Volunteer Opportunity for Maine Birders

Maine birders and other naturalists have a long history of participation in citizen-science projects. In today’s column, I want to let you know about a new volunteer-based bird project to assess the impact of dams on the birds that use rivers.

Specifically, two dams on the Penobscot River are scheduled for removal in 2011. Volunteers will be sampling the birds of the Penobscot River before and after the removal of the dams.

An essential part of this study will be monitoring control rivers to document any changes in bird abundance over the next few years that are not related to the removal of dams. So rivers like the Kennebec and the Androscoggin need to be monitored as well.

The protocol is straightforward. Each volunteer chooses a section of a river. From a single point, the volunteer monitors birds for twenty minutes, recording the number of birds seen in four consecutive five-minute intervals.

The primary focus is on counting riverine birds that feed on aquatic food resources including cormorants, Bald Eagles, Osprey, waterfowl, herons, shorebirds, gulls, kingfishers, and some songbirds that forage extensively on aquatic insects such as Tree Swallows, Eastern Kingbirds, and Cedar Waxwings. Other species that happen to occur near rivers can be recorded incidentally if you wish.

The river section needs to be surveyed every two weeks during the spring (ice-out until early June) and fall (late August into November) migration periods. Summer counts can be less frequent and winter counts are not essential. Counts should be conducted in the morning.

The project is being led by Erynn Call, a doctoral student in the Department of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Maine. If you are interested in censusing one or more sections of a Maine river, you can contact her by email (erynn.call@maine.edu), letter (Department of Wildlife Ecology, 5755 Nutting Hall , University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469-5755) or telephone (207-581-2921).

I hope you will consider adopting a section or two of a Maine river for this project. You would be making a valuable contribution to an important project. And, your participation will give you an excuse to go birding!

All About Birds website

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has revised its impressive All about Birds website (http://www.allaboutbirds.org). You can find high-quality images and informative accounts of over 500 bird species. You can listen to vocalizations of many species of birds. Descriptions of favorite birding areas of Lab ornithologists throughout the United States are just a click away.

A brand-new feature is a series of free web videos, called Inside Birding. Two experienced ornithologists, Jessie Barry and Chris Wood, share their tips, tools and techniques for identifying our feathered friends. The first four videos describe their “four keys” to bird identification: size and shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat. The videos are geared to beginning birders but will be of value to more experienced birders.

Sad News about Whooping Cranes

The Whooping Crane is one of the most endangered bird species in North America. In 1941, the population was only 21 individuals. With a combined effort of habitat preservation, captive breeding and cross-fostering with Sandhill Cranes, the population rose to more than 300 birds in the wild and another 145 in captivity.

One of the world’s two remaining flocks of Whooping Cranes overwinters at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. These birds breed at the Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta.

Last fall, nearly 300 Whooping Cranes departed from Alberta on their migration to Aransas. Unfortunately, 34 of the birds failed to arrive in Texas. Another six adults and 15 chicks did not survive the winter in Texas.

This population of Whooping Cranes therefore lost a fifth of its members over the past six months. Wildlife biologists implicate drought and disease for the deaths of the wintering birds.

Non-Native Purple Swamphen in Florida

In 1996 a family of about six Purple Swamphens were documented for the first time in south Florida. This species is related to the native Purple Gallinule and Common Moorhen that occur naturally in Florida. The swamphen population has exploded since their introduction. Conservation biologists are concerned because the swamphens prey on the eggs and nestlings of native waterbirds and compete for breeding habitat with other marsh birds.

Alarmed, Florida wildlife officials had hunters shoot as many of the swamphens as they could find. This hunting resulted in the extermination of 3,200 birds over a 2.5 year period. This hunting program was not effective and has been discontinued. The Purple Swamphens seem to be firmly established in at least three south Florida counties.

[Originally published on May 15. 2009]