it all made me uneasy. Thanks for putting that into words."

"I've received some phone calls and emails about whether I've seen the Mango yet. People are pretty surprised that I'm not making the half hour trip to Beloit to see this bird!"

"I lurk on your site frequently, and I simply loved your post today. I wish more people had such a sensible, thoughtful approach to life. We live smack-dab in a tiny lot in the city of Oshkosh, but since I've stuffed our teeny-tiny lot with bird- and butterfly-friendly plantings, I'm amazed at the diversity here. It's amazing what a little effort will produce."

"Thanks for the Mango Madness story. I too enjoy giving my free time walking two blocks from my city apartment to volunteer at Magic Hedge/Montrose Beach bird nature area here in Chicago as much as possible. I have driving places in the past but seem to do it less now. I have little money and try to give volunteer wise. I guess I am lucky, many rare birds stop over in Chi-town and I feel blessed. I guess every hobby has a balance. I just think more people need to see birding as more of a conservation effort than a hobby."

"I enjoyed today's post about Mango Madness and also Laura's fast shout-out to your piece on her blog. You're dead on correct."

"I am not making the trip to Beloit for the Mango either. I like your idea of the ‘could have easily seen but didn't.'"

"I loved your post on the Green-breasted Mango! We are a lot closer to Beloit than you are, but it pretty much went down the way you described it. I am happy to say we did at least fill up the entire car with birders, even if they were all family members."

"I've never gotten too much of a thrill chasing freak-bird sightings (or even birds outside Wisconsin, really). I do enjoy the social aspect of it even if I always feel more like a cultural anthropologist...I mean, it is cool to know that people care about birds and birders are for the most part very smart and conscious people, but there is a bit of a freakish obsession with the ultra-rare that doesn't translate into bird conservation."

"Your idea is certainly an interesting one. Although, I'm too much of a twitcher to spend all my twitching money on conservation."

"Mike McDowell is a good guy and I like him but his latest blog entries are nothing more than to troll for arguments and criticize those that like to travel to see birds. I am sure everyone who is traveling to see this Mango gives back some way or another to bird conservation. Trouble with people like Mike they like to stereo type listers as insensitive people who do not care about habitat or other concerns with birds."

"I've been talking about birds killed by cars for years, but it's as if biologists get so focused on their own specialties that they just don't see beyond them. When I started birding, I got very concerned about cats, communications towers, windows, and cars killing birds. Audubon said that none of them harmed populations--they were just killing individuals. Well, those individuals do add up to populations, don't they?"

"I too have been seeing a lot of dead birds on the roads, and it always breaks my heart."

"My read of the current state of affairs is that if our priorities don't place conservation interests first, there won't be many of the bird species left to chase or even see on a casual basis. Without doubt, the birding community is due for some serious soul searching about long distance travel for viewing birds."

"We enjoy reconnecting with familiar faces and meeting new birders because for us, birding isn't just about the birds, it's also very much about sharing rewarding social interactions."

"Unless all of us (not just the few who are doing it now) start seriously changing our behavior, we will have a lot fewer birds to watch in 20-40 years - I guarantee it."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cars and Birds



I saw my first Hermit Thrush of fall migration on Saturday at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Nearly 70 bird species were observed in 5 hours and 2 miles of walking. An impressive diversity of wood warblers was seen, including Palms and Yellow-rumps. Additionally, more sparrows from the boreal forest were present on the north side of the conservancy.

The reasoning behind my decision to drastically reduce driving trips to watch or photograph birds is multifaceted. There is consideration for our environment. There's the expense of gasoline. There's also the element of valuable ways in which to spend my time. In other words, if a rare bird is two hours away for a four-hour roundtrip, what else might I have been able to do with those four hours? Digiscoping at Pheasant Branch? Photographing wildflowers? Reading a good book? Biking? The rare-bird carrot may be tantalizingly irresistible and delicious, but wouldn't broccoli have sufficed? Well, perhaps I'm just a broccoli and beets kind of guy.

But there's another reason...

