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September 12, 2014

Dispatches from the International Sea Duck Conference in Iceland

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Harlequin Duck, photo by Andrew A Reding/Flickr Creative Commons

Over the past week, Reykjavik, Iceland has be the site of the 5th International Sea Duck Conference. More than 140 people from nearly 30 image_largecountries have listened, questioned and discussed a wide variety of issues important to understanding sea ducks, their biology, habitat, threats and survival. Unlike most conferences, we have also gotten daily volcano updates and had the opportunity to see eider ducks feeding at the shore. Iceland and Reykjavik are much as what you might expect, very modern surrounded by beautiful isolation.

The program has been both interesting and valuable for me and the work we do at International Bird Rescue. The papers have addressed effects of climate change, body condition measurement techniques, emerging diseases, developments in radio telemetry techniques, and sea duck monitoring and modeling. The primary species studied and discussed are the Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Harlequin Ducks, and Common, King and Spectacled Eiders — all species that we have worked with in many responses going back to our founding in the 1970s. Nearly every presentation contains nuggets of information that can be applied to preparedness and response including rehabilitation. Being here provides an opportunity to find these nuggets as well as to network with the scientists who can be key in getting accurate information about local species at risk if a spill occurs.

While I have been surprised by how many of the participants I have met over the years, most of them are not regular participants in the Sea Duck Conference1-1rehabilitation or oil industry conferences we regularly attend. Their perspective is one that we less regularly hear, and that makes it even more valuable to hear their ideas. Responding to oil spills all over the world presents a number of different challenges, but one of the biggest problems is that we almost always lack local knowledge. We rely heavily on local people and local biologists working with the species affected by an oil spill to mount the best possible emergency response and to achieve the best possible care. Having a familiar face makes it that much easier to develop trust and understanding and get down to the emergency at hand.

One of the most interesting presentations for me was Dr. James Lovvorn’s talk on Designating Critical Habitat in a Climatically Changing Arctic: Eiders, Sea Ice and Food Webs, as one of my current projects is working on planning and preparedness on the remote Northwest Alaska coast of the Chukchi Sea. Although not as immediately of obvious value but very thought provoking were a number of papers on personalities, stress and brain size — all of which I hope to learn more about to further our rehabilitation success.

team_curt_cAll in all, it has been great experience, leaving me eager to apply what I have learned and also eager to learn more from some newly discovered colleagues.

Curt Clumpner

Preparedness Director

Map: Seabirds of Iceland via European Environment Agency

September 9, 2014

Climate disruptions affecting North America’s bird species

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Over half of North America’s bird species will see their geographic ranges dramatically shrink as a result of climate change in the coming decades, according to a new study by the National Audubon Society.

Based on decades of data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the report finds that 126 avian species are “climate endangered,” meaning that they are projected to lose over 50% of their current habitat based on widely accepted greenhouse gas emissions projections. A loss of habitat and geographic shift in where birds can successfully feed and breed poses the risk of extinction for species that may not successfully adapt.

Among those predicted to lose habitat range include the Common Loon (see map above), the Bufflehead (photo right), and the California Gull — all Bucephala-albeola-007commonly seen at our wildlife centers in California.

“Common sense will tell you that with these kinds of findings, it’s hard to believe we won’t lose some species to extinction,” David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society, said in an interview with the New York Times. “How many? We honestly don’t know. We don’t know which ones are going to prove heroically resilient.”

Read the full article here.

 

August 31, 2014

Lessons learned (or ignored) from the Passenger Pigeon’s fate

passenger pigeons_woodcut from the 1870s shows passenger pigeons being shot in LouisianaJohn W. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, writes one of the finest op-eds of the year, a stirring call to action to save vulnerable bird species of America from the fate of the Passenger Pigeon.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of “Martha,” the world’s last-remaining Passenger Pigeon who died at the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 1, 1914. The species population once numbered over 3 billion, before rampant hunting and habitat destruction led to steep losses in the 19th century.

With alarming declines today of many bird species in America, including the Eastern Meadowlark and the Northern Bobwhite, Fitzpatrick in a New York Times op-ed offers a modest proposal:

I suggest that the broader conservation argument transcends cost efficiencies and scientific analyses and should focus instead on the moral questions posed by Martha. Most of us wish we could see those storied passenger pigeon flocks for ourselves, so why aren’t we doing everything possible to keep some of our most common wild things from meeting the same fate? Don’t our great-grandchildren have the right, as part of their American heritage, to experience choruses of meadowlarks singing “spring is here!” from treetops and fence posts?

Read the full oped here.

August 29, 2014

We’re hiring!

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International Bird Rescue is currently accepting applications for a part-time rehabilitation technician position at our San Francisco Bay wildlife center!

Click here for more info on this hands-on position in an exciting wildlife hospital environment.

