A December Three Species Shorebird Day

A couple of things.  First, not one of the shorebirds was a Killdeer. And second, as you might have guessed, I wasn’t in Indiana.

Over the holidays we usually spend a few days with relatives in Connecticut. And as is my usual practice I spent the 26th walking along the Atlantic Ocean.  I don’t really care where, I just want to be birding the ocean for a day. It’s a good chance to see several species that I don’t usually get to see.  And it was even more important this year since, like the rest of the northern US, the reservoir that my relatives live on was devoid of waterfowl. Most years I get to spend time studying loons and gulls on their reservoir, but not this year. So to the beach.

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Not much happening on the local reservoir. Canton CT 12/24/15

With less birds moving south I decided to visit closer beaches in southern Connecticut instead of driving north of Boston as I have done a couple of times. Which means less chance for something uncommon but always a good day to be out.

To the beach.

I spent most of the day at Sherwood Island State Park outside Westport, CT.  From there you can easily Long Island across the sound.

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A power station on the New York side of Long Island Sound. About 12 miles across. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

The first birds encountered were gulls, of course, but I immediately saw some shorebirds on an old pier.  First thought was the expected DUNLIN but a closer look and they were RUDDY TURNSTONES. They weren’t moving much. They seemed cold even in the unusual warm 50 degree weather?

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From the distance I initially thought these were the expected Dunlin. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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A closer view shows they were Ruddy Turnstones. Even in bad light the bright, orange legs stand out. Not an uncommon species in CT in winter. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

And the expected Gulls

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A Great Black-backed Gull leisurely flies past. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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And a Herring Gull kept giving the long call about something, though I never figured out what. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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Not many birds on the land portion of the park but I did have a Song Sparrow jump out. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

On these jaunts I rarely see people since the temperature is usually in the 10’s to – 20’s. But this year it was in the a fore-mentioned 50’s so there were numerous people out walking dogs or kids trying out new bikes.  So I headed to the other end of the beach. Not much happening there except a large raft of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and the occasional LONG-TAILED DUCK flying by in the distance.

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The center part of the long raft of Red-breasted Mergansers strung out along the shore. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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Several came close enough for a good view. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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And sometimes you just wonder. What would a piece of watermelon be doing on a beach in winter? Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

Time to head to the other 2 beaches I frequent on my trips to Connecticut.

First was South Beach in Stratford. With the wind out of the east and blowing right into the beach, not much there.  I have been there before during calm seas and have seen numerous waterfowl that I usually don’t get a chance to see.

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The waves wind and waves were coming straight into South Beach. Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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But across the channel were numerous gulls – Great Black-backed, Herring, and Ring-billed. Too bad I didn’t have my spotting scope. South Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

I checked out the gulls and on to the other beach in Stratford – Long Beach.

It was now getting late in the afternoon and with cloudy skies it was getting dark. I walked the beach checking the gulls and waterfowl flying by. On the second breakwall there were a flock of shorebirds.  The expected DUNLIN!  And mixed in were several SANDERLING.

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Mainly Dunlin, but the obviously whitish, grayer Sanderling mixed in on the breakwall. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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The gulls don’t seem to bother the shorebirds. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

 

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One of the Dunlins decided to give a good view of its wing pattern. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

The DUNLIN were as inactive as the RUDDY TURNSTONES had been but the SANDERLING in their normal behavior couldn’t sit still.  It was fun to watch them run along the beach picking at things.

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A few photos of one of the Sanderlings picking and running along the beach. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

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When I turned to head back I saw a flock of small birds land in the grass along the beach. It had to be SNOW BUNTINGS. And they were really tough to see in the grass. No wonder Mike and I couldn’t see them along the shore of Lake Michigan.  They are tough to see.

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Snow Buntings being super camouflaged. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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Where’s Waldo?
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Finally one of the Snow Buntings came out in the open. Still darn tough to see. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

And with a slight rain beginning to fall I called the end to another winter Connecticut Beach walk.

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Ring-billed Gull thought it would pose for a photo right before I got in the car. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

 

 

Endangered Species Lists – Local to Global

Over the last few posts I’ve covered some topics related to our locally threatened species. I referenced H. David Bohlen’s study of the birds of Sangamon County IL for 40 years and then compared his results to a list of local birds over 30 years. But what species do “major” organizations think are our troubled birds?

