Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Weather: 18 °F / -8 °C with scattered clouds
We have received many reports of sick and dying Common Redpolls at bird feeders around the state. We have sent some samples for testing and they have come back positive for Salmonella. We advise people to clean their bird feeders with a 10% bleach solution and clean up all seed waste that may be on the ground.
These birds come from the north where they may not be exposed to pathogens common in our year-round backyard birds. Salmonella is commonly isolated from House Sparrows for example. That, coupled with the fact that they congregate in large numbers around a concentrated food source and come into contact with infected droppings. The warm weather this winter and lack of snow cover (on top of old seed on ground to hide it and freeze it) has probably increased transmission.
Salmonellosis is caused by a bacteria belonging to the genus Salmonella. It is a common cause of mortality in feeder birds, but the symptoms are not always obvious. Sick birds may appear thin, fluffed up, and may have swollen eyelids. They are often lethargic and easy to approach. Some infected birds may show no outward symptoms but are carriers of the disease and can spread the infection to other birds.
It is primarily transmitted by fecal contamination of food and water by sick birds, though it can also be transmitted by bird-to-bird contact. Occasionally, outbreaks of the disease cause significant mortality in certain species.
For more information visit the National Wildlife Health Center.
VINS NATURALIST JOURNEYS - 2nd Annual Slideshow Series
Friday, March 10, 7pm
The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong
With Donald Kroodsma
Bethany Church, Montpelier
The Singing Life of Birds
A Birdsong Workshop with nationally acclaimed author Donald Kroodsma
Saturday, March 11, 7am - 11am
VINS North Branch Nature Center, Montpelier
Contact VINS for fees and to pre-register.
For centuries, the question of why birds sing and what their songs mean has captured the imagination of scientists, naturalists, and poets. Author and scientist Donald Kroodsma will answer that question by taking you on a listening and viewing adventure to understand the hidden dramas in our backyards. With absorbing detail, he'll put you inside the mind the research scientist and the singing bird itself, exploring how and why birds sing and how we can better understand them through their songs.
Donald Kroodsma, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, has studied birdsong for more than thirty years. He has edited three scholarly volumes on the field of acoustic communication among birds, and more than one hundred articles in popular magazines such as
Birder's World, Living Bird, and Natural History. In graduate school at Oregon State, a singing wren in his backyard got Kroodsma started on a lifelong passion for listening to birds. The Singing Life of Birds is Kroodsma's first full-length book.
The Singing Life of Birds
A Bird song Workshop with nationally acclaimed author Donald Kroodsma
Saturday, March 11, 7am - 11am
VINS North Branch Nature Center, Montpelier
Contact VINS for fees and to pre-register.
Why do birds sing? And what do their songs mean? University of Massachusetts professor Donald Kroodsma has been researching birds and birdsongs for over thirty years. Author of dozens of articles in Birder's World, Living Bird and Natural History, he recently published The Singing Life of Birds, his first full length book. He'll be presenting a slideshow and discussion of
his research on March 10th at the Bethany Church. Join us the following morning for a fascinating, first hand exploration of bird song. Participants will improve their listening skills, learn the basics of sound recording, and learn how to "see" and analyze birdsongs, primarily with Cornell's Raven-lite software. Participants will be outside for several hours, listening for and recording bird calls. After those early morning hours in the field, we'll use an indoor session to talk farther about recording techniques and also to study sounds that we have recorded or sounds that we can upload from published CDs. This workshop experience will change forever
the way you listen to bird song. See The Singing Life Of Birds.com for more information.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Location: White River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas
Weather: 68.0 F (20.0 C) and clear
With the VINS team in the middle of their 2 week stint at White River NWR....
Cornell Lab of Ornithology announced the latest development in the
search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a white Pileated Woodpecker
was discovered in the White River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas.
Observed during February 7-13, 2006, this striking individual is
mostly white with a red crest and red malar stripe, indicating that
it is a male. Read more about it.....
