Old Man Plover

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“Old Man Plover” (Image by Alice Van Zoeren via audubon.org)

Meet BO:X,g (pronounced box gee). He’s 15 years old, making him the oldest Piping Plover in the Great Lakes population. But BO:X,g is better known for his endearing nickname, “Old Man Plover”.

There are 3 populations of the Piping Plover in the United States: the Great Plains, the Atlantic Coast, and the Great Lakes. Plovers on the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains regions are considered federally threaten, while the Great Plains population is considered federally endangered. A strategy used to help keep track of threatened bird populations in banding. Each bird in the population has a unique combination of colored bands that researchers can use to identify individuals. Old Man Plover’s real “name”, BO:X,g, are the letters that are found on his leg bands.

Old Man Plover has lead a long and interesting life so far. Many Piping Plovers don’t live much longer than 5-years-old, so the fact that Old Man Plover is 15 an amazing feat. He was born in 2002 in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore in Michigan. Old Man Plover is not the oldest current living Piping Plover (the oldest is 17 and lives in the Atlantic Coast population), but he has played a large role in the revival of his population.

Like many other Piping Plovers, Old Man Plover is loyal to not only his birthplace breeding grounds, but also his wintering grounds in Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina (where our American Oystercatcher friend, M3, from Cape May winters too). He is also very punctual; every year he’s arrives at Sleeping Bear Dunes on exactly April 13 to rendezvous with his current mate. His current mate is actually his 3rd. His first mate (referred to as his childhood sweetheart in the article I read haha!) died in 2002 and his second mate died in 2013.

Over the years, Old Man Plover has successfully fledged 36 chicks, averaging around 3 or 4 chicks per breeding season (as compared to the normal rate of 1.5). The biologists who study him believe he is well represented in his population. The Great Lakes population has been slowly increasing, but there is still a long way to go to get to the goal of 150 breeding pairs. As of last spring (2016), there were 75 breeding pairs in the region and 28 of them nested in Old Man Plover’s Sleeping Bear Dunes area.

There’s been some more great news recently about the Great Lakes Piping Plover population. Last year, Piping Plovers nested in Lower Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the first time in 75 years. It was also announced as of July 24, 2017, that two Piping Plover nests have been found along Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. This is the first time Piping Plovers have nested in Pennsylvania in 60 years.

Old Man Plover is an inspiration, not just to me, but to the people who want to help conserve vulnerable species. This cute little plover doesn’t even know it, but he has made such a positive impact on his population and is a symbol of hope. I firmly believe one of the keys of conservation is to educate yourself and others, so I wanted to share his story with you.

If you’d like to learn more about Old Man Plover, about the Piping Plover populations, or about what you can do to help check out the links below:

Meet Old Man Plover, the Pride of the Great Lakes by Meaghan Lee Callaghan on Audubon.org

Success! Piping Plovers Nested in Pennsylvania for the First Time in 60 Years by Andy McGlashen via Audubon.org

Piping Plover Fact Sheet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Bringing Back the Bobwhite (and the blog!)

Hi, friends! Long time, no see! Sorry I’ve been m.i.a. for the past few weeks. To be honest, I’ve had a bit of writer’s block since my summer break from work has started. A lot of my time lately has been taken up by my Biology I lecture/lab class. I’ve also completed my Picture Life List (to be continued…), which was a goal of mine for awhile now. And I have another exciting bird-related journey that I’ll be starting on, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to learn about that one!

My blog is not the only thing returning though. The Bobwhites are starting to return too!

The Northern Bobwhite (a.k.a. the Virginia Quail), is a small quail that lives in the Eastern United States. They are found in weedy meadows, fields, open woods with dense native grasses, and clear cuts. Grasses are important to Bobwhites because they spend their lives on the ground. Over the past 40 years, Northern Bobwhites, and other species that depend on the same habitat, have been declining.

