BirdsEye Nature Apps http://www.birdseyebirding.com Passionately supporting citizen science projects Mon, 09 Nov 2020 23:10:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 To feed or not to feed? The dilemma of interacting with birds and other wildlife http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/10/14/to-feed-or-not-to-feed/ Wed, 14 Oct 2020 10:19:00 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=45871 Researchers are discovering plenty of ecological impacts — positive and negative — when humans interfere with wild animals’ natural eating routines. By Isabelle Groc Read the original article on Ensia. When she was about 8 years old, Judy Elson received a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle from her great-aunt that featured North American birds. Her relative had […]

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Researchers are discovering plenty of ecological impacts — positive and negative — when humans interfere with wild animals’ natural eating routines.

By Isabelle Groc
Read the original article on Ensia.

When she was about 8 years old, Judy Elson received a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle from her great-aunt that featured North American birds. Her relative had a passion for feeding backyard birds, and Elson has carried on the tradition for the past 30 years, in turn passing on her enjoyment and dedication to her own children. “They put together the same jigsaw puzzle I did as a child and started recognizing birds even before they knew they were interested in them,” she says. With 12 feeders in her garden in Cary, outside Raleigh, North Carolina, she observes about 50 birds per day from up to 22 different species. “I feed the birds to benefit them, but it also brings them in closer to where they are easier to see,” Elson says. “Most of my feeders are outside a bay window in my dining room where I can sit and watch the birds. That is so enjoyable and relaxing.”

“I feed the birds to benefit them, but it also brings them in closer to where they are easier to see,” Elson says.

Backyard bird feeding is one of the most common ways people engage with wildlife in many parts of the world. Estimates show that about half of households in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia feed birds. In Great Britain, homeowners provide enough food to support approximately 196 million birds.

While people have always fed birds with kitchen scraps and homemade feeders, the practice has substantially changed since the 1950s with the increased commercial availability of diverse bird foods and feeders, making it easier to attract a greater number of bird species to backyard gardens year-round. 

Common Wood-Pigeon, by Steve Percival

Researchers are just beginning to understand the ecological impacts, positive and negative, of this massive human intervention. From helping birds survive the winter to boosting bird populations and reproduction, feeding is reshaping bird communities and behaviors and even altering migratory patterns.

A 2019 study led by researchers from the British Trust of Ornithology found an increase in the diversity of birds visiting garden feeders in the past 40 years in Britain. The study, based on data recorded by citizen scientists for the Garden Bird Feeding Survey, shows that “approximately half of all birds using feeders belonged to just two species in the 1970s, but by the 2010s, the number of species making up the same proportion of the community had more than tripled.” For example, according to Kate Plummer, a research ecologist with the British Trust of Ornithology and a lead author of the study, just 10% of volunteers saw wood pigeons and goldfinches at feeders in the 1970s, but now these two species are common visitors in close to 90% of gardens. After significant declines between the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, the goldfinch population has more than doubled between 1990 and 2015.

“We think it is the use of feeders that is in part driving these levels of increase,” says Plummer. “In the 1990s, bird food companies targeted goldfinches and started producing finer seeds, which made it easier for the birds to get what they needed in gardens.”

Eurasian Blackcap, by Steven Mlodinow

Bird food provided in British gardens has also affected the Eurasian blackcap, which has evolved a new migration strategy. For the past 60 years, blackcaps are more often choosing to spend the winters in Britain’s urban areas rather than migrating to the Mediterranean as they used to. A study concluded that milder winters combined with increased bird feeding have contributed to the change. “Feeding is causing species to adapt and evolve,” says Plummer, who also led this research.

It’s not just in Europe that birds are taking advantage of people’s feeding activities in their gardens. In 2017, Vancouver, Canada, residents elected the Anna’s hummingbird as their official city bird. Described by the city as “classy, urbane and stylish with the heart of a tiger,” the tiny bird now helps the city build awareness of birds in the urban environment.

Anna’s Hummingbird, by Steven Mlodinow

Yet, Vancouver’s favorite bird is a relative newcomer to the city. In the past 20 years, Annas hummingbirds have expanded their winter range northward by more than 700 kilometers (435 miles). A study based on long-term data from Project FeederWatch, a citizen science program in the United States and Canada led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, found that the hummingbirds are now able to survive farther north in colder locations in part because more people are providing nectar feeders and planting exotic flowers in their gardens that bloom in different seasons, including the winter.

“It was quite rare to find an Anna’s hummingbird in the winter north of the California border 20 years ago,” says David Bonter, avian ecologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and one of the study authors. “Most of those birds can handle cold temperatures as long as they have something to eat, and more individuals are surviving winter in places where they could not have previously,” he adds. “What surprised everybody involved in the study is how quickly it happened.” 

“What surprised everybody involved in the study is how quickly it happened,” says Bonter. 

The impacts of human feeding extend beyond birds. For example, in Australia, flying foxes are increasingly living in urban areas because they can easily access food all year. People choose to plant native and exotic plants that flower in all seasons, which entices the bats to spend more time in those locations.

While feeding animals can in some cases lead to increased survival and breeding success, there can be negative consequences as well. For example, a 2019 study of the impacts of human feeding on a group of bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia found that, while other factors may have also played a role, both calf survival and female reproductive success were negatively affected by feeding.

Up for Debate

Backyard bird feeding is the subject of extensive debate. For example, what are the long-term ecological consequences of changing the migratory behavior of birds? “The amount of human food supplied every single day is gigantic, and that genuinely has had a massive effect on the overall environment and the population of birds,” says Darryl Jones, author of The Birds at My Table: Why We Feed Wild Birds and Why It Matters.

European Goldfinch, by Steve Percival

For example, in a 2018 article, scientists raised concerns about the risks associated with increased disease transmission. Garden feeders can indeed spread disease by bringing birds into contact with species they would not otherwise interact with. Risks can be higher if feeding stations are not cleaned on a regular basis, allowing food waste and droppings to accumulate. The number of greenfinches in the UK declined from a peak of about 4.3 million in 2006 to about 1.5 million individuals in 2016 after a disease outbreak that researchers hypothesized could be due to feeders. In the eastern U.S., bird feeders facilitated the transmission of an eye infection that decimated the house finch populations in the 1990s.

A paper exploring the impacts of wildlife feeding on migration and disease suggests that one of the benefits of migration is that it allows animals to leave habitats where parasites have accumulated and eliminates infected individuals that cannot survive the journey, and so can reduce parasite infection in populations. “Staying in one place increases exposure to infection,” says Richard Hall, an assistant professor at the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia and co-author of the paper.

Feed Responsibly

According to Hall, the implications of bird feeding are also complex, and while feeders can facilitate the spread of diseases, they can in certain cases help improve bird condition.

“When you feed birds you aggregate them and that increases the transmission of parasites, but if you are feeding the right kinds of food it also means they can have a better immune function so even if they come in contact with another sick bird or parasite in the environment they may be better equipped to fight off an infection,” he says, “so there is a balance there.”

If done responsibly, many researchers say, feeding can help populations in need, especially in winter, and increase biodiversity conservation. “What we do as humans tends to have a negative impact on wildlife, and many of the species using garden feeders like goldfinches were negatively impacted by the intensification of agriculture. That’s why they were in decline, but now we are putting feeders and they are increasing,” says Plummer. “If we can compensate in some way for other negative effects we are having on some of these species, it feels like we are doing something beneficial.”

Backyard bird feeding also plays an important role in establishing personal connections with nature, with benefits to human health and well-being. “As we are more and more in big cities where nature is becoming rare and more difficult to encounter, bird feeding is a desperate search for some connection with nature. If you put a feeder in your garden, truly wild animals will come and visit you,” says Jones. “It is an extraordinary experience.” 

The direct observation of the natural world can also get people to be more supportive of conservation efforts. “There is value in that human interactions with backyard birds make people realize the birds are in trouble, and we need to make more efforts to conserve what’s left,” says Bonter. 

“There is value in that human interactions with backyard birds make people realize the birds are in trouble, and we need to make more efforts to conserve what’s left,” says Bonter. 

A 2019 study that surveyed participants of Project FeederWatch in the U.S. to understand the connection between people’s emotions and what they observed at bird feeders, found that most people who directly observed a problem at their feeders, such as the presence of a cat or sick birds, reported they would take action.

“There is a high percentage of people who do something in response to what they see,” says lead study author Ashley Dayer, an assistant professor of human dimensions in the department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech. “People are doing a lot more than just the feeding itself. They are managing the predators out there, they are cleaning the feeders, they are taking a lot of actions.”

