Category Archives: Birds, wildlife

Amusing Monday: BirdNote to expand while keeping short radio format

BirdNote, the radio program, has been bringing us the amusing sounds and stories of birds for more than a dozen years. Now, a new managing producer, Jason Saul, is working to expand the horizons of the daily two-minute show that can be heard on more than 200 public radio stations across the country.

Jason chose Bremerton as his personal base of operations. He can work out of his home and head to Seattle for meetings and recording sessions as needed. Jason, who moved from New Orleans, says Kitsap County has everything he needs, and he enjoys the local low-key atmosphere of this area. Read on for more about that later.

BirdNote began as a project of Seattle Audobon, which created a team of writers, scientists and sound artists to portray accurate and intriguing stories of birds. The program went on the air in February 2005, when it was launched by KPLU-FM, an NPR affiliate that now goes by the call letters KNKX.

BirdNote became its own separate nonprofit organization in 2006, funded mainly by donors who love the show. Today, it can be heard in big and small markets across the country, as well as well as in podcast format whenever people choose to listen.

Jason Saul

The two-minute radio show will continue as always, but Jason tells me that he is pushing to expand the storytelling beyond the traditional bird-of-the-day into stories of people as they relate to birds. The Port Orchard Seagull Calling Contest is proposed as a feature story, currently scheduled for October.

Because the two-minute program is already available on numerous podcast websites, BirdNote has begun to offer expanded podcasts for people who can’t get enough. These won’t be heard on the radio, at least for now.

To launch the expanded format, the program commissioned a new theme song, based on the short jingle that introduces each BirdNote segment. The songwriter, Ben Mirin (a.k.a. DJ Ecotone), has a rare love of natural sounds, which he brings back to the studio and adds his own voice to create an amusing beatbox flavor.

“The music is intended to be a statement from BirdNote,” Jason said. “We are trying to say that we are doing things in different ways.”

Here’s the song that DJ Ecotone came up with. Can you identify 12 different bird calls?

      1. DJ-ECOTONE-BIRDNOTE-mash-up

Jason thought it would be nice to introduce the new theme song and longer format by interviewing Mr. Ecotone. I have to admit that I found the interview intriguing, as Ben describes his passion for nature and music. The interview can be heard in the box below.

As for Jason, he, too, has a passion for the environment, and he has embraced the unique style of BirdNote’s storytelling. His goal is to keep the program fresh as people absorb information in new ways.

“I want to maintain the highest journalistic standards,” he told me. “But there’s a sense of change. People are accessing information in different ways.”

Getting people into the stories about birds — such as a narrative report on an organized club of teenage birders in San Bernardino, Calif. — should broaden the interest, he said.

“We don’t want to get away from stories about birds,” Jason said, “but we are not telling stories to birds. We are telling stories to people. The narrative structure of how to tell a story involves people’s voices. I am hoping for an evolution of sound into a place where different stories can be told.”

Transcripts of the podcasts are available for those who would rather read than listen to the stories, Jason noted. People can keep up with the new features and photos on Facebook, Twitter and more, or enjoy the archived programs that were missed the first time around. Extra tidbits can be found on BirdNote blog.

While individual donations are the mainstay of BirdNote’s budget, the organization has begun to accept donations from corporate sponsors compatible with the mission of bringing the wonders of birds to the public.

Jason started his media career in New York and moved in 2003 to New Orleans, where he reported on regional stories, such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. From 2006 to 2011, he served as a researcher and production associate for “American Routes,” a popular radio show featuring Nick Spitzer. Before moving to Bremerton, Jason was director of digital services and corporate development for WWNO, the New Orleans public radio station.

Jason, who lives off Burwell Street in West Bremerton, maintains production equipment in a corner of his house, so he can do much of his work at home. BirdNote is based in Seattle, with offices in one location and a sound studio in another, but Jason always chooses to live in places somewhat removed from the cosmopolitan atmosphere.

“I love working from home,” he told me. “I used to work in a cubicle. The people in Bremerton and Kitsap County are wonderful … so warm and welcoming.”

