Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Join The Christmas Bird Count

Friday, November 17th, 2017
Join the Christmas Bird Count

 

 

Make your holiday season extra-special this year and do something important for bird conservation by participating in the birdwatching Christmas Bird Count. Every year from December 14 through January 5 people around the world get outside and count the birds in their area or even just their yard.  When you register and participate in the count, you are part of an organized counting of birds at a specific time each year and the information which you report is added to all the historical data from over 100 years of bird counts. The data supplies scientists with critical information on where birds are, the health of bird populations and helps direct conservation efforts. Plus, its lots of fun to do with friends and family!

 

The origins of the Christmas Bird Count are interesting. In the 19th Century, there was an organized hunt called the Christmas “Side Hunt” where hunters would shoot as many birds as they could — the winner was the one with the largest number of birds shot. As people were slowly becoming more aware of what wanton hunting for sport was doing to populations of birds and animals, on Christmas Day 1900, Frank Chapman, the head of the magazine Bird-Lore (which became Audubon Magazine), proposed an alternative to the Christmas hunt with a Christmas bird count. And that Christmas, 90 species were counted by 27 people. Now, there are nearly 70 million birds reported and 75,000 people worldwide who participate – you can be one of them!  It’s easy to do and a lot of fun! Won’t you join the longest-running bird citizen science project in the US this year?  Registration takes place in November – don’t miss out!

 

Fall For Your Own Native Plant Meadow

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

 

To ensure you attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife in
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Monarch Butterfly
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
abundance to your yard, there is no better choice than planting a meadow with native plants. Not only is a mature meadow a stunningly beautiful sight of waving flowers with butterflies and birds darting in and out, but it’s virtually maintenance free, and provides the natural food and nourishment birds who are in and also migrating through the area need at the time.  And fall is the best time to get your meadow started as some of the seeds require cold or freezing temperatures before they will sprout.  Seeding before winter sets in will give you a head start on the growing season.

I have a native meadow which is nearing maturity and it is one of the best things I have ever done for wildlife and for myself — the increase in bird and butterfly activity once the plants started growing and flowering was immediate and far beyond what I had expected.  Full disclosure though, it’s not an overnight or completely simple thing to do. I hired The NJ Wildlife Gardener, Josh Nemeth, from the Cape May, NJ area to do mine as I have no competence whatsoever in landscaping or with plants in general. Josh selected a specific seed mix that was native to the area and which he knew would be irresistible to birds and butterflies. The area to be planted was covered in decades-old grass, so he covered the grass in plastic so it would die off and be easier to remove.  Then the area was seeded in the fall.   It needed some watering to get the seeds started, and then some during the late spring and dry summer months the following year.  But that was the end of the watering maintenance.  Josh also selected a number of shrubs and bushes to add both additional visual interest and variety, but also to ensure there would be food and shelter available year round for birds and wildlife.  

I was told it takes about 3 years for the meadow to take hold, and indeed that has been the case.  Honestly, it was a little depressing in year 2 as I was getting impatient and the plants really seemed to not be progressing as I thought they should! But this is the third year and the results have been stellar and well worth the wait. My meadow has everything from grasses, goldenrod, roses, iris, milkweed to cattails and chokeberry. As a result, I had all sorts of birds diving into my meadow for a respite during spring migration, new species of birds who took advantage of the extra food and safe haven to nest in my yard during the summer and now in fall, there are large flocks of birds and untold numbers of butterflies using my meadow for food and shelter as they pass through to parts farther south. The shrubs are ripe with berries, flowers are bursting out everywhere and the variety of butterflies flitting around is stunning!  Plus,  it looks so beautiful and my neighbors love watching what’s going on in my yard! 

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Native Plant Meadow
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

You don’t need much room to have your own native meadow. And whatever time it takes pays off big time once the meadow is up and running!  So, now’s the time to get started!  For most of us, It makes sense to have a professional native landscape designer and gardener help you get the design and the right seed mix, and get it all started. You may want to add a water feature or different sections or habitats if you have the space.  Someone who does native plant landscaping and gardening will know what to do and have the resources to get native seeds and plants for you.  If you are a do-it-youselfer, check out the how-to pages from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, get out your shovel and order those seeds!