 

August 27, 2014

NatGeo: Icelandic seabird colonies in peril

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Photo by Frans Lanting, National Geographic

Troubling news out of Iceland, the world’s primary breeding ground for such amazing seabirds as puffins and razorbills, and a veritable “Serengeti for fish-eating birds.”

National Geographic reports on the dramatic decline of seabird colonies and horrendous chick die-offs:

“There are just dead chicks everywhere,” said Freydis Viafusdottir, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Exeter in Cornwall, England. “Not only do you have to provide your field assistants with food and shelter, but also some psychological help after many, many days of collecting dead chicks.”

Similar trends have been reported throughout the North Atlantic, including Norway, Scotland and the Faroe Islands.

Researchers interviewed blamed climate change for disturbing sensitive breeding seasons and adversely affecting fish populations on which seabirds depend:

“What is happening in Iceland, we see happening in so many other areas in the North Atlantic. And the fact that we’re seeing them over such a wide area points to a common factor … and that is climate change,” said Aevar Petersen, a retired Icelandic Institute of Natural History ornithologist.

Other experts place the blame squarely on over-zealous commercial fishing practices that have decimated capelin numbers.

Read the full story here.

August 15, 2014

The week in bird news, August 15

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Yellow-billed Cuckoo via Wikimedia Commons

• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking to protect over a half-million acres across the western United States as critical habitat for the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, whose population has been decimated by dams, livestock grazing and other environmental factors.

“The designation of critical habitat is an important step in recovering the western yellow-billed cuckoo,” said Jennifer Norris, Field Supervisor for the Service’s Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office. “Critical habitat identifies areas with essential nesting and fledgling sites where conservation actions are needed to protect and recover this imperiled songbird.”

Comments on the proposed habitat rule are being accepted through October 14. Read the full USFWS press release here.

The proposal promises to be a flashpoint on Capitol Hill, Politico reports. [Sierra Sun Times]

index• Big game poachers are poisoning African White-backed Vultures (pictured right) because their circling behavior above slaughtered elephant carcasses often tips off authorities. [Yale Environment 360]

• Marine biologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence Sylvia Earle’s Netflix documentary Mission Blue premieres today. [Grist]

• CNN offers up some glorious clickbait with this round-up of summer aquatic bird photographs, including a wonderful White Tern. [CNN.com]

• How the California drought is crushing the Tricolored Blackbird population. [Audubon]

• Oy. Federal wildlife officials are trying to keep people and pets off Passage Key, a four-acre barrier island near Tampa Bay that’s become a weekend hotspot for beachgoers, some of them nude. The sandbar is a protected nesting spot, officials say.

“We want visitors to understand the ecological importance of this island,” said Ivan Vicente, visitor services specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “There aren’t many sandbars left for seabirds and shorebirds to nest and rest. As long as visitors remain in the water around the island, the seabirds and shorebirds will successfully continue to nest in Passage Key.” [Fox 13 News-Tampa]

• At SeaWorld, the world’s first “test-tube penguin.” [Daily Mail]

Tweets of the week:

August 12, 2014

Our cottonball-sized patient of the week: Black Rail chick

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Photo by Isabel Luevano

Dear friends,

In a cozy, leafy incubator within International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay center, you’ll find the smallest aquatic bird patient we’ve ever cared for.

This is an orphaned baby Black Rail, an elusive bird and a threatened species in California due to habitat loss. The cottonball-sized chick was found at Shollenberger Park in Petaluma, CA, and recently was transferred to International Bird Rescue from our friends and partners at WildCare in San Rafael.

BLRAIt’s our first baby Black Rail, and though we limit human interaction with our avian patients whenever possible, we’re all awestruck by just how tiny and precious this bird is.

For a bird so rarely seen, Black Rails have become increasingly common patients. Several adult Black Rails we’ve cared for this year have been rescued after being disturbed and attacked by pets. To help build scientific knowledge of this little-understood animal, we work with the Black Rail Project at the University of California-Berkeley to band these birds, which aids in post-release research.

International Bird Rescue’s team of experts is well equipped to care for sensitive species – endangered, threatened or near threatened. These include the Marbled Murrelet, Ashy Storm Petrel, Snowy Plover and Piping Plover.

Whether it’s a rare Black Rail or a plucky Mallard duckling, we need your help to keep our wildlife centers running year-round for thousands of animals brought to us each year. Please make a donation today. Your contribution will provide much-needed support for wild birds we all love.

