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Friday, January 22, 2010

Conservation Biologists must oppose Feral Cat Colonies

Ten conservation biologists have just published What Conservation Biologists Can Do to Counter Trap-Neuter-Return: Response to Longcore et al., an article in the latest issue of the journal Conservation Biology, urging conservation biologists to oppose the establishment and maintanence of feral cat colonies through trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs.

The article is not available for free online, but here are some quotes:
"By way of example, those of us who are conservation biologists should look to the evolutionary biology community. When local policies or regulations are put forth that promote the teaching of creationism or intelligent design, the evolutionary biologists have responded in force from across the nation and world. Such responses have been successful in defeating the attempts to favor the teaching of creationism or intelligent design and serve to remind the public that the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the theory of evolution. We the conservation community should consider the issue of TNR in the same light and challenge such propositions when they are raised. Without such challenges by those of us who are knowledgeable about the subject, we simply allow the use of tNR to grow and thereby gain further acceptance"

And this:
"The animal welfare community opposes "cat hoarding," whereby people care more for pets than they can adequately support, because it is considered inhumane. Trap-neuter-return is essentially cat hoarding without walls. Considering that most communities have laws banning animal hoarding, we should consider the same standard for outdoor cats as those that are in a person's home."

Here are the actions the authors propose:

1) Conservation professionals should "open dialogues with the animal welfare, sheltering, veterinary, adn public-health communities" to "promote animal welfare and reduce cat overpopulation"

2) Challenge policies promoting feral cat colonies and TNR

3) Advocate for policies that endcourage responsible pet ownership--including "requiring licenses for cats, substantially decreasing unwanted breeding of pet cats through mandatory or subsidized spaying and neutering, and requiring cats to be kept under their owners control at all times when outdoors."

4) If needed, seek legal recourse against TNR and feral cat colonies as violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act, as well as laws prohibiting animal abandonment

5) "Seek laws making it illegal to maintain cat colonies on public lands"

6) Increase public awareness about responsible pet ownership

7) Recognize as conservation professionals that depredation of wildlife species is still a major concern even where wildlife populations are currently still intact--the time to reduce predation is now before the problem gets even worse.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Best Sewage Birding Location...Ever

The Austin American Statesman just did a story about birds and birding at Hornsby Bend, where I did my masters thesis on birds and birding at sewage ponds. Love that place. 1200 acres of ponds, river, woods. Over 370 bird species seen in 40 years, at least 50 on any given morning. There is no better sewage pond for birding in all North America. Period!

Audubon: The Flicker Years

OK, so John Flicker has resigned from leading Audubon after 15 years at the helm. I first met him right after he came on board. I had been an intern in the DC Audubon office earlier that year (1995) when Peter Berle was on his way out as Audubon president. I was trying to set up a North American birding big year birdathon as a fundraiser for Audubon, and trying to get Audubon backing for the venture. I took a bus from Austin out to Cape May to meet with John Flicker about it at the Partners in Flight meetings in October 1995. He was new on the job, and for whatever reason, my project didn't really float his boat, and two months before I was to start the birding big year I got word that Audubon wasn't going to support it. I was young, inexperienced, and a bit dispirited and so I put the birding big year dreams on hold.

I interned in the Southwest Regional Office of Audubon for a little bit when I first arrived in Austin. One of Flickers first moves as president of Audubon was to shut down the regional offices and create state offices. They opened a state office in Austin, and when they ran out of money a couple years later let almost everyone go, then started over again, leaving a lot of us wondering what was going on.

A few years later I was the Executive Director for Travis Audubon in Austin. John Flicker came out for meetings at Hornsby Bend. He had announced his 2020 vision that included building 1000 Audubon nature centers by 2020. We had an old 1916 farmhouse at Hornsby Bend that we wanted to renovate as a nature center, but he didn't like that idea so much. He wasn't making a lot of friends in Texas, but I still didn't really know him.

In 2004 I was hired to work in the Audubon Science office. I got to spend a little time with John Flicker over the last few years, including an afternoon with him and Richard Louv at the Aullwood center in Ohio, and some birding trips in Utah, but we weren't ever close. I really liked his 20/20 vision--focused on nature centers and the creation of state offices, but those expansion efforts seemed to be stalling out. Budgets were tight and morale was often low.

John Flicker did help Audubon start to focus more on birds after a couple decades of trying to be a flavor of the month environmental organization. You can read Flicker's own statement about his legacy here. He was a polarizing figure for many, and was accused of not understanding Audubon's chapter level grassroots. A Take Back Audubon movement even tried to depose him at one point. I have my own take on all this, but am more interested to hear other perspectives on Audubon: The Flicker Years.