What Do Birds Do In a Hurricane?

Thursday, October 5th, 2017
The iconic image and story of Harvey, the terrified juvenile Coopers Hawk who desperately fled the onslaught
Harvey_coopers_hawk_hurrican
Harvey, the Coopers Hawk
Photo Credit: William Bruso

of hurricane Harvey by landing on the passenger seat of a Houston taxi cab was a welcome story of hope. Harvey was rescued by the driver, taken to Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and was later released.  His story had a happy ending, but most birds caught in a hurricane are not so fortunate.

 

Fall migration and hurricane season are two extreme events which occur simultaneously.  And when hurricanes happen, they have the potential for catastrophic effects on birds. When hurricanes are imminent, some birds and wildlife can sense the impending event through changes in barometric pressure or other cues they can read. Sometimes they have time and opportunity to flee. But their options to remain safe from a rapidly moving overwhelming weather event are often desperate, fairly limited and not always successful.

 

Add to this millions of birds on migration during this time – birds who are already pushing themselves to the limit of endurance during this annual trek to their overwintering grounds.   Having to deal with battering hurricane force winds, no food or water for long periods of time, finding shelter or possibly being swept up and relocated hundreds or even thousands of miles from where you were, can be devastating. For an endangered species living where the hurricane makes landfall or which relies on a specific habitat which is destroyed in the hurricane, these storms can be an extinction event.

 

There are amazing stories about some birds like Whimbrels, which have flown directly into and through the eye of a hurricane on more than one occasion and survived.  Migrating birds can also maneuver themselves to use the winds on the edge of the hurricane as a tail wind to speed their transit, but this is a dangerous and risky business. There are also many sad accounts, like an entire flock of migrating Chimney Swifts caught in the eye of the hurricane, the survivors relocated to another continent.

 

To find out more about hurricanes and birds, check out this article from Forbes science blogger GrrlScientist which gives as excellent description of what birds face when confronted with a hurricane, what they do and what can happen.

Fall Backyard: Start Your Native Plant Meadow

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016
Fall Backyard: Start Your Native Plant Meadow

If you have even a little bit of a yard, don’t wait goldfinch_thistle_native_plant

to plant a native plant meadow.
I planted a small meadow in the fall as an experiment a few years ago, and if I hadn’t seen for myself the magnetic attraction it has for birds and butterflies, I would not have believed it. Planting even a small meadow could quite possibly be the most beneficial thing you can do in your yard for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. And, it will reap great rewards for you too, as native wildflowers turn into an ocean of blooms, waving texture and color which you can enjoy while watching birds – residents and migrants – diving into the meadow, eating seeds, insects and finding a safe haven.

Planting the meadow takes some work, but patience is often the biggest challenge.  If you plant plugs or plants, the birds and butterflies may be on the plants as you put them in the ground!  But meadows rely on seed too, and this takes a few years to mature.  But once it is mature, it is low maintenance and pretty amazing.

While many people plant only in spring, fall is a terrific time to plant your meadow.  Planting before winter helps some of the seeds when they freeze, and you can take advantage of early germination.  This is, after all going to be a multi-year project, and any jump on the season you can get is going to help you!
The tiny meadow I planted a couple of years ago is still maturing, but in a random 30 minute period in October, I counted over 20 species of migratory birds diving in and out of the plantings. They included some really interesting warblers I hadn’t seen before here, and lots of sparrows and kinglets, flycatchers and yes, a hawk. Plus there are so many butterflies —  many which my more butterfly-savvy neighbors tell me they have never seen in the area before.
To get the low-down on how to start your own meadow, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlflower Center. You can also find a list of plants designed just for the birds in your area at the Audubon Native Plant Database. What could be easier?

