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DVOC Main Page > Conservation > Conservation Corner 2007

CONSERVATION CORNER 2007

On this Page.......................

Local Raptor Counts
Hawk Mountain Season Summary
Benjamin Rush State Park (PA) Mowing
NWR Week
Ivory-billed Woodpecker Update
Fall Hawk Migration
Peregrine Comeback
Bald Eagle Delisted
Decline in Birds
Delaware Horseshoe Crabs
2007-2008 Duck Stamp
Bald Eagle Protection
Bald Eagle Update
Celebrate Urban Birds
Bald Eagle Nest in Philadelphia
Earth Day April 22, 2007
Proposed Delisting of the Bald Eagle
Wind Energy Committee
Schuylkill Township Bald Eagle Threatened
Blue Bird Houses
The Great Backyard Bird Count
Hawk Mountain
Tree-Vitalizing

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Conservation Corner - a running list of issues of interest to our members.

Local Raptor Counts
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, December 23, 2007)

© A Binns

While Hawk Mountain Sanctuary might be the most famous site for hawk-watching and monitoring in Pennsylvania, there are many organized hawk counts that gather important data and help document the phenomenon of raptor migration across North America and beyond.

The Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) collects raptor migration data from almost 200 hawk counting sites throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, including several official sites in southeastern PA. As a membership-based organization, HMANA is committed to raptor conservation through the scientific study, enjoyment and appreciation of raptor migration. Many DVOC members volunteer countless hours to help count at local hawkwatches, including some of the sites listed below*.

Militia Hill Hawkwatch, in Fort Washington State Park, completed 20 years of fall counting in 2007, led by members of the Wyncote Audubon Society, many of whom are also DVOC’ers. Observers reported 7,248 raptors in 453 observer hours this Fall, from September 1 – October 31. Highlights include 5 Golden Eagles and 2 Northern Goshawks seen in October. The group ended the season with their traditional Halloween Party gathering, honoring Marylea Klauder, who started the count 20 years ago – they wish her well in her retirement.

Rose Tree Park Hawkwatch, in Media, Delaware County, is organized each spring and fall by the Birding Club of Delaware County. In over 600 hours of monitoring from mid-August – November 30, they reported 4,944 individuals – the lowest number in 7 years of data compiled by HMANA. Turkey Vultures, Broad-Winged Hawks and Red-Tailed Hawks were at record low numbers, while Bald Eagles logged the second-highest count.

Adding to nearly 70 years of raptor migration data, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary logged a below-average number of 19,404 migrating raptors from August 15 – December 15. The season started with the first site record of a Swallow-Tailed Kite, followed soon after by a rare Swainson’s Hawk. The last bird of the season was a juvenile Bald Eagle – an ever more common species due to the long-running data of Hawk Mountain, which led to a ban of the toxic pesticide DDT in the 1970’s, and subsequent recovery of the Bald Eagle and other species.

Perhaps less well-known than nearby Hawk Mountain, but commanding the same Kittatiny Mountain ridge views, Bake Oven Knob hosts dedicated hawk counters each year. This Fall, 15,687 birds were reported in 787 hours of observation. Consistent with other regional counts, Bake Oven Knob logged low numbers of Vultures and Red-Tailed Hawks, but good numbers of Sharp-Shinned Hawks, Osprey and Bald Eagles.

Many counters contribute to the BroadwingSEPT project, an intense, all-volunteer effort to study Broad-Winged Hawk activity as they migrate through the southeastern PA region. Data is gathered during a few weeks in September and compiled by Kirk Moulton. BroadwingSEPT sites are located in Lehigh, Pleasant Valley, Lake Nockamixon, Pipersville, Peace Valley, Buckingham and Core Creek. Kirk urges all counters to submit data to local listserves or email him at bwsept@attglobal.net.

For more information about raptor monitoring sites in PA or across North America, log onto www.hawkcount.org. Consider volunteering at a local hawkwatch next fall, and make a difference in the conservation of raptors!

*If you have information about a local hawkwatch that is not included here, please email me (Debbie Beer). I’d like to include as many local count sites as possible.


 

Hawk Mountain 2007 Season Summary
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, December 17, 2007)

© A Binns

Hawk Mountain officially closed the 2007 raptor-counting season on December 15th with the sighting of a juvenile Bald Eagle, listed as an after-thought.

That the Bald Eagle is relatively unremarkable is due in no small part to the tireless, long-standing efforts of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary to compile and document detailed raptor migration data. Hawk Mountain’s annual counts represent the world’s longest record of raptor populations – nearly 70 years of information. In the 1960s, scientists used this database to show declining populations of many raptor species. The evidence led to the U.S. ban of the lethal pesticide DDT in 1972, and ultimately to the Bald Eagle being removed from the federal Endangered Species list in 2007 after a storied recovery.

While the numbers indicate a barely-average season – 19,404 raptors between August 15 and December 15 - the highlights make it interesting:

Warm weather and lack of northern snow may be a factor in the below-average counts, according to Sanctuary staff. They caution against thinking the decline is a trend; but emphasize that the final totals reflect just one year of activity. The numbers are most important when analyzed in the context of many years of data. Note that last year’s 2006 count of 25,115 raptors recorded the highest season total at Hawk Mountain since 1986.

Hawk Mountain is one of several organizations and projects committed to documenting raptor migration along Pennsylvania’s picturesque Kittatiny Mountain range. As these dedicated people continue their conservation efforts here and abroad, casual birders and serious counters can enjoy sweeping views of soaring raptors for years to come. For more information, log onto www.hawkmountain.org.


Philadelphia Park Vows Bird-Friendly Mowing
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, November 2, 2007)

DVOC applauds the recent efforts of Benjamin Rush State Park (PA), specifically Ranger Josh Bruce, to implement bird-friendly mowing procedures on the park grounds.

Located in the northeast corner of Philadelphia, this 275-acre undeveloped park is home to extensive community gardens, while providing valuable habitat and food sources for a wide variety of bird and wildlife species. The area is so valuable that the “Fairmount Park Complex and Benjamin Rush State Park” have been designated as an Important Bird Area, by Pennsylvania Audubon.

DVOC members Keith Russell and Frank Windfelder, both avid city birders, were dismayed to note that park grounds had been mowed painfully short around October 24, providing little benefit for winter birds. Keith contacted Park Ranger Josh Bruce, reiterating an earlier request to implement better mowing procedures – mainly that the park be mowed in late July or August, and leave a foot of vegetation remaining after mowing.

