HOUSTON AUDUBON BEAK OF THE WEEK: Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) Family: Accipitridae Broad-winged Hawks are small, compact raptors with chunky bodies and large heads. In flight, their broad wings come to a distinct point. The tail is short and square with black-and-white bands. Their call is a piercing, two-parted whistle.  One of the greatest spectacles of migration is a swirling flock of Broad-winged Hawks on their way to South America. Also known as “kettles,” flocks can contain thousands of circling birds that evoke a vast cauldron being stirred with an invisible spoon. Witness the marvel of migration in person by visiting the Smith Point Hawk Watch on the Bolivar Peninsula. Sponsored by the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, counters and volunteers record the number of hawks observed from Aug 1- Nov 15. Broad-winged Hawk migration makes up 70% of the birds counted. During the peak of Broad-winged Hawk migration on the day of or the day after a cold front, it is not unusual for more than 10,000 raptors to pass by the tower. 
Learn more about the watch by visiting their blog: 
http://smithpointhawkwatch.wordpress.com/
(via: Houston Audubon)

HOUSTON AUDUBON BEAK OF THE WEEK:

Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

Family: Accipitridae

Broad-winged Hawks are small, compact raptors with chunky bodies and large heads. In flight, their broad wings come to a distinct point. The tail is short and square with black-and-white bands. Their call is a piercing, two-parted whistle.

One of the greatest spectacles of migration is a swirling flock of Broad-winged Hawks on their way to South America. Also known as “kettles,” flocks can contain thousands of circling birds that evoke a vast cauldron being stirred with an invisible spoon.

Witness the marvel of migration in person by visiting the Smith Point Hawk Watch on the Bolivar Peninsula. Sponsored by the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, counters and volunteers record the number of hawks observed from Aug 1- Nov 15. Broad-winged Hawk migration makes up 70% of the birds counted. During the peak of Broad-winged Hawk migration on the day of or the day after a cold front, it is not unusual for more than 10,000 raptors to pass by the tower.

Learn more about the watch by visiting their blog:

http://smithpointhawkwatch.wordpress.com/

(via: Houston Audubon)

Whooping Crane Conservation News:
Four endangered whooping crane chicks raised in captivity began their integration into the wild Saturday as part of the continuing effort to increase the wild population of this species. The cranes, hatched and raised by their parents at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, were released on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. At one point in the past, researchers believe the Whooping crane population dropped to fewer than two-dozen birds. Today the population is estimated to be approximately 425 in the wild, with another 125 in captivity. If you’d like to read more about the chicks’ release, follow this link: 
Whooping Crane ReleasePhoto by: Kara Zwickey, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
(via: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS))

Whooping Crane Conservation News:

Four endangered whooping crane chicks raised in captivity began their integration into the wild Saturday as part of the continuing effort to increase the wild population of this species.

The cranes, hatched and raised by their parents at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, were released on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

At one point in the past, researchers believe the Whooping crane population dropped to fewer than two-dozen birds. Today the population is estimated to be approximately 425 in the wild, with another 125 in captivity.

If you’d like to read more about the chicks’ release, follow this link:

Whooping Crane Release

Photo by: Kara Zwickey, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

(via: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS))

What Can Humans Do to Save the Pacific Northwest’s Iconic Salmon?
The fish is facing an upstream struggle to survive. Can human ingenuity find a solution?
by Priscilla Long
Wild Pacific salmon are delicious to eat. But they mean more than a “tasty morsel.” Wild salmon and steelhead are iconic of wildlife, of indigenous Northwest lifestyles, of the streams they spawn in, of the ocean they spend half their lives in. Wild Pacific salmon stand for the Pacific Northwest.

They also stand for our present ecological emergency, what scientists term the Sixth Great Extinction, caused by global warming, invasive species and habitat degradation.

In the Pacific Northwest, 19 populations of wild salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. On the Skagit River these include chinook and steelhead. These are, of course, extant runs. Salmon have already gone extinct in 40 percent of their historical range…

(read more: Smithsonian Magazine)
photo: Chinook Salmon, by Elaine Thompson/AP Images

What Can Humans Do to Save the Pacific Northwest’s Iconic Salmon?