My Trek 330 was stolen many years ago, long before I was an avid bird watcher. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I purchased a new road bike and started biking two or three long-distance rides every week. Perhaps I didn't notice, all those years ago, but I saw something this summer typically undetected when driving down a rural road or highway – lots of dead birds. Dead birds, that now, I can identify. I saw dead Indigo Buntings, House Finches, American Goldfinches, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Gray Catbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Horned Larks, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Killdeer, lots of Tree and Barn Swallows and more. Our routes typically take us along roads west of Waunakee, 20 to 40 miles an outing. Every mile there were a few to several dead birds – multiply those miles by all the roads in Wisconsin, and then the United States. It adds up to a pretty staggering figure. According to a graph and information on David Allen Sibley's website, it is estimated as many as 60 million birds die annually from collisions with automobiles:

"Cars may kill 60 million birds per year. Of over 8 million lane miles of roads in the US, 6.3 million, or over ¾, are in rural areas where most birds are presumably killed. There's not much we can do about this source of bird mortality short of changing our driving habits, but landscaping the roadside to discourage birds from congregating there is helpful. My own sense is that small cars with more aerodynamic designs hit fewer birds, while large boxy vans and trucks hit more birds, but I don't think this has been studied. By the way, 100 years ago there were fewer than 250 miles of paved roads in North America, all in urban centers."



I own a car. I drive to work and my commute is 11.5 miles each way, though I try to ride my bike (to work) at least once or twice a week. As with bird mortality via window collision, it's fairly easy to ethically absorb the vastly smaller personal tally to justify an action or non-action. If only a few birds have ever collided into windows at my house, should I really bother spending the time and money putting up birdscreen? If I go chase a rare bird and inadvertently kill a Blue Jay along the way, is it anything I should worry about? Oh well, it's only one Blue Jay. Or was it? An adult carrying food to nestlings, perhaps?



By reducing unnecessary trips by automobile, perhaps only a few birds will benefit over the course of my driving lifetime. By putting up birdscreen, a few more birds may benefit. I don't think this issue is so easily dismissed by criticizing me for having an over abundance of so-called "liberal guilt"...I think of it more along the lines of good stewardship. Clearly, no matter how much any of us do individually, wild birds will continue to die at our hand – we're competing with them. In most cases, birds lose ground. I'm not asking, nor do I expect any of you to necessarily adopt my personal views and behaviors regarding any of the above, but I hope you at least think about the dead bird before you make a trip to see a life bird.

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mango Madness


Ruby-throated Hummingbird

No doubt by you've all heard the exciting news of the Green-breasted Mango hummingbird visiting a feeder in Beloit, WI. Normally this bird is found in eastern Mexico and South America in Columbia, Venezuela, Bolivia, etc. The most likely explanation how this tropical hummingbird got so far out of its normal range to Wisconsin is an error in its migratory behavior – a veritable vagrant. A caged escapee or released bird can't be ruled out, but very improbable.

The birding paparazzi have already descended upon Beloit and there are dozens upon dozens of photographs of the hummingbird appearing on listservs and websites. Some articles I've read are predicting that hundreds, if not thousands, of birders will visit the home hosting the bird (provided it sticks around). It probably will, as it's been there for nearly a month and temperatures are likely to be agreeable to the bird in the near term.

The mango would be a life bird for me, but I'm not going. Waunakee is approximately 65 miles from Beloit, so it would be a two-hour roundtrip and cost about $10.00 in gasoline. If I did go, though, I can picture myself standing on the patio of a typical midwestern backyard, or perhaps seated on a lawn chair graciously provided by the host, waiting several minutes in anticipation of seeing the mango. There would be the usual birder banter with familiar faces, perhaps meeting a few new people from out of state. Then all of a sudden, the Green-breasted Mango would zoom in and hover right next to the nectar feeder. Birders gasp and a few announce in unison, "There it is!" I would hold up my binoculars and admire it – seeing a species that's new to me - a mere 30-second experience punctuated by hours of navigating interstate traffic and spotting various roadkill along the side of the highway.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in my backyard are looking better and better all the time. Tell you what...I'm going to count the Green-breasted Mango anyway. There's no doubt in my mind I could drive to Beloit and see it. To officially earn the tick, I'm required to get in my car, fill my gas tank and spend a few hours on a highway and throw another 100 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. Well heck, anybody can do that. I'll take my $10.00 and give it to the Friends of Pheasant Branch for the prairie restoration effort. The Green-breasted Mango will be added to my "could have seen, but travel dollars went to conservation instead" list, which is steadily growing.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird © 2007 Mike McDowell