Ranger Bruce apologized for the excessive mowing during the last week of October. He agreed with Keith’s concerns and said there was a miscommunication among his mowing staff. The park had been mowed high in July, with the intention of leaving it, but mowing staff did not get that message, and followed their plan to mow in October. Bruce said that he is trying to change the official mowing plan of the park to follow our recommended, bird-friendly schedule.

DVOC has sent a letter to Ranger Bruce at Fort Washington State Park, expressing club support of implementing a bird-friendly mowing plan, and commending his efforts to protect bird populations in the park. (Click here for a copy of this letter). Keith has asked The Friends of Poquessing Watershed, the park’s main advocacy group, to send a similar letter of support.

Ranger Bruce hopes that our letters and voices will positively influence the park’s permanent mowing procedures and schedules. Maybe we’ll be able to enjoy Meadowlarks, along with White-crowned, Savannah and Vesper Sparrows at Benjamin Rush State Park all winter next year.

Community action can – and does – make a difference!


 

National Wildlife Refuge Week October 7-13, 2007
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, September 8, 2007)

There are few better places to connect with animals, nature and yourself, then at a wildlife refuge. National Wildlife Refuge week celebrates this connection on October 7-13, 2007, with special programs taking place at many of the 547 wildlife refuges nationwide.

The weeklong celebration is also part of a yearlong commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of pioneering conservationist and writer Rachel Carson. “Sixty years ago, Rachel Carson wrote that wildlife refuges provide a ‘release from the tensions of modern life,’” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall. “They do that, and more. National wildlife refuges also promise outdoor adventure to children growing up in a digital age, whose idea of nature might be watching animals on television. Refuges offer the real thing.”

The National Wildlife Refuge system protects approximately 97 million acres of fish and wildlife habitat, with at least one national refuge site in every state. Last year, more than 39 million people visited America's national wildlife refuges, enjoying such activities as birding, fishing, hunting, photographing nature, hiking or just being outdoors.

“Once people know about the great things we do, they flock to national wildlife refuges, whether as visitors or volunteers,” says National Wildlife Refuge System Chief Geoffrey L. Haskett. “e welcome them during National Wildlife Refuge Week and throughout the year.”

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, which provides guidance to the Secretary of the Interior for the overall management of the Refuge System. The Act includes a "strong and singular" wildlife conservation mission for the Refuge
System and recognizes that six wildlife-dependent recreational uses, when determined to be compatible, are legitimate and appropriate public uses of the Nation's Wildlife Refuges.

Delaware Valley area residents are fortunate to live within just a few hours’ drive of several beautiful National Wildlife Refuges (NWR). Early October, during National Wildlife Refuge Week, is a great time to visit one: PENNSYLVANIA: John Heinz NWR at Tinicum in Philadelphia; DELAWARE: Bombay Hook NWR and Prime Hook NWR; MARYLAND: Blackwater NWR and Eastern Neck NWR; NEW JERSEY: Edwin B. Forsythe NWR at Brigantine, Great Swamp NWR and Cape May NWR.

To find a national wildlife refuge near you, go to http://refuges.fws.gov or call 1-800-344-WILD (9453).


The Importance of Ivorybills
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, September 2, 2007)

To be or not to be? That is the question that continues to haunt many ornithologists, scientists and big-listers, about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I was as excited as anyone else that day in April 2005, when news of the possible survival of an ostensibly extinct species spread like wildfire into the mainstream conscience of America and the world.

But my excitement did not center around the gone-forever-or-not debate. After all, I figured, even if there is one bird, two birds, or even twenty birds, still surviving in the most remote corners of a southern swamp, my chances of ticking this bird off my life list are realistically nil, for many reasons.

My excitement stems from the conservation efforts that swelled around one bird’s story. Few species, if any, have captured people’s imagination, heart and hopes, like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Private organizations, public agencies, and concerned citizens have opened their wallets in record numbers to bring a once-extinct species back to life. People who can’t identify house sparrows in their backyard are talking about ‘that extinct woodpecker they found in Arkansas.’

I remain awed and fascinated by the dedication, determination and professionalism of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who fielded a 14-month mission in the back woods swamps of Arkansas, before announcing to the world, “We have conclusive proof that the ivory-billed woodpecker has survived into the 21st century.” Equally impressive are the legions of partners who signed-on to the project, with volunteer hours, equipment and funding, including The Nature Conservancy, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Audubon and other private and public supporters.

While I am saddened by the probable fate of the Ivory-bill Woodpecker, I am inspired by the conservation efforts fueled by its shadow. When resignation and pessimism pervade, I am reminded that it’s never too late to keep fighting for conservation. Sometimes actions can make a real difference. If Cornell’s researchers and field scientists had not pursued the possibility, perhaps the Big Woods tract would succumb to development pressures, instead of expanded environmental protections. If people didn’t believe in the possible survival of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, perhaps they would not support research on the next species hovering on the brink of extinction.

Additional information can be found at http://www.nature.org/ivorybill/ and http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/.


Fall Hawk Migration Begins
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, August 10, 2007)


© A Binns

While August feels like Summer for vacationers and sunbathers, it marks the beginning of Autumn for raptor migration at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Official counts begin next week, but some early birds have already begun their long journeys southward, including a juvenile Red Shouldered Hawk seen soaring over the Visitor Center, and an Osprey sailing past South Lookout. The owl decoy is ready for another Autumn of aerial attacks!

On Wednesday, August 15, a counter will be stationed at the famed North Lookout from 9 am to 5 pm daily. Research Biologist David Barber will share his weekly migration eUpdate every Monday, starting August 20th. Log on to www.hawkmountain.org to sign-up to receive the weekly migration update emails.

Located on the picturesque Kittatinny mountain ridge, the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s 2,600-acres, along with more than 13,000 acres of private and public lands, make up one of the largest, protected tracts of contiguous forest in southeastern Pennsylvania. Hawk Mountain provides critical resources for a wide variety of flora and fauna, including migrating raptors.

Autumn is an important season at Hawk Mountain, for many reasons. Besides gearing up for the awesome spectacle of migrating raptors, staff are busy preparing to host the 2007 Joint Conference of theRaptor Research Foundation and the Hawk Migration Association, on September 12 - 16, 2007. This 4-day event features special symposiums, identification workshops, field trips and more. Early registration discounts are still available. Check out www.hawkmountain.org for more details.