If you are like me you can probably name most of the species on your local endangered list. But I was, and I think you will be too, surprised by a couple of species on the lists.

First let me say that there are many different organizations listing birds in decline. If you Google “endangered bird species” you will come up with many organizations with several lists. Many more groups than I thought. And each has its own classification and birds.

But I chose to use one global list, one national list, and one local list from organizations that I see referenced often.  Plus I also included the past report of the US State of the Birds Report.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species- commonly known as the Red List

The State of the Birds Report 2014 – United States of America

USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service) Endangered Species

Indiana Department of Natural Resources Endangered Species

Each organization uses different criteria to put a species on their list. For example the IUCN has a complex system to put a species on one of their nine Red List categories. That policy is stated in their 38 page file entitled “IUCN RED LIST CATEGORIES AND CRITERIA“.  The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has a shorter two page document entitled “Listing Species as Threatened or Endangered”. The State of the Birds has a paragraph on their “Watch List“. And the Indiana DNR includes their own and the USFWS criteria on their “Endangered and Special Concern Species” page. I’ll leave it to the reader to review each group’s criteria.

But keep in mind that each organization’s criteria is based on the scale they reference. From global to local.  And the result is that this change in criteria means that each list will have different species. Which gives the surprising results that I stated earlier.

First we’ll look at the Indiana DNR list which also includes the USFWS ratings in parenthesis. If you have been birding for any length of time in the Midwest and have talked to people birding for years, none of the species on the list should come as a surprise.

Indiana DNR and USFWS List

State Endangered                  Special Concern

Trumpeter Swan                               Ruffed Grouse
American Bittern                               Great Egret
Least Bittern                                      Mississippi Kite
Black-crowned Night-Heron           Bald Eagle
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron         Sharp-shinned Hawk
Osprey                                                Red-shouldered Hawk
Northern Harrier                              Broad-winged Hawk
Black Rail                                            Sandhill Crane
King Rail                                             American Golden-Plover
Virginia Rail                                       Solitary Sandpiper
Common Gallinule                            Greater Yellowlegs
Whooping Crane (FE)                       Ruddy Turnstone
Piping Plover (FE)                            Rufa Red Knot (FT)
Upland Sandpiper                             Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Least Tern (FE)                                Short-billed Dowitcher
Black Tern                                        Wilson’s Phalarope
Barn Owl                                           Common Nighthawk
Short-eared Owl                              Eastern Whip-poor-will
Loggerhead Shrike                          Peregrine Falcon
Sedge Wren                                      Black-and-white Warbler
Marsh Wren                                     Worm-eating Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler                 Hooded Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler (FE)                 Western Meadowlark
Cerulean Warbler
Henslow’s Sparrow
Yellow-headed Blackbird

FE – FEDERALLY ENDANGERED

FT – FEDERALLY THREATENED

State of Birds 2014 List – Indiana Species

YELLOW WATCH LIST                     RED WATCH LIST

American Golden-Plover                    Black Rail
American Woodcock                            Piping Plover (Great Lakes)
Black-billed Cuckoo                             Red Knot (N. Am. pop)
Bobolink
Canada Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Dunlin
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Golden-winged Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
King Rail
Lesser Yellowlegs
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Pectoral Sandpiper
Prairie Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Red-headed Woodpecker
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Wood Thrush

And now for the IUCN’s Red List for Indiana. Remember that “Assessments on the IUCN Red List are of extinction risk at the global scale”, not just our local level. Which lead to some surprises for me.

IUCN Red List for Indiana

Near Threatened                             Vulnerable

Henslow’s Sparrow                        Cerulean Warbler
Semipalmated Sandpiper             Rusty Blackbird
Buff-breasted Sandpiper              Horned Grebe
Chimney Swift
Northern Bobwhite
Wood Thrush
Red-headed Woodpecker
Golden-winged Warbler
Bell’s Vireo

Chimney Swift? Wood Thrush? Horned Grebe? Semipalmated Sandpiper?

Who would have initially thought these local or locally migrating birds would have been on the IUCN’s Red List?

But on second thought the migrating Semipalmated Sandpiper really isn’t a surprise since other sandpipers are under pressure. But the other three? We see them at the appointed time of year and usually in good numbers. Are they really threatened?

