Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a 2,600-acre natural area in southeastern Pennsylvania. The terrain acts like a funnel for migrating raptors. The local mountains run north-south and cross winds hit the ridges and create updrafts favorable for slope soaring.  Hawk Mountain is on the Appalachian Flyway and is one of the best places in the country to watch migrating raptors in the fall.

The area has a bloody and sad history. In 1929 the Pennsylvania Game Commission placed a $5 bounty on goshawks and Hawk Mountain was a favorite location for hunters. Richard Pough, an amateur ornithologist visited Hawk Mountain and watched hunters shooting hundreds of migrating raptors, just for sport. The bodies of the dead birds were left to rot on the ground.

Richard sent photos of the dead birds to New York conservationist Rosalie Edge.  Mrs. Edge visited the area. She leased 1,400 acres, stopped the hunting, and created what eventually became the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

Today Hawk Mountain is the most famous hawk watch location in the country.

Male Northern Harrier in flight.

Male Northern Harrier. Photograph by Greg Lavaty.

Scenic overlooks range from 1,300 to 1,500 feet in elevation offering spectacular views. Between August 15 and December 15 an average 18,000 raptors fly past its ridge tops, often at eye-level.

By mid-August the first Bald Eagle signals the beginning of the fall raptor migration, followed by Ospreys, and American Kestrels. Thousands of Broad-winged Hawks pass in mid September, and October brings as many as 16 species of raptors.

Peregrine Falcon.

Peregrine Falcon.

While fall is the most popular time of year, the sanctuary is open year-round. Free programs feature live birds of prey and are held most Saturdays and Sundays, May through November.

Almost 250 bird species have been seen in the area. Numerous hiking trails run through the area. The Visitor Center includes the Mountain Bookstore, Wings of Wonder gallery, and gift shop.

Broad-winged Hawk in flight

Broad-winged Hawk

Location:
About 30 miles west of Allentown, Pa.

Sam Crowe on July 10th, 2016

Birds in a specific family usually have a high degree of family resemblance.  Gulls look like gulls, hawks look like a hawk and owls look like an owl.

This is not the case with Cotingas.  Contingas vary in size, body structure and behavior.  They carry names such as Kinglet Calyptura (about 3 inches long), Bearded Bellbird (11 inches long), Orange-breasted Fruiteater (7 inches long) and the Amazonian Umbrellabird (almost 20 inches long). The group is so diverse it seems that there is always a discussion among scientists to decide if a particular species really belongs in the Cotinga family.

Cotingas are found in Central and South America.  Their preferred habitat is forest and forest edges. They are a member of the passerines (sometimes called perching birds or song birds). They feed on insects and fruit.

The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is the showiest member of this diverse group

The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is the showiest member of this diverse group

Females are usually much duller in appearance than the males.

Bare-necked Fruitcrow

Bare-necked Fruitcrow. The only member of the genus Gymnoderus. It is found in the Amazon Rainforest.

In some species courtship occurs on lekking grounds, with birds like the Cock-of-the-Rock performing elaborate displays.

Bearded Bellbird

Bearded Bellbird. Occurs in humid forests and woodland of Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Guyana, Venezuela, Bolivia and northern Brazil.

In some species both parents care for the young and in others the males depart after mating.

The Purple-throated Fruitcrow is a colonial nester and does little to hide its nests.  Often one female will lay an egg and the others, male and female, help provide insects to the chick.

Orange-breasted Fruiteater

Orange-breasted Fruiteater. Native to Colombia and Ecuador. Found in subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

 

Yellow-billed Cotinga

Yellow-billed Cotinga. Found in coastal Costa Rica and western Panama. Found in a variety of habitats.

The photographs are from Central and South America and were taken by Glenn Bartley. Glenn has been a Birdzilla.com staff photographer for many years. Glenn leads his own photographer work shops to Central and South America as well as Canada. His trips are so popular that his tropical workshops scheduled for the balance of 2016 and all of 2017 are already sold out.  Visit Glenn’s web site to sign up for email alerts about future workshops and to see more of his fantastic work.

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Sam Crowe on July 5th, 2016

bald-eagle

The Birdzilla Adventure Team (BAT) reports from the Mackinaw River high in the northern Yukon.  The focus of the trip were the “friendly” Grizzly Bears.  Most of the eagles are immature Bald Eagles.

The trip then extend to Alaska and a visit with Horned Puffins and more bears.

Sam Crowe on July 4th, 2016

The graceful “sea swallow” faces threats from storms and humans.

Adult Least Tern

With a length of only 9 inches the diminutive Least Tern is the smallest Northern American Tern.