In Australia bird feeding is strongly discouraged, even though the proportion of people feeding birds is the same as in the Northern Hemisphere. “People are strongly motivated to feed birds and care about them, but they are doing so in the complete absence of any information or advice and don’t know how to do it properly,” says Jones, who just published a book, Feeding the Birds at Your Table, to advise people how to feed birds responsibly. 

Backyard bird feeding can have benefits as long as it is done correctly, and a number of resources such as Project FeederWatch provide guidelines and steps people can take to create a safe feeding environment for birds, such as frequently cleaning feeders, spacing them far apart from each other to reduce exposure to disease, providing nutritionally appropriate foods, planting native species or recording data to allow scientists to better understand bird populations. With a recent study published in Science revealing that bird populations in the United States and Canada have fallen by 29 percent since 1970 — even species “once considered common and wide-spread” — people may become even more motivated to put out feeders to help birds, so making sure it’s done correctly will be important.

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Updated: Birding and Birdwatching Festivals and Events in 2020 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/10/01/birding-festivals-events-2020/ Thu, 01 Oct 2020 18:30:00 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=38115 A comprehensive list of birding festivals & events taking place across North America in 2020.

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From coast to coast and from Mexico to Canada, 2020 is filled with exciting birding festivals and events. We have compiled all that we could find for the year in the hopes that you can find an event near you to attend. Happy birding!


January 2020
February 2020
March 2020
April 2020
May 2020
June 2020
July 2020
August 2020
September 2020
October 2020
November 2020
December 2020


JANUARY 2020

North Shore Birding Festival
January 16-20, 2020 — Mount Dora, Florida
The North Shore Birding Festival is perfect for birders visiting Florida or locals wanting to learn more from knowledgeable birding guides. Add to your life list at an amazing birding area, the 20,000-acre Lake Apopka North Shore, where 360+ species have been sighted, more than any other inland location. Four full-day trips and 16 half-day trips are offered, along with keynotes and dinners. For details and registration, call Orange Audubon at 407-637-2525 or visit our website or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/northshorebirdingfestival.

Everglades Birding Festival
January 16-20, 2020 — Davie, Florida
Explore the unique Everglades ecosystem while searching for 150 plus species.A focus on gaining advanced birding skills with daily mini-workshops, small groups, and expert guides. Keynotes, Dinners, and Evening Programs. Full-day field trips to Corkscrew, STA 5, Upper Keys, South Dade, Everglades National Park, and more. Target species: Snail Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Limpkin, Painted Bunting, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Gray-headed Swamphen, Common Myna, Egyptian Goose, Burrowing Owl, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Prairie Warbler, White-winged Parakeet, and Nanday Parakeet. Contact: Paddy Cunningham, 754-201-1141, (954) 805-6810, birdpaddy@yahoo.com

Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival
January 17-20, 2020 — Morro Bay, California
Morro Bay is a Globally Important Bird Area, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Pacific Flyway. Over 200 bird species have been seen during the festival weekend! The festival includes keynotes, field trips, workshops, bazaar, and family day. Saturday and Sunday keynotes to be announced. Registration opens early November. Contact: 805-234-1170, registrar@morrobaybirdfestival.org.

21st Annual Snow Goose Festival Of The Pacific Flyway
January 22-26, 2020 — Chico, California
See the beauty and experience the excitement of avian migration at this action-packed 5-day festival that celebrates the remarkable journey of millions of waterfowl and thousands of raptors that migrate along the Pacific Flyway and call Northern Sacramento Valley their home during the winter months.

17th Annual Eagles & Agriculture
January 23-26, 2020 — Minden, Gardnerville, & Genoa, Nevada

Wings of Winter Birding Festival
January 24-26, 2020 — Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, Springville, TN
The Third Annual Wings of Winter Birding Festival is hosted by the Friends of Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge who partners with national and state agencies and organizations in the area. The Festival focuses on birds around the Kentucky and Barkley Lake area in western Tennessee and Kentucky. Dozens of volunteers and agency staff have worked to create an unforgettable weekend experience for any level birder. You will walk away with new tips and tricks from your guides to make you an even better birder.


FEBRUARY 2020

Galt Winter Bird Festival
February 1, 2020 Galt, California
The 13th Annual Galt Winter Bird Festival advances public awareness of the conservation of the region’s wildlife. This area is a critical stop for many important species of birds commuting on a diverse chain of habitats called the Pacific Flyway. In addition to these magnificent migrating birds, hundreds of bird species call Galt and its surrounding cities home. The festival brings tours, vendors, programs, and presentations for guests to enjoy. There will be wildlife entertainment for all ages, art, food and more! Over 1,200 attendees enjoyed our last festival. Contact: Jackie Garcia, jgarcia@ci.galt.ca.us.

Cumberland County Eagle Fest
February 1, 2020 — Mauricetown, New Jersey

8th Laredo Birding Festival
February 5-8, 2020 Laredo, Texas
The Laredo Birding Festival highlights over 200 species of spectacular birds. Laredo is a dynamic city that bridges two cultures and plays host to pleasant winter weather; while also being the crossroads of eastern, western, and neotropical birds. Birders will encounter lovely vistas along the Rio Grande; access to nearly two dozen historic South Texas ranches; and experience quality field trips in small intimate groups led by professional field guides! The upcoming Festival kicks off on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, at the Laredo Center for the Arts, during the Birds, Beer and Cheer mixer and Birds of the Brush art exhibit opening. The festival is hosted by the Rio Grande International Study Center, the Monte Mucho Audubon Society, and the Laredo Convention & Visitors Bureau. For more information, visit our website or call (956) 718-1063.

High Plains Snow Goose Festival
February 6-9, 2020 Lamar, CO
Come see the Snow Geese as the migrate through Colorado! Tours, silent auction, trade show & craft fair, programming, banquet, and more. Great change to meet other birders. Contact: highplainssnowgoose@gmail.com

Teatown Hudson River EagleFest
February 8, 2020 — Croton-on-Hudson, New York
The bald eagle’s return to the Hudson Valley after being on the brink of extinction is one of the great conservation success stories of our time. Join us at Croton Point Park as our region’s bald eagles descend upon the Hudson River as part of their winter migration. Celebrate the return of this magnificent bird with live bird-of-prey shows, educators with viewing scopes observing wild eagles, children’s activities, food trucks, and 25+ environmental organizations — all in heated tents!

41st Annual Winter Wings Festival
February 13-14, 2020 — Klamath Falls, Oregon
The Winter Wings Festival is produced by Klamath Basin Audubon Society volunteers with support from sponsors, grants, and participant registration fees.  Proceeds from this festival support local grants to teachers and other entities for outdoor education and community nature-related projects. Typically the reported species at the festival number about 120 – 133. Here is our 2019 festival bird species count.

Eagle Expo And More
February 13-15, 2020 — Morgan City, Louisiana
Boat tours in various waterways, presentations by wildlife & birding experts, photography seminar and social with guest speaker.

Nebraska Crane Season
February 15 – April 15, 2020 — Gibbon, Nebraska

24th Annual Whooping Crane Festival
February 20-23, 2020 — Port Aransas, Texas
This festival is a one of a kind event, focused on the Whooping Crane-the rarest of cranes and one of the most endangered birds in the world. The festival is open to birders, photographers, families, and anyone who loves the outdoors and nature-related activities.

California Duck Days
February 22, 2020 — Davis, California
California Duck Days is a family oriented, community-based outdoor festival with activities for people of all ages. Field trips are led by some of the region’s most experienced birders and naturalists. On-site activities for families include interactive exhibits, wetland themed arts and crafts, trout fishing in our ponds, and much more. 

San Diego Bird Festival
February 26 – March 1, 2020 — San Diego, California
Join us for activities, live bird presentations, interesting workshops, and guided bird walks for the whole family. If you are interested in being a sponsor or a vendor in 2020, please contact Jen Hajj at hajj@sandiegoaudubon.org. If you are a San Diego Local and would like to participate as a volunteer, contact us.


MARCH 2020

SOAR With the EaglesCancelled
March 1-29, 2020 Wabasha, Minnesota
SOAR With the Eagles is the National Eagle Center’s annual festival that celebrates the spring Bald Eagle migration along the Mississippi River. During weekends in March, visitors enjoy a variety of special programming hosted by the National Eagle Center. The festival includes animal presentations, nationally renowned flying bird shows, environmental exhibits, demonstrations by the DNR and US Fish and Wildlife Service, Native American crafts, wild eagle viewing, and much more! There is programming for all ages and exciting opportunities to experience and learn new things about the natural world! Contact 651-565-4989 or info@nationaleaglecenter.org.

