Australian parrot lover inherits Brandon bird store

Stewart Williamson, a longtime president of the Parrot Society of Australia, inherited the Brandon 1-2 Tweet Birds business under sad circumstances after his good friend passed away.

Denis Sloan met Williamson in the 1990s when he had an exotic pet store, Birdfever, in Indianapolis. A few years prior to his death, Sloan had moved to Florida to receive treatment for his bone marrow disease at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center as well as purchase 1-2 Tweet Birds, 1335 W. Brandon Blvd, Suite E.
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Bird centre opens its doors

Sick and injured birds find a haven at the Whitford Wild Bird Care Centre.

An open day on March 2 is an opportunity to learn more about what the centre does and to learn how you can help New Zealand birds.

There will be fun and games for children, a tea garden, sausage sizzle, raffle, crafts for sale and a mini garage sale.

The Wild Bird Care Centre feeds, cleans and nurtures birds that come into its care.

Wildlife rehabilitator Mandy Robertson says they don’t want to make the centre bigger, just better.

On average there are 15 regular volunteers. On top of this Duke of Edinburgh award and Unitech vet nurse students also spend time helping at the centre.
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New Study Finds Pesticides Leading Cause Of Grassland Bird Declines

A new study led by a preeminent Canadian toxicologist identifies acutely toxic pesticides as the most likely leading cause of the widespread decline in grassland bird numbers in the United States, a finding that challenges the widely-held assumption that loss of habitat is the primary cause of those population declines.

The scientific assessment, which looked at data over a 23-year period – from 1980 to 2003 – was published on Feb. 20, in PLOS One, an online peer-reviewed scientific journal. The study was conducted by Dr. Pierre Mineau, recently retired from Environment Canada, and Mélanie Whiteside of Health Canada.

The study looked at five potential causes of grassland bird declines besides lethal pesticide risk: change in cropped pasture such as hay or alfalfa production, farming intensity or the proportion of agricultural land that is actively cropped, herbicide use, overall insecticide use, and change in permanent pasture and rangeland.

“What this study suggests is that we need to start paying a lot more attention to the use of pesticides if we want to reverse, halt or simply slow the very significant downward trend in grassland bird populations. Our study put the spotlight on acutely toxic insecticides used in our cropland starting after the Second World War and persisting to this day – albeit at a lower level. The data suggest that loss of birds in agricultural fields is more than an unfortunate consequence of pest control; it may drive bird populations to local extinction,” Dr. Mineau said.

Many grassland bird species have undergone range contractions or population declines in recent decades. In fact, analyses of North American birds indicate that these birds are declining faster than birds from other biomes.

Habitat protection has long been considered a central pillar in efforts to stem the decline of grassland bird species, such as the Vesper Sparrow, the Ring-necked Pheasant, and the Horned Lark.

“We are still concerned about loss of habitat in agriculture, range management, and urban development,” said Cynthia Palmer, manager of the Pesticides Program at American Bird Conservancy, a leading U.S. bird conservation organization. “This study by no means diminishes the importance of habitat fragmentation and degradation. But it suggests that we also need to rein in the use of lethal pesticides in agriculture, and that we need to be especially careful about any new pesticides we introduce into these ecosystems such as the neonicotinoid insecticides. It reminds us that the poisonings of birds and other wildlife chronicled a half century ago by famed biologist and author Rachel Carson are by no means a thing of the past.”

The researchers focused on the extent to which lethal pesticides, such as organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, are responsible for the decline in grassland bird populations. The study found that lethal pesticides were nearly four times more likely to be associated with population declines than the next most likely contributor, changes in cropped pasture – an important component of habitat loss associated with agricultural lands.

The publication says that “…..large quantities of products of very high toxicity to birds have been used for decades despite evidence that poisonings were frequent even when products were applied according to label directions.”

