Category Archives: Birds and Birding

Big strides

Robert Rice updates us on the progress of the Smithsonian’s Bird Friendly (BF) coffee program, and connects it to research programs here and abroad. The program is retailing north of 700 thousand pounds of java annually.

The biggest challenge facing the BF coffee program is marketing. Currently, less than 10% of the coffee certified as BF actually makes it into the market as such. This shortfall is partly due to the fact that BF coffee is certified organic (as a pre-requisite) and thus often is sold into the organic coffee stream as organic only—not being purchased or marketed as BF. We presently are working with a consultant to help us design plans to increase demand. Creating more demand will result in more shade coffee farms being certified as Bird Friendly, and that is our main goal of this program: conserving viable, quality habitat for migratory and resident birds in the tropics.

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Two artifacts

… one small, one large.

nice packageSince I’ve started serving with Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp, I am more attentive to equivalent efforts at the state level. The state of Ohio promotes a Wildlife Legacy Stamp. I bought one when I was in the Toledo area for the Biggest Week in American Birding. For $15, you get a stamp, of course, but you also get package of collateral: stickers, a thank you card, and a very fine pin that you can attach to the back of your favorite birding cap. Funds are collected by the Department of Natural Resources and support

  • habitat restoration, land purchases and conservation easements
  • keeping common species common
  • endangered & threatened native species
  • educational products for students and wildlife enthusiasts
  • wildlife and habitat research projects

“Keeping common species common:” I like that.

big bookLast year, when I was working onsite, I got a message from my colleague Erin, who was prepping a move to the Pacific Northwest. She wrote something to the effect of “I have this book about birds that’s too big for me to pack; would you like it?” Figuring it was some inconsequential coffee table book but to be gracious about a gift, I replied, “sure, thanks.” It turns out that the volume in question was a copy of the National Audubon Society/Peterson and Peterson reprint of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. This book is gorgeous. It’s also huge: it weighs 18 pounds. It’s a good thing that my own coffee table has a top made of two inches of solid walnut. Thank you, Erin!

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Some links: 72

Many conservation-oriented links piling up on my virtual desk, unremarked—so this needs must be a roundup post.

  • Sharman Apt Russell describes her experiences collecting phenology data for Nature’s Notebook.
  • Caren Cooper summarizes the findings in her recent paper in the Journal of Wildlife Management: birders and hunters alike are more likely to engage in conservation-supporting actitivies. Cooper’s “conservation superstars” are birders who are also hunters: these people are even more likely to donate money for conservation and do other things to preserve our legacy.
  • Jason Goldman sings the praises of shade-grown coffee from an unexpected part of the world: Ethiopia, the land where Coffea was first domesticated.
  • And Goldman summarizes a paper by A.M.I. Roberts et al., working with 222 years of phenology data collected by Robert Marsham and his descendants from the family estate in Norfolk, UK. For certain tree species, “winter chilling” turns out to be a more important factor determining leaf out than the warmth of “spring forcing.”
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Fish fingers

Kelly Preheim, via Laura Erickson, photographs fish frozen into South Dakota lake ice. The eagles say thank you.

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Three-way argument

I posted some notes on Perfecto, Vandemeer, and Wright, Nature’s Matrix: Linking Agriculture, Conservation, and Food Sovereignty (2009) to my Goodreads account.

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Cogent connections

Our feeling is that triple certification [of coffee] has great potential. Consumers might have a short attention span, but they’re not stupid. If presented in short, cogent messages that explain the connections between the social and the environmental arguments, the average coffee drinker can undoubtedly understand the triple certification concept—and if you think about those groups that are “target audiences” for such messages (social action groups in churches or labour unions; vegetarian and organic devotees; birder associations, etc.) then the message may be even more palatable and likely to be heard.

—Ivette Perfecto, John Vandermeer, and Angus Wright, Nature’s Matrix: Linking Agriculture, Conservation, and Food Sovereignty, p. 156
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Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

The songbirds were exceptionally chatty on this rather cold day, so I was able to rack up a nice 22-species total for my count down along the Glade stream valley. And unless I’m mistaken, this is the first time that I’ve seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the count. One of the resident Red-shouldered Hawks was hunkered down, roosting in a tree with three crows, all of them trying to stay warm.

just a few geese in the distanceI usually stop first at Lake Audubon to check on possible waterfowl. Nothing much happening today in the partly iced-over lake, just a half dozen Canada Geese at the edge of binocular range.

