The Red Knot is Now Protected Under the Endangered Species Act!

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the “Rufa” population of Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). One of the two sub-species of Red Knot occurring in North America, the Rufa subspecies breeds in the Canadian Arctic Region and migrates along the east or Atlantic coast of the United States. The other sub-species, Calidris canutus roselaari, migrates along the Pacific Coast and breeds in Alaska and the Wrangel Island in Russia.

The current status of the Rufa Red Knot under the ESA is “threatened”. This means the species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout its range. The main factors leading to the Red Knot’s listing include the lost and alteration of habitat across its range due to land conversion and climate change.

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Red Knot in non-breeding plumage. Photo: Ron Knight

During both the northbound (spring) and southbound (fall) migrations, knots can be found anywhere along the coastal and inland U.S. migration corridors from Argentina in the Southern tip of South America to Canada. In the spring, key staging and stopover areas include Patagonia, Argentina; eastern and northern Brazil; the southeast United States; the Virginia barrier islands; and Delaware Bay.

Perhaps the most important threat to the Red Knot is climate change. Subtle environmental changes increase the likelihood of mismatches in the timing of its food supply. Adverse effects from altered timing have been observed at migration stopovers in some years. For example, in the Delaware Bay, warming coastal waters can cause horseshoe crabs to lay their eggs earlier than normal; conversely, more intense and frequent coastal storms can cause late spawning. In both cases, knots, which feed on the crabs’ eggs, can miss their peak refueling opportunity. Additionally, ocean acidification and warming coastal waters are likely to affect the clams and mussels that the knot feeds on in other areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The knot’s breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic are experiencing pronounced effects from climate change. Some of its tundra breeding habitat is changing to less suitable habitat due to warming temperatures. The ability of knots to successfully raise their chicks is very sensitive to snow conditions, the availability of insects as food, and the presence of predators, all of which are affected by climate change.

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Birds in Delaware Bay. Photo: Gregory Breese-USFWS

Red Knots have already lost more than 80 percent of their coastal habitat in Florida, New Jersey, and New York. From North Carolina south to Texas, just under half of beaches are developed. Additionally, about a third of knot habitat in the United States is still available for development, and winter and stopover habitats in the wintering grounds of Argentina and breeding grounds of sub?Arctic Canada face ongoing and proposed development. Where suitable habitat exists, sea level rise is expected to increase efforts to stabilize the shore and protect coastal development with hard structures, such as sea walls and jetties. These will eventually eliminate beach habitat and interfere with the creation of new beach habitat.

Protecting a species under the ESA provides a means for federal, state, local and private organizations and landowners to work together to restore an animal or plant to ecological health. Listing will indirectly enhance national and international cooperation and coordination of conservation efforts, enhance research programs, and encourage the development of conservation measures that could help slow habitat loss and population declines.

The listing rule evaluates the threats faced by a species and identifies the barriers to recovery. A recovery plan, developed after the species is listed, identifies the specific ways to recover the species and typically depends on the assistance of species experts; other federal, state and local agencies; tribes; nongovernmental organizations; academia; and other stakeholders.

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Photo: Dick Daniels

Governments and scientists from several countries where knots breed, stopover or winter are working to address the threats faced by the knot. Many global, national, regional and state specific management and conservation efforts have been implemented to benefit shorebirds in general, including the Red Knot. Examples of actions underway to improve feeding conditions for knots and other shorebirds in the Delaware Bay include beach management to minimize disturbance and to reduce interference from gulls and Peregrine Falcons. Actions to conserve horseshoe crabs have included reduced harvest quotas, more efficient use of crabs as bait, closure of the harvest in certain seasons and places and the designation of a sanctuary off the mouth of Delaware Bay. In addition, biologists in the Carolinas and Florida are improving beach habitat by controlling invasive plants. In South America, several key Red Knot sites are becoming shorebird reserves, and regional efforts are including the protection of habitats in urban development plans.

Having the Red Knot listed under the ESA means a legal obligation to consider potential harm and harassment effects from development projects in Red Knot habitat. This was not the case before the listing of the species.

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Birding on the Run – or when GISSing really helps!

Almost since my first birding forays back in the mid-eighties, my husband Murray has labeled me as one of those “Fanatical Birders”. He’s probably right, but I like the title.  For those of you who aren’t sure what that means, it’s a bird watcher who is totally consumed by the passion of birding.