Horned Lark and chicks

Horned Lark and chicks
– photo by Middleton Evans

The authors argue that only a small proportion of total cropland needs to be treated with a dangerous pesticide to affect overall bird population trends. The production of alfalfa stands out for its strikingly high chemical load, constituting the third highest lethal risk of any crop based on toxic insecticide use. Pesticide drift from croplands is also affecting birds that favor the adjoining grasslands. Continue reading

Dominican bird highlights

Erica and I had the great pleasure of joining an awesome bunch of people down in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic during the second week of January for the wedding of my good friend Brad.  We’ve been back for a while now but I am still way behind on emails and of course blog posts (I still have a half-written “summary of 2012” post to finish…).  Anyways, here’s a few of the pictorial highlights..

We stayed at the Bavaro Princess All Suites hotel, which seemed pretty nice to us…Erica and I had been to one all inclusive before (in Cuba in 2006) and this one was much nicer.  The area around Punta Cana definitely had a more tropical feel than the area we were in in Cuba.  The hotel had pretty good grounds for birding which was good because we didn’t really get off the resort too much for birds since we had lots of important stuff to do with the wedding 😉

Palmchat – the National bird of Dominican Republic

This was pretty much the first photo I took. I was literally standing in the drop-off area of the hotel waiting to get taken to our room.  This is a Palmchat, an endemic family to Hispaniola and the national bird of the DR. It is also pretty much the most common bird everywhere we went…

We were kept very entertained by a territorial Bananaquit that sang right off our room
A couple Black-crowned Night-Herons hunted the ponds at….night!

In addition to the Night-Herons there was another flying creature hunting fish at the resort each night- Greater Bulldog Bats! I wasn’t able to get a photo, but google them because they are pretty awesome! They were huge (about crow-sized) bats that hunt fish!! There’s a wicked video I found here (I think it might be narrated by Oprah??She must be really hurting for work).

The only amphibian we saw was this Marine Toad, an introduced Central and South American species (thanks Jeremy!).


Hispaniolan Woodpecker was another very common endemic


I was pleasantly surprised to have a small flock of White-cheeked Pintail each day at one of the hotel’s ponds


We saw a bunch of odes…this one may be a Perithemis species, very similar to our Eastern Amberwing


Lots of butterflies most days. This is a Gulf Fritillary (or something similar) and was pretty common


Broad-billed Tody

Given our location and prospective birding potential, Broad-billed Tody was my most-wanted endemic so I was quite happy to find this individual.


The hotel grounds had a few migrant warblers including Prairie Warbler


And Yellow-throated Warbler.

Other North American migrants that we saw (but I didn’t photograph) on the grounds were Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush (common in mangroves), Black-and-white Warbler, and Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Vervain Hummingbird was 1 of 2 hummingbird species on the grounds


My number two species, Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo


Check out that tail!


Northern Parula was also pretty common


Full view of the Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo


Antillean Slider was common in the ponds and mangroves.

If you are looking for a good resource for Caribbean herps, check out Caribherp – there is a ton of information there.  Aside from the Marine Toad the the Antillean Sliders we saw lots of small lizards that I haven’t tried to ID yet plus a very cool observation of a tree snake species catching a lizard one afternoon on the Paseo Ecological.  We also found a dead hatchling sea turtle one day on the beach.

Hispaniolan Woodpecker close-up


Hispaniolan Woodpecker again


Tricolored Heron was common in the mangroves, along with Green Heron and Least Bittern (single)


Another look at Palmchat


Cape May Warbler was the most common warbler on the grounds


Red-legged Thrush carrying food


Gray Kingbirds were everywhere but nice to see!
Livin it up!


The trail into the “nature area” at the hotel
Brad and Erin, the happy couple!

It was a pretty awesome trip! On top of all the birds and other great sightings going with a big group was a lot of fun!  I also should mention an interesting story that happened during our trip to Del Este National Park on a guided tour.  After the tour our guide wanted me to talk to another guide about my camera.  It turned out he was a Dominican spider expert named Tony Tosto whose blog I had stumbled upon before the trip! He was pretty excited to hear that I had found his blog and I was excited to meet him.  So check out his blog, it has some awesome spider shots!

Of course, we ebirded the whole trip and I ended up with 60 species (about what I expected), of which 18 were lifers (higher than I expected).  I took full advantage of the ability to embed photos and videos – check out my favourite illustrated checklist here.