Anna's Hummingbirds, young naturalists, oil sands, nearshore albatross, photo gallery of rare-bird sightings, and saving the House Sparrow
Birding Briefs -- April 2011
Published: February 15, 2011
Anna’s Hummingbirds head east: 11 birds were found in 10 eastern states and provinces this winter
It’s well known that several western hummingbird species, including Rufous, Buff-bellied, Allen’s, and Black-chinned, show up every fall and winter in the southeastern United States. (See “Winter Hummingbirds in the Gulf,” December 2010, page 18.)
The surprise this past winter was the Anna’s Hummingbird, a common bird from Washington to California to Arizona, but one that is rare in winter anywhere in the east. It was found in small but unprecedented numbers: at least 11 birds at 10 locations in eastern states and provinces.
A male and a female turned up at the same feeder in Grand Marais, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the state’s first and second records. First records were also recorded at six other locations:
• In a backyard near Des Moines, Iowa
• In Chillicothe, near Peoria, Illinois
• At a campground north of Reading, Pennsylvania
• In Cottam, Ontario, about 18 miles from Point Pelee National Park
• In Hanahan, north of Charleston, South Carolina
• In Fayetteville in the Ozarks region of Arkansas
Maryland had its second record, at a feeder in Middletown. Louisiana recorded an immature female at LaPlace. But perhaps most amazing of all was the male Anna’s in Quebec (right). The second record for the province, it returned regularly to a feeder in Val d’Espoir, near the east end of the Gaspé Peninsula on the Gulf of St. Lawrence — one of the easternmost points in North America.
Digital cameras inspire young naturalists: Minnesota program encourages teachers, kids to explore the outdoors
According to Carrol Henderson, the nongame wildlife program supervisor for Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, taking a walk to look for birds is too passive for many young people today. But put a digital camera in their hands, he says, and they’re quickly transformed into nature enthusiasts.
“They slow down, they watch, they listen,” he says. “They look for signs of nature and themes like camouflage, bird nests, or pollination that can be incorporated into classroom activities.”
To tap into the enthusiasm, Henderson and a group of biologists, educators, and photographers developed a program called Digital Photography Bridge to Nature, a first-of-its-kind effort in the nation. It takes a teach-the-teachers approach to nature education, delivering workshops to teachers of grades 3-9 and state park naturalists.
After teachers attend a workshop, they can borrow “learning trunks” that include 12 digital cameras and an assortment of field guides for use on photo safaris with their students. Safaris can be held in schoolyards, city or state parks, or anywhere children can study leaves, butterflies, birds, and flowers.
“Younger children might be encouraged to photograph the alphabet by finding creatures or plants that start with letters of the alphabet,” says Henderson. “Others may look for themes in nature, signs of the changing seasons, or phenology.”
Teachers are encouraged to incorporate the photography program into curricula they already teach, such as math, science, art, and geography. The workshops and all materials are free. One classroom shot 4,000 images during a field trip and created an iMovie as a class project.
“It is our hope,” Henderson adds, “that this will stimulate a lifelong interest in the outdoors through photography as a hobby. Birds certainly become a major opportunity area for those photographic efforts, especially at sites like bird-feeding stations in schoolyards or state parks.”
Oil sands: A continuous threat to birds. Royal Society of Canada report points to “major environmental issues”
Environment ministers in Ottawa and Calgary responded in December to a critical independent review of oil sands operations in bird-rich northeastern Alberta by vowing to conduct an immediate overhaul of all environmental monitoring in the province.
“The actions we take will be guided by science and by facts, not by politics and public relations,” said John Baird, environment minister of Canada. “This is the one way that we can give Canadians and the rest of the world confidence that we have implemented and, just as importantly, are enforcing a gold standard of sustainability and stewardship.”
The report, written by a panel of Canadian scientists assembled by the Royal Society of Canada, dismissed as unfounded claims that the oil sands industry is the “most environmentally destructive project on earth” but made clear that it “involves major environmental issues on many fronts which must be addressed as a high priority.”
Referring to incidents in April 2008 and October 2010 in which large numbers of ducks died after landing in vast ponds filled with toxic mining tailings, the panel described the ponds as a “continuous threat to migratory waterfowl” and said current practices for protecting waterfowl were “seriously inadequate.”
Alberta’s oil sands lie beneath the breeding grounds for 22 million to 170 million birds and along a globally important flyway for huge numbers of ducks, geese, cranes, and shorebirds. Birds of 43 species have died in tailings ponds to date.
Land reclamation is another major issue, write the scientists. The amount of land being disturbed is “huge,” and the pace of reclamation has been slow. No tailings pond has yet been fully reclaimed.
A nearshore albatross: You don’t have to get on a boat to see a Laysan
For the 18th year in a row, a Laysan Albatross named Al has returned to winter in the cove at Point Arena, a town on the northern California coast.
The bird was first seen in February 1994. It came back to the cove the following winter and has returned each year since. According to birdwatcher Bob Kiefer, it usually arrives in late November or early December and typically leaves in mid- to late March. This winter, it was first spotted on November 22.
No one knows the bird’s age or sex, where it spends the rest of the year, or if it had been coming to the cove before it was first reported. Since Laysan Albatrosses can live for more than 50 years, there’s no telling how much longer Al will continue to winter at Point Arena.
The town is easy to reach via California’s Highway 1. If you go, expect about a 50 percent chance of a sighting on any particular day. Kiefer suggests checking the cove every couple hours throughout the day. It’s worth a shot, he says, because Point Arena “is probably the only place on the west coast where one can reliably see this species with the observer standing on solid ground — not on a boat.”
Northern Lapwing, Hermit Warbler, and more rare-bird sightings
Click to enlarge
Save the House Sparrow! It and the starling are declining fast in England
Two introduced species that have become all too familiar in North America — European Starling and House Sparrow — are subjects of mounting conservation concern in England, where they are native.
According to research published by the British Trust for Ornithology, the duo are among 24 British breeding birds whose populations have fallen more than 50 percent.
Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Survey, and Garden Bird Feeding Survey data show a rapid decline in abundance over the last 25 years for the House Sparrow. Possible explanations include a general reduction in food supply, less grain being spilt during agricultural operations, tighter hygiene regulations, increases in predation, and toxic additives to unleaded gasoline.
The starling’s decline has been particularly fast since the early 1980s, especially outside urban areas, where the loss of permanent pasture and an intensification of livestock rearing are likely to blame.
The report, BTO Research Report No. 565, is available at www.bto.org/birdtrends.