Wednesday, April 15, 2009
A total of 51 species were recorded. The only FOS (first of season) bird recorded was Yellow-rumped Warbler, with 7 recorded on 14 April. Other highlights included four Ring-necked Ducks on Fairlane Lake on 13 April, a flyover Peregrine Falcon on 14 April, and a lingering Red-breasted Nuthatch all week.
There are a handful of Pine Siskins around, and most are hanging around the pine trees by the estate. I've seen them chasing each other around and engaging in courtship flight, so they may be nesting there.
Brown Creepers can be fairly common, if unobtrusive, spring migrants here, but two have been seen consistently for several weeks near the Rouge River on the north end of campus. We do have nesting records here, so perhaps these are also breeders.
There have been a few Hermit Thrushes and a couple of Winter Wrens, but now they are starting to sing, which is quite a treat. The warm weather is supposed to begin tomorrow, so I expect many more first arrivals in the coming days. I'll be out of town this weekend, but the surveys will be well-handled by Jim Fowler and Jerry Sadowski.
Monday, April 13, 2009
I started my daily spring bird surveys last week. I follow a standardized route, and I put my results into eBird, where you can view them by selecting View and Explore Data, Week Report (choose a date), Hotspots in Michigan. Note that there are multiple listings for the natural area here on campus, because other people also put their sightings into eBird. My survey route hotspot is UM--Dearborn--Rouge River Bird Observatory.
Nearly every day, I do extensions to my standard route. I also put these in eBird, but they are not public hotspots. Results are included in daily totals, and I report highlights on RRBO's Latest Sightings page.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Craves, J. A. 2009. A fifteen-year study of fall stopover patterns of Catharus thrushes at an inland, urban site. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 121:112-118.
You can see the publicly-available abstract and tables at BioOne. I wrote a brief summary of the work last fall here at Net Results.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Even more so than the areas we visited in Panama last year, Finca Esperanza Verde and other shade coffee farms are critical to preserving biodiversity of birds and other wildlife in Nicaragua. We were stunned at the deforestation. It's not due to human development, but to agriculture (mostly non-commercial) and cattle grazing. Shade coffee farms appeared to be one of the only land uses that preserved a lot of trees.
During our brief stay, we counted well over 100 species, including nearly two dozen species of migratory songbirds that breed in North America but winter in the tropics. Over 30 species of migrant songbirds have been recorded at the finca, and the overall bird list is approaching 300 species.We observed or banded several species new to the finca ourselves. We banded about 70 birds of over 30 species at Finca Esperanza Verde. For most of the time, we were banding right in the coffee production area.
taller native trees providing shade and habitat.
first bird you band is a Collared Trogon
The most common North American migrants banded at FEV are Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Worm-eating Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, and Ovenbird. Although we captured multiple individuals of those species, we rarely if ever saw the other species, with the exception of Wood Thrushes, in our birding walks through the finca. On the other hand, Baltimore Orioles, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and Tennessee Warblers were very common in the coffee production areas, but we didn't capture any. This underscores how well banding supplements surveys for censusing an area. Other common North American migrants included Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, and Summer Tanager. The species I've listed in bold are among the 25 priority species targeted by the MoSI program.
Although a limited number of birds have been banded at FEV, especially compared to stations operating for more days per year, between-year recaptures are beginning to occur. North American migrants which have returned to the same tiny areas to spend the winter include Wood Thrush, Wilson's Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Kentucky Warbler. The fact that these birds are showing strong wintering site fidelity emphasizes the importance of habitat preservation in the tropics. By extension, it also suggests that shade coffee is providing habitat that is worth "coming back to" for these migrants, and that the habitat quality is sufficient that the birds were in good enough shape on departure to survive their northbound journey and consequently return the following year.
showing wintering site fidelity at the finca,
being recaptured in multiple winters. We
also found them common in shade coffee farms in
too. Here Curtis shows off a recaptured Spot-
breasted Wren -- he banded this bird
himself at FEV two years previously!
It's pretty cool seeing familiar birds in unfamilar lands, and especially interesting to see Tennessee Warblers sharing a tree with Keel-billed Toucans, or Chestnut-sided Warblers hopping around with Elegant Euphonias (we also called these "Extraordinary," "Superlative,"or "Especially Elaborate" Euphonias). And seeing tropical birds in the hand is even cooler. Only North American migrants received U.S.-issued bird bands. Resident birds got special site-specific bands, since there is no established banding entity in Latin America coordinating the banding programs there. For each resident bird, we took extensive notes on plumage, measurements, and breeding condition. There is no standard reference for how to determine the age and sex of most tropical birds (in fact, there is no field guide for Nicaraguan birds), or detailed information on life cycle events. All of this data is valuable!
birds that I banded. But they sure did bite!
