Christmas Bird Count – Gathering Valuable Data

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In the late 1800s wildlife conservation was unheard of and the hunting of birds and other animals was generally unrestricted in the United States. In some states it was a common Christmas tradition to go hunting, with the hunter bagging the most birds and animals being declared the winner of the so-called “Side Hunt”. By the turn of the century, however, nature lovers and scientists began to express concern regarding the effects of hunting on bird populations, and it was at this time, when the Audubon Society was still in its infancy, that the society’s representative Frank M. Chapman proposed starting a new Christmas tradition in which birds would be counted, rather than hunted, and so the concept of the “Christmas Bird Count” was born – and enthusiastically supported.

The very first Christmas Bird Count was carried out by Frank Chapman and a team of 27 birders, who recorded a combined count of 90 species of birds in 25 locations. From small beginnings, the Christmas Bird Count has grown into a nationwide effort involving thousands of keen birders, each doing their bit to compile a record of the country’s feathered creatures. Starting on 14 December this year, the 112th Christmas Bird Count will continue to 5 January 2012, during which time thousands of volunteers, referred to as “citizen scientists”, will collect data to be used by the Audubon society and other conservation organizations in determining the health of bird populations – and have loads of fun in the process.

With some nature-loving families, the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has become somewhat of a tradition, and whether citizen scientists are monitoring backyard bird feeders, or going out into the wild, every bit of information collected in this carefully coordinated effort is important. The fact that the CBC has been taking place over such a long period of time gives conservationists a clearer picture of trends in bird populations. This allows them to formulate strategies to protect birds by protecting their natural habitat. Although the focus is on the feathered inhabitants of the monitored areas, conservationists are able to detect issues such as improper use of pesticides and groundwater contamination which could be detrimental to the humans in the area as well.

Whether you are a seasoned birder, or a budding citizen scientist, the Audubon Society welcomes participation in the Christmas Bird Count. So bundle up warm, grab those binoculars, and do your bit for the future of our feathered friends.

From Poland to UK – A Kingfisher’s Record Flight

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A kingfisher from Poland has reportedly set a new record for the longest migration distance between the Continent and the United Kingdom, by flying a distance of more than 620 miles from its Polish habitat to the Orford Ness National Nature Reserve in Woodbridge, Suffolk. The ringed bird was captured, and later released, by members of the Felixstowe-based Landguard Bird Observatory who were carrying out routine studies on bird ringing at Orford Ness.

The previous record set by a bird of this species was 603 miles, traveling from Marloes, Pembrokeshire to Irun in Spain. The last ringed kingfisher found to have traveled from Europe to the UK, traveled 509 miles from Aken, Germany, in October 2008. While it still needs to be confirmed where exactly the kingfisher was ringed in order to establish the correct distance, Poland is further east than any of the other destinations recorded, making it a record-breaking flight irrespective of where in Poland the bird originated. While kingfishers routinely breed in Poland, a small number are known to migrate to the United Kingdom in autumn, presumably to escape areas that face long periods of freezing conditions.

While acknowledging that bird ringing is not a perfect science, the National Trust warden for Orford Ness, Duncan Kent, pointed out that over a period of time huge amounts of information are collected, providing insight into how long birds live, how far they travel and other valuable data for research purposes. Orford Ness site manager for the National Trust, Grant Lohoar, noted that the capture of the ringed kingfisher highlights the importance of this practice as a tool for conservation, as it allows researchers to identify individual birds.

Research carried out at Orford Ness is considered to be of utmost importance as, with its reed beds, marshes and lagoons, the area serves as a critical stopover site for migrating birds. Landguard Bird Observatory volunteer, Mike Marsh noted that if the kingfisher is indeed confirmed to be from Poland it will be one of the longest migrations for this species recorded in the database for bird ringing. The British Trust for Ornithology will follow up with Polish authorities to determine the point of origin of the record-breaking kingfisher.