Vallarta Bird and Nature Festival
March 4-8, 2020 — Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Our Mission: To Spark Awareness for Birds and Nature and To Inspire People to Act to Conserve Birds and Nature For Its Ability to Enrich Our Lives. The World Renowned Vallarta Botanical Garden Is Surrounded By The Beautiful Bird-Rich Mountain Landscape Of Cabo Corrientes, located 24 Km (15 Miles) South of Puerto Vallarta. All Tours, Workshops, And Presentations Have Spanish and English Speakers.

Friends of Goose Pond Marsh Madness Sandhill Crane and Migratory Bird Festival
March 6-7, 2020 Linton, Indiana
The festival will kick off Friday night with a social hour and dinner, live/silent auction, and guest speake Saturday festivities are at the Linton Humphrey’s Park from 8 am to 4 pm with Guided Bus Tours, Education Workshops, Craft Vendors, Art Exhibit by the Indiana Wildlife Artists, Birds of Prey Exhibit, Amphibian Exhibit, and Food Vendors. Contact: mail@friendsofgoosepond.org or visit our website or Facebook page (Friends of Goose Pond).

International Festival of Owls
March 6-8, 2020 Houston, Minnesota
Immerse yourself in owls at the only annual, full-weekend, all-owl festival in North America. Highlights include seven species of live owls (including a Snowy Owl and a flying Barn Owl), owl prowls to call in wild owls, a birding and natural history bus trip, and learn from owl experts from around the world. Families can build an owl nest box, dissect an owl pellet, make a variety of owl crafts, buy owl merchandise, enjoy owl art and photography, and have a hoot eating owl-themed food. The whole city of Houston gets involved! Contact Karla Bloem, 507-896-6957, karla@internationalowlcenter.org.

North American Bluebird Society Conference
March 11-14, 2020 Kearney, NE
The North American Bluebird Society is a non-profit education, conservation and research organization that promotes the recovery of bluebirds and other native cavity-nesting bird species in North America. 

Birding America Conference
March 14, 2020 Chicago, IL
Chicago Audubon Society is proud to present the 13th bi-annual Birding America Conference. Join us to discover great places, great people, and great birds presented by international experts, with topics ranging from plovers to penguins to scrub jays; covering locations from the Midwest to Montana and Maine to Brazil to the boreal forest. Keynote Speaker: Dr. John Fitzpatrick, Director, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology: “Birds Can Save the World – but only if we invest in them today.”

Owl Prowl At Jack Miner – Cancelled
March 18, 2020 Kingsville, Ontario, Canada
Join us at Jack Miner Migratory Bird Foundation for an Owl Prowl with Xander Campbell and Jeremy Hatt. We will be meeting in the historic house first to discuss the species of owls in the Kennedy Woods and what features make owls so unique! This is a family friendly event. Pre-registration required. Only 40 spots available. Call or email the Sanctuary to book your spot.

22nd Othello Sandhill Crane Festival – Cancelled
March 20-22, 2020 Othello, WA
The Othello Sandhill Crane Festival has announced the Friday, March 20th and Saturday March 21st keynote speakers.  The 23rd annual festival will be held March 20, 21, and 22, 2020 in Othello, Washington.  With the celebration of the spring migration of the Sandhill cranes, the festival offers a variety of events for the whole family to enjoy and learn.  Online registration opens on February 1, 2020.  Some tours sell out quickly, so check the website early!

Audubon’s 50th Annual Nebraska Crane FestivalCancelled
March 20-21, 2020 Omaha, NE
Join us for our 50th Crane Festival on Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21, 2020! On-line registration will begin at 9:00 am CST on Monday, December 9. Registration will include Saturday meals, access to all speakers and a free t-shirt. Student and child discounts available. 

Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival – Cancelled
March 20-22, 2020 Blaine, WA
Join us for our 18th annual birding festival! Wildlife speakers, exhibits, kid’s activities, interactive art stations, birding field trips, birding and wildlife cruises, and more!

Waterfowl WeekendCancelled
March 20-21, 2020 Brighton, Ontario, Canada
Waterfowl Weekend will be held at the park. World-class waterfowl viewing during the spring migration from 10 to 4 pm. Volunteer naturalists will help you view and identify over 25 different species of ducks, geese, and swans at our viewing stations. Also check out art, photography, and carving displays and children’s activities in the Nature Centre. Join The Friends for BBQ lunch fundraiser at the Lighthouse, on Saturday and Sunday, from 11 am. The Lighthouse Interpretive Centre and The Friends’ Gift Shop will be open. Contact: David, David.bree@ontario.ca, 613-475-4324 x225

Raptor Fest 2020 – Cancelled
March 21, 2020 Gainesville, GA
With live bird and animal encounters, this seasonal program will offer children, families, and all nature lovers the chance to learn about wild birds of prey. There will be plenty of hands-on activities, guided hikes, scheduled presentations, and food vendors for kids of all ages to enjoy! List of exhibitors and vendors coming soon to our website. Contact: elachee@elachee.org, 770-535-1976.

Brant Wildlife FestivalSome events cancelled
March 21 – April 19, 2020 Parksville, British Columbia, Canada
A Spring Celebration of Nature – we welcome the arrival of thousands of migratory birds, fish and marine mammals to the shores of Parksville and Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island in March and April. The Brant come to rest and feed before continuing their arduous northern journey to their nesting grounds. Contact: Robin Rivers, rrivers@naturetrust.bc.ca

Brew On The BayouPostponed to Nov 7, 2020
March 21, 2020 Lake Jackson, TX
Join the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory for our third annual Brew on the Bayou here in Lake Jackson. Come sample and enjoy specialty brews from local breweries as well as wines. Listen to live music, grab a bite to eat from local food trucks and check out some hot items at our silent auction. Our beautiful wooded grounds will be lit by torchlight making it a perfect spot to enjoy the brews, the food and the music! This is one of GCBO’s biggest fundraisers for our conservation efforts, so you can have fun while helping birds! Contact: Celeste Silling, 979-480-0999, csilling@gcbo.org

4th Annual Matagorda Bay Birdfest – Postponed
March 27-29, 2020 Palacios, TX
Matagorda Bay Birdfest is a truly exceptional event and bird celebration. Our expert-guided tours by boat, kayak, and land include tours to Powderhorn Ranch and to the Mad Island Nature Conservancy, #1 in bird species count for Audubon Christmas bird count in 21 of the last 25 years! It is the undiscovered jewel of mid-coast Texas! Our extensive panel of speakers include many outstanding professionals including speakers from the Audubon, The Smithsonian, and the International Crane Foundation. Don’t miss the Keynote dinner at the Palacios Pavilion overlooking beautiful Matagorda Bay or the one-of-a-kind Bird Parade along the waterfront that is both fun and fabulous! Contact: Laurie Beck, (956) 285-3234, lbeck@becktv.com.

Attwater’s Prairie Chicken Festival
March 27-29, 2020 Palacios, TX
Matagorda Bay Birdfest is a truly exceptional event and bird celebration. Our expert-guided tours by boat, kayak, and land include tours to Powderhorn Ranch and to the Mad Island Nature Conservancy, #1 in bird species count for Audubon Christmas bird count in 21 of the last 25 years! It is the undiscovered jewel of mid-coast Texas! Our extensive panel of speakers include many outstanding professionals including speakers from the Audubon, The Smithsonian, and the International Crane Foundation. Don’t miss the Keynote dinner at the Palacios Pavilion overlooking beautiful Matagorda Bay or the one-of-a-kind Bird Parade along the waterfront that is both fun and fabulous! Contact: Laurie Beck, (956) 285-3234, lbeck@becktv.com.


APRIL 2020

Yellow Warbler, Photo by Emilie Haynes

A Celebration Of Swans – Cancelled
April 1-30, 2020 Marsh Lake, Yukon, Canada
Yukon’s premier birding festival brings residents and visitors alike out to great swan viewing areas to welcome spring to the North. The mass migration of tens of thousands of swans, ducks, and geese is not to be missed. The Swan Haven Interpretive Centre, open daily in April, is the hub of the festival. Events include photography and art workshops, presentations, campfire storytelling, children’s activities, and more. Contact 867-667-8291, wildlife.viewing@gov.yk.ca.

24th Annual Great Louisiana BirdFest
April 3-6, 2020 Mandeville, LA
Birders travel from all corners of the U.S. and from around the world to participate in the Great Louisiana BirdFest. Our area is a prime bird-watching location, and the Great Louisiana BirdFest is considered one of the premier birding events in the country. Join us and enjoy what people travel long distances to see and experience the ideal spring weather, natural resources, and wildlife of Southeast Louisiana in our own backyard. Birding trips by foot and pontoon boat for expert and beginning birdwatchers in varied habitat, including swamps, wetlands, pine savanna, and hardwoods. Photography and other workshops, Southern food and hospitality. Contact: Rue McNeill, 985-626-1238, rue@northlakenature.org.


