This beautiful small goose is heading toward extinction.
The red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis) breeds in arctic Russia and winters at only five sites along the Black Sea in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine. Though protected by law it faces many challenges, from land use changes to illegal hunting.
It was already listed as threatened when suddenly, 10 years ago, half the population simply disappeared. 50,000 birds. Gone. No one knows what happened. Did they forsake the Black Sea for a new winter home? Did something go radically wrong where they breed?
Now listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, the red-breasted goose population continues to decline. Another such disappearance would mean the end so researchers from Britain’s Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds have fitted 11 red-breasted geese with tags to track their movements.
Nine geese received GPS data packs that will log their winter locations at the Black Sea. Two received satellite tags that will track their migration from Bulgaria to the breeding grounds in Siberia.
These four swans are really hooting it up. The quartet began when two pairs encouraged their mates with lean-forward and wing-quiver calls. But the quivering wing display is also used in antagonistic encounters. When the males got too close the dominant male had had enough. He rushed the other one.
Whoa! The less aggressive male immediately sat on the water in a submissive posture and the situation defused. Watch him curl his neck down in an S position and look away.
Tundra swans can make music together. Sometimes they jazz it up.
Here are two Life Birds who were hardest and easiest to see when I was in San Diego.
The surfbird, on the left, was hard! He walks on seaside rocks and lets the surf break over him. The best place to find him is on the breakwater at Mission Bay’s entrance but the day we were there the bird was way down the jetty out of sight.
A few intrepid birders walked the jetty and pointed to the bird. For this particular Life Bird I was willing to walk the jetty but I didn’t count on how hard it would be. Without my walking stick I literally crawled over the uneven rocks. Not fun! I turned back without seeing the bird and waited onshore for him to pop into someone’s scope. Fortunately he appeared at a distance. Even through the scope I felt like I earned him.
The black turnstone was easy. He also lives on rocky shores but there were many more black turnstones and they were easy to see at La Jolla while walking the beautiful seaside path.
For some reason the surfbird feels more valuable.
(photo by Dick Daniels on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)
To my untrained East Coast eyes this bird looked like an odd double-crested cormorant, but it’s actually a Brandt’s cormorant, a common bird of the Pacific coast.
This weekend I’m in the bottom left corner of the United States at the San Diego Bird Festival held in one of the two “Birdiest Counties” in the continental U.S. (Los Angeles County is the other.)
According to San Diego Audubon, “the County boasts the largest bird list of any similarly sized area in the United States at almost 500 species.” With this honor also comes the distinction of having “the greatest number of endangered, threatened, and sensitive species than any comparable land area in the continental United States.”
San Diego is able to set these records because it has at least 11 habitat zones including coastal scrub, desert, mountains, salt marshes, wetlands and ocean, far outranking my land-locked home in Pittsburgh.
In my first hour of birding — just walking near the hotel — I saw long-billed curlew’s, marbled godwits, an orange-crowned warbler (singing!), Anna’s hummingbirds, black-crowned night-herons, and Heerman’s gulls. By now I’ve seen 94 species including this life bird, Brandt’s cormorant.
When you compare San Diego’s checklist of 501 birds to Allegheny County’s 316 species (including vagrants), I know I’ll find a “lifer” around every corner.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.
Quotes are from the San Diego Audubon Society website.)
Heavily hunted for meat and feathers, trumpeter swans nearly went extinct in the early 20th century, disappearing from all but a small range in Alaska and Canada.
When the swans were at their low ebb, states and provinces established reintroduction programs in the 1970′s and 1980′s in Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and (an introduction program in) Ohio.
Because of the Ohio program we now see trumpeter swans occasionally in western Pennsylvania, but if you want to see a really large flock the place to be is along the Mississippi River at Monticello, Minnesota in mid-winter. They’re there because the water is ice free, thanks to a nuclear power plant upstream.
The long spate of cold weather froze all our ponds and lakes. Even the rivers were beginning to freeze until Monday’s warmth reversed the trend.
Don’t expect to see a lot of birds at Lake Arthur right now. Waterfowl who rely on open water for food or to get airborne have left for open water. Some are at our rivers, most have left town completely.
This female bufflehead was on the other side of the U.S. — at Bosque del Apache, New Mexico — when Steve Valasek took her picture.
No, she didn’t leave Pittsburgh for New Mexico, but Steve did.
Ice is on my mind this morning because of the freezing rain that began last night, so I couldn’t resist writing about this iceberg series by Kim Hansen on Wikimedia Commons.
The photo above shows a black ice growler (tiny iceberg) found at Upernavik, Greenland on Baffin Bay. It’s one of the last intact pieces of a larger iceberg that broke apart while melting.
Black ice forms in a glacier when melt water refreezes in a crevasse without incorporating any air bubbles. This ice is so clear that it takes on the color of its background. Here it’s dark because of the sea.
Hansen and her friends retrieved the growler from the water. Its surface was quite beautiful.
At first it was completely transparent but as it sat on the ground, exposed to sun and heat, it developed hairline cracks and began to turn white. Click here and scroll down to see the experiment they tried on it.
This solid transparent ball, only two feet across, was hidden inside the iceberg until its last days on earth. It could have been the iceberg’s heart.