Rice Farmers Support Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative

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Beginning this fall, and continuing through to 2014, rice farmers participating in the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) will work with the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) of the US Department of Agriculture on a pilot project aimed at benefiting waterfowl and shorebirds by adapting certain rice production practices. Seventy farmers in Colusa and Glenn County, California, have signed contracts to support the MBHI in a project which is the culmination of many years of research and cooperation between rice farmers and conservationists, represented by Audubon California, PRBO Conservation Science, the NRCS and the California Rice Commission.

Speaking on behalf of the California Rice Commission, Paul Buttner noted that they have worked together in testing practices that appear to make a difference to the birds, while at the same time being acceptable to rice farmers. Under the new agreement, rice farmers will extend the time period that their fields are flooded, either starting earlier or draining the fields later, thereby accommodating the birds’ breeding and migratory needs. Also the depth of the water will be adjusted, specifically at agreed upon times in the season. NRCS Assist State Conservationist, Alan Forkey, explained that generally shorebirds and waterfowl prefer a habitat of between 2 and 6 inches deep, but rice fields are usually flooded deeper than that. This will be adjusted, and instead of draining the fields in January, farmers have agreed to keep them flooded for longer and drop the water levels more gradually.

To accommodate the nesting requirements of the birds, levees between fields will be modified, with sloped levees being flattened to provide a better nesting surface and allow easier access to the water for chicks. Some farmers have also agreed to provide artificial nesting structures. A number of the proposed changes will not only benefit the birds, but will be to the farmers’ benefit as well. For the farmers who have agreed to use portions of their fields as wetlands, incoming water will have the opportunity to warm up a bit before running on to the young rice plants which will be beneficial for them, plus longer periods of flooding the fields will help to degrade the rice plants after harvesting, making it easier to clear the fields.

The cooperation of farmers in implementing the pilot project has been very encouraging, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership will be measuring the results of the MBHI with a view to extending the project to other areas of importance to migratory birds.

Kirtland’s Warbler Population Stabilizes

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Kirtland’s Warblers have very specific habitat requirements and are found only in the jack pine forests of Ontario, Michigan and Wisconsin. Due primarily to habitat changes, the numbers of these elusive little birds were declining drastically, but thanks to ongoing conservation efforts, recent research by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has revealed that the population not only appears to have stabilized, it may even have grown. More than twenty years ago the Kirtland’s Warbler population in northern Michigan had declined to a count of 167 pairs.

The Kirtland’s Warbler count takes place in the second and third weeks of June each year, as this is the time when they defend their nesting territories and become quite vocal about it. The birds are very elusive and would be difficult to detect if it were not for their distinctive song. Only the males sing, and total population is based on the assumption that each male has a mate. The count carried out in June 2010 recorded 1,747 males, with this year’s count indicating that 1,805 males are resident across their habitat range. Two pairs were located in Ontario and another 21 in northern Wisconsin.

Kirtland’s Warblers select nesting sites in jack pine forests where the trees are between four and twenty years old. In the past, nature would create these new forests as wildfires swept through the area burning down the older trees and making way for seedlings to sprout and grow. This natural cycle has been interrupted by humans who have implemented fire suppression programs in the interests of safety. Even so-called ‘controlled’ fires can get out of hand and are considered too risky an option for reestablishing the natural order of things. So, in order to recreate the effects of wildfire and allow the growth of new jack pine trees and other rare plants in the ecosystem, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, along with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service carry out a continuous cycle of cutting, burning, seeding and replanting, over an area of around 3,000 acres.

The program has proven to be successful in a number of ways. The Kirtland’s Warbler population has increased, and snowshoe hares, deer and turkeys are among the creatures that are thriving in the area. Moreover, the program is providing valuable timber without damaging the environment. Although the Kirtland’s Warbler population has grown, it remains on the endangered species list where it has been since 1973. It appears likely that the population has reached its peak determined by the habitat available to it, but with ongoing conservation measures, the Kirtland’s Warbler will still be around in the years to come.

