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Monday, February 13, 2012

Bird Studies Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, is gearing up to host 2 free web seminars. The first, titled “An Introduction to the Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program” will take place at 7:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 1, 2012. The second, titled “An In-depth Look at the Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program Field Protocol” will be held at 7:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 8, 2012. Each are one hour in duration.

These information sessions are specifically for those of you living near Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan. However, residents living near Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are also welcome. After attending this 'webinars', you will have a greater understanding of the GLMMP, its goals, and its techniques and protocols. If you are interested in participating, just fill out the Webinar Registration Form. All registered attendees will receive a formal email invitation and webinar links in advance of the sessions.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Just when you thought there wasn't a single good reason left to send a postcard to a friend rather than a text! On the 20th of this month, new stamps were released by the USPS featuring 5 species of raptor. The birds were rendered by Robert Giusti, who is no stranger to stamp design. Giusti's stamp design began in 1991 with Wood Duck and Cardinal stamps. Since then, there was a Blue Jay in 1995 and a Ring-necked Pheasant in 1998.

In Giusti's most recent work for the USPS, a Northern Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, and Northern Harrier appear regal and perhaps a bit vicious. Incongruously, and by far my favorite portrait, the Osprey appears wide-eyed and ruffled, with the messy mohawk 'just got out of the shower' look they are very often seen sporting.

The stamps are a breath of fresh air, that air smelling distinctly of spring. I, from the Cold and Snowy Northland, have not seen a raptor since the snows came in November, except for a lost-looking and extremely fluffy Rough-legged Hawk that stayed for just over a week. Wisely, the bird had a look around and decided to continue looking elsewhere! But looking at these stamps, I am reminded that winter might be raging right now, but now is the season of lengthening days and solar radiation gaining in strength. There's still just enough of winter left to get those owl nest-boxes mounted high in the trees.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

If you live in the northern half of the US, grab your binoculars and spotting scope and head out to an open field near you! Since November, an impressive number of Snowy Owls have been making an appearance further south than usual. When this occurs, once every 4 to 5 years, it is typically called an irruption or invasion of Snowy Owls. Usually, this is due to a crash in the population of the owl’s favored natural prey up north, the lemming. This year, however, arctic ornithologists are speculating that the unusual behavior is the consequence of the Snowy Owl having a banner year for nest success due to exceptionally high numbers of lemmings this year. The sheer number of owls competing for prey up north have driven some of the younger ones south to look for food.

Snowy Owls are large, mostly white, and very different in appearance from any other owl that you might see during the day. There is a wide amount of natural variation in the amount of dark barring on each owl. Some appear entirely white, while others show a white face and chest with darker barring on the rest of the body. Luckily for us, the Snowy Owl is one of the few owls that prefer to hunt during the day. The owl sits still on a prominent lookout for much of the day, watching for any signs of movement by its prey. The best tactic for finding one is to spend some time scanning fence lines, posts, and tall rocks in any nearby fields with your binoculars.

The year has been good for other raptors breeding in northern latitudes as well, such as Rough-legged Hawks, so be on the lookout for unusual numbers of those this winter. Check out the locations for this spectacular owl that have been showing up here. And remember to report all of your sightings to the e-bird site.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The Big Year
Few enthusiasts will ever immerse themselves into their hobby of choice as fully as the bird lovers that undertake a Big Year. This 365-day-long ode to all things avian is the ultimate expression of one’s devotion to the art of birdwatching. To birders, embarking on a Big Year is a rare and cherished experience. Birders approach the project with an intensity similar to the effort that would be shown by a soccer fan if he were asked to join Manchester United in the World Cup. Each year in North America several hundred people attempt to complete a Big Year, and the majority of those fail – a single winner is chosen by the American Birding Association. What is the goal of a Big Year? To observe as many bird species as possible in the United States, Canada, and Alaska. The current record? 745 species.

With the advent of the pocket-sized field guide, birders in North America began to compete to find as many bird species as they could. In 1939, five years after Roger Tory Peterson published his comprehensive field guide, the first Big Year record was set by Guy Emerson, who timed his business trips to coincide with peak bird seasons throughout North America. Emerson’s record was 497 species.

In the years following the first Big Year, the record was broken repeatedly. In 1998, three men attempted to top the then-record count of 721 species. Chronicled in the book The Big Year by Mark Obmascik, birders Al Levantin, Greg Miller, and record-holder Sandy Komito embarked upon the year-long search. Each person independently financed their endeavor and took a leave of absence from work to complete the project. The men came from different backgrounds and employed different techniques to locate bird species. The incredible effort required to complete the arduous, expensive undertaking is evident in Obmascik’s book – by the end of the year, one of the men ran out of money and took to sleeping in his car and eating only pretzels to conserve cash. Once the men had racked up all the bird species native to North America (a feat that involved helicopter flights through mountain passes, airboat trips through the Everglades, and countless miles of hiking), the birders focused on attaining rare or accidental species on the fringes of the continent. In one memorable scene, one of the birders joined a bevy of birders in biking out across a stretch of tundra on rusty Soviet-era bicycles to view a rare Asian bird blown over to the Aleutian island of Attu. Upon arriving at the location, the birders silently formed a line to view the bird, pausing only long enough to confirm its identity at the viewing scope before handing it off to the next anxious birder. In the end, Sandy Komito emerged victorious, checking off an astonishing 745 species in 365 days, nearly 70 species more than are native to North America. Experts believe that Komito’s record may never be broken because of the fact that 1998 was an El Nino year and unprecedented weather patterns blew birds from all parts of the world to North America.