I can’t wake up in the morning with having at least one ear tuned to the sounds of the birds outside my window.  My friends often notice my eyes drifting up to the skies in the middle of a conversation. It’s not from boredom, it’s because I’ve heard or spotted a bird in the area. On shopping trips to Mérida, I’ve often shouted “Stop the car!” , jumped out and followed the path of a raptor soaring through the area.

Gray Hawk

And it’s during my traveling time that to GISS (pronounced ‘jizz’) a bird really is helpful.  You might ask, just what is GISS and what does it have to do with birding. Well GISS is an acronym meaning General Impression of Size and Shape. This refers to the overall build, behavior, flying style, bill shape and a range of other factors in creating the overall feel of a bird.

Well, last week I chauffeured Murray to Cancun so he could fly out the next morning to Ottawa, Canada for a few weeks visit with the Sullivan side of our family.  Somehow, a trip to snowy Ottawa just didn’t have any appeal for me.  I’m waiting for warmer weather.

Back to GISSing. The trip there and back took less than 8 hours; an afternoon to get there and a solo trip back to Progreso the next morning.  And of course this didn’t keep me from birding along the way, even though I was traveling along at more than 100 kph.

Gret-tailed Grackle

The first birds we had several good looks at, were Great-tailed Grackles, Melodious Blackbirds and Tropical Mockingbirds, all very common and easily identified because they are so numerous and fly and perch close to the highway.

Then I noticed several Chimney Swifts and Ridgeway’s Swallows hunting over the open fields.  And although you can’t help but notice the Black and Turkey Vultures, the slower flapping wing beats of the small Gray Hawk caught my eye as it soared along the highway long enough for me to GISS it by its overall gray color and elongated tail with distinctive black and white tail bands.

Plain Chachalaca

Then further along the highway two Plain Chachalacas flew across the road, almost hitting the car in front of us.

As we neared Cancun we started noticing several small flocks of Parrots, identified mostly by their very laborious flight; stiffly beating their wings rapidly to keep their heavy bodies in the air. These were most likely White-fronted Parrots, as they are the most common species in this part of the Yucatán.

Roadside Hawk

On the trip back from Cancun, I had much the same experience, but many new species popped up.  The first new species of the day was a Roadside Hawk doing what it does, sitting on a limb by the side of the road.

Aztec Parakeets

Then 4 Aztec Parakeets flew across the road in front of me.

A stunningly coloured bird, the Crested Caracara, stood in the middle of the road dining on some fresh road-kill.

Crested Caracara

All along the highway where the brush on the sides of the road was high, small groups of Blue-black Grassquits zipped across the road.  Then I just saw enough of the black head and brilliant green-olive back of a Black-headed Saltator as it crossed the road and headed into a tree.  My last notable sighting of the morning was of a Squirrel Cuckoo swooping into a tree.

Squirrel Cuckoo

GISSing can be possible in less than a second or even up to a minute. It’s all a matter of spending enough time watching and noting the behaviors and general attributes of many similar species.

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Here’s my list of 40 GISSed species.

Plain Chachalaca

Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Common Black-Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Gray Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk
Crested Caracara
Rock Pigeon
Red-billed Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Olive-throated Parakeet
White-fronted Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Vaux’s Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Green Jay
Brown Jay
Yucatan Jay
Northern Rough-winged Swallow* ridgwayi (Ridgway’s)
Mangrove Swallow
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Tropical Mockingbird
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Black-headed Saltator
Blue-black Grassquit
Red-winged Blackbird
Melodious Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Hooded Oriole
Altamira Oriole

Note: All photos taken by Murray Sullivan - various dates and locations in the Yucatan
Plain Chachalaca
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Common Black-Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Gray Hawk
Crested Caracara
Rock Pigeon
Red-billed Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Olive-throated Parakeet
White-fronted Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Vaux’s Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Green Jay
Brown Jay
Yucatan Jay
Northern Rough-winged Swallow* ridgwayi (Ridgway’s)
Mangrove Swallow
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Tropical Mockingbird
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Black-headed Saltator
Blue-black Grassquit
Red-winged Blackbird
Melodious Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Hooded Oriole
Altamira Oriole
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A Birding Walk Through Acuaparque

At 5:00am I rolled out of bed, threw on some clothes, binoculars and cap. As the sun was just rising over the horizon, I pulled into the parking lot at the entrance to Acuaparque in Merida’s east end.  There, waiting for me were  Cherie, Debi, Deborah and Martin, ready for some early morning birding.

