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DVOC Main Page > Conservation > Conservation Corner 2009


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National Wildlife Refuge Week
Bird Conservation Alliance Meeting
Mountaintop Mining
Bird Banding Station
Rusty Blackbird Blitz
FAA Towers
Birding Etiquette Reminder

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

Celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week October 11-17, 2009
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, September 23, 2009)

This year, we celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week on October 11-17, 2009. This national designation helps remind us of the importance of our wildlife refuges as havens for birds, mammals, reptiles, plants and many wildlife species.

In a press release issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in September 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar described it well: “President Teddy Roosevelt established tiny Pelican Island in Florida in 1903 as the first National Wildlife Refuge. Roosevelt’s mission was clear: protect Pelican Island’s birds from poachers and plume hunters. And with that simple promise of wildlife protection, the National Wildlife Refuge System was born. It is my hope that citizens across the country will take advantage of this weeklong celebration to experience wildlife in their natural habitats and play a firsthand role in conservation by participating in special events and programs, or simply observing and enjoying the great outdoors at a local refuge.”

Many National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) were officially established as bird sanctuaries, and all remain focused and committed to conservation of habitat and resources for birds and other wildlife. Refuges also offer a wide range of wildlife-dependent recreation, including fishing, boating, hiking, wildlife observation and photography. The refuge system offers more than 2,500 miles of land and water trails. There is at least one National Wildlife Refuge in every state and one within an hour’s drive of most major cities.

This year, NWR week focuses on connecting children with the outdoors, an important step if they are to grow up with respect and concern about conserving our natural resources. Refuge week also focuses on the health of our world’s birds, especially those that depend on refuges for nesting, foraging or stopover sites during migration.

Refuges all around the country are planning special events during Refuge Week and throughout October, to draw visitors to their site and increase awareness about conservation and wildlife issues. On Sunday, October 11, birders can participate in the 15th annual BIG SIT, to identify and count species from within one 17-foot diameter circle in a 24-hour period. Bird Watchers Digest collects the lists and announces the winners. For more information, visit:

Here in the Philadelphia area, we are fortunate to have several wonderful National Wildlife Refuges within a short driving distance, including John Heinz NWR at Tinicum in Philadelphia, Edwin B. Forsythe NWR at Brigantine, NJ, Bombay Hook NWR and Prime Hook NWR in Delaware, and more. Consider visiting or volunteering during National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 11-17, 2009.

Bird Conservation Alliance Meeting - November 12, 2009
(Announcement posted September 25, 2009)

DVOC is a organization member of BIRD CONSERVATION ALLIANCE (BCA), and as such, DVOC members are invited to attend the following meeting:

November 12, 2009 – 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, Washington, D.C.

Meeting theme: “Reversing the Decline of Neotropical Migratory Bird Species and Protecting their Habitats.”

The meeting will feature several keynotes: Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson have been invited to speak, along with congressional champions Senator Ben Cardin, and Representatives Ron Kind and Frank Kratovil. We are working on arranging a private tour of the Capitol following the meeting for BCA members.

Panels include “Strategies to Address the Decline of Neotropical Migrant Species,” “Reducing Threats to Migratory Birds,” “Legislative and Administration Opportunities to Conserve Migratory Birds,” and “Joint Ventures and other Partnerships Benefiting Migratory Birds.” Each panel will be followed by questions and discussion.

To register for the meeting, visit:

Phil Witmer, DVOC Conservation Committee member, will be attending this BCA meeting. DVOC members, if you’d like to attend, contact him at:
Phil Witmer
610-446-2618 (home)
610-256-2786 (cell)
Philip.witmer AT (email)

Halt Mountaintop Mining, Help Protect Cerulean Warblers
(Excerpted from American Bird Conservancy action alert, September 23, 2009)

Mountaintop removal/valley fill coal mining is America’s most destructive mining practice. Entire tops of mountains are removed to access coal seams, and millions of tons of rock and fill are dumped into surrounding valleys, burying streams and their aquatic life and decimating forests. More than 1,200 miles of streams and river valleys in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee have been buried by mountaintop mining activities so far.

