Wednesday, June 22, 2016

State of North American Birds

Great Horned Owl

A new report reveals that of the 1154 native bird species that occur in continental North America, one third require urgent conservation action. This report was published on the 100th anniversary of the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds between the US and Canada, and it is the first assessment of its kind showing an alarming state of North American migratory birds.

New report shows alarming state of North-American birds


Since the seventies, millions of North American birds have disappeared and a third of species are now of high regional conservation concern, a new report reveals.

Experts agree that their long-term conservation will only be achieved by building transnational partnerships and involving local communities in citizen science projects.

Migratory birds connect the North American continent as millions of birds move across the US, Canada and Mexico every year. An estimated 350 North American bird species share their distribution across more than 2 countries, underlining the importance of coordinated action to protect them.


The greater sage grouse faces pressure from fragmented habitat resulting from 
development across the West. (Photo by Stephen Ting)

Until now, the vulnerability score of over a thousand native North-American bird species was incomplete. ‘”The State of North America’s Birds’’ fills the gaps. Published on the 100th anniversary of the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds between the US and Canada, it is the first assessment of its kind.

The report reveals that of the 1154 native bird species that occur in continental North America, one third require urgent conservation action. The species in need of most urgent action are those that depend on oceans and tropical forests.

Specifically, the most regionally endangered group are seabirds – more than half of them are of high conservation concern and affected by a mix of pollution, overfishing, impacts from energy extraction, predation by invasive species in islands and climate change. The seabirds with the highest concern score are the Black-capped Petrel Pterodroma hasitata, Black Petrel Procellaria parkinsoni and Townsend’s Shearwater Puffinus auricularis.

The situation is not much better for tropical birds. Canada’s migratory songbirds winter in Mexico’s tropical forests and stopover in the US, which is why the impact of deforestation in Mexico has such a huge impact throughout the continent (see Photo 2). Other tropical birds with high concern scores are Azure-rumped Tanager Tangara cabanisi, Bearded Wood-Partridge Dendrortyx barbatus and Belted Flycatcher Xenotriccus callizonus.


Magnolia Warblers rely on an area of tropical forest in Mexico for the winter. 
The map is based on complex computer models, making use of millions of Citizen Science 
records contributed to eBird. Infographic by BSC Andrew Couturier

This unprecedented continent-wide analysis also reveals how grassland birds are facing some of the steepest population regional declines of any group because of changes in land use.

In recent years the vast prairies of North America have mostly been turned into agricultural land or developed. Only a few islands of original land remain, making it very difficult for wildlife to survive.
Some of the grassland species with the highest concern score include Sierra Madre Sparrow Xenospiza baileyi, Worthen’s Sparrow Spizella wortheni and Lesser Prairie-chicken Tympanuchus pallidicinctus.

Bird Studies Canada (BSC) President Steven Price explains some of the outcomes of the study in this interview.
“Our research and conservation work is supported by countless generous bird lovers. This report reflects the contributions of tens of thousands of dedicated volunteer Citizen Scientists” said BSC President Steven Price.

The report was put together by the North American Conservation Initiative and was built using data collected by volunteers and citizen scientists across the continent.

Despite the alarming findings, the report demonstrates how the power of many can help us understand conservation needs and drive positive change. The results are a call to action to public and private sectors to come together to save migratory birds.


Three BirdLife Partners, Bird Studies Canada, Nature Canada and the Audubon Society, were among the North American Bird Conservation Initiative partners who collaborated on the new report. View the report online at www.stateofthebirds.org



 Prairie Falcon

Cactus Wren

Northern Pintail

Til Next Time,
Meggi

Friday, February 5, 2016

Bobcat

Field Observation of a Wild Bobcat

Bobcat with Quail in a Dead Tree

In January, I spent 2 gorgeous days in and around Pinnacles National Park in search of bobcats.  For this exploration, I had signed up with Photographer Brent Paull [amwestphoto.com], who knows the area very well and has had many great encounters with bobcats and other wildlife that he shares on his website. 