Ready for a morning's birding: from the left Debi, Martin, Deborah and Cherie

Acuaparque (for location, click here)was once a stone quarry converted into a swimming park. Then in 1998, after some water quality studies were conducted, the  City of Merida started to transform it into a public park. Today the north side has a large man-made lake bordered by freshwater grasses and a few waterlilies.  There are more than one and a half kilometers of trails.  A gravel path leading around the lake to the south and west will take you to a series of marshy ponds replete with cat-tails, swamp grasses and beautiful water lilies.

One of the many-coloured water lilies in the park

Water Hyacyinths are also abundant here

During our walk several local people passed us. There were runners and walkers out for some early morning exercise. Others were simply strolling around enjoying the greenery.

Many of the trees in the park have reached heights of up to twenty feet. There are grassy areas as well.  Because of the diversity of habitat, the park acts as a catch basin for several attractive species of birds.

The uncommon Least Bittern

While Least Bitterns can often be difficult to see, this female, photographed on an earlier visit here, is intent on stalking it’s pray.  This is the smallest of the bitterns, standing only 13″ high.  We managed to spot one today.  Other wading birds that we saw were Snowy and Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, immature White Ibis and Green Heron.

An adult Northern Jacana

One of the most common and easily seen birds here is the Norther Jacana.  Today we saw about 12, including three young fledglings.

This is the fourth visit I’ve made to Acuaparque and it won’t be the last. On each visit we see new and interesting species.  Two years ago a Snail Kite (a large species of hawk that eats only snails) spent a few months here munching on the freshwater snails.  On another visit a Wood Stork dropped in to feed.

A Wood Stork checking out the park

It was an enjoyable morning and we managed to identify 40 species of birds in 3 hours of birding.

Here is our list of birds for the day:

Pied-billed Grebe
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
White Ibis
American Kestrel
Black Vulture
Common Moorhen
Northern Jacana
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Wilson’s Snipe
Rock Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Belted Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Tropical Mockingbird
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Blue-gray Tanager
Grayish Saltator
Summer Tanager
Indigo Bunting
Melodious Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Hooded Oriole
Lesser Goldfinch

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Panama – The Canopy Tower Experience

Canopy Tower Hotel

Since 1988 I’ve been passionate about birding, which is one of the reasons I’m very happy we are living here in the Yucatán peninsula.  But there is one area of the world that I have always yearned to visit; Central America.  So when I happened see a link to Panama in a birding web-page, I read about a wonderful birding spot call Canopy Tower.  While browsing around in this site, I read trip reports and comments written by birding acquaintances in Canada.  It sounded wonderful, but of course, I thought it would be very expensive.

Indeed, the prices were high in the prime seasons; fall, winter and early spring.  Rates for the room with meals only, ranged from $200 to $250 dollars a night, per person.  A stay of 3 days or more would include 1 half-day guided tour.

Still in shock but undaunted, I persisted and read more about the place, and came upon the “Green Season Package”.  The package included airport transfers, three meals a day, complimentary wine during the cocktail hour and at dinner, and guided tours every morning and afternoon to different birding and nature locals. By adding a 4 night extension at the Canopy Lodge in El Valle del Anton, which included all the items above, plus a 2 1/2 hour shuttle with return to the airport, our package price (with 10% off for early booking) for 11 nights, was $1,610 US dollars per person.

We spent 18 days there, from the 21st of June to the 8th of July. We spent our first night in Panama City at the Hotel Costa Inn, 3 blocks from the Pacific Ocean.

The hotel’s website indicated that the hotel had been recently renovated. It was a bit of an exaggeration.  The toilet didn’t flush properly, the jacuzzi tub had been patched – badly, and the furniture and decorations were garage sale material.  Nonetheless, the bed was clean and comfortable enough for one night’s stay.  A full breakfast was included in the $55 USD price, and it was more than adequate.  After breakfast we wandered around the edge of the bay, admiring the monument to Balboa, the city skyline and the marina.

Panama City Skyline

At 11 am the driver from Canopy Tower arrived at our hotel to take us to our next destination.  Our 30 minute trip along the country’s north-south highway skirted the Panama Canal.

From the Canopy Tower observation deck we could see the Panama City skyline, some 20km away

View of Panama City from the tower after an early morning rainstorm.

and watch the ships going through the canal only 1.5 km from us.

Though my main purpose for the trip was a birding adventure, and I did see 254 species, of which 124 were new to me, Murray and I managed to see other exciting wildlife.

We had a few visits from these sometime very vocal Mantled Howler Monkeys.

