“North with the Spring”: A Celebration of Birds (#1)

Final NWTS LogoBy Bruce Beehler

The winter has been awful in suburban Washington, DC. The first glimmers of spring—blooming crocuses and early morning song of American Robins and Mourning Doves—have revived hope for better things to come.

The song of American Robin is a welcome sign of spring. My journey will bring the season into focus: the sights, sounds, and most of all, the incredible journey of migratory birds. Photo by cpaulfell/Shutterstock

The song of American Robin is a welcome sign of spring. My journey will bring the season into focus: the sights, sounds, and most of all, the incredible journey of migratory birds. Photo by cpaulfell/Shutterstock

Last week, flocks of aggressive Red-winged Blackbirds appeared out of nowhere to take over the feeders in my back yard in Bethesda, Maryland. Their arrival reminds me that, indeed, spring is close upon us, and that I need to quicken my pace to prepare for my upcoming field adventure.

Chasing Songbirds

I’ll be packing up my car this weekend and launching a hundred-day road trip. My journey is inspired by the renowned naturalist Edwin Way Teale, whose book, North with the Spring, told the story of his own East Coast adventure following spring from Florida up the Eastern Seaboard to northern New England. (Read more about Teale and the places I’ll visit.)

Canada Warbler is one of many migratory birds I expect to spend time with on my journey, as we make our way to the boreal forest where many of these birds breed. Photo by Stubblefield Photography

Canada Warbler is one of many migratory birds I expect to spend time with on my journey, as we make our way to the boreal forest where many of these birds breed. Photo © Michael Stubblefield

I will track migrant songbirds from their landfall on the Gulf of Mexico, north through the Mississippi Valley, and into the Great North Woods of Ontario, where many of the birds settle down to breed in those raw boreal forests with the ever-so-long days of the summer solstice.

Along the way, I will camp out with the birds, mingle with birders, talk with research scientists, and participate in bird-banding work and other survey activities.

I will visit many of the most important stop-over and breeding sites in America’s Heartland: postage-stamp-sized woodlots on High Island, Texas; bottomland forests in the Mississippi Delta; cypress swamps in northeastern Texas; mixed forests in Wisconsin; and boreal bogs in Minnesota.

I’ll match my time in these wonderful bird hotspots with the peak arrival dates of migrant warblers—paying special attention to the Golden-winged Warbler, one of our most rapidly declining wood warblers—as well as vireos, thrushes, and flycatchers.

Tribute to Teale—and to My Mother

Why North with the Spring? This and other similar books by Teale were favored reading for my mother, an amateur naturalist, and these Teale nature books became a part of my DNA as a budding naturalist back in the 1960s.

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A younger version of myself (left) with my mother Cary and brother Bill in 1957. When I first hear a Cerulean Warbler this spring, I’ll think of them. Photo courtesy of Bruce Beehler

So it is something of a tribute to my mother, who died a bit more than a year ago, to make this spring pilgrimage with the songbirds. I can recall her packing the beat-up family station wagon for a weekend at Rock Run Sanctuary on the Susquehanna River in Maryland. She, my brother, and I would spend those early summer days chasing butterflies and birding the dark green glens.

This coming spring, when I hear my first Cerulean Warbler giving its musical, buzzing and trilling song from a high oak in Missouri or Illinois I will stop and think of the first time my mother, brother Bill, and I heard that glorious song in a tall sycamore at Rock Run more than half a century ago.

So Our Grandchildren Can Wonder

I’ll be visiting some of the most beautiful natural sites in the Mississippi Flyway at a time when they will be overflowing with the song of migrant birds. At the same time, I’ll be capturing those sights and sounds for this blog.

If you’re eager to journey with the songbirds—or to witness alligator snappers and canebrake rattlesnakes, hellbenders and black bears, wolves and caribou—please follow along!

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A northern bog at sunrise, a sight I’ll be lucky enough to enjoy on my travels with the birds. Photo by Bruce Beehler

In reporting what I see during this journey, I hope to tell the story of spring and spring migration and of the work so many people are doing to ensure that our grandchildren can wonder at the song of a Cerulean Warbler in a big old tract of majestic hardwoods that has been protected for us all—birds and humans alike.

I thank American Bird Conservancy, the sponsor of this adventure, nine close friends and supporters of my work—you know who you are—and Georgia-Pacific, which provided a generous grant that is making my pilgrimage possible.


