What #WorldShorebirdsDay Means to Me

September 6th is World Shorebirds Day: a day bird lovers celebrate the monumental migrations undertaken by shorebirds such as Red Knots (well known for their dependence on Horseshoe Cab eggs), Bar-tailed Godwits (as many as 9 days without rest),  and Arctic Terns (pole to pole migration). It’s the launch of fall migration.

I celebrated #WorldShorebirdsDay with the start of classes and participating in the hashtag by  uploading some of my recent photos from a few days spent on Long Beach Island, NJ.


September 6th  is also a day conversationalists rally around shorebird conservation, particularly the focusing attention on stopover grounds, the important refueling refugia. Which is why it was so alarming that this week a piece was published out in Washington questing the value of radio-tags, geolocators and other tracking technology. Without the use of such technology in conservation we wouldn’t know that Bar-tailed Godwits don’t stop as they circumnavigate the globe. We wouldn’t be able to identify stopover migration hotspots in remote regions. In larger organisms we wouldn’t be able to see how they  are internally  responding to the stresses we are putting on  their bodies through the changes we wrought in the environment.


These are important lessons.

These are the reminders being shared right now in Hawaii at the IUCN Congress (#IUCNCongress), an international meet up of governments, scientists, policy  makers, NGOs, to take a harsh look at the human  impact on wildlife. But to merely describe it as such is limiting to the scope of what is on the table and what is at stake.

  • Oceanic animals are migrating poleward 1.5 times faster than land animals are migrating north. (link)
  • Pandas have been moved off the IUCN Endangered List (link), but  4 of 7 Great Ape species are now Critically Endangered.  (link)
  • Thousands of strange blue lakes are appearing in Antarctica, and it’s very bad news. (link) We saw this happen in Greenland a few years back. It resulted in  much faster ice melt than models predicted.
  • Poaching of wild elephants is on the rise. (link) To recover from 10 years of poaching will take African Elephants 90 years to recover. (link)

Every  morning I get up and I read these messages and the longer articles that come along with them. If you were to sit down and read them all, your heart would break. But this isn’t all I read. Interspersed with these updates are the #NoDAPL updates. Which seems ironic really  because this struggle is exactly  what the IUCN Congress is all about. The controversy surrounding #NoDAPL is that a corporation has decided the most expedient route for the pipeline is through indigenous lands in the Dakotas. This land is steeped in great environmental and cultural heritage. Within the proposed corridor pipeline are at least 27 burials, 16 stone rings, 19 effigies & other sacred sites (link).  The juxtaposition  is striking.

What is nature without clean  water? Without clean air? Without unspoiled land?

The  shorebirds we’re valuing today depend on clean water, clean air, clean land. So do the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all the indigenous  groups around the world responsible for stewarding 24% of  earth’s land (link). We also depend on these things.

Without nature, there is no life. Later is too late.*


Suggested Reading List:

*IUCN  quotes


Lost Animals of Yesterday and Tomorrow

via New Report: 122 Species of Colombian Birds Facing Extinction.

I first read this in Spanish (don’t ask me how!) , but here’s an English translation.   In essence, 6% of Colombia’s birds are facing extinction (time frame not listed) with 10 species facing it within the next decade (pictured).   There is a specific region, that due to agriculture, is under more intense pressure.  Go ahead and read about it through the link below.

What struck me the most through the article and afterwards was, in some cases, how little is known about these birds.  For instance, the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest has not been seen since 1974.  Is it already gone? Declining rapidly?  Not actually found in the habitat in which it had been reported? Thriving elsewhere undiscovered?

10 most imperiled birds of Colombia.  Some of these have been seen in the wild a handful of times, or not for the last 50 years. Image credits: 1 - John Gould; 2 - HBW; 3,4,6,7 - Pixark; 5, 8-10 Arkive.

10 most imperiled birds of Colombia. Some of these have been seen in the wild a handful of times, or not for the last 50 years. Image credits: 1 – John Gould; 2 – HBW; 3,4,6,7 – Pixark; 5, 8-10 Arkive.

