Birding News

I haven’t done any birding news for awhile. This started out as a “green” birding blog so I should tell you what’s been happening in the Mendocino birding world? 

The last birding post was about Laguna Marsh, part of the Big River Spring bird surveys. They are finished. The final leg was the East Haul Road. This section is the least diverse, bird wise, of all the three surveys. As you go further east you get down to just a few different birds. Wilson’s Warblers, Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes are the “big” three.

Pictured above are Nicolet Houtz, Trails & Big River Stewardship Coordinator, and Emily Merfeld, Paul Siegel Salmon Restoration Intern, looking east on the Haul Road. Both are with the Mendocino Land Trust, the sponsor of the surveys. I actually did five survey for them. Two West Haul Road, two Laguna Marsh and one East Haul Road surveys. Ever present were the mosquitos this year, the worst I’ve ever seen.

On June 8th, I posted this announcement on our local MendoBirds website:

8 June, 2014–Sunday–This morning and early afternoon there has been a female MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD at the Little River Airport. First found it on a power pole at the entrance road to the airport. Later viewed it near the windsock and hovering out in the center of the airport and when I left it was along the hangers on the taxiway going west.

Since it was a female I have spent some time with my bird books to make sure of the ID.

If you plan on chasing it, remember that it is a working FAA controlled airport.

Richard Hubacek
Little River

This was a new Mendocino County bird for me and they are quite rare in the county. Because it was the first female MOBL I’ve seen, it confused me for awhile. Until I saw the blue on it’s rump I wasn’t sure.

After talking to the airport manager the following week I posted this announcement on the Mendocino bird website:

Sat. 6/14/14–This morning I was doing my usual birding at the Little River Airport and happened to start a conversation with the airport’s manager. I started the conversation with the announcement of a rare Mountain Bluebird last Sunday. He said he knew all about it and proceeded to tell me several stories about birders chasing it. One birder after watching plane activity proceeded to walk out on the active runway. Another group of birders decided to form a car caravan and drove out on the taxiway, stopped on it and got out and set up their scopes. He related a plane on the taxiway having to stop because of people in it’s way. 

Because of this conversation I will no longer be posting rare birds at the airport on this website. I will probably delay reporting them on Ebird as well.

I realized, in thinking about this issue, that I failed to follow the ABA’s Code of Birding Ethics. 1(c) states, “Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners.” 

 I would suggest that all birders read this “Code of Birding Ethics” frequently. It can be found on the American Birding Association’s Website.

After birding the airport for many years I can’t afford to let inconsiderate birders close off my local patch.

Richard Hubacek

Little River

Birders can be such idiots at times but I received several good replies to my announcement.

I am still doing my SOS Shorebird Surveys at Virgin Creek Beach. Still taking the bus and my bike to do them. The official start of the new season started on July 1st. It been quiet, shorebird wise, for most of the year but I had the earliest (for me) returning Western Sandpipers on June 19th.


On June 27th, a Friday, I received a call from Karen Havlena. She said that Dorothy “Toby” Tobkin had found a Black Skimmer on Virgin Creek Beach. This was Mendocino County’s first Black Skimmer. It created a dilemma for me. There was no chance of catching the bus. There was no one, that I knew of, going into Fort Bragg to hitch a ride with. What to do? I got into my truck and chased it. I was successful.
This bird was banded and I’m sure we will find out it’s history. Some people have said that this could be a possible result of an impending El Niño with it’s warming waters. This leads me to my guilt about the extra carbon I put into the air. I personally put over 27 pounds of carbon and other climate warming gases into the air. See this EPA site to see how I calculated this. People from Lake County chased this bird. It’s was a carbon producing bird. 

Based on my last post, “Care to Join the Debate–Carbon Offsets” I have decided to give a small donation to a birding organization. Which one should I choose? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology might be a good choice but they never answered my letter and I’m no longer a member. They still sponsor extreme birding fundraisers. How about National Audubon? I was shocked to see that their latest issue of Audubon Magazine (July-August 2014) featured Neil Hayward and his 2013 Big Year. No mention of their climate change policies but they want us to green our pets.  And there’s still no mention of “greening” their Christmas Bird Counts. The American Birding Association (ABA) is gradually bringing the subject of climate change to their members but it is still the “listing” center of the birding world. So I’ve decided on the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). As far as I can find out they don’t sponsor extreme birding and walk the walk on their climate policies. They also do good things for birds. I will suggest that they establish a new bird chasing “guilt” fundraiser. It might catch on.