MAY 2020

Audubon’s Orielle, Photo by David Hollie

JUNE 2020

Swallow-tailed Gull, Photo by AW Pittman

#BlackBirdersWeek
May 31 – June 5, 2020 Everywhere! Twitter, Instagram, Facebook!
Organized by @BlackAFinSTEM in response to what happened to black birder Christian Cooper. But it’s also in response to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breyonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the countless others. Many of us work in the outdoors, in urban areas and wilderness. It could’ve easily been anyone of us. We want our peers to not only recognize our existence but our experiences being Black. The history books set a precedent for civil unrest in the face of injustice. We want it to be clear that we stand with the protesters fighting against police brutality even as we organize a protest specific to being #BlackinNature.


JULY 2020


AUGUST 2020

Maroon-fronted Parrot, Photo by Rene Valdes

Live Guided Birding Tour at the Panama Canal
August 25 – September 30, online, Gamboa, Panama
We are Eco/birding guides in Panama and we have created an amazing online birding experience for people who cannot travel due to the pandemic. We have attached cameras to our powerful scopes and can transmit videos of birds in the rainforest LIVE to people around the world. As a way to continue doing what we love, we came up with an idea that we think is innovative and practical during this difficult time that will allow people from all over the world to experience the rainforest live from the safety of their home. We are lucky enough to be able to transmit live from the middle of the jungle with a strong internet signal in an area famous for birdwatching and wildlife viewing. We have created a live guided birdwatching tour right next to the Panama Canal that includes 2 hours of birdwatching in a world famous birding area followed by a 30 minute driving tour of Gamboa, an old American Canal Zone town that is home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.


SEPTEMBER 2020

Yampa Valley Crane Festival
September 3 – September 6, Steamboat Springs Hayden, CO
Enjoy Greater Sandhill Cranes during Labor Day weekend in the beautiful setting of Northwest Colorado! The 9th annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival takes place September 3 – September 6, 2020 in Steamboat Springs and Hayden, CO. and features the Rocky Mountain Greater Sandhill Cranes that breed and stage in the Yampa Valley. Festival activities include nature walks, a crane-friendly ranch tour, documentary films, bird art, family activities, live raptors, workshops and more.

Puget Sound Bird Fest
September 12 – September 13, online
Keynote speaker Kaeli Swift will kick off the festivities on Saturday at 10:30am with a live interactive webinar “Something to Crow About,” followed by other interactive webinars throughout the day. Cast your vote in the annual Bird Fest Photo Exhibition and Contest. Other festival favorites such as the Kids Corner and a Birders Help Desk will also be available on line, as well as video-based virtual birding tours featuring some of our local hotspots. The Pilchuck Audubon Society plans to host a native plant sale at the Edmonds Wildlife Habitat and Demonstration Garden on Sunday.

Virtual Bird Camp
September 14 – October 30, Boulder, Colorado
Our summer session was such a success that Bird Camp will continue this fall with new sessions to get 4 – 12 year olds kids involved in birds, birdwatching, and conservation. Participants of all ages learn about bird identification, journaling, science explorations, photography, and more through online and family experiences that meet state science standards. Sessions for specific age groups ensure that we work at a good pace.


OCTOBER 2020

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Tom Gannon

Virtual World Migratory Bird Day
October 8 – October 10, Everywhere!
World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is a global event that celebrates the phenomenon of bird migrations and serves as a call to action to protect the birds we share. Environment for the Americas organizes WMBD in the Americas, connecting people to bird conservation from Canada to Argentina and the Caribbean. WMBD is officially celebrated on the second Saturday in May (May 9, 2020) and the second Saturday in October each year (October 10, 2020).Bird Day LIVE brings together biologists and educators from across the Americas to share their work and activities for the conservation of migratory birds. Visit BirdDayLIVE.com for our schedule of activities.

Virtual 5th Hawai’i Island Festival Of Birds
October 15 – October 19, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
The Hawai‘i Island Festival of Birds (HIFB) 2020 is virtual event due to precautions and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and travel restrictions to Hawai’i this year.  Festival content will be launched on the HIFB website at the start of the Festival on October 15 and will run through October 19. There is no cost to attend the virtual festival, but participants will need to register.

There will be bird challenges and guest speaker videos posted each day throughout the festival week as well as opportunities to win prizes including HIFB Virtual 2020 stickers and care packages mailed from Hawai’i to your home. This year’s theme is “Wanderers and Migrants.” Guest speaker video talks will highlight many of the pelagic, migrant, and vagrant species that visit the main Hawaiian Islands and that thrive in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. 

Virtual Winter Raptor Fest 2020
October 18 – November 30, Greenwich, New York
The Winter Raptor Fest will be virtual and available for streaming from October 18, 2020, to November 30, 2020.
Events include:
“Night Owls” – Whispering Willow Wild Care & North Country Wild Care
“Predators Of The Sky” – Vermont Institute Of Natural Science
“The Threat To Boreal Habitats” – Adirondack Wildlife Refuge
“Raptors In Flight” – Adirondack Raptors
“Wildlife Alive!” – New York State Wildlife Rehab Council


NOVEMBER 2020

Cedar Waxwing, Tom Gannon

Fall Migration Celebration
November 8, Augusta, MI
The W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary was founded in 1927 and deeded over to Michigan State University in 1928, so we are celebrating more than 90 years! The Sanctuary is an important migration stopover for waterfowl and the best place to view Trumpeter Swans in Michigan’s lower peninsula. Join us from 1 to 4 pm and look for migrating waterfowl on Wintergreen Lake, meet our education raptors, make crafts to take home, create enrichment for the resident birds, and learn about how and why birds migrate. There will be a decoy exhibit by local, award-winning decoy carver Willy McDonald of The Duck Blind, who will also be helping the kids with their crafts! 

Black-Necked Crane Festival
November 11, Bhutan
The Black-necked Crane is the last discovered of 15 species of cranes in the world. This majestic bird is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau and migrates to lower altitudes, including several areas of Bhutan, in autumn. In Phobjikha Valley, one of the major habitats in Bhutan, the arrival of the cranes signals the end of the harvesting season. The Black-necked Crane festival was first initiated with the objective of linking conservation of the graceful birds to the improvement of livelihood of the community. Over the years, as the festival gained popularity among the community people, visitors from the nearby Dzongkhags (districts) and international visitors, it became an annual event to welcome the cranes and to celebrate the centuries’ old relationship between the cranes and people of Phobjikha. Among the events is the popular Black-necked Crane dance performed by school children in crane costumes. The local community also performs folk dances and mask dances. The Black-necked Cranes have a sacred identify in Bhutanese culture and often appear in folklore, dances, and historical texts. Since 1987, Royal Society for Protection of Nature has been working to protect and rebuild the population of the Black-necked Cranes. 

Bhutan Bird Festival
November 11 – November 13, Zhemgang Dzongkhag, Bhutan
Zhemgang Dzongkhag (District) will organize the three-day “Bhutan Bird Festival,” which coincides with the Birth Anniversary of the Fourth King of Bhutan in Tingtibi Town. The festival has eleven enthralling events split into pre-festival, main events, and post-festival programs.

Zhemgang district is a popular birding destination. With the district’s boundary intersecting with three protected areas–Royal Manas National Park, Jigme Singey Wangchuk National Park, and Phrumshengla National Park. The district harbors more than 500 species of birds.

White-bellied Herons are found in the Mangde Chu (river) and its tributaries. All four species of hornbills found in Bhutan–Rufous-neck Hornbill, Great Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill and Pied Hornbill are sighted at different elevations. Beautiful Nuthatch is occasionally sighted in the upper regions of Zhemgang.

California Swan Festival
November 13 – November 15, Yuba City, CA
The festival honors the return of tens of thousands Tundra Swans to their winter home. In close-knit family groups, the swans make a spectacular show for bird watchers and photographers. This three-day event offers more than 35 guided tours by experts, exploring a wide range of waterfowl habitats and other natural assets of the beautiful Yuba-Sutter region. Field trips include Swan Sighting, Ag/Wildlife Educational Tours, Historic Tours, Nature Hikes, and trips to the region’s National Wildlife areas. Registration for field trips (at affordable rates) begins online in late August. Free Junior Naturalist program, led by Shady Creek Outdoor School naturalists. Children of all ages will enjoy hands-on learning. Activities include crafts, games, live animal presentations and much more. A vendor fair is held all day Saturday and Sunday in the Swan Central building. Parking and entry to the Swan Festival are FREE, as are a wide range of workshops and presentations on wildlife education, natural sciences, ecosystem management, and photography. 


