Tag Archives: birds

Bird Watching and Field Guides: A Brief History

Bird watching has been a hobby for a few centuries now, though mostly for those in possession of time and enough resources to enjoy hobbies in the first place. In the last century, however, the pastime has become a lusty, serious affair for millions of self-identified bird watchers from all over the world. For millions of bird watchers in the United States, fledgling and established, there are hundreds of bird species to view and appreciate their wild splendor with the right tools in hand.

To be an effective bird watcher in the field (whether meadow or concrete jungle), one needs keen awareness, lots of patience, and a toolkit of sorts: a pair of comfortable shoes, a solid pair of binoculars, and an informative, intuitive bird guide. Since that last part is tricky, here’s a brief history and list of American field guides.

Gyrfalcon from different angles.

An example of Audubon’s lifelike representation of birds in “The Birds of America.” [Image: www.wikipedia.org]

The Birds of America

It could be said that the first widely known North American bird guide was created by artist and naturalist, John James Audubon. His most famous work, The Birds of America, was released as a series of prints between 1827 and 1838. Made up of paintings and illustrations that shine with life and charge imaginations, Audubon relied heavily on wire- and thread-posed deceased specimens.

Birds Through an Opera-Glass

By the end of the 19th century, preservation of bird species had taken a more prominent role in what was becoming an enthusiastic birding community. Birds Through an Opera-Glass by Florence A. Merriam Bailey centered on bird identification from a distance rather than taking the birds from their environments. This reflected a trend toward nature observation, which was coming to the fore at the time. And while literally less hands-on, it helped bring in a generation of birders that were more concerned with environmental conservation than the exotic plumages they might collect from around the world.

A bird of paradise throws leaves at the camera

“Here, take these leaves instead!” [Image: www.giphy.com]

Peterson Field Guides

Roger Tory Peterson, a renowned ornithologist, set out to make a field guide accessible to amateurs and laymen rather than just scientists concerned with the study of birds and other animals. The first of these, Guide to the Birds, was printed in 1934, and its initial run of 2,000 copies sold out within one week. This field guide, along with the Peterson Identification System, refined and made Bailey’s ideas of using field marks to identify birds in the wild and from a distance even more practical. This, in turn, helped bolster the cause for greater conservation and environmental mindfulness. His guides, now more than three dozen in number, remain indelibly relevant and useful today.

The Sibley Guide to Birds

The Sibley Guide to Birds is widely considered the most comprehensive guide to North American bird identifying ever created. Published in 2000, the guide includes illustrations of 810 avian species. While the compendium is undoubtedly built upon the shoulders of its predecessors, it soars above them—if you’ll pardon the pun—not least of all because of its illustrations depicting each species in flight, a thorough representation that had not been included before.

Bird Watching an American robin on a leaf-strewn yard

The American robin is just about the most recognizable bird around, but can you tell a lady robin from a gentleman? With the right bird guide in hand, you’ll be able to discern that and more! [Image: www.birdingisfun.com]

The Future of Birding?

All About Birds is an online bird guide offered for free through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is one of the best resources a bird watcher can ask for, and reasonably represents a possible future for birding. While you can’t exactly carry it along with you in the field—yet—it succeeds in blending the sport of birding with technology in its own way. You can search this guide with the touch of a few keys by describing a bird’s size, shape, or color. This guide also puts you in touch with the aural end of birding as the description of each species is accompanied by its call or song.

Choosing the right bird guide is not unlike picking a car insurance provider or deciding how you want your coffee prepared from a local cafe’s immense menu—there are many options, each performing the task in a different way. There are guides that pose deeper taxonomic questions or ones with detailed illustrations. Some offer a wealth of information about nesting, feeding, or other behavioral attributes while others elaborate less, so as not to overload a beginner—it’s really your personal preference and what information interests you that matters.

Most importantly, no matter your level of expertise or lack thereof, you can get out and enjoy a good bird walk today, even if winter is on its way—just remember to dress warmly and stay sharp. And feel free to add your own bird guide notes or advice in the comments!

