Monday, April 26, 2010

Tropical Audubon Society Holds Annual Membership Meeting

The Tropical Audubon Society in South Miami held its annual membership meeting on Sunday, where an American Redstart (photo left) decided to stop by on its way North.

Keynote speaker Eric Buermann, governing board chair of the South Florida Water Management District, updated members on measures to restore the Everglades and praised the Obama Administration for making efforts to "move the ball down the field" when it comes to restoration efforts that have clearly become mired in controversy and economic problems.

Alan Farago, conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades, was awarded the Polly Redford Citizen Service Award. He said it's time to "start dreaming big for the Everglades," and suggested it may be time to consider the option of land condemnation to acquire properties critical to restoring water flow in the Everglades.

Environmental journalist and author of "Paving Paradise" Craig Pittman spoke about his new book, "Manatee Insanity," and the history of manatee protection efforts. Gary Milano, coordinator of the Coastal Habitat Restoration Program was presented with the Emily Young award and Brian Rapoza won the TAS Board Appreciation Award.

An American Redstart at the Doc Thomas House, headquarters of The Tropical Audubon Society in South Miami.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Four Miami-Dade Men Charged with Possessing Painted Buntings

This is a photo from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's website showing the painted buntings that were illegally trapped.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said last week that they charged four men with possessing migratory birds. Here is their press release from April 7th:

You may see them around your backyard feeder. They are prized for their colorful plumage. Indigo and painted buntings are migratory songbirds that winter in South Florida and migrate north in the spring, but some make a year-round home in the Sunshine State.

With their numbers declining because of habitat loss, these beautiful birds face an additional ugly threat: the exotic pet trade. The buntings, protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, are frequently trapped and sold. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continues to break up these rings and release the captive birds back into their natural habitats.

From April 3-6, in three separate cases, FWC investigators arrested four Miami-Dade men, charging each with the illegal possession of migratory birds, a misdemeanor. One of the men, Gustavo Castresana (DOB 03/01/80) of Hialeah, was arrested for the same violation in 2005. He was booked into the county jail and could face enhanced penalties.

Miguel Castro (DOB 07/29/57) of Homestead, Adrian Acosta-Gonzalez (DOB 11/25/72) of Miami and Ruben Echevarria-Liens (DOB 11/29/74) of Miami were in possession of bird traps, and are all facing charges.

FWC officers released 20 captive birds - 19 buntings and one cardinal.

"These birds do not belong in captivity; they belong in their natural habitats to proliferate and continue the species," said FWC Lt. Jay Marvin. "The public should be aware that trapping, possessing, buying and/or selling these birds is a violation of state and federal laws and can result in hefty fines and possible jail time."

The public is asked to call the FWC's Wildlife Alert hotline - 888-404-FWCC (3922) - if they witness any suspicious activity or any people with small, wooden bird traps.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Birding in Panama - New Observation Tower at famous Pipeline Road offers Spectacular Views

If you're looking for an amazing wildlife experience, visit the new 100-foot observation tower on the border of Soberania National Park in Panama. The tower offers 360-degree views of the rainforest canopy teeming with rare birds, monkeys and sloths.

The view from the new tower (not to be confused with the famous Canopy Tower EcoLodge, the highly regarded yet pricey hotel in a refurbished radio tower overlooking the national park) was the highlight of my recent trip to Panama. From the platform at the top of the new tower, my husband, Paulo, and I saw dozens of beautiful species, including the Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue Cotinga, Black-breasted Puffbird, toucans, parrots, woodpeckers and many others flitting about the emerald-green treetops. Many of the birds were only yards away from where we stood on the platform.

The new iron tower is part of the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center (tickets are $20) on Pipeline Road, a world-renowned birding destination about 45 minutes from Panama City. It's a great way to get a bird's-eye view of the park's most colorful residents, without having to shell out the big bucks to stay at the Canopy Tower EcoLodge.

Panama is a birdwatcher's paradise. In four days, we saw 260 species, an astonishing amount and diversity of birds! The bird life is rich in the tiny tropical country because it's a land bridge for species from both North American and South America. More than 950 species have been recorded there.

If you're traveling on a tight budget, I highly recommend staying at Ivan's Bed and Breakfast in Gamboa, where we stayed for three nights for $38 per person per night. An extra $15 per person gets you a home-cooked dinner.

If you're looking for bird guides, we recommend the two we used: Mahelis Garcia of Birding Panama, and Gonzalo Horna.

Finally, we are thankful to a fellow birder we met on the trip, David Milsom who operates Ontario-based Flora and Fauna Field Tours and was extremely gracious in offering advice about identifying birds, picking out good camera and scope equipment, and becoming a better birder in general.

Violet-bellied Hummingbird at the Panama Rainforest
Discovery Center on Pipeline Road, Soberania National Park

Blue Cotinga in rainforest, view from canopy tower at Pipeline Road, Soberania National Park. This photo was digiscoped (using a camera and a scope).