Friday, February 17, 2006
Location: Northcentral Bolivia
Weather: Now I know what a Thanksgiving turkey goes through
In my last update, I mentioned that we had come across our largest (so
far) Bobolink night roost, approximately 15-20,000. When people think of
roosts, they often think of trees. But here in South America, Bobolink
roosts are composed of tall grasses or rice. They always roost in areas
inundated with water. This characteristic and the lack of roads here made
it difficult for us to access the roost, or so we thought, for a more
Thanksfully, we found an easy access to the roost that we had overlooked.
Based on our estimates conducted simultaneously by 4 biologists on 2
different occasions...(drumroll please)...we counted approximately 60,000
Bobolinks in one roost. Based on my searches for literature on Bobolinks,
this is an all-time record! Personally speaking, the roost is a highlight
in my life, and for the rest of the crew it´s a very exciting discovery.
And nobody thought that Bobolinks wintered in Bolivia...
Location: White River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas
Weather: partly cloudy, low 40s
Our biologists will begin an expedition tomorrow to the remote
swamps of Arkansas to join one of the great quests in all of
ornithology: the search for the near-mythical Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
Undaunted by prospects of venomous snakes, waist-deep muck and
freezing temperatures, the six biologists will spend two weeks in
canoes and on foot trying to locate and photograph the large, dashing
and elusive woodpecker, long believed to be extinct.
"This may be the most remarkable birdwatching trip we've ever
undertaken," said Kent McFarland, senior research biologist at VINS.
"Until last year, encounters with Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were
equated with sightings of Elvis and Bigfoot."
The earth shook last April, at least for ornithologists and
birdwatchers, when a team lead by Cornell Lab of Ornithology
announced that an Ivory-billed Woodpecker was discovered and
photographed in an old-growth swamp of the Cache River National
Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas. Long given up for extinct, the
ivory-bill is now the focus of an intense search and conservation
effort to restore its habitat and bring the birds back from the edge
The VINS team includes McFarland of Woodstock, Juan Klavins of
Westford (formerly Argentina), Brendan Collins of Bristol, Steve
Faccio of Sharon, Bryan Pfeiffer of Plainfield and Randy Dettmers of
Shutesbury, Massachusetts. With nearly a century of experience among
the biologists, ranging from Paraguay to Newfoundland and most places
in between, not one had ever expected to encounter an Ivory-billed
Woodpecker. That all changed last April.
"We'll be living the dream of birdwatchers from around the globe,"
said Pfeiffer, a consulting biologist with VINS. "If I had to leave
Vermont in February, there's no place I'd rather be than mucking
around a swamp in Arkansas searching for these birds."
In its day, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) was
a striking symbol of the bottomland forest wilderness that once
extended across the southern United States. North America's largest
woodpecker, with a wingspan of 30 inches, the ivory-bill was readily
recognized by the male's dashing red crest, black-and-white wings and
clean white bill. Ivory-bills roamed mature, swampy forests in search
of dead and dying trees infested with the larvae of wood-boring
beetles, the woodpecker's primary food. But destruction of the
ivory-bill's forest habitat caused severe population declines in the
1800s, and only a handful of birds remained into the 20th century.
The last well-confirmed sighting in the United States came from
northeastern Louisiana in 1943.
But now the focus is on Arkansas, where scores of field biologists
and volunteer birdwatchers are at work under the direction of the
renowned Cornell Lab or Ornithology. The VINS team will join a corps
of volunteers, each deployed for two-week periods from November
through April. The challenge is to find an Ivory-billed Woodpecker
roost hole or nest hole and to get additional video documentation of
the bird or birds. The ultimate goal is to learn more about the
species in order to help in the protection and recovery of any remaining birds.
"The volunteers are vital to the search effort," said Dr. John
Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, based in
Ithaca, NY. "Without them there's no way we could scour such a large
area for ivory-bills. These folks are field biologists and avid
birders -- all of them giving up their time to be part of this
once-in-a-lifetime recovery project."
