Archive for November, 2013


November 27, 2013

52013_1762463139163_5908045_o133488_489455257909_3142720_oThis is our man, Max Shefte-Jacobs, moving downhill faster than a Cooper’s Hawk.

196874_1007010293314_2644_n Max has been a member of national and regional Telemark ski racing teams in the past decade. He was first named to the development team as a 16 year old. Still a mere whippersnapper by the standards of some of us here at PIB, Max is our veteran web-meister. He makes the website live, our Facebook page look-worthy and tweets to the world like a hungry sparrow.
Next time you’re on the slope and something whizzes past like a Prairie Falcon after a pocket gopher, that was probably our man Max!

Here’s how our modest man Max himself describes his competitive career: “Last big event was in 2008 for the Telemark world cup championships in Sugarbush VT where I placed between 26 and 30 in three days. Then I was on the US Development Telemark Ski Team. I also raced at telemark nationals a few years in the top division. As a junior I got a lot of top fives in any telemark event I could get to including nationals before leaving the juniors at 16.”


November 14, 2013

The Partnership for International Birding and the Rainforest Trust are working together to preserve some of the precious remaining native habitat in northern Columbia. This species-rich rainforest is in the Serrania de Perija, a 200-mile long mountain range that has peaks over 10,000 feet high. This is the northernmost finger of the Andes.
The area is home to numerous endemic bird and plants species. Not extensively explored, the area is expected to yield many more new species over the coming years.columbia map

The donations from PIB are part of our commitment to birds, our birding friends and the planet itself. We not only want our birders to see many birds but we want to be sure those birds and their habitat are still around for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. The best way to do this is own the land. Thus we have made a $3000 donation to Rainforest Trust and are hoping to make that a total of $5000 in the new year, insuring the Trust’s ability to buy 100 acres in the Serrania. Director of the Rainforest Trust, Dr. Paul Salaman, says the Partnership for International Birding helped to get the ball rolling on this project.RAINFOREST TRST

PIB has made the first targeted donation for the Serrania project and that will enable the first land purchase in that area. You could say we’re in on the ground floor, high in the mountains.

We at PIB are very pleased to be working with the Rainforest Trust (formerly the US-World Land Trust) in supporting their efforts to preserve wilderness for bird and wildlife conservation. We truly want to thank our trip participants and other conservation partners for supporting this effort.


Much of the forest and paramo has been burnt, logged or planted in exotic trees. But enough remains that fragile ecosystems can be saved. ProAves has recently surveyed the area.

Studies have relocated the two endangered and endemic species, the Perijá Thistletail and Perijá Metaltail, and established the Perijá Brush-finch, while finding several new bird species for science, including a new Atlapetes Brush-finch, a new Scytalopus Tapaculo, a new Megascops Screech-owl, and a Cranioleuca Spinetail. Several other taxa endemic to the Perijá mountains are almost certainly separate biological and phylogenetic species (i.e. the Rufous Antpitta Grallaria “rufula” saltuensis, the Oleagineous Hemispingus Hemispingus “frontalis” flavidorsalis, to name but a few).
asthenes PERIJA THISTLETAIL, Asthenes perijana. This small overbird is found nowhere else on earth. It’s closely related to some canastero species found further south.

Despite its unique fauna and flora, no protected area yet exists in Colombia’s Serranía de Perijá. So we and our birding friends can now know that we are helping begin an urgent project that will protect, for the first time, an endangered habitat and the wide variety of species that depend on it.

Click here to learn more about Rainforest Trust’s Serrania project.


November 7, 2013

The American Wild Turkey is in trouble. Like the Bobwhite before it, the Wild Turkey is experiencing a sharp population drop in the southeastern U.S. where its population was once the greatest.
The latest “Audubon” magazine summarizes what is known about the turkey troubles. State after state report declines of 25 to 50% in turkey populations. And these are game birds “carefully” managed. The article is NOT available online.
Causes? Not clear but habitat lose may be playing a part. In some areas forests are invaded with driveways, houses, swimming pools, rats, cats and free-ranging dogs. Climate change is bringing more formerly tropical disease northward as well. West Nile was a complete surprise when that virus hit the U.S. in 1999. This spring a Wild Turkey in Michigan tested positive for the virus. It is not known how deadly the infection would be in that species. We already know that Corvids are especially susceptible.
Click here for the 2012 “Southeast Wild Turkey Population Decline Study.” It is a progress report as the study continues. This preliminary study seems to indicate that turkey populations went through increases in the past fifty years in southern states due to human intervention and now there may simply not be enough habitat for the current populations. Reproduction rates may have fallen due to crowding or other causes undetermined.
Here in the western U.S.(California and Oregon) the Wild Turkey has been introduced for hunting and in many areas the population is increasing. Here in southern Oregon they compete with gray squirrels, Brewer’s Blackbirds and mule deer as the most often observed wild creature in town.
wild turkeys