I met up with Brent early in the morning of the first day and not only did we have 8 bobcat encounters on the first day and 3 more on the second, Brent did all the driving in his very comfortable truck.  Thank you, Brent!

Our destination was Pinnacles National Park in San Benito County but we also drove wonderful small country roads in the back country where due to the plentiful rain this winter the hills were lush green with the early mustard just about to bloom.  Besides the wildlife, it is a great area to photograph landscape with old barns and gnarly black oak trees – but that was not the focus of our exploration.

In my story today, I want to describe our first encounter with a bobcat that depicted true wildlife field observation of nature in action.  Due to the distance to the bobcat, this was not the greatest photo opportunity but I loved every minute of observing these shy and elusive cats in their natural habitat, doing what they do every day:  scouting their territory and hunting for their next meal.  As I saw later, the bobcat was successfully hunting for a quail.

I am showing the images as they were taken, with the bobcat in a distance – small even with a long tele lens.  The images were taken with a Nikon D750, Nikon 200-500mm lens, using the car as a blind and photographing out of the window.
We spotted a bobcat in a distance in a shrubbery horse pasture as it moved along an unpaved country road.


All of a sudden the cat’s interested became focused:


… and in a blink of an eye it traversed the road and pounced on something in the shrubbery.



Next moment it ran towards the riparian area and climbed up a tree – closer to the road from where we were observing.

Moments later, a coyote emerged from the thicket under the tree.  It appeared it was the presence of the coyote that forced the cat up the tree to protect his kill.  Knowing that he couldn’t reach the bobcat with the quail, the coyote trotted away - only dreaming of his easy breakfast [I know, I know, this a bit of anthropomorphing  -:)].



Coyote, looking back to where he lost the bobcat in the Tree

In the meantime up in the tree, the branch with the bobcat began to crackle and it broke while the cat jumped and scrambled further up the branches with its prey securely in his mouth.


With the coyote further away, turning around with all these dry branches was fascinating to observe as the bobcat appeared again facing us on his way down all the while not letting go of his precious prey.

 Bobcat in the Tree holding on to its Prey, a Quail


Jumping down at last and disappearing into the brushes, we lost track of him.  There he finally was able to enjoy his morning meal.

During the day and next, we had numerous other encounters with bobcats but none was as exciting as this one as it gave me a glimpse into the life of the bobcat and its interactions with a coyote, as the 2 wild animal species path crossed. 

During the remainder of the 2 days, we were fortunate to encounter 10 more bobcats, observed a family of coyotes [2 adults, male and female, and a youngster] the next day in the same horse pasture roaming and playing, as well as captured [photographically speaking] numerous raptors, quails, woodpeckers and other birds.

As I reflect on this trip, I am happy to have relatively easy access to the wide-open landscape and nature here in California that allows me to observe and capture beautiful wildlife.
It makes my heart sing.

Til next time,
Meggi

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Point Bonita Lighthouse





Point Bonita Lighthouse – After the Rain Stopped


The wind was blowing hard and it had rained on and off – but the hourly weather forecast indicated a mostly dry afternoon later on, so I ventured out north to explore a not so well known lighthouse on the Western tip of San Francisco Bay.  On my way to Marine County, I had the windshield wipers going intermittently, the wind was hauling when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and questioned myself whether my plans were foolish?  But nothing ventured, nothing gained – and so I drove on.  As I was parking at Battery Alexander in the Golden Gate National Recreation area close to Point Bonita, another squall came through and I quickly went back into the car to stay dry.  After the rain stopped and bundled up in a heavy rain jacket and wool hat against the wind, I grabbed my camera bag and tripod and ventured out.

Point Bonita is a narrow promontory on the western tip of the Marine Headlands, and is part of the largest urban national park in the United States, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  A secret jewel of the Bay Area, the Point Bonita Lighthouse, built in 1855, was the third lighthouse built on the West Coast and help shepherd ships through the treacherous Golden Gate straights.  The waters are treacherous and many ships did not survive the stormy waters.  The small museum at the lighthouse shows a map of around 15 that went down in the 19th century.