Sincerely,

Barbara Signature

Barbara Callahan
Interim Executive Director

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Update: The San Francisco Chronicle is on the story …

August 8, 2014

The week in bird news, August 8

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Photo by Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons

• New York-based Friends of Animals is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a now-shuttered program to kill Snowy Owls at New York’s Kennedy International Airport. On Friday, a federal judge heard arguments from the animal rights group , which is seeking to change policies of avian removal at the nation’s sixth busiest airport, located adjacent a key habitat for aquatic birds and migratory species. Snowy Owls showed up from Washington, D.C. to Boston during this past (and frigid) winter. [New York Times]

• Also in the bird hazing department at major airports: A Dutch company is using 3-D printing to produce “raptor drones” that could be used to scare away birds and avoid bird strikes with commercial aircraft. [Motherboard]

• A mine tailings pond dam collapse in British Columbia spilled millions of cubic meters of effluent into local waterways. Preliminary water tests in the area met drinking water standards, and while B.C. Premier Christy Clark called the test results “promising,” she stipulated, “We are profoundly concerned about what happened.” Wigeons, pintails and grebes are all common species in the area. [Vancouver Sun]

• Rancor ensues over the new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Minneapolis, decried as a “death trap” for birds. [Mother Jones]

• Marine plastic pollution research isn’t limited to the oceans. Scientists off the coast of Lebanon are studying the effect of microplastics in the eastern Mediterranean. [The Daily Star-Lebanon]

• An abundance of prey in California’s Monterey Bay has been attracting seabirds as well as Humpback Whales. Officials are now warning the public to keep distance from this gentle giants. [CBS-SF Bay Area]

• A terrific citizen science/workplace procrastination opportunity: Help Audubon study the Puffins of Maine! [ABC News]

• BirdCam we’re watching right now: Long-eared Owl Cam, Missoula MT via Explore.org. And check out our White-faced Ibis on our BirdCam Project!

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

August 7, 2014

We heartily endorse …

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Photo by Richard Bartz

Let’s hear it for citizen science!

The National Audubon Society is seeking the eager eyes of birders everywhere to keep tabs on Puffins featured via its Explore.org webcam. The birds are considered threatened species in the state of Maine, where the webcam project is based.

Via the Associated Press:

There are about 1,000 pairs of the seabirds, known for their multi-colored beaks and clownish appearance, in Maine. Audubon says the number of puffin fledging chicks has declined in the last two years, possibly because their key food source, herring and hake, are leaving for cooler waters. Puffins are on the state’s threatened species list.

Audubon maintains three web cameras on Seal Island, a National Wildlife Refuge in outer Penobscot Bay, 22 miles off Rockland and one of the key puffin habitats in Maine. Volunteers are being asked to watch the puffins feed and answer questions about their feeding behavior, said Steve Kress, director of the National Audubon Society’s seabird restoration program.

Read the full story here.

August 2, 2014

An Elegant Tern Loses Her Baby to Fishing Hooks

Terns in tangle after being hooked together last month in Southern California.

Elegant Terns in tangle after being hooked together last month in Southern California. Photo by Nick Liberato

Dear Friends,

If you work in this business, you learn to live with a lot of heartache. For every case ending in an awe-inspiring release, there’s an animal whose injuries were just too much to bear.

Some stories are a mix of both.

PBGR-Donate-buttonOur Los Angeles center team recently received this adult Elegant Tern and a tern chick hooked together by a multi-hook fishing lure.

Nick Liberato, a biologist who monitors a tern colony on nearby Terminal Island, found the birds and took the photo upon rescue. “I spotted them as I was ushering some stray chicks back through the chick fencing and into the main rookery,” Liberato says. “At first, I thought they were just tangled in monofilament [fishing line], but when I saw that multi-hooked lure puncturing both of them, I knew my tools wouldn’t cut it, so I got them over to you guys as quickly as possible.”

Our rehabilitation team separated mother from chick and extensively nursed the severe wounds of both animals. Sadly, the tern’s injuries had already become infected, and this baby bird did not survive. The mother healed remarkably after several weeks of care, and was recently released by our intern and volunteer team at Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach, CA. You can see video of this story below.

Fishing hooks and fishing line are such a pervasive problem for seabirds, and a leading cause of injury in the birds we care for at our California centers. If you fish, be mindful of where your gear ends up. We know there are many fishermen who are responsible, and it’s our wish that you’ll spread this message to others. We are grateful that you set a good example out on the water and at the cleaning stations.

And we can all do our part by picking up plastic pollution and discarded gear wherever we see it in the marine environment. You may end up saving a wild bird’s life.

Meanwhile, a particularly busy summer of orphaned birds, injured pelicans and oiled seabirds continues full steam. By last count, we have well over 300 injured, ill or orphaned birds at our wildlife hospitals. Please consider making a donation to support the birds we all love. A gift of $100, $50, $25 or even $10 goes a long way.

In gratitude,

Barbara Signature

Barbara Callahan
Interim Executive Director

A bittersweet release: Elegant Tern from International Bird Rescue on Vimeo.