Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Lady Whipbirds Sing With An Accent

From The Discovery Channel: A Scotsman with a heavy brogue may speak the same language as a Texas cowboy, but each has a distinct accent; now researchers have discovered that female whipbirds in Australia sing the same basic songs, but with regional accents.

Female birds in general rarely sing, so that find itself is unusual. The determination is doubly noteworthy because the scientists observed that the males of this species, Psophodes olivaceus, sing with no accent whatsoever.

Mennill and his colleague Amy Rogers measured eastern whipbird recordings from 16 different populations along the east coast of Australia. For each of the 112 birds that they recorded, they measured the song's number of syllables, the length of the first syllable, the highest and lowest frequency of the last syllable, the time between these frequency extremes and other characteristics.

The vast majority of female recordings showed variations on each of these criteria, but male songs were all virtually identical.

In terms of accents, he said that geographical variations, or dialects, are found in other songbirds, whales, seals and primates.

Findings were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Avian Biology.

*Female 1

Field Trip to Hughes Hollow

We had a bright, clear day, if a chilly one, for DC Audubon’s annual “First day of Spring (one day early)” field trip to Hughes Hollow on Sunday, March 19. Fourteen participants met leader Paul DeAnna to visit this birdy wetland, located just off the western end of River Road in Montgomery County. Part of the larger McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area, which extends for several miles between the Potomac River and River Road, Hughes Hollow is a complex mosaic of open water, swamp, woods, hedgerows and open fields in various stages of succession. Such varied habitat offers fine birding in any month of the year, but I think the area really comes into its own in early Spring, when breeding birds and early migrants are just starting to drop in, but before most wintering species have returned North....

Read More

Friday, March 17, 2006

Chimney Swifts are Coming!

I encourage you to check out this web site reported below and to report any Chimney Swifts you see this spring. Your report might be the first report of swifts for the area. Local reports have noted Tree Swallows are moving through now. I look forward to the electrical cheery chirps of my insect eating friends.

Since Chimney Swifts thrive in urban areas, the DC Metropolitan area is a prime location to see them. Keep your ears and eyes altert for them.

The first Chimney Swifts of 2006 have been spotted on the Gulf Coast. Once again this year we will be plotting the swifts' movements northward over the next few months. Please let us know when you see the first ones in your area. The results will be posted on our web site at:


You can help us get the word our by passing this message along to any groups or organizations who might want to contribute.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Best Regards,
Paul and Georgean
Driftwood Wildlife Association1206 West 38th, Suite 1105Austin, TX 78705

Please visit our web site.

Thanks to our friends at Travis Audubon Society for sending out this message for us.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Upcoming Eagle Festival at Blackwater

This Saturday, March 11, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge will host its Sixth Annual Eagle Festival.
The free event will include bird walks, lectures, and demonstrations
with live captive raptors. There will also be several hands-on
workshops and activities for kids. To reach the refuge, follow the directions here.

The Friends of Blackwater have set up webcams at the nests of an osprey and a bald eagles.

Blackwater is the site of DC Audubon's annual November fieldtrip. You can read about our last trip there at our website.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dyke Marsh Film: Capital Wetlands In Crisis

The film, On the Edge: The Potomac River's Dyke Marsh has its World Premiere at the DC Environmentalist Film Festival. Dyke Marsh is one of the largest naturally-occurring freshwater tidal marshes in the national park system. A 380-acre wetland, Dyke Marsh is a remnant of the extensive marshes that once lined the river but have been lost to human activity. Congress preserved it in 1959, saying that here, wildlife values should be “paramount.” Naturalist Louis Halle wrote in the 1940s that Dyke Marsh was “the nearest thing to primeval wilderness in the immediate vicinity of the city [Washington].”

Like most vanishing tidal marshlands from Maine to Louisiana, it is disappearing as the result of a myriad of human abuses. As a safety buffer against hurricanes and floods, an ancient hatchery for bay and ocean fish and a focal point for migrating birds, Dyke Marsh affects all of our lives. This film provides a glimpse into the rich diversity of flora and fauna supported by the marsh and contrasts its health today to its condition in the past. The return of the Bald Eagle and the Osprey to the marsh is contrasted with the loss of habitat for most other resident species. Incorporating some of the marsh's historical lore, On the Edge, enlivened by an original soundtrack with Didgeridoo and rainforest percussion instruments, is a primal call to revive the diversity of life that provides sustenance and safety to the species that is destroying the country's tidal marshes–human beings.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The Atrium, Terrace Level, New Hampshire Ave. at Rock Creek Pkwy.
March 21 at 7:00 p. m

Old Town Theater
815 King Street, Alexandria
March 28, at 7:30 p.m.

