TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED

March 30, 2015

We now take for granted the success of two of our most common, weed species of bird in America, the House Sparrow and the Eurasian Starling. Both birds are in trouble in England where intensive agriculture and pesticides have altered the landscape and habitat. Loss of old-fashioned hedgerows may have hurt the sparrow along with other rural species like Yellowhammer. Read here for details.

Back in the 18th Century when Gilbert White was observing and writing about the Wiltshire countryside the Wood Pigeon was a scarce bird. The drop in forest hunting and the bird’s adaptation to city parks has changed all that. As large as our Band-tailed Pigeons, they’re now are as common as Rock Pigeons over much of England. The abundance of Collared-Doves in suburban England does not seem to have hurt the Wood Pigeon. WOOD PIGEON2

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LOST AND FOUND

March 27, 2015

Species come, and species go. But virtual extinction occurs when a species is undiscovered by man, or when it goes decades without being found. For two birds we have good news. They’re still here!
Herdon’s Babbler is first on our back-from-the-dead list. Click here for full story. It’s been rediscovered in Myanmar.
The babbler family is full of dark brown skulking birds. The only one who lives in the New World is our Wrentit, and any Oregon or California birder can tell you they are easy to hear in coastal scrub, but to see one…
The rail family has suffered mightily around the world. Many species have gone extinct in limited habitat, like Pacific island chains. Many others have suffered from human encroachment and draining marshes. Just recently a dedicated ornithologist has proved the Zapata Rail survives in Cuba. Click here for details.
If you want to see some rare and even endangered birds on your next trip outside the U.S., contact PIB.

PARTNER TO PUBLISH GREAT GRAY OWL BOOK

March 23, 2015

ggow-shneckOne of Partnership for International Birding’s founding partners is publishing a book om the Great Gray Owls of the Pacific Slope. Harry Fuller, PIB co-founder, and photographer Peter Thiemann have worked on this book for two years. It draws together many of Peter’s fine photos of the Great Grays in action. It also includes much information of the world’s southernmost population of this phantom bird. The Great Gray Owl is notoriously difficult to survey for and to track during nesting season. Yet once found the owl is aloof and easy to observe because it ignores mere humans, far preferring to concentrate on voles and pocket gophers. The Canadian population concentrates on lemmings.GGO COVER-JPEG

The book covers the GGOs in California, Oregon and Washington State–a population largely overlooked in most previous books on the species and even in widely distributed general field guides. Many books still in print describe Great Grays as a “boreal species” yet the authors have verified breeding populations along the Pacific Slope that summer where temperatures regularly climb above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The book will also include original, detailed breeding range maps for the species in the three Pacific States.PARTIAL CAL MAP-JPEG If you’d like to see nesting Great Gray Owls near a meadow full of wildflowers in the glorious Cascades Mountains, contact PIB about a trip to Oregon. Some bonus birds will include Vaux’s Swift, Williamson’s and Red-breasted Sapsucker, White-headed & Lewis’s Woodpecker, Hermit Warbler, Wrentit, Black Tern, Tricolored Blackbird and White-tailed Kite.

If you’re interested in the owl book, email Harry Fuller at: atowhee@gmail.com
GGO photo by Karl Schneck.

HOW DRY I AM

January 30, 2015

drought 4_800x618 US DROUGHTThe severe drought and almost tropical “winter” that is occurring along the Pacific Coast will speed up the breeding season for many resident species.  Difficult to find birds like Wrentit and California Gnatcatcher are easiest to locate during breeding before they become even more secretive.  In southern Oregon the Turkey Vultures have returned a month early and Scrub-Jays have been seen building nests.  In an area where snow should be likely until April I have seen not a single snowflake, just warm rains out of the south.  Frogs are singing in seasonal ponds.  A bat flew past my car window on January 25; they are supposed be asleep, with the bears and Belding’s ground squirrels.  Mushrooms are sprouting at 6000′ in the mountains where there should be snow on the ground.  Lakes at 5000′ are ice free and full of Canada Geese.  I wouldn’t be surprised to suddenly see a small flock of Tree Swallows up from California, or an Osprey fishing.  All this is unseasonally early.  So if you are planning a Pacific Coast trip, think of doing it earlier in the year than in a normal year which this will not be.

SOME CONSERVATION NOTES

January 8, 2015

Not-so-hopeful news from Brazil where a politician dubbed by some “chainsaw queen” has been named to a post where she will influence policy on deforestation there.

A brighter spot: the Pope has begun to openly push for more action to curb climate change.

And there may be help on the way for Europe’s glorious, huge Griffon Vultures.  A veterinary chemical that is deadly to the birds is beginning to get banned in some countries.  The drug: diclofenac.  If you’d like to see a Griffon Vulture in France or Spain, PIOB can get you there.

And here in the U.S. the Red Knot has been put onto the list of threatened species by the federal government.

WE SHOULD PAY ATTENTION TO THE WARBLERS’ WISDOM

December 22, 2014

I already knew that we humans are woefully slow to see what’s happening in the natural world, but here comes scientific evidence that even without TV weathercasts, warblers foresee weather problems far better than some slow-moving bipeds.

Here’s one newspaper account of how warblers fled the U.S. to avoid a killer storm.

Here’s a summary of that same report on warbler wisdom from a science website.

That violent series of storms killed 35 humans who chose not to migrate.  Final Score: Warblers +1, Humans -35.

