Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Big Green Big Year Starts Tomorrow

January first is a few hours away and I am scrambling to get my gear together for a two day walking/bicycle birding trip that starts bright and early in the morning. I am sort of in shape for the trip, my equipment is borderline (the new panniers are "in the mail" and my bike needs some work), and my planning is a little vague, but off I go in the morning for a walk in my area and then a ride north up the coast till the light runs out and I have to camp. Then I turn around on the next day and come back down the coast, trying to hit some spots I didn't hit on the way up. I'd like to find 150 species on January 1, but the daylight is probably too short and the really high tides might hurt my number of shorebird species in the bay, but you never know. I'll post my results on Sunday.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Green Birding Categories and Records

There has been talk in birding circles about listing green birding categories for big days, big years, etc., but it has generally not been too specific as to what categories could/should be counted. I list the following categories just as a starting point for discussion. The ABA does not seem receptive and so I will try to put many of these categories on this blog. Please let me know if you know of high numbers for the categories listed (I list some numbers I am aware of).

1) Big Green Big Year (Bigby) – The number of species found in one calendar year without using any gas (walk, bike, canoe, etc.) and starting each birding trip at your regular residence or regular place of work. (See for details). The most I have heard of is 295 in a year by Andy Kleinhesselink and Josiah Clarke of San Francisco.
2) Walking Bigby – Same as #1, but walking only. I do not know the highest total for this. (Should #1 and #2 be combined?)
3) Public Transit Assisted Bigby – the same as #1, but the counter can use public buses, subways and trains. Should other forms such as ferries be ok? (Planes are not allowed.)
4) Green Big Day – starting and finishing from home or your regular place of work, bird for a 24 hour day without using fuel. Should you be able to start or end somewhere else as long as you used no gas to get there and to return to home?
5) Semi-green Big Day – birding for a 24 hour day and using no fuel, but starting and finishing anywhere. Ted Parker and Scott Robinson had 331 species in Tambopata National Reserve, Peru, in 1982. I do not know the exact date.
6) Big Sit – counting all the birds you see and hear in one day from a 17’ diameter circle. (See ) I would propose not limiting this number to the official big sit count date in October. Cape May had 146 species in a day on 10/11/09, but I don’t know if one person saw all of the species. Anyone know? They may also have had more in the spring.
7) Big Foot Hour – How many species can you find in one hour without using any gas – should it be ok to get to the start point, or home from the finish, without using gas (e.g. by foot or bike)? Keith Hansen and Peter Pyle had 83 species in Bolinas, California, in one hour.
8) Wheelchair Big Green Big Year – I have no idea what numbers have been achieved and would like to hear from birders.
9) Wheelchair Green Big Day – again I have no idea but would like to hear what birders have achieved here.

Any of these categories could be listed by state, country or continent.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Being a Green Birder

As birders, we initially became interested in birds for a variety of reasons. Some of us started birding because we were already interested in the natural environment. Others began birding and then became interested in the natural environment. Either way, most of us have a strong appreciation of the environment as a whole. Many of us feel a responsibility to be environmentally aware and to act in an environmentally friendly manner. I have summarized several ways birders can act in an environmentally friendly manner:

1)Reduce fuel consumption when birding. Use fuel-free methods of transportation while birding when possible, like walking, biking, canoeing, etc. Public transportation is next best. Carpooling when chasing rarities or going to popular bird spots is not only better environmentally than driving alone, but it may increase your chances of finding birds. Air travel is environmentally the worst form of transportation. List locally – not nationally or internationally.

2) When you do travel, stay in locally owned lodges and hotels. Use local guides or tour groups that use local guides and locally owned lodging and restaurants. Ecotourism can be a great way to support local preservation of habitats and species when the local economy is involved.

3)Support conservation organizations, legislation, and education. Work toward preserving critical habitats, protecting threatened and endangered species, and wildlife rehabilitation. Join, contribute, volunteer, and organize. Buy duck stamps? This certainly helps to preserve habitat for game species, and collaterally for non-game species, but dollars so spent by birders seem to be lumped with those spent by hunters, whose interests are sometimes different than birders.

