30 Sep October 2020 Yellowbill
Greetings, FAS members and friends. I hope that all of you are staying healthy and safe during these continually trying times.
I want to thank everyone who joined us for the first FAS general meeting via Zoom and helped to make it the success that it was. Dr. Joel Slade offered a wonderful presentation on his research and Dr. Tricia Van Laar offered gave us an enthralling talk about the birds of the Fresno State campus. It was a great evening all around, and we are planning for some more exciting general meetings (via Zoom, of course) later in the fall. Stay tuned for that!
It has not yet been determined how FAS will proceed with field trips for Fall 2020, or whether the Lost Lake CBC will still be held. We are certainly hoping we can make these things happen with some strict social distancing measures in place, but we have to prioritize the safety of the public. We are continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation in Fresno County, and we will certainly keep all of you updated on the decisions made.
If you are not doing so already, please follow us on social media (Facebook and Instagram) for fun and educational content, such as our Birding by Ear series, photographs of local birds with informative captions, and information on local birding opportunities. We also want to let you know that we are going to be creating a YouTube channel with plenty of entertaining and informative material. We will be sure to let you know when that is launched!
There is yet another opportunity to engage with Fresno Audubon, and that is to join our board. We are always seeking new voices and perspectives. It is a great way to become more involved with FAS and learn about what it is we do, and it does not require a significant time commitment. Board meetings are held the last Sunday of every month from noon until approximately 2:00 PM. There is zero cost to join the board! If you are interested, please feel free to reach to me at email@example.com.
To conclude this message on an upbeat note, I’d like to share with you a few pictures of some local birds. In order, they are a Long-billed Dowitcher, a juvenile Western Sandpiper, and a Savannah Sparrow. The Long-billed Dowitcher and the Western Sandpiper were both photographed at the Fresno-Clovis Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility, and the Savannah Sparrow was photographed along Road 208 (between Highway 41 and Road 211); both of these are excellent destinations that allow for safe, and very socially-distanced birding opportunities.
Please take care of yourselves!
Membership with Fresno Audubon Society is available for students, for individuals or for families. We also offer a lifetime membership. Your dues will help us pay for our meeting room rental, insurance for field trips and citizen science, communications and other costs of doing business. Please see our annual report for more information how we spend dues money.
Fresno Audubon society membership levels:
$1000 Golden Eagle (Life)
Our membership year runs from 1 September to 31 August the following year. To join Fresno Audubon Society or to renew your membership, please visit our website here.
There will be no October General Meeting
There will be no general member meeting in October, but we will have a great presentation on local birds and eBird in November, presented by Jeff Davis. Details of that meeting will appear in the November issue of The Yellowbill blog.
All field trips are still on hold until the California Public Health Officer lifts the restriction against public gatherings. These restrictions were put in place on 19 March 2020 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. You can read about them here. The board has decided to not restart gatherings as long as Fresno County continues to be a hotspot of COVID-19 infections.
While our organized trips are canceled, we would like to offer the following suggestions for birding on your own. Birding alone or with a household member is permitted as a means of exercise as long as a six-foot separation from others is maintained (see for example Fresno City Emergency Order 2020-13). Many public parks and other areas are now closed, but these areas below remain open. Be sure to follow any parking restrictions when birding these areas.
Places to bird during social distancing within a half hour drive of Fresno
Jensen River Ranch https://goo.gl/maps/qorJF8uGUHrNxgFj8
Riverbottom Park https://goo.gl/maps/sUsBGxJ8v31YFha48
River West https://goo.gl/maps/bNmBDPMiqrtKofJq9
Big Dry Creek Reservoir grasslands https://goo.gl/maps/dYJzn47CPGwaLrt58
Enterprise Canal, Clovis https://goo.gl/maps/5oXTKD6r4eqi27Yv7
Cotton Wood Park, Clovis https://goo.gl/maps/1Sqs4aXkyBbw2sod7
Wildwood Native Park and trail to Sycamore Island https:goo.gl/maps/y3VmVhchMA6kH2t18
Hildreth (210) Rd loop https://goo.gl/maps/JJk5jtyV8FNTBKMp8
How Do California’s Megafires Impact Birds?
by Andrea Jones, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon California, and Joanna Wu, Avian Ecologist at National Audubon Society
Megafire: The new normal
“We’re having to confront the reality that large wildfires, and the destruction that comes with them, are going to be a bigger part of our future here in California,” says Andrea Jones, Audubon California’s Director of Bird Conservation.