Hawk Mountain's partner watchsite, the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve in Talamanca Costa Rica, is in need of volunteer counters for two weeks during the busy autumn season. Learn more online, and if interested, please apply soon to reserve your space at the site's new Scientific Center. The Talamanca Watchsite also is accepting applications for the spring season. Kekoldi is one of three places in the world where it is possible to observe more than 1 million raptor migrants per season.


Peregrine Falcons Make a Comeback in PA
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, July 25, 2007)


Three female Peregrine chicks, banded on 5/23/07, under PA/NJ Turnpike Connector bridge.
© Art McMorris.

Peregrine Falcons appear poised to follow the Bald Eagle on the road to recovery, according to a May 2007 Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) press release, penned by Joe Kosack, Wildlife Conservation Education Specialist in PA.

Since listed as a federally endangered species in 1972, the birds are rebounding in a remarkable way, with Pennsylvania hosting 24 Peregrine nests this year. Art McMorris, who oversees the Game Commission’s Peregrine Falcon program, explains, “Pennsylvania has had 15 Peregrine Falcon nests for the past two years, which made those years the most productive since DDT was banned in America. This year is really something special, because we've seen the largest increase in nests since our Peregrine recovery began. As recently as 1997, there were only eight nests in the state.”

Like Bald Eagles and other raptors, Falcons suffered from the poisonous effects of DDT from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. Now, decades later, Peregrine Falcon populations are increasing, due, in part, to wildlife management programs like Pennsylvania’s.

New Peregrine nests were established this year in Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Montour and Union counties. “Peregrine falcons have made a remarkable recovery, and we're thrilled with their progress,” explained Dan Brauning, who supervises the PGC Wildlife Diversity Section. “But before we consider them secure, we'd like to see them occupy a larger number of historic natural cliff sites. Right now, only three of the 24 nesting pairs are on cliffs.”

In his quest to study and band the birds, Art McMorris spends much of his time perched under bridges or on tall buildings. Peregrines do nothing to mitigate such precarious conditions. Art recounts stories of being dive-bombed by fiercely protective parents, while trying to band the helpless hatchlings. The feistier the bird, the more Art admires them, as such wild and aggressive behavior is essential to species survival.

My own interest in Peregrines became more personal when Art showed me the nest box under the Girard Point Bridge, barely a mile from my office in South Philadelphia. I spent several lunch breaks watching the birds in the bridge girders high overhead, impressed by the parents’ ability to feed and fledge three offspring.

One afternoon I focused my scope on the adult female Peregrine clearly enough to read the black-over-red legband letters. I called Art excitedly with the information and was thrilled to learn that she was banded in May 2003, in Ocean Gate, NJ, just two miles from the small town where I grew up crabbing and bike riding. I like to think I was destined to I.D. that particular bird!

I look forward to experiencing next year’s Peregrine Falcon nest under the Girard Point bridge, and hope that the population of Peregrine’s continues to increase statewide, and around the nation.


Bald Eagle Removed from Endangered Species List
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, July 5, 2007)


© A Binns

Amid much media attention, the nation’s premier symbol of freedom and strength – the Bald Eagle – was removed from the federal Endangered Species List last week. Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, made the announcement on June 28, 2007, saying, "In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to barely 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Today, after decades of conservation effort, they are home to some 10,000 nesting pairs, a 25-fold increase in the last 40 years. Based on its dramatic recovery, it is my honor to announce the Department of the Interior's decision to remove the American Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species List."

These majestic birds have made a storied comeback. Decimated by early 20th century shooting and DDT poisoning, the Bald Eagle was one of the first species listed on the Endangered Species Act, when it was enacted in 1973. Populations rebounded steadily under the collaborative efforts of federal agencies, state and local governments, organizations and dedicated individuals. Today, there are nearly 10,000 nesting pairs in the continental United States, including over 100 active nest sites in Pennsylvania.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) website, the removal of the Bald Eagle from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Upon delisting, USFWS will continue to work with state wildlife agencies to monitor eagles for at least five years, as required by the Endangered Species Act. If at any time it appears that the Bald Eagle again needs the Act's protection, the Service can propose to relist the species.

Federal officials emphasized that the Bald Eagle will continue to be strongly protected by federal law, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In early June, USFWS clarified regulations under the Eagle Protection Act, defining the word “disturb.” Under these clarifications, "disturbing" now includes human activity that drives eagles away from their nests. Developers whose operations drive the birds away will now fit the definition of “disturbing” and will be subject to legal sanctions. USFWS also published a set of National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines. These measures are intended to provide landowners and others clear guidance to ensure actions are consistent with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In addition, USFWS opened a 90-day public comment period on a proposal to establish a managed take permit program under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. (Currently this Act has no provision for permits, so is, theoretically, highly restrictive). Modeled after the “Incidental Take” permit under the Endangered Species Act, this permit would allow a limited take of bald and golden eagles while ensuring that populations are not significantly affected. In exchange for “taking” eagle(s), permittees would be required to implement specific conservation measures. The permit would also allow provisions to remove eagle nests located in high-risk areas (eg: airport runway). Permissible takes should not affect population levels.

All concerned individuals should voice their comments about the proposed managed-take permit. Comments must be received by September 4, 2007. Comments may be sent by mail to the Division of Migratory Bird Management, Attn: RIN 1018-AV11, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MBSP-4107, Arlington, Virginia 22203. Comments may also be transmitted electronically to EaglePermitRegulation@fws.gov, or by following the instructions at the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. All comments should refer to RIN 1018-AV11.

More information about the bald eagle announcement is available on the US Fish & Wildlife Service Bald Eagle website at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/baldeagle.htm.


Common Birds in Decline
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, June 15, 2007)


© A Binns

The National Audubon Society (NAS) threshold for “common bird” is population 500,000 individuals or more. Half-a-million sounds like a lot, but the number gets smaller when you think of the birds dispersed around the world, and how many catbirds are calling in your own neighborhood. There must be a lot of places where catbirds are NOT calling!

It’s no surprise to learn that even common bird populations are declining, faced with the same challenges that have already caused other species to be listed as threatened, endangered, or extinct. Audubon’s recent report, “Common Birds in Decline” underscores this sad news with unprecedented analyses of decades of data from the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey. These long-running, citizen science programs reveal alarming declines for many of our most common and beloved birds.

