Category Archives: Events

Birders’ Meeting 2019: Coming Up on 3/3!

While past iterations of the annual Massachusetts Birders’ Meeting have centered on specific groups of birds, habitats, or conservation issues, this year’s theme is a little more abstract: the beauty of birds. All of this year’s presentations address some aspect of what avian beauty means to us and to birds themselves.

Headlining this year’s meeting is Dr. Richard Prum, an evolutionary ornithologist working at Yale. Prum received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his most recent book, The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—And Us.

Nathan Pieplow, a scholar of birdsong and author of the Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds, will share and discuss some remarkable audio from nature’s strangest-sounding birds. MIT professor Dr. Lorna Gibson will speak on the structure of feathers, from the microscopic forms that give them iridescent colors, to how feathers make owls silent and ducks waterproof.

Artists and humanists will also be among those speaking on avian beauty: Susan Edwards Richmond will give us a tour of bird-inspired poetry from the first known verse spoken in Hindi, to Shakespeare’s writings, and contemporary work by Mary Oliver and Gary Snyder. Mass Audubon’s Chris Leahy and Amy Montague will speak about birds’ many roles in visual art through the ages.

Additionally Joan Walsh, Mass Audubon Bertrand Chair of Natural History and Field Ornithology, will discuss how the fashion of the mid-1800s, namely bird plumes on hats, gave rise to the conservation movement.

Of course, there will be a number of other draws in addition to speakers. We’ll have a vendors’ area staffed by nature tour agencies, booksellers, and local bird-related companies. A number of raffle items will include field guides, bird feeders, and other birding goodies. Most importantly, there’s the chance to meet new community members, catch up with old friends, and stay up to date on news in the Massachusetts birding world.

Whether you come out to learn, socialize, or both, we hope you’ll join us this year!

This year’s meeting will take place on Sunday, March 3rd from 8am-4:30pm, at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

Gearing Up For Bird-A-Thon 2018

May might seem like a long way off, but the Conservation Science department is already planning our team’s strategy for bird-a-thon. We’re also trying to build as big a team as possible for fundraising and birding, so consider joining us!

You can join us as a “Bird-a-thon booster” and help fundraise, or join as an official birder by emailing our team captain Margo.

Bird-a-thon is not only a fun birding event, but also a huge help to Mass Audubon. Our team uses donations from Bird-a-thon to support our conservation programs, like Foresters for the Birds and the Bobolink Project.

Last year, we tied for second place in the Hatheway Cup for most money raised— help us win it this year! A subgroup of our team will also attempt a big day on the 11th, and try to beat our team’s species total from last year.

Some of us get very serious about the competitive aspect of Bird-a-thon, much to everyone else’s amusement. Have you ever wanted to watch our program assistant Will try to hold it together after an all-nighter? Is Jeff, the woodland bird conservationist, willing to belly-crawl through tidal mud to glimpse a Least Bittern? Does lead ornithologist Jon Atwood get hangry if he misses a meal over a last-minute Wilson’s Warbler chase?

Of course, other participants are not obliged to go all-out, as some of us do—you can bird at your own pace, or join for just a few hours of the day!

Jeff and Margo scouting sites for our team (photo: Will Freedberg)

 

Last year, the Conservation Science team recorded 179 species. Come out and see if you can help us beat our total.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing Together for Migratory Birds

By Jeff Ritterson, Bird Conservation Fellow

On Tuesday, May 9th, I was in Washington D.C. at Standing Together for Migratory Birds—a legislative briefing on federal migratory bird conservation programs.  With recent political changes in Washington, it may seem that support for these programs, and the crucial funding they provide, is on the chopping block.  But that’s not necessarily the case, and here’s why.

As conservation biologists, we understand that humans are inextricable from natural world, and that healthy and functioning ecosystems are inherently good for us.  However, we also understand that money talks, and this was a theme of the legislative briefing.  In remarks given by Senator Whitehouse (Dem-RI), he stated that, more often than not, humans come first on Capitol Hill, and every last issue gets monetized.