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Birding in the Fog


Pheasant Branch early this morning

Waunakee was crisp and clear, but I found Pheasant Branch enshrouded in a dense fog this morning as I got closer to Middleton. I wondered how migrating birds could see the fields and forest below them. Maybe they just know. Perhaps they listen for certain types of water sounds, like the babbling springs, stream or even small waves on the water's edge of Lake Mendota. I stopped at the prairie, first, and found Lincoln's, White-throated, Clay-colored, Savannah, Song and Swamp Sparrows. One Palm Warbler paused on a twig, pumped its tail a few times before flying off. A Nashville Warbler perched atop a willow, gave a few calls and headed south toward the forest.


Lincoln's Sparrow

Though NexRad showed strong migration throughout the night, the stream corridor was remarkably quiet. There were a few Swainson's Thrushes, a Wood Thrush and several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, but the biggest surprise was a flock of around sixty Blue Jays – the most I've seen at one time there. They didn't stay long, though. Astonished at their numbers, Sylvia and I counted them as they filed out of the trees and headed out of the conservancy. We didn't find very many warblers - Northern Waterthrush, American Redstart and Magnolia Warbler. Even the resident birds were quiet, though one Carolina Wren cheerfully announced its presence.

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sparrow Field Trip!



My last Madison Audubon field trip of the year is scheduled for October 6th, 7:15 a.m. at the Dane County Unit of Pheasant Branch Conservancy north of Middleton. The main focus of this field trip will be identifying sparrows: White-throated, White-crowned, Clay-colored, Fox, Lincoln's, Field, Song, Swamp and many others. It's not uncommon to find a dozen or more sparrow species the first week of October at the conservancy. We'll also look for late warblers, flycatchers, thrushes and other fall migrants. The field trip is free and open to the general public.

Fox Sparrow © 2007 Mike McDowell

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nikon Coolpix P5100



I recently learned Nikon discontinued the Coolpix P5000, replacing it with the P5100. The new camera is 12.1 megapixels and uses the same UR-E20 accessory adapter providing a 28mm thread for digiscoping adapter support. Since I've never used the P5000 or P5100, I can't say how well either works for digiscoping, only that it will connect to thread-based adapters like the Swarovski DCA and Kowa DA1. I'll provide an update as soon as I find digiscoped results taken with this camera.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Alaska Bird Makes Longest Nonstop Flight Ever Measured


Hudsonian Godwit - another long-distance migrant.

"A female shorebird was recently found to have flown 7,145 miles (11,500 kilometers) nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand - without taking a break for food or drink. It's the longest nonstop bird migration ever measured, according to biologists who tracked the flight using satellite tags. The bird, a wader called a bar-tailed godwit, completed the journey in nine days."

Link: Full Article from National Geographic News

Hudsonian Godwit © 2007 Mike McDowell

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Quiz - Seven Sparrows

The preening quiz I resurrected form last fall still had the answers in the October 2006 blog entries, so I decided to find some previously unpublished (I think) photographs for a new sparrow quiz. In just a few more weeks, the north section of Pheasant Branch Conservancy will be filled with over a dozen sparrow species. It's also one of the few places I've ever had Harris's Sparrow in Dane County (besides my backyard). Are sparrows a challenge for you? Break out your field guide and see if you can identify the following seven sparrows – all photographed in southern Wisconsin.

Sparrow #1:



Sparrow #2:



Sparrow #3:



Sparrow #4:



Sparrow #5:



Sparrow #6:



Sparrow #7:



All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More birds than ever face extinction


Whooping Cranes remain endangered.

"As the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals the scale of the escalating extinction crisis occurring across the planet, an unobtrusive parakeet from Mauritius is showing that, with funding and dedicated fieldworkers, species can recover from the brink of extinction. Released today, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals that unprecedented numbers of species are now threatened with extinction. For birds, the Red List is maintained by BirdLife International, who report that 1,221 species are considered threatened with extinction. The overall conservation status of the world's birds has deteriorated steadily since 1988, when they were first comprehensively assessed."

Link: Full Article from BirdLife International

Link: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Whooping Crane © 2007 Mike McDowell

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

White-throated Sparrows - on their way!