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Works in the Old World, too

In the past, when I’ve posted about shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee (for instance, here, here, and here), the research focus (by scientists like Ivette Perfecto and Russell Greenberg) has been on Central American farms and neotropical migrants. New research indicates that birds in Africa and Eurasia also benefit from shade cultivation in Ethiopia (the cradle of all domesticated coffee), as Brian Clark Howard reports. Ethiopian coffee farmers are under the same pressures to convert to intensive “sun coffee” production that their New World counterparts face.

“Importance of Ethiopian shade coffee farms for forest bird conservation” is now in press. Co-author Cagan H. Şekercioğlu

suggests that the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center or the Rainforest Alliance, which certify bird-friendly coffee from other countries, should consider extending their programs to Ethiopia. Certification allows farmers to recoup a price premium, which can help deter the impulse to convert farms to full sun or otherwise develop their land.

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Competing voices

Emily Graslie and Ernesto Ruelas go birding by ear (and occasionally, by eye) in the western Amazon.

So that’s what a toucan sounds like.

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Recognition

A trio of stories from the current issue of Audubon, celebrating three generations of researchers leveraging citizen science at Patuxent Research Refuge: Chandler Robbins, Sam Droege, and Jessica Zelt.

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Mixed effects

A recent paper by Jason M. Gleditsch and Tomás A. Carlo explores the impact on nesting success of Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) breeding in Pennsylvania landscapes dominated by invasive Asian honeysuckles (Lonicera sp.). It turns out that they found little evidence to support the claim that honeysuckle represents an “ecological trap” of increased predation risk and poor nutritive value from fruits, contrary to the results of other researchers. Adult birds may have made more trips to the nest, bearing what some have called “junk food,” but body mass measurements of the nestlings, in this study, show that they grow up just fine.

Our results show that relationships between introduced fleshy-fruited plants and native birds are complex and not easily characterized as purely harmful or beneficial because they can include negative, neutral, or positive outcomes.

Sometimes, in the authors’ view, using an alien species is the best the birds can do, under the circumstances.

… the traditional and widespread categorical approach to invasive species management should be revised to prevent harming certain communities and ecosystems, especially areas in a process of self-recovery from heavy human disturbances.

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Cinclus mexicanus

This isn’t exactly a lifelook, in the sense that Frank Izaguirre is promoting. But it was my first sighting of this species, it was a good look, and it’s been one of the most personally significant. When people ask me, “what is the best bird you’ve seen?” this is usually the story I tell.

In December 1996 I was visiting family in Sacramento and doing some of my first birding in California. I was fortunate in that the rains that had been pounding wine country let up just before I arrived, so I had some good birds in the Central Valley—my first Sandhill Cranes, for instance. But the lowland rains meant substantial snow cover in the mountains. U.S. 50 was closed, preventing me from getting out to explore at elevation.

Finally, on the morning of Christmas Day, the roads were opened, and I made a dash to the Eldorado National Forest to see some birds before rejoining family for the holiday. I was pretty much limited to finding a parking place on the side of the road, clumping through someone else’s tracks in the snow (three to five feet of it on the ground) for a hundred yards or so, then returning to the car.

Looking at my checklist for the day, I see that I didn’t record much: some juncos, nuthatches, maybe a kinglet. The White-headed Woodpecker was a lifer for me. But it’s when I stopped on a footbridge over a little creek that the Look happened.

I was watching the meltwater rushing downstream, and I noticed a burbling, roiling something under the surface of the water. Just water over the rocks, right?—but then the roiling moved. What, a tiny mammal? I thought. The disturbance continued moving upstream, and then the dark head of a bird broke the surface. The rest of the bird emerged, the size of a thrush or smaller. It was an American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), a/k/a Water Ouzel, doing what it does best, foraging in fast-moving mountain streams. The bird worked the stream a bit more, then took flight, settled in a tree, and sang its whistling, trilling song.

And thus, #227 on my life list.

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More biscuit crust, please

Awesome! If I ate like a Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), a frugivorous bird of the American Southwest in the Silky Flycatcher family, I would consume 42 pints of blueberries every day!

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Shakespearean skeptic

Rick Wright isn’t so sure that blame for the swarms of Sturnus vulgaris that plague the New World can be laid at the feet of a well-meaning 19th-century drug magnate:

Is there any documentation, from [Eugene] Schieffelin or his contemporaries, that the release of starlings in Central Park in 1890 was inspired by a line in Henry IV? I’d be happy to know about it.

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She has a point

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER

Like other ladies, the little feathered brides have to bear their husbands’ names, however inappropriate. What injustice! Here an innocent creature with an olive-green back and yellowish breast has to go about all her days known as the black-throated blue warbler, just because that happens to describe the dress of her spouse!

Florence A. Merriam, Birds Through an Opera-Glass (1890), p. 187

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