Hers is not a controversial opinion. This year is already California’s worst year on record with regard to wildfires – beating out the past several years, which few thought we would ever top. More than a million acres burned across the state in 2017. This year, according to CalFire, as of August 30th, almost 3.1 million acres have burned, toppling previous years and a 5-year average of 310,000 acres. And we are not even close to done with fire season – there are still several months to go.
California is in uncharted territory with its fires, which are becoming more numerous, more frequent, more widespread, and more intense, with many started by human causes. These megafires are having severe impacts on communities throughout California and the West, and pose a new stressor to California’s birds, which are already threatened by habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and other factors.
It is important to note here that wildfires are a natural and healthy part of California’s forest, shrubland, woodland, and grassland ecosystems. Fires cycle nutrients and allow natural areas to regenerate properly. Giant sequoias need fire to crack their seed cones and germinate, and many large redwoods remain standing after the Santa Cruz fires.
Birds and other wildlife have adapted to a natural fire regime over millenia, and their populations will not be negatively affected by them under normal circumstances; in fact, studies show that forests with a diversity of burns (i.e., low, mixed, and high severity) may have higher numbers of bird species after a burn. Birds such as the Black-backed Woodpecker, which are found in California’s Sierra forests, are known to move into severely burned areas to forage on dead trees. Fires can create snags (dead standing trees) that the California-endangered Great Gray Owl, Spotted Owl, and other large birds nest in.
Experts have pointed to a myriad of reasons for the increased number and destructiveness of California wildfires: higher temperatures and prolonged drought are leading to greater amounts of dry, fire-prone forests and grassland. All it takes is a spark, which can come in the form of lightning as we saw in August in Northern California, a downed electric cable, a campfire, or other sources. The trend has all kinds of ramifications for residents, who are now confronting regular threats to property, if not their lives, from wildfires.
Impact of Fires on Birds
Though it is thought that most birds can escape from areas of dense smoke, according to Joanna Wu, Avian Ecologist at National Audubon Society, wildfires affect birds in a number of ways, many of which aren’t immediately apparent. Research finds that bird lungs may be more susceptible to respiratory distress from smoke, they are generally less active, and they may experience a decline in reproduction during smoke events. Whether the current layer of smoke blanketing much of California and the West is impacting birds ability to migrate or hunt for food is not yet understood, explains Wu.
“At this time of year, when birds have fledged and can fly away, the effect on birds from the fires isn’t immediately obvious but may be present in ways we don’t yet understand” Jones says. “There could be long-term implications to some bird populations.” In New Mexico, biologists have recent witnessed large numbers of dead migratory songbirds and have speculated the cause may be related to fires in the West, leaving birds in a weakened condition for migration.
Most birds, of course, are highly mobile. Even as most birds fly out of forests, shrublands, and grasslands that are aflame, that movement is a stressor as they must then compete with resident birds for limited food and water in new habitat areas. And with fires now burning through huge expanses, habitat refuges may be limited.
Jones noted that the fires are likely having an impact on birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway, as it is migration season for songbirds moving from their forested breeding grounds through California to points south.
“Right now, we are in songbird migration season, so we’re going to be seeing a lot of birds coming south, looking for their usual resting spots, particularly along river corridors, in these burn areas,” she says. “When they find these areas burned, they’ll probably continue on their way in search of reliable habitat, or they’ll just try to make it further south without an important stop to rest and refuel.”
Bird migration, Jones notes, is a series of stops, each of which are vital to a bird’s survival. If we remove these links in the chain, birds will have difficulty completing their journeys.
