Scientists shocked the world this morning with the announcement that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, presumed extinct for decades, has been rediscovered in the forests of eastern Arkansas. When I heard the news on the radio on the way into work this morning, I started to tear up. This is the biggest news in American bird conservation in my lifetime. As one of my friends commented to ABC News, "its like finding Elvis".
Science Magazine article, including video documentation of the bird, online here. Additional info about the continuing efforts to save the birds are at www.ivorybill.org.
During lunch this morning, I found another new yard bird for the year--a couple of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, tiny little birds that flit around in the trees constantly hunting for small insects.
Lots of birds were singing today, and I heard far more birds than I saw. To give a taste of the diversity easily found in half an hour within 1/4 mile of my office, here's the list: Wild Turkey Canada Goose Mourning Dove Belted Kingfisher Northern Flicker Red-bellied Woodpecker Northern Rough-winged Swallow Carolina Wren American Crow Carolina Chickadee Tufted Titmouse White-breasted Nuthatch Northern Cardinal White-throated Sparrow Chipping Sparrow Red-winged Blackbird Brown-headed Cowbird
However, the star of the day wasn't a bird at all, but a little guy who is often eaten by Wild Turkeys, owls, hawks, and crows--a Red-backed Salamander that I found under a rock. Since it was a cooler day, with a bit of a drizzle, I thought it would be a good salamander finding day, so I started turning over logs and rocks and found this guy under a hefty 30 pound rock in the woods along the creek.
This weekend we drove up to Boston for Patriot's Day. During the re-enactment of the Battle of the Bridge at Concord, a Red-tailed Hawk flew up into a tree above the minutemen at their end of the bridge. I wasn't the only one who noticed, as several nearby brought up their cameras to get shots. Interestingly, Red-tailed Hawks are probably more common now than they were during earlier eras, as farmers shot them as vermin for many, many years dating back to colonial times. Other birds seen during the re-enactment include a pair of Mallard and a lone Herring Gull.
What kills 5% of the bird population (1 billion birds) in North America each year? Plate glass windows. Birds see trees and sky reflected in them or a possible opening through which to fly, and crash into the glass and die of brain injuries (more here). It's a very serious problem, and today I had two experiences with the issue at work.
Last week I noticed a dead Mourning Dove on the window sill inside the barn where I park. I thought someone had found it and placed it on the ledge, but today I went and looked and could see the impression of feather dust on the window where the bird crashed into it. Apparently, the bird had been feeding in the open barn and tried to fly out through the bright window, only to crash and die on the spot.
Sometimes birds see their reflections in the window, and when they are feeling territorial, may attack their reflection. This afternoon a co-worker called me down to watch a Northern Cardinal repeatedly crash into the window of her office. The bird would perch in a bush near the window, look at the window, and fly directly at its reflection, falling to the ledge before hopping back into the bush and starting over again. While I'd heard about this behavior for years, this was the first time I'd actually seen it.
Both these behaviors can be reduced by cutting down the reflectivity of glass windows. It can easily be done with screening or by placing dots every 2 x 4 inches across the outside of the window (hawk or falcon shapes on the window don't really do it unless covering the window every 2 x 4 inches like the recommended dots). However, as long as people enjoy their clear window views, anything to break up the view is hard to sell. Interestingly, if bird populations were the stock market, how long would we accept 5% declines each year? Indeed, how long can we?
One of the difficult things to convey through a blog is the performance aspect of birding. We all love to watch people who really know their stuff and can perform, whether through sports, the arts, etc. It is fun to marvel at their skill and enjoy their prowess.
When I grab a photo of a bird I've seen off the web to display and link to on this blog, I get the nicest one I can quickly find. The bird often fills the frame and gives a good sense of what it looks like. When I'm birding, its fun to get a killer look like that. But part of the fun of birding is to be able to identify a bird when you get nothing like a good view. To a novice, it can be simply amazing to see someone identify bird after distant bird by sight or even sound. As an expert, it is fun to do perform in this way.