FEV is at the southern edge of their breeding range,
and this was the first recorded for the finca.
The next day, we caught a female.
a tropical member of the vireo family. How about
those orange eyes?
We caught and measured, but did not band, a number of species of hummingbirds. The most common was Long-billed Hermit, shown above. We also handled Violet Sabrewing, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Stripe-throated Hermit, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, and Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds. I've written more about the resident birds we banded, and given some further details on how FEV compares with other shade coffee farms, at my blog Coffee & Conservation -- with more colorful photos, too!
Once again, I am struck by the importance of shade coffee to birds and biodiversity. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, with an unemployment rate over 50%. Outside of the few urban areas, there is little work other than farming. Growing quality coffee under shade in an ecologically responsible way requires a lot of extra work for farmers who are essentially trying to provide for their families after decades of devastating civil war. Many Nicaraguan farmers don't consider the effort worth it -- because consumers are not willing to pay more than a few cents extra for organic or shade-grown coffee.
I can't state it any plainer than this: if you are buying inexpensive, grocery-store coffee you are contributing to the destruction of bird habitat and the decline of migratory songbirds. Bird conservation and great coffee are two of my passions -- and they go hand in hand. That's why I began writing Coffee & Conservation, where you can learn more. On Saturday, May 16, there will be a "Caffeinated Conservation" bird walk here on campus focusing on the connection between coffee and migratory birds; watch the EIC web site for more details.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I'm back from Nicaragua. It was a busy and rewarding trip, and as promised I'll share with you some highlights of the banding we did at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV), a shade coffee farm in the central highlands east of Matagalpa. Although it is a widely used tool in North America, bird banding in Latin America is limited by a severe lack of funding, materials, and trained personnel. This situation should be of concern to bird lovers here in the U.S. -- remember that most of "our" breeding birds spend more time on the ground in the tropics in winter than they do here in the breeding season. Yet very little is know about the winter ecology of our birds in the tropics, or its link to overall population health.
To address these questions, the Institute of Bird Populations (IBP) started a program in 2002 called MoSI (the acronym comes from the Spanish "Monitoreo de Sobrevivencia Invernal" or Monitoring Overwintering Survival). Around 150 bird banding stations are located across the American tropics, and the goal is to learn more about physical condition, habitat use, and survivorship over the winter, and how various factors impact subsequent breeding activity. The protocol for these stations requires banding for five, three-day periods each winter. Currently, there are not enough trained banders in the area to operate a bona fide MoSI station at FEV, but any data on the winter ecology of migrant and resident birds is helpful. At FEV, this was the fifth year of a banding project initiated by John Connors and John Gerwin of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Most people are aware that deforestation is a big problem in Latin America, and much of it is due to agriculture. Coffee is an understory shrub that naturally grows under the shade of other trees. These types of coffee farms provide very good habitat for birds and other biodiversity, often closely resembling the composition of fauna in natural forests. However, in the last decade or so new types of coffee have been developed that can be grown without the protection of shade, in higher densities, and with higher yield. This "sun coffee" not only results in forests being cleared for intensive coffee growing, but these varieties require high levels of fertilizer, pesticide application, and deplete tropical soils. Thousands of acres of forest in Latin America have been cleared for growing "sun coffee." Bird research -- including bird banding -- has helped us understand the importance of shade-grown coffee to migratory and resident birds. I have read a lot of this research, but nothing can quite compare to participating in it myself!
a bird at the "Yellow Trail Banding Station" at
Finca Esperanza Verde.
We joined Curtis Smalling, biologist with North Carolina Audubon and Mariamar Gutierrez, Central American coordinator for MoSI for two days of banding in a section of the coffee farm that had not been maintained in several years. After that, we were joined by Dr. Lynn Moseley and her students from Guilford College for three days of banding in the active coffee production area. During breaks, the students heard short lectures on tropical ecology, birds, and the various uses of banding. Curtis talked about monitoring breeding birds in North Carolina through the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship program, also run by IBP. Mariamar talked about MoSI. And I gave a talk about how I use banding to do stopover ecology research.
ecology with other members of the group from Guilford
campesinos who use this trail to travel between