Birds and Climate Change

Every large bird and wildlife organization has some kind of statement concerning climate change and it’s affects on bird populations. We will explore some of these statements and policies in this post.

Why not start with the group that almost everyone associates with birds, the Audubon Society.

The Audubon Society has their “Climate Change Campaign“.

“Leading scientists around the world agree that man-made greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are causing global warming. Effects are already being seen worldwide. Long-term consequences are devastating, and solutions are harder to attain each day we fail to act.”

“Global warming impacts birds and wildlife in many ways. Birds and other wildlife will face habitat loss due to sea level rise, more frequent and severe wildfires, flooding and droughts, invasive species, changes in vegetation and precipitation, and loss of snow and ice, among others. Birds, like most species, are highly adapted to particular vegetation and habitat types. To compensate for the warmer temperatures, the ranges of these habitats may move closer to the poles or higher elevations. Habitat types that cannot colonize new areas may rapidly decline or cease to exist. New pests, invasive species, and diseases will create additional risks. The timing of birds’ migration, reproduction, breeding, nesting, and hatching are all highly adapted to match specific local conditions, such as the availability of suitable habitat and adequate food sources.”

In their, “Be Part of the Solution” they offer ways to consume less fossil fuels. This is the first item in their list, “Consider driving less by taking public transportation, walking, bicycling, or carpooling.” You can see that I’m doing my part this year. They also want you to take part in their citizen science projects like the Christmas Bird Count and their Great Backyard Bird Count in order to provide bird data to track the effects of climate change on birds.

We will look at the Christmas Bird Counts in a later post.

The American Bird Conservancy has their, “Threats to Birds – Global Warming” report. “All birds stand to be affected by global warming, but most at risk are those that utilize sensitive coastal habitats such as marshes and beaches, and island-nesting species. Hawaiian birds are particularly at risk both from habitat loss and the spread of malaria and pox to higher elevations with rising temperatures.” Once again, part of their solution is, “Walk, or ride a bike when possible; choose public transportation or car-pooling over driving”.

The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Global Warming is a jointly produced report by the American Bird Conservancy and National Wildlife Federation. It gives an in-depth analysis of how global climate change may affect populations of some bird species.  In addition to the main report, there is a supplement for each of the lower 48 U.S. States.
 The NWF has their, “Shifting Skies: Migratory Birds in a Warming World“, report. “The very landscapes birds inhabit and upon which they rely are showing the effects of climate-driven changes. Forests are now encroaching on the formerly treeless Alaskan tundra, and deciduous forests are moving up mountains, crowding out alpine coniferous habitats. Millions of acres of pine forests in the West are being decimated by unprecedented epidemics of pine beetles, and catastrophic wildfires are reconfiguring habitats throughout the West. Coastal beaches and marshes are being drowned by rising seas.”
 “Across all habitats, species of conservation concern showed higher levels of vulnerability to climate change than species not threatened by other factors. Vulnerability to climate change may hasten declines or prevent recovery. At the same time, increased conservation concern may be warranted for groups of birds, such as waterfowl and aerial insect-eating birds that are abundant now but that will be increasingly stressed as climate change impacts intensify.”
While they acknowledge climate change affecting birds they have never replied to my letter concerning their “extreme” birding fund raisers.
I’ve written about the American Birding Association before. You can read what I’ve written here and here. While they don’t have a statement on climate change they do have the “Code of Birding Ethics”.
So you can see that there is lot’s of information out there on web concerning climate change and birds. I’ll explore several things I’ve found on the web that are affecting birds now, in my next post.

Open Letter to Cornell Lab of Ornithology



May 28, 2013


Dear Folks at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Team Sapsucker:

First of all congratulations to Team Sapsucker for smashing the Big Day birding record in Texas. It was a very exciting day.

