New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds

A new study shows that in spite of updated designs, U.S. wind turbines are killing hundreds of thousands of birds annually—a number that may balloon to about 1.4 million per year by 2030, when the ongoing industry expansion being encouraged by the federal government is expected to be fully implemented.

Wind Power: It's not smart unless it's bird-smart (Credit: Joshua Winchell FWS)
Wind Power: It’s not smart unless it’s bird-smart (Credit: Joshua Winchell FWS)

The findings were issued in a new study by scientists at the Smithsonian Institution Migratory Bird Center (SMBC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Oklahoma State University (OSU), published in the December issue of the journal Biological Conservation and authored by Scott Loss (OSU), Tom Will (FWS), and Peter Marra (SMBC), reports The Birding Wire.

The study, “Estimates of bird collision mortality at wind facilities in the contiguous United States,” was based on a review of 68 studies that met rigorous inclusion criteria and data derived from 58 bird mortality estimates contained in those studies. The studies represented both peer-reviewed and unpublished industry reports and extracted data to systematically estimate bird collision mortality and mortality correlates.

“The life expectancy for eagles and all raptors just took a big hit. Clearly, when you look at this study and you consider the new 30-year eagle take permits just announced by the Department of Interior, this is a bad month for this country’s iconic birds,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) Bird Smart Wind Energy campaign.

New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds (Source: earthtechling.com)
New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds (Source: earthtechling.com)

According to George Fenwick, President of ABC: “This study by top scientists says that hundreds of thousands of birds are being killed by the wind industry now, and that the number will escalate dramatically if we continue to do what we have been doing. The biggest impediment to reducing those impacts continues to be wind industry siting and operating guidelines that are only followed on a voluntary basis. No other energy industry gets to pick and choose where they put their facilities and decide how they are going to operate in a manner unconstrained by federal regulation.”

“The industry has been saying for some time that bird mortality would be reduced with the new turbines compared to the older, lattice structures. According to this study, that does not appear to be the case,” Hutchins pointed out, since the study excluded data from wind developments using older designs.

New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds (Source: antioligarch.wordpress.com)
New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds (Source: antioligarch.wordpress.com)

“The status quo is legally, as well as environmentally, unsustainable,” Hutchins said further. “The federal government is seeking to promote an energy sector in a manner that is in violation of one of the premier federal wildlife protection statutes. In December 2011, we formally petitioned the Department of the Interior to develop mandatory regulations that will safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind energy development. We continue to believe that is the solution.”

A coalition of more than 60 groups has called for mandatory standards and bird-smart principles in the siting and operation of wind energy installations. The coalition represents a broad cross-section of respected national and local groups. In addition, 20,000 scientists, ornithologists, conservationists, and other concerned citizens have shown their support for mandatory standards for the wind industry.

According to ABC, poorly sited and operated wind projects pose a serious threat to birds, especially birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, hawks, and owls; endangered and threatened species such as California Condors and Whooping Cranes; and species of special conservation concern such as the Bicknell’s Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Tricolored Blackbird, Sprague’s Pipit, and Long-billed Curlew.

One particularly interesting finding of the new study concerned the height of turbines. The scientists found that bird collision mortality increased significantly with increasing hub height. Across a range of turbine heights from 118 to 262 feet, the study predicts a staggering tenfold increase in bird mortality. This is especially important because the study identifies an apparent trend toward increased turbine height.

Further, the study states: “This estimate (1.4 million) assumes that average wind turbine height will not increase. Installation of increasingly larger turbines could result in a greater amount of mortality.”

This kestrel died after colliding with a wind turbine at Altamont Pass, California (Credit: BioResource Consultants courtesy Center for Biological Diversity)
This kestrel died after colliding with a wind turbine at Altamont Pass, California (Credit: BioResource Consultants courtesy Center for Biological Diversity)

Such an eventuality may be likely given that a Department of Energy report found that the average turbine hub height of U.S. wind turbines has increased 50 percent between 1998 and 2012.

The report offered several additional key observations about wind energy and bird mortality:

The mortality rate at wind farms in California was dramatically higher than anywhere else. According to the study: “We estimate that 46.4% of total mortality at monopole wind turbines occurs in California, 23.1% occurs in the Great Plains, 18.8% occurs in the East, and 11.6% occurs in the West.”

