Thursday, August 02, 2007

Good news for Bald Eagle and Piping Plover

In the latest report from Bird Studies Canada, breeding/nesting reports were made that show great progress for two North American bird species.

Reported earlier, the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been removed from the Endangered Species Act, a breakthrough for this majestic, well-known species. Years of hunting, habitat loss, and use of contaminants like DDT have led to the endangerment and extirpation of the Bald Eagle across North America. However, the elimination of DDT along with conservation efforts have saved the population of Bald Eagles in the U.S. and Canada. Worries over the Southern Ontario population still persist, however. Only 34 active nests were reported in the area in 2006 and there is room for improvement. Fortunately, there is now an active nest within Point Pelee National Park's boundaries that is visible from the observation towers at Delaurier trail. I haven't checked that out yet but it will be a great way to easily spot the species on a trip to the park.

My most vivid memory of the Bald Eagle was during a small pelagic trip to Bird Island on the East Coast of Canada. There, we saw the nesting grounds of Atlantic Puffin, Great Cormorant, Black-legged Kittiwake, Black Guillemot, Herring Gull, and Razorbill. Besides seeing a Razorbill chick being led back to its nest on the cliffside of the island by its concerned parent, the best memory from this trip is seeing the eagles that haunt the river leading out into the ocean. Here, we could witness them plunge into the water to catch fish within meters of our boat. It was spectacular to see the techniques they have evolved to dive for fish and seeing their sheer size up close was impressive.

Secondly, reports of breeding Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) in Southern Ontario were supplied. This is one of very few recorded Piping Plover nests in this vicinity after their severe decline due tourism, habitat destruction, and beach development (where they nest). Volunteer efforts ensured the protection of the nest and eggs from people and pets.

I have, to date, only two experiences with Piping Plover. First, on the East Coast during the same trip as Bird Island, I witnessed numerous breeding pairs at their nests on a protected coastline with a boardwalk where you can see the birds with a good set of binoculars. Seeing an endangered species confined to such a small protected area to breed was both sad and fascinating. My second sighting was at Wheatley Harbour, just northeast of Point Pelee and Hillman Marsh, Ontario. It appeared the same day as the Neotropic Cormorant (first confirmed record for Canada) in the Spring of 2005, an amazing year for rarities. The solitary bird was spotted by gull-expert Kevin McLaughlin when he wandered away from the hectic scene of hundreds of birders crowding to see a new species for Canada. Seeing these two species back to back was one of the best birding experiences in my life; bringing together excited birders from across North America to witness an event like no other and being reminded why we became birders in the first place.

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