For roughly about a month and a half I have been receiving emails and mail solicitations to donate to Team Sapsucker’s Big Day. Many have come with the sentence, “Extreme birding—for an extremely good cause”. I have to tell you that for the last few years I have not participated in any “extreme” birding events. Why? Because you have convinced me not to. I actually read the reports you publish. I’ve read your, “The State of Birds 2010 Report on Climate Change”. I’ve taken note of Audubon’s Climate Change Campaign and I’ve read the American Bird Conservancy’s, “Threats to Birds – Global Warming”. You have all convinced me that global warming will have really bad effects on our bird populations and that the main cause of that warming is putting Carbon Dioxide into the air. When you use the term “extreme birding” I see “extreme carbon producing birding”. As a birder I take part in the citizen science (Ebird and Christmas Bird Counts) that let you produce the findings for your reports.

I know that Team Sapsucker’s Big Day did not move any birds a single millimeter north or a single bird higher in elevation. But what does it say to the birding community? If it’s alright for an organization with the reputation that you have, it must be alright for everyone. I feel that birding in the grand scheme of things puts only a very small percentage of carbon into the air but I also can’t think of a recreational hobby (maybe because of a lack of imagination) that encourages people to drive thousands of miles (on the spur of the moment) to chase one bird or to pursue a Big Day or Year over a county, state, or country. If people who are concerned for birds can’t break their carbon habits how do we expect others to reduce their carbon footprint?

In reading your Round Robin Blog about the record shattering Big Day I see hints of going for the big “300”. It’s probably on the minds of other teams who have now been shown the way. It is human nature to try for the record. A team in Illinois just broke that state’s record by driving 851 miles. In the blog I see some concern for habitat loss… “But the other question is will there still be areas for birds?” Housing developments are certainly cause for alarm but isn’t burned over forests, dried up lakes and flooded wetlands cause for concern too?

Louis Agassiz Fuertes Director, John W. Fitzpatrick states in your 2012 Annual Report that, “ Recently, I learned an important phrase that helps focus our work: “You don’t accomplish conservation by changing birds’ behavior, it’s the people that matter.” This must be our model—to use birds and other charismatic organisms to inform people and inspire changes in attitude and behavior, so that we learn to live side by side with a stable and fully functioning natural world”. I certainly agree with Director Fitzpatrick. We must change attitudes and behaviors.

What am I doing to change my birding habits? This year I am doing my birding by using the bus, my bike, and shoe leather. I have recorded 216 bird species and have saved over 1327 carbon producing car miles. The key here is that I’m competitive with other birders in Mendocino County, California where I bird. I do my section of the Fort Bragg, California, CBC mostly by bike and walking.

I know that the Texas Big Day is your most important fundraiser of the year. Money talks big. Maybe bigger than a single member. But an organization based on science should have a conversation with it’s members. Your organization should be leading the way when it comes to “clean” birding and you should be raising money based on it. The Anti-Petrels in the World Series of Birding (2012) saw 164 birds and won the Swarovski Carbon Footprint Challenge. They were sponsored by you. I only learned about them this year when I did the research. We need to change the competitive birding narrative. We need birders to be chasing low carbon birding records.

I have asked the American Birding Association to add a section to their “Code of Birding Ethics” which starts out with, “Promote the welfare of birds and their environment”. A section 1(e) would say something like, “All birding should be done in the most ecological manner possible.” The conversation has been one sided and the silence is deafening.

To Team Sapsucker: You are all younger then me. I’ve seen the 400ppm barrier for Carbon Dioxide in the air broken this month. I’ve seen the hottest year in the continental U.S. in 2012. I’ve seen the Arctic Sea ice at record lows. I’ve seen some really horrible weather. You are going to see much more. It’s already in motion. Time to start planning for it.

To the Ebird staff on Team Sapsucker: I know that you have been asked this by others but I will ask again. When I Ebird I would like to check a box that the miles I’ve Ebirded are low carbon miles. I would like to track that mileage for the year and I would like to see totals produced for all other low carbon birders across the county, state and country. By bringing attention to this you might influence a few birders to walk that extra mile.

Enclosed is my membership renewal. I hope it allows you to be part of the solution.




Richard Hubacek


Note: As of July 28th there has been no reply to this letter.