Posts Tagged ‘conservation’


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


October 24, 2013

The California Condor livecam is not going to show you cute chicks in the nest or cuddly little cubs with their mom. It will show you wild California Condors feeding. Best time to watch is during the morning hours, Pacific Time. This camera is in the Big Sur area of California. Click here for link.
The camera is maintained by the Ventana Wilderness Society which monitors the Big Sur population of condors. There are now over 200 in the wild though there are less than 500 in the world altogether. At one time the condors seemed doomed and all were placed in captivity. The breeding program has now succeeded to the point where the big birds are once again breeding in the wild.
Furthermore, California just banned lead shot which has been the single greatest health threat to these scavengers in the wild. They often find deer and other animals wounded by hunters and then lost, thus ingesting bits of the shattered and scattered lead shot leading to toxic levels of lead poisoning.
Here’s more on the condor cam which went live this week.CONDOR OVERHEAD I took all these condor photos along Hiway 1 in Big Sur while leading a Partnership for International Birding trip there. Nearly every condor carries a visible wing tag so they can monitored. Some also have tiny transmitters so they can be tracked electronically.




An expert from the Ventana Wilderness Society told us this pair was a father and son, often seen hunting together along the Big Sur Coast, sailing high above the Pacific surf. On this day the two came out of the fog, then circled a few times before disappearing back into the fog.
CONDOR4 Condors have the largest wingspan of any North American bird, slightly larger than the White Pelican and often exceeding nine feet. For comparison, your neighborhood Red-tailed Hawk has a wingspan less half that great and the Turkey Vulture’s wingspan is less than two-thirds of a condor’s.
To get your own photos of a soaring condor, come along one of PIB’s California trips.

Hoatzin A Name?

October 2, 2010
The Hoatzin was unmissable at Sani Lodge. The bird is unique. It has no peers. It does have spiked feathers atop, a loud hissing voice that sounds like the largest reptile warning you off. It does climb slowly but nimbly in small trees with branches barely able to support its weight.  It is pheasant sized. As you canoe about the lake and riverways at Sani Lodge you encounter small pods of Hoatzin in the trees, bathing along the riverbank, sleeping on limbs. We never saw one fly but I am told their wings do function.
They’re herbivorous, dining on the rich variety of plant leaves in the ever green forest of the Napo River and similar tropical habitat.  They also like some of the abundant native fruits.
It’s Latin binomial is Opisthocomus hoazin. It’s family name: Opisthocomidae. There is just one species in that family. Says Wikipedia about the family name: “Ancient greek wearing long hair behind, referring to its large crest.”

Altogether the Hoatzin’s uniqueness is a source of much puzzlement and lack of scientific agreement. DNA has not helped much. Current speculation has them most closely aligned with cuckoos. Or maybe with doves. Or with nightjars. But the reality of the Hoatzin in lowland South America is wondrous to see.

Sani Lodge is a three hour boat ride from the nearest town. That would be oil boom-town Coca. It’s a half-hour plane ride east of Quito. Coca’s about fifty miles straight east of the Andean crest but there are no straight lines or roads so it’s a five hour drive from Quito which is west of the Andean divide.  The boat ride on a motor-powered canoe affords great birding.  Plumbeous and Swallowtail Kites, Swallow-winged Puffbird, Black, Yellow-headed and Carunculated Caracara, Great Yellow-headed Vultures, Drab River-tyrant. This is one of the Swallowtail Kites that hunted in pairs over our canoe along the Napo River.

These are two of the Swallow-winged Puffbirds we saw from the canoe.
The Sani Comune (township of resident population) made a deal with the dreaded oil companies: build us an ecolodge and we will grant you right-of-way to run your pipeline under our land. But to our last breath we will refuse to let you drill or mine in our part of the Amazon lowland forest. Thus the Sani village controls one of the most pristine sections of the Napo River Valley. The Napo itself is a major tributary to the Amazon itself.