The report profiled 20 North American birds with the greatest population declines since 1967. They found that the average population for these 20 species has fallen 68 percent, from 17.6 million to 5.35 million; some species have fallen as much as 80 percent. All 20 common birds have lost at least 50 percent of their population - in just forty years. A wide variety of species are affected, under specific and complex circumstances. But the main cause can be summed up quickly, “loss of habitat.”

Northern Bobwhite topped the list with the steepest population decline in forty years, 82%. They, along with Meadowlarks (down 72%), Field Sparrows (down 68%) and other grassland species, cannot endure the vast amounts of grassland being lost each year to suburban sprawl, industrial development, and intensified farming. Greater Scaup (down 75%) are succumbing to dramatic changes in their tundra breeding habitat, which is transforming with global warming. Evening Grosbeaks (down 78%) and Boreal Chickadees (down 73%) face deforestation from insect outbreaks, logging, drilling and mining.

While common birds may not be in immediate danger of extinction, the alarming rate of decline is a warning sign for action. These sad statistics signal a serious drop in the overall health of local habitats and national environmental trends. Immediate action – which often takes decades to bear witness - is critical for ensuring that these species and others do not become uncommon. As a voter and citizen, you can urge lawmakers to pass laws to fight global warming, improve farming practices, protect local habitat, and save wetlands. As a volunteer you can participate in Christmas Bird Counts, Breeding Bird surveys, or monitor Important Bird Areas for local Audubon chapters. Plant native species in your yard, remove invasives, and avoid pesticides. Act now – don’t wait until catbirds are no longer calling in your backyard!

For more details, including a detailed list of the 20 birds profiled in the report, visit the Audubon website: http://www.audubon.org/bird/stateofthebirds/cbid/index.php


Delaware Courts Overturn Ban on Horseshoe Crab Harvest
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, June 10, 2007)

© A Binns

The horseshoe crabs’ reprieve from harvest was sadly short-lived in Delaware. Deeming it invalid, the state Superior Court lifted the two-year harvest moratorium on June 8, just six months after it went into effect on December 11, 2006. This decision was reached as a result of a case filed by two businesses involved in the harvesting and sale of horseshoe crabs from the Delaware Bay.

“[This] ruling represents a debatable legal decision by the court and a lousy environmental decision for the state,” said John A. Hughes, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary. “My agency will take the next strongest approach that the court will allow – the 100,000 male-only horseshoe crab harvest, in keeping with Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission policy,” he said.

As a result of the ruling, DNREC will develop emergency regulations for the 2007 season based upon recommendations by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Horseshoe Crab Management Board. The measure will reduce Delaware’s annual harvest quota from 150,000 horseshoe crabs of either sex to 100,000 male-only horseshoe crabs. The emergency regulations will take effect prior to the next horseshoe crab harvest day – Monday, June 11, 2007.

In November 2006, DNREC Secretary Hughes issued a Secretary’s Order imposing a two-year moratorium on the harvesting of horseshoe crabs, as a protective measure for the horseshoe crab population and the migratory bird populations that depend on the resource for food. Records show that horseshoe crab populations declined significantly in the 1990s in the Delaware Bay and Estuary due to over-harvesting of horseshoe crab eggs. Red Knots and other shorebirds have been severely affected by this decrease in food source.

At that time, Secretary Hughes emphasized the importance of establishing an alternative to the horseshoe crab as bait for eel and conch and stressed his agency’s $350,000 support for the University of Delaware’s College of Marine and Earth Studies’ three-year effort to develop alternative bait for the industry. The effort to develop the substitute bait has been joined by the DuPont Company.

Delaware had joined Maryland, New Jersey and other Atlantic coast states in implementing conservation measures to promote the recovery of horseshoe crab populations, thereby addressing the immediate threat to shorebirds. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s 2-year moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting went into effect on May 15, 2006.

For more details, visit the DNREC website http://www.dnrec.state.de.us.


Federal Duck Stamps Support Wetlands and Wildlife Refuges
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, June 7, 2007)

Originally created as a waterfowl hunting license, Federal Duck Stamps now serve a much broader cause, reaching birders, conservationists and stamp collectors, as well as hunters. Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar generated by the sales of Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System. It has been called one of the most successful and effective conservation programs ever initiated, raising over $700 million dollars since inception, used to acquire 5.2 million acres of NWR habitat. Besides serving as a hunting license and a conservation tool, a current year’s Federal Duck Stamp allows free entrance into National Wildlife Refuges where admission is normally charged.

J.N. “Ding” Darling would be pleased with the program’s success. He designed the first Federal Duck Stamp in 1934, depicting Mallards in flight. Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sponsors a stamp-design contest (usually held in the fall), with wildlife artists from across the nation submitting their work for judging by a panel of artists and wildlife experts. The winning art is used on the following year's stamp. Wildlife artists consider it a great honor to be selected as the winner of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. The new Duck Stamp features a pair of swimming Ring-necked Ducks, beautifully rendered by wildlife artist Richard Clifton of Milford, Delaware.

While not valid for postage, the pictorial stamps are produced by the U.S. Postal Service for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. This 2007-2008 Duck Stamps are available for purchase on June 22, at US Post Office branches, sporting goods stores, and on-line services.

Following the First Day of Sale ceremony, Wonders of Wildlife National Fish and Wildlife Museum and Aquarium will open a new permanent exhibit featuring the Fish & Wildlife Service and the Federal Duck Stamp Program. The Wonders of Wildlife Museum is a Smithsonian Institution affiliate dedicated to educating, and entertaining visitors about America's outdoor heritage, wildlife, and wild places.

For more details, go to http://www.fws.gov/duckstamps/.


USFWS Prepares to Remove Bald Eagle from Threatened Species List
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, June 1, 2007)


© A Binns

On June 1, 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the Bald Eagle will continue to be strongly protected by federal law, in the event that they are removed from Endangered Species Act protection on June 29.

USFWS finalized modifications to a regulatory definition under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the primary federal law that will be used to manage eagles if they are removed from the Federal Endangered/Threatened Species List. Specifically, the modification defines the word “disturb” as “to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or 3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior.”

In addition, the Service opened a 90-day public comment period, beginning on June 5, on a proposal to establish a managed take permit program under the Eagle Act. Modeled after the “Incidental Take” permit under the Endangered Species Act, this permit would allow a limited take of bald and golden eagles while ensuring that populations are not significantly affected.