1. Blue-bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon cyanolaemus) – Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
2. Sinu Parakeet (Pyrrhura subandina) – Cordoba
3. Santa Marta Sabrewing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) – Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
4. Antioquia Brush-finch (Atlapetes blancae) – Central Antioquia
5. Gorgeted Puffleg (Eriocnemis isabellae) – Algeria, Cauca
6. Perija Thistletail (Asthenes perijana) – Serrania del Perija
7. Santa Marta Wren (Troglodytes monticola) – Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
8. Chestnut-capped Piha (Lipaugus weberi) – Northeastern Antioquia
9. Colorful Puffleg (Eriocnemis mirabilis) – Munchique, Cauca
10. Urrao Antpitta (Grallaria fenwickorum) – Northwestern Antioquia

For Christmas one of my many wonderful gifts was a copy of Lost Animals by Errol Fuller.  I read the preface last night in which the author discusses the poor quality of photos reproduced in the book.  Lost Animals is a collection of tales relating to extinct animals. It features photographs and stories, inspired by a previous work of the author’s. The author goes on to explain the quality of these images: large, bulky equipment, needing perfect conditions, the chemical requirements to develop photos, not to mention you have no idea about the quality of the shot until you get back to your (photography) lab!  In today’s age where it’s remarkably easy to throw a point-and-shoot in one’s pocket or digiscope, to verify quality instantly, it’s an important reminder of how far the field of photography has come.  The other important takeaway from the preface was so often the photographer had no idea how important the photo would be later: it’s easy enough to recognize this is a First Moment, but not a Last Moment.

Coming to CBCs Near You

Oh, winter birding! Fewer species to eliminate; fewer leaves to block the birds. Fewer degrees; more toes to lose. For those of you looking to the upcoming CBCs with trepidation, consider implementing a CBC Bingo competition.  Particularly helpful for novice birders and tag-a-long children.  Feel free to use the bingo card below, or make your own.  Other suggestions for what to look for?

Make your own CBC Bingo card to get you and your party through the cold.

Make your own CBC Bingo card to get you and your party through the cold.

Puppies and Penguins for a Perfect Planet

What is more perfect than puppies protecting endangered penguin populations from predation?

Maremma puppy.  Photo from the Dodo.

Maremma puppy, presumably one of the individuals in penguin protection training. But nevertheless, cute! Photo from the Dodo.

In a quickly transforming world where job skills are constantly changing, Maremma guardian dogs are being retrained for a new job market.  Scientists and trainers are shifting the genetically selected behaviors of Maremma guardian dogs from guarding sheep to guarding the Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor) of Australia from an invasive species of Red Fox.

The breeding population dropping to a low of 4 in 2004-2005 has since risen to 200 thanks to the puppy protection program.

One of the most amazing aspects of this conservation program?  It didn’t come from scientists.  It came from an ordinary citizen.  Imagine what progress we could make if everyone cared about conservation.

Little Blue Penguins, locally known as Fairy Penguins for their small stature.  Are also known as Chooks in Suits. | Photo from the Dodo.

Little Blue Penguins, locally known as Fairy Penguins for their small stature. Are also known as Chickens in Suits. Photo from the Dodo.

References and Additional Reading:
Via Meet The Dogs Responsible For The Itty Bitty Fairy Penguins’ Comeback.
Check out their website here: Flagstaff Hill
Middle Island Little Penguin Monitoring Program Season Report 2012-2013

Read about this yesterday and can’t get it out of my mind so I thought I’d share.   A birding centered post will be up shortly!

WOD2014: Penguins and Cormorants

World Ocean Day 2014 from Galapagos Conservation Trust

Galapagos Penguin swimming in the waters along Bartolome Island, one of the filming locations of Master and Commander. Bartolome Island, Galapagos, Ecuador.  Photo taken January 2014.

Galapagos Penguin swimming in the waters along Bartolome Island, one of the filming locations of Master and Commander. Bartolome Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Photo taken January 2014.

The wonderful thing about traveling is that it creates for you a connection with a new place. After having visiting the Galapagos in January 2014, I definitely pay more attention to the news about the islands. Galapagos Conservation Trust has been highlighting oceanic animals as they lead up to today, World Ocean Day.  I’m sharing a portion of their most recent post below.

