Pacific Flyway Migratory Birds Assisted by Rice Farmers

July 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Following the introduction of rice as a food crop during the California gold rush, farmers reportedly battled to find the ideal growing conditions for decades before discovering the right combination of terrain and rice varieties which has turned California into the largest producer of medium and short gain japonica (sushi) rice in the United States. Its annual production of more than two million tons of rice makes it the largest rice producer in the nation and contributes over $1.3 billion to California’s economy. However, all of this success has come at a cost to the birdlife that depends on the wetlands that have now been claimed as rice paddies.

The good news is that more than 165 rice farmers have committed to the implementation of a plan to rectify this situation, and working along with the US Natural Resources Conservation Service a system of islands and suitable habitats will be built to provide migratory birds with a place to rest, feed and hopefully breed. An amount of $2 million has been allocated to fund the project in an effort to build up bird populations that have been declining at an alarming rate. California’s Sacramento Valley forms part of the Pacific Flyway which stretches from Patagonia to Alaska, so the planned improvements will make a significant difference to the welfare of migrating birds which already deal with a perilous journey each time they migrate. In addition to building new habitats and islands, the farmers are adapting their irrigation methods for their paddies. Instead of draining the fields completely in winter in preparation for the new season, the farmers will drain the fields slowly, leaving some partially flooded to provide feeding a nesting grounds for water birds, thereby aiding conservation efforts.

Despite the fact that rice paddies now cover up to 95 percent of the native wetland area of Sacramento Valley, dozens of migratory water bird species can be seen here, including American avocets, cinnamon-teal ducks, dunlins, dowitchers and black-necked stilts. Scientists will need at least two years of monitoring and data gathering to determine the success rate of the project, but with the willing cooperation of local farmers, they are hopeful that the new measures, which require only a fraction of the farming land, will result in a significant increase in water bird populations.

2012 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival

February 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Events

The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2012. Keynote speaker for the event will be Dr. George Archibald, who is the Senior Conservationist and Co-founder of the International Crane Foundation. Festival events will include backyard birding presentations, ornithology workshops, field trips, art events, boat tours and children’s activities.

Dates: 10 to 13 May 2012
Location: Kachemak Bay
State: Alaska
Country: United States of America

American Kestrel (Falco sparverious)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The American Kestrel (Falco sparverious) can be easily identified by its unique markings. They have a wingspan of 21 inches and measure 8.5 inches in length. The American Kestrel has a short, hooked beak, and the adult males have rust patches on their crown, tail, breast, back and nape. Their bellies are pale in color, and have dark feathers at intervals, which creates a spotted effect. Black spots can also be found on the wings coverts, flanks and on the scapulars. The immature males have streaked breasts and have predominantly rust and black coloring on their backs. The female American Kestrels are streaked with brown across their chests, and their wings and back are predominantly black. This tiny little falcon might not be colorful, but is the most commonly found raptor in North America.

American Kestrels can generally be found in the stretch of land between Alaska and Tierra de Feugo. These North American birds are also comfortable living in populated areas. American Kestrels are extremely interesting birds when it comes to their hunting tactics. A suitable perch to view the ground from is preferable, but they are not dependant on seating arrangements. These North American birds are very graceful during flight, and can reach high speeds quite rapidly. If an American Kestrel is hunting without being able to perch themselves, they are able to hover over a specific area. Hover-hunting is not favorable though, as they are easily spotted by their prey. American Kestrels are raptors, and therefore their prey usually consists of rats, mice, young squirrels and bats. They will also eat other birds, worms, beetles, crickets and dragonflies. Small reptiles and amphibians may also make it onto the American Kestrel’s menu.

During the winter months, it is believed that the females migrate south first, giving them the opportunity to find and establish territories during the winter months. The females prefer the open habitats, and the males are usually found in the more wooded areas. It seems that their winter homes are not by choice, but having to take whatever area is left unoccupied by the females.

The nesting period for American Kestrels starts approximately during mid-March, with the females laying their eggs, usually four to six, in the beginning of April. The incubation period for a female American Kestrel
is between 28 to 30 days. During this time, the male will hunt on behalf of the female. Another strange attribute exclusive to the American Kestrel, is its nesting habits. They are known to squirt feces on the walls of the nest cavity, which is left to dry. The feces together with the remains of half eaten prey does not make this nest the best smelling home in North America, and it is no surprise that the young kestrels decide to fledge the nest after 28 to 30 days.

Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica) is of medium size, between 56 – 71 centimeters in length, with the male and female being similar in plumage. The males are just slightly larger than the females. The Arctic Loon has gray coloring on its head and nape, and its back is black with white spots. The neck is striped in black and white with white flanks and it is often difficult to see, but there is either green or purple plumaged on the throat. Its bill is straight, almost dagger-like, and it has black eyes.

Being a coastal bird, the Arctic Loon can be found near the ocean or open lakes and will often be seen around tundra lakes in the summer. It feeds on aquatic foods such as crustaceans, fish and mollusks and is known to eat certain amphibians. They are often seen diving into the water, from the surface, to catch small fish. They will also fly to bigger waters, to find food. The Arctic Loons are migratory birds, and will migrate to the coastal areas around western Alaska for breeding. Arctic Loons are very awkward on land, and take to flight only from the water.

During the breeding season, Arctic Loons will construct their nests on the ground, and use soil and plants as building material. The female can lay up to three eggs, that vary between an olive green to brown color, and have black spots. Both parents assist in the incubation period of the eggs, which is approximately 28 to 30 days.

The Loon species has been divided into two categories, namely the Artic Loon and the Pacific Loon. Both are very similar in plumage, and were therefore considered to be the same specie for many years. The difference can be seen on their throats. Arctic Loons have a greenish plumage and the Arctic Loons that originate from Eurasia have a purple plumage, which is the similar purple color that can be seen on the Pacific Loons. It was also not unusual to see Pacific and Arctic Loons, working together off Japans’ coast, in order to secure food during the winter months. The fishermen used to call them heaven’s messengers, as they would locate the schools of fish, making life a lot easier for the fisherman. Due to the decline in the loon population, these amazing coastal birds no longer practice this survival skill. It is also believed that the change in fishing methods have also influenced this practice.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The legendary Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has long been a symbol of power, wisdom and beauty. Many of the Native American tribes chose to venerate the bird, while European settlers chose to make it the national symbol of the country. As it flies it makes use of thermal convection currents and other environmental factors to give the picture of effortless grace that so easily captivates man’s admiration. Bald Eagles may emit a squeak or a shrill cry punctuated by grunts as they fly but do not make the eagle scream that one so commonly associates with them. As one sees the Bald Eagle soaring high above, it may be seem infallible. However, for much of the 20th century, this beautiful bird was on the brink of extinction.

Also known as the American Eagle, the bird can be found in much of North America and its range stretches all the way from northern Mexico to most of Canada. Those found below the 38 degree North latitude belong to the subspecies leucocephalus while those above this latitude belong to the subspecies washingtoniensis. The Bald Eagle gets its name from the word piebald which was used to refer to the dark and white colouring of the bird’s head and body. The immature Bald Eagle has speckled brown plumage and looks similar to the Golden Eagle. However, the Bald Eagle has feathers down its legs while the Golden Eagle does not. After two or three years, the Bald Eagle starts to reach sexual maturity and it develops its distinctive white head and tailm and its dark brown body. The average adult has a wingspan of about 7 feet (2m) and can weigh between 4.1 and 5.8 kg’s depending on gender. Wild Bald Eagles generally live between 20-30 years, although they may live as long as 60 years in captivity if their needs are well catered for. Nests may be as big as eight feet across and parents share nesting responsibilities. The female may lay between one and three eggs but it is rare for all offspring to fly successfully.

In 1984, the National Wildlife Federation listed hunting, electrocution, collisions in flight and poisoning as the leading causes of death. For many years there was controversy surrounding the effect of the pesticide DDT on the bird but after extensive research it was found that the chemical had little – if any – effect on the Bald Eagle. Today, after years of careful preservation, the species is no longer in danger. There is a stable population of eagles spread across the continent with steady growth being evident in certain parts of the country, and about half of all Bald Eagles being found in Alaska. Bald Eagles are protected by law and illegal possession of either dead or live birds is considered a felony.

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