How To Care For Wildlife in Winter

Winter is undeniably making its way toward us this season. As the temperature drops and the wind picks up its frigid pace, various wildlife are preparing themselves for the winter fright. By this time, many creatures have long started their winter survival methods, such as migration, hibernation, or camouflaging to more easily adapt to the harsh temperature drops. As part of such a great ecosystem, many of us may be tempted to help these animals survive the winter wilderness. However, it is important to be aware of the proper ways to care for these creatures if we come across one in need. Below are some tips for how to care for wildlife this winter.

1. Be Mindful with What You Feed Them

Many of us will want to provide some food to precious wildlife, and we can’t blame you! The winter freezes everything in sight, and food is especially scarce during this time. However, there are some animals that are better off not fed. Perhaps the best example of this are deer. During winter, deer undergo physiological changes to acclimate, and their diet becomes more protein-based. This means that the bacteria that was previously present in their gut during spring and summer is now replaced with bacteria best for digesting high protein-based nutrients in fall and winter.

Deer eating in winter

Deer eating in winter. [Image: https://c2.staticflickr.com/]

In fact, there have been multiple cases where deer have died due to a complication in the digestive tract when they were given food that was not appropriate to their current living situation. Deer may starve even when their stomachs are full of food due to bacteria incompatibility in their gut. Therefore it is most appropriate to be mindful of what we feed these creatures. The best route? Don’t feed them at all.

However, if you do choose to, here are some guidelines you must follow:

  • Stick to natural browse plants such as: woody plants (dogwood, honeysuckle, red cedar, oaks); winter forbs (sedges); winter crops (wheat, clover, rye grass); and winter fruits (coralberry, sumac seedheads).
  • DON’T FEED: hay, corn, kitchen scraps, potatoes, or cabbage/lettuce trimmings.
  • Protect feed from moisture.
  • Carefully select deer formulation in pellet form.

If you require more information on how to minimize impacts of deer-feeding during winter, Maine’s government offers a good article on the topic.

2. Leave Water Outside

Because freezing temperatures tend to leave ice instead of liquid, it is even more crucial to leave water outside for wildlife species. Birds, for instance, would benefit from water left outside for them to drink during winter. One can purchase a small heating rod that would prevent water from icing over—this equipment can easily be purchased in your local garden stores.

Alternatively you can invest in an artificial pond or birdbath and keep the water ice-free. It will most definitely be a welcome warmth for these friendly neighbors!

Bird in winter

Bird drinking water in winter. [Image: http://blog.wbu.com/]

3. Winter Garden Wilderness 

If you have a backyard, you can help provide a temporary solace by letting your backyard or garden, whichever is more applicable, run wild this winter. Let dead leaves, grass, and twigs pile up in a designated corner so wildlife can make a home out of this during the following winter months. Birds can also use the twigs for their nests!

compost garden

Garden compost. [Image: http://www.bobsmarket.com/]

4. Be Informed

While some wildlife is better off not fed, you can in fact provide food for some creatures. For instance, hanging feeders containing seed blends, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are great for birds! Hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds make for happy squirrels while cheese, boiled potatoes, and bread scraps during dusk are a great comfort for foxes. But quantity and mindfulness is key. Leaving too much can make them dependent and can cause a nuisance on you instead. Being ill-informed can prove fatal to their health.

squirrel and bird in hanging seed feeder

Bird and squirrel hanging on a seed feeder. [Image: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/]

Remember that while helping wildlife is great, it’s also a huge responsibility. Being informed and mindful makes you a more helpful neighbor for wildlife this winter!

Check your Pocket Ranger® mobile apps for more information on habitat and usual wildlife behavior, available in Google Play and the Apple Store.

Where do Wildlife Go in the Winter?

It is officially November! All around us, trees are shedding their summer skins to make way for a winter slumber. While the weather still allows us to enjoy some measure of comfort in the outdoors without the numbing chill, it is slowly beginning to make its presence more apparent through cold tinges in the air. Around this time last year, it seemed as if we skipped autumn entirely—one day it was summery and full of the sun’s blissful brightness, and the next saw the dimness of winter and a freeze seeped into our bones, knocking our teeth together as we rubbed our arms in a desperate attempt to retain heat.