Beehler Portrait Kaijende 2008 reducedBruce Beehler is an ornithologist, conservationist, and naturalist. He is currently a Research Associate in the Division of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and is focused on research and writing about nature and natural history. Bruce has published ten books and authored dozens of technical and popular articles about nature. In 2007, Beehler was featured in a “60 Minutes” piece highlighting an expedition he led to the Foja Mountains in the interior of New Guinea in which scores of new species were discovered.

Adventures in Bird Conservation: Promoting Ecotourism for Tanzania’s Birds

By Michael Hutchins

My work on ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign keeps me very busy, but being a glutton for punishment, I can’t help occasionally fulfilling my deep interest in birds, photography, and international travel. That’s why I also work part-time for two of the world’s best wildlife travel companies, Safari Professionals and World Safaris, introducing our clients to spectacular wildlife and wild places around the globe.

In January or February of each year, I’ve been taking groups to Tanzania to experience the wonder of African wildlife and the Great Migration. Over 500 avian species have been recorded in Serengeti National Park and many more in the adjacent Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The following is a brief description and accompanying photographs of some of the incredible birds I’ve encountered on my many trips to the region:


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Yellow-billed Stork by Michael Hutchins

Yellow-billed Stork (Mycteria ibis)

A common resident of marsh and river habitats, the Yellow-billed Stork hunts a wide variety of aquatic organisms, such as fish and amphibians. These large, photogenic birds have a bright red head and a long, recurved yellow bill.


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Abdim’s Stork. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Abdim’s Stork (Ciconia abdimii)

A small brown stork species, Abdim’s Stork, prefers grasslands and cultivated areas. Its facial skin is bluish, with red around the eyes. It’s gregarious and can sometimes be found in large flocks. On warm, clear days, it likes to soar on thermals when migrating.


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Saddle-billed Stork. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorrhynchus senegalensis)

Among the most attractive of all storks, this species has a large, brightly colored yellow, black and red bill. Females have bright yellow eyes, while those of the male are dark brown. An uncommon visitor to wetlands, they are often seen wading through water or in grass searching for small prey such as frogs or catfish.


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Lappet-faced Vulture. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos t. tracheliotos)

The Lappet-faced Vulture is a large scavenger, often known as the “king of the vultures” because its size allows it to dominate other vulture species at a carcass. With its ivory bill and bare, reddish head, some people consider it ugly, but, in my opinion, it is the most regal of the vulture species and quite attractive.


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Kori Bustard. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori struthiunculus)

This large bird prefers grassland habitats. The males have large, thick-necks that they inflate when displaying to females. The male’s call is a deep, resonant boom, reminiscent of North America’s Sage-Grouse. This photo is of a displaying male in Ngorongoro Crater.


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Grey Crowned-Cranes. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Grey Crowned-Crane (Balearica reguloum gibbericeps)

The Grey Crowned-Crane, a tall wetland crane, is also a very attractive bird with its golden head crest and bright red wattle. They can be seen in large numbers in Ngorongoro Crater, spreading their wings and dancing in typical crane courtship.


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Egyptian Goose. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)

The Egyptian Goose is one of many species of waterfowl that call the Serengeti home. Found under 3000 meters on permanent lakes, ponds and on sandy riverbanks, it is an easily recognized buff- brown color, with a cinnamon eye-patch at the base of the pink bill and circling the head.


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Tawny Eagle. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax)

This large, brown eagle is a common resident of bush and savannah. Prey ranges in size from termites to dik-dik, a small forest antelope. It can also be seen competing with vultures at carrion.


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Black-shouldered Kite. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus c. caeruleus)

This small and pale grey and white hawk is common in areas of moderate rainfall. Its wings are long and pointed, with black shoulder patches.


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African Fish Eagle. Photo by Michael Hutchins

African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

Like North America’s Bald Eagle, this species is a fish-eater and can be found near lakes, ponds, and river banks. Its entire head, back, and breast are white, which contrast with the dark brown body.


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Von der Decken’s Hornbill. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Von der Decken’s Hornbill (Tockus deckeni)

This is a small black and white hornbill with a large, two-toned red and ivory bill. Hornbills are well-known for their unusual breeding biology. The male uses his bill to build a wall of mud at the entrance to their tree-cavity nesting site, where the male feeds the female and chicks through a narrow slit during incubation and chick-rearing.


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Speckled Mousebird. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus)

This is a common bird of garden, cultivation, and open woodland areas. Its brown crest and silvery cheeks are characteristic of the species. They climb well and are often seen hanging among branches, sometimes in awkward positions.


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Lilac-breasted Roller. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudata)

Among the most striking passerine seen on safari, these birds are of a brilliant blue and lilac-purple color on the breast and nape. These cavity nesters seek insects and vertebrate prey. The name roller is derived from their exuberant aerial displays during courtship, which involve acrobatic diving and rolling.