Today, the lighthouse is still active and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.  The National Park Service provides access to visitors.  Point Bonita Lighthouse is reached by a half mile trail that is very steep in parts and leads through a tunnel and over a bridge to gain access to the small lighthouse, built on a very narrow rocky outcrop. 


Most impressively, the gale winds were whipping up the ocean, forcing me to hold on to, and steady my tripod as I was capturing the boiling waves below.  

As photographer I know that the time after a storm can be rewarding with beautiful cloud formations in the sky.  And I was not disappointed as the sky varied form minute to minute with occasional sun peaking through.  

I often say, there is no bad weather when properly prepared.  My multi-layers kept me warm and dry, and the weather provided beautiful photos that I am sharing with all of you here.


The Lighthouse Promontory breaking the Waves

View to the Northern Coast



Boiling Sea

Bridge to the Lighthouse


More Rain to the North



One last look at the lighthouse with the the Cliff House and Seal Rock on the far side of the San Francisco channel int he mist.

My further exploration of some of the World War II structures will be the topic of my next story. This last image of the lighthouse was captured from Battery Alexander, one of the many batteries sitting high on the Marine Headland, built for the protection of the entry of San Francisco Bay.

For now,
and til next time,
Meggi


Friday, January 8, 2016

Hawks


Red-Tail Hawks



From Arctic tundra to South American wetlands - passing through California

Every autumn and winter, California’s Central Valley is visited by a myriad of birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway.


The Pacific Flyway


The birds of the Pacific Flyway depend on a diverse chain of habitats, from Arctic tundra and northwestern rain forest to tropical beaches and mangroves.  Each year at least a billion birds are on the move along the Pacific Flyway, but today these birds are only a fraction of those that used the flyway a century ago.  Habitat loss, water shortages, diminishing food sources, and climate change all threaten the birds of the Pacific Flyway.

Along the Pacific Flyway, there are many key rest stops where birds of many species gather, sometimes in the millions, to feed and regain their strength before continuing.  Some species may remain in these rest stops for the entire season, but most stay a few days before moving on.
The Sacramento Valley and Central Valley represent the single most important wintering area for these waterfowl along the Pacific Flyway.  The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex  and the .  Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex  consist of several wildlife refuges in the northern Central Valley of California.  In addition, the greater Bay Area provides further habitat for winter migratory birds at the Suisun Marsh, next to the exit of the inverted Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, has protected portions, the San Francisco Bay, protected estuaries and mountain open space preserves, and the Coyote Valley, a semi-developed section of the Santa Clara Valley with one of the highest recorded bird species richness and nesting densities in the nation.

In the Central Valley, beyond the National Refuges private landowners compliment the efforts by providing winter rice decomposition-waterfowl-habitat by flooding the harvested rice fields with water providing wildlife enhancement during the time of year when the fields are not being worked.
But not only the migratory birds rely on this region, the wildlife refuges also offers habitat to waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds year-round.

During the last years, I have visited some of the Wildlife Refuges in the winter time and enjoyed observing and listening to the sounds of nature.

On a recent visit to the Merced Wildlife Refuge arriving with flooded fields full of waterfowl just after sunrise, I had a fantastic encounter with a family of hawks gathered for ‘breakfast’.  I noticed 3-4 hawks in a clump of trees.  As I looked around, 4-5 more were on the ground surrounding one raptor preying on an American Coots which must have been caught just moments before.  Feathers flying, the raptor was starting his meal with 3-4 other hawks and juveniles sitting nearby waiting their turn.  With so many raptors around, anyone of them had only several minutes to eat his or her fill, followed by being chased off the prey by another.  There was fierce interactions as each bird wanted to have a part of the kill.  The juveniles seem to hang back not strong enough yet to get into the middle action.  As the feeding went on, bits and pieces became available for the juveniles who grabbed the food eagerly, and there seemed to be ample food for the juveniles after the adults had satisfied their hunger. 



