Tuesday, February 23, 2010

a birder blind spot

Back in January when the sage thrasher was hanging out at Salisbury Beach State Reservation a birder suggested bringing bittersweet and winterberry to start a feeding area for it to lure it out and make it easier to see. Ignoring the ethics of luring the bird out into the open for birder convenience for now, what about the ethics of spreading bittersweet? This seems like a blind spot in the birding community.

The most common species of bittersweet in Massachusetts is the invasive Asiatic bittersweet (C. orbiculatus), distinguishable from native bittersweet (C. scandens) by the distribution of the berries along the stems. Birds do like it, that's for sure. Robins in particular eat a lot of it and are very instrumental in spreading it. I've even seen postings to massbird.org over the years opposing efforts to remove Asiatic bittersweet from wildlife refuges because it's an important winter food for American robins.

Recently Birds and Blooms posted a video on how to make a wreath featuring bittersweet to attract birds. The video clearly shows Asiatic bittersweet. Hanging a tantalizing wreath full of Asiatic bittersweet in your yard will definitely attract birds. However, it will also spread bittersweet all over your yard, your neighbors' yards, and anywhere else those birds go after they've eaten the berries.

Bittersweet overruns other plants quickly and destructively. A bittersweet invasion killed my raspberry bushes and a couple of junipers. It totally strangled them. It even broke a fencepost. After trying various techniques to get rid of the bittersweet, I ended up having the yard dug up and a stone patio put in (with two small flowerbeds on the sides). Of course my tiny condo yard doesn't amount to anything compared with the destruction bittersweet would do in a coastal environment like Salisbury Beach. Good-bye native vegetation.

However, birders continue to advocate spreading Asiatic bittersweet. Is this from lack of awareness or is it from a mindset that puts our need to see birds ahead of conservation of the whole habitat?

Friday, February 19, 2010

more on poisoning crows

The Eastham edition of the Cape Codder has a more detailed article on the plans for poisoning crows to protect piping plovers at the Cape Cod National Seashore. It does mention that it takes three days for the crows to die but doesn't address the issue of where the dead crows will end up. An editorial in the the Truro/Provincetown edition today raises that issue. They mention the gull-poisoning fiasco that happened in 1997.

The way the Cape Code National Seashore is pitching the crow poisoning bothers me a little. They're not just concerned about the survival rate of the piping plovers. They are concerned about beach access. They are promoting this as a way to keep the beach closure from extending into late July or August because of second clutches. If the crows get the first egg or eggs, the pair will lay another clutch. The same thing happens if a storm washes over the first clutch, some other predator gets the first clutch, or there's simply an unusually high tide. I'm afraid the biologists are overselling the idea that poisoning the crows will get the beach open earlier.

I wish there were a simple answer, but there isn't.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Massachusetts' piping plover population takes a dive

The numbers for 2009 are in.

Here in Massachusetts, the cutest things on the planet had kind of a low survival rate in 2009: State's piping plover population takes a dive | CapeCodOnline.com

Meanwhile, in North Carolina at Cape Lookout National Seashore they had a pretty good fledging rate in '09 even though the number of nests was down.

In other news, the Cape Cod National Seashore is planning to poison crows to protect the piping plovers this season. Crows are a major predator on piping plovers -- eggs, chicks, and even adults -- so I can sort of see why the biologists would resort to this. However, I remember several years ago when they poisoned the gulls at Monomoy (also on Cape Cod for those readers unfamiliar with Massachusetts) and had gulls dropping dead in the streets of the nearby resort towns. That was extremely unpopular so they reverted to shooting the gulls instead.

I'm not sure how they would avoid having crows dropping dead in the streets given that the poison takes from 12 to 72 hours. I wish there were some other way to deal with it, but predator exclosures have not worked for protection from crows. The crows are smart and figure out there's prey where the exclosures are.

Monday, February 8, 2010

talk on high mercury levels in saltmarsh sparrows

PRNWR's own Unit 11 is giving a talk on high mercury levels in saltmarsh sparrows on the refuge at the Joppa Flats Mass Audubon education center Wednesday night at 7:30. Check it out.