A pair of Three-toed Sloths came every day to feed on the flowers of the Cecropia trees.

These tiny Geoffrey's Tamarins greeted us every dawn and dusk.

This Common Tent-Making Bat was dozing under a Palm.

During our stay at the Canopy Tower we were fortunate to have observed 17 species of mammals including the following; a Forest Rabbit, a rare nocturnal Porcupine with a prehensile tail, both 2-toed and 3-toed Sloths, a Tamandua (a kind of ant-eater), a cute little brown and beige furred Central American Woolly Opossum, four species of monkeys – the Jeffrey’s Tamarin, Mantled Howler Monkey, Night Monkey and White-faced Capuchin; a Capybara (looks like a furry long-legged pig)and three species of bats and a few snakes.

This Northern Tamandua is a species of ant-eater

Our daily schedule was more rigorous than our routine in Progreso.  Every day we were up by around 6am.  One of the staff guides showed up every morning by 6:30 on the roof-top observation deck with telescopes, waiting to show us birds or animals that would perch in the nearby and distant trees.  There was always freshly brewed coffee, hot water and fresh orange juice.  A full buffet breakfast was set out in the dining room each morning including, eggs, pancakes or french toast, fruit platter, bacon or sausages and a cheese and meat platter.  There was always an interesting assortment of pastries, and breads for toasting.

Immediately after breakfast we met at the front door where the birding van or tram would be waiting to shuttle us off to our birding spot for the morning.  While waiting for the last guest to board, we’d be rewarded with excellent views of hummingbirds battling for their turns at the feeders.

This Long-billed Hermit was not as aggressive as the other Hummingbirds, but it would zoom in ad feed before the others could chase it away.

Every morning and afternoon we would journey to a different spot; The Summit Park Botanical Gardens, the famous Pipeline Road, Gamboa Rain Forest Resort, Semaphore Hill, the Parque Metropolitano or the Rain Forest Discovery Center.  Our guides were professional, knowledgeable, patient and spoke English fluently.

Our guides jokingly called this Keel-billed Toucan the "Fruit Loops Bird".

Murray didn’t join me in all the guided tours.  Some mornings or afternoons he would either walk Semaphore Hill – the mountainside road to our hotel, or spend a leisurely morning on the observation deck photographing the wildlife that appeared.

A number of these brilliantly coloured Green Honeycreepers showed up around the Tower daily.

At this point I should describe to you, the hotel itself.  The Canopy Tower was built in 1965 by the United States Air Force to house a powerful radar system used in the defense of the Panama Canal.  In 2003, after it had been used by various government organizations over the years, it was purchased by Raúl Arias de Para; former politician, businessman and environmentalist.  It is constructed almost exclusively of steel and iron.  Because of this, sound naturally travels easily.  To deal with this, there were a few ground rules.  First, they turned off the water at 10pm each night and turned it on at 6am each morning.  There were signs posted in our rooms, reminding us to be mindful of others and not to slam doors.  Additionally, they had a large supply of ear-plugs in a dispenser at each floor’s hallway.

Canopy Tower Hotel

After one week at the Tower, we were ready for the next leg of our birding adventure.  At 10 in the morning, after a good breakfast, we were shuttled off to the Canopy’s sister hotel, the Canopy Lodge.  Canopy Lodge is located on the outskirts of the town of El Valle del Anton.  By car, it’s a 2 1/2 hour drive.  We stopped along the way at a shopping center in Coronado to pick up a few essentials.  This is a primary shopping area for the famous nearby tourist destination of the Panama Riviera.

The Lodge is located on the private grounds of the owner of both the Tower and Lodge.  There are 8 rooms with private bath, a large common area for lounging and dining, all of this on beautifully landscaped grounds, complete with a small river running through it.

Canopy Lodge at El Valle del Anton

Meals were provided as at the Tower, though the atmosphere at the Lodge is more laid-back and touristy, as opposed to the Tower, where the obvious focus was on birding.  The terrain of the birding areas we visited in El Valle was different from that of the Tower.  We had a lovely morning walk up a hillside dotted with small and large farms.

El Valle mountainside dotted with small farms.

We had a strenuous hike up a cloud-covered mountainside with signs warning us to watch where we stepped and placed our hand.  The notoriously venomous Fer-De-Lance snake has been seen here.  We were rewarded with some terrific bird sitings, including the Orange-bellied Trogon and White-vented Plumeleteer.

This stunning hummingbird is called a White-vented Plumeleteer.