The most notable bird species harmed by this practice is the Cerulean Warbler, which prefers mature forests on ridgetops, and whose core breeding range falls within the Appalachian coalfield region. Since surveys began in the 1960s, the Cerulean Warbler population has declined by 70%. Many other bird species that rely on interior forests in the region are also impacted.

There are better alternatives to generating power than by burning carbon-heavy coal, and other ways to create jobs in the region. Currently nearly a million acres of degraded mine lands in Appalachia need to be reforested. Thousands of jobs can be created by carrying out this work, which will have the long-term benefits of expanding wildlife habitat, particularly interior forests which are becoming increasingly rare in the region due to development and forest fragmentation, and providing clean water supplies.
Fortunately, mountaintop mining is facing growing public opposition and government scrutiny. New legislation could put an end to the destruction and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finally taking a closer look at new mining applications. Last week the EPA sent a letter asking the Army Corps of Engineers to halt one of the largest mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia. EPA also announced that it would review another 79 proposed permits. The EPA’s initial reviews of the projects found that they would cause water quality impacts requiring a more detailed review under the Clean Water Act. This long overdue oversight is a welcome step in the right direction.

U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Dave Riechert (R-WA) have introduced legislation that could bring an end to the environmentally devastating process of mountaintop coal mining. The bill, H.R. 1310, would amend the Clean Water Act to clarify the definition of “fill material” and prevent mountaintop mining waste from being dumped into nearby valleys. The House bill currently has 155 cosponsors which is very good progress, but H.R. 1310 needs additional cosponsors to have hope of being considered and passing.
U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate, S. 696, “The Appalachia Restoration Act”, which accomplishes the same task. If the legislation passes and is signed into law, it would force the Army Corps of Engineers to re-evaluate how it issues permits for mountaintop mining.
This legislation is essential to keep mountaintop mining operations from inflicting irrevocable damage to mountain forest and riparian ecosystems that many bird species depend on. By taking action today, citizens can help the Cerulean Warbler and other bird species of conservation concern.

AMERICAN BIRD CONSERVANCY urges everyone to contact your state Representative/ Senators and urge them to co-sponsor bill H.R. 1310/S. 696, two bills that will stop the destructive practice of mountaintop mining. If they have already done so, please thank them. Public support on a large scale is vital, and every opinion counts. Go to website for more information.

Bird Banding Station Established at Rushton Woods Preserve with DVOC Conservation Funds
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, September 23, 2009)

Each year DVOC pledges support to a local conservation project. The major source of our conservation funds is the monies raised by pledges and donations related to our record-setting World Series of Birding (WSB) team, the Nikon/DVOC Lagerhead Shrikes, as well as additional monetary donations to our conservation efforts.

This year, 2009, DVOC committed to support the WILLISTOWN CONSERVATION TRUST BIRD BANDING PROJECT AT RUSHTON PRESERVE. The 190-acre woodland preserve has been identified as one of the most critical sites for bird conservation in Audubon’s Upper Ridley/ Crum Important Bird Area. The Rushton Preserve offers a great opportunity to launch a bird banding station, as it contains diversified habitat - grassland, deciduous woodland, adjacent active small-scale agri fields - to yield a variety of avian observations and data. WCT hopes to augment current bird monitoring efforts while showcasing birds as tools to evaluate land management practices, restoration and conservation efforts. The bird-banding project will serve as a unique community resource, providing educational opportunities, demonstrations and raising awareness of the effects of land-use practices on birds and wildlife.

Willistown Conservation Trust has been established since 1996 as a community based land trust, but it's roots go back more than 25 years when the original grassroots organization was formed in 1979. Their mission is to preserve the open land, rural character, scenic, historical and ecologically significant resources of the Willistown area, which encompasses 24,000 acres in Chester and Delaware Counties in southeastern Pennsylvania. Over 6,000 acres are now preserved through their efforts, which revolve around land protection, stewardship and community outreach and education.

Willistown Conservation Trust owns and manages 3 preserves: Ashbridge, Kirkwood and Rushton Preserve. Rushton Preserve came under their wing in 2007, when the National Audubon Society transferred ownership with conservation easement to WCT.