For an area described by some as a “backwater,” Jason said he finds Kitsap County to be anything but that. “Everybody is on top of everything.”

The public library system is as good as that in New Orleans, he said. The buses run on time, and it is easy to get around.

“The natural beauty is amazing,” he said, adding that Olympic National Park is a true wonder.

Jason said he is open to suggestions, story ideas and general involvement from people who enjoy BirdNote. “The more people involved the better.”

Lights could be creating problems for salmon, seabirds and more

Bright lights that affect the behavior of birds, fish and other wildlife are emerging as a significant environmental concern.

Endangered Hawaiian Petrel
Photo: B. Zaun, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Yesterday, for example, two environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Hawai’i Department of Transportation for bright lights the agency controls at piers and airports. The groups say three species of seabirds on the Endangered Species List have been circling the lights until the birds drop from exhaustion, and some birds have died.

Meanwhile, in Lake Washington and the nearby Cedar River in King County, there is evidence that threatened chinook salmon are at greater risk from predators because of lights on the two floating bridges as well as industrial facilities in Renton.

In Florida, researchers have discovered that female turtles avoid coming ashore to lay their eggs where bright lights are present, and in Virginia salamanders have delayed their feeding efforts in the glare of lights.

The lawsuit in Hawaii was filed by lawyers for Earthjustice out of concern for three species of seabirds: Newell’s shearwater, a threatened species, and Hawaiian petrels and band-rumped storm petrels, both endangered species.

The Hawai’I Department of Transportation has failed to protect the birds, as required by the Endangered Species Act, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Āina, Conservation Council and the Center for Biodiversity. Because the lighting is injuring and killing listed species, the state agency must obtain an incidental take permit and initiate actions to minimize harm, the lawsuit says. For details, see the complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (PDF 1.4 mb).

Lights at airports and harbor facilities have been documented as the greatest source of injury and death to the seabirds, which migrate at night and become disoriented by the artificial lights, the complaint asserts. Some birds crash into buildings, while others end up on the ground where they may be struck by vehicles or eaten by predators.

Since the 1990s, the Newell’s shearwaters have declined by 94 percent and the Hawaiian petrels on the island of Kauai have dropped by 78 percent.

“Our ancestors depended on the ‘a‘o (Newell’s shearwater), ‘ua‘u (Hawaiian petrel) and ‘akē‘akē (band-rumped storm-petrel) to help locate schools of fish, to navigate from island to island and to know when the weather is changing,” Kauai fisherman Jeff Chandler was quoted as saying in a news release from Earthjustice.

According to the news release, the Department of Transportation dropped out of talks with state and federal wildlife agencies that are developing a habitat conservation plan to protect the seabirds. After Earthjustice filed a notice of intent to sue, the agency rejoined the talks.

“That’s a good start, but talk alone will do nothing to save these rare and important animals from extinction,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. “It’s long past time for the department to take action, not only on Kauai, but everywhere in the state that its operations illegally kill seabirds.”

Lake Washington chinook

As for the lights on and around Lake Washington, I have not heard of any proposed lawsuits to protect the threatened Puget Sound chinook, but concerns continue to simmer.

Lights on the Highway 520 bridge
Photo: Washington Dept. of Transportation

Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz, salmon recovery manager for the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed, told me that the next regional chapter of the chinook recovery plan will call for further study into the effects of lights on juvenile chinook migrating down the Cedar River and through Lake Washington.

“The technical folks have identified light as a potential emerging issue,” Jason said. “We don’t have a good handle on what the impacts are.”

Lights on Lake Washington may be creating a double whammy for young chinook, Jason said. First, the lights attract the fish, which slow down their migration to Puget Sound. Second, the lights keep them visible to predators at night, so the fish may be eaten 24 hours a day.

“Juvenile salmon don’t have a nighttime respite,” Jason said. “At least that’s the hypothesis.”

Nonnative predatory fish include bass, walleye and northern pike. Native predators include cutthroat trout and pike minnow. Predatory birds include the western grebe and great blue heron.