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Superb Starling. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus)

Another highly attractive, gregarious and common bird in East Africa, this starling is brightly iridescent blue, with cream colored eyes. The white band that separates the blue upper breast from the orange lower breast is characteristic.


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Hildebrandt’s Starling. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Hildebrandt’s Starling (Lamprotornis hildebrandti)

This common starling has a rufous-colored breast and has no white on the breast. It has bright red eyes. It’s darker in coloration than the Superb Starling, but has iridescent violet-blue on the head and upper breast.


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Fischer’s Lovebird. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Fischer’s Lovebird (Agapornis fisheri)

These small, brightly-colored parrots with powerful hooked bills are highly gregarious and often seen in flocks. The face is orange and red and the eye is surrounded by a white orbital ring. They breed in tree cavities and vocalize loudly in a high-pitched twitter both when perched and in flight.


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Little Bee-eater. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus)

This bright green bird with a long black mask bordering the eye and a yellow throat is the smallest of the bee-eaters. They are aerial feeders and most are colonial breeders, often building their cavity nests in exposed soil banks and cliffs.


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Rosy-breasted Longclaw. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Rosy-breasted Longclaw (Macronyx ameliae wintoni)

A denizen of open, wet grasslands, this bird has a distinctive bright rosy red chin, and yellow breast with a large black patch between the red and yellow. Longclaws are small ground birds with sharp, pointed beaks. Their name is derived with the extremely long hind claw on the feet.


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Yellow Bishop. Photo by Michael Hutchins

Yellow Bishop (Euplectes capensis crassirostris)

Bishops are highly polygamous species. Males defend a territory, mate with several females and help to build a nest for each. The Yellow Bishop is black with a distinctive bright yellow coloring on the back and rump.


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African Hoopoe. Photo by Michael Hutchins

African Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

The African Hoopoe is easily identified, as its appearance is very distinctive. The color is primarily tawny or cinnamon with a pointed black-tipped crest, often fan-like when raised. The wings are black and white. The bill is long and sharp and used to probe for insects.


From a birdwatcher’s point of view, it’s great to be able to enjoy these birds. However, there are also real conservation implications in wildlife tourism.

The future of East Africa’s wildlife, including its spectacular bird life, is tenuous at best. This region is under constant threat of development and is one of the last remaining large, intact ecosystems on earth. For example, despite worldwide opposition, the Tanzanian government has been pushing for a paved road to bisect Serengeti National Park. In addition, the human population in the area has been growing exponentially, thus cutting off many corridors for wildlife movement between nearby reserves, such as Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks.

Habitat loss is the toughest challenge facing birds. For many places, both in the Americas and in Africa, ecotourism helps provide the funding needed to support habitat protection for birds and other wildlife. In Tanzania, this lesson has been critical: ecotourism is the primary reason that places like the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater still exist undeveloped.

ABC also believes in this model of enjoying birds while contributing directly to their conservation. ABC and its partners have created a Conservation Birding website that allows birders to find lodges that contribute directly to bird conservation in the Americas. For a more detailed discussion of the role of wildlife tourism in promoting conservation, check out the online interview I did for National Geographic. Your passion to see wildlife can have a positive impact on protecting it for future generations. Happy trails.


DSC06156-(2)Dr. Michael Hutchins is ABC’s National Coordinator of the Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. He has traveled to over 30 countries and six continents to pursue his passion for wildlife and nature conservation. Prior to joining ABC, Michael held leadership roles at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and The Wildlife Society. He has authored over 220 articles and books on wildlife science, management, and conservation – including many on birds.

Rare Visit from Golden Eagle: Reminder to Get the Lead Out

Photo courtesy Nicholas Lapham

Golden Eagle visits gut pile at Virginia farm: An example of how important it is for hunters to use non-lead ammunition. Photo courtesy Nicholas Lapham

By Nicholas Lapham

As an ABC Board member, I’ve taken a particular interest in some of the major public policy issues affecting bird conservation in the United States. Particularly astonishing to me is the toll still being taken on large birds of prey — condors, eagles, hawks, and others — as a result of their feeding on the carcasses of animals shot with lead ammunition

It’s no accident that we’ve taken lead out of gasoline and paint and otherwise acted to remove this deadly toxin from our environment. Yet the vast majority of hunters continue to use lead bullets despite the ready availability of equally effective and far safer alternatives.

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The Farm at Sunnyside, habitat for many bird species including an occasional Golden Eagle. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Lapham.