Luckily, many of us have heated homes and thick jackets to bundle in once winter fully strikes. But where does various wildlife go in the winter? What happens to them as the earth snows itself to sleep for a couple of months? The answer is that it depends on the species!

Each species has developed a unique approach to winter survival that allows them to maintain their existence in the ecosystem. For instance, large species, such as the white-tailed deer, change fur colors in the winter, transforming from a beautiful copper hair into a gray-brown winter coat during wintertime.

Deer in winter

Deer in winter. [Image: http://7-themes.com/]

This adaptive ability is useful as the gray-brown winter coat has hollow hair shafts and a dense underfur that keeps deer insulated during harsh winter conditions. During the fall months, deer also start to store body fat around their skin and internal organs, which is helpful for diet changes when they switch from high to low protein intake. Disregarding the movement patterns of these regally impressive species, deer survive in groups with fawns traveling closely alongside adults to preserve their numbers during the spring and summer months, due to the possibility of a high mortality rate if winters become too severe.

On the other hand, other species such as birds and monarch butterflies deal with winter through migration.

Wildlife Image of Migrating Birds

Birds migrating under setting sun. [Image: http://www.songbirdgarden.com/]

While some birds do migrate during winter months, many bird species generally don’t. This migration pattern is largely due to the availability of food sources during winter; if there’s a food source that’s readily available, there is no viable reason to migrate. For this reason, you may still see chickadees and blue jays during winter, but not birds such as swallows and hummingbirds, who migrate either North or South depending on the viable food source available.

Aside from the common method of migration, though, another way for animals to deal with winter is through hibernation.

Typically the term “hibernation” is assigned to deep hibernating animals like rodents, but has since expanded to include bears, other mammals, and even snakes. The act of hibernation is the state of inactivity that involves a decrease in body temperature and a slowing of breathing, heart rate, and metabolic rate to conserve as much energy as possible during the winter months when food is scarce. It is worth noting that true hibernation is only with warm-blooded animals, though. Animals such as snakes undergo what is called “brumation,” a state where the animals are awake yet exhibit typical hibernation behaviors.

Hibernating dormice

Dormice hibernating. [Image: http://joannekraft.com/]

Then there are insects, such as grasshoppers and praying mantis’s, whose lives are much shorter. These insects do not survive in winter, dying once the cold settles in. As such, they survive by leaving their eggs in the ground, which hatch as the weather becomes warmer when spring rolls around.

Praying mantis egg case

Praying mantis egg case in winter. [Image: https://rosemoon.files.wordpress.com/]

It seems like harsh lives for insects such as the praying mantis, which only survive during three seasons, but they are actually doing perfectly well. And so are the other animals. Being in the wild during winter and surviving it through the spring has shown them to be extremely resilient to weather conditions, even developing abilities to the extent of altering their own physiological components to survive.

Despite the harsh weather conditions, animals manage to work their way around it and continually impress us with their resiliency. Wildlife is indeed amazing!

But while we still have a few days or weeks of autumnal sunshine, don’t forget that you can still take some time to watch wildlife through the Pocket Ranger® mobile apps available in your state! Find us in Apple Store and Google Play. Happy wildlife watching!

Kick Off Summer at National Kids to Parks Day

Get the whole family outdoors at the upcoming 5th Annual National Kids to the Parks Day! On May 16th, America’s state parks partner with the National Park Trust to host this nationwide day of outdoor play. Just a week before the official start of summer, this is a perfect day to explore and discover favorite local, state and national parks and public lands. From scavenger hunts to bird-watching, these state parks are hosting great Kids to Parks Day events:

Nature Hikes & Scavenger Hunts

A family goes hiking in Shenandoah. A great place to go for National Kids to Parks Day [Image: www.goshenandoah.com]

Image: www.goshenandoah.com

Specifically designed with the whole family in mind, the James River State Park’s Scavenger Hunt has 20 items participants have to track down. Winners will get a ride on the park’s Tye Overlook wagon for free that evening! Or learn about Leave No Trace Principles and hunt out all things that shouldn’t be on the trail on Shenandoah State Park’s “Unnatural Hike.”