DECEMBER 2020

Scarlet Robin, Peter Lowe

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This Summer’s Best Bird Photos http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/09/10/best-bird-photos-summer-2020/ Thu, 10 Sep 2020 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=49302 On birdseye.photo, BirdsEye users submit beautiful bird photos that are verified and incorporated into our apps. These are our favorite photos submitted in summer 2020.

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Year round, BirdsEye users submit beautiful bird photos from around the world. The images are verified and incorporated into our apps to help our users better identify species as they birdwatch. The following images are a collection of our staff’s favorite pics submitted to our birdseye.photo site in June, July, and August 2020.

As the world adjusted to life amid the coronavirus pandemic, this spring and summer birding was heralded as a safe, physically distanced way to get outside and enjoy something beautiful. No matter where you are, you too can observe the wonderful world of birds – even vicariously through these gorgeous bird photos!

Are you a bird photographer? Whether just starting out or a seasoned pro, you can create an account at birdseye.photo. Your photos may be featured on BirdsEye apps, where they will help other birders quickly ID the birds they see.

Have a favorite image in our apps that you’d like to see featured? Email us at info@birdsinthehand.com.

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Collective Behavior: How Animals Work Together http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/09/08/collective-behavior-how-animals-work-together/ Tue, 08 Sep 2020 19:01:00 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=49310 Studies of birds, fish and ants reveal the hidden ways groups coordinate movement, which might influence engineers designing drone armadas and efficient information flow.

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Studies of birds, fish and ants reveal the hidden ways groups coordinate movement, which might influence engineers designing drone armadas and efficient information flow

In Frank Schätzing’s 2004 sci-fi novel The Swarm, marine life develops a collective mind of its own. Whales band together to attack ships, while herds of jellyfish overwhelm the shores. It’s as if ocean creatures decided to jointly fight humanity, to try to reclaim their degraded environment.

Scientists say this scenario isn’t made up out of whole cloth. Animals do move in groups governed by the collective. Think of a flock of birds, a parade of ants, a school of fish — all are swarms like those envisioned by Schätzing, if not quite as murderous. “Animals regulate these vast collective structures without any leadership, without any individual animal knowing the whole state of the system,” says Nicholas Ouellette, a civil engineer at Stanford University. “And yet it works fantastically well.”

Researchers are now learning about how these swarms pull off such unusual feats. In the English countryside, birds have two distinct sets of rules for flocking, depending on the purpose of their flight. In Mexican forests, groups of ants have evolved computing-like search strategies to find their way around a disturbed environment. And in a lab in Germany, fish develop personalities that ultimately determine how they influence the rest of the school they are swimming with.

These aren’t just interesting observations about nature. Lessons from the natural world about animal group behavior could help humans better engineer our own future, collectively. Such knowledge could help scientists build drones that coordinate their flight like flocking birds, for instance, design packets of information to flow efficiently like foraging ants, or even develop ways to adapt to climate change like some fish do.

Flocks in flight

Ouellette studies how birds and insects fly, which might seem odd for someone whose background is in statistical physics. But he got interested in collective animal behavior because it lies at the intersection of many different types of science. Physicists see it as a living analog to the movement of points within an interconnected system, such as how particles and matter flow. Biologists see it as a subset of animal behavior. Either way, “it’s intellectually very exciting,” Ouellette says.

So a few years ago he began working with Alex Thornton, a biologist at the University of Exeter, England, who studies jackdaws (Corvus monedula). These highly social birds can travel in large flocks, sometimes mixed with rooks. Thornton and his colleagues track thousands of jackdaws in Cornwall, using multiple high-speed cameras to capture footage of the birds and produce three-dimensional maps of which bird flies where.

Among other discoveries, the scientists reported last year that jackdaws that pair with each other for life behave differently than unpaired birds when flying within a flock. Paired birds interact with fewer neighbors when looking for cues to which direction they should fly. Instead they rely more on their partner for information, which leads them to flap their wings more slowly and thus save energy.

On winter evenings, the jackdaws commute from their foraging grounds back to their nests, often gathering along the way at trees in “staging stops.” As the birds travel together toward their roosts they move in what’s known as a transiting flock.

To explore a different kind of coordinated group behavior, this time near the birds’ nests, Thornton and his colleagues placed a stuffed fox in the middle of a field to frighten the birds. The fox had a remote-controlled robotic bird in its mouth that flapped its wings limply. And the scientists broadcast recordings of other jackdaws making loud, scolding sounds that may signal the presence of a predator.

The fake fox worked. The jackdaws started flying around the fox, though in a completely different pattern than the scientists saw in the transiting flights. “The way the birds interacted with each other, and particularly the way they decided which birds to interact with, changed completely in the two kinds of flocks,” says Ouellette. He and his colleagues reported the findings in November in Nature Communications .

Birds flying within a flock have to decide how many other birds they are going to pay attention to for cues on where to move. In a flock of 100 birds, each bird doesn’t need to pay attention to 99 others — it just needs to figure out how many birds to bother watching.

There are two ways birds can go about this. If they pay attention just to the birds within a fixed distance of them, scientists call that a metric interaction. If the bird pays attention to a certain number of birds nearby, no matter how far away they are, it is called a topological interaction. Flocks operating by metric rules behave differently than flocks operating by topological rules; the density of the flock matters only if it is following metric rules.

The group led by Ouellette and Thornton has shown that transiting flocks operate by topological rules. But the stuffed fox led to flocking by metric rules as the birds freaked out. Why the difference? “We don’t know,” says Ouellette. One possibility is that the birds may be trying to keep a certain distance between themselves and the fox. By doing so they start operating in metric mode, which they then use to govern their distances from other birds as well.

This change in behavior is surprising, he says — and might be transmitted among the animals by visual or sound cues as they fly around, calling to one another.

Algorithmic foraging

For the jackdaws, environment shapes behavior. The same is true for ants, says Deborah Gordon, a biologist at Stanford and author of an article on collective behavior in ants in the 2019 Annual Review of Entomology. She studies several species of ants and how they make collective decisions, such as when and where to forage for food.

All of the roughly 14,000 known ant species live in colonies, and so must share information in their search for food and other resources. Gordon studies how ants develop networks of interactions that allow them to pull this off.

One of her favorite species is the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus), which searches for seeds that are scattered across the landscape. A red harvester colony typically has some foragers waiting in the nest while others venture out for food. Studying these ants in New Mexico, Gordon showed that ants leave the nest at a rate determined by how often foragers return with food. The more food available, the more often foragers return to the nest; this, in turn, kicks off more ants leaving the nest. But if there is little food available, the rate of forager return slows and the whole process throttles down.

In 2012, working with her student Katherine Dektar and Balaji Prabhakar, a computer scientist at Stanford, Gordon calculated how information was flowing among the ants. The researchers found it was similar to the way Internet protocols regulate the rate at which data is transferred depending on how much bandwidth is available for transferring it. The scientists dubbed this naturally produced set of problem-solving rules the “Anternet.” The Anternet information seems to help the colony to forage efficiently.

Since then, Gordon has continued to explore the step-by-step problem-solving rules, or algorithms, that regulate how ants collectively search for food and make their way around the environment. She is now studying a tree-dwelling species from western Mexico known as the turtle ant (Cephalotes goniodontus). These ants travel entirely along tree branches and vines, laying down a pheromone trail behind them so that others can follow. The trails connect the ants’ nests and sources of food, forming a sort of communication network in which junctions in the vegetation serve as nodes.

But that network can be easily broken if, say, a windstorm breaks one of the vines. The ants then have to reestablish the trail connectivity. They do so by exploring and choosing new paths to get them around the break. It’s sort of like the way Google Maps suggests alternate routes to get around a traffic accident.

By mapping many paths and examples of how turtle ants found their way around a break, Gordon and her colleagues identified an algorithm that describes the ants’ behavior. The algorithm may not be the most efficient in any one situation, but it works well to find a new route in many different situations. This suggests that evolution has found ways for ant colonies to adapt to their ever-changing environment.

“Evolution has already done a lot of experiments for us, by shaping the way that the ants work collectively to respond to different kinds of conditions,” she says.

Swimming schools

Jolle Jolles, a behavioral biologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany, has also been thinking about collective behavior in the environment. He studies how the individuality of animals affects how they behave within a group — mostly in the fish species known as the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus).