We own an organic farm in Rappahannock County, Virginia, along the eastern ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains adjacent to Shenandoah National Park. We hunt deer using only copper ammunition and have actively tried to encourage other local sportsmen to do the same.

Still, people are slow to change longstanding traditions, and many continue to challenge the connection between their actions and the poisoning of these magnificent birds.

So, in the picture being worth a thousand words vein, we decided to put a game camera on the remains of deer killed on our property.  We’ve gotten a number of compelling images but none to compare with the photo at the top of this blog, captured just two weeks ago.

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Golden Eagle by davemhuntphotography/Shutterstock.

Golden Eagles are rare in our neck of the woods, and this is the first we’ve recorded at the farm. While thrilled to see a golden here, we’re sobered by the prospect that this bird faces the daily risk of ingesting lead-contaminated food that could cripple or kill it.

Few environmental problems these days leave us easy answers. This is one that does. It has nothing to do with restricting hunting or otherwise limiting outdoor recreation. Rather, it’s about a simple, practical step that each and every hunter can take to help protect some of our most iconic birds.

Let’s all work together to get the lead out!

NickNicholas Lapham owns and operates The Farm at Sunnyside, a producer of certified organic fruits and vegetables in Rappahannock County, Virginia. He is currently a board member of American Bird Conservancy. His previous experience includes positions at: World Wildlife Fund, African Parks Foundation of America, Conservation International, United Nations Foundation, the White House Climate Change Task Force, and Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science.

‘Tis the Season to #GiveBackToBirds: 20+ Plus Ways to Help

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Here at ABC, we are always thinking about ways to give back to birds (like this hummingbird, featured in our logo). And because December is the season of giving, we kicked off a month of suggesting ways–big and small–that enable everyone to participate in bird conservation. Scroll through to see ways you can #GiveBackToBirds!


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There’s nothing like a good cup of ‪coffee‬. But the way it’s grown can help, or hurt, the ‪birds‬ we care about. ‪#‎GiveBackToBirds‬ by choosing Bird Friendly coffee that helps maintain habitat for species like Yellow Warbler! One of our favorites is Bird & Beans.


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Stories abound of birds like Red-tailed Hawk (pictured) becoming casualties of lead poisoning. We hope all bird-loving hunters and fishermen will #‎GiveBackToBirds this season by educating others on this issue (and of course, using non-lead shot and tackle)!

Learn more about the threats of lead and other toxins to birds.


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Plastic trash may be “out of sight, out of mind” for a lot of us, but it’s a huge problem for seabirds. Birds like these Laysan Albatross mistake it for food and pass it along to their young, with tragic results. ‪#‎GiveBackToBirds‬ by reducing use of plastic and by recycling!

Learn more about the threats of plastics to birds.


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Glass is a major killer of birds, including Wood Thrush. Here’s something you can do: #‎GiveBackToBirds by putting ABC BirdTape on your home windows. Most of us have at least one window that seems to cause collisions. Start there and see the results from this easy-to-use solution.


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Lawn chemicals, rat poisons, insect-killing sprays … Many people think these products are safe because they’re readily available, but they can be deadly to birds like Dickcissels (shown), other wildlife, and people. #‎GiveBackToBirds by avoiding pesticides in and around your home.


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Here’s another way to #‎GiveBackToBirds: If you have a free-roaming cat, work toward keeping him or her contained or indoors, for the well-being of birds like these Eastern Bluebirds. It’s also healthier for your cat–and for your entire family. Find out how.


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Looking for another way to #‎GiveBackToBirds? Check off a few items on your gift-giving list this holiday season (and year round) with these bird-friendly options.


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Being an advocate for birds includes staying informed on bird conservationissues. #‎GiveBackToBirds by signing up for ABC’s e-Newsletter list to receive our monthly eNews, action alerts, and other updates!


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Stand up for a threatened bird species: It’s another way to #‎GiveBackToBirds! Help us protect the western population of Yellow-billed Cuckoo with this action alert to U.S. Congress, asking for protection of more habitat.


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A great way to ‪#‎GiveBackToBirds is by purchasing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Federal duck stamp. The money generated from these is put towards protecting ‪‎birds‬ (like this Wood Duck) for future generations.


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Gardening‬ with native species of plants is a great way to ‪#‎GiveBackToBirds‬. Plants that evolved in your area are part of a food web that provides essential food to ‪#‎birds‬ and other wildlife. Learn more from expert Douglas Tallamy.