[Should the video link not work, please click on the  YouTube link:  https://youtu.be/l_FJlqWO9VM]

As I observed, car served as the blind so to not disturb the wildlife.  It allowed me to photograph out of the window using the window frame as my tripod.  The early hours with an overcast sky were rather dark posing a challenge for photography.  I used my Nikon D750 with a Nikon 200-500mm lens at high ISO with or without a 1.4 teleconverter.

As I watched, I found it amazing and had never seen this before: As the hawks kicked each other off the prey, the one currently on the prey often was pushed on its back with talons showing.and wings wide open as to soften the fall.  They would quickly get back on their feet either hopping away or taking off.

I had come to the wildlife refuge in search of over-wintering snow geese, but in nature one never knows what surprises await.  At this particular refuge, there were no snow geese but I was rewarded with an amazing nature show which I am happy to share with you.

Happy New Year! ... and may 2016 be a successful year for you with laughter, happiness and health!

2016 Til next time


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Polar Bears-Navigation

How do Polar Bears find their way?


Searching not wandering 

Polar bears range over vast areas of the Arctic sea ice, traveling through the polar bear night and across drifting pack ice seemingly without difficulty. While there is still much we don’t know about polar bears, it’s clear they must actively navigate their ever-changing habitat.
For example, polar bears demonstrate general fidelity to a given geographic region: a bear born on the Hudson Bay coast will likely spend its life navigating the seasonal sea ice of that region. Further, the search for essential resources—food and mates—is a key driver of polar bear movements. For females, another important reason for traveling is to find a suitable den location when pregnant—a supremely important aspect of the polar bear’s life cycle.
Now consider the challenges that come with navigating over vast areas of the Arctic sea ice in search of essential resources: few (if any) landmarks, extreme weather, months of darkness (and months of brightness!), and, perhaps most important, the ever-dynamic sea ice that is constantly moving and changing beneath their feet. Sound challenging? It certainly does to me! So how do polar bears do it?

Polar bear senses

While we don’t know precisely how polar bears navigate over large areas and in seasonally appropriate ways, we do have some understanding of how they may use their senses to gain information from their environment as to their whereabouts, and the whereabouts of the resources they seek. A keen sense of smell is essential for tracking and assessing the "identity" of potential mates; and it may be equally advantageous for avoiding other, potentially aggressive polar bears. The keen sense of smell is also an essential "tool" polar bears can use to locate a snow lair holding a tasty and important seal meal. Polar bears also have good hearing, and this may aid them in determining whether a seal lair is occupied or not.
When navigating over longer distances and in accordance with more seasonal movements, the sense of smell may also provide bears in some regions with information regarding their proximity to land. This can be of great importance to polar bears living in the seasonal sea ice ecosystems or in the high Arctic archipelagos, where land holds important denning habitat and the refugiarequired when the sea ice diminishes during the summer months.

Cycles of darkness and light

During the winter months, darkness prevails, and during the summer months, the days are long and bright with sunlight that reflects off the white snow and sea ice. How good is polar bear vision and how is it adapted to these extremes? The truth is we don’t know. Certainly, polar bears use their vision to assess the landscape and resources they seek, but how they adjust to the dramatic changes in light has not yet been determined.

The dynamic sea ice

The sea ice is constantly moving in both "predictable" and unpredictable ways. Imagine trying to get from point A to point B, when the "ground" beneath your feet is moving to point C! This dynamic sea ice provides a prominent environmental challenge that polar bears face when navigating their environment. 
While we don’t know for sure how polar bears account for this dynamic movement, research has shown that they don’t let the drift of the sea ice tell them where to go. Polar bears sense, somehow, the movements of the sea ice, and adjust their movements accordingly. 
Generally speaking, this type of "dead reckoning" is broadly found in animals, but we know little about the physiological mechanisms that make it possible (though it is likely that the vestibular organs of the inner ear are involved—acting like an accelerometer—along with cognitive processing, which taps into learning and memory). And while many animals can sense the earth’s magnetic field, providing important information on location, magnetic way-finding becomes less and less informative as one approaches the magnetic North Pole.