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Northern Bobwhite (Image by BirdNation)

Although Bobwhites were commonly hunted, the reason for the decline is mainly habitat degradation. America’s grasslands are rapidly disappearing, and changes in agricultural policies and cattle grazing have all had an impact on the Bobwhite. Young forest is also important to Bobwhites, which could be managed with prescribed fires. Over the years, prescribed burns have become less accepted, therefore not rejuvenating the young forests that Bobwhites and other related species need to thrive. Northern Bobwhites do very poorly in urban habitats and dense forest. Bobwhites are not the only species on the decline due to habitat degradation. Pollinators, native plants, and a variety of grassland birds (such as the Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissels, and Eastern Meadowlark to name a few) have been suffering along with the Northern Bobwhite.

There are many conservation groups working together to help the Bobwhites and other grassland creatures. One of these groups is the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, which consists of 25 states coming together to form an action plan to save the Bobwhite.

Another group involved with the NBCI is New Jersey Audubon (I mention them specifically because I’m from NJ and an NJ Audubon member). The Northern Bobwhite population nationally has decreased 82% between 1966 and 2010, and the bird was considered functionally extinct in New Jersey. The tide is slowly starting to turn however. In April 2015, NJ Audubon translocated Northern Bobwhites from Georgia (which has a viable Bobwhite population) to the Pinelands area. 3 months later they found the first Bobwhite nest, which was the first one in the NJ Pinelands since the 1980s. 66 eggs were found during the first release, as well as more nests from the second 2016 release, and the 2017 release. The first 2017 nest was found at the Pine Island Cranberry Study sight in June, as well as 3 more active nests. This is great news for the Northern Bobwhite!

When it comes to conservation, birds are considered an indicator species. If there’s a problem with the local bird population, chances are very high there are other major issues affecting other members of the ecosystem. Maintain healthy grasslands and open forests are not only going to help the Northern Bobwhites, but the other species that depend on these habitats for their survival too.

I started actively birding over 3 years ago now, and this year was the first time that Dave and I have seen/experienced Bobwhites. I hope that as conservation efforts continue, the Bobwhite can return to New Jersey and other Eastern states so that future generations can enjoy hearing and seeing these adorable little quails.

If you’d like to read our most recent Northern Bobwhite experience at Cape May, click here.

If you’d like to learn how you can help Northern Bobwhites and conservation efforts, check out the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative website here.

To read the New Jersey Audubon bobwhite article, click here.

 

World Penguin Day

Today, April 25, is World Penguin Day! With their tuxedo plumage, penguins are probably one of the most recognizable birds in the world. As popular as they are, many penguin population are on the decline, especially the species that frequent or live on Antarctica. Climate change, habitat disturbance, human interaction, oil pollution, and non-native species are some of the reasons for their decline. It’s not too late to help penguins though! Check out these links to find out ways you can help penguins:

One Green Planet Website

Greenpeace Arctic Sanctuaries petition

Just in time for Wold Penguin Day, the group Oceanites released the first ever “State of Antarctic Penguins” (SOAP) report. All 5 species of penguins that utilize Antarctica were included in the study by Oceanites founder Ron Naveen (who describes his job as “I count penguins.” haha :-)). According to the report there are around 12 million penguins in Antarctica. You can read the “State of Antarctic Penguins” report at this link.

So in honor of penguins worldwide, here are some fun facts about these cute black-and-white birds.

  • When you think of penguins, you probably imagine them walking around in the snow in Antarctica. However, only 2 of the approximately 17 penguin species live in Antarctica (there’s some debate over how many species there actually are, some say up to 19). They are the Emperor Penguin and the Adelie Penguin. The remaining penguin species live in more tropical climates.
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Penguin Id Chart (Image via Pinterest)
  • Almost all penguins live exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere…except one. The Galapagos Penguin is the only species to live north of the equator.
  • The largest living penguin species in the world is the Emperor Penguin. They stand about 3-1/2 feet tall and can weight 77 pounds or more. The smallest living penguin species is the Little Blue, who stands about 16 inches tall and weighs only 2 pounds.
  • Penguins are flightless birds. Over time, their wings evolved into flippers used for agile swimming. While swimming, a layer of air in their smooth plumage aids with buoyancy and insulates them in the frigid waters. Some species can reach up to 22 miles per hour while swimming.
  • Most penguin species are highly social and live in colonies. They form monogamous breeding pairs. Smaller species lay 2 eggs per clutch, while the Emperor and King Penguin species lay only 1.
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A Gentoo and 2 King Penguins walk on the beach