An updated chinook recovery plan for the Lake Washington region is under review and could be finalized this fall. Predation is getting some additional attention this time around, Jason said, and the issue of lights is something that needs more study.

Experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have identified potential concerns with lighting along Lake Washington in a series of studies going back more than 10 years. It still isn’t clear, however, how much the known problems with predators are exacerbated by bright lights. That’s why more studies are needed.

Following complaints from residents of Laurelhurst near the Highway 520 bridge, the Washington Department of Transportation reduced the amount of illumination coming off that bridge, and further investigation is underway. Check out the King-5 News report below.

Other species

With regard to other species, lights are known to have a variety of effects. Reporter Sharon Guynup outlined the problems for birds, turtles, amphibians, mammals and even insects in a revealing story in National Geographic News, April 17, 2003.

A group of British researchers from the University of Exeter compiled a list of the known effects of light on various species while considering the role of artificial lighting. See “The ecological impacts of nighttime light pollution; a mechanistic appraisal” in Biological Reviews.

Bears have gathered for their annual feast at Alaska’s Brooks Falls

In plain view of one live camera, a bear waits patiently as leaping salmon fly all around. The bear is content to wait for for a big fish to leap into his paws or his mouth.

In front of another live camera, a group of bears forage downstream in the river, going underwater to get their salmon meal. One chews vigorously while standing upright in chest-deep water.

These are a couple of the scenes I’ve been watching this morning at the Brooks Falls overlook in Katmai National Park. I have never been to the national park, but I have enjoyed these live video feeds for years. It seems incredible that we can observe brown bears doing what they do naturally while remaining out of sight and hearing of the bears.

All four bear cams can be viewed at once from the Explore website. Scroll down the page to read comments from the camera operators and other folks watching remotely.

Park officials estimate that more than 100 bears use this mile-long stretch of Brooks River to feast on what they say is the largest sockeye salmon run in the world. These bears are part of a population of 2,200 that live in the park. It is said that bears outnumber people on the Alaska Peninsula.

Another group of live webcams are poised to capture the movements of Northern Resident killer whales in Blackney Pass, one of the primary travel routes for the whales during the summer months. Again, scroll down to view comments. The cameras are coordinated by OrcaLab, Paul Spong’s research station on Hanson Island in British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait.

For other critter cams, check out what I posted in April (Water Ways, April 24, 2017).

Amusing Monday: Some call it the ‘snake bird’

Living on the West Coast, we don’t normally encounter the anhinga, a freshwater bird sometimes called the “snake bird.” The name comes from its ability to swim with its body submerged so that only its long neck protrudes out of the water, looking like a snake.

“When hunting fish, an Anhinga hangs motionless in the water or swims slowly just below the surface, its neck crooked, almost like a cobra’s,” says Michael Stein of BirdNote, which is featuring the anhinga this week as one of its birds of the week. “The Anhinga has specialized muscles and a hinge in its neck. And when an unwary fish swims close, the bird’s head darts forward, impaling its prey.”

Anhingas resemble cormorants, a species far more familiar to those of us in the Puget Sound region. Cormorants are typically found in saltwater areas, while anhingas are common in the Everglades and the bayous of the Gulf Coast. For other notable differences, check out the website Difference Between.

In Miami, there’s an elementary school near the Dolphin Mall named for Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of the best-selling book “The Everglades: River of Glass” (1947). Douglas’ book helped people understand the value of wetlands across the country, and her later life’s work led to greater protections for The Everglades. After the school was named Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Elementary School, officials chose the anhinga as its mascot.

Not far from the eastern entrance to Everglades National Park lies the Anhinga Trail, a loop trail that goes 0.8 mile through a sawgrass marsh. The trail is popular because it puts people up close to lots of wildlife, including alligators and anhingas. Check out the description and video from the Everglades National Park website.

The mugs on this page can be purchased from Cafe Press. The dog tank top is from FunnyShirts through Amazon.

Amusing Monday: After 83 years, duck stamps are still impressive

Canada geese are the centerpiece of this year’s federal “duck stamp,” which went on sale Friday to raise millions of dollars to conserve wildlife habitat.

James Hautman of Chaska, Minn., won first place in the annual duck stamp contest with his acrylic painting of Canada geese.
Images courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

James Hautman of Chaska, Minn., painted the artwork that became this year’s stamp following a contest last fall that attracted 152 entries. The stamp shows three Canada geese flying in formation over a wheat field.

This year’s winning entry is Hautman’s fifth win in the duck stamp competition. Only two other artists have won first place five times — and one of those is Hautman’s brother Joseph.

Since 1934, sales of the stamp — formally called the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp — have reached $950 million, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is in charge of the stamp. The money has been used to conserve nearly 6 million acres of wetland habitat as part of the national wildlife refuge system around the country. Some 98 percent of the funds from sales of the $25 duck stamp go into the Migratory Bird Conservation fund.

If you have time, check out all of the duck stamps starting with some interesting ones you will find in the 1930s and ’40s in the Federal Duck Stamp Gallery.

“The stamp’s impact goes beyond waterfowl,” said Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke in a news release. “it also helps provide habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife and clean water for our communities. The lands set aside using duck stamp dollars provide opportunities for the American people to enjoy the great outdoors through hunting, fishing and birdwatching, and help ensure this piece of American heritage will endure for generations.”

The stamp is legally required for waterfowl hunters age 16 and older, but the program has grown over the years thanks to stamp collectors and supporters of wildlife conservation. The current duck stamp also provides free admission to any national wildlife refuge.

Rebecca Knight of Appleton City, Mo., took second place with her acrylic painting of a brant.

The duck painting that took second place in last fall’s contest was the creation of Rebekah Knight of Appleton City, Mo., who previously won the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest. Her entry last year was an acrylic painting of a single brant.

The third-place winner was Robert Hautman of Delano, Minn., with his acrylic painting of a pair of Canada geese. Hautman, brother of James and Joseph, previously won the contest in 1996 and 2000.

Robert Hautman of Delano, Minn., was the third-place winner with his acrylic painting of Canada geese.

Judges for this year’s duck stamp were Jan Martin McGuire, an internationally known wildlife artist; Keith Russell, program manager for urban conservation with Audubon Pennsylvania; Dr. Nathan H. Rice, ornithology collection manager at the Academy of Natural Sciences; John P. Booth, executive director of the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art; and Sue deLearie Adair, an artist, birder and avid naturalist.

A gallery of all the contest entries can be viewed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Flickr page.

Isaac Schreiber 12, of Duffield, Va, was named the winner of the Junior Duck Stamp competition with his acrylic painting of trumpeter swans.

A Junior Duck Stamp is chosen each year from entries made by students from across the United States and Puerto Rico. This year’s winner is Isaac Schreiber, 12, of Duffield, Va., who painted a pair of trumpeter swans.

Second place went to Daniel Billings, 16, of Gallatin, Mont., for his oil painting of a wood duck. Rene Christensen, 17, of Nekoosa, Wis., took third place with her graphite rendition of a pair of Canada geese.

The junior contest is part of an educational program about wetlands, waterfowl and conservation efforts. Proceeds from sales of the $5 Junior Duck Stamps are used to support youth education.

A gallery of the “best of show” winners can be seen on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Flickr page.

Both the regular and junior stamps can be purchased at many national wildlife refuges, sporting goods stores and related retailers and through the U.S. Postal Service. For information, check out the “Buy Duck Stamps” website.

Amusing Monday: Human super powers and other oddball things

Humans have at least five super powers that few people know about, according to Mind Warehouse, a video producer with nearly 2 million subscribers on YouTube.

The one so-called “superpower” that intrigued me the most was the ability to distinguish warm water from cold water by sound alone. The super-powers video, found first on this page, challenges viewers to close their eyes and listen as someone pours two glasses of water — one hot and one cold.

According to the video segment, which begins at 2:34, between 80 and 90 percent of people who listen to the video can tell whether it is hot or cold water being poured into the glasses. It has something to do with bubbles, according to the video.

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Amusing Monday: All sorts of animals can be viewed live online

Millions of people watched and waited online for April the giraffe to give birth at Animal Adventure Park near Harpursville, N.Y. — although I am not sure how many were viewing live at the moment of birth. Of course, it is now recorded on YouTube for anyone to see.

As of yesterday, zoo officials announced on Facebook that a new camera will be installed to allow occasional viewing at times to be announced. For a $5 subscription, you can sign up for text alerts about the baby. This has become a real money-maker for the zoo. Frankly, I’m amazed at the level of interest, but it will probably decline now that the baby has arrived.

Each spring, I post an Amusing Monday piece showing where to find some of the best critter cams around the world. I’m pleased to report an ever-expanding number of cameras, not only those in zoos and aquariums but also those in outdoor locations where wildlife experts can study animals without disturbing them. Because of the Internet, we are able to essentially look over the shoulders of researchers and even watch the animals when official observers are not around.

Explore.org, a division of the Annenberg Foundation, is becoming the go-to website for connecting people live with animals via webcams. As I write this, the number of live video feeds listed on the website totals 65, although the number changes frequently as a result of shifts in animal activity as well as technical issues. Scroll down below the video player for text messaging related to each camera for interactions between video operators and online observers.

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Hood Canal nominated as Sentinel Landscape with ties to military

Hood Canal and its surrounding watershed have been nominated as a Sentinel Landscape, an exclusive designation that recognizes both the natural resource values and the national defense mission of special areas across the country.

USS Henry M. Jackson, a Trident submarine, moves through Hood Canal in February on a return trip to Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor.
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith

If the designation is approved, it will bolster applications for federal funding to protect and restore important habitats and to maintain working forests in and around Hood Canal. Given the uncertain budget for environmental programs under the Trump administration, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Department of Defense supporting the protection of Hood Canal.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership involves the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. The idea is to coordinate the efforts of all three agencies in locations where their priorities overlap, according to the 2016 Report on Sentinel Landscapes (PDF 5.6 mb).

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Learning to create small habitats in Kitsap, Thurston, Pierce counties

Marianne Jackson, a personal trainer and yoga teacher, lives in a fairly typical residential neighborhood in Des Moines, about halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. Marianne has been interested in gardening for years. Recently, however, she decided to up her game by creating a backyard wildlife habitat.

A flowering currant in Marianne Jackson’s garden is a native plant that is good for birds. She says hummingbirds love it.
Photo: Marianne Jackson

That’s when Sarah Bruemmer, a habitat steward coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, entered Marianne’s life. Sarah knows how to turn small outdoor spaces — or large ones, if available — into functioning habitats. She coordinates a training program that addresses issues from soils, gardening and invasive plants to birds, butterflies and water quality.

Sarah’s month-long program, which includes weekly classes with two Saturday field trips, is scheduled for April in Kitsap and Thurston counties and May in Pierce County. Only a few seats remain for the Kitsap training to be held in Silverdale.

Marianne, 56, took the course last year and came away with a much deeper knowledge of the ecosystem. She had already ripped out her grassy lawn years ago to create what became a series of connected gardens, but the classes taught her how native plant species and water features can help native birds and butterflies.

“I already had the interest,” she said. “Now I have a lot more knowledge that I can put to use. I’m planning to get my yard certified.”

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Amusing Monday: Giant crab has amazing grip, but species is at risk

Coconut crabs are giant land-based crustaceans that can grow to 3 feet wide, claw-to-claw. The crabs, frightening to some, inhabit islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

These crabs, which grow larger than any other land-based arthropod, are known for their uncanny strength. They get their name from an ability to break through coconut husks with their powerful claws. They can also break a lot of other things, as revealed in a variety of amusing videos, some of which I’ve posted on this page.

Coconut crabs became a topic of discussion among scientists last month when a group of Japanese researchers reported that they had measured the strength in the legs and claws of coconut crabs. They found that these crabs could lift four times their weight, and their pinching power was greater than that of any other kind of crab, even greater than the jaw strength of terrestrial predators. The report was published in the online journal Plos One.

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