Biologists studying collective behavior often choose to use fish, in part because they are relatively easy to work with. It’s a lot easier to raise minnows in a tank than to chase jackdaws around southwestern England or ants through a Mexican forest. Sticklebacks in particular are popular and are hardy enough to survive being washed down a drain, as Jolles knows too well. Perhaps most important, sticklebacks also show a huge range of behavior, both individually and in groups, and are well studied. “They are really great little fish,” he says.

Traits of individual sticklebacks include sociability — how closely a given fish likes to hang out with other fish — and boldness, which is how likely a fish is to take risks to find food. In work published in 2018, Jolles showed that schools of fish made up of randomly selected individuals swam in groups that behaved quite differently from one another, even when tested in different kinds of environments. Some groups swam consistently faster, with the fish more aligned with one another than they were in other randomly assigned groups. That suggests that individual differences among fish helped shape their collective actions. The fish could be picking up on visual cues from other fish, and perhaps relying on information from sensory organs that detect movement and other changes in the water. “These group-level behaviors are a result of individual behaviors,” he says.

In experiments involving 80 fish over a 10-week period, Jolles and his colleagues found that bold fish tended to remain bold, as shown by the time spent away from the deep, sheltered end of a tank to venture into bright, shallow areas and look for food. In contrast, shy fish ventured out more and more as the experiments went on, the team reported last year in Animal Behaviour . That suggests that shy fish are less predictable in their behavior over the long term.

Jolles has also worked with robotic fish to explore his ideas. In recent, soon-to-be-published experiments with collaborators in Berlin, he put guppies into a tank with a robofish. The scientists could program the robofish to display all sorts of behavior, including being extremely social with the guppies. With it, the researchers were able to show that the individual speeds of various guppies — which wouldn’t seem like that important a factor — turned out to be the major force that drove patterns in how the fish schooled together.

Jolles is now trying to expand his ideas to other animals, hoping to find universal laws underlying the collective behavior of species from elephants to killer whales. Such laws could show how different traits, such as boldness in sticklebacks, determine which animals end up leading the group and how the group behaves as a whole.

Collective wisdom

From birds to ants to fish, studies of collective behavior have illuminated the basic workings of many animal species. But there are also broader implications for humans. Engineers can take lessons from animals that swarm effectively together to build better swarms of small robots.

Imagine a set of drones hovering over a dam to inspect it. Like the jackdaws, they have to use some sort of rules to determine how far away to fly from their nearest neighbor. If the wind is calm, they might be able to count neighboring drones, through topological rules, to figure out their best position. But if the wind picks up, disrupting the whole flock, they might need to shift to metric rules to avoid crashing into one another.

And understanding how ants collectively adapt to changes in their network, such as when a tree blows down, could help researchers develop flexible and responsive rules for how robots navigate an unfamiliar and changing environment, such as in a burning building. “That’s a lesson for engineering,” Gordon says.

The behavior of swarming animals could even reveal clues for adapting to perhaps the biggest threat of all: climate change. Jolles plans to soon start tracking several species of fish, including sticklebacks, in mountain rivers in the Spanish Pyrenees that are vulnerable to drought and rising temperatures. By studying individual differences among the fish as well as how they behave collectively, Jolles hopes to learn which of them are most resilient in a changing climate and why. “I want to understand how fish can deal with these harsh conditions to help make predictions for the future,” he says.


This article originally appeared in Knowable Magazine on July 29, 2020. Knowable Magazine is an independent journalistic endeavor from Annual Reviews, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to synthesizing and integrating knowledge for the progress of science and the benefit of society. 

Knowable Magazine | Annual Reviews

 

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We’re Flying Less. Remote Areas That Depend on Tourism Feel the Impact. http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/08/11/flying-less-wild-places-tourism-take-notice/ Tue, 11 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=49301 By Dimitri Selibas, Ensia Between flight shaming and a global pandemic, destinations that depend on travelers to protect ecosystems are finding themselves with fewer resources to do so. July 1, 2020 — Rincon del Mar, a beachside hamlet on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is part of a burgeoning industry that is helping to turn the tide […]

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By Dimitri Selibas, Ensia

Between flight shaming and a global pandemic, destinations that depend on travelers to protect ecosystems are finding themselves with fewer resources to do so.

Rincon del Mar, a beachside hamlet on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is part of a burgeoning industry that is helping to turn the tide for the country’s peacetime economy and its environmental conservation.

In 2010, Amauri Julio, a fisherman turned tour guide, joined other community members to form an environmental group to protect Rincon del Mar’s beaches and mangroves. During the day, he offers tours for snorkeling among tropical fish and corals and visiting idyllic Caribbean islands. Participants in afternoon tours view giant flocks of seabirds going to roost, aquatic reptiles and, as night falls, luminescent plankton in the lagoon surrounded by mangroves. With the country’s more-than-50-year armed conflict in the past, Julio says that more and more international tourists are visiting, providing a sustainable source of income for the village and their environmental projects.

Growing concerns about climate change, however, could change that. One response has been “flight shaming,” using remorse to discourage travelers from flying. The movement started in Sweden in 2017 and gained international attention when climate activist Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic in a sailboat to attend the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York in September 2019. Some conservationists and ecotourism providers are concerned that flight shaming may have negative unintended consequences, especially in developing countries where tourism is a key source of jobs, economic growth and conservation funding.

Places like Rincon del Mar depend heavily on tourism. And the Colombian government views tourism as a whole, which has grown some 300% since 2006, as the country’s “new petroleum” and is investing heavily in the blossoming industry.

The Covid-19 pandemic is offering a preview of what could happen if flight-shaming caused air travel and international tourism to dry up. “If you want to see what happens when people stop flying to Africa or Asia, we can see it right now. With tourists gone, poachers are moving in and killing endangered species,” Costas Christ, a former senior director at Conservation International and founder of Beyond Green Travel, a sustainable tourism consultancy says in an email. Christ says he is concerned that with tourism companies and governments’ conservation budgets pummeled, previously protected natural habitat may be turned into cattle ranches. “That is what happens when tourists stop flying.”

Tourism With Benefits

There’s an important distinction to be made between nature tourism — the act of vacationing outdoors — and ecotourism, Christ says.

Nature tourism involves spending a holiday in natural places, “but that does not mean [travelers] are having a positive impact on nature,” Christ says. He points to Tayrona National Natural Park, also on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, as an example of where people visiting in large numbers damaged the natural environment by discarding trash, lighting fires and trafficking plants and animals.

Ecotourism, on the other hand, encapsulates principles and practices that ensure that tourists benefit both the environment and local communities. “Ecotourism was developed to make sure nature tourism did not destroy the very environment that tourists want to visit,” Christ says.

Liven Fernando Martinez Bernal, a professor at the National University of Colombia and an expert in tourism, economics and the environment, says that if the ecotourism industry can grow in an organized way with quality standards, it could generate impressive benefits. Bernal wrote his doctoral dissertation on the environmental impact of tourism in Colombia’s National Parks, looking at the post-conflict scenario and focusing his analysis on the economic impacts for local communities. He found that ecotourism doesn’t require a large capital investment, so rather than concentrating benefits in the hands of a few as often happens in the tourism industry, it can contribute to wealth distribution and economic development at the local level.

Costa Rica is a prime example. From the early 1940s to the 1980s, forest cover decreased from 77% of the country’s territory to 21%, mostly driven by the expansion of cattle ranching and production of crops like coffee and bananas. Facing an economic crisis in the early 1980s, the country looked to ecotourism as a way to diversify the economy while protecting the environment. Today more than 3% of its GDP comes from ecotourism. This, combined with a carbon tax on fossil fuels and payments for environmental services has meant that within 30 years, the country had more than doubled its forest cover.

Conscious Decisions

Experts suggest there is a balancing act at play between the desire to support local economies and conservation efforts and the need to address global climate change. Ecotourism clearly plays a role in protecting habitats and the biodiversity they support. Yet reducing the threat of climate change is key to their well-being, too.

Christ suggests that the answer may lie in finding a happy medium that accommodates both, particularly where they intersect. “The answer is not to stop travel,” he says, “but to get travel right.”


Dimitri Selibas (@dselibas) is a freelance writer and photographer.

This article was originally published by Ensia and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons License.

Editor’s note: Dimitri Selibas wrote this story as a participant in the Ensia Mentor Program. The mentor for the project was Rachel Cernansky.

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Earth to Birds: Take the Next Left http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/07/22/earth-to-birds-take-the-next-left/ Thu, 23 Jul 2020 01:24:00 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=49283 Scientists have long thought that avian migration is guided by the magnetic field, but how, exactly? The search has led to three very different hypotheses.

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Scientists have long thought that avian migration is guided by the magnetic field, but how, exactly?  The search has led to three very different hypotheses.