Dressed more like duck hunters than birdwatchers, head-to-toe in full
camouflage gear, the VINS team will work from before dawn well into
the evening, with the solitary goal finding and documenting on film
any signs of the huge black-and-white woodpecker.
The terrain is remote and sometimes imposing. Much of the habitat can
be flooded, so crews will travel by canoe. When on foot, the
searchers wear chest-waders. Dense forest growth and venomous
cottonmouth snakes are among the region's biodiversity, although
cooler February temperatures in Arkansas may keep snakes less active.
"Those of us who study birds in Vermont are accustomed to mucky bogs,
lots of bushwhacking, steep climbs, and clouds of blackflies, among
other challenges," said McFarland. "So we think the VINS team is
well-prepared to persevere in swamps of Arkansas. But, most of all,
we hope to offer our skills in this noble effort."
As Vermont's leading institution in bird research and conservation,
VINS has a well-established partnership with Cornell, which is among
the country's leading centers in ornithology. The two organizations,
for example, have teamed up on an innovative, Internet-based bird
sighting reporting system called Vermont eBird (www.ebird.org/VINS/)
and will soon be releasing Hispaniola eBird together.
The VINS team departs Saturday for a 24-hour, non-stop drive to its
base camp at Arkansas's White River National Wildlife Refuge. Said
McFarland: "It will be the quintessential road trip -- with an
exquisitely rare twist."
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico - airport
Yesterday was problematic since our arrival at Aeropuerto de las
Americas in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. First, in a classic
case of bureaucratic ineptitude, the airline desk wouldn't let us on
the plane with the avian blood samples (for mercury and DNA
analyses), even though we had all necessary permits, and the
Dominican Republic doesn't require any such paperwork for samples to
leave the country. They simply had no idea what they were doing, and
because we were in danger of missing our flight, I gave up. Luckily,
our Dominican colleague had stayed with us to grab some lunch with
us, so I was able to hand it all off to him. If not for him, I'd
definitely have stayed behind with the blood. That's 3 weeks of hard
work and priceless data! So, Juan and I raced to the front of lines
and through customs, arriving at our gate 2-3 minutes before the
flight was due to leave. It was delayed for over an hour. End of Part 1.
Part II begins in San Juan, Puerto Rico where we arrived with 1.5 hrs
before our connecting flight. Juan, an official card carrying member
of the United States of America and citizen of Argentina, was delayed
for 45 min. with cumbersome and unnecessary immigration paperwork,
even though he had all necessary documents. Customs then completely
bumbled about with our feather samples, costing us another precious
20 min. We arrived to learn that it was too late to get our
check-through bags on the flight, so left them for tomorrow morning's
flight. We raced frantically for our gate and.....missed our flight
by minutes. So, here we are, marooned in San Juan until
tomorrow. Extreme disappointment after > 3 weeks away from home and family.
Anyway, tough but amazing trip overall. I will soon be writing up a
full report to share with you all...and figuring out how to get those
blood samples back for lab work.....
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Weather: 72 °F / 22 °C, Light Rain, Humidity: 97%
We just got back from Haiti and we are now meeting with our partners, the Hispaniola Ornithology Society. Here is a quick update on our Haiti field work last week.
The trail to Pic Macaya hadn´t been cut in 12 years, so we worked on nearby Pic Formon for 3 days while a trail was scouted. We ran a few mist nets and got very wet and incredibly muddy in heavy rain. When we finally got up there (one of the most arduous hikes I´ve ever done), we had only one night and it poured. No Black-capped Petrel surveys or general mist netting was possible. Additionally, a huge forest fire had roared across the summit a few months earlier, killing most broadleaf trees and nearly all small and medium pines. Some absolute cathedral pines though, > 4 ft in diameter.
