Biodiversity: More condors die of lead poisoning

Conservation advocates want to phase out lead ammunition

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Majestic California condors are dying of lead poisoning on a regular basis.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With another three endangered California condors dead from lead poisoning in Arizona, conservation advocates are ramping up their call to phase out the use of lead ammunition.

Three condors may not sound like many, but that’s nearly 5 percent of the entire Arizona-Utah population, which numbers only about 80 birds. Seven of the birds have died since December, and three of the deaths are definitively linked with lead poisoning, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Since condors eat carrion, they ingest spent lead ammunition fragments as part of their diet. Lead poisoning is also suspected in the other four deaths. At least 38 condors have been killed by lead poisoning in Arizona and Utah. Lead poisoning recently killed the female of Utah’s only breeding pair of condors. Each year, up to half of the wild Grand Canyon condors must be given life-saving, emergency blood treatment for lead poisoning. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Sandhill cranes return to Colorado

San Luis Valley a spring hotspot for birders

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Sandhill cranes soar through the Colorado sky. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — In one of North America’s great migrations, thousands of sandhill cranes are making their way north from winter habitat in New Mexico, en route summer nesting and breeding grounds in northern Idaho, western Wyoming and northwest Colorado.

Along the way, they stop in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado to refuel, and to begin a seasonal courtship ritual, an annual ritual celebrated each year with the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival, March 8-10.

“Everyone who lives in Colorado should see this migration stopover at least once,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley. “The sights and sounds are truly amazing,” he said, explaining that state and federal biologists team up each year with the local community to provide viewing and interpretive opportunities for visitors. Continue reading

Biodiversity: 62-year old bird continues to astound

‘A sign of hope’ for the species

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Wisdom and her mate guard their nest at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy USGS via the Creative Commons.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with logging about 50,000 miles in the air each year, the world’s oldest known albatross this year hatched another chick at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross believed to be at least 62, has now reared offspring for six years in a row — “a sign of hope” for the species, according to Doug Staller, superintendent for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which includes the Midway Atoll NWR.

Wisdom has worn out five bird bands since she was first banded by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Chandler Robbins in 1956. Robbins estimated Wisdom to be at least 5 years old at the time, since this is the earliest age at which these birds breed. Typically, they breed at 8 or 9 years of age after a very involved courtship lasting over several years so Wisdom could be even older than 62. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds propose endangered species listing, critical habitat designation for rare Gunnison sage-grouse

Colorado wildlife officials disappointed by listing proposal

Colorado Gunnison Sage-grouse critical habitat map

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse in Colorado and Utah.

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A male Gunnison sage-grouse struts as part of its spring mating ritual. Photo courtesy BLM.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite ongoing voluntary conservation measures, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week that the best available science indicates that the Gunnison sage-grouse is in danger of extinction and needs protection under the Endangered Species Act.

By some estimates, there are only about 4,000 to 5,000 of the iconic western birds remaining, scattered in eight small population pockets in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. As a result, the USFWS has proposed listing the species as endangered and also proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat.

The proposal triggers a 60-day public comment period, with input due by March 12. The agency will also hold a series of public meetings to take input from residents and landowners in areas that could be affected by the listing. The meetings will likely be held in Gunnison, Montrose, Delta and Cortez, Colorado, or in Monticello, Utah and will be advertised at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/. Continue reading

Honduran hummingbird to get endangered species status

Habitat loss puts brilliant bird at risk of extinction

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing endangered species status for the Honduras emerald hummingbird. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Although it doesn’t live in the United States, the Honduran emerald hummingbird may get protection under the Endangered Species Act, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers listing the small bird as endangered. The emerald hummingbird is the only bird species endemic to Honduras, living in a few isolated patches of dry thorn forests and scrub habitat.

As a practical matter, the listing would restrict the importation of either the animal or its parts. Listing can also generate conservation benefits, such as increasing awareness of the species, prompting research efforts to address their conservation needs, or funding conservation in range countries. Continue reading

Finland study tracks global warming impacts on bird populations

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Poleward movement seen in many species

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Researchers in Finland say they’ve documented bird populations trends that are at least partly linked with global warming. Comparing data from extensive bird counts conducted between 1981 to 1999, and 2000 to 2009, the biologists said that, in general, northern species have decreased and southern species increased.

Mean temperatures in Finland rose between the two periods, with April to June mean temperatures climbing by 0.7 degrees Celsius.

According to the study, population densities of common forest habitat generalists remained the same between the two periods, while densities of species of conservation concern showed contrasting trends. Species preferring old-growth or mature forests increased, but those living on mires and wetlands, and species of Arctic mountains decreased. Continue reading

Morning photo: Eagle eye …

A day in pictures …

Bald Eagle near Heaton Bay. Frisco, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —A morning dog walk near Heaton Bay ended up with yet another close look at Dillon Reservoir’s resident eagle, who is taking full advantage of all the beetle-killed lodgepole pines. Even with two dogs running around, the eagle keeps it pretty regal, perched near — but not on — the tips of the trees, letting us get within 100 feet or so.

I actually haven’t tried getting any closer because I don’t really want to disturb him and chase him away. I’ve been watching this eagle on and off for the past couple of weeks, and what strikes me every time is just how darn big of a bird it really is. You can sort of get an idea from seeing him up close, but it’s really when you see him from more of a distance, with other objects nearby for comparison, that you really get a good sense, like in this next image.

Bald eagle, looking toward Buffalo Mountain.

Continue reading

Morning photo: The birds and the bees …

Backyard buzz …

A red-shafter flicker in Frisco, Colorado.

FRISCO — I’ve often said I’m not a wildlife photographer, but in the past few weeks, I’ve been roaming around with an older Canon EOS that has a pretty decent 75-300 mm zoom lens. Along with some shots of the muskrats living in the backyard pond here in the Lagoon neighborhood, I’ve had a few birds perch long enough for me to get a decent shot or two. I can totally see the fascination with bird and wildlife photography. It’s more challenging — or at least challenging in a different way — than shooting landscapes, and all these birds have their own unique character. Taking the time to try and het photos of them lets you appreciated that. Continue reading

Morning photo: Just another day …

Summit scenes

Bald eagle.

SUMMIT COUNTY — A morning search of the shores of Dillon Reservoir yielded another encounter with the resident bald eagle — and this time I had the right camera and the right lens to bring him in a little closer. The mighty birds favor the tallest dead lodgepoles as perches, often out on the tip of one of the peninsulas that jut into the reservoir. Even though I had both dogs with me, the eagle seemed fairly serene and let us approach quite near. When I got within good camera range, I lay down prone to stabilize the camera and clicked away. All in all, it’s been a few good days for photography, with dramatic clouds, golden trees and Friday’s sunset and moonrise, which was, simply put, mind-blowing. Continue reading

Morning photo: Birds!

Great Backyard Bird count starts today

Mountain Chickadee. PHOTO COURTESY MIA MCPHERSON. Click on the image for more.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Since the Great Backyard Bird Count starts today and continues through the weekend, we’re posting a few photos of our fine-feathered friends. Birds are under pressure from habitat loss and climate change, with scores of species listed as threatened or endangered on the IUCN Red List. The annual backyard count helps provide a picture of species distribution and abundance in late winter, just before the big migrations begin for many species. More information on the count is online here.

And special thanks to Mia McPherson for providing some of the images for this post. Follow her On the Wing blog for frequent updates or visit her website and online gallery of birds and other nature shots. Continue reading

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