Laura Erickson has written a fun and informative blog post about one of my favorite birds, the White-throated Sparrow. Be sure to check it out!

White-throated Sparrow © 2007 Mike McDowell

Firsts of Fall and a Fire



Yesterday I saw my first Yellow-rumped Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet of fall migration. The birding in the morning at Pheasant Branch was exceptional. I returned after work, but the wind had picked up and there were fewer birds. I explored the Parisi Park trail (adjacent to part of Pheasant Branch) and then followed the stream corridor trail all the way to Century Avenue. There were a few redstarts, magnolia warblers and chestnut-sided warblers, but not much else. Walking back to my car, I decided to check Parisi Park one more time before heading home. I was shocked to discover the park shelter was on fire. It looked like someone had piled up a bunch of plastic material, now melted, around a wooden support and set it ablaze. The flames started crawling higher. I don't carry a cell phone, so I got in my car and drove several blocks to the police department. I returned because I figured they would want a statement from me. By the time the police and fire department got there, the flames were almost to the roof, but they quickly extinguished the fire.

Yellow-rumped Warbler © 2007 Mike McDowell

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Of a Feather



This weekend I finished Scott Weidensaul's latest book Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding. I often find birding difficult to enjoy in print (I'd rather be birding than read about it) and my favorite reading subjects are typically science and natural history. I slugged my way through Mark Obmascik's The Big Year - dreadfully boring, I thought. However, Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway is a notable exception. In Of a Feather, Weidensaul provides a general overview of the history of birding in America. Covered are contributions of early ornithological pioneers like John James Audubon, Alexander Wilson, Bell, Baird, Nuttall and many others with less recognizable names. The evolution of the field guide is reviewed up to Roger Tory Peterson and David Allen Sibley. From shotgun ornithology and collecting bird skins to the first to use optics to view birds and identify them by field marks, the book methodically makes its way to contemporary birding.

For me, though, the most interesting material in Weidensaul's book is found in the final two chapters where he expresses concern over the activity of intense listing. He recalls a birder who chased a particular coveted species who then lost any interest in watching the bird mere seconds after the lifer was ticked. I'm sure many of us have witnessed something similar or perhaps have even done it. I can remember a few times I was at the mercy of another driver or group but wanted to stay to watch birds at a particular spot, but had to abandon the desire because the area had been exhausted of the potential for earning any year birds. At its worst are those who would say you're wasting your time birding at a location if you can't pick up a new species for a list. There's one thing I can say about the type of bird photography I do - it requires me to watch birds for hours at a single spot...even the common ones.

Weidensual writes...

"For many years, I've harbored a growing unease and frustration at the disconnect between the burgeoning enthusiasm for birding and a pervasive apathy about birds themselves, as organisms in their own right, whose protection and preservation should be among our highest priorities."

And later on...

"Can you name a single, concrete action you’ve taken in the past week to better the world for birds? In the last month? The last year? If you had to think about it for more than a moment, then I gently suggest you rededicate yourself do doing more for the creatures on which our hobby is based."

Reading something like this might make birders get a little defensive. I immediately broke into a mental exercise of my contributions. I remembered when I spoke to Middleton City Council nearly a decade ago about the birds of Pheasant Branch Conservancy - creating an awareness of their presence, rich diversity and encouraging their protection – this has always been a priority for me, even on field trips. Though I once emulated the behavior of "spot, tick and run," there has always been a higher sense of duty to give something back to birds. My contribution may be very small compared to many, but I still feel this particular sense of obligation to the feathered ones.

While I don't want this post to initiate some kind of philanthropic scorecard, I'll state that I donate a fair amount of money to conservation groups. I volunteer time as a field trip leader for Madison Audubon and Friends of Pheasant Branch. And while my policy is to never give my photographs away without compensation, I occasionally make exceptions for a few organizations like The Nature Conservancy. All of the proceeds of a DVD titled "Birds of Pheasant Branch Conservancy," which includes my bird photography set to music, go to the Friends of Pheasant Branch. I like to think that my blog helps to create awareness to some degree and I do it completely on my own, expecting nothing but my own enjoyment in return. There's more I do, but all of it pales in comparison to the donations my employer routinely gives to the cause of protecting birds to dozens of organizations throughout the United States.