Climate change is making the sea ice more dynamic

Clearly, the natural challenges of navigating the Arctic sea ice are numerous, but polar bears are uniquely adapted to this lifestyle, and thrive amidst the many natural challenges that come along with life on the dynamic, ever-moving, sea ice.
However, sea ice losses driven by an unprecedented increase in greenhouse gas emissions, are increasing the dynamism of the sea ice, as the ocean’s currents, waves, and wind hold a greater influence on sea ice stability.
While polar bears have evolved over evolutionary time (thousands and thousands and thousands of years!) to meet the challenges of their extreme environment, the rapid transformation of the Arctic sea ice will reduce the polar bear’s capacity to successfully navigate the vast expanses of their range. It’s up to all of us to make sure that the polar bear can navigate the vast Arctic, always. 

Written by Megan Owe, December 7. 2015
Image copyright 2015 M. Raeder-Photography

Til next time,
Meggi

Monday, November 30, 2015

Albatross


Wisdom

Oldest Living Banded Bird Returns to Wildlife Refuge


Published by the US Department of the Interior,  November 30, 2015

Meet Wisdom, the oldest living, banded, wild bird.

This 64-year-old bird returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge on November 19, 2015, after a year at sea. A few days later, she was observed with her mate. Wisdom departed soon after mating but refuge workers expect her back any day to lay her egg.


Wisdom was first banded in 1956. And because Laysan albatross do not return to breed until they are at least five years old, it is estimated Wisdom is at least 64 years old, but she could be older.
Although Laysan albatrosses typically mate for life, Wisdom has likely had more than one mate and has raised as many as 36 chicks. Laying only one egg per year, a breeding albatross will spend a tiring 130 days (approximately) incubating and raising a chick. When not tending to their chicks, albatross forage hundreds of miles out at sea periodically returning with meals of squid or flying fish eggs. Wisdom has likely clocked over six million ocean miles of flight time.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is home to the largest albatross colony in the world and 70 percent of the world’s Laysan albatross population. Midway Atoll is one of more than 560 wildlife refuges that make up the National Wildlife Refuge System. National wildlife refuges provide habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species and more than 1,000 species of fish.

Learn more about Wisdom at: http://usfwspacific.tumblr.com.
Photos by Kiah Walker, USFWS.

I hope you enjoyed this amazing story!
Til next time,
Meggi

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Shell Oil and the Arctic

How People like You Save the Arctic!

For 3.5 years, people like All of Us campaigned to stop oil giant Shell from drilling in Arctic waters. 



 Mother and cub [Copyright M. Raeder-Photography]


Finally, this year, after relentless work by many environmental organizations, Shell announced that it is ending its Arctic drilling plans!

It's been an amazing year in the fight to save the Arctic — and it's because of your action. From kayaktivist flotillas in Seattle to bridge climbers in Portland to the millions of people who signed petitions, wrote letters and called the White House, this was a victory fueled by people power. Watch the story unfold in the video below!






Peter Capaldi narrates the story of how All of Us won this monumental victory for the Arctic.



[Ref: Video by GreenPeace]


Til next time,
Meggi





                                           Mother and 2 cubs [Copyright M. Raeder-Photography]

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Birds-ClimateChange

Hyacinth Macaw


Birds tell us!

Thoughts by Lynsy Smithson-Stanley is the Deputy Director of Climate & Strategic Initiatives.
Over time and across cultures, birds have sent us warning signals about the health of our environment. Never has their message been more urgent: Birds are telling us climate change is here, and it threatens birds worldwide.


Macaw [M.Raeder-Photography]


Research shows that climate change poses grave risks to birds around the globe, and those impacts will intensify as warming continues. For instance:

·  Disappearing sea ice is already making it harder for Emperor Penguins to find food and raise their chicks.
·  For mountain-dwelling birds like the Resplendent Quetzal, rising temperatures are driving birds to higher altitudes, which can create more competition for food and suitable habitat - and there are limitation how high the birds can go, what then?
·  Changes in temperature and rainfall could make it harder for the Hyacinth Macaw and other rainforest birds.

