Archive for the ‘conservation’ Category


November 4, 2016

The Great Gray Owl has been on the California Endangered Species List for some time.  Current estimates say there may be fewer than 300 of these  marvelous birds in the entire state.  Their modern range is limited. They may once have lived in the Sacramento River Valley but they are now limited to relict populations in scattered bits of suitable habitat in the central Sierra from 1800 to 7000 feet elevation. One recent study of Yosemite, where the birds were first confirmed nesting in 1914, found less than 10 percent of that giant park is suitable GGO habitat. There is also a tiny sliver of the Oregon population that dips across the border into Modoc County north of Alturas. Human alteration of the habitat has not been positive for the Great Gray Owl.  Now climate change just adds stress and more uncertainty about their ability to survive.  Vehicles and Great Horned Owls are lead natural enemies.  Introduced West Nile Virus is a potential game-ender…though so far there is no evidence it has struck California’s population. An Oregon owl in the northeastern part of that state died of West Nile last year.  The GGO is highly susceptible to the disease.bdger2

The most crucial and thorough study of Great Gray Owls ever done anywhere in North America is now completed and has been presented to the California government and the public.  It calls for serious action to help this species survive.  You can click here to read the report and its conclusions.

The research also shows that the central California population has been genetically cut off from more northerly populations for over 25,000 years and should be given sub-species status which in turn could allow federal designation as a national endangered species.  None of the breeding birds along the Pacific Slope south of Canada are migratory.  The Yosemite owls will never meet an Oregon cousin.


Union County and Jackson County in Oregon may each have as many GGOs as the entire state of California.  Yet it is unlikely there are as many of the birds in Oregon as there are people in McMinnville, Oregon (33,000).  We should be aware of what is recommended in California and what gets done and what effects that may have.

Washington State has few Great Gray Owls apparently and only a handful of nesting records have ever been confirmed.  The first one in the state did not come until 1991.

If you are interested in Harry Fuller’s book on this species, click here for the link.

If you really want to see one of these owls, in broad daylight, and not in mid-winter  Minnesota, contact PIB about the birding trip to Oregon.


March 7, 2016

Here’s email I got from good friend and fellow birder:  “We went to Big Sur for my birthday this week.  While have a massage in the room, the masseuse told us that she saw 3 condors fly by our window.
“She mentioned it after we were finished….otherwise I would have grab[bed] the bins and started following them!  We generally walk to the hot tub which is
about two minutes away near the room after our massages.  So I say to R that we should go to the hot tub and soak for awhile… we are walking there and told her “I wish I could see a condor…..that is my birthday wish” (it has been around 8 yrs since I’ve seen one…I sent you those photos)……so I keep looking up at the sky hoping to spot one……so one minute later as we approach the hot tub…….I can’t believe what I see…..3 condors pecking at the thermostat for the pool….right by the pool…..I whisper to R that I’m going back to grab my camera and try to capture this moment……I looked like Usain Bolt running the 100 mm race at the Olympics going back to the room…..I dash back as fast as I can and started taking some photos… they are pulling the towels from a high stack of towels for the guests!  They were hilarious….as the towel in the middle was being pulled out….they jumped back to avoid having the whole stack fall on them….two of them had tags, while the young one was untagged….their wing span must have been 7 to 8 feet wide [adults are near 9 feet, longest in U.S.  White Pelicans #2]…..incredible! I could have got closer, but I didn’t want them to fly away. so I’m going to send you the pics for your enjoyment…….I mentioned what happened to the staff and there is a website called “” which tells you information about the specific condor……wow, what a birthday gift!”

cndor 13cndor1cndor2cndor3cndor4cndor5cndor6cndor7cndor8If the towel had been dirtycndor9If the towel and been dirty and smelly would it have held more interest for them?  Or are they simply curious?  Adults do collect shining objects and carry them back to the nest sometimes.cndor10Icndor11


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

wopi face



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.

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)


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


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.

passpig-wilsonWhen 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 |


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.

I 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.
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.BEAK-ODD1` (1280x960)

BEAK-ODD2 (1280x960)

BEAK-ODD3 (1280x960)

BEAK-ODD5 (1280x960)
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.

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:
Colleen Handel
Research Wildlife Biologist
USGS Alaska Science Center


May 20, 2014

Humans and the family Hirundinidae (swallows and kin) have grown to become mutually helpful and even dependent. Without swallows many of our farms and cities would fill with mosquitoes and their ilk. Without man many swallows family members would lose nesting sites and thus diminish in numbers.
In North America the co-operation between humans and members of the swallow family has increased over the past two centuries. In the mid 1800s naturalists noted how the Barn Swallow had begun to nest around buildings in Northern California. Today Tree Swallows and Purple Martins regularly use nest sites provided by people. Sometimes Tree Swallows will appropriate a box first intended for bluebirds. Martins are colonial nesters so they oust House Sparrows and take over the provided tenements. Barn and Cliff Swallows regularly use manmade structures from bridge to barns to porches across their range.
martinropolis A Purple Martin tenement at Ottawa NWR, Ohio.puma gourd

PUMA FRNT A perched Martin.

trsw holeTree Swallow nesting in a natural hole.

trsw shape

bars nest
Barn Sweallows working on nests on the side of a building.
Many other birds now take advantage of intentional or incidental manmade nest sites: Barn, Great Horned, Great Gray and Screech Owls, European Kingfishers, many raptors nest on pylons or utility poles, Wood and other ducks, nuthatches, chickadees, bluebirds or all three species, phoebes, House Wrens, White-throated and other swifts. In Europe the most obvious building users are White Storks.



All these pictures were taken during a PIB field trip to northwestern Ohio earlier in May.

May 16, 2014

Spring here in northwest Ohio comes in many shades, from gray to grass green to brilliant red. Here are a few:
CARD-TITTufted Titmouse and Cardinal share feeder.

GRND-HOGGroundhog, known also as woodchuck. How much wood wuld a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? We await the answer.

GW-WARB1Golden-winged Warbler at Wildwoods Metropark in Toledo area. This disappearing warbler is the central figure in a conservation program headed by American Bird Conservancy.

RBWOOD1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, which has no red belly.
SOLI-SAND2Solitary Sandpiper, Ottawa NWR.

BAOR-1 Baltimore Oriole, Magee Marsh.P2000670Indigo Bunting male, Oak Openings Preserve.

All these birds seen in the first two days of the Partnership for International Birding Trip, co-sponsored by Golden Gate Audubon, to northwest Ohio for spring migration. So far we have 109 species for the two days and over 20 species of warblers seen.