A Day at the Beach

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
A Day at the Beach

What could be more summer-like than a day at the beach? Who doesn’t love having fun in the water and on the sand? And the beach is a popular spot for wildlife as well. Terrapins cross busy streets to get from the marsh to

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Piping Plover chick

the sandy shores to lay their eggs, then return home across those same busy streets; horseshoe crabs lay their thousands of eggs along the shoreline, and eating the eggs gives long-distance flying shorebirds the energy they need to complete their migration; Osprey and terns ply the waters close to shore, diving for food; beach nesting birds lay their perfectly camouflaged eggs in the sand

and raise their equally camouflaged young there.  On beaches, there’s a lot going on! And it might not be a surprise to know that birds that use our shores face some big challenges.

Next time you’re at the beach, take a careful look around. All beach nesting birds, like the oystercatchers below,  lay eggs directly on a little shallow in the sand. For their protection from predators, these eggs all blend in perfectly with the sand, as do the teeny chicks who when hatched, are extremely difficult to see. Many areas where birds nest on the beach are roped off so they can enjoy a zone away from the rest of us enjoying the same real estate.

Want to help beach-nesting birds?  Here are some things you can do:
If you see a nesting area that has been roped off, don’t enter it for any reason.  The eggs or chicks, if they have hatched, could be anywhere.  Plus, the adults have a difficult time herding their precocial chicks, and see everything that moves as a potential predator — including pets.  Even if your dog is on a lead and outside the nesting area, his presence can distract the adults who may
oystercatcher and chick at beach
American Oystercatcher and chick on beach

feel they need to leave their chicks to defend against a passing dog. This might lead to an opening a gull or crow has been waiting for to grab an unattended  chick.  Plus some birds, like Piping Plovers, need to safely escort their chicks to the water’s edge multiple times each day to feed them. A busy beach is a challenging place for a beach nesting bird! If you are respectful, they will stand a much better chance of successfully raising their young.


The beach is a great place to spend hot summer days, and its also a terrific place to see wildlife.  Enjoy the beach and be respectful of the wild birds and other animals with which we share it.  This is the best way to ensure they will be there in the future for all of us to continue to enjoy.

The Mystery of the Migration Route

Monday, September 28th, 2015

The Mystery of the Migration Route

Do birds fly the same route on migration in spring and fall? Would it surprise you that many of them don’t? In fact, scientists are finding out that many birds, especially in spring, follow a path of new plant growth — what is migrating_cormorantscalled a “green wave” of migration — where birds follow patches of insects and food going north. In fall, especially in the western US, they take a more direct route south, staying at higher elevations, creating a round trip route that looks like a loop for their migration as opposed to a straight line used both directions.  For birds in the western US, it might seem to us to be a less enticing route, but if the choice is flight over desert, or flight over wilted foliage with insects in it, the choice seems fairly straight forward.

This “looped migration” offers conservationists the opportunity to fine tune their efforts to benefit birds on migration by building, preserving and reinforcing stop-over habitats where they are needed.

The information which went into this study has been made possible by birders like you who post sightings on ebird, which helps create a database of bird sightings over time.  See more on this interesting discovery at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Family Fun: Join the Christmas Bird Count!

Monday, December 15th, 2014

It’s that time of year again! Time to be part of the Christmas  Bird Count which is a birdwatchingreally fun thing to do with the entire family! In its 115th year this year, from December 14 through January 5, National Audubon Society organizes groups of people across the entire US who spend one specific day counting the birds in their area. It’s well organized and all the reported bird sightings become part of the data used to keep a record of where birds are each year. This information is invaluable for conservation purposes. And you can help! Just go to this link and find the representative doing it near you. You can sign up online, find the location and date of the count and show up to join tens of thousands of volunteers across the country every year who help keep track of our native birds through this citizen science project.

If you love birds and want to have a truly great day out birding while contributing to bird conservation, make a point of signing up and bringing your family and friends along. It’s a wonderful holiday gift for the birds and everyone participating benefits!

Photo credit: National Audubon Society

Where To See Birds: California’s Central Valley

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

WHERE TO SEE BIRDS: California’s Central Valley

The Central Valley of California is a great spot for overwintering waterfowl.  It has also been making the

snow_geese_central_valley_ca_gary_zahm_usfws
Snow Geese – Gary Zahm, USFWS

news a lot lately as the drought there has reached epic proportions, and it’s not just farmers who are affected. About 60 percent of the waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway use California’s Central Valley for wintering habitat making this area an extremely important bird habitat — especially for wintering ducks and geese.  Its 13 million acres once contained a rich wetland complex covering 4 million acres.  But with intense agriculture and human development only 205,000 acres of highly managed wetlands remain.