The proposed permit would allow permittees that agree to specific conservation measures to avoid liability if an eagle is unintentionally harmed in the course of an otherwise lawful activity. In addition, the permit would establish provisions to remove eagle nests in rare cases where their location poses a risk to human safety or to the eagles themselves, for example, in close proximity to an airport runway. Such a permit program would be designed to ensure that any take occurs within limits that would not affect population levels.

Bald Eagles didn’t always enjoy the protection they have today. The 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act outlawed the shooting of eagles, but their numbers continued to dwindle due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT after WWII. DDT not only lethally poisoned many birds, but resulted in eggs with walls too thin to support a developing chick. Coupled with the banning of DDT in 1972, the Endangered Species Act was passed the following year, and Bald Eagles began their storied recovery.

In 2000, a national Bald Eagle census revealed an estimate of 6,471 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Today this number has risen to over 9,700 pairs, due to cooperative recovery efforts by federal agencies, state and local governments, organizations and dedicated individuals. In 1995, USFWS reclassified Bald Eagles from Endangered to Threatened Species; they are likely to delist the species altogether on June 29, 2007.

All concerned individuals should voice their comments about the proposed managed-take permit. Comments must be received by September 4, 2007. Comments may be sent by mail to the Division of Migratory Bird Management, Attn: RIN 1018-AV11, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MBSP-4107, Arlington, Virginia 22203. Comments may also be transmitted electronically to EaglePermitRegulation@fws.gov, or by following the instructions at the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. All comments should refer to RIN 1018-AV11.

More information about the bald eagle announcement is available on the US Fish & Wildlife Service Bald Eagle website at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/baldeagle.htm.


Philly’s First Bald Eagles – the Next Chapter
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, May 4, 2007)

The next chapter in the saga of Philly’s most famous Bald Eagles unfolds unexpectedly. After two months of monitoring the nest, recording details and analyzing activity, I was excited to see signs that a chick(s) had probably hatched sometime after March 30 – right on schedule after 35 days of incubation. Though I hadn’t witnessed the tell-tale signs of parents bringing food, the female appeared to be in brooding posture, presumably protecting a chick(s). I reported this news to DVOC on Thursday, April 5.

It was a cold and rainy week leading up to Easter Sunday, and I admired the resilient strength of the adults to withstand the elements and protect their young at all costs.

On Saturday, April 7, Jerry Czech, the PGC Wildlife Conservation Officer who was also monitoring the nest, called me to say that no birds were at the nest. Dismayed, I hurried there myself, and also saw nothing. The nest and surrounding area was studied closely, and officials confirmed by the end of the week that the chick apparently died and the parents had abandoned the nest. The last sighting of one adult female was on Friday, April 6.

I pondered this sad news, and wondered what/why/how the nest failed. Perhaps they were young, inexperienced birds – first or second year parents – for which nest mortality is very high. Maybe the adults were harassed off the nest by a Red-Tail Hawk or a raccoon – just long enough for the chick to be snatched away. Maybe the parents left the nest just two or three minutes too long, and the chick died of exposure in the harsh weather. There are many possible reasons, and we’ll really never know for sure.

The good news is that US Fish & Wildlife considers this an active nest site for five years. The development project remains halted, and the state must still proceed with the permits required by the Endangered Species Act. However, the situation might take a whole new turn if the Bald Eagle is de-listed from the federal Threatened species list, which is likely to happen on June 29, 2007. Subsequently, the species would be largely regulated and protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940. In theory, this Act is more restrictive, providing no permit provisions, but it remains relatively-untested, and lawsuits might be inevitable. The agency is still wrangling over the definition of “disturb,” a key word in the regulation verbiage.

I checked out the nest several times in subsequent weeks, hoping the pair might return for a second nest-attempt, which would be a long shot, but possible. I haven’t seen any signs of a Bald Eagle.

Many questions remain unanswered: What will happen if/when the Bald Eagle is de-listed from the Endangered Species list? Will the state be allowed to cut down the tree and proceed with the development project? Is there any other way to save the habitat around the nest, a habitat left undisturbed for decades and growing rich with birds and wildlife?

I wish I knew the answers, and could predict the outcome. I look forward to monitoring the nest again next winter, when these same birds will most likely return to this exact location and try again, to reproduce on the age-old instincts of their ancestors. I hope the tree and the nest is still there to host them!


Celebrate Urban Birds on May 10th
(DVOC Conservation report, by Debbie Beer, May 3, 2007)

Birders spend a lot of time in the wilderness, enjoying pristine forests, undisturbed meadows and expansive nature refuges. These places all host myriad species of birds and wildlife. But the fact is, as the wilderness is disappearing at an alarming rate, urban areas are an increasingly popular place to find birds, and not just rock pigeons and house sparrows!

In seeking to raise awareness about city birds, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is kicking off a “Celebrate Urban Birds” event on May 10-13. This continent-wide event brings attention to urban greening and birds in the city, encouraging urbanites to learn more about city birds, and at the same time provide fuel for scientific studies about how birds use urban habitats.

People of all ages and backgrounds can participate, independently or with the many local organizations staging events in conjunction with the celebration, including schools, public gardens, nature centers, museums, and parks. People should sign-up for the free weekend project at www.urbanbirds.org/celebration, and download the Celebration kit in English and Spanish, or ask to receive one by mail.

The kit includes data forms for reporting the species seen, a colorful urban birds poster, educational materials about birds and urban greening, and a packet of sunflower seeds to plant in pots and gardens. Participants watch city birds for 10 minutes and check off 15 target species of birds. The information is then sent to scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by mail or online.

“It is vital that we understand how birds are affected by available urban green spaces, including parks, rooftop gardens, and even potted plants on balconies,” says project leader Karen Purcell. “Bringing people’s attention to urban nature is essential for global conservation awareness and efforts to help birds.”

Learn more and sign up at www.urbanbirds.org/celebration. Despite the dramatic increase in urbanization, we can still help the birds and connect with nature. Join the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and “Celebrate Urban Birds!”


Dispatch on Philly’s First Bald Eagle Nest
(DVOC Conservation report, by Debbie Beer, April 5, 2007)

© Debbie Beer

It began as an ordinary day – I don’t even recall the date – but it marks the beginning of an incredible experience. It was a chilly afternoon in early February 2007, and I was peering at ducks along the Delaware River, when a friendly man in a white pick-up truck told me about a nearby Bald Eagle nest. I hurried to the location and after a few wrong turns, spotted the oversized nest about 70 feet up in a tree. It didn’t seem big enough, and there were no birds around, so I thought perhaps he was mistaken and it was a Red-Tail’s lair. It stayed in the back of my mind, and a while later I went to check it again.

