Ready to Count Some Birds?

Are you ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count? It’s only a few days away!

The 21st annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is Friday, February 16 to Monday, February 19. This worldwide citizen science project is organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership with the National Audubon Society.

Participating is easy as 1-2-3!

  1. Pick any location.
  2. Spend at least 15 minutes in that location and count as many birds as you can.
  3. Submit your findings on ebird.org

And voilà! You just had tons of fun and helped scientists at the same time!

Wait…how did you help scientists?

The data that you submit on eBird is used by scientists to keep track of  bird populations in real time. The count takes place in February so ornithologists can see where birds are before spring migration occurs. The data collected also helps them understand how weather/climate change/diseases affect the timing of migration and  to observe the avian biodiversity in different habitats around the world. As data builds up each year, scientists are able to compare how populations have been influenced over a longer period of time.

In 2017, birders from over 100 countries reported more than 6,200 species of birds in the 4-day period. That’s over half of the world’s bird species!

I can’t wait to see what the 2018 GBBC brings. I will be reporting the findings of our bird count throughout the weekend as I have done in past years. I hope you’ll join me and the thousands of other birders this weekend for this awesome event!

Find out more at gbbc.birdcount.org. Let me know in the comments if you plan to participating!

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Photo courtesy of the gbbc.birdcount.org

 

 

 

 

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Happy Bird Day!

Today, January 5, is National Bird Day! It’s a day to celebrate the lives of our avian friends and promote awareness of critical issues that birds face.

In honor of this day, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Birdlife International, and National Geographic announced that 2018 is the Year of the Bird.

2018 is the centennial year of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the law that protects migratory birds of North America. The four conservation organization, plus another hundred or so participating groups, will be spreading awareness of avian issues to the public through multiple outlets all year.

How can you get involved in the Year of the Bird?

One of the goals of Year of the Bird is to educate that public that small, meaningful actions to help birds can make a huge difference.

You can sign the pledge to receive the Year of the Bird newsletter. Each month, you’ll receive an e-mail that will give you ideas on steps you can take to help birds. You can sign the pledge at the official Year of the Bird website:

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

And don’t forget to spread the word to your friends and family in person and with the hashtag #birdyourworld on social media.

I hope you can join the cause! The birds are worth it 🙂

Happy Bird Day!

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Yellow-rumped Warbler (Image by David Horowitz)

 

 

 

My New Avian Journey

So yesterday, I teased that I would be starting a new bird-related journey soon. Well, without further ado:

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I will be taking the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Comprehensive course in Bird Biology!

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, I’m sure you know that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of my favorite places. It’s one of my main sources of avian information and we even took our 2016 vacation to Ithaca, NY specifically to go birding at the Lab (you can read about that here and here). As a Lab member, I’ve spent countless hours on their website reading articles, watching videos, taking webinars, and watching bird cams.

So when I learned about their Bird Biology class, I knew I had to take it. My dream is to be a Conservation Biologist/Environmental Scientist/Ornithologist, which is why when I’m not at my non-science related full-time job, I’m taking night/summer classes as a biology major. But when I found out about the Lab’s course, I knew it would exactly what I needed to start moving forward with my goals.

The Lab’s Bird Biology course is a university-level self-study course that anyone interesting in birds can take. The course was developed was by one of my favorite ornithologists, Dr. Kevin McGowan, as well as Dr. Sarah Wagner. (Side note: I took a webinar with Kevin McGowan a few winters ago: Odd Ducks and Wandering Waterfowl. If you’re interested in identification courses I recommend checking out his classes/webinars). The course consists of using the textbook (pictured above) and online resources, as well as multiple tests and quizzes for each chapter.

Pretty much anything you would want to know about birds can be found in this course. Topics covered throughout the 700-page book include anatomy, evolution, migration, vocal behavior, social behavior, ecology of populations, and flight to name a few topics. I’m so excited to dive even further into the avian world and share some of the information I learn with you!

If your interesting in learning about the Cornell Lab’s Bird Biology course check out their website.

 

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

 

 

Great Backyard Bird Count 2017 Day 1!

The Great Backyard Bird Count has begun! I got out of work a little earlier today, so Dave and I went to Amico Island. It was about 40 degrees at the time, so 20 degrees warmer than Day 1 last year. We didn’t get too many pictures because of the sun was setting and washing everything out, but we did what we could.

Upon entering the park, we heard some Mourning Doves and the conk-la-ree! of male Red-winged Blackbirds. Male and female Red-winged Blackbirds migrate separately. The males arrive at the breeding grounds a few weeks before the females in order to establish a territory. They tend to start migrating mid-February and usually arrive up north by March, so the 5 males we saw got a head start. Guess the early bird gets the territory (sorry, I had to haha :-p).  

We walked the blue loop that goes through the forest along Dredge Harbor first. Along the way we spotted Carolina Wrens, a large flock of Ring-billed Gulls, a Double-crested Cormorant, Downy Woodpeckers, a Tufted Titmouse, American Robins, Song Sparrows, European Starlings, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. I even heard my first Gray Catbird (my favorite) of the year, but didn’t actually see it.