4)Promote birding and green birding in particular. Lead birding field trips, organize “big sits”, and organize and support bird festivals and other birding events. While we can try to promote green birding activities at these events, birding itself is often a first step for many people toward becoming more environmentally aware.

5)Mentor young birders by taking them individually into the field, organizing field trips for youth, and organizing classes for young birders.

6)Plant bird-friendly native landscaping at your home, and encourage such planting at local schools and parks where possible. (see

7)Keep dogs confined and cats indoors. This is best for birds and other wildlife, as well as for our pets. Cats, for example, reportedly have an average life expectancy of 12 years if they are indoor cats and only five years if they are outdoor cats due to predators, cat fights, cars, poison, cruelty, and diseases. (See Cats kill hundreds of millions of birds annually in the U.S. alone (see

8)Avoid using pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Use compost and other natural fertilizers. Along with organic soil amendments, try “companion planting” (see ) and encourage and introduce natural predators instead of using pesticides. Harmful chemicals concentrate up the food chain and birds are especially susceptible.

9)Practice good birding ethics which includes generally staying on roadways, trails or other established walkways, not disturbing nesting birds, minimizing other disturbances of birds, etc. (See the ABA Birding Ethics at

10)Contribute bird sighting data by consistently using "eBird" (see ) for your daily sightings, by participating in bird counts and surveys, keep bird lists for birds you have recorded at local spots which may be used to help preserve or enhance areas in the future.

11)Responsibly feed yard birds. Keep feeders and bird baths clean, don’t stop feeding in the middle of a harsh winter, and use recycled materials for feeders and nest boxes. Growing plants, which birds feed on, is preferable to buying seed trucked from where it is grown. If you buy seed, try buying organic seed. Protect birds at your feeders from cats or other predators as well as from windows. (See
for details on feeding birds in your yard.) Do not feed water birds such as gulls, ducks, geese and pelicans (see for an explanation).

12)Try to lead a green lifestyle in general: reduce, reuse, recycle, buy local products (e.g. at farmer’s markets and with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions), buy products from your own country rather than imports,compost and otherwise try to reduce garbage going to landfill, try to buy organic food and certainly avoid the “dirty dozen” produce items (see ), buy shade-grown organic coffee; carpool and use public transit to work; if you need a car then have a fuel efficient vehicle; buy energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, use rechargeable batteries, avoid over packaged products and bottled water, grow your own vegies and fruit, buy sustainable fish and other seafood (see ); use your own reusable or reused bags at the grocery store, reduce consumption of natural gas (use cold water only for washing clothes and set your winter thermostat down) and electricity (hang dry clothes whenever possible and set thermostat on cooler/air conditioner down), conserve water; live near work; reduce or eliminate consumption of beef and lamb or (better yet) be a vegetarian or vegan; buy clothes made from organic cotton or recycled material; pay bills and receive catalogs, newsletters and periodicals electronically; send ecards for birthday, etc., rather than mailing cards; when investing in mutual funds or other retirement funds look for those that are environmentally responsible (the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations endorse particular investment funds), use green building materials,try for solar or wind power installation, etc.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just Say "No" to Bottled Water