Not totally satisfied with my looks at Lawrence's Goldfinch earlier in the week, I tried a couple more times to get a better view. On Monday, I didn't have time to drive all the way up Mines Road, but stopped at numerous places along the lower portion of the road. I didn't find any Lawrence's Goldfinch, but lots of Lesser Goldfinch. Also many Golden-crowned Sparrow (photo left), a bird I hadn't seen the day before. These small birds nest in the Pacific Northwest and winter farther south, so these were winterers. At one point I had almost a dozen sparrows in one bush.
Tuesday afternoon I had a little bit more time, and drove up all the way to The Junction on Mines Road where I had seen the goldfinches earlier. While I was walking around the small volunteer fire department building, a small bird flew up into a bush from a wet spot on the ground--a nice female goldfinch. Then a gorgeous male bird flew up from the water as well and I watched them for a few minutes as they preened, stretching their yellow-barred wings. Killer looks from less than 20 yards away! Mission accomplished!
Also near The Junction, at the sage flats near a cattle guard, were at least 4 Sage Sparrows. These are Bell's Sage Sparrows, a subspecies that some authorities consider to be separate from the more interior Sage Sparrows. The birds were chasing each other around and singing from the tops of the bushes. Very cool. I also got good looks at Nuttal's Woodpecker, another California specialty, and heard its almost kingfisher-like call once as a bird flew in to a nearby tree. What a great area for birding, awesome birds and wonderful scenery.
I'm at a conference in Pleasanton, CA for a few days, and took a few hours after the conference this evening to bird Mines Rd south of Livermore (birding guide and map here). Absolutely beautiful drive on winding roads through the foothills.
Nice to see some birds that I haven't seen for many years, including several species that only live in California--Yellow-billed Magpie, California Thrasher, and California Towhee. Oak Titmouse and Acorn Woodpeckers were additional treats, as was a female Phainopepla.
The real object of my search was Lawrence's Goldfinch (photo above), a small seed-eating bird that breeds only in CA and Baja California. Very cool little bird, and one I've never seen before. Finally, at The Junction, I got a look at three of these birds in flight...not the great look I'd like, so will probably try to make it back up there to get better looks, but my first sighting of these great birds.
California poppies are blooming, and meadows are covered with small yellow flowers. A thirty mile drive on a winding mountain road was just what I needed today to rejuvenate the soul.
This afternoon during my lunch I added three more office yard birds for the year--Black Vulture, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and Chipping Sparrow. Birds are really on the move in this nice 70+ degree weather. Fun to watch this afternoon was a female Eastern Bluebird checking out the nest boxes in the yard. Sparrow numbers were way down today, wonder how many of them have headed north in the big migrations seen on radar the last couple nights.
David La Puma has a great website up charting bird migration as seen on NEXRAD Radar. Flocks of birds heading north show up on this radar, and one way of enjoying bird migration is to watch how the flight varies across the country and from night to night. There have been some great flights the last couple nights in the Eastern US. David has links to sites so you can do your own "radar ornithology" or you can just check out his daily updates. Very cool. For more info on "radar ornithology", check out the Radar Ornithology Lab at Clemson University.
Sometimes things happen that make you feel like you are actually in tune with the world around you. This morning, as I drove over the bridge that crosses the creek on the border of our office property, I thought I saw a Wood Duck floating in the water. When I got down to the creek with my binoculars, I could see that it was really just a stick. However, just as I got back to the office, I happened to turn around and see a male Wood Duck circle overhead and drop down to the creek. No way to explain how that happened, but somehow, something amazing allowed me to connect with this stunning bird.
The Wood Duck was a bird I had expected to see on the property, and was 2005 yard bird #39. Later, during lunch, I went for a walk along the creek and found 2005 yard bird #40--a lone Yellow-rumped Warbler. Been a long time since I've seen one of these by itself, usually wintering birds are found in small flocks.
A beautiful day with temps in the low 70s. Flowers are starting to bloom. Spring is in the air.
Last Thursday I had to go to DC for some meetings and afterwards we went out to several spots along the Potomac River, where Ospreys were visible at almost every stop. At Occaquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is just over one square mile in size, we saw 7 Osprey at the same time, and four nests. Amazing since only a few decades ago, these birds were almost wiped out by DDT.