Failure to consider species-specific risks may result in relatively high rates of mortality for some bird species even if total mortality is relatively low.

The fatality records in the study identified at least 218 species of birds killed at wind energy installations.

The new study comes just after the Department of Justice announced a settlement on the prosecution of Duke Energy’s wind developments in Wyoming in connection with the deaths of 14 Golden Eagles and 149 other protected birds. That first-ever settlement resulted in $1 million in fines and mitigation actions and was the first prosecution of a wind company in connection with bird mortality.

Read More

The Wind Energy Threat to Birds Is NOT Overblown

Two environmental issues are at a crossroads on the shores of Lake Erie with two prominent natural resources on a collision course.

Kenn's Billboard Meme
Source: bsbobird.org

Birds and birders flock to the shores of Lake Erie. There is more of a concentration of bald eagle nests here than anywhere in the United States except Alaska. The Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways converge near here. Each spring this area is the home of the largest birding event in the country, The Biggest Week in American Birding, which last year helped attract more than 70,000 birders from all over the world, reports thebeacon.net.

Economic impact studies conducted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) and Bowling Green State University show that visiting birders spend more than 30 million dollars in the area each spring. The internationally renowned Kaufman Birding Guides and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) have made this area their home.

Here where the water meets the shore, the winds are frequent and strong. Wind turbines are being constructed at schools and private industries all over the area. As a green, clean, renewable alternative to the fossil-fuel-fired plants, wind power is becoming a popular choice.

However, even with government subsidies, wind power is still an expensive alternative form of energy. The other significant negative with wind power is that birds, especially songbirds, eagles and other raptors, can be killed by wind turbines.

Source: bsbobird.org
Kim Kaufman and Mark Shieldcastle of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (Source: bsbobird.org)

In this area where birds migrate and converge, and where wind power is relatively new, the debate has risen to a crescendo, according to thebeacon.net.

Camp Perry, along the lakeshore west of Port Clinton, is in the process of erecting a wind turbine. Since 2007, The Black Swamp Bird Observatory, whose offices and bird banding station are a few miles down the shoreline at the entrance to Magee Marsh, has been expressing their concern that the Camp Perry wind turbine is at a location that endangers migrating birds, raptors and nesting eagles, including the eagles on the grounds of Camp Perry.

Recently Lake Erie Business Park, between Camp Perry and Magee Marsh, revealed plans for erecting six wind turbines.

Camp Perry has gone through regulatory steps and discussions and had an Environmental Assessment. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife (DOW) have found that study to be flawed, containing as many as 50 erroneous statements, according to Kim Kaufman of BSBO.

Traditional studies of avian mortality from wind turbines also have several difficulties, according to Mark Shieldcastle of BSBO. For one, once a songbird hits a wind turbine, not much is left of the songbird. Another is that scavengers often consume the evidence.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has warned that according to environmental impact analysis studies, some facilities in important bird areas could kill thousands of birds and bats per year, reports thebeacon.net.

Source: bsbobird.org
Source: bsbobird.org

At Laurel Mountain, West Virginia, in October of 2011, wind turbines killed 500 birds in one night (to read earlier report, click here).

Meanwhile, Camp Perry has filed a “finding of no significant impact” and has begun construction of the wind turbine. The wildlife agencies, including the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the ODNR Division of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, BSBO and the National Audubon Society, have disagreed that there is no significant impact.

At Lake Erie Business Park, no environmental assessment studies and no wildlife review are required, since they are privately funded. Erie Township, where Camp Perry and the business park are located, has no zoning regulations. When asked about the wind turbine construction, James McKinney of Lake Erie Business Park had no comment.

“It seems that the government has failed us, that the protection that we thought we had, we don’t. It took thirty years for us to recover the bald eagle population in Ohio, and their population could go downhill very quickly since their reproductive rates are much lower than that of songbirds,” said Shieldcastle, a nationally recognized eagle expert and widely known as the eagle person for the state of Ohio.

Source: bsbobird.org
Source: bsbobird.org

He recalls that in 1979 there were four pairs of eagles in Ohio. Now there are 300 nesting pairs in Ohio, with more than 50 nests along the shoreline between Sandusky and Toledo.

“If we can’t protect birds here, with all we know, where can we protect them?” asks Kaufman.