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Conservation ‪#birding‬ is a great way to ‪#‎GiveBackToBirds‬: at certain reserves, your visit directly benefits ‪bird onservation‬. Seeing this Sunbittern at ‪‎Colombia‬’s El Paujil Bird Reserve, managed by ABC partner Fundación ProAves, is a perfect example.

Learn more about how you can “see it, save it.”


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Standing up for threats to ‎birds‬ and their habitat is a significant way to‪ #‎GiveBackToBirds‬. Although wind energy development is a key element in alternative energy solutions, poorly-sited wind turbines in sensitive migratory areas pose great threats for many ‪bird‬ species (like this Short-eared Owl). Voice your concerns today about the additional turbines proposed for important bird habitat in Huron County, ‪Michigan‬.


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Surprising, but true: American Woodcock (shown) are a frequent victim of window collisions. If you’re involved in home or other building design, you can #‎GiveBackToBirds by taking steps to make buildings bird-safe. Consult ABC’s Bird-friendly Building Design guide and learn more.


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#Conservation‬ starts with inspiration, so why not ‪#‎GiveBackToBirds by inviting others to be inspired too? In our ‪Bird of the Week‬ email series, each new feature lets us take a moment to learn and appreciate a new species, reminding us why we are fighting to bring back the ‪‎birds‬. You and your friends and family can sign up to receive the Bird of the Week in your inbox, or check out previous Birds of the Week.


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An easy way to ‪#‎GiveBackToBirds is simply to give back to your cat: Keeping cats indoors not only enables cats to live longer, healthier lives, resulting in fewer trips to the veterinarian and extending the years of mutual companionship, but also protects ‪birds‬ and other wildlife from a cat’s instinctive predatory drive. Now take another step: take the pledge to keep cats indoors!


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If you’re a birder, patronize local businesses and let them know “a birder was here” and is helping to support them and will return as long as bird habitats are maintained. With the support of birdwatchers across the country, we can increase the conservation impact of people who care about birds!

Learn more about how you can #GiveBackToBirds and be a bird-savvy consumer.


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Have any old ‪birding‬ equipment just lying around, never being used? You can #‎GiveBackToBirds and help our long-distance migrants and rare Latin American endemics by donating your old gear to biologists across the hemisphere through the Birders’ Exchange program.


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To be an advocate for ‪‎birds‬, you first have to be aware of the threats they face. Did you know that Hawai’i is the bird extinction capital of the world, and that many species, like this Hawaiian Petrel, are at risk of extinction?‪#‎GiveBackToBirds‬ and learn more.


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The ABC blog is where we share updates, thoughts, and anecdotes on bird conservation–and thanks to all of you who share and comment on these posts, our blog has become a forum for a fruitful “conservation conversation.” #GiveBackToBirds by checking out the ABC blog and taking part.


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During your ‪New Year’s Eve‬ celebrations, remember the ‪birds‬ and avoid balloons. Although they’re festive, balloons often have unintended consequences, ending up entangling or being ingested by seabirds like these Black-footed Albatross. ‪

Learn more about how ABC is working to protect seabirds.


Check out the full gallery of #GiveBackToBirds:


Thanks for being a part of a season to #GiveBackToBirds – and remember, these are things you can do year-round!

Arizona’s Paton Center: More than a Place to Build Your List

The Violet-crowned Hummingbird, the Paton Center's flagship species. Photo by TMoreCampbell/Shutterstock

The Violet-crowned Hummingbird is the flagship species of the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Arizona. Photo by TMoreCampbell/Shutterstock

By George Fenwick

A dedication ceremony at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds was held this past weekend by Tucson Audubon Society (TAS). It was the culmination of a year’s quick work by ABC to purchase “Paton’s”—a premier birding and hummingbird spot in Patagonia, Arizona—with help from Victor Emanuel and TAS, and to transfer the property to TAS for long-term stewardship.

ABC President George Fenwick (left) and Victor Emanuel of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, who helped lead the effort to protect this special place, were on hand to celebrate the Paton Center. Photo by Jeff Rusinow

ABC President George Fenwick (left) and Victor Emanuel of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours helped lead the effort to protect this special place and were on hand to celebrate the dedication. Photo by Jeff Rusinow

I generally skirt such events but felt obligated to attend this one—and I am so glad I did. TAS is a terrific group with great staff and board members, and the celebration matched their talents. It was good to catch up with many of the donors in attendance and heartening to meet enthusiastic young TAS staffers and volunteers.

TAS leader Paul Green, along with Victor Emanuel, gave fine talks crediting the many people who played important roles in protecting the Paton Center. I, too, offered a few words, thanking the participants and TAS generally.