Minimizing gasoline use is obviously just one way we birders can alter our personal habits and lessen our impact on the environment. Altogether avoiding the use of plastic water bottles is another way. I did some online research on this topic and found the following facts - some of which were obvious to me and some not:
1) Plastic water bottles are a significant contributor to landfills and litter. We consume over 20 billion plastic water bottles per year in this country and over 80% ends up in landfill. These plastic bottles take an estimated 1,000 years to biodegrade.
2) Plastic water bottles are part of the plastic pollution of the ocean which effects marine organisms such as pelagic birds, turtles, whales, seals and sea lions which swallow them. For example, it has been documented that Laysan Albatross chicks have died due to this plastic. One study found that 90% of Northern Fulmars in Europe died with plastic in their stomachs. Small pieces of plastic are effecting the lowest level of organisms in marine environment. They then work their way up the food chain in greater concentrations. There is now a patch of plastic debris in the ocean which is larger than the continental United Sates.
3) Bottled water is no safer or tastier than municipal tap water. Bottled water is often not subject to a comparable standards of purity, or enforcement of such standards. Blind taste tests have even have shown that tap water can be tastier than bottled water (e.g. the TV show "Good Morning America" had a taste test where New York city tap water was rated higher than several brands of bottled water, including Evian). The incidence of arsenic and other poisons and carcinogens is higher in bottled water than municipal tap water in this country.
4) Even if 100% of plastic water bottles were recycled, it is better to just not buy these bottles in the first place. It takes energy to transport recycled plastic, sort it and reuse it. Recycled plastic reportedly loses some of its strength and flexibility and so only a portion of plastic bottles can be made from recycled rather than virgin plastic.
5) The plastic in water bottles can potentially effect the safety of the water in those bottles. Studies have shown that potentially harmful chemicals can leach into water from plastic bottles. The use of non-colored plastics that use polyethylene (#1, #2 and #4) and polypropylene (#5) may be safer than bottles that use polyvinyl chloride (#3), polystyrene (#6) and polycarbonate (#7), but in the long run glass and stainless steel bottles may be much safer bets.
I know I will refill my own non-plastic bottles with tap water in the future and encourage groups to which I belong to avoid the use of plastic water bottles. I would also support legislation to reduce their use. (An exception to avoiding plastic water bottles might occur in certain areas of the world where tap water is not safe to drink.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vagrant Species From Morning Neighborhood Walks

White-winged Dove and Eastern Phoebe

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Green Birding Every Day

"I have to walk the dog", was how I initially justified getting up a half hour early to my wife. Thanks to my dog, I started my daily 30-40 minute walks in my neighborhood about 3 years ago. I now look forward to this morning walk as a relaxing and uplifting way to start my day and a good therapy for the stress from my job as a criminal defense attorney. While my dog does get her walk, I also use this opportunity to bird, photograph, or just enjoy the new moon, the sun coming up from behind the clouds, or the fog draped around Morro Rock. I appreciate the fact that I live about 2 blocks from Morro Bay.
I have been rewarded with the goal of most birders - rarities - on my walks. I have found White-winged Dove, Tropical Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Bell's and Blue-headed Vireos, Prairie Warbler, Indigo Bunting, White-throated Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Orchard Oriole, etc. I enjoy finding birds which are out of range for this part of California, but I savor the every day observations such as where common birds roost, what birds hang out together, and the behavior of common birds such as the Snowy Egret (shaking one leg at a time to stir up sediment and find treats) or the Great Blue Heron (sitting motionless for longer than I have the patience to time), or the Blue-winged Teal (moving its bill through the sediment at low tide). I also watch the affects of the tides, the amount of daylight, and the weather, on the birds. Each year, I look forward to the arrival of the first Allen's Hummingbirds in February, the first migrant passerines in March and April, the arrival of the first shorebirds (after their summer absence) in early July, the arrival of migrant passerines from August through October, the return of the ducks in September, and last (but not least) are the Brant in early November.
A considerable part of my green birding involves these daily walks from home. They are a great way to observe birds, but perhaps more important is the positive effect they have on my piece of mind.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Elfin Forest Big Sit List

All Time Elfin Forest Big Sit List (2009 = x):