November 5, 2013

There are a lot of birds I enjoy watching, some I find endearing, others amazing. The Lewis’s Woodpecker is somehow up in my personal pantheon with the Sandhill Crane, Shoebill (an ambulatory pelican), Hoopoe, Yellow-breasted Chat, Toucan Barbet, dippers of all species and any puffin anywhere.
The Lewis’s Woodpecker is a bird of the arid western forests of North America. Oak, ponderosa, digger pine and similar drought-tolerant trees are its métier, as they say.
Where I live now (Ashland, Oregon) the species nests about forty miles to the south, then comes up here to winter in the open oak savannah at around 1200-3000′ elevation.P1760432 (1280x1280)LEWO FL9IES2 (1280x1280)
In a rather sharpish comment Kenn Kaufman in his LIVES OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS says “one of our oddest woodpeckers–and not only because of its colors, which include pink, silver, and oily green.”
I prefer to think of my local Lewis’s as eccentric, not “odd.” And that green is iridescent, not “oily.”
But Kaufman has chosen to live back in Ohio where he can feast on colorful wood warblers each spring. Perhaps he doesn’t have the refined taste it takes to appreciate the eccentricities and colorful subtleties of our Melanerpes lewis.
LEWO FLIES (1280x1280)

LEWO IN AIR (1280x1280)
The Lewis’s has a more moth-like flight, buoyant and almost weightless in appearance, than other woodpeckers with their typical undulating flight of flap, rise, glide, droop, flap, rise, glide. This woodpecker is not only a driller, though less vigorous than say a Pileated or even a sapsucker, he is a consummate flycatcher.
LEWO SOAR1 (1280x1280) In California the Lewis’s can be found on Mt. Hamilton above 4000′ and along much of the western slope of the Sierra. In Oregon there are three pockets of breeding Lewis’s: southern Cascades, east of the Cascades in the Sandy River basin and in northeastern Oregon’s mountain ranges.
P1760461 (1280x1280)The slight, faint peeps are all this bird uses for vocalization. None of the loud calls of the Pileated or the sharp “clear” call of the Flicker. And he is social like his cousin the Acorn with which he shares a genus and a love of oaks and acorns.

P1760462 (1280x1280)The Lewis’s may mate for life and re-use a nest site for generations. Saves having to drill another hole, unlike more vigorous wood-workers in the woodpecker clan: Downy, Hairy, Red-headed, et al.
Right now the Lewis’s are performing in an ensemble at Milepost 10 along Oregon Hwy 66 east of Emigrant Lake. That’s where I took these pictures. They are also at the waterslide area of Emigrant Lake Recreation Area and on the east side of Agate Lake northeast of Medford. Certainly there are groups around Table Rock and in Sam’s Valley in north Jackson County though I have not personally been up there this year.
Here are some Lewis’s in images taken on sunny days in better light, so you can see some of the colors:L-W IN BUDS (1280x855)

LEW WO3 (1280x1124)

LEW WO-EM LAK (1280x941)

LEWO--MT HAM This final picture was taken on Mt. Hamilton last spring.
Lewis and Clarke discovered this species on their expedition, 1803-5. Thomas Nuttall met with the bird three decades later on his trip to Oregon and California, “this remarkable bird…They often perch in the usual manner of other birds, as well as climb, but they are also in the habit of darting out from their station and after performing a circular sweep return to the branch, spreading their wings horizontally and sailing like so many hawks.”
Now that shows some proper respect.
To see Lewis’s Woodpeckers you can come on one of our California field trips or arrange a custom trip to Oregon. Click here for California itinerary.


November 4, 2013

Even now in one of my birding classes I occasionally will get asked, “Do you believe the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is still alive?” Or maybe, “That big woodpecker, do you think they really found one?”
What I do believe is that some experienced birders certainly believed at one time that they had re-found this species. The IBW had last been seen alive in the 1940s in Louisiana. The last sighting in Cuba was 1987. It’s almost a decade since that heady time back in 2004 when Cornell Ornithology Lab and several researchers declared that they were optimistic that the Ivory-billed had been found alive in an Arkansas marsh. The exact ten-year anniversary of the first celebrated modern sighting will be February 11, 2014.
Five years of intense searching in the field followed that 2004 public announcement which reverberated across the birding world. There followed some even sketchier reports that the IBW may have been found in Florida. Those reports, too, failed to provide anything like convincing evidence.
Cornell’s website today declares that field teams searched over 500,000 acres in 8 southern states over five years. The Cornell Lab and its supporters stand ready to follow up any credible reports that may still be heard.
The last proven sighting of IBW were in a private forest tract in Louisiana in 1944. During World War II that forest was cut down so the wood could be used “for the war effort.” There was no Endagered Species Act at that time and no way for friends of the IBW to stop the deforestation and probably the coup de grace for the woodpecker in the U.S.
At one time the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was widespread in the lowland hardwood forests of the southeastern U.S. That is a habitat type that is almost completely gone from America, along with the largest woodpecker that once lived on this continent.
In the first half of the 18th Century, English naturalist Mark Catesby collected a specimen and drew the first full-color image of the IBW. He called it “The Largest White-billed Wood-pecker.”