Sani land borders huge areas being exploited by European and American oil companies and now the Ecuadoran government oil agencies. Ecuador is still in court trying to recover damages from Chevron for egregious oil spills and ecological damage done in the Amazonian lowlands. But nobody’s going to shut down the wells that are delivering crude crud. Locals in Sani blame oil companies for polluted river water, increasing disease rates and even swamping local canoes with their large river boats. The Hoatzin and locally-owned Sani Lodge can be a part of your next birding trip to Ecuador with Partnership For International Birding and Neblina Forest Tours. Here’s our schedule for next year.

Go Go Galapagos

June 17, 2010

I spoke by Skype with ace birding guide, Lelis Navarette, at his home in Quito, Ecuador.  To get to the Galapagos most Yankee birders will pass through Quito.  Ecuador owns the Galapagos Islands and their environmental agencies are now about to tighten restrictions on visits to some of the smaller and more sensitive islands.  That means some bird species there will soon be off limits to most visitors.  Human impact on the island habitat is threatening some of the unique species that amazed the young Charles Darwin over 170 years ago.  Of course the different finch species on different islands of the Galapagos helped spur Darwin’s thinking about evolution and natural selection.  Current science views the variety of finches in Galapagos as classic example of adaptive radiation.  The evidence is that one single group of House Finches arrived int he Galapagos and over eons evolved into various habitat niches and new species to fit various islands and their survival requirements.

So any keen birder with a curiosity about how ornithology and biology themselves evolved can enjoy a trip to the Galapagos.

This is Lelis’s photo of a Mangrove Finch, found at Playa Negra on Isebela Island in the Galapagos.  Not a dramatic eye-catcher, but a bird of immense scientific importance.  One of Darwin’s Finches.  Lelis tells me this is one of the birds you will likely never see if you don’t don’t get to the Galapagos before the end of THIS year.  That’s when restrictions on travel in the islands become stricter.  Tour boats will no longer get “special permits” to islands among the Galapagos where endemic species are endangered.

Another bird that will become unseeable is the Charles Mockingbird, already extirpated from Floreana Island and now resident only on two islets nearby: Champion and Gardner.

Here is link to the description of PIB and Neblina’s trips to the Galapagos later this year.

Besides the finches, you can expect to see  three species of Boobies (Red, Blue-footed and Masked), the beautiful and nocturnal Swallow-tailed Gull, Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds, Waved Albatross and Red-billed Tropicbirds.

Land birds are also plentiful and include Dark-billed Cuckoos, Large-billed Flycatchers, and the richly-patterned Galapagos Doves. Sorting out many of the thirteen species of Darwin’s Finches provides a challenge, and among familiar birds such as Yellow Warblers and Vermilion Flycatchers you’ll notice slight variations. Several species of mockingbirds are very bold when seeking fresh water. We also search for Galapagos Flamingoes, Galapagos Hawks and the Galapagos form of the Short-eared Owl.

Masked Boobies on Galapagos. Photo by Lelis Navarette.

Galapagos–This Is The Last, Best Year To Bird There!

May 26, 2010

There’s great news and not so wonderful news about the Galapagos.  Ecuadoran conservationists are getting serious about protecting many of the fragile islands their endemic species from over-exposure.  That would mean fewer of us locusts tourists.  But that also means if you wait to go to the Galapagos after Dec. 31, youn’t see many species that are still viewable this year.  And this year only!

I’m going in late September.  Thanks to Neblina Forest Tours and PIB, there are a few slots available for tours to the Galapagos this year.  One trip that begins Sept. 19 in Quito would cost you $2990 per capita.  That includes all in-country transit in Ecuador and three nights in Quito.  Quito is a fascinating city.  The air is thin (8000′) but the culture is thick.  And they spend Yank dollars so the currency is easy to grasp.  After Quito: seven nights on a boat as you see the Galapagos Islands.

I know those famous Darwin finches are all just off-shoots of the ordinary House Finch.  But, hey, endemic off-shoots, and some you’ll never see if you don’t go this year.

Masked Boobies.

After September there are more trips possible.  See the PIB website or email:  Trips after September will run about $3400 from Quito.

–Harry Fuller