Image by By Liam Quinn from Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

  • All penguins have countershaded plumage. Their black and white plumage helps them to become camouflaged. A predator below, such as an orca, would have trouble distinguish a penguin’s white belly from the water’s reflection.
  • Most birds molt a few feathers at a time, but penguins molt all their feathers at the same time, called catastrophic molting. Penguins are land bound for 2-3 weeks since they are not waterproof during molting.
  •  Some species create loose nest out of pebbles and feathers. Emperor Penguin males actual incubate their single egg on their feet. The egg sits underneath their brood pouch (which is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels) to stay warm. After a female lays the egg she transfers it to the male. The female will go out the sea for about 2 months while the male balances the egg on his feet for 64 days throughout the harsh winter.
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Emperor Penguins with chick (Image by Robyn Mundy via antarctica.gov.au)

What’s your favorite species of penguin? Tell me in the comments below.

World Water Day 2017

(We interrupt your regularly-scheduled bird post for an important conservation message)

It’s World Water Day! World Water Day takes place on March 22 every year. This international event was created by the United Nations and has been observed since 1993. The goal of World Water Day is inform people about water-related issues and inspire them to take action.

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(Image via wildernesscommittee.org)

We are in the midst of a global water crisis. Water pollution, scarcity (especially in undeveloped countries), inadequate water supplies , and sanitation are all huge issues that need to be addressed and should be a concern for everybody. People need to realize that water is a finite resource, and a humongous amount of water is wasted all the time.

The theme for 2017 is “Why Wastewater?” Many people don’t realize that 80% of wastewater is untreated/unused and leads to pollution. The Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nation includes reducing pollution, minimizing hazardous chemicals from being released, treating water, reusing water, and eliminating dumping.

Here are some alarming stats about wastewater:

  • 1.8 billion people are exposed to water supplies that are contaminated by faeces. This puts people at risk for a number of deadly diseases.
  • The average person uses 100 gallons of water per day, with 95% of it being wasted. This means between 76-95 gallons of water per day are wasted per person. 
  • 75% of the Earth is covered with water, but less than 3% is drinkable. Therefore the water supply we can drink is limited and needs to be managed carefully.

Scary, right? Water is not only important for humans, but all life. The animals and plants that we love need access to clean water sources as well.

So what can be done about this global crisis? There are plenty of things you can do help conserve water. The fact of the matter is that every single person wastes water in some way, so if everyone makes changes (even small ones!) we can work together to create solutions and bring along change.

Here are some things you can do to help conserve and reuse water.

  • Make sure your home is leak-free. A leaking tap can waste 5,550 liters (or 1466 gallons) of water per year according to a British study.
  • Reuse water whenever you can. For example, instead of dumping it you can use it to water plants.
  • Take shorter showers (I know that this one is hard! lol). 
  • Don’t over-water your lawn.
  • Don’t let water run when you are not using it. Example of this include turning it off while you shave, brush your teeth, or wash your face.
  • Use your dishwasher and washing machines with full loads.
  • Choose appliances that are efficient to save not only water but money on your water bill.
  • Minimize use of your garbage disposal, which needs a large amount of water to operate. Create a compost pile for food waste if possible.
  • As I’ve said in past conservation posts, knowledge is power! One of the best things you can do about conservation issues is to spread the word to your children, family, friends, neighbors, and community.The more people know about it, the more they can find ways to be part of the solution.

Remember, just making a small change every day can make a significant difference over time. Every drop counts my friends!

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Cape Cod (Image by BirdNation)

Here are the sources I used to find information about World Water Day 2017 and water conservation. I just scratched the surface in this post, but you can find out more information below.