At the end of this summer, DVOC was pleased to send a check to WCT for more than $3,000 in support of the banding station at Rushton Woods Preserve. Lisa Rubin, WCT Director of Stewardship, conveys her utmost gratitude and appreciation for our support. DVOC’s financial support led to WCT receiving an additional $5,000 in grant money, all in support of the banding station and WCT’s land-saving efforts.

Additional information about the Willistown Conservation Trust can be found on the website:

Rusty Blackbird Blitz February 7-15, 2009
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, February 6, 2009)

Information from Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Once abundant, the handsome Rusty Blackbird is in trouble, with their numbers plummeting at an alarming rate. According to data from the long-running Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird surveys, populations of North American Rusty Blackbirds have declined as much as 85-99% over the past 40 years. Although the exact cause of decline unclear, habitat loss is a likely culprit.

The first annual RUSTY BLACKBIRD BLITZ has been organized for February 7-15, 2009, with the goal of learning more about how many birds are left, and where they are located. Volunteer participants are needed nationwide, to look for "rusties" anywhere they like, as many times as they like during the nine-day blitz, and then report sightings via the eBird program run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society (

"Data gathered will be used to create a map of wintering Rusty Blackbird 'hot spots' that will help focus research, monitoring, and conservation efforts," said eBird co-leader Brian Sullivan. "We're looking for the number of birds seen at each location, and some basic habitat information." The focus of the blitz is on states that are known to be part of the Rusty Blackbird's winter range: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas (east), Virginia, and West Virginia. Unlike other species of blackbirds, the Rusty Blackbird inhabits boreal wetlands of the far north during the breeding season and spends its winters in bottomland wooded-wetlands, primarily in American midwestern and southeastern states. Despite its drastic decline, there is no monitoring program in place for these birds.

Rusty Blackbirds have pale "staring" eyes. In February, males will appear mostly black and females will have rusty edges to the wings and body. Be careful of distinguishing between two other similar-looking species – the Common Grackle, which is larger with a long tail and larger bill, and the female Red-winged Blackbird, which resembles the rusty but can be distinguished by bold streaking on its underparts, whereas the rusty has plain underparts without streaks.

Among other spots, Rusty Blackbirds are found in Philadelphia at Roosevelt Park and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum.

The Rusty Blackbird blitz is coordinated by the International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, along with the Cornell Lab and Audubon. For more information on identifying Rusty Blackbirds and where they might be found, visit the eBird website and the Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group site. Then join the Rusty Blackbird Blitz February 7-15! Contact: Brian Sullivan, eBird co-leader, (609)694-3280, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Lab's website at

(Conservation Report, February 6, 2009)

Press Release from American Bird Conservancy, dated 2/6/09:
FAA Agrees to Study Lighting Requirements for Bird-Killing Towers

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced plans to conduct a study that will examine whether steady-burning sidelights on tall communications towers, which attract birds and cause them to collide with the towers during night migration, can be safely eliminated without endangering air traffic. Unlike many waterfowl and birds of prey, most songbirds migrate during the night, with up to several billion birds having to navigate a landscape littered with as many as 100,000 lighted towers each spring and fall. American Bird Conservancy and its conservation partners have been working together with the communications industry in seeking this important study, which will help determine whether the safety of pilots can be maintained while also reducing the impact of lights on migrating birds.

Currently, the Federal Communications Commission is engaged in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is examining “the extent of any effect of communications towers on migratory birds.” The Notice seeks to examine a number of issues in connection with avian-tower impacts, including tower lighting.

FAA guidelines on towers over 200 feet tall, currently require towers utilizing red or dual-type lighting systems to use steady-burning sidelights mounted at various intermediate levels depending on the height of the tower. These requirements date back more than three decades, and may no longer be applicable based on current lighting technology. It has also since been shown that blinking lights cause far fewer bird deaths. It I also noteworthy that traffic signals on major roads often have white strobes in addition to red lights to notify drivers, indicating that many motor vehicle departments consider strobe lights to be more obvious to people than steady lights.

The FAA will study the difference to pilots of steady-burning lights compared to blinking lights, and of red lights compared to white lights, and whether adequate safety is maintained if side marker lights are extinguished or operated at a reduced flash rate. This study will begin in early 2009, with a report and recommendations expected to be made public by the end of the year.