Two of the three subspecies of Least Tern are endangered, including the California and Interior Least Terns. The East Coast subspecies is much more numerous and is not classified as endangered.

Despite its small size, the Least Tern migrates to Central and South America in the winter.

Least Terns nest in colonies, so their territories are limited to an area of about three feet from their nest. Least Tern nests are vulnerable to loss through flooding, predation, and disturbance by human activity. Colony sites of the endangered subspecies usually have special protection to keep people away during the breeding season.

The Least Tern is easy to identify. In breeding plumage it has pale gray upperparts, white underparts, mostly gray wings with two black outer primaries, a black cap with a white forehead, a rather shallowly forked tail, yellowish legs, and a yellow bill with a black tip.

First summer and winter-plumaged birds have a black bill.

Least Tern Chick

 

Juvenile Least Tern

Storms can be a threat to nesting terns, as described in this beautiful video from Steven Siegel of Raven on the Mountain.

 

The Bent Life History series, published by the Smithsonian, has this to say about the Least Tern and its early interaction with humans.

Clearly impressed upon my mind is a vivid picture of a peaceful summer scene in a remote corner of Cape Cod; a broad, flat sandy point stretched for a mile or more out into the sea; the deep blue ocean with its cooling breezes made a pleasing contrast to the glaring white sands which reflected the heat of the midday sun; scattered about on the sandy plain around me were the little hollows containing the eggs of the least tern, almost invisible among the pebbles, hits of shells, and small stones, which they resembled so closely; and overhead the air was full of the graceful, flitting forms of this little “sea swallow,” darting down at me, with sharp cries of anxiety, or soaring far aloft until they were lost to sight in the ethereal blue of a cloudless sky. Such a picture as this was a common sight, in those days, anywhere along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Florida, where the least tern was widely distributed and very abundant in all suitable localities. But its graceful form and delicate plumage was so much in demand for the millinery trade that it was practically extirpated in nearly all places where it was easily accessible, leaving only a delightful memory of a joy that had passed. It was never particularly shy and was easily killed on its breeding grounds, its social and sympathetic habits making it a simple matter to practically annihilate a whole colony in a single season.

Numerous colonies formerly existed on the southern coasts of New England. Mr. William Brewster (1879) wrote that “formerly a small colony of least terns nested annually upon the Ipswich sand hills, but they have been entirely driven away by persecution,” but since that time they have not been found breeding north of Cape Cod. Mr. John C. Cahoon (1890) wrote:

Not a day passes in the summer that the fishermen about this island do not patrol the beach In search of the tern’s and piping plover’s eggs. The birds have no chance to breed. When I first visited the island about six years ago there were several hundred pairs of least tern breeding, but they have now become reduced to less than 25 pair.

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Sam Crowe on June 26th, 2016

Events held in both October and December, 2016.

Wings Over Water is one of the most unique wildlife and birding festivals in the country.  The festival covers such a large area that it takes two events to do the area justice.

Wings Over Water takes place over a six counties in northeastern North Carolina.  It includes six national wildlife refuges: Alligator River, Pea Island, Pocosin Lakes, Mattamuskeet, Mackay Island and Currituck National Wildlife Refuges.  The area is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Outer Banks.

Located along the Atlantic flyway, large numbers of both resident and migratory birds can be seen in the varied habitats of the region. Over 400 bird species have been recorded in the area.

Northern-Shoveller-1-bartley

Northern Shoveler. Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

First Up – October 18-23
The 20th anniversary of the event kicks off on October 18th and runs through Sunday, October 23.

Visitors to the event will be able to participant in a wide variety of activities including birding, kayak tours, painting classes, photography tours/classes and night-time explorations.

Kenn Kaufman is the keynote speaker for this year’s event.  It is worth the trip just to hear Kenn speak.

Besides being a haven for birds, Wings Over Water participants have the potential of seeing a variety of reptiles, amphibians and mammals, including black bear, river otter, alligators and the endangered red wolf.

Encore Weekend: December 9-11
Encore week is especially for birders and photographers to enjoy seeing large flocks of migratory birds and waterfowl. Thousands of Green-winged Teal, Mallards, American Widgeons, American Black Ducks, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Ring-necked Ducks, and Tundra Swans can be seen during the winter.

Registration:

Online registration is now open for both sections. Visit the event web site to register.

About the event:
Wings Over Water is an annual refuge fundraising event sponsored by Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society. The CWRS is a non-profit group who exist to support regional national wildlife refuges.  Besides providing educational grants to schools, the CWRS is a part of many refuge support projects such as maintaining trails and signs and other refuge structures.

