September 24, 2014
The destructive history of humanity’s war against nature stretches from the woolly mammoth to the tar sands of contemporary Canada and the increasing use of neo-nicotinoid poisons. The battle that led to the extermination of the Passenger Pigeon in North America lasted a few decades. No single battle in the war against nature was more ignominious. None was more fulsome with heedless human greed.
In his fine book on the Passenger Pigeon, Errol Fuller (no relation) describes the skirmish near Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878. A local musician, H. B. Roney, was concerned that the bird was disappearing and he tried to expose the market hunting slaughter of the birds that had come to the area to nest. This pigeon nesting colony was estimated at 100,000 acres in extent. It would be one of the final large nesting colonies seen by man. Despite a state law supposed to protect the birds the slaughter by gun and net went on for days. Nest trees were chopped down to get at the chicks. Roney estimated a billion birds died.
The hunting and gun interests of the day immediately published a rejoinder to Roney’s outrage and exposes. Propaganda wars of the type we all know all too well in this age.
The startling parallel between those who warn and those who refuse to see has continued since the market hunting of the Passenger Pigeon through to today’s continued worship of petroleum and fracking and profits they bring. As the gunners who slaughtered the Passenger Pigeon by the millions, so do today’s energy corporations see profits…and little else matters.
This annihilated nesting attempt by the pigeons in Michigan is just one of the episodes gathered together in Fuller’s newly published book, a centennial remembrance in print. The book also reproduces fine drawings and paintings of the Passenger Pigeon from the 1700s on to today.
It was exactly one hundred years ago this month that the final, captive, Passenger Pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Today she and her kind are immortalized by a gigantic downtown mural there. But wouldn’t we prefer to see, instead, a couple hundred million of these birds fly across the sky, once again blot out the sun and leave behind pigeon poop a foot deep? I would.
When Alexander Wilson drew this image of the Passenger Pigeon it was the first decades of the 19th Century and the birds were still legion in the forests of North America. He once estimated seeing a flock overhead of more than a billion birds. Just over a hundred years later they were all dead.
The Passenger Pigeon By Errol Fuller (no relation).
Princeton University Press. Hardcover | 2015 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691162959. 184 pp. | 7 x 9 1/2 | |eBook | ISBN: 9781400852208 |
September 22, 2014
Our recently-completed PIB birding trip along the California Coast had many highlights…here are about five hundred in one single frame. Elegant Terns loafing on a sandbar at Moss Landing in Monterey County.
No far from the madding crowd with its squawks and boistrous shoving, there was this contemplative soul having a snooze on the incoming tide:
September 21, 2014
The evening of September 19th I got the chance to show some PIB clients the Vaux’s Swift phenomenon at McNear’s Brickyard in San Rafael, CA. I think the count that night exceeded 19-thousand birds…plus one Kestrel who didn’t apparently catch a swift.
As the light drops the swirling swifts become literally a blur to my camera:
Rusty Scalf was tere doing his count and said the Kestrel is rarely a successful swiftp-hunter, unlike his bigger, faster cousin, the Merlin.
McNear Brick and Block, Marin, US-CA
Sep 19, 2014 6:15 PM – 7:45 PM. 6 species
White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) 1
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) 1
Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi) 15000
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) 1
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) X
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) X
September 17, 2014
The U.S. has two endemic species. They are both Corvids. They are both California-only birds. Yesterday our PIB trip to the California Coast got close to one member of the Island Scrub-Jay species. This immature bird wanted to be fed in seems. He or she cam overhead and whispered sweet songs to us in the baked scrub on Santa Cruz Island off Ventura.
September 16, 2014
This incident of gull vs. tourists took place at Limantour Beach, Pt. Reyes, a few days ago.
Today I was leading a group of birders and we stopped for dinner at an outdoor seafood cafe in Ventura. Some other diners left their table and a first-year Western Gull quickly swooped down to empty the small container of tartar sauce left on the table. That very same gull also proved adept at catching French fries with his beak.
Why Ventura? Tomorrow we take the Island Packers boat out to Santa Cruz Island for the endemic Island Scrub-Jay, an example of evolutionary giantism, like the Komodo monitor lizards, but not as dangerous.
If you;re interested in seeing some California specialties, PIB will work with you on a custom trip or you can join one of our standard ones. Just on this first day we’ve gotten California Gnatcatcher, Common Murre, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Royal and Elegant Tern, Black Oystercatcher and Turnstone, Marbled Godwit, Red-necked Phalarope, Heermann’s Gull, Black-bellied Plover and California Towhee.
August 19, 2014
Is avian keratin disorder headed your way? Here’s a blog I wrote about one case in my garden here in southwestern Oregon…then response from a USGS scientist tracking the problem.
don’t know what’s happened to my Red-breasted Nuthatch. I say “mine” because he seems to live on my suet feeders…and seeing how deformed his beak appears, I can see why.
[SEE BELOW FOR LIKELY EXPLANATION]
How could this poor guy possible pry bugs out of bark crevices when his upper mandible is a half-inch longer than the lower. Any ideas about what’s happened here? Birth defect? Lower mandible appears normal size, while upper toooooo long.
Help me solve the Case of Mismatched Mandibles.
Ornithologist Pepper Trail works at the U.S. Wildlife Forensic Laboratory here in Ashland (the only such lab in the whole world!). He has pointed me to what seems to be the explanation. Click for link to info on Cornell’s great website on birds.
HERE IS SCIENTIST’S RESPONSE:
I am investigating an epizootic of similar bill deformities in Alaska. This epizootic has recently spread to the Pacific Northwest, with a large cluster of bill deformities appearing in the Puget Sound region. Birds affected by this ‘avian keratin disorder’ have bills that are abnormally long and often crossed, such as in this nuthatch. We’ve determined that the keratin layer of the beak (like the material in a person’s fingernails) is growing too rapidly. Despite extensive testing, we still don’t know what’s causing the problem. We’ve documented beak deformities among a large number of species, including chickadees, crows, nuthatches, jays, woodpeckers, ravens, and several raptors. We are very interested in receiving reports of any birds with abnormal bills such as this one. Please visit our website at the USGS Alaska Science Center or contact me directly:
Research Wildlife Biologist
USGS Alaska Science Center