When 200 birds were caught in a freak ice storm in northern Alberta, and landed on Syncrude’s oilsands tailing ponds, Greenpeace was all over the story calling the bird deaths reprehensible. When hundreds of birds are killed by wind farms, allegedly a more environmentally friendly source of energy, Greenpeace is conspicuously silent.

Is it okay to butcher countless birds, create noise pollution, and make beautiful scenic areas ugly—all for the sake of green energy?

You be the judge.

Worth Pondering…
There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

Read More

Southeastern Arizona Birding Jewel Saved

In mid-September (2013) I reported on the fund-raising effort that had been launched to purchase a landmark birding property located in bird-rich Southeastern Arizona.

Paton's Birder Haven
Paton’s Birder Haven

Anyone who has spent time carrying binoculars, camera, and a birding field guide though the mountains, canyons, and deserts of Southeastern Arizona knows the region as a premiere birding hotspots and a favorite for outdoor recreation and RVing.

The community of Patagonia (population 913), in particular, is home to many talented artists, artisans, and writers. Here you’ll find potters, weavers, jewelry makers, painters, folk and avant garde artists, as well as many known and not so well-known writers.

The elevation (4,050 feet) makes for milder summer temperatures than much of Arizona, plus there are a number of cooling lakes within the general area, but yet in winter the occasional dusting of snow usually melts by noon except in the shady crevices of the surrounding mountains.

Patagonia is located in a lush riparian habitat where Sonoita Creek meanders year-round between the Patagonia and Santa Rita mountains. The diversity of vegetation (riparian, desert, and mountain) provides sustenance for more than 300 bird species—including Mexican and Central American species that reach the extreme northern limit of their range here.

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are renowned for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways.

For many years, birders who traveled to Patagonia often visited the home of Wally and Marion Paton.

Paton's Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton
Paton’s Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton

Paton’s Birder Haven had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. They put up hummingbird feeders and had great success, attracting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds along with even rarer species like the Cinnamon Hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat.

When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, and provided bird guides. They placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to help defray the cost feeding their beloved hummers.

In recent years, Wally and Marion both died, and the surviving family members opted to liquidate the property.

That’s when American Bird Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours stepped in to join forces in an effort to purchase the Paton property and together contributed about a third of the purchase amount and entered into a contract with the Paton family.

The remainder of the purchase price—around $200,000—was the goal of the fund-raising effort, which successfully ended October 15. Thanks to many hundreds of generous birders, the Paton property will now be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds—in keeping the tradition Wally and Marion Paton began.

Additional funds will continue to be accepted by Tucson Audubon for repairs to the building (including reroofing and rewiring) and the associated property (including much-needed landscaping with native vegetation).

To make a contribution for this additional work, click here.

The associated groups are scheduled to close on the property in early 2014. Once the sale is complete, Tucson Audubon will assume ownership and management responsibilities of the Paton property, and maintain an office there.

In addition to some of the Paton’s favorite hummingbird species like the Violet-crowned and Broad-tailed, along with the rarer Cinnamon hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat, the Patagonia region hosts thick-billed kingbirds, zone-tailed hawks, green kingfishers, black-bellied whistling ducks, northern beardless-tyrannulets, black-capped gnatcatchers, and rose-throated becards.

header_MOQUAnd of course, there’s the exclamation point on every Southern Arizona birding visitor’s list, the elegant trogon.

And thanks to generous birders, the Paton legacy will continue far into the future.

Details

American Bird Conservancy

Website: abcbirds.org

Tucson Audubon Society

Website: tucsonaudubon.org

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours

Website: ventbird.com

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

Read More

Valley of Butterflies

The butterfly explosion was right on schedule.

Source: valleymorningstar.com
Source: valleymorningstar.com

Abundant September rain put blossoms on Rio Grande Valley plants and the result was an explosion of butterflies in October. It was only logical.

And just as the Rio Grande Valley is the number one birding destination in the United States, it’s also among the best places to view butterflies, including several species not seen anywhere else, reports valleymorningstar.com.

Some of the best local places to see birds double as great spots to view butterflies, but just about anywhere there are flowering plants can be a good place, including backyards, gardens, and even pastures.

Just a few great butterfly places include the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, plants at the SPI Convention Center, Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Resaca de la Palma State Park, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, Frontera Audubon Center in Weslaco, Ramsey Nature Park in Harlingen, and the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Local favorites include the diminutive blue metalmark and the Mexican blue wing. Both are drop-dead gorgeous. Other Valley beauties include the border patch, Gulf fritillary, queen, silver-banded hairstreak, orange julia, white peacock and, well, the list goes on and on.