How to Help Birds During Wildfire
Audubon recommends people should put out water sources, such as a bird bath, and bird seed or nectar for hummingbirds during this critical time. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from people that they never saw a species of bird at their feeders until there was a big fire nearby,” Jones says. “These birds migrating through are going to need some help.”
As we begin to approach the rainy season, it’s a good time to plan for planting plants in backyards and gardens that are native to California, as these are better adapted to drought and fire. Audubon’s Plants for Birds database (https://www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds) can help people find out what plants are appropriate for their area.
Effects of Wildfire on Habitat
Sandy DeSimone is the director of research and education at Audubon’s Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Orange County, and she has studied closely the effects of fire on habitat in Southern California.
“It’s always important to understand that fire is a natural part of almost every California ecosystem, and in many ways is important to its health,” says DeSimone.
DeSimone says that the intense, frequent fires that California has seen in recent years are not normal, and sometimes not healthy for habitat.
“There is research that shows that fires that return after five years or less can change habitat type,” she says. “Studies have shown how frequent fires have converted shrubland landscape into non-native annual grassland. A change to a less supportive habitat could spell a lot of trouble for birds and other wildlife.”
Even in areas where habitat does not convert, it will take a few years for complex layers of habitat to rebuild in California’s burned areas, and as noted above in some cases, what returns may not be what was there before.
“Nesting habitat will be at a premium in the parts of the state that have burned in recent years and this could impact an entire generation of birds in some areas if they are unable to find suitable habitat,” note Jones.
There is widespread agreement that California and other states in the West must improve their forest management efforts to reduce the risks of wildfire. Audubon agrees that the State of California must implement an ambitious program to make the state safer and more fire resilient, but strongly disagrees that State or Federal governments must relax environmental laws or regulations to accomplish these goals.
“The wildfire threats we’re facing today are the result of over a century of poor landscape management in the state, an increase in human development in fire-prone areas, and increasing risks due to climate change.,” says Mike Lynes, Audubon California’s director of public policy. “To reduce risks to people, wildlife, and our economy, the State of California, communities, and stakeholders have to align to better manage our landscapes.
This will require significant public and incentives to private landowners and industry, but it will protect birds, communities, and other wildlife at the same time. We should also be listening to and learning from experienced managers of our ecological resources, including the Indigenous People of California who managed these lands and fire for millennia.”
by Jeff Davis
Including reports for the period of
August 16, 2020 to September 15, 2020
The early Greater White-fronted Goose at Fresno WTP lingered there at least through September 10 (ph. m.ob.).
The southward shorebird migration continued, with rare visits by a Marbled Godwit
at Fresno WTP August 25 (LK); single Baird’s Sandpipers
at Fresno WTP August 17 (ph. RS), August 18 (ph. GW), August 21 (ph. GW, Ph. RS), and two there August 31 (ph. GF), plus two more at Madera WTP September 13 (ph. GW); and a Pectoral Sandpiper
at Madera WTP September 9 (ph. GW), two there September 13 (ph. GW) and September 14 (JR), and another at Fancher Creek Basin September 15 (JL).
The highlight of the period, though barely visible through the thick wildfire smoke, was a Neotropic Cormorant
at Fancher Creek Basin September 12 (EE, ph. KC, ph. m.ob.). This observation established the first record for Fresno County and one of only a few records for the Central Valley. Remarkably, two birds were observed there September 16 (ph. SS) and September 17 (ph. TK), evidently and adult and an immature. At least one of those was present through the end of the period (m.ob.).
Rare landbirds included a Bank Swallow
at Fresno WTP August 21 (GW), a juvenile Purple Martin
at Fancher Creek Basin September 12 (ph. GW, ph. LH, m.ob.) through September 15 (JL), which added to the unusual number of records of this species in our area this year, and Madera County’s fifth American Redstart
at Madera Equalization Reservoir August 23 (GW).
Cited Observers: Kaia Colestock, Elias Elias, George Folsom, Lynn Hemink, Diane Highbaugh, Logan Kahle, Tony Kurz, John Luther, John Robinson, Rick Saxton, Steve Summers, Gary Woods. WTP = Wastewater Treatment plant, ph. = photographed by.