_x_ 1) Red-throated Loon, ___ 2) Pacific Loon, ___ 3) Common Loon, _x_ 4) Pied-billed Grebe,_x_ 5) Eared Grebe, _x_ 6) Western Grebe, ___ 7) Clark’s Grebe, _x_ 8) White Pelican, _x_ 9) Brown Pelican, _x_ 10) Double-crested Cormorant, _x_ 11) Brandt’s Cormorant, _x_ 12) Pelagic Cormorant, _x_ 13) Great Blue Heron, _x_ 14) Great Egret, _x_ 15) Snowy Egret, _x_ 16) Black-crowned Night Heron, ___ 17) White-faced Ibis, ___ 18) Snow Goose, ___ 19) Cackling Goose,___ 20) Canada Goose, ___ 21) Brant, ___ 22) Gadwall, ___ 23) Wood Duck, _x_ 24) Green-winged Teal, _x_ 25) Mallard, _x_ 26) Northern Pintail, _x_ 27) Blue-winged Teal, _x_ 28) Cinnamon Teal, ___ 29) Canvasback, _x_ 30) Northern Shoveler, _x_ 31) American Wigeon, ___ 32) Eurasian Wigeon, ___ 33) Ring-necked Duck, ___ 34) Greater Scaup, ___ 35) Lesser Scaup, ___ 36) Surf Scoter, _x_ 37) Ruddy Duck, ___ 38) Red-breasted Merganser, ___ 39) Bufflehead, _x_ 40) Turkey Vulture, _x_ 41) Osprey, _x_ 42) White-tailed Kite, _x_ 43) Northern Harrier, _x_ 44) Golden Eagle, _x_ 45) Sharp-shinned Hawk, _x_ 46) Cooper’s Hawk, _x_ 47) Red-shouldered Hawk, _x_ 48) Red-tailed Hawk, ___ 49) Ferruginous Hawk, _x_ 50) American Kestrel, _x_ 51) Merlin, ___ 52) Prairie Falcon, _x_ 53) Peregrine Falcon, _x_ 54) California Quail, _x_ 55) Virginia Rail, _x_ 56) Sora, ___ 57) Black Rail, _x_ 58) American Coot, _x_ 59) Black-bellied Plover, ___ 60) Pacific Golden Plover, _x_ 61) Semipalmated Plover, _x_ 62) Killdeer, _x_ 63) American Avocet, _x_ 64) Greater Yellowlegs, _x_ 65) Lesser Yellowlegs, _x_ 66) Willet, ___ 67) Whimbrel, _x_ 68) Long-billed Curlew, _x_ 69) Marbled Godwit, ___ 70) Ruddy Turnstone, _x_ 71) Red Knot, ___ 72) Sanderling, _x_ 73) Western Sandpiper, _x_ 74) Least Sandpiper, _x_ 75) Dunlin, _x_ 76) Short-billed Dowitcher, _x_ 77) Long-billed Dowitcher, _x_ 78) Wilson’s Snipe, ___ 79) Red-necked Phalarope, ___ 80) Pectoral Sandpiper, ___ 81) Parasitic Jaeger, ___ 82) Pomerine Jaeger, _x_ 83) Heerman’s Gull, ___ 84) Bonaparte’s Gull, _x_ 85) Ring-billed Gull, _x_ 86) California Gull, _x_ 87) Western Gull, ___ 88) Glaucous-winged Gull, ___ 89) Sabine’s Gull, ___ 90) Herring Gull, _x_ 91) Caspian Tern, _x_ 92) Royal Tern, _x_ 93) Elegant Tern, ___ 94) Common Tern, _x_ 95) Forster’s Tern, ___ 96) Black Skimmer, ___ 97) Band-tailed Pigeon, _x_ 98) Rock Pigeon , _x_ 99) Mourning Dove, ___ 100) White-winged Dove, _x_ 101) Eurasian Collared Dove, ___ 102) Barn Owl, ___ 103) Short-eared Owl, _x_ 104) Great Horned Owl, ___ 105) Burrowing Owl, ___ 106) Vaux’s Swift, _x_ 107) Anna’s Hummingbird, _x_ 108) White-throated Swift, _x_ 109) Belted Kingfisher, ___ 110) Acorn Woodpecker, _x_ 111) Northern Flicker, _x_ 112) Downy Woodpecker, ___ 113) Nuttall’s Woodpecker, ___ 114) Pacific-slope Flycatcher, _x_ 115) Black Phoebe, _x_ 116) Say’s Phoebe, ___ 117) Loggerhead Shrike, _x_ 118) Tree Swallow, ___ 119) Cliff Swallow, ___ 120) Violet-green Swallow, ___ 121) Barn Swallow, ___ 122) Steller’s Jay, _x_ 123) Western Scrub Jay, _x_ 124) American Crow, _x_ 125) Chest.-backed Chickadee, _x_ 126) Wrentit, ___ 127) Oak Titmouse, _x_ 128) Bushtit, _x_ 129) House Wren, _x_ 130) Bewick’s Wren, _x_ 131) Marsh Wren, _x_ 132) Ruby-crowned Kinglet, _x_ 133) Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, ___ 134) Western Bluebird, _x_ 135) Hermit Thrush, _x_ 136) Northern Mockingbird, _x_ 137) California Thrasher, _x_ 138) American Pipit, ___ 139) Red-throated Pipit, ___ 140) Cedar Waxwing, _x_ 141) European Starling, ___ 142) Warbling Vireo, _x_ 143) Hutton’s Vireo, _x_ 144) Orange-crowned Warbler, ___ 145) Blackpoll Warbler, _x_ 146) Yellow-rumped Warbler, ___ 147) Palm Warbler, ___ 148) Black-throated Gray Warbler, ___ 149) Townsend’s Warbler, _x_ 150) Common Yellowthroat, ___ 151) Yellow Warbler, _x_ 152) Spotted Towhee, _x_ 153) California Towhee, _x_ 154) Fox Sparrow, ___ 155) Savannah Sparrow, _x_ 156) Lincoln’s Sparrow, _x_ 157) Song Sparrow, ___ 158) Chipping Sparrow, _x_ 159) Golden-crowned Sparrow, _x_ 160) White-crowned Sparrow, _x_ 161) Western Meadowlark, _x_ 162) Red-winged Blackbird, _x_ 163) Brewer’s Blackbird, ___ 164) Great-tailed Grackle, _x_ 165) Brown-headed Cowbird, _x_ 166) House Sparrow, _x_ 167) House Finch, ___ 168) Purple Finch, ___ 169) Pine Siskin, ___ 170) Lawrence’s Goldfinch, _x_ 171) American Goldfinch, _x_ 172) Lesser Goldfinch