I also talked about means and ends in bird conservation. Birding centers such as the Paton Center are, in my opinion, means to a conservation end. It is at places such as these that we can bring young people into a love of natural history.

Blue Grosbeaks can also be seen at the Paton Center. Photo by Mike Parr, ABC

Blue Grosbeaks can also be seen at the Paton Center. Photo by Mike Parr, ABC

Furthermore, adults can be educated that places like Paton don’t just spontaneously emerge, but instead result from concerted efforts by partnerships of people interested enough to lend a hand.

On the other hand, if Paton is just a place to build year lists or add life birds, then our efforts will not have been worth it. Birding is a fantastic pastime that I enjoy myself, but if we cannot convert more birders into taking part in conservation, the places we value so much in our hobby—and the places that generate our birds—will become fewer and fewer.

So, to my many birding friends, enjoy the Paton Center and support TAS efforts to make it a world-class center. But also get involved in bird conservation whenever and wherever you can: It is needed.

Another favorite hummingbird to spot at the Paton Center is the Broad-billed Hummingbird. Photo by Greg Homel/Natural Elements Productions

Another favorite to spot at the Paton Center is the Broad-billed Hummingbird. Photo by Greg Homel/Natural Elements Productions

DSC00092George H. Fenwick has served as President and CEO since ABC’s founding in 1994. Prior to that, he worked in a variety of capacities during 15 years with The Nature Conservancy, including Director of Science and Chair of the Last Great Places Campaign Steering Committee. He received a Ph.D. in Pathobiology from Johns Hopkins University.

Ecuador BirdBlitz Results: One Country, 11 Reserves, 620 Species, 6,865 Birds!

Yellow-tufted Dacnis at the Río Canandé Reserve. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

Yellow-tufted Dacnis at the Río Canandé Reserve. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

By Ivan Samuels and Benjamin Skolnik

During October 15-22, the Jocotoco Foundation of Ecuador embarked on its first ever BirdBlitz. Inspired by the popular BioBlitz events that have taken place in U.S. national parks, the BirdBlitz was developed as an exciting way to count birds throughout the Jocotoco reserve system while simultaneously raising funds to support the organization’s critically important conservation programs.

Laughing Falcon. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

A Laughing Falcon looks out for prey. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

Summary of the BirdBlitz Results:

  • Total species: 620
  • Total individual birds: 6,865
  • Number of Jocotoco reserves: 11

And according to Benjamin Skolnik, here are some additional highlights:

  • Best Bird: Pacific Royal Flycatcher
  • Coolest Threatened Species Observed: 2 Ochraceous Attilas and a bunch of El Oro Parakeets
  • Most Surprising Find: a flock of 30 Military Macaws, one of the largest flocks ever seen in Ecuador (and the largest ever seen in the Narupa Reserve)
  • Favorite Moment: watching a sleeping Chestnut-mandibled Toucan under a leaf at night with its tail raised to avoid getting wet in the rain
One of the largest flocks of Military Macaws ever seen in Ecuador! Photo courtesy of Jocotoco Foundation

In this rare photo: one of the largest flocks of Military Macaws ever seen in Ecuador! Photo courtesy of Jocotoco Foundation

The BirdBlitz was conducted much like a Christmas Bird Count or a Big Day competition. Dedicated teams composed of staff, board members, and guests covered as much ground as possible, tallying both numbers and species.

A young Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. Photo by Emma Steigerwald

A young Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. Photo by Emma Steigerwald

Despite the logistical challenges, all 11 Jocotoco reserves had teams on the ground. While Ecuadorian Christmas Bird Counts report impressive numbers, never before have so many incredibly diverse tropical habitats been surveyed for birds during one event – from the wet Chocó rainforests of the northwest to the dry Tumbesian forests of the south, and from the high cold Páramos of Antisana to the lush foothills of the Amazon. Together these teams covered a mega-diverse transect of biodiversity, especially within the Andes.

Blue-gray Tanager. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

An inquisitive Blue-gray Tanager. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

And the birds did not disappoint! By the time the last wet and muddy birders called it a day, 6,865 birds of 620 species had been counted! Representation by some taxa was particularly impressive, such as 57 species of hummingbirds. But the diversity of habitats represented by the reserve system ensured that an impressive majority of taxonomic groups were accounted for, from species as diverse as the Blue-footed Booby to the Jocotoco Antpitta itself.