The Valley has the distinction of being one of the better places to find the world’s smallest butterfly, the pygmy blue, which has a wingspan of half an inch, reports valleymorningstar.com.

Source: valleymorningstar.com
Source: valleymorningstar.com

Currently, American snouts are passing through the Valley by the millions and are undoubtedly the most numerous butterfly in Texas. By the way, snout butterflies similar to those passing through the Valley were around when dinosaurs roamed the earth 70 million years ago.

According to the Texas Natural Science Center at the University of Texas, the Lone Star State has 495 species. The Butterfly Website estimates there are 28,000 species worldwide and 725 of those butterflies can be found in the United States. Moths are even more numerous than butterflies, but that’s a subject for another day.

Butterflies serve a useful purpose. They pollinate plants, provide food for many birds, and their beauty adds an exclamation point to our day. They also help us connect to nature.

Details

National Butterfly Center

Unlike various butterfly conservatories that have been built across the United States, the National Butterfly Center provides extensive outdoor gardens of native nectar plants and specific caterpillar host plants as well as natural habitat to attract large numbers of wild butterflies and to conserve rare native butterflies.

In the few short years since the National Butterfly Center opened, it has already been the site of a number of sightings of butterflies never before seen in the United States. The close proximity to Mexico and the Rio Grande gives ample opportunity for species to cross over into the United States.

More than 300 species of butterflies have been found in the Rio Grande Valley, and over 200 of these have been seen at the National Butterfly Center, including a number of rarities and U.S. Records.

In addition to the butterflies, the National Butterfly Center is revegetating its land with rare native plants, giving visitors the chance to experience and learn about the Rio Grande Valley’s native flora and fauna.

Source: valleymorningstar.com
Source: valleymorningstar.com

Incredibly, almost 40 percent of the 725 butterflies that can be found in the United States can be seen in this three-county area at the southernmost tip of Texas, where the subtropical climate makes it possible to enjoy the outdoors year ’round.

Address: 3333 Butterfly Park Drive, Mission, TX 78572

Phone: (956) 583-5400

Website: nationalbutterflycenter.org

Texas Butterfly Festival

The National Butterfly Center hosts the 18th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival from November 2 – 5, 2013. Attendees will spend 3 days exploring renowned public lands and private properties with world-class trip leaders and expert guides. The Festival is taking place during prime butterfly season, when you may reasonably expect to see 60 or more species in a day.

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

The 20th Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival will occur in Harlingen immediately following the Butterfly Festival from November 6-10, 2013.

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is a butterfly which when pursued is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly may alight upon you.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne

Read More

Whooping Cranes Migration to Texas Underway

Endangered whooping cranes have begun their annual 2,400-mile fall migration from Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada to southern Texas.

Whooping Cranes fly with long necks and long legs fully extended. Wingbeats are slow and steady. (Source: TPWD)
Whooping Cranes fly with long necks and long legs fully extended. Wingbeats are slow and steady. (Source: TPWD)

As the rare birds approach the Lone Star State, a citizen science initiative is inviting Texas residents and visitors to report whooper sightings, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) news release.

Texas Whooper Watch is a volunteer monitoring program that is a part of TPWD’s Texas Nature Trackers program. The program was developed to help the agency learn more about Whooping Cranes and their winter habitats in Texas.

Since beginning their slow recovery from a low of 16 birds in 1942, whoopers have wintered on the Texas coast on and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Recently though, several groups of whooping cranes expanded their wintering areas to include other coastal areas and some inland sites in Central Texas.

This year, some of the whooping cranes from an experimental flock in Louisiana spent most of the summer months in Texas, and the Whooper Watch volunteers were able to provide valuable information about these birds to TPWD, Louisiana Game and Fish, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

This year biologists expect Whooping Cranes to start arriving in Texas in late October or early November.

The wingtips (primary feathers) are black in Whooping Cranes, but black does not extend all the way along the wing edge to the body. Wingspan is 7-1/2 feet. (Source: TPWD)
The wingtips (primary feathers) are black in Whooping Cranes, but black does not extend all the way along the wing edge to the body. Wingspan is 7-1/2 feet. (Source: TPWD)

Texas Whooper Watch will also help improve the accuracy of surveys on the wintering grounds, as the growth of the flock has made traditional census methods more difficult.