So, is Weidensaul right? He adds...

"Lists are fine things, as far as they go, but for a lot of birders, the list has become the whole shooting match, the alpha and the omega. It needn't exclude conservation, but for too many birders, it does."

Several months ago I wanted to blog about something, but would have done so purely out of a desire to rant. (But this is what opinionated blogs are for, though, right?) Anyway, when the Class of 2006 Whooping Cranes perished, my first reaction was sorrow followed by the thought I should give Operation Migration money beyond my regular membership fee. So I did. I'm supportive of the Direct Autumn Release program, too, and perhaps, I thought, people are putting their money there, but I confess still being disappointed by the absence of certain names under the "Remembering the Class of 2006" acknowledgement page on OM's website. Where were the names of birders who regularly post to rare bird hotlines and listservs? It made me a little uneasy. The list doesn't include annual memberships and other contributions to OM, but still...I guess I sort of figured the tragedy would earn more of a reaction from even diehard listers. When Whooping Cranes in Wisconsin can be officially counted on a birding list, by the rules, perhaps then these beautiful cranes will garner a little more attention. Listers will gladly tick them. Should they help pay for them now?

Weidensaul has some very important things to say about the listing and sport aspect of birding – it's not all negative. It's a fact that the World Series of Birding has generated millions of dollars for conservation causes. I don't want to be preachy, but I think the last two chapters of his book should be read by every birder. The historical chapters are mildly interesting, a little dry at times, but overall Of a Feather one of the best books about birding I've ever read and recommend it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Good Birding!


Nashville Warbler

Birds this morning along the Pheasant Branch stream corridor...

Canada Goose
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Canada Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Nashville Warlber 2007 Mike McDowell

Friday, September 07, 2007

Kirtland's Population Growing!



We'll close this week with good news...

"Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials today released annual survey information indicating the state's population of the endangered Kirtland's warbler continues to increase. Biologists, researchers and volunteers in Michigan observed 1,697 singing males during the official 2007 survey period, up from 1,478 males observed in 2006. The 2007 population represents the largest number of singing males recorded since monitoring began in 1951. The lowest numbers were recorded in 1974 and 1987, when only 167 singing males were found."

Link: Full Article

Kirtland's Warbler © 2007 Mike McDowell

Poisoning Blackbirds



USDA comes to aid of sunflower farmers by testing new program to kill off blackbirds:

"The idea is to use cages filled with captured blackbirds to lure their unsuspecting relatives, said George Linz, a research wildlife biologist. Trays of brown rice will be placed atop the cages, which will be positioned away from sunflower fields and along roadsides, stubble fields and cattails where the birds ‘roost and loaf,' he said. The bait will be surrounded by a wire mesh designed to keep out ‘non-target' birds such as pheasants and doves, Linz said. Initially, the bait will not be poisoned.Researchers will watch from a distance to see if the plan works. If it does, the brown rice eventually will be treated with a poison that has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, one that won't harm other animals if they eat a poisoned blackbird, Linz said."

Link: Full Article

* * *

Hmmph! Would you feed backyard birds sunflower seed grown by farmers who poison birds to protect their crops? I can see it already...backyard birdwatchers protest by purchasing sunflower seed products harvested from "non-kill" farms, so the farmers who use poison end up with shrinking profits anyway. Probably not, though. Perhaps they are “growing bird food,” but most sunflower seed crop is crushed for oil, which is consumed by people. A byproduct of crushing process is used for livestock feed. Still, a lot of that seed is ultimately purchased by backyard birdwatchers.

Though not yet tested and approved, the poisoning plan raises questions. What loss percentages will sunflower seed farmers deem acceptable and how many blackbirds will have to die in order to sustain that desired profit? Blackbirds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, though, right? Section 21.43, Title 50 Code of Federal Regulations states that:

"A Federal Permit shall not be required to control Red-winged, Rusty, and Brewer's Blackbirds, cowbirds, all grackles, crows, and magpies when found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance."

How will they deal with deaths of non-target bird species, especially those that are in decline? I think it's disingenuous to cite "pheasants and doves" as non-target birds - there are similarly sized songbirds that are sure to be poisoned other than the prime culprits.