Bicknell's Thrushes were scarce and hard to catch. We only had 1 at Rak Bwa site (we caught 5 in 2004 there). We found 4 on Pic Formon but could only catch one. We found none on Pic Macaya. We heard 2 petrels from Pic Formon, one whizzing overhead and one in the distance.
Director of Conservation Biology
Location: Northcentral Bolivia
Weather: Overcast, only 80F!
Research on Bobolinks in the winter requires mobility. When they´re
breeding it`s a relatively simple venture, they have their territories and
they stay there, at least for a few weeks. In the winter, predictability
is not their forte. We left Santa Cruz in search of a major Bobolink roost
we had found last year in a Japonese rice colony, but alas, they had not
returned, at least not yet.
A biologist had told us of flocks in rice further to the north, and we
decided to make the drive to check it out. Trinidad is a city in Bolivia
several hours north of Santa Cruz, and until recently has not been on the
agricultural radar screen. The people here have the cutom of using the
forests and savannahs here by hunting and collecting fruits. But recently
there have been changes afoot, and in the last 4 years people from other
parts of the country have immigrated to Trinidad to take advantage of its
ephemeral wetlands and grow rice.
The Bobolinks already figured it out. We found the largest night roost so
far here in Trinidad, at least 17,000 birds, but we believe we are
drastically underestimating. Roads are still scarce here, and we can`t
reach the areas we´d like to. A special order of waders from Santa Cruz
was essential in order to have any hope of capturing birds.
The wintering range of Bobolinks has never been depicted as being this far
north. However, clearly it is indeed now part of their wintering area,
presumably because of the rice. So as the biologists must follow the
Bobolinks, it seems that the Bobolinks follow the rice producers.
Weather: 48 °F / 9 °C with a high of 71 °F expected, Clear
A few weeks ago I commented on the mercury levels we have been finding in Bicknell's Thrush and other songbirds in the northeastern United States and the Carribean. Our blood and feather samples are analyzed by our colleague Dr. Robert Taylor at the Texas A&M Trace Elements Research Laboratory (TERL) in College Station.
Recently, ABC Phoenix affiliate visited TERL and reported on mercury in fish. Take a moment to view the video and learn about Dr. Taylor's lab and the mercury in fish that you may be consuming.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
VINS ornithologists Chris Rimmer and Juan Klavins were able to check in last night via satellite phone from high atop Pic de Macaya in the Massif de la Hotte mountain range in southwest Haiti. The connection was poor with service cutting in and out and at times they had to call back.
Juan, who is from Argentina and has studied birds throughout Latin America, commented that he had never seen such poverty in his life as he saw in Port-au-Prince. Juan simply said of the widespread poverty, "It was shocking".
The VINS team is accompanied by several botanists. They have been studying the area for several days. When asked what the hardest part has been, Juan commented that it has been difficult to communicate with the local help as they only speak Creole. Juan is fluent in both Spanish and English, but Creole is a whole different matter. The crew is all crowding together in a windowless hut to sleep at night. It can get quite chilly high in the mountains.
Juan's favorite bird so far seems to be the todies. These two beautiful endemic species, Broad-billed and Narrow-billed Todies, fit in the palm of the hand. They have long bills with a red patch on the chin and are bright and shocking green with steely-blue eyes. They are using mist nets to capture, band and release birds. The team is catching a lot of birds in the mist nets, mostly because they are packed into the remaining small remnant forest fragment. The have yet to capture any Bicknell's Thrushes.