When I returned on February 16, I saw a Bald Eagle fly by, and land briefly on the nest. I didn’t realize the importance of this until friends encouraged me to contact Keith Russell. I called him on the spot and was pleased to learn that this might be the first documented Bald Eagle nest in the city of Philadelphia in over a century.

Away on business for a while, I didn’t get a chance to check the nest again until February 27, when I was thrilled to see an adult hunkered down on the nest, presumably incubating eggs. By this time, I had contacted officials at the PA Game Commission (PGC) as well as US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). Everyone was pleased to learn of Philly’s first Bald Eagle nest in recent history; Jerry Czech, PGC Wildlife Conservation Officer visited the site with me on March 1 to officially confirm it.

I’ve been checking the nest nearly every day since, happy to be a silent spectator of the miracle of avian reproduction. One of my favorite memories occurred on March 8, amid a brilliantly-colored sunset. The male eagle was hunkered down on the nest in the usual incubating position, when the female approached and landed on a nearby branch (she’s bigger than him, and has a fiercer look in her eye, in my mind). She stayed there calmly for 12 minutes before swooping up to the nest edge. Inch by inch she scooted closer to her mate until finally he hopped out and flew away. In an instant she took his place, settling carefully upon the eggs. I held my breath during this whole nest exchange, which felt like a lifetime, though it took just a few minutes.

While the eagles are focused on the age-old cycle of reproducing, humans are deciding their fate, directly and indirectly. The PGC issued a press release on Friday, March 16, highlighting Philly’s first Bald Eagle nest in over 200 years as part of the state-wide rebound of the species. The Philadelphia Inquirer picked up the story and called me for an interview that afternoon. As a late winter storm snarled traffic on the highways, I was thinking about snow, not birds. But I was happy to discuss the nest discovery and my monitoring efforts with reporter Tom Avril.

I was surprised to see the article printed on the Inquirer’s front page on Saturday, March 17, and reprinted on Sunday, March 18. The expansive, well-written feature included much information from the PGC press release about the Bald Eagle’s national recovery, and the 116 active nests documented in Pennsylvania. The article quoted PGC wildlife biologist Doug Gross, along with DVOC members Nate Rice and Keith Russell. The reporter honored our urgent requests not to divulge the nest location, except to say that it was in Philadelphia. Even well-meaning onlookers or photographers could disturb the birds and cause them to abandon the nest.

Immediately I received congratulatory calls from friends, family and colleagues, mixed with curious questions from strangers. (It’s surprisingly easy to find someone’s phone number or email in this age of technology!). I gently said no to several people who wanted me to show them the nest.

The initial joy of my 2 minutes (or 2 days) of fame has faded to concern. Carole Copeyon, USFWS biologist, provided me an update on the status of the Philly nest. The birds have chosen to build their nest exactly on the site of a $150-million dollar state development project, scheduled to break ground this Summer.

For now, the birds have the federal Endangered Species Act on their side. Construction plans have been immediately halted, and state officials are not happy that Philly’s first pair of nesting Bald Eagles is thwarting their development project.

Joseph Resta, Pennsylvania deputy secretary of public works, reported that the state is fully committed to proceeding with the developing the Food Distribution Center planned for the site. Carole Copeyon told me the state has expressed interest in applying for an “Incidental Take” permit, which would ultimately grant them permission to remove the nest. The lengthy process could take up to two years, if approved at all, and would involve preparing a habitat conservation plan demonstrating how the developers would avoid or compensate for impact to the eagles.

The situation might take a whole new turn if the Bald Eagle is de-listed from the federal Threatened species list, which is likely to happen on June 29, 2007 the day the USFWS must make its momentous decision. Subsequently, the species would be largely regulated and protected by the relatively-untested Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940. (See the Conservation Corner article of March 16, “Proposed Delisting of the Bald Eagle”).

In response to ongoing media coverage (including another Inquirer article disclosing the nest location, published on March 23), the property managers implemented commendable measures to prohibit casual onlookers from disturbing the nest. I remain on friendly, first-name terms with local security guards, and everyone is rooting for the birds to succeed.

As the Spring days lengthen, I have thoroughly enjoyed spending my lunch breaks peering at the majestic eagles through my scope. I admire their dedication, as one or the other is on the nest round the clock, no matter the weather. On Friday March 30, I suspected the eggs might be “pipping,” as the two adults were there together, the male looking down into the nest while the female lay in her usual incubating position. I was excited about this new development and wondered when the chicks would hatch.

As of April 4, I’m excited to report that I believe a chick has hatched (maybe two?)! Though I haven’t witnessed the tell-tale signs of parents bringing food, the female appears to be in hunched-over, protective, brooding posture. I look forward to catching the ever-vigilant parents in the act of feeding their young. Another chapter begins in the story of Philly’s first pair of breeding Bald Eagles!


Earth Day April 22, 2007
(DVOC Conservation report, by Debbie Beer, April 1, 2007)


© A Binns

I like to think that my first memories of Earth Day embody the grassroots spirit of the event when it was first created over 30 years ago. My own experience occurred in New York City’s Central Park, amid throngs of environmental enthusiasts, in April 1996. I was attracted to the sun on the Great Lawn and the free rock concert, but I walked away thinking about our planet in a way I hadn’t before. Each year I remember that wonderful day in Central Park, and I try to acknowledge Earth Day in some small way – a hike, a bird walk, or mailing the donation I pledged months ago to The Nature Conservancy.

This year’s Earth Day on April 22, 2007 continues the tradition of spotlighting the environment, offering myriad outdoor activities for people of all ages. Nature centers provide educational programs, community parks sponsor trash clean-ups, and Wildlife Refuges host nature walks. In honor of Earth Day, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in NJ is asking volunteers to participate in a community tree-planting on April 21, to help reforest a section of the refuge.

Dedicate a day to appreciating and preserving some of the amazing natural resources of our planet. Check out Earth Day event listings on http://earthday.envirolink.org/.


Bald Eagle Proposed Delisting
(DVOC Conservation report, by Debbie Beer, March 16, 2007)

© A Binns

Some tout it as a triumph; others stand back in fear. Either way, the proposed delisting of the Bald Eagle from the Threatened species list invokes lively debate.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) must make its momentous decision on June 29, 2007. If Bald Eagles are delisted – the most-likely outcome – environmentalists, conservationists and like-minded citizens are concerned that the eagle-protection laws that are left to protect the species won’t be enough to do so.

