Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NMBCA grant awarded for conservation in Macaya Biosphere Reserve, Haiti

Project: Sustainable Livelihoods at Critical Caribbean Biodiversity Areas.

Description: This project will promote reduced degradation of bird habitat in Macaya National Park in Haiti and the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve in the Dominican Republic. These sites contain wintering habitat for Neotropical migratory bird species that is disappearing, despite its protected status, because of unsustainable use of natural resources. Nature Canada will work with Haiti Audubon Society and Grupo Jaragua to provide training and on-site projects to promote improved livelihoods for eleven communities located in and around the five important birds areas contained in these two sites. The partners will build awareness of the bird diversity at these sites, through environmental education and outreach. The project will also reinforce the skills and lessons learned by the participants by bringing them together to share their experiences locally and regionally.

For a list of all projects awarded funds through the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, visit the USFWS Division of Bird Habitat Conservation.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Last year, Craig Benkman and others published a paper in the Condor describing a new species of crossbill. To be commonly called South Hills Crossbill, for its restricted range in the South Hills of south-central Idaho, the scientific name emphasized it's close relationship to its lodgepole pine habitat in the absence of selective pressures from squirrels--Loxia sinesciurus. The species is recognized by its habitat, bill size, genetics, and song. However, the AOU voted last week on whether it deserved official species recognition. The vote was 6:5 in favor, which was below the 2/3 majority needed to pass. Stronger genetic evidence, a better type specimen, and a suggestion for how to treat the entire Red Crossbill complex would have helped the case. To read the comments of the committee members, visit the AOU website.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Un mundo pequeño (a small world): My Google alert for Hispaniolan Crossbill came up with a hit on an artist's site in the Dominican Republic. Upon corresponding with Iván Mota, I learned that not only is he a fan of this endemic bird, but that he is signed up to participate in a training workshop with my former coworkers at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. I'm a fan of merging right- and left-thinking, and I think Iván's piece does just that. He was inspired by a photo on the species account I wrote for Neotropical Birds Online.

Visit the Iván Mota Sketchbook page here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Back in Laramie, Wyoming. I've been back for slightly over 2 weeks now but have been negligent about posting. Mostly, I've been really worried about my friends in Haiti. The earthquake and its aftermath stirred emotions in everyone. It was particularly incomprehensible for me as I was just in Port-au-Prince and stayed with a really nice family in Petionville, the location of the epicenter. I was just walking down Delmas Street and now I see pictures of the buildings in ruins on the front page of the newspaper. I am really grateful that all my friends in Haiti survived the quake. It will be a struggle for the country and its diaspora to return to normal life. My hope is for everyone to help out in any way they can.

After that heavy intro, I am glad to say that the remainder of my trip in the Dominican Republic was successful. After taking the bus from the Haitian capital to Santo Domingo, we worked our way west along the coast to the Sierra de Bahoruco. We stopped in Oviedo at a friend's house for Christmas and had a stress-free day relaxing with friends. I enjoyed reviving my Spanish-speaking skills with the children and they enjoyed quizzing me on my vocabulary. It's very humbling to realize that a 7-year old has a better handle on the language than you do.

Up in the mountains, we checked some swallow boxes in the abandoned Alcoa mines and then drove up to Loma del Toro, near the border with Haiti. We again were treated to hearing a Black-capped Petrel on the first night not far from the caseta. The next morning we awoke to the sound of a flock of Hispaniolan Crossbills overhead. The pine forest here is extensive and home to a solid population of crossbills, though I never saw one for more than 5 minutes at a stretch.

Jim rappelled down to a known petrel nest off the cliff. There was no sign of nesting activity, but we didn't really expect any. Most of the birds are off at sea fattening up before breeding season in January. The vantage point allowed us to clearly see the environmental degradation in Haiti. The edge of the park was a solid line of trees that dropped away to barren agricultural land. And Haitian immigrants daily cross the border to attempt a subsistence living within the park.

We then returned to the capital for New Year's eve before heading to the Cordillera Central, where I had never visited. Most of Jim's swallow boxes are around Valle Nuevo. We put up 16 newly-made boxes around an abandoned agricultural field in the park. I had mostly recovered from a sprained wrist and numerous bruises from the Macaya expedition, but started suffering from a harsh cold. The park ranger, Angel, searched the fields nearby for some wild herbs with which to make a tea for me. It included a number of things I had never seen, and even had some Hispaniolan Pine needles which gave it a bitter piney aftertaste. It was quite tastey, however, and helped while I was taking it, but the cold returned upon getting off the plane in Denver and breathing in the dry, cold air.

The last thing we did before we left was scout for crossbills at Pico Duarte. Pico Duarte is the tallest mountain in the Caribbean. It's customary to hire a mule to carry your gear and you must hire a guide to hike up to the summit. We found a guide that was recommended to us and convinced him to come up with us to Los Tablones, the lowest caseta on the mountain, for one night, while we packed in all our gear ourselves, complete with sideways glances from other guides and tourists. The forest was lush and provides excellent habitat for wildlife. We heard a Barn/Ashy-faced Owl at night and encountered a flock of Hispaniolan Trogons and White-winged Warblers the next morning on a bird walk. We didn't have enough time to get up very high, so we didn't get to pine-dominant forest to see crossbills. That I will keep for my next trip.....