Birders seeking to repeat Komito’s Big Year can find resources online, but for those looking to merely re-live the adventure, pick up a copy of The Big Year!

Just for Fun I thought I would include a link to the trailer for the movie. Click here and enjoy! 

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Saturday, October 15, 2011
Robin in Bird Bath
Many songbirds take regular baths. In the winter, these baths may be short and restricted to the warmest parts of the day and only once every couple of weeks. But in the warmer months, some birds like American Robins bathe up to several times a day! Baths may also function as a source of water since birds need to drink just not nearly so much as we do. Small birds without a constant source of water such as a river or pond will drink dewdrops off of leaves in the morning. Birds at sea, like pelicans, who are surrounded by water that they cannot drink, sometimes simply open their bills during a rain shower.

When choosing a birdbath, perching sites and depth should be considered. More perching area and a wider basin means more birds can bathe at a time. A wide basin is great, but it shouldn’t be too deep. As a rule, the smaller the bird you want to attract, the shallower the basin should be. Keep in mind that a basin that is only an inch or two deep along its entire width will dry out very quickly due to evaporation! For this reason, a popular shape for birdbath basins are wide ones that are shallow at the edges and gradually get deeper, up to a maximum depth of 4 inches. A perch or rocks may be added to the deeper section to allow small birds to perch there as well.

Finally, location is all-important. The birdbath should be placed high enough to be out of reach of
Fierenze Solar Bird Bath Fountain
housecats. It should also be placed in the open so that birds can see all around them and are not easily startled by a predator lurking close by. It is ideal to have some shrubby cover nearby (about 4-5 feet away) so birds have a place to fly to if an aerial predator should pay them a visit. This requirement, open enough but with cover close by, is a bit fidgety, but you’ll know when you’ve got it right because birds will visit it frequently! If you think you’ve got a great location but birds aren’t coming to it, move it a couple of feet and wait another week until you start having visitors. Patience will pay off!

You should maintain any birdbaths that you have outside for a couple of reasons. The first is that a properly maintained birdbath is more attractive for birds, and the second is that you want to attract birds and not hatch mosquitoes! A birdbath needs to be cleaned every three days or so. In some cases the bath may simply be emptied and refilled to rid it of any debris or guano. In some cases, the bath must be scrubbed with hot water and a scouring brush, as is the case if you’ve spotted fungus or algae in the basin. A bath may be made more attractive to birds and less likely to provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes if a water wiggler or fountain bird bath is added to move the water constantly.


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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Roads’ danger to other wildlife, such as bear and deer, have been studied extensively, partly because direct highway mortality is easily tracked by reported incidents on highways all over the US and Canada. As well, large mammal’s movement patterns have been tracked and their avoidance of roads and roaded areas have been documented. However, nobody reports bird strikes to any wildlife authority, so roadside casualties of birds are largely unknown. However, roadside strikes of owls (especially Barn Owls) and birds of prey that were attracted to road kill have been documented and are known to be extensive at some times of the year and in some parts of the country. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative commissioned a report on how paved roads may affect wild birds. The report aimed to compile and distill previous research to date.

Aside from the direct effect of casualties of birds due to collisions with cars, there are many indirect effects that play a role. Studies have shown that birds avoid high-traffic areas on paved roads, which can reduce their use of roadway habitat by 30-100%. The ‘zone of disturbance’ extends up to 1km from the high-traffic area, depending on the volume of traffic on the road! One group of ornithologists found that the density of birds wasn’t different close to roads, but the males were less successful in courting a mate as their territories were nearer the highway, possibly because their songs could not be heard as well because of traffic noise. What’s more, males that were unsuccessful in previous years moved further from the road in subsequent years, but were replaced by naïve males who were then less successful in attracting a mate. This effect could potentially be worse for birds than total avoidance, because it reduces the productivity of the population as a whole. Not all birds are repelled from roadways. Shrub and scrub loving birds are drawn to roadways because of the habitat that is created due to frequent mowing and clearing of trees that happens on road shoulders. However, these birds are subject to danger from passing traffic, they may have less ability to attract mates, and their nests are at risk from mowing and brush clearing that takes place in the summer months.

Highway lighting may be an obstacle for migrating birds. It has long been observed that birds will circle around bright lights at sea for hours on cloudy nights. The same effect could be happening on roadways around the world, but has yet been unstudied. Regardless, a Dutch team found that installing green lights on rigs at sea greatly reduced the number of birds that were attracted. Road salt was long considered an attractant for resident birds, contributing to the amount of vehicle collisions with them. However, there is now some evidence that birds may die from ingesting excessive amounts of this salt as well. Considering how much area paved roads take out of habitat across the country, these effects could have a big impact on wild birds. Some measures that could be taken involve reducing or changing the lighting along highways, introducing seasonal speed limits in high-collision areas, and replacing berry-producing shrubs along roadways with plants that are less attractive to birds.

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Monday, July 25, 2011
Welcome to the brand new blog for YourBirdOasis.com, and be sure to check back for new posts!

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