The Galapagos penguin and flightless cormorant are both somewhat uncharacteristic when compared to their close relatives…  Penguin and cormorant populations now number just 2,000 individuals each and the species are currently classified as endangered and vulnerable respectively. With a range of threats, including predation by introduced species, avian disease, habitat loss and climate change, the management and conservation of the remaining individuals is now at a critical point.

via WOD2014: Penguins and Cormorants.  Please continue and read for yourselves.

The Great Backyard Bird Count Recap

I had a bit of a chance to contribute to the #gbbc from four different yards as I went about my weekend.   I’ll just summarize my list here:

Date 2-15 2-17 2-18
#spp 18 11 10
#individuals 89 44 24
#lists 3 2 2
species list
wild turkey
mourning dove
belted kingfisher
red-bellied woodpecker
downy woodpecker
blue jay
black-capped chickadee
tufted titmouse
white-breasted nuthatch
european starling
song sparrow
dark-eyed junco
northern cardinal
red-winged blackbird
american goldfinch
house sparrow
turkey vulture
rock pigeon
red-bellied woodpecker
blue jay
black-capped chickadee
tufted titmouse
white-breasted nuthatch
european starling
dark-eyed junco
northern cardinal
house sparrow
cooper’s hawk
mourning dove
black-capped chickadee
tufted titmouse
white-breasted nuthatch
dark-eyed junco
northern cardinal
american goldfinch
house sparrow

Total species: 21

I did spot Ring-billed Gulls around the Driscoll Bridge and along the rest-stops further south as well as Turkey Vultures, but I didn’t include those on Saturday.  However, on Saturday, as part of a baby shower I did draw a picture of a wren using fabric markers:


Wren with fabric markers contrasted with a real-life wren.

The baby to be will be named Wren, so a wren drawing seemed fitting.

After seeing the birds from work featured on Fox and Friends, my folks decided to participate.  Their contribute was to tell me the list verbally when I stopped by on Monday afternoon.   My folks have gotten so much pleasure from their new bird feeder!

Better Late Than Never

So it’s the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend!  Unfortunately, a combination of extra hours at work, exams and a baby shower has kept me away from windows and the outdoors this weekend so my participation has been limited.  But work was invited to help kick off the gbbc in a big way.

On Friday, Fox and Friends did a segment with Wild Birds Unlimited.  The Tenafly Nature Center, where I work, was invited to participate in this component by contributing two of our Animal Ambassadors: Mitzi, the Barred Owl, and Ruby, the Red-tailed Hawk.

Video: Fox and Friends Segment: February, 15, 2013.

More about our birds: Mitzi, gender unknown, was a wild bird who was injured as an adult.  The left wing was injured and s/he can’t sustain flight.  However, s/he gets great exercise whenever we enter the aviary as s/he practices evasion maneuvers.

Ruby, was injured as a juvenile, thus is more tolerant of human presence.  She dislikes being outdone by Mitzi and performs back flips for attention or to avoid annoying tasks.  Ruby is blind in her left eye.

And yes, we at the center immediately noted that Barred Owl was misspelled.  However, most important, I believe, is the exposure the gbbc, birding, and conservation had their 3 minutes of fame on Fox news.

Birds on the Wire

A question posed in my graduate colloquium this morning suggested that the news didn’t have any relevance.  As I spent the morning reading bird-blogs (totally relevant!) and working on data analysis, I couldn’t recall any news stories of note, but upon returning to my computer there were a number regarding birds!

  • Washington Post reports that the largest comprehensive study on the impact of American cats on wildlife: “Outdoor cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds a year”. Feral cats killing more than outdoor cats.  Death by cat vastly overshadows death by windows-crashes or deaths from wind turbines.  Data suggests that 10% of adult land birds are killed by cats yearly.
  • Also worth noting, in Where the Wild Things Were, a  frightening look at how the loss of predators has eroded community stability, coyotes in Arizona keep cat populations in check and bird populations at healthier levels.
  • Earlier this month, a New Zealand economist began pushing for legislation to do gradually eliminate cat ownership due to it’s toll on biodiversity.
  • Also from New Zealand, a couple have created a farm to increase the Korora, White-Flippered Penguin population.  The population has doubled in the last decade reports the New York Times and Scientific American.  The conservation efforts in that region has also heralded the return of other bird species, including another species of penguin, the Yellow-eyed Penguin.