If you make an interesting observation, we’d love to hear about it. We are especially interested in birds listed as casual or rare on the Fresno Audubon checklist and those found out of season, out of normal habitat, or in unusually large numbers. Please submit reports to Jeff Davis (559-246-3272, firstname.lastname@example.org), the Fresno County Birders e-mail list, or eBird.
Birds in the News
Links to Recent Articles on Birds
Women have disrupted research on bird song, and their findings show how diversity can improve all fields of science
Americans often idealize scientists as unbiased, objective observers. But scientists are affected by conscious and unconscious biases, just as people in other fields are. Studies of birds’ vocal behavior clearly show how research approaches can be affected by the people who do the work. Read more…
The Mysterious Life of Birds Who Never Come Down
Swifts spend all their time in the sky. What can their journeys tell us about the future? Read more…
Why Birds Survived, and Dinosaurs Went Extinct, After an Asteroid Hit Earth
Birds are the only dinosaurs left. That might seem strange. A pigeon or a penguin doesn’t look much like a Tyrannosaurus. But the connection is still there, all the way down to the bone. About 150 million years ago, in the Jurassic, the first birds evolved from small, feathery, raptor-like dinosaurs, becoming another branch on the dinosaur family tree. For more than 80 million years, birds of all sorts flourished, from loon-like swimmers with teeth to beaked birds that carried streamer-like feathers as they flew. Read more…
Newfound brain structure explains why some birds are so smart—and maybe even self-aware
Never before has “bird brain” been such a compliment: In recent years, birds have been found to make tools, understand abstract concepts, and even recognize paintings by Monet and Picasso. But their lack of a neocortex—the area of the mammalian brain where working memory, planning, and problem solving happen—has long puzzled scientists. Now, researchers have found a previously unknown arrangement of microcircuits in the avian brain that may be analogous to the mammalian neocortex. And in a separate study, other researchers have linked this same region to conscious thought. Read more…
High-frequency hearing in a hummingbird
Some hummingbirds produce unique high-frequency vocalizations. It remains unknown whether these hummingbirds can hear these sounds, which are produced at frequencies beyond the range at which most birds can hear. Here, we show behavioral and neural evidence of high-frequency hearing in a hummingbird, the Ecuadorian Hillstar (Oreotrochilus chimborazo). In the field, hummingbirds responded to playback of high-frequency song with changes in body posture and approaching behavior. We assessed neural activation by inducing ZENK expression in the brain auditory areas in response to the high-frequency song. We found higher ZENK expression in the auditory regions of hummingbirds exposed to the high-frequency song compared to controls, while no difference was observed in the hippocampus between groups. The behavioral and neural responses show that this hummingbird can hear sounds at high frequencies. This is the first evidence of the use of high-frequency vocalizations and high-frequency hearing in conspecific communication in a bird. Read more…
These Woodpeckers’ Bloody Wars Draw Crowds
Acorn woodpeckers will fight to the death to control the finest habitat, and new research finds up to 30 non-combatants will pull up a branch to watch. Read more…
Researchers find you can scare away gulls by staring at them
Good news for those of us pestered by pesky gulls – it could be possible to scare them off, by giving them a hard stare. Read more…
High-Tech Tracking Reveals ‘Whole New Secret World of Birds’
A study of Kirtland’s warblers found that some continue exploring long distances even after they reach their breeding grounds. Read more…
Parrots that Play the Probabilities: Evidence of Domain-General Intelligence in Kea
The start of every field season with the kea is much the same: the first time our research group enters the aviary, the birds will crowd around us and call excitedly. I believe it’s their way of saying “we missed you”!
We work with a captive population of these unique alpine parrots at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, New Zealand. Kea are special for several reasons: they are highly neophilic – meaning they love exploring new objects –, extremely social, truly omnivorous, and surprisingly smart. Read more…
Fresno Audubon members have been submitting some really terrific photographs to this column. If you would like to add yours to the mix, please send your photo in jpeg format to email@example.com with a brief description, where the photo was taken and how you want the photo credit to read. Birds may be from anywhere. Limited space may restrict publication to a later issue. We will also showcase your photos on our social media.