Friends of Dyke Marsh is a volunteer group dedicated to preserving and enhancing Dyke Marsh, the last enduring substantial freshwater tidal marsh in the Washington, D.C. capital area, located on the Potomac River just south of Alexandria, Virginia. Dyke Marsh is administered by the National Park Service. Join Friends of Dyke Marsh.

When Darwin Went Galápagos

Smithsonian Magazine made the 5,000-mile journey to the Galápagos Islands, to follow in Charles Darwin’s footsteps. Darwin came to the archipelago at age 26, which straddles the Equator some 600 miles west of Ecuador, as part of the Beagle’s five-year mission to survey the coast of South America and to conduct a series of longitudinal measurements around the globe. Darwin’s five-week visit to the islands catalyzed the scientific revolution that now bears his name.

The article recounts the tale of the finches that misled Darwin. There are 14 finch species in the Galápagos that have all evolved from a single ancestor over the past few million years. They have become one of the most famous cases of species adapting to different ecological niches. From Darwin’s specimen notebooks, it is clear he was fooled into thinking that some of the unusual finch species belonged to the families they have come to mimic through a process called convergent evolution. For example, Darwin thought the cactus finch, whose long, probing beak is specialized for obtaining nectar from cactus flowers (and dodging cactus spines), might be related to birds with long, pointed bills, such as meadowlarks and orioles. He also mistook the warbler finch for a wren. Not realizing that all of the finches were closely related, Darwin had no reason to suppose that they had evolved from a common ancestor, or that they differed from one island to another.

The author's own discovery, more than 30 years ago, that Darwin had misidentified some of his famous Galápagos finches led him to the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University Library, in England. There he found a manuscript trail that poked further holes in the legend that these birds precipitated an immediate “aha” moment. It was only after Darwin’s return to England, when experts in herpetology and ornithology began to correct his Galápagos reports, that he realized the extent of his collecting oversights and misidentifications. In particular, Darwin had failed to label most of his Galápagos birds by island, so he lacked the crucial evidence that would allow him to argue that different finch species had evolved separately while isolated on different islands of the Galápagos group.

Five months after his return to England, in March 1837, Darwin met with ornithologist John Gould. Five years older than Darwin, Gould was just beginning to become known for his beautifully illustrated monographs on birds, which today are highly prized collectors’ items. One of my most unexpected discoveries in the Darwin archives was the piece of paper on which Darwin recorded his crucial meeting with Gould. This manuscript clearly shows how Darwin’s thinking began to change as a result of Gould’s astute insights about the Galápagos birds. Unlike Darwin, Gould had instantly recognized the related nature of the Galápagos finches, and he also persuaded Darwin, who questioned him closely on the subject, that three of his four Galápagos mockingbirds were separate species rather than “only varieties.” Gould also informed Darwin that 25 of his 26 land birds from the Galápagos were new to science, as well as unique to those islands.

Gould’s taxonomic judgments finally caused Darwin to embrace the theory of evolution. Stunned by the realization that evolving varieties could break the supposedly fixed barrier that, according to creationism, prevents new species from forming, he quickly sought to rectify his previous collecting oversights by requesting island locality information from the carefully labeled collections of three Beagle shipmates. Two of these collections, by Captain FitzRoy and FitzRoy’s steward, Harry Fuller, contained 50 Galápagos birds, including more than 20 finches. Even Darwin’s servant, Covington, had done what Darwin had not, labeling by island his own personal collection of finches, which were later acquired by a private collector in England. The birth of the Darwinian revolution was a highly collaborative enterprise.

The case for evolution presented by this shared ornithological evidence nevertheless remained debatable for nearly a decade. Darwin was not entirely convinced Gould was right that all the finches were separate species, or even that they were all finches. Read more.

New York For The Birds

A winter bird-watching tour in the middle of New York harbor gives a hardy few a sense of how things must have looked to early settlers... and turns up numerous sightings of seabirds. Listen on NPR's All Things Considered by Robert Smith.

Field Trip To Hughes Hollow

Hughes Hollow
March 19, 2006
RSVP, contact trip leader Paul DeAnna

DC Audubon will tour this noted birding hot spot, part of the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area, located in Montgomery County Maryland. This is a mosaic of diverse wetland habitats interspersed with mature deciduous forest, hedgerows, and open fields in various stages of transition. The area is bordered on the north by deep marsh and open water in three impoundments covering about 60 acres, and on the south by the Potomac River and adjacent C&O Canal. Migrating waterfowl should be present. Red-headed woodpeckers are among the resident birds. We have timed the trip in hopes of witnessing the return of the tree swallows.