Join the Lake Bistineau State Park’s Nature Hike for a memorable wilderness experience in the park’s upland mixed hardwood forest, open waters, and stands of cypress and tupelo trees. Stay the night in one of this Louisiana state park’s cabins or campsites, so you can get out on the lake in a canoe or kayak the next day!

At Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in New York, walk the towpath trails on a nature walk, and learn more about native species of birds, animals, plants and flowers. We recommend packing a lunch; there’s nothing better than having a picnic by the Aqueduct Boat Launch or the Yankee Hill Lock!

Bird-watching & Gardening

Kids birdwatching with binoculars [Image: kidsactivitiesblog.com]

Image: kidsactivitiesblog.com

Go birding at the beautiful lagoons and shoreline of Louisiana’s Grand Isle State Park. Resident bird species include a variety of songbirds and shorebirds, such as shearwaters, pelicans, herons, and cormorants. At Leesylvania State Park in Virginia, check out the Osprey Observation. Rangers will be on hand to answer all your questions about these magnificent birds of prey.

The Bristol Bird Club of Virginia will lead a special family birding session at Natural Tunnel State Park. From old growth forest to grassy area, discover all kinds of birds that live in the park’s four different habitats. Or spend the afternoon in the park’s community garden! Alongside the Scott County Master Gardeners, learn more about gardening while weeding and planting.

In Missouri, get down in the dirt at Mudpie Magic at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park! Make mudpies, dig in the dirt, explore rotten logs, and catch crawdads. There are many natural water park features at this state park, so take a dive into the river to rinse off! Or test your birding skills and so much more at Trail of Tears State Park. Join the Birder ID hike and scavenger hunt, and stick around for the “Eggstravaganza” egg hunt and egg quiz challenge at 7:30PM.

Arts & Crafts

Kids flying kites in park [Image: www.kitesclub.com/the-benefits-of-kite-flying-25.html]

Image: www.kitesclub.com/the-benefits-of-kite-flying-25.html

Learn the fascinating art of letterboxing at Shenandoah River State Park’s Letterboxing Workshop! Originating in England, letterboxing involves puzzle-solving and is a bit like geocaching. At this workshop, make your own rubber stamp and then go on a hike to discover your first letterbox.

Go fly at kite at Harry S. Truman State Park’s 3rd Annual Kid’s Kite Day! Park staff will show kids (and kids at heart!) how to assemble and decorate their very own kite. While the glue dries, settle down for a picnic or take some of the park’s example kites for a test flight.

Bluebirds are returning to Missouri on their great migration north. At Pomme De Terre State Park, learn how to build a bird house for Missouri’s state bird. All materials and tools will be provided at this event. Just bring your creativity!

5K & 10K Runs


Looking to keep a brisker pace on National Kids to Parks Day? Join families at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park’s Run Wild – “A Run for Wildlife!” Proceeds raised from the 10K, 5K, and Kids Run all benefit Nebraska’s wildlife. Both the 10K and 5K take runners through a scenic, naturally challenging trail. The 1-mile Kids Run is perfect for kids ages 12 and under, and parents can run alongside young children. Since none of the events are timed this year, everyone is a winner! Dressing like a wild animal for this event is strongly encouraged. Afterwards, celebrate the day with a picnic, face-painting, fishing, and touring the live animal exhibits.

Families that visit the state and national parks on Kids to the Parks Day are encouraged to submit photos of their adventures to Buddy@BuddyBison.org for possible inclusion in the National Park Trust’s commemorative map. Download your state’s free Pocket Ranger® app for more information about trails, campground reservations, and more!