The fish is facing an upstream struggle to survive. Can human ingenuity find a solution?

by Priscilla Long

Wild Pacific salmon are delicious to eat. But they mean more than a “tasty morsel.” Wild salmon and steelhead are iconic of wildlife, of indigenous Northwest lifestyles, of the streams they spawn in, of the ocean they spend half their lives in. Wild Pacific salmon stand for the Pacific Northwest.
They also stand for our present ecological emergency, what scientists term the Sixth Great Extinction, caused by global warming, invasive species and habitat degradation.
In the Pacific Northwest, 19 populations of wild salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. On the Skagit River these include chinook and steelhead. These are, of course, extant runs. Salmon have already gone extinct in 40 percent of their historical range…

(read more: Smithsonian Magazine)

photo: Chinook Salmon, by Elaine Thompson/AP Images

Brant (Branta bernicla)
The Brant is the closest North American relative to the Canada Goose (excepting the recently-split Cackling Goose, a smaller version of the Canada). They also fly in lines, though theirs are not the tight, organized Vs of Canada Geese, but rather tend to be strung out. 
Brants breed in the high arctic, along the coasts of Alaska, the Canadian territories, and the northern Canadian islands. They have very narrow and specific migration routes between there and their wintering grounds along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the US, and are rarely seen far inland. 
The Atlantic birds breed in the eastern arctic and have pale bellies while Pacific birds are western breeders and have dark bellies. Once these were considered separate species, but are now treated as subspecies. An intermediate form also occurs, with views alternatively that they represent a third subspecies, or they are the result of hybridization between the first two. 
Brants’ winter diet consists primarily of eel grass, though in recent decades they’ve started foraging in agricultural fields just inland of the coast, possibly a learned behavior from other geese.photo by Tom Talbott (tbtalbottjr) on Flickr
(via: Peterson Field Guides)

Brant (Branta bernicla)

The Brant is the closest North American relative to the Canada Goose (excepting the recently-split Cackling Goose, a smaller version of the Canada). They also fly in lines, though theirs are not the tight, organized Vs of Canada Geese, but rather tend to be strung out.

Brants breed in the high arctic, along the coasts of Alaska, the Canadian territories, and the northern Canadian islands. They have very narrow and specific migration routes between there and their wintering grounds along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the US, and are rarely seen far inland.

The Atlantic birds breed in the eastern arctic and have pale bellies while Pacific birds are western breeders and have dark bellies. Once these were considered separate species, but are now treated as subspecies. An intermediate form also occurs, with views alternatively that they represent a third subspecies, or they are the result of hybridization between the first two.

Brants’ winter diet consists primarily of eel grass, though in recent decades they’ve started foraging in agricultural fields just inland of the coast, possibly a learned behavior from other geese.

photo by Tom Talbott (tbtalbottjr) on Flickr

(via: Peterson Field Guides)

Just Like Finding Nemo: Clownfish Do Make Epic Journeys
by Andy Coghlan
Clownfish are a group of fish that live in the tendrils of sea anemones. The Oman anemonefish (Amphiprion omanensis) is a clownfish, and is only found in the Arabian Sea off Oman, in two separate populations 400 kilometres apart: off the province of Ash Sharqiyah in the north and Dhofar in the south.
Steve Simpson of the University of Exeter, UK, and his colleagues captured 136 clownfish from the northern group and 260 from the southern clan and took harmless genetic samples. They found that 14 fish in the south – 5.4 per cent of the total – had migrated from the north. One fish in the north had migrated from the south.
The migrants had only recently been larvae, and must have arrived following that year’s spawning. In the film, an adult clownfish travels thousands of kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef to Sydney to find his son, says Simpson. “But that’s not what we found. It’s the larvae that move.”…
(read more: New Scientist)
photograph by Tane Sinclair-Taylor

Just Like Finding Nemo: Clownfish Do Make Epic Journeys

by Andy Coghlan

Clownfish are a group of fish that live in the tendrils of sea anemones. The Oman anemonefish (Amphiprion omanensis) is a clownfish, and is only found in the Arabian Sea off Oman, in two separate populations 400 kilometres apart: off the province of Ash Sharqiyah in the north and Dhofar in the south.

Steve Simpson of the University of Exeter, UK, and his colleagues captured 136 clownfish from the northern group and 260 from the southern clan and took harmless genetic samples. They found that 14 fish in the south – 5.4 per cent of the total – had migrated from the north. One fish in the north had migrated from the south.

The migrants had only recently been larvae, and must have arrived following that year’s spawning. In the film, an adult clownfish travels thousands of kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef to Sydney to find his son, says Simpson. “But that’s not what we found. It’s the larvae that move.”…

(read more: New Scientist)

photograph by Tane Sinclair-Taylor

ABC Bird of the Week:  Black Rail

The tiny, red-eyed Black Rail is only the size of a sparrow and is the smallest rail in North America. Like its South American relative, the Junin Rail, it is as elusive as a mouse, skulking and scurrying under the cover of dense marsh vegetation and rarely taking flight.

Despite their small size, Black Rails are fiercely territorial and call loudly and frequently during the mating season, a distinctive three-noted “kickee-doo.”

The Black Rail population has been declining steeply over the last 10-20 years, likely due to increasing development in coastal areas, which has caused habitat loss and degradation of suitable breeding areas…

(read more: American Bird Conservancy)

photos: Peter LaTourette and david Seibel

ABC Bird of the Week:  Swainson’s Hawk
This handsome western buteo, which occurs in both light and dark morphs (color variations), was named for British naturalist William Swainson. Some of its folk names—“grasshopper hawk” or “locust hawk”—reflect this bird’s tastes in prey. 
Starting in late August, nearly the entire population of Swainson’s Hawks migrates south to Argentina and Brazil in huge “kettles” or flocks. Over 800,000 Swainson’s Hawks can pass by single hawk-watching sites in Veracruz, Mexico, in a single fall day.
The species’ migration is a round trip of more than 12,000 miles—the longest of any North American raptor.
In the 1990s, Swainson’s Hawks showed an alarming decline in the western U.S., which was traced to heavy mortality on their wintering grounds. An estimated 35,000 birds had died in Argentina in one season alone, carpeting the ground with dead birds in some places…
(read more: American Bird Conservatory)
photograph by Ian Maton

ABC Bird of the Week:  Swainson’s Hawk

This handsome western buteo, which occurs in both light and dark morphs (color variations), was named for British naturalist William Swainson. Some of its folk names—“grasshopper hawk” or “locust hawk”—reflect this bird’s tastes in prey.

Starting in late August, nearly the entire population of Swainson’s Hawks migrates south to Argentina and Brazil in huge “kettles” or flocks. Over 800,000 Swainson’s Hawks can pass by single hawk-watching sites in Veracruz, Mexico, in a single fall day.

The species’ migration is a round trip of more than 12,000 miles—the longest of any North American raptor.

In the 1990s, Swainson’s Hawks showed an alarming decline in the western U.S., which was traced to heavy mortality on their wintering grounds. An estimated 35,000 birds had died in Argentina in one season alone, carpeting the ground with dead birds in some places…

(read more: American Bird Conservatory)

photograph by Ian Maton

Brant (Branta bernicla)
Brant are small, dark geese with large wings that give them their characteristic strong flight. They often nest in loose colonies in arctic North America and Russia using coastal tundra, islands, deltas, lakes, and sandy areas among puddles and shallows and vegetated uplands. 
To avoid predation, they build nests on small offshore islands, in small ponds or on gravel spits. Brant winter along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja California and mainland Mexico, and along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina, primarily along lagoons and estuaries and on shallow bays.
Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
(via: USFWS_Migratory Birds)

Brant (Branta bernicla)

Brant are small, dark geese with large wings that give them their characteristic strong flight. They often nest in loose colonies in arctic North America and Russia using coastal tundra, islands, deltas, lakes, and sandy areas among puddles and shallows and vegetated uplands.