Sam Crowe on June 19th, 2016

Research may reveal one reason for color morphs, but there is much to learn.

In some birds, such as the well-known Red-tailed Hawk, the same species can occur in two or more color types, or morphs. New research may reveal at least one reason for this.

Scientists studied Black Sparrowhawks in South Africa. The species has both a dark and a light color morph. Research indicates that the hunting success measured by how much food they brought to their chicks differed depending on light levels. Thus dark birds did better when it was darker and light birds did better when it was brighter.

“Our study is the first study to reveal support for the idea that color polymorphism is due to different morphs being better adapted to different light conditions,” said Gareth Tate, PhD student at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and lead author of the Ecology Letters study. “This is an important finding and helps evolutionary biologists understand how multiple color varieties can co-exist together in the face of natural selection.”

Dr. Arjun Amar, supervising author of the paper added, “We think that dark morph birds capture more prey in duller conditions because they are better camouflaged against darker cloudier skies. Within our study area, high rainfall coincides with when the species is breeding, and this may also explain why we have so many of this usually rare colour type here.”

In the United States the Red-tailed Hawk has highly variable plumage, including a very light phase, known as Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk and a very dark phase known as Harlan’s Hawk. Krider’s and Harlan’s were previously considered separate species. There is little in the literature suggesting reasons for the wide range of plumages.

 

Kriders morph - Red-tailed Hawk

Kriders morph – Red-tailed Hawk

 

Red-tailed Hawk

Typical Red-tailed Hawk

 
The common White-throated Sparrow has a subtle plumage morph that effects mate choice.  Individuals of the “white-striped” morph have primarily white and primarily black feathers in the median and lateral crown stripes. Individuals of the “tan-striped” morph have primarily tan and brown crown stripes.

The two forms are genetically determined. Individuals almost always mate with a bird of the opposite morph.

– Males of both color types prefer females with white stripes.
– Both types of females prefer tan-striped males.
– White-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped ones.
– White-striped females may be able to out-compete the tan-striped females for tan-striped males.

White-throated Sparrow with white eye line

White-throated Sparrow with white eye line

 

White-throated Sparrow with tan eye line

White-throated Sparrow with tan eye line

From the Bent Life History Series:
Investigations were made of behavioral differences between breeding adults of both types (of White-throated Sparrows) in Algonquin Park in order to determine at least some of the factors governing the assortative mating (Lowther, MS., and see also Voice). Experiments with tape recordings showed that white-striped males are more aggressive than tan-striped males toward singing individuals. Furthermore white-striped females sing, tan-striped females do not, and white-striped males act aggressively toward singing females, while tan-striped males do not. Finally, the trill note of a female elicits a copulatory excitation in males of both types, but when the trills are accompanied by songs of either males or females, this excitation of white-striped males is suppressed and is replaced by aggressive behavior. This is not true for tan-striped males, which were seen to copulate with their white-striped females, even when a tape recording of a strange male was being played.

While the research on the Black Sparrowhawk in South Africa may reveal one reason for color morphs of the same species, the situation is complex and much remains unknown.

Have another cold one in support of the birds.

Bird-friendly coffee has long been available for many years.  The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center advertisers their coffee as the only 100% organic and shade-grown coffee but there are many other sources for bird-friendly coffee.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has published an excellent article on the advantages of shade-grown coffee, including this excerpt:

“In study after study, habitat on shade-grown coffee farms outshone sun-grown coffee farms with increased numbers and species of birds as well as and improved bird habitat, soil protection/erosion control, carbon sequestration, natural pest control and improved pollination. While sun-grown systems can have higher yields, the shaded farms easily outperform them in sustainability measurements with the trees providing an array of ecological services that offer both direct and indirect “income/payback” to farmers and the environment.”

But what about another popular drink – beer?
Just to be clear, we are not talking about feeding beer to birds, but about the ingredients in beer, much like the coffee beans used to make coffee.

Paul Baicich in the latest issue of his Great Birding Projects newsletter suggests that bird-friendly beer might be around the corner. Here’s his insight into the possibility.

Is bird-friendly beer possible? Something you might not have considered…

It’s not as outlandish as you might think. A “bird-friendly beer” really depends on how you look at beer ingredients and if they have content that actually helps birds.

Well, we are in luck. And whether you are a beer fan or not, this may be of interest.

Ingredients in beer may vary culturally in such countries as the Netherlands, Japan, Mexico, Great Britain, and Belgium, but in the U.S. most brands of beer have used barley as the main ingredient in brewing. It’s the “adjunct” ingredients that may now draw our attention. “Adjunct” refers to any beer ingredient other than malted barley used to contribute sugar for fermentation (including sugar itself) in making beers.