Squirrel Cuckoo at Panama Rainforest Discovery Center on Pipeline Road, Soberania National Park

Crimson-backed Tanager near Orchid Gardens at Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Gamboa, Panama

Female Blue Dacnis, view from canopy tower at Pipeline Road, Soberania National Park

White-necked Jacobin at Panama Rainforest Discovery Center on Pipeline Road, Soberania National Park

Violaceous Trogon near Achiote Road, Panama

Chestnut-headed Oropendola, near Orchid Gardens at Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Slaty-tailed Trogon, Achiote Road, Panama

Blue-crowned Motmot, yard at Ivan's Bed and Breakfast, Gamboa, Panma

Long-billed Hermit at the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center on Pipeline Road, Soberania National Park

Slaty-tailed Trogon,Pipeline Road, Soberania National Park

A typical colorful house in the countryside of Panama. This one is near Achiote Road.

View of the Panama Canal at the Gatun Lock.

Paulo and our bird guides at the Rainforest Discovery Center, Soberania National Park, Panama

Our group of birdwatchers with our bird guide, Gonzalo Horna, at a roadside restaurant in Achiote.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Everglades Park Battles Vandalizing Vultures - They Prefer Fords

Everglades National Park seems to have won its battle with a gang of bald-headed vehicle vandals who have a taste for rotting flesh and windshield wipers - for now.

The vandals are black vultures, who for years have been tearing up the rubber moldings on visitors’ cars parked at the Anhinga Trail, near the park’s eastern entrance in Homestead, Fla.

With complaints mounting in the past year, park officials decided several months ago to hang two dead vultures in the parking lot near the birds’ hangout, a tactic that has worked to disperse roosting vultures in other areas.

Wildlife experts say that, while vultures like to feast on the carcasses of other animals, they don’t seem to enjoy hanging around a fallen comrade. The method of hanging dead vultures or effigies has been on the rise as the populations of black vultures and turkey vultures increase along the Eastern Seaboard, according to Eric Tillman, a wildlife biologist at the National Wildlife Research Center in Gainesville, Fla., who is assisting officials in the Everglades.

“We don’t quite understand the reason why they don’t like it,” Tillman said of the effigies. “It has to be hung from its feet and it has to move in the wind. Maybe the unnatural position helps to create a scary effect.”

Everglades officials said the dead vultures seem to have scared off a number of the birds in the colony. They recently took the effigies down. At this time of year, the vultures migrate out the park.

During the past few months, the effigies had mixed results. One morning, vultures were pecking and pooping away on a Jetta owned by Rod Gardner, 82, of Salisbury, MD, a snowbird who visits the Everglades every year to go birdwatching.

“This is the first time I’ve seen them like this in 25 years,” Gardner said of the vultures, who were jumping on his roof about ten feet from the hanging dead vulture. “They dirty up my car and they’re ugly.”

According to Everglades National Park spokeswoman Linda Friar, vultures were first observed pecking at cars in the lot in 2002, but the behavior escalated last year. The park received a legal claim for $700 in damages, seven formal complaints and a number of verbal complaints in the past year, she said.

Park officials tried, unsuccessfully, to disperse the vultures with water cannons and other measures before resorting to the effigies. In December, they strung up the two dead vultures, and posted signs warning visitors that the vultures may damage cars.

The dead vultures were gathered from nearby airports and landfills where they pose health and safety problems, according to Tony Duffiney, acting state director of the Florida Wildlife Services Program. The birds are shot with permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to conduct limited lethal control.

Tillman said it is unclear why the vultures like to chomp on rubber car parts.

“They seem to enjoy tearing things to pieces,” Tillman said. “Some people think it’s like tearing apart a carcass. As near as we can tell they are just tearing it apart, not consuming it.”

Park officials are now considering a plan to make car covers or tarps available for free to visitors, to be returned to a bin when they leave.

Park Ranger Olmedo Manduley said he has seen several vultures tear a tarp off a car and take off down the street with it.

The vultures also have discerning tastes.

“They prefer the Fords,” Manduley explained. “They don’t like the Chevys, except the GMC trucks.”

With wingspans of up to five feet and weighing about five pounds, the black vulture is a grunting, gregarious, communal bird native to the southern United States. While the scavengers tend to have a reputation for being filthy, scientists say they remove harmful bacteria and toxins from the environment. They are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It is illegal to kill one without a permit.

Tillman said vulture populations are on the rise in urban areas. He receives about 100 complaints a year from Florida home associations, towns and others trying to cope with large roosts – which can reach up to 1,000 birds. They can tear through screens and leave a trail of unwanted whitewash. And they are a growing problem near landfills and airports, with the number of airplane birdstrikes on the rise.

Everglades Park Ranger Leon Howell said the park needs to be mindful of the mission of national parks to protect and preserve animals and landscapes, and take care not to further diminish the vulture’s already unsavory reputation with the public. Unlike the park’s famous flamingoes, herons and egrets, the vulture does not grace the T-shirts, cups and posters on sale in the gift shops.