Pale-mandibled Araçari. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

This Pale-mandibled Araçari was an exciting find for the BirdBlitz team. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

One of the most encouraging outcomes of the event was how successful we were in finding the emblematic, threatened species that Jocotoco works so hard to protect: El Oro Parakeet (Buenaventura), Pale-headed Brush-Finch (Yunguilla), Military Macaw (Narupa), Esmeraldas Woodstar (Ayampe), Jocotoco Antpitta (Tapichalaca), and almost too many Chocó and Tumbesian endemics to mention at Canandé and Jorupe.

The observation platform at the Canandé Reserve was ideal for the team to scan for canopy species. Photo by Pancho Sornoza

The observation platform at the Canandé Reserve was ideal for the team to scan for canopy species. Photo by Pancho Sornoza

The count also coincided nicely with migration, with both shorebirds and songbirds returning to Ecuador for the winter or passing through. The Antisana team registered an assortment of shorebirds (and a Blackburnian Warbler!) at the shockingly high elevation of 15,000 ft., while both Peregrine Falcon and Eastern Kingbird were highly unexpected at Canandé. The Narupa team was delighted to find recently returned Cerulean Warblers, a species listed as Vulnerable and a primary motivation for the creation of that reserve.

A Roadside Hawk takes off. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

A Roadside Hawk takes flight. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

Finally, the BirdBlitz was a fantastic way for the Jocotoco Foundation and its friends to celebrate the diversity we have been working so hard to protect for 15 years. In no small way, this has allowed us to reflect on the success of the Jocotoco reserve system in conserving Ecuador’s threatened bird species. Additionally, all sightings will be entered into eBird, thus contributing to citizen science at the same time.

Silver-throated Tanager. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

A colorful Silver-throated Tanager. Photo by Benjamin Skolnik

Please help us keep this vision alive by fulfilling your pledge per species, or by making a donation to Jocotoco. Your tax-deductible contribution will directly benefit the Jocotoco Foundation by supporting the staff that steward our reserves.

Thank you for your support in helping us bring back the birds!

Ivan-in-Ecuador-300x225_CAPIvan Samuels lives in San Francisco where he works for the March Conservation Fund, an organization that envisions a world of healthy, resilient ecosystems that will sustain wildlife populations in the face of climate change. March Conservation Fund works to expand protected areas, support ecological research, and empower the public to become stewards and advocates for the natural world.

BS1Benjamin Skolnik is the Director of International Program Development at American Bird Conservancy. He works with partners in Ecuador and Colombia on projects for land protection, ecotourism, and conservation birding. He also coordinates the Alliance for Zero Extinction, a global effort to curb species loss. He is fluent in Spanish and can speak basic Quechua. Benjamin lives in historic Greenbelt, Maryland with his family.

There and Back Again: To Laysan with Love

The Laysan 2014 crew from left to right: Robby Kohley (ABC), Barbara Heindl (ABC), Whitney Taylor (NOAA), Megan Dalton (ABC), Hope Ronco (NOAA), and Genni Brookshire (NOAA). Photo by Hope Ronco

The Laysan 2014 crew from left to right: Robby Kohley (ABC), Barbara Heindl (ABC), Whitney Taylor (NOAA), Megan Dalton (ABC), Hope Ronco (NOAA), and Genni Brookshire (NOAA). Photo by Hope Ronco

October 30, 2014 | By Megan Dalton

It’s a little surreal. September on Laysan just flew by, then we all left the island, and now I’m sitting at my desk at home in Salt Lake City, tapping away at the computer, not needing to swat at the previously omnipresent flies buzzing about my person. I’m not even sweating profusely, simply sitting in a chair – in fact, I’ve got a space heater at my feet and a fleece jacket on. But unforgiving flies and heat notwithstanding, I miss Laysan a lot.

I treasure my Laysan experiences. There is nothing quite like waking up in a place so vibrant, so noisy, and bustling heartily with wildlife, where every square foot of land (and sometimes air) is occupied by some sort of seabird, plant, duck, seal, crab, songbird… some of them endemic species found nowhere else in the world!

There is nothing quite like commuting to and from work among such unique traffic, and under the latest lovely sunrise or dark and foreboding storm cloud. And nothing like being a spectator with a front-row seat to the seasonal rhythms and progressions of such a place.

Typical scene during sunset on Laysan, taken in April 2013. Birds seen and heard in this clip include Laysan Albatrosses, Black-footed Albatrosses, Sooty Terns, White Terns, Great Frigatebirds, Red-footed Boobies, Masked Boobies, and Bonin Petrels. Video by Megan Dalton

Laysan is one of those rare places that takes you back to a time when things were untamed and unbridled by our increasingly large human footprint, a feeling made all the more compelling by the island’s twentieth century to-the-brink-and-back story (see More Millerbirds, More Problems… if You’re a Field Biologist). I’m incredibly grateful to have spent time there.