We followed the same routine here, as at the Tower, with a guided morning and afternoon trip each day.  Though we had briefly met Raul, the owner, at the Tower one day, we got to know him better at the Lodge, where he joined us almost every evening for dinner.  His story, and that of his family, is a very interesting one.  You can click on the link for Raúl Arias de Para if you wish to read more about him, his family, and the politics of Panama.

After 4 nights at the Lodge, we decided that, instead of spending the remaining 5 nights in Panama City and area, we wanted to return to the Tower for more birding and photography.  So once again, the shuttle came to pick us up and transport us back to the Tower.

During our stays at both the Tower and Lodge, we met some very interesting people from all walks of life. There was a nurse and his wife who also worked in health-care. We met a pleasant elderly couple in their 80’s from Louisiana, who have traveled all over the world birding. A young couple from New York City spent one night at the Tower to experience jungle and wildlife. A military man from Florida and his new Australian wife, a doctor, were traveling with a buddy, a computer software programmer, also of Florida. All were very impassioned naturalists, photographers and birders. We enjoyed their company immensely.

Bob, Michelle and I with Alexis our guide on the Pipeline Road.

We birded most of our stay with a couple from Monterrey, California, whose itinerary coincided with ours at both locations. Bob is a Lobster fisherman and Chemical Engineer. Michelle is a grade four school teacher and avid Scrabble player. They are both very keen birders who have traveled extensively in Africa, Ecuador, Mexico, North and Central America.

So, after 16 days of great food, excellent birding and wildlife watching, and good company, it was time to head back into the city and prepare for our return flight to Progreso. At 11:30 in the morning the shuttle driver dropped us off at an airport hotel, the Hotel Riande, where we spent our last night in Panama. We paid $100 for the night, which is apparently a good price as airport hotels there go. After we had a short nap, we took a local bus to a shopping plaza, explored the mall, window shopped and had an early dinner.

We took the first complimentary airport shuttle from the hotel at 6am to catch our flight. We used Mexicana for our flights, with connections in Mexico City. Ramon was at the airport in Mérida to pick us up at 3 in the afternoon. We were bushed, but very, very happy with our first visit to the center of the Americas – Panama.

Another beautiful sunset from Canopy Tower observation deck.

For more of our Panama pictures at Murray’s Flickr pages click here.

Posted in Accommodations, Travel Destinations | 4 Comments

Adventures in Blogging

Good morning to all who are reading this, my first published blog.

I tried on three previous occasions to create my own website.  I muddled through complex blogging lingo and difficult-to-understand instructions. I spent many frustrating hours, trying to find my way around in the maze of offerings out there in the ether-net.  But this time I think I’ve got it!

I’m working in the “Dashboard” of online blogging software called wordpress.com.  I came upon this blogging site by reading a blog of an acquaintance here in the Yucatan, Joanna Rosada.  Joanna started her blogging as she and husband Jorge were contemplating retirement.

In her blog, Joanna had mentioned how easy it was for her to get her blog started.  Last week I finally investigated the blogging site at wordpress.com. I read the easy to follow instructions, created my blog page and started to write.

So here we are.  Actually, I’m here in Progreso and Murray is in Canada.  Recently, in May, we went to Canada and had a wonderful time visiting with Murray’s son’s family, Sheldon, Ramona and their beautiful children, Brianna and Sierra.  Since that trip we travelled to Panama for a three week adventure in birding and nature photography.  But, all the while Murray has been missing his son, daughter-in-law, the grandchildren, his mother and Canada.  So he’s back there now, and plans to stay until the end of September.

Meanwhile, on the 26th of July, I started my 4th semester of Spanish lessons at UNAM [Université Nacional Autonoma de Mexico].  I go to class twice a week for two hours each, at a campus in the center of Merida.  I have from 2 to 20 hours of homework per week.  It has been interesting, challenging at times, but very worthwhile.

I will be skipping 3 classes in September, when I’ll also go to Canada to visit with my side of the family.  Until then, it’s Spanish lessons, yoga lessons and aquabics in the swimming pool here at Nicte-Ha.

As I learn more about how to use blogging features, I’ll be adding pictures and links. I’m also almost finished writing a blog about our trip to Panama and will hopefully have that posted by sometime next week.

Until then, “Saludos de Progreso”.

PS. Happy Birthday! to my brother Steve – celebrating his 57th today; and to my stepson Sheldon – celebrating his 36th today.

Posted in Daily living | 4 Comments