DIRECTIONS (Please consult a map since odometer readings can vary): From the Capital Beltway (495) take exit 39 for River Rd. (MD 190) 3.3 miles north to the 2nd traffic light in Potomac (intersection with Falls Rd.). Continue on River Rd. 7.9 miles to the T-junction with Rt. 112 (Seneca Rd.). Follow River Rd. to the left at this stop sign for another 4.4 miles to the intersection with Hughes Rd., turn left, and drive about 200 yards to the first parking area on the right, where a gated road divides the large impoundments.

Doctor and Birdwatcher On Call For Bird Flu

Metehan Özen, middle, sets up bird-watching gear with friends at Turkey's Karakaya lake.


On a recent Sunday, Metehan Özen -- one of Turkey's foremost birdwatchers -- trained his $1,500 Leica telescope on an orange-chested Merlin falcon and watched it devour a smaller bird in a flurry of claws, flying feathers and blood.

A few days earlier, two boys played with a dead crow, developed a fever and were brought to Dr. Özen's pediatric hospital ward. There, the specialist in infectious diseases monitored them closely for signs of bird flu.

For years Dr. Özen's hospital job and his hobby existed in unconnected worlds. As Turkey grapples with the bird-flu outbreak here that has quickly infected at least 21 people and killed four, the doctor's two callings have put him in the middle of the quest to understand the virus and contain its spread.

Fellow doctors used to tease him about birdwatching. Not anymore. Over the past two weeks, as the virus rolled out across Turkey, the 37-year-old Dr. Özen briefed the country's top public-health officials about the epidemiology of avian flu and about the migratory routes of wild birds. They are suspected of introducing the virus to domestic poultry, which in turn can infect people. He took a long bus drive amid heavy snowfall and howling wolves to get to the scene of the first human cases near the Southeastern town of Van. There, he saw infected children and their chest X-rays, and visited the parents of three who had died. He helped draft the government's measures to combat the virus, including culling poultry and isolating domestic birds from humans and wild birds, and persuaded officials to ban the hunting of all wild fowl.

In September, Dr. Özen warned colleagues at a medical congress that wild birds could bring avian flu to Turkey during the winter migratory season, and that is now an accepted theory. Trade in infected poultry is another means for the virus to spread. "When you compare maps of migration patterns with maps showing bird-flu outbreaks, they often match each other," said Mehmet Ali Torunoglu, the head of the communicable diseases section at Turkey's ministry of health. "Metehan seems to be right."

In late 2004, Dr. Özen tracked a satellite-tagged goose as it flew from Northern Russia, down to Kazakhstan, Eastern Turkey and Iraq, and then back. The goose's stops along the route gave Dr. Özen ideas about how the virus could spread through migratory flyways.

After visiting Van, Dr. Özen spent some time working with a team of experts at the Turkish health ministry's crisis center in the capital of Ankara. When he returned home, bad news awaited him at his hospital. The two young boys who had found a dead crow in their backyard had a mild form of viral pneumonia, a possible symptom of bird flu. In its human form, the virus often attacks the lungs and causes them to fail. Dr. Özen put the boys in an isolated ward, and waited uneasily for the results of tests that can determine bird flu.

They came back negative. So after his tense week, Dr. Özen headed out into the countryside for his usual pastime, but with a difference: Avian flu was never off his mind. Now, "every bird you see is suspect," Dr. Özen says.

He awoke at 6 on Sunday morning and set off to explore the rich avian world of the Karakaya lake on the outskirts of Malatya, an Eastern Anatolian town known mostly for its apricot orchards. Accompanied by two buddies -- a plastic surgeon and a railroad worker -- Dr. Özen was soon announcing the sightings of particularly interesting birds by chanting "aha, aha, aha...ha-ha-ha!"

A stocky beige barn owl, drowsy and slow in the early morning sunshine, was being chased and harassed by two nimble magpies swerving around it like two fighter-jets. A group of gray herons, their long necks recoiled for a nap, stood motionless on the shore. Two pygmy cormorants, an endangered species, flew across the bright blue sky. Thousands of ducks and Armenian gulls, their numbers swelled by winter migration, crisscrossed the lake.

In the village of Toygar, right on the shore of the Karakaya lake, several roosters crossed the road and headed toward the water to mingle with hundreds of wild ducks. "This is exactly what I fear," Dr. Özen said. For most people, close contact with wildfowl is extremely rare, but domestic poultry routinely mix both with wild birds and with people. Sure enough, two children hopped off a donkey cart next to a wooden shack and approached the roosters.

Since then, he has sighted around 370 species out of Turkey's estimated 456, and he is at work on a "Birds of Turkey" volume. He and his buddies are now preparing a trip to look for a bird called the Great Bustard because at 26 pounds it's the heaviest thing flying in these parts.