World Water Day Official Website

World Water Day Factsheet

Global Development Research Center

International Business Times article

Time Magazine article

 

 

 

 

Bermuda Cahow

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, you know that I love bird cams. I discovered the Cornell Lab Bird cams about 2 years ago. It all began with the Great Horned Owl cam and quickly turned into an obsession where I was pretty much keeping track of all the cams. I’ve spent countless hours watching Red-tailed Hawks, Laysan Albatrosses, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Barn Owls successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) raise their young. There are also a variety of feeder cams to watch, such as the one at the Lab’s Sapsucker Woods, the Ontario feeder, and the West Texas Hummingbirds.

Over the past year, the Lab has created new partnerships with other wildlife organizations to add more cams to their website. Their newest cam is the Bermuda Cahow (my latest obsession :-)). The Cahow cam is hosted by Nonsuch Expeditions from Nonsuch, Bermuda.

The Bermuda Petrel (or Cahow as its called in Bermuda) is the second rarest seabird in the world and has an interesting history. The arrival of humans, rats, cats, and other mammals to Bermuda in the early 1600s had a terrible impact on the Cahow population, which was said to have been around a half a million birds at the time. Twenty years later, people believed that the Cahow went extinct. This belief lasted for about 330 years (from 1620-1951), until a team of scientists discovered 18 breeding pairs on offshore inlets. Many people refer to the Cahow as a “Lazarus species”.

Since it’s re-discovery, the Cahow has been the focus of intensive conservation management. One of the people to re-discover the Cahow in 1951 was David B. Wingate, a Bermuda native. This event inspired him to study zoology at Cornell University so he could help the Cahows recover. Starting in 1960, Wingate and other conservationists have been running the Cahow Recovery Program to help reduce threats that the Cahow face. David Wingate also wanted to help other species in the process and restore Nonsuch Island to it’s pre-colonial ecology through the Nonsuch Island Living Museum Project.

Many strategies have been employed to conserve the Cahows. In 2001, David Wingate’s successor, Jeremy Madeiros started a translocation project to move the birds to a more suitable environment and protect them from harsh weather conditions.In 2004, 14 Cahow chicks were translocated to a new breeding colony on Nonsuch Island. Volunteers and scientists monitored, banded, and fed the chicks, and they all successfully fledged. The colony on Nonsuch Island now has 15 breeding pairs, and the total number of breeding pairs in Bermuda increased to 120 in 2016. Other conservation strategies include using geolocators and banding.

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Jeremy Madeiros holds the Cahow chick (Image tweeted by Nonsuch Expeditions)

The chick that we watch on Bermuda Cahow came hatched on March 2, so as of today it is 12 days old. It’s parents are E0212 (male) and E0197 (female), who have been breeding together at the same burrow site since 2009.  Cahow pairs stay together for life, which may sometimes last for around 30 years. After a few years of failure, they started successfully fledging chicks since 2014, so hopefully our little chick this year will fledge as well.

Similar to the Laysan Albatross on their cam, Cahow parents leave the chick to forage for squid, and its not unusual for a chick to be left alone for up to a week without a visit. It takes so long because the adults will travel north to the cold Gulf Stream waters, sometimes up to 4,500 or more miles away! The chick was just visited today by the mother, who spent some time feeding, preening, and resting with her chick.

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Mom and chick rest together (Image tweeted by Nonsuch Expeditions Twitter)

 

So if you haven’t seen Bermuda Cahow cam, you should check it out! The chick is absolutely adorable and it’s exciting to observe the life of these fascinating seabirds. I’ll include the link to the cam below in addition to some cool Cahow facts. And while you’re there, check out some of the Cornell bird cams (link is up in the first paragraph).

Bermuda Cahow cam

Amazing Cahow Facts

2017 Season Cahow Blog

 

 

Mystery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

It was April 1944. Don Eckelberry,who worked for Audubon, went to Singer Tract in Madison Parrish, Louisiana on a mission. His goal was to spot a female Ivory-billed Woodpecker. A few months prior, this bird was seen by Richard Pough, who later became the first president of the Nature Conservancy. Singer Tract was a large stretch of primeval southern forest that was owned by the Singer Sewing Company. The logging rights to this forest were sold to the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company. The National Audubon Society tried to buy the land from Chicago Mill but were unsuccessful.

Unfortunately, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers need large sections of forest to thrive. And Singer Tract happened to be where a few of these woodpeckers were living at the time. Tragically, the forest at Singer Tract was eventually logged.

