North American Birds

VOLUME 68 NO2 2015

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithological Record Published by the American Birding Association. The mission of the journal is to provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of our continent’s birdlife.

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V O L U M E 6 8 ( 2 0 1 5 ) • N U M B E R 2 185 T h e c h a n g i n g s e a s o n s : W i n T e r o f o u r d i s c o n T e n T were well informed about the owls over the course of the season. In this season, we saw unprecedented enthusiasm for visiting the owls, approach- ing closely, following them around, and of course photographing them—no one but a hermit could have missed the many im- ages in the mass media and social media this season. In many cases, the photographers involved had no awareness of, or allegiance to, any group espousing a Code of Ethics for wildlife, and some were relentless in their pursuit of the perfect image. This situation generally has deteriorated in recent years, as fort started by Scott Weidensaul and Dave Brinker to track movements of individual owls over the course of the season and be- yond (www.projectsnowstorm.org). Owls were given nicknames and could be tracked by birders, school kids, and enthusiasts on a daily basis in some cases. The opportuni- ties to learn more about winter movements of the species were paired with personaliza- tion of individual owls, an excellent strat- egy to make people aware of the challenges faced by these birds and by extension their species. Over the winter, we watched owls hunting ducks along ice foes, holding court in major cities (where they be- came celebrities), dodging ve- hicular traffc, and interacting with gulls and with other birds of prey (Figure 12). The imme- diacy of these images and videos made this event almost singular in the history of public engage- ment with birds; we had not just media coverage but interactive media, and millions of people in the (non-birding) general public was a kid, focks were in the hundreds on the Great Lakes but in the tens of thousands on Pamlico Sound (North Carolina) and the Chesapeake Bay. The numbers in North Car- olina have plummeted spectacularly, from 150,000 on a single ferry ride in 1981 (Chat 45: 79) to just a few dozen by 1995. Gill- netting was thought to have played a role in their decline in North Carolina; but what if the birds simply found the fshing better and the winter weather acceptable on the Great Lakes? If indeed a northward shift in winter range is the chief reason for their scarcity in the mid-Atlantic since the mid-1990s, then winter 2013-2104 exacted a great toll for that shift, with known deaths of Red-breast- ed Mergansers in the many hundreds. The anthropogenic destabilization of climate can be merciless. The Owls Have It During the same winter that people in the eastern portion of the continent witnessed the exodus of birds from the Great Lakes, they were spellbound by a bounty of Snowy Owls, whose unparalleled irruption from eastern Canada extended south into the Carolinas, Georgia, Flor- ida, and Mississippi (Figure 10). Though some, such as the bird that reached Bermuda (Figure 11), were in poor health, the great majority of birds appeared to ar- rive in good health. We can say that for two reasons, one being the improving communication between the birding community and the bird rehabilitation com- munity, the latter reporting that most owls taken into care had been injured but were not starv- ing or ill, the other being the bril- liant Project SNOWstorm, an ef- Figure 8. The unprecedented fight of White-winged Scoters into the Tennessee and Kentucky region during January 2014 included many adult males. This bird was part of a fock present on the Ohio River at Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky during mid-January (here 14 January). Photograph by Allan Claybon. Figure 9. Gulls were clearly part of the escape fights of waterbirds from the frozen Great Lakes during late winter 2013-2014. Great Black-backed Gulls were found at fve Kentucky locales. These two frst-cycle birds were on the Ohio River at Meldahl Dam, Bracken County 16 February 2014. Photograph by Jonathan Frodge. Figure 10. This Snowy Owl haunted Ocracoke Island, Hyde County in late (here 31) December 2013 into late February 2014. Historically, the species is quite rare in North Carolina, but this unprecedented invasion saw at least a dozen reports spanning the state. Photograph by Jef Beane. Figure 11. A rare sight ofshore at Bermuda, this bird stayed around the Royal Naval Dockyard from 27 November through 20 December 2013 (here); the bird was found dead 21 December. Photograph by Andrew Dobson.

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