Ocean Currents » birds http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 27 Apr 2016 13:30:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 800,000 and Counting: The Soaring Deepwater Horizon Bird Death Count http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/22/800000-and-counting-the-soaring-deepwater-horizon-bird-death-count/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/22/800000-and-counting-the-soaring-deepwater-horizon-bird-death-count/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 18:21:58 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8379
According to a new study, scientists estimate that between 600,000 and 800,000 coastal seabirds died because of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, a number far greater than any previous estimate. Understanding the ripple effect of 800,000 coastal birds dying in the Gulf of Mexico is critical to the recovery of this special place. These findings come from a study to be released this summer in Marine Ecology Progress Series, which was recently reported in the New York Times.

This new estimate for bird deaths in the Gulf is unprecedented for an oil disaster. For context, the estimate of dead birds following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was around 300,000.

What are the ecosystem effects of 800,000 birds dying?

In response to the study results, BP has released statements refuting the methodology and objectivity of the authors. Many of the studies that BP cites as counter arguments have not been shared with the public, and as far as we know, have not been peer reviewed. BP’s veil of confidentiality prevents the public from understanding their methodology and results. This is an obvious double standard, and we must ask ourselves:  who has more to gain from discrediting these findings and underestimating bird mortality than BP?

In order to increase transparency and have an accurate discussion about how to best estimate bird mortality or other impacts, it is necessary for all of the data and methods be on the table. This is critical information that managers and scientists need in order to know the full extent of the injury. And BP is blocking this information because they’re in the middle of a legal battle over the oil disaster.

The bird death  study comes at a time when BP is refusing to pay for key science critical to fully understanding the effects of the disaster on natural resources. This science is part of a series of ongoing studies under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) that BP previously funded. The fact that they are refusing to pay for this science at a time when some NRDA studies are underway, is telling. It is imperative that BP fund ongoing and future NRDA studies. These studies, required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, are designed to assess the extent of injury to natural resources and the subsequent restoration needed to compensate for that injury. Trustee agencies carry out NRDA studies, but the responsible party—in this case BP—is required to pay for them.

As the authors of the new study indicate, it is very likely that even this new examination of bird deaths underestimates the true number of birds killed by the disaster. For example, birds living in the coastal marshes or past 40 kilometers from shore (what scientists call offshore pelagic birds) are not included in the total. The range of impacts estimated in this new study contributes to our evolving understanding of what should be done to restore injured bird populations. Ocean Conservancy is focused not only on tracking the best available science to determine the full impact of the BP oil disaster, but also how we can restore the Gulf’s marine and coastal environments. There are opportunities to use innovative technologies to monitor and restore bird populations in the Gulf. We’ll explore these solutions in a future blog.

To view where some of the coastal seabirds make their home in the Gulf, our Marine and Coastal Atlas has maps of the northern gannet, brown pelican and royal tern.

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9 Great California Coastal Birding Sites http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/16/9-great-california-coastal-birding-sites/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/16/9-great-california-coastal-birding-sites/#comments Mon, 16 Sep 2013 18:00:08 +0000 Jennifer Savage http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6662

This article originally appeared at Audubonmagazine.org.

Whether novice or expert, birdwatchers in California delight in the avian abundance along the state’s coast. California also boasts the nation’s only statewide network of marine protected areas, providing not only gorgeous places to seek out a stunning diversity of birds but insurance that their most important breeding and feeding grounds have extra protection.

Below is a list of the top bird-watching spots at these “ocean parks,” plus highlights. Additionally, there is information about visiting, plus a link to where you can learn more.

1. Point St. George Reef Offshore State Marine Conservation Area

Crescent City
Viewing site, interpretive panel on Pebble Beach Drive, just south of Point St. George

Originally inhabited by the Tolowa Dee-ni’, California’s northernmost coast boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in the state and is dotted with Audubon-designated Important Bird Areas. A wide range of bird species live and migrate around nearby Lake Earl, and the profusion continues at sea, where exposed rocks and underwater ledges make up the St. George Reef. Reaching the protected area requires a boat, but visitors can experience similar conditions from the safety of the shoreline just south of the point, where Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge sits.

The refuge is a modest 14 acres, yet it supports several hundred thousand seabirds each year. Take a spotting scope to Pebble Drive from February to mid-April to catch the dawn fly-off of Aleutian cackling geese. Observe one of the largest breeding populations—100,000—of common murres making their nests along the island’s cliffs. Castle Rock is also home to three species of cormorants, pigeon guillemots, Cassin’s and rhinoceros auklets, Leach’s and fork-tailed storm-petrels, and tufted puffins.