Similar trends hold true for other wildlife that is threatened in their natural habitat by changes occurring all around the globe.
As world leaders come together next week in Paris for the Global Climate Talks to take collective action on climate change, it’s important to recognize what nature is telling us and to become aware of our collective actions, to act responsibly, and to protect our blue planet.

Macaw Feathers [M.Raeder-Photography]

Til next time,
Meggi

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Effects of Drought


The Effects of Drought in California

Will California's wine growers have a good wine year?




It is mid-October, and I am searching for fall colors in the Napa wine country.  Early in the morning, I expected sun filtering through the mist over the fields of vine stock.   

Fall colors

Instead the sun rose to a crystal clear day, it is already quite warm with mid-day temperatures expected in the upper 80ties F.  It is a beautiful day for cruising and I enjoy the quiet of ‘hinterland’ away from the busy highways in the Napa and Sonoma valley.  But for the wine makers, these hot days seem to be detrimental to the harvest.



Stopping at a field expecting the grapes either already harvested or ripe and plumb to be picked, I was saddened by so many fields that were neither.  The grapes had shriveled on the stock never to be picked.  



In another field, the red grapes are still hanging from the vines.  However,  most of them are not plumb and full of juice but look dried out.


The leaves on the vines look dried and most of them have gone from green to brown, few sport the beautiful fall colors of red and yellow seen in other years.

Shriveled up before harvest?

Few grapes looked like this!

Drought – yes, we all have heard much talk and have read many stories how the lack of water is effecting the agribusiness in our State.  But seeing the devastating effect I wonder whether the year of 2015 will be remembered as a year in which the crop did not yield a stellar wine for the Napa and Sonoma – or for all of the California’s -  wine makers?

Four years of drought have left us wondering what will happen if the rains don’t come this winter.  The warming ocean at our Pacific coast have brought anchovies much further north than they ever were and with it we enjoyed humpback whales and even a blue whale feeding in our waters.  There is much hope that the warmer ocean temperatures will have the effect that is called ‘El Nino’ that in the past has brought a very wet winters.  This year we all are hoping for ‘El Nino’ to work as expected and we are hoping for rain.


For my readers in colder wetter climates, this must sound strange to hope for wet weather, but we need it or otherwise our communities, our State is in deep trouble next summer if the drought continues.  California’s agriculture is producing much fruit and vegetable that feeds the Nation.  The State is the prime almond producer for the world.   Our water comes from as far away as the Sierra Nevada from the snow pack in the winter.  During the last winters, the snow pack was far below average and our water reservoirs are frightfully empty.

So not only for the wine makers but for all of us in California, we are hoping for rain so that the next year’s crop of wine will be plentiful again.



Storybook Bear by Jared Lloyd, Wildlife Photographer

Before I go, I want to share with you a wonderful story written by biologist and wildlife photographer Jared Lloyd.  I have traveled with Jared and learned so much from him: not only many tips of making better images but also about the environment where to find wildlife.  As a biologist he researches the locations where wildlife is typically found but also knows what their food is during the various seasons of the year.  With that knowledge, targeting areas where food sources are plentiful will give the wildlife photographer a much better chance to see and capture great images. 
Jared is also a great story teller:  In one of his recent blogs, Jared describes a wonderful encounter with a bear sow and her cubs.  Observing this bear mom and her cubs play, Jared gives us a deep understanding into the lives of wildlife and nature as you read the unexpected outcome of this encounter.  I so agree with Jared that we as humans are not the only beings that have feelings, experience joy and grief as has been documented for elephants and orcas.  Having just been in Yellowstone with Jared in search of bears, how I would have liked to encounter what he describes so eloquently.  I share this story with you, my readers, since I know that many of you will never have the opportunity to be out in nature with the wonderful wildlife to experience it for yourself.  Jared's story may help you see another side of our environment that is precious and needs all our help or preservation.

Please click here to read Jared's Storybook Bear: 

Enjoy!!

Til next time,
Meggi