By Sophie Fessl, Knowable Magazine

Every fall, the bar-tailed godwit takes to wing and flies nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand — a journey of 7,000-plus miles. Countless other birds head off too, bound for warmer spots before returning in the spring. How they do it without getting lost remains mysterious to this day.

Scientists are convinced birds must be using some type of biologically based magnetic compass, but they have yet to figure out how such a system would work. Now the field is heating up, and the latest research is pointing away from one long-standing theory and bolstering some intriguing alternatives.

Clues have been piling up for decades. Back in the 1960s, researchers discovered that European robins can somehow sense Earth’s magnetic field. In the decades since, scientists learned that robins and a variety of other bird species use the field, which is created by movement of iron in Earth’s core, as a navigational aid. The birds combine this guide with information deduced from the sun, the stars and geographical landmarks to complete their voyages.

A few long-distance bird migration routes. Image adapted from L. Shyamal / Wikimedia

But a vexing question that remains is what sort of biological receptor birds use to detect the magnetic field.

“Key experiments by a group in Germany definitively showed that a magnetic sense exists. Now, more than 50 years later, we still don’t really understand how it works,” says neuroscientist David Keays of the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna.

Today, researchers are focusing on three possible ways that a magnetic sense could work. One idea involves a form of iron with magnetic properties, called magnetite, acting as a sort of compass within cells that rotates to align with the magnetic field. Another contender, known as the radical-pair mechanism, hinges on a chemical reaction in a bird’s eye that is influenced by Earth’s magnetic field. A third hypothesis suggests that as a bird moves through Earth’s magnetic field, small currents are generated in the creature’s inner ear.

In all three of these scenarios, signals are produced and passed on to the bird’s brain to be processed and translated into directions. Here’s a look at each of them.

Testing their metal

The magnetite idea has been studied the longest. Though it is biologically possible — certain kinds of swimming bacteria use the iron mineral to orient themselves — evidence in higher animals remains elusive, with scattered reports that are not always reproducible.

“The history of the magnetite literature in vertebrates is basically, ‘I find magnetite here,’ ‘I find magnetite here,’ ‘I find magnetite here,’ but it’s not getting much further than that yet,” says biologist Henrik Mouritsen, who investigates magnetoreception in European robins and blackcaps and coauthored a 2016 overview of the topic in the Annual Review of Biophysics.

Mouritsen, of the University of Oldenburg in Germany, would like to test the magnetite hypothesis using a classic tool of biologists: Remove something from the animal and see what happens to its behavior. If magnetite is critical for navigation, destroying the magnetite-containing cells would affect the birds’ ability to find their way. But for this research strategy to work, scientists need to know just where to find magnetite in the robins. And even if they find it, “it’s a long way from showing a cell contains iron to showing it’s magnetite connected to nerve tissue that has any biological relevance,” Mouritsen says.

One major knock against the magnetite theory is that a bird’s compass senses only the axis of the magnetic field and not its polarity, says chemist Peter Hore of the University of Oxford, a coauthor on the Annual Reviews paper. Unlike the compass needles used by people, which rely on the magnetic field’s polarity to point toward the magnetic North Pole, birds know which direction the nearest pole is but can’t distinguish between north and south. So when scientists invert the magnetic field in the lab, birds don’t sense a change and continue to head in the same direction.

But magnetite particles would respond to a flipped field by pointing in the opposite direction, just like a compass needle would. If birds were depending on magnetite, they would sense the change and turn around to head in the opposite direction.

The eyes have it?

The weight of evidence gathered by scientists tilts toward another idea known as the radical-pair hypothesis, Hore says. Mouritsen also favors this idea, which is based on a protein in birds’ eyes called cryptochrome. When light hits cryptochrome, reactions within the protein generate a pair of molecules, called a radical pair. The two molecules in the pair each have an odd number of electrons, leaving each with a single, unpaired electron. These two extra electrons can have spins that are in the same (or parallel) direction, or in the opposite (antiparallel) direction, and they can also flip between these two states.

Adult female Amur Falcon in South Africa. Photo by Richard Lowe / birdseye.photo

According to the radical-pair hypothesis, Earth’s magnetic field influences how likely the spins are to be parallel or antiparallel. How those spins are then translated into a compass isn’t certain, but scientists suspect that in a biochemical reaction in the bird’s eye, the two spin states could lead to different amounts of chemical products being made. The products could then influence signals sent from the bird’s retina to its brain, making it aware of the magnetic field.

A mechanism based on radical pairs instead of magnetite could potentially allow birds to detect magnetic fields, Keays agrees. But because the radical-pair system depends on light hitting birds’ eyes, he thinks there is probably more than one mechanism at work. “It seems counterintuitive to have a light-dependent magnetic sensor when you are flying at night,” he says.

Or maybe the ears do

Keays is testing a long-forgotten hypothesis, first proposed in 1882, that as a bird flies through Earth’s magnetic field, tiny electric currents are generated in its ear. This would happen through electromagnetic induction, akin to how a magnet that moves through a coiled wire creates an electric current in the wire. Extremely sensitive receptors would pick up the small voltages induced in the bird’s inner ear and send signals to the brain.

Electromagnetic induction is thought to be plausible in sharks and skates, which can sense electric currents in seawater. That same electrosensory system could potentially function as a sort of biological wire in which currents could be induced, allowing the animals to sense Earth’s magnetic field.

To test whether induction could work in a land animal like birds, Keays built a simple, scaled model of a pigeon’s inner ear: a plastic tube filled with conductive fluid. When he put the model in a rotating magnetic field, sure enough, a small current was induced. Keays suspects the pigeon behavior of rapid head-turning to scan the environment during flight may also serve to boost the voltage in the birds’ ears. He has also discovered a very sensitive electroreceptor in the pigeon’s inner ear, which is exactly where it would be needed for induction to work.

Though scientists in the field are finding many new and intriguing pieces of evidence, the definitive test that will finally reveal how birds “feel” the magnetic field has yet to be devised, Hore says. “What we need is a killer experiment that would have the power to show, once and for all, whether it really is radical pairs and whether it really is cryptochrome. But it’s actually very hard to come up with something.”


Sophie Fessl swapped the fruit fly, her favorite neuroscience model, for pen and paper and is now a freelance science writer based in Vienna. Follow her on Twitter: @brainosoph

This article originally appeared in Knowable Magazine on July 16, 2020. Knowable Magazine is an independent journalistic endeavor from Annual Reviews, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to synthesizing and integrating knowledge for the progress of science and the benefit of society. Sign up for the newsletter.

Knowable Magazine | Annual Reviews

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Inaugural #BlackBirdersWeek Breaks Stereotypes About Birders http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/06/03/inaugural-blackbirdersweek/ Thu, 04 Jun 2020 01:23:44 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=45913 ‘The whole purpose is to highlight and showcase Black birders, and anybody can do that.’

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By Emily Benson / High Country News

Sheridan Alford’s love of bird-watching stems from a simple fact: “Anybody can do it.” Old or young, through expensive binoculars or with the naked eye (or ear), in a bucolic park or from a city window, anyone can connect to the avian world around them. Alford, a graduate student in natural resources at the University of Georgia, in Athens, Georgia, studies African American participation in bird-watching, trying to understand why some Black people engage in the activity and others don’t.

She’s also one of the co-founders of a social media push, #BlackBirdersWeek, which launched on May 31. The campaign was sparked by the viral video in which a white woman threatened a Black birder in New York’s Central Park, announcing that she was calling the police “to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” 

“I think a lot of us identified with that scenario,” Alford said in a recent interview. In response, she and other members of a grassroots group, @BlackAFinSTEM, who work in science or related fields, decided to organize a week of social media prompts. They hope to boost visibility of Black nature enthusiasts, highlight the value of racial diversity and promote dialogue within the larger (and largely white) birding community.

May 31 – June 5th, 2020 is the inaugural Black Birders Week.

High Country News caught up with Alford the day before the launch, during a tumultuous weekend of nationwide protests over police violence against Black people. In Western cities, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Denver and Seattle, peaceful daytime protests provoked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis gave way to overnight chaos, as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds, and buildings and cars were destroyed. Officials responded with curfews, emergency declarations and National Guard deployments. The organizers of Black Birders Week addressed the synchrony of their project and the civil unrest directly on Twitter: “We want it to be clear that we stand with the protestors fighting against police brutality even as we organize a protest specific to being #BlackinNature,” they wrote.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


High Country News: Who should participate in Black Birders Week? Who is it for?

Sheridan Alford: It is for Black birders. But who can participate? Anybody and everybody, and we encourage everybody to participate! We love seeing the support. When you’re trying to fight for something that you believe in, sometimes you just want to know that someone else is in your corner, fighting that same fight with you.

