Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cats & Birds: A Longtime Conservation Struggle

The impact of free-ranging domestic and feral cats on bird populations has been researched and reported in the media for at least several decades. And, at least as old, are the heated debates between cat defenders and bird conservationists.  One of the most current published studies of cat predation (Loss, S. R., T. Will, and P. P. Marra. 2013. The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nature Communications 4:1396) estimated bird deaths attributed to cat predation to be in the range of 1.4 to 3.7 billion annually. Feral cats attributed to the majority of bird deaths. 

Recently, while perusing biennial reports of the Vermont State Fish and Game Commissioner, I came across the following article in the 22nd Biennial Report, Fiscal Year 1914, reprinted verbatim below.  The commissioner at the time was John W. Titcomb. He stated:

"The reader of the foregoing will acknowledge that the birds are a very important economic factor in agriculture and that every possible effort should be made to increase their numbers.

"Mr. Edward H. Forbush, state ornithologist of Massachusetts, says that a mature cat in good hunting grounds kills on average fifty birds a year. "If we assume, however, that the average cat on the farm kills but ten birds a year, and that there are two cats on each farm in Massachusetts, we have, in round numbers, seventy thousand cats killing seven hundred thousand birds annually."

"Mr. Forbush has merely counted the destruction caused by cats in Massachusetts. Adding the enormous number of village and city cats, many of which have good opportunity for catching birds and their young , the havoc wrought is appalling.  It therefore behooves every right-minded citizen and his family to keep the family house pet at home and well fed. To a large degree cats may be trained not to kill birds.  Everyone should guard against stray cats which are often deserted by families moving from one locality to another and are obliged to roam the forests and fields to get a living.

"It has been proposed in some states to license cats.  Such a radical step seems undesirable, if every bird lover and those who are interested in the economic value of birds take warning to see that the family "tabby" is not allowed to roam at large.

"Those who are really bird lovers and want to have bird nesting close to the house should try the experiment of dispensing with the family cat for one summer and note the increase in bird life about the garden."

Obviously, measures to reduce the cat predation problem have been discussed at least 100 years. Recommending responsible cat owners confine their pets to indoors rather letting them to free-range is nothing new but nevertheless not accepted as much as it should be. 

Our own house cat, Simone, has never been permitted access to the out of doors, therefore deprived opportunities to prey on birds or worse yet to fall victim to a predator-prey role reversal, i.e. being a meal for a coyote or fisher. Despite not being allowed to pursue her natural killer instinct she seems content to watch birds frequenting the feeders and knowing that her food bowl will be filled on schedule daily. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Calliope Hummingbird

This morning Eva and I headed to Manchester, New Hampshire with hopes of seeing the Calliope Hummingbird which has been seen daily since October 6 visiting feeders at the residence of Pam and Paul Tremblay (781 South Mammoth Road).  At 8:00 a.m. we arrived at our destination and were graciously welcomed by the Tremblays.  Within minutes the male hummer made its appearance alighting on the feeder located in front of the house.  Throughout the morning the bird tended to visit alternately one of the two feeders (the other behind the house) at 20 to 30 minute intervals.  Both feeders provide birders with close range viewing and photography.  Throughout our stay the number of birders steadily increased and the hummer did not fail to make appearances on schedule.  By the time we decided to head back home 30 plus birders had come and gone and  my guess is that none left disappointed.

This is the first New Hampshire state record for the species and a rare vagrant to the Northeast. Within the past couple weeks there have been other reports of single birds from Massachusetts and New Jersey.  The Calliope Hummingbird is North America's smallest breeding bird. Its breeding range is montane habitats of the Rocky Mountains and west; winter range is southwestern Mexico.  How long the Tremblays bird will remain is anyone's guess, but the longer it hangs around, its odds of survival diminish.  Hopefully it will resume migrating to much more southern climes.

Many thanks to our hosts, Pam and Paul, for their generosity and  patience by granting so many birders the rare opportunity of seeing this little gem.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ross's Goose - Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area

On Monday, October 15 this Ross's Goose was spotted amidst several thousand Snow Geese at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) goose viewing area off VT Route 17 in Addison.  The species is a very uncommon migrant in the state and, if  it is to be seen, it is most likely to be at Dead Creek.