Wildlife at risk: Prothonotary Warbler

Why is the Prothonotary Warbler considered rare? It seems every time someone utters the magic word, Prothonotary (pro-THON-eh-Ter-ee), everyone goes a little bird crazy. The Prothonotary Warbler is a life bird for many birders; some have seen it only once or twice in their lifetime. Warblers in general are hard to spot, and have been known to cause serious next strains due to their minute size. The Prothonotary Warbler is no different, measuring at 14 cm, it’s especially hard to distinguish among branches and leaves. But more so, these warblers are threatened by habitat destruction, declining food resources, weather variations, and parasitic species. This warbler is listed as endangered in Canada. An estimated 2,000 pairs live in South Carolina’s protected, Francis Beidler Forest.

Prothonotary Warbler in Prospect Park, New York.

This Prothonotary Warbler was taking a stroll around Prospect Park, NY in April. Image Credit: Marc Brawer

See my colors

Among a sea of green leaves, the Prothonotary Warbler’s deep yellow head and underparts stands out. The prothonotary has greenish upperparts, and unmarked bluish-gray wings, white belly and undertail. This helps distinguish it from other yellow warblers. Adults females and immature birds are of a similar shade but with a duller composition. Plumage stays the same throughout the year. If you hear a series of high-pitched tweet-tweet-tweet, sharp and loud, you’ve found it!

Where I call home?

The Prothonotary Warbler is a bird of the southern woodland swamps with a high concentration along the floodplain forests of Lower Wisconsin, Mississippi, and the St. Croix rivers (common to abundant). In the summer they range from southern New Jersey to north-central Florida, west to east-central Texas to southern Michigan. It’s also a visitor of the Appalachian Mountains, sparingly distributed in the northern parts of the states. Their winter range extends from Southern Mexico to Venezuela, and sometimes the warbler plays the role of the island bird in Puerto Rico and Bermuda.

This species breeds in moist bottomland forests either permanently or seasonally flooded with standing water such as sloughs, oxbow ponds and slow-moving backwaters. It tends to find safety above flooder water, which has less risk of nest predations by raccoons— their main nest predator. To defend their territories the tiny male warblers snap their bills and chase away intruders. Males keep watch while the female builds the nest and lays eggs—what a gentleman! To flourish these birds must find breeding habitats in overstay trees with the right kind of cavities for nesting. Typically low cavities such as old Downy Woodpecker holes. Some of the trees they flock to include the swamp white oak, silver maple, green ash and river birch, among others.

 

Why I’m considered rare?

The Prothonotary was included in the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, due to its vulnerable nature and niche habitat. Prothonotaries are prone to suffer from unpredictable ecological changes. For example loss of wetland habitats affects both breeding and wintering grounds. Logging practices are specially harmful to these warblers, since it removes cavity trees. Also some plants like the Reed canary grass, which can dominate the ground layer, impede new trees from growing, thereby turning the bottomland hardwoods unsuitable for Prothonotaries to survive. They also face parasitism from Brown-headed Cowbird, who are known to abandon offsprings in foreign nests. This behavior ruins the warbler’s chance at hatching success, further increasing nestling mortality. In southern Illinois parasitism rates are as high as 50 percent for Prothonotaries.

Climate change is causing a decline in soil moisture, reducing the growth of bottomland hardwood forests, and in turn decreasing available habitat for the birds.  Frequent summer storms and flood events also have a negative impact; they destroy low nests, as it occurred in the Wisconsin River in recent years. Extreme droughts dry backwater sloughs and ponds essential for the warbler’s survival against predators. The overall population is projected to dwindle as the southern part of its main range suffers.

 

Help a bird out

Now that you know about the wildlife at risk: Prothonotary Warbler, plan out some simple ways you can help out this species. During winter, prothonotaries live in mangrove forests; if you have one near you, be sure they’re kept healthy. One sure way to lure these sweet, yellow warblers is by offering a safe habitat for nesting in your backyard. They typically thrive in nesting huts and nest boxes, and are especially drawn to living near water, such a large garden pools, ponds, and marsh. Their favorite trees include willow oak, sweet gum, black gum, bald cypress, tupelo, elms, and river birch. Offer them fresh fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas to keep them around. As everyone knows with warblers, one minute you see them, and the next they’re gone!