We are not excluding anyone. … The whole purpose is to highlight and showcase Black birders, and anybody can do that.

“We want it to be clear that we stand with the protestors fighting against police brutality even as we organize a protest specific to being #BlackinNature.”

HCN: Why is the Black Birders Week initiative important at this moment?

SA: At this point, things are popping up in cities around the country that are either racially driven or stereotypically driven, prejudice, whichever word you would like to use. The climate is shifting to where a lot of the acts against people of color or Black people are being filmed, and they are available to the general public — a lot of people are now seeing what some people have experienced their entire lives.

But we think that it’s very important to highlight the work that people are actually doing and kind of drive that conversation to, yes, look at us, and please acknowledge the hardship we go through — but as you acknowledge those hardships, also look at what we’ve been doing in our research, or what we’ve been doing in our communities to better the climate as a whole. So I think this week kind of fell exactly where it needed to, as far as time frame.

HCN: It’s happening right at the same time as these nationwide protests.

SA: And there was no way we could’ve predicted that!

“When you’re trying to fight for something that you believe in, sometimes you just want to know that someone else is in your corner, fighting that same fight with you.”

HCN: Do you see the initiative and the protests as parallel? Or not?

SA: I see them in parallel. … As a Black person, I feel for my people, within the riots and the protests and all the things that are happening across the country. And I think it all just further affirms and identifies what it is to be a Black person in America.

People need a break from a lot of the hurt that they’re feeling. I know a lot of my counterparts are like, I’m not going to get on social media today, I’m going to take the day to myself. I think providing this uplifting and celebratory week will give people that break that they need to mentally gather themselves as a lot of these racially charged and very heated discussions are being had all across the country.

You need the heat, but you also need something to offset that sometimes. I feel like that’s what Birders Week will provide.

HCN: It seems like these are two different ways to respond to the same thing — systemic racism — two different ways to try to dismantle that.

SA: Right. Two sides of the same coin; really, the same side of the same coin. It’s just different ways of hitting it at different angles, and all of it can only help, at the end of the day.

HCN: It feels like this campaign is a celebration of the diversity within the birding community — is that right? 

SA: I would say celebration, as well as a safe space. Because not everything is peaches and roses, and there are dialogues that need to be had. … Hopefully, we’ll be able to touch on some of the issues that people are truly feeling in their hearts and kind of hash things out.

“I think providing this uplifting and celebratory week will give people that break that they need to mentally gather themselves…”

HCN: What do people need to hear?

SA: The biggest thing is just allowing peoples’ voices to be heard. A lot of times, someone will say that they’ve created a safe space or, they’ll say, like, ‘Oh, yeah, we want to hear what you have to say.’ But then when you actually step out and say it, it’s not received well, or it’s discounted or discarded. 

It’s really just about voices and accountability and understanding that everyone, especially Black people, are human beings, and we would like the same treatment as everyone else.

HCN: What do you hope people watching or participating in Black Birders Week will take away from it?

SA: I think that one of the biggest takeaways will be to kind of disprove or muddle the generic stereotype of what a birder or a bird-watcher is.

A lot of times on bird walks, the people on the walk will automatically look to the men in the group for answers. … So it’s always important to be like, actually, no, the woman said that, or actually, no, this Black person actually knows a lot about this bird; to just kind of change the narrative about what not only a Black birder is, but what a Black scientist is.

HCN: How’s the reception been so far?

SA: The reception has been amazing and astounding. We’re all just really grateful, and really appreciative, and glad that people are looking for it; it seems to be something that a lot of people didn’t know they needed.


This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on June 2, 2020.

Emily Benson is an associate editor at High Country News, covering the northwest, the northern Rockies and Alaska. Email her at emilyb@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

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Best Bird Photos From May http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/05/29/best-bird-photos-may-2020/ Fri, 29 May 2020 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=45869 Every day, BirdsEye users submit beautiful bird photos from around the world. The images are verified and incorporated into our apps to help our users better identify species as they birdwatch. The following images are a collection of our staff’s favorite pics submitted to our BirdsEye.photo site in May 2020. Have a favorite image in our […]

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Every day, BirdsEye users submit beautiful bird photos from around the world. The images are verified and incorporated into our apps to help our users better identify species as they birdwatch. The following images are a collection of our staff’s favorite pics submitted to our BirdsEye.photo site in May 2020.

Have a favorite image in our apps that you’d like to see featured? Email us at info@birdsinthehand.com.

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Use BirdsEye.Photo To Up Your Photography Game http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/04/22/use-birdseye-photo-to-up-your-photography-game/ Wed, 22 Apr 2020 17:31:00 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=16642 BirdsEye’s free photography website is a comprehensive library of photos submitted by a nature-enthusiast collective from across the globe.

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BirdsEye’s free photography website is a comprehensive library of photos submitted by a nature-enthusiast collective from across the globe. Thanks to users like you, we have amassed one of the most complete and high-quality photo collections of birds, odes, butterflies, and more!

If you aren’t already using BirdsEye.photo, here are some of the benefits of becoming a contributor:

  1. Get a free membership! For every 20 photo submissions, we will provide users with a free, one-year, BirdsEye membership of their choice. Want a second year? Great! Simply submit another 20 photos! Or, if you’d prefer, use those 20 additional photo submissions to get a different regional membership!  You could choose from any of our BirdsEye memberships.
  2. Keep track of your photo life list. BirdsEye.photo is a great way to keep track of the birds, odes, and butterflies you’ve seen and photographed. Plus, you’ll be able to easily sort through these photos taxonomically, alphabetically, or by submission date. 
  3. Share your photos and get credit. If you’re anything like us, your photos amass, unseen by the public, on your computer. Here’s a way dust off those digital photo folders and share them with one of the largest birding and nature communities on the planet! The photo site allows other users to browse, rate, and help identify the birds in your photos. Plus, your photos will be eligible for use in our newsletters, on our website, and in our Apps! (With due credit given, of course.)
  4. Educate the masses. While your photos are out there earning you credited recognition, they are also helping to educate other nature enthusiasts as they explore the world around them. The BirdsEye Finding Guide app, Dragonfly ID app, and Bumble Bee Watch app all use user-submitted photos to help nature enthusiasts identify species in the field. Meanwhile, our Daily Bird app displays user-submitted photos every day, helping birders to refine their bird identification skills.
  5. Help us make some of the highest quality apps.  Users can rate photos based on how well the bird is displayed in the photo. We want photos of animals as they appear in the field to help users identify what they’re seeing in the field. For that reason, we need to make sure our apps’ photos do just that! Can you see the bird clearly? Are important field marks present? User ratings help us determine the best photos to include in our nature apps. And, if you think a photo has been misidentified, let us know! We strongly rely on our users to help us ensure the accuracy of our apps’ photo collections.

    Dragonfly ID, BirdsEye Finding Guide, and Daily Bird all feature photos submitted by users on the BirdsEye.Photo website

Sign up for a free BirdsEye.Photo account today and begin contributing to the collection. To get started, visit Birdseye.photo and follow these easy steps: 

  1. Create a free account;
  2. Add your name and website to your profile so people can find more of your work;
  3. Submit your first photo!

By now you can tell how much we want you to contribute to Birdseye.photobut not just to help us complete our collection! While your photograph submissions will help refine the quality of our apps, they’ll also help motivate you to lengthen your own photograph life list and educate the nature-enthusiast community.

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Odonata Central Launches New Website! http://www.birdseyebirding.com/2020/04/22/odonata-central-launches-new-site/ Wed, 22 Apr 2020 15:55:00 +0000 http://www.birdseyebirding.com/?p=52050 With a new, streamlined website, contributing your sightings to Odonata Central is easier than ever before!

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Odonata Central is a citizen science website dedicated to dragonflies and damselflies — insects of the order Odonata. The site has been a repository for data on Odonata for many years. But now with a new, streamlined website, contributing your sightings is easier than ever before!

Revamping Odonata Central is a major project that BirdsEye has been contributing toward. Along with our Dragonfly ID App, we hope these efforts bring renewed attention to dragonflies and damselflies. 

The data collected by Odonata Central helps scientists understand the distribution, biogeography, biodiversity, and identification of Odonata. On the new site, you can enter all of your observations and manage your personal lists, with a streamlined data entry and browsing system. Powerful data filters make it easy to sort through species lists and find exactly what you’re looking for. And you can now import observations directly from iNaturalist. Plus, iNaturalist sightings are included on maps so you can view other sightings near you! 

Odonata Central is extremely user-friendly and ready for your data. Register for an account today!

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