More info: fws.gov/humboldtbay/castlerock.html

2. South Humboldt Bay State Marine Recreation Management Area

Loleta
Park along the South Spit or at the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Visitors come from all over the world to watch the birds of Humboldt Bay. More than 250 species—and world-class views—make the bay, a global IBA, endlessly enjoyable. Peak season for most species of waterbirds and raptors is late fall through mid-spring. Aleutian cackling geese, Pacific brant, and migratory shorebirds have a shorter window, peaking from March to late April. In summer birders can find terns, cormorants, and pelicans as well as resident egrets, herons, and migratory songbirds, including various warblers, sparrows, and swallows.

The very best way to birdwatch on the bay is by kayak (for rentals, check with Hum-Boats, on Woodley Island). Close to the protected area is the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, in southern Humboldt Bay, offering an interpretive center that describes local Humboldt Bay habitats and wildlife. Visitors can also view birds from the South Spit, one of the two peninsulas separating Humboldt Bay from the Pacific. Because tides have great influence on which birds are seen when, make sure to check the tides before going.

More info: blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/arcata/south_spit.html and fws.gov/humboldtbay/

3. Point Reyes State Marine Reserve

Marin County, between Tomales Bay and Bolinas Lagoon
Travel via Highway 1, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard or Point Reyes/Petaluma Road

Guidebooks refer to Point Reyes as a little piece of “civilized wilderness.” The point, a global IBA, is just 35 miles north of San Francisco, but the sense of remoteness is a world away from the bustle of the city. Approximately 470 bird species have been noted in Point Reyes National Seashore, a unit of the National Park Service. Many of those have been very rare visitors, far off course during their spring or fall migrations, but the birding can be rewarding at any time of year. The Point Reyes Bird Observatory is located in the southern portion of the park and offers mist-netting demonstrations, a nature trail, and monthly trips to various locations around Marin County. Additionally, visitors can fish, kayak, ride horses, camp, or stay at the park hostel.

More info: nps.gov/pore/index.htm

Read about six more great birding sites on the California Coast at Audubonmagazine.org.

Photo credits for slideshow:

  1. Tufted Puffin: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  2. Wandering Tattler: Dominic Sherony via Creative Commons
  3. White-faced Ibis: Linda Tanner via Creative Commons
  4. Peregrine Falcon: Juan Lacruz via Creative Commons
  5. Cassin’s Auklet: Duncan Wright via Creative Commons
  6. Black Turnstone: Michael Baird via Creative Commons
  7. Storm Petrel: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  8. Yellow-billed Loon: Len Blumin via Creative Commons
  9. Black Oystercatcher: Dick Daniels via Creative Commons
  10. Long-eared Owl: Gregory Smith  via Creative Commons
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“Midway” Film Tells Story of Plastics in Our Ocean Through Plight of Albatross http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/28/midway-film-tells-story-of-plastics-in-our-ocean-through-plight-of-albatross/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/28/midway-film-tells-story-of-plastics-in-our-ocean-through-plight-of-albatross/#comments Thu, 28 Mar 2013 20:23:35 +0000 Sarah van Schagen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5307

MIDWAY : trailer : a film by Chris Jordan from Midway on Vimeo.

Artist Chris Jordan is best known for his large-scale images that deconstruct huge numbers while making a statement about our mass consumption habits. For example, the tiny pieces of plastic in “Gyre” represent the pounds of plastic that enter the world’s ocean.

Jordan’s latest project, “Midway,” is a feature-length film that expands on the plastic pollution problem by focusing on the plastic fragments that fill up albatross stomachs as they try to feed in the open ocean. Scientists estimate that 4.5 metric tons of plastic arrive on Midway Atoll every year in the stomachs of the albatross.

The trailer includes some disturbing images of dead and dying birds, but as the narrator says, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?” We can only hope the answer is “yes.”

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Plight of Albatross Inspires Scientist to Clean Up Beaches http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/10/10/plight-of-albatross-inspires-scientist-to-clean-up-beaches/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/10/10/plight-of-albatross-inspires-scientist-to-clean-up-beaches/#comments Wed, 10 Oct 2012 20:09:59 +0000 Sarah van Schagen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2185 Albatross on Midway Atoll

Credit: Nick Mallos

How do scientists choose their life’s work? For avid surfer Nick Mallos, a love of the ocean made marine biology an easy choice. But it was a black-and-white bird with a 6-foot wingspan that inspired him to focus his research on marine debris and clean up as many beaches as he can.