Climate Change in National Parks

It’s no secret that climate change is taking a toll on our wildlife and their habitats. Some of the reported effects include declining bird population, oceans warming, droughts, and many more. Often climate change is hard to comphend if you don’t see it for yourself or if you don’t understand the magnitude. These damaging effects are a result of global warming, due to rising levels of greenhouse gases—often attributed to human impact. As hikers, naturalists or just people who love the outdoors these issues are closely hovering above us. Nature is our sustenance and these public lands are meant to last for future generations. By noticing the effects of climate change, it influences people to make conscious decisions that help keep our parks healthy. Ideally, as one who loves nature, we should follow the leave no trace principle, spread awareness, and protect these rare places. Below are some national parks currently experiencing shifts in their ecological and environmental patterns.

Joshua Tree National Park

A desert tortoise looking for shade.

A desert tortoise looking for shade. Image: www.gannett-cdn.com/

Can you imagine Joshua Tree National Park drier than it already is? The state-wide drought happening in California is causing the park’s water levels to drop dramatically, and officials are worried about wildfires in those conditions. Wildfires can easily spread in extremely dry areas and destroy wildlife and plants. Scientist say, the average temperatures in the park are increasing, and Joshua trees are drying out in some parts. The young trees normally seen have largely disappear in some areas, and the left over mature trees are gradually dying out. If global temperatures continue to rise as predicted, Joshua trees could eventually vanish from a range of 90 percent by the end of the century. Other types of trees and shrubs are being effected at lower elevations such as California junipers and pinyon pines. Lizards and insects are also feeling the impact; some are disappearing in areas where they were abundant, and the population of birds is shifting to higher elevations as the climate grows hotter and drier. Park researchers have found a good amount of dead desert tortoises during the drought.

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountain' s Cades Cove [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson]

Great Smoky Mountain’ s Cades Cove [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson]

The Great Smoky Mountains has one of the richest ecosystems in the world. It’s home to boreal forests as well as the largest block of virgin red spruce on Earth. According to a National Park Conservation Association study, temperatures in the region have been on the rise since the 1970s, causing the ski season to shorten and become less predictable. Also with warming temperatures famous species like the Fraser fir trees, typical in high elevation could eventually disappear. These dire conditions could be detrimental for red squirrels, southern red-back voles, and northern flying squirrels. Climate change means acid rain and invasive species which could make it difficult for trees to flourish. Regional forests are already being wiped out. Trout on the southern edge will also feel the impact, as rivers and streams warm. Even a small increase of 2 or 3 degrees could wipe out about 37 percent of trout in the area. In 1988, a major drought led to high trout mortality and such low reproductive rates. The Southern Appalachian forest has been struggling for decades with the stress of acid rain, and there is evidence the mix of climate change and pollution can worsen the situation.

Denali National Park

Hidden Creek Glacier. Top 1916 and bottom 2004. [Image Credit: NPS]

Hidden Creek Glacier: 1916 (top) and 2004 (bottom). [Image Credit: NPS]

Glaciers in Denali National Park are thinning and retreating at a rapid rate, reducing the area of ice for wildlife and coastal communities. As the arctic tundra’s permafrost continues deplete, changes in vegetation will force wildlife to move further north in search of food, The Denali Repeat Photography Project, which started in 2005, shows the Denali is going through massive changes in vegetation, water bodies and glaciers. The project has over 200 photo pairs across the park, providing background info, and the scope of changing patterns over time. The photos reveal obvious changes to the park’s ecosystems, a result of a warming planet and related causes. Some photos document changes including the invasion of open wetland by woody vegetation, the spreading of vegetation in open floodplains and terraces, shrinking ponds, receding glaciers, and the abundance of spruce in treeless areas. Though changes to the landscape may appear to be part of the natural cycle, the study points to an overall shift. Park personnel are also continually measuring glacial retreat and using surveying techniques.

