Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Black-headed Grosbeak in Duluth

I was in Ithaca and missed the Duluth Christmas Bird Count. The group I've always been in got a really cool bird. We always stop first at the yard of my friend Pat Thomas--she has put her heart and soul into providing plants and feeders to provide sustenance for a wide variety of birds, and this year the day before the Count she discovered this wonderful bird in her yard. She let compiler Jim Lind know, and "my" group, led by my dear friend Janet Riegle found it first thing. I was delighted, but also felt frustrated that I've missed the count these past two years. This is one of the coolest birds ever seen in my area. Anyway, it stuck around through the blizzard and was there today when Janet and I went birding. What a lovely bird to see--new for the state, new for the year, and new for my photography list. I didn't want to scare it so my photos are at some distance, and not as detailed and crisp as one would want for print, but I'm happy!!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reward Tripled

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
According to Operation Migration's Field Journal:

Wildlife law enforcement agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources continue their joint investigation of the shooting of Whooping crane 217*. She is the First Family matriarch, who, along with mate 211, are the only Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population who thus far have successfully reared young.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents are conducting a joint investigation into the shooting incident which took place near the town of Cayuga in central Vermillion County, Indiana. In addition to the Endangered Species Act, Whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

It was announced yesterday that in addition to the initial $2500 reward posted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, contributions from two organizations have tripled the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who shot and killed 217*.

Defenders of Wildlife, a national non-profit conservation organization, and the Indiana Turn in a Poacher or a Polluter Program have each donated $2,500 bringing the total reward monies to $7,500.

Anyone with information should call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources 24- hour hotline at: 1-800 TIP IDNR
(800-847-4367), or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 317-346-7016. Callers can remain anonymous.

“To kill and abandon one of 500 remaining members of species shows a lack of reverence for life and an absence of simple common sense,” said John Christian, FWS Assistant Regional Director for Migratory Birds. “It is inconceivable that someone would have such little regard for conservation.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Today's radio program

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
(Listen here)
Death of a Uniquely Important Bird
Ever since high school physics, I’ve been fascinated with the concept of entropy. Unless you put energy into a system, it starts falling apart, and the tiniest thing can destroy something that took a long time to organize or build. That made sense in the context of my daily life—everything seemed to fall into disarray if I weren’t constantly vigilant. Entropy is, of course, far more nuanced than a girl’s messy locker, but one of my favorite aphorisms is “entropy begins at home.”

Getting any system to work takes far more time and energy than we necessarily realize. The painstaking work of reintroducing cranes to the East is an example. Back in the early 1970s, a young ornithologist named George Archibald started doing crane research in Wisconsin and, with Ron Sauey, started the International Crane Foundation. In 1975, he was entrusted with a Whooping Crane named Tex. Tex had been hatched at the San Antonio Zoo in Texas in 1967, but was raised in captivity and completely imprinted on human beings. George won her trust, and she accepted him as her mate. In Spring1976, he moved in with her and flapped his arms about doing as close an approximation of a Whooping Crane dance as a human could. She completely accepted him as a mate, and when she was receptive, he tried artificially inseminating her. In 1977, when she was ten, she laid her first egg. Sadly, it was infertile, but George Archibald kept faith. Finally, on May 3, 1982, Tex laid a fertile egg, which hatched on June first. So much work had gone into getting Tex to produce her first chick, but now the future looked much rosier. This little guy was named Gee Whiz. And then just 3 weeks later, Tex was killed by raccoons.

Cranes at the International Crane Foundation are virtually always raised by Whooping Crane pairs, and when some exception must be made, the young birds are now raised by costumed humans holding an exceptionally accurate and life-like Whooping Crane puppet which feeds and strokes the young birds and makes lifelike vocalizations in the contexts real Whooping Cranes would in communicating with their young. The decades of research that made all this possible, and the painstaking work in this past decade to first see if puppet-imprinted Sandhill Cranes could learn a migration route following an Ultralight airplane and then find their way back and lead a normal life, and then breeding enough Whooping Cranes to conduct the experiment on them, culminated in an extraordinary success in 2006, when two cranes that had followed an Ultralight to Florida in 2002 successfully nested in Wisconsin, producing the first wild Whooping Crane in the Eastern United States in over a century. Black flies have caused serious problems for the cranes in the following summers, but cranes can have a long lifespan, and this couple was our best hope of rearing more babies to eventually make this population self-sustaining.

But entropy reared its ugly head once again the weekend after Thanksgiving, when someone shot and killed this female as she and her mate rested in Indiana during their migration. The NRA is right that guns don’t kill people or Whooping Cranes—people kill them. And hunters are right that the vast majority of hunters love wildlife and really do support conservation and know what they’re seeing before they point their gun at it. But I don’t think either group fully appreciates the skepticism people like me have, after seeing time and time again what a single pull on a trigger can destroy. Right now the US Fish and Wildlife Service is offering $2500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever committed this senseless act. I’d love to see hunters and the NRA lead this quest, putting some of their vast resources into not just catching and convicting the criminal, but also testifying at the sentencing hearing to ensure that this time, the judge gives more than just a gentle slap on the wrist to whoever slaughtered this magnificent bird on who carried so many hopes on her magnificent wings. Whether the momentary blast that destroyed so many hopes and dreams was made by accident or maliciously, attention must be paid.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hunters and NRA should step up to the plate

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
On the NRA's program webpage, they list "crime prevention" in their "Women's Program" listings. One of the ways we prevent crimes is to track down criminals and throw the book at them, but their link leads only to ideas about arming the rest of us and training us in gun safety so we know how to safely and legally protect ourselves. Unfortunately, in the case of Whooping Cranes, lugging even a small handgun just isn't going to work. So--NRA and hunting organizations, since you have a reputation for being strong advocates of conservation and strongly opposed to illegal shooting, PLEASE step up and help the US Fish and Wildlife Service to track down whoever slaughtered Female #217. And if the shooter is caught, please send representatives to the sentencing hearing to make a strong case that legitimate hunting involves NEVER pointing a gun at anything until you know what it is, and that shooting a Whooping Crane, whether intentionally or after misidentifying it, is a crime worthy of severe penalties. I'm tired of seeing hunters who slaughter Trumpeter Swans, Whooping Cranes, and California Condors get off with a wrist slap. I have always supported hunting as a legitimate sport enjoyed by true conservationists. Please help us conserve this exquisite and critically endangered bird.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hooray for the American Bird Conservancy

They won their lawsuit to halt a profoundly misguided program releasing feral cats in Los Angeles! Read all about it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's National Blue Jay Awareness Month!

Blue Jay
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Keep track of how birds are celebrating on Twin Beaks!!

An achingly sad announcement

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Liz Condie of Operation Migration posted the following news yesterday:
217*, mate of 211, the pair whose offspring is W601*, is dead. Because W601* was the first Whooping crane to be hatched in the wild in the U.S. in more than a century (in 2006), the threesome was dubbed the First Family. (A second chick was also hatched - W602, but was predated on the Necedah NWR in late summer of 2006.)

In a report received late yesterday, Dr. Richard Urbanek advised that the mortality was discovered on Tuesday by WCEP Tracker and ICF Tracking Field Manager, Eva Szyskoski during an aerial flight over Vermillion County, IN, a traditional migration stop for this pair.

Richard reported, that while the male was was spotted 217* was not visible. Her transmitter signal was tracked to a location a few miles away where her carcass was found by Tracking Intern Jess Thompson. Richard noted that the recovery site was not the mortality site. The carcass has gone for necropsy to the National Wildlife Heath Center in Madison, WI.