Nick first encountered the Laysan albatross during a grad school research trip to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific. With over 450,000 nesting pairs, Midway Atoll is home to the largest Laysan population in the world. The birds cover the 2.4 square-mile area, nesting in every available nook, from abandoned WWII gun turrets to grassy cracks in the pavement.

But once you look beyond those birds, “you realize there’s this scattering of plastic over the entire island,” Nick says. “It’s impossible to not see plastic – it’s just everywhere. The most perverse part of it is that it’s most heavily concentrated around every nest.”

Plastic fragments in a dead albatross skeleton

Credit: Nick Mallos

That’s because most of the plastic on the island arrives in the gullets of the adult albatross who accidentally ingest it while fishing at sea. Then they regurgitate that food-and-plastic mixture when feeding their chicks. Scientists estimate that some 4.5 metric tons of plastic arrive on the island every year in the stomachs of the albatross.

“It’s just very surreal being in this beautiful environment where the waters are as turquoise blue as you can imagine and the beaches are pure white, and then you see this array of unnatural color across the island, which is all plastics,” Mallos says.

The inner core of the island is littered with small, fragmented plastics like bottle caps, toothbrushes and cigarette lighters – all carried there by the birds.

“I was 1,200 miles from Oahu, the nearest urban center, and there were consumer products everywhere,” Mallos says. “I could have outfitted an entire bathroom cabinet with what I saw there.”

That realization really got him thinking about the full scale of the ocean trash issue. Six months later, he joined Ocean Conservancy as a marine debris specialist and has since worked to better understand how trash affects our ocean and how we can prevent it from reaching our beaches in the first place.

What motivates you to participate in beach cleanups?

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Building a Mosaic of Restoration Projects for the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/19/building-a-mosaic-of-restoration-projects-for-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/19/building-a-mosaic-of-restoration-projects-for-the-gulf/#comments Thu, 19 Jul 2012 14:38:52 +0000 Denny Takahashi Kelso http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1807 sea turtle mosaic

Credit: luxomedia flickr stream

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster harmed communities from Texas to Florida and damaged the Gulf ecosystem from the ocean floor to the surface across a vast swath of waters and shoreline. Restoring these damaged resources will require a comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration plan that covers coastal environments, blue-water resources and Gulf communities.

Because wildlife like birds, fish and marine mammals move throughout the ecosystem making use of coastal, nearshore and offshore environments, effective restoration requires a holistic approach. For example, restoration efforts for oyster reefs or barrier islands in Texas should complement the work done in Alabama or in Florida so that the full suite of species and habitats can recover.

The state and federal officials responsible for creating such a plan, the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, are making decisions about how to spend the balance of the $1 billion committed by BP for early restoration. The decisions they make about early restoration and about the longer-term restoration program to follow have the potential to pay enormous dividends to the Gulf for generations.

To help the Trustees build an effective plan, a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Ocean Conservancy, has created a portfolio of 39 projects that reflect an integrated and Gulf-wide approach to restoration.

No doubt, other projects could have been included, but the point is to start a conversation about how we collectively fulfill our vision of a healthy and prosperous Gulf. This portfolio is more than a mosaic of projects; it also initiates an ongoing dialogue about how to most effectively restore the damage to the Gulf from the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

Here are a few examples from the portfolio:

  • Sea Turtle Nesting Beach Conservation: The five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are all either endangered or threatened. This project would protect their nesting habitat and nearby waters as well as provide for rehabilitation and care of injured sea turtles.
  • Large-scale Seagrass Restoration and Protection: Seagrass beds are essential components of healthy, productive and biodiverse aquatic ecosystems. This project aims to restore those areas damaged by vessel traffic, boom placement and other response and recovery efforts in ecologically sensitive areas.
  • Monitoring Marine Mammals, Sea Turtles and Bluefin Tuna: Additional observation and biological sampling in the Gulf will help scientists understand any lingering oil-exposure effects on these species.
  • Oyster Reef Restoration: Rebuilding reefs for juvenile oysters to colonize also provides nursery habitat for fish and nesting area for birds while protecting shorelines from erosion.
  • Threatened Coral Recovery: Restoration of shallow-water corals will provide critical habitat for fishes and other reef inhabitants, improving the health and resilience of this unique reef community.
  • Rebuilding Marsh and Barrier Islands: Marsh areas provide nursery habitat and help prevent dead zones by absorbing excess nutrients; barrier islands provide critical habitat for nesting birds. By restoring these ecosystems, a wide range of Gulf species benefit.
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Beach Tips for Dog Lovers: Keep Your Pooch (and Wildlife) Safe http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/05/beach-tips-for-dog-lovers-keep-your-pooch-and-wildlife-safe/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/05/beach-tips-for-dog-lovers-keep-your-pooch-and-wildlife-safe/#comments Tue, 05 Jun 2012 17:20:05 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=920

Beach time is play time! Credit: Lucian W. Fox

When the dog days of summer blast in, there’s nothing like a romp at the beach with your canine friend to beat the heat. My golden retrievers love a beach on the Delaware shore where they are welcome after 5 p.m. for a frolic in the surf. And over the years, I’ve learned a few things that make a good evening great.