The WMA is a 2,858 acre tract located in the towns of Addison, Bridport and Panton.  The Creek, seven impoundments, and associated wetlands attract a variety of waterfowl species as well as shorebirds particularly during migrations.  Much of the WMA is in agricultural use (corn and hay production) which provide feed and resting areas for geese in migration.  The WMA is one of the most popular birding destinations in Vermont.  It is owned by the State of Vermont and managed by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Baird's Sandpiper - North Springfield Lake

Yesterday morning (Sunday, August 25) Don Clark and I checked out the mud flats at North Springfield Lake in Springfield and Weathersfield, VT for southward bound migrating shorebirds.  Viewing was from two locations overlooking the northeastern portion of the reservoir from Springweather Nature Area.  Over the past several weeks there have been some interesting bird sightings: most notably three Snowy Egrets, up to five Great Egrets, and two Black-crowned Night-Herons.  Both egrets were present on Sunday as well as the following shorebirds: Great Blue Heron (at least one), Green Heron (2), Killdeer (upwards of 30 or so), Solitary Sandpiper (1), Spotted Sandpiper (1), Greater Yellowlegs (2), Lesser Yellowlegs (3), Least Sandpiper (9), and Baird's Sandpiper (1).

The Baird's was the most significant sighting of the morning.  Spotted feeding on Canada Goose droppings (small insects or other invertebrates?) littering the sandbar island.  The island is where the Snowy Egrets tend to loaf when not foraging.  The following photos were digiscoped from the overlook at a range of 100+ yards:

Above, note size comparison to Killdeer.  When Baird's was seen next to Least Sandpiper, the former was decidedly larger.

Baird's back has a scaly appearance and head, neck and upper breast are washed with light brown or buff.  Both above and below photos show long wing tips (primary projection and tertials extend beyond tail tip).

Below, note long, straight bill without any discernible curvature.  Our bird for the most part avoided the edge of the sandbar island preferring to feed on higher, drier ground.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mud Season

Spring in Vermont is well underway, but Ole Man Winter isn't letting up on his grip without a fight. Daytime temperatures have been hovering in the 40s, occasionally climbing into the low 50s, and evenings drop back into the 20s. All this makes for some interesting back road driving...hub deep mud by early afternoon and frozen ruts by morning. Its called mud season for good reason.  Where snow continues to blanket the ground, it is definitely showing age and will eventually melt away revealing of course only more mud. 

And this is also sugaring season.  Maple trees have been yielding sap, bucket after bucket, while sugar houses are billowing out steam as a byproduct of boiling down the raw product to sweet ambrosia...maple syrup. Each gallon of syrup requires 40 gallons of sap and a lot of hard labor not to mention late nights. From what I hear the 2013 season is looking to be a good one which is welcome relief following last year's poor sugaring season.

For me another sure sign of spring is the first arrival of male Redwing Blackbirds and hearing their guttural, squeaky songs, konk-ka-ree. In their wake have been the appearance of other early spring migrants such as Turkey Vultures, Common Grackles, American Woodcocks, Tree Swallows, and  a variety of waterfowl. With each passing day or two a new spring migrant makes its annual appearance. Its a rite of spring and spiritual renewal after a long winter.

The four tom Wild Turkeys that had been daily visitors to our yard gleaning seed and cracked corn from underneath the bird feeders have moved on in pursuit of mates.  Just yesterday while driving we were stopped in our tracks by a hormone pumped tom standing in the road seemingly oblivious to everything except the bevy of hens fully aware of our presence.

In a few weeks the Vermont landscape will be flushed with a pallet of pastels.  Forested hills breaking from winter dormancy will be flushed with pale greens and pinks with a splash of white here and there disclosing amelanchiers and viburnums in bloom.  Fields and pastures will green up and many wetlands will burst with gold marsh marigolds.  For me this all too brief couple weeks of spring rivals the hyped fall foliage season. Greek mythology associates spring, a time of new growth, with the nymph Chloris, so let's welcome her once again and take pleasure in her gifts.