And that is the advantage of having a global organization look at endangered species. 

It’s just like my earlier post about Turtle Doves. Where field biologists are currently seeing roosts of 35,000 Turtle Doves on their winter grounds just a few years ago there were roosts of 100,000’s. If I really think about it, similar things are probably happening to the Chimney Swift, Wood Thrush, and Horned Grebe.

Which made those species being on the list a surprise. And those surprises will lead into the next blog on endangered species.

A Fox and a Wren

I thought I would take a break from posting on the local endangered species and recap the past weekend.

Since I knew I would be birding all day Sunday on the Johnson County CBC I only went out Saturday afternoon for a couple of hours.  Mainly to walk.

A Fox

Birding was slow at Franklin Township Community Park but I had a rare encounter with a RED FOX. When I arrived in late afternoon it was lying in the grass out to the east. I watched it stand up, lie down, check me out, lie down again, and finally trot away. No telling how long it had been out in the open. It was wary but not overly so.  It was good to watch an animal I hardly encounter.

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The Red Fox was low in the grass when I first arrived. As seen in the next photo I think it was eyeing a treat. Franklin Township Community Park 12/19/15
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I enlarged and cropped this photo but still couldn’t tell what was hanging from the fox’s mouth. A snack?

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A Wren

As usual Jules and I covered the SE section of the Johnson County CBC.  We had little problem calling in EASTERN SCREECH OWLS or hearing the calls of GREAT HORNED OWL. But BARRED OWL was missed by all groups. Either the species is getting rarer in this area or I’m just not timing it right. I will put some emphasis on it for next year.

Otherwise waterfowl was basically non-existent. But the lack of cold that drive waterfowl south meant that other species were still hanging around. The total for the complete count was about average with 59 species. Jules and I totaled 41 species which is about average for our part of the circle.

Highlights for us were a PIED-BILLED GREBE, migrating SANDHILL CRANES, lingering WILSON SNIPE, the above mentioned owls, YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, and several BROWN CREEPERS. We had a lone BROWN-HEADED HORSEBIRDCOWBIRD, a tough bird to find locally in winter.  The bird was following a horse continually around its pin.  A funny thing to watch.

But the highlight was a singing WINTER WREN.  We still hadn’t heard a CAROLINA WREN when I heard a bird trilling.  I told Jules there is our Carolina but when it trilled again I knew it was a Winter Wren.  It didn’t take long before the little brown blob came into view and then continued to flit about and sing.  We watched it for several minutes as I attempted to take a photo in the poor light.

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The best photo of the Winter Wren I could muster in the poor light. It even sat out in the open singing for several minutes. Irwin Park 12/20/15

It eventually flew away and we continued on.  It then started singing from a different spot and gave good views.  And I’m almost sure there was a second one calling down the river. But not 100%.

This was Jules first and only the second Winter Wren I have seen in Indiana, so it was a special treat.

 

 

Observations on Local Species Loss Over 30 Years

Recently I presented H. David Bohlen’s A Study of the Birds of Sangamon County, Illinois 1970–2010.  In it he reviews his 40 year survey of birds of the Springfield, IL area.  If you haven’t read it please go back and read the sections I recommend.

In it he notes species that have disappeared over the last 40 years. By looking at data from my local area I can draw some of the same conclusions.

I reached out to Ken Brock and he was kind enough to supply me with 5300 sightings from Atterbury FWA  for the last 40 years. The list included Boyd Gill’s list of species seen at Atterbury FWA in the 1980’s. For those of you that don’t know Ken, check out this link.

Following is an excerpt from page xxx from Bohlen’s CONCLUSION noting disappearing species during his 40 year study in Sangamon County.

“It is greatly lamented that the following interesting and unique species seemingly disappeared or were extirpated as breeders as well as migrants (in many cases). Most had low populations even at the beginning of the study. They include the following species:

Pied-billed Grebe
Least Bittern
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
King Rail
Virginia Rail
Sora
Common Moorhen
Upland Sandpiper
Black-billed Cuckoo
Whip-poor-will
Brown Creeper
Bewick’s Wren
Loggerhead Shrike
Cerulean Warbler
Western Meadowlark

Many of the above species need marsh habitat or have other special requirements (Species Status Change List, Appendix D). Some populations could recover because there are still migrants in Illinois, though most are rare. There seemed to be no plans for recovery at least in this County.”

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Loggerhead Shrike is one of declining species in both Illinois and Indiana. As far as I know the only reliable spot to see one in Northern Illinois was Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Photo taken there 5/30/2009

In Appendix D he notes the 111 species in decline but I thought I’d just compare the 15 species noted above to the Atterbury list from the 1980’s to my observations from the last three years of birding Atterbury pretty intensively.

Atterbury FWA
1980’s
2013-2015
Pied-billed Grebe
seen but no summer records
seen but no summer records
Least Bittern
9 records
no sightings
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
2 records
no sightings
King Rail
10 records
no sightings
Virginia Rail
17 records
no sightings
Sora
seen but no summer records
seen but no summer records
Common Moorhen
10 records
no sightings
Upland Sandpiper
40 records
no sightings
Black-billed Cuckoo
16 records
2 in 3 years
Whip-poor-will
6 records
no sightings
Brown Creeper
5 records
3 records
Bewick’s Wren
no sightings
no sightings
Loggerhead Shrike
3 records – early 80’s
no sightings
Cerulean Warbler
18 records
9 records
Western Meadowlark
no sightings
no sightings – but doesn’t come this far east

By observing the table you can see the same loss as Bohlen observed in Sangamon County. Of the 13 species sighted in the 1980’s I have only seen 5 of those species.

Bohlen also notes and describes losing some key habitat in Sangamon County.  I can note similar loss in Johnson County/Atterbury.

My guess is that the marsh at Atterbury was once vibrant.  It is now mainly thick vegetation and is basically overgrown and dead.

I’m told Atterbury used to contain many areas of grasslands.  Those grasslands are now farmed. Here is the only link I found to explain why they are now farmed.

The loss of those two habitats – marsh and grasslands – would account for the loss of most of the species noted above.

Can the lost species come back?  Bohlen thinks not in Sangamon County and I would agree in this part of Indiana.  But that’s a discussion for another post.

So next, what local species are on the various wildlife federations endangered lists?

More Local Habitat Loss

Previously I reviewed H. David Bohlen’s A Study of the Birds of Sangamon County, Illinois 1970–2010. In it he shares his conclusions on monitoring birds in Springfield IL over the last 40 years.

One of his main points is the loss of habitat in Sangamon County over the last 40 years.  As noted before I have only lived in the Indianapolis area for a couple of years but can see the same effects that Bohlen noted.  It isn’t too hard to see all the housing and businesses that were built before things slowed down in 2008. The loss of habitat over the last 50 years has had to be great.

Even more recently I learned that another of my better birding areas was going to be developed into a retail area. As you know I like to bird close to home. And the best local spot for grassland birds is the undeveloped SE corner of Interstate 65 and County Line Rd. in Greenwood.

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Not much to look at in winter but in summer it is a pretty good grassland area. It still has plenty of sparrows even in winter. I-65 & County Line Rd. – Johnson County – 11/22/15
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There are often raptors sitting in the tree line to the south. I-65 & County Line Rd. – Johnson County – 11/22/15

It has been left dormant for years and several grassland species can be found there – good numbers of Savanna Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark for example.  And the other expected sparrows – Song, White-throated, and White-crowned in season.  Dickcissels frequent the area in summer along with Killdeer which are always running around.  On every visit I see raptors hunting the area. And I even saw a Rough-legged Hawk last winter.

Mike told me that the area was scheduled to be developed into a shopping area back in the 2000’s but was called off with the economic slowdown several years ago. Now it seems it is going to happen.

http://www.indystar.com/story/money/2015/10/28/retail-center-planned-former-cabelas-site-greenwood/74729910/

So what will happen to the meadowlarks and sparrows? There is a smaller area a mile south that has similar habitat but it already houses those species and probably can’t sustain more numbers. Hopefully the birds from this area will disperse and breed elsewhere. But the odds are they will live out their lives without finding suitable habitat and not breed.

Which means loss of more birds.

Review: A Study of the Birds of Sangamon County, Illinois 1970–2010

Previously I discussed the decision of the IUNC of moving the Turtle Dove from vulnerable to extinction in the mid-term and how it got me thinking about which of our Midwest birds might be endangered.

And when it comes to reading on-line articles I hardly ever read an article in its entirety.  I skim.  And I think that’s what most people do.

But I have read the first 30 pages of H. David Bohlen’s A Study of the Birds of Sangamon County, Illinois 1970–2010 at least 3 times in the last year and haven’t skimmed it once. That’s how good it is.

Study - Sangamon County

Most of the information I have about the status of birds in the Midwest comes from his study. There is also a second part with photos to support the first – “A Study of the Birds of Sangamon County, Illinois 1970–2010 Part 2“.

It summarizes his surveying the Greater Springfield, IL area for 40 years. If you study his charts you’ll see that for many years he was in the field over 350 days, 7 hours a day. He sums up his work in pages i-xxxv and then goes into the individual species accounts.

It’s an intriguing read that sums up what I think we all know is going on with birds in the Midwest. He lists species that are declining or gone and ones that have increased, in some cases dramatically, over the last 40 years.

While reading the article remember this really isn’t just about Sangamon County IL but any Midwest county that has grown over the last 50 years. I have only lived in Indiana for 3 years but I see the same results in the Greater Indianapolis area. Maybe not the exact species but close.

In particular read his METHODS starting on page xix and SPECIES ACCOUNTS starting on page xxv.

But most importantly read his CONCLUSIONS starting on page xxix. I know I haven’t read everything on conservation but his conclusions, especially the POSTSCRIPT, is the best summation of the current situation in the Midwest.

The Postscript describes the slow decrease of birds towards end of his study, the destruction of habitat, and the importance of preserves.

There is nothing I can add to his report.  He sums up the situation succinctly, if not somewhat depressingly.

I’ll come back to his study’s results when I discuss Indiana’s endangered species.

 

“What if there were 100,000’s?”

This has been bothering me for sometime.

I go out and watch birds. I record my results in eBird. I participate in Christmas Bird Counts and Big May Day Counts. I helped plant trees at an Audubon site back in Illinois one spring. I’ve donated money to conservation organizations. All in the hopes that in someway it will be beneficial to birds.

But I don’t feel it is enough. There has got to be more.

What can I do to help birds and their constant pressures from man? How can I really help?

The media has covered the success stories on the recovery of certain species and their removal from endangered lists. But the stories are usually about the poster children of the birdworld. The Bald Eagles or Peregrine Falcons. Great success stories both. But what about the other 10,000 species?

If you have followed this blog you know I switched jobs earlier this year. And with that came travel. One of the things I do to pass the time is to listen to birding podcasts. I have listened to a couple of US birding podcasts and they were interesting.

Then I found the U.K. based Talking Naturally.  As the tagline says “it is a fortnightly podcast discussing birds, wildlife, conservation and whatever else interests us and we think will interest you.” Even though the topics it discusses are UK-based I didn’t have any problem relating to the birds or topics.

Then the November 6 issue aired and the recent reclassification by the IUCN of the TURTLE DOVE from Vulnerable to Extinction in the medium-term was discussed. According to the website the Turtle Dove “has declined by 90% in the UK since the 1970’s, with the species going into free-fall in the past decade, with numbers falling by a further 77%. Is it too late to save a beloved summer visitor? Of course not.”

Turtle Dove
European Turtle Dove – Wikipedia – Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 – Uploaded by Yuvalr –  4 June 2010

There was one line in the podcast that stood out. Around minute 13:30 the host Charlie Moores and Jamie Wyver of the RSPB were discussing field biologist’s observations of Turtle Doves on their winter range in Senegal.  The biologists had found a roosting site of 35,000 Turtle Doves, which both agreed was a good number. But Jamie had a couple of points about that number. One, it is still twice as many Turtle Doves than are now found in the UK. And two,

“What if that one roost had hosted 100,000’s like they have historically?”

He then made the analogy to the Passenger Pigeon. And that really made me sit up and think.

With some minor ups and downs we see the same local birds in basically the same numbers from year to year.  But do we really know if one of our local species numbers is in free-fall?

I figured “someone” out there is keeping track so I was going to find out and see what I can do to help.

And so I’m going to start blogging about my journey into what I found out about our local endangered species.  And hopefully at the end I’ll know how I can help.

Next: No better place to start than with H. David Bohlen’s A Study of the Birds of Sangamon County, Illinois 1970–2010.