Farmers have a right to protect their crops and losing 50% must represent a financial disaster for them. I can sympathize with that, but the irony is not lost on me that one day I might be setting out birdseed in my backyard that came from farms where birds were poisoned. The list of things I do or technology I use that is directly or indirectly injurious to birds seems to keep growing.

Rusty Blackbird © 2007 Mike McDowell

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dog-walking - a problem for birds?



Dog walks prompting bird flight

"An Australian team found dog-walking was prompting birds to take flight, causing numbers to plummet by 41%. The researchers, writing in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, said the birds were fleeing because they viewed the dogs as potential predators."

Link: Full Article from BBC News

Dog-walking can adversely affect wildlife

"Dog-walking leads to over 40 per cent reduction in bird abundance and more than 35 per cent reduction in bird diversity in woodlands, according to a study. The researchers say that dogs evolved from wolves as the 'top predators' in many ecosystems, having the tendency to hunt without facing any threat. As per them, the latest findings indicate that wildlife still perceives domestic dogs as a threat."

Link: Full story from Yahoo News

Abstract from Biology Letters:

"Dog walking is among the world's most popular recreational activities, attracting millions of people to natural areas each year with diverse benefits to human and canine health. But conservation managers often ban dog walking from natural areas fearing that wildlife will see dogs as potential predators and abandon their natural habitats, resulting in outcry at the restricted access to public land. Arguments are passionate on both sides and debate has remained subjective and unresolved because experimental evidence of the ecological impacts of dog walking has been lacking. Here we show that dog walking in woodland leads to a 35% reduction in bird diversity and 41% reduction in abundance, both in areas where dog walking is common and where dogs are prohibited. These results argue against access by dog walkers to sensitive conservation areas."

* * *

It will be interesting to see if these findings can be replicated elsewhere. When I'm digiscoping and intend to stay at particular spot for awhile, I always notice that birds initially retreat into the thicket, brush, woods, etc. But eventually, over the course of several minutes, birds return and seem to resume their normal activities (but how would I know?). About the only two species that pay more attention to me than other birds are Black-capped Chickadees and House Wrens – often coming in very close for a quick inspection of the situation. When I ignore them, they go on about their business. Holding my spot, eventually I've observed other people walk by – some with dogs, some without. Though I've never conducted a serious study, I can't say that I've noticed a difference in the way birds behave. In either case, people alone versus with dog, there is an initial retreat with the birds eventually returning to their normal routine. With so many new access points and trails in Pheasant Branch Conservancy, it does make me wonder, especially after reading these articles, if there is (or will be) a long term effect with dog-walking and birds utilizing less habitat near trails.

Black-capped Chickadee © 2007 Mike McDowell

Monday, September 03, 2007

Got mosquitoes?



I'm getting fairly annoyed with this winged devilry and I've heard the worst is yet to come. I thought I had thoroughly applied repellent this morning before birding, but the mosquitoes managed to hit spots I missed, including my brows, inner ear and scalp just below my hat line. Repellents with any amount of deet make me feel a little feverish, plus they have the potential to erode binocular armoring. I've tried non-deet products like Herbal Armor (citronella), but they don't last for more than 10 to 15 minutes and I have to re-apply. Plus, they smell pretty awful. Really, I'm fed up with applying any sort of chemical and seriously considering some brand of hat with netting, but I dislike any kind of eyesight obstruction when I'm busy looking for birds. What's a birder to do?

(No insects were harmed in the production of this blog post. Really!)

Mosquito image © 2007 Mike McDowell

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sleeping to Hummingbirds


(click on image for larger version)

I was tired and lazy today - just worthless for chores around the house. Last night we went to American Players Theatre for a performance of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and didn't get home until after midnight. This morning I slept in (for a change) and didn't go birding at Pheasant Branch. After breakfast, I sat outside our patio and watched half a dozen or so Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fight over the nectar feeder. So much work...I felt exhausted by just watching the incessant and energetic skirmishes. It seems like there's always that one sentry hummingbird keeping a close watch on the feeder, diving into battle the moment another bird shows up to try and sneak a slurp. This is what they did all day. Watching them - that's what I did all day between naps and reading. By early evening the lighting was so good, I finally decided to break out the digiscoping gear to snap photograph of one of the perched hummingbirds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird © 2007 Mike McDowell