Everglades National Park

Florida Panther, only 30 to 50 individuals survive today. [zoocenter.files.wordpress.com]

Florida Panther, only 30 to 50 individuals survive today. [zoocenter.files.wordpress.com]

In recent years the Everglades has drawn much attention, as it continues to get drained and encroached. It’s half the size it was a century ago, and only a fifth of the Everglades ecosystem is under the national park protection. The Everglades is included in the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. It’s home to endangered plants and animals, including the manatee and panther. According to the LA Times, one culprit causing havoc for 60 years is the sugar industry. The sugar industry uses up water resources, allows fertilizer runoff and pollution from sugar cane, and other agricultural operations that further reduce water quality and alter the ecosystem. Population in southern Florida is growing and housing demands have increased, further adding stress on water supplies. This fragile wetland habitat is also under threat from fracking on nearby public lands. “It is becoming more clear that regulating fracking still risks accidental spills, water contamination, methane leaks, earthquakes and habitat destruction. The only way to negate these risks is to ban fracking entirely,” says the non-profit organization Food and Water Watch. It’s no surprise President Obama paid a visit on Earth Day to call for fresh water restoration, and to push back on encroaching saltwater from rising seas which is altering the ecosystems. According to a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences, the Florida Keys and other parts of the state are among the nation’s most vulnerable areas for endangered wildlife.

tumblr_nn859aKmCz1qis3g8o1_500

For those saying let’s leave it to government, not so fast. A Center for American Progress study shows that during the first 100 days of 2015, newly elected congress and senate members tried to implement an anti-environmental agenda by proposing regressive laws. Some of our representatives continue to vote for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, block action to reduce carbon pollution and are sending proposals to sell America’s public lands. When Earth Day comes around the environment is a top concern—but let’s not drop the case and forget there’s still work to be done. For more info about climate change effects in national parks, visit the National Park Conservation Association.

 

 

Discover trails, wildlife and outdoors activities with the Pocket Ranger@ National Park Passport Guide app.

Look to the Skies! Birding at the State Parks

This May, look to the skies! Springtime marks a massive migration for hundreds of bird species in North America. Why migrate? The birds migrated to warmer climates for the winter; in the spring, these same birds make their way back up north to their breeding grounds.

Group of birders look through binoculars [Image: archive.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120122]

Join other bird enthusiasts at the state parks this May! [Image: archive.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120122]

The first groups of birds to start heading north are waterfowl (ducks, geese, swans). Some birds of prey, such as bald eagles and red-shouldered hawks begin moving north in early spring, as well as blackbirds and sparrows. In April and May, shorebirds (sandpipers and plovers) and songbirds (warblers, orioles, thrushes) begin their migration north. Warblers are a favorite of birders, and in certain areas of the country, you may be able to see more than 30 species of these colorful songbirds at one time!

The state parks are gearing up for this mass bird migration with plenty of events. Pack your binoculars, download the Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed app, and head to one of these great birding opportunities near you.

Alabama

Wings Over Oak Mountain
May 1st – May 3rd, 2015
Oak Mountain State Park

Spend the whole weekend with fellow birders at the exciting Wings Over Oak Mountain event at Oak Mountain State Park. This three-day event’s itinerary includes live bird of prey programs, guided birding tours, and educational programs that focus on habitat diversity, bird adaptation, and more. Wings Over Oak Mountain is perfect for all levels of birders; on any of the guided tours, park staff will help birders beef up their avian know-how, from distinguishing bird calls to pinpointing key habitat. The event’s registration fee includes breakfast and a wine tasting from Alabama’s own vineyard, Vizzini Farms Winery.