THE AMERICAN BABBLER

December 1, 2014

Once again today I heard, and didn’t see, a singing male Wrentit at Ashland Pond in southern Oregon.  The distribution of this unique American bird (only member of its family this side of the Bering Strait) is an example of both adaptation and inflexibility in this species.  Famously, the Wrentit is sedentary, rarely wanders far and eschews open water.  Thus the species’ northern range limit is now the south bank of the Columbia River.  Its ancestors must surely have come across the Siberian land bridge eons ago and moved south only to be isolated from all over babblers (widespread in Old World forests) and marooned south of the Columbia River when it was formed after gigantic ice sheets melted.  In Uganda once I saw a dark brown, skulking babbler with a big voice…larger than our Robin.  It looked and sounded much like an over-stuffed Wrentit.

Here in southern Oregon the Wrentit is found in scrub and heavy thickets, mostly at lower elevations. Most likely locations in Jackson County are along the Rogue River and then south along the Bear Creek riparian corridor.  Willows, cottonwoods and blackberry thickets often signal Wrentit presence.  It seems most likely that our Jackson County Wrentits arrived here by spreading from the coast up the Rogue River Canyon and then along the corridors of its major tributaries, like Bear Creek.  BIRDS OF OREGON (Marshall, Hunter & Contreras) points out the species is still expanding its range.  Not in weeks or months like the explosion of the Eurasian Collared-Dove, nor even over a few decades like the Starling or Red-shouldered Hawk, but one thicket to the next…ever so slowly.

EBird does show a record for the Klamath Falls area at slightly over 4000′.  Otherwise the bird is not seen east of the Sierra Nevada crest or the Cascades further north.  The species is also found in the Sierra Foothills and some higher plateaus in California.  It is most abundant along the California and Oregon coasts wherever brush dominates and forests are broken or absent altogether.  There hillsides often are alive with singing male Wrentits, each bouncing his only vocal rubber ball downhill at requent intervals. The habitats most likely to be home to the Wrentit are coastal scrub and inland chaparral.  They are not treetop singers, quite able to sing loudly while staying concealed in brush humans do not penetrate.  I have yet to meet anyone who gets Wrentit to come to a suet or seed feeder.  They are not a suburban adapter like the Mockingbird or House Finch.

The Audubon Society’s recent climate change report on North American birds gives no map for the Wrentit, but the American Dipper, also found on our low elevation streams here in southernmost Oregon does have a map.  The Audubon projections are very bleak for that species.  If the climate does get hotter and dryer and plants like blackberry disappear the Wrentit is not going to be able to nest in sagebrush and feed on open ground.

wrentit by palmerThis Wrentit photo was taken at Ashland Pond some months ago by Majorie Palmer, a birder visiting Ashland from the Olympic Peninsula.  This is a bird she’s not going to see in her own backyard 200 miles north of the Columbia, the Wrentit demarcation line.  These birds are very hard to photograph because they do not often appear in public, preferring their seclusion and being undercover.  Their territory is year-round so I have heard one sing in January during a snowstorm.  “My thicket.  Stay out.”

PIB has numerous trips to Asia and Africa where you can see many and larger babblers.  If you want to see a Wrentit, sign up for one of trips in California or Oregon.

November 30, 2014

We got to see the documentary on Brown Pelicans at our local movie theatre.  It’s called “Pelican Dreams.”  Beautiful video of the big birds and told around the touching stories of two injured pelicans, one of whom has now flown back into the wild.  Pelican-Media

This is worth seeing just for the great slo-mo of the pelicans diving in oceanic feeding frenzies.

It touches on conservation issues, climate change and the necessity of human awareness to allow these great birds to survive in our altered world.  It was shot mostly in California and Oregon with some video from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast.

PIB offers trips to Florida, Texas and California–all good venues for watching Brown Pelicans.

Here are a few of my own pictures of a feeding frenzy at Elkhorn Slough between Santa Cruz and Monterey on a PIB trip to California:PLUNGE1 (446x447) TO MONTEREY SEPT 13 044 (1280x960) TO MONTEREY SEPT 13 052 (1280x960) TO MONTEREY SEPT 13 071 (511x512) TO MONTEREY SEPT 13 074 (1280x960)

GALAPAGOS AND CLIMATE CHANGE

November 24, 2014

The latest Audubon magazine has three pieces on the future of the Galapagos’ unique habitat and birdlife…in the face of climate change.  You can click here to read those articles.

If you want to see the Galapagos as they are now, PIB has a variety of trips to both the islands and to the rich birding locales on the Ecuadoran mainland.  You can click here to read about the Ecuador/Galapagos trips we offer.Galapagos Sunday 001 marine ig pileupSome photos from a recent PIB trip to the islands.LAVA GULL2 LAVA HERON ON CHAIN WILSONS PLOVERThe birds, from top to bottom: Lava Gull, Lava Heron, Wilson’s Plover. Blue-footed Booby, Brown Pelican with his outboard motor, Vermilion Flycatcher. Elliot’s Storm-Petrels.BF BOOBIES TRIO ON LAVA bf booby face brown Pelican outboarding cinn flyc perched ell.STORM-PETRELS FEEDAnd a couple of endemics:GALA DOVE1 Make that three endemics” Dove, Mockingbird and Penguin.  The latter loves to swim around with snorklers, even slow-moving hominids with plastic faces on.GALA MOCKINGBIRD1 GALA PENGUIN CU

RAPTOR RECORD OVER PANAMA

November 21, 2014

This fall’s migration saw a record number of raptors passing over Panama City in one day. Take a guess, then click on this link and read about the number of zeros in the new record.
PIB offers great trips to Panama, including a chance to see Harpy Eagle.
But Panama is much more than just raptors…below some images from my recent trip to Panama: Violaceous Trogon, white-faced monkey and White-necked Puffbird.
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WHITE-NKD PUFFBRD
These two guys were just down the street from our arrival hotel in Panama City: Crimson-crested Woodpecker and Common Tody-flycatcher
C-C WOOD GOOD

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