“Should the FAA determine the use of side-mounted steady red lights can be eliminated for communications towers without harm to air safety, American Bird Conservancy will push for the FAA to amend their guidelines to reduce avian fatalities while still preserving air safety,” said Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President of Conservation Advocacy.


Birding Etiquette Reminder
(by Debbie Beer, DVOC Conservation Chairperson, January 12, 2009)

As we begin a new year of exciting experiences, fascinating studies and hopefully a few lifers, it is appropriate to recall the rules of birding etiquette, as put forth by the American Birding Association. I am reminded of these guidelines as the age-old issue of bird-human confrontation comes to the forefront again, with reported disturbances to Snowy Owls, Sandhill Cranes, nesting Bald Eagles and other attractive winter species. There is much banter about this topic on the NJ and PA listserves.

Birders and Photographers have been approaching birds for many decades, edging ever closer in the quest for the perfect image, to see eyes blinking or feathers ruffling in the wind, captured by binoculars or camera. A century ago, an individual bird might not have been adversely affected if 3 people were admiring it from afar. But now, when many avian populations are already severely threatened by such factors as habitat loss and climate change, the ever-increasing number of birder/photographer admirers poses a unique problem of it’s own, especially to species of concern.

Onlookers with good intentions may not be aware of the harm caused by approaching a bird close enough to interfere with it’s normal behavior. Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, birds need every personal resource to hunt, migrate, build nests or raise young. Human behavior that causes them to alter their intended activity, even slightly, wastes those energies, and could lead to serious injury or even death.

This is not meant to incite confrontation; rather to impart information so that people can make an informed decision and take responsibility for their actions. It’s simple: If the bird flushes, you’re too close. I don’t have the definition of “too close” – it varies by species and by circumstance. Suffice to say that most people know when they are “too close.” Trespassing onto private property is never acceptable. Even activities that ostensibly help the birds are cause for concern. Feeding mice to owls doesn’t help the birds, but could lead to their untimely demise. Think of the bears in Yellowstone Park – they get shot if they learn to raid campsites for handouts.

Below are the American Birding Association’s Ethical Principles. A code of ethics is only as good as the level of enforcement. It is up to us as birders and photographers, as members of DVOC, a long-standing, highly-respected birding club, to follow these guidelines ourselves, and also to remind others who are just learning about the wonderful world of birds and wildlife. We are leaders, mentors, guides and influences, whatever our bird I.D. skills.

American Birding Association's PRINCIPLES OF BIRDING ETHICS:
Everyone who enjoys birds and birding must always respect wildlife, its environment, and the rights of others. In any conflict of interest between birds and birders, the welfare of the birds and their environment comes first.

1.Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.
1(a) Support the protection of important bird habitat.
1(b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.

Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area;

Keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.

Use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups.

1(c) Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities.
1(d) Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.

2. Respect the law, and the rights of others.
2(a) Do not enter private property without the owner's explicit permission.
2(b) Follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing use of roads and public areas, both at home and abroad.
2(c) Practise common courtesy in contacts with other people. Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.

3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.
3(a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean, and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh weather.
3(b) Maintain and clean nest structures regularly.
3(c) If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation from cats and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.

4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care. Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.
4(a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.
4(b) If you witness unethical birding behavior, assess the situation, and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action, and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations. Group Leader Responsibilities [amateur and professional trips and tours].
4(c) Be an exemplary ethical role model for the group. Teach through word and example.
4(d) Keep groups to a size that limits impact on the environment, and does not interfere with others using the same area.
4(e) Ensure everyone in the group knows of and practices this code.
4(f) Learn and inform the group of any special circumstances applicable to the areas being visited (e.g. no tape recorders allowed).
4(g) Acknowledge that professional tour companies bear a special responsibility to place the welfare of birds and the benefits of public knowledge ahead of the company's commercial interests. Ideally, leaders should keep track of tour sightings, document unusual occurrences, and submit records to appropriate organizations.

The American Birding Association's Code of Birding Ethics may be freely reproduced for distribution/dissemination. ABA has developed and promotes this code actively. See website: