Holy smokes!

Ferguson Fire, Sierra National forest, California, 2018 Courtesy USDA Forest Service: Kari Greer, Photographer
Ferguson Fire, Sierra National forest, California, 2018
Courtesy USDA Forest Service: Kari Greer, Photographer
Holy smokes! Once again, our summer has become a smoke filled world we’re warned against breathing. I often wonder how our feathered friends are weathering the pall.

About a year ago, a mass die-off of song birds was witnessed over parts of the southwest tentatively attributed to the historic wildfires across California, Oregon and Washington, which
may have forced birds to rush their migration. But scientists do not know for sure – in part because nobody knows precisely how wildfire smoke affects birds. With increasing changes to
climate and rising temperatures, we do not have enough time to collect the data – things are changing faster than we can keep up with.

Enter eBird, a popular app for logging bird sightings. This platform, and the citizen birdwatchers who populate them, have become a critical tool for scientists trying to unravel the mysteries at the intersection of birds, wildfires and climate change. Researchers are increasingly relying on data collected by citizen scientists and birdwatchers to better understand the effects of climate change, including intensifying wildfire. The eBird app was created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology alongside the National Audubon society, to crowdsource data on the locations and numbers of bird populations globally.

A leading theory behind the south-west die-off is that widespread smoke pollution may have forced birds to start migration sooner than expected. Most of the birds seen dying were migratory. Migration had just started and they were trying to flee the smoke-filled areas and may have starved to death without an opportunity to add extra nutrients for their epic flights. Beyond the effects of smoke on migration patterns, the rise of megafires is also drawing unprecedented attention to the effects smoke may have on a bird’s delicate breathing. Birds and their lungs are certainly affected by smoke. Most of us have heard the phrase “canary in a coalmine”, which comes from the fact that birds are particularly sensitive to toxins in the air. The sensitivity could have something to do with birds’ unique respiratory system. While humans and other mammals use their diaphragm to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, birds possess a far more
efficient system, essentially inhaling and exhaling at the same time. This allows them to get enough oxygen to fuel near-constant activity and to breathe at much higher altitudes than
mammals.

To do this, birds have tube-like structures called parabronchi, similar to human alveoli in the lungs, which are covered with sacs and capillaries for gas exchange. And as in humans, smoke damage can burst those bubbles, creating less surface area for gas exchange making it more difficult to breathe.

We can all help by joining eBird and reducing our heat trapping emissions. Go to our Bridgerland Audubon website for more information.

Jack Greene for BAS and I’m wild about Utah, but not its smoke!

Credits:

Nest Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

eBird, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://ebird.org/home

Hellstern, Ron, Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Oct 8, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wildfires/

Boling, Josh, Fire, Wild About Utah, Aug 13, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/fire/

Strand, Holly, Investigating the Causes of Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Aug 15, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/investigating-the-causes-of-wildfires/

Mack, Eric, California Wildfire Smoke Could Explain Thousands Of Dead Birds In The Southwest, Forbes, https://wildaboututah.org/investigating-the-causes-of-wildfires/

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: California Gull, Courtesy and Copyright 2003 Jack Binch - All Rights Reserved
Callifornia Gull
Larus californicus
Courtesy and Copyright 2003 Jack Binch
All Rights Reserved
Hi, I am Dick Hurren from Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Utah’s state bird is is commemorated as the seagull, more accurately the the California Gull. Known in Utah for having saved the pioneers from the Mormon cricket invasion of 1848 and subsequent years, gulls hold a hallowed place in local history.

Seagull is a generic term referring to gulls of all types. Gulls we are familiar with range from the small 11-inch Bonaparte’s gull with a 32-inch wingspan to the 20-inch Herring gull with a 55-inch wingspan. They are white, grey and some have black heads. Young go through phases giving them different appearances as they mature over two to four years depending upon the species.

Many Gulls migrate to parts of Utah and some pass through in their migration to more northern regions. Ring-billed gulls are here during the fall, winter, and spring. The occasional Herring or Thayer’s gull may visit us in winter. A few black-headed Bonaparte’s gulls pass through reliably in spring and fall during migration. Upon rare occasions, we are even visited by Herrman’s, Western, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Mew, yellow-footed , Sabine’s, Iceland, and lesser black-backed gulls.

In spring, the California gulls and the much smaller and black-headed Franklin’s gulls return to nest. They migrate from southern states or the pacific coast and raise their young locally on islands in fresh and salt water.

Gulls clean up. They frequent garbage dumps, and irrigated, plowed or manure-covered fields. These carnivores eat insects, worms, crustaceans, fish and the occasional french fry in a parking lot. Opportunistic, they watch and raid unprotected nests of other birds, eating eggs and young. Sometimes flying singly, they are more often found in flocks. In flocks they defend against predators by harassment and intimidation.

Thayer’s and Herring gulls have been known to use tools. They have been seen dropping shellfish on asphalt or concrete roads to crack them open and eat the contents.

At the store, take a moment to think about our state bird. In the dump, and in waterways, gulls can become entrapped in six-pack rings. Do your part to prevent this by cutting up these plastic rings before disposing of them. Or better yet, buy cans loose or in boxes instead of rings.

For Wild About Utah, this has been Dick Hurren

This Wild About Utah episode originally broadcast in August 19, 2008, In Memory of Dick Hurren.

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: Credits

Photos: Courtesy and © copyright 2003 Jack Binch, as found on www.Utahbirds.org
Additional Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver, Wild Sanctuary, Special Collections
Text: Lyle Bingham and Richard(Dick) Hurren, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Voice: Richard(Dick) Hurren, Bridgerland Audubon Society
A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: Additional Reading:

Utah Symbols – California gull

Thatcher, Linda, Utah State Bird – Sea Gull(The California gull, Larus californicus), Utah’s State Symbols, Utah History Encyclopedia, Utah’s Online Library, Utah State Library Division, Utah Department of Heritage & Arts, https://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/u/UTAH_STATE_SYMBOLS.shtml

Bonaparte’s Gull, Larus philadelphia

Bonaparte’s gull Larus philadelphia, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0600id.html

Bonaparte’s Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bonapartes_Gull

Herring Gull, Larus argentatus

Herring gull Larus argentatus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0510id.html

Herring Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Herring_Gull

Herring Gull(Flying Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsD-K/HerringGull3.htm

California gull, Larus californicus

California gull Larus californicus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0530id.html

California Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/California_Gull

California Gull(Adults Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsA-C/CaliforniaGull.htm

California Gull(Close-up Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsA-C/CaliforniaGull2.htm

Franklin’s gull, Larus pipixcan

Franklin’s gull Larus pipixcan, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0590id.html

Franklin’s Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Franklins_Gull

Thayer’s gull, Larus thayeri
(Note: Reclassified in 2017 as Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides)

Thayer’s gull Larus thayeri, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0518id.html

Iceland Gull (Thayer’s), eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://ebird.org/species/thagul

Iceland Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Iceland_Gull

California Gull(Juveniles Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/ThayersGull2.htm

Handbook of the Birds of the World 3: 609. Lynx Edicions. Larus thayeri (TSN 176828). Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved on 10 March 2006.

Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed gull Larus delawarensis, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0540id.html

Ring-billed Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ring-billed_Gull

Mew Gull, Larus canus

Mew gull Larus canus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0550id.html

Mew Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mew_Gull

Mew gull(Front Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsL-R/MewGull.htm

Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescen

Glaucous-winged gull Larus glaucescen, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/infocenter/i0440id.html

Glaucous-winged Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Glaucous-winged_Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull(Adults Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsD-K/GlaucousWingedGull.htm

Sabine’s Gull, Xema sabini

Sabine’s gull Xema sabini, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/infocenter/i0620id.html

Sabine’s Gull(Breeding Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/SabinesGull.htm

Handbooks & References

Bridgerland Audubon Checklist of Birds, http://www.bridgerlandaudubon.org/checklist.htm

Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America ISBN 0-679-45121-8 Bull, John; Farrand, Jr., John (April 1984).

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Western Region. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN-10: 0679428518.

At Home in the Dark

At Home in the Dark: Western Screech Owl Fledgling Courtesy and Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
Western Screech Owl Fledgling
Courtesy & © Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
All year I wait for the summer evenings. All year I long for the oddity of ‘warm and dark,’ of trilling owls flickering from treetop to treetop, and for the scent of hot baked earth cooling as on a sill. Summer evenings evoke in me joy in being out of doors, living within the intact Eden which lies just below our own preconceptions, and deepening my appetite for life. Summer evenings, those dark arid cradles of Utah’s providence, have other benefits, too.

It’s in the dark that you can live in the footsteps of local literatos. We can heed the words of Utah’s Ed Abbey, that: “There’s another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision, though limited, has no sharp or definite boundary.”

It is also in the dark that we can allow our eyes a rest from glowing rectangles, and for the rest of our navigational senses to pick up slack. Our ears listen for how sound meanders in the landscape, detecting the clitter clatter of dogs on the deck, or chickens working their scratch. Our nose picks up the scent of a neighbor’s firepit to the east, and when the wind shifts the humidity from another neighbor’s evening watering to the west.

It is in the dark that we can also learn to see that we share spaces with corpuscularities and nocturalites. Those trilling owls, Western Screech Owls to be exact, who emerge from their deadstand cavities and prowl for rodenta. When one spots a human watching it, it watches back, then dances a shimmy-rumba-polka. I imagine that it’s waiting for us to communicate, too.

The dark also brings the insects galore which fill the nights making good on their pollination out of the heat of the day, playing odds with the primroses and their opening hours, and some finding the blood meal they need from undeeted legs, arms, head, feet, and neck. Friends will tell you when there’s a mosquito on your face. Good friends will smack your face for you.

Lastly, the dark gives us our stars. I often need to remind myself that it isn’t that they are out at night, but that they are just no longer obscured by the light of day. The stars are always there, but in day they are dimmed into the blue sky void, and in our city nights given mute by our love of lights which would make Lycurgus roll over in his simple, unmarked grave. That said, they are still there for us to see as we have for as long as life has existed on this earth, but only if we choose to see them. Long ago, looking up and wondering was our choice, and luckily it still is today.

So as your summer progresses and perhaps you find yourself in need of a sigh of relief from woe, I’d invite you to leave your flashlights, glowing rectangles, and worries inside. Step out of doors at dusk and stay into the evening. Hear the music and laughter of a party down the block. Smell the tapestry of worlds that is held in the wind. Feel the mosquitos live because you live. Choose to look up and see infinity in the stars. Know that the dark is not a scary place to be if you learn to see it for what it is and can be.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire. Touchstone (January 15, 1990) http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Edward-Abbey/dp/0671695886

Western Screech Owl, Overview, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Screech-Owl/overview

Western Screech Owl, Utah Birds, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm
Featured Article by Eric Huish: http://www.utahbirds.org/featarts/2004/OwlBox/OwlBox1.htm
Gallery Pictures: http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm



Bobolinks

Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Bobolink
Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Many years have passed and yet I still have vivid memories of the skylark- a joyous bird of the English countryside whose aerial song lifts one’s spirit to mingle with this buoyant beauty. Thankfully, we have our own version of the skylark whose name reflects its unforgettable song.

Washington Irving called the bobolink “the happiest bird of our spring and added that his life seems all song and sunshine”. Emily Dickinson called the bobolink “the rowdy of the meadow for its bubbly, jangling song”. It was immortalized by nineteenth-century American poet William Cullen Bryant, in a poem titled Robert of Lincoln.
Singing on the wing, the bobolinks song can be over ten seconds long with more than one hundred phrases, a remarkable feet! Their lungs are much more efficient than ours. It can store oxygen in air sacs, and as air is exhaled to produce song, the air sacs deliver fresh oxygen to the lungs.

Bobolinks migration is no less remarkable. They return from the tropics each spring, having completed one of the longest migrations of any songbird in the Americas: roughly six thousand miles. Bobolinks fly from northern Argentina to the northern US and Canada. They cross all sorts of hazardous terrain and hundreds of miles of open water. Like many birds, they rely on cues from the stars and sun and from landmarks on the earth to guide them. Additionally, they can sense the earth’s mineral magnetite, thanks to iron oxide in bristles of its nasal cavity and in tissues around the olfactory bulb and nerve.

Alarmingly, like its European cousin, bobolinks have declined in numbers on its North American breeding grounds by over 60% since 1970. It is a Species of Greatest Conservation Concern in most U.S. states and Canadian provinces in which it occurs, and is listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act in Canada. Populations are predicted to decline by 30% over the next two decades from habitat loss aggravated by a changing climate.

People have shot Bobolinks as agricultural pests, trapped and sold them as pets in Argentina, and collected them as food in Jamaica. But the main reason for the Bobolink’s decline is land-use change, especially the loss of meadows and hay fields. To improve the Bobolink’s prospects, people can maintain its breeding habitat by mowing fields once nestlings have fledged, by preserving and better managing natural prairies through prescribed burns.

The skylark is facing a stark future in Europe as well. Only 10% remains compared to 1960 numbers. Farmers are being paid to create habit for this iconic bird, perhaps something we should consider for the bobolink.

One of the few breeding populations in Cache Valley exists in an area being threatened with a proposed housing development. We are hopeful the planners will allow this struggling bird species to continue on as their planning proceeds.

Jack Greene for BAS, and I’m wild about Utah’s bobolinks!

Credits:

Nest Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Bobolink Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bobolink/overview

Bobolink, Bird of the Week: September 18, 2020, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/bird/bobolink/?gclid=CjwKCAjwrPCGBhALEiwAUl9X058HMZvoFUELlV1kLrB2bv5wMytW2sDIUqOJgD7OYkHDilr3BfqVRRoCgkoQAvD_BwE

Bobolink, Species, eBird, https://ebird.org/species/boboli/L941919

Strand, Holly, Spring Migration, Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/spring-migration/

Renfrew, R.B., K.A. Peters, J.R. Herkert, K.R. VanBeek, and T. Will. 2019. A full life cycle
conservation plan for Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service., https://partnersinflight.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/A-Full-Life-Cycle-Conservation-Plan-for-Bobolink.pdf

The Bobolink Project, A research study developed by researchers at the University of Rhode Island, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Vermont. Administered by Mass Audubon, Audubon Vermont, and New Hampshire Audubon, https://www.bobolinkproject.com/

Bobolink Habitat, Advocacy, Our Projects, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/advocacy/bobolink-habitat/