With that in mind, the American Birding Association presented on the economics of migratory birds and wildlife watching.  For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that in 2011 Americans spent about $15 billion on birdwatching trips and an additional $26 billion in related gear.  A presentation by Ducks Unlimited also showed that significant money is spent hunting waterfowl, and 98 cents of every dollar from federal duck stamps sales goes to the acquisition of habitat—more than 6 million acres since its inception in 1934.

Of course, these activities depend on the conservation of our migratory bird species, and that’s where federal programs come in.  For example, since 2002 the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act has provided about $60 million to fund over 500 migratory bird conservation projects.  Also, the Farm Bill funds conservation programs that successfully help agricultural producers and migratory birds.  For example, thanks to these programs, Whooping Cranes are now nesting in Louisiana farmland – the first state nest in 75 years.

However, it’s not just a federal handout.  Many programs require additional contributions—as much as 3 dollars for every 1 federal dollar provided.  This way programs stimulate conservation activity and non-federal support from sources such as private foundations and donors.

With such a sound economics, federal migratory bird conservation programs can receive support from both sides of the political aisle.  That said, they are periodically reviewed, and it is important to tell your senators and congressional representative that you support full funding of bird conservation programs.

 

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Blackpoll Warbler: an impressive sprinter

Male Blackpoll Warbler © Kenneth Cole Schneider

“Its activity is pleasing, but its notes have no title to be called a song. They are shrill, and resemble the noise made by striking two small pebbles together, more than any other sound that I know.” – John James Audubon, Birds of America

The Blackpoll Warbler is a very common migrant in Massachusetts, and it is often located by its high-frequency song as it passes through the state. The sound is so high that many birders claim that being unable to hear the Blackpoll Warbler’s song is one of the first signs of hearing loss. From June through August, however, there are precious few places in the Commonwealth where even observers with the keenest hearing can hope to hear a Blackpoll Warbler sing. Given that we are on the extreme southern edge of this species’ breeding range, it is not surprising that breeding pairs of this subalpine specialist are few and far between in the Bay State. Mount Greylock is most likely place to see a breeding Blackpoll Warbler in Massachusetts.

Did You Know?

During migration the Blackpoll Warbler—weighing in at just 12 grams (lighter than a soda can)—flies for three straight days over the Atlantic Ocean before stopping in Colombia or Venezuela. In addition, Blackpoll Warblers that breed on the northwest coast of the U.S. first fly across the continent to join up with their eastern counterparts before flying south. This is one of the most impressive migrations of any animal.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

What is it like to participate in Bird-a-thon?

Bird-a-thon, Mass Audubon’s largest annual fundraiser, features a 24-hour team birding competition where birders and team supporters raise money to support Mass Audubon programs and sanctuaries. What is it like to be a part of Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon? Michael Pappone, longtime member of the Bird Conservation team and Mass Audubon board member, shares his experiences from Bird-a-thon 2016:

“My team is up by 3:30 a.m. to gather well before dawn at the Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area in Worcester County. The mist lurks around the cat-tails and willows. The Eastern Phoebe’s ‘vree-bee’ call rings out in the near distance (check!), and then the ‘oonk-a-dunk’ of the endangered American Bittern crouching somewhere out there in the wetness signals that it was time for another (check!) and that it is going to be a great day in the field. Then suddenly a Sandhill Crane floats by. Is he mistaking the Worcester County wetlands for Nebraska? Big (check!).

Bird-a-thon is in full swing! Behind us, a Scarlet Tanager let loose with his robin-with-a-sore-throat imitation. (Check!) At this rate our palms will be smarting from all the high-fiving before sunrise. Over at the sandy end of the Flats, another endangered fellow greets us from the heights of his very own 3-foot shrub sticking out of the sandy soil: a Grasshopper Sparrow, sounding very much like a grasshopper that just touched a high-voltage wire. With about 40 check marks on our list, we obey the law of diminishing marginal returns and split for new territory.

Next stop is Wachusett Mountain, where our ascent is rewarded with not only a good number of (checks!) but amazing numbers of Ovenbirds (teacher-Teacher-TEACHER!), Scarlet Tanagers, and Black-and-White (te-tsee te-Tsee-Te-TSEE) and Black-throated Green Warblers vocally squabbling over territory. The (non-check!) bonus is the sighting of a few remaining snow patches. Really good ‘gets’ here are the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Winter Wren. The last of the Dark-eyed Juncos has favored us with a delayed trip north just so we could be the team who gets to count him. Nice.