Whoopers usually follow a migratory path through North and Central Texas that includes cities such as Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Victoria.

During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night. The typical sighting (71 percent of all observations) is fewer than three birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller sandhill crane.

Whoopers are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. The cranes are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs outstretched.

Citizens can help by reporting sightings of whooping cranes and by preventing disturbance of cranes when they remain overnight at roosting and feeding locations.

Sightings can be reported to whoopingcranes@tpwd.texas.gov or 512-389-TXWW (8999). Observers are asked especially to note whether the cranes have colored leg bands on their legs. Volunteers interested in attending training sessions to become “Whooper Watchers” in order to collect more detailed data may also contact the TPWD atwhoopingcranes@tpwd.texas.gov or 512-389-TXWW (8999).

Adult birds have bodies that are pure white except for a red patch on the head and a black “mustache.” Juvenile birds will have rusty feathers with the white. (Source: TPWD)
Adult birds have bodies that are pure white except for a red patch on the head and a black “mustache.” Juvenile birds will have rusty feathers with the white. (Source: TPWD)

Details

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is one of over 545 national wildlife refuges spanning the United States and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Aransas NWR was originally established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 as a “refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife…”

The Refuge is world renowned for hosting the largest wild flock of endangered whooping cranes each winter.

The 16 mile auto tour loop is open.

Phone: (361) 286-3559

Website: fws.gov

Worth Pondering…

It’s now in its second year; it’s no longer a juvenile. But this one particular whooping crane doesn’t know where Aransas is. Its parents never showed it.

—Tom Stehn

Read More

Migrating Hummingbirds Face Drought Conditions

As the ongoing drought worsens, migrating hummingbirds may find little native vegetation to sustain them as they fly south for the winter.

Black-chinned hummingbird at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Black-chinned hummingbird at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This year, local birding experts say, it’s essential that humans feed the tiny feathered travelers.

On a recent visit to Central Texas, Norma Friedrich, president of the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society saw no native flowering plants on which the hummingbirds would rely as they pass through Texas, en route to Mexico and Central America. The migrating birds will be forced to rely almost entirely on humans for their food, Friedrich told the Valley Morning Star.

This year, more than ever, the hummingbirds will seek out flowering plants in gardens, as well as feeders in yards, on porches and patios.

The migration should start any day now, she said. The first to arrive will be the ruby-throated hummingbirds. The ruby-throats, which spend the summer in New England, the northeastern U.S., and southern Canada, will be followed by black-chinned hummingbirds that travel south from the western United States. Then the Rufous hummingbirds arrive, migrating from the western United States and as far north as Alaska.

Friedrich also reminds humans who feed any birds of a lesson many birders know: “You attract more birds with water than with seeds.” A water mister or a lawn sprinkler with a fine spray will attract many kinds of birds. The appreciative hummingbirds will give themselves showers by flying through the spray.

Nesting hummer at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Nesting hummer at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The regular and widespread practice of feeding hummingbirds in Rockport (Texas) resulted in the city’s annual hummingbird celebration, this year marked its 25th anniversary, September 12-15.

Feeding

Feeding hummingbirds requires a limited amount of paraphernalia, according to several specialized websites.

To begin, you need a hummingbird feeder, sugar, water, measuring cups, and a suitable place to hang the feeder. For feeder maintenance, you need a couple of brushes to clean the inside of the feeder and the little holes where the birds feed.

Boil water and measure one quart into a container. Let the water cool and add one cup of white granulated sugar. Stir or shake until the sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate unused sugar-water. Pour sugar-water into a hummingbird feeder. At first, fill the feeder with one to two cups of sugar-water.

If the feeder is empty in a day, it means you have hummingbirds feeding from it. At the peak of the migration, you may be filling it daily. If that’s the case, consider hanging a second feeder several feet away from the first one.

When the feeder is empty, wash it thoroughly using a bottle brush to remove any film on the inside of the feeder. Use a small brush to clean the holes where the hummingbirds feed.

Do not use artificial sweetener, corn syrup, or honey. Use only regular granulated sugar.

Do not use red dye. Some dyes can harm the birds, and it’s unnecessary anyway. Other useful information from the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society:

Buff-bellied Hummingbird at Frontera Audubon Thicket in the RGV near Weslaco, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Buff-bellied Hummingbird at Frontera Audubon Thicket in the RGV near Weslaco, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hang the feeder in a shady location, such as from a tree branch or along the eaves of a porch.