But in April 1944, Don Eckelberry did find his female Ivory-billed in Singer Tract. She was alone in an uncut area of the forest. Eckelberry wrote in a letter to John Baker, “It is sickening to see what a waste a lumber company can make of what was a beautiful forest.” Eckelberry’s observation in April 1944 was the last universally accepted sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

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A photograph of Singer Tract from 1937 (Image via fws.gov/ivorybill)

And so the mystery began. Does the Ivory-billed Woodpecker still exist, or is it extinct? It’s been a topic of much debate and study over the years. There have been sightings reported, but nothing is confirmed and the evidence is almost non-existent.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is considered the third largest woodpecker in the world, at 20 inches in length and a 30 inch wingspan.  It’s body is black with large white patches on its wings/neck, and a bright red crest. Historically, this species was found in the Southeastern United States from Texas east to North Carolina, north up to lower Ohio, and south to Cuba. The Cuban Ivory-billed is considered a subspecies and may also possibly be extinct. They lived in thick, uninterrupted hardwood forests and swamps that had a lot of dead and decaying trees.

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A male and female switching parenting duties (Image taken by Arthur A. Allen in April 1935, via wikipedia)

What cause the decline of this species? There are multiple factors, including hunting for sport, science, and used in Native American culture/trading. However, habitat destruction throughout the early 1900’s broke up the Ivory-billed’s territory, which prevented them from being able to sustain their populations. In 1939 it was estimated that only around 24 individuals lived in the United States. The number of birds alive today, if any,  is unknown.

Much of what we know comes from research in the mid-1930s. In 1935, Arthur Allen (founder of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology), Peter Paul Kellogg (Cornell professor), James Tanner (Cornell graduate student), George Miksch Sutton (a bird artist/ornithologist), and Jack Kuhk (a local game warden), set up camp in the swamps of Singer Tract to study the Ivory-billed. They did find a nest in a maple tree and studied it for a few weeks. They were able to capture audio and video recordings on this expedition. The recordings made by Kellogg in 1935 are still used today in recent searches.

James Tanner went back to Singer Tract between 1937 and 1939 as part of his dissertation. He was able to study these birds in-depth. In this trip he was able to observe a young woodpecker being raised by its parents for 16 days. Tanner banded this young bird, the only one of its species to ever be banded. He published The Ivory-billed Woodpecker in 1942, which featured his research and two pictures of Jack Kuhk with the chick perched on his arm and head. These were the only 2 pictures of an Ivory-billed juvenile, until a few more were discovered by Tanner’s wife Nancy in 2009.  Tanner traveled a total of 45,000 miles around the southeast, but only ever found the woodpeckers at Singer Tract. He died in 1991, believing that the bird was extinct.

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Jack Kuhk with the young Ivory-billed on his shoulder (Photograph taken by James Tanner in 1938, via smithsonianmag.com

There many still be hope though. Scientists are still looking, and there have been sightings in the past 20 years. The Cornell Lab searched for the woodpeckers in 2002 in Louisiana with no luck. In 2004 Gene Sparling, an Arkansas native, spotted one while kayaking in Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. This sparked interested again, so Tim Gallagher (from the Cornell Lab) and Bobby Harrison of Oakwood College in Alabama went down to “The Big Woods” in Arkansas to investigate. They sucessfully spotted one on that trip. Other employees and students of the Lab have made trips to Arkansas as well and may have seen the woodpeckers too. A search for the Cuban Ivory-billed took place in January 2016 by Tim Gallagher and Martjan Lammertink, but they yielded no results.

So the question remains: does the Ivory-billed still exist? Studies are ongoing, and at the moment there is not enough data for scientists to agree on this predicament. Only time will tell if this elusive species will be resurrected from the dead once again. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a lesson in how human carelessness can cause destruction far beyond what we anticipate in our environment. From this experience we can learn just how important conservation is to all species. Hopefully this Ivory-billed Woodpecker can be found again one day. In the meantime, it will remain a mystery.