Learn the difference between a fox sparrow and a song sparrow at a birding event at the state parks! [Image: www.cleveland.com/neobirding]

Learn the difference between a fox sparrow and a song sparrow at a birding event at the state parks! [Image: www.cleveland.com/neobirding]

Pennsylvania 

Festival of the Birds at Presque Isle
May 8th – May 10th
Presque Isle State Park

Catch a multitude of birds migrating along the southern shore of Lake Erie at the weekend-long Festival of the Birds at Presque Isle State Park. More than 320 species of bird have been seen flying through the park, including warblers and other songbirds. At the park’s Gull Point, a sand plain sanctuary, look for migrant shorebirds and terns. George Armistead is this year’s keynote speaker, and every full-weekend registrant will receive a copy of his book, ABA Field Guide to Birds of Pennsylvania. To keep away the crowds, this festival is limited to 150 participants, so make sure to register soon!

Virginia

Hungry Mother State Park Birding Adventure
May 1st – May 3rd
Hungry Mother State Park

Outfit your entire family with binoculars for the family-friendly Hungry Mother State Park Birding Adventure! Ready yourself for three whole days of birding activities and programs for all skill levels, including a live birds of prey show, guided bird hikes, nighttime owl prowls, avian arts & crafts, and kayak bird tours. Richard Moncrief of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics will lead an informative workshop about binoculars: how they work, how to use them, and how to choose the best model for where you go birding.

If you can’t make the entire weekend, but would still like to get your family out birding, join the Family Bird Hike on May 16th at Hungry Mother State Park. Bird enthusiast and master naturalist Randy Smith will lead an informative bird hike through the park. This is a great way for people of all ages to learn the basics about birding.

Four species of North American warblers [blog.allaboutbirds.org]

Four species of North American warblers [blog.allaboutbirds.org]

Ohio

Camping is for the Birds
May 8th – May 10th
Caesar Creek State Park

Celebrate the annual spring migration at Caesar Creek State Park’s Camping is for the Birds! Camp at the Caesar Creek campgrounds, so you won’t miss any of the birding activities the weekend has to offer. Continuous bird banding demonstrations will take place at the Visitor Center, and park naturalists will lead guided birding hikes. See live raptors up close and personal at the park’s birds of prey program, and join in the “Build Your Own Bluebird Box” workshop! Space is limited, so call the Nature Center for reservations and more information: (513) 897-2437.

Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB)
May 8th – May 17th
Maumee Bay State Park

Designated the Warbler Capital of the World, witness the annual songbird migration at this year’s Biggest Week in American Birding! Northwest Ohio becomes a hub for birders every year because hundreds of bird species fly through the area on their journey north. If you are looking for birding heaven, Maumee Bay State Park is right at the heart of the migration route, and a great place to spend the day (and night!) ticking away some elusive species on your life-list. Over the course of the week, birders will see migrating shorebirds, cuckoos, hummingbirds, buntings, thrushes, flycatchers, up to 30 species of warblers and more! In addition to many guided bird hikes and kayak/canoe tours, there will be an optics exhibit, naturalist-led bird banding, a birder’s marketplace, nature photography programs, and a bird tattoo contest.

A flock of birds flies away at sunset [Image: www.earthrangers.com/wildwire/this-just-in/a-race-between-moths-and-songbirds]

Image: www.earthrangers.com/wildwire/this-just-in/a-race-between-moths-and-songbirds

Looking for ways to help the birds migrating through your own backyard?

  • Create backyard habitat for the birds by planting native grasses, flowers and shrubs.
  • Refrain from using toxic pesticides outside. These pesticides pollute waterways and reduce insects that birds need to survive.
  • Keep your cat indoors! Domestic cats have contributed to the extinction of 33 species of bird worldwide. The Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that free-roaming domestic cats kill billions of birds every year in the United States.
  • Prevent birds from striking your windows by placing large stickers on them. The sticker breaks up the bright reflection of the sun, so the birds can see that the window is not a viable flyway.
  • Drink bird-friendly coffee! By drinking certified shade-grown coffee you are ensuring conservation of vital bird habitat.

Want to keep track of your bird sightings using just your smartphone? Download your state’s free Pocket Ranger® app to easily locate birding locations, identify species, and send your saved waypoints via email, Facebook or Twitter to other birders. And don’t forget to document and share all of your birding discoveries via the free Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed app, a social network just for bird enthusiasts!