VINS is a member group of Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE). Massif de la Hotte is one of the 595 AZE sites identified around the world for protection. The site has the most critically endangered species of any site - 13. There are 10 sites identified on Hispaniola. Learn more about AZE and the sites on the web site at http://www.zeroextinction.org/. The VINS team visited the area in 2004 and reported on the conditions. You can read about it at http://www.vinsweb.org/assets/pdf/OrnNeotrop2005.pdf. The team will hopefully add more data about the conservation status of this biologically rich mountain range and ultimately help save it.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Location: Santa Cruz
Weather: Let`s just leave it at ¨really hot and really humid¨ for the rest
of my messages
In contrast with their strong site fidelity inon their breeding grounds,
Bobolinks never really stop moving here on their wintering grounds. The
flocks where we had been netting decided to move to another location. I am
learning that there`s a pattern. We are able to very successfully net more
Bobolinks than we can handle for 3-4 days, and then the flocks disappear,
presumably in search of another food resource. However, the disturbance
from the farmers´ scare tactics (fireworks) may also be the cause, at
least some of the time. Whatever the reason, they have moved, and so must
Before we head to a new site, we usually return to trhe city of Santa Cruz
to regroup, resupply, fix the truck, and take care of less interesting
matters such as paperwork. If you have never worked in this part of the
world, you may not have experienced the true test of patience. The general
rule is to take the amount of time you think it will take to complete your
tasks, and multiply by at least three. For example, we were supposed to
spend one day here and then return to the field. However, we are going on
our third day in the city, with no end in sight. We in the developed world
are used to things happening quickly, resources being available and easy
to find, and schedules being predictable. Here, North Americans must learn
to adjust their expectations. On the other hand, there is some tranquility
and wisdom in the pace here.
Hopefully the next time I write, it will be with more news from the field!
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Location: Woodstock, Vermont
Weather: Temp. 33.1 F (0.6 C), Humidity 71%, cloudy with new snowfall
Last year we published a paper in the journal Ecotoxicolgy describing
our findings of mercury contamination in Bicknell's Thrush and other
birds that breed on mountaintops in the northeastern United States
and adjacent Canada and winter in the Caribbean. We showed for the
first time that a terrestrial songbird can accumulate mercury and
methylmercury from atmospheric pollution. We also showed for the
first time that migratory birds where accumulating a significant
amount on their wintering grounds as well. You can read all about it
on our web page at http://www.vinsweb.org/cbd/MES/mercury.html.
Today, we received results from Texas A&M Trace Element Laboratory
for Bicknell's Thrush blood samples taken last winter in the
Dominican Republic. These samples further augment our original
discovery - Bicknell's Thrush are indeed picking up about 2x more
mercury on the winter grounds than on the breeding grounds. The
average Bicknell's Thrush on our Dominican Republic study areas has
0.36 ppm mercury in their blood. We tested a few endemic bird
species from the island, many of these birds are critically
endangered, and we have found that they have similar levels.
We don't know the source of this mercury yet, but we have some ideas
and hope to explore those in the near future. Stay tuned! Some of our
biologists are collecting more samples and studying the problem right now.
Weather: Temp. 84 °F / 29 °C, Humidity - 55%, Partly Cloudy, North wind
Time: 11:06 EST
VINS Biologists just arrived in Port-Au-Prince and communicated with headquarters via a quick instant message before catching their small plane to Les Cayes where they hope to communicate directly to the blog. But, here is what they had to say via instant message.
They completed intensive studies on our long term study sites in the Baoruco National Park in western Dominican Republic. We have been studying birds there since 1994. It appears that numbers of birds are down from previous years. Interestingly, a colleague told us today that biologists that have been doing the same bird banding effort in Guanica, Puerto Rico for many, many years in January found this year that their data show stunningly low numbers. They usually get 20+/- spp, some infrequent and many well represented. This past January they caught 4 Black and White Warblers. They think it may have been the hurricane season during migration that may have killed migratory birds enroute. Could our numbers in the Dominican Republic show the same thing? Much more work is needed, but it does raise some concern.
Additionally, as part of our work, we have miniature radio tags on Bicknell's Thrushes on our study plots. So far we have had 3 of them killed by introduced rats that live all over Hispaniola.
The team led by Chris Rimmer is now headed to a small National Park in sw Haiti called Pic Macaya National Park. They will have to hike all of their gear into the park as the road has been destroyed by tropical storms this past summer and fall.