Thursday, November 29, 2012

Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society meeting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, December 8, 2012, to feature short business meeting followed by presentation on 'Decline in breeding bird population in northwest Arkansas' by Dr. David Chapman of the Univesity of Arkansas

Dr David Chapman of the UA-Fayetteville will present "Declines in breeding bird populations in northwest Arkansas" as part of a meeting of Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society. The meeting will be at the Lake Fayetteville Environmental Study Center at 511 E. Lakeview Drive (corner of Lakeview and Powell in Springdale). The meeting is on Saturday December 8 and starts at 6:30 PM. Members, friends, and the public are welcome. There is no charge for the program. There will also be a short society business meeting preceeding Dr Chapman's presentation. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Joe Neal says pay attention and photograph waterfowl displaying reddish stains on feathers: Is it a naturally occurring marsh stain or some more sinister?

    During the past few years I have taken photographs of water birds in northwest Arkansas with suspicious reddish stain where we typically expect white. For example, I photographed two or more female Greater Scaups in which the white feathers at the base of the bill were apparently stained reddish in some way. Some females had the red, others didn't. What's going on?
    I first noted a couple of these at the big water retention pond at Bentonville off Moberly Lane in March 2008. Both intrigued and alarmed, I assumed this staining was a result of getting into some kind of an oily mess.
    Then I photographed a stained Trumpeter Swan at Holla Bend NWR (March 2010). In 2011, I photographed a Trumpeter Swan sitting on a nest at Boxley, in the Buffalo Valley (June 2011), long neck heavily stained reddish. Swans that spent a few days at Har Ber Meadows in Springdale (Feb 2011) were stained, as was a female Lesser Scaup this fall at the state fish hatchery in Centerton.
    None of us expect to see such oddities. With the big BP oil spill, and with environmental problems associated with increased oil drilling elsewhere, I have felt quite a bit of alarm about seeing these birds.
    I ran some of these photographs by David Krementz, leader of the Arkansas Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit (UA-Fayetteville). He followed up by contact with a noted waterfowl research expert, who forwarded a technical paper dealing with what is termed "marsh stain."
    Folks who have looked at this phenomenon term these "adventitious stains."  Many are caused by contact with naturally occurring chemicals or other matter in the environment. They have been noted in 120 species. Apparently the birds often acquire this rust color while excavating foods encrusted with oxides of iron. It doesn't take long to stain white feathers.
    The fact that marsh stain is common doesn't mean that all the birds seen with stained feathers could only have acquired it by contact with iron oxides while foraging. For example, it doesn't rule out unplanned contact with oil. But, that said, marsh stain seems a reasonable explanation, and best of all, well- supported by evidence.
    Finally: It is worthwhile to keep watching and to keep checking out what we see that doesn't add up.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Joe Neal says, 'Bring on the ducks' and the hawk may also be hoping for migrating birds with the coming weather change, but rabbits and squirrels and smaller creatures are much easier to spot on Nov. 9, 2012

Please click on images to enlarge.

Red-shouldered hawk at World Peace Wetland Prairie 9 Nov. 2012

Photos by Aubrey James Shepherd

    Yesterday, Highway 102 exit off I-540, at a 10-acre storm water retention structure associated with Moberly Manor apartments in Bentonville, there were something like 62 Canada Geese, honks louder than the freeway. They skied and splashed into a raft including, Gadwalls (25), Mallards (10), Canvasbacks (4, female type plumage), Redheads (2), Ring-necked Ducks (20), Lesser Scaups (2), Buffleheads (2), Ruddy Duck (1), Pied-billed Grebes (10), American Coots (60).
    Today is fall beautiful, warm, blue sky, but weather people promise a cold front. Bring on the ducks!
    Funny how our brains work in mysterious ways. Seeing Canvasbacks at Moberly simultaneously recalled a chance encounter 40 years ago. Looking through my bins I see Cans and amazingly, the green cloth cover and gold letters of The Canvasback on a Prairie Marsh, by H. Albert Hochbaum (1944).
    This book found me in the early 1970s shortly after I'd been metaphorically swept off my feet by The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. Sand was the first book after the Holy Bible of my youth that successfully placed my world in logical and spiritual order. Canvasbacks continued me on the journey.
    This morning early, before birding, I hiked up to Mullins Library on the UA campus and checked out Canvasback. The library copy looks and feels in my hand like the book I read 40 years ago.
    Yes, I'm off on a nostalgia trip.
    I see written inside "Department of Entomology."  This is a reminder that ornithology was once mainly a branch of agriculture. Prior to Doug James' arrival in 1953 at UA-Fayetteville, ornithology was the domain of Dr William Baerg, noted tarantula expert, who taught ornithology and published state bird books in 1931 and 1951.
    Then there is the Foreword written by Alexander Wetmore, avian paleontologist at the Smithsonian. "To those who live near marshlands and waterways the fall and spring flights of ducks are as current topics of conversation as the weather… " Amen.
    Finally, I'm to the title page and Hochbaum's  evocative pen and ink drawings. They remind me of other, classic books, full of drawings that pull you into the facts, ideas, and reflections. But right now, I need to put the book down.
    I feel the urge that started 40 years ago. I'm off to Arkansas Game and Fish’s Bob Kidd Lake out past Prairie Grove. You know why.