catesby IBW (1280x1280)
He went on to write, “The bills of these birds are much valued by the Canada Indians, who make coronets of them for their prices and great warriors, by fixing them around a wreath, with their points outwards. The northern Indians having none of these birds in the cold country, purchase them of the southern people at the price of two, and sometimes three buck-skins a bill.
“These birds subsist chiefly on ants, wood-worms, and other insects, which they hew out of rotten trees; nature having so formed their bills, that in an hour or two of time they will raise a bushel of chips; for which the Spanish call them carpenteros.”
Perhaps the next known colored image of the IBW was by John Abbot, an English naturalist who settled in Georgia in 1776. Abbot collected natural history specimens and made drawings, all of which he sold to wealthy collectors in England and America.ABBOT IBW (1280x1280)
Writing in the early 19th Century, Alexander Wilson described the IBW thus: “This majestic and formidable species, in strength and magnitude, stands at the head of the whole class of Woodpeckers, hitherto discovered. He may be called the king or chief of his tribe…
“Wherever he frequents, he leaves enormous pine trees with cartloads of bark lying around their roots, and chips of the trunk itself, in such quantities as to suggest the idea that half a dozen axe-men had been at work there for the whole morning….

WILSON IBW (1280x1280)“The head and bill of this bird is in great esteem among the southern Indians, who wear them by way of amulet or charm, as well as ornament….”
Wilson shot and slightly wounded one IBW. That evening he carried the bird into his room at a hotel where he was spending the night. While Wilson ate dinner the bird—tied to the bed by a rope around its leg—proceeded to hack apart the hotel room furniture and carve up the window frame.
Three decades later Audubon wrote of the IBW: “The flight of this bird is graceful in the extreme, although seldom prolonged to more than a few hundred yards at a time…The transit from one tree to another, even should the distance be as much as a hundred yards, is performed by a single sweep, and the bird appears as if merely swinging itself from the top of one tree to that of the other, forming an elegantly curved line.”
When Thomas Nuttall wrote his account in his Ornithology, second edition (1840), he noted the bird had become secretive.
“More vagrant, retiring, and independent than the rest of his family, he is never found in the precincts of cultivated tracts; the scene of his dominion is the lonely forest amidst trees of the greatest magnitude…the high rattling clarion and the rapid strokes of this princely Woodpecker are often the only sounds which vibrate through, and communicate an air of life to this dismal wilds. His stridulous, interrupted call, and loud, industrious blows, my often be heard for more than half a mile….”
By the time Roger Tory Peterson published his first field guide in 1934 the Ivory-billed Woodpecker had become “extremely rare.” He says the bird is confined to the Gulf Coast. When Europeans first arrived the IBW had been found as far north as Virginia and the Ohio River.
In 1936 a Cornell expedition included ornithologist George Miksch Sutton. Here’s his description of finding an IBW nesting pair in Louisiana: “There we sat in the wild swamp, miles and miles from any highway, with two ivory-billed woodpeckers so close to us that we could see their eyes, their long toes, even their slightly curved claws with our binoculars.”
Also on that expedition was graduate student James Tanner who returned to study the birds in this virgin forest from 1937-39. It was his PhD research and was underwritten by the National Audubon Society. At that time he estimated there were about two dozen IBWs in that forest. Tanner also checked numerous other reports of UBW sightings around the south but never succeeded in finding another population. He worked hard to try to save the last forest with the last IBW but there was no legal standing in those days to conserve a species in the face of the profit motive. The forest was owned by the Singer Sewing Machine Company. They sold the timber rights to Chicago Mill and Lumber. Logging proceeded during the war. In 1944 artist Don Eckelberry spent two weeks sketching a single female IBW surviving in an island of yet-uncut forest. That is the last confirmed sighting of the doomed species.
Today we wait. Perhaps some intrepid birder will get the definitive video of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker high in a tree along a flooded bayou in the American south. Or perhaps the Ivory-billed Woodpecker will continue to be a phantom, haunting our collective yearnings for what used to be, floating through time next to the ghosts of the Passenger Pigeon and Great Auk.



–Harry Fuller, PIB field guide