The Endangered Species act is one of the most powerful conservation tools in the country; evidence consistently shows that species protected under this act fare much better than those without such clout.

After the Endangered Species laws, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act becomes the primary regulation for eagles. Enacted in 1940, the Act prohibits the taking or possession of and commerce in bald and golden eagles, with limited exceptions. The definition of ‘take’ includes pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb.

Foreseeing the newly-spotlighted role of the 1940 Eagle Protection Act, environmentalists want to make sure the word “disturb” is amply defined to defend Bald Eagles from opposing interests. The USFWS recently proposed a definition: A bird would be considered disturbed if it was dead, injured or forced to abandon its nest. Activists protested, citing that the common understanding of the word includes actions that frighten, alarm or annoy Bald Eagles. Developers were concerned the definition was already too expansive. What if a home construction project causes an eagle to leave the nest? Many would say that’s exactly the point, but builders claim you can’t prove that their building directly caused the bird to leave. Who can read a bird’s mind?

Some wonder if any “apex” species should be removed from Endangered Species protection, like Bald Eagles or Grey Wolves. They posit, how can a species be protected or saved, if the ecosystem and habitat are disregarded? The laws that focus on the disturbance of a pair of nesting eagles miss the point of protecting the area around the nest. Currently, the Endangered Species act requires a significant no-disturbance zone around a nest. The Eagle Protection Act doesn’t mention any habitat factors.

The debate rages, as the last chills of winter fade into the first mild days of Spring. The Bald Eagles that I monitor in South Philadelphia remain intently focused on their tasks of hunting fish from the river, reinforcing their stout twig nest, and incubating a clutch of eggs. I suspect they don’t ponder their future, or worry about the development creeping ever closer to their nest. Instead, they rely on millennia of survival instincts.

 


Interior Secretary Seeks Nominations for Wind Energy Committee
(DVOC Conservation report, by Debbie Beer, March 15, 2007)

© Bert Filemyr

(This report was excerpted from a US Fish & Wildlife Service press release issued 3/13/07)
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced today [March 13] the formation of a Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee. The Secretary is currently seeking nominations for the group which will advise him on effective measures to avoid or minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitats related to land-based wind energy facilities.

By some estimates, wind power could provide clean and renewable electricity to meet up to 20 percent of the nation’s energy needs.

“We know that wind power may be key to providing a vital new source of clean, renewable energy for America,” said Secretary Kempthorne. “But we also know that wind turbines can cause bird and bat mortality and may have other ecological impacts. This committee will help us examine issues such as site selection and turbine design so that we can develop wind resources while protecting wildlife.”

The Committee will function in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act and report to the Secretary of the Interior through the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It will function solely as an advisory body and provide recommendations on effective measures to protect wildlife resources and coordinate review and evaluation of facilities by state, tribal, local, and federal agencies.

Members of the Committee will be expected to effectively represent the varied interests associated with wind energy development and the management of wildlife species and their habitats. They will represent stakeholders, Federal and State agencies, and Tribes; be senior representatives of their respective constituent groups; and have knowledge of wind energy facility location, design, operation, transmission requirements, wildlife species potentially affected, wildlife survey techniques, applicable laws and regulations, and wind/wildlife interactions. The Committee may also include independent experts in wind energy/wildlife interactions, appointed as special government employees, to provide technical advice.

The Committee is expected to meet approximately four times per year. The Service will provide necessary support services to the Committee. All meetings will be open to the public and a notice announcing each Committee meeting will be published in the Federal Register at least 15 days prior to the date. The public will have an opportunity to provide input at all meetings.

Interested parties should send resumes and explanations of interest by April 12, 2007, to Susan L. Goodwin, Office of Collaborative Action and Dispute Resolution, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1801 Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 500, Washington DC 20006; by e-mail to susan_goodwin@ios.doi.gov; or by fax to 202/327-5390.
To learn more about the Interior Department’s wind initiatives, please see http://www.doi.gov/initiatives/wind.html. To see the Service’s Interim Guidelines on Avoiding and Minimizing Wildlife Impacts from Wind Turbines as well as links to the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, please see http://www.fws.gov/habitatconservation/wind.htm.


Schuylkill Township Bald Eagle Nest Threatened by Proposed Development
by Edie Parnum (Posted 3/9/07)

The Delaware Valley Ornithological Club has learned that a Bald Eagle nest in Schuylkill Township, Chester County, is threatened by proposed development of nearby land. This nest is on the edge of Pickering Creek Reservoir and is visible from Route 23. The property in question is the Reeves Property, which is slated for full-scale development by Pohlig Builders.

Bald Eagles, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act, require at least ¼ mile perimeter of appropriate habitat surrounding their nests. Part of the Reeves property lies within the ¼ acre circle. In addition to the habitat requirements in the immediate vicinity of the nest itself, the Bald Eagles need additional nearby suitable habitat for perching, roosting, and foraging. Birders have observed the two adult Bald Eagles and their offspring from the 2006 nest using the Reeves property for these purposes.

The Reeves property also provides habitat for many additional bird species. The forested area offers food, shelter, and nesting places for woodland birds such as Ovenbird and Wood Thrush, which are declining species. Besides the birds, the property is a valuable intact ecosystem that is home to native amphibians, turtles, insects, and other creatures along with the flora that support them. Most notably, the Bog Turtle, a Pennsylvania endangered species, has been sighted in the wetland area. Because most of the land in southeastern Pennsylvania is developed or disturbed, such pristine habitats are increasingly rare.

DVOC has sent a letter to the Schuylkill Township Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission urging them to disallow the proposed development of the Reeves Property. The letter recommended that the property be saved as a nature preserve as recommended by the Citizens for Open Space in Schuylkill Township.


Time For Blue Bird Boxes
by Debbie Beer (Posted 3/7/07)

© A Binns

Spring is still several weeks away, but nesting activities begin early for the Eastern Bluebird. This delightful little bird brings a splash of color and song to many homesteads in Southeastern PA.

"Now [early March] is the time to clean, repair or put up new homes for eastern bluebirds, which have long been the displaced darlings of Pennsylvania's spring, as well as the poster bird for what can go wrong when people introduce non-native species to a new area," said Dan Brauning, Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Section supervisor. "Bluebirds suffered considerable losses in the twentieth century due to introductions of house (English) sparrows and European starlings to America in the 1800s. Further complicating the bluebird's plight, particularly in Pennsylvania, has been the loss of open spaces to development or reforestation."