Six Foreign Species Fall under Endangered Species Act

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Many bird species across the world have been placed under protection, as the importance of conserving them has become necessary. Due to their declining numbers, ornithologist have been submitting requests for at least seventy species to be noted in the Endangered Species Act since the 1980s. These species were submitted from all over the world, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that most of these bird species submitted would come under the Endangered Species Act. Now six foreign bird species have been entered onto this database.

To speed up the process of getting the suggested list of endangered bird species recognized, the Centre for Biological Diversity began legal proceedings in the years 2004 and in 2006, and by 2008 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a list that featured proposals for five bird species, but noted that an additional forty-five foreign species deserved to be listed as well. The Center for Biological Diversity once again put pressure on the department in 2009, which led to the agreement to extend the list and six species recently received their permanent place under the protection act. These species are the Jerdon’s Courser, Cantabrian Capercallie, Eiao Marquesas Reed Warbler, Slender Billed Curlew, Marquesan Imperial Pigeon and Greater Courser.

One would wonder why the Center for Biological Diversity could be campaigning for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recognize foreign species, but the answer is quite simple: the restricting of the selling and purchasing of wildlife that are endangered. Once on the list, funding for conservation will increase, and it will also increase the scrutiny on areas that are at risk of development programs, preventing vital habitats to be destroyed. Agencies such as the World Bank would be required to ensure that prospective project land is not the habitat of the birds on this list.

The attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, Justin Augustine, commented that they are pleased that the birds that are bordering on extinction will now receive the protection they deserve, and that being under the Endangered Species Act gives these species a better chance of survival and will also bring attention to the urgent need to conserve the bird species that find themselves under threat of human intervention and development.

World Bird Sanctuary in Missouri

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Adjacent to the Lone Elk County Park and Chubb Trail in Missouri, U.S.A., is a sanctuary that is dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey and educating the public on the vital role these birds play in nature. They are also passionate about other wildlife, and the more than three hundred acres of land, which is blanketed in Missouri hardwood forest, is a tranquil location for the birds and animals of the World Bird Sanctuary. Visitors to this magnificent conservation centre will not only be able to view beautiful birds, but the sanctuary also offers educational programs, shows, picnic areas and nature trails.

Ornithologist Walter C. Crawford Jr. started working at the St. Louis Zoo in close cooperation with the director of the zoo and in doing so he recognized the lack of attention given to birds of prey and how important it is to protect these birds. He therefore founded the World Bird Sanctuary in the year 1977, which was originally known as the Raptor Rehabilitation and Propagation Project.

The land on which the sanctuary was establish was an old munitions depot used by the army during World War II, thus most of the sanctuary was housed in these buildings. Each building has a different use, such as offices, a breeding facility and a building to house and treat injured birds. Crawford is still the director of the facility, but has managed to develop the World Bird Sanctuary to such a level that he is now able to afford full-time staff to assist him, and to watch over the sanctuary when he travels to conventions to share his message in regard to conservation. The World Bird Sanctuary has won numerous awards for their work, and visitors can look forward to seeing hawks, parrots, bald eagles, falcons, owls, vultures, reptiles and various other animals that have made their way to the sanctuary.

An extremely proud and excited World Bird Sanctuary opened its Wildlife Hospital in 2005, which features state-of-the-art equipment and staff that are able to assist injured birds and animals, aiding their rehabilitation. They are often called on to assist the government when they have confiscated animals that were being smuggled or when trying to rescue animals. Veterinarians volunteer their time and experience and annually save the lives of more than three hundred birds and animals. The Nature Centre and gift shop is open every day, and visitors are invited to embark on an exciting and fascinating bird of prey adventure at the World Bird Sanctuary.