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Twenty-one birders gathered at the Elfin Forest Bush Lupine Point on Saturday, October 11, for the annual Big Sit. The Big Sit is a sedentary or green "big day", started by the New Haven Bird Club in Connecticut, where counters count all the species they hear and see on one day from one 17 foot diameter circle. Starting at 5:30 AM, we birded by shifts from this overlook of the Morro Bay Estuary. From our vantage point we had a panoramic view of most of the bay, the sand spit which separates the bay from the ocean, the hills and pastureland of Morro Bay State Park, the coastal scrub of the Elfin Forest and some of adjoining residential Los Osos. Even without the birds this would be a very satisfactory place to sit and pass the day.
We have been doing this bird count for 15 years, along with other counts spread across this country and in some foreign countries - all on the second Sunday of October. Our highest number of species for this count has been 122 (only Cape May has exceeded this total in North America on Big Sit day -they had 146 species this year!) and we have observed a total of 172 species over the years of this annual one day count. Variables which have affected our number of species include the tide, the weather (wind or fog - we have never had rain), and the flight of migrating birds for count day.
The tides for the 2009 count fluctuated minimally and we started with high overcast which cleared somewhat in the afternoon - visibility was good for the entire count. Our only handicaps were the lack of much tidal movement and the lack of passerine migration - this limited our variety of species. Our tally of 97 species by noon was about ten shy of our usual pace. We had as many as twelve birders and eight scopes at a time searching in all directions for species, but it was a slow day despite our enthusiastic efforts. For the first time, we added no new species to the all-time Elfin Forest Big Sit count list. Nevertheless, we had close looks at Merlin, Peregrine, and Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks as they cruised by our elevated perch, catching the thermals off the slope below us. We had more distant looks at a couple of Osprey and a group of three Golden Eagles. We worked hard to find land birds in the very dry scrub, but usual species such as Oak Titmouse and Savannah Sparrow were nowhere to be seen. Eurasian Wigeon, Clark's Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Loon were species we usually see in the bay, but which were not present this day. The final total was 107 species - only slightly less than average due to some great efforts by the counters.
Our big sit, however, is more than a bird count. Most of the counters (and others) brought scrumptious food ranging from fresh strawberries, to pita chips and hummus, to homegrown grapes and tomatoes from Fresno. The Julia Wilds award goes to Brad's organic brownies and the Davies' solar-baked macaroons - both were delicious and "green". The golden feather award, for the best bird find, goes to Brad Schram for the Golden Eagles he found soaring between peaks to our east (mere specks to the unaided eye). We also used the "sit" to spread the word to others who happen to be at the Elfin Forest, about the great diversity of habitat and bird species present here. Last, this was (to a small extent) a fund raiser for S.W.A.P., the group which preserved and manages this scenic and species-important piece of nature. We finished at sunset with sparkling wine and a toast to our beautiful coast.