It’s on to the Quabbin Reservoir: a totally new venue for me out in Hampshire County. The reservoir was formed by a dam built in the Depression years from 1930-1939. The public works project flooded a number of communities to make way for 420 billion gallons of water and a new 181 miles of shoreline. It’s a big hit with the birds, that’s for sure. We revisit a number of previous species – in broad daylight this time; and notch a good number of new ticks on our checklist.”

©Michael Pappone

Join the Bird Conservation team as either a Booster or an Official Birder!

2016-2017 Christmas Bird Count Summary

Ross’s Geese have been seen more often in Massachusetts in the last few years © Aaron Maizlish

The last issue of The Warbler provided a brief history of the venerable Christmas Bird Count (CBC) – a scheme established in 1900 to monitor winter bird populations during a three-week period around Christmas.  This issue offers a few Massachusetts highlights from the 2016-2017 CBC season.  In checklist order, waterfowl made a big splash this winter with rarities such as Pink-footed Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Ross’s Goose, and Cackling Goose variously honking things up on several counts, along with some mega-numbers like 17,629 Black Scoters on the Truro CBC, 33,054 Long-tailed Ducks at Nantucket, and a state-wide total of 2,231 Hooded Mergansers.  Several “chickens” continued a downward trend with only 13 Northern Bobwhites tallied on one count, and a state-wide total of 12 Ruffed Grouse on only 6 CBCs.  Compare these figures with the state total of 2,273 Wild Turkeys!

Vultures continued maintained a northward shift in winter numbers (possibly a climate change signal) with a total of 19 Black Vultures noted on just two counts, and 133 Turkey Vultures on 8 CBCs.  A rare-in-winter Osprey appeared in Truro, and state-wide, 219 Cooper’s Hawks maintained their seasonal dominance over the 138 recorded Sharp-shinned Hawks.  In the unobtrusive category, a Yellow Rail recorded at Nantucket was most unusual, and a total of 255 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on that same island speaks to how rapidly this Old World species is moving into North America.

A heavy fall flight of Northern Saw-whet Owls was no doubt responsible for tallies of 45 Saw-whets on the Concord CBC and 30 in Truro.  Two White-winged Doves in Boston’s Victory Gardens and a hardy Rufous Hummingbird on the Buzzards Bay CBC were unique this CBC season. Falcons reflected varying success, with the beleaguered American Kestrel state total of only 13 individuals continuing a disappointing downward trend, while cumulative totals of 37 Merlins and 34 Peregrine Falcons can only be described as optimistic.

Several bona fide rarities included an Ash-throated Flycatcher on the Mid-Cape Cod CBC, a Sedge Wren at Buzzards Bay, and a Townsend’s Solitaire at Cape Ann.  And for any readers who think that American Robins are only harbingers of spring, consider a total of 35,125 robins on the Mid-Cape CBC and the state-wide total of 53,300!

Late lingering can only explain the occurrence of an Ovenbird, a Northern Waterthrush, and a Black-throated Green Warbler at three different localities.

While this summary speaks only to some of the highlights gleaned from this season’s CBC, full details and more information will soon be available at the CBC website.

 

Audubon’s “Extra Warbler”

Male Black-throated Blue Warbler © Mark Peck

“This is a real wood warbler. It loves the woods.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

The Black-throated Blue Warbler has a relatively small breeding range that extends from Nova Scotia westward to Lake Superior. Some of these warblers breed in suitable habitat as far south as Georgia, but almost all “suitable habitat” south of Pennsylvania exists only in the Appalachian Mountains. Black-throated Blue Warblers reside primarily in mature hardwood forests, where they make their nests in dense understory growth, particularly where mountain laurel abounds. Predictably, this species suffered a significant decline in Massachusetts when much of the old-growth forest was cut down to make way for agriculture.

Black-throated Blue Warbler range map © Birds of North America

Trend in Massachusetts

The Black-throated Blue Warbler is increasing in MA and expanding their range eastward in the state.