Mass market beers, and even craft beers, use these adjunct ingredients.  They can include wheat, rye, oats, corn, and rice. Of these, one element surely stands out: rice.

Since American rice in the United States is the most bird-compatible, mass-produced, popular crop in the country, it deserves special consideration. Although the total acreage of rice grown in the United States (c. 2.8 million acres) may be less than that used by some other crops – corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and sorghum, for example – rice is actually critical for our wetland birds.

Today, American rice farms, many of them family farms, serve as “surrogate wetlands” to supplement natural wetlands that have decreased over time. Rice production creates a modest but essential replacement ecosystem, helping to ameliorate losses of native wetland habitat. It’s important for waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, rails, and many other species.

Separating rice at processing mills results in “head rice” (whole-grain) and different grades of broken kernels, or “brewer’s rice.” In the past, most broken rice in the U.S. went to the beer industry. Today, most of the rice going into beer is whole-grain, while the dog-food industry uses the much of the broken rice.

Used properly in production, rice lightens the color and body of beer. It has been used much like corn has in beer, but it helps produce a drier product. Rice is very much about clean and dry drinkability. This may not be to your own particular taste, but pale lager still dominates the U.S. beer market, and grains that make beer lighter seem to be essential for most makers of pale lager.

Currently, Budweiser uses rice in its production. Indeed, the Budweiser bottle labels announce the rice content: “Brewed by our original process from the choicest hops, rice, and best barley malt.”  Among the larger brewers, Coors also uses rice, reportedly, less so.  But with some of the biggest beer brands in the country – consider Budweiser, Miller and Coors – now owned by foreign investors, the future of beer here is still in flux. At the same time, local craft beers continue to grow, with some of them using rice in the brewing process.

So far, no major brand has pitched itself as a bird-friendly beer, but perhaps it’s only time before that happens. And, yes, experts say that one could probably make beer from 100 percent rice, but it probably would be very bland!

Consider rice and wetland birds the next time you order up a brew or go shopping for a six-pack.

Sam Crowe on June 5th, 2016

The Thrill of the Thaw – Cuba, birds, and us.

Birders are excited about the opportunity to return to Cuba.  With over 370 species and 24 endemic species Cuba is top of the list for many birders.  Cuba is home to the world’s smallest Hummingbird, the Bee Hummingbird (about 2 inches long and weighing in at about .06 oz.). One of the last confirmed reports of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker comes from Cuba.

The following information is excerpted, with permission, from the Great Birding Projects newsletter.

“There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t witness some changes in U.S.-Cuban relations. Indeed, in the last two weeks relating to Havana alone, we have seen the first high-end Miami-based cruise initiated, movie and TV filming, and even an elite fashion-design event (Channel). But there is a lot underway apart from Havana, and these are taking place in parts of Cuba where visitors can get a better understanding of the real Cuba. Increased U.S.-Cuban bird-connections through people-to-people and research-based bird activities have been underway and have actually been increasing. This is all very healthy.

Cuban Trogon

The Cuban Trogon is Cuba’s national bird. In Cuba it is known as the Tocororo or Tocoloro because of the call it makes. Image credit: Laura Gooch. CC BY 2.0

Not only have there been regular mutual visits between ornithologists and conservationists, there have been creative exchanges dealing with raptor and songbird monitoring, youth education, feeder-interest, and much-needed field-equipment transfer. In fact, the next BirdCaribbean meeting – to be held in the summer of 2017 – is scheduled to take place in Cuba, at Topes in the Sierra del Escambray. This could represent another real breakthrough in dialogue and cooperation.

Cuban Green Woodpecker

Cuban Green Woodpecker.
By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Cuba is instrumental for inter-American bird populations. Over 370 species of birds have been recorded on the island, including over two dozen species which are endemic to Cuba. Due to its large land area and geographical position within the Caribbean, Cuba is a real stand-out. More than 160 species will pass through the island during migration or spend the winter on the island.

If you are interested in a bird-study trip to Cuba later this year (3-15 November), a trip designed for 14 people and led by excellent leaders, check out an itinerary developed by the Caribbean Conservation Trust. (If you want more specific details, including hints on alternate trips, e-mail Paul Baicich.)

At the same time, the wonderful book by Nils Navarro, Endemic Birds of Cuba: A Comprehensive Field Guide, was published last year and is available through Ediciones Nuevos Mundos.

References:
Great Birding Projects is a vehicle to promote a creative approach to bird-related editing, education, tourism, and marketing. GBP functions as a bridge to an innovative engagement between people and birds. You can access all previous issues of the GBP bulletin on the GBP website here.

Paul J. Baicich
Great Birding Projects,
P.O. Box 404
Oxon Hill, MD 20750

Sam Crowe on May 29th, 2016

Over 1,900 species have been recorded in Colombia!

Golden-hooded-Tanager

Golden-hooded Tanager. © Glenn Bartley

Colombia leads the world in avian biodiversity. With a species count approaching 2,000, almost 20 % of all bird species on Earth can be found in a country less than twice the size of Texas.  It includes 76 known breeding endemics.

Emerald Tanager. © Glenn Bartley

Emerald Tanager. © Glenn Bartley

Geographically, Colombia is the “top” country of South America, the first country below Panama. It is a short two hour flight from Miami. The nation boasts spectacular natural beauty – the Andes mountains, the Amazon rain forest, beautiful coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and the La Guajira Desert.

Ecologically, Colombia is considered one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, and of these, the most biodiverse per square kilometer.  Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, lagging only after Brazil which is approximately 7 times bigger.

Recent years have seen a dramatic change in the country.  It has become a much safer country to visit and and now attracts over 4 million visitors a year.

Cock-of-the-Rock

Cock-of-the-Rock

Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, lagging only after Brazil which is approximately 7 times bigger.

Visiting birders face the tough but exciting decision of where to go first.  Distinct areas include the Andean Region, the Amazon region, and both the Pacific and Caribbean areas. The birding is terrific everywhere.

Choco Toucan

Choco Toucan

Use of a local tour company or bird guide is essential in seeing the most birds and remaining safe.

Top guides and tour companies include:

Cali Tours

Colombia Birdwatch

 

Sam Crowe on May 20th, 2016

The Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance will the Kirtland’s Warbler Home Opener on Friday, June 3 at the Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center on beautiful Higgins Lake.  (Northeast Michigan).   The program runs from 6:30pm-9:00pm and includes a silent auction, presentation by Dr. Nathan Cooper of the Smithsonian Institute on migration routes of the Kirtland’s Warbler.

kirtlands-warbler-2

Festivities continue on Saturday, June 4 with the Kirtland’s Warbler Festival at the Community Recreation, Activities and Fitness (C.R.A.F.) Center. The Kirtland’s Warbler Festival will include a wide array of nature-based activities developed around the official theme “Healthy Habitats. Healthy Communities.” From Kirtland’s Warbler tours in the jack pine forest and presentations about bird feeders and rare wildlife of Northeast Michigan, to a 5K race and kayak trip, the Festival aims to highlight and embody the connections that are formed between one’s community and the natural world surrounding it.

kirtlands-warbler-3

The endangered Kirtland’s Warbler has a limited nesting range, primarily in northern Michigan.  Loss of habitat and predation by the Brown-headed Cowbird once dropped estimates of known breeding pairs to less than 200.  Concerted efforts by many groups have helped produce a strong recovery for the still endangered species.

Birders wishing to view the Kirtland’s Warbler Can take tours offered by the U.S. Forest Service and the Michigan Audubon society, in addition to attending the Alliance Weekened.  Most male Kirtland’s warblers arrive on the breeding grounds between May 1st and May 18th (means range between May 12th and May 15th), with the first females arriving a week or so after the first males. The best period for seeing the warbler is during late May and the month of June.  After July 1, viewing opportunities diminish.

kirtlands-warbler-2

History of the discovery of the Kirtland’s Warbler, from the Bent Life History Series:

“Kirtland’s warbler was not described until 1852; yet the earliest scientific specimen was collected by Dr. Samuel Cabot, Jr., aboard ship near Abaca Island of the Bahamas in the second week of October 1841. Cabot, however, was on his way with John L. Stephens to Yucatan, and he became so preoccupied with his studies of the spectacular tropical birds of a country then entirely untouched by ornithologists that the little Bahaman warbler skin, brought back to Boston and deposited in his collection, remained unnoticed for more than 20 years (Baird, 1865).

On May 13, 1851, Charles Pease at Cleveland collected a male of the still unnamed warbler and gave the specimen to his father-in-law, Jared P. Kirtland, the well-known naturalist. A few days later, Spencer F. Baird, returning to Washington from a scientific meeting in Cincinnati, stopped a day in Cleveland with his friend Kirtland and was given the specimen to take back to the Smithsonian Institution. The next year (1852) Baird published his description of the new warbler, naming it Sylvicola kirtlandii in honor of Dr. Kirtland, “a gentleman to whom, more than [to] any one living, we are indebted for a knowledge of the Natural History of the Mississippi Valley.”

The complete account is available here.

Kirtland Warbler Tours
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Michigan Audubon