Some gardeners hang feeders on shepherd’s hooks staked among flowering shrubs, providing a bird buffet. It’s important, though, to hang the feeder where it’s easily accessible because you’ll need to regularly remove, wash, refill, and rehang it.

It’s also a good idea to hang the feeder outside a window, so you can watch the birds feeding.

Don’t hang the feeder where it will be accessible to neighborhood cats.

Turn on a lawn sprinkler or a mister. The hummingbirds — and all other birds — need water, especially in the current drought conditions. The hummingbirds will cool themselves when they fly through the spray.

Hummingbirds are especially attracted to red or yellow flowers. Recommended native plants that attract hummingbirds include Sophora, bottle brush, esperanza, pride of Barbados, and native Turk’s cap. Hibiscus, although not a native plant, also attract hummingbirds.

Worth Pondering…

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

Read More

Saving a Southeastern Arizona Birding Hotspot

Anyone who has spent any time carrying binoculars, camera, and a birding field guide though the mountains, canyons, and deserts of Southeastern Arizona knows the region as a premiere birding hotspots and a favorite for outdoor recreation and RVing.

Paton's Birder Haven
Paton’s Birder Haven

The many unique and special places in this region offer a spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds including species at their extreme northernmost migrating range.

These birding hotspots include Sabino Canyon, the Chiricahua and Huachuca mountains, Saguaro National Park, Madera Canyon, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Coronado National Monument, Santa Catalina Mountains, San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, Whitewater Draw, Muleshoe Ranch Preserve, Buenas Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and the Mountain Empire of Patagonia-Sonoita.

The Mountain Empire contains important conservation areas, including one of the only remaining high desert short-grass prairies in America, the San Rafael Valley.

Visitors come for the spectacular scenery of the valley in which Patagonia is nestled, and the clean air that beckons hikers into the surrounding canyons.

The community of Patagonia, in particular, is home to many talented artists, artisans, and writers. Here you’ll find potters, weavers, jewelry makers, painters, folk and avant garde artists, as well as many known and not so well-known writers.

The elevation (Patagonia is 4,050 feet, Sonoita is 4,885 feet) makes for milder summer temperatures than much of Arizona, plus there are a number of cooling lakes within the general area, but yet in winter the occasional dusting of snow usually melts by noon except in the shady crevices of the surrounding mountains.

Paton's Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton
Paton’s Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton

Patagonia is located in a lush riparian habitat where Sonoita Creek meanders year-round between the Patagonia and Santa Rita mountains, not far from the Arizona/Mexico border. The diversity of vegetation (riparian, desert, and mountain) provides sustenance for more than 300 bird species—including Mexican and Central American species that reach the extreme northern limit of their range here.

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are renowned for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways.

For many years, birders who came to Patagonia often visited the home of Wally and Marion Paton.

Paton’s Birder Haven had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. They put up hummingbird feeders and had great success, attracting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds along with even rarer species like the Cinnamon Hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat.

When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, and provided bird guides. They placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to help defray the cost feeding their beloved hummers.

In recent years, Wally and Marion both died, creating an uncertain future for this birding landmark as the remaining family has opted to liquidate the property.

With your help, the property can be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds—a fitting tribute to the Paton’s legendary generosity. And you will be able to visit to see the birds too!

As a result, American Bird Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours have joined forces in the effort to purchase Paton’s Patagonia Birder Haven and have jointly contributed about a third of the purchase amount and have entered into a contract with the Paton family.

Paton feeder
Paton feeder

It is hoped the remaining two-thirds—about $200,000—can be raised through contributions before October (2013).

Once the property is successfully procured, Tucson Audubon would assume long-term management, while maintaining the home and property as a public birding site.

Details

American Bird Conservancy

Website: abcbirds.org

Tucson Audubon Society

Website: tucsonaudubon.org

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours

Website: ventbird.com

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

Read More

Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.

For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.

1. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache is Spanish for “woods of the Apache,” and is rooted in the time when the Spanish observed Apaches routinely camped in the riverside forest.

An hour from Albuquerque, a 12-mile auto loop along refuge impoundments offers great views of the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains. From late October through early spring, see huge flocks of sandhill cranes and snow geese fly out at dawn to feed in fields and return at dusk to roost in the marshes.