Did You Know?

The male and female Black-throated Blue Warbler look so different from one another that they were originally thought to be two separate species. The female Black-throated Blue Warbler is also know as John James Audubon‘s “extra warbler” because he painted a separate plate for his Elephant Folio of the Birds of North America of what he thought was a “Pine Swamp Warbler” but was actually a female Black-throated Blue.

Female Black-throated Blue Warbler © Kenneth Cole Schneider

Meet “Fire-throat”

Blackburnian Warbler (male) © Kevin Bolton

“When the low morning sun shines full upon its gorgeous frontlet, backed by the dark recesses of the pines, it flashes out like a burning flame as the bird turns its breast suddenly to the light.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

The fiery throat, face, and breast of the breeding Blackburnian Warbler set it apart from its fellows. A boreal forest warbler, most of the species’ breeding range lies in northern New England and eastern Canada. Although Blackburnian Warblers require fairly substantial areas of intact mature forest, they will tolerate some “edge” in that habitat, and have managed to keep their fires burning brightly throughout the past few centuries in Massachusetts.

Trend in Massachusetts

Increasing west of the Worcester Plateau.

Did you know?

The Blackburnian Warbler is the only North American warbler with an orange throat.

 

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Have You Seen a Pine Warbler?

Pine Warbler © Andy Morffew

“The Pine Warbler is the gentle, modest minstrel of the pines…Its sweet monotonous song harmonizes well with the sighing of the summer wind through the branches, while shimmering heat-waves rise from the sandy soil.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

As its name suggests, the Pine Warbler typically shuns deciduous woods or high-altitude stands of spruce and fir. Rather, it goes where the pines are, and pre-Colombian Massachusetts certainly had plenty of pines. Tall White Pines, intermixed with resinous Red Pines, covered large portions of the state. Gnarled but venerable Pitch Pines dominated the sandy forests of Cape Cod and the Islands. Of course, after the arrival of colonists, homes and farms sprang up as the trees went down. Even as acres upon acres of pine forest disappeared across the state, Pine Warblers persisted for many years on Cape Cod.

Trend in Massachusetts

The Pine Warbler has had extraordinary success in Massachusetts since our first Breeding Bird Atlas in the late 1970s. Pine Warblers persisted on the Cape and significantly increased in almost all of the rest of the state. The Breeding Bird Survey also indicates an increasing population of this short-distance migrant.

Pine Warbler change in presence between Breeding Bird Atlas 1 and Atlas 2.

Did You Know?

Pine Warblers are one of two warbler species that regularly stick around in Massachusetts in the winter. They can often be seen at suet feeders, so keep an eye out!

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Warbler of the Week

Hi all,

In anticipation of our warbler-themed Birders Meeting, we’ll be posting about a featured warbler species every week.

This week’s warbler is…

© Davey Walters

 

Black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia)

In the last days of April or in early May, when the buds on deciduous trees are swelling and when tiny, light green leaflets appear on the shrubbery, in sheltered sunny spots we may find a little black and white striped bird hopping along the lower limbs in the woodlands, turning this way and that, searching over the branches from one side to the other, often head downward, closely scanning the bark, silently gleaning the insect enemies of the trees. This is the Black and White Warbler.” – Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Breeding habitat: partially open mature or second-growth hardwood and mixed forests.

Most warblers are in constant motion, hopping from branch to branch in their search for invertebrates to eat, which makes identifying many species by their behavior alone usually quite difficult. The black-and-white warbler stands apart from its fellows since it forages by creeping along the bark and larger branches of trees, much like a nuthatch. Although the black-and-white warbler remains widespread in Massachusetts, it is beginning to show the first signs of decline. Check out our Breeding Bird Atlas 2 account for more information on this warbler in MA.

The biggest threat to black-and-white warblers is fragmentation of its forested habitat. When forest patches become more and more fragmented there is increased incidence of “edge effects” such as increased chance of predation, brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird, and disturbance. “As nocturnal migrants, Black-and-white Warblers are a frequent victim of collisions with glass, towers, and wind turbines; as insectivores, they are vulnerable to pesticide poisoning.” (American Bird Conservancy)