To see photos with captions from the trip, check out my Picasa site.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'm in Santo Domingo now. We safely made it up to Macaya--an arduous two-day hike with mules, porters, and guides cutting a trail to the summit. We succeeded at finding a handful of courting Black-capped Petrels as well as Golden Swallows, Hispaniolan Crossbills, and Bicknell's Thrush. I enjoyed a small taste of Haitian culture, learned a spattering of Creole, and marveled at their amazing singing voices. While staying in the small village of Formon, they bid everyone a bon voyage with a dawn procession and hymns. It was incredibly moving and beautiful, and just one of the many times I wished I had sound recording equipment.

Meals were basic--plain spaghetti for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch, and cracked wheat for dinner. That is, if we had three meals a day. Fortunately Jim brought along some sun-dried tomatoes and chipotle peppers to add a little flavor, but I still craved citrus the entire time. We were at too high an elevation--2300 m--for any fruit to grow on the trees.

Other highlights were all the birds, frogs, butterflies, and other insects. The cloud forest was very lush where it hadn't been burned over. There were several huge pine trees, some over 4 feet in diameter. We didn't have any crossbills on the summit of Macaya, however, which was disappointing since that's where Jim and my former supervisor, Chris Rimmer, had observed large groups. Many of the large, old pines on the summit had fallen since they visited a couple years ago. It wasn't clear if they had died from fire in 2006, strong hurricane-force winds, or both. We did see a dozen crossbills on the saddle between Pic Macaya and Pic Formon and a few on Pic Formon. While waiting for dusk and the petrels one evening on Formon, Jim and I watched a small family group of crossbills foraging. The juvenile bird still had a stunted tail and was begging for food.

Tomorrow we head to Oviedo to spend Christmas with some friends. From there we'll head north into the Sierra de Bahoruco to a site called Lomo del Toro. Petrel and crossbill encounters in our future....


(top photo: Jim, local porter, Enold, and Anderson hiking up to the town of Formon)

(bottom photo: Anderson cliffside along the western ridge of Formon)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Today I am on my way to the Caribbean. I'll be spending the next month, essentially all of winter break, traveling around the island of Hispaniola. The primary focus of the trip is, of course, bird research. I'll be traveling with a friend and PhD student at Cornell who studies the endangered Black-capped Petrel and Golden Swallows. I'll also be looking for Hispaniolan Crossbills and conducting some Bicknell's Thrush surveys for my former job. I'll be keeping daily eBird checklists and hope to add at least a few species to my life list.

The first leg of the trip is to the Macaya Biosphere Reserve in Haiti. I have never visited, but have only heard stories of how amazing the area is. It's one of last remaining wild areas in Haiti and still host to many endemic species, including 13 frog species found nowhere else. I'm looking forward to it, but from all accounts it sounds like a grueling trip. We hike for two days, over two mountains, with porters wielding machetes to clear the trail. The nearest water is a two-hour hike down the mountain. All this in weather 70 degrees warmer than it has been here the past week! I'll post more, if I survive!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The first blog entry is always a tricky one. Do I discuss what I will write about in my blog in the days to come? or recent, notable events? or future happenings I am looking forward to? or how I came to be here writing this blog? I hope that in future entries my background will slowly become clear.

So do I talk about the Fray concert last Saturday, cross-country skiing in the Snowy Range on Sunday, what it's like to be on the search committee for a new Conservation Biology professor, rock climbing at the Half-Acre gym, or my (bird-focused) winter break plans in Hispaniola?

Or I could talk about some of the really interesting things I've discovered in researching the history of bird migration theory for Ecology 5100, the first of two PiE required classes. I hope all those other bird nerds out there heard about the first documented migratory double breeding in Mexico--researchers found five migratory bird species that breed in northern North America, migrate to the west coast of Mexico and breed a second time, and then migrate farther south to the tropics to spend the winter (Rohwer et al. 2009). Migration research is expanding so rapidly right now, it's hard to keep up!

The current issue of Conservation Biology has the last regular editorial by David Orr (who's written 63 columns over the last 21 years) , which I think provides a good outlook on the future of conservation and sets the tone for my future blog entries, so I'll end with this:

"...21 years ago it would have been difficult to plausibly imagine the scope, scale, and rising intensity of the global movement to build a decent, fair, and sustainable world. The resilience of the human spirit in difficult times is the news of our age. It is evident in the pages of this journal and in the rising tide of science dedicated to issues of human and ecological health. But it is also manifested in the rising chorus of voices of people worldwide working on natural-systems agriculture, green building, biomimicry, community forestry, urban renewal, green business, renewable energy, wilderness and land preservation, and peace. Paul Hawken calls this "blessed unrest" and likens it to a planetary immune system. Perhaps. But something is clearly stirring worldwide and it is our privilege to be a small part of what our descendents may someday recognize as humankind's finest hour when conservation of biological diversity, land, people, and prospects became irreversible and irrevocable." -David Orr