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A male Ivory-billed Woodpecker in 1935, taken by Arthur A. Allen

 

To learn more check out the following links:

The Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Heads to Cuba by Audubon

The Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

A Close Encounter with the Rarest Bird by Stephen Lyn Bales for Smithsonian Magazine

Living on the Edge

“Does losing one more bird matter?”

This question was asked by author Deborah Cramer in her book The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey.

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(Image via amazon.com)

In The Narrow Edge, Cramer explores this question through documenting the journey of the Red Knot, a tiny shorebird. She focuses on Calidris Canutus rufa, one of the six subspecies of Red Knots worldwide. The rufa species uses most of the Atlantic Flyway for their migration route from South America to the Arctic. It’s an extremely long journey – around 19,000 miles round trip- and a dangerous one. Cramer sets out to learn about the obstacles the Red Knots face by traveling the migration route with them.

The journey begins on the beach of  Bahía Lomas in Tierra del Fuego, located at the southern end of South America. She refers to this place as the first “rung on the ladder” for the Knot’s epic migration. From the start, the population of rufas is lower than in the past. They continue up the coast, briefly stopping in Brazil to refuel before landing in Delaware Bay.

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A Red Knot at Delaware Bay (Image by Bill Dalton via conservewildlifenj.org)

Although our trip started with Red Knots, there is another creature involved. Enter the horseshoe crab. Considered “living fossils” by some, and have changed very little in the last 445 million years. Red Knots rely eating the horseshoe crab’s eggs to help them complete their migration to the Arctic. However, horseshoe crab populations on the East Coast of the United States have been decimated over the years, due to being used as bait, fertilizer, and for biomedical research.

Horseshoe crab’s blood is copper-based (and therefore blue), as opposed to our iron-based blood. Scientist learned that horseshoe crab’s blood is highly sensitive to endotoxins. Amebocytes from their blood is used for the endotoxin  detector LAL (limulus amebocyte lysate). Humans rely on the crab’s blood to make sure medicines and devices such as IVs are free from harmful bacteria.

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© Hans Hillewaert via wikipedia.com

Delaware Bay use to overflow with horseshoe crabs and shorebirds, but the last few decades have been much quieter. Cramer discovers this is having an impact on how many shorebirds make it to the Arctic, a region already threatened tremendously by climate change. Cramer spends 3 1/2 weeks with a team of scientists tracking shorebird nests in the Arctic, then heads back south to James Bay, Ontario. This is where she ends her migration trip, but journey continues for the Red Knots.

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Red Knots and Horseshoe Crabs in Georgia (Image by Brad Winn, Manomet via shorebirdscience.org)

The Narrow Edge is a fascinating book. Cramer presents the struggle of the Red Knots and horseshoe crabs by combining history, scientific evidence, and personal stories (from herself and other). She doesn’t just focus on Red Knots and horseshoe crabs, however. When she asks if losing another bird matters, she reminds the reader that every species is interconnected, a notion that many humans tend of forget.

She goes on to say, “The loss of a bird can reverberate through a food web, touching its many strands in ways we have only begun to measure.”

The loss of any species, whether or not they are birds, can have a negative impact on the rest of the ecosystem in which it lives. So many animals and plants in the natural world are living on the edge, just like the Red Knots and horseshoe crabs that Cramer writes about. She brings up many ecological and conservation issues, such as the value of the natural world to humans, ocean acidification, global warming, and habitat loss. The solutions to these problems are complex, and although Cramer alone cannot offer solutions, she presents what we already know and what is currently being done.

Cramer wants us to remember that humans are interconnected with nature as well.  Our actions do have an impact on all forms of life, from the Red Knots to the tiniest insects to the largest mammals. Although the stakes are high, horseshoe crabs and Red Knots continue to persist the best they can. Through Cramer’s cautious warning, there is a glimmer of hope. If conservation of all life becomes more of a focus, maybe someday we can persist like the Red Knots and create a healthier Earth.

 

(If you want more information about the Red Knots and climate change in addition to the book, you can check out an article written by Deborah Cramer for the May/June 2016 issue of Audubon Magazine. It’s called Red Knots are Battling Climate Change- On Both Ends of the Earth.)