In November the annual Festival of the Cranes is a premier birding event. Organized by the Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, the 26th annual Festival of the Cranes is scheduled for November 19-24, 2013. This will be the YEAR OF PHOTOGRAPHY; plan to take advantage of the optics, camera, printing, and eco-travel expert onsite.

Wildlife to Observe: Thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, Ross’s geese, and ducks.

Continue reading →

Phone: (575) 835-1828

Website: fws.gov/southwest/refuges/newmex/bosque

Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofthebosque.org

Festival of the Cranes: festivalofthecranes.com

2. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida's most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida’s most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is known for its abundant birdlife and is a major destination for birders from throughout the world. Over 320 species have been documented so no matter what season you visit, you are likely to see a variety of birds.

The peak season for birding is between October and April with optimum conditions occurring from December to February. The best place to see wildlife is along the Black Point Wildlife Drive. The 7-mile, one-way drive follows a dike road around several shallow marsh impoundments and through pine flatwoods.

Seven walking trails are routed through a variety of wildlife habitats and provide additional wildlife viewing opportunities.

The 17th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is scheduled for January 22-27, 2014.

Wildlife to Observe: Waterfowl (in season), wading birds (including roseate spoonbills), shorebirds, and raptors. Alligators, river otters, bobcats, various species of snakes, and other wildlife may be visible as well.

Phone: (321) 861-0668

Website: fws.gov/merrittisland

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival: spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org

3. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma

Mount Scott at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: panoramio.com/kecid)
Mount Scott at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: panoramio.com/kecid)

Take a three-mile drive to the top of Mt. Scott for a stunning panoramic view of the Wichita Mountains. Interspersed between mountain peaks, visitors may view some of country’s last untilled native prairie, where bison and cattle roam among the cross timbers—remains of dense growth of oaks and greenbriar that once covered parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

Every September the Annual Bison Roundup culls the animals for testing and separation into groups for sale, donation, or return to the herd.

Another scenic driving option is SR-49, which extends about 20 miles through the refuge. Both roads are part of the Wichita Mountains National Scenic Byway.

Wildlife to Observe: Texas Longhorn cattle, bison, elk, deer, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, prairie dogs, turkey, bobcat.

Phone: (580) 429-3222

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Wichita_Mountains

Friends of Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: friendsofthewichitas.org

Please Note: This is Part 4 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 1: Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 2: Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

Part 3: Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

Read More

Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.

For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.

4. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Aerial view of "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: USFWS/Susan White)
Aerial view of “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: USFWS/Susan White)

The J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. It is world famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations.

The four-mile-long Wildlife Drive is presently closed for repaving with an anticipated reopening of October 1.

The Sanibel Island route winds through mangrove forest, cordgrass marsh, and hardwood hammocks, offering close-up views of wading birds, shorebirds, seabirds, waterfowl, and raptors. Bicycling is also popular on Wildlife Drive, part of the island’s system of multi-use trails.

In October the annual “Ding” Darling Days is a premier birding event. Organized by the Friends of the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, “Ding” Darling Days is scheduled for October 20-26, 2013.

Wildlife to Observe: Roseate spoonbills, wood storks, reddish egrets, little blue herons, yellow-crowned night-herons, anhingas, white pelicans, red knots, marbled godwits, bald eagles, otters, bobcats, and alligators.

Phone: (239) 472-1100

Website: fws.gov/dingdarling

Friends of “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge: dingdarlingsociety.org

“Ding” Darling Days: dingdarlingsociety.org/dingdarlingdays

5. Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

river-s-tour1The 5,300-acre Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge contains a lush mosaic of wetlands, grasslands, riparian corridors, fir forests, and Oregon white oak woodlands.

On the shore of the Lower Columbia River, a 4.2-mile gravel loop road crosses fields, wetlands, sloughs, and forests—easily the refuge’s most popular visitor destination.

An auto tour provides a sense of the refuge landscape while making it easy to spy birds and other wildlife, especially at an observation blind. The River ‘S’ Discovery Auto Tour route is a one-way 4.2-mile loop on graveled road that is open every day to vehicles during daylight hours.

An Informative Audio Tour CD is available at the Visitor’s Station at the entrance to the Discovery Auto Tour Route and also at the refuge headquarters.

Organized by the Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Birdfest is scheduled for October 5-6, 2013.