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, Eastern Bluebird populations declined in recent years to as low as 17% of their previous numbers in the 1950-1960’s. Possible reasons for this decline include severe winters, harmful effects from pesticides, and competition with other cavity nesters for increasingly scarce nest sites.

Bluebirds can benefit from the active maintenance and monitoring of bluebird nest boxes. Volunteer monitors benefit by experiencing first-hand the amazing process of nest building, egg-laying, chicks hatching and grown birds fledging – whether the box is occupied by bluebirds, tree swallows or chickadees! Various regional organizations encourage volunteers to maintain and monitor local bluebird trails, gathering and compiling important data about the species. The North American Bluebird Society (NABS) provides detailed information on how to attract and care for bluebirds; check out their website on www.nabluebirdsociety.org.


Great Backyard Bird Count 2007
by Debbie Beer (Posted 2/2/07)


Team up with Audubon for the 10th annual GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT (GBBC), February 16-19, 2007. You don’t need fancy equipment or special knowledge, just a few minutes to spend looking at your own backyard or local wildlife refuge. This annual event engages birders of all levels to create a snapshot in time of winter bird populations. Through the GBBC, National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology collect valuable information from people all over the continent who observe, identify and count birds during this timeframe.

The GBBC is an important conservation tool, just like the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and Project Feederwatch. Scientists and bird enthusiasts learn a lot by knowing where the birds are during this time frame. No single scientist or team of ornithologists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time. Instead, they rely on citizen scientists like us to report birds and help answer such questions as below (from www.birdsource.org website):

* How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?
* Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
* How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
* How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
* What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
* Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?

Last year’s Great Backyard Bird Count set new records with increased participation across North America. Over 60,000 checklists were submitted, logging 623 bird species and 7.5 million individual birds. Pennsylvania submitted the second-most GBBC checklists, surpassed only by New York state.

Whether you report the 5 species coming to your backyard feeder or the 75 species you see during a day's outing to a wildlife refuge, all the data is important. Take a moment to log onto www.birdsource.org/gbbc on any or all days during February 16-19 to send in your observations. The website provides reporting guidelines, photos, and even a full-color poster to print-out or send to friends.


Hawk Mountain Counts for Conservation
by Debbie Beer (Posted 1/5/07)

© A Binns

Counting birds from the North Lookout is not just a way for interns to hone their ID skills. Located atop Pennsylvania’s picturesque Kittatiny mountain range, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary leads raptor conservation locally and internationally, gathering detailed migration data, exchanging information and implementing critical conservation strategies. As the world's first raptor refuge, the Sanctuary pioneered efforts to change attitudes towards predatory birds; today, hundreds of migration watch sites find their roots at Hawk Mountain.

Today, the primary threats to migratory raptors (and much other wildlife) are habitat loss, environmental contaminants, and trapping and shooting. Hawk Mountain’s conservation efforts now focus on monitoring and protecting birds of prey throughout their long-distance journeys, from North America to the far reaches of Latin America.

The Sanctuary's annual counts of migrating raptors represent the world's longest record of raptor populations – over 68 years of data. These counts provide valuable information on changes in raptor numbers in northeastern North America. In the 1960s, scientists used this database to document declining populations of many raptor species; leading ultimately to the U.S. ban of the lethal pesticide DDT in 1972. The data today is used by myriad partners and scientists to help determine the best conservation strategies to aid migrating raptors.

The 2006 Migration season presented exciting moments and record-breaking days. Highlights were:
- Over 7,500 Broad-Wings on September 12 was the fourth-highest count in Hawk Mountain history, and the highest since 1978.
- 36 Northern Harriers were seen September 27, tying a 53-year-old record set by Alex Nagy.
- A Mississippi Kite flew over the lookout on September 11, only the 5th record at Hawk Mountain.
- Increased numbers of Merlins and Golden Eagles set season records; Peregrine Falcons tied the record.
- Many raptors showed above-average counts, including Turkey and Black vultures, Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Northern Harriers.
- The final count, 25,115, was the highest season total at Hawk Mountain since 1986.
- The 25,000th bird was an adult Red-tailed Hawk.

Of concern is the continuing decline of American Kestrel, which was counted at least 20% below their 10-year average. Potential causes include habitat loss, West Nile Virus, and an increasing Cooper's Hawk population.

As Hawk Mountain continues their impressive conservation efforts here and abroad, casual birders and serious counters can enjoy sweeping views of soaring raptors. Even on slow days, the Lookout is a lovely, peaceful place to spend a day in nature. For more information, log onto www.hawkmountain.org.


Tree-Vitalizing Southeastern Pennsylvania
by Debbie Beer (Posted 1/4/07)

While the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) prepares for new challenges in 2007, it reflects upon noteworthy accomplishments last year, including the blossoming TreeVitalize program.

Scientific research proved what we know at heart, that tree cover can positively impact the social and economic environment of our region. In short, trees are an important component in maintaining and improving the quality of life in most communities.

As a public-private partnership, TreeVitalize seeks to restore tree cover to our five county area in southeastern Pennsylvania. A total of $5.2 million in public and private dollars has been committed to the effort, since it was initiated in 2003. The program is on-track to achieve its goals of planting 20,000 shade trees, restoring 1,000 acres of forests along streams and water protection areas, and training 2,000 citizens to plant and care for trees.

By Fall 2006, TreeVitalize had planted over 7,000 trees, educated 1,445 citizens and benefited from over 8,000 hours of volunteer service. TreeVitalize attracted strong media coverage in October, when Comcast Cares Day, one of the largest employee service days in the country, invested $25,000 into tree planting.

In the Fall, DCNR challenged Chester County to launch a new phase of TreeVitalize in 16 urban centers. This technical assistance phase challenges municipal managers to treat urban trees as a part of the community’s infrastructure.

One of the biggest causes of the loss of tree cover is new development. While the TreeVitalize program does not directly deal with land use, it will distribute data that could be used to guide state and local land preservation decisions. On a side note, Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener II bond provides $100 million over four years for land conservation.

Hopefully, the collaborations fostered by TreeVitalize will continue to increase tree cover and promote stewardship of natural resources in the region, benefiting people and wildlife. Volunteers are an important part of the outreach effort; for more information about volunteering, planting or caring for trees, go to www.treevitalize.net.