Planning ahead makes for the best beach trip possible, so before you head out, find a beach where dogs are allowed and check out the rules on leashing. When outside for longer periods of time, your pup needs the same things you do, including plenty of fresh water and protection from the sun. And remember: The urge to run and swim will be irresistible; if your dog isn’t used to a lot of activity, take it easy to avoid pulled muscles or exhaustion.

And ocean-lovers will want to consider these tips:

  • It’s great to see your dog frolicking on the beach, but be sure she’s not tearing into wildlife habitat or destroying the roots of grasses that hold dunes in place.
  • Scoop droppings and discourage your pup from pooping in the water where you can’t clean up – better yet, get her to do her duty before heading to the beach.
  • Play chase with balls and beach toys so you dog is less likely to go after sea birds feeding or nesting on the ground; stress can kill. Know your beach; endangered species like the piping plover are protected by law. (And don’t leave your ball on the beach. Bring it home with you.)
  • Toss floating toys to ensure they don’t go wayward in the waves; playthings that sink wind up as ocean trash.
  • Carry a leash; leashing could be the law, and may come in handy if wildlife shows up unexpectedly.
  • Leave only paw-prints; if Rover tears up a toy, carefully dispose of the pieces so they don’t become confetti trash in the ocean where marine life like sea turtles and fish mistake it for food.

Fellow ocean-going dog-lovers, please add your beach-going dog tips in the comments section below!

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The birds in your backyard have probably visited the Gulf of Mexico, have you? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/23/the-birds-in-your-backyard-have-probably-visited-the-gulf-of-mexico-have-you/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/23/the-birds-in-your-backyard-have-probably-visited-the-gulf-of-mexico-have-you/#comments Wed, 23 May 2012 16:25:59 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=654

Baltimore Oriole Credit: lgooch Flickr stream

I’ve lived in the Gulf of Mexico region my entire life and have seen many natural events ranging from hurricanes to jubilees. But last week I experienced something completely new to me — a songbird fallout.

You may know many species of birds don’t hang out in the same place all year. Like people, they yearn for warmer climes during the cold winter months. Many species make a twice yearly migration, heading South in the fall and North in the spring in search of plentiful food, shelter and perhaps a special bird friend. As if they have a built-in roadmap, these birds travel using several corridors, or flyways, to criss-cross the hemisphere, many of which intersect the Gulf Coast. Abundant food sources, reliability of water, and favorable weather patterns make travel along these flyways as easy as flapping for 1,000 or more miles can be.

Sometimes when weather conditions aren’t particularly favorable for travel, birds stop in large numbers to rest. The Gulf is one of the first resting places for birds traveling north from their winter grounds in Latin America. When a large number of these birds stop to rest, it’s known as a fallout.

Last week I happened to be in Corpus Christi when one of these fallouts occurred. I was with several colleagues from Ocean Conservancy and one of our partner organizations, The Nature Conservancy, when we got a call about a fallout. With several pairs of binoculars and at least one bird guide among us, we took a detour to a bird sanctuary where the only sounds were the chirping of birds and our own excited chirping as we identified one species after another.

Magnolia Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Baltimore Oriole…on and on we went for an hour or so, passing the binoculars. I am still very new to birding, but even the folks who have been birding for years were blown away by the wonderful sight of songbirds everywhere we turned.

Things got even more interesting when a Western coachwhip snake slithered into a watering hole where birds were bathing and splashing. We watched with baited breath to see whether the snake was going to get both a bath and a snack, but it simply lay in the water a few minutes and then scooted back into the brush, leaving all feathers intact. As far as days go, it was pretty close to perfect. And it was a reminder of how critical restoration of the Gulf ecosystem is to the entire country. It’s not just the people and animals who live along the Gulf who rely on it for survival.

The migratory nature of many bird species means that for populations to thrive, they need healthy habitat all the way along the flyway. Even though birds may only land for a few hours to rest and eat, the Gulf region is critical to many species’ survival. Just as you wouldn’t expect to walk from Central America to Canada without stopping for food and rest, our birds need the haven of the Gulf Coast on their long journeys. So the next time you see a warbler at your feeder, consider just how important the Gulf of Mexico is to those backyard feathered friends and get involved!

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