As global climate patterns continue to predict more droughts, the future of wetlands in the Central Valley is uncertain. Agriculture claims about 80 percent of the water use in the region, and as urbanization continues, demand for that water increases. But it’s not all bad news! In recent years rice farmers have worked with conservationists to manage rice fields for birds. It’s a practice called “Bird Friendly Agriculture”, whereby farmers are compensated for providing habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds during critical times of year when the farmers aren’t using their fields for agriculture anyway.

Visit California’s Central Valley in the wintertime to see incredible flocks of  Snow Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Canada Geese,  Mallards, Canvasbacks, Dunlin,  Sandhill Cranes and so much more! We recommend visiting a National Wildlife Refuge, such as Merced National Wildlife Refuge in Merced, California, or Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in Willows, California. After you enjoy the show, be sure to support the many organizations that protect wildlife in California’s Central Valley. You can learn more about them by visiting the  Central Valley Joint Venture website.

Watch Ospery Migration Live Online

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Watch Osprey Migration Live Online!

osprey_flying Compared to other birds of prey, Ospreys start their migration south early. Ospreys cannot tolerate cold weather and they start their trek to warmer climes in August before temperatures start to drop.

In recent years scientists have been attaching transmitters ospreytrax_map to Ospreys, enabling them to track their movements in real time.  To get real time updates on the whereabouts and routes some ospreys take, check out Ospreytrax. Here you will find an interactive map which lets you see where the birds in this group are right now; and you can use the slider at the bottom of the map to see their movements. The birds in this map are a mix of experienced adults and juveniles migrating for the first time.  It’s fascinating to check back from time to time to see who is where as each bird has his or her own path and time frame for their migration!

Sharing the Beach With Nesting Shorebirds

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Sharing the Beach With Nesting Shorebirds

Who can resist the beach in the summer? It’s a fun place to enjoy the surf and sun and can also be a great

piping_plover_chick
Piping plover chick

place to see birds. Many species of birds depend on beaches for survival, and lots of shorebirds have traveled many thousands of miles to get to the beach where they are nesting. Some nest in huge colonies like Black skimmers or Least terns, others prefer to have their own real estate, like Piping plovers. And who can resist these adorable chicks?

Beach nests are scrapes in the sand with seriously camouflaged eggs that are difficult to see until you are on top of them.  The parents work in pairs to defend their chicks from predators and any thing — (humans and

piping_plover_oystercatcher
Move away from our chicks, Oystercatcher!

dogs on or off leash included), that is seen by them as a potential predator distracts them from feeding and protecting their chicks, causes stress and creates opportunities for real predators (like a gull, crow, hawk or fox) to make a split second grab of the babies.

If a bird is swooping down on you, barely missing your head, you are dangerously close to eggs or chicks. Make a beeline away from the aerial bomber, checking out the sand to make sure you are not walking on eggs or chicks.  Least and common terns are notorious for this behavior and they are very accurate poopers, so be forewarned…this fishy stuff doesn’t come out of your clothes or hair very easily.

Ever see this broken wing display?  The bird goes to a lot of trouble to make you think she is injured and is an easier target for you than the chick which is assuredly extremely close to you at the moment.

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Help I’m injured! Get me and not my babies!

You may never see that chick, but this kind of extreme behavior is often reserved for the predator they couldn’t distract any other way.  Look at the sand to see if you can see the chick and walk away from it immediately.  If you can’t see the chick, make sure your exit path doesn’t include stepping on eggs or chicks.

Our beaches are great places to have fun in the summer.  Enjoy them, but be respectful of the birds sharing the sand and surf with you. Many of these shorebirds are in decline and some are endangered.  By taking the time to be careful of the birds, who knows what you will see?  Maybe a glimpse of an adorable shorebird chick – something you might not have expected!

 

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