Wildlife to Observe: Migrant bird species such as sandhill cranes, as well as resident bird species such as mallards, great blue herons, and red-tailed hawks. Coyote, raccoon, skunk, beaver, and river otter are occasionally seen.

Phone: (360) 887-4106

Website: fws.gov/ridgefieldrefuges/ridgefield

Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge: ridgefieldfriends.org

Birdfest: ridgefieldfriends.org/birdfest

A wonderful bird is the pelican...  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A wonderful bird is the pelican… © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 1: Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 2: Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

Part 4: Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Worth Pondering…

A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

—Dixon Lanier Merritt

Read More

Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.

For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.

6. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Stretching eight miles along Delaware Bay and covering 16,251 acres, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for wildlife. (Credit: USFWS)
Stretching eight miles along Delaware Bay and covering 16,251 acres, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for wildlife. (Credit: USFWS)

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge protects one of the largest remaining expanses of tidal salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region. The refuge, located along the coast of Delaware, is mostly marsh, but also includes freshwater impoundments and upland habitats that are managed for other wildlife.

A 12-mile wildlife drive cuts across man-made pools, salt marshes, mudflats, woodlands, and upland fields. Spring brings migrating waterfowl, wood warblers, and shorebirds. Summer draws herons, egrets, avocets, black-necked stilts, and terns. Fall and winter months provide resting and wintering grounds for Canada geese, snow geese, and a mix of waterfowl. Birds of prey are seen all year long.

The wildlife drive passes five short walking trails, three with 30-foot-high observation towers.

Wildlife to Observe: Snow geese, northern pintails, warblers, dunlins, dowitchers, avocets, black-necked stilts, yellow warblers, purple martins, red tailed hawks, and bald eagles.

Phone: (302) 653-9345

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Bombay_Hook

Friends of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofbombayhook.org

7. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Four short (less than 0.5 miles each) and two longer (1.5 – 4 miles) hiking trails are available adjacent to the wildlife drive or Refuge headquarters. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Four short (less than 0.5 miles each) and two longer (1.5 – 4 miles) hiking trails are available adjacent to the wildlife drive or Refuge headquarters. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Straddling the Pecos River, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a wetland oasis inhabited by a diversity of wildlife. Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.

The eight-mile Wildlife Drive/Auto Tour Loop is one of the better ways to observe wildlife.

Four short trails and two longer hiking trails are available adjacent to the Refuge Headquarters and Wildlife Drive.

Organized by the Friends of the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the 2013 Dragonfly Festival will take place on September 7.

Wildlife to Observe: Take advantage of the overlooks for great views of flocks of sandhill cranes and Ross’ and snow geese, or to spot the coyotes and red-tail hawks criss-crossing the wetlands. Drive slowly and watch for basking spiny softshell turtles, coachwhip snakes, and checkered whiptail lizards. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented.

Continue reading →

Phone: (575) 622-6755

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Bitter_Lake

Friends of Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofbitterlake.com

Dragonfly Festival: friendsofbitterlake.com/2013-dragonfly-festival

8. National Bison Range, Montana

The largest North American land mammal in existence, American bison were a key species of the Great Plains—their grazing habits helped establish the distribution of grasslands in the Plains. The current bison herd is maintained at approximately 350 animals. (Credit: USFWS)
The largest North American land mammal in existence, American bison were a key species of the Great Plains—their grazing habits helped establish the distribution of grasslands in the Plains. The current bison herd is maintained at approximately 350 animals. (Credit: USFWS)

Follow the one-way steep and winding 19-mile gravel road up Red Sleep Mountain for stunning grassland views with herds of bison, antelope, elk, big horn sheep, and deer. From the top, see the Mission Mountain range of the Rockies and enjoy panoramic views of Mission Valley. You can also access two short walks. In general, the Red Sleep Mountain Drive is open from mid-May to early October.

Due to the steepness of roads and tightness of switchbacks, no vehicles over 30 feet in length are allowed on Red Sleep Mountain Drive. They may access the shorter West Loop, Prairie Drive, and Winter Drive. No trailers of any kind may travel Red Sleep Mountain Drive.

Wildlife to Observe: Antelope, elk, mule deer, bison, mountain sheep, eagles.

Phone: (406) 644-2211

Website: fws.gov/refuge/national_bison_range

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 1: Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 3: Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

Part 4: Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

Read More