Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Visitor From Panama

We've had an eventful week. Last Wednesday, May 19, Hernan Arauz, from Panama, arrived at our house. He was in the Delaware Valley area to present programs to local bird clubs: DVOC, Wyncote Audubon and Bucks Birders (Bucks County Bird Club). We had met Hernan in Panama in March of 2009. He was the leader of our tour of that country, sponsored by Caligo Ventures and Ancon Expeditions.

At that time we inquired as to whether Hernan had thought of presenting programs to North American bird clubs. He said that he had given a talk at West Chester Bird Club several years ago, and that he would be most interested in doing more presentations, possibly in conjunction with a "club trip" to Panama some time in the future.

A March 2011 trip had been fully subscribed, through websites of the bird clubs, and announcements at club meetings, before he presented the programs. An April 2011 trip is newly in the works, and has two subscribers already.

Hernan presented his dynamite program at the three bird clubs to enthusiastic reviews. He combined his extensive knowledge of the birds with a thorough knowledge of the geology and history of the country.

We enjoyed our extended contact with Hernan and his daughter Luisa. They left this morning for a short trip to New York City before flying back to Panama. We look forward to our trip to Panama in March 2011. This time we'll venture into the Darien for a wilderness experience.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Watching Warblers Spring 2010

Watching Warblers Spring 2010

It’s latish May, and the warbler migration is just about over. Warblers that nest locally are at work now. Warblers that migrate northward are already on their way, and some have likely reached their destination.

I had “racked up” 23 warbler species at Magee Marsh earlier in the month, and others here in the Delaware Valley. I was anxious to fill in some blanks for this year.

2010 has been a peculiar warbler year here; the migration in April was exceptionally slow. Warbler lovers began to get discouraged. “There aren’t many birds around this year,” was a familiar lament.

Things picked up in May. And last weekend, on Sunday May 16, I had one of my best warbler watching days ever (discounting, of course, birds seen on trips to High Island, TX and Magee Marsh, OH.)

About Sunday: My friend Martin and I drove to Brandywine Creek State Park, DE to look for warblers. It’s about an hour from home. It was a gorgeous spring morning. We got there when the park opened, 8:00 AM, and were greeted right away with the unmistakable “song” of the Yellow-breasted Chat. It took us a while to locate the bird. We knew, from the sound, that it was high in a tree, several layers back. And then the bird took off, circling around and making its loud flight call. We were able to get a good look at it when it settled down on a branch. Bingo! This was a bird I hadn’t yet seen in 2010.

Our next warbler was a tough one to identify. For one thing, it was pretty well hidden by leaves, and its field marks were difficult to see. Martin and I identified it tentatively as a Bay-breasted Warbler, and confirmed it later after checking several field guides. We hadn’t even gotten started down the trails, and we’d seen two good birds.

As we made our way toward the river, we found Wilson’s and Canada Warblers, both new 2010 birds for me, and also the following: Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia (many of these), Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, and Black-and-white Warblers, as well as Northern Parula, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Common Yellowthroat.

Real life commitments caused us to leave before noon, and we were not able to get to the prairie section of the park where we would most likely have seen Prairie and Blue-winged Warblers.

It was a wonderful day. And I wound up with a total of 31 warbler species for spring 2010. A personal best.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wood-warblers at Magee Marsh

Bob and I spent the last few days at Magee Marsh on the shore of Lake Erie, not far from Toledo. We saw lots of migrating birds, including assorted wood-warblers (23 species), thrushes (3 species), vireos, grosbeaks, cuckoos, tanagers and orioles.

The birds pile up here at Magee Marsh because it is one of the few undeveloped places where they can make landfall and find food before they cross Lake Erie to go north to nest. Many of these birds have wintered in the southern United States and in Central and South America.

Most visitors to Magee Marsh, veteran birders as well as rookies, go there for the spring warbler migration. It is possible to see up to 35 species of wood-warbler in the eastern part of the United States during spring and fall migrations. Many of them turn up at Magee Marsh. (9 additional species pass through the states west of the Rocky Mountains.)

Wood-warblers are among the most beautiful of the birds we can see in North America. In breeding plumage many warbler species are stunning: the Cape May Warbler is bright yellow, orange and black; the Black-throated Blue Warbler is a deep blue, black and white; the Blackburnian Warbler has a day-glow orange throat. The sad part of all this is that, even when these birds pass through our neighborhood in eastern Pennsylvania, most people have no idea that they’re here. That’s because so many of these birds sing from the tops of trees, and people do not stop to look for them. At Magee, though, many of these same species can be found at eye level in low bushes and trees.

When the warblers pass through here in Eastern Pennsylvania in the fall, their colors are duller, and sometimes it is difficult to identify them.

Some of the birds passing through Magee were the same species we can see, if we’re lucky, here in and around the Delaware Bay area. This spring I had seen these species before the trip: Yellow Warbler, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated-blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler. All were in small numbers – sometimes just one individual.

At Magee Marsh, there were birds everywhere, most of them singing. We saw all of the above except for Yellow-throated Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush. But we also saw some of the species that do not occur regularly around home: Golden-winged Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler.

Last year, at Magee Marsh, we saw Mourning Warbler and Cerulean Warbler. We were sorry to miss those this year. They are very scarce in areas close to home. Perhaps they turned up at Magee after we’d left.

Of all the amazing things that birds do, to me, their annual migration stands out as the most remarkable. Each bird species has its own timetable and “map”, and knows what to do: where and when to go north, and when to return “home” to its wintering grounds.

Why is it in a bird’s interest to migrate? A bird has four basic needs: food, finding a mate, nesting and raising young. If a warbler were to remain on its wintering grounds throughout the year, it would have to compete with other species for food and nest sites. Over millennia, many bird species have evolved to best cope with these basic needs.

According to the Peterson Field Guide, Warblers, by Jon Dunn and Kimball Garrett, “the most highly migratory wood-warbler, the Blackpoll, breeds across the boreal forests as far north as northwest Alaska and winters mainly east of the Andes in northern south America. In spring its migration is mainly north through peninsular Florida or across the Gulf of Mexico, but the fall migration is quite easterly, with many birds apparently flying well out over the Atlantic from the northeastern states and provinces.”

Magee Marsh is a user-friendly place. Although it gets crowded with birders and photographers during the height of migration, everyone is generally very accommodating and it is always possible to maneuver so as to get a good look at the birds. More experienced birders are always ready to help “rookies” find and identify the birds.

Spring isn’t over yet. There’s still hope. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to catch a few other warbler species that I’ve missed so far this year: Blue-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Canada Warbler.

And then there’s always next year.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Migrating Warblers

Bob and I spent the last few days at Magee Marsh on the shore of Lake Erie, not far from Toledo. We saw lots of birds: assorted warblers (23 species), thrushes (3 species)and other birds.

The birds pile up here at Magee Marsh because it is one of the few places where they can make landfall and find food before they cross Lake Erie to go north to nest. Some of these birds have wintered in Central and South America.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Louisiana Oil Spill

I can't stop thinking about the massive oil spill in Louisiana. The most frightening thing about it is the fact that, in spite of space age technology, they don't know how to shut it off. So it keeps on gushing more and more, hour by hour. The estimate of gallons per hour keeps going up. The cleanup could take years, once they succeed in stopping the flow. So much for the fool-proof new oil rigs! So much for "Drill Baby Drill!" (Haven't heard much from her lately.)

The saltmarsh grasses were already compromised by overdevelopment when Katrina hit Louisiana; this accounted for the severity of the hurricane and storm surge damage. The remaining grasses will be still further destroyed by the oil, and the coastline will be made still more vulnerable.

The abundant wildlife on the Gulf Coast is already feeling the effects. One of the first reported casualties was a Northern Gannet, taken somewhere to be cleaned. Historically this has been mostly a futile effort, but it gives wildlife rehabilitators less of a feeling of helplessness.

Fishermen, shrimpers and crabbers, out of their normal line of work, are lining up to help spread booms to contain the oil. According to a report I heard yesterday on NPR, these people are making $48 an hour to do this. The bad part is that there are not enough booms available to do the job adequately.

I don't know what the long-term solution to all this might be. According to Jad Mouawad's editorial, "The Spill vs. a Need to Drill" in the Sunday, May 2 NY Times, "The country needs the oil - and the jobs... Much has changed since 1969. The nation's demand for oil has surged, rising more than 35 percent over the past four decades, while domestic production has declined by a third. Oil imports have doubled..." leading to more dependence on foreign oil and the intractable political problems that result.

Mouawad goes on to say: "... developing credible, cheap and abundant alternatives to oil will take many decades, and in the meantime, cars need gasoline and planes need kerosene. The United States is still the world's top oil consumer by far."

As they teach in environmental ethics classes, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." We seem to be learning that the hard way.