Last-minute Developments

I’m certain, though, that Laysan and its inhabitants don’t even notice that everyone has left, and they are getting along just fine since our departure. During our last week on island, we had a couple of neat developments. The first was that, along with 10 USFWS staff and volunteers, we helped to remove all living Indian fleabane (Pluchea indica – a long-standing, dense, invasive shrub) from Laysan. Although we removed all the standing plants, there is an extensive seed bank that USFWS Refuge staff will be back to deal with in 2015. This is still exciting because the removal will give the native vegetation a chance to recolonize those areas that Pluchea used to so thoroughly dominate.

The second development was particularly exciting for the Millerbird team: during our very last island-wide survey, we found several Millerbirds in areas outside of NIMI Land for the first time!

One of my favorite pictures I took on Laysan: this Millerbird female, an original translocatee from Nihoa in 2012, is part of one of the most prolific breeding pairs on Laysan to date (with eight known successful fledglings). Here she is at the NW Bowl territory, brooding one of her growing chicks. Photo by Megan Dalton

One of my favorite pictures I took on Laysan: this Millerbird female, an original translocatee from Nihoa in 2012, is part of one of the most prolific breeding pairs on Laysan to date (with eight known successful fledglings). Here she is at the NW Bowl territory, brooding one of her growing chicks. Photo by Megan Dalton

All Millerbirds since the original 2011 and 2012 translocations to Laysan have remained in NIMI Land, or the northern part of the island that is dominated by native beach naupaka (Scaevola taccada), with the exception of a few adventurous birds in 2011 that went to the far south of the island.

Island-wide surveys have been conducted regularly to detect any movement outside of this area, but no birds were ever found in places outside the popular NIMI Land. That is until two days before our departure when, while performing our last island-wide survey, we observed one Millerbird breeding pair and at least three non-territorial individuals in a habitat comprised mostly of a different native shrub, ‘āweoweo (Chenopodium oahuense)!

Unusual sighting on Laysan: a Millerbird perched – not in naupaka – but in an ‘āweoweo shrub. Photo by Megan Dalton

Unusual sighting on Laysan: a Millerbird perched – not in naupaka – but in an ‘āweoweo shrub. Photo by Megan Dalton

A Sign of Good Things to Come

Millerbirds in ‘āweoweo is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it exemplifies the incredible amount of progress the native vegetation has shown in recent years. The Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge staff and volunteers have worked hard to help re-establish plants that disappeared after the island was denuded by rabbits a century ago, and nearly all of the ‘āweoweo present are a result of those efforts.

The second reason to be excited is that if Millerbirds are using new species such as ‘āweoweo or bunchgrass (Eragrostis variabilis), the potential for population growth on Laysan is much higher than if they remain limited to the naupaka. There is a lot of potentially suitable habitat remaining outside of NIMI Land that the Millerbirds haven’t occupied yet, and we are just waiting to see to if they decide to claim it. Seeing a few Millerbirds using ‘āweoweo is a good indication that they will! As we end the intensive study of the Millerbirds and transition to monitoring them like the other endangered bird species on Laysan, this is a very optimistic note for our departure.

Aerial view of Laysan taken from the north showing the extent of beach naupaka and morning glory (dark green areas), as well as bunchgrass (dappled, lighter green area). ‘Āweoweo is not prevalent enough to be seen here. The Millerbird population is currently residing in the naupaka north of the lake. We hope that in the future, Millerbirds will expand to other parts of the island. Photo by Robert J. Shallenberger, USFWS

Aerial view of Laysan taken from the north showing the extent of beach naupaka and morning glory (dark green areas), as well as bunchgrass (dappled, lighter green area). ‘Āweoweo is not prevalent enough to be seen here. The Millerbird population is currently residing in the naupaka north of the lake. We hope that in the future, Millerbirds will expand to other parts of the island. Photo by Robert J. Shallenberger, USFWS

Meanwhile, I’ll be here at home in my wool socks and beanie wistfully looking at our Laysan adventure pictures, wishing the Millerbirds and all their neighbors well. Laysan, thanks for having us!

Megan Dalton is from Salt Lake City, Utah, and has worked as an avian field biologist for several years on both the mainland and in Hawai‘i. She just returned from Laysan where she recently achieved her life goals of being a momentary perch for a curious Laysan Duck and tricking both of her crew mates with her Millerbird song impression.