What were the good and bad from the John Flicker years, and what changes if any should Audubon consider under new leadership?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Audubon Chief--Frank Gill

Today comes word that long-time Audubon president John Flicker has resigned, and my friend Frank Gill will be the new head there, at least temporarily. This is really great news for birds, and marks the first time in decades that a real bird expert has headed up Audubon.

Frank Gill is one of the most respected ornithologists in the world, and I'm happy to have known him since I moved out here to work in the Audubon Science office he headed up. Though he "retired" from Audubon right before I came on board "his" office, he was always around and the Science staff would have an annual dinner at his house after one of our quarterly staff meetings. A couple years ago I traveled with Frank to the Upper Texas Coast to show off the great Texas birds to some friends of Audubon, and we had a fantastic time.

A great guy, a real bird expert, and top birder this is going to be great for Audubon. Let's hope it lasts, as it's the best news I've heard out of Audubon in a long, long time!

Here's John Flicker's resignation statement.

Friday, January 15, 2010

MA Allen's Hummingbird in Rehab

Read Scott Weidensaul's interestingcommentary on the situation here.

Where's the Bird?

Headed over to Peace Valley this morning to see what was at the lake. Now mostly frozen, the only birds were half a mile away near a small open patch.

That darker gray smudge in the middle is a Lesser Black-backed Gull surrounded by Ring-billed Gulls. Not much to look at? Yeah, that's why I headed over to the bird blind at the nature center.

It first looked pretty quiet at the feeders. Can you see the bird?

Maybe this helps...

How about now?

This Eastern Screech-Owl was sunning itself in the entrance hole of the Wood Duck box by the frozen pond. He seemed content until a couple of noisy Blue Jays flew in. Then he was gone...

There actually was quite a bit of activity at the feeders. Until this Sharp-shinned Hawk showed up.

But soon enough, the hawk was gone. The owl came back out. And life was good for the little things. Such is life at Peace Valley.

(All photos digibined with Zeiss 7x42 BTs and a Canon PowerShot SD780 IS)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Slender-billed Curlew video

While Old World birders are scouring the known and suspected winter range of this critically endangered (if not already extinct bird) for any last survivors, the rest of us can enjoy this only known video of the species, made in Morocco in 1994.

Monday, January 11, 2010

One Lucky Penguin

Watch a pod of orcas chase a penguin, and how the penguin gets away!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Lost Bird Project

A friend of mine just sent me a link to artist Todd McGrain's Lost Bird Project, a series of human-scale bronze sculptures memorializing the North American birds lost to extinction (hat tip: Mark).

More on Todd and his project here:
  • Lost Bird Blog

  • Cornell Chronicle

  • Around the Lab (CLO)

  • Audubon Society of Portland

  • Ithaca Times

  • Audubon Magazine
  • Say Hello to Pacific Wren

    Word on the street is that the AOU Committee has voted to split Pacific Wren from Winter Wren. That would mean that the birds I grew up with on the West Coast are different from those I see here in Pennsylvania. Makes sense to me. More on the reasons why these are actually considered separate species now is found here.

    Tuesday, January 05, 2010

    Bad Photos of Good Birds: Northern Shrike

    On Sunday Kirk and Lois Moulton of North Wales found a Northern Shrike west of Quakertown on the Christmas Bird Count. Since it has been two years since I've seen one of these guys, and never in Pennsylvania, I went up to look for it during lunchtime yesterday. I didn't see it, but then it showed up again later that afternoon. So this morning I headed up first thing to see if I could find it.

    When I pulled up, Mike Lyman was looking for it in the trees on the edge of a huge soybean field. It wasn't near the road, but he finally spotted it down at the other end of the field. I couldn't see it from the road, so I asked at the nearby farm house and got permission to walk back and look for it.

    I've been skunked by this bird several times in the last few years, so it was very gratifying to finally see one in the state. I was able to grab a few photos with my Canon Powershot through my Zeiss 7x42s. So, until I fork out thousands of dollars for either a new scope or a big photo setup, here's the best I could do shooting through my handheld bins.

    Great to put my recent string of bad chasing luck behind me!

    In Search of...

    ...a new blog template or layout. It's been three or four years since I tweaked my blog layout. Anyone with good suggestions on where to find a good Blogger template, I'm all ears. Eventually Birdchaser will probably migrate to a Wordpress format, but for now, I'd like to play around with Blogger a little more. So expect changes here as I play around :-)
    Nature Blog Network Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites