Tuesday, March 24, 2009

State of the Birds Report Press Release

I usually don't share a press release verbatim, but in this case it is worth reading the whole thing. I also put a button on my sidebar to help promote awareness about the State of the Birds report.

Interestingly enough, I first read about the State of the Birds report on my cell phone since it was featured on the Verizon Wireless "VZW Today" home page on my phone's Web browser.

For Release: March 19, 2009

Secretary Salazar Releases Study Showing Widespread Declines in Bird Populations, Highlights Role of Partnerships in Conservation

Washington, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States, showing that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats.

At the same time, the report highlights examples, including many species of waterfowl, where habitat restoration and conservation have reversed previous declines, offering hope that it is not too late to take action to save declining populations.

“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells. We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”

The report, The U.S. State of the Birds, synthesizes data from three long-running bird censuses conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists.

In particular, it calls attention to the crisis in Hawaii, where more birds are in danger of extinction than anywhere else in the United States. In addition, the report indicates a 40 percent decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years, a 30 percent decline in birds of aridlands, and high concern for many coastal shorebirds. Furthermore, 39 percent of species dependent on U.S. oceans have declined.

However, the report also reveals convincing evidence that birds can respond quickly and positively to conservation action. The data show dramatic increases in many wetland birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey, and ducks, a testament to numerous cooperative conservation partnerships that have resulted in protection, enhancement and management of more than 30 million wetland acres.

“These results emphasize that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines.”

“Habitats such as those in Hawaii are on the verge of losing entire suites of unique bird species,” said Dr. David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for Conservation Programs. “In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many other man-made threats such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings. By solving these challenges we can preserve a growing economic engine – the popular pastime of birdwatching that involves millions of Americans – and improve our quality of life.”

“While some bird species are holding their own, many once common species are declining sharply in population. Habitat availability and quality is the key to healthy, thriving bird populations,” said Dave Mehlman of The Nature Conservancy.

Surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, including the annual Breeding Bird Survey, combined with data gathered through volunteer citizen science program such as the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, show once abundant birds such as the northern bobwhite and marbled murrelet are declining significantly. The possibility of extinction also remains a cold reality for many endangered birds.“

Citizen science plays a critical role in monitoring and understanding the threats to these birds and their habitats, and only citizen involvement can help address them,” said National Audubon Society’s Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher. “Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support the kind of vital habitat restoration and protection measures this report explores.”

Birds are beautiful, as well as economically important and a priceless part of America's natural heritage. Birds are also highly sensitive to environmental pollution and climate change, making them critical indicators of the health of the environment on which we all depend.

The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are Federally-listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as species of conservation concern due to a small distribution, high-level of threats, or declining populations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service coordinated creation of the new report as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, which includes partners from American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The report is available at www.stateofthebirds.org.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Birds of the Equinox Recap

I was inspired by Andy, of Andy's Lens, and finally got around to entering my Birds of the Equinox count to Birdstack. I've had a login for a while actually, but this was my first time creating a list.

Here's my list from the day:

Common Merganser
Red-tailed Hawk
Song Sparrow
Hairy Woodpecker
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Mourning Dove
Dark-eyed Junco
Tufted Titmouse
Black-capped Chickadee

I didn't get to go out during my lunch break since I had meetings the whole day (it was such a busy day) but at least I watched my feeders in the morning and watched for birds during my drive to work. I drive along Charles River Road during the last leg of my commute so I always check out the river as I drive along it. It helps that the speed limit of 30mph is strictly enforced so I have an excuse to go slow and look for ducks!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nyjer Seed Costs

I read an interesting article in the Cape Cod Times a few weeks ago. I found it especially interesting now that I have a thistle feeder since it was all about the rising price of thistle seed, or more accurately, nyjer seed.

The article explains how black-oil sunflower seed costs have remained relatively stable, while nyjer seed has spiked. It's expected to stay high throughout the remainder of peak bird feeding season, lasting until the middle of spring.

Here are some interesting facts about nyjer seed:

- It's called "black gold" because of its higher price
- There are two main factors contributing to the high price: importing and sterilization costs
- Imported Nijer comes mainly from India and Ethiopia
- The seed must be heated to prevent germination and spreading a non-native species
- It's possible for fertile seeds to sneak through causing a nijer plant (yellow flowering) to sprout- although it's unlikely to survive because of the climate differences
- Around 50,000 tons of nijer ($64 million worth) are imported into the U.S. each year

According to the Cape Cod Times article, "Some 30 to 50 percent of the Indian nyjer crop was wiped out by rainstorms in January. In turn, Ethiopian contractors, seeing an opportunity to capitalize, withheld shipments of their nyjer in hopes to securing higher prices."

For more information on nijer seed visit: http://www.ebirdseed.com/nyjer_niger_thistle_birdseed.html

Friday, March 20, 2009

Birds of the Equinox Count

I decided to participate in the Birds of the Equinox BirdStack count. Is anyone else doing it? It's a beautiful day here in the East and I'm curious to see what I run into later on. I've done some feeder-watching already at home, and during lunch I plan to go for a walk on the Charles River to see what birds are hanging out down there. I've had some really good luck at the Charles River- it's fun to reminisce and look at old posts from those trips: http://birdinggirl.blogspot.com/search/label/charles%20river

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

West Bridgewater State Forest

I went birding in West Bridgewater State Forest last Sunday. Steve suggested it since he had noticed on a map of the Bridgewater area. We're always looking for new places to go hiking and birding, plus we're also slightly obsessed with Hockomock Swamp...

I was a little disappointed not to see anyone else out enjoying the beautiful weather this past weekend. There was plenty of evidence of people partying in the area, and ATV tracks, but that was it. Lucky for me I hit it up in off-peak hours! I got to enjoy the sounds of the woodpeckers, chickadees and robins. I also encountered some red squirrels, which scared the heck out me.

I saw Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers (a lifer!).

Red-bellied Woodpecker:

The red squirrels I encountered while I was walking by a historic stone wall. Steve and I encounter these a lot while hiking in New England. I remember learning as a child about early settlers who cleared the land for farming and used the rocks to build fences. Then, as they found the land to be too resistant to crop-growing they abandoned it and headed West leaving their fences behind.

I just did a little follow-up research and learned these interesting tidbits about New England stone walls:

- In addition to boundary lines, they were also used for animal fences
- There was an official "fence viewer" who would inspect the fences to make sure they were structurally sound
- If they were deemed sound the farmer wasn't liable for any damage done to his crops by other farmers' animals
- 1775 - 1825 was known as the Golden Age of stone wall building

So back to the red squirrels- they scared the heck out of me when I was approaching a trail that cross through the fence. They came barrelling through the woods toward me and one ran up a nearby tree and the other sat on top of the stone fence- both chattering away at me.

I assumed they must have had a nest nearby, and sure enough on the way back I noticed one of them run into this little nook under the stone wall:
Here are some pictures of the state forest in case any of you Southeastern Mass residents are interested in visiting. There's also a good overview of the area I found on a mountain biking website: http://www.nemba.org/ridingzone/West_Meadows.html
The recent snow melting left the trails very muddy and many sections of the trail were flooded. I hope it's drier next time I go back.

Hairy Woodpeckers Like Terrarium Wood!

Here are some pictures from the backyard on Sunday. We've been getting a lot more woodpeckers coming to the tube feeder. That's the one with black oil sunflower seed in it, and I'm honestly surprised at how much they like it. I usually think of woodpeckers as eating suet or hard-packed seed cakes.
The Hairy Woodpecker really likes the terrarium wood Steve put out there for the birds "on deck" to sit on. He originally bought it for our Gold Dust Day Gecko Pololu, but we only had her for about a month- she died last May :-( At least now our backyard "pets" get to enjoy it! I can't imagine that there's anything to eat in there- the wood has been in dry storage in our house- but if the woodpeckers want to peck at it for fun that's ok with me!

I like this picture that captures two of them:

Here's an American Goldfinch really stretching its neck to get in there:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Project FeederWatch- Week 17!

Wow- where does time go? We're nearly done with Project FeederWatch and I've been terrible about keeping up with my tallies here on my blog.

Here's what I got last week:

Black-capped Chickadee- 2
Tufted Titmouse- 1
Blue Jay- 1
Song Sparrow- 3
Mourning Dove- 2
Northern Cardinal- 1
Dark-eyed Junco- 3
Here are some pictures of the Song Sparrow. I'm 99% positive...sparrows always throw me for a loop but I'm pretty sure. We actually got about a foot of snow on Monday, and these was still a lot of snow on the ground Tuesday for Day 1 of my count.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center "Bird Friendly" Seal

Uh-oh...I was just doing some additional research on shade-grown coffee and I found out that Trader Joe's Shade-Grown Coffee (and other coffee for that matter) does not have any third-party certifications for being shade-grown. That's actually one thing I noticed when I was looking at the label in the store, and when I was reading it again just now. They have the certified organic seal but that's it. To be labeled "Shade-Grown" I expected them to have something else.

After posting I visited Christopher's Picus Blog since I noticed in my Blogger Dashboard feed he had just posted about shade-grown coffee yesterday. I've been trying to find time to post about it since I bought the coffee on Tuesday, so I'm not copying you! I promise! Anyway, Christopher was inspired to write about shade-grown coffee after attending a talk by Kenn Kaufman. I've heard a lot of buzz about him and remember wanting to go to the lecture (on migratory birds) but obviously it slipped off my radar. Then I read it:

Unfortunately, not all shade-grown coffees are what they claim to be. Really some good research needs to be done to make sure that the coffee you are drinking really is helping the birds. This is where the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center comes in. Anything that they have certified as bird-friendly, you can be sure that the growers have been held to high standards.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center "Bird Friendly" seal looks like this:

Uh-oh...I'm was in trouble. I seriously doubted Trader Joe's fit into this category. I did a search and found this very informative blog on the subject--Coffee Habitat. It's written by Julie Craves, a University of Michigan bird ecologist. She's also a contributing editor to Birder's World Magazine.

Definitely check out the entire post at http://www.coffeehabitat.com/2009/02/trader-joes-cof.html, but here's her synopsis on Trader Joe's:

The bottom line is that Trader Joe's shade grown coffees are not third-party verified, and TJ's offers no explanation as to how they've concluded that the coffees they offer are indeed eco-friendly. And because Trader Joe's does not provide enough information on the origins of most of their coffees, it's not possible to determine if they are actually grown in a sustainable manner.

After reading Christopher's recap of Kenn Kaufman's talk, and Julie's coffee conservation blog, I realize it's important to buy certified shade-grown coffee. I'm glad that Trader Joe's has introduced me to it at least, and now I'll go about researching my most cost-effective options for SMBC certified "Bird Friendly" coffee.

Shade-Grown Coffee- Do you buy it?

Anyone participating in ProjectFeederWatch can attest to the fact that they send you a lot of stuff in the mail. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a lot of other projects going on that they want you to know about. I got an entire newsletter (Birdscope) devoted to neotropical birds, and of course it promoted buying shade-grown coffee. My favorite part of the newsletter was Dave Barry's quote, which appeared in the From the Editor section:

Several years ago, in an interview with humor writer Dave Barry, I mentioned “Neotropical migrants.” He was unfamiliar with the term, and said, “What?! Not any old tropics are good enough for them—those birds have to have Neotropics?”

I loved reading his syndicated column in the Sunday paper, and I think it's very cool that Dave Barry is an avid birder. I see him pop up now and again in birding news sources/blogs.

If you don't get Birdscope you can read the full article here: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Publications/Birdscope/from_editor_winter2009.html

Anyway, back to shade-grown coffee. So this issue of Birdscope succeeded at educating me to buy shade-grown coffee, but I wasn't fully convinced to buy it yet. There was a lot of information in there but I was most concerned about the logistics of it- where could I buy it and how much did it cost? Ok- honestly, price was the biggest concern I had.

I forgot about it for a week or so until I randomly did my week's shopping at Trader Joe's. I used to shop there a lot when I lived in Brighton and Watertown, but now that I'm in Bridgewater, BJ's and Market Basket are where I end up. I don't even know where the closest Trader Joe's is down here...Anyway, since I still work in Watertown it's easy enough for me to hit up the West Newton one on the way home.

I was flying through the store, grabbing only what I could fit into my basket (that's my strategy to not buy too much but it usually ends up with me walking lop-sided, weight down by my 50 lb basket...), when I came to the coffee shelf. I usually buy the French Roast but then I started comparing prices and seeing what else would be smart to buy. THEN I noticed the shade-grown coffee all the way at the bottom of the shelf with the other premium coffees. I picked up the container and decided to refresh my memory on why buying shade-grown coffee is important:

Over the last twenty years many large coffee producers have switched from shaded plantations to coffee grown under full sun. In so doing they have eliminated trees that serve as a critical habitat for many species of migratory birds and other rainforest wildlife. The growing of certified shade grown coffee beans does not contribute to the depletion of the mature rainforest canopy of Central and South America.

We now offer Trader Joe's Shade Grown coffee made from 100% organic beans grown without using herbicides or pesticides. It is French roasted dark for a deliciously rich full-bodied flavor.

Then I looked at the price- $7.99 for 13 oz. Hmm...this was going to be a tough decision. I want to help the neotropical birds, but at the same time I need to be budget-conscious. Finally I decided what the heck- if it tastes good I'll keep buying it.

Did it pass the taste test? Absolutely! I've loved coffee since I was 13-14 or so , drinking just regular Folgers and Maxwell House, and when I studied abroad in France I expanded my coffee-drinking to espresso and very strong coffee. My host family would make a regular-sized pot of coffee that was almost as strong as espresso itself--my love of strong coffee began! The Trader Joe's Shade-Grown coffee is a French roast, as described above, and it is full-bodied and smooth without tasting bitter. Best of all, since it tastes delicious and lives up to its premium coffee pricing--it is worth every single penny!