To avoid predation, they build nests on small offshore islands, in small ponds or on gravel spits. Brant winter along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja California and mainland Mexico, and along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina, primarily along lagoons and estuaries and on shallow bays.

Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

(via: USFWS_Migratory Birds)

Path of the Pronghorn

Since 2003, Wildlife Conservation Society conservation scientists have been involved in a long-term study of the Path of the Pronghorn, an age-old migration route that connects summer range in Grand Teton National Park with winter range far to the south in the western Wyoming’s Green River Valley. The Path is:

One of the longest overland mammal migrations in North America, and the longest left in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The only remaining pronghorn migration route to and from Grand Teton National Park.

More than 100 miles long, but at its narrowest, less than 150 yards wide.
More than 90% on federal lands.

(via: Wildlife Conservation Society)

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

Avocets are the most numerous species of shorebird on the Bolivar Peninsula of Texas, in the winter when you may find over 10,000 on Bolivar Flats. Avocets use their distinctive upturned bill to catch small fish and invertebrates like shrimp. Their bill is very sensitive so they are able to feed day or night.

Avocets are black and white during the winter and have a rusty neck and head during the nesting season. They nest on small islands or boggy shorelines in shallow lakes through out the west. A few non breeders summer on the Texas coast and the large number of wintering birds return in September and October and stay until late April.

photos: top - male; bttm - female  (by Greg Lavaty)

(via: Houston Audubon)

GOOD NEWS for Endangered Birds:

Thirty-two whooping cranes fledged on Wood Buffalo NP

Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP - Canada) officials reported today that 32 whooping crane chicks were observed during this year’s Whooping Crane Fledging Survey. Wood Buffalo personnel took to the skies during August 9-12, 2014 and completed their annual survey.  During the 4 days the team counted 32 fledged young whooping cranes.

WBNP officials reported that a total of 202 whoopers were counted, including the fledgling and nesting pairs.  Fledglings are birds that have reached an age where they can fly. The 32 fledglings were found in 30 family groups: 28 families with one chick and two families with two chicks. In addition to the family groups, the surveyors observed 6 groups of three whooping cranes, 43 groups of two, and 6 individual cranes…

(read more: Friends of Wild Whoopers)

photos: John McKinnon and Jane Peterson / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park

Houston Audubon:  Sanderling (Calidris alba)

Sanderlings are often seen on peninsula beaches. They are regularly found in small flocks running back and forth on the beach, picking through sargassum or probing for tiny prey in the wet sand left by receding waves. When not feeding they can be sleeping high on the beach in the dry sand.

Sanderlings are extreme long-distance migrants breeding only on High Arctic tundra. They are now returning to our beaches where many spend the winter. What a change for them to leave the chilly Arctic and arrive on the peninsula in August. We usually have some non-breeding Sanderlings on our beaches in the summer also.

Photographs by Greg Lavaty

(via: Houston Audubon)

Science and Conservation Groups Seek Endangered Status for the Monarch Butterfly
This morning (8/27/14), the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation joined the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety (co-lead petitioners) and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower to file a legal request with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the monarch butterfly.  The number of monarchs has declined by more than 90 percent in less than two decades. The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded, a drop that Lincoln Brower describes as “a deadly free fall.”  During the same period it is estimated that these butterflies have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat—an area about the size of Texas—including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds…
(read more: The Xerces Society)

Science and Conservation Groups Seek Endangered Status for the Monarch Butterfly

This morning (8/27/14), the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation joined the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety (co-lead petitioners) and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower to file a legal request with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the monarch butterfly.

The number of monarchs has declined by more than 90 percent in less than two decades. The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded, a drop that Lincoln Brower describes as “a deadly free fall.”

During the same period it is estimated that these butterflies have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat—an area about the size of Texas—including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds…

(read more: The Xerces Society)