Explore the Birds of Vermont Museum

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Through its displays of superb wood-carvings, representing close to 500 birds from 258 species, the Birds of Vermont Museum offers visitors the opportunity to discover the diverse birdlife of the State of Vermont. The life-like carvings are displayed in settings closely resembling the habitats each species would favor in its natural surroundings. As a non-profit organization, the museum is dedicated to educating the public, while encouraging an appreciation of the environment and the wildlife, particularly of the feathered kind, that depends on the environment remaining intact.

Most of the museum’s birds have been carved by Robert Spear, Jr., a local naturalist and author who founded the museum to pursue his goal of using biologically and anatomically accurate wood carvings to teach both children and adults about the essential role birds play in the ecosystem. The museum’s collection is arranged in four major groups in accordance with their habitat – Wetlands in Spring and Fall; Endangered and Extinct; Special Exhibit; and Nesting Birds and Raptors.

The Wetlands in Spring and Fall category features a loon family, spring and autumn migration scenes, and two wetland dioramas. The Endangered and Extinct category features a range of birds, as well as an Archaeopteryx – a genus of theropod dinosaur controversially believed to have been the oldest known bird. The intricately carved California condor is one of the largest of Bob Spear’s works and took him more than 500 hours to complete. The Special Exhibit located near the Autumn Migration Diorama consists of a Turkey which took the meticulous artist two years to complete. The Nesting Birds and Raptors display is in the main gallery and features all the nesting birds of Vermont in their respective nests displayed in more than 120 glass cases, while raptors in flight hang from the ceiling overhead. A Winter Diorama displays birds that only visit the area during the wintertime, and then only if their food supplies have run out in their northern habitats. The balcony off the main gallery features hawks and their prey, as well as a magnificent Bald Eagle.

The Birds of Vermont Museum is located in a 100-acre nature conservation area, and in addition to viewing the wood-carved birds, visitors can stroll along the various trails and participate in early morning Bird Monitoring walks, and students can sign up as volunteers to assist with various projects. This unique and fascinating museum is an enduring testament to the efforts of a group of people dedicated to sharing nature’s wonders with others.

Young Penguins Fitted with Monitors

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The African Penguin, also referred to as the Jackass Penguin, might be a little awkward on land, but can definitely hold its own in the water as a very efficient hunter. Tourists who visit Cape Town, South Africa, and see the beauty of these birds do not realize that they are actually witnessing a very rare moment, as the population of these birds has decreased from approximately four million in the 1900s. The last census done by the Southern African Foundation of the Conservation of Coastal Birds in 2010 counted only sixty thousand. This alarming decrease has led to the creation of a new project to protect these valuable birds.

Humans, as the story usually goes, had a great influence in the reduction of numbers of African Penguins, as up until the 1960s the penguin eggs were being harvested for human consumption. Another factor was the harvesting of guano that was used as fertilizer, but is crucial for adult penguins, as they use the hardened guano to make nest burrows. To add to the penguins’ problems, oil spills and over harvesting of anchovies and other fish species that are a part of their diet has made their fight for survival even harder.

Scientists want to try and create artificial hatcheries to assist in the breeding of African Penguins for release, but to recreate the hatcheries efficiently, it is vital for them to have the correct information to understand the penguins better. In order to do this they have attached a transmitter, which is approximately the size of a matchbox, to baby penguins that are about ten weeks of age. The penguins are first placed in a pool so they can get used to swimming with the transmitter and then released into the ocean. One penguin has already been released, and a penguin named Richie is due for release. Scientists will be releasing approximately five penguins with transmitters.

Dr Richard Sherley, a key member of the scientific team from the University of Cape Town, commented that he hoped that the data collected would allow them to understand what influences breeding colonies in the choices they make and the early life of a penguin, as these questions have not been answered as yet. Lucy, which was the first penguin to be released, has already transmitted back data, which showed scientists that young penguins are able to swim approximately twenty-eight miles in one day. Sherley commented that because no-one really knows much about the early days and life of young penguins, it is crucial for them to collect this data to assist in their conservation projects. The transmitters will eventually fall off of the penguins, but it is hoped that by then enough information has been gathered to assist scientists in finding the ideal breeding site for a colony that can be protected and will be the site of the hatchery.

Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs in New Zealand

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New Zealanders are often referred to as Kiwis due to their national bird being the elusive kiwi bird. To preserve and assist in the rehabilitation of the wild kiwi numbers in the country, the Kiwi Encounter facility was opened at Rainbow Springs, Rotorua. The facility not only studies and oversees breeding projects but also educates the public on this iconic bird. It is also a tourist attraction, allowing overseas visitors into the world of this wonderful bird, where they can learn more about the fight to protect this bird from extinction.

The kiwi is probably one of the most fascinating birds on the planet and scientists have been studying this intriguing bird for years due to its unusual features and habits. Firstly, the kiwi is a nocturnal bird, sleeping in a burrow for most of the day, while foraging in the evenings. It is black in color and has very tiny wings, making it unable to fly. Its plumage resembles fur and it has an impeccable sense of smell, with its nostrils being located at the end of its beak. It is also the only bird in the world where the female has two ovaries, and instead of boasting tail feathers, it has whiskers. Not only is their sense of smell flawless, but their hearing is also extremely sensitive, making up for the fact that their eyesight is not as good as other nocturnal creatures. The kiwi’s dark coloring allows it to camouflage itself perfectly at night, and it will stand dead still, while blending into its environment, if a predator is in the vicinity. They feed mainly on insects and worms, and are very territorial.

When in the wild, campers and hikers will often hear the sniffing of a kiwi bird as it searches for food without seeing it. At Kiwi Encounters a nocturnal area has been created to resemble the birds’ natural habitat as closely as possible, including high tech lighting, creating an artificial moonlit evening, and allowing visitors to see them forage for food and go about their evening routines. There are also outdoor enclosures to investigate, some of which feature predators. The Kiwi Culture Exhibit provides the public with essential information in regard to the birds’ characteristics, origins and predators, which could include domesticated animals. It also features how New Zealanders were given the nickname of Kiwis and where products such as kiwi fruit and kiwi nuggets got their names.

The nursery and hatchery is where the captive breeding program is controlled and run. Their dietary needs are seen to through breeding facilities for worms and all the other creatures that kiwis prefer eating. Kiwi Encounter is an attraction for the entire family to enjoy, as it has specialized exhibits and interactive programs for children. Visiting the Kiwi Encounter centre is not only educational and exciting, but with each visitor passing through its doors, funds are being raised to continue the invaluable work of conservationists and scientists to save the kiwi bird.

Kèköldi Bird Conservation and Monitoring Program

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The Kèköldi Bird Conservation and Monitoring Program is looking for volunteers and a coordinator (requires experience) to join their study site from 1 August to 1 December 2011. The site is at Kèköldi Indigenous Reserve on the Talamanca region of Costa Rica, between Puerto Viejo and Cahuita National Park, Limon Province. The reserve consists of primary and secondary forests, as well as cocoa plantations, with more than 330 bird species, including 19 species of hummingbirds. The program is a long-term and a great opportunity for students who wish to build their resume. Biologists, bird banders and bird watchers can help make a difference to bird conservation through science.

Volunteers should be physically fit and willing to work long hours, maintaining enthusiasm and a sense of humor. They will be required to work in a team and some knowledge of Spanish would be beneficial.

The program offers training on bird identification, constant effort mist-netting, bird banding techniques and so forth. Volunteer duties will include assisting official banders, banding birds, data entry and more.

The volunteer fee is $1300 for the first month and $300 for each additional month. The fee includes all meals, lodging at the scientific center, and training.
For additional information, please contact: Daniel Martinez A. daniel@kekoldicr.org. Cell phone : (506) 8858-2689

Dates: 1 August to 1 December 2011
Location: Kèköldi Indigenous Reserve
Country: Costa Rica

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