Remember the Great Blue Heron rookery that we would watch last year? The herons were back and getting their nests established. We weren’t able to see the back end of the island, but from our view could spot at least 32 Great Blue Herons. They seemed to be pretty relaxed for the most part, either sitting on their nests or standing around.

Then the trouble started. A juvenile Bald Eagle appeared and flew towards the rookery island. The herons started yelling and flying away from their nests in a large group. But that wasn’t all! Once the juvenile landed in one of the trees, 2 adult Bald Eagles showed up. The herons continued to yell and circle the island, while the adult eagles made loud high-pitched whistles. One adult eagle landed near the juvenile, while the second adult sat down in a nest right below the other one. Once the Bald Eagles settled down, the Great Blue Herons returned to their nests. What a spectacle!

(Sorry that this is not the best quality picture. The rookery is just slightly too far out for our current lens, so this was the best we could get until we buy a new lens that zooms in farther. I chose to post it though because you can see all 3 Bald Eagles together)

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3 Bald Eagles at the heron rookery (Image by David Horowitz)

Then we realized something. Last year, we saw a Bald Eagle hanging out near some Great Blue Herons in that same tree (see image below). At that time, nobody seemed to phased and the 3 birds just sat there together. We began to wonder: does a pair of bald eagles nest in the heron rookery? After a little research I found that sometimes Bald Eagles will nest in the same tree as a Great Blue Heron colony, but it’s unclear why. The nest did look a little bigger, so it’s a possibly, especially since one of the eagles was sitting in it. Bald Eagles tend to return to the same nest site each year. We’ll just have to find out if these Bald Eagles nest here in the coming months.

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Great Blue Herons and a Bald Eagle 2016 (Image by BirdNation)

 

Other birds we saw were Common Mergansers, a large flock of Common Loons, Bufflehead, and Herring Gulls.

Here’s the official Day 1 count:

  • 12 Canada Geese
  • 2 Mallards (male and female pair)
  • 6 Bufflehead (4 male, 2 female)
  • 3 Common Mergansers (2 male 1 female)
  • 15 Common Loons
  • 1 Double-crested Cormorant
  • 32 Great Blue Heron
  • 3 Bald Eagles (1 juvenile, 2 adults)
  • 200 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 10 Herring Gulls
  • 10 Mourning Doves
  • 3 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Carolina Chickadee
  • 1 Tufted Titmouse
  • 6 Carolina Wrens
  • 1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • 17 American Robins
  • 4 Song Sparrows
  • 1 Northern Cardinal (male)
  • 5 Red-winged Blackbirds

It was a great way to start off the Bird Count weekend, especially with 32 Great Blue Herons and 3 Bald Eagles! Tomorrow I’m off to Haddon Lake Park to continue my tradition of doing the bird count at that location (not in 18 degree weather this time). I’ll be going with my mom, sister, and my original bird teacher, Maria. See you tomorrow!

To read Day 1 of the 2016 bird count, click on this link.

It’s Almost Time!

Time for what?

The 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count!

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The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a worldwide citizen-science project run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. The goal of the count is to help scientists track changes in bird populations. Data collected from the GBBC will help scientists investigate how weather, climate, migration patterns, and diseases are impacting bird populations from all over the globe. Here’s the best part about it: anyone can participate.

When does the Great Backyard Bird Count begin?

The GBBC takes places every year for 4 days the 3rd weekend of February. This year the count is Friday, February 17 to Monday, February 20.  Why February? It gives scientist the opportunity to find out about the distribution of bird species before the spring migration begins in March.

How do I participate?

Participating is free, easy, and fun! Like I said earlier, this bird count is global so you can participate in any country.

  1. Pick a location. It doesn’t have to even be your backyard, anywhere will do.
  2. Count all the bird species you see for 15 minutes or more. I suggest making a list to track the names of your species and the totals of each.
  3. Submit your data on eBird. ebird.org is the website the Cornell Lab and Audubon use to gather the data you send them. Creating an eBird account is quick, easy, and free. Once you make an account you can add your lists from the GBBC, as well as pictures. It’s also great because once the GBBC is over you can continue to submit data if you like to keep lists from you birding trips. eBird also keeps track of your life list, and you can see what other birders are finding in your area.
  4. Go birding as many times you want, for as long as you want, throughout the 4-day weekend.

That’s it! This is my 3rd year participating in the GBBC. Like last year, I will be birding all 4 days, and will report my counts for you here on the blog. Here in New Jersey, the bird count weekend always tends to fall on the coldest weekend of the year (last year we went to Forsythe to do the wildlife drive in 10 degree weather!). However, this year the New Jersey temperatures will be in the 40s and 50s. I’m curious to see how my counts will differ from 2016.

Speaking of 2016, over 163,000 people from 130 countries submitted over 162,000 checklists and counted 5,689 bird species. That’s over half of the world’s bird species and totaled to over 18 million individual birds! 

If you would like to learn more information, check out the Great Backyard Bird Count website.

We have the opportunity as birders to top that number this year, so I hope you participate. It’s going to be a great weekend!

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